Eleanor of Aquitaine, a key figure in the history of France, has left indelible traces throughout the region, in particular in Gironde, where she was born, probably close to Bordeaux, around 1122. She was successively Queen of France, when she married the man who would become King Louis VII, then Queen of England following her marriage to Henry Plantagenet, the future King Henry II.
Even today, you can weave your way through the department following in her footsteps. So, you can begin this worldly pilgrimage with a place of worship, and not just any old one: Saint-André Cathedral in Bordeaux.
It was here, on 25 July 1137, that the young 15-year-old girl married the man who would become crowned Louis VII less than one month later. Donations which the young Queen of France made to the cathedral were used to build its nave. However, the marriage was short-lived and, in 1152, Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet, who was ten years younger than her. Crowned in 1154, King Henry II and his wife would have eight children, including John, a future King of England and Richard the Lionheart.
From Bordeaux to La Sauve
But, once again, the couple’s marriage would break down and Henry actually imprisoned Eleanor for almost 15 years; the Queen would then reside at Blaye Citadel. The citadel was not at all like the one we know today, revisited by Vauban in the 17th century, but there was already a fortified castle standing on a rocky spur, whose ruins are still visible today. Eleanor lived in this castle, known as Château des Rudel, before being imprisoned in English jails. Her son, Richard the Lionheart, who had been raised in Gironde, freed her. When Richard died in 1199, Eleanor did her utmost so that her son John would succeed him on the throne of England. She returned to live, in particular, in Bordeaux, then in Soulac, in July of that same year.
Incidentally, one of the roads between Lesparre and Soulac was named Chemin de la Reyne, in her honour, for a long time. In Grayan-et-l’Hôpital, a “Rocher de la Reine” (Queen’s Rock) still exists today, where local legend has it that Eleanor gave birth here to her second son… a legend a bit far-fetched to say the least.
During this same month of July 1199, she gave the Grande-Sauve Abbey (or Sauve-Majeure Abbey), located in the commune of La Sauve, east of Bordeaux, a charter confirming her liens. Moreover, we are led to believe she also lived for a certain time in this abbey. Bordeaux, Blaye, Soulac, La Sauve, a number of towns where Eleanor left her mark, invite to discover a highly-contrasting itinerary which admirers of this queen, with her distinctive character, are sure to venture down…
Next ? Head off to Poitiers and follow Eleanor of Aquitaine’s footsteps.