Women in History: Eleanor of Aquitaine

One of the most powerful and influential women of her time, Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in the early 1120s and lived until 1204. 

By birth, she became Duchess of Aquitaine, a province in the southwest of France, when her father died in 1137. Independently wealthy and renowned for her beauty, she was the most sought-after bride in Europe.

Eleanor married King Louis VII of France in 1137, but the marriage was not happy. She sought an annulment of her marriage— one wonders how many women were in a position to do that for themselves back then— but it was rejected by the Pope.

It was not until 1152 and Louis’ agreement because she had not produced a son that Eleanor was able to obtain an annulment on the grounds of their family relationship. Louis kept their daughters, but Eleanor’s lands were restored to her and Eleanor was free to move on, which she did almost immediately.

Two months later, despite the efforts of two other lords to abduct and marry her, Eleanor married the Duke of Normandy, who would become King Henry II of England in 1154.

Five sons— three of whom became kings—and three daughters secured the line of inheritance to the English throne before Eleanor and Henry grew apart and became estranged, their marriage complicated by Henry’s frequent affairs and numerous illegitimate children.

While the idea of courtly love was not new, Eleanor and her daughters brought the concept to life at Poitiers, where they and their courtiers discussed matters of love and chivalry and adjudicated both theoretical questions and disputes between lovers. This gave rise to the great popularity of courtly love literature in Europe.

Suspicion that Eleanor was encouraging one or more of their younger sons to rebel and possibly ultimately challenge him for the throne led Henry to summon Eleanor to meet him at Rouen in 1173, from whence he took her captive and kept her as his prisoner at either Winchester Castle or Sarum Castle, and then at various other locations, for the next sixteen years. 

Eleanor was released from her albeit comfortable imprisonment by her son Richard, who became king on Henry’s death in 1189. She returned to Westminster and was welcomed with oaths of loyalty from the lords and, although not officially given any position or title, went on to rule for several years on behalf of her son Richard the Lionheart during his extended absences from England, both while on Crusade and while being held hostage by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI. She was instrumental in raising the money needed and negotiating to secure Richard’s release. 

After John’s accession to the throne on the death of his brother, he sent Eleanor to Castile to bring back one of her granddaughters for an arranged marriage to secure a truce and alliance with Philip II of France. On her way there, Eleanor was kidnapped by Hugh IX of Lusignan who held her hostage, demanding land that his family had owned before selling it to Henry II be returned to him. An old hand at dealing with men who couldn’t think of a better way to solve their problems than to take someone captive and make demands before letting them go, and more than likely quite weary of men telling her what to do, she gave him what he wanted regardless of whether or not it was hers to give, negotiated her own release and went on her way.

That wasn’t the last of the trouble on her errand. On the way back, Eleanor and her granddaughter Blanche spent Easter at Bordeaux where they met a renowned soldier, Mercadier, who agreed to escort them back to Normandy. However, he was killed by the man-at-arms of one of his  rivals.  Shocked by his death, Eleanor retreated to Fontrevaud Abbey, committing her granddaughter to the care and escort of the Archbishop of Bordeaux. 

Despite ill health, Eleanor left Fontrevaud when hostilities once again broke out between England and France. She returned to Bordeaux to support John against the claims of her grandson Arthur, Duke of Brittany.

Not easily dissuaded, Arthur besieged her in the castle of Mirabeau until John arrived and captured Arthur, who was still only fifteen years old. One could be forgiven for suspecting he inherited some of his nerve from his grandmother.

Eleanor returned to Fontrevaud Abbey, where she died and was entombed beside her husband Henry and her son Richard in 1204. Her effigy has her reading a book, presumably a Bible. 

By the end of her life, she had been queen of both France and England, and become the mother of not only two kings of England and one of France, but also of several queens of European nations and provinces. Eleanor had led armies into battle on more than one occasion, and had been a leader of the Second Crusade.  

She was clearly a woman of great temerity and independence of spirit. Even though she very obviously lived in a man’s world, she would never settle for not having just a bit of it for herself and leaving her mark on it when she left. 

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Women in History: Boudicca

Boudicca, also known as Boadicea, was queen of the Iceni tribe in the first century AD. 

The Iceni people lived in south-eastern England at the time when the Romans were invading and taking possession of the land. When the Roman forces gained control of southern England in 43AD, they allowed the Iceni king Prasutagus and his queen, Boudicca, to continue to rule.  

This changed when Prasutagus died: the Romans assumed direct control and confiscated the property of all the Iceni families that were considered important. Boudicca was stripped and flogged  and her daughters were raped. Not surprisingly, the resentment against the Romans grew in intensity and became more widespread.

In 60 or 61 AD, Boudicca and the  Iceni seized the opportunity to rebel while the Romans were distracted by a military campaign in North Wales. Other nearby tribes, also resentful of the Romans, joined the uprising.

As the Romans soon discovered, his was not just some local skirmish or a it of grumbly discontent.

Boudicca and her warriors not only defeated the Roman Ninth Legion, they destroyed the city of Camulodunum (Colchester), at that time the capital of Roman Britain, then killed thousands of people as they sacked the cities of Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). 

The scale and decisive nature of the rebellion caused Nero to consider withdrawing from Britain altogether. 

Finally, Boudicca’s forces were  defeated by a regrouped Roman force led by the Governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus himself. It was a crushing defeat in which many Britons were killed.  

While some claim she died of an illness, Boudicca is widely believed to have poisoned herself tather than being captured by the Romans. It does seem a fitting final act of defiance for that strong, brave and very angry woman to die in her own terms and not at the hands of the overlords she hated.


Women in History: Æthelflæd

Meet one of my favourite women in history: Æthelflæd, Lady Of The Mercians.

In today’s Women’s History Month post, I want to introduce you to another favourite feisty English princess: Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians.

Born in 870  as the first daughter of King Alfred the Great and his wife Ealswith,  she grew up in a kingdom plagued by Viking invasions and increasing Danish domination of lands the had until recently been other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. 

In 878, the tide began to turn when Alfred defeated the Danes at the Battle of Edington, and  Æthelred  became leader of the the half of Mercia that was still under English control. As Lord of the Mercians, he acknowledged Alfred as King over all the English people who lived in areas not controlled by the Vikings. This alliance was sealed by the marriage of Æthelflæd to Æthelred. 

Not content to be a political pawn, Æthelflæd established herself in Mercia as a very capable co-ruler with Æthelred, and when his health began to fail, she took on the responsibilities of rule. When he died in 911, she assumed sole leadership of the kingdom and ruled in her own right as the Lady of the Mercians. 

This was the first time a woman had ruled an English kingdom, and she did a brilliant job of it. She fought against the Danes alongside her father and then he brother Edward, who became King on the death of Alfred in 899, enjoying victories that led to the Viking rulers of York offering her their loyalty in 918. However, Æthelflæd died before she was able to accept their offer and Edward absorbed Mercia into his own kingdom. 

RClearly, Æthelflæd was a woman who was not content to take a passive role in either history or her own life. She recognised no glass ceilings, and showed most of the men around her— including her own brother— how leadership should be done. 

To learn more about this fascinating woman, I recommend Annie Whitehead’s fabulous work of historical fiction, To Be A Queen.

Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Another of my favorite women in history is Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of ‘Anne of Green Gables’.

That book, and those that follow it in the series, have been lifelong favorites of mine.

This post is one I wrote when my brother Sean and I visited Prince Edward Island and stayed with my wonderful friend Audrey, who lives on the island and was a very willing tour guide for us.

We visited a number of places related to Lucy Maud, experiences which only deepened my love and admiration for this most excellent and inspirational writer.

An Aussie Maple Leaf, adrift on the wind...

Lucy Maud Montgomery is famous as the author of “Anne of Green Gables” and many other books. She was also a poet – something I did not know until today!

In addition to visiting Green Gables, I also visited he site of the home in which Montgomery lived with her grandparents at Cavendish and her birthplace at New London, on Prince Edward Island.

Both of these experiences were lovely. The home of Montgomery’s grandparents is no longer standing, but the site is commemorated by a rustic bookstore which specialises in book by, and about, Montgomery.

Walking through the house in which Montgomery was born was both fascinating and quite moving.

To see letters handwritten by her, clothes and shoes that she wore, and to walk on the very same floorboards and stairs that she walked on as a child had a very profound effect on me. I have always felt…

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A Few Picture Books to Celebrate Women’s History Month

This is a wonderful collection of children’s books that celebrate significant women in history.

I’m also very encouraged to see that the women featured in these stories are from different countries and cultures.

What a brilliant way to celebrate Women’s History Month in a way that inspires and educates our kids!

Pernille Ripp

Last week, before the calendar switched to March, I changed our book displays in our classroom. Not because we stop celebrating Black history and excellence but because we wanted to add the component of females in history.

I was asked if I would share my list here, and while I don’t mind sharing it, I will say that it has holes. While I wanted to showcase an inclusive mix of picture books, I am still adding picture books that go beyond the well-known stories. I feel like there are many unknown women whose picture books are not on our shelves at the moment, so I am working on finding these for the future. I also want to continue to work on including more indigenous or First Nation stories, as well as stories of women who defy the narrow definition of their gender.

So what is gracing our shelves right now?

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Laura Secord.

Originally posted on An Aussie Maple Leaf, adrift on the wind…:
Laura Secord was an incredibly gutsy woman.? When she overheard plans by the Americans to attack the British soldiers defending Canada in the War of 1812, she walked almost 20 miles from her home in Queenston to warn them. She was determined to get…

One of my favourite Canadian women in history is Laura Secord.

I’m sure that when you read this post, reblogged from my Maple Leaf Aussie Adrift On The Wind blog, you’ll understand why I think so much of her.

This is a post I wrote about her on the day that my brother and I visited her monument at Queenston Heights and, later in the day, her home.

Enjoy!

An Aussie Maple Leaf, adrift on the wind...

Laura Secord was an incredibly gutsy woman.

When she overheard plans by the Americans to attack the British soldiers defending Canada in the War of 1812, she walked almost 20 miles from her home in Queenston to warn them. She was determined to get the message to the British soldiers, under the command of Lieutenant FitzGibbon, at Beaver Dams, where the Americans planned to attack.

This was no walk in the park. It was over varied terrain in 19th century ladies’ shoes and clothing which, it may safely be assumed, were not designed for much other than drinking tea in parlours and visiting a shop or two on the odd occasion. She didn’t go by the main road, because she didn’t want to be stopped by more American soldiers. Even though she was afraid when she came upon a camp of Iroquois, she asked for directions and was pleased to…

View original post 196 more words

Sylvermoon Chronicles VII: A New Release Anthology

Sylvermoon Chronicles is an annual short story anthology created by The Confederacy of the Quill, an international writers’ cooperative. I am very proud to have one of my stories, Contaminus, included in the 2019 issue of this highly regarded anthology series.

While the book releases on Valentines Day, it should not be mistaken for a romance collection.

Rather, I like to think of it as a gift for those who, like me, would sooner read genres other than lovey-dovey romance, and a welcome distraction from all the kissy-face sentimentality often associated with February 14th. The Sylvermoon Chronicles series features stories in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Adventure. 

It is an honor to be published in a series which I have very much enjoyed as a reader, alongside a number of authors whose work I have previously read, reviewed and fangirled over. I was both excited and slightly surprised when my story was accepted, especially given the inspiration behind the writing of Contaminus.

New worlds await you in the newest Sylvermoon Chronicles collection, which hit the shelves today. The ebook is widely available now, and the paperback will be available soon. 

Ambrosia.

I remember as a child going to visit friends of my parents’ for dinner, and being served a dessert called Ambrosia. I had never heard of it before, and I remember being amazed by how sweet and delightful it was. The sensation of wanting more when the little dish set before me was empty is still a very clear memory.

When I was a bit older and started reading about history, I discovered that ambrosia was a mythical substance that, having been brought to the Ancient Greek Gods by doves, became their food of choice, along with their favoured drink, nectar. Ambrosia and nectar may have even originally been the same thing, but Homer and  Sappho both distinguish between them. Given that they were present in Ancient Greece and I was not. their authority on the matter is something I am willing to accept.

Ambrosia was understood to be fragrant, powerful and reserved for the gods, who adored it because of its healing and cleansing powers, and because it took years off their physical ages. It filled them with passion and made them desirable. Little wonder, then, that they wanted to keep it for themselves! 

In time, ‘ambrosia’ was a term that became popular among the Romans as any delightful essence or concoction of food or drink, and then may have given rise to the idea of “the elixir of life” that people have been searching for ever since. 

It was the concept of drinking something that resulted in passion that lasted for eternity that caused me to write my poem Ambrosia about the power of a lover’s effect on one’s life and soul. I wanted to capture that heady, addictive feeling between lovers that makes them believe nothing and nobody else matters, and that their love transcends time, place and physical limitations. 

Anyone who has experienced those feelings will relate. Anyone who has landed hard on their posterior after doing something stupid for love will probably relate, but may also mutter uncharitable things about love and romance under their breath. Those who haven’t experienced it may scoff. 

Yet the feelings and experiences described in the poem do exist, and they are what the celebration of Valentine’s Day has come to be all about: it’s the kind of love that everyone wants to find and experience, although it’s fair to say that not everyone does. 

We must remember, after all, that the legend of Valentines Day was never about flowers, candlelight dinners and fairy-tale, kissy-face wedding proposals: it began with a man being executed for something he believed in. 

At any rate, I wrote Ambrosia in honour of the love of my life who, after many years together, still hasn’t driven me to drink. I have, however, been known to do take a risk or two for the love of him from time to time, so it’s an appropriate poem to share on Valentine’s Day. 

If you appreciated this post or my poem, please click “like” so that it becomes visible to more people.

Ambrosia is publshed in my book, Smoke and Shadows.

Unexpected Bonus: The Bay of Whales Gallery

We discovered a new Indie art gallery in the small hamlet where we go camping every year.

After a crazy-busy Christmas and New Year “silly season” followed by some medical events with my father, we managed to get away for a few days to one of our favourite destinations.  It’s a little caravan park (aka ‘trailer park’ in American English) nestled into a bend on the Surry River on the south-western coast of Victoria, just down the hill from a small hamlet named Narrawong.  

Many people might drive through Narrawong on their way from Warrnambool to Portland and suspect that there’s not much there. 
They’d be wrong. 

This area is full of surprises. We’ve been spending part of our January here for years, but we are still finding new things to do and see. 

This year’s unexpected bonus was a visit to the Bay of Whales Gallery, where wildlife artist Brett Jarrett creates and exhibits his amazing realist art of all sorts of animals and birds. 


Visitors are welcome to talk with Brett and watch him work, which makes them feel very connected to his artwork.  It’s a very relaxed and comfortable place, and it was lovely to be able to walk around and peruse Brett’s paintings at our own pace. 

There is beauty outside the gallery, too. Peacocks and chickens roam the grounds of the building, which sits atop a hill that overlooks natural bush, farmland, beach and bay.

The Bay of Whales Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday. 

My friends and I can personally testify that very good coffee and a range of delicious home-made cakes are available on weekends.  

Follow Brett Jarrett Wildlife Artist on Facebook or Instagram.