Tuesday, June 04, 2013


THE SUMMER QUEEN: Behind the Scenes part 2.

So what land did Alienor of Aquitaine own? In theory all the salmon pink area on the map at the foot of this post, although the nuances and practicalities were somewhat different

Alienor inherited the title of Duchess of Aquitaine in the spring of 1137 when her father died on a pilgrimage to Compostela. Her ancestors had started out as Counts of Poitou and then extended their rule. The heartlands surrounding Poitiers provided the bulk of their resources for enforcing ducal authority and the young Alienor would have viewed herself as more Poitevan than Aquitanian. 

The land surrounding Poitiers was rich and fertile with fruitful vineyards and an expanding wine trade, with the Atlantic port of La Rochelle a growing centre. There were abundant forests for hunting and for the cultivation of timber. Alienor's family had a hunting lodge at Talmont with a mews for their hawks, including white gyrfalcons, the reserved to royalty. Salt, essential for an expanding fishing industry, was panned from the salt marshes along the Poitevan coast and was a lucrative part of the region’s economy. It was also produced at Bayonne in Gascony.

‘Aquitaine’ was a catch-all description for over a dozen counties stretching from a northern border just below the River Loire as far as the Pyrenees. In width it extended eastwards from the Atlantic coast and far into the Massif Central. The regions included among others Gascony, Perigord, the Limousin and Auvergne. The Northern French and the English tended to lump all these separate regions into one and just think of its denizens as belonging to South of France and the culture of the ‘Languedoc’. The latter name comes from the language spoken in some but by no means all parts of those southern regions. Known in the Middle Ages as the Lenga Romana and today as Occitan, it is a descendant of Roman Latin and has a great deal in common with Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. However, in Poitou, the language spoken was the French of the North, albeit with a southern dialect, and not Occitan - which would have been Alienor’s second language, not her first. She would have understood her new French husband perfectly well, and he her. 

Tradition says that Alienor was born at Belin which is near Occitan speaking Bordeaux, but she would have spent most of her girlhood in the region of Poitiers and she did not visit Gascony south of the Bordelais. As far as Gascony was concerned, the ducal control more or less stopped at Bordeaux. The Dukes would make occasional spear-rattling forays deeper into the territory to demand allegiance, but they didn’t stop to party! Allegiance was loosely knit and sporadic rebellion and warfare were endemic, but at the same time, culture and trade were flourishing. Edgy and dynamic, that was Aquitaine!

You can see from the map that the area ruled by the Counts of Anjou/Dukes of Aquitaine, dwarfed the darker green French heartland and was indeed a prize to be cherished by the French Crown - and also by the Counts of Anjou who were keen to get their hands on it if they could...

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