Medieval women, according to theorists whose positions were informed by standard classical tropes, suffered from an “excess” of emotion, which barred them from positions of political authority. Eleanor of Aquitaine—queen, countess, and mother of kings—belies this categorization. As a political actor, especially in defense of her own territories and as regent of her sons’ kingdom of England, Eleanor deployed emotional expressions strategically in order to elicit patronage and support from other political leaders. Although many historians have discussed the career of Eleanor of Aquitaine, most emphasize her anomalous position, based on the presentation of her made by contemporary chroniclers such as Roger of Hoveden and Ralph de Diceto. Unlike her husband, Henry II, whose emotional outbursts usually resulted in disaster—vide the Becket debacle—Eleanor’s use of emotion reinforced her position of authority and was underscored by her claim of legitimate emotional distress as mother and as regent.
Linda E. Mitchell is the Martha Jane Phillips Starr Missouri Distinguished Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, and Professor of History, at University of Missouri—Kansas City. She is the author, most recently, of Joan de Valence: The Life and Influence of a Thirteenth-Century Noblewoman (Palgrave, 2016) and Voices of Medieval England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life (Greenwood Press, 2016).