Eleanor of Aquitaine (ca. 1122-1204):
Queen of France,
Queen of England,
Queen of Culture

Eleanor of Aquitaine

The Lion in Winter and the Middle Ages unit is an ideal way to link literature and medieval history. The play personalizes the Crusades, the birth of Gothic architecture, troubadour poetry, and courtly love because its principal characters, who the students come to care about, actually participated in them. Also, the unit, with its exploration of medieval relic cults, Thomas Becket, and courtly love prepares students for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Arthurian romances, and its colorful figurative language is an ideal springboard to Shakespeare’s figurative language. Additionally, in this interdisciplinary unit, students explore the Arabic scientific revolution of the Middle Ages, including Arabic contributions to astronomy and medicine, medieval music, modern rock and folk troubadours, and the principles of physics that Leonardo da Vinci extracted from his crossbow studies.

The text in each chapter-lesson is LACED WITH CAPTIVATING ANECDOTES & MINI NARRATIVES THAT GRAB & HOLD STUDENTS’ ATTENTION (see text samples below in green).

NEXUS Cross-Curricular Connections in each Lesson Deepen Students’ Understanding of the Play and Period.

MULTICULTURAL CHAPTERS: ARABIC Contributions to Medieval Culture: Advances in Astronomy, Medicine, and Science

“The play is accessible and often funny. The teenage sons of Henry II will appeal to students, and the fine Hepburn/O’Toole film is widely available on video. The play is decidedly modern: witty anachronisms and ironic asides make that fact impossible to forget. Even if the play is not your principal focus, this unit is a good introduction to medieval life and literature.” – THE COLLEGE BOARD

“Chapters in The Lion in Winter & the Middle Ages provide any creative teacher with a cornucopia of ideas from which to draw lessons that cross the lines that usually separate subjects.” Breaking Ranks, NASSP (NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SECONDARY SCHOOL PRINCIPALS)

Aligned with COMMON CORE STANDARDS. For secondary students.

Women in History: Eleanor of Aquitaine

The Queen of Culture

Twice-crowned Eleanor of Aquitaine was not only the queen of France and then England, she was also the Queen of Culture. She is a major figure in medieval literature because she helped establish the first vernacular literature in Europe by patronizing the troubadours and by fostering and helping to disseminate the Arthurian Romances. Her daughter (Marie of Champagne) by Louis VII commissioned the first known story of Lancelot, Chrétien de Troyes’s Lancelot: The Knight of the Cart. Eleanor may have commissioned Chrétien de Troyes’s Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. Her grandfather William IX of Aquitaine is the first known troubadour.

Eleanor also played a direct and indirect role in the Crusades, Pilgrimages, Feudalism, Courtly Love, Gothic Architecture and Heraldry. Much of 12th century can be linked to Eleanor of Aquitaine.  For this reason one NEXUS volume –The Lion in Winter & the Middle Ages – is devoted largely to Eleanor and her enormously influential role in medieval history and literature.

Links to Canturbury Tales

Relic Cults and Pilgrimages

Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales of course chronicles a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. To facilitate students’ entrance into Chaucer’s world, the NEXUS volume The Lion in Winter and the Middle Ages includes chapter-lessons on Pilgrimages and Relic Cults, both of which are linked to Eleanor of Aquitaine.

One of the greatest extant treasures of relics, the Guelph Treasure – portions of which are in the U.S. today was partly acquired by Eleanor’s son-in-law, Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, who also helped pay the ransom for Richard the Lionhearted who was imprisoned in Austria on his return from the 3rd Crusade.  (The story of Robin Hood, of course, is woven around Richard’s capture.)  The play also alludes to the conflict between Henry II and Thomas à Becket, the martyr of Canterbury.  Songs honoring Thomas Becket are  examined in The Lion in Winter and the Middle Ages volume of NEXUS.

Eleanor and Gothic Architecture

Leonardo Da Vinci  Lesson – Physics of the Crossbow

Louis VII’s advisor and the regent of France while Eleanor and Louis were on the 2nd Crusade was Abbot Suger, the inventor of Gothic Architecture. Suger was also the Queen’s personal confessor. Eleanor attended the grand opening of the first Gothic cathedral, St. Denis in 1144—built by Suger.  According to legend, Eleanor’s and Louis’s faces–as they appeared on their return from the Crusade–are featured on two jamb statues of the Royal Portal of Chartres.  Eleanor’s favorite son, Richard the Lionhearted, helped pay for Chartres, as did Philip II (also in the play).  Blanche of Castile, Eleanor’s granddaughter and the mother of St. Louis (for whom the Gateway to the American West is named), commissioned the West Rose window of Chartres and signed it with the fleur-de-lys, the coat of arms of France (see the Heraldry supplement).

Eleanor and History

Gothic Architecture – A Lion in Winter Lesson


Eleanor joined her husband Louis VII on the 2nd Crusade.   Her son Richard the Lionhearted led the 3rd Crusade, along with Philip II (who’s also in the play).  Eleanor’s great-grandson, St. Louis, launched the 7th and 8th Crusades.  In NEXUS the Crusades are personalized by teaching them in connection with characters in the play.


Feudalism, which is usually taught as an abstract concept, is made concrete and personalized in the Lion volume by linking it to the central conflict of the play, which is inherently feudalistic and underscores the role of medieval noble women in feudal society, a role that Eleanor of Aquitaine continually undermined.


The 1st known coat of arms belonged to Eleanor’s father-in-law, Geoffrey Plantagenet (who is mentioned several times in the play).  Richard the Lionhearted’s blazonry—three ramping golden lions on a field of red—became the royal coat of arms of England.  Eleanor’s 1st husband, Louis VII, introduced the fleur-de-lys to France.


Eleanor’s son John signed the Magna Carta (and, of course, he’s the evil prince in Robin Hood).

Chartres Cathedral – A Lion in Winter Architecture Lesson

Students study the building of the great Cathedral of Chartres and learn about the roles several characters in The Lion in Winter and others played in building it.

The Lion in Winter Lessons Part V – Medieval Music Lessons and Modern Troubadours

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A portion of our proceeds is donated annually to UNICEF’S Audrey Hepburn All Children in School Fund.