Eleanor’s Divorce from Louis VII: The Uses of Consanguinity
One of the most famous divorces in history took place in 1152, when King Louis VII ended his marriage to Eleanor, duchess of Aquitaine, his wife for the previous fifteen years. The official reason for the divorce was consanguinity: they were connected by blood within fewer than the permitted “seven degrees,” being related within four degrees on his side and five on hers. That is, he could count four generations back to their common ancestor, while she counted five. In modern terms, they were third cousins once removed.1 The blood relationship between them was more an excuse for a divorce than the real reason, however, as the relationship had been well known for years and had even been excused by the pope.2 In this chapter, I shall discuss this paradigmatic divorce, concentrating especially on the union between Louis and Eleanor as a locus of blood-ties binding together much of the upper nobility of the medieval west. A study of their blood relationship is revelatory of the ways that consanguinity was understood and used in the twelfth century.
KeywordsConsanguineous Marriage Twelfth Century Eleventh Century Cousin Marriage Blood Relationship
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