At KLEIO, our goal is to not only recreate aromas of the past but also to share the fascinating history behind each candle.
The Eleanor candle is an interpretation of the olfactive history of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her time.
Eleanor of Aquitaine is arguably one of the most famous queens of the western medieval period. She was the wife of two kings, a mother to three kings, a patron of the arts, and the heir to an area that is the equivalent to nearly half of modern France. Her life, full of both personal and political intrigue, has been mythologized over the centuries. However, Eleanor has emerged as a fascinating personality during a time when women were merely footnotes in recorded history, if recorded at all. Eleanor was a political figure with power to wield, a "woman who fought for the freedom to make her own choices in life."
Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in around 1124 CE in Poitiers, though some historians suggest she could have been born as early as 1122. Eleanor came from the distinguished line of the Dukes of Aquitaine, who themselves were the "successors to Carolingian kings of Aquitaine and rulers of France’s largest duchy." After the death of her father in 1137, Eleanor would become the sole heir of Aquitaine, making her one of the most sought after brides in Europe.
Queen of both France and England, there are scores of tomes dedicated to recounting the storied life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Among the many events that shaped Eleanor's life included leading a crusade to the Holy Land; imprisonment for 16 years for treason after being suspected of supporting her son's attempt to overthrow his father the king; serving as a regent for her son King Richard the Lionheart when he assumed the throne and then as envoy to France for her son King John.
In addition to her many historic accomplishments, Eleanor was also reputed to have encouraged a culture of chivalry among her courtiers that had tremendous influence on literature, poetry, music, and folklore. A great patroness of the arts, she inspired the works of Bernard de Ventadour (12th century CE), Marie de France, (c.1160-1215 CE), and other influential poets. Her daughter Marie would be patroness to Andreas Cappellanus and Chretien de Troyes, one of the most influential poets of courtly love and the Arthurian Legend.
Hers is a tale of broken marriages, revolt, family, and power. After decades of tumult, Eleanor chose to retire as a nun to the abbey at Fontevraud, where she died in 1204 CE at the age of 82 and buried upon her death.
Eleanor of Aquitaine's life and legacy remain a source of insatiable fascination and inspiration. Even nearly one thousand years later, Eleanor's incredible story is still examined and discussed with great interest.
KLEIO was thrilled to collaborate with Royalty Now on the creation of this candle. When winnowing down the potential names, we both believed that naming it simply "Eleanor" reflected the private Eleanor we wished to convey and perhaps become better acquainted with through the transportive magic of fragrance. No royal titles, no modifiers, no regional claims. She was simply Eleanor: a medieval woman in her private quarters, surrounded by the aromas of her time.
In an era before age germ theory and the advent of modern medicine, gardens constituted a frontline defense in the battle against disease. Medieval Europeans, informed by Classical Greek medical theory, emphasized the close relationship between health and the environment, while also stressing the impact of both scent and sight upon human physiology and psychology. While foul odors (or miasmas) were believed to spread sickness, floral perfume, fresh air, and a verdant landscape helped to prevent it by promoting physical and mental stability.
In creating Eleanor, we extensively researched the aromas that could be reasonably found in Eleanor of Aquitaine's private chambers, informed by the olfactive history of her time.
In medieval Europe, rushes were very commonly used on floors in castles. Rushes are a flowering river plant resembling long grass. Rushes were harvested, occasionally dried in the sun, and braided into floor mats. These mats were then sprinkled with fragrant herbs, such as rosemary and lavender.
There is debate as to whether the rushes were spread loosely throughout the home environment. Some historians take issue with this claim, citing that the long dresses worn by women, especially noble women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries CE would catch the loose rushes easily, which would be impractical.
The fear of bad smells and miasmas was pervasive in medieval Europe, supported by the notion that Purgatory and Hell alike were associated with the vile stench of pitch and Sulphur. Conversely, a floral perfume of inexpressible sweetness permeated Heaven, which was often described as a hortus deliciarum, the celestial equivalent of the terrestrial Eden.
A common belief in medieval Europe at the time was that “good smelles” from flowers, such as violets and roses, could ward off disease (e.g., plague) and soothe ailments, keeping the body in good “humoral” health.
For example, the scent of violets was prescribed in the treatment of headaches, fevers, skin diseases, and other conditions. And the scent of roses, its value as a prophylactic against the plague, was also widely recognized as a preventative measure.
Today we may call the benefits of fragrance and its affect on mental and physical health as aromatherapy. But during the medieval period, it was common belief that maintaining pleasant aromas in one's home environment could prevent illness and even death.
KLEIO's Eleanor candle features fragrance notes of medieval violet, rosemary, English lavender, garden rose, and sun-kissed rush grass.
An example of a mat braided with rushes
Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir
Eleanor of Aquitaine: Queen of France and England, Mother of Empires by Sara Cockerill
'Delectable Sightes and Fragrant Smelles': Gardens and Health in Late Medieval and Early Modern England by Carole Rawcliffe. Published in Garden History, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring, 2008), pp. 3-21.
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