Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir


  The King intended that young Henry should succeed to Anjou.10 In April, with Eleanor, he travelled to Wallingford to present both princes to the barons and clergy and to command them to swear allegiance to his elder son, William, as the heir to England and, perhaps, Normandy; then, in the event of William's early death, to young Henry as his successor.11 Since William was styled Count of Poitiers, it appears that he had been designated his mother's heir. It was probably at around this time that Henry acknowledged his bastard son Geoffrey and took him into his household to be brought up with his legitimate sons.

  During the spring Eleanor prevailed upon Henry to undertake repairs to the Palace of Westminster, his chief residence. At Easter, he delegated responsibility for the work to Becket, who undertook it with such energy and enthusiasm that the palace was ready for occupation by Whitsun: a veritable army of workmen had accomplished in fifty days what would, in the normal run of things, have taken a year at least, although the noise they had made had been deafening.12

  Early in June, Eleanor took up residence at Westminster, but she was not there for long, since she accompanied the King on a tour through his now peaceful realm, visiting important castles and cities.13 It may have been at around this time that she commissioned the building of her own dock in Thames Street, known as Queenhithe. It was here, in a basin cut into the river bank next to Vintners' Quay, that ships from Aquitaine would in future find moorings. The entrance to the dock was by a great gatehouse, which remained for centuries one of the sights of London.

  In September, Eleanor moved with her household to Winchester to be reunited with Henry, who had spent some weeks hunting with Becket in the New Forest. On 29 September the barons attended a Michaelmas council to discuss the King's projected invasion of Ireland, of which he had been named overlord by Pope Adrian IV, the only Englishman ever to occupy the throne of St. Peter. Ireland was then in chaos, torn by wars between feuding chieftains, and the Pope believed that Henry II was the only man who could bring it to order.

  Henry was enthusiastic at the prospect of conquering Ireland, and spoke of giving it to his youngest brother William, but the Empress Matilda, learning of his plans, was horrified, and came in haste to England to oppose them. Ireland, she told the council, was a poor land, full of barbarians, which would not be worth the trouble it would bring the King. When she revealed that her middle son, Geoffrey, was taking up arms to enforce his claim to Anjou and Maine, which his father had meant Henry to cede to him once he became king, Henry's interest in Ireland was immediately shelved and he began making plans to deal with Geoffrey.

  Henry and Eleanor remained at Winchester throughout the autumn; by the time they celebrated Christmas there, Eleanor knew she was pregnant again.

  On 10 January 1156, having spent more than a year in England, Henry crossed from Dover to Wissant and returned to Normandy to attend to the affairs of his continental fiefs, leaving Richard de Lucy as regent and placing Eleanor and their children under the guardianship of Archbishop Theobald and John of Salisbury; the Pipe Rolls show that the Queen was paid allowances for the two boys, and also record that she was supporting in her household her sister Petronilla and their two bastard brothers, William and Joscelin. During the period 1154-1158, there are thirty-six entries relating to Exchequer payments to William, as well as regular payments of generous sums for wine for Petronilla.

  On 5 February Henry met King Louis on the Norman border and finally paid him homage for Normandy, Anjou, and Aquitaine.14 He spent the next few months bringing Geoffrey to submission, and in the summer managed to buy him off with an annuity-- which he failed to pay in full-- and the castle of Loudun. Shortly afterwards, the lords of Nantes and southern Brittany, who had been warring over the Breton succession since the death of Count Conan III in 1148, offered Geoffrey the comital circlet, but he did not live long to enjoy it, dying at Nantes on 26 July 1158.

  During the spring Eleanor travelled widely about the realm, running up a high expenditure of £350.15 Although she was not officially associated with Richard de Lucy in the regency, the numerous writs issued in her name at this time attest to the fact that she was actively involved in government.

  In April or June (sources differ), Eleanor's eldest son, William, who was not quite three years old, died at Wallingford Castle.16 The circumstances and cause of his death are unknown. He was buried at the feet of his great-grandfather, Henry I, in Reading Abbey.

  The grief that Henry and Eleanor felt at losing their son may have been somewhat mitigated by the birth of a daughter in June, either in London or, less probably, at Windsor Castle. The baby, who was baptised by Archbishop Theobald in the church of the Holy Trinity at Aldgate,17 was named Matilda in honour of the Empress. The Pipe Rolls record the purchase of a baby carriage for her.

  Late in July, Eleanor drew funds from the Exchequer and crossed the Channel with the new baby and the Lord Henry, and by 29 August had been reunited with the King at Saumur in Anjou. In October the family travelled south to Aquitaine, where they undertook a progress, receiving homage from Eleanor's vassals and taking hostages to ensure they did not break their oaths.18 At Limoges, in order to underline his authority, Henry made the young Viscount his ward and installed Norman officials to administer the county. One baron who had caused trouble for Eleanor in the past was the Viscount of Thouars,19 who had supported Geoffrey of Anjou in his recent conflict with his royal brother. Henry's vengeance was swift and thorough: he expelled the Viscount from his lands in Poitou and destroyed all his castles.

  Henry and Eleanor held their Christmas court at Bordeaux. By the end of February 1157, Eleanor was back in London with her children, leaving Henry to conclude his business on the continent. Soon after her return, she realised that another baby was on the way. Around 8 April, Henry followed her back to England, and at Whitsun they were at Bury St. Edmunds for a ceremonial crown-wearing.

  After Easter the King had begun planning a campaign against Owain Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales, who was threatening to take the city of Chester. When, at the end of July, he set out at the head of his army, Eleanor acted as regent. Henry did not fare well in Wales: he was unused to the guerrilla tactics employed by his opponents, who paid no heed to the normal rules of chivalry and routinely decapitated their enemies. During an early skirmish, Owain's men fell upon the English with such savagery that the royal standard was cast into the dust and the King was believed killed. Indeed, he barely escaped with his life, leaving many of his men dead in the field. At Rhuddlan, defeated, he negotiated a truce with Owain and returned to Chester.20 From there, he embarked on a progress that would take him the length and breadth of England.

  Thomas Becket, Richard de Lucy, and Robert de Beaumont were all summoned north to join the King, but Eleanor, because of her advancing pregnancy, was obliged to remain at Westminster. In early August, Henry swept south through Warwickshire to Malmesbury, Windsor, Woodstock, and Oxford, where Eleanor was able to join him. There, in the King's House (later Beaumont Palace) on 8 September 1157, she gave birth to their third son. The Pipe Rolls record a payment of twenty shillings to cover the expenses of the confinement.

  The boy was christened Richard 21 and was given into the care of a nurse, Hodierna of St. Albans, whose own son, Alexander Nequam, had been born the same night. This boy, Richard's foster brother, grew up to be one of the greatest scientists of the age, the author of a treatise on natural history and the first European to study magnetism. Hodierna took care of Richard during his early years. As he grew, he became attached to her, and years later, when he became king, he rewarded her for her care of him with a large pension. The old name for West Knoyle in Wiltshire, Knoyle Odierne, suggests that she may have retired there.

  It seems likely that Richard was designated the heir to Poitou and Aquitaine, in place of his deceased brother William. Ralph of Diceto implies that this son was special to Eleanor from birth, recalling one of the ancient prophecies of Merlin, which in the twelfth century were widely believed to apply to H
enry II and his family: "The eagle of the broken covenant shall rejoice in her third nesting." Eleanor was the eagle, the broken covenant the dissolution of her marriage to Louis, and the third nesting was the birth of her third son, Richard.

  Once she was over her confinement, Eleanor joined Henry on his great progress, which initially took them to the north of England, where Malcolm IV of Scotland acknowledged the English King as his overlord and paid homage to him. Over the course of the next year, Henry travelled a staggering 3,500 miles, and for much of that time, if not all, Eleanor was with him.

  The Christmas court of 1157 was held at Lincoln. Afterwards, Henry returned north to ensure that castles taken from the Scots were properly garrisoned. Then, in the middle of January, he moved south through Yorkshire into Nottinghamshire, where he and Eleanor stayed at the royal manor of Blyth and the royal castle at Nottingham. They then crossed through Oxfordshire into Wiltshire, arriving in Worcestershire by Easter. After the Easter mass held in Worcester Cathedral, the King and Queen took part in a curious ceremony in which they renounced their crowns, taking them off and laying them upon the shrine of St. Wulfstan, solemnly vowing never to wear them again.22 Then it was on to Shropshire, Gloucestershire, and Somerset, before pressing north to Carlisle in June.

  Early in 1158, Constance of Castile had borne Louis VII a daughter, Marguerite, prompting her husband to complain about "the frightening superfluity of his daughters."23 During his progress, Henry conceived the idea of marrying Marguerite to the Lord Henry. Should Louis die without a male heir, Marguerite would be his co-heiress with her sisters, and although the Salic law forbade succession to the throne by or through a woman, there is little doubt that Henry was confident of his ability to overcome this difficulty-- by force if necessary-- and annex the kingdom of France to his empire. Even if Louis did have a son, the marriage would bring peace between the two kingdoms and, Henry intended, a settlement advantageous to himself.

  Clearly, the best person to broach the delicate matter of this betrothal was Becket, who had a flair for diplomacy, and in the summer of 1158 Henry sent him to France to negotiate with Louis. By design, Becket travelled with a magnificent escort, twenty-four changes of raiment, and a heavily laden baggage train, all of which drew astonished comment from the French,24 whom it was of course meant to impress. Becket's purpose was to overwhelm Louis with this outward display of England's wealth, then persuade him to marry his daughter to the son of his rival. To sweeten the French, he brought with him rich gifts, including chests full of gold and barrels of ale. "Marvellous is the King of the English whose chancellor goes thus and so grandly," observed the Parisians. The ploy worked: Louis received Becket like a visiting prince, and when Becket left France, with his baggage train much lighter, he had secured Louis's agreement to the betrothal.

  At the end of July, the long royal progress came to an end when the King and Queen reached Winchester. On 14 August, having received news of his brother Geoffrey's death, Henry crossed to France, leaving Eleanor, nearly eight months pregnant, as co-regent with Richard de Lucy.

  Henry went first to meet King Louis beside the River Epte near Gisors on the Norman border, where the final terms of the marriage alliance were agreed upon: Marguerite was to have the Norman Vexin and the castle of Gisors as her dowry,25 although they were not to be formally handed over until 1164, unless the marriage had been solemnised earlier with the consent of the Church. In the meantime, they would remain in Louis's possession but in the custody of the Knights Templar. As a pledge of Louis's good intentions, Marguerite was to be handed over to King Henry immediately. Should the Lord Henry die before the marriage could take place, she would marry one of his brothers. This contract must have afforded Henry considerable satisfaction, since it restored to him the Norman lands and rights ceded by his father to Louis in 1151. As for Louis, he was gratified that his daughter would one day be a queen, and comforted himself for the prospective loss of the Vexin with the knowledge that the betrothed pair would not be married for a long time yet; anything might happen in the meantime.

  Louis and Henry also discussed the future of Brittany, with Louis agreeing to support Henry's claim to be his brother's heir and recognising him as the overlord of Brittany, to the detriment of the rival heirs of Conan III. He then invited Henry to Paris to receive the Princess Marguerite.

  After the meeting, Henry rode straight to Brittany and took possession of Nantes, its capital,26 where the citizens, weary of civil war, afforded him a rapturous welcome as Geoffrey's rightful heir. His plan was to conquer the whole of Brittany, but as he had other priorities and claims on his resources at present, he was obliged to content himself with leaving his new vassal, Conan IV, grandson of Conan III, in charge at Nantes, confident that one day the whole of Brittany would be his.

  In September, attended by only a small retinue, Henry was warmly welcomed by Louis and the French nobility in Paris, where he refused much of the lavish hospitality on offer. The Parisians were surprised at the contrast between the soberly dressed English King and the magnificent Becket. During the visit, Queen Constance relinquished the six-month-old Princess Marguerite into Henry's custody. As a condition of the betrothal, Louis had stipulated that under no circumstances was his daughter to be brought up by Queen Eleanor; Henry therefore placed Marguerite in the care of the trustworthy Robert of Neubourg, chief justice of Normandy, whose castle stood near the French border.

  On 23 September 1158 Eleanor presented Henry with a fourth son, who was named Geoffrey27 after the King's late father and brother. The Pipe Rolls show that, after her confinement, she heard a great many cases in her own assize court, travelling through Hampshire, Kent, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, and Devon. In Salisbury, on 29 November, she issued a judgement in favour of Matilda, Dowager Countess of Chester, and a certificate confirming a quitclaim. All of this business Eleanor carried out "by writ of the King from over seas."

  That November, with their newfound friendship cemented by the marriage alliance of their children, Henry escorted Louis through Normandy on a pilgrimage to the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, where the chronicler Robert of Torigni was Abbot. On their arrival, both kings heard mass together and dined with the monks in their refectory. Having visited Marguerite on the way home and approved the arrangements made for her care, Louis returned to Paris with rich gifts from Henry and was heard to declare that there was no one he esteemed so highly as the King of England. "Wonders never cease," observed Robert of Torigni dryly.

  Towards the end of the year, Eleanor joined Henry at Cherbourg in Normandy for Christmas, leaving Robert de Beaumont in charge in England. Early in 1159, the royal couple were in Normandy, staying at Rouen and Argentan, although it was not long before they set out on another tour of Aquitaine. It was at around this time that Henry conceived a plan to reassert Eleanor's ancestral rights to the county of Toulouse. It is hard to believe that he was not influenced to do so by Eleanor, although he would have realised for himself, as Louis had eighteen years earlier, that there were considerable advantages to be gained from the acquisition of a wealthy domain that encompassed the key trade routes to the Mediterranean.28

  In April, at Blaye north of Bordeaux, the King and Queen met Raymond Berenger V, Count of Barcelona, who was at war with Raymond V, Count of Toulouse; Henry formed an alliance with Raymond Berenger,29 who agreed to support his claim to Toulouse and offered his daughter Berengaria as a bride for the Lord Richard, a plan that came to nothing. However, when King Louis heard of Henry's intentions, he begged him to desist, for the sake of their alliance, since Raymond of Toulouse was not only his vassal but also his ally and brother-in-law, being married to his sister Constance, whose son was the heir to Toulouse: Louis did not want to see his nephew dispossessed.30

  Nevertheless, Henry persisted, demanding of Raymond V that he relinquish Toulouse to Eleanor. Raymond naturally refused and in May, Henry, by exacting punitive taxes, began raising a large army, summoning the lords of England, Normandy, Anjou, and Aqu
itaine, and even the King of Scots, to meet him at Poitiers in June. Becket was given command of seven hundred knights. Louis was still protesting; when Henry pointed out to him that he himself had pressed Eleanor's claim to Toulouse and was therefore in no position to complain about Henry doing the same, he refused to abandon Raymond.

  At Poitiers, where his formidable force had gathered, and where Eleanor was probably to remain throughout the campaign, Henry was joined by the Count of Barcelona and disaffected vassals of the Count of Toulouse. On 24 June, the army marched south through the Perigord and took Quercy a fief of Toulouse, with its fine city of Cahors. Early in July, Henry's forces laid siege to the city of Toulouse itself. Shortly afterwards, Louis himself arrived and took charge of the city's defences.

  Henry was in a difficult position. He wanted Toulouse, and was confident of his ability to take it, but he was equally reluctant to break his oath of allegiance and make war on his overlord-- not so much out of loyalty to Louis, but because it would set a dangerous precedent for his own vassals.31 Ignoring the advice of Becket, who urged him to carry on with the siege,32 he withdrew from Toulouse and deployed his men in harrying the surrounding area, in the hope of driving Raymond to surrender. He also sent a force north to raid the royal demesne, hoping to lure Louis away. But the French King, who was determined to protect the birthright of his sister's sons, would not leave Toulouse.33

  By the time autumn came, Henry's army had been decimated by dysentery due to insanitary conditions, and at the end of September he was obliged to abandon the campaign; afterwards, he arranged a truce until the following May. From Toulouse, Henry rode north to Limoges and thence to Beauvais in Normandy to deal with a threatened invasion by Robert of Dreux. There is no record of him visiting Eleanor in Poitiers en route, and he was probably in too much of a hurry. Husband and wife were, however, reunited in time for Christmas, which they celebrated at Falaise in Normandy. It was one of the bitterest winters of the century.

 
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