Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir

  Henry had now been out of England for seventeen months, but since his presence was still needed on the continent-- he would be based mainly in Normandy for the next three years-- he arranged for Eleanor to cross the Channel, not only to keep an eye on the affairs of his kingdom, but also to arrange for the immediate transfer of funds from his treasury, which he needed urgently. On 29 December 1159, in the face of a violent tempest, the Queen sailed from Normandy with young Henry and Matilda in the royal ship Esnecca (the Snake). Having docked safely at Southampton, she rode to Winchester to collect the royal gold. She then escorted it back to Southampton and herself accompanied it on its voyage on the Esnecca to Barfleur. After it had been handed over there to Henry's trusted officials, Eleanor returned to England.

  The records indicate that for the next nine months the Queen was very busy with her duties as regent, doubtless exercising an authority that would never have been hers had Becket not remained in France with Henry. Despite the severe weather, Eleanor embarked on an extensive tour of the country, which suggests that she wished to see for herself that it was being administered properly: the Pipe Rolls record her presence in London, Middlesex, Southampton, Berkshire, Surrey, Cambridge, Winchester, and Dorset. It is unlikely she would have undertaken such a tour for private reasons.

  While she was in residence in Winchester Castle, she paid £22 13s 2d "for the repair of the chapel, the houses, the walls and the garden of the Queen, and for the transport of the Queen's robes, her wine, her incense and the chests of her chapel, and for the boys' shields, and for the Queen's chamber, chimney and cellar."34 During her stay she authorised thirteen writs for Exchequer payments amounting to £226 for her own expenditure and £56 for that of the Lord Henry. In London, she had the royal cups regilded at a cost of two silver marks.35 During this period many writs were issued in her name.

  In May, the truce with Louis and Raymond V expired, but Henry had come to terms with the fact that he had no realistic prospects of conquering Toulouse. Although Louis confirmed Henry in all his lands save Toulouse, and their alliance was salvaged, the two kings were essentially enemies once more;36 as William of Newburgh observed, the confrontation at Toulouse marked the beginning of forty years of intermittent warfare between England and France.

  During the summer Archbishop Theobald pleaded with the King to return to England, reminding him that it was a long time since he had seen his children: "Even the most hard-hearted father could hardly bear to have them out of his sight for long," he wrote. His appeal fell on deaf ears; Henry had his hands full on the continent, and although, in September 1160, he commanded Eleanor to join him in Rouen, bringing with her the Lord Henry and the Lady Matilda,37 his motive was political rather than personal. The Queen of France was about to bear a child, and if it were a son, Henry hoped to arrange for his betrothal to Matilda. Eleanor must have travelled in some comfort, for the cost of her voyage in the Esnecca amounted to £7.38

  Henry then took the Lord Henry to the border to meet Louis and present the boy as his heir to Normandy. The child went on his knees before the French King and did homage for the duchy, with his father looking on.

  On 4 October, after a difficult confinement, Queen Constance bore a second daughter, Alys, "and passed from this world."39 Desperate for a male heir, King Louis, now forty, immediately arranged to marry Adela of Champagne, the sister of his future sons-in-law, Count Henry of Champagne and Count Theobald of Blois, both of whom were hostile to Henry II.

  News of Louis's betrothal dashed Henry's hopes of ever absorbing France into his empire. Even if Adela failed to bear Louis a son, the powerful House of Blois would conspire to subvert his schemes. It occurred to him that Counts Henry and Theobald might even persuade Louis to abandon his alliance with Henry, in which case he would lose all hope of recovering the Norman Vexin.

  There was no time to lose, therefore. The marriage of Henry's son and Louis's daughter must take place without delay. Louis's consent was implicit in the marriage contract, so there was no need to consult him beforehand. All the King needed was the Church's special dispensation for the marriage of two minors. It so happened that, following a schism in 1159, rival popes had laid claim to the triple crown of St. Peter, and at that very moment two cardinal legates, emissaries from Pope Alexander III, were at Henry's court, seeking his support for their master. It was therefore easy for Henry to procure a dispensation.40

  At the King's command, Marguerite was brought by her guardian from Neubourg (Eure) to Rouen, and there married to the Lord Henry in the presence of the two legates, one of whom, Henry of Pisa, officiated at the nuptials. The bridegroom was five, the bride not yet three-- "as yet little children crying in the cradles."41 After the wedding Henry took Marguerite into his own household as a hostage against any reprisals by her father;42 this naturally meant that she would be brought up in the care of Queen Eleanor, against Louis's express wishes. Henry also demanded that the Knights Templar surrender the Vexin to him immediately, which they did willingly. The King at once proceeded to fortify Gisors and other border strongholds.43

  On 13 November, Louis married Adela of Champagne. When he found out how Henry had tricked him, he was furious. He protested that, since his daughter's wedding had taken place earlier than he had intended-- he insisted, with some exaggeration, that he had not expected it to happen for another ten years-- he was not obliged to surrender her dowry. But it was too late, and he had to content himself with expelling the Templars from Paris44 and encouraging Theobald of Blois to take to arms against Henry. Fearing that Touraine was under threat, Henry hastened south and took Theobald's castle of Chaumont on the Loire as a warning. At that point the arrival of winter put an end to the fighting season.

  Honour satisfied, Henry withdrew to Le Mans with Eleanor and their children, and there kept court in great state throughout Advent and Christmas.

  On 18 April 1161 Archbishop Theobald, who had been such a true friend to Henry, died, leaving the King faced with the problem of finding another such to replace him. Immediately he thought of Becket, but the Empress Matilda and the respected Gilbert Foliot, Bishop of Hereford (Bishop of London from 1163), warned him that the chancellor was too worldly a man for high ecclesiastical office.

  There the matter rested, for in the spring of 1161 Henry was busy preparing for war against Louis, strengthening his castles on the Norman border and in Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. At the same time, he was building a new royal residence outside Rouen. Trouble in Aquitaine, however, took him south in the summer. "Among other vigorous deeds, he laid siege to Castillon-sur-Agen, and took it within a week, to the wonder and terror of the Gascons."45 The sparse surviving evidence suggests that he was also pursuing a policy of installing Norman administrators in the duchy, in an attempt to enforce centralised government upon its unruly barons. Unlike Eleanor, he did not repose much confidence in the ability of her uncle, Raoul de Faye, to act as her deputy.

  His interference was widely resented. "The Poitevins withdrew from their allegiance to the King of the English because of his pruning of their liberties."46 They even tried to have his marriage to their duchess dissolved, sending a deputation to the cardinal legates with a genealogical table showing that Henry and Eleanor were within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity. But the legates were still busy ingratiating themselves on Pope Alexander's behalf. Thus Henry was able that year to secure the canonisation of the Saxon king Edward the Confessor and so enhance the prestige of the English monarchy.

  While he was in Poitiers Henry inspected the work being done on the choir of the new cathedral and gave orders for the building of another new church, as well as new city walls, bridges, a market, and shops, setting new standards in town planning. He also arranged to have the great hall of the ducal palace refurbished with arcaded walls and bigger windows.

  Eleanor had remained in Normandy. She was pregnant again, and at Domfront Castle in September 1161 47 she gave birth to her second daughter by Henry, who was named Eleanor in her honour and
baptised by Cardinal Henry of Pisa; Robert of Torigni was her godfather. Three years had elapsed since Eleanor's previous child had been born, and historians have conjectured why, after bearing four children in as many years, there was such a gap. It may have occurred because, having presented Henry with three healthy sons in quick succession, Eleanor felt she deserved a rest from childbearing. She may simply not have conceived. Or, as several writers have suggested, she may have had a child whose birth and early death were not recorded by the chroniclers.

  John Speed, the English antiquarian whose History of Great Britain was published in 1611, had access to sources now lost to us, and he records that Henry and Eleanor had a son named Philip, who was born between 1158 and 1162, but died young. Yet Francis Sandford, a genealogist who at the end of the seventeenth century made a detailed study of the royal line, does not mention him. It is possible that he existed: mediaeval chroniclers did not always mention royal infants who died young. Although William, Count of Poitiers, died at the age of three, he was his father's first-born heir and therefore worthy of note, but a fifth son who died young might have been considered relatively unimportant. However, the dates of birth of all Eleanor's other children by Henry are recorded-- even the birth of her last child, John, who is usually accounted her fifth son. Moreover, the name Philip would have been an unusual choice, favoured by the French royal line, but never having been used by the forebears of Henry and Eleanor. Neither, however, had the name John been used. The name Philip could, of course, have been chosen as a compliment to Louis, but surely his own name would have been more appropriate. Since the evidence for this prince's existence is found only in much later sources and the circumstantial evidence is inconclusive, none of it should be relied upon.

  During this year of 1161, concern was expressed in several quarters that the Lord Henry, now six years old, was still living with his mother and had not begun his formal education. Reflecting this concern, the Archbishop of Rouen ventured to write tactfully to the King on the matter:

  Although other kings are of a rude and uncultivated character, yours, which was formed by literature, is prudent in the administration of great affairs, subtle in judgement and circumspect in counsel. Wherefore all your bishops unanimously agree that Henry, your son and heir, should apply himself to letters, so that he whom we regard as your heir may be the successor to your wisdom as well as your kingdom.48

  Henry took the point. It was customary for princes and the sons of the nobility to be sent away to other aristocratic households to be nurtured and educated. Thomas Becket had already accepted into his household a number of noble boys, and the King now arranged for his own son to join them. From this time onwards, Becket would refer to the Lord Henry as his adopted son.

  Armed conflict between Henry and Louis had seemed inevitable,49 but Louis had by now realised that opposing Henry over the matter of the Vexin was a hopeless cause, and in October the two kings met at Freteval and made peace.

  Henry and Eleanor kept Christmas at Bayeux that year. The King was still considering who should fill the vacant archbishopric of Canterbury, and by the time he and the Queen held their Easter court at Falaise, he had made up his mind that he wanted Becket. Becket was a loyal friend to him and would, Henry felt sure, support the radical plans he was formulating for reforming abuses within the Church, which in Henry's opinion had become too powerful. With a king's man as Archbishop of Canterbury, he would have no trouble in implementing them.

  Summoning the chancellor before him, the King commanded him to take the Lord Henry to England and have the barons swear fealty to him once more as their future king. When Becket brought the prince to say farewell to his parents, Henry took Becket aside.

  "You do not yet fully comprehend your mission," he said. "It is my intention that you should become Archbishop of Canterbury."50

  Becket was horrified. He was aware of Henry's intentions towards the Church and realised that, as archbishop, he would be honour bound to oppose them. He was also aware that his enemies would be happy to use this as a means of driving a wedge between himself and Henry. He therefore begged the King to reconsider, warning him that, if he persisted in this appointment, their friendship would turn to bitter hatred. Besides, he was not even a priest, and had never celebrated a mass.51

  Henry ignored his protests. Once his mind was made up, he would not be diverted from his chosen course. With a heavy heart, Becket departed for England. His last act as chancellor was to arrange the ceremony, which took place in Winchester at Whitsun, at which the barons paid homage to the Lord Henry. He also paid £38 6s "for gold for preparing a crown and regalia for the King's son,"52 an indication that the King had plans to have his heir crowned in his own lifetime, as was the custom in France.

  In London, in May 1162, in the presence of the Lord Henry and all the King's judges, the unwilling Becket was formally nominated archbishop; on 2 June he was ordained a priest, and the next day he was consecrated in Canterbury Cathedral, with tears of emotion streaming down his face; he was a man who wept easily.53 On that day it seemed to contemporaries that a miraculous transformation took place. "As he put on those robes, reserved at God's command to the highest of His clergy, he changed not only his apparel, but the cast of his mind."54

  Overnight, it seemed, the proud and worldly courtier, statesman, and soldier had become an ascetic priest committed to his spiritual duties. He had changed, he declared, "from a patron of play actors and a follower of hounds to a shepherd of souls."55 Becket had never done things by halves, and he now threw himself wholeheartedly into his new role. "He handled the Holy Sacraments with the utmost reverence and ... so utterly abandoned the world that all men marvelled thereat."56

  Instead of his elegant raiment, he now wore a monk's habit, and beneath it, to remind himself of the weakness of the flesh, he wore "a hair shirt of the roughest kind, which reached to his knees and swarmed with vermin; he mortified his flesh with the sparest diet, and his accustomed drink was water used for the cooking of hay."57 He performed extravagant acts of charity and humility,58 such as washing the feet of thirteen beggars every day, dispensing alms to them, and exposing his bare back frequently to the discipline of flagellation by his monks. His nights were spent in vigil. "The King has wrought a miracle," observed the sceptical Gilbert Foliot wryly. "Out of a soldier and a courtier he has made an archbishop." Foliot had been the only bishop to oppose Becket's election; a vigorous churchman and scholar, he would become one of the new Archbishop's greatest enemies.

  As soon as he became Archbishop, Becket shocked Henry by returning the great seal of England and resigning the chancellorship, making plain his intention to devote his life exclusively to the Church. When told that the burdens of two offices were too much for the Archbishop, the King voiced a suspicion that Becket no longer cared to be in his service.

  Henry and Eleanor remained in Normandy for the rest of the year. They had intended to return to England in late autumn, but were prevented from doing so by storms in the Channel and were obliged to hold their Christmas court at Cherbourg. On 25 January 1163 they sailed to England. It was the first time Henry had set foot in his kingdom since August 1158.

  10. "Conjectures Which Grow Day by Day"

  When the King and Queen landed at Southampton with their daughters Matilda and Eleanor, they were met by a large deputation of nobles and clergy, headed by Archbishop Becket. He came forward holding the hand of the Lord Henry, who emerged from the shelter of his guardian's cloak to greet his parents with fond embraces as the onlookers cried "Vivat rex!"1 Henry and Becket saluted each other and exchanged the kiss of peace; while William of Canterbury describes the King's manner as "blithe," Herbert of Bosham claims that he gave Becket a dark look. The following day, however, they rode side by side to Westminster, deep in amicable conversation.

  Henry would spend the next three years in England, implementing his plans for enforcing law and order in his realm. His return would mark the end of Eleanor's intermittent spells as rege
nt of England; the last English writ in her name was issued in 1163. This does not mean to say that Henry had lost confidence in her ability to rule in his absence, for he would in future delegate his authority to her on the continent. For the present, however, she remained in England. During February, the Pipe Rolls record items purchased by her for the festivities arranged for the Lord Henry's eighth birthday.

  Henry spent the spring of 1163 crushing a rising in south Wales. Although he did not subdue the Welsh entirely, every one of their princes paid homage to him at Woodstock that summer, acknowledging him as their overlord.

  One of Henry's chief concerns at this time was the increase in crimes committed by the clergy, and he resolved to put an end to the legal process that made this possible. Laypersons who had committed felonies were dealt with in the King's courts, where they were punished with due severity, but anyone in holy orders-- even the lowliest clerk-- -could claim benefit of clergy and be tried in the Church courts, which were not allowed to punish offenders by the shedding of blood and imposed only the lightest penalties. This dual system of justice was, in the King's view, scandalous, unfair, and intolerable-- it was said that over one hundred murders had been committed by clerks and had gone largely unpunished since his accession-- and he was determined to ensure that all offenders were tried in the royal courts. He was aware, however, that the enforcement of such a measure would be seen by many as an attack on the Church and its power, and would therefore meet with resistance. Nevertheless, he was determined to have his way.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]