Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir


  In fact, there is no contemporary evidence linking Rosamund de Clifford with the hunting lodge at Woodstock, nor is there any proof that a bower or labyrinth ever existed there. Henry did construct a cloistered garden by the spring at nearby Everswell, in 1166, with pools and benches, the remains of which were described by the diarist John Evelyn in the seventeenth century, but there is no evidence to link it with Rosamund.

  During the sixteenth century the Rosamund legends evolved into a literary tradition, and became the subject of much inventive Elizabethan verse. Michael Drayton wrote of the tower and labyrinth at Woodstock, while "The Ballad of Fair Rosamund," composed by Thomas Delaney portrayed its heroine as beautiful and virtuous, seduced in extreme youth by the King. By then, the bower had become a strong building of stone and timber, with 1 50 doors and a maze "so cunningly contrived with turnings round about, that none but with a clue of thread could enter in or out." In the morality tale "The Complaint of Rosamund" by Samuel Daniel (1592), Rosamund is kept a captive of the King's jealousy at Woodstock, and realises too late that she should never have succumbed to his sinful advances.

  During the centuries that followed, and particularly during the era of Romantic literature, many famous writers and playwrights-- among them Joseph Addison; Agnes Strickland; Algernon Swinburne; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and even Winston Churchill-- made little attempt to distinguish history from legend. Even today, some of Eleanor's biographers draw conclusions about Rosamund from the legends. The real truth is that we know very little about her.

  * * *

  In September 1165 Henry returned to England, having failed to subdue the Welsh. In savage retribution, he ordered the mutilation of the hostages he had taken, then took himself off to Woodstock, shelving the problems in Brittany and Aquitaine until the start of the next campaigning season in the spring.

  In October, Eleanor gave birth to another daughter, Joanna, at Angers.30 Henry, however, remained in England. The Pipe Rolls and other records show that between September 1165 and March 1166 he was based mainly at Woodstock, leaving only to make brief trips to Winchester and Clarendon. Nor, for the first time since their marriage, did he join Eleanor, who was at Angers, for Christmas, but held his court alone at Oxford. Some writers have inferred from this that he was indulging his passion for Rosamund at Woodstock, but this is pure supposition.

  Henry was in fact hard at work on his programme of law reform. At an assize held at Clarendon early in 1166, he confirmed the Constitutions of Clarendon. It was his intention that from now on his justice would be enforced in every part of his realm, and, among other reforms, he authorised his sheriffs and judges to hunt down criminals beyond the county boundaries and impose more severe punishments.

  At the beginning of March the King prepared to sail to Normandy, but at the last minute changed his mind and returned to Woodstock,31 with the intention, some writers fancifully suggest, of saying a final farewell to Rosamund. On 16 March he was back at Southampton, whence he crossed to Falaise; he would not return to his kingdom for another four years. He marched immediately on Maine, there to teach the barons who had rebelled against him, as well as those who had slighted Eleanor, a lesson they would not forget, destroying their castles and crushing their resistance.32 At Easter he joined Eleanor at Angers and held court there. Around this time, she conceived her last child.

  Late in May, Henry went to Chinon, an imposing fortress above the River Vienne in Anjou, which was one of his favourite residences. While he was here, it was given out that he was laid low by illness, and he did not emerge until July. Although John of Salisbury believed it to be genuine, the illness may have been a tactical ploy designed to avert Becket's repeated threats of excommunication, since the Church's ban could not be imposed on someone who was sick. Despite the efforts of King Louis and others, Henry and Becket were no nearer reconciliation than they had been two years before.

  At Pentecost, Becket went to Vezelay, where he preached a sermon and excommunicated all those who had been the authors of the Constitutions of Clarendon; he did not carry out his threat to excommunicate the King because of Henry's illness." Henry wept tears of rage when he received at Chinon news of the excommunications,34 and at his urgent request-- and that of his ally the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, whose support Alexander III so desired-- the Pope agreed to annul the sentences and forbid Becket to molest Henry further. An angry Empress Matilda wrote in brisk terms to Becket, castigating him for showing the King such gross ingratitude for all the favours he had showered upon him, and warning him that his only hope of regaining royal favour lay in humbling himself and moderating his behaviour. Becket did not trouble to reply.

  In July the King finally turned his attention to Brittany, where his vassal, Count Conan IV, had failed to keep order during Henry's absence. The King deposed him, secured control of the whole of the county, and-- betrothing his own son Geoffrey, aged eight, to Constance, Conan's five-year-old daughter and heiress-- rode to Rennes. There, in the name of Geoffrey, Henry formally took possession of what he was now pleased to call the duchy of Brittany. In the autumn, the lords of Brittany reluctantly paid homage to him at Thouars, but it would be two years before their resistance to his rule was crushed.

  By October, Henry was in residence at Caen in Normandy, ready to deal with the Aquitanian rebels. Summoning them to meet him at Chinon on 20 November, he declared his intention of honouring them by holding his Christmas court at Poitiers, where he would present to them their future overlord. The Poitevins were unimpressed and went home to resume their plotting.

  Henry had decided against Eleanor accompanying him to Poitiers. This may have been because he knew that she was opposed to his choice of the Lord Henry, rather than the Lord Richard, as her heir to the duchy of Aquitaine. Henry was already designated the heir to England, Anjou, and Normandy, while Geoffrey had Brittany. If Henry received Aquitaine as well, Richard would have no inheritance at all. If, as seems highly likely, Richard was Eleanor's favourite son, then such an arrangement could not have won her approval. During the autumn, therefore, Henry sent her and their daughter Matilda back to England.

  At the end of the year, having arranged for the Lord Henry to cross the Channel at a cost of £100,35 the Queen spent some time travelling in Oxfordshire before retiring to the King's House (Beaumont Palace) in Oxford for her confinements6 On Christmas Eve 1166,37 she gave birth to her last child, a son, whom she called John,38 in honour of the saint on whose feast day he was born.

  Henry again presided alone over his Christmas court, which was held that year at Poitiers. As he had promised, he presented the Lord Henry to the Poitevins as their future duke.39

  * * *

  Early in the new year of 1166, Henry quelled a rebellion by William Taillefer, one of Eleanor's uncles, in Aquitaine, then after Easter marched against the Count of Auvergne, who was intriguing with King Louis against Henry

  Eleanor seems to have remained in England. The Pipe Rolls record visits with her children to Carisbrooke Castle and payments to their governess, who was called Agatha.

  She was also busy preparing for the Lady Matilda's wedding to Henry of Saxony. In July the Emperor's envoys arrived in England to escort the eleven-year-old princess to Germany. Her parents had provided her with a magnificent trousseau, which included clothing worth £63, "two large silken cloths and two tapestries, and one cloth of samite and twelve sable skins," as well as twenty pairs of saddlebags, twenty chests, seven saddles gilded and covered with scarlet, and thirty-four packhorses. The total cost amounted to £4,500, which was equal to almost one-quarter of England's entire annual revenue, and was raised by the imposition of various taxes, authorised by the King.40

  During the summer Henry met Louis in the Vexin in an attempt to pacify the French King's growing hostility; he was not entirely successful, but in August, at the behest of the Empress Matilda, the two kings did agree on a truce of sorts.

  This did not prevent Louis from supporting an insurrection in Brittany, which
kept Henry occupied during August and September. No sooner had he suppressed it than he received news that his mother, the Empress Matilda, whose health had for some time been failing, was seriously ill in Rouen with a fever. Henry hastened from Brittany to be with her, but she died on 10 September before he could reach her.41 She was buried initially in the convent of Bonnes at Nouvelles and soon afterwards translated to Bee Abbey,42 where her epitaph read: "Here lies Henry's daughter, wife and mother: great by birth, greater by marriage, but greatest by motherhood."

  Later that month, Eleanor and the Earls of Arundel and Pembroke, with a large retinue, accompanied the younger Matilda to Dover,43 where she embarked on the German ship that was to take her to her new life in Germany. One account claims that Eleanor sailed with her to Normandy, but if she did, she must have returned to England immediately.44 For the next few weeks Eleanor was resident at Winchester, where she seems to have gathered her movable goods for shipment to the continent, for in December she required seven ships to transport her possessions to Normandy.45

  The reason for this was almost certainly political. During the autumn, after Henry had once again been obliged to make a progress through Aquitaine to quieten its rebellious lords,46 it seems to have occurred to him that Eleanor's presence in the duchy, and the reassertion of her authority as duchess, might help to calm the opposition to his rule. Apparently he had therefore decided that she should be based in Poitiers for the foreseeable future. This was not, as some historians have speculated, a marital separation as such, since throughout their marriage Henry and Eleanor had, of necessity, spent long periods apart. However, internal evidence suggests that it was not an entirely unwelcome change for Eleanor.

  Once the King had imposed a superficial peace upon Aquitaine, he returned north to Normandy, where he remained until Christmas, when he and Eleanor presided together over a court held at Argentan.

  On 1 February 1168 the Lady Matilda was married to the Duke of Saxony at Brunswick in Germany. Although twenty-four years her senior, Henry the Lion was a brave, cultivated, and enlightened man who was a notable patron of the arts and the Church. The marriage proved happy and fruitful and led to the expansion of trade between England and the Empire.

  Before the King could implement his plan to install Eleanor in Poitiers, the ill feeling in Aquitaine finally erupted into serious revolt. The powerful Lusignan family-- "who yielded to no yoke or ever kept faith with any overlord"-- and the Count of Angouleme and other lords of Aquitaine rose up again in violent rebellion against Angevin rule, threatening to offer their allegiance directly to King Louis. 47 Henry hurried south to deal with them, taking Eleanor with him-- perhaps in order to remind her vassals to whom they owed allegiance-- and leaving her in the vicinity of Lusignan 48 in the care of Earl Patrick of Salisbury, Henry's deputy and military governor in Aquitaine, with a small force of soldiers.

  It was perhaps on the way south that Eleanor left young John at Fontevrault, where for the next five years he would be reared as an oblate.49 His parents had apparently decided to dedicate him to the Church, a common practice in an age when families were large and it was difficult to make adequate provision for every child. It is also possible that the Ladies Eleanor and Joanna were brought up at Fontevrault, although neither was destined for the Church, being valuable marriage pawns for Henry's foreign alliances.

  The King, meanwhile, had begun methodically and ruthlessly to crush the rebel lords. Marching on the reputedly impregnable castle of Lusignan, which stood on the road between Poitiers and Niort, he razed it to the ground and ravaged the surrounding lands,50 forcing the dispossessed Lusignans, along with other rebels, to seek aid and asylum from King Louis.

  By Easter the rising had been crushed, and Henry rode north to meet Louis for a peace conference at Pacy on the Norman border, to avert the very real prospect of a war between them. But the Lusignans had not yet finished with him.

  On 27 March, Eleanor, accompanied by Earl Patrick and a small escort, was travelling along a road near Lusignan. Her party was probably enjoying a hawking expedition, since the men wore no armour. Without warning, they were ambushed by Guy de Lusignan and his brother Geoffrey 51 at the head of an armed force. Their intention was to take the Queen hostage and ransom her for generous concessions from Henry. Hastily, the Earl bade the Queen mount his fastest horse and gallop to the relative safety of the ruined castle nearby, while he dealt with their attackers. During the ensuing skirmish, he was fatally stabbed in the back as he hurriedly donned his hauberk, and it was left to his courageous nephew, Sir William the Marshal, to hold off the enemy, which he did with consummate skill before being wounded and captured.52

  William the Marshal had recently been knighted; his surname was actually derived from the office of Marshal of England, which he would inherit from his brother in 1199, but for the purposes of clarity it will be used henceforth. Now aged about twenty-two, he was the fourth son of an obscure Wiltshire baron. With no inheritance to look forward to, he had sought to make a living as a soldier of fortune. He had gained a reputation as a champion at tournaments and won many rich prizes; the Queen herself had once watched his performance in the melee, and had been deeply impressed.

  William was a tall man of dignified bearing with brown hair. He was devoted to the Angevin family, and in time many of its members would come to recognise the loyalty, courage, and integrity for which Eleanor now had cause to be grateful.

  The Queen, who subsequently gave money to the abbey of Sainte-Hilaire in Poitiers for annual masses for Earl Patrick's soul, was impressed by William's valour and ransomed him from the Lusignans, who had cruelly refused to dress his wounds. When he presented himself before her in Poitiers, she rewarded him and thereafter took a special interest in his career: "valiant and courteous lady that she was, she bestowed upon him horses, arms, gold and rich garments, and more than all opened her palace gates and fostered his ambition, who had fought like a wild boar against dogs."53 She also, with the King's approval, appointed him guardian, tutor, and master in chivalry to the Lord Henry, and before long the two became inseparable companions. Thus was the Marshal-- whom Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, would later refer to as "the best knight who ever lived"-- launched on a spectacular career that would see him loyally befriending five English kings and would culminate, fifty years later, in his ruling England as regent for the young Henry III.

  Henry and Louis had meanwhile negotiated rather complicated peace terms. It was Louis who urged that, rather than leave the whole of his empire to the Lord Henry, Henry should divide his lands between all his sons except John, who was destined for the Church. Henry agreed to this, failing to perceive Louis's real motives, for the French King greatly feared the might of the Angevins and knew well that a house divided against itself might ultimately lay itself open to conquest.

  The peace terms were as follows: the Lord Henry was to pay homage to the French King for Anjou and Maine and also for Brittany, which his younger brother Geoffrey would hold as his vassal, while the Lord Richard was to pay homage to Louis for Aquitaine.

  No sooner had this peace been concluded than word reached Henry of the latest outrage perpetrated by the Lusignans. However, before he could return to Poitou, he was informed that Eudes de Porhoet, the father of Conan IV of Brittany, had risen against him, determined to avenge Henry's seduction of his daughter Alice, whom the King had taken as a hostage for her family's good behaviour. There is reason to believe that this accusation was true, since in 1168 Alice bore Henry a bastard child whose sex and fate are unknown.54 Henry, however, would not tolerate rebellion on any grounds and rode with a vengeance into Brittany, where, in July, he forced Eudes to surrender. By then his shaky alliance with Louis was already crumbling; the French King had allied himself with Henry's other enemy, William the Lyon, King of Scots, thus forging the first in a long tradition of Franco-Scottish alliances. For the rest of the year Henry was kept occupied by inconclusive skirmishes with the French in the area around Argentan.


  Throughout 1168, Eleanor seems to have remained in Poitiers, governing her own lands with Henry's approval and under his supervision. There were sound political as well as personal reasons for this arrangement, for her return to her own domains and the re-establishment of a ducal court did much to heal the wounds caused by thirty years of rule by alien overlords. Indeed, Eleanor did everything in her power to recover the loyalty of her vassals: she went on a progress throughout Poitou and Aquitaine, and received the homage of local lords at Niort, Limoges, and Bayonne; she dismissed some of Henry's unpopular seneschals, encouraged exiled barons to return home and be restored to their lands, revived old fairs and customs, and renewed the ancient privileges of towns and abbeys.

  According to Richard of Devizes, she had also decided to live apart from Henry and remain permanently in her own domains with her heir Richard, a decision that "troubled" the King "like that of Oedipus," although he did not oppose it. That it was Eleanor who initiated their separation is confirmed in a letter written by Rotrou of Warwick, Archbishop of Rouen, in 1173.55 We do not know when she reached this decision, but it must have been after Henry's concord with Louis in June, because prior to that date the Lord Henry had been the designated heir to Aquitaine.

  Historians have endlessly speculated as to the reasons for the separation. Some have suggested that Henry's love for Rosamund de Clifford was a major factor, yet the evidence suggests that Eleanor had turned a blind eye to his frequent infidelities almost from the time of their marriage-- she cannot have failed to notice how his barons kept their wives and daughters out of the way of the King's lusts6-- and we know that she had tolerated the presence of his bastard son Geoffrey in her household. She was, after all, a woman of the world, and had, as we have seen, almost certainly indulged in affairs of her own. No contemporary chronicler asserts that she was jealous of Rosamund.

 
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