Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir


  It has been claimed that Eleanor was hurt because Henry was in love with Rosamund, while his other affairs had been purely of a physical nature, yet Henry had in fact been emotionally involved with another woman before: prior to 1162, "the King had at one time passionately loved" Rohese de Clare.57 It is unlikely therefore that Henry's love for Rosamund was the chief cause of the breakdown. Nor was Eleanor humiliated by his public flaunting of his mistress, as some writers allege, since he kept his affair with Rosamund secret until 1174.58

  Age may have had a bearing on Eleanor's decision. She was now forty-six, by mediaeval standards an old woman, while Henry, at thirty-five, was a vigorous man in his prime. She had borne him eight children and may well have felt that, having done her duty, she had no need to remain in a marriage that had gone stale. It is perhaps significant therefore that it was in 1168, when she was perhaps undergoing menopause, that Eleanor decided to separate from Henry.

  She may also have decided that she preferred living in her native land with a relative degree of autonomy as its duchess than as Henry's wife and queen, relegated to a subordinate role. As we have seen, it suited Henry, and was in everyone's interests, for her to do this. Both Eleanor and Henry seem to have felt that, in view of the volatile nature of Aquitanian politics, she should be resident in the duchy with her heir to safeguard his inheritance, and they probably intended that in time he would become associated with her in the government of her lands and would ultimately relieve her of that responsibility. It has also been suggested-- and with good reason, given what we know of the nature of her future relationship with him-- that Eleanor found in the love of her son Richard the emotional fulfilment that was lacking in her relationship with Henry. It is clear that mother and son had a special affection for each other.

  We may also speculate that, as in many marriage breakdowns, the partners had become incompatible. The King, as Giraldus pointed out, was a difficult man to live with, and both he and Eleanor were strong characters determined to have their own way. William FitzStephen makes it clear that Henry was not above venting his wrath on Eleanor, and implies that, out of fear and respect, she would resort to subterfuge and massaging the truth in order to avoid the lash of his harsh tongue. Moreover, he lived a chaotic, often squalid existence, which Eleanor may well have contrasted unfavourably with the relaxed, civilised lifestyle she could enjoy in Aquitaine.

  Despite her separation from the King, Eleanor retained an interest in events in other parts of the Angevin empire, maintaining a working relationship with her estranged husband in the interests of their children, fulfilling her ceremonial role as queen when necessary, and occasionally acting as the King's deputy in Normandy and Anjou.

  Eleanor set up her court at Poitiers, taking up residence in the Maubergeonne Tower, where the recently refurbished private apartments were unusually spacious and luxurious. She continued to wear rich clothes and jewellery, as her grants to Poitevin merchants in the early 1170s confirm. Henry allowed her to have her children with her, and she also received into her household, which at times included as many as sixty ladies,« her daughter-in-law Marguerite of France and the affianced wives of her younger sons.

  Raoul de Faye, as seneschal of Poitou, remained one of her most trusted advisers, and in 1170 and 1173 his talents would also be deployed by Henry in negotiating the marriages of two of the royal children, Eleanor and John respectively.

  It has been claimed by every one of her biographers that Eleanor's court at Poitiers was modelled on that of her Aquitanian forebears, and that it became a centre of chivalry, patronage, and troubadour culture, a place where the art of courtly love flourished. Until recently, it was believed by serious historians-- and is still believed by a few writers--that, in association with her daughter Marie, Countess of Champagne, Eleanor presided at Poitiers over the now legendary Courts of Love.

  It is true that the southern troubadours continued to sing the praises of their ageing Duchess in their songs and verses; Riguad de Barbezieux praises her as being "more than a lady," while the notorious Bertran de Born, a troubadour and robber baron who was to become the close friend of the Lord Henry, dedicated many of his chansons to "noble Eleanora." It is also probably true, although there is little evidence for it, that Eleanor encouraged troubadours and poets to come to her court and receive the benefits of her patronage.

  The Courts of Love, however, were almost certainly no more than a literary conceit invented between 1174 and 1196 by Andreas Capellanus, a chaplain at the court of Marie of Champagne at Troyes, for the purposes of his treatise on courtoisie, called Tractatus de amore et de amoris remedio. In this work, which was inspired by Ovid and written after Eleanor's court at Poitiers had been dismantled, Andreas describes Eleanor; her daughter Marie; her niece Isabella, Countess of Flanders; Emma of Anjou (Henry's bastard sister); and Ermengarde, Countess of Narbonne presiding over a tribunal at which young gallants sought judgement in intellectual disputes on the subject of courtly love. Those who had acted correctly towards their chosen ladies were awarded the palm of amorous courtesy.

  The Tractatus claims that the judgements of the tribunal were made according to a "code of love" comprising thirty-one articles. Eleanor's appearance in this work owes far more to her reputation than to her actual deeds. She is recorded as giving three undated judgements, while Marie of Champagne is alleged to have pronounced in 1174-- the only date given in the book-- that true love cannot exist between husband and wife (a sentiment that Eleanor would perhaps have echoed).

  Eleanor's first "judgement" was against a woman who refused to take back a lover who, having obtained her permission to transfer his affections elsewhere, then returned to her, insisting that he had remained faithful. The second case was that of a woman who had to choose between a mature knight of great integrity and a young man devoid of worth. The Queen is portrayed as declaring that the woman would be wiser to choose the worthier man. Her third "judgement" condemned consanguinous marriages. Since the Tractatus was written at the court of the Count of Champagne, who was hostile to Henry II, these last two judgements may be perceived to be a satirical comment on Eleanor's own marital history, for not only had she made two consanguinous marriages, but she had also left a reputedly saintly king for a younger man of dubious reputation.

  Had these Courts of Love ever existed, they would undoubtedly have attracted publicity, for the doctrines expounded in them were still regarded as subversive in certain circles. Yet, apart from the Tractatus, there is no evidence in any contemporary source for their existence. Nor is there evidence that either of Eleanor's daughters by Louis ever visited her at Poitiers; nor that she visited them or was ever in contact with them. It must therefore be concluded that the Courts of Love were nothing more than a literary fiction.

  11. "The Holy Martyr"

  Henry spent the Christmas of 1168 at Argentan, while Eleanor held her own Yuletide court at Poitiers. On 6 January 1169 Henry, accompanied by his two eldest sons, both splendidly accoutred, and a fine retinue of knights and barons, met King Louis at the castle of Montmirail in Maine 1 to enshrine their peace agreement in a treaty designed to secure a lasting peace between the two kings.

  The Treaty of Montmirail provided that, after Henry's death, his dominions were to be divided among his three eldest sons: the Lord Henry was to receive England, Normandy, and Anjou; the Lord Richard was to receive Aquitaine, and hold it-- as his mother did-- as a vassal of the French crown; and the Lord Geoffrey was to retain Brittany, holding it as a vassal of his eldest brother and in right of his future wife Constance. Finally, the betrothal of Richard to Alys of France was to take place forthwith, and she was to have as her dowry the county of Berry, which lay between the borders of Touraine and Aquitaine, and which Henry had long coveted.

  On 7 January, after the treaty had been concluded, King Henry renewed his allegiance to Louis for his continental fiefs, and the Lord Henry did homage to his father-in-law for the duchy of Brittany, being afterwards appointed Seneschal of Fra
nce;2 he and his brother Richard also paid homage as heirs to the lands they were destined to inherit on their father's death.3 It was agreed that Geoffrey would swear fealty to Louis in person at a later date; meanwhile, Louis formally approved his betrothal to Constance of Brittany 4 Richard and Alys were betrothed, and she was formally handed over into Henry's wardship.5

  Most chroniclers were puzzled at Henry II's decision to partition his empire,6 and most modern historians have evolved theories as to why he made it, but the reason is probably not far to seek. Henry not only had sons to provide for, but he had also discovered how difficult it was to govern such an unwieldy collection of territories, while his later behaviour suggests that he had no confidence in any of his sons to maintain authority and control as effectively as he did. Dividing the empire among them would therefore ensure more effective government after his death and also keep these domains under Angevin rule.

  Amy Kelly, one of Eleanor's biographers, has asserted that the Treaty of Montmirail exposed to the world the rift between Henry and Eleanor. In fact, it would appear that Henry had taken Eleanor's opinions into account, for rather than designating their eldest son as heir to all his dominions except Brittany, which he had every legal right to do, he ensured that her favourite son Richard was made heir to Aquitaine. Without the treaty, Richard could well have ended up with nothing.

  At Montmirail, in return for Henry's promise to restore the lands and castles he had seized from the rebel barons of Aquitaine, Louis also undertook to try to reconcile these hostile vassals to their overlord. He also acted, once again, as mediator between Henry and Becket. Henry was now eager to see Becket restored to the see of Canterbury, for he wanted him to crown young Henry within his own lifetime, and offered to reinstate Becket if he would retract his denunciation of the Constitutions of Clarendon as "heretical depravities." On 7 January, at the earnest plea of King Louis, a reluctant Becket agreed and, coming face to face with Henry for the first time in over four years, prostrated himself before him and begged for mercy. Then he ruined it all, not only by offering to submit to the King's pleasure in all things "saving the honour of God," but also by declaring defiantly that it did not become a priest to submit to the will of a layman.7 Henry erupted in fury and abuse and stalked out, leaving the meeting to break up in uproar, with everyone, including Louis, castigating the Archbishop for his obduracy.8

  In March 1169 Henry was busy restoring order in Poitou and Gascony and bringing the counts of Angouleme and La Marche to submission. Two months later, on his orders but in his absence, ten-year-old Geoffrey was enthroned in Rennes Cathedral and invested with the ducal crown of Brittany, receiving afterwards the homage of his Breton vassals.9

  Sometime in August, Henry left Eleanor's domains, having established a peace of sorts. For the next few years, although he retained overall control, Henry would delegate much of his authority in Poitou and Aquitaine to Eleanor, intervening only when necessary. The slender evidence that survives suggests that she ruled wisely and well over her turbulent people, continuing to follow a policy of conciliation. During this period she not only travelled extensively in Poitou and Aquitaine, but is also recorded as having visited Falaise, Chinon, and other places in Normandy and Anjou, usually as a response to the needs of her children. As her heir, Richard was frequently at her side, learning about his future fiefs and how to administer them, and becoming increasingly associated with his mother in the running of the duchy.

  In August, Henry went to Rouen, pausing on the way to hunt with his eldest son at Angers and meet at Bayeux with the Pope's legates, come to try to effect a peace between him and Becket. Predictably, the conference ended in failure.

  Around this time, Henry opened negotiations for the marriage of his daughter Joanna to William II, King of Sicily, which he hoped would further cement the ancient ties of friendship between the dukes of Normandy and the Norman kingdom of Sicily.10 In November, Henry met Louis at Montmartre outside Paris. They discussed the future disposition of the Angevin empire, and Louis agreed to cede the suzerainty of Toulouse to Richard when the latter inherited Aquitaine.

  Becket was also at Montmartre, and on 18 November 1169 Henry met him again in another attempt to resolve their quarrel. But the Archbishop still would not agree to anything that was inconsistent with what he termed the honour of God, and the meeting ended with the King absolutely refusing to give him the kiss of peace. 11

  At Christmas Henry held court with Geoffrey and Constance at Nantes in Brittany. There is no record of Eleanor being present. Chretien de Troyes is said to have used this court as the model for his Arthurian romance Erec and Enide (c. 1170), which is set in Brittany and depicts King Arthur sitting upon a throne emblazoned with a leopard, an emblem that was inextricably linked to the Angevins.

  In January 1170 Eleanor was at Caen in Normandy with her eldest son. By now Henry was set in his resolve to have the Lord Henry crowned. The coronation of the heir during his father's lifetime was a French custom, instituted by the Emperor Charlemagne, which the King, backed by his barons, wanted to see adopted in England in order to safeguard the succession. From the first he seems to have taken Eleanor into his confidence and relied on her cooperation.

  There was only one obstacle, and that was Becket. Traditionally, it was the prerogative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to crown the sovereign, but Becket was, of course, in exile. So Henry made plans for Roger de Pont l'Evèque, Archbishop of York, to carry out the rite instead, which constituted a gross insult to Becket and greatly offended traditionalists. Learning of this, the Archbishop forbade both the King and the Archbishop of York to proceed with the coronation, on pain of excommunication. The Pope also prohibited the ceremony, and instructed Bishop Roger of Worcester, first cousin of the King12 and a strong supporter of Becket, to carry his orders to England. Becket further commanded the Bishop to excommunicate all those clergy who took part in the coronation. In ignorance of the fact that the Bishop was in league with his enemies, Henry ordered him to attend the coronation.

  Henry was determined to proceed with his plans regardless of any opposition. On 3 March 1170, braving violent storms,13 he crossed from Barfleur to Portsmouth, leaving Eleanor in charge of Normandy. With the assistance of Richard of Le Hommet, Justiciar of Normandy, the Queen took steps to ensure that all the Channel ports remained closed, in order to prevent Becket or his supporters from crossing to England and carrying out his threat to excommunicate the King. The Bishop of Worcester, on his way with the papal prohibition, was, to his chagrin, forcibly detained in Dieppe on Eleanor's orders.14

  Having bullied his bishops into agreeing to crown his son in defiance of Becket, the King summoned the Lord Henry to England; the prince left Caen on 5 June, escorted by the Bishops of Sees and Bayonne.15 On his arrival in England, his father knighted him in the presence of a great assembly of lords and prelates.

  Despite the fact that splendid coronation robes had already been made for her in London,16 Marguerite of France was obliged to remain behind with the Queen at Caen.17 Henry had decided not to have her crowned with her husband at this stage because he believed that to do so in the face of archiepiscopal prohibition might offend Louis more than if she were not crowned at all.18 Almost certainly Henry hoped to have his son crowned a second time, with Marguerite, and with Becket officiating.

  On Sunday, 14 June, 19 the Lord Henry was crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Roger of York with six bishops assisting. From now on he would be distinguished from his father by the title "the Young King,"20 although Henry regarded this as no more than an honorary dignity and had no intention of relinquishing any degree of sovereign power to him.

  The Young King was already exhibiting an alarming contempt for his father, which first became apparent at the coronation banquet in Westminster Hall, when the King insisted on acting as servitor to his son in order to underline the importance of his new status. Carrying a boar's head on a platter to the high table where young Henry sat with the Archb
ishop of York, he jested, "It is surely unusual to see a king wait upon table!"

  "Not every prince can be served at table by a king," agreed the Archbishop.

  The Young King was deadly serious.

  "Certainly, it can be no condescension for the son of a count to serve the son of a king," he replied insultingly.21 Henry's response is not recorded.

  Many people were offended and angered by the coronation ceremony, not least the Pope and Becket, whose prohibitions Henry had defied: the latter referred to the crowning as "this last outrage." Some feared that Henry had laid England open to an imminent interdict, or even war, since King Louis was mortally offended that his daughter had not been crowned, and soon began making threats. Henry placated him by promising to have young Henry and Marguerite crowned together at some future date.

  After his coronation the Young King was assigned his own household in England, under the control of his guardian, William the Marshal, but remained for a time under the governance of tutors and legal advisers.

  At fifteen-- an age at which people were considered adult in mediaeval times-- young Henry was already displaying the characteristics that would manifest themselves more vividly as he matured. Most chroniclers agree that he was a youth blessed with extraordinary good looks, even going so far as to call him "the most handsome prince in all the world."22 In this respect he took after either his mother Eleanor, whose beauty was legendary, or Geoffrey of Anjou, his debonair grandfather. Walter Map describes the Young King as "lovable, eloquent, handsome, gallant, every way attractive, a little lower than the angels." Map also claims that he was "beautiful above all others in both form and face." There is no hint of these good looks in the surviving representations of the Young King: not in his stylised tomb effigy in Rouen Cathedral, nor in photographs of a contemporary mural painting, depicting him with King Stephen, Henry II, Richard I, and King John, which once adorned the Temple Church in London but was destroyed in the Blitz of 1940; but then neither of these representations was intended to be a portrait.

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