Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir


  Others were not so sure: the anonymous Gesta Henrici Secundi states: "the authors of this heinous treachery were Louis, King of France, and, as some say, Eleanor, Queen of England, and Raoul de Faye." Roger of Hoveden also suspected Raoul de Faye of acting as Eleanor's evil genius. If all this is true, then the rift between Eleanor and Henry went very deep, so deep that Eleanor was prepared to resort to treason and the betrayal of her marriage bond to have her revenge.

  The seer Merlin had foretold: "The cubs shall awake and shall roar loud, and, leaving the woods, shall seek their prey within the walls of the cities. Among those who shall be in their way they shall make great carnage, and shall tear out the tongues of bulls. The necks of them as they roar aloud they shall load with chains, and shall thus renew the times of their forefathers."33 The cubs were widely believed to be the sons of Henry II, and in such a mood did they prepare to rise against their father.

  13. "Beware of Your Wife and Sons"

  On 21 February 1173, in response to overwhelming popular demand, Becket was canonised by Pope Alexander III. His cult had by now spread so widely that, soon afterwards, an order of Knights of St. Thomas of Acre was established in the Holy Land. Many miracles were attributed to the new saint, numerous churches were dedicated to him, as well as a famous hospital in London, and his image appeared everywhere. The shrine erected to him at Canterbury grew rich and remained the most popular place of pilgrimage in Christendom until the Reformation, when Henry VIII dismantled it, appropriated its jewels for the royal treasury, and had Becket's bones exhumed, tried, condemned, and burned for having dared to oppose his king.

  Between 21 and 28 February 1173, Henry and Eleanor and their two eldest sons hosted a week of lavish banquets and festivities at Limoges in honour of Alfonso II, King of Aragon; Sancho VI, King of Navarre; Count Humbert of Maurienne; and Count Raymond V of Toulouse. During this assembly, the betrothal of the Lord John to Alice of Maurienne was finalised, and four-year-old Alice was committed to the care of Henry, who placed her in Eleanor's household. Count Humbert designated John his heir and gave the King four well-fortified castles.1

  Raymond of Toulouse, having finally conceded Eleanor's ancestral claim to Toulouse, was at Limoges to pay homage to Henry and his sons and acknowledge them as his overlords. He had decided to throw in his lot with the Angevins because he had fallen out with the French King, the rift having occurred when Raymond repudiated Constance of France, Louis's sister. After that, Louis was no longer inclined to support Raymond's claim to Toulouse.

  Some Poitevin nobles were angry that Raymond had paid homage to Henry and the Young King, rather than just to Richard, whose right to Toulouse had been agreed by King Louis; it is likely that Eleanor was angry too, and that her anger strengthened her resolve to fight for her sons' rights.

  It was during this week that the Young King spoke out publicly against his father's refusal to delegate power to him and his brothers, and against Henry's decision to assign to his brother John the castles and lands that were rightly his. He insisted that he had no wish to give John these properties, and that the King had no right to dispose of them without his consent. He also complained of not having been assigned any lands from which he could draw an income suitable to his royal estate.

  When Henry refused to accede to his demands, the Young King pointed out that it was King Louis's wish, and that of the barons of England and Normandy, that he do so. At that moment, Henry realised that there were more forces at work against him than he had suspected, and guessed that Louis and others were actively working to drive a wedge between him and his heir. It does not seem to have occurred to him that Eleanor might be foremost among them.

  There was much intriguing going on behind the scenes. Raymond of Toulouse is said to have encouraged Eleanor and her sons in their plotting,2 but either his conscience or respect for his feudal oath, or simply a desire to stir up trouble, prompted him to take the King aside and warn him, "I advise you, King, to beware of your wife and sons."3 But Henry obviously did not believe that Eleanor would stoop to such perfidy: in that age, it was unthinkable that a wife would so forget her marriage vows.

  He nevertheless heeded the substance of Raymond's warning. In the belief that it was they who were sowing the seeds of sedition, he summarily banished many knights from the Young King's household, a measure that only served to fuel his son's hatred.4 Then, early in March, as he rode north through Aquitaine, the King set the affairs of the duchy in order, placed his garrisons on war alert, and left Eleanor in charge at Poitiers with Richard and Geoffrey, something he would certainly not have done had he suspected Eleanor of fomenting trouble against him. As far as he was concerned, it was the Young King who was causing all the trouble, and Henry was determined not to let him out of his sight.

  Henry pressed on towards Normandy, dragging the Young King with him. 5 On 5 March they stayed at Chinon, Henry insisting that they sleep in the same room, but during the night the Young King, "following wicked advice,"6 prevailed upon the castle guards to lower the drawbridge and allow him to escape, and in the morning Henry woke to find his son gone. He immediately sent messengers after him, but they returned with news that the Young King had crossed the Loire and headed north in the direction of Normandy. Henry gave chase, racing through Le Mans, Alençon, and Argentan, but he was too late: his son had abruptly swung east, crossed the French border on 8 March, and fled to Paris.7

  It was clear that his escape had been planned, since fresh horses had awaited him along the route. It has been suggested that Eleanor had devised it, but it is unlikely she could have done so without the assistance and approval of King Louis. His son's escape confirmed Henry's worst fears.

  In Paris the Young King and King Louis pledged themselves to aid each other against their common enemy. Isolated at the French border, Henry sent a deputation of bishops to Paris to ask Louis to return his son.8

  "Who is it that sends this message to me?" Louis asked.

  "The King of England," was the bishops' puzzled reply.

  "That is not so," retorted Louis. "The King of England is here. But if you still call king his father, who was formerly king of England, know that he is no longer king. Although he may still act as king, all the world knows that he resigned his kingdom to his son."9

  Returning to Henry, the bishops warned him, "Look to the safety of your castles and the security of your person."10 Henry correctly interpreted Louis's words as an open declaration of war. Soon afterwards many of his vassals on both sides of the Channel openly declared their support for the Young King.11 William the Marshal stood by him, and so did Bertran de Born, who is thought to have influenced the young man strongly. The poet Dante, in his Inferno, pictures de Born burning in Hell for this:

  Bertran dal Bornio, be it known, am I,

  Who urged the Young King to rebel.

  Father and son at enmity I set.

  "Soon after," according to William of Newburgh, "the younger Henry, devising evil against his father from every side by the advice of the French King, went secretly into Aquitaine where his two youthful brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, were living with their mother, and with her connivance, so it is said, he incited them to join him."

  Eleanor's involvement is also attested to by Ralph of Diceto, who says that Richard and Geoffrey "chose to follow their brother rather than their father-- in this, they say, following the advice of their mother Eleanor."12

  * * *

  Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, Eleanor's fourth son, was now nearly fifteen. Unlike his elder brothers, he was dark-haired, short of stature, and neither good-looking nor of gracious bearing, although he could be charming and persuasive when he wanted. Nevertheless, despite being energetic, daring, and skilled at the knightly arts, he possessed little of his brothers' talent for inspiring love, loyalty, or confidence. The fact was that Geoffrey was dangerous, slippery, treacherous, and grasping. He had joined the rebels with a determination not so much to support the Young King as to rule Brittany without interf
erence from his father.

  He was perhaps the most intelligent of the Angevin brood, but he used his talents for evil purposes. Giraldus Cambrensis called him

  one of the wisest of men, had he not been so ready to deceive others. His real nature had more of bitter aloes in it than honey; outwardly he had a ready flow of words, smoother than oil, and, possessed by his syrupy and persuasive eloquence, was able to corrupt two kingdoms with his tongue. He was of tireless endeavour, but a hypocrite in everything, who could never be trusted and who had a marvellous gift for pretence and dissimulation.

  Roger of Hoveden called Geoffrey "that son of iniquity and perdition."

  Geoffrey's life would be that of an ambitious and opportunistic robber baron. Ruthless in warfare, he plundered at will, not hesitating to sack abbeys and shrines. He had few scruples, and he confronted his critics with devious and shameless excuses. For instance, when someone asked him why he could not be at peace with his family, he complacently replied, "Do you not know that it is our proper nature, planted in us by inheritance from our ancestors, that none of us should love the other, but that always, brother against brother and son against father, we try our utmost to injure one another?" 13

  Once her sons had left for Paris, Eleanor, along with Raoul de Faye, encouraged the lords of the south to rise up in their support; there was jubilation in some quarters at the prospect of ending the rule of the autocratic Angevin, which the troubadour Richard le Poitevin echoed in a verse composed around this time:

  Rejoice, O Aquitaine!

  Be jubilant, O Poitou!

  For the sceptre of the King of the North Wind

  Is drawing away from you.

  Soon afterwards, Raoul de Faye went to Paris, where he may have acted as Eleanor's envoy.

  Henry had now begun to have suspicions about Eleanor's loyalty. There is some evidence to suggest that he had spies at her court, and they would certainly have reported the visit of the Young King. Knowing that Eleanor wielded great influence over her boys, and perhaps feeling that their disaffection was rooted in the rift between himself and her, he commanded Rotrou of Warwick, Archbishop of Rouen, to write to Eleanor reminding her of her duty towards her husband, asking her to use her influence to bring their sons to submission, and threatening her with excommunication if she refused to cooperate:

  Pious Queen, most illustrious Queen, we all of us deplore, and are united in our sorrow, that you, a prudent wife if ever there was one, should have parted from your husband. Once separated from the head, the limb no longer serves it. Still more terrible is the fact that you should have made the fruits of your union with our Lord King rise up against their father. For we know that, unless you return to your husband, you will be the cause of general ruin. Return then, O illustrious Queen, to your husband and our lord. Before events carry us to a dire conclusion, return with your sons to the husband whom you must obey and with whom it is your duty to live. Return, lest he mistrust you or your sons. Most surely we know that he will in every way possible show you his love and grant you the assurance of perfect safety. Bid your sons, we beg you, to be obedient and devoted to their father, who for their sakes has undergone so many difficulties, run so many dangers, undertaken so many labours. Either you will return to your husband, or else, by canon law, we shall be compelled and forced to bring the censure of the Church to bear on you. We say this with great reluctance, and shall do it with grief and tears, unless you return to your senses. 14

  Eleanor had no intention of returning to Henry or of abandoning her sons' cause, and there is no record of her replying to the Archbishop's letter. It may well have convinced her that she would be safer at the court of her former husband, for sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May, she left Poitiers to follow her sons to Paris, accompanied by a small escort. Discovering that she was being pursued, she "changed from her woman's clothes" and continued her journey disguised as a man, riding astride her mount. Soon afterwards, however, at an unspecified location, she was "apprehended" by men in Henry's pay, "detained in strict custody," and sent to the King in Rouen.15 Historians have speculated as to whether she was betrayed by Poitevin spies working for Henry, since four Poitevins-- William Man-got, Portedie de Mauze, Foulques de Matha, and Herve le Panetier-- received valuable grants from him soon afterwards.16

  For the King, this was perhaps the bitterest betrayal of his life, and his vengeance would be thorough. He made no public announcement of the Queen's arrest, not wanting her disaffection advertised, but had her immediately confined in one of his fortresses, although no chronicler specifies which; Rouen would seem to have been the most obvious choice, since it was in the midst of territory friendly to Henry. It has been suggested that it was Chinon, but that was in an area infected by rebellion. It could also have been Falaise, where other rebels were later held, but Eleanor was no ordinary prisoner. Indeed, Henry may have had her moved several times. The fact is that, for the next year, her whereabouts are unknown, which is what the King probably intended.

  The chroniclers are unanimous in condemning Eleanor's treachery, which offended every contemporary concept of the duties and loyalty of a wife. Ralph of Diceto, looking into old chronicles, found more than thirty examples of sons rebelling against their fathers, but none of a queen rebelling against her husband. Giraldus Cambrensis was not surprised, however, and believed that Eleanor's conduct was inspired by God to punish the King for having entered into an incestuous marriage.

  On the advice of King Louis, the Young King and his brothers had promised lands and income to anyone willing to ally with them. Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders, offered his services in return for the promise of the earldom of Kent, the castles of Rochester and Dover, and £1,000 per annum in revenues.17 His brother Matthew, Count of Boulogne, was promised the county of Mortain, and the Count of Blois great estates in Touraine. King Louis had a seal made specially for the Young King-- he had left his own in Rouen-- so that he could formalise these grants to his followers.

  During the spring, Louis held a great court in Paris, which was attended by the Angevin princes. Here, the lords of France solemnly vowed to fight for the Young King, who in turn, with his brothers, undertook not to make peace with "the former King of the English" without the consent of King Louis and his chief vassals.18 Afterwards, Louis knighted Richard.

  By late spring the rebel coalition included not only Henry's sons and the King of France, but also the formidable might of the Counts of Flanders, Boulogne, Champagne, and Blois, several lords of Anjou, Maine, Poitou, and Brittany, a number of English magnates, and even the King of Scots. Of all Henry's legitimate sons, "John alone, who was a little boy, remained with his father,"19 having been withdrawn from the abbey of Fontevrault. Henry's bastard Geoffrey, recently elected Bishop of Lincoln, also remained staunchly supportive. But of Henry's domains, only Normandy stayed substantially loyal, and it was the duchy that consequently bore the full force of the first enemy onslaughts.

  Hostilities broke out in May when the Young King, Duke Richard, and the Count of Flanders attacked Pacy in Normandy, and King Louis, assisted by Geoffrey of Brittany, bore down on the Vexin; on 29 June, the castle of Aumale fell to them, followed soon afterwards by that of Driencourt. As Louis invested Arques, with Rouen as his ultimate goal, Philip of Flanders laid siege to Henry's massive border fortress of Verneuil, withdrawing at the end of July only when his brother, the Count of Boulogne, died of wounds inflicted by a mercenary's crossbow bolt.20 In order to secure his succession in Flanders, Philip was obliged to withdraw from the conflict. Louis attempted to take Verneuil in his stead, but, hearing that Henry was advancing vengefully upon him "like a bear whose cubs have been stolen, decided that the best course of action was flight. Mounting a swift horse, he retreated with all speed into France."21

  During the course of the rebellion there was little open warfare, although many castles were besieged and numerous villages and towns plundered and burned. "Everywhere there was plotting, plundering and
burning,"22 with Henry's sons "laying waste their father's lands on every side, with fire, sword and rapine." This scorched-earth policy was endorsed by most of the leaders, including the Count of Flanders, who declared: "First destroy the land, and then one's foe."

  Although Normandy was the main theatre of revolt, there were risings in other parts of the Angevin empire. In Anjou and Maine Henry's vassals openly renounced their loyalty to him. In September Count William of Angouleme, the brothers Guy and Geoffrey de Lusignan, and some of the lords of Poitou and the Angoumois-- among them Geoffrey de Rancon-- erupted in indignation at the King's high-handed oppression and his treatment of their duchess, and expelled his officials. Henry responded by invading Poitou with a large army of Brabantine mercenaries, who destroyed or captured castles in the region between Tours and Poitiers, burned vineyards, and uprooted crops.23 To the east, the rebellion in Brittany was speedily put down by Henry's Braban-tines. Having capitulated, the Breton rebels were imprisoned in the castle of Dol.

  Throughout the summer of 1173 the King fought hard to suppress the rebels. He enlisted the support of the Church by filling vacant sees with his own supporters, and despite the Young King's appeals to a sympathetic Pope for redress against his father's policies, the Church remained loyal to Henry, as did the justiciar, Richard de Lucy; the judiciary; the departments of state; and the merchant classes who had prospered under his rule. Most people in England were on his side and, according to Ralph of Diceto, were so fearful of the rising spreading or the risk of invasion that they dispatched everything except the Tower of London across the Channel to implore the King to come to the rescue of his kingdom. Thanks to all this support, he achieved significant success.

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