Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir


  The Young King was too inexperienced to coordinate the various opposing armies, so it was King Louis who took command. Yet he too proved inept at organising the rebels into a cohesive force; nor was he able to prevent the divisions that arose among them. Nevertheless, Henry was hard-pressed to vanquish his enemies: as soon as one group of rebels was overcome, his attention was at once diverted to another. Only by skill, swiftness-- in July he marched 140 miles from Rouen to Dol in a day 24-- and a cool strategic appraisal of each situation did the King retain control.

  Seeing Henry emerging victorious, his enemies began suing for peace. On 25 September he met his sons and King Louis for a parley at Gisors underneath the branches of an ancient elm tree, a traditional meeting place of the kings of England and France. Henry offered his sons castles and allowances-- Richard was promised half the revenues of Aquitaine-- but made no mention of delegating any authority to them. On the advice of Louis, who was still set upon crushing Henry's power, the princes rejected his terms.25

  Meanwhile, England had been invaded from the north by the opportunist William the Lyon, King of Scots, who was not only sympathetic towards the Young King but also desirous of regaining Northumbria, which Henry had taken from him in 1157 and which the Young King had promised to return to him. The Scottish forces proceeded to lay waste the north of England, "setting fire to barns, taking plunder and women, and tearing children half alive from their mothers' wombs."26 An army commanded by English lords marched north and, having driven the Scots back across the border, devastated the whole of Lothian with fire and sword. In the end, King William was forced to sue for a truce until January 1174.

  A simultaneous invasion of England was launched from Flanders, on Michaelmas Day 1173, by the treacherous Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, the son of Henry's loyal justiciar, who had died in 1168. Earl Robert came at the head of a Flemish army;27 having landed at "Walton in Suffolk, he marched for Leicester, but in October, at Farnham, just north of Bury St. Edmunds, his force was mercilessly annihilated by a peasant host wielding scythes and clubs, commanded by Humphrey de Bohun, the constable of England, and the justiciar, Richard de Lucy. Earl Robert and his formidable wife Petronilla were taken prisoner, deprived of their estates, and sent to Falaise Castle, where other rebels were being held. The Earl's ally, Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who was now seventy-eight and had spent his life switching his allegiance to serve his own interests, sued for peace, which brought the rising in East Anglia to an end. That left only pockets of rebellion in the north and the midlands.

  The month of November found Henry and his Brabantine mercenaries south of Chinon, bearing down on Raoul de Faye's castle at Faye-le-Vineuse, which they took after a short siege. Raoul, however, evaded Henry, being still in Paris. At the same time, Duke Richard made an unsuccessful attack on the port of La Rochelle in Poitou.

  The onset of winter forced both sides to negotiate a truce, but in the spring of 1174 the fighting broke out again on all fronts, and for a time Henry was busy subduing Anjou and Poitou. "With the rebels in these domains virtually quiescent, he prepared to depart for Normandy, but on 12 May, "Whit Sunday, he first visited Poitiers where he dismissed Eleanor's servants and dismantled her court.28 "When he left, he took with him his daughter Joanna, Marguerite and Alys of France, Emma of Anjou, Constance of Brittany, and Alice of Maurienne, as well as valuables from the ducal palace.29

  Back in Normandy, in June, Henry received alarming news from England. The King of Scots had crossed the border again and was laying siege to Carlisle, the north and midlands were seething with revolt, the castle of Nottingham had fallen, and the Young King and Philip of Flanders were planning another invasion from the continent. They had already sent a force under Ralph de la Haie to join Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who on 18 June took the city of Norwich. The justiciar and other royal officials began once more bombarding the King with appeals for help.

  A superstitious man, Henry saw these new misfortunes as divine punishment for his failure to do proper penance for the murder of Becket, 30 and decided that this must be his priority before he attempted to deal with the insurgents.

  At midday on 8 July 1174, Henry took ship for England from Barfleur. "With him were the Lord John, the Lady Joanna, Marguerite and Alys of France, Constance of Brittany, Emma of Anjou, Alice of Maurienne, and Eleanor: this is the first reference to the Queen by the chroniclers for over a year.31 Many other ladies were in the party, probably to wait upon this host of royal females.

  "A considerable number of ships had been assembled against the King's arrival,"32 and it required forty of them to transport the royal family and their personal servants, the King's household and court, and his army of Brabantine mercenaries to England. Nor was it an easy voyage:

  As they put out to sea, the waves started to look rough. The wind rose and fell hourly and made the sailors hesitant about the crossing. They put on subdued expressions in front of the King, their faces betraying signs of doubt. When the King learned that the wind was blowing directly against them, and that the strong gusts were steadily growing worse, he lifted his eyes to the sky and said, in front of everyone, "If the Lord of the Heavens has ordained that peace will be restored when I arrive, then in His mercy may He grant me a safe landing. But if He is hostile to me, if He has decided to visit the kingdom with a rod, may it never be my fortune to reach the shores of my country."33

  God was indeed merciful, but Henry less so. As soon as they had all disembarked at dusk at Southampton and "eaten a simple meal of bread and water,"34 Eleanor was taken away under guard, either to Winchester Castle or to Sarum Castle near Salisbury,35 and there confined.

  Queen Marguerite was sent, with her sister Alys and Constance of Brittany, to the castle of Devizes, and there kept securely until such time as her husband could be brought to heel. Alice of Maurienne may have been with them, but she died soon after arriving in England. Emma of Anjou was given that year in marriage to Dafydd ap Owen, prince of eastern Gwynedd, who had offered loyal service to the King.36

  Having disposed of his womenfolk and "postponed dealing with every matter of state," Henry rode on to Canterbury "with a penitent heart" to perform his long-awaited penance for his part in the murder of St. Thomas.37 Dismounting near the city on Saturday, 12 June, he laid aside the insignia of kingship and, "clad in a woollen smock" as befitted a pilgrim, walked barefoot to the cathedral.38 Prostrating himself before Becket's tomb, he remained long in prayer, while Bishop Foliot explained, in a sermon delivered to the watching crowds, that the King "had neither commanded, nor wished, nor by any device contrived the death of the blessed martyr, which had been perpetrated in consequence of his murderers having misinterpreted the words which the King had hastily pronounced."39 Henry then "requested absolution from the bishops present and, baring his back, received from three to five lashes from every one of the numerous body of ecclesiastics who were assembled."40 It is estimated that at least seventy monks participated in the flogging.

  Afterwards Henry remained lying before the tomb, "constant in prayer, all that day and night. He neither took food nor went out to relieve nature, and would not permit a rug or anything of that kind to be provided for him." At dawn on Sunday he heard mass, drank water from a well dedicated to St. Thomas, and was given a phial of blood, perhaps that of the martyr. "So he departed from Canterbury rejoicing, reaching London on the Sunday."41

  That night, sore and exhausted from flagellation and fasting, Henry summoned his physician for a bloodletting, then fell into a much-needed sleep, with his head resting on his elbow and a servant rubbing his feet,42 which had been badly cut by hard stones on the walk to Canterbury.43 Suddenly, there was a banging on the door.

  "Who's there?" cried the keeper. "Begone! Come in the morning, the King is asleep."

  But Henry was awake.

  "Open the door!" he shouted, and in came a messenger, one Abraham, with marvellous news: an army led by Geoffrey, the King's bastard son, and the stoutly loyal Ranulf Glanvill
e, Sheriff of Yorkshire, had achieved a decisive victory at Alnwick, and the King of Scots had been captured and was being held at Richmond Castle. Henry was so jubilant that he immediately rewarded Abraham with an estate in Norfolk, then raced off to tell his barons the good news and order all the bells in London to be rung. He had not expected to receive such a signal sign of divine forgiveness so soon.

  "God be thanked for it, and St. Thomas the Martyr!" he said fervently.44 Others also saw the hand of a forgiving God at work on Henry's behalf, and believed the victory had come about through the intercession of the martyred Becket; in a devout age, it was felt that, with such allies on the King's side, his enemies must surely fail.

  The taking of William the Lyon was indeed catastrophic for the English rebels, and, led by Hugh Bigod, they sued for peace. On 26 July, Bigod was reconciled to the King and renewed his allegiance.45 With Henry's permission, Ralph de la Haie's army quietly left the country.

  Learning that the rebellion in England had collapsed, Louis ordered the Young King and the Count of Flanders to call off their invasion, and joined with them in an attack on Rouen, which was from the first doomed to failure. The truth was that Henry's enemies had lost their confidence and knew they were fighting a losing cause.

  By the end of July England was finally at peace, and on 8 August, Henry returned to Barfleur with his Brabantine mercenaries and some Welsh troops. When this formidable force advanced on Rouen, Louis "was reduced to a state of utter bewilderment" and on 14 August scuttled back to Paris with the Young King. He and the Angevin princes were now forced to concede defeat and accept the bitter truth that Henry was once more lord of all their destinies. His masterful victory against such overwhelming odds had also served to restore his reputation, which had been so shamefully tarnished by Becket's death.

  Now the King seemed more invincible than ever. He was received in Rouen with such a ringing of bells as had never been heard there before.46 In Falaise, William the Lyon was forced to sign a treaty surrendering Scotland to Henry as an absolute fief, paying homage to him as his overlord and promising that the lords of Scodand would follow suit. He was also obliged to surrender to the King the castles of Edinburgh, Stirling, Roxburgh, Jedburgh, and Berwick.47

  "Looking out for their own peace and quiet," Louis and Philip of Flanders "did all they could to heal the breach between the King of England and his sons."48 The Young King and his brothers had no choice but to sue for peace, offering to submit to their father. Henry realised "that the unusual humility" of his former enemies "and their desire to make peace proceeded only from their inability to resist him," but he was willing to negotiate a peace, "foreseeing the possibility of recalling his sons, whom almost everyone thought had gone seriously astray, to the fruits of a better life-- his sons whom he loved so much, whom he had unceasingly tried to raise to the heights of honour."49

  Duke Richard did not cease campaigning against his father until the bitter end, yet when he came face to face with him at Montlouis near Tours on 29 September, he threw himself weeping at Henry's feet and begged his forgiveness. The King gently raised him and gave him the kiss of peace.

  On 30 September a compromise was reached at Montlouis, Henry assigning the Young King an income of £3,750 per annum 50 and two castles in Normandy, Duke Richard half the revenues of Poitou and two castles, and Geoffrey half the revenues of Brittany, with the rest to follow on his marriage to Constance.51 The King had, in the circumstances, been more than generous, but he had not delegated one iota of his power and had forced the Young King to accept the original settlement of his former estates and castles on John, whose inheritance was now substantially increased by the addition of properties in England, Normandy, Anjou, Touraine, and Maine. "Thus the mighty learned that it was no easy task to wrest Hercules' club from his hand," commented Richard FitzNigel.

  Young Henry, Richard, and Geoffrey "gave assurance that they would never demand anything more of the Lord King their father beyond the determined settlement" and would "withdraw neither themselves nor their service from their father."52 Yet although Henry generously excused their treason on the grounds of their "tender age," and chose to believe that they had been led astray by troublemakers such as their mother and the King of France, 53 his relationship with his three eldest sons was naturally strained and would perhaps never recover from such devastating disloyalty. From now on Henry's love for them would be marred by bitterness and distrust, and he would look to his other sons for true affection, making it clear that, of his legitimate sons, John was now his favourite. But John was not yet eight, and it was with his natural son Geoffrey that Henry enjoyed the most satisfying fatherly bond. Geoffrey had fought for him in the north of England throughout the campaigns of 1173-1174, and after the victory at Alnwick Henry had told him, "You alone have proved yourself my lawful and true son. My other sons are really the bastards."54 From now on Geoffrey would be one of the King's most valued counsellors.

  There was to be no savage retribution, nor any executions. Once the Treaty of Montlouis had been concluded, the King, having given orders for the razing of all rebel strongholds and the release of all hostages, proclaimed a general amnesty for all who had risen against him-- save his wife.

  14. Poor Prisoner

  "When the war was over and the fighting had stopped," wrote Giraldus Cambrensis, "the King, attributing his success not to divine mercy but to his own strength, hardened his heart and returned incorrigibly to his usual abyss of vice. He imprisoned Queen Eleanor his wife as a punishment for the destruction of their marriage."

  For the rest of Henry's life, Eleanor was to remain under restraint. Never again would he trust her, nor-- for his own security-- did he allow her much contact with her children, especially during the early years when she was a virtual prisoner: for the best part of a decade he had her kept in strict custody in the most strongly fortified towns.1

  Because the King dealt so discreetly with Eleanor, the chroniclers have very little to say about her life during this period, and details of her imprisonment-- which most of them found "mysterious"-- are fragmentary. During those years, according to the Pipe Rolls, Eleanor was confined mainly at Winchester and sometimes at Sarum, although she did occasionally stay elsewhere, since an allowance for her keep was also sent to Ludgershall Castle in Buckinghamshire and to houses in Berkshire and Nottinghamshire. Her custodians were men whom the King knew he could trust: Ranulf Glanville, a lawyer and diplomat who had served him as Sheriff of Yorkshire and in that capacity captured King William the Lyon; and Ralph FitzStephen, one of the royal chamberlains.

  The twelfth-century town of Sarum occupied a windswept hilltop site, which was once an Iron Age fort and later a Roman town called Sorviodunum. It is now known as Old Sarum, and the newer town of Salisbury, founded in 1217, is situated nearby. In those days the town was dominated by its Norman keep and cathedral and surrounded by a deep ditch. Today only the cruciform foundations of the cathedral and the grassy circular mound on which the tower stood remain. In Eleanor's day Sarum was a bleak, inhospitable place. Water was scarce, the city was overcrowded, and the wind was so terrible that the clerks in the cathedral could hardly hear one another sing. They also suffered from chronic rheumatism, while the cathedral itself was repeatedly damaged by severe gales. There is no evidence that Eleanor, who was fifty-two at the onset of her confinement, suffered any lasting impairment to her health as a result of her stays here, for in old age she was to display as much energy and vigour as in her youth.

  If the Pipe Rolls constitute a complete record, then Eleanor's allowance during these early years was a mere pittance. Her household was small and she was permitted only one personal maid, Amaria. After 1 180 she seems to have lived in greater state, with chamberlains in her household-- the names of two are recorded, Fulcold and William of Flanders.2

  Unlike other prisoners, she lived in luxurious surroundings: Roger of Hoveden records that her prison was no worse than her palace at Winchester. There is no evidence to suggest
that she was treated in any way but courteously, yet she was completely cut off from the outside world and therefore deprived of any means of plotting her escape or conspiring against her husband. Henry had had proof of how dangerous she could be, and he was taking no chances.

  In Poitou and Aquitaine, the imprisonment of the Duchess provoked grief and anger,3 yet, at the end of the day, most of her vassals were content to transfer their allegiance to her son Richard, who was not only a man but had also recently proved himself a doughty warrior. It was left to the poets to mourn the loss of Eleanor, and it must have been at this time that the chronicler Richard le Poitevin wrote this poignant lament, in which he envisages her suffering and weeping in her prison:

  Daughter of Aquitaine, fair, fruitful vine! Tell me, Eagle with two heads, tell me: where were you when your eaglets, flying from their nest, dared to raise their talons against the King of the North Wind? It was you, we learned, who urged them to rise against their father. That is why you have been ravished from your own country and carried away to a strange land. Your barons have cheated you by their conciliatory words. Your harp has changed into the voice of mourning, your flute sounds the note of affliction, and your songs are turned into sounds of lamentation.

  Reared with abundance of all delights, you had a taste for luxury and refinement and enjoyed a royal liberty. You lived richly in your own inheritance, you took pleasure in the pastimes of your women, you delighted in the melodies of the flute and drum, your young companions sang their sweet songs to the accompaniment of tambourine and cithara. You abounded in riches of every kind.

 
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