Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir

  On Christmas Eve, Henry was at Nottingham Castle, where he received the Bishop of Norwich, lately returned from Sicily. Joanna's wedding to William II took place on 13 February 1177 at Palermo Cathedral; it was a magnificent occasion, attended by a host of dignitaries. The city looked "resplendent" and the bride wore a dress that had cost her father £114. After the ceremony, Joanna was crowned Queen of Sicily.30 Thereafter she lived in almost oriental seclusion, her husband having adopted many of the customs of his Turkish subjects, including that of maintaining a harem.

  By now Henry's affair with Alys of France was becoming notorious. King Louis had almost certainly heard rumours-- and perhaps the truth, from his daughter Marguerite and the Young King-- for he suddenly demanded that Alys's marriage to Duke Richard be celebrated without delay. To ensure that Henry complied, he appealed to Pope Alexander to enforce the marriage or else lay all Henry's domains under an interdict. 31

  On 19 June, Marguerite of France bore the Young King a son, William, in Paris,32 but joy at the birth of a direct heir to the Angevin empire was short-lived, for the infant died three days later. Henry received the "unwelcome tidings" from his son while he was at Woodstock.33

  He was still there when he learned soon afterwards that the papal curia had rejected his plea for an annulment of his marriage to Eleanor. The news might not have come as a shock, since he was well aware that putting Eleanor aside could have serious repercussions. But Henry was also informed that a papal legate was on his way to England to lay an interdict on all the King's lands if he did not at once marry Alys to his son. 34

  The King went to France on 18 August, resolved to straighten the matter out with Louis, face to face. They met at Ivry on the Norman border on 21 September,35 and Henry managed to placate Louis with a vague promise that Alys would be married to Richard as soon as the legal formalities concerning the transfer of her dowry were completed. Good relations were restored and the two kings undertook to go together on a new crusade, 36 whereupon Henry hastened down to Berry to make it secure and thence to Aquitaine, to inspect Richard's conquests.

  Richard had stayed aloof from the dispute, although his father's affair with his betrothed must have angered him. He certainly had no wish to marry her now, nor could he legitimately do so, since her relationship with Henry would render her union with his son incestuous. But Richard had other, more pressing matters on his mind. Having, with the aid of the Young King, subdued Poitou and the north of Aquitaine, he was now enforcing his authority in the south.

  After Ivry, Henry took care to ensure that his affair with Alys was kept private, although his family certainly knew what was going on. During the next few years she would bear him a son 37 and a daughter, "who did not survive"; 38 their births were kept secret.

  In 1177 Henry assigned Ireland to John. Since the new Lord of Ireland was only ten years old, his sovereign duties were carried out by a Viceroy, Hugh de Lacy. In September the King's daughter Eleanor was sent to Castile for her marriage to King Alfonso VIII, which was solemnised in Burgos Cathedral. 39 The younger Eleanor's marriage would prove fruitful and she would be responsible for introducing Poitevin culture into Castile.

  Henry and his three eldest sons kept the Christmas of 1177 in such splendour at Angers that it would long be remembered as one of the most magnificent Christmas courts of the reign.40

  Henry returned to England on 15 July 1178, and on 6 August, at Woodstock, knighted Duke Geoffrey.41 Outwardly, relations between the King and his sons were peaceful at this time. The Young King was still "rushing around all over France" attending tournaments and "carrying off victory in various meetings. His popularity made him famous. The old King was happier counting up and admiring his victories and restored in full his possessions which had been taken away." On 26 February 1179 the Young King returned to England "and was received with due honour by the King his father."42

  Duke Richard was still heavily engaged in Aquitaine. "Having suffered many attacks, he at length decided to conquer the proud Geoffrey de Rancon," who had refused to do him homage. "He collected a force and on 1 May besieged the castle of Taillebourg. It was a most desperate venture and something which none of his predecessors had dared to attempt." After only nine days, the great stronghold, which had been considered virtually impregnable, surrendered, and the local people watched aghast as it was razed to the ground on Richard's orders. This was a great triumph for him and established his reputation as one of the great generals of the age-- news of it provoking alarm among the remaining southern rebels. "Other castles in the area submitted to defeat within one month. Thus, with everything completed as he wished, Duke Richard crossed to England and was received with great honour by his father.43

  On 22 August 1179, King Louis, now fifty-eight and in poor health, began a five-day visit to England to make a pilgrimage to Becket's shrine. He was "graciously received" by Henry at Dover, and the next day they travelled together in a solemn procession to the newly rebuilt cathedral at Canterbury; the choir of the previous church had burned down in 1174. Louis gave rich gifts to the shrine, including a great ruby known as the Regale of France, and spent three days in fasting, vigils, and prayer.

  On 26 August, Louis returned to France to prepare for the coronation of his fourteen-year-old son Philip, but soon afterwards he suffered a major stroke, which left him totally paralysed down his right side and effectively ended his reign.44 When Philip was crowned on 1 November at Rheims, Louis was unable to be present.45 The Young King attended, as Seneschal of France and the husband of Philip's sister, and carrying the crown preceded Philip into the cathedral. Richard and Geoffrey were also present and swore fealty to the new King for their domains, but Henry stayed away in order to avoid having to pay homage.46 After the coronation there was a grand tournament at Lagny near Paris, at which the Young King and his knights were victorious over all their opponents.

  Philip of France was a young man with a burning ambition, which was to break up the Angevin empire and incorporate Henry's continental domains into the kingdom of France.47 This imperative was to govern all his future policies and make him a very dangerous adversary indeed.

  Short of stature, stocky, with a red face, unkempt hair, and primitive notions of personal hygiene, Philip was a plain man lacking in humour, grace, and intellectual inclinations. Yet he had real ability as a ruler, being tough on policy, clever, calculating, and far more astute than his father. A political realist and pragmatist, he proved a crafty and greedy opportunist. Lacking the charm of the Angevins, he was overcautious, timid, and even neurotic: he would ride only docile horses and, ever suspicious, imagined there was an assassin hiding behind every tree. He had limited military skill but achieved his victories through cunning and persistence. His successes earned him a reputation as one of France's greatest kings.

  Early in 1180 Henry appointed Eleanor's custodian, Ranulf Glanville, justiciar in place of Richard de Lucy, who had served the King loyally for a quarter of a century. Although Glanville retained responsibility for all the King's prisoners, he appears largely to have delegated to Ralph FitzStephen his custodianship of Eleanor, who seems to have resided mainly at Winchester from then on.

  At the beginning of April 1180, the Young King returned to England to warn Henry that Philip was not such a king as his father had been, whereupon Henry decided that they should go together to meet Philip in the hope of maintaining the friendship between England and France. However, wary of Philip's influence and knowing the Young King to be susceptible, Henry first took his son to the tomb of his great-grandfather Henry I in Reading Abbey and made him swear "in the presence of holy relics that he would follow his father's instructions in all things. After this, the elder King crossed the Channel from Portsmouth, the younger from Dover. On arriving in France the elder King at once celebrated Easter at Le Mans."48 In June he met Philip at Gisors and renewed the peace made with Louis at Ivry in 1177.

  In Paris, on 18 September, Louis VII, who during the last months of his life had give
n all his wealth to the poor,49 "laid aside the burden of the flesh,"50 and his son succeeded as Philip II. The late King, his body clad in a monk's habit, lay in state at Notre-Dame before being buried in the Cistercian abbey of Barbieux in a fine tomb commissioned by his widow, Adela of Champagne, who would one day share it with him.

  In July 1181 Geoffrey was at last married to Constance of Brittany. After the wedding, Henry returned to England and appointed the other Geoffrey, his bastard son, chancellor of England. Geoffrey had not yet been consecrated bishop of Lincoln, and the Pope was now insisting that he be consecrated immediately or resign the see. Declaring that he preferred horses and dogs to books and priests, he chose the latter. His father thereupon made him Archdeacon of Rouen and treasurer of York Minster, and gave him two castles in Anjou. Meanwhile, the Young King, Duke Richard, and Duke Geoffrey had successfully supported King Philip in a war against Philip of Flanders.

  Towards the end of 1181 news of Henry's daughters filtered through to England. Joanna had borne a son, Bohemond, who had died soon after birth. Matilda's husband, Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, had quarrelled with the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, having been unjustly held responsible for the failure of a campaign in Italy. The Emperor, jealous of the Duke's power-- he owned sixty-seven castles and forty towns in Germany-- had confiscated his estates, given them to his own supporters, and declared him an outlaw. In November the Duke submitted to Frederick, but was exiled for seven years.51 He and his wife and children fled Germany with the intention of seeking refuge in France, Denmark, or England.

  On 4 March 1182 Henry returned to Normandy to keep a watchful eye on affairs in the south, where there had been alarming developments. Duke Richard's harsh rule had earned him the bitter hatred of his vassals, and the turbulent lords of Aquitaine were again plotting revolt, hoping to overthrow him and offer their allegiance to the Young King instead. The evil genius behind this conspiracy was Bertran de Born, who had seduced the Young King into joining the rebels, taunting him with the derisory title "lord of little land." Jealous of his brother, and resentful because he had still not received what he thought was his due, young Henry had been easy to persuade.52 Bertran had then gone on to inflame public opinion in the Limousin and the Dordogne against Richard by the clever deployment of propagandist sirventes. He also boasted he could put a thousand of his own men in the field.

  Foreseeing rich pickings for himself, Duke Geoffrey joined the Young King and, with an army of mercenaries and fortune seekers, they invaded Poitou, which was suddenly plunged into a bloody civil war. In the summer, Henry intervened, riding south in an attempt to restore peace between his sons, but they were not prepared to listen. In fact, according to Giraldus, Henry was content for the time being to let the strife between his sons run its course, so long as it kept them from uniting against him.

  He had to go back to Normandy to deal with a family crisis, for in the autumn, having failed to obtain asylum elsewhere, Duke Henry the Lion and the Duchess Matilda sought refuge at his court at Rouen.53 Henry welcomed them with "sumptuous hospitality,'' 54 took them under his protection, and then proceeded, through diplomatic channels, to negotiate with the Emperor for their peaceful return to Germany. He also took a special interest in their children, the first grandchildren to delight his declining years. There were three boys-- Otto, nine; Henry, eight; and the baby Lothaire-- and three (possibly four) girls-- Richenza, the eldest, who in England changed her name to Matilda; Gertrude; Ingibiorg; and perhaps another called Eleanor after her grandmother. Henry treated these children as Angevin princes, especially Otto, who was to spend most of his youth at the English court and would adapt the Plantagenet leopards for his own coat of arms when he became the German Emperor Otto IV in 1209.

  Once the campaigning season was over, Henry, hoping to divert the Young King from his ambitions in the south, summoned him to Rouen to greet his sister and her husband. He came unwillingly, seizing this opportunity to demand once more that his father cede Normandy or Anjou to him, saying that he wanted a capital seat where he and his queen could hold court without let or hindrance. When Henry prevaricated, the Young King stormed off in a temper to Paris, where King Philip lent a sympathetic and calculating ear to his grievances.

  In bullish mood, the Young King returned to Rouen, where he declared dramatically that he would prefer to be banished or to take the Cross rather than ever again accept the subordinate role his father had decreed for him. When this fell on deaf ears, he threatened suicide, a mortal sin in those days.55 At length Henry appeased him by offering him a generous allowance, apartments in Argentan Castle, where Matilda was staying with her children (her husband having gone on pilgrimage to Compostela), and a year's pay for his soldiers. Somewhat mollified, the Young King accepted, and in return swore on oath to remain in the King's allegiance and to make no further demands.56

  Henry had intended to go to England for Christmas, but concern over the Young King and the grave situation in Aquitaine kept him on the continent, and he held Christmas that year in the new castle of the Norman Exchequer at Caen.57 It was a glittering gathering, designed to rival Philip's first full court in Paris, and in the hope of restoring peace the King commanded all his sons to be present. He also summoned his lords and prelates to renew their allegiance before a vast throng of over a thousand knights and other guests.58 The Young Queen presided over the court with Henry, and there was much festive cheer.

  Only the Young King's behaviour struck a discordant note. He arrived in a foul mood, without William the Marshal, who had hitherto been his constant companion and was the master of his household, and he would not speak to his wife. Not surprisingly, a rumour soon spread that the Marshal had dared to look amorously upon Queen Marguerite. Hearing what was being said about him, William hastened to Caen and demanded that the King allow him to prove his innocence in an ordeal of combat, challenging those who had spread such calumnies to be his opponents in a three-day tournament. If he won, he declared, he asked no reward but the vindication of his honour; if he lost, he would be hanged for his crime. But no one dared take up his challenge, and he left the court in great distress. Soon afterwards, he departed on a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Magi at Cologne. 59

  Bertran de Born took advantage of the Young King's mood to drive further the wedge between him and Richard, calling him "the prince of cravens" and suggesting that, if Geoffrey had been made Duke of Normandy, he would have known how to enforce his rights. He also reminded him that Richard had built the strongly fortified castle of Clairvaux on the Young King's side of the border between Anjou and Poitou.

  Stung into action, the Young King erupted in a furious outburst against his father, threatening to renounce his titles and take the Cross if Henry did not allow him more autonomy or order Richard to dismantle his castle. Henry, moved by his son's tears and fearful that Philip would exploit any rift between them, decided to placate him by making Richard and Geoffrey do homage to their brother as their overlord. Geoffrey complied, but Richard refused outright, on the grounds that he owed allegiance only to King Philip for his domains;60 he had had them, not from his father, he pointed out, but as a gift from his mother. Mention of Eleanor also prompted him publicly to castigate Henry for keeping her a prisoner. As for the Young King, Richard flared, if he wanted land, let him go and fight for it, as he, Richard, had had to do.61

  After that, Richard would not sit at the same table as the Young King. Angrily, Henry broke up his Christmas court and withdrew to Le Mans with his feuding offspring. There, "anxious to make peace between his sons," he attempted to patch up the quarrel, asking the Young King to concede that Aquitaine belonged to Richard and his heirs in perpetuity. The Young King was crafty in his response. "So as not to incur his father's displeasure, he solemnly swore to do what he asked, as long as Richard would swear fealty to him on sacred relics. At this, Richard exploded in anger"62 and stalked out, "uttering nothing but threats and defiance."63

  It was only a matter of time before the v
assals of the Young King and Duke Richard took up cudgels on their lords' behalf and the fighting began again. "The Young King gathered a numerous army and, leaving his father, he ordered all his allies to join battle against Richard."64 Geoffrey again sided with the Young King and Richard's rebellious barons,65 and when Raymond of Toulouse and Duke Philip of Burgundy offered their support, and the rebels began looking to England for aid, it appeared to an alarmed Henry as if there might be another revolt against his empire itself.66 He thereupon summoned his feudal levies, sent orders that all suspected English dissidents be imprisoned, and marched south to subdue the rebels.

  When Henry arrived before Limoges,67 the Young King's soldiers shot at him, and although his son protested that it had been an accident, the same thing happened again shortly afterwards. On both occasions, the King narrowly escaped being killed.68 Again the Young King apologised, but "war was in his heart" and it was obvious that he secretly lusted for his father's death.69 In vain did Henry's secretary, Peter of Blois, write a letter castigating him for his behaviour: "Where is your filial affection, your reverence, the law of Nature? Where is your fear of God?"70

  When Henry stopped his allowance, the Young King ran out of funds with which to pay his army and, with William the Marshal-- now restored to favour-- and a mercenary band, joined his brother Geoffrey in sacking and plundering monasteries and shrines and terrorising rural communities.71 He had become, wrote Peter of Blois, "a leader of freebooters who consorted with outlaws and excommunicates." Early in June 1183 he and his men brazenly looted the very altar treasure and the famous sword of the hero Roland from the lofty shrine of Rocamadour as horrified pilgrims looked on.72

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