Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir

Henry had desired peace with his sons, but it became clear that this was only on his own terms, and their resentment would cause such discord during the remaining years of his life that "he could find no abiding state of happiness or enjoyment of security."19

  Eleanor returned to England probably early in 1184. She kept Easter at Becket's former castle at Berkhamsted, where she was visited by her daughter Matilda, then seven months pregnant. Although the Queen was from now on allowed more freedom of movement, she was still in the custody of Ralph FitzStephen, who at Easter received payment of £32 14s for her allowance for the period 1 April to 24 June. After Easter Eleanor moved to Woodstock, where she seems to have stayed until June.20

  On 10 June, Henry himself returned to his kingdom, where "all his subjects were enjoying the delights of peace."21 "Within a few days, at Winchester, the Duchess [Matilda of Saxony] bore a son, called William,"22 who would be brought up in England. Eleanor was present for the confinement. During this year her name begins to appear more frequently in the Pipe Rolls, which indicate that her household had perhaps been enlarged and which record gifts from the King, at a cost of over £28, of a scarlet gown lined with grey miniver, a saddle worked with gold and trimmed with fur, some embroidered cushions, and also various items for the Queen's maid Amaria.

  Alys of France was still being held at Winchester, but there is no record of her meeting Eleanor. Later events would show that the Queen had no love for this girl with whom Henry had tried to supplant her. It is likely that Henry's affair with Alys was still ongoing, although the Pipe Rolls hint that he in fact had another mistress at this time. There is an intriguing payment of £55 17s "for clothes and hoods and cloaks, and for the trimming for two capes of samite and for the clothes of the Queen and of Bellebelle, for the King's use." Since the clothes and trimmings were hardly for the King's use, we must assume that Bellebelle was.

  In July, Eleanor and the Duke and Duchess of Saxony, with their children, moved to Berkhamsted, where they stayed for the rest of the summer.23

  The dispute between Henry and Richard over the assignment of Poitou and Aquitaine to John had still not been resolved. In the autumn of 1184 Geoffrey allied himself with John and together they raided Poitou; in retaliation, Richard plundered Brittany.24

  In November the King ordered his warring sons to lay down their arms and come to England, where he intended to force them to a settlement. On the 30th, St. Andrew's Day, Eleanor was at long last reunited with them when, at Henry's command, she joined him and their children at a court convened at Westminster to bring about a concord between the royal princes25 and elect a new Archbishop of Canterbury.

  Henry had invited Eleanor for a purpose. Ostensibly she was there to witness the reconciliation of her sons, but he also wanted her support for his plans regarding their inheritances. Summoned to the council chamber, she was seated in the place of honour and she watched as Richard, Geoffrey, and John were called forward to make peace publicly with one another and give the kiss of peace.26 The King then asked Eleanor, as Duchess of Aquitaine, to approve the assignment of Poitou and Aquitaine to John, on the grounds that it constituted a fairer distribution of his empire, but the Queen, supported by Richard, the newly elected Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury, and some lords of the council, refused to cooperate. Realising that King Philip, as her overlord, would undoubtedly also support her, if only to drive a wedge through the Angevin family, Henry backed down.

  Before Christmas, the King sent Geoffrey to Normandy to take charge of the duchy in his absence, a move that astonished observers and led to rumours that Henry was contemplating naming Geoffrey as his heir. Geoffrey's duchess, Constance, had recently given birth to her first child, a daughter, who was baptised Eleanor in honour of the Queen;27 during the following year, 1185, Constance bore another daughter, Matilda or Mary, who died young.

  At Christmas the remaining members of the family were together again at Windsor.28 The chroniclers record frustratingly few details of these royal gatherings, yet entries in the Pipe Rolls confirm that they were occasions of some splendour, payments being made for wines, spices, wax for candles, cattle, furs, and "entertaining trifles suitable for feasts." After Christmas Richard returned to Poitiers, while Eleanor remained in England; early in 1185 she was at Winchester, probably in the company of Matilda and her family.

  Around this time it became clear that King Baldwin IV was dying of leprosy. Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, led an embassy to England to offer Henry the throne of Jerusalem for his son John. The prospect of a crown had John on his knees begging his father to accept it on his behalf, but for various reasons Henry refused.29 Instead, he decreed, John should go to Ireland and govern it on his behalf. On 31 March he knighted his son at Windsor, and arranged for him to depart for Ireland on 25 April. It seemed that John would have a kingdom after all: the Pope sent him a golden crown adorned with peacocks' feathers, hoping that his father would see fit to have him crowned King of Ireland.

  Henry and Eleanor were still in England when, in April, "a mighty earthquake was heard throughout nearly the whole of [the realm], such as had not been heard in that land since the beginning of the world." 30 Lincoln Cathedral collapsed 31 and many houses were left in ruins.

  On 16 April, the day after the quake, Henry left England for Normandy. He was still determined to bring Richard to heel, and to this end, in late April, summoned Eleanor and the Duke and Duchess of Saxony to join him.

  When they arrived, he sent instructions to his son Richard that he should without delay surrender the whole of Poitou with its appurtenances to his mother Queen Eleanor, because it was her heritage; and he added that, if Richard in any way delayed to fulfil his command, he was to know for certain that the Queen his mother would make it her business to ravage the land with a great host. And Richard surrendered all Poitou to his mother.'32

  How far Eleanor concurred in this scheme is not known. She had herself ceded her lands to her son once he was old enough to rule them, and had not been afraid to speak out against Henry's scheme to give them to John. She would surely have spoken out against this new arrangement if it had not found favour with her, yet perhaps her newfound liberty was as yet too precarious for her to risk defying Henry again. And the prospect of regaining Poitou may well have been tempting, although she must have known that Henry was only doing this to show Richard who was master and that he would never again allow her to set up her court in Poitiers. Nor is it likely that she personally had any intention of laying waste Poitou; it was more probably Henry who was determined to assert her right to it, and thereby his own.

  Richard now "heeded the wise advice of his friends"-- and perhaps his mother-- "and, laying aside the weapons of wickedness, returned with all meekness to his father," having surrendered not only Poitou but "the whole of Aquitaine to his mother."33 He returned to Henry's court in Normandy "and remained with his father like a tamed son."34

  Eleanor was with them; she travelled around the continent with Henry until April 1186. From now on, although Henry was in overall control of the government of Aquitaine, he would at various times share it with Eleanor and Richard; on some occasions, charters to the same beneficiaries would be issued by all three. Roger of Hoveden asserts that at one time Eleanor was exercising sovereign power in Bordeaux, yet within the next two years she would resign her authority to her son, and Richard would again be the virtual ruler of the duchy's

  One charter issued by Eleanor around this time was addressed to "the Archbishop of Bordeaux and all her officers of Aquitaine. With the assent and at the wish of her lord Henry, King of England, and of Richard, Geoffrey and John, her sons," she gave to the abbey of Fontevrault "and the nuns there serving God" a rent of £100 and the proceeds of a wine tax "for the weal of the soul of her lord the King and of her own and of her son Richard and her other sons and her daughters and her predecessors." This charter was confirmed by similar charters issued by Henry and Richard.

  Henry, it was clear, had plans for the future d
isposition of his empire but was not prepared to divulge them. This only caused bad feeling between him and his sons, a situation that King Philip was determined to exploit. Duke Geoffrey was staying with him in Paris at this time, as close as a blood brother, it was said.36 Being dissatisfied with his duchy of Brittany, he wanted Anjou also, and "while engaged in active service with the King of France, he made great efforts to annoy his father." 37 Philip, naturally, abetted him in this.

  Meanwhile John had arrived in Ireland and attempted to establish his authority there. During the eight months of his stay, however, he succeeded in alienating both the native Irish kings and the Anglo-Norman colonists. When the kings came to pay homage, John and his entourage of irresponsible young lords insulted them by contemptuously pulling at their long beards and laughing and sneering at them. John displayed no ability as an administrator or military leader, and, arbitrarily seizing lands granted to Anglo-Norman settlers, gave them indiscriminately to his favourites. At length, unable to bear anymore, the Irish kings set aside their differences and united against him.

  By the end of the year, the King realised that this situation could not be allowed to continue. Appointing a viceroy, John de Courcy, he recalled John, and for much of the rest of the reign would keep him with him. The Pope's crown would never be used.

  In 1185, the Duke and Duchess of Saxony were at last able to return in safety to Germany, although Henry the Lion would not be restored to favour until 1190, when he made peace with the new Emperor, Henry VI. Some of the ducal children-- Otto, William, and Matilda-- were left with their grandparents in Normandy to be brought up at Henry's court.

  In the early spring of 1186 Henry and Eleanor held court together in Normandy. In March, Philip of France again raised the matter of his sister Alys and forced Henry to sign a treaty providing for her to be married to Richard, with the Vexin as her dowry. Around the same time, Henry installed his own custodians in the strongest of Richard's former castles in Aquitaine and ordered his son to deal with a hostile Raymond of Toulouse. Richard "was very offended, but he made no complaints to his father." 38

  On 27 April, with "all his European lands at peace," Henry sailed with Eleanor from Barfleur to Southampton in the same ship. 39 The King went straight to Marwell to visit the Bishop of Winchester, then spent the night at Winchester itself,40 where he and Eleanor would remain for at least part of the summer. A second custodian, Henry of Berneval, was appointed at around this time, and some modern historians have inferred that this was because Eleanor had once again begun plotting against Henry, yet there is no evidence for this, and Berneval was probably a relief for Ralph FitzStephen.

  Duke Geoffrey remained in Paris throughout the summer, occupied with various nefarious schemes, but these never came to fruition because on 18 or 19 August 1186 he died. Roger of Hoveden says he succumbed to a fever, yet other sources state that he took part in a tournament but was unsaddled in the melee and trampled to death.41 He was buried in the choir of Notre-Dame 42 "with but few regrets from his father, to whom he had been an unfaithful son, but with sore grief to the French."43 Philip was so mad with grief at the loss of his friend that he had to be forcibly restrained from throwing himself upon the coffin in the open tomb.44 Geoffrey's half sister Marie, Countess of Champagne, was present at his funeral, and gave money for masses for his soul. He left Constance, his widow, pregnant with their third child.

  After learning of Geoffrey's death, Henry sent for John, who stayed with him until Christmas, which they celebrated at Guildford Castle in Surrey. There is no mention of Eleanor being present.

  Although John was his favourite of his sons by the Queen, Henry knew better than to trust him. Some years earlier, he had commissioned murals for what became known as the Painted Chamber in Winchester Castle, but had asked for one panel to be left blank. Sometime prior to the Young King's death in 1183, he had had it filled in.

  There was an eagle painted, and four young ones of the eagle perched upon it, one on each wing and a third upon its back, tearing at the parent with talons and beaks, and the fourth, no smaller than the others, sitting upon its neck and awaiting the moment to peck out its parent's eyes. When some of the King's close friends asked him the meaning of the picture, he said, "The four eaglets are my four sons, who cease not to persecute me even unto death. And the youngest, whom I now embrace with such tender affection, will some day afflict me more grievously and perilously than all the others." 45

  "A man's enemies are the men of his own House," observed Giraldus.

  Henry returned to Normandy on 17 February 1187. Eleanor did not accompany him, and during 1187 seems to have resided mainly at Winchester.46 On 29 March, at Nantes, Duke Geoffrey's widow, Constance, bore him a posthumous son; Henry wanted him named after himself, 47 but "the Bretons called their new duke Arthur,"48 in memory of the legendary king of that name who had once ruled Brittany, and as a defiant gesture of independence from Angevin rule. King Philip, as Arthur's overlord, immediately claimed his wardship, but Henry-- fearing that once Philip got a foothold in Brittany there would be no getting him out-- refused. It was left to Constance of Brittany to act as regent for her son, although Henry did not trust her and in 1188 married her to a loyal vassal whom he could depend on, Ranulf de Blundeville, Earl of Chester. Later evidence strongly suggests that Eleanor did not like or trust Constance either.

  The mounting rivalry and tension between Henry and Philip seemed set to erupt into war. The French King was growing more and more angry and frustrated about Henry's continuing deferment of Alys's marriage to Richard, and demanded that both she and her dowry of Berry and the Vexin be immediately returned to him. But when Henry tried to put him off by suggesting that she be married instead to John, whom he would make Duke of Aquitaine, Philip marched at the head of an army into Berry and took Chateauroux. This was the first episode in a war that would drag on intermittently for twenty-seven years. When Henry and Richard joined forces to resist him, Philip requested a parley, and on 23 June, "rather than submit to the doubtful judgement of Mars," the two kings concluded a truce at Chateauroux.49

  Immediately afterwards, Richard, whose resentment had festered for many months now, deserted his father and rode to Paris to ally himself with Philip. The two young men became very close friends: "Philip so honoured him that every day they ate at the same table, shared the same dish, and at night the bed did not separate them."50 Some modern writers have inferred from this that Richard and Philip had a homosexual relationship, yet the chroniclers do not hint at it-- which they would certainly have done, had there been any cause for scandal-- and it was quite customary for people of rank to share beds in an age when most household retainers were obliged to sleep on pallets on the floor. However, "there grew up so great an affection" between Richard and Philip "that King Henry was much alarmed and, afraid of what the future might hold in store, he decided to postpone his return to England until he knew what lay behind this great friendship."51 His alarm was justified, for Philip, who foresaw that by sowing discord among Henry and his sons he would weaken their power, confided to Richard Henry's plans to marry Alys to John and make John Duke of Aquitaine; stung by his father's perfidy, Richard offered to assist Philip in his war against Henry when their truce expired.

  War of another kind was looming on the horizon. On 4 July, at the Horns of Hattin, near the Sea of Galilee, the army of the King of Jerusalem was utterly annihilated by Turkish forces led by their brilliant commander, Saladin. After that the Turks swept all before them and, on 2 October, to the horror of Christendom, occupied Jerusalem-- that most holy of cities and the destination of vast numbers of pilgrims-- and massacred the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. All that now remained of the crusader kingdom were three seaports.

  The duty of the leaders of the West was clear: they must unite to free the holy city from the Infidel. The Pope proclaimed a new crusade, and on the day after receiving the news of the fall of Jerusalem, Duke Richard took the Cross from the Archbishop of Tours,52 fervently
proclaiming himself the champion of Jerusalem and vowing that he would dedicate his life to liberating the Holy Sepulchre. He had not consulted his father's wishes beforehand, 53 and when Henry heard of his resolve, he took to his chamber in grief and stayed there, refusing to transact any business, for four days. Yet when Richard declared he would not commit himself to the venture until Henry assured him that his position as heir to the Angevin empire was secure, Henry-- fearful for his own security-- refused to do so, which left Richard all the more certain that his father meant to leave everything to John.

  Henry is believed to have orchestrated the risings that broke out in Aquitaine and Toulouse just after Richard took the Cross, in order to divert him from plotting mischief with Philip. 54 On 22 January 1188, Henry and Philip met at Gisors, where they received the Archbishop of Tyre, who was touring Europe enlisting support for the crusade. Succumbing to his persuasive arguments, both kings, on impulse, took the Cross, and they swore to maintain their truce while they were campaigning together in the Holy Land. Henry returned to England on 30 January 1188 to raise money for the crusade, imposing a punitive tax called the Saladin tithe.

  That spring, despite their truce, Henry and Philip again began quarrelling over Alys and her dowry, and in June, Philip attacked Henry's border strongholds in Berry, whereupon Henry, realising that he would have to meet force with force, decided "to make an attack on France."55 He raised a large army of English and Welsh soldiers and, on 10 July, left England for the last time. Before his departure he visited Sarum, perhaps to say farewell to Eleanor, whom he would never see again. He may also have seen to arrangements for her safekeeping, since it appears that the Queen had once again been deprived of her liberty,56 probably because Henry feared she would take Richard's part against him.

  Richard, meanwhile, having quarrelled with Philip, had led a force from Aquitaine and driven the French out of Berry. On 16 August, Henry and Philip met at Gisors in a final attempt to resolve their differences. Philip spent three days hectoring Henry over Alys and her dowry, but Henry doggedly maintained that the Vexin was his, and both kings "withdrew in discord," 57 with Philip ordering that the ancient elm of Gisors, the traditional meeting place of the kings of England and France, be cut down, a gesture that made his hostile intentions plain. When Henry saw the savaged stump, he was moved to declare war on his rival.

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