Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir


  On 13 August Richard sailed from Barfleur to Portsmouth, where, thanks to Eleanor's efforts, he was welcomed with enthusiasm. Two days later, again to popular acclaim, he "was received with stately ceremony"20 at Winchester, where he secured the royal treasure and was reunited with his proud mother. Aware that, through rebelling against his father, "he had earned the disapproval of good and wise men," Richard now sought to make up for his past excesses by doing all he could to show honour to his mother. He hoped that his obedience to her would atone for his offence against his father. These events revealed the truth of a prophecy which had puzzled all by its obscurity, that the Eagle of the Broken Alliance should rejoice in her third nesting. They called the Queen the eagle because she stretched out her wings, as it were, over two kingdoms, France and England. She had been separated from her French relatives by divorce, while the King had separated from her marriage bed by confining her to prison. Richard, her third son, was her third nestling, and the one who would raise his mother's name to great glory.21

  Summoning Ranulf Glanville into his presence, Richard formally pardoned him, for in releasing the Queen from captivity in contravention of the late King's orders Richard had also granted Eleanor the power to punish those who had been her jailers, but she declined to do so. On 17 September, Richard, who had himself imposed a heavy fine on Glanville, dismissed him from his office,22 appointing William de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, a loyal servant of Henry II, and Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham, as co-justiciars in his place. Hugh de Puiset was an ambitious aristocrat whose mother, Agnes of Blois, had been King Stephen's sister. Consecrated Bishop of Durham in 1153, he had long exercised almost princely power in the north of England, and was connected to the strong Percy family. Now aged sixty-four, he was a cultivated man who had established a fine library at Durham Cathedral and acquired vast experience in the world of politics and diplomacy.

  Shortly after Richard arrived in Winchester, John joined the court, then accompanied the King and Eleanor on a progress that took them via Salisbury and Marlborough to Windsor, where they were greeted by the chancellor, Richard's half brother Geoffrey. It is clear that Richard did not trust Geoffrey; he even seems to have suspected him--- with little cause-- of having designs on the throne. Yet he could not afford to alienate him, since he dared not risk leaving an enemy to make mischief in his kingdom while he went on crusade.

  Richard therefore honoured his father's dying wish, and nominated Geoffrey as Archbishop of York; he was duly elected by the canons of York on 10 August, and paid the King £3,000 for the privilege. Eleanor, who distrusted Geoffrey,23 was against the appointment-- despite his talents and abilities, he was hot-headed, difficult, and quarrelsome, and had no love for the half brothers who had betrayed their father-- but the King overrode her protests.24 He did nevertheless insist that Geoffrey be ordained to the priesthood, which would preclude him from entertaining any illicit notions of kingship; he also heeded Eleanor when she urged him not to lead an army into Wales to subdue some border raiders until after his coronation.25

  On his election to the see of York, Geoffrey, at Richards request, resigned his office of chancellor, and the King appointed in his place a Norman, William Longchamp, the recently elected Bishop of Ely, who had been Richard's chancellor in Aquitaine. Of short stature, with a limp and a stammer (Giraldus Cambrensis likened him to a deformed and hairy ape), Longchamp-- who was falsely rumoured to be the grandson of a runaway serf of Beauvais-- was regarded by the barons as an upstart. He was indeed of humble origin, but had clawed his way to the top by pandering to the needs of his masters. An able and practical man, he was overambitious and overconfident, and used his newly won power to advance his own and his family's interests. Vastly unpopular, he made no secret of his loathing for all things English, and he alienated many by his arrogance and blundering tactlessness. Yet for all his faults, he was unswervingly loyal to the King.

  On 29 August, John married his cousin, the heiress Hawise of Gloucester, at Marlborough, and was thereafter styled Earl of Gloucester. Despite the fact that many churchmen were denouncing the marriage as uncanonical, Richard had given permission for it to take place, and John was so eager to gain control of Hawise's vast estates that he did not wait for Pope Clement III to reply to his request for the necessary papal dispensation. In the meantime Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury pronounced the marriage null and void and laid both parties' estates under an interdict. John appealed to the Pope,26 yet although Clement saw fit to grant a dispensation and revoked the interdict, he forbade the couple to have sexual relations. His injunction may have come too late, yet it is perhaps significant that there is no record of the couple having any children.

  At the time of the marriage, Richard gave John the county of Mortain in Normandy and six English counties: Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, making him the wealthiest and most powerful English magnate. John was also given full responsibility for Ireland. Many believed this advancement betokened Richard's intention of naming John as his heir, even though Arthur of Brittany had a better claim.

  Throughout these weeks preparations had been in hand for the new King's coronation. On 1 September, Richard and Eleanor rode in state through streets hung with tapestries and garlands and spread with fresh rushes27 to St. Paul's Cathedral in London, whence they were escorted by "a ceremonious procession"28 of nobles and prelates to Westminster Palace. On 3 September, Richard I was "solemnly anointed King" in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury.29 It was the most magnificent coronation England had ever witnessed, and it set many precedents for future such events.

  "At his coronation were present his brother John and his mother Eleanor, counts and barons, and an immense crowd of men and soldiers." 30 The robes provided for Eleanor and her attendants cost £70s 6d, which included £4 is 7d for a cape made of five and a half ells of silk, trimmed with squirrel and sable; other items purchased for the Queen included ten ells of scarlet cloth, two sables, a piece of miniver, and linen.31 According to Roger of Hoveden, all women were barred from Richard's coronation, but Diceto states that "Queen Eleanor was invited at the request of the earls, barons and sheriffs."

  After the coronation, the King "celebrated the occasion by a festival of three days, and entertained his guests in the royal palace of Westminster," where he "gratified all by distributing money to all according to their ranks, thus manifesting his liberality and great excellence."32 The guests "feasted so splendidly that the wine flowed along the pavement and walls of the palace."33

  Women, even Eleanor, were excluded from the coronation banquet in Westminster Hall because the King was as yet unmarried. Unfortunately, the occasion was marred by a very ugly incident. After Richard and his guests had feasted, "the leaders of the Jews arrived, against the express decree of the King."34 The Jews were not popular in western Europe, not only because of their beliefs, but because it was rumoured that they sacrificed Christian children and because, more pertinently, they were seen as usurers. Usury, or making a profit from money-dealing, was regarded as a sin by the Church, but a lot of Christians were not averse to borrowing large sums from the Jews, many of whom had grown wealthy through charging high rates of interest. This provoked jealousy, resentment, and anti-Semitism, which was further fuelled by enthusiasm for the coming crusade and a consequent deep distrust of all non-Christians, so that at the time of Richard's coronation hatred for the Jews was rampant in England.

  Only the previous day, "the King had forbidden by public notice that any Jew or Jewess could come to his coronation," so the arrival of their leaders sparked outrage. "The courtiers laid hands on the Jews and stripped and flogged them, and threw them out of the King's court. Some they killed, others they left half dead." Yet this was only the beginning. "The people of London, following the courtiers' example, began killing and robbing and burning the Jews. Yet a few escaped that massacre, shutting themselves up in the Tower of London, or hiding in the houses of their friends."35


  Despite the measures taken by the King to halt it-- the Jews were officially under his protection-- this wave of anti-Semitism spread throughout his realm and marred the first months of his reign, and there were attacks on the Jews in Bishop's Lynn (now King's Lynn), Norwich, Lincoln, and Stamford.

  Despite his lion-hearted reputation, Richard I was to prove a failure as King of England. He would spend only ten months of his reign in his kingdom, and would bleed it dry for his crusade and continental wars. He spoke no English and was in every respect a southerner. He lacked his father's skills as an administrator. Yet despite his undoubted ferocity and severity he captured the imagination of his subjects, who admired his chivalrous exploits and applauded his near-obsessive dedication to freeing the Holy Land from the Infidel. The verdict even of his enemies was that he was "the most remarkable ruler of his times."

  As soon as he was crowned, Richard threw himself with almost superhuman energy into preparing for the project that had come to dominate his imagination and his life: the crusade. Henry II had left a handsome sum in the treasury,36 but the King was in debt to King Philip, had overspent on his coronation, and had substantially reduced his revenues, due to his generosity to his brother. He was consequently desperately in need of funds to finance his venture and milked his kingdom dry, imposing crippling taxes on his subjects and selling off lands and public offices at exorbitant prices. "Everything was for sale: powers, lordships, earldoms, shrievalties, castles, towns, manors and suchlike."37 Even those who had taken the Cross could, with the Pope's blessing, buy themselves out of it at punitive cost. "The King most obligingly unburdened all those whose money was a burden to them," observed Richard of Devizes dryly.

  "If I could have found a buyer, I would have sold London itself," Richard declared.38 It was clear to everyone that he regarded his kingdom as no more than a bank from which to draw funds, and his popularity temporarily diminished. It was rumoured that he might never return to England, but would give it to John and either take the throne of Jerusalem or go back to Aquitaine after the crusade.

  An example of the King's rapacity occurred when Abbot Samson of Bury St. Edmunds offered to buy the royal manor of Mildenhall for its assessed value of five hundred marks; Richard told him this was an absurd amount, and demanded one thousand marks. Eleanor was less grasping. When the Abbot paid this extortionate sum, she was due her 10 percent in queens gold, but when he offered her a gold cup worth one hundred marks in lieu, she returned it to him "on behalf of the soul of her lord, King Henry."39

  Richard arranged to join Philip at Vezelay on 1 April 1190 so that they might travel together to Jerusalem. In November 1189 the King went on pilgrimage, leaving Eleanor in charge of the government of the realm during his absence. On 20 November the papal legate, John of Agnani, arrived at Dover without a royal warrant to enter the kingdom or any form of safe-conduct, an act of gross diplomatic discourtesy that Eleanor was not prepared to tolerate. She therefore sent to command him either to stay in Dover or return forthwith to Rome.40

  In December, Richard restored to Eleanor her dower, augmenting it with the dower rights enjoyed by the consorts of Henry I and King Stephen.41 He then made arrangements for the government of his kingdom during his absence on crusade, appointing as custodians of the realm Hugh de Puiset, now sole justiciar after the death of William de Mandeville in November, and, because he did not entirely trust de Puiset, William Longchamp, the new chancellor. Hugh de Puiset was to rule England north of the River Humber, and William Longchamp the area south of it. This was by no means a comfortable arrangement, since the two men were rivals and Longchamp's prime objective was to oust de Puiset from power and rule alone.

  Although Eleanor was not formally designated regent, it is clear that both de Puiset and Longchamp deferred to her authority, as the King seems to have expected them to do, in the hope that Eleanor would keep the peace between them. She also had an official role, for Richard temporarily resigned to her his powers as Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine, although she delegated these to her grandson, Otto of Brunswick, who became her deputy in Aquitaine.

  On 12 December, despite being ill with a fever, Richard left England in order to settle affairs in his continental domains before setting out on the crusade, sailing from Dover to Calais. One of his first acts on arriving in Normandy was to grant a charter to the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Rouen "at the petition of his dear mother, Eleanor, Queen of the English, for the weal of his soul and those of his father and mother." It would have been only natural for Eleanor to feel concern at the prospect of her favourite son leaving for his great venture into the Holy Land, and the inclusion of her late husband in the charter perhaps indicates that time had mellowed her animosity towards Henry.

  The Queen spent the autumn and winter of 1189 in the south, staying in turn at Winchester, Salisbury, Hampshire, Windsor, and Canterbury. The records indicate that she remained active in public affairs.

  Richard held his first Christmas court at Bures in Normandy with great solemnity, and at the end of December met Philip again, at Nonancourt, to discuss preparations for the crusade. Already his fleet of more than a hundred great ships was being assembled on the coast of England, and he was accumulating provisions and drawing up strict rules of conduct for his crusading army. Bearing in mind how the presence of Eleanor and her ladies had hampered the progress of the Second Crusade, he decreed that no women were to accompany the army, a decision that was endorsed by a papal bull.

  On 2 February 1190, at Richard's summons, Eleanor sailed to Normandy and joined him at Bures, taking John, Alys, Archbishop Geoffrey, and a host of prelates with her. Soon afterwards, Alys seems to have been placed under guard in Rouen, where she remained a prisoner.

  In March, Richard convened a family conclave at Nonancourt, attended by Eleanor, Count John, and Archbishop Geoffrey. Significantly, John had not been given any share in the regency. In the months since John's advancement, Richard had perhaps come to regret giving him such a wide power base. He must have realised that John was patently untrustworthy and might well try to make mischief during his absence. Despite Eleanor's pleas, he now made John swear on oath that he would not set foot in England for three years. But their mother remained adamant that this was unjust, and soon afterwards persuaded Richard to release his brother from his promise and give him leave to return to the kingdom at will. It was a decision that both Richard and Eleanor would have cause to regret.

  Since Richard did not trust Geoffrey either, Geoffrey was also required to promise to stay out of England for three years. Eleanor did not attempt to mitigate his exile. Shortly afterwards, Richard met Philip at Dreux and arranged to postpone their departure until July.

  During the absence of the royal family, there was trouble in England. In March, the tide of anti-Semitism swamped York, where 150 Jews who had sought refuge in Clifford's Tower were burned to death. Soon after Easter, when William Longchamp, in the King's name, went north to punish the perpetrators of this outrage, many of whom were friends of Hugh de Puiset, he did his best to undermine the Bishop's stranglehold on power in the north and even ordered his arrest. Despite buying his freedom with castles and hostages for his good behaviour, de Puiset was furious to find himself again cast into prison, this time by Longchamp's brother Osbert at Howden, Yorkshire.

  This left Longchamp in sole charge of the government: not only was he chancellor, but also acting justiciar and, from June 1190, papal legate, at the King's behest. He was determined to make the most of his power. "The laity found him more than a king, the clergy more than a pope, and both an intolerable tyrant."42 He was continually progressing around the realm like royalty, attended by a squad of henchmen; he strengthened all the fortresses in his control, including the Tower of London; he hired an army of mercenaries from abroad; and he exacted punitive taxes to finance not only the crusade but also his own extravagant lifestyle.

  In the spring, Eleanor seems to have accompanied Richard to Anjou to help him set his affairs in order
before he set off alone on a short progress through Poitou and Aquitaine.43 Charters issued under the Queen's seal at this time 44 suggest that she stayed at Chinon, or possibly nearby, while he was away.45

  Both Richard and Eleanor were deeply concerned at this time about the succession, since the King as yet had no direct heir to succeed him in the event of his being killed on crusade. There were three possible successors, none of them very desirable: Arthur of Brittany, the late Duke Geoffrey's son, who was just three years old and was being raised in a hostile court presided over by his mother Constance; the unreliable Count John; and Archbishop Geoffrey, whose bastardy was a barrier to his succession. It was imperative that the King marry as soon as possible and get himself a son.

  The question was, whom should he marry? It seems that Richard, perhaps influenced by Eleanor, had changed his mind about wanting to espouse Alys. Alys's affair with Henry II would forever he as an impediment between them, casting doubt on the legitimacy of any children they might have. Marriage with Alys was therefore out of the question, although Richard would have to pick his moment to broach the matter diplomatically with King Philip.

 
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