Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir


  In the Holy Land, winter fell. In December, Richard reached Beit-Nuba, only twelve miles from Jerusalem, but severe seasonal rains precluded any assault on the Holy City. He spent Christmas at Latrun, west of Jerusalem, in the company of Berengaria, Joanna, and King Guy of Jerusalem. When he discovered how he had been deserted by his allies, his rage was terrible indeed.

  Eleanor spent the Christmas of 1191 holding court either at Bures or at Bonneville-sur-Touques (near modern Deauville) in Normandy. While there, she learned of Philip's return to a hero's welcome in France, and also learned that, in order to retrieve his own reputation, he was now imputing his sudden abandonment of the crusade to Richard's insolence, pride, and treachery, s1 He was even uttering dark hints that he had been poisoned, although his symptoms were merely those of severe malaria and dysentery. Aware that Philip's accusations were all ploys to enable him to ignore the Truce of God and have his revenge on Richard for abandoning Alys,52 and receiving the alarming intelligence that he was planning to invade Normandy,53 Eleanor immediately realised that it would be up to her to maintain the peace in the Angevin domains, since the French King would be sure to take advantage of any disputes. Above all, John's ambition must be contained.

  In the middle of the winter of 1191-1192, determined to thwart Philip's treacherous designs, Eleanor commanded the seneschals of all castles guarding the Angevin borders to repair and strengthen their fortifications and ensure their garrisons were fully manned. When, in the third week of January, Philip launched an assault on Gisors, it failed. 54 That same month, the French King demanded the return of his sister Alys, but Eleanor, who had no mandate for this, refused. Then came news of John's perfidy.

  Philip had wasted no time in wooing John with false promises. Early in 1192, after his own barons had refused to break the Truce of God and invade Normandy, he offered John all Richard's continental domains in return for John's undertaking to marry Alys and surrender Gisors to Philip. Notwithstanding the fact that he already had a wife, John eagerly agreed and prepared to cross the Channel with an army of mercenaries in order to pay homage to Philip for the promised lands and lay Normandy wide open to him.

  Fortunately, warnings about his activities reached Eleanor in Normandy.55 "Fearing that the light-minded youth might be going to attempt something, by the counsels of the French, against his lord and brother,"56 and knowing that no one but herself had the power to restrain him, "with an anxious mind" 57 she made haste to England. On 11 February she arrived in Portsmouth-- -just in time to prevent John from sailing from Southampton.58

  With her usual energy, the Queen "tried in every way" to make John abandon his treasonous schemes. "Remembering the fate of her two elder sons, how both had died young before their time because of their many sins, her heart was sad and wounded. She was therefore determined, with every fibre of her being, to ensure that faith would be kept between her younger sons, so that their mother might die more happily than had their father." 59

  She was also resolved to remind the lords of England of their vows of allegiance to the King, and summoned four meetings of the Great Council, which were held in turn at Windsor, Oxford, London, and Winchester.60 She publicly proclaimed her loyalty to the absent Richard and made every English magnate swear a new oath of fealty to him. Then, with the backing of those magnates, and the staunch support of Walter of Coutances, she threatened to confiscate all John's castles and estates if he defied her and crossed the Channel.61 Eventually, "through her own tears and the prayers of the nobles, she was with difficulty able to obtain a promise that John would not cross over for the time being."62 After this, John retired in dudgeon to Wallingford, another royal castle he had appropriated.

  The neutralisation of John effectively put paid for the present to Philip's plans to invade Normandy. The French barons were still refusing to violate the Truce of God by attacking the lands of an absent crusader, so their King's hands were effectively tied. Nevertheless, the Queen and the regency council were taking no chances. Even in England, castles and towns were manned against an invasion.63

  During her visit to England, Eleanor claimed her share of queen-gold on the aid levied on the tenants-in-chief of the crown for the King's marriage. She granted her damsel Amicia, sister of Hugh Pantulf, the manor of Wintreslewe (which cannot now be identified) as a reward for faithful service, whereupon, with Eleanor's blessing, Amicia donated half of the estate to the nuns of Amesbury Abbey, a cell of Fontevrault, "for the weal of her lady, Eleanor, Queen of England."64

  The Queen made a tour of some of her properties, among them several manors in William Longchamp's diocese of Ely, which still lay under an interdict. The consequences of the Church's ban were brought vividly home to the Queen, who could see for herself how badly the people's lives had been affected by it:

  That matron, worthy of being mentioned so many times, Queen Eleanor, was visiting some cottages that were part of her dower. There came before her, from all the villages and hamlets, wherever she passed, men, women and children, not all of the lowest orders; a people weeping and pitiful, their feet bare, their clothes unwashed, their hair unshorn. They spoke by their tears, for their grief was so great that they could not speak.65

  Patiently Eleanor listened as her suffering tenants told her of the miseries they had endured through being deprived of the sacraments. What appalled her most was that "human bodies lay unburied here and there in the fields because their bishop had deprived them of burial. When she learned the cause of such suffering, the Queen took pity on the misery of the living because of the dead, for she was very merciful. Immediately dropping her own affairs and looking after the concerns of others, she went to London,"66 where she prevailed upon Walter of Coutances to revoke the interdict and allow Longchamp to return to England and resume his pastoral duties.

  Longchamp had already been in touch with John and offered him a huge bribe if he would help him return to England. Now he found himself invited back, and in March he landed at Dover, armed with a renewed legateship.67 His arrival was courteously announced to the Queen in council by two papal nuncios who had accompanied him, but it provoked deep concern among the magnates, and it was made clear to Longchamp-- and to John-- that he was only welcome in his capacity as bishop of Ely, and not as chancellor. In March he turned up at a council meeting, but the magnates would have nothing to do with him. Only Eleanor spoke up for him, and although there was gossip that he had bribed her to do so, this was highly unlikely, since her prime concern was that he attend to the suffering souls in his diocese.

  In London, Eleanor spoke with Hugh de Puiset, the excommunicated Bishop of Durham, and asked him to go to France to persuade the Roman cardinals to lift their interdict on Normandy. The Bishop refused to leave England, however, until the Archbishop of York had lifted the ban on him.

  Eleanor was thus prompted to effect a reconciliation between the two warring prelates, and she summoned them to appear before her on 15 March in the round church of the Knights Templar in London to account for their conduct and submit to her mediation. They obeyed, but Geoffrey foolishly attempted to overawe Eleanor by having himself preceded into the church by a solemn procession of clergy with his archiepiscopal cross borne ceremonially before him, which strictly speaking was permitted him only in his own diocese. He compounded his error by blatantly refusing to cooperate in resolving his differences with de Puiset. When an irate Eleanor threatened the sequestration of all the estates of the See of York if he did not comply with her wishes, Geoffrey made a pretence of patching up the quarrel, but to little effect, since it dragged on until the King's return.

  At Walter of Coutances's insistence, Hugh de Puiset now went to France on the Queen's behalf and requested the cardinals to remove their interdict on Normandy. They proved stubborn, yet it was eventually lifted after the Queen made a personal appeal to the Pope.68

  Still determined to be rid of Longchamp, the councillors turned to John for support and waited on him at Wallingford. He agreed to help them, but onl
y in return for a bribe equal to or exceeding that which Longchamp had offered him.69

  "You see, I am in need of money," he told them shamelessly. "To the wise, a word is sufficient."70 In desperation, the lords agreed that it was "expedient" to withdraw the required sum from the Treasury. Not only did they need John's help, but they dared not antagonise him.

  For John had not lain quiescent for long. He had soon gone off again on his perambulations of the realm, exacting oaths of loyalty to himself from various barons and appropriating funds from the exchequer. In April an alarmed Eleanor, not knowing what else she could do to curb John's ambition, sent an embassy headed by John of Alençon, Archdeacon of Lisieux, to Richard, informing him of Philip's attempt to lead John into treachery, warning him of John's subversive activities and urging him to come home.

  Even Eleanor now realised that Longchamp's presence in England would only cause further problems. She, John, and the barons all wrote to the chancellor, and "all with one voice admonish him to bolt, and to cross the Channel without delay-- unless he has a mind to take his meals under the custody of an armed guard."71 On 3 April, bowing to this intense pressure, Longchamp again fled the realm. His departure brought a kind of peace to the troubled kingdom. Even John gave no trouble, but remained on his estates, attending to private business.

  Philip of France had, however, succeeded in undermining the loyalty of some of Richard's southern vassals, notably Count Elie of Perigord and the Viscount of Brosse. But Elie de la Celle, the King's faithful seneschal of Gascony, aided by Berengaria's brother Sancho, held firm and crushed the rebels. The empire was still safe for Richard.

  Richard had now been in the Holy Land for a year, and was still no nearer to launching an assault on Jerusalem than he had been the previous December. He had fought and sweated with his men, looked diligently to their safety, worked as a stonemason and labourer when the need arose, and during a siege at Darum in May 1192 was seen helping to drag cumbersome catapults for a mile across the sand. During the spring he had suffered such a severe attack of fever that his life was despaired of.

  In July, ascending the heights above Emmaus, he glimpsed the distant city of Jerusalem and shielded his eyes, that he might not behold the city God had not permitted him to deliver. He knew now that he had to relinquish his dream of reconquering it. The Christian allies had been divided by bitter quarrels, and what had begun as a holy enterprise had degenerated into a forum for insults and petty squabbles. The time for a united push against the Saracens had long gone.

  Returning to the coast, Richard sailed north and was just in time to relieve Jaffa from an assault by Saladin. Leaping into the sea without waiting even to arm himself fully, he waded purposefully to shore in order to rally the defenders, and when he rode out in full view of the enemy host, challenging any of them to meet him in single combat, there were no takers.

  Sadly, the fall of Jaffa would turn out to be the last engagement of the crusade. In August, Richard fell ill again-- he had never fully recovered from his bout of malaria the previous year-- and at his request Saladin sent him fruit and snow. Worn out by his ceaseless exertions, disease, disappointment in his allies, famine, and the extremes of the eastern climate, which alone had killed thousands of crusaders,72 Richard now began to think of going home. His mother's letters and other disturbing news from England had convinced him that he should return, and he began negotiating a long truce, which would enable him to do so.

  News from Outremer was irregular and often frustratingly fragmentary. Eleanor learned that on 29 September the King had dispatched Berengaria, Joanna, and the daughter of Isaac Comnenus homewards on a ship sailing towards Sicily.73 Then she heard that Richard had concluded a three-year truce-- the Peace of Ramla-- with Saladin. The truce left the crusaders with a coastal strip of land incorporating Acre and Jaffa, which would from now on be ruled by the new nominal King of Jerusalem, Eleanor's grandson, Henry of Champagne. Furthermore, the truce secured for all Christians the right to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem unmolested by the Turks, who would retain possession of the Holy City until the twentieth century.

  After the truce, Saladin invited Richard to view the holy places, but he refused, declaring he was not worthy. "Sweet Lord," he wept, "I entreat Thee, do not suffer me to see Thy holy city, since I am unable to deliver it from the hands of Thine enemies!" 74

  Eleanor knew that the King had left Acre on 9 October, intending to be back in England in time for Christmas. Reports asserted that his ship, the Franche-Nef had been sighted near Brindisi or had stopped briefly at both Cyprus and Corfu, then sailed on in the direction of Marseilles; in Normandy, expecting his imminent return, his subjects gathered to welcome him.75

  But, bewilderingly, there was no further news of him. As the autumn turned into winter, the crusaders began arriving home, boasting of the brave deeds of King Richard, but no one knew where he was. Fears were now voiced that some calamity had befallen him on the journey, and throughout England his subjects lit candles for him and offered up prayers for his safety. It was also suggested, behind closed doors, that Philip and John had colluded in a sinister plot to assassinate the King. The situation in Normandy was so tense that the Queen again gave orders for the strengthening of defences on the border. That year, she kept her Christmas court at Westminster. By then, Berengaria, Joanna, and the Greek princess had reached Rome.76

  Then came the blow. Early in January 1193, Walter of Coutances sent to the Queen a copy of a letter sent by the Emperor on 28 December to the King of France, informing him that, on 21 December, "the enemy of our empire and the disturber of your kingdom, Richard, King of England" had been taken prisoner "in a humble village household near Vienna" by "our dearly beloved cousin, Duke Leopold of Austria,"77 the former ally whom Richard had mortally offended after the fall of Acre.

  18. "The Devil Is Loosed!"

  After leaving Acre in the company of his chaplain Anselm, a clerk, two noblemen, and a party of Knights Templar, King Richard had sailed west for Marseilles. His ship had stopped at Pisa for supplies on the way, but had then been driven back by fierce storms to the island of Corfu. Here the King managed to hire two Romanian pirate vessels to take him up the Adriatic to northern Italy, but after being driven ashore by tempests at Ragusa (modern Dubrovnik), where he transferred to another vessel, he found himself blown by strong winds past Pula and was finally shipwrecked on the coast of Istra, just south of Trieste.1

  Richard decided to make his way homewards overland and struck north through the friendly domains of King Bela III of Hungary, but was then obliged to cross the border into the territory of his mortal enemy Duke Leopold of Austria. In order to preserve his safety, he disguised himself as a merchant called Hugo.

  He was recognised, however, by the Duke's loyal vassal, Count Mainard of Gortz, who pursued him, took all his knights prisoner, and informed Leopold of his presence in Austria. Richard and his three remaining attendants managed to evade Mainard, but soon found that all the roads were being watched. The King was now suffering from a recurrence of malarial fever, and, posing as a pilgrim, took refuge "in a humble house in a village in the vicinity of Vienna,"2 where he was set to work turning chickens on a spit. Here he was found by the Duke's men, arrested, and taken to the secure fortress of Durnstein (now a ruin), high on a steep slope above the River Danube. Imprisoned there in solitary confinement, he was guarded day and night by soldiers with drawn swords.3

  Leopold, meanwhile, had hastened to inform his cousin and overlord, the Emperor Henry VI, of Richard's capture. Henry was a ruthless young man who had already become notorious for vicious cruelty; he was no friend to Richard, who had recognised his rival Tancred as king of Sicily and whose father had supported his greatest opponent, Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony. In his letter announcing the capture of "the disturber of your kingdom" to the King of France, Henry wrote that he knew the news would afford "most abundant joy to your own feelings."4 While the Emperor insisted that Richard was being held as a punishment for "t
he treason, treachery and mischief of which he was guilty in the Promised Land,"5 both he and Philip were aware of just how valuable a prisoner he was, and each planned to gain the greatest advantage to himself from this novel situation. Philip urged the Emperor to ensure that Richard was kept in the closest confinement.

  No one troubled to inform the English government of the King's arrest and imprisonment, but Walter of Coutances had his spies in France and they were able to obtain for him a copy of the Emperor's letter, which he sent to Eleanor with a covering note of his own, exhorting her with many scriptural precepts to bear the news with fortitude. Nevertheless, since she knew what it was to be a prisoner, her sorrow was great.6 Her first thought was that she must go to Austria herself to see Richard and negotiate his release, but she dared not leave the realm at such a time.7

  There was general consternation in England when the King's fate was made public, not least because of the reputation of the Austrians. "They are savages, who live more like wild beasts than men," wrote Ralph of Diceto. No one knew where Richard was being held, so Eleanor sent the Abbots of Boxley and Pont-Robert (Robertsbridge) to Austria to find him.8 She also dispatched Savaric FitzGeldewin, Bishop of Bath, to the court of the Emperor, whose cousin he was.9

  Tormented by the conviction that her son's imprisonment was a punishment from God for her sins, and wasting away with anxiety,10 the Queen sought solace in the prayers of the nuns of Fontevrault, which she solicited twice at this time, sending gifts from Winchester and Westminster.

  Berengaria and Joanna were in Rome when they heard the news of Richard's capture, and they decided to stay there, fearing that the Emperor would try to take them hostage also if they ventured forth on a homeward journey that was hazardous at the best of times.

 
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