Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir


  Making his intentions even clearer, John began stirring up rebellion, urging the magnates to join him and seizing several royal strongholds. He himself garrisoned Windsor Castle, to which Walter of Coutances and other magnates immediately laid siege. At the same time, Hugh de Puiset invested John's castle at Tickhill.

  Meanwhile, Philip had invaded Normandy. On 12 April he took Gisors, then overran the Vexin, laying wide open the rest of the duchy to conquest. Having seized Neaufles, he marched on the capital, Rouen, where he set up his siege engines and demanded that the citizens surrender to him and deliver up his sister Alys.30 Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, the Seneschal of Rouen, whose lands had been restored to him by Eleanor in 1189, refused to comply, although he declared, with an air of menace, that he would be pleased to offer Philip the hospitality due to his master's overlord, and would also conduct him to visit his sister, provided he entered the castle alone and unarmed. Philip suspected a trap to take him prisoner and exchange him for Richard, and angrily demurred. In his fury at being thwarted, he had his own siege engines destroyed and ordered that every cask of wine from his stores be emptied into the Seine. Then he marched back to Paris, vowing that he would revisit Rouen with a rod of iron.31

  Expecting John's army of Flemish mercenaries to arrive in England at any time, the Queen and council took urgent measures for the defence of the realm. "By order of Queen Eleanor, who then ruled England, at Passiontide and Easter and thereafter, nobles and common people, knights and peasants, flew to arms and guarded the sea coast that looks towards Flanders,"32 while fresh oaths of fealty to Richard were again exacted from the magnates. When the first mercenaries arrived, they were either killed or imprisoned in chains. Those who followed prudently turned their ships about and sailed back to Flanders.

  This was the situation when Hubert Walter returned to England.

  Not optimistic about Richard's chances of an early release, he urged the Queen and the regency council to adopt a conciliatory policy towards John. If Richard never returned, John would become king and might well exact vengeance on those who had opposed or offended him. Furthermore, John's cooperation in raising ransom money from his tenants might be needed. Eleanor and the magnates took Hubert's advice, and a truce was arrived at. Under its terms, John agreed to surrender Windsor and his castles of Wallingford and the Peak to his mother, who would hold them for a certain time; if Richard had not been released by then, she would return them to John.

  Not having heard from the Pope, Eleanor had for a time held her peace, yet mounting anger and despair soon prompted her to send Celestine a second letter" berating him for his failure to help Richard and urging him to take some action:

  To the reverend Father and Lord Celestine, by the grace of God, the Supreme Pontiff, Eleanor, by the wrath of God, Queen of England, Duchess of Normandy, Countess of Anjou, begs him to show himself to be a father to a pitiable mother.

  I had decided to remain quiet in case a fullness of heart and a passionate grief might elicit some word against the chief of priests which was certainly less than cautious, and I was therefore accused of insolence and arrogance. Certainly grief is not that different from insanity while it is inflamed with its own force. It does not recognise a master, is afraid of no ally, it has no regard for anyone, and it does not spare them-- not even you.

  So no one should be surprised if the modesty of my words is sharpened by the strength of my grief. I am mourning a loss that is not private, but my personal grief cannot be comforted-- it is set deep in the heart of my spirit.

  Please listen to the cry of the afflicted, for our troubles have multiplied beyond number. You are the father of orphans, the judge of widows, the comforter of those who mourn and those who grieve, a city of refuge for everyone, and because of this, in a time of so much misery, you are expected to provide the sole relief for everyone from the authority of your power.

  Our king is in a difficult position and he is overwhelmed by troubles from every direction. Look at the sorry state of his kingdom, the evil of the times, the cruelty of the tyrant who does not stop making an unjust war against the King because of his greed, and that tyrant who keeps him bound in prison-chains and kills him with fear.

  If the Church of Rome keeps quiet about the great injuries to the Lord's Anointed, may God rise up and judge our plea. Where is the passion of John against Herod, the passion of Pope Alexander III, who solemnly and terribly excommunicated Frederick, father of this current prince, with the full authority of the Apostolic See? [The Emperor] has no due regard for the Apostolic keys, and he reckons the law of God merely as words.

  All the more reason why you ought to seize the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God, much more firmly. May the Word of the Lord not have been stuck in your throat, may the mortal fear in you as a man not destroy the spirit of freedom. It is easier to suffer at the hands of men than to forsake the law of God. The enemies of Christ Crucified trust in their own strength-- their end is ruin, their glory will be in chaos.

  But the time is nearly upon us when the hand of God will exact a timely vengeance upon them. For if they escape judgement during their human life, a more terrible divine judgement is hanging over them. Their present joy is a passing moment, for in truth their eternal punishment will be fire and worms.

  Please, I beg you, do not let a worldly eminence deter you. What afflicts the Church and sets the people murmuring, and considerably diminishes their esteem for you, is that in such a crisis, in spite of the tears and lamentations of entire provinces, you have not sent to those princes a single nuncio from those around you. Often your cardinals, with sovereign powers, execute an embassy for matters of little importance to pagan regions. Yet for a cause so desperate and deplorable as this, you have not even sent even the humblest sub-deacon, not even one acolyte. For nowadays papal legates are sent for a profit, not in respect of Christ, not for the honour of the Church, nor for the peace of kingdoms, or for the safety of a people. But in freeing a king, what profit or result could be more glorious for you than to exalt the honour of the Sovereign Pontiff?

  You would not have injured the Apostolic See too much if you had gone to Germany in person for the release of such a great prince. For the man to whom one used to pay honour so courteously in prosperous times one ought not to desert so casually in harsh times. Why do you not weigh in the scales the advantages of justice which Henry, of good repute and the father of King Richard, displayed to you, as we saw, at the critical point of your greatest suffering? He exercised the tyranny of Frederick, which was to the advantage of you; for when Frederick, the author and promoter of the great schism, had sworn against Pope Alexander III, who, as you know, was rightly elected, and gave his allegiance to that apostate Octavian, and when the Church generally was in difficulties all over the world because of the confusion resulting from the schism, King Henry, saddened at the tunic of Christ being torn for so long, was first to give allegiance to Alexander, then with prudent counsels brought the King of France over to the Apostolic side.34 He then fortified that side and strengthened it with support, so bringing the ship of Peter, threatened with certain shipwreck from the quarrel, to a safe harbour.

  Without doubt our anticipation has grown quite strong with an unfailing hope and a firm faith. God will look upon the prayers of the humble and He will not despise them. So it is good for the King to wait in silence for the salvation of the Lord. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord. Indeed, just as now the sorrows of the people and the tears of all hang over him, so he will be freed by prayers at the right time, to the joy of the whole world. O Lord, in Your virtue will the King be exalted, and the Roman Church, which must now take too much of the blame for delaying his release, will feel ashamed, since it did not recognise how much difficulty so great a son as mine was in."

  On 19 April, Richard wrote to "his dearest mother, Eleanor, Queen of England" and the regency council, thanking them for taking good care of his realm, and informing them that he had just concluded with
the Emperor "a mutual and indissoluble treaty of love."

  Philip of France had offered Henry VI a large bribe to keep Richard in prison, but Henry, a near-megalomaniac who cherished dreams of reigning supreme over the princes of Europe, had no intention of furthering Philip's territorial ambitions. Instead, he resolved to obtain every last advantage to himself from Richard's release, and had agreed to grant him his freedom upon payment of the extortionate sum of 100,000 silver marks36 (the equivalent of twice England's annual revenue and worth several million pounds today) and the delivery of a number of noble hostages, to be chosen from the sons of the English and Norman baronage." In addition, Richard was to promise to help the Emperor overthrow Tancred of Sicily, whose kingdom he had already invaded. Richard had no choice but to agree reluctantly.

  The King urged that his subjects do everything in their power to raise the ransom and asked that the money collected be entrusted "to my mother, and by her to whomsoever she shall appoint."

  The King also informed the council that, following Hubert Walter's departure, William Longchamp, hearing of his master's plight, had come winging his way from Paris to Germany and had used his diplomatic skills to help negotiate the treaty with the Emperor and have Richard released from solitary confinement. "After an audience with the Emperor," wrote the King, "he secured our removal from the castle of Trifels, where we were formerly imprisoned, to Hagenau, where we were received with honour by the Emperor and his court."38

  After this, Richard was treated not so much as a prisoner as an honoured guest.39 He was permitted to hold court at Speyer or Worms, and to attend to the business of his kingdom, which was facilitated by his being in constant correspondence with his "much beloved mother"40 and his councillors. He received a constant stream of visitors from England and many other lands, much to the amazement of the Germans, and cultivated the friendship of many German princes, who would be useful allies to him in the future. In better health now, he went hunting and hawking, and enjoyed challenging his warders to wrestling matches, exchanging crude jokes with them, or getting them drunk with the Rhenish wines provided for his table.41

  When informed of the treachery of John, the King appeared unconcerned. "My brother John is not the man to conquer a country if there is anyone to offer the feeblest resistance," he remarked disparagingly.42 "Always cheerful," he was confident that he would soon be returning home to deal with his enemies. 43

  Richard sent Longchamp back to England with his letter and the ransom demand, with instructions to collect both money and hostages and escort them to the imperial court, but the regency council did not trust the former chancellor and it was made very clear to him that he was regarded as nothing more than a messenger. The bishops refused to revoke his excommunication and London closed its gates to him.

  With her customary vigour Eleanor immediately set to work to raise the King's ransom from a land and a people that had already been bled dry to finance the crusade.44 The government imposed a harsh levy on every one of Richard's English subjects: every freeman was to give one-quarter of his annual income; those clergy living on tithes were to give one-tenth; while poorer folk had to give what they could. "No subject, rich or poor, was overlooked. No one could say, 'Pray let me be excluded.' "45 The churches and abbeys were stripped of their wealth: "the greater churches came up with treasures hoarded from the distant past, and the parishes with their silver chalices." The Cistercian monks, who had no treasures, donated the profits from one year's wool yield from their flocks, as did the Order of Gilbertines.46

  On 1 June, at a council held at St. Albans, the Queen appointed five officers to oversee the raising of the ransom: Hubert Walter, who had been elected Archbishop of Canterbury in May; Richard FitzNigel, Bishop of London; William d'Albini, Earl of Arundel; Hamelin of Anjou, Earl of Surrey, a bastard brother of Henry II; and Henry FitzAilwin, London's first mayor. As the money came in, it was stored in large chests in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral, under the seals of the Queen and Walter of Coutances.

  Richard's continental subjects were also made to contribute. The Queen sent her officers into Anjou and Aquitaine to collect ransom money, and herself exacted one hundred marks from the abbey of St. Martial at Limoges, where Richard had been invested as Duke of Aqui-taine.47 A considerable percentage of the ransom was raised abroad-- more money was raised in Caen than in London-- but the greater share came from England, which had a more efficient system of tax collection.

  Probably in response to Eleanor's letters, the Pope at last bestirred himself and threatened to lay England under an interdict if Richard's subjects failed to raise his ransom.48 Obviously regretting her scathing attacks upon him in her earlier letters, the Queen responded with humility: "I beseech you, O Father, let your benignity bear with that which is the effusion of grief rather than of deliberation. I have sinned and used the words of Job; I have said that which I would I had not said. But henceforth I place my finger on my lips and say no more. Farewell."49 The existence of this third letter is good evidence for the authenticity of this correspondence: if Eleanor's first two letters had been merely literary exercises, why would she need to have composed a letter of apology?

  Because of the King's great reputation, many of his subjects gave willingly. John, however, who had agreed to assist in raising the ransom, ruthlessly milked his tenants, then forged the great seal in order to appropriate for himself the money collected, to fund his treasonable activities.

  In council at Ely, the Queen set about choosing which noble boys should go to Germany as hostages,50 a task that caused great grief to many families.51 Richard had directed that those selected be taken to Germany by William Longchamp, but several barons, alarmed by rumours of Longchamp's alleged homosexuality, declared they would rather entrust their daughters to him than their sons. This enabled Eleanor to veto a suggestion that her grandsons of Saxony be among the chosen.

  We know very little about how the hostages were finally selected, or about the outcome of appeals lodged by their distraught relatives. Soon afterwards, Richard, possibly at Eleanor's request, summoned Longchamp to join him in Germany, whereupon the Queen was able to make other, more acceptable, arrangements for the transfer of the hostages.

  Berengaria was also active in raising the ransom. Learning of her distress at her husband's imprisonment, Pope Celestine was moved to provide an escort of cardinals to see her, Joanna, and the princess of Cyprus safely north via Pisa to Genoa, where she took ship for Marseilles. Here she was met by Alfonso II, King of Aragon, who gave her a safe-conduct through his territories, then arranged for Raymond, Count of St. Gilles, heir to the Count of Toulouse, to conduct her to Poitou. Here Berengaria settled for a time and applied herself with great dispatch to the business of collecting ransom money.

  At Worms in June, Richard and the Emperor reached a new agreement. Instead of aiding Henry against Tancred, Richard undertook to increase his ransom by fifty thousand marks and the number of hostages to two hundred. He also agreed to the betrothal of his niece Eleanor of Brittany to the son of Leopold of Austria and the surrender of Isaac Comnenus-- still a prisoner in his silver chains-- and his daughter to the Emperor.52

  News of this agreement drove Philip to seek a truce with Richard, who in July, through his representatives, agreed that Philip might keep those lands he had conquered in Normandy. Anticipating that Richard would soon be free, Philip sent John a warning: "Look to yourself. The Devil is loosed!" John immediately abandoned his plans to usurp the English throne and fled to Paris.53

  Soon afterwards, he agreed to surrender parts of Normandy and Touraine to Philip in return for the French king's promise to help him take possession of the rest of Richard's continental domains. When John wrote to England, canvassing the support of the barons, Eleanor persuaded the regency council to confiscate all his estates. The lords of Normandy also resisted John's ambitions, and the Pope carried out his threat and pronounced both him and Philip excommunicate.

  In England the government struggled t
o meet the increased ransom demand. Despite the measures taken, not nearly enough money had been raised to begin with. A substantial number of people had either evaded payment or flatly refused to contribute; some tax collecters had even made off with the money.54 The council was forced to impose a second, then a third levy, while those who had rebelled with John were heavily fined.

  The delay affected Richard badly. Despite the freedoms he was permitted, he was experiencing the frustration and desolation common to many captives. He had taken to composing poems and songs to express his feelings, the most famous of which is "J'a nuns hons pris" -- "I have many friends but their gifts are few ..." In it he refers bitterly to Philip, "my overlord, who keeps my land in torment" in contravention of his feudal oath. He also complains that everyone has forsaken him. This song, one of only two of Richard's compositions to survive, was written in Provencal with a musical score, and was dedicated to his half sister Marie, Countess of Champagne.

  In October, envoys from the Emperor arrived in London to see how the collection of the ransom was progressing, and were royally entertained. When they left, they took with them 100,000 marks weighing thirty-five tons-- two-thirds of the ransom money. The balance was to be delivered as soon as it had been collected.

  Shortly afterwards, Richard wrote to Eleanor, commanding her and Walter of Coutances to bring to Speyer in person the ransom money and the hostages, along with his royal regalia and an impressive retinue. It had been agreed by the Emperor that, subject to the receipt of both money and hostages, the King would be released on 17 January 1194.55

  Eleanor immediately began assembling a fleet in the east-coast ports of Dunwich, Ipswich, and Orford. In December 1193, with the King's approval, she appointed Hubert Walter justiciar and, leaving him in charge in England, left for Germany. With her she took an impressive retinue,56 which included Walter of Coutances and some of her southern vassals, notably the ageing Saldebreuil of Sanzay; Aimery, Viscount of Thouars; and Hugh IX de Lusignan, as well as her ten-year-old granddaughter Eleanor of Brittany, who was to marry Duke Leopold's son, and the princess of Cyprus. Finally there were earls, bishops, chaplains, clerks, the forlorn group of hostages, and a strongly armed force to guard the great chests containing the ransom money.

 
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