Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir

  When he realised he was dying, Richard sent a messenger to Fontevrault, calling upon Eleanor to come to him without delay. He also "ordered Bertram de Gurdun to come into his presence, and said to him, 'What have I done to you, that you have killed me?' "

  Bertram boldly replied, "You slew my father and my two brothers with your own hand, and you had intended now to kill me. Therefore take any revenge on me that you may think fit, for I will readily endure the greatest torments that you can devise, so long as you have met with your end, having inflicted evils so many and so great upon the world."

  Richard was so moved and impressed with the archer's speech that "he ordered him to be released, and said, T forgive you my death. Live on, and by my bounty, behold the light of day' And then, after being released from his chains, he was allowed to depart, and the King ordered 100 shillings of English money to be given him. Mercadier, however, the King not knowing it, seized him and, after the King's death, first flayed him alive, then had him hanged."20 The Annals of Winchester21 claim that this was at the behest of Richard's sister Joanna, but this is not corroborated by any other source.

  On receiving Richard's summons, Eleanor dispatched Matilda, Abbess of Fontevrault, to break the news to Berengaria and warn John, who was visiting Arthur in Brittany, to escape while he could and hasten to Chinon to secure Richard's treasure. She then travelled "faster than the wind"22 across the hundred miles that separated Fontevrault from Chalus, escorted by Abbot Luke of Turpenay,23 and arrived at the King's bedside on 6 April.

  On that day, his chaplain, Milo, Abbot of Le Pin, heard the King's last confession.24 Richard asked to be buried at his father's feet in contrition for having rebelled against him. He ordered that messengers be sent to the constable of Chateau Gaillard, William the Marshal, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, with instructions, given under his seal and Eleanor's, for the peaceful transference of power to his successor. Having done this, and having set aside his hatred for King Philip, he received Holy Communion.25

  In the late evening of 6 April, Richard I "ended his earthly day"26 at the age of forty-one, having changed his mind about bequeathing his kingdom and his continental possessions to Arthur, and leaving them instead to his brother John. This change of heart might have been brought about by Eleanor, who clearly had no time for her Breton grandson and his mother, and who must have realised that, with Arthur in thrall to Philip, the future of the Angevin empire would be in jeopardy. The Queen was present at the death of her very dear son, who reposed all his trust in her, next to God, that she would make provision for the weal of his soul, and she intends that his wishes shall be carried out. She will attend to those wishes with motherly concern and is especially counting on the help of her beloved Luke, Abbot of Turpenay, who was present at the deathbed and funeral of her very dear son and played a larger part in these events than anyone else.27

  On the day of Richard's death, Chalus fell to his men, but there was no sign of the treasure, nor does history record what became of it.

  When the Abbess Matilda broke the news about Richard to Berengaria at Beaufort Castle, just north of Saumur, the younger Queen was inconsolable. Pressing on to find John, the Abbess met up with Bishop Hugh of Lincoln and told him of Berengaria's distress. He had heard that the King was dead, and was in fact on his way to Fontevrault for the funeral, but, breaking his journey, he went to Beaufort, comforted Berengaria with wise words of faith, and celebrated a requiem mass. Then he escorted the Queen to Fontevrault for her husband's obsequies.28

  On Palm Sunday, which fell on 11 April, the body of Richard I "was most honourably buried with royal pomp"29 in Fontevrault Abbey at the feet of his father,30 as he had requested; his heart had been sent to Rouen for burial, and his brains and entrails to Charroux in Poitou.31 Hugh of Lincoln officiated, and the two queens, Richard's mother and his wife, as chief mourners, led a congregation that included the bishops of Poitiers and Angers and the abbots of Turpenay and Le Pin. The Pope sent Cardinal Peter of Capua to represent him, charging him to convey the Apostolic condolences to the Queen.

  Eleanor was aware that Richard had many sins to answer for, and on the day of his funeral issued a charter granting to the community of Fontevrault her "town of Jaunaium [probably Jaunay-Clan, just north of Poitiers] for their kitchen, for the weal of the soul of my very dear lord, King Richard, that he may sooner obtain the mercy of God," as well as £100 Angevin for new habits for the nuns, "for the soul of her very dear lord King Richard."

  That year, Eleanor founded a chapel to St. Lawrence, an early Christian martyr, at Fontevrault, granting an annuity of £10 Poitevin on condition that "Lord Roger, her chaplain, a brother of Fontevrault, who is to celebrate in her chapel of St. Lawrence, shall receive the said £10 annually as long as she shall live." Also in 1199, another of Eleanor's charters gave "alms to the abbey of Fontevrault, for the religious maids of Christ there serving God, for the weal of the souls of the kings of England, the Lord Henry her husband, and the Lord Richard her son, and of her own beloved and faithful man, Peter Fulcher of La Rochelle, his heirs and his children for ever, freed from all accustomed services to the lord of Poitou, as granted of her own free will."

  In 1200 Eleanor granted several properties in England to Richard's cook, Adam, and his wife Joan. There were further grants to others who had served Richard and Eleanor: Roger, another cook; Henry of Berneval, one of Eleanor's custodians during her imprisonment; Renaud of Martin, who received a bakehouse in Poitiers; and Agatha, former governess to the royal children, who was given a manor in Devonshire. All these grants were made for the late King, "our son of blessed memory; may his soul be at peace for ever."

  Berengaria was left almost destitute by Richard's death; John withheld most of the estates left to her, and for many years she was constantly petitioning him for moneys due to her. On one occasion, the Knights Templar intervened on her behalf to obtain payment and save her from penury.

  It has been claimed by many writers that Berengaria was the only English queen who never set foot in England, but in fact she was a frequent visitor to the court of King John, as is attested to by the numerous safe-conducts given to her and her servants, which specifically granted them exemption from all customs at the ports. In 1216 she toured England after the King had given her permission to travel wherever she pleased in the realm, and in 1220 she was among the vast throng gathered in Canterbury Cathedral to witness the translation of Becket's bones to a new shrine in the Trinity Chapel.

  During her widowhood Berengaria lived at Le Mans, one of her dower properties, and devoted the rest of her life to charitable and pious works, caring for beggars and abandoned children. In 1200 she founded the Cistercian monastery of l'Espan near Le Mans; thirty years later, she became a nun there, under the name Juliana. The date of her death is not recorded, but she died beloved of the poor for her goodness and generosity, and was buried in the abbey in a fine tomb with a graceful effigy. In 1672, this was moved to Le Mans Cathedral, where it may be seen today.

  Eleanor had lost her favourite son, the man whom she had called "the staff of my old age, the light of my eyes." It had been a terrible blow to her, possibly the worst of the many blows she had been called upon to endure, but there was little leisure for grieving. She knew that, once again, she had to come out of retirement and resume her public role, in order to help secure her youngest son's inheritance.

  20. "The Most Reverend Eleanor"

  John wisely heeded Eleanor's summons and left Brittany immediately On 14 April 1199, having learned of Richard's death, he arrived at Chinon, determined to take possession of the royal treasure stored there. It is possible that Eleanor rode over from Fontevrault to assist him, since one chronicler claims that it was she who forcefully persuaded Robert of Thornham, Seneschal of Anjou, to deliver up both the castle and its treasury to the new King.1 John was also joined at Chinon by members of Richard's court, who offered their allegiance to him as the late King's heir, and by Aimery,2 Viscount of Thouars, one of Eleanor
's most powerful vassals, whom John appointed custodian of Chinon and Seneschal of Anjou and Touraine in place of Robert of Thornham, who was compensated with the stewardship of Poitou and Aquitaine.

  Later that day John went on to Fontevrault. Despite the fact that the Abbess had forbidden visitors to enter the crypt or enclosures during her absence, he insisted on paying his respects at his brother's tomb, hammering on the abbey door until Bishop Hugh of Lincoln persuaded him to go away.3 Later the Bishop obtained Abbess Matilda's permission to escort the new King to the tombs of his father and brother.4 Hugh, however, had his doubts about John's accession: he was among those who regarded the marriage of Henry II and Eleanor as adulterous, and believed that nothing good would issue from the "spurious brood" of such a union. It is also clear that he had a low opinion of Eleanor herself.5 For these reasons, he later refused John's invitation to join the royal household.6

  John was still at Fontevrault on Easter Sunday, but although he attended mass, he refused, as usual, to take Holy Communion and earned himself a stern rebuke from Bishop Hugh, who had also made him sit through a very long sermon, despite receiving three requests from John to hurry up and finish, as he was hungry. Afterwards, the Bishop showed the new King a sculpted relief of the Last Judgement and pointed to the souls of the righteous ascending into Heaven, but John indicated the damned being dragged by devils into Hell and retorted provocatively, "Show me rather these, whose good example I mean to follow!" The Bishop despaired of him, and others were scandalised by John's behaviour.7

  It was by no means certain that Richard's former domains would all accept John as their ruler. Arthur of Brittany had the better dynastic claim, but the law of primogeniture was by no means established at this time; moreover, Arthur was a mere boy and John a grown man, although to vassals desirous of gaining autonomy and throwing off the harsh yoke of Angevin rule, a child ruler could be a positive advantage. On hearing the news of King Richard's death, Philip, who knew that he could count on the support of many disaffected lords, immediately proclaimed twelve-year-old Arthur of Brittany as the rightful heir to the Angevin empire.

  Around this time, Constance, who had escaped from the clutches of her second husband, Ranulph de Blundeville, and whose marriage to him had since been dissolved on the grounds of her desertion, married Guy of Thouars.8 Guy was the younger brother of Eleanor's vassal Count Aimery of Thouars, whose fief lay in northern Poitou, on the marches of Brittany. There were fears-- largely unfounded, as it turned out-- that the marriage would bring Count Aimery over to Arthur's side.

  Apart from King Philip, Arthur's leading supporter at this time was the powerful and influential William des Roches, whom the young Duke now appointed Seneschal of Anjou in defiance of John, who had preferred Aimery of Thouars to the post. Soon after Easter, William des Roches, with Arthur, his mother Constance, and a Breton army, marched on Angers, which fell without a blow. This was the signal for the barons of Anjou, along with those of Maine and Touraine, to declare for Arthur. They had long desired independence, and saw this as their opportunity of achieving it. They did not appreciate that, if Philip had his way, they would merely be exchanging one overlord for another-- himself.

  Eleanor was outraged. She ordered that Anjou be laid waste as a punishment for its support of the usurper; then, accompanied by Aimery of Thouars and Mercadier and his mercenaries, she bore down on Angers, where Arthur was staying with his mother. At her approach, Constance fled with Arthur to join forces with Philip near Le Mans, whereupon Mercadier and his men sacked the city, which now fell to Eleanor, and took many prisoners.9

  John rode to Le Mans, but the city garrison refused him entry.

  Warned that the forces of Arthur and Philip were approaching, he fled north to Normandy, enabling Philip and Arthur to make a triumphal entry into Le Mans, where Arthur swore fealty to Philip for Anjou, Maine, and Touraine.

  On 21 April, back at Fontevrault, the Queen, in gratitude to Abbot Luke for his support during the last terrible weeks, made a gift to the abbey of St. Mary of Turpenay of the pool of Langeais, near Chinon, "for the weal of the soul of her dearest son Richard" and in return for the community's "annual celebration" of his anniversary. Berengaria, who had probably remained in seclusion at Fontevrault since Richard's burial, was a witness to this grant.10

  England and Normandy had accepted John's succession without protest, and on 25 April 1199 John was invested as Duke of Normandy by Walter of Coutances in Rouen Cathedral.11 It was not a dignified ceremony: the new Duke shocked the clergy by chatting with the young men in his retinue during the solemn rite and giggling so much that he dropped his ducal lance. Many regarded this as a bad omen.

  Le Mans was still holding out for Arthur, so John raised an army in Normandy and marched south in the hope of wresting his troublesome nephew from Philip's custody, only to find that his prey had fled by night to join the French King in Tours. In his fury, John took revenge on the city, pulling down its walls and castle, burning and destroying houses and streets, taking many leading citizens prisoner, and slaughtering the townsfolk. He then returned to Normandy to guard the duchy against invasion from France.

  Philip now withdrew with Arthur to Paris, where the boy was lodged in the Cite Palace and resumed his education. The King had him taught with his own son, Louis, who was the same age. Both boys were provided with the best tutors, trained in knightly skills, and groomed for kingship. Arthur was never allowed to forget that he was the rightful ruler of the Angevin empire, and was soon displaying the greed and ruthlessness of his race.

  Eleanor was now satisfied that the situation in the Angevin heartlands had stabilised sufficiently to permit her, towards the end of April, to ride south to her own domains,12 attended by a vast train of lords and prelates. She had decided, in view of the obvious hostility of Philip and Arthur, that it would be politic for her to make a comprehensive tour through Poitou and Aquitaine in order to secure assurances of military aid and the loyalty of her vassals, towns, and clergy for John, whom she had decided to name as her heir.

  On 29 April, Eleanor arrived in Loudun, where there came before her Raoul de Mauleon, the former lord of La Rochelle and the Talmont,once the favoured hunting lodge of Eleanor's father and grandfather. Raoul "begged her to restore to him" those properties. It is not known on what pretext he had been deprived of them, but she, wishing to have his service, which she required for herself and her son John, restored to him the castle of Talmont, and has given him and his heirs forever whatever right she had there. For La Rochelle [for which Eleanor had other plans] she has given him in exchange the castle of Banaum, with all her rights there, saving the endowments she and her predecessors had bestowed there. And for this exchange, the said Raoul de Mauleon has quitclaimed to her and her heirs forever all his rights in La Rochelle. And on those terms, Raoul has done her liege-homage, swearing to defend her and her land, and all the honour pertaining to her."

  A charter issued by the Queen on 4 May to the newly rebuilt monastery of St. John at Poitiers, confirming privileges granted by her forebears, states that she had returned to her capital "within a month of the death of her dearest son King Richard."14 She also granted the city of Poitiers its right to self-government. The next day, she rode southwest to Niort.

  Here she was joined by her daughter Joanna, Countess of Toulouse, who was pregnant with her third child 15 and in a desperate state. Her husband Raymond had treated her unkindly and been unfaithful to her, but that was the least of her problems. While he was away making war on one of his vassals in the Languedoc in the spring, some of the lords of Toulouse had risen against him and Joanna had courageously raised an army to suppress their revolt. She had laid siege to the rebel stronghold at Cassee, but some of the knights in her army had turned traitor. Having sent provisions into the castle, they had set fire to their own camp. Joanna, who had been burned in the fire, had barely escaped with her life, and had ridden north to seek help from her brother Richard but, on the way, had learned of his death
and sought out her mother instead. Eleanor sent Joanna to be cared for by the nuns of Fontevrault, then continued on her way.

  Indefatigable in her efforts, the Queen spent the early weeks of the summer touring her domains, attending to business, hearing petitions, dispensing justice, mediating in disputes, distributing largesse, issuing charters, making grants of lands and castles-- she even gave away estates that had been assigned to Berengaria-- and confirming and conferring privileges.16 In return for the promise that they would look to their own defences, she granted charters conferring independence from feudal jurisdiction to at least four towns besides Poitiers, putting an end to the disputes that overshadowed relations between the lords and an increasingly vocal bourgeoisie, which were irksome to both sides. In fact, throughout her reign as duchess, and thanks to her enlightened policy and patronage, Aquitaine had witnessed the extraordinary growth and increased prosperity of many towns and cities. As Eleanor had foreseen, the new communes would help to impose law and order throughout her unruly domains. King Philip was so impressed by her farsighted policy that he adopted it himself in France.

  Through these measures, which brought the people nocking to her, Eleanor bought the loyalty of her vassals, even such troublesome lords as Hugh IX and Geoffrey de Lusignan, who, along with many others, now renewed their oaths of allegiance.

  From Niort the Queen rode west via Andilly to La Rochelle, where she issued a charter granting to the men of the port and their heirs "a corporation, which shall enable them to defend and preserve their own rights more effectively; and we desire that their free customs shall be inviolably observed and that, in order that they may maintain them and defend their rights and ours, and those of our heirs, they shall exert and employ the strength and power of their commune, whenever necessary, against any man."17 Eleanor also attended the installation of the first mayor of La Rochelle, William of Montmirail.

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