Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life by Alison Weir


  Richard of Devizes (fl. 1189-1192) was a Benedictine monk of St. Swithun's Abbey, Winchester, who wrote for his abbot a chronicle describing the deeds of Richard I, from his coronation in 1189 to the end of the Third Crusade in October 1192. His writing was, however, influenced by the romances and chansons de gestes that were popular in his day, and is consequently dramatic and florid, and not always reliable. He could be acidic and sarcastic in his observations.

  It has been suggested that Richard of Devizes, being resident in Winchester when Eleanor was kept a prisoner there in the 1170s and 1180s, would have had some personal knowledge of, and even acquaintance with, her, but there is no proof of this. Later, he was a loyal supporter of Richard I, and his praise of Eleanor for her wise rule during Richard's absence suggests that he had a genuine respect for her.

  Richard Fitznigel was Bishop of London and Treasurer under Henry II, and a brilliant historian. In 1178 he began his great work, Dialogue Concerning the Exchequer, a comprehensive survey of the work and procedures of the Exchequer, giving details of the checkered cloth that gave it its name, and of record systems such as wooden tally sticks and the Pipe Rolls.

  Robert of Torigni was Abbot of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy and knew Henry II personally, but left no description of his appearance or character. Very little else escaped Robert's notice: he meticulously researched his chronicle, which gives a year-by-year account of the period and is a valuable source for the otherwise poorly documented middle years of the twelfth century.

  Robert Wace (c. 1115-c. 1183) was born in Jersey, studied in Paris, and became a clerk at Caen in Normandy before being appointed Canon of Bayeux by Henry II in 1160/1170. Around 1155, Wace wrote the Roman de Brut, a Norman-French verse history of England from the time of Brutus, who was then believed to have been the founder of the English people. It was in this work, based on the chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth, that the legend of the Round Table of King Arthur first appeared. Around 1160, Henry II commissioned from Wace the Roman de Rou, a metrical history in Norman-French of the dukes of Normandy commencing with Rollo (Rou).

  Roger of Hoveden (d. 1201?) came from Howden in the East Riding of Yorkshire and became a civil servant, an itinerant justice, and clerk of the Chapel Royal. He is known to have accompanied Henry II to France in the summer of 1174, and was present at the siege of Acre in 1191. Between 1192 and 1201, after retiring from his post, he is believed-- although his authorship is unproven-- to have written a massively detailed original account of the deeds of Henry II and Richard I, which was once attributed to Abbot Benedict of Peterborough, who is now thought merely to have commissioned or owned it. This work, which contains transcripts of original documents, is a major source for the period from 1171, despite its author's belief in miracles and supernatural intervention. It is generally favourable to Henry II and Richard I, although the author criticises Henry's dilatory approach to business. Because it was completed early in King John's reign, it is less biased against John than the works of later chroniclers who wrote retrospective studies.

  Roger of Hoveden also wrote a chronicle history of England covering the period c.732-1201.

  Roger of Wendover (d. 1236) was a Benedictine monk at St. Albans and the first chronicler of that abbey. His chronicle, Flowers of History, dates from c. 1215-1235 and covers the period from 1188; he was therefore not an eyewitness to the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but drew much of his information from earlier sources, including Roger of Hoveden and Ralph of Diceto. Being resident in an abbey frequented by travellers on the Great North Road, Roger was in a good position to learn of events in the outside world. His work is relatively objective-- he was not afraid to level criticism against great men-- but not always reliable. His chronicle was later extended by the great thirteenth-century chronicler Matthew Paris.

  Walter Map (c. 1137-c. 1209/1210) came from a noble Anglo-Norman family who lived on the Welsh marches, and was educated in the schools at Paris. A friend of Giraldus Cambrensis, he became a courtier and Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral. He served Henry II as a clerk from 1162, and wrote that he was "dear and acceptable to the King, not for his own merits, but for those of his forebears who had been faithful and useful to the King, both before his accession and after it." Map also served Henry as an itinerant justice, accompanying him to France in 1173 and 1183, and was later appointed Chancellor of Lincoln. In 1197, Map was made Archdeacon of Oxford.

  He was famous in his day as a writer and humorist, and his style is lively, witty, and satirical. De Nugis Curialium (Courtiers' Trifles) is the only one of his works to survive and was written in Latin prose in 1181-1192; Map called it "a little book I have jotted down by snatches at the court of King Henry," and it relates much indiscreet court gossip, as well as anecdotes and apocryphal stories. The sole extant copy is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford; it contains a detailed character sketch of Henry II and evidence that its author did not approve of Eleanor, who was Henry's prisoner at the time he was writing: he recounts with impunity gossip of her alleged affair with Geoffrey of Anjou. Among Map's lost works was, almost certainly, a version of the Arthurian legends, which is thought by some scholars to have been the first of its kind to link the Arthurian cycle of romances with the legend of the Holy Grail.

  William FitzStephen wrote, c. 1177-1180, an invaluable description of the London of his day as a preamble to his life of Thomas Becket, who was born in the city. He claimed that his was the best biography of the murdered Archbishop because he had served in Becket's household as his secretary and had been present at many of the great events of his life, including the confrontation with Henry II at Northampton. He was also an eyewitness to Becket's murder. His is certainly a lively and detailed account, valuable for its social commentary, although it is unashamedly prejudiced in favour of its subject. Nevertheless, FitzStephen was careful not to criticise Henry II.

  William of Newburgh (c. 1135-c. 1200) was an Augustinian canon of Newburgh, Yorkshire, and another brilliant historian, whose work is one of the most important sources for Henry II's reign. His History of English Affairs covers the period 1066-1198 (at which latter date it was probably written). William of Newburgh wrote in a vivid, racy style, and took an objective, judicious, and relatively impartial approach. Like many chroniclers of the period, he included fantastic anecdotes and accounts of supernatural occurrences.

  William of Tyre (c. 1130-1185) was probably born in Italy; he became an ecclesiastic in Syria, being appointed Archdeacon of Tyre in 1167 and Archbishop in 1175. He began writing A History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea -- an account of the Second Crusade (1146-1148)-- around 1170, when he was Bishop of Palestine, where he spent much of his life. He may well have had some personal contact with the crusaders, although he was under twenty at the time. Nevertheless, his work, which covers the period 1095-1184, is well researched and fairly objective, thanks to his living at a distance from those he was writing about. However, it is pro-French in bias, and therefore takes a hostile view of Eleanor.

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