Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir


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  three, he was his father's first-born heir and therefore worthy of note, but a fifth son who died young might have been considered relatively unimportant. However, the dates of birth of all Eleanor's other children by Henry are recorded-- even the birth of her last child, John, who is usually accounted her fifth son. Moreover, the name Philip would have been an unusual choice, favoured by the French royal line, but never having been used by the forebears of Henry and Eleanor. Neither, however, had the name John been used. The name Philip could, of course, have been chosen as a compliment to Louis, but surely his own name would have been more appropriate. Since the evidence for this prince's existence is found only in much later sources and the circumstantial evidence is inconclusive, none of it should be relied upon.

  During this year of 1161, concern was expressed in several quarters that the Lord Henry, now six years old, was still living with his mother and had not begun his formal education. Reflecting this concern, the Archbishop of Rouen ventured to write tactfully to the King on the matter:

  Although other kings are of a rude and uncultivated character, yours, which was formed by literature, is prudent in the administration of great affairs, subtle in judgement and circumspect in counsel. Wherefore all your bishops unanimously agree that Henry, your son and heir, should apply himself to letters, so that he whom we regard as your heir may be the successor to your wisdom as well as your kingdom.48

  Henry took the point. It was customary for princes and the sons of the nobility to be sent away to other aristocratic households to be nurtured and educated. Thomas Becket had already accepted into his household a number of noble boys, and the King now arranged for his own son to join them. From this time onwards, Becket would refer to the Lord Henry as his adopted son.

  Armed conflict between Henry and Louis had seemed inevitable,49 but Louis had by now realised that opposing Henry over the matter of the Vexin was a hopeless cause, and in October the two kings met at Freteval and made peace.

  Henry and Eleanor kept Christmas at Bayeux that year. The King was still considering who should fill the vacant archbishopric of Canterbury, and by the time he and the Queen held their Easter court at Falaise, he had made up his mind that he wanted Becket. Becket was a loyal friend to him and would, Henry felt sure, support the radical plans he was formulating for reforming abuses within the Church, which in Henry's opinion had become too powerful. With a king's man as

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  Archbishop of Canterbury, he would have no trouble in implementing them.

  Summoning the chancellor before him, the King commanded him to take the Lord Henry to England and have the barons swear fealty to him once more as their future king. When Becket brought the prince to say farewell to his parents, Henry took Becket aside.

  "You do not yet fully comprehend your mission," he said. "It is my intention that you should become Archbishop of Canterbury."50

  Becket was horrified. He was aware of Henry's intentions towards the Church and realised that, as archbishop, he would be honour bound to oppose them. He was also aware that his enemies would be happy to use this as a means of driving a wedge between himself and Henry. He therefore begged the King to reconsider, warning him that, if he persisted in this appointment, their friendship would turn to bitter hatred. Besides, he was not even a priest, and had never celebrated a mass.51

  Henry ignored his protests. Once his mind was made up, he would not be diverted from his chosen course. With a heavy heart, Becket departed for England. His last act as chancellor was to arrange the ceremony, which took place in Winchester at Whitsun, at which the barons paid homage to the Lord Henry. He also paid £38 6s "for gold for preparing a crown and regalia for the King's son,"52 an indication that the King had plans to have his heir crowned in his own lifetime, as was the custom in France.

  In London, in May 1162, in the presence of the Lord Henry and all the King's judges, the unwilling Becket was formally nominated archbishop; on 2 June he was ordained a priest, and the next day he was consecrated in Canterbury Cathedral, with tears of emotion streaming down his face; he was a man who wept easily.53 On that day it seemed to contemporaries that a miraculous transformation took place. "As he put on those robes, reserved at God's command to the highest of His clergy, he changed not only his apparel, but the cast of his mind."54

  Overnight, it seemed, the proud and worldly courtier, statesman, and soldier had become an ascetic priest committed to his spiritual duties. He had changed, he declared, "from a patron of play actors and a follower of hounds to a shepherd of souls."55 Becket had never done things by halves, and he now threw himself wholeheartedly into his new role. "He handled the Holy Sacraments with the utmost reverence and ... so utterly abandoned the world that all men marvelled thereat."56

  Instead of his elegant raiment, he now wore a monk's habit, and beneath it, to remind himself of the weakness of the flesh, he wore "a hair shirt of the roughest kind, which reached to his knees and swarmed with vermin; he mortified his flesh with the sparest diet, and his

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  accustomed drink was water used for the cooking of hay."57 He performed extravagant acts of charity and humility,58 such as washing the feet of thirteen beggars every day, dispensing alms to them, and exposing his bare back frequently to the discipline of flagellation by his monks. His nights were spent in vigil. "The King has wrought a miracle," observed the sceptical Gilbert Foliot wryly. "Out of a soldier and a courtier he has made an archbishop." Foliot had been the only bishop to oppose Becket's election; a vigorous churchman and scholar, he would become one of the new Archbishop's greatest enemies.

  As soon as he became Archbishop, Becket shocked Henry by returning the great seal of England and resigning the chancellorship, making plain his intention to devote his life exclusively to the Church. When told that the burdens of two offices were too much for the Archbishop, the King voiced a suspicion that Becket no longer cared to be in his service.

  Henry and Eleanor remained in Normandy for the rest of the year. They had intended to return to England in late autumn, but were prevented from doing so by storms in the Channel and were obliged to hold their Christmas court at Cherbourg. On 25 January 1163 they sailed to England. It was the first time Henry had set foot in his kingdom since August 1158.

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  10. "Conjectures Which Grow Day by Day"

  When the King and Queen landed at Southampton with their daughters Matilda and Eleanor, they were met by a large deputation of nobles and clergy, headed by Archbishop Becket. He came forward holding the hand of the Lord Henry, who emerged from the shelter of his guardian's cloak to greet his parents with fond embraces as the onlookers cried "Vivat rex!"1 Henry and Becket saluted each other and exchanged the kiss of peace; while William of Canterbury describes the King's manner as "blithe," Herbert of Bosham claims that he gave Becket a dark look. The following day, however, they rode side by side to Westminster, deep in amicable conversation.

  Henry would spend the next three years in England, implementing his plans for enforcing law and order in his realm. His return would mark the end of Eleanor's intermittent spells as regent of England; the last English writ in her name was issued in 1163. This does not mean to say that Henry had lost confidence in her ability to rule in his absence, for he would in future delegate his authority to her on the continent. For the present, however, she remained in England. During February, the Pipe Rolls record items purchased by her for the festivities arranged for the Lord Henry's eighth birthday.

  Henry spent the spring of 1163 crushing a rising in south Wales. Although he did not subdue the Welsh entirely, every one of their princes paid homage to him at Woodstock that summer, acknowledging him as their overlord.

  One of Henry's chief concerns at this time was the increase in crimes committed by the clergy, and he resolved to put an end to the legal process that made this possible. Laypersons who had committed felonies were dealt with in the King's courts, where they were punished with due severity, but anyone in
holy orders-- even the lowliest clerk-- -could claim benefit of clergy and be tried in the Church courts, which were

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  not allowed to punish offenders by the shedding of blood and imposed only the lightest penalties. This dual system of justice was, in the King's view, scandalous, unfair, and intolerable-- it was said that over one hundred murders had been committed by clerks and had gone largely unpunished since his accession-- and he was determined to ensure that all offenders were tried in the royal courts. He was aware, however, that the enforcement of such a measure would be seen by many as an attack on the Church and its power, and would therefore meet with resistance. Nevertheless, he was determined to have his way.

  The first sign of trouble between Henry and Becket manifested itself at a council of clergy held at Woodstock on 1 July, when the Archbishop condemned the King's plan to divert the larger part of his sheriffs' profits into the royal treasury. It appears that Becket seized on this reasonable proposal as an issue upon which to assert his authority as primate, and, surprisingly, he got his way.

  The real showdown came on 1 October, when, at a meeting of the Great Council at Westminster, the King proposed that the Church should degrade and disown those "criminous clerks" who had been found guilty in the ecclesiasatical courts and should "hand them over to my court for corporal punishment";2 this, he declared-- rather stretching the truth-- would be no innovation but merely a return to the customs of Henry I.

  Like many people, Becket was aware of the abuses in the system, but as archbishop he found he could not sanction any infringement of the authority and liberties of the Church, which was fiercely protective of its immunity from secular interference. He therefore opposed the reform, and was supported, after some persuasion, by every one of his bishops.3

  An exasperated Henry reacted by demanding that his bishops swear obedience to the ancient customs of the realm. Sensing that they might be outmanoeuvred, they all took the oath, but, at the insistence of the Archbishop, with the qualifying rider "saving our order." The King was not pleased.

  "By the eyes of God!" he thundered. "Let me hear no word of your order! I demand absolute and express agreement to my customs." When both Becket and his bishops proved obdurate, Henry stormed out of the hall.4 The following day, before he left Westminster at dawn, he confiscated Becket's manors of Eye and Berkhamsted, which he had bestowed upon him when chancellor,5 and removed the Lord Henry from his household; the boy was not returned to his mother's care, but was given an establishment and servants of his own. Thus began one of the most famous rifts in history.

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  On 13 October both king and archbishop were present in Westminster Abbey when the body of St. Edward the Confessor was translated to a new shrine. It is likely that Eleanor and her children were also present at this ceremony. The Archbishop conducted the service and, on the surface, it seemed that all was well, but this was just an illusion.

  Soon, it seemed to Henry that Becket was deliberately trying to provoke him at every turn. When the King decided to marry his brother William to the heiress Isabella de Warenne, widow of King Stephen's younger son (also called William), the Archbishop forbade it on the flimsiest of grounds, and when William of Anjou died soon afterwards-- some said of a broken heart-- Henry blamed Becket. Without consulting the King, as was customary, Becket then excommunicated a tenant-in-chief, William of Eynsford, as a result of a petty dispute. Worst of all, he defied the King by going out of his way to ensure that crimes committed by clerks-- including theft, manslaughter, rape, and murder-- went unpunished or earned only the lightest sentences.

  In all these measures Becket was supported by a majority of the bishops. William of Newburgh later concluded that they were the ones responsible for the rupture within the kingdom, "since they were more intent upon defending the liberties and rights of the clergy than on correcting and restraining their vices."

  Counselled by his mother, the Empress Matilda, who would over the next four years give him sensible advice as to how to deal with Becket, Henry took steps to win over public opinion to his side. He had Becket's enemy, Gilbert Foliot, transferred to the See of London to advise him and lead the opposition to the Archbishop. Foliot was a strong advocate, sufficiently acquainted with both canon and civil law to be convinced that Becket was wrong. A few other bishops, perturbed by the Archbishop's aggressive stance, began to distance themselves from him, and Pope Alexander III, who had reason to be grateful to Henry, urged Becket to submit to his master, warning him that he could "expect no help from the curia in anything that might offend the King."

  By December, fearful of the Pope's displeasure, most of the bishops had deserted Becket, and public opinion popularly supported the King's stand against what was widely regarded as an abuse. At Woodstock, at Pope Alexander's behest, the Archbishop acknowledged defeat and finally gave the King his unqualified promise to observe the ancient customs of England.

  At Christmas, the King and Queen were together at Becket's former castle at Berkhamsted. Thomas had spent large sums transforming the keep into a luxurious residence, and it was one of the more comfortable of Henry's houses. Royal plate was brought here from the treasury at Winchester in honour of the festival.6

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  The year 1164 saw the marriages of Eleanor's daughters by Louis: Marie married Henry, Count of Champagne, while Alix married his brother, Theobald, Count of Blois. There is no record of Eleanor having any contact with her daughters during the years after the dissolution of her marriage to their father, and she did not attend either wedding.

  Henry was not content with Becket's private promise: he wanted to make him submit publicly to royal authority. At a council held at Clarendon on 25 January 1164,7 he demanded that the clergy endorse a new code of sixteen laws, which became known as the Constitutions of Clarendon, and which Henry claimed enshrined the customs of his ancestors. The third article, which was one of those that did not, laid down that criminous clerks should be handed over to the royal courts for sentencing, and it prompted Becket to a further protest. However, Henry had wisely taken counsel of both canon and civil lawyers and knew that the Archbishop had no grounds for opposition.

  The bishops, however, were unhappy at the King's demand, for they knew very well that a few of the Constitutions encompassed his own reforms, rather than the customs of his ancestors. Disregarding the King's anger-- his howls were "like the roaring of a Hon"8-- and his threats to resort to the sword in order to compel them to submit, they backed Becket, only to see him inexplicably capitulate and agree to "perjure himself."9 He still refused to set his seal to the Constitutions,10 but gave his consent "in good faith," bidding the bishops do likewise. When the Pope saw a copy of the Constitutions, he agreed with Becket that the liberties of the Church were under threat, and condemned nearly every clause.

  Fortified by papal support, Becket soon regretted his moment of weakness and imposed severe penances on himself in self-retribution. He also tried twice to escape to France, but was frustrated by adverse winds, untrustworthy mariners, and the King's officers. His change of heart infuriated Henry, who was now determined to oust Becket from his archbishopric, a move that was supported by the bishops, who mostly shared Henry's view that Becket was too unstable for high ecclesiastical office.

  In October Henry had Becket arraigned at a council at Northampton on a charge of contempt of court.11 Although Becket maintained that, as archbishop, he was not subject to the jurisdiction of the King, it was pointed out to him that he had been charged as a tenant-in-chief and not as archbishop, and as such he would be judged. When Henry also called him to account for the disposition of moneys that had passed through his hands as chancellor, it became clear to Becket

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  that the King was out to ruin him. When he asked his fellow prelates for advice and help, he was dismayed to find that few of them were willing to support him.

  At the end of a gruelling week, the Archbishop made a dramatic entrance into the court, carrying his
episcopal cross himself, rather than having it borne before him by his cross-bearer, to signify that he claimed the protection of the Church against the ill will of the King.12 "He was always a fool and always will be," observed Bishop Foliot.13

  Having reminded an irate Henry that he had been released from all his liabilities as chancellor, Becket forbade the bishops to sit in judgement on him. They in turn, at Henry's behest, resolved to inform the Pope that Becket had breached the oath he had sworn upholding the Constitutions of Clarendon, and to request his deposition. The King then called for sentence to be passed on him, but Becket refused to wait to hear it, and stalked out of the room to shouts of "Traitor!"14

  That night, disguised as a monk, the Archbishop escaped from Northampton and fled to Flanders.15 His departure excited little stir in England, and few missed him, although the King was struck speechless with anger on hearing of his flight and hissed, "We have not finished with him yet!"16 On the continent, Becket continued to make trouble for Henry: visiting the Pope at Sens, he portrayed himself so convincingly as a victim of the English King's deliberate attempt to limit the Church's power that he won Alexander's sympathy, and thereafter it would require the deployment of all Henry's skills in diplomacy to avoid an open breach with the Pope.

  Becket also wrote numerous letters trying to enlist the sympathy of other European rulers, several of whom attempted to exploit the quarrel to their own advantage. Before long, orthodox churchmen all over Europe believed that Henry was hell-bent on persecuting the Church. Becket even wrote repeatedly to the Empress Matilda, but received little satisfaction from that quarter. A sympathetic Louis VII took the exiled Archbishop under his own protection and offered him refuge at the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy (in 1166, Becket moved to the abbey of Sainte-Colombe at Sens), but he also tried to heal the rift: between 1165 and 1170 he arranged no fewer than twelve interviews between Henry and Becket; of the ten that took place, all ended in failure. For the next six years, neither king nor archbishop would agree to compromise. What had begun as a dispute over a legal principle had turned into a battle of wills over whose was the greater authority.

 
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