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


  Henry and Eleanor spent the winter of 1 164-1165 in the south of England,17 keeping Christmas at Marlborough. On 24 December, when

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  Henry received the envoys he had sent to enlist Louis's support against Becket and forestall Becket's appeal to the Pope, he was appalled to hear that Louis had taken Becket's part and expressed the hope that the Pope would receive the Archbishop with kindness "and not heed any unjust accusations against him";18 Henry was also informed that Becket had gotten to the Pope first and complained of harassment, and that Alexander had threatened Henry with excommunication.

  "The King, burning with his customary fury, threw the cap from his head, undid his belt, threw far from him the cloak and robes in which he was dressed, with his own hands tore the silken coverlet off the bed, and, sitting down as though on a dung heap, began to chew the straw of the mattress."19 He remained in a foul mood throughout Christmas Day, and on the 26th, "giving way to unbridled passion more than became a king, he took an unbecoming and pitiful kind of revenge by banishing all the Archbishop's relatives out of England."20 Four hundred people were affected by this decree; all were stripped of their possessions and deported to Flanders, where they were reduced to begging for food.21

  In February 1165 Henry crossed to Normandy. At Rouen, as a means of putting pressure on the Pope to abandon Becket, he opened negotiations for an alliance with the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, which would be certain to upset King Louis, the Pope-- whose rival Frederick had supported-- and, above all, Becket. The alliance was to be cemented by two marriages: that of Henry's eldest daughter Matilda to Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, the Emperor's cousin, foremost vassal, and powerful ally; and that of Matilda's three-year-old sister Eleanor to the Emperor's infant son Frederick. Frederick Barbarossa had sent the imperial chancellor, Reinald of Dassel, Archbishop of Cologne, to Rouen to arrange the terms of the treaty.

  While Henry negotiated in Rouen, Eleanor remained at Winchester,22 although not as regent. The Pipe Rolls reveal that at around this time she and her children visited Sherborne Castle in Dorset and the Isle of Wight before moving to Westminster. After concluding the marriage treaty, the Archbishop of Cologne crossed the Channel to pay his respects to the Queen and be introduced to her daughters; on Henry's orders, she had summoned a council to Westminster to confirm the new alliance.

  On 1 May, pregnant once more, Eleanor left her other children in England and took Richard and Matilda to join Henry in Normandy23 for a fortnight before he returned to his kingdom to undertake a new campaign against the Welsh. After his departure Eleanor took up residence in Angers, having been entrusted with the government of Anjou and Maine in his absence. In this task she seems to have been

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  advised by her uncle, Raoul de Faye, who appears to have exercised considerable influence over her.

  It was at around this time that Becket contemplated appealing to Eleanor to intervene on his behalf in his quarrel with the King. Both his friend John of Salisbury, who had voluntarily undertaken to share his exile, and John de Bellesmains, Bishop of Poitiers, warned Becket that he could hope for neither aid nor counsel from the Queen, "especially since she puts all her trust in Raoul de Faye, who is no less hostile towards you than usual." This is in fact the only surviving evidence of Eleanor's attitude towards Becket. What is unusual is that she appears to have been influenced more by her uncle than by her husband, which is perhaps the first indication that she and Henry had grown apart.

  What is clear from this and the absence of other evidence is that, although Eleanor was hostile to Becket, she never became actively involved in his quarrel with Henry. Although Henry regularly consulted his mother on the matter, there is no record of him consulting Eleanor, although the very fact that Becket thought it worthwhile to appeal to her suggests that she wielded some influence over the King.

  In his letter to Becket, the Bishop of Poitiers also added mysteriously that the relationship between Eleanor and her uncle was subject to "conjectures which grow day by day, and which seem to deserve credence."24 He did not elaborate, but certainly whatever he was referring to was of a highly sensitive nature. He may have meant simply that Raoul de Faye was an undesirable political influence, yet it may also be inferred from the same remark that there was a degree of attraction between them. In the past, Eleanor had not scrupled to become too closely involved with one of her uncles; she was now forty-three, still fertile, and her marriage to Henry may have gone stale. It would have been all too easy for her to turn to the supportive Raoul for comfort; however, she was four months pregnant with her ninth child at this time, and we hear no more of the rumours about her relationship with Raoul de Faye, so it would be unwise to infer any sexual innuendo from the Bishop's letter.

  Although Eleanor disappears from the records during the period from May to the end of July, it would appear that she remained in Angers, and she was certainly there at the end of August when momentous news arrived from France.

  On 22 August 1165, King Louis's hopes were at long last fulfilled when Adela of Champagne bore him a healthy son at Gonesse near Paris. The infant was baptised Philip and immediately nicknamed "Dieudonne," which means God-given, and "Augustus," after the month of

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  his birth. There were joyous celebrations in Paris, but Henry II cannot have shared Louis's joy, for the birth of an heir to the French throne put paid to his scheme to claim the crown of France for the Lord Henry in the right of his wife Marguerite. Two comets that appeared in the sky over England at this time were widely regarded as portending the death of a king or the ruin of a nation. Later, their appearance was linked to Philip's birth.25

  Meanwhile, in Angers, Eleanor was having trouble enforcing her authority over Henry's vassals in Maine and on the Breton border, who were plotting rebellion against their overlord.26 At the Queen's command, the Constable of Normandy raised a force against them, but was unable to overcome them, largely, it appears, because Eleanor's orders were treated with contempt by his men. Nor could the King come to her aid, because he was heavily beset in Wales.27

  It was perhaps during the summer of 1165 that Henry began his notorious affair with Rosamund de Clifford, although it is impossible to date this event with any certainty. During the Welsh campaign, Rosamund's father, Sir Walter de Clifford, a knight of Norman extraction, had performed his feudal service for the King, and it is possible that at some stage Henry received hospitality at Sir Walter's border stronghold at Bredelais, where he is thought by several historians to have made Rosamund's acquaintance.

  According to Giraldus Cambrensis, Rosamund was very young when her affair with the King began, and he confirms that it lasted for some years, at least until 1174, when it was publicly acknowledged, and probably until shortly before Rosamund's death in 1176. The fact that the liaison was kept secret until 1174 would appear to explain William of Newburgh's assertion that Henry did not begin to be unfaithful to Queen Eleanor until she was past childbearing age.

  It has been suggested that during their affair Rosamund was much neglected by the King, who was only in England for three and a half years during the course of it, yet it is possible that she travelled discreetly with him, especially since for much of this time he was not living with Eleanor. Rosamund is not thought to have borne the King any children: it was not until the sixteenth century that it was asserted that she was the mother of his natural sons Geoffrey and William Longsword, and no contemporary source ascribes any bastards to her.

  In fact, there is very little information in contemporary sources about Henry's affair with Rosamund. It is through later legends, which have evolved over eight centuries, that it has become famous; indeed, no other mistress of an English king has ever inspired so many romantic

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  tales. Unfortunately, even in the twentieth century many of these stories have been accepted as fact by historians.

  The legends surrounding Rosamund de Clifford are of two types: legends about her
death, which will be examined later, and legends about her affair with the King.28 Early in the fourteenth century, a monk of Chester, Ranulf Higden, in his Polychronicon (Universal History), which was based on the works of Giraldus Cambrensis and many other, often less reliable sources, asserted that Henry II "was privily a spouse breaker" and was not ashamed "to misuse the wench Rosamund. To this fair wench the King made at Woodstock a chamber of wonder craft, won-derly made by Daedalus' work, lest the Queen should find and take Rosamund."20 This is the first reference to Henry building a bower and labyrinth for Rosamund at Woodstock. It is not mentioned again in any work until the late fifteenth century, when the London chronicler Robert Fabyan, drawing on Higden, described "the house of wonder working or Daedalus' work, which is a house wrought like unto a knot in a garden called a maze."

  In fact, there is no contemporary evidence linking Rosamund de Clifford with the hunting lodge at Woodstock, nor is there any proof that a bower or labyrinth ever existed there. Henry did construct a cloistered garden by the spring at nearby Everswell, in 1166, with pools and benches, the remains of which were described by the diarist John Evelyn in the seventeenth century, but there is no evidence to link it with Rosamund.

  During the sixteenth century the Rosamund legends evolved into a literary tradition, and became the subject of much inventive Elizabethan verse. Michael Drayton wrote of the tower and labyrinth at Woodstock, while "The Ballad of Fair Rosamund," composed by Thomas Delaney portrayed its heroine as beautiful and virtuous, seduced in extreme youth by the King. By then, the bower had become a strong building of stone and timber, with 1 50 doors and a maze "so cunningly contrived with turnings round about, that none but with a clue of thread could enter in or out." In the morality tale "The Complaint of Rosamund" by Samuel Daniel (1592), Rosamund is kept a captive of the King's jealousy at Woodstock, and realises too late that she should never have succumbed to his sinful advances.

  During the centuries that followed, and particularly during the era of Romantic literature, many famous writers and playwrights-- among them Joseph Addison; Agnes Strickland; Algernon Swinburne; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and even Winston Churchill-- made little attempt to distinguish history from legend. Even today, some of Eleanor's biographers draw conclusions about Rosamund from the legends. The real truth is that we know very little about her.

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  In September 1165 Henry returned to England, having failed to subdue the Welsh. In savage retribution, he ordered the mutilation of the hostages he had taken, then took himself off to Woodstock, shelving the problems in Brittany and Aquitaine until the start of the next campaigning season in the spring.

  In October, Eleanor gave birth to another daughter, Joanna, at Angers.30 Henry, however, remained in England. The Pipe Rolls and other records show that between September 1165 and March 1166 he was based mainly at Woodstock, leaving only to make brief trips to Winchester and Clarendon. Nor, for the first time since their marriage, did he join Eleanor, who was at Angers, for Christmas, but held his court alone at Oxford. Some writers have inferred from this that he was indulging his passion for Rosamund at Woodstock, but this is pure supposition.

  Henry was in fact hard at work on his programme of law reform. At an assize held at Clarendon early in 1166, he confirmed the Constitutions of Clarendon. It was his intention that from now on his justice would be enforced in every part of his realm, and, among other reforms, he authorised his sheriffs and judges to hunt down criminals beyond the county boundaries and impose more severe punishments.

  At the beginning of March the King prepared to sail to Normandy, but at the last minute changed his mind and returned to Woodstock,31 with the intention, some writers fancifully suggest, of saying a final farewell to Rosamund. On 16 March he was back at Southampton, whence he crossed to Falaise; he would not return to his kingdom for another four years. He marched immediately on Maine, there to teach the barons who had rebelled against him, as well as those who had slighted Eleanor, a lesson they would not forget, destroying their castles and crushing their resistance.32 At Easter he joined Eleanor at Angers and held court there. Around this time, she conceived her last child.

  Late in May, Henry went to Chinon, an imposing fortress above the River Vienne in Anjou, which was one of his favourite residences. While he was here, it was given out that he was laid low by illness, and he did not emerge until July. Although John of Salisbury believed it to be genuine, the illness may have been a tactical ploy designed to avert Becket's repeated threats of excommunication, since the Church's ban could not be imposed on someone who was sick. Despite the efforts of King Louis and others, Henry and Becket were no nearer reconciliation than they had been two years before.

  At Pentecost, Becket went to Vezelay, where he preached a sermon and excommunicated all those who had been the authors of the Constitutions of Clarendon; he did not carry out his threat to

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  excommunicate the King because of Henry's illness." Henry wept tears of rage when he received at Chinon news of the excommunications,34 and at his urgent request-- and that of his ally the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, whose support Alexander III so desired-- the Pope agreed to annul the sentences and forbid Becket to molest Henry further. An angry Empress Matilda wrote in brisk terms to Becket, castigating him for showing the King such gross ingratitude for all the favours he had showered upon him, and warning him that his only hope of regaining royal favour lay in humbling himself and moderating his behaviour. Becket did not trouble to reply.

  In July the King finally turned his attention to Brittany, where his vassal, Count Conan IV, had failed to keep order during Henry's absence. The King deposed him, secured control of the whole of the county, and-- betrothing his own son Geoffrey, aged eight, to Constance, Conan's five-year-old daughter and heiress-- rode to Rennes. There, in the name of Geoffrey, Henry formally took possession of what he was now pleased to call the duchy of Brittany. In the autumn, the lords of Brittany reluctantly paid homage to him at Thouars, but it would be two years before their resistance to his rule was crushed.

  By October, Henry was in residence at Caen in Normandy, ready to deal with the Aquitanian rebels. Summoning them to meet him at Chinon on 20 November, he declared his intention of honouring them by holding his Christmas court at Poitiers, where he would present to them their future overlord. The Poitevins were unimpressed and went home to resume their plotting.

  Henry had decided against Eleanor accompanying him to Poitiers. This may have been because he knew that she was opposed to his choice of the Lord Henry, rather than the Lord Richard, as her heir to the duchy of Aquitaine. Henry was already designated the heir to England, Anjou, and Normandy, while Geoffrey had Brittany. If Henry received Aquitaine as well, Richard would have no inheritance at all. If, as seems highly likely, Richard was Eleanor's favourite son, then such an arrangement could not have won her approval. During the autumn, therefore, Henry sent her and their daughter Matilda back to England.

  At the end of the year, having arranged for the Lord Henry to cross the Channel at a cost of £100,35 the Queen spent some time travelling in Oxfordshire before retiring to the King's House (Beaumont Palace) in Oxford for her confinements6 On Christmas Eve 1166,37 she gave birth to her last child, a son, whom she called John,38 in honour of the saint on whose feast day he was born.

  Henry again presided alone over his Christmas court, which was held that year at Poitiers. As he had promised, he presented the Lord Henry to the Poitevins as their future duke.39

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  * * *

  Early in the new year of 1166, Henry quelled a rebellion by William Taillefer, one of Eleanor's uncles, in Aquitaine, then after Easter marched against the Count of Auvergne, who was intriguing with King Louis against Henry

  Eleanor seems to have remained in England. The Pipe Rolls record visits with her children to Carisbrooke Castle and payments to their governess, who was called Agatha.

  She was also busy preparing for the Lady Ma
tilda's wedding to Henry of Saxony. In July the Emperor's envoys arrived in England to escort the eleven-year-old princess to Germany. Her parents had provided her with a magnificent trousseau, which included clothing worth £63, "two large silken cloths and two tapestries, and one cloth of samite and twelve sable skins," as well as twenty pairs of saddlebags, twenty chests, seven saddles gilded and covered with scarlet, and thirty-four packhorses. The total cost amounted to £4,500, which was equal to almost one-quarter of England's entire annual revenue, and was raised by the imposition of various taxes, authorised by the King.40

  During the summer Henry met Louis in the Vexin in an attempt to pacify the French King's growing hostility; he was not entirely successful, but in August, at the behest of the Empress Matilda, the two kings did agree on a truce of sorts.

  This did not prevent Louis from supporting an insurrection in Brittany, which kept Henry occupied during August and September. No sooner had he suppressed it than he received news that his mother, the Empress Matilda, whose health had for some time been failing, was seriously ill in Rouen with a fever. Henry hastened from Brittany to be with her, but she died on 10 September before he could reach her.41 She was buried initially in the convent of Bonnes at Nouvelles and soon afterwards translated to Bee Abbey,42 where her epitaph read: "Here lies Henry's daughter, wife and mother: great by birth, greater by marriage, but greatest by motherhood."

 
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