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


  Later that month, Eleanor and the Earls of Arundel and Pembroke, with a large retinue, accompanied the younger Matilda to Dover,43 where she embarked on the German ship that was to take her to her new life in Germany. One account claims that Eleanor sailed with her to Normandy, but if she did, she must have returned to England immediately.44 For the next few weeks Eleanor was resident at Winchester, where she seems to have gathered her movable goods for shipment to the continent, for in December she required seven ships to transport her possessions to Normandy.45

  The reason for this was almost certainly political. During the autumn, after Henry had once again been obliged to make a progress

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  through Aquitaine to quieten its rebellious lords,46 it seems to have occurred to him that Eleanor's presence in the duchy, and the reassertion of her authority as duchess, might help to calm the opposition to his rule. Apparently he had therefore decided that she should be based in Poitiers for the foreseeable future. This was not, as some historians have speculated, a marital separation as such, since throughout their marriage Henry and Eleanor had, of necessity, spent long periods apart. However, internal evidence suggests that it was not an entirely unwelcome change for Eleanor.

  Once the King had imposed a superficial peace upon Aquitaine, he returned north to Normandy, where he remained until Christmas, when he and Eleanor presided together over a court held at Argentan.

  On 1 February 1168 the Lady Matilda was married to the Duke of Saxony at Brunswick in Germany. Although twenty-four years her senior, Henry the Lion was a brave, cultivated, and enlightened man who was a notable patron of the arts and the Church. The marriage proved happy and fruitful and led to the expansion of trade between England and the Empire.

  Before the King could implement his plan to install Eleanor in Poitiers, the ill feeling in Aquitaine finally erupted into serious revolt. The powerful Lusignan family-- "who yielded to no yoke or ever kept faith with any overlord"-- and the Count of Angouleme and other lords of Aquitaine rose up again in violent rebellion against Angevin rule, threatening to offer their allegiance directly to King Louis. 47 Henry hurried south to deal with them, taking Eleanor with him-- perhaps in order to remind her vassals to whom they owed allegiance-- and leaving her in the vicinity of Lusignan 48 in the care of Earl Patrick of Salisbury, Henry's deputy and military governor in Aquitaine, with a small force of soldiers.

  It was perhaps on the way south that Eleanor left young John at Fontevrault, where for the next five years he would be reared as an oblate.49 His parents had apparently decided to dedicate him to the Church, a common practice in an age when families were large and it was difficult to make adequate provision for every child. It is also possible that the Ladies Eleanor and Joanna were brought up at Fontevrault, although neither was destined for the Church, being valuable marriage pawns for Henry's foreign alliances.

  The King, meanwhile, had begun methodically and ruthlessly to crush the rebel lords. Marching on the reputedly impregnable castle of Lusignan, which stood on the road between Poitiers and Niort, he razed it to the ground and ravaged the surrounding lands,50 forcing the

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  dispossessed Lusignans, along with other rebels, to seek aid and asylum from King Louis.

  By Easter the rising had been crushed, and Henry rode north to meet Louis for a peace conference at Pacy on the Norman border, to avert the very real prospect of a war between them. But the Lusignans had not yet finished with him.

  On 27 March, Eleanor, accompanied by Earl Patrick and a small escort, was travelling along a road near Lusignan. Her party was probably enjoying a hawking expedition, since the men wore no armour. Without warning, they were ambushed by Guy de Lusignan and his brother Geoffrey 51 at the head of an armed force. Their intention was to take the Queen hostage and ransom her for generous concessions from Henry. Hastily, the Earl bade the Queen mount his fastest horse and gallop to the relative safety of the ruined castle nearby, while he dealt with their attackers. During the ensuing skirmish, he was fatally stabbed in the back as he hurriedly donned his hauberk, and it was left to his courageous nephew, Sir William the Marshal, to hold off the enemy, which he did with consummate skill before being wounded and captured.52

  William the Marshal had recently been knighted; his surname was actually derived from the office of Marshal of England, which he would inherit from his brother in 1199, but for the purposes of clarity it will be used henceforth. Now aged about twenty-two, he was the fourth son of an obscure Wiltshire baron. With no inheritance to look forward to, he had sought to make a living as a soldier of fortune. He had gained a reputation as a champion at tournaments and won many rich prizes; the Queen herself had once watched his performance in the melee, and had been deeply impressed.

  William was a tall man of dignified bearing with brown hair. He was devoted to the Angevin family, and in time many of its members would come to recognise the loyalty, courage, and integrity for which Eleanor now had cause to be grateful.

  The Queen, who subsequently gave money to the abbey of Sainte-Hilaire in Poitiers for annual masses for Earl Patrick's soul, was impressed by William's valour and ransomed him from the Lusignans, who had cruelly refused to dress his wounds. When he presented himself before her in Poitiers, she rewarded him and thereafter took a special interest in his career: "valiant and courteous lady that she was, she bestowed upon him horses, arms, gold and rich garments, and more than all opened her palace gates and fostered his ambition, who had fought like a wild boar against dogs."53 She also, with the King's approval, appointed him guardian, tutor, and master in chivalry to the Lord Henry,

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  and before long the two became inseparable companions. Thus was the Marshal-- whom Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, would later refer to as "the best knight who ever lived"-- launched on a spectacular career that would see him loyally befriending five English kings and would culminate, fifty years later, in his ruling England as regent for the young Henry III.

  Henry and Louis had meanwhile negotiated rather complicated peace terms. It was Louis who urged that, rather than leave the whole of his empire to the Lord Henry, Henry should divide his lands between all his sons except John, who was destined for the Church. Henry agreed to this, failing to perceive Louis's real motives, for the French King greatly feared the might of the Angevins and knew well that a house divided against itself might ultimately lay itself open to conquest.

  The peace terms were as follows: the Lord Henry was to pay homage to the French King for Anjou and Maine and also for Brittany, which his younger brother Geoffrey would hold as his vassal, while the Lord Richard was to pay homage to Louis for Aquitaine.

  No sooner had this peace been concluded than word reached Henry of the latest outrage perpetrated by the Lusignans. However, before he could return to Poitou, he was informed that Eudes de Porhoet, the father of Conan IV of Brittany, had risen against him, determined to avenge Henry's seduction of his daughter Alice, whom the King had taken as a hostage for her family's good behaviour. There is reason to believe that this accusation was true, since in 1168 Alice bore Henry a bastard child whose sex and fate are unknown.54 Henry, however, would not tolerate rebellion on any grounds and rode with a vengeance into Brittany, where, in July, he forced Eudes to surrender. By then his shaky alliance with Louis was already crumbling; the French King had allied himself with Henry's other enemy, William the Lyon, King of Scots, thus forging the first in a long tradition of Franco-Scottish alliances. For the rest of the year Henry was kept occupied by inconclusive skirmishes with the French in the area around Argentan.

  Throughout 1168, Eleanor seems to have remained in Poitiers, governing her own lands with Henry's approval and under his supervision. There were sound political as well as personal reasons for this arrangement, for her return to her own domains and the re-establishment of a ducal court did much to heal the wounds caused by thirty years of rule by alien overlords. Indeed, Eleanor did everything in her power to recover the loy
alty of her vassals: she went on a progress throughout Poitou and Aquitaine, and received the homage of local lords at Niort, Limoges, and Bayonne; she dismissed some of Henry's

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  unpopular seneschals, encouraged exiled barons to return home and be restored to their lands, revived old fairs and customs, and renewed the ancient privileges of towns and abbeys.

  According to Richard of Devizes, she had also decided to live apart from Henry and remain permanently in her own domains with her heir Richard, a decision that "troubled" the King "like that of Oedipus," although he did not oppose it. That it was Eleanor who initiated their separation is confirmed in a letter written by Rotrou of Warwick, Archbishop of Rouen, in 1173.55 We do not know when she reached this decision, but it must have been after Henry's concord with Louis in June, because prior to that date the Lord Henry had been the designated heir to Aquitaine.

  Historians have endlessly speculated as to the reasons for the separation. Some have suggested that Henry's love for Rosamund de Clifford was a major factor, yet the evidence suggests that Eleanor had turned a blind eye to his frequent infidelities almost from the time of their marriage-- she cannot have failed to notice how his barons kept their wives and daughters out of the way of the King's lusts6-- and we know that she had tolerated the presence of his bastard son Geoffrey in her household. She was, after all, a woman of the world, and had, as we have seen, almost certainly indulged in affairs of her own. No contemporary chronicler asserts that she was jealous of Rosamund.

  It has been claimed that Eleanor was hurt because Henry was in love with Rosamund, while his other affairs had been purely of a physical nature, yet Henry had in fact been emotionally involved with another woman before: prior to 1162, "the King had at one time passionately loved" Rohese de Clare.57 It is unlikely therefore that Henry's love for Rosamund was the chief cause of the breakdown. Nor was Eleanor humiliated by his public flaunting of his mistress, as some writers allege, since he kept his affair with Rosamund secret until 1174.58

  Age may have had a bearing on Eleanor's decision. She was now forty-six, by mediaeval standards an old woman, while Henry, at thirty-five, was a vigorous man in his prime. She had borne him eight children and may well have felt that, having done her duty, she had no need to remain in a marriage that had gone stale. It is perhaps significant therefore that it was in 1168, when she was perhaps undergoing menopause, that Eleanor decided to separate from Henry.

  She may also have decided that she preferred living in her native land with a relative degree of autonomy as its duchess than as Henry's wife and queen, relegated to a subordinate role. As we have seen, it suited Henry, and was in everyone's interests, for her to do this. Both Eleanor and Henry seem to have felt that, in view of the volatile nature of Aquitanian politics, she should be resident in the duchy with her heir

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  to safeguard his inheritance, and they probably intended that in time he would become associated with her in the government of her lands and would ultimately relieve her of that responsibility. It has also been suggested-- and with good reason, given what we know of the nature of her future relationship with him-- that Eleanor found in the love of her son Richard the emotional fulfilment that was lacking in her relationship with Henry. It is clear that mother and son had a special affection for each other.

  We may also speculate that, as in many marriage breakdowns, the partners had become incompatible. The King, as Giraldus pointed out, was a difficult man to live with, and both he and Eleanor were strong characters determined to have their own way. William FitzStephen makes it clear that Henry was not above venting his wrath on Eleanor, and implies that, out of fear and respect, she would resort to subterfuge and massaging the truth in order to avoid the lash of his harsh tongue. Moreover, he lived a chaotic, often squalid existence, which Eleanor may well have contrasted unfavourably with the relaxed, civilised lifestyle she could enjoy in Aquitaine.

  Despite her separation from the King, Eleanor retained an interest in events in other parts of the Angevin empire, maintaining a working relationship with her estranged husband in the interests of their children, fulfilling her ceremonial role as queen when necessary, and occasionally acting as the King's deputy in Normandy and Anjou.

  Eleanor set up her court at Poitiers, taking up residence in the Maubergeonne Tower, where the recently refurbished private apartments were unusually spacious and luxurious. She continued to wear rich clothes and jewellery, as her grants to Poitevin merchants in the early 1170s confirm. Henry allowed her to have her children with her, and she also received into her household, which at times included as many as sixty ladies,« her daughter-in-law Marguerite of France and the affianced wives of her younger sons.

  Raoul de Faye, as seneschal of Poitou, remained one of her most trusted advisers, and in 1170 and 1173 his talents would also be deployed by Henry in negotiating the marriages of two of the royal children, Eleanor and John respectively.

  It has been claimed by every one of her biographers that Eleanor's court at Poitiers was modelled on that of her Aquitanian forebears, and that it became a centre of chivalry, patronage, and troubadour culture, a place where the art of courtly love flourished. Until recently, it was believed by serious historians-- and is still believed by a few writers--

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  that, in association with her daughter Marie, Countess of Champagne, Eleanor presided at Poitiers over the now legendary Courts of Love.

  It is true that the southern troubadours continued to sing the praises of their ageing Duchess in their songs and verses; Riguad de Barbezieux praises her as being "more than a lady," while the notorious Bertran de Born, a troubadour and robber baron who was to become the close friend of the Lord Henry, dedicated many of his chansons to "noble Eleanora." It is also probably true, although there is little evidence for it, that Eleanor encouraged troubadours and poets to come to her court and receive the benefits of her patronage.

  The Courts of Love, however, were almost certainly no more than a literary conceit invented between 1174 and 1196 by Andreas Capellanus, a chaplain at the court of Marie of Champagne at Troyes, for the purposes of his treatise on courtoisie, called Tractatus de amore et de amoris remedio. In this work, which was inspired by Ovid and written after Eleanor's court at Poitiers had been dismantled, Andreas describes Eleanor; her daughter Marie; her niece Isabella, Countess of Flanders; Emma of Anjou (Henry's bastard sister); and Ermengarde, Countess of Narbonne presiding over a tribunal at which young gallants sought judgement in intellectual disputes on the subject of courtly love. Those who had acted correctly towards their chosen ladies were awarded the palm of amorous courtesy.

  The Tractatus claims that the judgements of the tribunal were made according to a "code of love" comprising thirty-one articles. Eleanor's appearance in this work owes far more to her reputation than to her actual deeds. She is recorded as giving three undated judgements, while Marie of Champagne is alleged to have pronounced in 1174-- the only date given in the book-- that true love cannot exist between husband and wife (a sentiment that Eleanor would perhaps have echoed).

  Eleanor's first "judgement" was against a woman who refused to take back a lover who, having obtained her permission to transfer his affections elsewhere, then returned to her, insisting that he had remained faithful. The second case was that of a woman who had to choose between a mature knight of great integrity and a young man devoid of worth. The Queen is portrayed as declaring that the woman would be wiser to choose the worthier man. Her third "judgement" condemned consanguinous marriages. Since the Tractatus was written at the court of the Count of Champagne, who was hostile to Henry II, these last two judgements may be perceived to be a satirical comment on Eleanor's own marital history, for not only had she made two consanguinous marriages, but she had also left a reputedly saintly king for a younger man of dubious reputation.

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  Had these Courts of Love ever existed, they would undoubtedly have attracted publicity, for the doctrines expound
ed in them were still regarded as subversive in certain circles. Yet, apart from the Tractatus, there is no evidence in any contemporary source for their existence. Nor is there evidence that either of Eleanor's daughters by Louis ever visited her at Poitiers; nor that she visited them or was ever in contact with them. It must therefore be concluded that the Courts of Love were nothing more than a literary fiction.

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  11. "The Holy Martyr"

  Henry spent the Christmas of 1168 at Argentan, while Eleanor held her own Yuletide court at Poitiers. On 6 January 1169 Henry, accompanied by his two eldest sons, both splendidly accoutred, and a fine retinue of knights and barons, met King Louis at the castle of Montmirail in Maine 1 to enshrine their peace agreement in a treaty designed to secure a lasting peace between the two kings.

  The Treaty of Montmirail provided that, after Henry's death, his dominions were to be divided among his three eldest sons: the Lord Henry was to receive England, Normandy, and Anjou; the Lord Richard was to receive Aquitaine, and hold it-- as his mother did-- as a vassal of the French crown; and the Lord Geoffrey was to retain Brittany, holding it as a vassal of his eldest brother and in right of his future wife Constance. Finally, the betrothal of Richard to Alys of France was to take place forthwith, and she was to have as her dowry the county of Berry, which lay between the borders of Touraine and Aquitaine, and which Henry had long coveted.

  On 7 January, after the treaty had been concluded, King Henry renewed his allegiance to Louis for his continental fiefs, and the Lord Henry did homage to his father-in-law for the duchy of Brittany, being afterwards appointed Seneschal of France;2 he and his brother Richard also paid homage as heirs to the lands they were destined to inherit on their father's death.3 It was agreed that Geoffrey would swear fealty to Louis in person at a later date; meanwhile, Louis formally approved his betrothal to Constance of Brittany 4 Richard and Alys were betrothed, and she was formally handed over into Henry's wardship.5

 
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