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

  Richard was now nearly fifteen, and was considered by his parents to be old enough to exercise power in Aquitaine. This did not mean that Eleanor intended to relinquish all her authority to her son, but that she wished to formalise his position and intended to rule her duchy in association with him.

  On 11 June 1172, 16 in the abbey of Saint-Martial at Limoges, Richard, wearing a silk tunic and gold coronet, was invested with the ring of St. Valerie, a Roman martyr and the city's patron saint, and publicly proclaimed Duke of Aquitaine. It seems probable that this ceremony was revived by Eleanor not only to emphasise the continuity of


  the ducal line but also to make reparation to the people of Limoges for Henry's oppressive rule, under which they had suffered more than most.17 After the investiture, there was a banquet such as had not been seen in the city for many years.

  Richard, Duke of Aquitaine, was made of sterner stuff than the Young King. "Henry was a shield, but Richard was a hammer," observed Giraldus Cambrensis.

  Eleanor's second surviving son was "tall in stature"-- his height has been estimated as six feet five inches-- "graceful in figure; his hair between red and auburn; his limbs were straight and flexible, his arms rather long, and not to be matched for wielding the sword, and his long legs suited the rest of his frame, while his appearance was commanding and his manners and habits suitable."18 He had inherited his father's piercing blue eyes. The realistic tomb effigies of him at Fontevrault and Rouen, although by different sculptors, show a remarkable similarity and may be attempts at a likeness.

  He was essentially a child of the south. The langue d'oc was his native tongue, and he had spent most of his formative years in his mother's domains. He had received a very good education, not only in knightly and military skills but also in the schoolroom, where he learned to read and write and mastered Latin. The troubadour culture of the south was an inspiration to him, leading him to compose competent verses and songs in both French and Provencal. He loved music, and would sing with and conduct the choir in his private chapel.19 He was also a patron of artists and poets such as Bertran de Born, who became friends with Richard after years of enmity between them.

  It was Bertran who bestowed on his patron the nickname "Oc e No" (Yea-and-Nay), which reflected Richard's single-mindedness and his determination never to break his word. The name stuck throughout Richard's life; the epithet Coeur de Lion, or the Lionheart, is not recorded until a decade after his death, and is thought to have been first used by the troubadour chronicler Peyrols, although Richard of Devizes had called Richard "that fearful lion" during his lifetime.

  He was undoubtedly his mother's favourite child.20 She idolised him, referring to him as "the great one," while he, she knew, "reposed all his trust in her, next to God."21 Ralph of Diceto states that Richard "strove in all things to bring glory to his mother's name." This special relationship is reflected in official documents, where Eleanor calls John her "dear" son (dilectum) and Richard her "very dear" son (carissimum).

  Richard was a person of consummate ability, gifted in many ways. A man of immense courage and daring, he would in time become renowned as one of the greatest generals and strategists of the age, one greatly feared and respected by his enemies. Ralph of Diceto called him


  "a man dedicated to the work of Mars". Like the Young King, he was a master of the generous gesture, but less extravagant, less accessible, and also notoriously avaricious. Unlike the Young King, he was not interested in tournaments, preferring to gain military experience in real warfare, but he loved hunting. He was a natural leader, and inspired many to follow him, either through fear or admiration. "Why need we expend labour extolling so great a man?" asked one chronicler. "He needs no superfluous commendation. He was superior to all others."22

  Like all the Angevins, Richard was of a volatile disposition and had a savage temper, although he was far more violent and cruel than his father. He was ruthless, unscrupulous, and predatory. The author of the Gesta Henrici Secundi thought him "bad to all, worse to his friends, and worst of all to himself." He was proud, reckless, quarrelsome, and obsessive, often to his own detriment. "Impatient of injury, he was impelled irresistibly to vindicate his rights."23 Nevertheless, he could sometimes be forgiving towards those who had defied him.

  The evidence that survives suggests that, as Richard grew older, he gained a reputation for promiscuity. He did not scruple to resort to rape: "he carried off the wives, daughters and kinswomen of his freemen by force, and made them his concubines, and when he had sated his lust on them, he handed them over to his knights for whoring." He was once accused by a preacher, Fulk of Neuilly, of begetting three shameless daughters: Pride, Avarice, and Sensuality-- to which he cynically retorted, "I give my daughter Pride to the Knights Templar, my daughter Avarice to the Cistercians, and my daughter Sensuality to the princes of the Church."24 Unlike his father, he had only one acknowledged bastard, Philip, born of an unknown mistress before 1189.25

  Richard was ambitious, but he was not interested in usurping his elder brother's role. He "cared not an egg" for England: all his ambition was focused upon Poitou and Aquitaine. Here, he was well known and popular, winning the affection of the common folk by acts of condescension and generosity.26

  While in Limoges, Eleanor joined Richard in laying the foundation stone of the abbey of St. Augustine. The Queen's movements between June and December 1172 are not recorded, but she probably remained in Poitou and Aquitaine with Richard.

  Henry was now becoming obsessed with bringing the Young King to heel. Determined to keep an eye on him, he dragged him from Avranches to the Auvergne to meet Count Humbert of Maurienne, who had come to finalise his daughter's betrothal to John. When the Count inquired as to the Lord John's inheritance, Henry told him that


  on his death John would receive three continental castles-- Chinon, Loudun, and Mirebeau-- and some estates in the English midlands, all of which had hitherto been assigned to the Young King. Despite his fury, young Henry was forced to witness the marriage treaty.27

  On 27 August the Young King was crowned a second time-- this time at Winchester, along with Marguerite of France. The Bishop of Evreux officiated, since the See of Canterbury was still vacant and the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of London and Salisbury had been forbidden by the Pope to attend.28 The King was not present at this second crowning, having gone to Brittany, but his hopes that it would go some way towards appeasing Louis were fulfilled,29 and it was probably soon afterwards that the Young King and Young Queen began living together as man and wife.

  Henry returned to Normandy in September. There, on the 27th, the Pope having approved the terms agreed at Avranches, he again received absolution.

  During November, King Louis invited his daughter and son-in-law to Paris, ostensibly for a family reunion, but in reality in the hope of driving a wedge between the Young King and his father and exploiting this to his own advantage. He was well aware of the growing rift between Henry and his son, and Henry virtually played into his hands because, when the young couple visited him in Normandy before departing for Paris, and the Young King again demanded his inheritance, the King once again adamantly refused, even reproaching his son for his temerity, which only provoked further bitterness. Between the Young King and the old "a deadly hatred sprang up"; the father had not only "taken away [the son's] will," but had also "filched something of his lordship."30

  In Paris, Louis listened sympathetically to the Young King's grievances and strongly advised him to demand a share of his father's dominions. But their plotting was abruptly curtailed because Henry, perhaps suspecting that Louis was up to something, summoned the Young King back to Normandy for Christmas. Burning with resentment, the young man obeyed, but he did not join his parents. Instead, in a typically extravagant gesture, he ordered his heralds to summon all the knights in Normandy called William to feast with him: no of them turned up.31

  By this time the Young King ha
d become friendly with the troubadour Bertran de Born, who was twice his age. An intelligent but violent man of many talents, Bertran had become lord of Hautfort Castle in the Dordogne after driving his elder brother from their family estate. He had two passions in life: writing poetry and making war, and there were many who believed he exerted a sinister influence over the


  Young King. He was perhaps one of the people who "whispered in his ear that he ought now by rights to reign alone, for at his coronation, his father's reign had, as it were, ceased."32

  Henry and Eleanor spent the festival at Chinon with Richard and Geoffrey. It is almost certain that Eleanor had taken the Young King's part, and that it was this issue that caused the final falling out between her and Henry, for by 1173 it is clear that her sympathies lay wholeheartedly with her sons and, like a lioness fighting to protect her cubs, she was prepared to resort to drastic measures to ensure that they received their just deserts. Her estrangement from Henry was now virtually complete.

  Henry's heavy-handed imposition of his authority and his loss of international prestige following the murder of Becket had by now led to the disaffection of a large number of his vassals throughout the empire, particularly in Poitou and Aquitaine. Their enmity and resentment appear to have been systematically exploited by the Queen and her three eldest sons, and with the support of King Louis, who feared that the dispositions of Montmirail were at risk through Henry's obduracy, a formidable coalition was formed.

  The stage was now set for the most dangerous rebellion ever to confront the King. The origins of the conspiracy are unknown, but it is clear that different people had different objectives. The Young King and his brothers wanted autonomous power in the lands assigned to them, even if it meant the overthrow of their father; Eleanor wanted justice for her sons and consequently more power and influence for herself. This, she must have known, could only be achieved through the removal of her husband from the political scene. She was prepared to countenance this, which is surely proof that whatever feelings she had had for him had long since died. Henry's vassals wanted an end to his dictatorial government, and were therefore prepared to support anyone who could offer an alternative. King Louis was ready to seize any chance to undermine the might of the Angevins, even to the extent of allying himself with his former wife.

  That there was contact between Eleanor and Louis is certain-- he was her overlord and she had every right to ask him for aid against her enemies-- but it was made so secretly that no details survive. The chroniclers are vague as to her role in the rebellion, but almost all of them imply that she was a prime mover in it, so it may therefore have been she who approached Louis. Gervase of Canterbury and William of Newburgh claim that the whole uprising had been devised and executed by her, while Richard FitzNigel asserts that, while the King's sons "were yet young and, by reason of their age, easily swayed by any emotion, certain little foxes corrupted them with bad advice, so that at


  last his own bowels [i.e., his wife] turned against him and told her sons to persecute their father." Ralph of Diceto accuses Eleanor of corrupting the minds of her sons with folly and sedition.

  Others were not so sure: the anonymous Gesta Henrici Secundi states: "the authors of this heinous treachery were Louis, King of France, and, as some say, Eleanor, Queen of England, and Raoul de Faye." Roger of Hoveden also suspected Raoul de Faye of acting as Eleanor's evil genius. If all this is true, then the rift between Eleanor and Henry went very deep, so deep that Eleanor was prepared to resort to treason and the betrayal of her marriage bond to have her revenge.

  The seer Merlin had foretold: "The cubs shall awake and shall roar loud, and, leaving the woods, shall seek their prey within the walls of the cities. Among those who shall be in their way they shall make great carnage, and shall tear out the tongues of bulls. The necks of them as they roar aloud they shall load with chains, and shall thus renew the times of their forefathers."33 The cubs were widely believed to be the sons of Henry II, and in such a mood did they prepare to rise against their father.


  13. "Beware of Your Wife and Sons"

  On 21 February 1173, in response to overwhelming popular demand, Becket was canonised by Pope Alexander III. His cult had by now spread so widely that, soon afterwards, an order of Knights of St. Thomas of Acre was established in the Holy Land. Many miracles were attributed to the new saint, numerous churches were dedicated to him, as well as a famous hospital in London, and his image appeared everywhere. The shrine erected to him at Canterbury grew rich and remained the most popular place of pilgrimage in Christendom until the Reformation, when Henry VIII dismantled it, appropriated its jewels for the royal treasury, and had Becket's bones exhumed, tried, condemned, and burned for having dared to oppose his king.

  Between 21 and 28 February 1173, Henry and Eleanor and their two eldest sons hosted a week of lavish banquets and festivities at Limoges in honour of Alfonso II, King of Aragon; Sancho VI, King of Navarre; Count Humbert of Maurienne; and Count Raymond V of Toulouse. During this assembly, the betrothal of the Lord John to Alice of Maurienne was finalised, and four-year-old Alice was committed to the care of Henry, who placed her in Eleanor's household. Count Humbert designated John his heir and gave the King four well-fortified castles.1

  Raymond of Toulouse, having finally conceded Eleanor's ancestral claim to Toulouse, was at Limoges to pay homage to Henry and his sons and acknowledge them as his overlords. He had decided to throw in his lot with the Angevins because he had fallen out with the French King, the rift having occurred when Raymond repudiated Constance of France, Louis's sister. After that, Louis was no longer inclined to support Raymond's claim to Toulouse.

  Some Poitevin nobles were angry that Raymond had paid homage to Henry and the Young King, rather than just to Richard, whose right to Toulouse had been agreed by King Louis; it is likely that Eleanor


  was angry too, and that her anger strengthened her resolve to fight for her sons' rights.

  It was during this week that the Young King spoke out publicly against his father's refusal to delegate power to him and his brothers, and against Henry's decision to assign to his brother John the castles and lands that were rightly his. He insisted that he had no wish to give John these properties, and that the King had no right to dispose of them without his consent. He also complained of not having been assigned any lands from which he could draw an income suitable to his royal estate.

  When Henry refused to accede to his demands, the Young King pointed out that it was King Louis's wish, and that of the barons of England and Normandy, that he do so. At that moment, Henry realised that there were more forces at work against him than he had suspected, and guessed that Louis and others were actively working to drive a wedge between him and his heir. It does not seem to have occurred to him that Eleanor might be foremost among them.

  There was much intriguing going on behind the scenes. Raymond of Toulouse is said to have encouraged Eleanor and her sons in their plotting,2 but either his conscience or respect for his feudal oath, or simply a desire to stir up trouble, prompted him to take the King aside and warn him, "I advise you, King, to beware of your wife and sons."3 But Henry obviously did not believe that Eleanor would stoop to such perfidy: in that age, it was unthinkable that a wife would so forget her marriage vows.

  He nevertheless heeded the substance of Raymond's warning. In the belief that it was they who were sowing the seeds of sedition, he summarily banished many knights from the Young King's household, a measure that only served to fuel his son's hatred.4 Then, early in March, as he rode north through Aquitaine, the King set the affairs of the duchy in order, placed his garrisons on war alert, and left Eleanor in charge at Poitiers with Richard and Geoffrey, something he would certainly not have done had he suspected Eleanor of fomenting trouble against him. As far as he was concerned, it was the Young King who was causing all the trouble, and Henry was determined not to let him out of his sight.
  Henry pressed on towards Normandy, dragging the Young King with him. 5 On 5 March they stayed at Chinon, Henry insisting that they sleep in the same room, but during the night the Young King, "following wicked advice,"6 prevailed upon the castle guards to lower the drawbridge and allow him to escape, and in the morning Henry woke to find his son gone. He immediately sent messengers after him, but they returned with news that the Young King had crossed the Loire


  and headed north in the direction of Normandy. Henry gave chase, racing through Le Mans, Alençon, and Argentan, but he was too late: his son had abruptly swung east, crossed the French border on 8 March, and fled to Paris.7

  It was clear that his escape had been planned, since fresh horses had awaited him along the route. It has been suggested that Eleanor had devised it, but it is unlikely she could have done so without the assistance and approval of King Louis. His son's escape confirmed Henry's worst fears.

  In Paris the Young King and King Louis pledged themselves to aid each other against their common enemy. Isolated at the French border, Henry sent a deputation of bishops to Paris to ask Louis to return his son.8

  "Who is it that sends this message to me?" Louis asked.

  "The King of England," was the bishops' puzzled reply.

  "That is not so," retorted Louis. "The King of England is here. But if you still call king his father, who was formerly king of England, know that he is no longer king. Although he may still act as king, all the world knows that he resigned his kingdom to his son."9

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]