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


  Returning to Henry, the bishops warned him, "Look to the safety of your castles and the security of your person."10 Henry correctly interpreted Louis's words as an open declaration of war. Soon afterwards many of his vassals on both sides of the Channel openly declared their support for the Young King.11 William the Marshal stood by him, and so did Bertran de Born, who is thought to have influenced the young man strongly. The poet Dante, in his Inferno, pictures de Born burning in Hell for this:

  Bertran dal Bornio, be it known, am I,

  Who urged the Young King to rebel.

  Father and son at enmity I set.

  "Soon after," according to William of Newburgh, "the younger Henry, devising evil against his father from every side by the advice of the French King, went secretly into Aquitaine where his two youthful brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, were living with their mother, and with her connivance, so it is said, he incited them to join him."

  Eleanor's involvement is also attested to by Ralph of Diceto, who says that Richard and Geoffrey "chose to follow their brother rather than their father-- in this, they say, following the advice of their mother Eleanor."12

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  Geoffrey, Duke of Brittany, Eleanor's fourth son, was now nearly fifteen. Unlike his elder brothers, he was dark-haired, short of stature, and neither good-looking nor of gracious bearing, although he could be charming and persuasive when he wanted. Nevertheless, despite being energetic, daring, and skilled at the knightly arts, he possessed little of his brothers' talent for inspiring love, loyalty, or confidence. The fact was that Geoffrey was dangerous, slippery, treacherous, and grasping. He had joined the rebels with a determination not so much to support the Young King as to rule Brittany without interference from his father.

  He was perhaps the most intelligent of the Angevin brood, but he used his talents for evil purposes. Giraldus Cambrensis called him

  one of the wisest of men, had he not been so ready to deceive others. His real nature had more of bitter aloes in it than honey; outwardly he had a ready flow of words, smoother than oil, and, possessed by his syrupy and persuasive eloquence, was able to corrupt two kingdoms with his tongue. He was of tireless endeavour, but a hypocrite in everything, who could never be trusted and who had a marvellous gift for pretence and dissimulation.

  Roger of Hoveden called Geoffrey "that son of iniquity and perdition."

  Geoffrey's life would be that of an ambitious and opportunistic robber baron. Ruthless in warfare, he plundered at will, not hesitating to sack abbeys and shrines. He had few scruples, and he confronted his critics with devious and shameless excuses. For instance, when someone asked him why he could not be at peace with his family, he complacently replied, "Do you not know that it is our proper nature, planted in us by inheritance from our ancestors, that none of us should love the other, but that always, brother against brother and son against father, we try our utmost to injure one another?" 13

  Once her sons had left for Paris, Eleanor, along with Raoul de Faye, encouraged the lords of the south to rise up in their support; there was jubilation in some quarters at the prospect of ending the rule of the autocratic Angevin, which the troubadour Richard le Poitevin echoed in a verse composed around this time:

  Rejoice, O Aquitaine!

  Be jubilant, O Poitou!

  For the sceptre of the King of the North Wind

  Is drawing away from you.

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  Soon afterwards, Raoul de Faye went to Paris, where he may have acted as Eleanor's envoy.

  Henry had now begun to have suspicions about Eleanor's loyalty. There is some evidence to suggest that he had spies at her court, and they would certainly have reported the visit of the Young King. Knowing that Eleanor wielded great influence over her boys, and perhaps feeling that their disaffection was rooted in the rift between himself and her, he commanded Rotrou of Warwick, Archbishop of Rouen, to write to Eleanor reminding her of her duty towards her husband, asking her to use her influence to bring their sons to submission, and threatening her with excommunication if she refused to cooperate:

  Pious Queen, most illustrious Queen, we all of us deplore, and are united in our sorrow, that you, a prudent wife if ever there was one, should have parted from your husband. Once separated from the head, the limb no longer serves it. Still more terrible is the fact that you should have made the fruits of your union with our Lord King rise up against their father. For we know that, unless you return to your husband, you will be the cause of general ruin. Return then, O illustrious Queen, to your husband and our lord. Before events carry us to a dire conclusion, return with your sons to the husband whom you must obey and with whom it is your duty to live. Return, lest he mistrust you or your sons. Most surely we know that he will in every way possible show you his love and grant you the assurance of perfect safety. Bid your sons, we beg you, to be obedient and devoted to their father, who for their sakes has undergone so many difficulties, run so many dangers, undertaken so many labours. Either you will return to your husband, or else, by canon law, we shall be compelled and forced to bring the censure of the Church to bear on you. We say this with great reluctance, and shall do it with grief and tears, unless you return to your senses. 14

  Eleanor had no intention of returning to Henry or of abandoning her sons' cause, and there is no record of her replying to the Archbishop's letter. It may well have convinced her that she would be safer at the court of her former husband, for sometime between the end of March and the beginning of May, she left Poitiers to follow her sons to Paris, accompanied by a small escort. Discovering that she was being pursued, she "changed from her woman's clothes" and continued her journey disguised as a man, riding astride her mount. Soon afterwards, however, at an unspecified location, she was "apprehended" by men in Henry's pay, "detained in strict custody," and sent to the King in

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  Rouen.15 Historians have speculated as to whether she was betrayed by Poitevin spies working for Henry, since four Poitevins-- William Man-got, Portedie de Mauze, Foulques de Matha, and Herve le Panetier-- received valuable grants from him soon afterwards.16

  For the King, this was perhaps the bitterest betrayal of his life, and his vengeance would be thorough. He made no public announcement of the Queen's arrest, not wanting her disaffection advertised, but had her immediately confined in one of his fortresses, although no chronicler specifies which; Rouen would seem to have been the most obvious choice, since it was in the midst of territory friendly to Henry. It has been suggested that it was Chinon, but that was in an area infected by rebellion. It could also have been Falaise, where other rebels were later held, but Eleanor was no ordinary prisoner. Indeed, Henry may have had her moved several times. The fact is that, for the next year, her whereabouts are unknown, which is what the King probably intended.

  The chroniclers are unanimous in condemning Eleanor's treachery, which offended every contemporary concept of the duties and loyalty of a wife. Ralph of Diceto, looking into old chronicles, found more than thirty examples of sons rebelling against their fathers, but none of a queen rebelling against her husband. Giraldus Cambrensis was not surprised, however, and believed that Eleanor's conduct was inspired by God to punish the King for having entered into an incestuous marriage.

  On the advice of King Louis, the Young King and his brothers had promised lands and income to anyone willing to ally with them. Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders, offered his services in return for the promise of the earldom of Kent, the castles of Rochester and Dover, and £1,000 per annum in revenues.17 His brother Matthew, Count of Boulogne, was promised the county of Mortain, and the Count of Blois great estates in Touraine. King Louis had a seal made specially for the Young King-- he had left his own in Rouen-- so that he could formalise these grants to his followers.

  During the spring, Louis held a great court in Paris, which was attended by the Angevin princes. Here, the lords of France solemnly vowed to fight for the Young King, who in turn, with his brothers, undert
ook not to make peace with "the former King of the English" without the consent of King Louis and his chief vassals.18 Afterwards, Louis knighted Richard.

  By late spring the rebel coalition included not only Henry's sons and the King of France, but also the formidable might of the Counts of Flanders, Boulogne, Champagne, and Blois, several lords of Anjou,

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  Maine, Poitou, and Brittany, a number of English magnates, and even the King of Scots. Of all Henry's legitimate sons, "John alone, who was a little boy, remained with his father,"19 having been withdrawn from the abbey of Fontevrault. Henry's bastard Geoffrey, recently elected Bishop of Lincoln, also remained staunchly supportive. But of Henry's domains, only Normandy stayed substantially loyal, and it was the duchy that consequently bore the full force of the first enemy onslaughts.

  Hostilities broke out in May when the Young King, Duke Richard, and the Count of Flanders attacked Pacy in Normandy, and King Louis, assisted by Geoffrey of Brittany, bore down on the Vexin; on 29 June, the castle of Aumale fell to them, followed soon afterwards by that of Driencourt. As Louis invested Arques, with Rouen as his ultimate goal, Philip of Flanders laid siege to Henry's massive border fortress of Verneuil, withdrawing at the end of July only when his brother, the Count of Boulogne, died of wounds inflicted by a mercenary's crossbow bolt.20 In order to secure his succession in Flanders, Philip was obliged to withdraw from the conflict. Louis attempted to take Verneuil in his stead, but, hearing that Henry was advancing vengefully upon him "like a bear whose cubs have been stolen, decided that the best course of action was flight. Mounting a swift horse, he retreated with all speed into France."21

  During the course of the rebellion there was little open warfare, although many castles were besieged and numerous villages and towns plundered and burned. "Everywhere there was plotting, plundering and burning,"22 with Henry's sons "laying waste their father's lands on every side, with fire, sword and rapine." This scorched-earth policy was endorsed by most of the leaders, including the Count of Flanders, who declared: "First destroy the land, and then one's foe."

  Although Normandy was the main theatre of revolt, there were risings in other parts of the Angevin empire. In Anjou and Maine Henry's vassals openly renounced their loyalty to him. In September Count William of Angouleme, the brothers Guy and Geoffrey de Lusignan, and some of the lords of Poitou and the Angoumois-- among them Geoffrey de Rancon-- erupted in indignation at the King's high-handed oppression and his treatment of their duchess, and expelled his officials. Henry responded by invading Poitou with a large army of Brabantine mercenaries, who destroyed or captured castles in the region between Tours and Poitiers, burned vineyards, and uprooted crops.23 To the east, the rebellion in Brittany was speedily put down by Henry's Braban-tines. Having capitulated, the Breton rebels were imprisoned in the castle of Dol.

  Throughout the summer of 1173 the King fought hard to suppress

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  the rebels. He enlisted the support of the Church by filling vacant sees with his own supporters, and despite the Young King's appeals to a sympathetic Pope for redress against his father's policies, the Church remained loyal to Henry, as did the justiciar, Richard de Lucy; the judiciary; the departments of state; and the merchant classes who had prospered under his rule. Most people in England were on his side and, according to Ralph of Diceto, were so fearful of the rising spreading or the risk of invasion that they dispatched everything except the Tower of London across the Channel to implore the King to come to the rescue of his kingdom. Thanks to all this support, he achieved significant success.

  The Young King was too inexperienced to coordinate the various opposing armies, so it was King Louis who took command. Yet he too proved inept at organising the rebels into a cohesive force; nor was he able to prevent the divisions that arose among them. Nevertheless, Henry was hard-pressed to vanquish his enemies: as soon as one group of rebels was overcome, his attention was at once diverted to another. Only by skill, swiftness-- in July he marched 140 miles from Rouen to Dol in a day 24-- and a cool strategic appraisal of each situation did the King retain control.

  Seeing Henry emerging victorious, his enemies began suing for peace. On 25 September he met his sons and King Louis for a parley at Gisors underneath the branches of an ancient elm tree, a traditional meeting place of the kings of England and France. Henry offered his sons castles and allowances-- Richard was promised half the revenues of Aquitaine-- but made no mention of delegating any authority to them. On the advice of Louis, who was still set upon crushing Henry's power, the princes rejected his terms.25

  Meanwhile, England had been invaded from the north by the opportunist William the Lyon, King of Scots, who was not only sympathetic towards the Young King but also desirous of regaining Northumbria, which Henry had taken from him in 1157 and which the Young King had promised to return to him. The Scottish forces proceeded to lay waste the north of England, "setting fire to barns, taking plunder and women, and tearing children half alive from their mothers' wombs."26 An army commanded by English lords marched north and, having driven the Scots back across the border, devastated the whole of Lothian with fire and sword. In the end, King William was forced to sue for a truce until January 1174.

  A simultaneous invasion of England was launched from Flanders, on Michaelmas Day 1173, by the treacherous Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, the son of Henry's loyal justiciar, who had died in

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  1168. Earl Robert came at the head of a Flemish army;27 having landed at "Walton in Suffolk, he marched for Leicester, but in October, at Farnham, just north of Bury St. Edmunds, his force was mercilessly annihilated by a peasant host wielding scythes and clubs, commanded by Humphrey de Bohun, the constable of England, and the justiciar, Richard de Lucy. Earl Robert and his formidable wife Petronilla were taken prisoner, deprived of their estates, and sent to Falaise Castle, where other rebels were being held. The Earl's ally, Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who was now seventy-eight and had spent his life switching his allegiance to serve his own interests, sued for peace, which brought the rising in East Anglia to an end. That left only pockets of rebellion in the north and the midlands.

  The month of November found Henry and his Brabantine mercenaries south of Chinon, bearing down on Raoul de Faye's castle at Faye-le-Vineuse, which they took after a short siege. Raoul, however, evaded Henry, being still in Paris. At the same time, Duke Richard made an unsuccessful attack on the port of La Rochelle in Poitou.

  The onset of winter forced both sides to negotiate a truce, but in the spring of 1174 the fighting broke out again on all fronts, and for a time Henry was busy subduing Anjou and Poitou. "With the rebels in these domains virtually quiescent, he prepared to depart for Normandy, but on 12 May, "Whit Sunday, he first visited Poitiers where he dismissed Eleanor's servants and dismantled her court.28 "When he left, he took with him his daughter Joanna, Marguerite and Alys of France, Emma of Anjou, Constance of Brittany, and Alice of Maurienne, as well as valuables from the ducal palace.29

  Back in Normandy, in June, Henry received alarming news from England. The King of Scots had crossed the border again and was laying siege to Carlisle, the north and midlands were seething with revolt, the castle of Nottingham had fallen, and the Young King and Philip of Flanders were planning another invasion from the continent. They had already sent a force under Ralph de la Haie to join Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, who on 18 June took the city of Norwich. The justiciar and other royal officials began once more bombarding the King with appeals for help.

  A superstitious man, Henry saw these new misfortunes as divine punishment for his failure to do proper penance for the murder of Becket, 30 and decided that this must be his priority before he attempted to deal with the insurgents.

  At midday on 8 July 1174, Henry took ship for England from Barfleur. "With him were the Lord John, the Lady Joanna, Marguerite and Alys of France, Constance of Brittany, Emma of Anjou, Alice of Maurienne,

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  and Eleanor: this i
s the first reference to the Queen by the chroniclers for over a year.31 Many other ladies were in the party, probably to wait upon this host of royal females.

  "A considerable number of ships had been assembled against the King's arrival,"32 and it required forty of them to transport the royal family and their personal servants, the King's household and court, and his army of Brabantine mercenaries to England. Nor was it an easy voyage:

  As they put out to sea, the waves started to look rough. The wind rose and fell hourly and made the sailors hesitant about the crossing. They put on subdued expressions in front of the King, their faces betraying signs of doubt. When the King learned that the wind was blowing directly against them, and that the strong gusts were steadily growing worse, he lifted his eyes to the sky and said, in front of everyone, "If the Lord of the Heavens has ordained that peace will be restored when I arrive, then in His mercy may He grant me a safe landing. But if He is hostile to me, if He has decided to visit the kingdom with a rod, may it never be my fortune to reach the shores of my country."33

  God was indeed merciful, but Henry less so. As soon as they had all disembarked at dusk at Southampton and "eaten a simple meal of bread and water,"34 Eleanor was taken away under guard, either to Winchester Castle or to Sarum Castle near Salisbury,35 and there confined.

  Queen Marguerite was sent, with her sister Alys and Constance of Brittany, to the castle of Devizes, and there kept securely until such time as her husband could be brought to heel. Alice of Maurienne may have been with them, but she died soon after arriving in England. Emma of Anjou was given that year in marriage to Dafydd ap Owen, prince of eastern Gwynedd, who had offered loyal service to the King.36

  Having disposed of his womenfolk and "postponed dealing with every matter of state," Henry rode on to Canterbury "with a penitent heart" to perform his long-awaited penance for his part in the murder of St. Thomas.37 Dismounting near the city on Saturday, 12 June, he laid aside the insignia of kingship and, "clad in a woollen smock" as befitted a pilgrim, walked barefoot to the cathedral.38 Prostrating himself before Becket's tomb, he remained long in prayer, while Bishop Foliot explained, in a sermon delivered to the watching crowds, that the King "had neither commanded, nor wished, nor by any device contrived the death of the blessed martyr, which had been perpetrated in consequence of his murderers having misinterpreted the words which the King had hastily pronounced."39 Henry then "requested absolution

 
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