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


  However, in repudiating Eleanor, the King risked losing her vast inheritance. Should the Pope annul their union, her lands would revert to her and, on her death, pass to her sons. Furthermore, since she would no longer be Henry's subject, he would have no grounds for keeping her a prisoner, but would have to send her back to Aquitaine, where she would be free to make mischief with her sons, her vassals, and King

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  Louis. She might also remarry and install a hostile neighbour on Henry's borders. Thus the King sought a way of setting her aside without any loss to himself.

  It was probably during the summer of 1175 that Henry asked Pope Alexander III to send a legate to England to hear his case against Eleanor. Since annulling their marriage was so serious a step and would have far-reaching political consequences, the matter had to be handled with absolute discretion. Therefore when the legate, Cardinal Uguccione Pierlone of Sant' Angelo, arrived, it was on the pretext of resolving the quarrel between the Sees of York and Canterbury. Most chroniclers guessed what was really on the agenda.

  On 1 November, the feast of All Saints, Henry met Cardinal Pier-lone at Winchester, where the matter of an annulment was almost certainly discussed. Gervase of Canterbury learned that the King had given the legate a large amount of silver, and understood that it was a bribe. But the legate refused even to listen to Henry's pleas for an annulment and, having apparently warned him of the risks involved in repudiating Eleanor, left England soon afterwards.

  Famine followed hard upon the heels of plague,l4 and that winter was one of the coldest in living memory. Christmas found Henry and the Young King at Windsor. The land was covered in snow and ice, and a thaw did not set in until Candlemas in February 1176.

  According to Giraldus, in the new year Henry offered Eleanor the chance to take the veil at the abbey of Fontevrault and be appointed to the prestigious office of abbess in return for her consent to an annulment; if she agreed, he would not have to surrender her lands. In Fontevrault, moreover, she would be in Angevin territory and could be kept under supervision.

  But Eleanor had no intention of retiring from the world or of giving up her crown or her inheritance, nor did she have any vocation, and at Easter 1176 she appealed to the Archbishop of Rouen against being forced to become a nun. When the Archbishop refused to consent to her being committed to Fontevrault against her will, the King was obliged to appeal directly to the Pope for licence to have the marriage dissolved.

  Duke Richard and Duke Geoffrey visited England at Easter 1176, joining their father and the Young King at Winchester for the Easter court. Historians have speculated that the annulment of the royal marriage was discussed and that the princes lent their support to their mother, but there is no evidence for this. What is certain is that, over Easter, the Young King voiced his dissatisfaction with being kept in

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  England while his brothers were allowed their independence, and his suspicion that the King-- who had allowed Richard and Geoffrey to pay homage to him before he permitted the Young King to do so-- intended to exclude him from the succession.15 Paranoid in his conviction that there was a sinister conspiracy against him, he accused his father of keeping him a captive in his palaces, of limiting his allowance, and of preventing him from contacting his friends.

  When he asked leave to visit the shrine of St. James of Compostela in Spain, Henry saw this as the ruse it was, and suspected that the Young King's real intention was to join those dubious friends who had supported him during the rebellion. Nor had it escaped Henry's notice that it would shortly be the start of the tournament season on the continent.16 With grave misgivings, the King refused his son permission to go to Compostela, but allowed him instead to visit King Louis in Paris with Queen Marguerite, on condition that the Young King would afterwards travel south to Poitou to assist Richard against the rebels.17 In order to prevent his son from using inducements to gain support against his father, Henry gave him a strictly limited allowance.

  After the briefest of visits to Paris, the Young King hastened to Flanders, where he unburdened his grievances to a sympathetic Count Philip.18 What troubled him most was his inability to support his knights during the tournament season, so Philip provided him with horses and arms and subsidised him at great cost to himself. For the next few weeks, the Young King and William the Marshal excelled themselves in the lists.19 When the season ended on St. John's Day, the prince reluctantly rode south to Aquitaine to fulfil his promise to his father, although he did not stay long. Returning to Poitiers, he met up with some of his mother's barons who had risen against Henry in 1173-1174 and, having lost everything, were now plotting the ruin of their overlord, Duke Richard. To them, the Young King was a hero, and he basked in their flattery.

  The King had sent his vice-chancellor, Adam Chirchedune, to keep an eye on his son. Chirchedune, no fool, soon guessed what was going on, and wrote to Henry, warning him that the Young King was plotting treason. But the latter's spies caught him with the letter in his possession and he was dragged before their master with demands that he be flayed alive. The Bishop of Poitiers interceded for him, but the Young King was out for blood and ordered Chirchedune to be stripped naked and flogged in the public square of Poitiers.20 When Chirchedune returned to England and reported what had happened, Henry's rage knew no bounds.

  The discovery of his scheming had, however, given the Young King

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  a jolt, and, abandoning his fellow conspirators, he "spent [the next] three years in tournaments and profuse expenditure. Laying aside his royal dignity and assuming the character of a knight, he devoted himself to equestrian exercises and carrying the victory in various encounters, spreading his fame on all sides around him."21

  In the early summer of 1176, the King concluded negotiations for the marriage of his eleven-year-old daughter Joanna to William II, King of Sicily, and preparations were put in hand for her departure. The princess was staying in Winchester at this time, and the Pipe Rolls suggest that in August Eleanor travelled there under guard from Sarum to say farewell to this daughter whom she might never see again.22

  On 27 August the princess took ship for France on the first stage of her journey to Palermo. She was escorted by John of Oxford, Bishop of Norwich, who had acted as Henry's envoy to the Sicilian court. The bridal party travelled south through France, then in the grip of a devastating famine, and took ship "in dangerous weather conditions" across the Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian Seas to Sicily. Having safely delivered Joanna to King William there and witnessed the formal betrothal, the Bishop returned to England.23

  Eleanor was still at Winchester at Michaelmas.24 After Joanna's departure, the Pipe Rolls record a payment of £28 13s 7d "by the King's writ" for "two cloaks of scarlet and two capes of scarlet and two grey furs and one embroidered coverlet for the use of the Queen and her servant girl." It has been suggested that Joanna, seeing her mother in penury, pleaded with her father to ameliorate the terms of her imprisonment, yet all that this entry in the Pipe Rolls tells us is that the new clothes provided for the Queen were no better than those provided for her maid Amaria-- even though scarlet was an expensive cloth-- while the provision of one coverlet suggests that Eleanor and Amaria were obliged to share a bed.

  On 28 September the Lord John was betrothed to his cousin Hawise,25 daughter and heiress of William, Earl of Gloucester, one of the most powerful English magnates and son of the Earl Robert, who had so staunchly supported the Empress Matilda; on his marriage, John would acquire widespread estates in England.

  Between 1174 and 1176, Rosamund de Clifford retired to the nunnery at Godstow, near Oxford. It is not known whether she repented of her affair with the King and became a nun, or was ill and in need of nursing. It was probably the latter, because she died in 1176 (or possibly in 1177). The King had a beautifully decorated tomb erected to her memory before the high altar in the abbey church and, together with

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  her father, Sir Walter de C
lifford, and her brother-in-law, Osbert FitzHugh, gave generous gifts in her memory to the convent.

  Rosamund's death would in time give rise to many legends, none of which have any truth in them. In the fourteenth century, the French Chronicle of London was the first source to assert that Queen Eleanor murdered Rosamund, giving a lurid account of how she stripped her of her gown, roasted her naked between two fires, and, with venomous toads on her breasts, let her bleed to death in a hot bath at Woodstock. However, the Queen's name is given as Eleanor of Provence (who was the wife of Henry III and died in 1291) and the date of the murder as 1262! Also in the fourteenth century, the chronicler Ranulf Higden claimed that Rosamund was "poisoned by Queen Eleanor," who discovered her hiding place at Woodstock when she found "a clue of thread or silk" from Rosamund's sewing casket, learned the secret of the labyrinth, "and so dealt with her that she lived not long after."

  In the sixteenth century, the legends were further embroidered in popular ballads, in which Eleanor finds her way through the labyrinth and offers Rosamund the choice between a dagger or a bowl of poison, or even tears out her eyes. A late-seventeenth-century ballad, "Queen Eleanor's Confession," has Eleanor confessing the murder to Henry and William the Marshal on her deathbed, notwithstanding the fact that Henry predeceased her.26 By the eighteenth century the legends were accepted as fact, and it was not until the nineteenth century that writers began to question their veracity.

  Of course, Eleanor could not possibly have murdered Rosamund, since she was securely held in custody at that time. Nor could she have sent assassins to do the deed for her, because any contact with the outside world was strictly forbidden. The tales of the murder and her jealousy of Rosamund belong to later legend and are not substantiated by contemporary sources. Yet there remains to this day a persistent belief that there is no smoke without fire.

  In 1191 Bishop Hugh of Lincoln visited Godstow and noticed in the choir a fine tomb, covered with silken cloths, surrounded by candles, and lovingly tended by the nuns. "He was told that this was the tomb of Rosamund, and that for love of her Henry, King of England, had shown many favours to the church."

  Shocked, the Bishop replied, "Take her away from here, for she was a harlot, and bury her outside of the church with the rest, that the Christian religion may not grow into contempt and that other women, warned by her example, may abstain from illicit and adulterous intercourse."27 The body of Rosamund was thereupon re-interred in the nuns' chapter house, and the tomb inscribed with lines that were probably inspired by the exhumation of the corpse:

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  Hie jacet in tumba rosa mundi, non rosa munda;

  Non redolet, sed olet, quae redolere solet.

  Here lies the rose of the world, not a clean rose;

  She no longer smells rosy, so hold your nose.28

  Giraldus Cambrensis states that, after Rosamund had retired to Godstow-- and therefore before her death-- the King consorted openly and shamelessly with Alys of France, his son's betrothed. Confident that he would be granted an annulment, he meant to make her queen of England. That Alys was Henry's mistress is borne out by Ralph Niger, Roger of Hoveden, the Chronicle of Meaux, and, later, by Ranulf Higden, although all these chroniclers are very discreet in their handling of the matter.

  This new liaison of the King's was far more scandalous than that with Rosamund, since Alys was a royal princess and precontracted to his son, and it only served to fuel the multiplying rumours about a royal annulment; Giraldus says that Henry intended to disinherit his sons by Eleanor and raise with Alys a new progeny, who would inherit his empire. It was also said that Henry intended naming John, the only one of Eleanor's sons who had not had his mind poisoned by her, as his heir-- a theory lent credence by the enrichment of John through his betrothal.29

  On Christmas Eve, Henry was at Nottingham Castle, where he received the Bishop of Norwich, lately returned from Sicily. Joanna's wedding to William II took place on 13 February 1177 at Palermo Cathedral; it was a magnificent occasion, attended by a host of dignitaries. The city looked "resplendent" and the bride wore a dress that had cost her father £114. After the ceremony, Joanna was crowned Queen of Sicily.30 Thereafter she lived in almost oriental seclusion, her husband having adopted many of the customs of his Turkish subjects, including that of maintaining a harem.

  By now Henry's affair with Alys of France was becoming notorious. King Louis had almost certainly heard rumours-- and perhaps the truth, from his daughter Marguerite and the Young King-- for he suddenly demanded that Alys's marriage to Duke Richard be celebrated without delay. To ensure that Henry complied, he appealed to Pope Alexander to enforce the marriage or else lay all Henry's domains under an interdict. 31

  On 19 June, Marguerite of France bore the Young King a son, William, in Paris,32 but joy at the birth of a direct heir to the Angevin

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  empire was short-lived, for the infant died three days later. Henry received the "unwelcome tidings" from his son while he was at Woodstock.33

  He was still there when he learned soon afterwards that the papal curia had rejected his plea for an annulment of his marriage to Eleanor. The news might not have come as a shock, since he was well aware that putting Eleanor aside could have serious repercussions. But Henry was also informed that a papal legate was on his way to England to lay an interdict on all the King's lands if he did not at once marry Alys to his son. 34

  The King went to France on 18 August, resolved to straighten the matter out with Louis, face to face. They met at Ivry on the Norman border on 21 September,35 and Henry managed to placate Louis with a vague promise that Alys would be married to Richard as soon as the legal formalities concerning the transfer of her dowry were completed. Good relations were restored and the two kings undertook to go together on a new crusade, 36 whereupon Henry hastened down to Berry to make it secure and thence to Aquitaine, to inspect Richard's conquests.

  Richard had stayed aloof from the dispute, although his father's affair with his betrothed must have angered him. He certainly had no wish to marry her now, nor could he legitimately do so, since her relationship with Henry would render her union with his son incestuous. But Richard had other, more pressing matters on his mind. Having, with the aid of the Young King, subdued Poitou and the north of Aquitaine, he was now enforcing his authority in the south.

  After Ivry, Henry took care to ensure that his affair with Alys was kept private, although his family certainly knew what was going on. During the next few years she would bear him a son 37 and a daughter, "who did not survive"; 38 their births were kept secret.

  In 1177 Henry assigned Ireland to John. Since the new Lord of Ireland was only ten years old, his sovereign duties were carried out by a Viceroy, Hugh de Lacy. In September the King's daughter Eleanor was sent to Castile for her marriage to King Alfonso VIII, which was solemnised in Burgos Cathedral. 39 The younger Eleanor's marriage would prove fruitful and she would be responsible for introducing Poitevin culture into Castile.

  Henry and his three eldest sons kept the Christmas of 1177 in such splendour at Angers that it would long be remembered as one of the most magnificent Christmas courts of the reign.40

  Henry returned to England on 15 July 1178, and on 6 August, at Woodstock, knighted Duke Geoffrey.41 Outwardly, relations between the King and his sons were peaceful at this time. The Young King was still

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  "rushing around all over France" attending tournaments and "carrying off victory in various meetings. His popularity made him famous. The old King was happier counting up and admiring his victories and restored in full his possessions which had been taken away." On 26 February 1179 the Young King returned to England "and was received with due honour by the King his father."42

  Duke Richard was still heavily engaged in Aquitaine. "Having suffered many attacks, he at length decided to conquer the proud Geoffrey de Rancon," who had refused to do him homage. "He collected a force and on 1 May besieged the castle of Taillebourg. It was a most desper
ate venture and something which none of his predecessors had dared to attempt." After only nine days, the great stronghold, which had been considered virtually impregnable, surrendered, and the local people watched aghast as it was razed to the ground on Richard's orders. This was a great triumph for him and established his reputation as one of the great generals of the age-- news of it provoking alarm among the remaining southern rebels. "Other castles in the area submitted to defeat within one month. Thus, with everything completed as he wished, Duke Richard crossed to England and was received with great honour by his father.43

  On 22 August 1179, King Louis, now fifty-eight and in poor health, began a five-day visit to England to make a pilgrimage to Becket's shrine. He was "graciously received" by Henry at Dover, and the next day they travelled together in a solemn procession to the newly rebuilt cathedral at Canterbury; the choir of the previous church had burned down in 1174. Louis gave rich gifts to the shrine, including a great ruby known as the Regale of France, and spent three days in fasting, vigils, and prayer.

 
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