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

  On 26 August, Louis returned to France to prepare for the coronation of his fourteen-year-old son Philip, but soon afterwards he suffered a major stroke, which left him totally paralysed down his right side and effectively ended his reign.44 When Philip was crowned on 1 November at Rheims, Louis was unable to be present.45 The Young King attended, as Seneschal of France and the husband of Philip's sister, and carrying the crown preceded Philip into the cathedral. Richard and Geoffrey were also present and swore fealty to the new King for their domains, but Henry stayed away in order to avoid having to pay homage.46 After the coronation there was a grand tournament at Lagny near Paris, at which the Young King and his knights were victorious over all their opponents.


  Philip of France was a young man with a burning ambition, which was to break up the Angevin empire and incorporate Henry's continental domains into the kingdom of France.47 This imperative was to govern all his future policies and make him a very dangerous adversary indeed.

  Short of stature, stocky, with a red face, unkempt hair, and primitive notions of personal hygiene, Philip was a plain man lacking in humour, grace, and intellectual inclinations. Yet he had real ability as a ruler, being tough on policy, clever, calculating, and far more astute than his father. A political realist and pragmatist, he proved a crafty and greedy opportunist. Lacking the charm of the Angevins, he was overcautious, timid, and even neurotic: he would ride only docile horses and, ever suspicious, imagined there was an assassin hiding behind every tree. He had limited military skill but achieved his victories through cunning and persistence. His successes earned him a reputation as one of France's greatest kings.

  Early in 1180 Henry appointed Eleanor's custodian, Ranulf Glanville, justiciar in place of Richard de Lucy, who had served the King loyally for a quarter of a century. Although Glanville retained responsibility for all the King's prisoners, he appears largely to have delegated to Ralph FitzStephen his custodianship of Eleanor, who seems to have resided mainly at Winchester from then on.

  At the beginning of April 1180, the Young King returned to England to warn Henry that Philip was not such a king as his father had been, whereupon Henry decided that they should go together to meet Philip in the hope of maintaining the friendship between England and France. However, wary of Philip's influence and knowing the Young King to be susceptible, Henry first took his son to the tomb of his great-grandfather Henry I in Reading Abbey and made him swear "in the presence of holy relics that he would follow his father's instructions in all things. After this, the elder King crossed the Channel from Portsmouth, the younger from Dover. On arriving in France the elder King at once celebrated Easter at Le Mans."48 In June he met Philip at Gisors and renewed the peace made with Louis at Ivry in 1177.

  In Paris, on 18 September, Louis VII, who during the last months of his life had given all his wealth to the poor,49 "laid aside the burden of the flesh,"50 and his son succeeded as Philip II. The late King, his body clad in a monk's habit, lay in state at Notre-Dame before being buried in the Cistercian abbey of Barbieux in a fine tomb commissioned by his widow, Adela of Champagne, who would one day share it with him.


  In July 1181 Geoffrey was at last married to Constance of Brittany. After the wedding, Henry returned to England and appointed the other Geoffrey, his bastard son, chancellor of England. Geoffrey had not yet been consecrated bishop of Lincoln, and the Pope was now insisting that he be consecrated immediately or resign the see. Declaring that he preferred horses and dogs to books and priests, he chose the latter. His father thereupon made him Archdeacon of Rouen and treasurer of York Minster, and gave him two castles in Anjou. Meanwhile, the Young King, Duke Richard, and Duke Geoffrey had successfully supported King Philip in a war against Philip of Flanders.

  Towards the end of 1181 news of Henry's daughters filtered through to England. Joanna had borne a son, Bohemond, who had died soon after birth. Matilda's husband, Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, had quarrelled with the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, having been unjustly held responsible for the failure of a campaign in Italy. The Emperor, jealous of the Duke's power-- he owned sixty-seven castles and forty towns in Germany-- had confiscated his estates, given them to his own supporters, and declared him an outlaw. In November the Duke submitted to Frederick, but was exiled for seven years.51 He and his wife and children fled Germany with the intention of seeking refuge in France, Denmark, or England.

  On 4 March 1182 Henry returned to Normandy to keep a watchful eye on affairs in the south, where there had been alarming developments. Duke Richard's harsh rule had earned him the bitter hatred of his vassals, and the turbulent lords of Aquitaine were again plotting revolt, hoping to overthrow him and offer their allegiance to the Young King instead. The evil genius behind this conspiracy was Bertran de Born, who had seduced the Young King into joining the rebels, taunting him with the derisory title "lord of little land." Jealous of his brother, and resentful because he had still not received what he thought was his due, young Henry had been easy to persuade.52 Bertran had then gone on to inflame public opinion in the Limousin and the Dordogne against Richard by the clever deployment of propagandist sirventes. He also boasted he could put a thousand of his own men in the field.

  Foreseeing rich pickings for himself, Duke Geoffrey joined the Young King and, with an army of mercenaries and fortune seekers, they invaded Poitou, which was suddenly plunged into a bloody civil war. In the summer, Henry intervened, riding south in an attempt to restore peace between his sons, but they were not prepared to listen. In fact, according to Giraldus, Henry was content for the time being to let the strife between his sons run its course, so long as it kept them from uniting against him.


  He had to go back to Normandy to deal with a family crisis, for in the autumn, having failed to obtain asylum elsewhere, Duke Henry the Lion and the Duchess Matilda sought refuge at his court at Rouen.53 Henry welcomed them with "sumptuous hospitality,'' 54 took them under his protection, and then proceeded, through diplomatic channels, to negotiate with the Emperor for their peaceful return to Germany. He also took a special interest in their children, the first grandchildren to delight his declining years. There were three boys-- Otto, nine; Henry, eight; and the baby Lothaire-- and three (possibly four) girls-- Richenza, the eldest, who in England changed her name to Matilda; Gertrude; Ingibiorg; and perhaps another called Eleanor after her grandmother. Henry treated these children as Angevin princes, especially Otto, who was to spend most of his youth at the English court and would adapt the Plantagenet leopards for his own coat of arms when he became the German Emperor Otto IV in 1209.

  Once the campaigning season was over, Henry, hoping to divert the Young King from his ambitions in the south, summoned him to Rouen to greet his sister and her husband. He came unwillingly, seizing this opportunity to demand once more that his father cede Normandy or Anjou to him, saying that he wanted a capital seat where he and his queen could hold court without let or hindrance. When Henry prevaricated, the Young King stormed off in a temper to Paris, where King Philip lent a sympathetic and calculating ear to his grievances.

  In bullish mood, the Young King returned to Rouen, where he declared dramatically that he would prefer to be banished or to take the Cross rather than ever again accept the subordinate role his father had decreed for him. When this fell on deaf ears, he threatened suicide, a mortal sin in those days.55 At length Henry appeased him by offering him a generous allowance, apartments in Argentan Castle, where Matilda was staying with her children (her husband having gone on pilgrimage to Compostela), and a year's pay for his soldiers. Somewhat mollified, the Young King accepted, and in return swore on oath to remain in the King's allegiance and to make no further demands.56

  Henry had intended to go to England for Christmas, but concern over the Young King and the grave situation in Aquitaine kept him on the continent, and he held Christmas that year in the new castle of the Norman Exchequer at Caen.57 It was a glittering gathering, des
igned to rival Philip's first full court in Paris, and in the hope of restoring peace the King commanded all his sons to be present. He also summoned his lords and prelates to renew their allegiance before a vast throng of over a thousand knights and other guests.58 The Young Queen presided over the court with Henry, and there was much festive cheer.

  Only the Young King's behaviour struck a discordant note. He


  arrived in a foul mood, without William the Marshal, who had hitherto been his constant companion and was the master of his household, and he would not speak to his wife. Not surprisingly, a rumour soon spread that the Marshal had dared to look amorously upon Queen Marguerite. Hearing what was being said about him, William hastened to Caen and demanded that the King allow him to prove his innocence in an ordeal of combat, challenging those who had spread such calumnies to be his opponents in a three-day tournament. If he won, he declared, he asked no reward but the vindication of his honour; if he lost, he would be hanged for his crime. But no one dared take up his challenge, and he left the court in great distress. Soon afterwards, he departed on a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Magi at Cologne. 59

  Bertran de Born took advantage of the Young King's mood to drive further the wedge between him and Richard, calling him "the prince of cravens" and suggesting that, if Geoffrey had been made Duke of Normandy, he would have known how to enforce his rights. He also reminded him that Richard had built the strongly fortified castle of Clairvaux on the Young King's side of the border between Anjou and Poitou.

  Stung into action, the Young King erupted in a furious outburst against his father, threatening to renounce his titles and take the Cross if Henry did not allow him more autonomy or order Richard to dismantle his castle. Henry, moved by his son's tears and fearful that Philip would exploit any rift between them, decided to placate him by making Richard and Geoffrey do homage to their brother as their overlord. Geoffrey complied, but Richard refused outright, on the grounds that he owed allegiance only to King Philip for his domains;60 he had had them, not from his father, he pointed out, but as a gift from his mother. Mention of Eleanor also prompted him publicly to castigate Henry for keeping her a prisoner. As for the Young King, Richard flared, if he wanted land, let him go and fight for it, as he, Richard, had had to do.61

  After that, Richard would not sit at the same table as the Young King. Angrily, Henry broke up his Christmas court and withdrew to Le Mans with his feuding offspring. There, "anxious to make peace between his sons," he attempted to patch up the quarrel, asking the Young King to concede that Aquitaine belonged to Richard and his heirs in perpetuity. The Young King was crafty in his response. "So as not to incur his father's displeasure, he solemnly swore to do what he asked, as long as Richard would swear fealty to him on sacred relics. At this, Richard exploded in anger"62 and stalked out, "uttering nothing but threats and defiance."63

  It was only a matter of time before the vassals of the Young King


  and Duke Richard took up cudgels on their lords' behalf and the fighting began again. "The Young King gathered a numerous army and, leaving his father, he ordered all his allies to join battle against Richard."64 Geoffrey again sided with the Young King and Richard's rebellious barons,65 and when Raymond of Toulouse and Duke Philip of Burgundy offered their support, and the rebels began looking to England for aid, it appeared to an alarmed Henry as if there might be another revolt against his empire itself.66 He thereupon summoned his feudal levies, sent orders that all suspected English dissidents be imprisoned, and marched south to subdue the rebels.

  When Henry arrived before Limoges,67 the Young King's soldiers shot at him, and although his son protested that it had been an accident, the same thing happened again shortly afterwards. On both occasions, the King narrowly escaped being killed.68 Again the Young King apologised, but "war was in his heart" and it was obvious that he secretly lusted for his father's death.69 In vain did Henry's secretary, Peter of Blois, write a letter castigating him for his behaviour: "Where is your filial affection, your reverence, the law of Nature? Where is your fear of God?"70

  When Henry stopped his allowance, the Young King ran out of funds with which to pay his army and, with William the Marshal-- now restored to favour-- and a mercenary band, joined his brother Geoffrey in sacking and plundering monasteries and shrines and terrorising rural communities.71 He had become, wrote Peter of Blois, "a leader of freebooters who consorted with outlaws and excommunicates." Early in June 1183 he and his men brazenly looted the very altar treasure and the famous sword of the hero Roland from the lofty shrine of Rocamadour as horrified pilgrims looked on.72

  "Then the Young King's life was cut short, as if by a weaver, and with it the hopes of many fighting for him and hoping to rule with him after his father's death."73

  The weather had been stiflingly hot, and after leaving Rocamadour the Young King fell violently ill with dysentery and fever. With a few followers, he tried to reach Limoges, but at the village of Martel in Quercy he was forced to take lodgings in a house belonging to a burgher, Etienne Fabri,74 which still stands today. The Bishop of Agen came to see him and he made a fervent confession of his sins. As his condition worsened, his case seemed hopeless and the Bishop was sent to fetch the King.

  Henry's advisers, however, suspected a trap, and instead of hastening to his son's bedside, which he would have preferred to do, the King sent his physician, some money, and, as a token of his forgiveness, a sapphire ring that had belonged to Henry I.75 He also sent a message


  expressing his hope that, after his son had recovered, they would be reconciled.

  On Saturday, 11 June, the Young King realised he was dying and, overcome with remorse for his sins, asked to be garbed in a hair shirt and a crusader's cloak and laid on a bed of ashes on the floor, with a noose round his neck and bare stones at his head and feet, as befitted a penitent.76 His conscience was troubling him because he had once sworn to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and had never fulfilled that vow, but William the Marshal set his mind at rest by promising to fulfil it for him.

  When Henry's ring was brought to him, he begged that his father would show grace and mercy to the Queen his mother, held now for so long in captivity, and that all his companions would plead with Henry to set her at liberty 77 He also asked the King to provide for the needs of the Young Queen and ordered that all his possessions, save the ring, be given to the poor. A monk who had been summoned to hear his last confession asked why he did not give away the ring also.

  "Because I wish my Judge to know that my father sent it me as a token of forgiveness," he replied.78 He died late in the evening, "young in years"-- he was only twenty-eight-- "but full of time when measured by the experiences of his life."79 After his death it proved impossible to remove the ring from his finger.

  Not one of his companions dared face the King with the news, so Bernard Rossot, a monk of Grandmont, was sent to break it to him. He found Henry at Mas near Limoges, sheltering from the afternoon heat in a peasant's hovel.

  "I am not a bearer of good news," the monk said.80 Henry guessed what he had come to tell him and, having dismissed his entourage, sought to find out every detail of the Young King's death, then "threw himself upon the ground and greatly bewailed his son."81 He was so distraught that Peter of Blois was moved to reprove him for his "excess of grief."

  At the Young King's request, his eyes, brain, and entrails were buried beside the grave site chosen by his father in the monastery of Grandmont, which was among those he had recently sacked. He had asked for his body to be buried in Rouen Cathedral, but as his funeral cortege passed through Le Mans on its way north, the citizens seized the body, which was garbed in the Young King's linen coronation garments,82 and buried it in their own cathedral. The indignant people of Rouen threatened to burn Le Mans to the ground if the corpse was not surrendered to them, but the King intervened, commanding that his son be buried in the place he had chosen, "on the north side of the high a
ltar,"83 where his tomb effigy may be seen today.


  * * *

  The King sent Thomas Agnell, Archdeacon of Wells, to break the news of her son's death to Eleanor at Sarum. Agnell found her calm and, surprisingly, prepared. She had had a dream, she told him, that foretold her loss. She had seen her son lying on a couch with his hands together as if in prayer, and it had struck her that he looked like a tomb effigy. On his finger could be seen a great sapphire ring-- the one his father had, unknown to Eleanor, sent him-- and above his white face there hovered two crowns. The first was the one he had worn at his coronation, but the second was a circlet of pure dazzling light that shone with the incomparable brightness of the Holy Grail.

  The Queen asked Agnell, "What other meaning than eternal bliss can be ascribed to a crown with no beginning and no end? And what can such brightness signify, so pure and so resplendent, if not the wonder of everlasting joy? This second crown was more beautiful than anything which can manifest itself to our senses here on Earth. As the Gospel says, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of Man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.' "

  After she had dismissed him, Agnell praised her composure and the way in which she had "fathomed the mystery of the dream and had, in consequence, borne the news of her son's death with great discernment, strength and equanimity."84 Yet her grief went very deep: a decade later, in 1193, she told Pope Celestine III that she was tortured by the memory of the Young King.85

  The Young King's death removed one of the most dangerous threats to Henry's security and left Richard the undisputed heir to England, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, and Aquitaine. The rebel coalition immediately collapsed, but the Duke's retribution was vicious: some rebels were drowned, some run through with swords, and others blinded, as an example to future would-be conspirators.

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