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


  On 4 July, the day after Tours fell to the French, Henry dragged himself from his sickbed and rode to another meeting with his enemies at Colombieres (now Villandry),62 a village between Tours and Azay-le-Rideau. On the way, he was forced to rest at a house of the

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  Knights Templar at Ballan, complaining, "My whole body is on fire."6' When his knights rode ahead to tell Philip that Henry was ill, Richard insisted he was feigning it. On hearing this, Henry, sick and weak, had his men prop him up on his horse and rode on in a thunderstorm to Colombieres. Seeing him looking so unwell, Philip, for pity, offered to have a cloak spread on the ground for him to sit on, but Henry retorted stiffly that he had not come to sit but to learn the price he must pay for peace. He remained on his horse, his men holding him upright as he wearily undertook to agree to whatever Philip should demand.64

  Philip thereupon forced Henry to submit to the most humiliating of terms. He was to pay homage to Philip for all his continental domains, agree to leave all his lands, including England, to Richard, and order his barons on both sides of the Channel to swear fealty to Richard as his father's heir. He was to pardon all those who had fought for Richard and was to promise to go on crusade by Lent 1190. He was to surrender Alys into Philip's custody and arrange, without delay or excuse, for Richard to marry her after returning with him from Jerusalem. Finally, he was to place himself wholly at Philip's will, pay an indemnity of twenty thousand marks, and surrender three strongholds in Anjou or the Vexin as tokens of his good faith. Defeated, Henry accepted these terms without demur and turned to leave, but Philip insisted that he give Richard the kiss of peace. He reluctantly complied, but as he drew away from his son, his last words to him were, "God grant that I may not die until I have had a fitting revenge on you."65

  He was then carried back to Chinon in a litter, calling down the wrath of Heaven upon Richard,66 cursing his sons, himself, and the day he was born, and uttering blasphemies. "Why should I worship Christ?" he cried. "Why should I deign to honour Him who takes my earthly honour and allows me to be ignominiously confounded by a mere boy?"67 However, when he arrived at Chinon, at the behest of a very shocked Archbishop of Canterbury, he went to the chapel and made his peace with God, confessing his sins and receiving absolution and communion.

  In June, Matilda of Saxony, the eldest daughter of Henry and Eleanor, died in Germany, aged thirty-four, and was buried in the cathedral church of St. Blasius in Brunswick, of which she was co-foundress. Henry probably did not live long enough to hear of her death.

  On 5 July, Henry's vice-chancellor, Roger Malchat, brought him a list of those vassals who had treacherously supported Richard and were to be spared punishment.

  "May Jesus Christ help me, Sire!" exclaimed Malchat in distress. "The first name here is Count John's, your son."

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  This, for Henry, was the worst blow of all.

  "Is it true that John, my heart, John, whom I loved more than all my sons, and for whose gain I have suffered all these evils, has forsaken me?" he lamented.68

  From that moment he lost the will to live. He turned his face to the wall and dismissed Malchat, muttering, "Say no more. Now let the rest go as it will. I care no more for myself, nor for aught in this world."69

  During the remaining hours of his life, he either slept or lapsed into delirium, moaning with grief and pain. His bastard son Geoffrey stayed with him, cradling his head, soothing him, and warding off flies. In a moment of lucidity, Henry blessed him, declaring he was the only one of his sons who had remained true to him, and expressed the wish that he should be made Archbishop of York; he also gave Geoffrey his signet ring with the two leopards on it.70 He then became delirious once more, crying again and again, "Shame, shame on a conquered king!" 71 before falling into a coma.

  On Thursday, 6 July 1189, he died at Chinon. Geoffrey, faithful to the end, was the only one of his sons to be present at his deathbed, but as soon as he had left the chamber, the scavengers descended: the dead King's attendants stole all his personal effects, even the clothes he wore, and it was left to a young knight, William de Trihan, to cover his nakedness with a short cloak of the type that had once earned Henry the nickname "Curtmantle."72

  Although the trappings of kingship had been pilfered, Geoffrey and William the Marshal proved resourceful in laying out their master's body for burial. A woman gave them a fillet of gold embroidery to use as a crown, and they managed to find a ring and a sceptre. "On the morrow of his death, he was carried out for burial adorned with regal pomp: a golden crown on his head, gloves on his hands, a gold ring on his finger, holding a sceptre, wearing shoes of gold fabric with spurs on his feet, and girded with a sword. He lay with his face exposed."73

  When Duke Richard, now the undisputed heir to his father's possessions, was informed by William the Marshal of Henry's death, he hastened to Chinon. As he looked upon the body on the bier, "one could not tell from his expression whether he felt joy or sorrow, grief, anger or satisfaction,"74 and it was noted with disapproval that he knelt to pray for "scarcely longer than the space of a paternoster."75 But when he rose to his feet, everyone watched with horror as "blood began to flow from the nostrils of the dead King, and ceased not to flow so long as his son remained there, as if his spirit were angered at Richard's approach. Then, weeping and lamenting, Richard accompanied the body of his father to Fontevrault, where [on 10 July] he had him buried"76

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  in the nuns' choir,77 deeming it more fitting a resting place than Grandmont, where Henry had asked to be buried. A tomb with a fine effigy was soon afterwards raised to his memory, and Ralph of Diceto transcribed the epitaph that was engraved upon it:

  I am Henry the King. To me

  Divers realms were subject.

  I was duke and count of many provinces.

  Eight feet of ground is now enough for me,

  Whom many kingdoms failed to satisfy.

  Who reads these lines, let him reflect

  Upon the narrowness of death,

  And in my case behold

  The image of our mortal lot.

  This scanty tomb doth now suffice

  For whom the Earth was not enough.

  The judgements passed on Henry II by his contemporaries were harsh. Giraldus Cambrensis and Ralph Niger viciously condemned what they described as his oppression, injustice, immorality, and perfidy. Gervase of Canterbury bristled with disapproval of him, while an anonymous monk of Evesham claimed that he had had a vision of the King suffering the worst torments of Hell for his sins. Only Ralph of Diceto wrote of his good qualities.

  A decade later, William of Newburgh recalled how "ungrateful men, and those bent on evil courses, talked incessantly of the wickedness of their monarch, and would not endure to hear good spoken of him." Yet by then Henry's critics had had cause to revise their opinions. "To such men in particular the hardships of the days that followed alone brought understanding. Indeed, the evils that we are now suffering have revived the memory of his good deeds, and the man who in his own time was hated by many is now declared everywhere to have been an excellent and beneficial ruler."78

  Today, despite his ignominious end, Henry II is remembered as one of the greatest of England's mediaeval kings and one of the most successful rulers of his time. His memory soon came to be revered by his successors as an example of a firm and wise prince, who brought peace and prosperity to a troubled realm and left his mark on every English institution.

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  16. "The Eagle Shall Rejoice in Her Third Nesting"

  One of Richard I's first acts as king was to send William the Marshal to England with orders for the release of Queen Eleanor from captivity1 and letters authorising her to act as ruler of England until he was ready to take possession of his royal inheritance. When he arrived in Winchester, William was surprised to find Eleanor "already at liberty and happier than usual";2 news of Henry's death had preceded him, 3 and the Queen's custodians, bearing in mind the love King Richard had fo
r his mother, as well as his fearsome reputation, had not demurred when she demanded to be set free. Thus the Marshal found her, "more the great lady than ever,"4 already presiding over a hastily assembled court, to which people were rushing to pay their respects.5 The Marshal informed Eleanor that she had been "entrusted with the power of acting as regent by her son. Indeed, he issued instructions to the princes of the realm, almost in the style of a general edict, that the Queen's word should be law in all matters."6

  Eleanor now came into her own. At sixty-seven-- a great age in those days-- she emerged from captivity an infinitely wiser woman, yet she had not lost any of her energy or her dignity, and her new authority sat easily upon her. More powerful than ever before, she was eager to grasp the reins of government and exert her influence over her son, who would need all the help he could get to rule his vast empire. Such was the respect she commanded that she would be the second power in the realm during the first half of the reign. In the circumstances, "could any be so uncivil or so obdurate as not to bend to that lady's wishes?"7 No one dared.

  Having listened to Richard's instructions, the Queen devoted her energies to drumming up support for him in England; after spending most of his life in Aquitaine, he was a stranger to his new subjects. Gathering her retinue, which included the justiciar, Ranulf Glanville, Eleanor

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  rode to Westminster, where she decreed "that every freeman in the whole realm must swear that he would bear fealty to the Lord Richard, lord of England, in life and limb and earthly honour as his liege lord, against all men and women, living or dead, and that they would be answerable to him and help him to keep his peace and justice in all things."8 Many lords and prelates flocked to Westminster, where, on behalf of the King, the Queen received their oaths of fealty in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. At around this time, Eleanor restored to her former ally, Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, the estates King Henry had confiscated after the rebellion of 1173-1174, in which he had supported Richard and the Young King.

  After a few days in London, the Queen set off on a progress through the southern shires, "moving her royal court from city to city and from castle to castle, just as she pleased.9 "She arranged matters in the kingdom according to her own pleasure, and the nobles were instructed to obey her in every respect."10 Wherever she went, she received oaths of homage on Richard's behalf and dispensed justice in his name. She transacted the business of court and chancery, using her own seal on deeds and official documents,11 and styling herself "Eleanor, by the grace of God, Queen of England." She also issued edicts decreeing that uniform weights and measures were to be used for corn, liquid commodities, and cloth, and that a new standard coinage, valid anywhere in England,12 was to be issued. In Surrey, she founded a hospital for the poor, the sick, and the infirm.

  As the King had directed, Eleanor sent messengers to every shire relaying his wishes that, "for the good of King Henry's soul," all those who had been unjustly imprisoned were to be released, on condition that they promised to aid the new King in preserving the peace of the realm.13 Although William of Newburgh spoke for many when he complained that, "through the King's clemency, these pests who came forth from the prisons would perhaps become bolder thieves in the future," this amnesty held much personal appeal for the Queen since, she said, she had found "by her own experience that prisons were distasteful to men, and that to be released therefrom was a most delightful refreshment to the spirits."14 It was generally a popular measure, and Eleanor introduced others designed to win the people's love for their new sovereign.

  She gave orders for the relaxation of the harsh forest laws, and pardoned felons who had been outlawed for trespassing or poaching in the royal forests.15 "She contained the depredations of those sheriffs who were charged with the care of the forests, intimidating them with the threat of severe penalties."16 She married off wealthy heiresses formerly

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  in the wardship of King Henry to powerful young men known to be loyal, or to those whose loyalty needed to be courted.17 She revoked King Henry's order that relays of royal horses be stabled and groomed, at great expense, in religious houses, a move that was thankfully welcomed, especially by the poorer monasteries; furthermore "Queen Eleanor distributed the horses as gifts" to the abbeys "with pious hberality."18

  In her every act, she displayed "remarkable sagacity,"19 demonstrating all the qualities of a wise, benevolent, and statesmanlike ruler. Her contemporaries were impressed, and many now found it hard to credit the scandalous rumours about her conduct in her younger days. Looking back from the perspective of the thirteenth century to the periods when she was the ultimate authority in England during the frequent absences of King Richard, Matthew Paris pronounced that her rule had made her "exceedingly respected and beloved." It is indeed on her performance in these later years that her modern reputation chiefly rests.

  Eleanor's mercy did not, however, extend to Alys of France, whom she had brought up as a daughter and of whom she now had custody. On her orders, the princess remained straitly confined at Winchester. Alys was now twenty-nine, and her future was still unsettled, but if Eleanor had her way, it was going to have nothing to do with Richard.

  On 29 July 1189, having seized King Henry's treasure at Chinon, Richard was invested as Duke of Normandy in Rouen Cathedral and received the homage of his Norman vassals. On the 31st he reached a settlement with Philip at Gisors, assuring him that he intended to marry Alys immediately after returning from the Holy Land, and agreeing to depart on crusade with him the following spring. Richard also made peace with those vassals who had supported his father and, in a curious volte-face, prompted no doubt by guilt and a new consciousness of the loyalty due to a king, denounced as traitors those who had risen with him against Henry. William the Marshal was one of those who received a pardon, and Richard rewarded his faithfulness to the late King by awarding him the hand of the richest heiress in the gift of the crown, Isabella, the daughter of Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke and Striguil. The Marshal inherited these earldoms through his wife and became overnight one of the foremost of Richard's vassals.

  On 13 August Richard sailed from Barfleur to Portsmouth, where, thanks to Eleanor's efforts, he was welcomed with enthusiasm. Two days later, again to popular acclaim, he "was received with stately ceremony"20 at Winchester, where he secured the royal treasure and was reunited with his proud mother. Aware that, through rebelling against his father, "he had earned the disapproval of good and wise men," Richard now

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  sought to make up for his past excesses by doing all he could to show honour to his mother. He hoped that his obedience to her would atone for his offence against his father. These events revealed the truth of a prophecy which had puzzled all by its obscurity, that the Eagle of the Broken Alliance should rejoice in her third nesting. They called the Queen the eagle because she stretched out her wings, as it were, over two kingdoms, France and England. She had been separated from her French relatives by divorce, while the King had separated from her marriage bed by confining her to prison. Richard, her third son, was her third nestling, and the one who would raise his mother's name to great glory.21

  Summoning Ranulf Glanville into his presence, Richard formally pardoned him, for in releasing the Queen from captivity in contravention of the late King's orders Richard had also granted Eleanor the power to punish those who had been her jailers, but she declined to do so. On 17 September, Richard, who had himself imposed a heavy fine on Glanville, dismissed him from his office,22 appointing William de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, a loyal servant of Henry II, and Hugh de Puiset, Bishop of Durham, as co-justiciars in his place. Hugh de Puiset was an ambitious aristocrat whose mother, Agnes of Blois, had been King Stephen's sister. Consecrated Bishop of Durham in 1153, he had long exercised almost princely power in the north of England, and was connected to the strong Percy family. Now aged sixty-four, he was a cultivated man who had established a fine library at Durham Cathedral and acquired vast e
xperience in the world of politics and diplomacy.

  Shortly after Richard arrived in Winchester, John joined the court, then accompanied the King and Eleanor on a progress that took them via Salisbury and Marlborough to Windsor, where they were greeted by the chancellor, Richard's half brother Geoffrey. It is clear that Richard did not trust Geoffrey; he even seems to have suspected him--- with little cause-- of having designs on the throne. Yet he could not afford to alienate him, since he dared not risk leaving an enemy to make mischief in his kingdom while he went on crusade.

  Richard therefore honoured his father's dying wish, and nominated Geoffrey as Archbishop of York; he was duly elected by the canons of York on 10 August, and paid the King £3,000 for the privilege. Eleanor, who distrusted Geoffrey,23 was against the appointment-- despite his talents and abilities, he was hot-headed, difficult, and quarrelsome, and had no love for the half brothers who had betrayed their father-- but the King overrode her protests.24 He did nevertheless insist that Geoffrey

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  be ordained to the priesthood, which would preclude him from entertaining any illicit notions of kingship; he also heeded Eleanor when she urged him not to lead an army into Wales to subdue some border raiders until after his coronation.25

  On his election to the see of York, Geoffrey, at Richards request, resigned his office of chancellor, and the King appointed in his place a Norman, William Longchamp, the recently elected Bishop of Ely, who had been Richard's chancellor in Aquitaine. Of short stature, with a limp and a stammer (Giraldus Cambrensis likened him to a deformed and hairy ape), Longchamp-- who was falsely rumoured to be the grandson of a runaway serf of Beauvais-- was regarded by the barons as an upstart. He was indeed of humble origin, but had clawed his way to the top by pandering to the needs of his masters. An able and practical man, he was overambitious and overconfident, and used his newly won power to advance his own and his family's interests. Vastly unpopular, he made no secret of his loathing for all things English, and he alienated many by his arrogance and blundering tactlessness. Yet for all his faults, he was unswervingly loyal to the King.

 
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