Spartacus Blog

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England

John Simkin

William X, eighth count of Poitou, and tenth duke of Aquitaine, was taken ill after drinking contaminated water. Realising he was dying, he made his will, bequeathing his domains of Poitou, Aquitaine and Glascony to his only child, Eleanor of Aquitaine. He told his friends to approach King Louis VI of France about the possibility of his son, Louis, marrying Eleanor. William died on 9th April, 1137. (1)

This territory was valued very highly. The chronicler, Ralph de Diceto, wrote: "Aquitaine overflows with riches of many kinds, excelling other parts of the western world... Its lands are fertile, its vineyards productive and its forests team with wild life.... It abounds with riches of many kinds, so excelling other parts of the western world that it is considered by historians one of the most fortunate and prosperous provinces of Gaul." (2)

Louis VI was so overjoyed when he heard the news of William's request. It was said that he was "so ecstatic at the prospect of marrying his son to Eleanor of Aquitaine, and thereby acquiring the greatest fief in Europe, that he could hardly speak, but some of his advisers expressed concern that Aquitaine would prove too unwieldy and problematical to be successfully ruled and administered from Paris." He was also warned that the most powerful military figure in Europe, Geoffrey Plantagent, Count of Anjou, might become jealous of this newly acquired territory and it might lead to war. (3)

Eleanor married Louis in the city of Bordeaux on 25th July 1137. Almost a thousand guests attended the wedding. The Anglo-Norman historian Orderic Vitalis wrote that after his marriage ‘"the boy Louis was crowned at Poitiers, and so gained possession of the kingdom of the French and the duchy of Aquitaine, which none of his forebears had held before him". However, there was a clause added that the land would remain independent of France until Eleanor's oldest son became King of France. (4)

Louis VI died, of dysentery, 7 days after the wedding. The sixteen-year-old Louis and fifteen-year-old Eleanor, now became the king and queen of France. Until the death of his brother, Philip, when he fell from his horse, Louis, had intended to become a monk. John of Salisbury observed that "he loved the Queen almost beyond reason". (5) He was a highly religious young man and rarely visited his wife's bedroom and the "hoped-for heir showed no sign of making his appearance". (6)

William of Newburgh argued that he "was a man of warm devotion to God and of extraordinary lenity to his subjects and of notable reverence for the clergy, but he was rather more credulous than befits a king and prone to listen to advice that was unworthy of him". (7) Walter Map suggested his personality undermined his authority "because he was gentle in manner and kind-hearted, unaffectedly simple toward men of any rank, he seemed to some lacking in force." (8)

Eleanor attempted to change the atmosphere "by importing courtiers, troubadours, minstrels and musicians to the royal palace". (9) She also urged her husband to take more notice of her advice rather than his chief minister, Abbot Sugar of Saint-Denis, who was deeply religious and lived an ascetic life and spent most of his time in a tiny, bare cell. Abbot Sugar felt that both Louis and Eleanor were too young and immature to exercise power and took steps to ensure that Eleanor's influence was confined to the "domestic sphere". (10)

King Henry II
Eleanor of Aquitaine knights a follower.

It is claimed that Eleanor upset Church leaders with her interest in fashionable clothes and Abbot Sugar remarked on how they could not understand how Christian women could borrow the skins of animals and the labour of silkworms to create superficial beauty. "Fire on a beauty that is put on in the morning and laid aside at night! The ornaments of a queen have no beauty like to the blushes of natural modesty which colour the cheeks of a virgin. Silk, purple and paint have their own beauty, but they do not make the body beautiful." (11)

Eleanor of Aquitaine also upset Pope Innocent II when she and her husband supported her sixteen-year-old sister, Petronilla, when she embarked on an affair with Count Raoul of Vermandois. According to John of Salisbury, Raoul "was always dominated by lust" and decided to divorce his wife, who was the sister of Count Theobald of Champagne. The Pope took the side of Theobald and excommunicated Louis, Raoul and Petronilla. (12)

This started a war between the two sides and in January 1143, King Louis VII led an army into Champagne and at Vitry-en-Perthois, set fire to the town that surrounded a castle owned by Theobald. It is estimated that around 1,250 people took refuge in the cathedral. However, the fire spread and the cathedral itself was engulfed in flames and its roof caved in and every soul trapped within its walls perished. Louis heard the screams of the dying and smelt their burning flesh and shed tears of horror and remorse, and it was reported that he was unable to speak for two days. Louis was so upset he immediately withdrew his troops and his excommunication was lifted. According to Alison Weir: "Louis... was a changed man. He cut off his hair and was shorn like a monk; he took to wearing the monastic's coarse grey gown and sandals; he spent hours at prayer begging God for forgiveness, and was even more rigorous than before in the religious observances and fasts." (13)

Bernard of Clairvaux, the French abbot, became a growing influence on Louis. He had taken a vow of chastity after an early traumatic sexual experience. He described his sister as a whore after she married a rich man and refused to have anything to do with her. Bernard accused Eleanor of undermining Louis' religious faith. He apparently told her: "My child, seek those things which make for peace. Cease to stir up the King against the Church and urge him to a better course of action. If you will promise to do this, I in my turn promise to entreat the merciful Lord to grant you offspring." (14)

Louise rarely visited Eleanor's bedroom but in 1145, eight years after his marriage, Eleanor gave birth to a daughter, Marie. The child was not the male heir desired by the King - French law forbade the succession of females to the throne - her arrival encouraged the royal parents to hope for a son in the future. (15)

Count Geoffrey Plantagent of Anjou, who had just conquered Normandy, suggested to Louis that his son, Henry, aged thirteen, should marry his recently born child. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to Louis explaining why he must reject the idea: "I have heard that the Count of Anjou is pressing to bind you under oath respecting the proposed marriage between his son and your daughter. This is something not merely inadvisable but also unlawful, because apart from other reasons, it is barred by the impediment of consanguinity. I have learned on trustworthy evidence that the mothers of the Queen and this boy are related in the third degree. Have nothing to do with the matter." (16)

Gerald of Wales later claimed that around this time Geoffrey had a sexual relationship with Eleanor. Gerald said that he had learned about Eleanor's adultery from Bishop Hugh of Lincoln. However, in his writings Gerald is always very hostile to Eleanor and he is probably only repeating rumours. (17) Walter Map, a royal secretary, once remarked that Eleanor "was secretly reputed to have shared the couch of Louis with Geoffrey." (18)

Eleanor's biographer, Jane Martindale, is not convinced by this story of Eleanor's adultery: "Statements such as this have been accepted by some modern historians; but it is far more likely that these represent reflections of a prevailing clerical misogyny, court rivalries, and - when written in the late twelfth century - a more general anti-Angevin propaganda." (19)

The Second Crusade

In 1146, Edessa (Şanlıurfa in Turkey) one of the Crusader states in the 12th century, was captured by Islamic forces led by Imad ad-Din Zengi. On 1st December, Pope Eugene III, published a papal Bull ordering King Louis and all the faithful Christians of France to liberate the area from the "Infidel". A similar Bull was later sent to the German Emperor, Conrad III. The Pope added that all who joined the Crusade would receive remissions for their sins. (20)

Eleanor heard a sermon by Bernard of Clairvaux on Easter Day and was so moved by his eloquence she offered him her thousands of vassals for what was to become known as the Second Crusade. (21) Bernard told Eugene III: "You ordered and I obeyed... I opened my mouth and I spoke and the crusaders at once multiplied into infinity. Villages and towns are deserted and you will scarcely find one man for every seven women." (22)

Eleanor hoped that her involvement would please God and would result in the birth of a male child. She toured her domains recruiting troops. Eleanor held tournaments to attract knights to the cause and granted or renewed privileges to religious houses in exchange for financial and spiritual support. "Thanks to her efforts, the larger part of the crusading army comprised her own vassals." (23)

Eleanor of Aquitaine insisted on joining her husband on the Crusade. It is believed that she was joined by 300 hundred other women who volunteered to go and nurse the wounded. William of Newburgh later complained that their presence in the army was disruptive and attracted women of dubious morals, who diverted many of the men from their holy purpose: "In that Christian camp, where chastity should have prevailed, a horde of women was milling about. This in particular brought scandal upon our army." (24) Gervase of Canterbury claims that Eleanor and other women of noble birth, wore white tunics emblazoned with red crosses, plumes, white buskins and cherry-red boots, and rode on white horses. (25)

Louis eventually arrived in Antioch on March, 1148. They were welcomed by Eleanor's uncle Raymond of Poitiers. Now aged thirty-six, he was described as being "taller, better built and more handsome than any man of his time; he surpassed all others as warrior and horseman." (26) Louis became jealous of the time Eleanor spent with Raymond and John of Salisbury commented that "the attentions paid by the Prince to the Queen and his constant, indeed almost continuous conversation with her roused the King's suspicions." (27) During this period, there were rumours of an affair between Raymond and Eleanor, and it is claimed that he advised her to seek an end to the marriage with Louis. (28)

King Louis VII of France joined forces with King Conrad III of Germany and King Baldwin III of Jerusalem lay siege to Damascus. The crusaders attacked on 23rd July but were constantly pushed back with considerable loss of life. On 28th July they decided to retreat but they were followed by Turkish archers who constantly harassed them. This defeat signalled the end of the crusade. (29) Henry of Huntingdon blamed the soldiers for upsetting the Almighty, "for the crusaders abandoned themselves to open fornication and to adulteries hateful to God, and to robbery and every sort of wickedness". (30)

Louis and Eleanor returned to Paris. They had been away for nearly two and a half years. Eleanor gave birth to a second daughter, Alix, in 1150. Louis was bitterly disappointed and he still did not have a male heir. He was approaching thirty and began to fear that he would never father a son. His barons began to urge him to divorce Eleanor and find a younger wife who might give him a son. William of Newburgh claims that Eleanor was dissatisfied with Louis complaining that she had "married a monk, not a king". (31)

Abbot Sugar of Saint-Denis disagreed with the barons. He pointed out that if the royal couple's marriage was dissolved, Louis would lose Eleanor's inheritance, which would pass to whoever else she married, and the chances were that she might choose someone hostile to French interests. However, when Sugar died in January, 1151, the main obstacle to the divorce was removed. Bernard of Clairvaux was now the king's main adviser and he urged him to declare the marriage invalid. (32)

On 11th March 1152, Eleanor and Louis met at the royal castle of Beaugency to dissolve the marriage. Hugues de Toucy, Archbishop of Sens, presided, and Samson of Mauvoisin, Archbishop of Reims acted for Eleanor. Ten days later, Pope Eugene III granted an annulment on grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. (Eleanor was Louis' third cousin once removed). Their two daughters were, however, declared legitimate. Custody of them was awarded to King Louis. Archbishop Samson received assurances from Louis that Eleanor's lands would be restored to her. (33)

Louis VII immediately married the teenager, Constance of Castile. She gave birth to a daughter, Margaret in 1157, but died giving birth to a second daughter, Alys, in 1160. His third wife, Adela of Champagne, gave birth to a son, Philip in 1165. He became the next king of France when Louis died in September 1180.

Marriage to Henry of Anjou

Some historians have argued that it was Eleanor of Aquitaine who was the motivating force behind the marriage annulment and that she already had decided who she wanted to marry. This was Henry, the eldest son of Matilda and Geoffrey Plantagent, Count of Anjou. After the death of Geoffrey in September 1151, Henry had inherited his father's empire. William of Newburgh states: "It is said that while she was still married to the King of France, she had aspired to marriage with the Norman duke, whose manner of life suited better with her own, and for that reason she desired and procured a divorce." (34)

King Louis VII considered Henry his main rival in Europe and would not have agreed to the divorce if he knew that she planned to merge their two empires. Eleanor took a barge along the Loire towards Tours before travelling to Poitiers. In April, 1152, Eleanor sent envoys to Henry asking him to come at once and marry her. (35) Marion Meade, the author of Eleanor of Aquitaine (2002), has pointed out: "As Louis's former wife, she knew intimately the feelings of dislike for Henry; aside from flouting his authority as her overlord, she was about to deliver a stinging personal blow by marrying his chief enemy, a factor that may well have been part of her initial attraction to Henry. In a sense, she was about to take a deadly revenge, both personal and political, for fifteen years of boredom and entrapment." (36)

The ceremony took place in the Saint-Pierre Cathedral on 11th May, 1152. Henry was then nineteen years old, while Eleanor was nearly thirty. (37) Henry had "acquired by marriage almost half of what is now modern France. He was now master of a vast tract of land stretching from the English Channel to the Pyrenees, a domain that was ten times as large as the royal demesne of France. Through marrying Eleanor, he had founded an Angevin empire and established himself... as potentially the most powerful ruler in Europe." (38)

According to Henry of Huntingdon, the marriage of Henry and Eleanor "was the cause and promoter of great hatred and discord between the King of France and the Duke". (39) Louis VII decided to attack Henry's recently acquired territory in Normandy. Henry, reacted by marching west to Touraine and took a couple of the castles in the area. Louis decided to retreat to Paris and agreed to the Church's demands for a truce. (40)

King Henry II

In January 1153, Henry, now aged 20, surprised King Stephen by crossing the channel in midwinter. The two leaders made a series of truces which were turned into a permanent peace when the death of his son, Eustace, the Count of Boulogne, in August, persuaded the king to give up the struggle. In December, 1153, Stephen signed the Treaty of Winchester, that stated he was allowed to keep the kingdom on condition that he adopt Henry as his son and heir. (41)

Alison Weir has claimed that "Henry and Eleanor had a great deal in common: they were both strong, dynamic characters with forceful personalities and boundless energy. Both were intelligent, sharing cultural interests, and both had a strong sex-drive... Henry and Eleanor presided together over their court, travelled together on progress through their domains and slept together regularly." (42)

Eleanor gave birth to her first child, William, on 17th August 1153. Henry was overjoyed to have a male heir. After failing to produce a son in 15 years of marriage with King Louis VII, her achievement was seen as an act of God. Henry of Huntingdon wrote: "God granted a happy issue and peace shone forth. What boundless joy! What a happy day!" Henry went to London "where he was received with joy by enormous crowds and splendid processions". (43)

King Henry II
King Henry II

Stephen died in October 1154, and Henry became king. He took over without difficulty and it was the first undisputed succession to the throne since William the Conqueror took power in 1066. Henry II was the most powerful ruler in Western Europe with an empire which "stretched from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees... but it is important to remember that although England provided him with great wealth as well as a royal title, the heart of the empire lay elsewhere, in Anjou, the land of his fathers." (44)

A second son, Henry, was born on 28th February 1155. However, the following year, the first child, William, died of a seizure. Other children soon followed, Matilda (6th January, 1156), Richard (8th September 1157), Geoffrey (23rd September 1158), Eleanor (13th October 1162), Joan (October 1165) and John (24th December 1166). Henry also had extra-marital affairs and had several illegitimate children, including Geoffrey, the Archbishop of York. (45)

Thomas Becket

When Henry II became king he asked Theobald of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury, for advice on choosing his government ministers. On the suggestion of Theobald, Henry appointed Thomas Becket, who was twelve years his junior, as his chancellor. Becket's job was an important one as it involved the distribution of royal charters, writs and letters. People declared that "they had but one heart and one mind". The king and Becket soon became close friends. "Often the king and his minister behaved like two schoolboys at play." (46)

William FitzStephen tells the story of Becket and the king riding together through the streets of London. It was a cold day and when the king noticed an old man coming towards them, poor and clad in a thin and ragged coat. "Do you see that man? How poor he is, how frail, and how scantily clad! Would it not be an act of charity to give him a thick warm cloak." Becket agreed and the king replied: "You shall have the credit for this act of charity" and then attempted to strip his chancellor of his new "scarlet and grey" cloak. After a brief struggle Becket reluctantly allowed the king to overcome him. "The king then explained what had happened to his attendants and they all laughed loudly". (47)

Contemporaries have left a vivid portrait of Henry II. According to Peter of Blois he was of medium height, with a strong square chest, and legs slightly bowed from endless days on horseback. His hair was reddish and his head was kept closely shaved. His blue-grey eyes were described as "dove-like" when in a good mood but "gleaming like fire when his temper was aroused", and flashing "like lightning" in bursts of passion. (48) Herbert of Bosham claimed that Henry had tremendous energy and was like a "human chariot dragging all after him". (49)

Eleanor saw little of Henry who hated to remain in one place longer than a week. John Gillingham has pointed out: "A man of boundless energy he rode ceaselessly from one corner of his empire to another. He travelled so fast that he gave the impression of being everywhere at once - an impression which helped to keep men loyal. He never seemed to be still; when he was not working, he was out hunting.... Although the central government offices, the Chancery, the Chamber and the Constabulary travelled around with him, the sheer size of the empire inevitably stimulated the growth of localised administrations which could deal with routine matters of justice and finance in his absence." (50)

With her husband often away it was Becket who appeared to be running the country. Marion Meade has argued that in "Eleanor's mind, the king had only one equal, and as his consort, it should have been herself. With reasons that ran closer to the bone than mere jealously, she was both angry and resentful." (51)

It has been suggested that Eleanor was unhappy about her husband's relationship with Becket as it "relegated her to the side-lines of affairs and undermined her influence with the King". It has been pointed out that when Henry was abroad, "it was Becket, rather than Eleanor, who dispensed patronage on Henry's behalf and received important visitors to England". There is no evidence that unlike, Henry's mother, Matilda, Eleanor did not try to undermine Becket. (52)

When Theobald of Bec died in 1162, Henry chose Becket as his next Archbishop of Canterbury. The decision angered many leading churchmen. They pointed out that Becket had never been a priest, and had a reputation as a cruel military commander when he fought against the French king Louis VII. It was claimed that "who can count the number of persons he (Becket) did to death, the number whom he deprived of all their possessions... he destroyed cities and towns, put manors to the torch without thought of pity." (53)

Becket was also very materialistic (he loved expensive food, wine and clothes). His critics also feared that as Becket was a close friend of Henry II, he would not be an independent leader of the church. At first Becket refused the post: "I know your plans for the Church, you will assert claims which I, if I were archbishop, must needs oppose." Henry insisted and he was ordained priest on 2nd June, 1162, and consecrated bishop the next day. (54)

Eleanor and Henry

Gerald of Wales argues that King Henry II was not a good husband and "in domestic matters he was hard to deal with" and that he was an "open adulterer" throughout the marriage. (55) William of Newburgh is less critical of Henry and suggests that he did not commit adultery until Eleanor was past childbearing age. (56) Eleanor was 44 years old by the time she gave birth to John in 1166 and it is assumed that this marked the end of their sexual relationship. (57)

Eleanor now moved to Aquitaine to manage her unruly vassals: "Eleanor may well have welcomed the chance of autonomy, not to mention a more gracious mode of living than that experienced by Henry's entourage, whose accommodation more often resembled a campsite than a court, but their marriage had always been based on business, and it was business that provided the primary reason for Eleanor's removal from England." (58)

In 1167 Henry began a relationship with Rohese de Clare, Countess of Lincoln, and the sister of Roger de Clare, Earl of Hertford, who was said to be the most beautiful woman in England. Another mistress was Avice de Stafford. His main love was Rosamund de Clifford, the daughter of a a minor Norman knight, Walter de Clifford, who owned land in Herefordshire. Although during this period he was usually out of the country, he spent time with her in Woodstock whenever he could. (59)

King Henry II
John Waterhouse, Fair Rosamund (1917)

Gerald of Wales called her "Rose of Unchastity" and claims Henry openly paraded her at his court as his mistress. (60) There are several stories about how Eleanor arranged for Rosamund to be murdered. (61) This included Eleanor going to meet Rosamund and offering her a choice between a dagger and a cup of poisoned wine. Another version is that Eleanor arranged for her to be bled to death. In reality Eleanor almost certainly never met her. (62)

During this period Eleanor was based at Poitiers, where she refurbished the Maubergeonne Tower. She was also a generous benefactor to Fontevraud Abbey. Eleanor appointed her own officials and in 1170 she arranged for her 13-year-old son, Richard, to be granted the title of Duke of Aquitaine. Eleanor, dealt with the problems of imposing taxes on individuals and commodities such as wheat, salt and wine. Over the next few years Richard "got his first taste of the exercise of authority in his mother's company, and in her ancestral territories". (63)

Henry the Young

In 1158, the four-year-old, Henry the Young was betrothed to the two-year-old Margaret, the daughter of Louis VII of France, Eleanor's former husband, and Constance of Castile, his second wife. The marriage was ratified in October 1160 and rushed through the following month by Henry II, who wished to acquire control over the Norman Vexin, her dowry. Under the terms of the agreement, Margaret was to be brought up by Eleanor. (64)

Negotiations continued over the next few years and in 1169 it was decided at a meeting at Montmirail that Henry the Young would inherit Normandy, Anjou and England after his marriage to the 12-year-old Margaret. It was also agreed that Henry's son, Richard, would marry Alais, another daughter of Louis VII. (65)

In June 1170, the fifteen-year-old Henry was crowned king although his father was still alive. However, he did not have any power and it was just an attempt by the king to show his commitment to merging of the two kingdoms. Thomas Becket was in exile and so he was crowned by Roger de Pont L'Évêque, the Archbishop of York. This ceremony took place without permission of the pope, Alexander III. (66)

Coronation of Henry the Young in June 1170.
Coronation of Henry the Young in June 1170.

Dan Jones, the author of The Plantagenets (2013) has pointed out: "Henry has been portrayed by the chroniclers as a feckless and fatuous youth. In person, he was tall, blond and good-looking, with highly cultivated manners. He was a skilled horseman, with a real fondness for the tournament and a huge household of followers who egged on his chivalrous ambitions." (67) The government official, Walter Map, described Henry as "lovable, eloquent, handsome, gallant, every way attractive, a little lower than the angels". (68)

On 27th August 1172, Eleanor's eldest son, Henry the Young, aged seventeen, married Margaret of France, daughter of her former husband, King Louis VII, and his second wife, Constance of Castile, at Winchester Cathedral. It would hoped that if Margaret gave birth to a son, who would have a claim to both family empires. However, they remained childless. (69)

Henry developed an expensive life-style without the means to pay for it and was heavily in debt. His father had promised him that he would one succeed him as king of England, and inherit land in Normandy and Anjou. He also endowed him with titles, but "as he approached manhood his access to landed revenue and power - the essence of kingship - was strictly limited". (70)

Eleanor's Revolt

Eleanor suggested that Henry the Young should be given England, Anjou or Normandy to rule. Henry refused and Eleanor began to develop plans to overthrow of her husband. On 5th March 1173, Henry left Chinon Castle and rode for Paris and went to stay with King Louis VII. Soon afterwards, Louis announced that he acknowledged that Henry was the new king of England. Henry II was furious and declared war on France. He was greatly dismayed when he heard that Eleanor and two more of his sons, Richard and Geoffrey, had joined the rebellion. (71)

William of Newburgh reported that "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". (72) Andrea Hopkins has argued that Eleanor identified more with the interests of her sons rather than those of her husband. (73)

Eleanor has been accused of being the ring-leader of the revolt against Henry: "It is clear that her sympathies lay wholeheartedly with her sons and that, like a lioness fighting to protect her cubs, she was prepared to resort to drastic measures to ensure that they received their just deserts... Henry and his brothers wanted autonomous power in the hands 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." (74)

In a letter sent to Eleanor by Rotrou, Archbishop of Rouen, under the instructions of Henry II, he made it clear that he considered that his wife was behind the revolt as she had "made the fruits of your union with our Lord King rise up against their father". He added: "before events carry us to a dreadful conclusion, return with your sons to the husband whom you must obey and with whom it is your duty to live... Bid your sons, we beg you, to be obedient and devoted to their father." (75)

Eleanor's powerful lords from Aquitaine joined the rebellion. Henry the Young also did a deal with William the Lion, the King of Scotland, who promised him Northumbria if he helped defeat his father. However, before the fighting began, Eleanor was captured by the agents of Henry. According to Gervase of Canterbury, Eleanor, left Poiters for Chartres, on a horse, dressed as a man. She was recognized and arrested and taken to Henry who was based in Rouen. (76)

In July 1173 Henry defeated his sons at Verneuil Castle. His soldiers also had success against the Scots in Northumbria. His loyal commander, Richard de Lucy, defeated hired bands of Flemish mercenaries at Fornham, near Bury St Edmunds. (77) By the end of September 1174 it was all over. After their surrender, Henry, Richard and Geoffrey all had their allowances increased. Henry was formally assigned two castles in Normandy, to be chosen by his father, and 15,000 Angevin pounds for his upkeep. (78) However, all three sons had to promise never to "demand anything further from the Lord King, their father, beyond the agreed settlement... and withdrew neither themselves nor their service from him." (79)

However, he was unwilling to forgive Eleanor and she spent the next fourteen years in captivity. The records suggest that she was permitted two chamberlains and a maid named Amaria. Lisa Hilton, the author of Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) claims that although "Eleanor's living conditions were reasonable, they were not commensurate with her status, as her clothes were no finer than a servant girl's and apparently she and Amaria had to share the same bed." (80)

Death of Henry the Young

On 19th June, 1177, Henry the Young's wife, Margaret, finally gave birth to her first child, William. The joy at the birth of a direct heir to the Angevin empire was short-lived, for the infant died three days later. Matthew Strickland, the author of Henry the Young King (2016) has pointed out: "Whereas his father's extra-marital affairs were as numerous as they were notorious, young Henry is not known to have had any mistresses, or to fathered any illegitimate children... this was unusual among men of his rank and power." (81)

In 1182 Henry the Young renewed his demands for more power, and once again fled to the French court in defiance of his father. Henry II responded by increasing his allowance by an extra 110 Angevin pounds a day for himself and his wife. However, this did not stop him supporting the rebellious barons of Aquitaine against his brother, Richard the Lionheart, who was trying to bring this area under control. The king sent his soldiers to help Richard against his rebellious son. "Returning from a raid on Angoulême, however, he was refused entry to Limoges by its exasperated citizens, and set off on a haphazard expedition around southern Aquitaine, despoiling the monastery of Grandmont and the shrines of Rocamadour." (82) Peter of Blois accused Henry the Young of being "a leader of freebooters who consorted with outlaws and excommunicates". (83)

Henry the Young fell seriously ill with dysentery. A message was sent to Henry II informing him that his son was dying. The king's advisors suspected a trap and warmed against him visiting his son. He therefore sent his physician, some money and as a token of his forgiveness, a sapphire ring that had belonged to Henry I. He also said that he hoped that after his son recovered, they would be reconciled. When he received the ring he replied asking his father to show mercy to his mother, Queen Eleanor. (84)

Henry the Young 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." Henry died on 11th June, 1183. (85)

Richard the Lionheart

In January 1189, Henry became ill. From his sickbed he sent messages begging Richard the Lionheart to return to his side. However, he continued to fight alongside Philip II and he considered nominating his youngest son, John, as his heir. On 12th June Richard attacked Henry at his base in Le Mans. Henry was forced to flee and was taken to Chinon Castle. (86)

By the end of the month Maine was overrun and Tours had fallen. On 3rd July, Henry left his sickbed to meet Philip II at Ballan-Miré. He accepted his long list of demands including the confirmation of Richard as his heir in all lands on both sides of the Channel. Henry was so ill that the fifty-six year old king had to be held upright on his horse by his attendants. After signing the treaty he was too sick to ride and was carried home in a litter. On his return, Henry asked for a list to be drawn up of his former supporters who had joined Richard's rebellion. According to Gerald of Wales, the name at the top of the list was his favourite son John. (87)

Henry II died on 6th July 1189. Eleanor's son, Richard, now became king of England. One of his first acts as king was to send William Marshal to England with orders to release his mother from prison. Richard also restored to her control the lands and revenues that she had enjoyed before the revolt of 1173. (88) Eleanor responded by toured England encouraging the barons to support her son and announced a general amnesty of prisoners. (89) Roger of Howden claims she went from "city to city and castle to castle", holding "queenly courts", releasing prisoners and exacting oaths from all freemen to "be loyal to her son as their as yet uncrowned king". (90)

For many years Eleanor had been trying to persuade Richard to get married. She had initially selected Alais, the daughter of King Louis VII. However, he rejected the idea: "Although he had always been close to her (Eleanor) and even though he had been reared in a feminine court, where were respected, he did not like the female sex. Not only was he averse to marrying Alais because she had been his father's mistress, he objected to marrying any woman... For good or ill, she had molded the Coeur de Lion, whose name would be synonymous with valor eight centuries later. The only flaw in her planning was that her son was a homosexual." (91)

Richard was crowned king at Westminster on 3rd September 1189. He stayed in England only long enough to make the necessary financial arrangements for his involvement in the Third Crusade. (92) This involved selling some of his recently acquired land. He even joked that he would sell London if he could find a buyer. Roger of Howden claimed that "he (Richard) put up for sale all he had: offices, lordships, earldoms, sheriffdoms, castles, towns, lands, everything." (93)

Dan Jones, the author of The Plantagents (2013) has argued that Richard decided to change the way he ruled the country: "He (Richard) looked at the Plantagent empire he had inherited and saw revenue streams where his father had not. Henry had generally balanced the profits that could be derived from the sale of office and royal favour against the need to offer kingship based on stable government by competent royal servants. Richard was never so keenly bureaucratic." It is estimated that he spent around £14,000 on food and equipment for the campaign. This included "14,000 cured pig carcasses, 60,000 horseshoes, huge numbers of cheeses and beans, thousands upon thousands of arrows." (94)

Richard the Lionheart was out of the country in November 1189, leaving Eleanor in charge of the country. One of her first decisions was refusing permission for the papal legate, John of Agnani, to visit London. On 12th December, 1189, Richard sailed from Dover to Calais on his way to the Holy Land. He appointed Hugh de Puiset as justiciar and William Longchamp as chancellor. Although she was not formerly designated regent, "it is clear that both de Puiset and Longchamp deferred to her authority". (95)

King Henry II
Merry-Joseph Blondel, Richard the Lionheart (1841)

On the way to the Holy Land, Richard married Berengaria of Navarre, the daughter of King Sancho VI of Navarre. William of Newburgh suggests that the marriage was arranged by Eleanor as she wanted him to have an "incontestable heir". (96) Walter of Guisborough claims that Richard had married Berengaria "as a salubrious remedy against the great perils of fornication". (97) The wedding was held in Limassol on 12th May 1191 at the Chapel of St. George. Richard took his new wife on crusade with him briefly but she returned home before Richard became involved in any fighting. The marriage did not produce any children. (98)

Richard was considered to be the best military commander in the Christian world. On 8th June, 1191, Richard joined the army that had been besieging Acre for nearly two years. Saladin, the Muslim leader, attempted to take the besiegers' heavily fortified camp by storm was beaten back on 4th July. The exhausted defenders capitulated. Terms were agreed on 12th July: the garrison to be ransomed in return for 200,000 dinars and the release of 1,500 of Saladin's prisoners. (99)

On his way home in December 1192, Richard was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria. Over the next few months Eleanor of Aquitaine, was busy raising the £100,000 ransom money. Eleanor also made an extended visit to Germany. "This was far more than a visit of ceremony, for it had been preceded by a stream of letters concerning the conduct of government within the kingdom and the raising of the king's ransom". Richard was not released until 1194. (100)

Richard devoted the next five years to successfully recovering the territory he had lost while he was in prison. On 25th March 1199, he was Châlus-Chabrol, a small castle belonging to Aimar de Limoges. While walking around the castle perimeter without his chainmail he was struck by a crossbow bolt in the left shoulder near the neck. It was quickly removed but the wound swiftly became gangrenous. Richard named John as his heir before dying on 6th April 1199. (101)

King John

Eleanor's youngest son, John, became the new king of England. Although she was now 77 years old she travelled throughout Aquitaine during the early summer, granting privileges to churches and urban communities as well as negotiating with the regional aristocracy to give their support to John. It has been estimated that she travelled over 1,000 miles during this period. (102)

England and Normandy accepted John succession without protest. However, the barons of Anjou, Maine and Touraine, refused to accept him as their ruler and instead declared for Arthur of Brittany, Eleanor's grandson (the son of Geoffrey). Eleanor was outraged and ordered that Anjou be laid waste as a punishment for its support of Geoffrey. Her soldiers attacked Angers and sacked the city. (103)

At the end of 1199 Eleanor set off from Poitiers to visit King Alfonso VIII of Castile who had married her daughter, Eleanor. Soon after the beginning of her trip she was ambushed by her vassal, Hugh de Lusignan, and taken prisoner. He demanded the return of land taken from the family by Henry II and retained by Richard the Lionheart. Eleanor accepted his family had been badly treated and granted him the disputed territory of La Marche. (104)

Eleanor crossed the Pyrenees in the depths of winter and reached Toledo at the end of January, 1200. King Alfonso was the father of twelve children, and two of his daughters, Urraca and Blanche, were unmarried. Eleanor decided to arrange for her two grand-daughters to marry members of Europe's royal family. Blanche (12 years old) married King Louis VIII of France and Urraca (13 years old) married King Alfonso II of Portugal. (105)

King John's marriage to Isabella, Countess of Gloucester, failed to produce any children. With the encouragement of Eleanor, the marriage was annulled and he married Isabella of Angoulême on 24th August, 1200. Over the next few years she gave birth to five children including a son, the future Henry III. (106) John was "madly enamoured" with his bride, as "he believed he possessed everything he could desire". Eleanor of Aquitaine died on 1st April, 1204. (107)


(1) Andrea Hopkins, Heroines: Remarkable and Inspiring Women (1995) page 27

(2) Ralph de Diceto, Pictures of History (c. 1180)

(3) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 23

(4) Orderic Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History (c. 1142)

(5) John of Salisbury, letter (1149)

(6) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 32

(7) William of Newburgh, History of English Affairs (c. 1200)

(8) Walter Map, On the Trivialities of Courtiers (c. 1215)

(9) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 33

(10) Andrea Hopkins, Heroines: Remarkable and Inspiring Women (1995) page 27

(11) Geoffrey of Vigeois, Chronicle (c. 1180)

(12) Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France 987-1328 (2007) page 152

(13) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) pages 40-43

(14) Marion Meade, Eleanor of Aquitaine (2002) page 80

(15) Jane Martindale, Eleanor of Aquitaine : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(16) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 54

(17) Gerald of Wales, Concerning the Instruction of a Prince (c. 1190)

(18) Walter Map, On the Trivialities of Courtiers (c. 1215)

(19) Jane Martindale, Eleanor of Aquitaine : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(20) Christopher Tyerman, God's War: A New History of the Crusades (2006) pages 273-275

(21) Antonia Fraser, The Warrior Queens (1988) page 23

(22) Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Mother Queen of the Middle Ages (2016) page 25

(23) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 53

(24) William of Newburgh, History of English Affairs (c. 1200)

(25) Gervase of Canterbury, The Deeds of Kings (c.1210)

(26) William of Tyre, Chronicle (c. 1180)

(27) John of Salisbury, Historia Pontificalis (c. 1160)

(28) David Nicolle, The Second Crusade 1148 (2009) page 18

(29) James A. Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History (1962) pages 115–121

(30) Henry of Huntingdon, A History of the English People (c. 1150)

(31) William of Newburgh, History of English Affairs (c. 1200)

(32) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 87

(33) Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Mother Queen of the Middle Ages (2016) page 43

(34) William of Newburgh, History of English Affairs (c. 1200)

(35) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 93

(36) Marion Meade, Eleanor of Aquitaine (2002) page 182

(37) Jane Martindale, Eleanor of Aquitaine : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(38) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 93

(39) Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Mother Queen of the Middle Ages (2016) page 51

(40) Henry of Huntingdon, A History of the English People (c. 1150)

(41) Edmund King, King Stephen : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(42) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 96

(43) Henry of Huntingdon, A History of the English People (c. 1150)

(44) John Gillingham, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975) page 39

(45) Thomas K. Keefe, Henry II : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(46) Michael David Knowles, Encyclopædia Britannica (2016)

(47) William FitzStephen, The Life of Thomas Becket (c. 1190)

(48) Peter of Blois, The Chronicles of Peter of Blois (c. 1185)

(49) Herbert of Bosham, Life of Thomas Becket (c. 1188)

(50) John Gillingham, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975)

(51) Marion Meade, Eleanor of Aquitaine (2002) page 212

(52) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 149

(53) Edward Grim, Life of Thomas Becket (c. 1180)

(54) Herbert Thurston, The Catholic Encyclopedia (1912)

(55) Gerald of Wales, Concerning the Instruction of a Prince (c. 1190)

(56) William of Newburgh, History of English Affairs (c. 1200)

(57) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 97

(58) Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) page 131

(59) Ranulf Higden, Universal History (1327)

(60) Gerald of Wales, Concerning the Instruction of a Prince (c. 1190)

(61) Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) page 130

(62) Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Mother Queen of the Middle Ages (2016) page 81

(63) Jane Martindale, Eleanor of Aquitaine : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(64) Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) page 129

(65) Marion Meade, Eleanor of Aquitaine (2002) page 297

(66) Elizabeth Hallam, Henry the Young : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(67) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013) page 82

(68) Walter Map, On the Trivialities of Courtiers (c. 1215)

(69) Elizabeth Hallam, Henry the Young : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(70) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013) page 83

(71) Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) page 133

(72) William of Newburgh, History of English Affairs (c. 1200)

(73) Andrea Hopkins, Most Wise and Valliant Ladies (1997) page 53

(74) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 202

(75) Rotrou, Archbishop of Rouen, letter to Eleanor of Aquitaine (March, 1173)

(76) Gervase of Canterbury, The Deeds of the Kings (c.1210)

(77) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013) page 83

(78) Elizabeth Hallam, Henry the Young : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(79) Andrea Hopkins, Most Wise and Valliant Ladies (1997) page 54

(80) Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens (2008) pages 137-138

(81) Matthew Strickland, Henry the Young King (2016) page 32

(82) Elizabeth Hallam, Henry the Young : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(83) Peter of Blois, The Chronicles of Peter of Blois (c. 1185)

(84) Geoffrey of Vigeois, Chronicle (c. 1180)

(85) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 234

(86) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013) pages 107-108

(87) Gerald of Wales, Concerning the Instruction of a Prince (c. 1190)

(88) Jane Martindale, Eleanor of Aquitaine : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(89) Andrea Hopkins, Most Wise and Valliant Ladies (1997) page 55

(90) Roger of Howden, King Henry the Second , and the Acts of King Richard (c. 1200)

(91) Marion Meade, Eleanor of Aquitaine (2002) page 377

(92) John Gillingham, The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (1975) page 43

(93) Roger of Howden, King Henry the Second , and the Acts of King Richard (c. 1200)

(94) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013) page 113

(95) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 262

(96) William of Newburgh, History of English Affairs (c. 1200)

(97) Walter of Guisborough, Chronicle (c.1295)

(98) John Gillingham, Richard I : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(99) Dan Jones, The Plantagenets (2013) page 126

(100) Jane Martindale, Eleanor of Aquitaine : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(101) John Gillingham, Richard I : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(102) Jane Martindale, Eleanor of Aquitaine : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(103) Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1999) page 325

(104) Desmond Seward, Eleanor of Aquitaine: The Mother Queen of the Middle Ages (2016) page 183

(105) Marion Meade, Eleanor of Aquitaine (2002) page 415

(106) John Gillingham, King John : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(107) Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History (c. 1235)

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