QUEEN ELEANOR

ELEANOR coughs

 

No one knows why they perished. They were ill, of course, but we weren’t ready for their deaths. My mother. And brother. In Chateau de Talmont, on Aquitaine’s Atlantic coastline. That’s where they breathed their last, and as the tide of their lives ebbed away my own was drawn back, swollen, and flushed upon the shoreline of our kingdom. For at once I had moved from heir presumptive to Duchess of Aquitaine and Poitou. A vast area, territorially. Politically, a strategic possession, which is what I became instantly.

 

At just eight years old.

 

Strategic, maybe, but I would be no one’s possession for I was strong-willed, intelligent, and ambitious enough in my life to come queen consort not once, but twice. I outlived both my husbands, King Louis VII of France, King Henry II of England, and by the time of my seclusion here in Fontevraud Abbey, eight of my ten children. Fifteen years I reigned with Louis, thirty five alongside Henry, governing with him for two decades before he flung me in prison.

 

But I wasn’t bowed.

 

Eleanor was never bowed.

 

Because my mother ensured that from a young age I learned to think for myself.

 

‘Petronilla.’

‘Well it’s true. Isn’t it? Eleanor.’

‘Don’t lean on your sister. Justify your assertion.’

‘They have not the same deity.’

‘So you say.’

‘Theirs is one, ours three. That is no equation.’

‘Eleanor.’

‘Must I abjure?’

‘For our present purpose, yes.’

‘He is the same. We are to love Him, and do good by each other. Hypocrisy, calumny, the lie. These destroy us.’

‘I see such flourish, not falter.’

‘Because you own this world’s sight, not the next.’

‘Why do you smirk, Petronilla?’

‘Because she knows nothing of this next world. None of us do.’

‘Yet the teaching is absolute upon its substance.’

‘And if it is wrong, mother, what then?’

‘Proceed.’

‘Our Trinity. It is uneven.’

‘How so?’

‘Here, in the final Gospel, as Jesus talks to his disciples – ‘for the Father is greater than I’. There is imbalance in the arrangement.’

‘It is not that simple.’

‘Nothing ever is with you, my sister.’

‘Expand.’

‘The referent, mother. Does Jesus speak of His divine or human nature, or both?’

‘Enlarge.’

‘Christ offered Himself as sacrifice for the sins of the world. But did He do so to the Father and the Holy Spirit alone, or also to Himself?’

‘This is dour.’

‘It is vital. The doctrine is difficult, but logical. Any inability to see it is our own error of vision, not God’s.’

‘That shall be all for today.’

‘But which is right, mother?’

‘You have both argued adequately. I would be the poorer judge for ruling in either favour.’

‘But there must be resolution.’

‘Learning requires breath, Petronilla. Stifling questions much less suffocating direction birthed in the mind would smother its enterprise.’

She took hold of our hands, looking us firmly in the eye.

‘Your comprehension is your own. Let influence sway, not steer it.’

 

And then she was gone.

 

Dead.

 

But her words that day remained always engraved on my heart.

 

Eleanor never forgot.

 

William X. My father. The Saint. Duke of Aquitaine and Gascony, later count of Poitou, born the same year his father William IX mortgaged Toulouse to raise funds for crusade. It ruined him, of course, as it did the rest of us who engaged in such needless conflict, not just financially but morally too. When William IX returned, he took up with one of his vassals, Dangerose, spurning his wife Philippa to cause almost intolerable strain between he and my father, who loved his mother dearly. Except then my father married Aenor, she Dangerose’s daughter by her first husband, and with that one stroke the rift between the two Williams was healed.

 

Such matches were all too commonly made, to stymy and heal division. Few were about love, but in this case my parents held great affection for each other. My father loved the arts almost as much as my mother valued education yet he also had to be a warrior, for if there weren’t claims upon his actual land there was fierce competition for his political influence. Within his own territories he fought hard against rival factions, but it was his schismatic support for antipope Anacletus II against his own bishops favouring Pope Innocent II which saw his authority severely compromised.

 

The austere abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux, made visit to restore his obedience to the proper authority, returning four years later when my father again required redirection in the affair. On the abbot’s first visit, when I was eight, I had hoped I might gain audience with him to speak of those matters which had arisen in conference with my mother and sister but I, confident as I was, still shrunk from talking to such authority. This was the holy man in fierce contest with Peter Abelard, a logician and scholastic who had refuted archbishop Anselm’s ontology and drawn with profound skills of dialectic and rationalism legions of followers to his Oratory of the Paraclete. Together with his lover Heloise, the collective there engaged in literary, secular study admiring the pagan philosophers of old with their emphasis on virtue and discipline.

 

The Church would have none of that. Man fell in the beginning, had carried on falling, and would fall until the end of time. Only the redeeming work of Christ could save him. On his own, he was doomed. He might practice virtue, he might even remain virtuous for a time after but eventually he would sin, and of course in the end die. Only Christ’s ransom might justify and thus save him from damnation. Abelard sought to analyse, to understand through logic tenets of such belief including a rational interpretation of the Trinity. This was anathema to Bernard for whom faith first brought comprehension, not the other way round. Questioning truth undermined its apogee, Christ, and must be opposed wherever it reared its ugliness against the Living Word…

 

‘…but this Abelard, he speaks of intention…my intention…before I take action.’

‘Yet he reasons so.’

‘But his logic is adroit. Intention, not action subsequent to it determines moral value and character. So spake our Lord upon adultery.’

‘My child, you have much to learn.’

‘Teach me then, Father.’

‘This, Abelard, is defended by among others, Peter, a Cluniac. In harbouring the heretic, Peter has grown infected by his pernicious doctrine so much so that he has sought to bring us paganism from the sand.’

‘I do not follow.’

‘Reason corrupts, Eleanor. Faith alone saves. What is it?’

I showed him the passage.

‘“For the father is greater than I.’”

‘How can it be so?’

He studied me.

‘Be silent. In stillness, my child. Let us be quiet.’

I heard the peace.

‘Now read the words.’

I complied.

‘Again.’

‘“For the father is greater than I.”’

‘Again.’

I looked at him, but read.

‘Once more.’

‘“For the Father is greater than I.”’

‘Now ponder the words. Weigh and consider them. Let us pray.’

In the noisy quiet, I heard his lips move in whisper.

‘And now contemplate.’

The silence was deafening.

I felt someone else with us.

‘There, we have shared closer communion with God, the Living Word of Christ in contemplation with the Holy Spirit.’

 

And then he rose, walking from the room so softly that I couldn’t hear his step.

 

Our king was Louis VI. The Fat. The Fighter. Like many men a combination of gut, and glory. When Henry I of England died at the end of 1135 our own Stephen of Blois seized the crown thereby reneging on his oath to support Henry’s favoured heir, Matilda. The Civil War resultant lasted almost two decades, draining the country’s resources such that no Anglo-Norman strength might be turned anywhere else, including towards the French crown. This mattered to us because Louis’ house, the Capetians, were in constant struggle not just with other houses in France but with those in England too.

 

Matilda’s marriage to Geoffrey Plantagenet shifted the balance of power away from France whilst my own to their son quite slammed the scales down in England’s favour, the Angevin Empire dwarfing the Capetian for many years to come. That was until the weight righted itself and started to drop the other way when my son the Lionheart proved unable to produce legitimate heir, and once Louis’ third wife, Adele of Champagne, gave birth to a son, Philip, this eventual strong king of France countered the weakness of his counterpart, my youngest son King John so that the scales swung full back against the English. Adele’s father was Theobald II, an incredibly powerful and rebellious figure who at this time of the Fighter’s career had actually rallied to the Capetian cause against other feuding lords of the realm. Would that Louis VII, my first husband, have courted him similarly rather than antagonizing him, and in consequence the rest of us.

 

But I get ahead of myself.

 

For it was the events of early 1137 which saw the Fat really smack his chops with delight. My father went on pilgrimage, taking Petronilla and me with him. His reasons for making the journey, much less dragging us both in tow, will forever remain a mystery to me for it was on this trip that he himself passed away. From Poitiers we had travelled to Bordeaux, where my father intended to leave us in the care of its archbishop as he went on to Santiago de Compostela, but Petronilla (sensing I now know his infirmity) was adamant she would accompany him, and so they set out for the shrine of St James with a host of pilgrims whilst I remained behind. In consternation, I saw her returning far earlier than expected.

 

‘…Petronilla! What on earth are you doing here? Where is father?’

‘He’s gone.’

‘But there is no route past.’

‘He’s dead, Eleanor. We have to leave straightaway. For Paris.’

‘Father, passed?’

‘You’re hot property, my dear sister. We must protect you. The king is your guardian now.’

‘How did he die?’

‘He spoke only of you when dictating will bequeathing our domains. He has appointed the Fighter your defender. I crossed the Pyrenees alone, journeying without respite. But our voyage is only half complete. We must to Paris.’

 

And with that we were off, arriving to find Louis VI dying from dysentery. Albeit moribund, he must have smiled inside when he heard our news for his first born son Philip had died in a riding accident in 1131, leaving the monkish, monastic 17 year old Louis the Younger France’s heir apparent. And so, rather than waste time being my guardian he declared almost straightaway that I was to marry his son. With that we were wed, the Capetian lands immeasurably expanded, although a week later the Fat died and I was flung from a free-wheeling southern court to a reserved northern one, my high spirits quite at odds with the sober husband who nonetheless indulged me by defending my behavior even against the criticisms of his own mother and that Bernard of Clairvaux who frowned upon my conduct, considering me poor influence upon the new King of France.

 

Despite this, the marriage showed promise. It was a gorgeous ceremony in the Cathedral of Saint-Andre presided over by the archbishop of Bordeaux, and my gift to my husband, a rock crystal vase, took the assembled’s breath away. My grandfather, William IX had first given it to me, though later Louis donated it to the Basilica of Saint Denis. It wasn’t an object of sentiment though, but of value. And power. For in offering it to Louis I seemingly subjected myself to him, keen that he abide by the clause in my father’s will stipulating Aquitaine would remain independent of his possessions until our eldest son became in his time king of France.

 

Nonetheless, impediments to our union presented themselves fairly soon after its inception, none stranger than that created by my own sister Petronilla who in joining me at the French court found herself madly in love with a cousin of the king’s, a married man, Raoul of Vermandois. So intense was their affection that Raoul, with Louis’s approval, hastily repudiated his wife only to be excommunicated by the Pope for his action. And he was not the only dissatisfied party with this affair, for Raoul’s disposed wife was sister to Theobald II, part of the king’s retinue and in support of the Capetians, now fuming with such ire that he and Louis fell to loggerheads then all-out war.

 

The spark was lit in 1141 when the archbishopric of Bourges became vacant. My husband chose one of his own chancellors, Cadurc, to fill the seat but was opposed by the canons of Bourges and Pope Innocent II himself whose favoured candidate was Pierre de la Chatre. In response, Louis bolted the gates of the town against Pierre, so uncharacteristic a course of action for him to take that the Pope blamed me for advising him so.

 

But Eleanor never sought to influence.

 

Nor to interfere.

 

Matters deteriorated however when Pierre was given refuge by a still steaming Theobald II, provoking my husband to declare war in which Champagne was quickly occupied by the royal army. Ablaze with wrath, Louis commanded the wholesale destruction of Vitry-le-Francois, his troops burning to death a thousand people in the town’s church. It was a command that would mortify then haunt him in measure I would only ever see once again, in Henry’s reaction to the murder of Becket. But for now, the king remained blinded by rage, its effect so draining upon me that in the middle of 1144 when we were on visit to the newly built monastic church at Saint-Denis, I saw then marched straight up to Bernard of Clairvaux…

 

‘…my child.

‘I am none of that. You have seen what is happening, you might influence the Pope to lift this curse on my sister. Louis will make concessions in Champagne, he will recognize Pierre as archbishop of Bourges. But you must intervene.’

‘Your lack of penitence is its own curse, Eleanor. You interfere in matters of state which exacerbate the situation, for you have stirred the king up against the Papacy.’

 

Yet my protest must have made impact for at the Council of Reims that very year Celestine II lifted the excommunication, for good. But the damage had been done. Louis, wallowing in guilt and self-pity over the church massacre shunned Raoul and my sister and to atone for his sin in commanding the slaughter began contemplating crusade, a venture that would only accelerate the end of our by now troubled marriage. And Petronilla would divorce anyway. Raoul, far from remorseful, married for a third time the next year.

 

I had been in correspondence with my uncle Raymond of Poitiers, now Prince of Antioch, who was seeking protection from the French crown against the Saracens encroaching on his territory. He had left England after the death of Henry I to marry Constance, Bohemund II of Antioch’s daughter. To reach the city Raymond had had to journey through Sicily whose ruler Roger II, opposed to the match for political reasons, ordered him arrested. My uncle evaded capture, arriving in Antioch during April 1136 whereupon Patriarch Ralph of Domfront married him to Constance against vehement protest from her mother Princess Alice.

 

For Raymond and Ralph now ruled Antioch.

 

Byzantine Emperor John II Comnenus however soon reasserted rights he felt over the city, his influence enough to force Raymond pay homage to him with the promise to cede Antioch to John as soon as Raymond might be recompensed with another slab of land in Muslim territory to the east of the city. Expedition to gain this territory in 1138 ended in the unsuccessful Siege of Shazar, Raymond giving not his all in battle to claim somewhere for which he had no attachment. John, incensed by his lack of support, demanded Antioch outright but was sent packing by a rejuvenated Raymond who deposed Ralph before rebuffing another attempt by John to take his city in 1142. But the following year, John’s successor Manuel I proved hardier in opposition and Raymond’s ill-judged demand for cession of land led the Emperor to enforce my uncle’s voyage to Constantinople to renew homage and acknowledge his Greek patriarch. Raymond’s behavior left him exposed to tribal attack for which he then humiliatingly had to return to Manuel to ask for protection.

 

This, then, was the background mess against which Europe launched its Second Crusade to gain the Holy Land. I had been in constant contact with my uncle and understood how fractious, brutal and deadly were the disputes in that geographical region which crusaders from far-off lands had absolutely no chance of overcoming in and of themselves, let alone attempting to impose their own faith upon places and people who were as firm and constant in their religion as we were in our own creed. And that was before you factored in a King of France planning pilgrimage not conquest there, to find peace for himself rather than readying his army for the rabid conflict which was clearly going to greet us when we arrived.

 

Eugene III commissioned none other than Bernard of Clairvaux to preach this Second Crusade, in a field at Vezelay in March 1146. Vezelay, starting point for pilgrims on the way of Saint James to Santiago de Compostela. It held the relics of Mary Magdalene, witness to Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection, Apostle to the Apostles whose trauma sevenfold Jesus Himself cured. He who had commanded us to love God and each other, an order upon which (He clearly specified) hung all the Law and prophets, repudiated grossly by everyone who took sword into the sand.

 

For here, in Vezelay in 1096 Urban II had preached the First Crusade. To kill. And here the Frankish and English factions of the Third Crusade would meet before departing for the Holy Land, under my own son’s banner, Richard I. To kill. And in between them Bernard, who should have espoused Christ’s teaching, subverted its truth so utterly that it made no sense at all - to gain absolution for our sins, he preached, we must take the cross against infidels, that in such show of repentance we might attain grace from God, His reward our possession of their Holy Land.

 

‘Cursed be he,’ came final pronouncement of this perverse benediction, ‘who does not stain his sword with blood.’

 

And so the attacks began.

 

At home, first.

 

The Jews, then the Muslims both targeted entirely due to his anti-Christian sermonizing. At last, in June 1147, I took my ladies-in-waiting and vassals, leaving Vezelay to arrive with my husband in Constantinople. Our three-week stay was one of tremendous calmness before the storm. I was feted, named golden-foot from the cloth that decorated and fringed my robe. We stayed in the Philopation palace, and our self-imposed descent into fantasy was made complete when Manuel I informed us that the German king, Conrad III, had won great victory ahead of us.

 

In reality, his army had been massacred. Manuel must have smirked inwardly when he advised us to cross the Phrygian mountains in order to reach Antioch more quickly. On their slopes we discovered the unburied corpses of the Germans, harbinger of a horror we were to experience ourselves upon the ascent of Mount Cadmus. Louis, for some fathomless reason, was at the rear of our train with the pilgrims and baggage. At front, I was feeling fed up and disillusioned with travel, yearning to reach my uncle so much so that when we crested the peak in advance of everyone else I gave the order to push on ahead at quicker pace. Our group became separated, and from seeming nowhere came the Turks butchering the unarmed around the king. He escaped, somehow, though utterly dejected now we reached Antioch.

 

Instantly, I felt the tension between my husband and my uncle. It was political, and personal, and fanned entirely by misunderstanding. Raymond thought that we had come to help him militarily. He wanted us to take Aleppo and Caesarea with him, to shore up his fragile grasp on the region. But Louis was intent on completing his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I supported my uncle, and with that decision one of the final coffin nails was driven into our marriage. Rumour had it that there was affair between us. There was great affection, as only familial bond might own with strength, but Eleanor never strayed. Raymond didn’t court me. He taught me. I had made mention of Bernard’s approach to the final Gospel, Lectio divina which sought through contemplation and prayer to illustrate the Living Word. My uncle approached it more in Abelard’s manner…

 

‘We must begin with the opening verse - “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God: believe also in me.”’

‘The differentiation is there, from the start.’

‘But of the peace, Eleanor. How often are you settled so?’

‘Yet He has separated Himself from God.’e He

‘Let us proceed – “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you.”’

‘Again, uncle, Jesus talks of the Father as distinct.’

‘Yet He tells His disciples He will make their rooms ready in His house. There is collocation, evident, though at this juncture only in suggestion.’

I studied him. ‘I think I follow.’

‘It is now developed – “And if I shall go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself: that where I am, you also may be.” Jesus repeats that He will make their rooms ready. Further, that He will return to take His disciples with Him, to His Father’s house. Their mansions will be His, and God’s. The gap narrows, imperceptibly still.’

‘The disciples are of the Trinity?’

He smiled. ‘Listen, Eleanor – “And whither I go you know: and the way you know”. Jesus directs, my niece, He shows us the right path.’

‘What is it?’

‘His disciples even are not sure – “Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest. And how can we know the way”. They remain lost, because they doubt. Still. Yet here the direction – “Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” Focus on the gap, Eleanor. The distinction. Its nullification is steady, sure. “If you had known me, you would without doubt have known my Father also: and from henceforth you shall know him. And you have seen him”. The equation is unequivocal now. The Father is in Jesus.’

‘But is He greater still? There seems suggestion so.’

‘“Philip saith to him: Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us”. The disciples maintain the difference. But Philip is upbraided gently – “Jesus saith to him: Have I been so long a time with you and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also. How sayest thou: Shew us the Father?”

I smiled. ‘I grow to understand.’

My uncle handed me the text.

I read to him – “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works”.

I looked at him, my eyes ablaze in comprehension.

‘Jesus is speaking to His friends, His followers, as a human being. But God abides in Him so totally that He speaks His Word too.’

 

By 1149 the Second Crusade was over, for Louis didn’t comprehend that he, a king, couldn’t just arrive at Jerusalem as some simple pilgrim so instead he was coerced by King Conrad III and Baldwin III of Jerusalem to lay siege to Damascus.

 

It failed, miserably.

 

We had to return to Europe before we were slaughtered.

 

It was a wrench to leave my uncle, made harder by my now self-imposed exile from Louis. We took passage home on separate ships, stormy weather driving mine south so that in July 1149 I landed at Palermo in Sicily where shelter and food were provided for me by the servants of Roger II. It was in Potenza, on the mainland, that I learnt of my uncle’s death, killed in the Battle of Inab, beheaded by Saladin’s uncle, his head placed in a silver box and sent as a gift to the caliph of Baghdad. I blamed no one but my husband, journeying now to Tusculum to petition Pope Eugene III for an annulment to our marriage. He refused to grant my request, but I knew it was only a matter of time and opportunity before I could rid myself of the man who caused my beloved’s death.

 

And what of the abbot, the holy man who had preached to us all at Vezelay? Bernard of Clairvaux was humiliated by the failure of our crusade, yet instead of accepting his portion of blame for underestimating the enemy he declared that our own sins, the sins of the crusaders, were single cause of our defeat. And if this wasn’t error enough, he then tried to call a new crusade in the hope that its success would assuage his own guilt, never mind the human cost which as a churchman he should first and foremost have been considering.

 

To add further insult, Louis began to be seen by the French people as the suffering pilgrim king who in the Holy Land quietly bore God’s punishments, whilst I, well I made myself enemy through increasing estrangement from him. The hammer blow which finally ended our marriage was the birth of my second daughter, Alix. With no male heir, Louis and his barons ranged against me, and with the approval even now of Pope Eugene III, four archbishops granted our marriage annulled 21 March 1152 on grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree. Put simply, I was Louis’s third cousin, once removed. It was the flimsiest of escape clauses (I was even more closely related to my second husband, Henry) but it held ground enough for us to separate because we both now wished for it so desperately. Louis kept custody of our daughters and he made assurances that he would restore my lands to my possession.

 

And that was it. France over, forgotten, but for Louis’s interest now in England. For in everything, he was opposed to Henry. He supported Thomas Becket in his battles with the king and continually took the side of Henry’s sons whenever they rose up against their father, even when I gave them aid myself. And then of course in 1165 his long-awaited male heir Philip was born who would prove in time to be the very Manuel to my Raymond in his strength of character and arms against Henry. But for now, on 18 May 1152 I was wed to this King of England.

 

And for a time, matters in my life settled.

 

Ambushes had been made along my journey to England to try to kidnap and marry me elsewhere, but Henry was mine and I would not be taken against my will. I had of course been swept off my feet by Curtmantle many months before, and I knew my marriage to him would be as tricky as our courtship, but it was also smooth in its early years. I supported my husband in his troubles with Thomas Becket, in his unwise, too hasty and irresponsible incursion into Ireland, even largely accepting his faltering but continual love affair with Rosamund Clifford. But these missteps and, frankly, weaknesses of character grew to frustrate me and with some rapidity I came to miss France too.

 

I often thought of that staging point for crusade, Vezelay, made over the very relics of the Magdalene, she first to the tomb, to see the risen Lord, and one day my mind returned to the study I had undertaken with my uncle Raymond. I took the Gospel and found place of continuation…

 

“Believe you not that I am in the Father and the Father in me?”

 

I read it three more times. Prayed. Meditated. Contemplated. And then I approached it rationally. I did so with each succeeding verse. First, in Bernard’s manner. Then my uncle’s. I looked up. They were both correct.

 

“If you love me, keep my commandments”.

 

“I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you”.

 

“These things have I spoken to you, abiding with you”.

 

Raymond was right. How often were we settled so? In my turbulent world, treachery, caprice and death were all around, yet through their midst came the kind of comfort which not only repelled but completely annihilated them.

 

“Peace I leave with you: my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled: nor let it be afraid”.

 

This was God, as man, marking differentiation between earthly life, his own included, and the next world…

 

“…because I go to the Father: for the Father is greater than I”.

 

And then I understood. The Father was greater in size, in scope, His house of many mansions. The human Jesus, and the divine Paraclete He would send his disciples for comfort and guidance were two identical, equal but still separate and distinct parts of that triune.

 

In 1170 Henry fell ill, enacting a harebrained plan to divide his kingdom amongst his sons, with the naïve proviso that he would retain overall authority. Richard was to inherit Aquitaine and Poitiers from me so that in 1171 we travelled to the former territory to pacify locals who were not in acquiescence with Henry’s misjudgement. In June 1172 though, aged twelve, my son was formally recognized when granted the lance and banner emblems of office, wearing the ring of Saint Valerie of Limoges, the personification of Aquitaine. On a day of seeming triumph and strength, who might have had the acuity of vision to see that this was the exact moment when the Angevin Empire began to recede from our grasp?

 

The following year, Henry stoked the fires of his own demise by bequeathing three castles in his eldest son’s inheritance to his youngest son John as part of a marriage deal between the latter and daughter of the Count of Maurienne. Incensed as Louis had been over Champagne, Henry the Young King journeyed to France and in March 1173 met with the monarch, my former husband Louis. He was soon joined by Richard and Geoffrey whilst on 8 July 1174 I was incarcerated by my husband for encouraging them to rebel.

 

And so I remained in captivity for the next fifteen years. My sister was permitted as companion and we often spoke of the past, of France, of the world’s fluidity and instability, for just five days after imprisoning me Henry made public penance for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket. Almost straightaway, the tide of the battle he fought against his sons turned in his favour so that barely two months later he had quashed the revolt and forced all of them to once again swear allegiance to him. Two years later Rosamund Clifford died, and six after that the Young King rebelled again before he too reached the end of his life. And then Henry himself perished on 6 July 1189.

 

Death was all around, yet Eleanor walked on through it.

 

My son Richard was crowned King of England on 13 August 1189 and I was immediately freed from prison by him. He married Berengaria, daughter of the King of Navarre, a match I championed as the kingdom bordered Aquitaine itself. But sadness followed, for Petronilla, my constant companion both at home and abroad who missed France terribly, made journey home in 1190 only on the voyage to succumb to fever from which she never recovered.

 

The following year, Richard took his new wife on crusade, an experience as unsuccessful on the battlefield as in the bedroom for them both, just as it had been for Louis and me. The marriage remained childless, and with no male heirs the dissolution of the Angevin Empire gathered pace. Richard himself was held in captivity, his sizable ransom demand raised by me for although I didn’t rule England outright in his time abroad I did exercise considerable influence on affairs of state.

 

But in 1199, a new succession crisis loomed when Richard died. Norman law favoured the cause of John whereas Angevin law pointed towards Arthur, son of John’s elder brother Geoffrey. John was supported by the English and Norman nobility and me, Arthur by Breton, Maine and Anjou nobles, and by that pernicious influence Philip II, King of France who wished to break up my Angevin territories for good. There was war, of course, though I ensured John was crowned king at Westminster Abbey before he went abroad to fight. In May 1200, the Treaty of le Goulet was agreed between them by which Philip’s heir, Louis was to be married to one of John’s nieces.

 

I was 77 years old when my son sent me to make the choice for him. Ambushed outside Poitiers, and on my travel south across the Pyrenees through Navarre and on to Castile I thought of Petronilla’s journey all those years previous to bring news to me of our father’s death. My bones had aged but my memory was sharp for I recalled that time vividly, ruminating on much vagary which had affected me since father’s passing. Alfonso VIII was married to my own daughter, Queen Eleanor of Castile. I was keen to meet her after all these years and she could not have been more hospitable. Of their two daughters, Urraca and Blanche, I chose the latter.

 

In the end, I stayed for two months, journeying with Blanche back across the Pyrenees to spend Easter in Bordeaux, presenting her to its archbishop in the valley of Loire. But her youth made me feel old, and in one moment I knew I would not make the journey back to England, heading instead for Fontevraud. War between John and Philip began again and I was near enough to Poitiers to support my son against Arthur, but my knowledge of warfare was limited enough such that Arthur managed to besiege me in the castle of Mirebau. Soon John came to my rescue, capturing Arthur in the process and ending the succession crisis by ordering his murder.

 

I bid farewell to my son and returned to Fontevraud to become nun in its abbey, making strong acquaintance with the abbess there, one Isabella d’Anjou.

 

ELEANOR coughs

 

(Voice of) RAYMOND

Eleanor of Aquitaine died in 1204, entombed in this abbey with her husband Henry, and son Richard. Behold, her effigy shows her bedecked in the magnificent jewellery of royalty. She is shown reading her Bible.

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