Geniuses, devils, spoilt brats, villains, heroes; war, sex, violence, bravery, treachery, peace, reform… the Angevins that founded the Plantagenet dynasty have it all, in spades. Not so much history, as soap opera. This week we kick things off with the arrival of Henry II and Eleanor on the English throne.
The marriage of the millennium
Eleanor of Aquitaine split opinion across Christendom. One half of them saw the queen of culture and sophistication ; the other saw her as irresponsible, wild and undisciplined. Gervase of Canterbury described her as 'an exceedingly shrewd woman… but fickle'. So maybe both sides were right.
Eleanor was married to Louis VII of France in 1137. Louis was wild for her, but he was something of an odd fish. Nice enough you understand, but very affected by the burning by his troops of a church full of women and children – which isn't so very odd. But as he had his head shaved to make him look like a monk and became increasingly devout, Eleanor began to tire. She behaved badly on crusade – taking a gaggle of noble ladies and then suspected of having an affair with her uncle. Plus, the ultimate crime, she only gave Louis 2 girls as children. Louis needed a male heir and to his pain and distress had the marriage annulled by the Pope.
8 weeks later she was married to Henry. She met him in Paris once; she needed a protector to keep all those eager suitors away from her door; and if you were going to jump ship from the King of France and stay at the same level, your options were limited anyway.
The political map transformed
The marriage transformed the political map. In 1150, Louis was the dominant power in western europe. Look at the map here based on the situation after the marriage. Add back all the lands of Aquitaine to the French lands – i.e. everything south of Anjou and Tourraine except Toulouse and you'll see what I mean.
The New Kingdom
Henry was crowned king of England in 1154. He then spent the first few years of his life establishing his new kingdom. This meant this thing really:
- Getting the English barons back into line – down within a few years
- Sorting out his brothers Geoffrey and William – likewise
- Getting even more territory if he could
However, that's not what he said on his coronation. Henry was in a strong position when he came to the throne – so he didn't have to give too much away…
A scandalous marriage
Henry and Louis tried to play nice, and Henry's eldest son Henry was betrothed to Marguerite, daughter of Louis. Oh, Henry was 3, Marguerite 6 months old. The dowry was significant – the all-important Vexin, key to Normandy, given away by Geoffrey Plantagenet. But Louis wasn't worried – hey, it was years away. But Henry tricked him – in 1160 he had the Pope allow him to go ahead with the marriage, and took the castles back. Now Henry's empire looked secure and complete.
Lot's of rather formless material is the super-summary. Women, long dresses down to the floor, hung from the shoulders, lots of sashes and ties to keep it all together. Hanky (wimple rather) on the head. Blokes, very much the same – soft leather slipper, long tunic covering everything up. Plus fashions didn't change quickly in the way the y do today – so it'll take us some time before things get more exciting.