This is the story of how Eleanor of Aquitane’s choices helped create an Empire is Wesern Europe. And to persaude you to suppot the podcast through membership at https://thehistoryofengland.co.uk/become-a-member
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I am aiming at 3 episodes a month at the moment so this, being an off week is a special gift from me to thee. It’s a story from the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and is supposed to amuse and delight you, but also to get you to cough up and become a Member of the History of England, to both support your honest and hardworking podcaster and put food on the table. If you do decide that would be a good idea – which is my not be, I appreciate, you can go to the History of England.co.uk, and sign up using credit card, paypal, or indeed Patreon, and once done you open the sesame bun to reveal cave with over 100 hours of shedcasts, and up to 90 minutes fresh every month. Cheap as Chips.
Why Eleanor I hear you ask, intrigued. Well once upon a time I asked the good burgers of the History of England Facebook site which medieval characters folks would like to hear podcasts about. There were two names at the top of the list, and so far at the top of the list as to be like the top of Everest from the bottom of the Mariana Trench; they were Eleanor of Aquitaine and William Marshal. And so I started doing extended biographies, including Eleanor of Aquitaine. If and When you sign up, amongst a corned-blessed-copia of podcast goodies you will find series about 4 people so far – Eleanor of Aquitaine, William the Marshal – I insist, provocatively, on including ‘the’, incidentally – Margaret Beaufort and John Hawkwood. You can listen in two formats – 20-25 shortish 15 minute episodes, or 6 to 7 hour long ones.
Still why Eleanor I hear you say? Well, she is one of those figures that have always fascinated people, during her life and ever since, enduring to this day. There are many reasons. There is, through her, a connection to an ancient romantic and half legendary world of southern medieval France – of a glittering, cultured and exotic court, filled with troubadours and courtly love, romantic medieval castles lords and ladies and all that jazz. Eleanor’s father, famously, was also a poet writing in the now lost Occitanian language, the Langue d’Oc, from which the Lange d’Oc region draws its name – Oc being the way that the southerners reputedly said the word for yes, as opposed to Paris and the north – where they spoke the langue d’ouil, or Lange d’oui as it will become known. In fact Tennyson really went to town on this angle – he even had Eleanor herself as a troubadour in the land of Poitou, whose voice was then silenced in the cold lands of the north, otherwise known as England. And wet. And with rotten food. Poor Eleanor. Even in the days of Tennyson England did self deprecation.
So there’s that; and then there are the scandalous stories that titillated and outraged the monkish chroniclers like William of Malmesbury, as they sat in their draughty monasteries and robes, with their bare bottoms on cold stone seats and scratched furiously at their hair shirts. She was rumoured to have had affairs with multiple people, including her Uncle Raymond in Antioch, got herself into an incestuous marriage and just generally not behaved according to the model of the ideal medieval woman. There was supposedly a tempestuous war with her husband over his mistress the fair Rosamund. That one’s kept going – wasn’t there a recent telly series where she drowns the lass in a water butt? Murder was indeed among the accusations thrown at her. She was even supposed to have had an affair with Saladin. Which really would have been an outrage, given that Saladin would have been 10 at the time.
Not to be outdone one Chronicler goes for a spot of Satanism; he tells a story of Eleanor disrobing in front of her nobility, and declaring to them
‘I am not the devil that the king of France called me just now’.
This has more than a kinky feel to it, but was probably more Eleanor taking off her robe to show that her body under her gown had none of the devil’s deformities. Actually, this one probably comes from a story her son Richard the Lionheart rather liked – the tale of the Countess of Anjou, who aroused suspicions by avoiding the mass, and eventually flew out of the church window when rumbled. Richard rather proudly declared that his family had all
Come of the devil and to the devil they would go
I’d have at least put the Angevin children on the naughty step, or possibly slapped an ASBO on the lot of them.
But there was also her power, influence and magnificence. One of those monks was writing in Winchester in the 12th century, a man called Richard of Devizes whose ears were absolutely identical in their sizes described her as a ‘woman without compare’. She was cultured, rich and powerful – ruler of massive lands wider and richer than the King of the French; and she broke the rules. Maybe this is the one that has been brought more to light now; she was at two or three points a ruler in her own right in Poitou, and under Richard she held considerable power and influence throughout the Angevin lands, playing a crucial role in foiling John’s rebellion against her favourite son, Richard for example.
These days, in the fun sucking tradition of proper, academic history, a load of these myths and legends have been dispelled. Eleanor was in most ways a very conventional medieval great lady actually – she was no social rebel. And in the stories of women like Margaret Paston, the central management role of women is also very much a normal feature of medieval life. But Eleanor acted on a the grandest stage. And what remains is still exceptional; she was forceful, political, determined to control the direction of her life, in a way that makes her stand out in the middle ages.
I bet you are now sorry you asked, and are now thinking ‘get on with it man’. Sorry. So the story I am going to tell you, sort of lifted from the Shedcasts biography, is about how Eleanor helped create one of the greatest dynastic empires in Europe– the Angevin Empire.
Ok a bit of background first – and apologies to all of you who know all of this, I just need to make sure we all have the hymn sheet in our hands and are singing the same psalm or whatever we might be singing. Do they hand out song sheets at Death Metal gigs?
So. Eleanor was never meant to go to sea, never meant to be the ruler of Provence that is to say. She was probably born in 1124 ish – no one’s quite sure, because everyone expect her Dad would have more children, sons hopefully, and therefore no one took much notice of little Eleanor who would presumably be married off to some nice Count somewhere to cement some alliance. She was born into the grandest dynasty in France of the 12th century, a France still very much in the wash of the disintegration of Charlemagne’s 9th century Empire. Under the assault of the Vikings, Frankia had shattered and central authority almost completely dissolved. The Kings of France held only the tiny Isle de France around Paris as their domain; but crucially, the nominal, legal overlordship of all the regions of France deriving from Charlemagnes’s heirs. Now even in the 12th century, the Counts of the various regions of France laughed contemptuously at such claims and kicked sand in the royal face with impunity. But actually this nominal right was a diamond strong, golden thread – they were needed, needed to deliver justice and arbitrate on arguments between these counts. The Capetian kings of France would hold onto this golden thread, until their hands bled with the ferocity of their grip. And one day that golden thread would lead to Louis XIV, the arbiter of Europe from the magnificence of Versailles. That’s quite a story, but we’re not going to do that otherwise we’d be here all day.
Anyway, nominal overlord or no nominal overlord, and while the Count of Blois for example might accept this as true in theory, the Dukes of Aquitaine did no such thing. Nope, they claimed their authority to be descended directly from the Roman Empire, not the nouveau Holy version, the real McCoy one – they claimed their lands by inalienable, allodial right. That would lead to a barney or two, but Aquitaine constituted ¼ of modern France and made the Isle de France look like a rabbit hutch, so jog on. And the Dukes, almost always called William, were a cussed, in yer face, high living bunch, not your stay at home types at all – unless that was to stay at home and have a hooley! Eleanor’s Grandfather was Duke William IXth, a warrior, poet and troubadour, described by one of those monks as
one of the most courtly men in the world and one of the greatest deceivers of women. He was a fine knight at arms, liberal in his womanizing, and a fine composer and singer of songs. He travelled much through the world, seducing women.
Well, Eleanor’s Dad was in fact less poetic than William IX, and in 1137 he set off on pilgrimage to Santiago de Campostella in northern Spain. He made some preparations should he not return, realising that his 13 year old daughter would be mighty vulnerable to her rapacious Aquitainian vassals; he also wrote to the king of France, Louis VI. Louis was known as Louis the Fat, on account of um, being fat. William made Eleanor Louis’s ward – clever. So Louis became a policeman basically. Though it was unlikely that there was much fear among the southern nobles -the Ile de France, as I said was, like Camelot, a silly place, a little place.
Anyway, would you believe it? William went and died on pilgrimage. Louis the Fat could not have been more delighted. I mean presumably he was also sorry for the untimely death of another human being, but yup, mainly delighted. Because it meant that he got to decide who would marry the heiress to ¼ of France. What a poser! Imagine the agony of indecision, choices, choices; there’s the Count of Anjou Geoffrey le Bel, Geoffrey the Beautiful, she’s probably like that. Or Theobald of Blois, he’s eats nicely with his mouth shut. Or hey – what a thought – how about she marries my very own son Louis so that the king of France acquires vast lands, wealth and power and can subject all the counts of France to his rule and he could build Versailles 400 years early and dominate Europe before John Churchill can ruin it all? Oh go on then, twist my arm.
So it was that Louis’s heir, also a Louis, and Eleanor were married in the Cathedral in Bordeaux. Before the year was out, Louis the Fat was dead and the king of France was Eleanor’s hubby, Louis VII and Eleanor Queen.
Now slowly Eleanor would come to understand that while on paper it looks as though she’d lucked out and landed the most prestigious job available on the Queen market, in practice Louis was not the kind of man she was going to admire, not the kind of man to become her soul mate. Louis won the admiration of the monks for sure – which was a bad sign really; he was terribly, terribly pious, never happier than when on his knees; but a bit indecisive and a ditherer. I am sure proper historians would be tearing their hair out with rage at this horrendous simplification but we don’t have time for all that nuance and subtlety. So I’ll give you a couple of contemporary quotes. One says that Louis’ entire life is a
model of virtue, for when, a mere boy, he began to reign, worldly glory did not cause him sensual delight’.
Well these days of course we realise that the pursuit of glory is deeply wrong and results in misery and death, but in 1137 the pursuit of glory rocked, and anyway, it was only the peasants who actually died. But then Another one remarked that
he was rather more credulous than befits a king and prone to listen to advice that was unworthy of him
Welcome to Alan by the way, who’s agreed to make sure you don’t have to listen just to my voice all episode.
Now look, to give him his due, Louis knew that he’d landed a gem, not just in terms of her vast tracts of land but her personality; Eleanor was well educated, accomplished in the arts, she was intelligent, forceful. And Louis loved her. John of Salisbury would write that ‘
he loved the Queen almost beyond reason,’ with an affection that was ‘almost puerile’
Eleanor would discover, quite quickly actually, that he wasn’t what she was looking for; but at this point remember, she’s 14. The age people got married back then is extraordinarily alarming. But She had an inkling quite early that things would be different; the court at Paris was not like the court at Poitiers; the stich was much more churchy, ascetic, pious; much less of that romantic troubadour thing going down. And Louis was surrounded by advisers that could be described as a little judgy. I mean also some of the fathers of Western civilisation – we are talking a man called Bernard of Clairvaux here, who founded one of the great religious movements of the epoch. But he could be judgey. Eleanor wanted and expected a say in affairs, she expected to cut a dash, and do her bit to make the court at Paris shine as a centre of culture and in her dress and the magnificence of her household she did just that. As she did, she attracted fierce criticism from the likes of Bernard of Clairvaux who famous declared
Fie on a beauty that is put on in the morning and laid aside at night!
He said. Chalk and Cheese. Not that Eleanor was not pious you understand; she was, deeply – but conventionally. But she was a queen and expected to behave and be treated accordingly, not like a monk.
For eight years, the marriage bumbled along; not an ideal match from Eleanor’s point of view, but what she was born to, and her lot in life to which she expected to become resigned. In 1145, when Eleanor was 21, their first child was born – it was a girl. That same year, dramatic news came that the Crusader states were under threat, and as a secular leader of Christendom, Louis set out to lead a crusade to restore their security. And to everyone’s surprise, Eleanor and her household were to go with them.
It is very likely that Louis’s advisers, Abbot Sugar and Bernard of Clairvaux fought against Eleanor’s inclusion; after all this was holy work, and this was war. But Eleanor would not be denied – this was an event of utmost importance, and as Queen of Christendom she must set an example, her Uncle Raymond was lord of Antioch – she must be part of it and do her duty, and by sheer force of character she carried the day.
Well, the story of the 2nd Crusade is one well worth telling, and you can hear it in the members full series. To cut a long story short, the Crusade was a disaster. A disaster militarily; Louis’ forces were cut to pieces in Anatolia, and the remainder destroyed in a dreadfully planned and executed attack on Damascus. The crusade also did irreversible damage to their marriage. There are a couple of reasons for this. For a while, they were based at the crusader city of Antioch, which was ruled by Eleanor’s uncle, Raymond. There was a major disagreement between Raymond and Louis, and Eleanor seems to have got herself deeply involved in the discussions. It was a traditional role for a wife and queen to intercede with her husband; petitioners frequently approached the Queen to gain her advocacy. And so it was now in Antioch; but the manner of her intervention seems to have raised suspicions. She and Raymond spoke frequently, more than was thought reasonable; it is very likely also they spoke in the Lange d’Oc, which Louis could probably not understand. Furthermore, in dress and behaviour Once more Eleanor expected to play her part in representing the magnificence and status of the French court – and this, and her political forwardness, gave rise to rumours – that Eleanor had an affair with her uncle, which is absurd; that she had an affair with the Count of Anjou Geoffrey Le Bel, also out there on crusade, which is almost equally unlikely.
Eleanor’s commitment to the marriage was seriously damaged by Louis’ disastrous indecisiveness, his suspicion and anger at her attempt to help politically, and the credence he gave to the scurrilous rumours about her. In addition his behaviour was increasingly ascetic and pious; he even had his head shaved with a tonsure. It is said that Eleanor complained
‘I thought I had wed a king and found I had married a monk’.
We know the marriage was in trouble because on the way home they visited the Pope Eugenius in Italy, at the city of Tusculum. One of the topics of discussion appears to have been their marriage; Eleanor was now actively chasing an annulment, for which of course they would need papal approval. Her grounds for annulment was their kinship. She pointed out that she and Louis were related in the fourth and fifth degrees; the rules were that marriages were forbidden with ancestors seven generations back. For most of medieval nobility, this was of course pretty much impossible, and so usually it was either ignored, or a special dispensation sought. But, in situations like this, it could be handy. In fact there’s something called the Capetian Miracle, which is that miraculously they managed an unbroken line from 987 to 1792. This was in fact no miracle – the secret to their success was that if a Queen did not delver the goods, the marriage was annulled, the queen put aside and a new one deployed. Eat your heart out Henry VIII. What an amateur.
But Eugenius backed Louis; he gently gave Eleanor to understand that an annulment was not going to happen. He gave the two of them some marriage guidance and offered them a highly decorated bed for the night to get the show on the road.
So for the moment Eleanor and Louis remained together, and the following year, 1150, a second child was born, Alice. But Eleanor almost certainly still wanted out.
On paper, Eleanor’s desire to end the marriage looked absurdly impossible. From a personal angle, it seems Louis remained fascinated with his wife; from a political point of view it seemed inconceivable that Louis would agree to a separation; it would mean the loss of the whole of Aquitaine to the French crown. But there were other considerations. Louis wanted and needed a male heir. While in England there was no legal impediment to a woman becoming head of state, though custom almost always prevented it, in France there was an absolute law – the Salian Law code compiled in 500 AD by King Clovis. So Louis was desperate for a son and heir. And after two girls, he was worried that God had cursed this marriage, and that he could never have a son by Eleanor.
But it was complicated. So, Louis faced three choices – and make no mistake, it was Louis’ choice, that’s the way it worked. First of all, the golden scenario – he and Eleanor had a son, they stayed married, Aquitaine would belong to the French crown for eternity, and generally – vive La France! If so the very idea of Eleanor achieving a separation would be over. But there was a further wrinkle here. Clearly Eleanor and Louis’ relationship was on the rocks. So it was not just whether Eleanor would give birth to a son, but whether she could conceive at all. Medieval medical lore followed Greek science, in teaching that women could only become pregnant if they experienced pleasure during sex. So if their marriage was on the rocks, and that was no longer happening, there would be no child of any type. Well, we just don’t know about that of course. There was no tabloid press back then to find out!
Alternatively, they could end the marriage. But in the medieval world, one did not simply walk into a divorce, so there were two approaches. He could play hard ball, have her accused of adultery, and have her set aside. The rules of society anyway meant Louis could have as many affairs as he wanted, Eleanor would be confined to a half life somewhere. That held some advantages to Louis; it would mean Aquitaine stayed with the crown. But it had a major drawback – Louis would be unable to remarry, and so no male heir, and all the dangers that accompanied a disputed succession. Or, he could appeal for an annulment, based on being too closely related and Eleanor had herself suggested. But they knew the Pope didn’t like granting such a thing and anyway it brought with it the danger that Eleanor would remarry, Aquitaine would be lost to France forever. Actually there was another option; for a Queen, adultery was a capital crime – because you could be messing up the succession. So if Louis really wanted to get nasty, he could have her condemned and executed for adultery, and sequester her lands. But Eleanor’s Aquitanian vassals would almost certainly revolt, France lacked the resources to suppress them, and meanwhile Louis’ reputation would suffer horribly – his name would be mud for carrying out such a cruel and unfair decision, and he prided himself on his reputation for goodness and piety.
Louis was in agony; he was naturally indecisive, and would maybe never jump on his own. He would need to be pushed. In 1151, his long standing chief adviser, Abbot Sugar died; the Abbot had worked tirelessly to keep the marriage together. But that left Bernard of Clairvaux, with a much more censorious view of Eleanor’s public reputation and behaviour. The pressure on Louis mounted a little more.
Eleanor was not totally helpless in this. In addition to making her wishes clear, which it seems she had already done, she could up the pressure. Her behaviour was already seen as scandalous in some quarters; if she gave the tongue wagers more material to work with, the pressure on Louis to do something and rescue his reputation would grow, and may be enough to force a decision. To commentators anyway it seemed clear that Eleanor was pushing the agenda; William of Newburgh would write that it was Eleanor who
Contrived a righteous annulment
But the risks for Eleanor were enormous – capital basically in the worst case, head rolling. All the cards were in Louis’ hands – it could go either way.
It is in this context that Eleanor was to meet the count of Anjou and his son, when they came to the French court.
The Count of Anjou, was one of those super fractious and independent minded feudal lords that surrounded Louis, owing homage but not really. In 1151, the 39 year old Count Geoffrey of Anjou was in possession not just of Anjou but also Normandy, and was fixing to get hold of England too; his wife was the Empress Matilda, son of the dead king of England Henry I. His son was Henry of Anjou, pretender to the crown of England. This is the time of the anarchy, when an English chronicler wrote in despair that
Christ and his saints slept
As the Angevins – supporters of Anjou – fought with the usurper, King Stephen, Stephen of Blois, civil war tore England apart. Anjou, then was a threat to Louis, an overmighty subject on his doorstep. For that reason, Louis had supported Stephen of Blois and his party – Anjou’s troubles kept the French king safe.
And Count Geoffrey V of Anjou was full of energy and, frankly full of beauty. He was a tall, handsome, red haired man, larger than life full of expansive bonhomie and self confidence; so impressive was he that he was called Geoffrey le Bel. We have met him before and the suspicion attached to his and Eleanor’s name in Antioch. He was also a born warrior. The kind of man for whom life was fun, an adventure, who spent very little time worrying about his pension scheme or searching for the best annuity yield.
This time though, Geoffrey came to make a deal – to buy Louis’ support in return for a critical parcel of land in Normandy – the Vexin. Ever since 1066, the possession of the Vexin had been most vexing. Arf arf. So it was a most tempting offer. Geoffrey also brought with him a son as I say, his 18 year old lad Henry. Maybe less beautiful than his Dad, described as
middle height, reddish, freckled complexion, with a large round head, grey eyes which glowed fiercely and grew bloodshot in anger, a fiery countenance and a harsh, cracked voice’.
but something of a draw in other ways
‘his countenance was one upon which a man might gaze a thousand times, yet still feel drawn to return to gaze upon again’.
He obviously had something, the lad. Eleanor and Henry’s meeting attracted the attention of a couple of very gossipy chroniclers – Gerald of Wales, who these days would frankly be up in the libel course in a trice – and particularly one Walter Map, who would become a very world weary member of King Henry II’s court.
Walter and Gerald believed that Eleanor had ‘shared Louis’s bed’ with Geoffrey le Bel. I don’t think they meant Louis was in it at the time, btw. They now claimed that there were sparks when Henry and Eleanor met. Eleanor was eleven years his senior, 29 years old, and according to Walter, Henry looked at her with lust in his eyes, and in return Eleanor
Cast unchaste eyes
Right back at Henry. Breathlessly, Gerald picks on the story
It is related that Henry presumed to sleep adulterously with the Queen of France
Walter claimed this was against Geoffrey’s express wishes – that he warned Henry off, on the basis that he’d already had an affair with Eleanor. In the complicated sexual rules of the medieval world, this would then mean that if his son had sex with her, he’d be committing incest. It’s a tangled web.
Now all this frankly has little more status than tittle tattle. It is highly unlikely that Eleanor and Henry got it on in the glare of publicity at the court in Paris. But it is not impossible that it was in Eleanor’s interest to set tongues wagging with maybe a bit of flirting; such a thing would only build the pressure on Louis to give in to an annulment. The collusion could have been more practical and extensive than that; Eleanor was no fool, and she would have suspected that if she did achieve an annulment, she would need a protector from predators. Of which more in a moment!
Well, whether or not Eleanor did indeed plot with Henry, her campaign to win her freedom came to a successful conclusion – Louis finally capitulated. Observers claimed that Louis was
inflamed by a spirit of Jealousy
With advisers bending his ear telling him that Eleanor’s behaviour was bringing on public ridicule. It could have been this – or it could simply have been Louis’ desperate desire for a son, and his feeling that he could not have one with Eleanor. Either way, in March 1152 Louis called a council of French prelates and nobles at Beaugency to consider an annulment on the grounds of consanguinity; he did not include any suggestion of adultery – indeed one bishop did raise the question of whether the grounds should be adultery, and may have been put up to this by Bernard of Clairvaux– but it was quickly dropped.
The outcome was probably a forgone conclusion once Louis was on board. As a result, the marriage was declared annulled; Eleanor’s lands would be returned to her, but her daughters would stay with their father, though without any rights of inheritance. It was done.
Eleanor had what she wanted. Once more she was the independent ruler of the ancient Duchy of Aquitaine, and could look forward to a life of freedom, power and culture in her glittering court at Poitiers.
It is highly likely that the realities of medieval life meant that not for a moment did Eleanor even hope for this. Maybe if she had been a merchant’s widow, she could have declared her legal status to be femme sole rather than femme couverte, and with comparative freedom run her own business and fight off the proposals of marriage from the ambitious. But not for Eleanor. The truth is that, in March 1152, cut from the protection of marriage to Louis, she was frighteningly vulnerable. At some point she would need a protector – but hopefully there would be time for that.
Now Gerry Rafferty tells us that from City to City is 400 miles, but I am guessing he was thinking of Glasgow to London, not Beaugency to Poitiers, which is but 120 miles, give or take. After judgement had been given, Eleanor’s entourage gathered to take her home, to travel the 22 miles towards Blois, where she could expect a warm and comfortable night in the city. Before travelling in as much comfort as an unsprung medieval cart could provide, to her home city of Poitiers. But as they gathered, one of Eleanor’s household gentlemen or gentlewomen slipped into her pavilion; we don’t know who this person – all that we know is that Eleanor described them as her ‘good angel’. The good angel came to tell her about Theobald. Theobald was heir to the county of Blois, and an ambitious 22 year old; he’d already seen his big brother get the choice County of Champagne, which was annoying. Marriage to Eleanor could transform his future. And Theobald was going to seize his opportunity, come hell or high water; he was waiting outside Blois in the woods with his knights and horse; as Eleanor’s entourage passed in the night, they would leap out, overwhelm her escort with hard steel., and take her to Blois and the future Duke of Aquitaine would be announced.
Desperate last minute hurrying and scurrying; the road was obviously impossible, filled with danger – but there was another way. As much of Eleanor’s belongings as possible were hauled off on carts onto a barge sitting at the wharfs on the River Loire; down river they went to arrive at the Cathedral city of Tours, from there they hired more carts, and set off on the remaining 100 miles, to cross the River Vienne at Port des Piles and then to Poitiers and safety. Theobald was left cursing and empty handed.
But there was another adventurer who knew full well that Eleanor’s logical route would take her through Port des Piles to cross the River Vienne. Geoffrey of Nantes was the man, 18, and the second son of Geoffrey le Bel Count of Anjou, and younger brother of Henry Plantagenet, prospective king of England. He was therefore one of the Devil’s brood and he intended to earn the title. The prospects of a second son were never great – destined to play second fiddle for ever to the older brother. Such a role would eat at Geoffrey all his life – his ambition and treachery would always be a rich source of intrigue for the kings of France.
It could all be different; he planned to take his chance as Eleanor’s entourage passed across the bridge, and again, a new Duke of Aquitaine would be inaugurated in a few short days. No doubt he planned and dreamed and celebrated as he waited with his men at arms, and visualised the glory of his future court and glory. Until at some point he began to wonder where on earth Eleanor had got to, and what was keeping her? Until maybe he sent riders across the bridge and up the road towards Tours to seek out this party – only to find that there was nothing moving on the road.
It was the good Angel again, and it would be lovely to know who they were, and whether they had been set to their task by Eleanor, who must have suspected there might be such ambitious types out there, given the extravagent richness of the prize. Once more she was warned, and found another route, maybe taking a road further west and crossing the Vienne at Sauvage. By the time Geoffrey knew what had happened, it was too late; Eleanor has slipped through his noose, and was safely in her homeland of Poitou and on her way to Poitiers.
Had Eleanor entertained in the back of her mind that she could live her life as an independent Duchess of Aquitaine, her journey home convinced her that she needed a protector, and fast. Frankly she probably needed a protector from her own nobles, who were no better behaved than anyone else – the Lusignan family for example have the most extraordinary history, including the disastrous king of Jerusalem who saw his army slaughtered at Hattin by Saladin.
So she took the only option open to her – or possibly an option already. Messengers left Poitiers before Easter Sunday, 30th March 1152.
For a few short weeks Eleanor was able to live the dream, the dream of an independent all powerful Duchess. She took quick and decisive control, calling her barons to her, announcing the annulment, and cancelling all acts, grants and privileges made by Louis while he had been Duke; and issuing the anew the grants she wanted to make of her own account, made now in her name.
6 weeks later, on 18th May, Eleanor stood next to the husband of her choice. They were in the 11th century Cathedral of St Pierre in Poitiers. Her choice had arrived to claim his prize. He was middling height, with a reddish, freckled complexion, and a surprisingly large round head, grey eyes and a certain energy and charisma. It was of course Henry Plantagenet.
It was a decision that Eleanor would live to enjoy to the full, and eventually maybe live to regret – it wouldn’t deliver a quiet life, but then I doubt that was what she wanted, and it would allow her also at a point in the future to hold court again in her beloved Poitiers as ruler.
Eleanor’s determination to be free of Louis created the vast Angevin Empire, and to more than 300 years of conflict between France and England. People would look back and wonder at the force of character that pushed Louis into such a momentus decision; the Minstrel of Rheims next century was to comment
Far better had it served him to have immured the Queen for adultery, for then had her vast lands remained to him
The Rest as they say is history, and if you’d like to know more about that history please sign up to be a member for the History of England podcast site at the history of England.co. uk. Please go to th ‘Become a member’ choice on the menu bar, and you can see the extent of the library. It’s £40 a year or £4 month, it gives you access to over 100 hours of shedcasts, including a history of Scotland, Anglo Saxon life, British politics and more; and I do up to 90 minutes a month of new stuff. Plus, you’d be supporting me to keep going on the History of England.
Thank you for your attention and to not throwing things at the podcatcher when you heard it was a promotional episode– unless you did of course in which case, ouch. Good luck everyone, and have a great week.
 Turner, R: ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’, p106
 Weir, A: ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’, p88
 Turner, R: ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’, p106