Last time, a few weeks ago now I ended by mentioning that Eleanor was thinking of her family’s old rights in Toulouse.
Shall we just remind ourselves of the basis of those rights shall we – For reasons of same page-iness, which is important. Imagine you are looking at France – bottom right a big block is the County of Toulose, something of a whopper. Well, when the Roman province of Aquitania disintegrated, the Counts of Toulouse and the Counts of Poitiers struggled to achieve some sort of dominance over the old province for generations, and also to break away from the French monarchy. Once upon a time it had seemed possible that Toulouse would form a completely separate kingdom, cutting modern France horizontally. However the Counts of Toulouse were themselves unable to control their vassals effectively, and people outside kept messing with them – not only the Counts of Poitiers, but the Counts of Barcelona – to the south in modern day Spain of course, sorry for the Geography lesson. However, they were strong enough to fight off the attentions of the Counts of Poitiers. The Count of Poitiers however was not about to give up – they’d acquired the title of Duke of Aquitaine, and who then claimed with a little justice that since Toulouse had been a major city in the old province of Aquitania, it should belong to the dukedom still. Confused? You soon will be. Where does that phrase come from? Some soap opera, can’t remember. Anyway, and finally, just like so many, although the Counts of Toulouse still owed a nominal allegiance to those Capetians in the Ile de France, well, pshaw, a mere bauble. Just let them to try to order us about, let them try.
However, the Dukes of Aquitaine slash Counts of Poitiers acquired another, more feudal claim. This is complicated, and I am certifiably rubbish at family relationships, so lets say that The Dukes of Aquitaine had a claim through marriage to a daughter of a Count of Toulouse, while the actual Counts of Toulouse were descended from the same Count’s brother. Does that make any sense at all? I don’t think so. Essentially the claims are 6 of one, half a dozen of the other, as long as they are broad, that sort of thing. William IX of Aquitaine had tried to use force to make the claim stick received no cigar, then as we heard Louis VII tried to enforce the same claim on behalf of his wife Eleanor, and despite a super cunning surprise attack preceded by a noisy extended picnic across most of modern France had surprisingly failed to surprise with his surprise attack.
So you might think Eleanor would tell her next husband not to bother, but there are reasons why she would not do that. Firstly she just wasn’t made like that, Eleanor was a dynast like the best of them. But there are good practical reasons too. Toulouse sat on a crucial link between the Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean coast. Just like in England, the old Roman roads remained as the framework of transport, and several of them converged on Toulouse, linking Bayonne, Bordeaux and La Rochelle on the western, Atlantic coast under the control of Eleanor and Henry, with Narbonne and the Mediterranean. Without Toulouse, Aquitaine was incomplete and poorer than they could be.
So when Henry II had his ear bent by Eleanor that there was this opportunity, if he needed Eleanor to point it out to him, he had good reason to take her up on the idea. Now, sadly by this time the Counts of Toulouse were not as isolated as they once were. Louis VII had made it his business to cultivate the good Count; so much so that somewhere between 1153 and 1156, he arranged for the mutual shacking up of his sister Constance and the Count, Raymond V. Raymond needed some allies – his barons were revolting, as barons often are and the Counts of Barcelona were fiddling with their internal politics – actually more than fiddling, there was all out war.
So, right, there is apparently more than one way to skin a cat, though I would of course never recommend cat skinning in any circumstances. Firstly he tried diplomacy – buddying up with the count of Barcelona. But nope, even that would not force Raymond to give way. Then Henry met with Louis, and tried to pressurize him to pressurise Raymond into become another Angevin vassal – not even sure why he bothered, that didn’t work. Maybe Henry should have thought about Aesop and his story of the sun and the wind, but he did not. Instead he and Eleanor decided that more wind was the answer. Make war not love.
And so in Poitier in 1159 Henry and Eleanor sent out letters to their traditional vassals, and told them to assemble at Poitiers and the end of June, and magnates answered the call from all over the Angevin realms – and beyond, allies such as the Count of Barcelona. As medieval armies go it was a whopper, and as Henry marched from Poitiers south to Gascony it got large as contingents joined. Taxation in England paid for mercenaries to swell the host, and Henry’s best pal, one Thomas Becket, was at his side. There was surely no way Toulouse could resist the assembled power of the Angevin behemoth. As they approached King Louis once more met Henry, apparently trying to mediate. Now, we have painted Louis as a rather impetuous fool, and so he is often described; but he shows flashes of common sense and was no coward. And in the Toulouse campaign we will see the practical demonstrations of the power that would eventually lead to the unification of France. Because Louis pretty quickly realised that Henry was just using him. And he left and joined Raymond at Toulouse and put himself in charge of its defence.
Force met principle. If Henry attacked Toulouse regardless of Louis presence there, Louis being his lord for many territories, he would be flouting the very laws that underpinned his own vast unruly empire. If he attacked his overlord, it would be a green light before the days of green lights to ignore the ties of homage whenever anyone felt like it. Louis had raised the stakes. And Henry decided this was a stake too far. He did his bit of futile raging against the machine – wandering around burning the Count’s lands, but the cries of the provencale peasant passed unnoticed by Raymond’s ears. By September, with disease destroying his army anyway Henry finally accept the power of principle and left. All he and Eleanor gained for their pains was the province of Quercy, on the eastern edge of Gascony.
Although having inspired the adventure, it is very unlikely that Eleanor was with Henry during its execution, and more likely that she was back in England carrying on the work of regency. It is highly likely that she was bitterly disappointed at its outcome when she rejoined Henry at the Christmas Court of 1159, a Christmas court that was to became something of a tradition. We might suspect that had she been there, Louis would have been toast, but she was not. The campaign again illustrates an aspect of Eleanor that can be ignored; she was as politically motivated as any of her peers, male or female. The tradition in many books of Eleanor’s decision making driven purely by emotion and relationships is odd; just like any other magnate, the glory and power of her family was uppermost.
Henry’s attempt to assert himself in Toulouse by force was something of a pattern to assert himself in Aquitaine; and it was a pattern that was in all probability supported and even encouraged by Eleanor through the first 10 years of their marriage. Henry sought to impose the same level of control in Aquitaine as he had in England and northern France – Normandy and Greater Anjou. But the herding of cats comparison comes to mind. Even the great lawmaker and administrator Henry II had no concept of the idea of a unified Empire with a single bureaucracy; this was a matter of a number of personal lordships and individual relationships. So every cat needed its own personal attention. In England that attention yielded satisfying results – England was the largest territory and by comparison superbly well integrated. The further away from there you went, the less satisfying the results, and since each of these different magnates required such personal attention the task was not very delegatable. And Henry simply did not have time; and nor did he have the personal inclination to deal sensitively and flexibility with the differences – in his haste, the message was obey or else. The same applied to his relationship with the church – just like Louis he tried to influence and control church appointments in a way that inevitably put the backs up of his churchmen, madly exacerbated from 1162 by the appointment of a new ABC in Thomas Becket of course. In 1158 Henry tried to influence the election of the AB Bordeaux, probably with Eleanor’s compliance – and he failed – multiple times. He had some successes, but his argument with Becket would further divide and weaken his influence. Eleanor probably also encouraged Henry in his increasingly brutal use of mercenaries in dealing harshly with noble rebellion and protest – such as his levelling of the walls Thouars.
Nonetheless, Henry simply didn’t have time to be there very often, and the policy was therefore not consistently driven through, nor was it very effective. And it may be in the 1160s that Eleanor began to have doubts that this was the right approach anyway. News and whispers of the dissatisfaction of her Aquitainian lords filtered back to England. The Aquitanians made their disdain and hatred of the northern barbarians plain. Isaac, an English born Abbot in Poitou, complained that a neighbouring lord was attacking him and proclaiming his hatred of all English. Yet there were very few like Isaac, very few northerners in position of authority in Aquitaine; and conversely, very few Poitevins made it to Henry’s household – so the interaction and exchange of ideas and understanding was weak to non existent. At some point it began to dawn on Eleanor that her husband was alienating the people of her homeland, and she began to have doubts, or even resent the fact.
There were other pressures that began to affect Eleanor’s attitude to and relationship with Henry. One might have been the continuing problems of dealing with Henry’s Mother. It is impossible to know what Eleanor’s attitude to Matilda was; we have no hand written notes from Eleanor cursing her mother in law or wax dolls with pins sticking out of them, which would be handy. We do know that Matilda remained influential in government at least until 1162 when she opposed the appointment of Becket; and that she was appealed to by foreign powers such as Alexander of Scotland and Louis of France at least until 1164; so they thought she still had influence. Maybe that was all fine – but it might have been irritating, and the Empress Matilda, whatever her talents was neither, shy nor retiring.
Another factor often quoted as wrecking the Royal relationship was the arrival on the scene, possibly in 1165, of the Fair Rosamund – Rosamond Clifford. Ah the ink that has been spilled about Henry’s mistress! A veritable river of ink. Much of it came from gossipy contemporaries, notably Gerald of Wales, a notorious gossip and not a great fan of Henry, and he accused him some time near 1174 of
having long been a secret adulterer, now openly flaunted his mistress, not that rose of the world of false and frivolous renown, but that rose of unchastity
There is a latin gag in there by the way. Always handy to have a clever pun in Latin up your sleeve, never know when it’ll come in handy. The latin for Rose of the world is which is rosa-mundi, the latin for Rose of unchastity is rosa-immundi. Boom tish, Gerald will be here all week for an extra dose of rib tickling.
The Chroniclers and legend makers went to town; Eleanor tried to have her bled to death in a hot bath; or that Henry built a maze to protect her, all in vain ‘cos Eleanor followed a silken thread to find her at the centre. Later in the 15th and 16th centuries new legends follow – we have Eleanor confronting her beautiful rival and offering her the choice of death by poison or the dagger. Most of this is demonstrable tripe – actions apparently made when Eleanor was imprisoned for example. The rest of it is probably tripe. Henry probably did love Rosamund, at least for a while, and later would carry on his relation openly for a short time at least, and bestow Godstow Convent on her. But what is much less certain is that Eleanor resented it. The double standard of kingly mistresses and queenly chastity were well known and accepted and entirely standard. It is much more likely that whether she liked it or not, Eleanor would have expected, ignored and accepted it whether or not she hated it in her heart.
Still Eleanor’s discontent was growing – but it probably had more practical, political foundations than Rosamund.