There is no indication in the early 1160s that the partnership that was the Eleanor Henry marriage had foundered. Eleanor still spent a reasonable percentage of her life in pregnancy and childbirth. IN 1161 little Eleanor was born, then in 1165 Joan, and in 1166 her youngest, John, one day to be called Lackland, and his soubriquet to be the cause of a bit of a family bust up. However, after 1163, there seems to be a something of a decline in Eleanor’s influence in England; there are no charters attested by Eleanor after that date in Blightly. Such evidence is problematic – it could just be that the charters don’t survive. But it would tie in with increasing unrest in Aquitaine. In 1164, there were complaints that Henry was planning to introduce the contentious Constitutions of Clarendon outside England that had caused so many problems with the church there.
Any spirit of goodwill from the early attempt for a rapprochement between Louis and Henry had evaporated, and Louis was actively prowling the borders of Angevin provinces looking for friends. He had that with Provence, but other rebellious vassals knew they could always look to the French king for support if and when they needed it. The Lusignan family of La Marche seemed to be constantly in semi revolt, and were ambitious to increase their own power and land. The county of Berry was already divided between Angevin and Capetian, and there was a constant vying between the two for the loyalty of local lords. In 1163, Louis actually invaded the Aquitainian county of the Auvergne, and Henry was forced to raise an army and fight to establish his right. The same county in 1167 gave an early inkling of the Angevin problem that would lead to its dismemberment. That year there was a disputed succession with an uncle of the ruling house effectively usurping the county. Henry called him to court to hold him to account. Aha you say, that sorted him! Well, no, actually. Because said usurper simply appealed to Henry’s overlord – Louis VII. These ties were continually destabilising to Henry and Eleanor’s collection of lands, and would eventually lead to their destruction. It seems that these continuing problems may have begun to make Eleanor concerned that Henry was taking the Angevin train down the rural branch line of history.
In 1165 and 1166 however, Eleanor was in Angers acting as Henry’s regent, so what we are talking about is a difference of opinion in all probability, not a precursor to open warfare. But while she was there she’d have been closer to her own homeland, and heard more clearly and loudly their complaints. Her cousin Ralph de Faye told her that the nobles of southern Poitou were threatening to withdraw their allegiance to Henry
‘because of his pruning of their liberties
Such complaints prompted Eleanor and Henry to take action in 1166. Henry called the Poitevin nobility to Chinon to meet him and declared that the Christmas court would be held in Poitiers, which it duly was, and he took the opportunity to present his 11 year old heir Henry to them, and generally did his best to wine them and to dine them and impress them with his love and attention. It didn’t seem to make much difference, and the following year trouble began to move from whining to action with trouble on the southern border of Poitou with the Counts of Angouleme, and the Lusignan clan. In early 1168 Henry was forced to appear with his feared and hated brabancon mercenaries to restore his authority. He lay siege to the castle of Lusignan itself, took it successfully, and used it as a base while he ravaged the local countryside just to make the point that he was in charge. But really what the campaign demonstrated was that at the end of the day when all’s said and done – he really wasn’t. In charge I mean. A different solution was needed to this particular problem, he couldn’t keep flying in like a fireman, put out the fire and rush off to the next one, like a dog between two meat pies. In the words of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, in order to take One Step Forward they would need to take Two Steps Back. I am not 100% certain that Lenin was thinking about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine when he wrote that in 1904, but I think a bit of simple research would probably provide the evidence needed; I suspect Lenin was a sucker for the Angevins.
In the Spring of 1168, with the Lusignan subdued for the moment – and let me tell you that the only fully subdued Lusignan is a dead Lusignan, so, watch this space, Eleanor had joined her hub at Poitiers. When Henry the hub then left to go north to the borders of Normandy to meet Louis to try and patch things up, Eleanor stayed behind. She would stay there for 6 years.
Their plan was that the Aquitanians would get back their Duke, or Duchess in this case, in the form of Eleanor. She was back.
Why did this happen then? One theory inevitably was that Eleanor and Henry had fallen out, and that’s not impossible given what follows. There’s a bit of evidence in a letter from the Bishop of Poitiers to Thomas Beckett that cuts both ways. On the One hand, Becket was contemplating appealing to the Queen, which suggests that Beckett though she had influence, which equally suggests that she and Henry were still getting on. On the other hand, the Bish dished a bit of dirt
‘she puts all her trust in Ralph de Faye, who is no less hostile toward you than usual’.
Well that’s OK – just gives us a bit of evidence of the trust she put in her cousin and Poitevin advisor. But what comes next was another example of the sort of scurrilous stuff to which Eleanor had been subjected all her life. The good Bishop, the holy man was referring to Ralph and Eleanor when he continue to write of
‘conjectures which grow day by day, and which seem to deserve credence’.
We know what he means. He thought Eleanor and Ralph were, you know, um, you know, an item. Anyway, moving on. As for all of this – there’s really no corroborating this, so who knows, but if I heard such a thing today I would instantly ignore it as tittle tattle, so there we go.
So you know, maybe they had fallen out, and it seems entirely possible that ardour had cooled, as it can do I am told, but it seems to me that if Eleanor and Henry were in the marital stage that included plate smashing or fork throwing, that the last thing Henry would have agreed to Eleanor bossing Aquitaine. We know what Henry’s capable of, and he would have been quite capable of depriving Eleanor of all influence and sidelining her. I suspect that Eleanor made the suggestion that here was a way of dealing with the situation; I’ll keep Aquitaine quiet for you, you deal with the rest and manage the relationship with France. And Henry, with qualifications we’ll come to, agreed. We do know for example, that Eleanor kept joining Henry and the by now famous Christmas Courts in 1170 and 1172; and although she held a rival court in 1171, that was because Henry was in Ireland. And, I figure Eleanor was a player and wanted to wield genuine political power, so the idea of being left to manage Aquitaine would have been deeply attractive. So again, back to that theme which will remain a constant in her story; let’s not assume that she’s making her decisions based on emotional considerations and affairs of the heart – just like anyone, she wanted control over her life, and I would be prepared to place a few quid that he main motivation was that she wanted to wield the influence she had been born to wield, in the land she new best.
Either way, in Spring 1168, Eleanor found herself in control of Aquitaine. She was not alone, however – how trusting did you think Henry would be? She was left with people to ‘help’ her. Help is an interesting word, the meaning of which we will discuss in a while, but at her side was one Patrick, Earl of Salisbury. If you have been listening to the story of William the Marshal, you will recognise that name. The Earl of Salisbury was a powerful magnate from the south of England, who had come to prominence in the Anarchy, managing to swap sides effectively to land himself an earldom; but also showing that he had the teeth and ruthlessness to get ahead of his local rivals, for example, the Marshal family around whose ambitions he had managed to place firm limits, and then invited them into the fold by marrying his sister to their one-eyed paterfamilia. So the word help then. Eleanor may or may not have felt she needed a helping hand, but the point about this helping hand was that the helping hand was very probably not optional. Patrick was indeed there to help Eleanor; but his liege lord was not Eleanor, but Henry. And in the end, it was Henry’s interests that would take priority. Patrick of Salisbury was as much an insurance policy for Henry as an aid for Eleanor.
Henry would have left feeling quite comfortable that he’d given the evil Lusignans a good kicking, so it’d be nice and safe for Eleanor to start working her magic. Eleanor incidentally is 46 now – just a bit of a time check there for you – and whether she knew it or not, and probably she did, she’d come to the end at last of her child bearing – 10 children being the final count. If the likelihood of dying in childbirth was 10% a time what is the probability of surviving 10 pregancies? Any mathematicians out there please let me know. I was told how to work this out at school once but it was 1979 and I have forgotten, and anyway I largely copied everything from Dan Thorley’s exercise book anyway. Dan Thorley understood the Chain rule, and I have never been so impressed with anything since that time, since the chain rule was clearly utterly incomprehensible. Also not invented in the 12th century, so sorry back to Eleanor and Patrick, who brought with him a household of course, and a small group of personal warriors, his mesnie as it was called. One of those warriors was a chap from the family he’d allied with by marriage – it was William the Marshal, a young man of 22 at this stage, very relieved to have a job after getting his P45 from William Tancarville. He was a big burly chap by all accounts.
Which was a good thing, because in fact the Lusignan were far from finished, so a few burly men would come in handy. Still smarting from the humiliation of having their castle taken from them and then used as a royal base of operations for backside kicking, they decided they’d take advantage of the situation; let’s kidnap Eleanor they thought, and then we can use her as a chip. A chip of the bargaining variety. So there we are – Eleanor, Patrick were riding through the forest; possibly hunting or hawking, because they were not in full body armour; when suddenly the very trees were alive with yelling men – Ambush! Quick bring me my armour! No time sir! The mesnie did their thing coming forward to try and head off the ambush, though without armour they were at a massive disadvantage, Eleanor took off and I don’t know if she looked back, but I doubt it because she made it to safety. She made it partially at least because there was a big burly bloke with brown hair who got in the way of the Lusignans for long enough for her to win free. However, before long she heard the most outrageous news – the Earl of Salisbury had been killed, taking a lance in the back of all places. This was exceptional – you killed common soldiers not proper people!
History does not appear to record what retribution was visited on the heads of the Lusignan, indeed it appears that they got away with this outrage scot free – and they certainly do not leave our story. For the moment there was a deal of hand waving about the death of Patrick with apologies for the terrible mistake, just an accident, oops and all that; and a suggestion that maybe Eleanor would like to ransom this knight they’d finally managed to capture, big burly bloke? He wasn’t in the greatest nick and all that, but he was still alive so you know…
Well, d’you know what Eleanor was impressed with the burly young man who had saved her and her party. And so she did indeed ransom him back, and this is how William the Marshal found himself in Eleanor’s household. Obviously, this is where you might want to switch across to the William the Marshal biography where there is rather more depth but it seems reasonably clear that Eleanor and William would have a connection of trust for the rest of Eleanor’s life – though there is very little written evidence of that. But in a couple of year’s time, in 1170, Henry’s eldest son and heir, annoyingly also called Henry would also need a household. And Eleanor very probably muttered in Henry’s ear – I know this burly chap – and the Marshal was moving on to be the friend and tutor in arms of the heir to the Angevin throne.
Eleanor meanwhile, despite the death of Patrick of Salisbury, was now free and ready for a period of freedom and influence unlike any she’d had except for a few brief months in 1152.