Despite this lack of guntlement, the assembly at Montferrat gathered by Henry was truly magnificent; it included king Alfonso II of Aragorn, and Count Raymond of Toulouse, as well as Humbert of Maurienne. Henry the Young king also travelled through France to join the conference, and on the way he probably reflected that the positioning of the conference in the Auvergne was in itself a statement, positioned four square in a territory which was disputed by the French king. The agreement between Humbert and Henry was celebrated and Alice the young lady in question joined Henry’s household; though as it happens she was to die before the marriage could take place so all of this was in vain.
From Montferrat, Henry, Eleanor, Henry junior, Richard Humbert and Raymond all travelled on to Limoges, and it’s there that the events came that probably made the final break inevitable. It was here that Raymond of Toulouse decided that his best interests lay with Henry rather than with Louis, and did homage for Toulouse to Henry, as king of England, to be passed to Henry the YK in due course. For Eleanor, the abandonment of the claims to Toulouse as Duchess of Aquitaine was infuriating and further evidence that the idea of joint interest was dead between them. But it was at the council also that Henry announced that John would have the 3 castles in Henry the YK’s territory to make sure little Alice of Maurienne had a hub worth the name and who could keep them in sets of Boggle for the Friday night entertainment
The YK essentially did his nut, toys, prams, babies, bathwater, frying pans the works. He saw Richard and Geoffrey both bossing lands, and he had nothing. Bottom lip trembling, he raged at his father that he had no right to give away his lands that he must be given his own lands to rule immediately, that he was a poor, threadbare young man without two groats to rub together. Henry, of course was having nothing of this, look you are heir to a fair proportion of western Europe, and it’s difficult to find fault with giving such a relatively small parcel of said fair proportion of western Europe Henry’s younger brother, though easy to find fault with not giving Henry a reasonable allowance, which would prove to be the false economy to end all false economies. At this point in his fury, the YK blurted, and this is where I can empathise a bit with the young man. I also tend to blurt under pressure. The YK blurted that King Louis thought he should have land given to him directly.
Well, Henry did not forget this bit of information. It was a bit of a corker to be honest – how, he might ask himself, did the YK know what Louis thought? Was it good that Louis had an opinion on such a thing and that she son had been chewing the cud on the matter with a foreign potentate? As the parties were all leaving, Raymond of Toulouse also sidled up to Henry the Elder and said
‘I advise you, King, to beware of your wife and sons.’
It very probably did not cross Henry’s mind to think about Eleanor – I mean who knows, but Henry’s immediate response was to cut Henry’s household, he did nothing about Eleanor. Because the very idea of a wife siding with her sons to betray her husband was….well, it was just silly, don’t be ridiculous. Could never happen, get real. It would be a complete subversion of the order of things.
And yet seems very likely that Eleanor had already crossed her own personal Rubicon; the weight of reasons to throw her husband to her young wolves seems to have sunk the scales. We do not know gentle listeners; the alternative is that Eleanor simply reacted when it happened, and it is almost certain that there were others pushing the YK to rebel. But Raymond’s comment, if true, suggests Eleanor was involved well before it all happened, and that suggests she was an instigator, not just dragged along. Later commentators, Ralph Diceto and Roger of Howden both implicated Eleanor, and suggests that Eleanor was an initiating force, encouraging her eldest son in rebellion as early as 1172, while Henry was in Ireland
While the king was in Ireland, Hugh de Sainte Maure and Ralph de Faye, uncle of Queen Eleanor, on her advice so it was said, began to turn away the mind of the young king from his father, suggesting that it seemed incongruous to be a king and not exercise the rule of a kingdom
Ralph you already know; Hugh was also a landholder in Poitou.
Henry meanwhile had decided that a firm hand was the answer, and cut the size of his son’s household. This was one humiliation too many and formed the trigger. In March 1173, Henry took his son with him to Chinon, but Henry the YK sloped away and off to Paris, set up his rival next to Louis and started handing out promises to French nobles if they would fight for him.
Eleanor meanwhile was in Aquitaine with Geoffrey and Richard. This would have been a good time for a dutiful wife to read the riot act to the pair, to tell them that their older brother was not the king of England, he was in fact a very naughty boy. But of course it appears that she did no such thing, but instead encouraged them to join him in Paris while she and the loyal Ralph de Faye tried to raise Aquitaine for their cause. In the Spring of 1173 then, Richard and Geoffrey rode to join their brother in Paris.
Picture the scene then. Henry is receiving messengers and gathering his armies. A messenger gallops into Chinon castle and throws himself from his horse, travel weary and covered with sweat and demands to see the king immediately. Into the king’s presence he is ushered, where Henry, always impatient of protocol tells him to get off his knees and give him the news. The messenger tells him that his sons have abandoned him and are in full scale revolt. Like a bolt, like the revelation of Peter on the road to Damascus Henry Plantagenet is hit by a certainty. Eleanor! That witch, Eleanor, she has done this. How could she.
I can’t imagine that Henry really thought it would work, but he seems to have tried to pull her back in line through the offices of the church. It might be that he assumed the reports must be mistaken, and that a simple reminder of the eternal verities would snap her back to her sense from this temporary insanity. So Eleanor received a letter from the reverend Bishop of Rouen
Pious Queen, most illustrious Queen, we all of us deplore, and are united in our sorrow, that you, a prudent wife if ever there was one, should have parted from your husband. Once separated from the head, the limb no longer serves it.
The Good Bish was off to a flyer. Here is the analogy often used about the medieval polity, an equation between the body politic and a normal body. The king was its head, but all the parts of the body must work together in their allotted role for the body to thrive.
Still more terrible is the fact that you should have made the fruits of your union with our Lord King rise up against their father.
Another great point, Bish. Nobody likes a rising fruit.
For we know that, unless you return to your husband, you will be the cause of general ruin. Return then, O illustrious Queen, to your husband and our lord. Before events carry us to a dire conclusion, return with your sons to the husband whom you must obey and with whom it is your duty to live.
Once again, the Bishop’s letter emphases just how extraordinary were Eleanor’s actions. A violation of what was seen as natural law – the obedience not just of subject to king, but of wife to husband. The letter goes on with a bit more of the same, censure of the church, great sorrow, blah bah. But Eleanor was committed.
Her task now and that of Ralph de Faye was to bring Aquitaine to the aid of her sons. All over the Angevin lordships Barons were joining the revolt. In England, Greater Anjou and Normandy, Barons saw this as an opportunity to escape the increasing interest Henry’s state was taking in their lives, the interference with what they would describe as their liberties and rights. Outside his borders Henry’s enemies were rubbing their hands with glee at the sight of this glorious discord; here was the perfect opportunity for a bit of good honest nibbling at the Angevin body. In the north William the Lion King of Scotland roared at the opportunity to capture Northumberland and turn it into Southern Scotland. The Counts of Boulogne and Flanders saw a chance to dismember Normandy. And Louis of France, Louis of France. Well, every conceivable boat appeared to have come in at the exact same time. The enemy at his gate in chaos, his sons at his court, his ex wife in revolt against the man who she’d married with such indecent haste, destroying his plans for his children to inherit Aquitaine. He would hardly have been human if, after solemnly sympathising with Henrys sons in open court, he hadn’t then reached his chambers and done a little dance.
The response from Eleanor’s lands to her pleas were like a reflection of the extent of ducal power. In Poitou, there was general support and even celebration – here was freedom from the barbarians from the north. A poem survives from the time
Exult, Aquitaine, Rejoice Poitou, that the sceptre of the king of the north shall be removed from you!
Which I assumes sounds better in the original French, but which gets the general idea over. Elsewhere, however, the response was much less enthusiastic. In most other lordships, the attitude was a plague related one – as in a plague on both your houses. Here was an excellent opportunity to get on with a bit of infighting without that irritating Angevin to bring us back to heel, and the Limousin, Auvergne, Angouleme offered no help, this was not their quarrel. It’s in Gascony that the response was most disappointing – their barons made no move to help Eleanor. Still, nor did they move to help Henry – they essentially also stood aside and watched things unfold.
Sometime during 1173 as Eleanor tried to whip up support, Ralph left her side – he seems to have gone to Paris not sure why or if these were good tactics. Because it does not seem that Eleanor was successful in raising any kind of standing military presence, and you might think having her chief lieutenant there to help her would have been sensible, but the theory seems to be that Ralph was sent to secure a commitment from Louis that he would give Eleanor safe passage and refuge should she need it. Or maybe all that Eleanor was able to secure, was the commitment of her barons to withdraw support from Henry, but not to openly take war to him. Or indeed maybe plans were progressing, but Henry’s action took them all by surprise.
Because love him or loathe him, Henry was nobody’s pushover, he was an energetic self confident sort of bloke. In Autumn 1173 he ripped southwards from Chinon into Poitou, and there was no resistance in his way.
But by the time he arrived, the bird had flown, Eleanor was gone, riding for Ralphs castle at Faye la Vineuse 30 miles north of Poitiers. She left with a small company and the sense of desperation and danger communicates itself over the centuries, if we believe the one detailed account we have. She seems to have changed in to man’s clothing, presumably so that she could ride faster and harder. She went with a small company and headed straight for Paris, and before long was on the road to Chartres and seemingly away and clear and set fair to join her sons at the court of King Louis. We might reflect again of the rules Eleanor had broken; wearing the wrong clothes was considered an offense against both society and God, based on the authority of the bible. The Chronicler concerned was Gervase of Canterbury, and rather appropriately he described Eleanor as
An extremely astute woman, of noble descent but flighty
As Eleanor fulfilled Gervase’s expectations by being flight down the road to Chartres with her desperate company, Henry had set his minions in pursuit. The last thing on earth he wanted, was his wife at liberty to stir up more trouble from the safety of Paris.