The latest scheme to provide for the plantagenet children was an obsession. I must confess that it is a little difficult to understand why is was quite such a problem; honestly, if you said to me look, Dave, son, you can have England, Ireland, Normandy, Touraine, Anjou and Maine, but you have to give your brother 3 castles I would have thought about it for about oooh a nano second and then chewed mightily on the proffered hand. It doesn’t sound unreasonable to me – am I being a doormat here? Now that the Young King was off the scene it would surely be easy – just move them all up one, Richard takes Henry the YK’s old gaffe, John parks his buttocks easily and comfortably on the seat marked Aquitaine, Geoffrey’s perfectly happy with Brittany, Eleanor is excluded from the vote so, job done wham bang and thank you Samuel, you are most kind.
As to why it was all so difficult we might just reflect on a few things. I have before mentioned that it seems to me that Henry is a little hard done by, afterall he clearly loved his children, and was only trying to make sure that he squared their futures with the needs of the French. While you might poke me firmly in the chest and remark that I keep talking only about his sons as though his daughters didn’t exist, I have too mentioned them, and Henry did also spend plenty of time trying to fix them up with good, noble, suitable husbands, and did a pretty good job at it. Eleanor, it must sadly be said, probably got relatively little say. Any in my defence we have heard about Matilda, and we will hear the end of her story, and those of Eleanor and Joan too.
So, why all so difficult then, a brief run down. There are personal reasons. Firstly, it could be that both Henry and Eleanor appeared to have favourites, and I have been told, by each of my children in turn actually, that having favourites is poor parenting and can lead to jealously. Usually this is delivered purely in the spirit of information and a fair and balanced assessment of our parenting skills, though they occur spookily frequently around Christmas or birthday times. Henry is traditionally held to have viewed John as his favourite, although the direct evidence is slim, but there is a story that he actually stated the feelings to a friend. Apart from that, the view seems to rest on the extent of his efforts to have a younger son surprisingly well provided for, and it is worth noting actually that this is a titchy myth, or at least an exaggeration; medieval parents weren’t monsters, and high or low they would work hard to make sure that both younger sons and daughters got something to sustain them. For Eleanor the evidence is a little more direct – she tended to refer to all her children traditionally as dear in the relevant letters and charters that survive and the yet the odd ‘dearest’ slips out for her beloved Richard. And of course Richard was at her side as he was growing up, shared therefore more experiences and a love of the Beautiful South. So my point is maybe, just maybe there’s a bit of personal jealousy and inter child rivalry going on. Historical figures are people too.
But disrespect for their father has to be one of the main drivers. Henry had now for years been parading around with his mistresses quite publicly. Some of these mistresses were noble born, and that stepped very clearly over a line. Combine this with Eleanor’s imprisonment, and we can understand that by the 1180’s Eleanor in all probability did roundly detest her husband; while I tended to pooh pooh the traditional rubric of Eleanor making decisions for personal rather than political reasons, well by the time we get to the family conferences of 1184-5, I think we can go along with them at least partly, to the extent that we can guess Henry was not her flavour of the decade, and you can imagine she wanted to see him taken down. But her sons also – they must have felt their mother’s humiliation surely?
There were other personal animosities towards Henry, one of whom was Constance of Brittany, wife of Geoffrey Plantagenet. The ruling family of Brittany had been proudly independent, with at best a nominal homage paid to the Dukes of Normandy. Henry II changed all that; he forced Duke Conan to agree to betroth his daughter and heir Constance her to Geoffrey, and made him abdicate in favour of his daughter, so that their children would have no rivals. Brittany would then be ruled by English servants of Henry, with little reference to Constance’s rights. The brutality of the subordination of the native Breton ruling dynasty to the Plantagenet neighbours was never far from Constance’s mind, and shaped future relations. Now it so happens that her relationship with Geoffrey seems to have been a pretty positive one; Geoffrey doesn’t have a great reputation as I have related, and yet he seems to be the only one of them to have an obviously happy marriage. Constance was constantly at his side, ha, no pun intended, with a real say in the government of her Dukedom. But she hated Henry, and she hated the Angevins generally. Her son would be Arthur, and her antagonism would communicate itself to him. Meanwhile her malevolence against the Angevin family would shape Eleanor’s responses too – she was not about to concede an inch to Constance.
So as far as family relationships go then, Christmas might indeed have been a little snarky shall we say, and Christmas presents might have come with a back story. But then there’s all the chopping and changing Henry puts everyone through. If you have seen the film Lion in Winter, the constant bickering about who gets what seems overblown and outrageously played for humour but maybe it was not so fanciful. In 1184, then, Henry was indeed intending to move the pieces around – persuade Richard to give up Aquitaine in favour of John; and yet was not prepared to confirm Richard as his heir. So into the soup of jealously, humiliation and hatred was added the jalapeno of insecurity. Inheritance law was by no means settled by this stage, and Henry did nothing to allay fears.
One more thing I should mention; all of this chopping and changing had to be conducted against the background of the political situation and the relationship with the French kings. Who as we know hated this massive empire and would do all they could to manipulate their rights to secure a weaker and more divided opponent. And while Louis had done his best and had some successes, he was generally no match for Henry. But Louis had done the decent thing and popped his clogs. Tina and Wayne incidentally, whom I met recently, told be where that expression came from. I am told on reliable authority – well, Tina and Wayne – that when a person died they were laid out in their best clogs. But as the body mortified, the feet would swell, and off would pop the clogs. That is a great theory HOWEVER as is common with these things other explanations are available; one of them being that it refers to the meaning of the word to pop as being to pawn, sell, and therefore that clogs as valued possessions would be sold off when a body died. You pays your money and all that. Anyway, Louis popped his clogs, and in his place came his son, one of France’s greatest and most successful leaders, Phillip II. He was to be known as Augustus, and that was not because he shared any attributes of Augustus Gloop or indeed a passion for newts like Gussy Finknottle. It was because he delivered a transformation in the power and authority of the French throne that would inflict Europe for ever with an over mighty France. Philip was short, with a red face, unkempt hair and apparently was subject to the indignities of body odour and did not much care. He was not great company with no sense of humour, grace or intellectual but he was very tough as old boot, clever, calculating and astute. He was a bit neurotic: for example he would only ride docile horses and was always seeing assassins behind every tree. But he knew what he wanted, and through persistence and intelligence he would achieve it again his more charming and exciting neighbours.
I am sorry about all that to a degree you are listening to me resolve my own wonderings. So, Eleanor had been enjoying a bit more physical freedom as we have mentioned, but what seems reasonably clear is that she was allowed little more mental freedom, or political influence. I don’t think we need to paint a picture of a broken and subdued Eleanor; her refusal to countenance an annulment or retreat to the Nunnery is evidence of the survival of truculence and independence. But nor, it must be said, but we see any evidence of further rebellion against Henry; she seems largely to have knuckled under, enjoyed life as she could, and waited for things to get better. As Henry lived a life of stress and was growing increasingly porky, this might well have appeared to be a good strategy.
With Henry the Young King in his grave, Henry was working on his now eldest, Richard, to give up Aquitaine to John. Meanwhile, though, he was determined not to suffer the same fate as previously and have Richard crowned in advance. That had gone badly. But Richard loved Aquitaine. And he would not give it up. And in 1184, the brothers proved they had no more love for each other than they did for their father; Geoffrey and John took this opportunity to team up and they planned to invade Poitou and take it for themselves; they really are not a model family are they? Unfortunately when to comes to making war, Geoffrey and John were losers and Richard I was Coeur de Lion. So Richard gave them a swerve of the hips, a little dummy, nipped past them and before you could say chevaucee Brittany was consumed by fire and death.
This is the background then to November 1184 when Eleanor was reunited with all her sons, which I assume she would see as a good thing, as Henry insisted the entire clan come together at Westminster. There, the brothers were forced to present themselves to both Eleanor and Henry, kiss and make up. Henry then launched his plan – for Aquitaine to be transferred to John. But neither Richard nor Eleanor would to agree to the idea; Eleanor would go along with a certain amount of change, but this was a bridge too far. So at the Christmas court for the year, again all together, Henry moved his plea; again he used Eleanor – but now he insisted that Richard should hand his lands back to his mother, and submit to her nominal authority. We don’t know for sure that Eleanor went along with this, but it’s kind of difficult to think the scheme would have had legs without her. Once more, Richard refused. One more, Henry brought them all together, in May 1185 in Normandy at Alencon, and this time it seems that Eleanor probably was actively supporting her husband – because finally Richard gave in. What seems to have swung it was a threat that Eleanor
Would come in person at the head of a great army to devastate his land
It’s a little difficult to take this seriously, it seems unlikely that Eleanor would have taken war to her son, but it is at least a sign that Richard recognised his mother’s views; because as I say he gave in. It is likely, I suspect that he knew that his mother would allow him full reign, ha ha, pardon the pun, and it would strengthen her own position and authority. While still in Alencon, Eleanor also made two grants of land to religious institutions; and rather unusually they specifically present themselves as grants made on the authority of her husband. As I say, Eleanor was keeping her head down and waiting for better times, or maybe a better phrase is that she would be selective about which battles to fight.
For Geoffrey of Brittany none of these rather poisonous conferences did much to convince him that his wife’s hatred of his fellow Angevins was misplaced, and Geoffrey seems to have now pursued a quite active friendship of Philip of France. It’s interesting; although Philip is one of those French national heroes, politics are still much more personal and dynastic; and Philip and Geoffrey seem to have had a genuine friendship. Geoffrey visited Paris, Philip made him a seneschal – none of this would Henry have found reassuring. But in 1186, it all came to an end. Geoffrey Plantagenet was killed at a tournament in Paris, Geoffrey left Constance therefore to the mercies of his father – and left her pregnant, with a child that would turn out to be Arthur, who would aim to be Arthur, King of the Britons. Geoffrey had been buried with great pomp in Notre Dame, and a distraught Philip Augustus had to be forcibly prevented from throwing himself into the grave, and later endowed masses in Geoffrey’s memory. Knowing Philip, though, it is perfectly possible he was faking it. Please, please let me throw my self into the grave of my friend (don’t let go of me, hold me back you idiot)
Whether faking it or not, he now seemed to transfer his affections to Richard, and they became great chums. Richard had indeed remained in effective control of Aquitaine and Philip probably encouraged him make war on Toulouse, which is what Richard did in 1188; and in fact Richard was acquiring a reputation in Aquitaine worse than his father’s if such as thing were possible, making war in southern Poitou against rebellious barons and being accused of all sorts. And by the Autumn of 1188 Richard and Philip had come to an agreement that would turn Eleanor’s life upside down.