I was about to tell you all about William X and his pilgrimage, but before I do that please allow me to talk a little more about culture.
Just to recap we talked about the culture of the Ducal court, and the entertainment, behaviour and culture that Eleanor would have been breathing in. We talked about the warrior code and the literary forms that supported it, the Chanson de gestes. We talked, horribly briefly it must be said, of the idea of courtly love which tempered it and drew it to wider themes that gave women a role. We talked about Aquitaine’s leading role in the movement; though it’s worth noting that the same trends were going on in Burgundy and Champagne. These are very secular cultural themes.
They meld therefore very uneasily with the Christian themes of the times. As we also mentioned last week – good lord, we covered the ground as fast as a galloping horse last week did we not, well done us, go the shedcasters – a reform movement was sweeping Europe in the 12th century, to recover apparently lost values, of humility, piety and asceticism. Folks like Bernard of Clairvaux did not, repeat not, enjoy or approve of such tripe as courtly love, of falling at the feet of the powerful woman to do her bidding. The teaching of the church fathers was suspicious of anything bodily, and deeply, deeply suspicious of sex; it tended quite strongly towards women as the source of original sin, towards an intrinsically sinful nature of women. At the same time, however, there was this sinless model of the Virgin Mary held up as an ideal for women, accompanied by relentless teaching on married life that stressed patriarchal traditions. It was the women’s lot to accept subordination to her husband. Gradually, canon lawyers through the 12th century would come to embed these attitudes into law – but during Eleanor’s childhood, that is a process that is far from complete.
So you know, it’s quite a soup of conflicting cultural influences washing around Eleanor’s head. By the way, Eleanor has a great reputation later in life for personally patronising troubadours and cultivating the associated culture; in fact there is only one specific troubadour we can link directly with her name. I don’t want to ignore the importance of that secular cultural background, but it is very much overstated, especially in novels – there’s really not that much evidence for it, she is rather more hard edged and rather more pious. So despite her Grandfather’s bold and unapologetic anti clericalism and enthusiastic sexual adventure, without doubt piety would also have been a part of her father’s court, and her Grandfather’s – Eleanor’s Grandmother as we have said was more than traditionally pious. Eleanor would have gone to mass daily, she would have read confessional handbooks and books of hours.
However, when Eleanor gets to live much her life in the north – France and England – she will find her reputation tarnished by a general northern fear and or dislike of the secular, unconventional, licentious flavour of the south. It will lead to a later rather daft reputation of Eleanor the sexual temptress and libertine. However, what you probably can say with a little confidence is that Eleanor escaped the feelings of guilt and shame that it came to be that women were supposed to feel. She would emerge from her father’s court with personal self confidence, the power and expectation of command, the expectation that she mattered, she should be listened to, taken note of. To some degree this trips over into a love of excess and a tinge of arrogance. Either way, she would be difficult to ignore.
In 1136, Eleanor’s father William X was in a spot of bother. He thought he’d found himself a wife – her name was Emma of Limoges. OK good. Except Emma’s family didn’t want her to marry a Duke against whom they may well have been planning to rebel. So, they arranged for the Count of Angouleme to kidnap and marry her instead. Whoa. The world sat and waited to see how the boss would react to this. Something of a test case you might say – can we ignore this cat and play as we like, or will we have to do what he says. You might see it as the sort of teenager passive aggressive challenge to boundaries, with bright-eyed interest in what the reaction will be. As it happens, William was away being suitably warlike – he’d teamed up with Geoffrey of Anjou to attack the Duchy of Normandy. After all there was a succession dispute going on in England, whose king, Stephen, was also Duke of Normandy. The weakness of thy neighbour is an opportunity to take advantage of course, so William and Geoffrey went to war in Normandy. For entirely honourable motives of course.
It was a miserable campaign and within 6 weeks William was back in Normandy, depressed and somewhat horror struck with the vicious little campaign, feeling in need of cleansing. So when he was presented with this challenge from his vassal in the Limousin and Angoumais, he essentially ducked it. And announced he would go on pilgrimage to Santiago in Spain. The sound of high fives erupted from around the lordly castles around Aquitaine. Result. The cat is a wuss, we can make like mice and play as we like.
Now going on pilgrimage in 1137 was nothing like heading of to visit sunny Spain, e viva l’espana, for a week of beer and fish and chips, it was a serious business that could result in a bad case of death. So Wuss or no wuss, William did make preparations. On the occasion of Eleanor’s 14th birthday his great men were called to Poitiers, and in the great hall they there all were required to swear that if he met with an series of unfortunate events, they would dutifully bow the knee and do whatever a 14 year girl told them to. The principle sound at the meeting, along with the rustling of robes as said great men came forward to pay their respects, was a faintly discernible sound of giggling. Equally, William was aware that this would stretch the already wafer thin after dinner mint that was his vassals’ loyalty. So, he also wrote to his theoretical overlord 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. It was unlikely that there was much shivering in the valleys of La Marche at the thought. The Ile de France, like Camelot, was a silly place, little place, rather powerless.
Finally, William set off. Put from your mind a simple pilgrim, looking something like Gandalf with a pointy hat, belted robe and staff walking dusty miles with a pack on his pack. This was a medieval pilgrimage and William would have been travelling in style; Eleanor and Petronilla appear to have come with him as far as Bordeaux anyway, where he entrusted his daughter to the AB of Bordeaux. From there it was southwards towards and over the Pyrenees, accompanied by a few knights into the kingdom of Navarre. I would hope William travelled with a light heart, laying aside for a while his worries of a rebellion in Limousin. But by the time his little party descended the other side of the mountains there was something wrong; it seems likely that William had drunk contaminated water along the way. Into April and towards Santiago, increasingly ill and incapacitated, and now with death walking by his side, but determined to reach his goal, the cathedral and shrine, William struggled on. Exhausted and dying, he was carried into the cathedral to see his objective, whereupon the 38 year old Duke died.
While he was in the process of dying, one at least of his knights was riding hard back over the Pyrenees. He carried messages for William’s family and the curia at the Archbishop’s Palace. The AB seems to have mulled over its contents for a week or so, but then another messenger left the Palace; this time his journey would take him north to the Ile de France and Paris.
Louis VI of France had been an energetic king, and one of the first signs that there was yet life in the Capetian monarchy. He’d battled with the upstart Dukes of Normandy, now also kings of England of course, and managed to just about hold off Henry I, though he’d been forced to concede Gisors in the all important Vexin. The Vexin was a green plateau on the right bank of the River Seine, and formed the border land between French and English Normandy. Control of the Vexin was crucial for both monarchs, and at the heart of the Vexin was the town and castle of Gisors. Outside the town was a tall Elm tree, and under the branches and shade of the Elm at Gisors it was traditional for King of France and Duke of Normandy to discuss and patch up their differences. In 1120, Louis VI had been forced to concede Gisor to Henry I. But elsewhere he had more than managed to hold his own against Henry, the count of Flanders, and HRE. In this, his constant right-hand man had been Abbot Suger, Abbot of St Denis near Paris. Suger had been a fierce proponent of royal authority, fighting the communal movements, enforcing royal justice, encouraging his king and friend to suppress banditry throughout his lands. At the same time, he’d beautified and developed the monastery at St Denis, which was becoming a symbol of the reviving French monarchy. Within the boundaries of the Ile de France at very least, Louis and Suger had seized back control of the household offices and authority from local nobility. Louis’s authority outside the Ile de France was still ghostly, but the thin thread persevered.
But now, in 1137, Louis was 56, and was built like the proverbial toilet block. Louis the Fat was ill. In great pain he had taken himself to a hunting lodge north of Paris at the tiny village of Bethizy. And it was there, sometime in late May that a horseman arrived from far away Bordeaux and asked to be admitted to the king’s chambers.
Because as William X lay ill he had realised that his death would leave Aquitaine, ducal authority and his daughters in a frighteningly vulnerable state. And so he had written to his girls’ new guardian, Louis VI. Suger’s own biography of Louis the Fat tells us that Louis gathered his great men around him at the hunting lodge, and the contents of William’s letter were read out. What Louis’ advisors heard was this. Firstly, they heard that William X had left all his lands to Eleanor alone. This was no means a gimme by the way. Although primogeniture was becoming the rule for transmitting estates to male heirs, it was not settled. One very real option would have been to give it all to his brother, Raymond – but Raymond was in the Holy Land anyway. And the opposite was the case where there were only female heirs; it was becoming increasingly common practice to divide the lands equally when there were only female heirs. But William clearly wanted his empire preserved. in the same vein, he also stipulated that the lands should go to Eleanor’s heirs alone, they should not be subsumed into the personal lands of the kings of France. Secondly William urged Louis to marry his 17 year old son, also called Louis, to Eleanor.
Well, as you can imagine, Suger, Louis and his advisors could hardly contain their delight. Here was the big break the Capetian monarch had been waiting for, and Louis’ answer can hardly have been in doubt.
In Bordeaux, Eleanor and Petronilla would have heard of their father’s death at the Bishop’s palace, and also his plans for Eleanor’s marriage; it cannot have been long before the news arrived that the French king had agreed and that Eleanor would soon be married. Now, were I a 14 year old girl, I doubt I would receive this news with great calmness; but it is unlikely that it came to Eleanor as a great shock, even if it was not what she’d have chosen. This was the practice and Eleanor would have been mentally prepared that the day must come. And it could have been worse – the 17 year old heir to the French throne doesn’t sound like the worst thing. But she might have wished for more time to adjust; because within weeks the news arrived that her bridegroom had set off from Paris and would be with her in July. Preparations would begin immediately for the marriage of the century.