Friday, 1 April 2016

United in Discontent: Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry the Young King. Part III. Guest Post

After the Great Rebellion of 1173-74 had been won decisively by Henry II, his three eldest sons could do little else but bow to their father and accept his conditions. Those were determined by the so called Treaty of Falaise (September 1174). On 1 April 1175, exactly 841 years ago today, Henry the Young King did homage to his father at Bur-le-Roi, Normandy and the two kings were reconciled. The great absentee, Queen Eleanor was not mentioned. When the ceremony was over Henry II and Henry the Young King parted - the old king went to Valoins, and the young paid a visit to the court of his father-in-law, Louis VII of France. Exactly 29 years later, on 1 April 1204, Eleanor, Queen of England and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right died, aged eighty, having outlived all but two of her ten children. She was one of the most remarkable figures of the twelfth-century Europe, not only a queen of two kings, but also, first and foremost a mother and shrewd politician. This is how Richard of Devizes, a monk at St Swithun’s, Winchester described the Queen (then 67 years old) upon her return from Spain when she brought her son Richard’s bride, Berengaria of Navarre with her:
Queen Eleanor, an incomparable woman, beautiful yet virtuous, powerful yet gentle, humble yet keen-witted, qualities which are most rarely found in a woman, who had lived long enough to have had two kings as husbands and two kings as sons**, still tireless in all labours, at whose ability her age might marvel, brought with her the daughter of the king of theNavarrese…

As a note, by the "two kings as sons" Richard meant not Richard I (b. 1157) and John (b. 1166/67), as one may assume - they are still the two most famous and best remembered of Eleanor’s sons - but Henry the Young King and Richard I. Eleanor brought Berengaria in 1191 (so eight years before John became king) and Richard of Devizes completed his Chronicle in 1192.

After this longish introduction I would like to welcome my friend Ulrik Kristiansen with the 3nd part of his brilliant Eleanor of Aquitaine/Henry the Young King series to the blog. You can read Part I and Part II before you take a closer look at today's installment. Over to you, Ulrik...

PART THREE: United in Discontent

In this post, I examine scenarios for how and why Eleanor and Young Henry conspired to try to bring down her husband/his father - king Henry II -  in the Great Rebellion of 1173-74.

My main interest is as usual - through unbridled speculation - based on the wisps of evidence we do have - to get close to the hearts and minds of Eleanor and Young Henry at this pivotal time in their lives. Hopefully this exercise will give you, dear reader, the experience as well of coming just a little bit closer to events of those two prime Plantagenet protagonists.

One thing is clear, despite the gossamer historical record:

It was the
supreme decision in their lives. It was treason and betrayal - against a husband, a father and a king. 
The decision would be critical and have lasting consequences - sending the Young King on a track of conflict for the rest of his life with his father and Eleanor in de facto confinement for the better part of 16 years.

The components of a conspiracy

Before we can speculate meaningfully on the
degree of Eleanor and Henry’s collusion, we must try to conceptualize the actual organization of the rebellion. Here are 3 theoretical scenarios about the where ‘center of gravity’ was for the conspiracy to rebel against - and ultimately overthrow - king Henry II:
  1. Grand Conspiracy: Eleanor, Young Henry, the younger brothers, the barons, and Louis - all as more or less equal participants
  2. Tight Conspiracy: Eleanor and Young Henry primary instigators, bringing the barons, then the brothers into the fold, tacit support from Louis
  3. No conspiracy - between mother and son: Eleanor followed suit when Young Henry and the barons rebelled. So did the younger brothers. The source of rebellion: The Barons, backed by Louis.
These scenarios are unlikely to be found in their ‘pure’ form, in any era - even if we had the evidence to do more than speculate about the causes and primary drivers. However, forcing ourselves to think about the rebellion from all of these angles can be helpful in order to get a better sense of what may have happened. It might also give us pause - wanted or unwanted - to critically re-examine our perspective on what exactly what happened.

There is certainly no shortage of little scrutinized perspectives on who was ‘most important’ in the rebellion:

In the Eleanor-bios, which I have read (Regine Pernoud, Jean Markale, D.D.R. Owen, Ralph Turner, Douglas Boyd, Alison Weir), the the rebellion is very much connected with queen Eleanor - with but a few qualifications. Surprise, eh?

On the other hand, H.L. Warren - Henry II’s, biographer - hardly mentions her Eleanor, and when he does he downplays, almost belittles, her importance. Surprise, eh?

And Matthew Strickland could very well assign the ‘lead role’ - and initiative - to The Young King himself in the upcoming bio. I would not blame him if he did, although I do expect a thorough and nuanced analysis from this competent historian!

In short: None of these perspectives need to be false - but none entirely true either.

Fluent initiative

I think it would be fruitful to try to accept that each perspective about who ‘lead’ the rebellion may, at different times, have been true. For this is not a movie with a few protagonists running the show from act A to act B. This is real life. And real life is often … messy. Eleanor, for example, may initially have resigned herself to her position in Aquitaine while Henry is romping all over the rest of Europe. Fair enough. They are already growing somewhat estranged, perhaps, and this is what she can ‘get’.Then she gets wind of various nobles discussing a possible rebellion, maybe through her eldest son. And at some point Young Henry naturally tries to sound out his mother on her position. And at some point again - but before the actual offensive - some key players amongst the barons waver. Then Eleanor might have been the one to argue, bribe, or cajole x, y, and z baron to stay in the coalition - particularly if they were already connected to her in Aquitaine or otherwise. But Eleanor herself needn’t have come out as active participant before … later. She might have planned to stay behind the scenes as much as possible, until events (read: Henry’s invasion of Poitou) forced her to do otherwise. And at other times it might have been Young Henry, prominent barons - or even Louis VII - who fanned the flames until they took a life of their  own - until the actual war. 

All arrows point to Eleanor - or do they? 

There were enough people to go around who in practice ended up supporting the rebellion - once it was underway. Anyone of these protagonists could have been involved at any point in ‘stirring the fire’. Aside from Louis VII we have:
  • William I of Scotland
  • Counts of Flanders, Boulogne and Blois
  • as well as rebel barons in Poitou, Normandy and England.
We also have various “unnamed courtiers” and in particular Eleanor’s uncle, Ralph de Faye and also Hugh de Sainte Maure. The latter two are singled out  by Ralph of Diceto as being prompted by Eleanor to spur the Young King to rebel.  A “major chronicle from Tours” on the other hand seems to credit the counsel of Ralph de Faye and also Hugh de Sainte-Maure with fueling the strife  - a reversal of initiative. (See the account in Ralph Turner’s book on Eleanor.) William of Newburgh makes Eleanor a co-conspirator with the Young King  but not necessarily the prime mover. Thus, he writes, Eleanor … “went secretly into Aquitaine, where his two youthful brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, were residing with their mother; and with her connivance, as it is said, brought them with him into France.” Peter of Blois’ letter to Eleanor during the conflict seems more than clear about who is the bad guy - or girl. The letter demanded that Eleanor return with her sons to her husband and it seemingly laid a major portion of the blame on the queen for the rebellion. It was through her ‘bad influence’ - including her behavior of not staying loyal to her husband - that everything came apart! Was this propaganda on the part of old Henry? Trying to divide the Young King and Richard and Geoffrey from Eleanor by making their mother the scapegoat - and indirectly offering them a chance to return to the fold with few repercussions (because they were  ‘misled’ by their mother)? Who knows! But Eleanor’s role - or perceived role - seems not to be in doubt here!

Read more details about this summing up of chronicle evidence in Ralph Turner and here on the blog:

What’s the low-down from these bits and pieces of chronicle ‘evidence’ and one letter? That the initiative to rebel is Eleanor’s, who then more or less uses the Young King - and all the others - for her political ends. Or what? 
Maybe. At some points in the chronology. Nobody necessarily had a coherent plan or agenda, even after the outbreak of hostilities, not even Eleanor. She might have changed it, suited it to fit the circumstances. 

What it comes down to:

With all of these actors implicated, at one time or another - what did they talk about - and when did they talk about it - BEFORE outbreak of hostilities? We can’t know, but it is important to recognize that it may not have been a ‘linear process’  - which started when one stormy night Eleanor and the Young Henry met incognito and discussed how to get ‘rid of dad’. It probably grew more organically - the initiative ebbing back and forth between various actors who all had an interest in the outcome. The very clandestine nature of the enterprise made it difficult for any one of the actors to push too hard or too openly for rebellion!

Who were then the ‘prime movers’ and at what times in the chronology were they REALLY ‘moving things’ forward? And were they … Eleanor and Young Henry? Yes, it might have. But the initiative could have remained fluent for a long period. For example, at some points in the build-up to open rebellion a key baron may have been a ‘bottleneck’, someone without whose support, the other conspirators dared not go forward ... Or maybe there was a plan to act later than March 1173, but then the infamous Plantagenet temper got the better of Young Henry when he left Chinon castle by night after having been humiliated by the virtual house arrest of his father - and after that Young Henry sounded the call to action, ready or not! So all three scenarios outlined above, about the drivers of the rebellion, may have some truth in them - up to the point when the Young King takes open charge, at least in name - for we know that Henry and his younger brothers were the reason and justification for more powerful players' actions. Unsatisfactory conclusion? It might be. But real life, even in the Medieval, seldom follows a script.

My son - my puppet?

As we have already stressed, taking part, in whatever capacity or role, in a rebellion like this was no small decision for Eleanor. It was a decision that risked everything, perhaps even her life.

So there would logically have to be more than just
one weighty reason - and not merely what we in 2016 may term ‘personal feelings’ of, say, annoyance or disappointment about her eldest son’s humiliating treatment by his father.

But was Eleanor’s motivation then for the most part political instead? Did she see her eldest son as a puppet, through which she could finally rule (more), once he was installed as king of the Angevin realm? Let’s again try first to isolate the motivations in ‘their pure forms’ again:

‘Personal’ motivations for Eleanor to rebel
  1. Eleanor is personally offended of Henry II’s treatment of her son - the heir
  2. Eleanor is revolted over the murder of Becket
  3. Eleanor is afraid what Henry will do next to carve up the realm - give a slice of Aquitaine to the Spanish kingdoms in return for alliance and border security mayhaps?
  4. Eleanor wants to rule without interference over Aquitaine and be an influential dowager queen at Henry the Young King’s court
  5. Eleanor hates Henry for taking on a slew of mistresses - most prominently Rosamund Clifford
So what combination is it? Well ... I vote for a combination of 3+4 as primary motivations, with 1, 2 and 5 as secondary motivations - in that order. 

To elaborate:

Eleanor's husband, king Henry II, murdered archbishop Thomas Becket in December 1170 (or played a very conspicuous role in the murder, to say the least). This event probably made Eleanor imagine all sorts of dark things about her husband, more than she might have been before. In short: If old Henry was capable of this act to secure his power - what would he do next?

And Eleanor was already afraid of losing her home land and her power as queen, whatever she had of it - her position ebbed and flowed, depending on how much she could keep Henry away from meddling in Aquitaine, and his other actions. Sometimes he had indeed left her as regent, for example in England, but her foremost occupation was always, I contend, with control of Aquitaine. Not because she ‘loved the people’ or romantic notions like that, IMHO, but because it was her native land - her inheritance - a ‘part of her’, if you will. It was probably a form of identification with the power and history of Aquitaine, which she - Eleanor - had been left by her father.

Shared fears

Now - in the early 1170s - Eleanor must have become increasingly concerned that her unpredictable husband would do more erratic and damaging things - and that that might include taking away what ‘was hers’. 

In that concern - or should we say: suppressed fear - Eleanor found a common ground with her eldest son, very quickly. And in early 1173 something happened that confirmed them both in the inevitability of this development, if old Henry was allowed to reign on - he gives away the family castles in Normandy as part of John’s dowry, vexing Young Henry to no end. No discussion. Just like that. 

It is in that light, I contend, that we should see what was Eleanor’s - probable - primary motivation for playing her part seeding rebellion. It was a series of interlocking events that gave her reason to become distant from old Henry and closer to Young Henry - the development of motives if you will. The barons and other rulers who wanted the same agenda supplied the means - soldiers and money for Eleanor and Young Henry and the other sons. 

The opportunity came when there was a case of grievance so obvious that it not only spurred the Young King to break with old Henry and go to war, but also an event which could have become a personal rallying point for all who participated - but especially for Young Henry and his mother: ‘Look what king Henry is doing - again - to our inheritance! To our honor! To us!’ 

The thin line between love and self-interest 

I think it could very well have offended Eleanor’s very strong ‘sense of royalty’ to see her firstborn surviving son treated like a ‘lame duck heir’ - all while old Henry becomes more and more engrossed with securing power to himself at whatever cost (including Becket). 

Maybe it also was a factor that Henry began piling up his mistresses on top of that behavior, as another insult to Eleanor, although the last offense probably is more problematic for us modern readers than it was for a pragmatic queen of the 12th century. 

It would be dishonest, however, to exclude a certain percentage of enlightened self-interest in this matter and say that it played NO part in her motivations that proud and in-her-political-ambitions-so-often-scorned Eleanor could in early 1173 foresee a future with her still very young son on the throne, and Eleanor herself as the experienced queen mother/unofficial advisor. Having already seemingly secured Richard’s personal loyalty and succession in Aquitaine, Eleanor would have had the best of both worlds - a more influential role in the entire Angevin Empire, and a virtual guarantee that nobody did anything to Aquitaine she would find disagreeable, at least while she lived. 

Richard was ‘in the fold’ and Young Henry would be grateful for his victory and the support she gave him, as well as many of the barons they both counted on - who now no longer needed to fear Henry II.

Summing up

Eleanor and Young Henry probably ‘stirred the waters’ of rebellion as clandestine initiators, but the opportunity may have come for them to take that role with determination only when various other actors - barons, etc. - came out as sufficiently clear in their opposition to old Henry, and willingness to act on it! A conspiracy is by its very nature not a linear process, because so much has to be kept hidden, and afterwards many scapegoats have to be found. 

Eleanor likely loved her eldest surviving son, as much as we can imagine that love compared with parental love today - but at the same time she was a political animal and both her and Young Henry had shared interests in a new power constellation in the Angevin Empire. If they were indeed the ‘prime movers’ in the conspiracy to overthrow old Henry, this indivisible mix of the personal and political would have been the main motivation. 

For better or for worse, it says much about both Eleanor’s temperament and Young Henry’s, but at the same time, that it would come to this betrayal against divinely ordained royal status in the form of king Henry II. But without a doubt both felt that old Henry had already betrayed them.

Photo of Eleanor's tomb effigy at Fontevraud Abbey courtesy of ElanorGamgee (Wikipedia)


The World of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Literature and Society in Southern France between the Eleventh and Thirteenth Centuries ed. by Marcus Bull and Catherine Leglu. The Boydell Press, 2005.

The Angevin Empire by John Gillingham. Edward Arnold, 1984.

Historical Dictionary of the British Monarchy by Kenneth J. Panton. Google Books.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Excellent news to spread....

I have some exciting news to share and a few wondeful posts to recommend. Firstly, Kathryn Warner's much awaited biography of Isabella of France is out. You can read about it on Edward II Blog and purchase it here or here. It is not our intention to boast, but Henry the Young King's secretary and author of this blog has been mentioned in the acknowledgements, which made her feel deeply honoured and proud. Thank you, Kathryn!

Secondly, Happy Birthday to Mr Richard Willis, who celebrates his birthday today. We will never forget and always be grateful for his kind support when Henry the Young King Blog "big" project was launched :-). Here are a few of Mr Willis' posts on the family we are keenly interested in: Empress Matildathe rival CapetiansKing JohnWilliam Marshal's father John FitzGilbert. Highly recommendable!

Thirdly, there are a few posts to be mentioned. Absolutely fantastic Q&A session by Author Elizabeth Chadwick and Professor David Crouch, both experts in the life and career of William Marshal. Iluminating post about Henry II and less known aspect of his reign - he himself never took Jerusalem road, but, as I am reading, played an important part in saving the citizens when the Holy City was surrendered to Saladin in 1187. Also my post about one very special tower written for Gianna Baucero's blog. Thank you for your kind invitation, Gianna!

Finally, a little bird told us that our friend Ulrik Kristiansen is currently working on the third part of his wonderful Henry the Young King/Eleanor of Aquitaine series. We are looking forward to reading about the part Eleanor played in instigating the Great Revolt of 1173-74. Here you can read Part I and Part II.

Friday, 11 March 2016

"As the South Wind Which Blows in May..." Marie, Countess of Champagne (1145-1198)

Since my lady of Champagne wishes me to undertake to write a romance, I shall very gladly do so, being so devoted to her service as to do anything in the world for her, without any intention of flattery. But if one were to introduce any flattery upon such an occasion, he might say, and I would subscribe to it, that this lady surpasses all others who are alive, just as the south wind which blows in May or April is more lovely than any other wind.... I will say, however, that her command has more to do with this work than any thought or pains that I may expend upon it. Here Chretien begins his book about the Knight of the Cart. The material and the treatment of it are given and furnished to him by the Countess...

Thus began Chrétien de Troyes in the opening lines of his Le Chevalier de la charrette [Lancelot, The Knight of the Car]. The Countess he mentioned was Henry the Young King's elder sister Marie of Champagne who died 818 years ago, on 11 March 1198, aged fifty-three.

The wedding of Louis VII of France and young Eleanor of Aquitaine. in 1137, Les Grandes Chroniques de France, 14th century

Marie was Henry's half sister, to be precise. To make it even more complicated, she was both Henry's and his wife, Marguerite's half sister. The eldest child of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204) and Louis VII of France (1120-1180), Marie was born in 1145, eight years after her parents' wedding. The story of her arrival is a well known one. Young Eleanor [she was 20 at the time], her royal husband and his subjects must have been greatly disturbed by the fact that years passed and much awaited male heir to the throne did not appear. Many became convinced that the queen was barren. Eleanor decided to seek advice of Bernard of Clairvaux [later saint]. The meeting was arranged on the occasion of the dedication of Abbe Suger's newly built cathedral at Saint-Denis, in June 1144. Eleanor met Bernard in private to discuss her sister Petronilla and her husband Raoul's marriage. She asked him to intervene on the latters' behalf promising to make concessions in the matter of Champagne (Louis and Count Thibaut were waging war) and perhaps recognize Peter de la Châtre as archbishop of Bourges. What she said and the “manly” way she presented her ideas must have horrified the holy man, for he rebuked her harshly, commanding her to stop meddling in affairs of state. Eleanor, a shrewd tactician, humbled herself by saying what troubled her most, namely her failure to produce a child. Upon hearing this Bernard offered her a bargain. She was to do everything she could to re-establish peace and he, in return, by his prayers would obtain from the Lord what she requested. Eleanor reported the abbot's words to Louis and kept her part of the bargain. Bernard, as the time showed, was less successful. The royal child indeed was born the following year, but it was not a much awaited son, but a daughter, whom Eleanor named Marie.

                           Bernard of Clairvaux as depicted in La Légende dorée [The Golden Legend] , c. 1260

Marie was barely seven and her younger sister Alix one, when their parents obtained the annulment of their marriage in 1152. They stayed in their father's care. Both seem to have had little contact with their mother thereafter. Louis had them bethrothed to the brothers Henri of Champagne (1152-1181) and Thibaut of Blois*. Marie had long been promised to Henri, whom her father befriended on the Second Crusade and who at twenty-five succeeded his father as count of Troyes and Meaux. In 1155, the year when Marie's half-brother Henry [the future Young King] was born, ten-year-old Marie was staying under the tutelage of abbess Alice of Mareuil, at the prestigious old Benedictine convent of Avenay, near Epernay, in Champagne, where she had been sent to in 1153, the year she reached the canonical age of consent and was formally betrothed to Henri of Champagne. They were married in 1159, when Marie was fourteen. Some scholars still give the date of 1164 for Marie and Henri's wedding, proposed by Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville (Histoire des ducs et des comtes de Champagne [Paris, 1861], III, p.96), who bases it on 'a late and unreliable document', but I would rather follow June Hall McCash, who gives 1159 as the date, explaining that (let me quote): "An 1159 charter refers to Marie as "Trecensis comitissa", evidence that the marriage of Henri and Marie had already taken place. In the twenty-two years of their marriage they had four children: Henri, Marie, Scholastique and Thibaut.

Sometime in 1178, Marie's husband decided to revisit the Holy Land. In the count’s eighteen-month absence (May 1179 - February 1181) Marie ruled the county in his stead. She had never done it before because her husband had his system of governance well established before she arrived in Troyes and because there was no such need. She did it alone, without regency council, and she showed great skill and decisiveness. She did not hesitate to join the opposition against her half-brother Philip, when the latter acted against his mother's family and married Isabelle of Hainaut, who was already bethrothed to Marie's oldest son, Henri. Marie's husband returned from the Holy Land in February 1181 only to die a month later, on 16 March 1181. After his death Marie exercised the comital office as regent, this time for her son Henri (II), for six years (March 1181- May 1187). We get the glimpse of Marie the politician thanks to Gislebert of Mons, who, in his Chronicle of Hainaut, described the conference at Sens, between Marie, her late husband's family, her brother Philip [Augustus] on one side and Baldwin, the count of Hainaut on the other. The latter was summoned by Philip to “keep the cotracts of matrimony confirmed for his children and the countess of Champagne's children, with faith given and oath offered.” (Chronicle of Hainaut, p.104)** Baldwin asked for delays, but he was, as Gislebert put it, “constrained” by the countess and her in-laws. Cornered, the Count came from Sens to Troyes, where the contracted marriage of his son Baldwin, and Marie of Champagne (the daughter) was sworn on both sides.

When Henri reached maturity and assumed the countship Marie decided to retire to Fontaines-les-Nannes, a Fontevrist priory near Meaux, taking with her her second son, eight-year-old Thibaut. Marie herself was forty-two at the time and probably could not have imagined she was ever to rule again. The fall of the Holy City, however, made her son, Henri, as many young men at the time, take “the Jerusalem road”. In 1190, before he set off at the head of a large contignent of barons and knights to accompany his uncle, Richard I , king of England [Lionheart], on the Third Crusade, he summoned his barons and knights to Sezanne to swear oaths of fidelity to his twelve-year-old brother Thibaut in the event that he himself did not return from the Holy Land. Upon his departure Marie resumed the office of a regent. She could not have known she would never see her son again, for “... although all the kings and princes returned from there to their own lands, he remained there as if alone, and received through a certain marriage the kingdom of that land, the wealth of which seemed greater than his own regions’(Chronicle of Hainaut, pp.139-40). ‘A certain marriage’ meant Henry’s marriage to Isabelle, daughter of King Amaury I of Jerusalem and widow of Conrad of Montferat, whom Henry took as his wife on 5 May 1192. Henry refused the title of king, styling himself ‘lord of the kingdom of Jerusalem’ and to the very end ‘count of Champagne'. He died tragically on 10 September 1197 in a most peculiar accident, falling from a window of his palace at Acre. Was it a window or balcony railing that gave way under his weight? The accounts differ when it comes to details. One thing is certain, though: at the time of his death Henry was thirty-one, too young and promising man to die. His untimely passing must have left Marie utterly distraught. 

                                     Seal of Marie's younger son, Thibaut III, Count of Champagne (1179-1201)

Still she continued as regent for her younger son Thibaut (III) until her death in March 1198. A month later, Thibaut, aged nineteen, was knighted by his uncle Philip of France [Augustus] and did homage for his lands at Melun. He was to rule for three years, till May 1201, when he died suddenly in the midst of the preparations for the Fourth Crusade. Fortunately, Marie did not live long enough to see him passed away prematurely and in the flower of his youth. Thibaut's widow, Blanche of Navarre, being in the last weeks of her second pregnancy and absolutely unprepared for a role she was thrust into, did the only thing she could do. She immediately made her way to Sens, where she did homage to King Philip, who became her protector and guardian of the future Thibaut IV. The latter was born within days of Blanche's return to Champagne. Blanche was to be regent for her son for the next twenty-one years (according to the custom in Champagne, counts could succeed their deceased fathers at twenty-one).

Very little is known of Marie's personal life. There is evidence she was close to her half-brothers, Richard and Geoffrey. With the former she shared Adam of Perseigne as confessor, for the latter - after his untimely death in 1186 - she dedicated an altar in Paris. She also entertained her half-sister, Marguerite, the Young King's widow, at the Christmas court of 1184. As for her relationship with Henry the Young King, they certainly met on 11 April 1182 at La Grange St Arnoult, between Senlis and Crepy, at the conference held to discuss the Vermandois succession. They also must have met on different occasions, such as tournaments, official meetings and royal banquets.

The three of Marie's younger half-siblings, Richard I of England (1157-1199), Joanna (1165-1199), Queen of Sicily, later Countess of Tolouse, and Philip II of France (1165-1223). Histoire d'Outremer, British Library

Today Marie is best remembered as the generous literary patroness. Both Marie and her husband sponsored much literature, but their tastes differed. He preferred religious texts written in Latin, whereas she apparently did not read Latin well and thus comissioned texts in vernacular. Her tastes were avantgarde. At her brilliant literary court Marie entertained and supported, among others, Chretien de Troyes, who wrote Le Chevalier de la charrette [Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart] at her request. According to Chretien she had not only comissioned the work, but also supplied him with material [or plot] and interpretation. As we know, Lancelot's fame was to reach the most remote corners of the world and we can safely thank Marie for it. In my native Poland, for instance, one can see the last Sir Lancelot of the Lake wall paintings preserved in situ. Check here.

Next to Chretien, a few other authors wrote about the Countess, including Gautier d'Arras, her younger half brother Richard I the Lionheart and Rigaut de Barbezieux, a few more mentioned she encouraged them to write, Gace Brule, one of the first lyric poets writing in French, among them. Marie's own grandson, Thibaut (1201-1253), Count of Champagne and later King of Navarre composed songs and was to go down in history as "Thibaut le Chansonnier".

                  Marie's grandson, Thibaut IV, Count of Champagne and later King of Navarre as Thibaut I 

* Louis VII himself married Henri and Thibaut's sister, Adele, meaning that the latter was both sister-in-law and stepmother of Marie's

** Young Baldwin of Hainaut was to marry young Marie, whereas young Henri of Champagne was to marry Baldwin's sister Yolende. Yolende never married Henri, but married Count Pierre II Courtenay of Nevers.


Chronicle of Hainaut by Gilbert of Mons. Translated into English by Laura Napran. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2005

The Aristocracy in the County of Champagne, 1100-1300 by Theodore Evergates. Google Books

"Aristocratic Women in the County of Champagne" by Theodore Evergates inAristocratic Women in Medieval France ed. by T. Evergates. Google Books

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Marion Meade. London, 2001.

Eleanor of Aquitaine by Ralph V. Turner. New Haven and London, 2011.

The Medieval Ducal Tower at Siedlęcin official website

Sunday, 6 March 2016

5 March 1173: "By the Example of the Undutiful Absalom" Henry the Young King Escapes From His Father....

On 5 March 1133, a son, Henry was born to Empress Matilda, the daughter and heiress of King Henry I of England and Count Geoffrey V of Anjou, called le Bel. He was to become the ruler of the empire stretching from the Scottish border in the north to the Pyrenees in the south, the latter thanks to his highly lucrative marriage with the greatest heiress of the 12th century, the former queen of France, Eleanor, the duchess of Aquitaine in her own right. The couple was to have eight children together, seven of whom survived infancy. 

                                 Absalom leaving David's court. Maciejowski Bible, 13th century

Exactly 40 years later, Henry's eldest son and heir triggered the war that was to go down in history as the Great Revolt of 1173-74. On 5 March 1173, Henry the Young King, under cover of the dark (with all probability before daybreak), slipped past the castle guards and escaped from Chinon Castle, where, on his father’s order, he was held - there is no better way to put it - under house arrest. Via Alencon (6 March), Argentan (7 March) and Mortagne (8 March) he went to seek help and support at his father-in-law’s court (then at Chartres), the action which marked the beginning of the Great Revolt, although ‘nearly three months passed before war actually broke out.’ (Norgate, p.136).

Henry's escape can be compared to that of Absalom, King David’s son, who left his father’s court to plot against him. ‘Absalom’ is the name which many chroniclers chose to use when describing Henry the Young King and his rebellion(s) against his father. As it may seem, the comparison even more fitting when we take into account the Young King’s proverbial charm and good looks: ‘In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him’(2 Samuel 14:25). We all know how David’s undutiful son ended up. Young Henry was more lucky. He, at least in 1173-74, managed to survive. But it is still ahead. Now let us focus on the events that pushed the Young Henry into taking up such a desperate step.

Some time previously he quarreled with his father over his status of the co-king of England. He had been crowned king in 1170, empty title as time was to show. When his father kept refusing to share power and responsibility with his eldest son, the youth kept growing restless and impatient.

‘… When the Prince grew up to the age of manhood, he was impatient to obtain, with the oaths and name, the reality of the oath and name, and at least to reign jointly with his father; though he ought of right to rule alone, for, having been crowned, the reign of his father had, as it were, expired - at least it was so whispered to him by certain persons…’ (NewburghHistory)

The Young Henry asked for a territory in Normandy, or Anjou, or Maine where he could live with his wife, Marguerite and rule independently. He was yet again refused. What became the proverbial last straw, though happened in the opening months of 1173. Henry the Young King had been summoned to Auvergne by his father to take part in the meeting with Humbert, Count of Maurienne at Montferrand-le-Fort on 2 February. The conference had been held to discuss the marriage of Prince John, Henry the Young King youngest brother and Humbert’s daughter, Alais. The Count had asked about John’s share in Henry II’s domains. The King suggested the three castles: Chinon, Mirebeau and Loudun as John’s dower, all situated in Anjou, a county assigned to his eldest son. Despite Henry the Young King’s loud protests and refusal to accept the terms introduced by his father, the settlement had been reached. ‘… and from this time it was that the king, the son, had been seeking pretexts and an opportunity for withdrawing from his father. And he had now so entirely revolted in feeling from obeying his wishes that he could not even converse with him on any subject in a peaceable manner.’ (Howden, the Annals, Vol I, p.367)*

To add injury to insult, according to Robert of Torigni the old king had dismissed several of the Young King’s intimates who seemed to be exerting a bad influence on him. In consequence, Hasculf de St Hilary and other young knights were forced to leave the Young King’s court (Norgate). In the aftermath of the events described above, young Henry’s situation had even worsened. He had been held under what we call today house arrest. No wonder that the young man had used the first opportunity to escape and seek refuge at Louis VII's court, then at Chartres. He had been followed by his two younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey and backed up by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Louis VII of France, William I of Scotland, Counts of Flanders, Boulogne and Blois, as well as rebels in PoitouNormandy and England, all became his allies.

Ralph of Diceto in his Images of History mentioned that the Young King was following wicked advice. The chronicler placed guilt with Hugh of Saint-Maur and Ralph de Foyes, uncle of Queen Eleanor. According to him while Henry II was away in Ireland (1171-72) the aforesaid nobles, on Queen Eleanor’s advice ‘began to turn away from his father the mind of the Young King, suggesting that it seemed incongruous to be a king and not exercise the rule of the kingdom’.
Roger of Howden thought the guilt lied with ‘the king of France and those of the earls and barons of England and Normandy who disliked his [Henry’s] father’. He mentioned the Young King’s visit to his father-in-law’s court in the autumn of 1172 during which Louis advised his son-in-law to demand a share of his father’s dominions. Not that he spared the Young King himself. On the contrary, his was a harsh judgment: ‘Thus did the king’s son lose both his feelings and his senses; he repulsed the innocent, persecuted his father, usurped authority, seized upon a kingdom; he alone was the guilty one, and yet a whole army conspired against his father, “so does the madness of one mad make many mad”.

William of Newburgh put it briefly: ‘…and being thus encouraged and instigated against his father by the virulent exhortations of the French, he was not terrified from violating the great law of nature by the example of the undutiful Absalom’. And like Absalom he was defeated.

Henry’s escape from Chinon triggered a rebellion, but as it turned out too soon. The conspirators, lacking centralized commandership, were ill prepared and not ready to conduct a full-scale invasion. As time was to prove, Henry II emerged victorious against the formidable coalition with his wife imprisoned, his sons humiliated and his enemies all brought down to their knees.

*After Raymond V of Tolouse did homage to all three: Henry II, Henry the Young King and Richard at a court held at Limoges on 25 February, he ‘coincidently revealed to King Henry that the Queen  and Princes were forming a plot against him.’ (Eyton, p.171) Henry with a small escort took the young Henry with him to Normandy (under pretence of a hunting-party, according to Geoffrey of Vigeois).


Court, Household and Itinerary of King Henry II by Robert William Eyton, 1878. Internet Archive.

Images of History by Ralph of Diceto in The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Dr Elizabeth Hallam. Greenwich Edition, 2002.

The Annals of Roger of Howden. Vol I. Trans. by Henry T. Riley. Internet Archive of Northeastern University Libraries

The History of William of Newburgh. Internet Medieval Source Book, Fordham University.

Henry II by W. L. Warren. Google Books.

The Angevin Empire by John Gillingham. Edward Arnold, 1984.

Henry Plantagenet by Richard Barber. The Boydell Press, 2001.

England Under the Angevin Kings by Kate Norgate. Google Books.