Posts Tagged ‘Eleanor of Aquitaine’

Wedding Announcements

Posted in General, On This Day on May 12th, 2015 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

May 12, 1191:  Richard the Lion-Heart Marries Berengaria of Navarre

RichardIWe are still waiting for the marriage to be consummated.  Richard evidently was unfamiliar with the adage “Politics makes straight bedfellows.”  In fairness to Richard, he never misled that poor Spanish princess.  His mother did.   Eleanor of Aquitaine was worried that her 33 year old son had yet to marry.  He was King of England, a hereditary position, and heredity usually requires a certain physical exertion.  His younger brothers were married–even the gnomish John.  (Yes, his bride was the unwilling one.)  So Eleanor was determined to get her favorite son a wife.

On parchment (paper had yet to be imported from China), Richard would have seemed a great catch.  He was King of England and Duke of half of France: you had to go to Constantinople to find a Christian boy with a better resume.  Furthermore, Richard was handsome and chivalrous.  What more could a princess want?  Well, yes, apparently the princesses of France and Germany had heard about “that”.  But the royal family of Navarre either hadn’t or couldn’t afford to be choosy.  The smallest, most precarious kingdom in Spain could use the butchest son-in-law in Christendom, and so Berengaria’s troth was really plighted.

Richard, who had no compunction about trying to kill his father, somehow couldn’t disobey his mother.  All right… he would get married, but he wasn’t making it easy.  First, they had to find him.  Richard was off to the Crusades.  His last known address was Messina, Sicily.  So his 69 year-old-mother, with Berengaria in tow, arrived there in March, 1191.  Fortunately, Richard was still in Sicily but it was during Lent, and he wouldn’t think of getting married then.  But rather than wait a few weeks, Richard now was in a hurry to get to the Holy Land.  After all, there were Moslems and Jews waiting to be killed, along with any unfortunate Greek Orthodox bystanders.  However, if Berengaria was willing to tag along, Richard would find the time to marry her.  Perhaps, after he captured Jerusalem…or Mecca.

Eleanor no longer had the patience or stamina to goad Richard to the altar.  She returned to France, but Richard had not completely escaped the chiding females of his family.  The dowager queen of Sicily happened to be his sister Joan,  and she was quite prepared to organize a wedding in the Holy Land.  When Richard set sail, Joan and Berengaria weren’t far behind.  A storm struck the fleet, however, and the ship carrying the theoretical bride and the aspiring matron of honor was driven off course to Cyprus.  There the Byzantine governor–demonstrating why his cousin the Emperor wouldn’t  trust him in Constantinople–attempted to seize the royal women for ransom.  Of course, the chivalrous Richard had to rescue the two damsels in distress.  He incidently conquered Cyprus, too.   (The Byzantines would never get it back.)  What happened next defies explanation but would make a wonderful ad for Cypriot Tourism:   Cyprus–where even the unwilling get married!  Yes, on this day in 1191, Richard succumbed to formality.

Berengaria went along on the Crusade, perhaps mistaking it for a honeymoon, but soon decided to return to Europe.  At least, she now had the expense allowance befitting a queen.  France could be very comfortable for the rich and, of course, who could blame her for dropping by Navarre to flaunt her position.  Ironically, Berengaria never visited Britain, the only Queen of England with that unique omission.  (Of course, Richard was rarely there, either:  six months out of his ten year reign.)  The King and Queen had a platonic marriage; in fact, they rarely saw each other.    The Pope felt compelled to advise Richard on marital duties.     In similar circumstances other women might have  succumbed to therapeutic sins, but Berengaria never did.  She evidently was saving herself for Richard.

He died in 1199:  a minor arrow wound but a very bad doctor.  The widow was in her thirties, but she never was  interested in a second–or real–marriage.  Indeed, she would eventually join a convent.  As Mrs. Plantagenet, she already had eight years practice as a nun.

Note To the Studios

Posted in General on June 25th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

For a beautiful, brilliant, fascinating woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine is surprisingly obscure.  Oh, historians certainly know her but Hollywood–the real arbiter of popular knowledge–has long overlooked her.  You’d think that Reese Witherspoon and Sandra Bullock would be demanding tailored-scripts to play her.  But, however long overdue, I think that Eleanor has become fashionable.  She appears–as one of the few intelligent adults–in the latest version of “Robin Hood”.  To be honest, there is no need for her in the story; the 437 previous versions of “Robin Hood” have done without her.  But the scriptwriter and director–bless them– realize that the dazzling Queen Mother was just too wonderful to leave out of the film.

For the benefit of any Hollywood producers here, let me offer this brief introduction to Eleanor.  Just her lifespan was remarkable by medieval standards:  1122-1204.  She started life as merely a duchess rather than a queen. But Aquitaine was not your standard Middle Age muck, where four huts constituted a city.  The  fertile land of Southwestern France and its proximity to Moorish Spain made the duchy the most prosperous and cultured realm in western Europe.  Eleanor was its sovereign and what a dowry that made!

At the age of 15 she was married to Louis VII of France.  He was a nice young man, dull and pious, who was infatuated with her beauty and dutifully tried to ignore her intelligence.  But Eleanor could never be ignored.  If he was going on a Crusade, she was coming along, too.  Why should she be stuck in Paris?  Constantinople and Antioch would be more her style.  He might like praying in Jerusalem, but she could appreciate the art and the history. So, off to the Crusades they went.  It was her Grande Tour and his military disaster.  Louis was never a competent soldier, but he thought that Eleanor had jinxed him.  The rumors about her and various men (her uncle, the Byzantine Emperor, Saladin. etc) must have been somewhat distracting.  Upon returning to France, Louis asked the Pope for an annulment of the marriage on the grounds of consanguinity.  Louis and Eleanor were third cousins, but he apparently had just learned that after 15 years of marriage.  The King was a gentleman not to give the real reasons; and he was disappointed that Eleanor wasn’t grateful enough to let him have the Aquitaine.  No, he got to keep the two daughters and she got to keep the duchy.

Within two months she had a second husband: the exciting–and 11 years younger–Henry of Anjou, the heir to the English throne.  There was no docile acquiescence or complacent indifference in this marriage.  The passion produced eight children and civil war.  It was X-rated for both sex and violence.  Eleanor’s ideal of maternal duty was to encourage her sons to overthrow their father.  For the last 16 years of their marriage, Henry II only felt safe when she was imprisoned.  Even then, when his favorite mistress suddenly died the king had his suspicions as to the real cause of death.  However, Henry and Eleanor never tried poisoning each other.  In a love-hate relationship, that would have been against the rules.  So, when Henry died in 1189 it really was of natural causes.

Her favorite son Richard now was King, although not much of one.  He pawned much of the realm to finance a Crusade, leaving his mother as one of his regents for England and Normandy.  Ignoring his preferences, she arranged Richard’s marriage to the Spanish princess, Berengaria of Navarre.  We are still waiting for the marriage to be consummated.  While Eleanor was trying to  perpetuate Richard’s line, her other scion John was busy plotting.  Richard had not named his gnomish, maladroit baby brother as co-regent, choosing instead a reputable bishop.  John somehow knew all the disreputable bishops and organized them into a jury to condemn and oust the regent.  The disgraced bishop fled England and John was available to take his place as regent.

Of course, Eleanor didn’t approve but she wasn’t prepared to fight a civil war with her son.  She kept busy trying to circumvent John’s plots against Richard, raising the ransom when the king was held hostage in Austria and, upon Richard’s return, protecting the incompetent usurper from his enraged brother.  When Richard died in 1199, Eleanor’s support assured John of the royal succession.  She couldn’t have had any delusions as to his ability but he was the oldest male Plantagenet available.  At least while she lived, she orchestrated political alliances to keep France at bay and England with allies.  Ironically, her dull, plodding first husband had produced in a subsequent marriage the type of son Eleanor should have had: an energetic and brilliant statesman.  Without his mother, John was no match for Philippe Auguste.  There is a reason why Normandy, Tours, Gascony and Aquitaine are called France rather than East England.  Eleanor might have averted it, but she would have had to live another 800 years to ensure it.

Now, is that a life worthy of Hollywood?  “The Lion in Winter” did Eleanor some justice but that was just one chapter in a fascinating story.