02 February 2010

Lioness of Winter: When Christ and His Saints Slept
Eleanor of Aquitaine: Part II

For 40 years Eleanor endured life with Henry, with her countenance intact. A saintly miracle by even ancient standards. Of the 4 surviving sons she bore Henry, 2 (Richard and John) became Kings of England and one (Geoffrey), Duke of Brittany. In regards to their daughters; Matilda became Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria, Eleanor married Alfonso VIII, King of Castile, and Joan was windowed by William II, King of Sicily, only to later become the Countess of Toulouse. Less than 700 years later, when Queen Victoria died, she left an inherited title of "Grandmother of Europe", It seems that Eleanor is deserving of the same accolade. She would later spend her widowhood traveling the courts of the continent, visiting her many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
It was during her last pregnancy, with the future King John, that Henry discovered the "Fair Rosamond". History and legend tell of Henry espying his lover in the mists of Wales, and bringing her home for "closer inspection". As the story is later told, Eleanor is said to have placed a dagger in one of Rosamond's hands, and poison in another, she then asked the fair lady to choose. Rosamond must have chosen the poison, for that is the chronicled cause of her death. Woefully for the Queen, Rosamond was to be only one of many loving ladies, and the king spend the winter of his life in the bed of Alyce, sister if the King of France and intended betrothed of his son Richard. Needless to say, Richard never married Aylce, and she has disappeared from the pages of history. Eleanor dealt with her husband's infidelities by setting up a "Court of Courtly Life and Manners" in Poiter, and, oh yes, waging war against the king.
Well, maybe not war, but she did, with great enthusiasm, support her sons in their repeated rebellions against their father. For her donations of troops and money, she found herself locked in a tower, a prison keep. She was trotted out for royal visits and state occasions, for Henry never lost, and she never tired of seeing him! It was only after the death of the king in 1189, that she was released from her bondage, the first act of the newly crowned king, and her son, Richard.
Eleanor was now able to return to her position of control, glory, and intellect. Upon his accession, Richard returned to his travels and adventures, leaving the Queen Dowager as chief administrator of the kingdom. For the next 5 years, Richard campaigned with the Third Crusade, and in turn, was captured in Austria on his return home. Eleanor was forced to levy taxes, upon taxes, to pay the ransom and free the King from his prison in Durnstein (enter the bad King John and Robin Hood!). Free and homeward bound, Richard had one last adventure. It was near Aquitaine that Richard was wounded by an arrow while storming the castle of a rebel vassal. The wound proved fatal. It was at this point, in 1199, that John Lackland, got all the land.
History has not been kind to John, one wonders if anybody liked him. His mother did not, he caused her too much trouble. Even so, it was John who signed the Magna Carta in the fields of Runnymead, and gave England one of it's earliest documents that would later comprise the nations "constitution". John was forever fighting. He fought with the King of France, and lost England's dominions in this rival nation. It was in Anjou that he challenged Arthur, Duke of Brittany, son of his brother Geoffery. Here, Eleanor supported her son, one (and maybe only) final time. The sun was setting on the life of the queen, and the saints were beginning to awake. At the end of the battle, Eleanor retired to the monastery at Fontevrault Abby, in Anjou. It was here, in 1204, that the glorious lady died and was laid to rest, forever.

"She was beautiful and just, imposing and modest, humble and elegant"
~The Necrology of the Nuns of Fontevrult

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