Eleanor of Aquitaine


Another book excerpt; thank goodness I don't have reader's block! I think the paragraphs below might make a good movie or story. I like the idea of stealing a chain of events straight from history. I have never seen The Lion in Winter but from what I've read, Eleanor of Aquitaine's life is enough material for hours of documentaries and dramatic film, and volumes-worth of saucy medieval romance novels and tales of political intrigue. In this excerpt, Richard is Eleanor's son Richard I of England, Philip is King of France, and the Vexin is a bit of France northwest of Paris that England and France bickered over for years. Vexin indeed.

"In September 1198 Richard overran the Vexin, reclaiming Gisors with such ferocity that Philip was nearly drowned in the frantic retreat of the French; in a letter to Hugh de Puiset, Richard gleefully related how 'the King of France drank river water on that day.' A record one hundred French knights were also taken prisoner. It was at this point that the church intervened to negotiate a peace between the two kings.

"The Bishop of Beauvais was now being held by Richard in a dungeon at Ch√Ęteau Gaillard, which many regarded as an outrage. The new Pope, the formidable Innocent III, who would emerge as one of the greatest pontiffs of the Middle Ages, was determined to have the Bishop freed, and sent a legate, Cardinal Peter of Capua, to order Richard to release him on the grounds that it was forbidden by canon law to imprison a bishop.

"The King was in no mood to obey, and unleashed a flood of abuse upon the legate, shouting that the Holy See had never intervened on his behalf when he was being held captive--an attitude that echoes the sentiments expressed in Eleanor's letters to Celestine III [the previous Pope]--and accusing the Bishop of Beauvais of being no better than a brigand and the Cardinal of being a traitor, liar, simoniac, and suborner. Then Richard sent him from his presence, commanding him never to come before him again.

"When Eleanor learned what had happened, she was much disturbed, having heard of Pope Innocent's ruthlessness. She therefore arranged for the Bishop to escape--probably by bribing or duping his jailers--and offered him asylum in her own domains. Then she let it be known that Richard had freed him. In this way she averted the threat of excommunication falling upon her son and avoided making an enemy of Innocent and driving him over to Philip's camp. It was a brave thing to do, considering just how angry Richard could be when he was thwarted; yet there is no record of any recriminations, and it is likely that, once his wrath had cooled, Richard saw the wisdom of Eleanor's actions."
Alison Weir, Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, New York: Ballantine Books, 1999. 309.

You can picture the scene, the ginger-haired king roaring with laughter at his French rival wallowing in river mud. Later, brandishing a huge piece of meat, he unleashes a torrent of invective on the man of God come to demand clemency. His seventy-six year-old mother connives from her remote palace, combing her hair before a low mirror and duping jailers with abandon. The bishop stealing from his tapestried cell, wondering why the king chooses to release him in the dead of night into the hands of hooded horsemen...