Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
5 minutes for reading

OH, LOVE: Henry II and the «grandmother of medieval Europe»

OH, LOVE: Henry II and the «grandmother of medieval Europe»
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Artwork: huxley.media via Photoshop


Even 3000 years ago, King Solomon said: «Love is as strong as death… its arrows are arrows of fire», and no one has refuted it. And there are not a few examples that show that love can really move mountains — here is one more. Just do not ask why there is a dotted line in such a famous quote. What is often missed in it, and is it important? The answer will be, but a little later, at the very end of the text.

It all began, perhaps, with the expulsion of the astrologer Bonifacius from the ducal court, who predicted that Duke Guillaume and his wife Aliénor would have an extraordinary child with good health and a great future, that he would rule the kingdom and not just one, but more rulers would be born, moreover — he would play an important role in the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre. And the birth was a girl! It is always right to banish the astrologer, but let’s find out what will happen next — maybe Bonifacius suffered for nothing…

Apparently, the girl’s parents loved each other since they even named the child after her mother: «the other Aenor» in Latin — Aliénor. By the way, the Duke of her father was not simple and Aquitanian — this is not a pound of raisins: the then territory of Aquitaine was more than the possessions of the king of France. Growing girl parents to the delight of her parents: mastered medieval sciences, spoke perfect Latin, and shone in many arts, including falconry — in general, finding her spouse was clearly not a problem.

But in royal marriages, it does not often happen — love, strong as death: too much to take into account, especially if you take into account that her only brother died as a child. Her father fell ill during the pilgrimage and died on the way, having time to make a will, according to which the crown of Aquitaine went to his beloved daughter and let the King of France find a husband for her, to whom he entrusted it in his dying hour. Try to refuse. King Louis VI, an active and not stupid sovereign, of course, did not refuse — just need to marry his son, and here is such a dowry…


Анри Декейн. Людовик VII Младший, король Франции, 1837
Henri Decain. Louis VII the Younger, King of France, 1837 / wikipedia.org


The newly minted French queen is smart, well-mannered, and not ugly — maybe everything will work out? But the wedding night spoiled everything — her husband appeared to wish her good night and immediately went to pray for a happy marriage, crowned with offspring, without even thinking that to get this very offspring does not need a prayer …

On the part of Louis, just at first, there was enough love — the chronicles of those times note that at first he «loved his wife almost excessive love», which is clearly crazy about the perky, spectacular, and witty wife. But she soon said that she thought she had married a man, not a monk, so many people heard it. Marital relations between them, of course, arose, but communication with this taciturn, boring, and typical Northerner clearly did not please the lively and energetic Southerner.

After the birth of her daughter Mary (it’s not enough; you need a son and heir), Aliénor makes an unusual decision — to go with her husband on a crusade, and a mass of noble ladies follow her. At least once, this circus put the whole army in mortal danger — the Amazon ladies overtook their own army and were ambushed; even the king, who was among them, was saved by a miracle. And when the army arrived in Antioch, where then ruled Aliénor’s native uncle Raymond de Poitiers, Aliénor so actively conferred with him that there were rumors that they usurped not only the military powers of Louis but also, you know what …

To the final heat of the relationship, the spouse reached just her third pregnancy (miscarriage and two daughters — not enough for 15 years of marriage!). It seems that the couple agreed that if a boy heir is born, the marriage will continue, if not — the king will get a new chance.

A girl was born, and Louis and Aliénor suddenly found out that they were third cousins, so, without special permission from the pope, they could not marry, and no one thought to ask for it! After the divorce, Aquitaine returned under the rule of Aliénor, and the territory of France decreased by more than half.

But the scandal was not avoided — just two months after the divorce, Aliénor remarried and found a groom who had just finished fighting with her ex-husband. When they married, he was no longer only the Duke of Anjou — he inherited Normandy and, with it, the rights to the English throne, which was then owned by a very stupid King Stephen, a cousin of his mother Matilda.

After a long civil war, Stephen pledged to leave the throne to the new husband of Aliénor, and two years after the marriage, he made her also the English queen — French she was already. It turns out that the astrologer Bonifacius was scolded for nothing — not only did the girl fight for the Holy Sepulchre, but she also ruled the kingdom, and not one! No one apologized to him — let me do it here and now.

Aliénor’s second husband, Henry Plantagenet, turned out to be 9 years younger than his wife — an atypical situation in those times. Combined with the hurricane speed of this marriage (two months is not a term for the nobles of that time; sometimes years of bargaining were required), this leads us to a very definite thought: it does not look like a marriage of convenience. Only a feeling, and a very strong and, of course, mutual.

For the first 14 years of marriage (so lasted the entire marriage of Aliénor with her first husband), the couple gave birth to nine children — and what children! Two kings of England, even three (one crowned, but did not reign himself), the Duke of Brittany, the Queen of Castile, the Queen of Sicily, the Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria — and how many kings among their descendants — you can not count. So Aliénor is called «the grandmother of medieval Europe» with no less right than Queen Victoria — «the grandmother of Europe».


Король Англии Генрих II и его дети. Слева направо: Вильгельм, Генрих, молодой король, Ричард Львиное Сердце, Матильда, Джеффри, Элеонора, Джоан, Джон Лакленд
King Henry II of England and his children. From left to right: William, Henry, the young king, Richard the Lionheart, Matilda, Geoffrey, Aliénor, Joan, John Lackland / wikipedia.org


The love and trust of the couple helped to ensure that England, split by the civil war under Stephen, began to come to its senses. Alienora helped her husband in the management of the state — administrative talents she clearly had as much as artistic. But over the years, the character of the king began to deteriorate; he began to show little useful qualities in marital relations, such as greed and suspicion, not to mention even more dangerous things — novels on the side.

The children, meanwhile, were growing up — the eldest of them, usually called Henry the Young, was even crowned as his father’s co-emperor (at least formally), and Richard, his mother’s favorite, was proclaimed Duke of Aquitaine. Henry’s side son Geoffrey also grew up — he’s the only one to remain with the king at the time of his death, and he’s sort of even said to be his only real son.

Legend calls his mother Rosamunda Clifford, the «The Fair Rosamund» of English legends. But that’s half the trouble, but the fact that Henry made his mistress the daughter of Aliénor’s first husband Louis VII, Adele, who as a child was brought to make her the wife of his son Richard, no longer in any gates did not fit.

As Richard’s attitude to his father changed — you can see for yourself, and in general, Henry’s numerous family over the years more and more resembled a tangle of snakes.

And the thunder came — after Count Raymond of Toulouse warned Henry in Limoges that his sons were plotting against him in alliance with their mother. The king did not manage to capture Henry the Young, who fled to France, but Aliénor was unable to escape — Henry ordered her imprisonment in Winchester Castle.


Дворец епископа Винчестерского в 1660 году
The Palace of the Bishop of Winchester in 1660 / blogspot.com


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This imprisonment was not strict: she had servants, richly kept and fed, but she did not get her freedom for the entire last 16 years of her 47-year marriage to Henry. Love, if it goes away, it does so in different ways — sometimes it can just slowly melt away, and sometimes it remains so strong that it changes sign, and one begins to hate with the same force with which one formerly loved.

The situation within the conflict was changing; Henry’s sons were making temporary alliances, then reconciled briefly with their father, but all to nothing. Slowly the role of the younger son John increased, who was so much younger than his brothers that when the king in 1169 granted Normandy and Anjou to Henry, Aquitaine, Auvergne and Poitou to Richard, and Brittany to Geoffroy, he allocated nothing to John — thus the nickname John the Landless.

Given his other nicknames — Maidenheart (not Lionheart like his brother) and Soft Sword, received for his unique military ineptitude (he lost every single battle he commanded), it was clear that nothing good could come of his elevation. Remember how Walter Scott described him in «Ivanhoe»? Quite similar to reality (unlike the image of Richard, whom the writer clearly idealizes).

I am disgusted with the details of this vile squabble, but I must mention it for the sake of coherence. Henry was forced to make a very unfavorable peace with his adversaries. But a more terrible blow than the articles of that peace was the list of those who had been unfaithful to the king — Prince John’s name was on it.

It was clear that after such a stroke, the king would not heal in the world, and a week later, he actually died in sorrow and disgrace, feeling betrayed and sold out. As Henry the Young had also died during the war, the crown passed to Richard, who ordered his mother’s immediate release — he needed such a clever executive immediately.

This instantly began to bear fruit. Literally from the get-go, Aliénor found Henry’s treasures in London for the fantastic sum of a million pounds. Another man would have had enough to raise the whole country, but Aliénor’s favorite, Richard, was as fine a warrior as he was an incompetent executive. The money went to another crusade, where Richard earned the valor of the respect of his main enemy, Saladin, and boorish and senseless behavior — the hatred of the closest allies (was not better the other way around?).

Returning from not conquered Jerusalem, Richard fell into captivity to his worst enemy, Leopold of Austria, whom he mortally insulted by throwing his banner from the wall of the captured castle — just so, out of scandalousness. He agreed to release him only for a monstrous sum of money, which was not available in England, and if it had not been for Aliénor, who found part of the funds, and for the delivery of the rest guaranteed, so Richard would have rotted in prison and rotted.

But he was granted freedom, he sat on the throne of England and immediately returned to fight in France, where he received a trifling wound with an arrow while attacking a castle no one needed (which was defended by only two knights, and instead of a shield, one of them used a frying pan), and that in those days was extremely likely to die of sepsis. If not for Aliénor, things would have been even worse…


Иоанн I Безземельный — король Англии и герцог Аквитании из династии Плантагенетов. Младший (пятый) сын Генриха II и Алиенор Аквитанской
John I the Lackland was King of England and Duke of Aquitaine of the Plantagenet dynasty. The youngest (fifth) son of Henry II and Aliénor of Aquitaine / livescience.com


John, her only surviving son so far, took the throne and reigned so brilliantly that Aliénor’s decision to stay out of England under such a wise monarch was brilliant. This is not to say that she completely removed herself from politics — for example, in 1200, she successfully traveled to Spain, giving away her granddaughter Blanche of Castile to the French King Louis VIII, The Lion, who, incidentally, captured part of England and even London — in vain the Englishmen boast that since the time of William, no enemy has entered English soil …

In 1204, Aliénor left this world in a difficult to imagine in those days the age — the exact date of her birth is unknown, but it is very likely that the ninth decade of years. She was buried next to her beloved son and once beloved husband — they had nothing else to share.

I wonder how events would have developed if they had continued to love each other as they did at the beginning of their marriage and had not fought but acted together. If Henry hadn’t started chasing skirts, hadn’t gotten involved in taking his bride from his own son, hadn’t had more illegitimate children than legitimate ones, of which, let’s agree, there were quite a few?

It seems that love is a jealous and vengeful creature. By the way, let us solve the mystery of the dotted line in the quotation from the Bible, which I gave at the very beginning.

«Love is as strong as death; … its arrows are arrows of fire» — this is often quoted, but instead of the dotted line, what? «Jealousy is as fiery as the grave» — that’s it, and her arrows, it turns out, are her… This is usually taken out of the quotation because it is unpleasant even to think about it, but where do we go from it? There’s nowhere to go, so don’t get your hopes up.


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