Eleanor: Installment 2

Eleanor & Louis VII
Eleanor and Louis were married on Sunday, 25 July 1137.(16) It was a marriage more about property than anything else. Unfortunately, Louis the Fat did not have an opportunity to welcome his new daughter-in-law into the family since he died in his bed before the newlyweds returned home. Thus when Louis VII and Eleanor entered her new homeland, he entered as King and she entered as Queen of France.

There could be no two people who were less alike in temperament and personality. Eleanor was used to luxury, engaged in educated discourse by virtue of her education, rode, and hunted with her falcons. Her personality was like that of her grandfather; strong willed and opinionated. Louis, on the other hand, was not any of those characteristics. He was kind, quiet, and given more to piety than not.

Eleanor found her days to be long and boring. Games of chess, small conversation, needlework and the like were used to fill time, but this was unsatisfactory to Eleanor who was used to adventure and the entertainment of Poitou’s courts.

Louis listened to his counselors in matters of state. Eleanor thought he listened to them too much and she could not understand why he did not listen to her more. After all, she was his wife! She resented her husband’s close relationship with Thierry Galeran, his advisor whom he inherited from his father.(17) Eleanor became restless. As was the case in any royal marriage, a male heir was necessary to secure the throne. During this era, the marital bed was for procreative purposes only. Enjoyment even in the marital bed was not permitted and could earn the person three-years penance.(18) Thus with infrequent conjugal visits, Eleanor only conceived once in the early years of their marriage, which she miscarried. No heir was forthcoming. This caused Eleanor great concern and stress at the time, though she did eventually go on to have two daughters with Louis.(19)

In 1141 Louis went on campaign to regain Eleanor’s lands of Toulouse which had been under the rule of Count Alfonso Jordan for 20 years. Without consulting his chief vassals and advisors, thus without their support, Louis marched off to storm the Toulousian city gates with poorly organized troops and without the necessary siege engines. The campaign failed. Louis returned to Poitou where “he was obliged to confess his failure to Eleanor.”(20)

Eleanor could have become restless and stressed due to her early inability to conceive a child and carry it to term, especially knowing the pressure placed upon her to produce a male heir. In that era, any problems with conception were usually considered the fault of the woman. It is also conceivable that she became resentful of Louis’ inability to regain possession of her lands of Toulouse which only added to her unhappiness.

The Second Crusade
In 1146, Pope Eugenius II called St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a monk at Citeaux of the Cistercian Order, to preach for a Second Crusade. St. Bernard’s charismatic personality was a drawing force to those around him and he was the force behind the monastic reform of the twelfth century. His “leadership of the group is an example of the kind of drawing power he always had over others.”(21) Many joined him in taking monastic vows. Bernard was considered “one of the most revered and admired men of the time, one of the highest moral authorities of the Church, a man already acknowledged as a saint in his lifetime.”(22) These leadership skills may have contributed to his fellow Cistercian, Eugenius, who called on him to preach.

The First Crusade, launched in 1096, was a success. It established four Christian principalities in the Holy Land. One of those principalities, Edessa, fell into Turk hands which threatened the remaining three. Pope Eugenius III, not wanting to lose the Christian foothold there, called for a Second Crusade in 1146. Louis viewed the Second Crusade as a pilgrimage and as an opportunity to appease his guilt for the holocaust that occurred at Vitry because of Eleanor’s 16 year old sister, Petronilla.(23)

Petronilla had enticed and won over the affections of Count Raoul of Vermandois. Unfortunately, he was already married to Countess Eleanor, sister of Count Theobald of Champagne. He was also 35 years Petronilla’s senior. Queen Eleanor, angry because of Theobald’s “failure to honor his feudal obligations to Louis,” encouraged Count Raoul’s annulment of his marriage to Count Theobald’s sister. Queen Eleanor went so far as to pressure King Louis and gained his support to the extent that he arranged for Count Raoul’s annulment of the marriage to Countess Eleanor on the basis of consanguinity. He also arranged for three Bishops to perform Raoul’s subsequent marriage to Petronilla. This was a deep insult to Count Theobald of Champagne and enraged him enough that he took in his abandoned sister and her children and provided, to the Pope, supporting documentation that demonstrated Raoul’s annulment and remarriage were invalid.(24) The Pope sent his papal legate to Champagne, who ordered Raoul to return to his wife. He refused. Thus Raoul and Petronilla were excommunicated.

The excommunication caused King Louis to feel that his rule was being usurped by the Pope and his temper flared. He began to “plot war against Theobald who he blamed for these developments.”(25) His plot included attacking one of the peasant villages in Theobald’s hold, Vitry-sur-Marne. He sent his armies in first and for months they attacked and destroyed the area. Theobald did not submit, therefore Louis rode into battle himself. Unfortunately, he could not contain his soldiers who ran ahead and began to set fire to the thatched homes of the villagers. The villagers, terror stricken, fled to their church for protection where they were barred in. Louis arrived at the conflict just as the church, with all the people in it, was set to fire. He heard their screams as they burned to death. Taking personal blame for the atrocity at Vitry, Louis made the pious decision of repentance, sought forgiveness and hoped to gain peace by going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Outspoken Eleanor
Did Eleanor encourage her husband the king to go on Crusade? When viewed in light of Sharon Farmer’s journal article entitled, Persuasive Voices: Clerical Images of Medieval Wives one can see a potential reason why. Farmer references English Theologian Thomas of Chobham’s argument that women should exercise their persuasive powers over their husbands. He said,

In imposing penance, it should always be enjoined upon women to be preachers to their husbands, because no priest is able to soften the heart of a man the way his wife can. For this reason, the sin of a man if often imputed to his wife, if through her negligence, he is not corrected. Even in the bedroom, in the midst of their embraces, a wife should speak alluringly to her husband….[It] is permissible for a woman to expend much of her husband’s property, without his knowing, in ways beneficial to him and for pious causes.(26)

Another, albeit earlier example, of a noblewoman encouraging her husband to act in a manner that would be to his benefit is Adele of Blois, daughter of William the Conqueror, who was more enthusiastic about the Crusade than her husband, Stephen, Count of Blois and Chartres. When he went home from the First Crusade in 1098 and said to his wife it was a disaster and waste of time, she made him go back to the Holy Land where he died an honorable crusader’s death.(27)

Louis’ limited and monastic education, coupled with a heart more suited for a pious and priestly life, he was probably poorly prepared for the responsibilities and decision-making necessary for a husband and king. Whereas Eleanor was better educated and used to a “sophisticated court” since that is the type of home in which she was raised. She believed that “the lady educated her knight, inspired him in his knightly duty to the noble ideals of chivalry and refined his manners.”(28)

Another potential influence on Eleanor was Robert d’Arbrissel, founder of the Order of Fontevrault and Fontevrault Abbey. D’Arbrissel had many followers, many of whom were women due to his sympathetic view of them, which was “his assertion that women were in many respects the superior sex and made better administrators and managers of property than men.”(29) Poitiou, where Eleanor spent a good deal of her time, appeared to be less than fifty miles from Fontevrault Abbey. Historians record Eleanor’s first visit and gift to the Abbey during preparations for the Second Crusade.(30) In 1152 Eleanor “made a pilgrimage to Fontevrault” and Weir notes Eleanor had “affection and reverence” for the Abbey.(31) Lastly, the “annuals of Fontevrault clearly state that Eleanor was consecrated a nun in 1202 and her body was buried there.(32) It is not difficult to imagine that Eleanor spent a good deal of time at Fontevrault Abbey and very likely supported and agreed with Robert d’Abrissel’s assertions about women.

(16) Weir, 24.
(17) Brown, 13.
(18) Weir, 30.
(19) Brown, 13.
(20) Weir, 37.
(21) Jean Leclercq, OSB, “Introduction,” in G. R. Evans, trans., Bernard of Clairvaux Selected Works, (NY: Paulist Press, 1987), 16.
(22) Zoe Oldenbourg, The Crusades, Anne Carter, trans., (NY: Pantheon Books, 1966), 288.
(23) Weir, 46.
(24) Weir, 38-39.
(25) Weir,39-41.
(26) Sharon Farmer, Persuasive Voices: Clerical Images of Medieval Wives, Speculum, 61, no. 3, (July 1986), 517.
(27) Wheeler, Disc 7, Track 9.
(28) Armstrong, 214-215.
(29) Weir, 11.
(30) Weir, 51.
(31) Weir, 92.
(32) Weir, 343.
to be concluded tomorrow…


One thought on “Eleanor: Installment 2

  1. Good job! I love where you tightened it up, and your conculsion is perfect.

    Whohooooo! I’m with Phil, I’d give you an A!

Comments are closed.