Monday, November 30, 2020

Eleanor of Aquitaine

On the night my wife was transferred from local to London hospital I returned home at around 2am, anxious beyond measure but also determined to make this situation my own, to support my wife and boy by doing all I could as a by now seasoned writer.  I knew now that I must go it alone once more, and so from August 2016 - August 2019 I pulled together the novels I had written and converted them into the short story collection you can find at:

https://www.williamottowaysutopia.com

But back to the present - my ego had been annihilated such that God had dragged me from the path of Error and set me upon that of Truth; now don't get me wrong, over the succeeding years I would tumble and fall and end up back where I started but at least after all this time I could see with an eye that judged in fashion far better than ever heretofore previous.

Which brings us to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the play (monologue) I wish I'd had the acuity to write when I was on my erstwhile creative writing course. Eleanor is 'never bowed', her 'comprehension' her 'own' such that she is able to see through the fraudulence and distorted sight of the great churchman himself Bernard of Clairvaux. How far am I here from the blasphemy of Unrequite, how far from the paltry, subversive nature of History and Politics. These subjects meant as little to me now as ever they had done, the plotting and stratagem of man as straw unto the fire of Christ's redeeming work in the world which He has conquered for eternity. Only one figure in Henry's, and before that Louis', court had the requisite integrity and strength (depth) of character to realise this, Eleanor of Aquitaine...

SCENE I

 

ELEANOR enters, sits

 

No one knows why they perished.

They were ill, of course, but we weren’t ready for their deaths.

My mother.

And brother.

In Chateau de Talmont, along Aquitaine’s Atlantic coast.

That’s where they breathed their last.

And at their receding tide my own was drawn in, held tensely, and blown out in desperation upon the stony outcrop of our kingdom.

For at once I had moved from heir presumptive to Duchess of Aquitaine and Poitou.

A vast area, territorially.

Strategic possession, politically.

Which is what I became instantly.

In the Spring of 1130.

At just eight years old.

Strategic.

But I would be no one’s possession.

For even at that age, I was strong-willed.

Lively and intelligent enough to come queen consort.

Not just once, but twice.

Outliving both my husbands, King Louis VII of France, King Henry II of England.

And by the time of my willed seclusion here in Fontevraud Abbey, lasting also beyond all my own children, bar John and Eleanor.

Fifteen years I reigned with Louis.

Thirty five alongside Henry.

Governing with him for two decades before he flung me in prison.

But I wasn’t bowed.

Eleanor was never bowed.

And that began seventy four years ago.

When they died.

And my education started.

 


 

SCENE II

 

‘Petronilla.’

‘Well it’s true. Isn’t it? Eleanor.’

‘Don’t lean on your sister. Justify your assertion.’

‘They have not the same deity.’

‘So you say.’

‘Theirs is one, ours three. That is no equation.’

‘Eleanor.’

‘Must I abjure?’

‘For our present purpose, yes.’

‘He is the same. We are to love Him, and do good by each other. Hypocrisy, calumny, the lie. These destroy us.’

‘I see such flourish, not falter.’

‘Because you watch with this world’s eyes, not the next.’

‘Why do you smirk, Petronilla?’

‘Because she knows nothing of this next world. None of us do.’

‘Yet the teaching is direct to its substance.’

‘And if it is wrong, mother, what then?’

‘Proceed.’

‘Well, of our Trinity. It is uneven.’

‘Petronilla.’

‘How, uneven?’

‘Here, in the final Gospel, as Jesus talks to his disciples – ‘for the Father is greater than I’. There is imbalance in the relationship.’

‘Eleanor.’

‘It is not that simple.’

‘Nothing ever is with you, my sister.’

‘Expand.’

‘The referent, mother. Does Jesus speak of His divine or human nature, or both?’

‘Enlarge.’

‘Christ offered Himself as sacrifice for the sins of the world. But did He do so to the Father and the Holy Spirit alone, or also to Himself?’

‘This is dour.’

‘It is vital, for mankind. The doctrine is clear, any inability to equate it our fault, not God’s.’

‘That shall be all for today.’

‘But which is right, mother?’

‘We have nothing to do with absolutes, Petronilla. I would be the poorer pedagogue for exacting certitude, much less control.’

‘But there must be resolution.’

‘Why ever so? Learning requires breath, just as we. Stifling a child’s questions much less ravaging by redirection interest birthed in their mind marks manner of the suffocating instructor.’

She took hold of our hands, looking us firmly in the eye.

‘Let such wallow in the mud of ignorance and small-mindedness, whilst you girls soar aloft on the wings of erudition.’

And then she was gone.

Dead.

But her words that day remained always engraved on my heart.

Eleanor never forgot.


 

SCENE III

 

My father, the Saint.

William X.

Duke of Aquitaine and Gascony, later count of Poitou, born the same year his father mortgaged Toulouse to raise funds for Crusade.

It ruined him, of course, as did it the rest of us who engaged in such pointless venture.

Not just financially, but morally too.

When William IX returned, he took up with one of his vassals.

Dangerose.

Spurning his wife Philippa to cause almost intolerable strain on my father, who loved his own mother dearly.

But then my father married Aenor.

She, Dangerose’s daughter by her first husband.

And with that one stroke, the rift between father and son was healed.

Such matches were all too commonly arranged, to stymy and heal division.

Few were about love.

But in this case, my parents held great affection for each other.

My father loved the arts.

Almost as much as my mother valued education.

But he also had to be a warrior.

For if there weren’t claims on his actual land, there was certainly competition to gain his influence.

Within his own territories he fought hard against rival factions, but it was his support during the schism of 1130 for antipope Anacletus II against his own bishops who favoured Pope Innocent II which saw his authority severely compromised.

The austere abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux, had to make visit to detach my father’s support from rebellion and reorient it to the proper authority.

He returned four years later, when my father relapsed, this time persuading him to make final yield.

On his first visit, when I was eight, I had hoped I might gain audience for him to settle further those questions I had in conference with my mother and sister, but I confident as I was still shrunk from talking to such importance.

This was the holy figure waging contest with Peter Abelard, logician and scholastic of such brilliance that he had reportedly refuted archbishop Anselm’s ontology, drawing with his skills of dialectic, analysis and rationalism scores of followers to his Oratory of the Paraclete.

With his lover Heloise, the collective engaged in literary, secular study admiring the pagan philosophers of old with their emphasis on virtue and discipline.

The Church would not have that.

Man sinned in the beginning, had carried on sinning, and would do so until the end of time.

Only the redeeming work of Christ could save him.

On his own, he was doomed.

Damned.

He might practice virtue, he might even remain virtuous for a while after, but eventually he would fall as he had done in Eden.

Only Christ’s ransom might justify him against the wrath of God.

The wrath of God.

Against sin, disobedience and heresy.

Like a rationalistic interpretation of Trinitarian dogma, by a man who chose to become hermit then hypocritically welcomed acolytes to his method of work.

Understanding through reason.

Anathema to Bernard, for whom faith first brought comprehension.

Questioning truth undermined its apogee, Christ, and must be opposed whenever it reared its ugliness against the Living Word…

‘…but this Abelard, he speaks of intention…my intention…before I take action.’

‘Yet he reasons his way through the problem.’

‘But his logic is adroit. Intention, not action subsequent to it determines moral value and character. So spake our Lord on the law of adultery.’

‘My child, you have much to learn.’

‘Teach me then, Father.’

‘This, Abelard, is defended by among others a Cluniac, Peter. He harbours the heretic, and so is swayed by his doctrine pernicious. He has been weakened by sojourn abroad in fruitless endeavor to give us paganism from the sand.’

‘I do not follow.’

‘Reason corrupts, Eleanor. Faith alone saves. What is it? What’s this? “For the father is greater than I.’”

‘How can it be so?’

‘Be silent.’

‘But I…’

‘In stillness, my child. Let us be quiet. Now read the words.’

I complied.

‘Again.’

I read.

‘Again.’

I looked at him, but read.

‘Once more. Now ponder the words. Weigh and consider them. Let us pray.’

He was silent, though his lips moved.

‘And finally contemplate. There, we have entered and shared closer communion with God, the Living Word of Christ in contemplation with the Holy Spirit.’

And then he rose, walking from the room in silence.

I stared after him in confusion and doubt.


 

SCENE IV

 

1137.

Our king was Louis VI.

The Fat.

The Fighter.

Like many men a combination of gut, and glory.

When Henry I of England died at the end of 1135, our own Stephen of Blois seized the crown, thereby reneging on his oath to support Henry’s favoured heir, Matilda.

The Civil War resultant lasted almost two decades, draining the country’s resources such that no Anglo-Norman strength might be turned anywhere else, including towards the French crown.

This mattered to us because Louis’ house, the Capetians, were in constant struggle not just with other houses in France but with those in England too.

Matilda’s marriage to Geoffrey Plantagenet shifted the balance of power away from France whilst my own to their son quite slammed the scales down in England’s favour, the Angevin Empire dwarfing the Capetian for many years to come until the weight righted itself and started to drop the other way with my son the Lionheart’s inability to produce legitimate heir; when Louis’ third wife, Adele of Champagne, produced a male heir, Philip, this strong king of France countered the weakness of my youngest son, John and the scales were entirely reversed.

Adele’s father was Theobald II, an incredibly powerful and rebellious lord who at this time of the Fighter’s career had actually rallied to his Capetian cause against other feuding lords of the realm. Would that Louis VII, my first husband, have courted him similarly rather than antagonizing him, and in consequence himself.

But I get ahead of myself.

For it was the events of early 1137 which saw the Fat really smack his chops with delight.

My father went on pilgrimage, taking we two daughters with him.

His reasons for making the journey, much less dragging us both in tow with him, will forever remain fathomless to me for it was on this trip that he too breathed his last.

From Poitiers, we travelled to Bordeaux where my father intended to leave us in the care of its archbishop as he went on to Santiago de Compostela, but Petronilla, sensing I now know his infirmity, was adamant she would accompany him and so they set out for the shrine of St James with a host of pilgrims whilst I remained behind…

‘…Petronilla! What on earth are you doing here? Where is father?’

‘He’s gone.’

‘But there is no route past.’

‘He’s dead, Eleanor. We have to leave straightaway. For Paris. Eleanor!’

‘Father, passed.’

‘You’re hot property, my dear sister. We must protect you. The king is your guardian now. You’ll be safe at his court.’

‘How did he die?’

‘Sickness. He spoke only of you, Eleanor, dictating will bequeathing to you our domains. He has appointed the Fighter your defender. I crossed the Pyrenees with barest of help, journeying from Compostela without rest or respite. But our voyage is only half complete. We must to Paris to inform the king.’

And with that we were off arriving to find Louis VI dying from dysentery, although his mind remained sharp as a blade. For his first born son Philip had died in a riding accident in 1131, leaving the monkish, monastic 17 year old Louis the Younger France’s heir apparent.

And he was to be my husband.

For the solemn, dignified face his father offered Petronilla and me masked an almost visible exultation, that rather than waste time as my guardian he would marry me straightaway to his son and at one stroke expand the Capetian lands immeasurably.

With that, we were wed, and just a week later the Fat died, leaving me from a free-wheeling southern court now trapped in a reserved northern one, my high spirits quite at odds with the sober husband who nonetheless loved and indulged me, defending my behavior even against the criticisms of his own mother who considered me a bad influence and Bernard of Clairvaux who frowned upon my conduct.

Despite this, the marriage had promise.

It was a gorgeous ceremony in the Cathedral of Saint-Andre presided over by the archbishop of Bordeaux, and my gift to my husband, a rock crystal vase, took the assembled’s breath away.

My grandfather, William IX, had first given it to me, and later Louis donated it to the Basilica of Saint Denis.

It wasn’t an object of sentiment, but of value, power even.

In offering it to Louis, I subjected myself a little too readily, but I was keen to secure the astute clause in my father’s will stipulating that Aquitaine would remain independent of Louis’s possessions until our eldest son became king of France in his time.

Impediments to our union presented themselves almost straightaway, none stranger than that created by my own sister, Petronilla, who in joining me at the French court had found herself madly in love with a cousin of the king’s, a married man Raoul of Vermandois.

So intense was their affection that Raoul, with Louis’s approval, hastily repudiated his wife only to be excommunicated by the Pope for such action.

And he was not the only dissatisfied party with this affair, for Raoul’s ditched wife was sister to Theobald II, part of the king’s retinue and in support of the Capetians, now fuming with ire so much so that the two of them fell to loggerheads and then all-out war.

The spark was this – in 1141, the archbishopric of Bourges became vacant.

My husband chose one of his chancellors, Cadurc, to fill the seat but he was opposed by the canons of Bourges and Pope Innocent II himself whose favoured candidate was Pierre de la Chatre.

Louis bolted the gates of the town against him, so uncharacteristic a course for the pacifist monarch that the Pope blamed me for his behavior.

Would Eleanor ever seek to influence?

To interfere?

I was not my father, who would often choose candidates loyal to him whilst exiling supporters of the Papacy.

But matters deteriorated beyond measure when Pierre was given refuge by a still steaming Theobald II.

On the back of Petronilla’s adultery my husband felt threatened enough to declare war in which Champagne was quickly occupied by the royal army.

The king offered peace to Theobald II only if he helped lift the prohibition on Raoul and Petronilla.

Having sued the Pope so, the excommunication on Raoul was lifted and Theobald’s lands were restored to him, but when Raoul then refused to repudiate Petronilla it was lowered once more.

Ablaze with wrath, Louis now commanded the wholesale burning of Vitry-le-Francois, his troops complying and at one point incinerating a thousand people in the town’s church.

This act, his command, would mortify Louis in measure I would only ever see once again, in my second husband’s reaction to the death of Becket.

But for now, the king remained blinded by rage, so much so that in the middle of 1144 when we were on visit to the newly built monastic church at Saint-Denis, I met Bernard of Clairvaux once again…

‘…my child.

‘I am none of that. You have seen what is happening, you might influence the Pope to lift this curse on my sister. Louis will make concessions in Champagne, he will recognize Pierre as archbishop of Bourges. But you must intervene.’

‘Your lack of penitence is its own curse, Eleanor. You also interfere in matters of state which exacerbate the situation. You have stirred the king up against the Papacy.’

But would Eleanor ever seek to influence, to interfere?

At the Council of Reims that very year Celestine II lifted the excommunication, for good.

But the damage had been done.

Louis, already beginning to wallow in burdensome remorse over the church massacre shunned Raoul and my sister to start down the path of atoning for his sins by going on crusade, a venture that would only accelerate the end of our own marriage.

And Petronilla would divorce anyway.

Raoul, far from remorseful, remarried again the very next year after.


 

SCENE V

 

I had been in correspondence with my uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, now Prince of Antioch who was seeking protection from the French crown against the Saracens who made frequent incursions against him.

He had left England after the death of Henry I to marry Constance, Bohemund II of Antioch’s daughter whose mother, Bohemund’s widow Alice deeply opposed.

To reach Antioch Raymond had need journey through Sicily whose ruler Roger II, opposed to the match too though for political reasons, ordered him arrested.

My uncle evaded capture, arriving in Antioch during April 1136 whereupon Patriarch Ralph of Domfront married him to Constance, still against vehement protest from Princess Alice.

For Raymond and Ralph now ruled Antioch.

Emperor John II Comnenus soon reasserted rights he felt over the territory, his influence forceful enough to see Raymond paying homage to him with the promise extracted to cede Antioch to John as soon as he might be recompensed with another slab of land to be carved out in Muslim territory to the east of the city.

Expedition to gain this territory in 1138 ended in the unsuccessful Siege of Shazar, largely Raymond’s fault who considering the loss of his beloved Antioch gave not his all in battle to claim somewhere else for which he had no attachment.

John, incensed by his lack of support, demanded Antioch outright but was sent packing by a rejuvenated Raymond who deposed Ralph in 1139 before rebuffing another attempt by John to take his city in 1142.

But the following year, John’s successor Manuel I proved hardier in opposition and Raymond’s ill-judged demand for cession of land from him in 1144 led the Emperor to enforce his voyage to Constantinople to renew homage and acknowledge his Greek patriarch.

Raymond’s behavior left him exposed to tribal attack for which he then humiliatingly had to return to Manuel to ask for protection.

This, then, was my background knowledge against which Europe launched the Second Crusade.

But not at all that belonging to those with whom I would journey to the Holy Land.

I had been in constant contact with my uncle and understood how fractious, brutal and frankly deadly were the disputes in that geographical region, which crusaders from far-off lands had absolutely no chance of overcoming in and of themselves let alone attempting to impose their own faith upon places and people who were as firm and constant in their religion as we were in our own creed.

And that was before you factored in a King of France planning pilgrimage not conquest there, to find peace for himself rather than readying his army for the rabid conflict which was clearly going to greet us when we arrived.

Eugene III commissioned none other than Bernard of Clairvaux to preach this Second Crusade.

The churchman had already attacked my husband for seeming being more in love with me than interested in war or politics.

Yes, Louis was a sensitive soul but he was devout in his faith and should not have been branded craven by a hypocrite of the soul.

For that’s how Bernard behaved when he preached the ill-fated venture in a field at Vezelay in March 1146.

Vezelay.

Starting point for pilgrims on the way of Saint James to Santiago de Compostela.

Holding the relics of Mary Magdalene, witness to Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

In that manner, Apostle to the Apostles, as Abelard and others termed her.

Whose trauma sevenfold Jesus Himself cured.

Jesus, who had exhorted us to love God and each other, specifically stating that all the Law and prophets pointed in that direction.

Yet here in Vezelay, in 1096, Urban II preached the First Crusade.

To kill.

And where the Frankish and English factions of the Third Crusade met before departing for the Holy Land, under my own son’s banner, Richard I.

To kill.

And here, Bernard, who should have espoused Christ’s teaching, contradicted it utterly by urging us to take the cross against infidels abroad, in such way to gain absolution for our sins and attain the kind of grace that through repentance would reward us with possession of their holy land.

‘Cursed be he,’ I heard him pronounce in benediction, ‘who does not stain his sword with blood.’

And so the attacks began.

At home.

Jews first.

And then the Muslims.

In June 1147 I took my royal ladies-in-waiting and non-noble vassals, leaving Vezelay to arrive with my husband in Constantinople.

Our three-week stay there was of tremendous calmness before the storm.

I was feted, named golden-foot from the cloth that decorated and fringed my robe.

We stayed in the Philopation palace.

And our illusory sojourn was made complete when Manuel I informed us that the German king, Conrad III, had won great victory ahead of us.

In reality, they had been massacred.

Manuel must have smirked inwardly when he advised us to cross the Phyrgian mountains in order to reach Antioch more quickly.

On their slopes we discovered the unburied corpses of that German army, harbinger of a horror we were to experience ourselves on the ascent of Mount Cadmus.

Louis, for some fathomless reason, was at the rear of our train with the pilgrims and baggage.

At front, I was feeling fed up and disillusioned with travel, yearning to reach my uncle so much so that when we crested the peak in advance of everyone else I gave the order to push on ahead at quicker pace.

Our group became separated.

From seeming nowhere came the Turks, butchering the unarmed at rear.

Louis held his own, and escaped.

Deflated, distraught, we reached Antioch.

Instantly, I felt the tension between my husband and my uncle.

It was political, but mostly personal.

And shot through with, fanned by, misunderstanding.

Raymond thought that we had come to help him militarily.

He wanted us to take Aleppo and Caesarea with him, to shore up his fragile grasp on the region.

But Louis was intent on completing his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

I supported my uncle, and with that decision one of the final nails was driven into our marriage coffin.

Rumour had it that there was affair between us.

Eleanor never strayed so.

But there was great affection, as only familial bond might own with strength.

And Raymond guided me.

I had made mention of Bernard’s approach to the final Gospel.

Lectio divina, which sought through contemplation and prayer to illustrate the Living Word.

My uncle would have none of that.

He thought, and he reasoned, and he questioned, and he reflected, through study…

‘We must begin with the opening verse - “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God: believe also in me.”’

‘The differentiation is there, from the start.’

‘But of the peace, Eleanor. How often are you settled so?’

I thought. ‘He has separated Himself from God.’e He

‘Let us proceed – “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you.”’

‘Again, uncle, Jesus talks of the Father as distinct

.’

‘Yet He tells His disciples He will make their rooms ready in His house. There is collocation, evident, though at this juncture only in suggestion.’

I studied him. ‘I think I follow.’

‘It is now developed – “And if I shall go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself: that where I am, you also may be.” Jesus repeats that He will make their rooms ready. Further, that He will return to take His disciples with Him, to His Father’s house. Their mansions will be His, and God’s. The gap narrows, imperceptibly still.’

‘The disciples are of the Trinity?’

He smiled. ‘Listen, Eleanor – “And whither I go you know: and the way you know”. Jesus directs, my niece, He shows us the right path.’

‘How may we follow?’

‘His disciples even are not sure – “Thomas saith to him: Lord, we know not whither thou goest. And how can we know the way”. They remain lost, because they doubt. Still.’

‘I am sure. Yet still I fear for us, in this land.’

‘It is rabid. Though there is direction – “Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.” Focus on the gap, Eleanor. The distinction. Its nullification is steady, sure. “If you had known me, you would without doubt have known my Father also: and from henceforth you shall know him. And you have seen him”. The equation is unequivocal now. The Father is in Jesus.’

‘But is He greater still? There seems suggestion so.’

‘And you are not alone – “Philip saith to him: Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us”. The disciples maintain the difference. But Philip is upbraided gently – “Jesus saith to him: Have I been so long a time with you and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also. How sayest thou: Shew us the Father?”

I smiled. ‘I grow to understand.’

My uncle gave me the text.

I read to him – “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. But the Father who abideth in me, he doth the works”.

I looked at him, my eyes ablaze in understanding.

‘Jesus is speaking to His friends, His followers, as a human being. But God abides in Him so totally that He speaks His Word too.’

The trouble was, Louis didn’t comprehend.

And he couldn’t just arrive at Jerusalem, a king, as some simple pilgrim so instead he was coerced by King Conrad III and Baldwin III of Jerusalem to lay siege to Damascus.

It failed, miserably.

And by 1149, the Second Crusade was over.

We had to return to Europe before we were slaughtered.

It was a wrench to leave my uncle, made harder by my now self-imposed exile from Louis.

We took passage home on separate ships, stormy weather driving mine south so that in July 1149 I landed at Palermo in Sicily, where shelter and food was provided for me by the servants of Roger II.

It was in Potenza, on the mainland, that I learnt of Raymond’s death, killed in the Battle of Inab, beheaded by Saladin’s uncle, his head placed in a silver box and sent as a gift to the caliph of Baghdad.

I blamed no one but my husband, journeying now to Tusculum to petition Pope Eugene III for an annulment to our marriage.

He refused to grant my request, but I knew it was only a matter of time and opportunity now before I could rid myself of the French king.

I was disillusioned with the church anyway.

Bernard of Clairvaux felt humiliated by the failure of our crusade, yet instead of accepting his portion of blame for underestimating the enemy he declared that our own sins, the sins of the crusaders, were single cause of our defeat.

And if this wasn’t wrong enough, he then tried to call a new crusade in the hope no doubt that its success would assuage his own guilt, never mind the human cost which he as a churchman should first and foremost have been protecting.

To add further insult, Louis began to be seen by the French people as the suffering pilgrim king who in the Holy Land quietly bore God’s punishments, whilst I, well I made myself enemy through increasing estrangement from him.

The hammer blow which finally ended our marriage was the birth of my second daughter, Alix.

With no male heir, Louis and his barons ranged against me, even now with the approval of Pope Eugene III, four archbishops granted our marriage annulled 21 March 1152 on grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree.

Put simply. I was Louis’s third cousin, once removed.

It was the flimsiest of escape clauses (I was even more closely related to my second husband, Henry) but it held ground enough for us to separate because we both so desperately now wished for it.

Louis kept custody of our daughters and he made assurances that he would restore my lands to my possession.

And that was it.

France over, forgotten, but for Louis’s interest now in England.

For in everything, he was opposed to Henry.

He supported Thomas Becket in his battles with the king and continually took the side of Henry’s sons whenever they rose up against their father, even when I supported them too.

And then of course in 1165 his long-awaited male heir Philip was born, who would prove in time to be a Manuel to Raymond in his strength against Henry.

But for now, on 18 May 1152 I was married to this great King of England.

And for a time, matters in my life settled.


 

SCENE VI

 

Some of the French were kind to me when I returned from crusade.

The troubadours, for example.

They were wrong, of course, in alleging affair between my uncle and me.

But in so doing, they enveloped and enlarged the idea of courtly love which I would harness when I returned to Poitiers.

Ambushes were made along my journey to England, to try to kidnap and marry me elsewhere.

But Henry was mine, and I would not be taken against my will.

I had of course been swept off my feet by Curtmantle many months before, and I knew my marriage to him would be a tumultuous one.

But it was also cooperative, in its early years.

I supported my husband in his troubles with Thomas Becket, in his unwise, too hasty and irresponsible incursion into Ireland, even largely accepting his faltering but continual love affair with Rosamund Clifford.

But these missteps and, frankly, weaknesses of character grew to frustrate me and with some rapidity I came to miss France too.

I left England in 1168 to return to Poitiers.

Our court there became well known as the Court of Love, but over the next five years Petronilla and I really only helped spread a popularity already present.

But above all, I wanted my writers to champion women.

Living with Louis and Henry was tiresome.

Claustrophobic.

Continually involved with conflict and conquest.

So I bore Wace and his writing upon the founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy.

King Arthur’s Round Table, and the fabled sword Excalibur.

William the Conqueror and his Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings.

Benoit de Sainte-Maure’s account of the Trojan War.

Bernart de Ventedorn presenting woman as divine agent before he sullied her quite as the cause of man’s initial sin.

Tristan and Iseult.

Abelard and Heloise.

Abelard.

I thought of Vezelay.

That staging point for crusade.

Made over the very relics of the Magdalene.

She, first to the tomb.

To see the risen Lord.

And my mind returned to the study I had undertaken with my uncle Raymond.

I took the Gospel and found place of continuation – “Believe you not that I am in the Father and the Father in me?”

I read it three more times.

Prayed.

Meditated.

Contemplated.

And then I approached it rationally.

I did so with each succeeding verse.

First, in Bernard’s manner.

Then my uncle’s.

I looked up.

They were both correct.

“If you love me, keep my commandments”.

“I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you”.

“These things have I spoken to you, abiding with you”.

Raymond was right.

How often were we settled so?

In a turbulent world, treachery, caprice and death, death, were all around.

Yet through their midst came the kind of comfort which superseded them all.

“Peace I leave with you: my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled: nor let it be afraid”.

This was God, as man, marking differentiation between earthly life, his own included, and the next, “…because I go to the Father: for the Father is greater than I”. The Father was greater in size, in scope, his house of many mansions. The human Jesus, and the divine Paraclete he would send his disciples, were one part of that whole.


 

SCENE VII

 

In 1170 Henry fell ill, enacting a harebrained plan to divide his kingdom amongst his sons, with the naïve proviso that he would retain overall authority.

Richard was to inherit Aquitaine and Poitiers from me and in 1171 we therefore travelled to the former to pacify locals who were not in acquiescence with Henry’s judgement.

In June 1172, aged twelve, my son was however formally recognized when granted the lance and banner emblems of office, wearing the ring of Saint Valerie of Limoges, the personification of Aquitaine.

On a day of seeming triumph and strength, who might have had the acuity of vision to see that this was the exact moment when the Angevin Empire began to recede from our rule?

The following year, Henry stoked the fires of his own demise by bequeathing three castles in the Young King’s inheritance to his younger brother John as part of a marriage deal between the latter and daughter of the Count of Maurienne.

Incensed as Louis had been over Champagne, Henry the Young King journeyed to France and in March 1173 met with the king. He was soon joined by Richard and Geoffrey, but on whose advice Eleanor cannot tell for on 8 July 1174 she was incarcerated by her husband and would remain in captivity for the next fifteen years.

Fifteen years!

My sister was permitted my companion and we often spoke of the past, of France, of the world, and it was here as I moved into the autumn of my life that I began to think and consider even further on the ephemerality of existence along with the numinous aspect so entwined around it.

For five days after imprisoning me, Henry made public penance for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket.

Almost straightaway, the tide of the battle he fought against his sons turned in his favour so that barely two months later he had quashed the revolt and forced all of them to once again swear allegiance to him.

Two years later Rosamund Clifford died, and six after that the Young King rebelled again before he too reached end of his life.

And then Henry himself perished on 6 July 1189.

Death was all around, yet Eleanor continued through it.

My son Richard was crowned King of England on 13 August 1189, and I was immediately freed by him from prison.

He married Berengaria, daughter of the King of Navarre, a match I championed as the kingdom bordered Aquitaine itself.

But sadness followed, for Petronilla, my constant companion both at home and abroad who missed France terribly, made journey home in 1190 only to succumb to fever on the voyage from which she never recovered.

The following year, Richard took his new wife on crusade, an experience as unsuccessful on the battlefield as in the bedroom for them both, just like Louis and me.

The marriage remained childless, and with no male heirs the dissolution of the Angevin Empire gathered pace.

Richard himself was held in captivity whose sizable ransom I helped raise, for although I didn’t rule England outright in his time abroad I did exercise considerable influence on affairs of the state.

But in 1199, a new succession crisis loomed when Richard died.

Norman law favoured the cause of Henry II’s and my son, John, whereas Angevin law pointed towards Arthur, son of John’s elder brother Geoffrey.

John was supported by the English and Norman nobility, and me.

Arthur by Breton, Maine and Anjou nobles, and by that pernicious influence Philip II, King of France who wished to break up my Angevin territories for good.

There was war, of course, though I ensured John was crowned king at Westminster Abbey before he went abroad to fight.

In May 1200, the Treaty of le Goulet was agreed between them by which Philip’s heir, Louis was to be married to one of John’s nieces.

I was 77 years old when my son sent me to make the choice.

Ambushed outside Poitiers, and on my journey south across the Pyrenees through Navarre and on to Castile, I thought of Petronilla’s journey all those years previous to bring news to me of our father’s death.

My bones had aged, but my memory was sharp.

I recalled that time with absolute clarity.

Alfonso VIII was married to my own daughter, Queen Eleanor of Castile.

I was keen to meet her after all these years and she could not have been more welcoming.

Of their two daughters, Urraca and Blanche, I chose the latter.

In the end, I stayed for two months, journeying with her back across the Pyrenees to spend Easter in Bordeaux, presenting her to its archbishop in the valley of Loire.

But her youth made me feel old, and in one moment I knew I would not make the journey back to England, heading instead for Fontevraud.

War between John and Philip began again, and I was near enough to Poitiers to support my son against Arthur.

But my knowledge of warfare was limited enough such that Arthur managed to besiege me in the castle of Mirebau.

But John came to my rescue, capturing Arthur in the process and ending the succession crisis with his murder.

I bid farewell to my son and returned to Fontevraud to become nun in its abbey, making strong acquaintance with the abbess, Isabella d’Anjou.

Eleanor of Aquitaine died in 1204, entombed in this abbey with her husband Henry, and son Richard.

Behold, her effigy shows her bedecked in the magnificent jewelry of royalty.

She is shown reading her Bible.