On This Day: A Scandalous Wedding, and Trouble and Strife

On this day, 18th May, in 1152, a wedding took place in Poitiers in France. The marriage had been hastily arranged and the service was simple, lacking any pomp or ceremony. But this was no lowly peasant’s big day or a shotgun affair called for by an angry father; instead it was a scandalous marriage between a future king of England and one of the most powerful women in Europe. En route to Poitiers, the bride had managed to evade an ambush from the groom’s own brother, who’d hoped to marry her forcibly to obtain her lands and power, and the groom had to hot-foot it to Poitier Cathedral before the ceremony could be sabotaged. So the wedding between Eleanor of Aquitaine and the future King Henry II of England went ahead, despite all the setbacks. It sounds like a fairy tale romance, but far from it – rather than a match made in heaven, it was more like one forged in hell. This union of two of the most ambitious and formidable characters of the Middle Ages would be a tempestuous affair involving betrayal, infidelity and long-term incarceration.

Eleonora_van_Aquitanië

The blushing bride: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Beautiful, feisty and highly intelligent, Eleanor was the daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine, that vast principality that took up a quarter of the French lands, and Henry was to be her second husband. Her first marriage had been to King Louis VII of France, but that had proved equally disastrous. Louis was pious and bookish, and was quite unable to cope with Eleanor’s disobedience and wanton ways. Eleanor once said of him: “I’ve married a monk, not a monarch!”. But as well as being headstrong and unfaithful, she failed as a wife in another vital role. Being a king, Louis needed a son and heir, but Eleanor bore him only daughters, so after 15 years of marital strife, Louis persuaded the pope that the marriage should be annulled.

Wedding snap 1 Louis

Eleanor’s first wedding to King Louis VII of France – he already looks terrified…

But Eleanor, now around 30 years old, had her own dynastic ambitions, and she wasted no time in putting them into action. She knew that Henry Plantagenet, then aged only 19, was the man who could help, so she headed back to her capital from Paris and immediately sent word to Henry to come and marry her. Only 8 weeks after her marriage to Louis was declared void, Eleanor and Henry were married quickly and quietly in Poitiers Cathedral. Louis was furious when he heard the news. Neither of them had sought his permission, which they should have done as his vassals, and had he been consulted he would have refused. Now, when Henry succeeded to the throne of England in 1154, this Plantagenet upstart would preside over vast dominions stretching from the Scottish borders to the Pyrenees, including half of Louis’ former lands.

happy couple

The not-so-happy couple: Eleanor and Henry

Eleanor was a hands-on queen, playing a prominent part in government and acting as a patron of the arts and culture. But there was tension in their relationship over Henry’s numerous extramarital affairs, although Eleanor can hardly be described as squeaky clean with a similar history in her first marriage. Even at the wedding there had been rumours that the bride had known the groom’s late father rather more than was appropriate. Nevertheless, dynastic ambition triumphed, and over a period of 12 years Eleanor and Henry had five sons and three daughters, and two of the sons, Richard and John, would go on to be kings of England. But the boys took after their parents and had ambitions of their own. It was a toxic cocktail of volatile Plantagenet personalities, and the family were set on a course to implode on a grand scale.

When Henry frustrated his sons by refusing to give them any authority or independent income, Eleanor encouraged them to rebel, and in 1173 she joined in the family uprising. Rebellious sons weren’t uncommon in the Middle Ages, but a disloyal queen was another matter entirely. Seeing this as the ultimate betrayal, Henry had Eleanor locked up for 16 years in Winchester and Old Sarum in Salisbury until he died in 1189. Under Richard and John, Eleanor remained active in matters of state, and she lived into her early eighties, when she died in a nunnery at Fontrevault in Anjou in 1204, just as John had lost the great empire she had founded and fought so hard to maintain.

And so ended the first chapter of England’s incredible Plantagenet story. But the joining together of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the young Henry Plantagenet on this day in 1152 was to spawn a dynastic line that would rule for the rest of the Middle Ages, and etch into history all the infighting, intrigue and treachery of the original dysfunctional family.

Wedding 2. HEnry II

Happy Anniversary!

 

 

84 thoughts on “On This Day: A Scandalous Wedding, and Trouble and Strife

  1. Another great post – As always I enjoyed your wonderful writing.
    She sounds like a right little medieval minx – no wonder he locked her up for 16 years, I don’t blame him!

    (Now that gives me and idea… :-D)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh yes, I think she was great – a good example of how medieval women weren’t all meek and subservient. She did some good things. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You promised us this story last week didn’t you? – and what an interesting story it is. I’m now starting to get a clearer picture of how the Plantagenet family became such an influence on English history. I can’t wait for the next instalment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Malcolm, glad you enjoyed it, and that the Plantagenet pieces are beginning to fit into place. They really were a fascinating bunch. 😀
      I’m just off to London for my final tutorial (!), so catch up again later. In the meantime, thanks for your lovely comments 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bobby, that’s really good to know my blog is doing what it’s supposed to! Yes, it was a very tempestuous time, and crammed with wonderful characters and stories. Glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for reading, and for your kind comments. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Robyn! I’m so glad you enjoyed learning about Eleanor and Henry. And that’s absolutely right, they are just like a real soap opera. Although when it comes to this lot, I’ve read some stories that are so outlandish that you just couldn’t make them up! It makes them great fun to study. Thanks for reading, and for your lovely comments. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now, I REALLY need a rewatching of “The Lion in Winter,” because “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”

    Imagine, if you will, a family therapy session starting Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the killer king, John the asshole — and of course, Geoffry what his title? Plus any and all family member still alive at the time of the session.

    “Leave weapons at the door,” shouts the therapist who is surrounded by bodyguards in full armor.

    “Richard, Eleanor, it’s not okay to raise armies against Dad. He’s doing the best he can,” she admonishes.

    “No he’s not,” whines John. “He’s mean to me.”

    Oh, what fun these sessions could be. Just saying. Should anyone write a parody of “Fun Times In the John & Eleanor Household” … Hey, maybe YOU could do it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Now there’s a challenge! Sounds great fun! Love the scene-setting, Marilyn – very funny. 😊 Ups and downs indeed, its just that theirs were a touch extreme. Wonderfully entertaining though… Thanks for reading. 😊

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    • Thanks Suzanne, that’s very kind. I’m so glad you enjoyed their story – the whole family were a bunch of larger-than-life characters. Thanks for reading, and for commenting. 🙂

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    • Thanks Albert. They were quite a family, and I agree – they were better than fiction. A lot of their stories you just couldn’t make up! So glad you emjoyed it. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Albert! They’ve been going well, thanks, but I’m burnt out with studying now. I had my last tutorial yesterday, and now it’s the last hard push to the big exam on 14th June. Fingers crossed! Thanks for remembering. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mead is already planned, Albert! How did you know? 🙂 It’ll be a huge relief to get the exam out of the way because I can’t stand exams. Still, this is the last one, the final two modules are extended essays, then onto the MA. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, if that’s the case then my blog is serving its purpose! Thanks for the good wishes too, I’ll need all the luck I can get. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Amy. 🙂 If it made you laugh then I’m really pleased. I’m all for a bit of humour. When I was at school history was very dull and dreary, but when I found the Middle Ages and realised how amazing they are, the whole era sprang to life, along with their characters. They and their stories are so colourful and entertaining, I hoped to be able to put across in the blog. Thanks for reading, and I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about this mismatched couple. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • The trouble with school history I think, is that it starts to become a bit of a timeline, just a string of dates. The challenge is to get the narrative behind the timeline, you’ve done that. Honesty, I feel a bit bad for teachers sometimes, all that they have to try and fit in!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks Amy. Yes, the teachers do have to cram a lot in so it must be hard. I didn’t discover history until long after I left school. Still, better late than never! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I’ve always loved history, so for me it’s more of a “filling in the details” and there are so many! I’ve gotten the chance to visit and live in a lot of different places that I first read about in school, to me that’s been such a thrill.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If you’ve managed to see and live in some of the places you learned about that would really help make the history come alive, so I’m not surprised you’ve retained an interest. Does your list of places include us in England?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Oh that’s fantastic, Amy. I hope you manage to get out and about and see a lot while you’re here. You’ve got some nice weather too. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Enjoyed the post and comments 🙂
    The folks from this time sure were “colorful and entertaining”

    Ok – so if she was 30 after 15 Years with the “monk” – how old was she with Her first marriage to King Louis VII of France? 12?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Yvette – I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about this crazy couple, and this is only the start!

      We don’t know exactly when Eleanor was born but it was around 1122 and she married Louis in 1137, so that would make her around 15 – not unusual for the Middle Ages. Thanks for reading, and for your question and lovely comments. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome, Yvette. Records of births etc get a bit sketchy the further back in time you go. Often it’s a matter of documents not surviving the ravages of time. I think in a way it makes it even more intriguing. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, sorry about that Malc, it doesn’t seem that I did get it. I’ll check again, but if not I’m glad you flagged it up. It worked the other day so I’m not sure why it didn’t this time. Any chance you could try it again to test it? 🙂

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  5. I’ve got your reply too. If you get time can you post a quick message to my contact page and see what happens. I’ve never had one yet, which could either mean the fault’s at my end or I’m just Billy no mates

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes sure. I don’t think it’s very common for people to use the contact page on sites, so it’s definitely not that you’re Billy no mates… I’ll give it a go for you, and hope you have more success than I have! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no, not yours too? Let me know if you want me to try again at any time. We’ll have to try and get them talking to each other, then we’ll know our sites are both working. 🙂

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  6. Exactly what I was thinking Alli. I’m going to take a look. If I were you I’d carry on getting ready for Stratford on Avon and I’ll let you know if I get anywehere – but I warn you I’m too clever at all this technical stuff 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sure. Will do. On way to Stratford at the mo, and mobile reception is all over the place, but will definitely send you a message when I get back. It won’t be late. Then, if you have cracked it, please will you let me know what magic you worked so I can try it? Speak later. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Just in case you didn’t get my email reply, I’ve received your message from my contact form and I’ve sent one from yours. Please let me know if you get it – when you can of course. Hope you and Stuart had a drink for me in Stratford

    Liked by 1 person

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