Richard I - Jacob Abbott

King Richard's Mother

King Richard the First, the Crusader, was a boisterous, reckless, and desperate man, and he made a great deal of noise in the world in his day. He began his career very early in life by quarreling with his father. Indeed, his father, his mother, and all his brothers and sisters were engaged, as long as the father lived, in perpetual wars against each other, which were waged with the most desperate fierceness on all sides. The subject of these quarrels was the different possessions which the various branches of the family held or claimed in France and in England, each endeavoring to dispossess the others. In order to understand the nature of these difficulties, and also to comprehend fully what sort of a woman Richard's mother was, we must first pay a little attention to the map of the countries over which these royal personages held sway.

[Illustration] from Richard I by Jacob Abbott

We have already seen, in another volume of this series, how the two countries of Normandy on the Continent, and of England, became united under one government. England, however, did not conquer and hold Normandy; it was Normandy that conquered and held England. The relative situation of these two countries is shown on the map. Normandy, it will be seen, was situated in the northern part of France, being separated from England by the English Channel. Besides Normandy, the sovereigns of the country held various other possessions in France, and this French portion of the compound realm over which they reigned they considered as far the most important portion. England was but a sort of appendage to their empire.

You will see by the map the situation of the River Loire. It rises in the centre of France, and flows to the westward, through a country which was, even in those days, very fertile and beautiful. South of the Loire was a sort of kingdom, then under the dominion of a young and beautiful princess named Eleanora. The name of her kingdom was Aquitaine. This lady afterward became the mother of Richard. She was very celebrated in her day, and has since been greatly renowned in history under the name of Eleanora of Aquitaine.

Eleanora received her realm from her grandfather. Her father had gone on a crusade with his brother, Eleanora's uncle, Raymond, and had been killed in the East. Raymond had made himself master of Antioch. We shall presently hear of this Raymond again. The grandfather abdicated in Eleanora’s favor when she was about fourteen years of age. There were two other powerful sovereigns in France at this time, Louis, King of France, who reigned in Paris, and Henry, Duke of Normandy and King of England. King Louis of France had a son, the Prince Louis, who was heir to the crown. Eleanora’s grandfather formed the scheme of marrying her to this Prince Louis, and thus to unite his kingdom to hers. He himself was tired of ruling, and wished to resign his power, with a view of spending the rest of his days in penitence and prayer. He had been a very wicked man in his day, and now, as he was growing old, he was harassed by remorse for his sins, and wished, if possible, to make some atonement for them by his penances before he died.

So he called all his barons together, and laid his plans before them. They consented to them on two conditions. One was, that Eleanora should first see Louis, and say whether she was willing to have him for her husband. If not, she was not to be compelled to marry him. The other condition was, that their country, Aquitaine, was not to be combined with the dominions of the King of France after the marriage, but was to continue a separate and independent realm, to be governed by Louis and Eleanora, not as King and Queen of France, but as Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine. Both these conditions were complied with. The interview was arranged between Louis and Eleanora, and Eleanora concluded that she should like the king for a husband very much. At least she said so, and the marriage was concluded.

Indeed, the match thus arranged for Eleanora was, in all worldly respects, the most eligible one that could be made. Her husband was the heir-apparent to the throne of France. His capital was Paris, which was then, as now, the great centre in Europe of all splendor and gayety. The father of Louis was old, and not likely to live long; indeed, he died very soon after the marriage, and thus Eleanora, when scarcely fifteen, became Queen of France as well gas Duchess Aquitaine, and was thus raised to the highest pinnacle of worldly grandeur.

She was young and beautiful, and very gay in her disposition, and she entered at once upon a life of pleasure. She had been well educated. She could sing the songs of the Troubadours, which was the fashionable music of those days, in a most charming manner. Indeed, she composed music herself, and wrote lines to accompany it. She was quite celebrated for her learning, on account of her being able both to read and write: these were rare accomplishments for ladies in those days.

She spent a considerable portion of her time in Paris, at the court of her husband, but then she often returned to Aquitaine, where she held a sort of court of her own in Bordeaux, which was her capital. She led this sort of life for some time, until at length she was induced to form a design of going to the East on a crusade. The Crusades were military expeditions which went from the western countries of Europe to conquer Palestine from the Turks, in order to recover possession of Jerusalem and of the sepulchre where the body of Christ was laid.

It had been for some time the practice for the princes and knights, and other potentates of France and England, to go on these expeditions, on account of the fame and glory which those who distinguished themselves acquired. The people were excited, moreover, to join the Crusades by the preachings of monks and hermits, who harangued them in public places and urged them to go. At these assemblages the monks held up the symbols of the crucifixion, to inspire their zeal, and promised them the special favor of heaven if they would go. They said that whoever devoted himself to this great cause should surely be pardoned for all the sins and crimes that he had committed, whatever they might be; and whenever they heard of the commission of any great crimes by potentates or rulers, they would seize upon the occasion to urge the guilty persons to go and fight for the cross in Palestine, as a means of wiping away their guilt.

[Illustration] from Richard I by Jacob Abbott


One of these preachers charged such a crime upon Louis, the husband of Eleanora. It seems that, in a quarrel which he had with one of his neighbors, he had sent an armed force to invade his enemy's dominions, and in storming a town a cathedral had been set on fire and burned, and fifteen hundred persons, who had taken refuge in it as a sanctuary, had perished in the flames. Now it was a very great crime, according to the ideas of those times, to violate a sanctuary; and the hermit-preacher urged Louis to go on a crusade in order to atone for the dreadful guilt he had incurred by not only violating a sanctuary, but by overwhelming, in doing it, so many hundreds of innocent women and children in the awful suffering of being burned to death. So Louis determined to go on a crusade, and Eleanora determined to accompany him. Her motive was a love of adventure and a fondness for notoriety. She thought that by going out, a young and beautiful princess, at the head of an army of Crusaders, into the East, she would make herself a renowned heroine in the eyes of the whole world. So she immediately commenced her preparations, and by the commanding influence which she exerted over the ladies of the court, she soon inspired them all with her own romantic ardor.

The ladies at once laid aside their feminine dress, and clothed themselves like Amazons, so that they could ride astride on horseback like men. All their talk was of arms, and armor, and horses, and camps. They endeavored, too, to interest all the men—the princes, and barons, and knights that surrounded them—in their plans, and to induce them to join the expedition. A great many did so, but there were some that shook their heads and seemed inclined to stay at home. They knew that so wild and heedless a plan as this could end in nothing but disaster. The ladies ridiculed these men for their cowardice and want of spirit, and they sent them their distaffs as presents. "We have no longer any use for the distaffs," said they, "but, as you are intending to stay at home and make women of yourselves, we send them to you, so that you may occupy yourselves with spinning while we are gone." By such taunts and ridicule as this, a great many were shamed into joining the expedition, whose good sense made them extremely averse to have any thing to do with it.

The expedition was at length organized and prepared to set forth. It was encumbered by the immense quantity of baggage which the queen and her party of women, insisted on taking. It is true that they had assumed the dress of Amazons, but this was only for the camp and the field. They expected to enjoy a great many pleasures while they were gone, to give and receive a great many entertainments, and to live in luxury and splendor in the great cities of the East. So they must needs take with them large quantities of baggage, containing dresses and stores of female paraphernalia of all kinds. The king remonstrated against this folly, but all to no purpose. The ladies thought it very hard if, in going on such an expedition, they could not take with them the usual little comforts and conveniences appropriate to their sex. So it ended with their having their own way.

The caprices and freaks of these women continued to harass and interfere with the expedition during the whole course of it. The army of Crusaders reached at length a place near Antioch, in Asia Minor, where they encountered the Saracens. Antioch was then in the possession of the Christians. It was under the command of the Prince Raymond, who has already been spoken of as Eleanora's uncle. Raymond was a young and very handsome prince, and Eleanora anticipated great pleasure in visiting his capital. The expedition had not, however, yet reached it, but were advancing through the country, defending themselves as well as they could against the troops of Arab horsemen that were harassing their march.

The commanders were greatly perplexed in this emergency to know what to do with the women, and with their immense train of baggage. The king at last sent them on in advance, with all his best troops to accompany them. He directed them to go on, and encamp for the night on certain high ground which he designated, where they would be safe, he said, from an attack by the Arabs. But when they approached the place, Eleanora found a green and fertile valley near, which was very romantic and beautiful, and she decided at once that this was a much prettier place to encamp in than the bare hill above. The officers in command of the troops remonstrated in vain. Eleanora and the ladies insisted on encamping in the valley. The consequence was, that the Arabs came and got possession of the hill, and thus put themselves between the division of the army which was with Eleanora and that which was advancing under the king. A great battle was fought. The French were defeated. A great many thousand men were slain. All the provisions for the army were cut off, and all the ladies' baggage was seized and plundered by the Arabs. The remainder of the army, with the king, and the queen, and the ladies, succeeded in making their escape to Antioch, and there Prince Raymond opened the gates and let them in.

As soon as Eleanora and the other ladies recovered a little from their fright and fatigue, they began to lead very gay lives in Antioch, and before long a serious quarrel broke out between Louis and the queen. The cause of this quarrel was Raymond. He was a young and handsome man, and he soon began to show such fondness for Eleanora that the king's jealousy was aroused, and at length the king discerned, as he said, proofs of such a degree of intimacy between them as to fill him with rage. He determined to leave Antioch immediately, and take Eleanora with him. She was very unwilling to go, but the king was so angry that he compelled her to accompany him. So he went away abruptly, scarcely bidding Raymond good-by at all, and proceeded with Eleanora and nearly all his company to Jerusalem. Eleanora submitted, though she was exceedingly out of humor.

The king, too, on his part, was as much out of humor as the queen. He determined that he would not allow her to accompany him any more on the campaign; so he left her at Jerusalem, a sort of prisoner, while he put himself at the head of his army and went forth to prosecute the war. By-and-by, when he came back to Jerusalem, and inquired about his wife's conduct while he had been gone, he learned some facts in respect to the intimacy which she had formed with a prince of the country during his absence, that made him more angry than ever. He declared that he would sue for a divorce. She was a wicked woman, he said, and he would repudiate her.

One of his ministers, however, contrived to appease him, at least so far as to induce him to abandon this design. The minister did not pretend to say that Eleanora was innocent, or that she did not deserve to be repudiated, but he said that if the divorce was to be carried into effect, then Louis would lose all claim to Eleanora's possessions, for it will be recollected that the dukedom of Aquitaine, and the other rich possessions which belonged to Eleanora before her marriage, continued entirely separate from the kingdom of France, and still belonged to her. The king and Eleanora had a daughter named Margaret, who was now a young child, but who, when she grew up, would inherit both her father's and her mother's possessions, and thus, in the end, they would be united, if the king and queen continued to live together in peace. But this would be all lost, as the minister maintained in his argument with the king, in case of a divorce.

"If you are divorced from her," said he, "she will soon be married again, and then all her possessions will finally go out of your family."

So the king concluded to submit to the shame of his wife's dishonor, and still keep her as his wife. But he had now lost all interest in the crusade, partly on account of his want of success in it, and partly on account of his domestic troubles. So he left the Holy Land, and took the queen and the ladies, and the remnant of his troops, back again to Paris. Here he and the queen lived very unhappily together for about two years.

At the end of this time the queen became involved in new difficulties in consequence of her intrigues. The time had passed away so rapidly that it was now thirteen years since her marriage, and she was about twenty-eight years of age—old enough, one would think, to have learned some discretion. After, however, amusing herself with various lovers, she at length became enamored of a young prince named Henry Plantagenet, who afterward became Henry the Second of England, and was the father of Richard, the hero of this history. Henry was at this time Duke of Normandy. He came to visit the court of Louis in Paris, and here, after a short time, Eleanora conceived the idea of being divorced from Louis in order to marry him. Henry was a great deal younger than Eleanora, being then only about eighteen years of age; but he was very agreeable in his person and manners, and Queen Eleanora was quite charmed with him. It was not, however, to be expected that he should be so much charmed with her; for, although she had been very beautiful, she had now so far passed the period of her youth, and had been subjected to so many exposures, that the bloom of her early beauty was in a great measure gone. She was now nearly thirty years old, having been married twelve or thirteen years. She, however, made eager advances to Henry, and finally gave him to understand, that if he would consent to marry her, she would obtain a divorce from King Louis, and then endow him with all her dominions.

Now there was a strong reason operating upon Henry's mind to accept this proposal. He claimed to be entitled to the crown of England. King Stephen was at this time reigning in England, but Henry maintained that he was a usurper, and he was eager to dispossess him. Eleanora represented to Henry that, with all the forces of her dominions, she could easily enable him to do that, and so at length the idea of making himself a king overcame his natural repugnance to take a wife almost twice as old as he was himself, and she, too, the divorced and discarded wife of another man. So he agreed to Eleanora's proposal, and measures were soon taken to effect the divorce.

There is some dispute among the ancient historians in respect to this divorce. Some say that it was the king that originated it, and that the cause which he alleged was the freedom of the queen in her love for other men, and that Eleanora, when she found that the divorce was resolved upon, formed the plan of beguiling Henry into a marriage with her, to save her fall. Others say that the divorce was her plan alone, and that the pretext for it was the relationship that existed between her and King Louis, for they were in some degree related to each other; and the rules of the Church of Rome were very strict against such marriages. It is not improbable, however, that the real reason of the divorce was that the king desired it on account of his wife's loose and irregular character, while Eleanora wished for it in order to have a more agreeable husband. She never had liked Louis. He was a very grave and even gloomy man, who thought of nothing but the Church, and his penances and prayers, so that Eleanora said he was more of a monk than a king. This monkish turn of mind had increased upon the king since his return from the Crusades. He made it a matter of conscience to wear coarse and plain clothes instead of dressing handsomely like a king, and he cut off the curls of his hair, which had been very beautiful, and shaved his head and his mustaches. This procedure disgusted Eleanora completely. She despised her husband herself, and ridiculed him to others, saying that he had made himself look like an old priest. In a word, all her love for him was entirely gone. Both parties being thus very willing to have the marriage annulled, they agreed to put it on the ground of their relationship, in order to avoid scandal.

At any rate, the marriage was dissolved, and Eleanora set out from Paris to return to Bordeaux, the capital of her own country. Henry was to meet her on the way. Her road lay along the banks of the Loire. Here she stopped for a day or two. The count who ruled this province, who was a very gay and handsome man, offered her his hand. He wished to add her dominions to his own. Eleanora refused him. The count resolved not to take the refusal, and, under some pretext or other, he detained her in his castle, resolving to keep her there until she should consent. But Eleanora was not a woman to be conquered by such a method as this. She pretended to acquiesce in the detention, and to be contented, but this was only to put the count off his guard; and then, watching her opportunity, she escaped from the castle in the night; and getting into a boat, which she had caused to be provided for the purpose, she went down the river to the town of Tours, which was some distance below, and in the dominions of another sovereign.

In going on from Tours toward her own home, she encountered and narrowly escaped another danger. It seems that Geoffrey Plantagenet, the brother of Henry, whom she had engaged to marry, conceived the design of seizing her and compelling her to marry him instead of his brother. It may seem strange that any one should be so unprincipled and base as to attempt thus to circumvent his own brother, and take away from him his intended wife; but it was not a strange thing at all for the members of the royal and princely families of those days to act in this manner toward each other. It was the usual and established condition of things among these families that the different members of them should be perpetually intriguing and manœuvring one against the other, brother against sister, husband against wife, and father against son. In a vast number of instances these contentions broke out into open war, and the wars thus waged between the nearest relatives were of the most desperate and merciless character.

It was therefore a very moderate and inconsiderable deed of brotherly hostility on the part of Geoffrey to plan the seizure of his brother's intended wife, in order to get possession of her dominions. The plan which he formed was to lie in wait for the boat which was to convey Eleanora down the river, and seize her as she came by. She, however, avoided this snare by turning off into a branch of the river which came from the south. You will see the course of the river and the situation of this southern branch on the map. The branch which Eleanora followed not only took her away from the ambush which Geoffrey had laid for her, but conducted her toward her own home, where, after meeting with various other adventures, she arrived safely at last. Here Henry Plantagenet soon joined her, and they were married. The marriage took place only six weeks after her divorce from her former husband. This was considered a very scandalous transaction throughout, and Eleanora was now considered as having forfeited all claims to respectability of character. Still she was a great duchess in her own right, and was now wife of the heir-apparent of the English throne, and so her character made little difference in the estimation in which she was held by the world.

From the time of her first engagement with Henry nearly two years had elapsed before all the proceedings in relation to the divorce had been completed so as to prepare the way for the marriage, and now Eleanora was about thirty-two years of age, while Henry was only twenty. Henry seems to have felt no love for his wife. He had acceded to her proposal to marry him only in order to obtain the assistance which the forces of her dominions might supply him in gaining possession of the English throne.

Accordingly, about a year after the marriage, a military expedition was fitted out to proceed to England. The expedition consisted of thirty-six ships, and a large force of fighting men. Henry landed in England at the head of this force, and advanced against Stephen. The two princes fought for some time without any very decisive success on either side, when at length they concluded to settle the quarrel by a compromise. It was agreed that Stephen should continue to hold the crown as long as he lived, and then that Henry should succeed him. When this arrangement had been made, Henry returned to Normandy; and then, after two or three years, he heard of Stephen's death. He then went immediately to England again, and was universally acknowledged as king. Eleanora went with him as queen, and very soon they were crowned at Westminster with the greatest possible pomp and parade.

And thus it was that Eleanora of Aquitaine, the mother of Richard, in the year eleven hundred and fifty-four, became queen-consort of England.