Category Archives: The Medieval Times

The Medieval Period (1066-1485)

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The Normans, or “North Men,” were descendants of the Vikings who had invaded the coast of France in the 9th Century. Over the years, these people had adopted many French ways. They had become devout Christians. They had accustomed themselves to speaking a dialect of the French language. They had organized themselves according to French political and economic systems of the times- feudalism.

William I

William, Duke of Normandy, had family ties to Edward the Confessor, the English King. When Edward died in 1066, the Saxon witan- the council of elders- Chose Harold II as King. William of Normandy, meanwhile, claimed that Edward had promised him the throne. William thereupon led a few thousand Norman and French troops across the English Channel to assert his claim by force.

Battle fo Hastings

He met King Harold at the Battle of Hastings near a seaside village in southern England. Harold was killed, and William emerged victorious. He then headed to London, brutally crushing all resistance. At Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, William The Conqueror took the throne of England as King William I.

Over the next 5 years, William consolidated his victory. He Suppressed the Anglo-Saxon nobility and confiscated their lands. He saw to it that the Normans controlled government at all levels. The Normans conducted their business in Norman French or Latin. They gradually remade England along feudal lines.

Act of Homage

Feudalism had taken root on the European continent at a time when no central government was strong enough to keep order. Under the circumstances, nobles had to rely on their own warriors for help. The system they created was an exchange of property for personal service. The person who granted the property was the lord or overlord. The person who received it was the vassal. The vassal promised service to his lord in a ceremony called the Act of Homage. At the same time, the vassal usually pledged his faithfulness by taking the Christian vow of Fealty.

In theory, all the land belonged to the ruler. The King kept some of it for his personal use, granted some to the Church, and parceled out the rest among his powerful supporters. He gave these supporters noble titles- usually “Baron”- and the special privileges that went with them. The parcels of land granted to the Barons were known as fiefs.

Feudal Harvest

As a vassal of his overlord, each baron was obliged to pay certain fees of taxes. He was also expected to supply a specified number of knights, or professional soldiers, should the king require them. In return for their services, knights usually received smaller parcels of land, called manors. The peasants who worked these manors were the lowest class in the feudal system, the serfs. Manors became the basic community of the feudal system. Most were self-sufficient, using their own craftsmen to provide nearly all their needs.

In the 11th century, Europe had no nation-sates with firm political boundaries. William and the Norman kings who followed him- William II, Henry I, and Stephen of Blois- held feudal domains in both England and France. Since the had two realms, Norman Kings had far wider responsibilities than Saxon kings had faced. The situation also meant that English barons dissatisfied with their overlord could cross the English Channel and stir up trouble on the other side.

Saxons and Normans

Like a great many of history’s conquerors, the Normans thought themselves vastly superior to the people they had conquered. The invaders treated Saxons and Danes as not quite human and sniffed at their language as unworthy of respect. The Normans substituted their dialect of French in the law of courts as well as in the conduct of business in general. To this day, French words such as “bail” and “sergeant” remain embedded in the language of English law.

Traces of Norman discrimination against the Saxons have lingered for centuries. Sir Walter Scott, in his 19th century novel Ivanhoe, noted one aspect of Norman superiority. In the field, he wrote, “A domestic animal us often referred to by it’s Saxon name- swine, sheep, or ox. When the same animal appears on the dinner table, however, it takes a French name- pork, mutton, or beef.” In other words the raising of farm animals was considered a Saxon activity, whereas the more elegant pursuit, dining, befitted the Normans.

Henry II

Although Norman influence continued for centuries, Norman rule ended in 1154 when Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine came to the throne as Henry II. Henry founded the royal house of Plantagenet, otherwise known was Angevin (from Anjou), line of English monarchs. A strong committed ruler, Henry established a record as one of England’s ablest Kings. He had an avid interest in government and a keen understanding of the law.

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Henry’s concerns with legal matters led him into direct conflict with the Church. By the 12th century, the Church had grown ever more powerful, obtaining authority to put clergymen on trial in Church-run courts. Henry sought to curb some abuses connected with this privilege. When the archbishop’s seat at Canterbury fell vacant, he appointed his friend, Thomas Becket to the position, expecting Becket to go along with royal policy. (His inside man, he was hoping.) Instead, Becket defied the king and appealed to the Pope. (He took his new found position very seriously.) The Pope sided with Becket, provoking Henry with rage.

Becket Martyr

Some of Henry’s knights misunderstood the royal wrath. In a fit,  Henry II was said to have outburst something along the line of, “Would no one rid me of this meddlesome priest!” In 1170, four of the knights went to Canterbury and murdered Becket in his cathedral. Henry quickly condemned the crime and tried to atone for it by making a holy journey, or pilgrimage, to Becket’s tomb. Becket became a famous Christian Martyr and thereafter, Becket’s shrine at Canterbury became a common English means of showing religious devotion. The character’s in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, for example, make just such a pilgrimage.

Richard and John

The next king, the eldest surviving son of Henry II at his death, Richard I “The Lionheart,” spent most of his reign staging military expeditions overseas during the Crusades. His activities proved costly, and his successor, King John, inherited the debts. John tried to raise money by ordering new taxes on the barons and saved money by curtailing services such as the sending of judges to local districts to settle quarrels. The barons resisted these measures, bringing England to the edge of civil war. To avert further trouble, King John at last agreed to certain of the barons’ conditions by putting his seal to the Magna Carta (Latin for “Great Charter”).

Magna Carta Funny

In this document, the king promised not to tax land without further meeting with the barons. He also said he would choose as his officers only those “who know the law of the realm and mean to observe it well.” The Magna Carta produced no radical changes in government, yet many historians believe the document’s restrictions on power marked the beginning of constitutional government in England.

Four Kings

Constitutional government continued to develop under subsequent kings. During the reign of Henry III, the Great Council of barons who advised the king came to be called Parliament. Henry’s successor, Edward I, became the first king to summon a parliament partly elected by “free men”- a term that included some ordinary townspeople as well as barons. By the end of the 13th century, Parliament had already been established as a cornerstone of government in the British Isles.

Medieval London

It was no accident that some members of the Parliament were now represented townspeople. In the 13th century, towns were becoming increasingly important in English life. The Crusades, a series of religious wars in the 11th to the 13th centuries, had stimulated trade between Europe and the Middle East. As trade expanded, so did Europe’s trading centers. The largest of these centers in England was London, originally built by the Romans. Four times more populous than any other English community, London had already achieved status as a city.

Medieval Forge

In London and elsewhere, townspeople organized themselves into guilds, or associations, of various sorts. The two most significant types were merchant and crafts guilds. Merchant guilds were formed in an effort to promote business  within a town, often at the expense of other towns nearby. As these guilds became more powerful, some of them virtually took over town governments. Craft guilds, like our modern labor unions, sought to protect the interests of workers such as weavers, carpenters, and tanners. They also tried to assure the quality of work these craftspeople produced. Such organizations operated in a world in which advancement was tightly controlled. A young person typically entered a craft as an apprentice, or beginner, and worked his way up the ladder, sometimes reaching the highest rung as master craftsman.

Black Death

The growth of towns meant that wealthy was no longer restricted to land ownership, which remained a privilege of nobility. Unfortunately, it also meant that people lived much closer together, often under conditions that were far from sanitary. When infectious diseases came to England, they spread havoc in the towns. The worst epidemic, the great plague called The Black Death, swept the island in 1348 and 1349, killing a third of the population.

Lancaster Kings

By the time of the Black Death, England had already passed into the period known as the Later Middle Ages. This period lasted from the beginning of the 14th century to the end of the 15th. During those years, the house of Lancaster replace the Plantagenets on the throne, only to be replaced in turn by the house of York. The Lancastrian kings were Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI, all of whom became central figures in the historical dramas of Shakespeare.

During the Later Middle Ages, the feudal system went into a steep decline. As new towns appeared, feudal notions of land tenure seemed more outdated. After the Black Death swept across England, a massive labor shortage increased the value of peasant’s work. More and more landowners began to pay their farmers in cash, giving these workers a greater sense of freedom. Along with freedom went frustration, as peasants began complaining about discriminatory laws and onerous taxation. Finally, in 1381, peasants in southern England staged a revolt, demanding among other things, an end to serfdom. Although the revolt was eventually crushed, many of its causes continued, and so did the peasants’ discontent.

John Wycliffe

At about the time of the Peasants’ revolt, other complaints were being directed at the Church. They came from an outspoken scholar, John Wycliffe, who thought that religion traveled far from its roots. Wycliffe opposed all forms of wealth among the clergy. He showed only scorn for monks, calling them men with “red and fat cheeks and great bellies.” He believed that all religious authority sprang from the Bible, not from the Church.

Wycliffe directed the translation of the Bible into English in the hope of making it more accessible to the people. He also helped to organize an order of  “poor priest” known as Lollards. Eventually the archbishop of Canterbury moved against the Lollards as heretics, people who attack Church doctrine and undermine Church authority. Yet the Lollards continued to spread Wycliffe’s teachings for a number of years after the scholars death.

The Red and White Rose

Just as the English Middle Ages has opened with a struggle for power, they closed with a similar conflict. This one began in 1453, when King Henry VI suffered the first of many bouts of madness. Parliament appointed his cousin Richard of York as temporary head of government. When Henry recovered briefly, Richard was forced from office, and Henry returned to the throne. Richard would not depart without a fight, however. The resulting civil war became known as the War of the Roses, for it pitted the House of York, whose symbol was the white rose, against the house of Lancaster, whose symbol was a red rose.

York Kings

In 1461, a Yorkist victory put Richard’s son, Edward, on the throne. As Edward IV, he ruled England until his death in 1483, when his eldest son, still a boy, became Edward V. Soon afterward, Edward V and his brother died mysteriously in the Tower of London while under the supposed protection of their uncle, Richard of Gloucester. The boys are famously referred to as the Two Princes in the Tower. Richard, accused by many people of these “Tower Murders,” had already proclaimed himself King Richard III.

First Tudor King

Two years later, Henry Tudor, a distant cousin and supporter of the Lancastrian kings, led a rebellion against the unpopular King Richard and killed him. Tudor, crowned Henry VII, later married Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV and sister of Edward V. By doing so, he united the houses of Lancaster and York and ended the War of the Roses. by the time Henry had established a new royal line, the House of Tudor, the English Middle Ages had ended.

Chivalry

Most societies have lived by a well-established set of ideals, and England of the Middle Ages was no exception. One set of standards by which people measured themselves during these years was the code of knightly behavior known as chivalry. The idea of chivalry first arose on the European continent at the time of the Crusades. Although the Crusades often involved brutality and bloodshed, they encouraged warriors to search for higher rules of conduct.

At first the code dealt mainly with loyalty and valor, both on and off the battlefield. By the 13th century, however, chivalry had grown considerably more complex. Every knight was supposed to pledge his service to a lady. He might also be expected to joust for his lady’s favor or to rescue maidens in distress.

French poets known as troubadours popularized this tradition in songs of gallant knights. Originally these songs were written in Romance, or Roman influenced languages rather than Latin, and so they were called romances. At the French court, it became important for knights to treat ladies with respect that bordered on reverence. Gradually the same ideal took root in the English court.

Gwen and Lancelot

One example illustrating the development of chivalry originated with the Celts. For example, after their defeat by the Anglo-Saxons, the Celts had told stories of a great hero, King Arthur. Historians cannot say for certain whether Arthur actually lived or not, tales about him are considered legends, a blend of fiction and fact. When Normans were battling the Anglo-Saxons they became interested in the old Celtic legends. In about 1136, a Welsh-born scholar, Geoffrey of Monmouth, drew upon his knowledge of Celtic legends and his readings of Bede to produce a History of the Kings of Britain. This fanciful history, though written in Latin, quickly popularized the supposed early Celtic King.

Because of the Normans’ French ties, the tales of Arthur spread not only in England but also in France. Another tale worthy of note is Tristan and Isolde.

Tristan and Isolde

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Ottokar II of Bohemia (1233-1278) and Kunigunda of Slovonia (1245-1285)

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Ottokar II of Bohemia and Kunigunda of Slovonia

After the death of his brother, Ottokar, the second son destined for the church became the heir to the Kingdom of Bohemia. It is a thing that commonly played out time and time again. First son dies in in battle, or of some fatal illness, or some horrible accident, and an ill prepared second son takes his place. This was such a case. Ottokar not only was a son destined for the ecclesiastical life, but he was also a son who had hardly any ambition, and almost no interest in politics whatsoever. Finally some men at odds with the King, Ottokar’s father, managed to get him to rebel.

The end result was that the son was imprisoned. Eventually all was well, as the King decided he wanted the Duchy of Austria. What better way to annex a Duchy, than by some political marriage. The King decided that his son and heir would marry Margaret of Austria, the sister and closest living relative to the late Duke of Austria. Margaret only happened to be thirty years older than Ottokar. Prefect match or not Ottokar’s father, Wenceslaus I died, and Ottokar was now King of Bohemia and Duke of Austria.

Margaret of Austria, so much older than her husband and only able to offer him a title and wealth was soon in danger of losing everything as she was not able to produce any children. Then the Bohemian King has a falling out with his cousin, Bela IV of Hungary, over territory in Styria. Eventually the main truce between the cousins came when Ottokar had his marriage to Margaret repudiated and Bela released his claims to Styria marrying his granddaughter, Kunigunda of Slovenia to Ottokar.

Born in Ruthenia, Kunigunda’s paternal grandfather was the last grand prince of Kiev, who was deposed by the Mongol Empire. She was married to Ottokar to not only settle territorial disputes, but to also provide heirs to the throne of the Kingdom of Bohemia. She gave birth to at least three children who lived past infancy. One was Ottokar’s only living son, Wenceslaus II.

Ottokar is considered the greatest King of Bohemia. He founded many new towns in Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Austria, and Styria. Under his rule trade flourished and civil law was improved. He also encouraged open immigration policies, as he knew this would only improve the wealth and success of the Kingdom of Bohemia. His law influenced Czech law all throughout her future from his reign and beyond.

Bad King John (1166 – 1216) and Isabella of Angouleme (c. 1188-1246)

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John Plantagenet I of England, “John Lackland,” Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Maine, and Lord of Ireland, with Isabella of Angoulême (c. 1188-1246), Queen Consort of England.John was the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, (they had five at one point). He was also the second of the sons to ascend the throne after his father’s death. After a royal baby is born, he or she is given to a wet nurse and typical sent to live with some noble family within the Kingdom. Queens did not nurse their own babies, because it was their duty to provide for the kingdom with many princes and princesses. The goal was to get pregnant again as soon as possible. Breast feeding kind of hinders this, and as most medieval babies were nursed for at least two years, that would mean mother would only have one baby every other year. Infant mortality was extremely high during these times, so people tried to have as many children was one could in case a few of them did not make it. This was especially true if a continuing dynasty depended upon it. It was also a great honor to the Lords of the Land to be chosen to raise a little prince of princess. They would be given plenty of gifts too. This was a way of placating the nobility, as they were known to be violently jealous of each other.

Typically, during this era, the eldest son would inherit all his father’s property, lands, and responsibilities. Norman Kings, like Henry II, usually divided up lands and titles among all their sons. It was assumed the brothers would work together, or help each other out while governing an Empire. This usually was never the case. Almost always, brothers fought for control of their brother’s lands. Since Henry and Eleanor had several sons, when John was born, they ran out of lands to grant him. He became comically referred to as “John Lackland.” Even though Henry and Eleanor’s lands were vast, they could only be stretched so far. Instead of going to a noble family like his brothers, and given lands and titles, John was sent to an the famous Abbey at Fontevrault. It was expected that John enter the Church.

This changed however, when Eleanor encouraged her older sons to rebel against their father, causing the King much grief. John was recalled to his father’s court and became his favorite son, as he was much too young to be involved in such intrigues. This worked out, because Henry began to give stripped lands and titles to John. He even made him Lord of Ireland, after the Norman invasion of Ireland. Henry II then disinherited Isabelle of Gloucester’s (another Isabelle) sisters, making her Countess of Gloucester and forced her to marry John, (Isabelle was about 16 and John 20.) They were forbidden to consummate the marriage by direct order of the Pope, as they shared a great grandfather. Henry II just wanted to give her lands and wealth to John. Eventually this marriage was annulled.

When John went to Ireland to rule the Norman territories, it was not a success. There were tensions between the local Irish, and the Norman and Welsh settlers. John also offended the Irish, instead of trying to embrace and respect their culture and differences, a mistake many lords make. John returned to England happily, but in failure. Henry II suffered one more rebellion, by his eldest living son at the time, Richard the Lionheart. This time John joined with his brother. Henry II died shortly after, some say mostly of a broken heart that his favorite son betrayed him in the end, like all the others.

As soon as Richard became King he wanted to leave on the third crusade. As a military man, he was itching for some action. The English people got used to John, as at least he was there. This was a mistake on Richard’s part, as the crusades and all the drama that unfolded overseas kept him away a long time. Richard was even captured and held for ransom by the Germans. Meanwhile in England, John assumed Richard was dead and began making plans to take the crown. John formed an alliance with the French King, Philip II, England’s longest and most hated enemy. When Richard returned, the rebellion was squashed and John ran for his life. Richard forgave his baby brother, but only after taking all his lands and titles, except the one he could care less for, Lord of Ireland.

When Richard died, John did not succeed to the throne with ease. Another brother, Geoffrey, had a son before he died. Geoffrey would have been king after Richard, and then John after Geoffrey, if he died having no heirs. People were confused if Geoffrey’s son should be King or John. The Norman’s favored John, and the Angevin’s favored Arthur, his nephew. This caused war between the Normans and Franks, (again), for they always looked for any excuse to fight. Eventually John won, and made a truce with the Frankish King.

It was around this time that John formally annulled his marriage to Isabelle of Gloucester. He had met and fallen in love with Isabella, Countess of Angoulême, who was young and beautiful. Also, her lands were much desired too. Of course people so important never married for love alone. As there was no dispensation for John to marry Isabelle, his cousin, he was given an annulment. Isabella’s lands gave John a more direct access to his domains in Aquitaine. Isabella, however was betrothed to a Lusignan, powerful Aquitainian Barons, with powerful armies. They also wanted control of Isabella’s territories. John could have offered some compensation or negotiated, but his pride as their overlord, caused him to become their enemy. Not a smart move. Even his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, tried her best to appease her Barons. As it was the Barons of Aquitaine and their vast armies that made Aquitaine what it was, one of Europe’s most powerful Duchies.

War broke out, and the Lusignan’s gained Normandy in the process. They also took Poitou. Eleanor was in Aquitaine trying to hold on. John came to her aid and they kept Aquitaine. However, John lost the support of his allies in Anjou and Brittany, when 23 noble prisoners died from neglect, something that was considered dishonorable on John’s part. He lost respect and gained even more enemies who turned to support Arthur, his nephew. John made another move and had his nephew killed to get rid of his claim once and for all. (I am surprised he held out as long as he did, for we have seen some King’s execute rivals immediately after ascending the throne.)

When John’s mother, Eleanor died after living and exceedingly long life for those times, (she was 82), he was in great danger. All his territories within the French Kingdom were as good as lost. Eleanor was the one they were loyal too, not her son. Perhaps they were equally loyal to Richard at one time too, however they hated John. Philip II of France took Anjou, Poitou, and Normandy with ease, especially with the Barons on his side.

About Isabella, what we know is that John married her and they had five children. When he was married to his first wife, had had five children with various mistresses, none with his first wife. He appears to have had no more illegitimate children after he married Isabella. As a man, John was said to be a frivolous man. He spent tons of money on clothes, jewels, and parties for himself. It is however, unfounded that John was atheist as it is rumored. His court seems to have observed all religious obligations and holidays. This can be chopped up to slander from historical enemies.

John’s reign is most noted for the signing of the Magna Carta, the Great Charter (even though he had no intention of following it). An important document that promised the protection of church rights, protection from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, new taxation only with baronial consent and limitations on scutage and other feudal payments. It was an attempt to limit the King’s powers by law and protect the Barons rights and privileges. It was an early basis for Constitutional Law. It’s ideals and principles carried over into the colonization of America.

John ended his days always at war with his Barons. He died of illness while on one of his numerous campaigns. His son Henry III, succeeded him to the throne.

Richard The Lionheart (1157 – 1199) and Berengaria of Navarre (1165-1230)

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Richard Plantagenet- Richard I of England- “Richard the Lionheart,” Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou and Maine, and Berengaria of Navarre, Queen consort of England.

Richard the Lionheart was the 3rd son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was also the first son to ascend the throne after his father’s death. As he was a third son, it was not expected that he would become King of England. Surplus sons were either groomed for the Church or the Military. Richard was groomed to become a commander of soldiers (knights). Richard was given the titles of his mother’s vast domains that she held in her own right, as he was her favorite. Eleanor of Aquitaine had one of the most richest and most powerful duchies in the Europe. This favoritism was said to have caused a rift between Richard and his brothers (at least with the younger ones).

At the tender age of eight years old, Richard was sent to rule over Aquitaine in his mothers name. It was there that he grew up, the language and culture of the Franks that he embraced. Richard’s education was primarily a military one, as it was expected that he would remain a Duke and Count. As such he would be responsible of governing his provinces, extinguishing rebellions and unrest in his domains, and providing soldiers for the King of France (at least as a vassal of France that was what was expected). It was not stressed for him to learn the English language fluently, the culture, or politics. This would cause him some troubles later on.

From a very young age, Richard proved to be an apt military commander. He was also considered fair in looks and the ladies liked him. When Richard was 15 years old he was formally acknowledged as the Duke of Aquitaine. When Richard’s older brother Henry (crowned King by his father in his own lifetime) rebelled against their father, Richard joined his brother. Eleanor the Queen, their mother, encouraged this rebellion of her children against their father. However, young Henry and Richard also went to the French King, the enemy of England and their father, and received support for the rebellion. They were married or betrothed to Louis VII of France’s daughters. Even their younger brother Geoffrey was among them. Only the youngest, John, who was a young child, remained with his father.

It was a blessing for a King to have many children. Not only did Henry II he have 4 living sons, but he had 3 daughters with whom he could forage alliances with. He was the envy of all other Prince’s, some who were lucky to have a prince or two live to adulthood and maybe a couple of princesses. Infant mortality was high during these times. But, in King Henry’s case, too many sons became a curse. Henry II spent a lot of money and lost a lot of men fighting in rebellions against his unruly sons. It’s only natural that the baby, John, became his favorite, too young to do such things.

Henry II squashed the French and his sons rebellion and sent Richard running to one of his territories. Henry II returned to England with a handful of men, his wife, sons wives/betroths as prisoners. All the blood shed ended with a treaty with France. Of course, as it always was between France and England, a short lived one. In the end, Richard came to his father and begged him to forgive his disobedience, and father forgave son. Henry and Geoffrey followed suit shortly after. Their mother however, was kept a prisoner for her role in the rebellion until Henry II died.

Richard returned to Aquitaine, with half the power and wealth he once had. His father held the rest. It was during this time that Richard learned that his father had made his betrothed, the French Princess Alys, his mistress while she was under his guardianship. She was more like the King of England’s prisoner or political hostage more than anything else. It must have been hard to refuse the King’s advances under those circumstances. It’s not known for a fact that Princess Alys had any romantic feelings or attraction for the aged King. The affair ruined the Princess when it was discovered. Victim or not, the church could not allow for a incestuous union now that Alys had been Richard’s father’s lover. At the same time, the King did not want to return Alys dowry or offend the French King, so he did not want to break the betrothal. Richard understandably did not want to marry Alys because her honor was compromised. Tensions grew once again between father and son, and even Richard’s brothers turned against him. Henry and John wanted to gain Aquitainian land and titles. (Geoffrey had died from an illness before this rebellion.)

Richard allied with Alys brother, Philip II of France. During this rebellion, Richard’s brother Young Henry died, leaving Richard the heir to the throne. Shortly after, Henry II died and Richard became King. The first thing he did was free his dear mother.

The first main event for Richard as King was the Third Crusade. It appeared that Richard had no love for England. He seemed more in tune with the French than the English. He only spent some months in England as King before he took off on the Crusade, draining the royal treasury to fund it. The people were not pleased.

During the crusade, (which eventually ended by a agreement or treaty between the crusaders and Saladin I), Richard had his betrothal to Alys formally repudiated. He then conquered Cyprus. It was in Cyprus that he married Berengaria of Navarre, daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre, and Sancha of Castile. She was brought to Navarre by his mother Eleanor, who had arranged the marriage. No one knows if the marriage was ever consummated. Berengaria did not conceive a child during the early days of her marriage on the crusade. Also shortly after the marriage, Richard was captured by Germans and held for ransom. Even after Richard was released, he remained separated from his wife, for the most part. This led to many rumors that Richard I was a homosexual. This is not clear, for he had no known male companion, and he had affairs with women on campaign. He also had at least one illegitimate child. It’s very odd, because there is also no evidence that Richard did not like Berengaria. She was said to be very beautiful, graceful, and serene. Perhaps he was a man who lacked that sort of passion. No one knows why. There is no proof one way or the other.

While Richard was away on Crusade, his baby brother John, was home in England trying to take his brother’s place. When Richard returned he forgave his brother. John as the baby, all his life up until that point, used the excuse of being young and ill advised. Richard was not buying it any more and took power from John. Richard spent most of his time in his overseas territories in Normandy and Aquitaine, constantly putting down rebellions. The English people really had not affection for their absentee King. It was during one of these endless rebellions that Richard died, when he was hit by an arrow. He was not shot by an enemy, but by one his own Knights playing around. What a way to go… by some stupid accident. The wound became infected and he died in his mother’s arms. His little brother John, known as Bad King John, succeeded him.

Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1124 – 1204)

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Eleanor Ramnulfids of the House of Poitiers, “Eleanor of Aquitaine,” Queen Consort of the Franks, Queen Consort of England, Duchess of Aquitaine, and Countess of Poitiers.

I always like to say that Eleanor is the Queen of Hearts and one of my favorite Queens in History. At around 15 years old, Eleanor became one of the world’s wealthiest women, when her father, Duke William X of Aquitaine, died suddenly having no male children or relatives to succeed him. Almost immediately the wolves were on the scent. Some local Barons gathered and plotted to abduct the defenseless girl and rape her for her lands and titles. Immediately, the King of France Louis VI (AKA Louis the Fat), Aquitaine’s Overlord as well has Eleanor’s guardian was notified. The Dauphin of France, also named Louis, was dispatched straight away to Aquitaine, to propose marriage to the damsel in distress. To Accompany him was 500 French soldiers, just in case.

Eleanor was told that she must obey her guardian, and she was a very intelligent girl. Her father gave her an outstanding education for a female. She had been groomed as the heir of Aquitaine. She new that to be the wife of the future King of France was a shrewd political move, that brought with it power and protection. Queen of France and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right was better than being wife to Baron such and such who would become Duke. She quickly accepted the Prince’s (or actually King of France’s) offer of marriage. It did not matter that the Prince was not impressive and she did not even know him.

She did not have to wait to become a Queen very long. About a month after they were married, King of the Franks Louis the Fat died. Eleanor’s husband became King Louis VII. The young couple left immediately for France to do their duties. Eleanor left some her most loyal Barons in charge in Aquitaine. One thing that could be said was that her Aquitainian Barons would die for her. They were loyal up until the very end of her exceptionally long life. (Long by medieval standards.)

Eleanor was a handful for her new husband. She was a capable, ambitious, and sensual woman. She loved art of all sorts, particularly the ribald poetry and music of the troubadour. (Her grandfather Duke William IX was a famous troubadour in his own time.) Eleanor also had a taste for politics. Louis mother, thought this was a bit improper, but Eleanor was the type that did not care what anyone thought. The thing was, Louis was never intended to be the Dauphin. He once had an older brother that died suddenly. Like most noble born second sons, Louis was being groomed for the Church. He was pious and timid in the bedroom department. Eleanor was firey and passionate. She was also known throughout the world as a great beauty. She tried very hard to make her husband desire her, but he really was not made for all that. That made Eleanor bored. She encouraged a court of love. She encouraged troubadours and poets and their games of chivalry and courtly love. They praised her beauty and grace, and those of her lovely ladies and waiting, and she learned to be content. Her husband however was irritated. Even though he was not very passionate, he was in love with his beautiful wife and quite jealous. Regardless of their differences a Princess was born in 1145.

It was during the Second Crusade, shortly after her first child’s birth that Eleanor’s marriage was really thrown against the rocks. Eleanor demanded to go on the Crusade. Louis and the clergy were against that idea, yet they needed Aquitainian gold and troops to support their mission. Eleanor insisted she would go or she would not pitch in. They had to eventually cave. Eleanor treated it like an extended vacation. She pretty much brought with her all her household and palace comforts, something soldiers did not do. They were going to battle, not to sight see! There is even a legend saying that Eleanor and her ladies entered Jerusalem dressed as half naked Amazons. (This is most unlikely, but it makes a good story.) What is known is that her behavior annoyed her husband. He blamed her frivolities and her Aquitainian Commanders (who were only loyal to her) for the fact that the Saracens beat them almost to the point of complete annihilation. The king himself was almost killed, but a miracle happened. Since Louis was dressed as a common peasant pilgrim making his way to the Holy Land, the Muslim’s totally bypassed him and just slaughtered his army. This was such a miracle that there were whispers of Sainthood. In the end though, one of Eleanor’s commanders was almost executed because they did not camp in the place Louis told them too, where they would have been able to buffer against the attack against Louis’s men. This caused a rift between husband and wife.

When they went to see Eleanor’s uncle the Prince of Antioch, the fighting ensued. Louis refused to aid Eleanor’s uncle in fighting Saracens attacking his territories. Eleanor was seeking ways to get rid of her disagreeable and over zealous and lousy lover husband. She pondered with the idea of an annulment on the grounds that she was barren and Louis hardly did his husbandly duties. After all the time they had been married, all they had to show for it was one daughter. When she refused to leave with her husband, insisting that her Aquitainians would stay to help her uncle, Louis had to forced her. He had to rough handle his own wife (the Queen) and drag her kicking and screaming from her Uncle’s Palace. It was probably quite a spectacle and very embarrassing for the King. It also earned Eleanor a damaged reputation. Rumors even began to fly that Eleanor was having an affair with her Uncle.

They went home on separate ships, mad at each other. After being attacked and having a rough time at sea, they finally made it back to France. Eleanor tried to petition for an annulment and Louis was horrified. A Priest requested, suggested, or insisted that they work it out and made them spend the night together. To Eleanor’s great displeasure, this made her pregnant. She presented the King with another Princess in 1148, and then claimed this was proof that her marriage was obviously not pleasing to God. If her marriage was, she would have had a son instead. Whether Louis gave up in order to just be rid of her, or he also thought her claims were justified the annulment was granted and Eleanor was sent back to her Duchy in Aquitaine. News of her imminent arrival quickly reached her unruly barons and once again they plotted to seize her.

However, someone got to her first. Henry, Duke of Normandy, The son of Geoffrey Count of Anjou, and Matilda Dowager Holy Roman Empress the self-proclaimed rightful Queen of England. He offered her his hand in marriage and his protection. He also offered her the crown of England. She accepted this and he did obtain the crown of England. Also, so much for being barren, because Eleanor gave birth to eight of Henry II’s children. (Five Princes and Four Princesses.) It’s bad when a King has not enough sons, but it is also bad when he has too many, as you will learn in my essay about Henry II. This marriage was not a necessarily a happy one, but it sure was a passionate one. All those babies kind of validate that at least. Anyway, this was Eleanor’s true legacy. Queen of France, then Queen of England, and mother to two Kings.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

King Henry II of England (1133-1189) and Lady Rosamund Clifford (c. 1150 – 1176)

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King Henry II of England, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine, Duke Consort of Aquitaine, and Count of Poitiers, and Lady Rosamund Clifford “Rosamund the Fair” (His Mistress).

Henry was the son of Matilda of England, Dowager Holy Roman Empress. When she became a widow, she was still young. She was daughter to the Norman King, Henry I. When he died, Matilda’s cousin Stephen of Blois, came to the throne of England, which a fair amount of people believed rightfully belonged to Matilda. Some people did not however, because in order for a woman to be placed upon the throne, there had to be no living male relatives… She had her cousin. Matilda married Geoffrey Count of Anjou and they began to fight for Matlida’s claim. If they would not be successful in fighting for her own claim, they would fight for it in the name of their son, Henry. Henry’s parents took care with his education. He was taught by some of the most brilliant minds of his time- most notably Williams of Conches.

When Henry was a teen, the French King had some territorial disputes with the Normans and some of his own Vassals (Anjou being one of them). Henry and his cousin Stephen teamed up against France causing France to lose some key territories. It was common gossip that the King of France was having marital difficulties as well. If Henry, could get the King of France’s wife’s Aquitainian support, this could make him quite powerful. It was spectacular that about six weeks after the King and Queen of France’s marriage was annulled, Henry married the ex, the rich and powerful Duchess of Aquitaine. With this new found strength Henry turned against his cousin, the King of England. Knowing he could not contend with Henry, Stephan agreed to a truce. Unfortunately, during the family feud, Stephan’s heir died from an illness. Stephan adopted Henry as his heir, ousting his remaining son William. William was made to swear fealty to Henry and renounce his claim to the throne. Stephan died of a stomach ulcer, and Henry became Henry II, King of England.

His wife Eleanor of Aquitaine soon joined his side as his Queen. Theirs was quite the fruitful union, unlike Eleanor and her first husband, the King of France. Eleanor had two daughter’s with Louis VII. With Henry II, she had five sons, and four daughters. She more than did her duty, in fact having too many sons would prove to be just as troublesome than not having enough sons. A king had to provide for so many princes, or they may fight among each other- jealous. They would also fight against their father in due time…

It can be said that beside every great King there is a great Queen. Also, on his other side is usually a great adviser. Sometimes the adviser is or becomes a great friend. Most times the Queen and the adviser fight for the greater influence over the King. Like many Kings, Henry had both. He made his best friend, Thomas A. Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket was his drinking buddy and he needed someone he could trust, an inside man, within the Church. Someone to help him to get his way every time. He did not plan on Becket to take his job seriously once he gave him the post. Becket suddenly became a pious man that could hardly do anything against his conscience. This annoyed the King. It annoyed him so much that one night at a royal party he yelled out famously, “Can no one rid me of the meddlesome priest??!!!” Someone over heard and took it seriously. They butchered Becket inside a Church creating a martyr out of him. He was later canonized, as St. Thomas of Canterbury. His skull healed people.

The Queen did not miss him because he was always thwarting her requests of influencing the king to give her sons more power and responsibility. Thomas foresaw how disastrous that could possibly be. Especially after they crowned the heir, Young Henry, in his father’s lifetime. The child proved to be an impetuous, annoying little brat. Eleanor was also not a demure and devoted wife. She herself desired power and influence. Having so many baby boys kind of gave her too much as it was. She was only concerned with her boys, for she knew that they were the future. She didn’t even seem to notice that her husband the King was having an affair with a beautiful commoner by the name of Rosamund Clifford. If she did notice, she did not seem to care much about it. The troubadours called her “Rosamund the Fair.” This was not just any common wench. She was the love of Henry’s life. He did not hide it, and Eleanor simply did not care. Henry and Rosamund were in love, but Rosamund seemed to not be an intriguer. She was no threat to the Queen. In fact, perhaps the Queen was tired of popping out babies. She could have thought: Let someone else have his children and warm his bed, I have done more than enough.

Yes, she did. All those babies started to grow up. The daughters brought to England powerful friends and allies. This was sweet and nice. They were good dutiful princesses. The boys however, were another story. They started to fight. Henry, the oldest started to demand titles and lands. As prince he was entitled to some power and governance of his own. Eleanor gave Aquitainian titles and lands to her favorite son Richard. This only made the other boys jealous. Geoffrey wanted lands too and really there were no lands to dole out to John (the youngest). He was eventually nick named John Lackland.

Henry decided to aid an Irish king that was kicked off his throne, and begun the Norman invasions of Ireland. Henry sent to him a bunch of Welsh mercenaries to do battle on the Emerald Island. (This is how my father’s ancestors got to Cork Ireland- in the South- actually.) Also, Henry needed some lands to give his youngest son, so he kept some lands in Ireland so John could be named Lord of Ireland. English kings would be called Lord’s of Ireland after John, from then on.

Henry spent most of his rein keeping control over his wild unruly sons, whom were instigated to antagonize their father by the Queen. She especially did not appreciate her husband trying to rule her duchy in Aquitaine or her other territories. Those territories were Vassals of France not England. Towards the end he even used a show of force in her domains. That made her very resentful. She would make his later years ones of great headaches. Henry’s heir, Henry the Younger fought rebellions against his father on his own, for his own arrogant reasons. Henry II was forced to battle his own son which ended in young Henry’s death. Henry soon followed, probably with a head full of grey hairs and full of remorse. He also lost his second son Geoffrey. He was especially devastated when his youngest and favorite son, John, also joined his brothers in rebellion. Perhaps in death he found some peace though. His son Richard (actually his third born legitimate son), became Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart.

Louis VII of France (1120 – 1180) and Adelaide of Champagne (c. 1140 – 1206)

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Louis Capet, King of the Franks, and his 3rd wife Adelaide of Champagne, Queen Consort of the Franks.

Louis the Younger, as he was called, was the son of King Louis the Fat of France, and Adelaide of Savoy. As a second son, he was being educated for the Church. Louis was quite scholarly and pious. He would have made an excellent priest, bishop, or cardinal and was not cut out to be a strong King. However, things happen, and Louis’s brother died suddenly and unexpectedly from a terrible accident.

Louis’s life changed rather rapidly after his brother’s death. Aquitaine, one of France’s most richest and powerful vassals lost their Duke, William X. His teenage daughter succeeded him. Louis the Fat, named guardian by the girl’s father moved quickly. He wanted to get to her first before her Lords and Barons, got any ideas to take the Duchess, her enormous wealth, and her armies. He sent his timid son straight away to Aquitaine with an army, to marry Eleanor. This Eleanor did dutifully. She was no fool and she knew this is in her best interest at the time.

The Dauphin Louis had the most wealthiest, and many said, the most beautiful lady in the land as his wife. He was conflicted by her sensuality and beauty, and many times was said to confess to close friends that he loved her deeply, yet he found her vulgar. He was jealous, insecure, and timid. Eleanor was confident, manipulative, and shrewd. The poor boy never had a chance really. Almost as soon as they were married, Louis the Fat died, and Louis VII and Eleanor were King and Queen of France.

Eleanor was such a powerful personality that she never let either of her husbands get their hands on her Duchy. She remained Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, separate from her titles and rights as Queen Consort. This made her powerful on her own. Her Aquitanian Barrons were fiercely loyal to her. She even forced Louis to let her go on crusade with him or he would not get support from Aquitaine. It was during this time that their marriage really fell apart. Louis as King and overlord, gave orders to Aquitanian men, and Eleanor countered those orders. The Aquitanian Knights, loyal to their Duchess, followed Eleanor’s orders. The result was, that the French Army was destroyed by the Saracens. Louis was outraged, and it made him realize that his wife was not really on his side, but her own. They fought during the whole crusade openly. Eleanor pushed for an annulment and eventually won. During their marriage they had two daughters. About 6 weeks later, Eleanor Married the Duke of Normandy, who became the King of England. This made relations quite awkward. England and France were long time foes. Aquitaine was a vassal of France, yet she was England’s Queen… There was some serious political drama in the years that followed.

After his annulment to Eleanor of Aquitaine, he married Constance of Castile. They were only married some 6 years or so. She died giving birth to their second daughter. By then Louis was not getting in younger and he was desperate for a son. He married fairly quickly after Constance’s death (6 weeks).

His third wife was Adelaide of Champagne. They had two children, a son Phillip, who became Philip II of France, and Agnes of France who became Empress consort of the Byzantine. Adelaide was not very powerful or influential in Louis’s lifetime, but she was somewhat during her son’s reign. She acted as regent for him a few times and there were open power struggles between her and her daughter in law, Isabella of Hainault.

Louis VII, was a relatively good King, but his piousness sometimes got in the way of his being a strong effective King. He was not a military man like his rival Henry II of England. He tried to settle his issues peacefully, usually by diplomacy (marriage alliances with his children and treaties). However he really irked the English King when he supported Thomas A Becket during his exile and even supported Henry’s sons in their rebellions against him, but honestly he was in the position to do so anyway, as most of Henry’s sons were married to his daughters (with his other wives- not Eleanor of course). Louis died in 1180. He was succeeded by his only heir, Phillip II.