Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Devil's Brood, Part 4-

In which we assassinate the characters of Eleanor, Young Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John.

If you think about it, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine were a disaster waiting to happen.

Henry was a classic match of incredible ability and enormous flaws. He was intelligent, energetic, brave, charismatic, generous, loyal and well educated. He had a gift for law, management, politics and war. And, unlike many kings of his time, he seemed to genuinely care about what happened to his non-noble subjects. But he was also cursed with what your high school counselor would have called "anger management issues" and "impulse control challenges." In short, he flew off the handle and doinked anything that moved.

Eleanor, after the jump-

Then there's Eleanor. You don't become the most eligible woman in Europe without brains, confidence and a certain feeling of entitlement to go with your looks and lands. When Eleanor married Henry, she was ten years older than he was, and a divorcee with two daughters from her prior marriage to Louis of France. Henry was brilliant - but he was also a twenty-year old mama's boy on his first marriage, and not even king yet. To say that Eleanor had the upper hand in experience with family, children, and royalty is understating it. 

And she didn't just have the edge in experience; she was also the richest woman in Western Europe, one of the most well traveled (she had been on Crusade, unlike Henry) - and she was a celebrity. She inspired a literary movement. There was even a drinking song about her ("Were the world all mine, from the sea to the Rhine, I'd give it all for the Queen of England in my arms..."). She was sort of a combination Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth II and Rosanna Arquette.

So when it became clear that King Henry of England didn't need Eleanor as much as Duke Henry of Normandy had needed her;  that Henry would never sit still, but be on the road so constantly that he would be nicknamed "Curtmantle" for the short riding cloak he wore; and most especially, that his feet weren't the only part of his body that wandered...well, we can imagine that Eleanor was more than a little upset. Their marriage had always been a soap opera - lots of passion (eight kids!) and lots of fights. But Eleanor had seemed reconciled to Henry's cheating, as long as he kept it on the down-low.

He didn't keep that up, of course. In the end, he fell hard for a woman named Rosamund Clifford, and was much less than discreet. To make matters worse, Rosamund's character seems to have been the exact opposite of Eleanor's - quiet, patient, retiring. Once the word got out, the marriage was pretty much over, although Henry and Eleanor didn't get it annulled (which was the thing to do, back in the day - divorce was forbidden by the Church.)

And since Eleanor couldn't lead armies against Henry herself, she used their sons - Young Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John - as proxies against him. Eleanor was their mother; she had spent more time with them; and she had a decade more experience as a parent than Henry, who was constantly on the road anyway. In the end, Henry never had a chance to win them to his side. Eleanor was there first. All Henry could do was forgive his sons, over and over, for their rebellions, and lock up Eleanor in a tower and hope that that would be enough.

Next - a quartet of Momma's boys, just like their dad.

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