Eleanor of Aquitaine was good looking. Very good looking. Perpulchra, said of her Geraldus Cambrensis, who knew how to say very good looking in Latin and that is why they published his books. And when she turned fifteen, she became an orphan. Very orphaned. With an inheritance left by daddy that included some land from the Mediterranean to the British Channel.
Filthy rich, orphaned and perpulchra.
Louis VII, King of France by the Grace of God, who sometimes is inclined to test us thus, lifted up his ears when the sages in his Privy Council enumerated the reasons for him to marry Eleanor. That was not the only part of his anatomy that suffered a lift. And since he was a chaste Christian king, he immediately ordered a cold bath and submerged himself in it until his ears returned to a normal size. In this he spent a few days after which, with Franc determination, ordered his Council to start preparations for the wedding.
When Eleanor found out that the King had determined to make her his bride, she had a tantrum. Now, just now that she was finally free, that damn frog comes here wanting to end the fun before it could even start! But, a royal order is a royal order and Eleanor, who had many idiosyncrasies but was no fool, prepared for the nuptials.
As soon as they said “I do” in front of the Bishop, Louis took her to his palace across from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. And as she first beheld her new abode…she had another tantrum.
Cheap, stingy bastard frog! — Some claim she screamed at Louis as she surveyed room after room with no curtains, carpets or any of the comforts of her home in Aquitaine. It was not an auspicious beginning to their married life.
It didn’t get any better.
Following the wise counsel of his priest, who claimed to know a lot about these things, Louis informed Eleanor that they would only share a bed to make heirs and to sleep. No hanky panky. That’s why they called him “the Chaste.” Eleanor called him a number of things, but chaste was not one of them.
Soon, while Louis spent his time between kingly business and cold baths, many of his friends, allies, nobles, visitors, servants, neighbors and a couple of Japanese tourists made their way to greet the Queen in her quarters, which she had duly appointed with the curtains and carpets she missed and all the necessary furniture, including a very large round bed and an emergency exit.
Among the most frequent visitors was Geoffrey of Anjou who, in spite of his name, was quite a handsome lad. Over the following four years, Louis and Eleanor had one daughter, Marie, corresponding to an equal number of conjugal visits. During that same time, Louis sent into exile some 50 noblemen, poets and diverse Court attendants for displaying excessive familiarity with the chief Courtesan.
More or less at this stage of the soirée, suitcase in hand arrived in Paris Eleanor’s younger sister who, for reasons that history does not tell us, had been burdened with the name of Petronilla. Name aside, it seems some qualities run in the family. Petronilla was way more beautiful than her name suggested.
The sisters got to doing what sisters do after a prolonged separation, and spent several days and their nights gossiping nonstop and telling each other their troubles. Both had them in spades. Those of Eleanor, of course, we already know. Petronilla’s problem was that she had fallen head over heels for Raoul de Vermandois. He was a dashing young man of good family, playful and loving like no other, but with a problem. Well, not really a problem: a wife. He was married to Eleanor, daughter of Stephen, Count of Blois and Champagne, and it appears that he had to drink several cases of her father’s famous bubbly to come anywhere close to the missus. To get close to Petronilla he didn’t even need a glass of water.
Thus Eleanor began her intrigues in favor of her sister. Soon, they convinced the Bishop of Noyes, coincidentally Raoul’s brother, and the bishops of Senlis and Laon — perhaps because Louis vaguely referred to the integrity of the one thing that differentiated them from nuns— to annul the marriage of Raoul with the Champagne gal alluding to a heretofore unknown state of consanguinity. Nobody even mentioned that their family relation was nowhere near as close as, say, that between Louis and Eleanor. That subject would come up later.
A day after the annulment, the same three bishops married Raoul and Petronilla, giving the new union the requisite Divine blessings. As the bride and groom retired to consummate what under no circumstances could be called hymenæus, Louis and Eleanor returned to Paris for the relief of all, especially of Louis who could not stand his sister in law and craved some peace.
That peace was not to last long.
A few days later, when the Count of Champagne open the castle door to find his daughter, former Countess of Vermandois, deflowered, disgraced and sent packing, he went berserk. He spent several days mouthing all kinds of obscenities in French, which sounds so much better. The Count of Champagne was a very polished fellow and everything he said he said it in French. When he run out of obscenities, he went to see Bernard de Clairvaux —a cousin who was launching a new religious order, the Cistercians, while the town gossips where betting that anything with such a name could not possibly take off. Then as now, town gossips never understand a thing. Bernardo, naturally, depended on his cousin the Count for financial support down to the purchase of underwear, if he had used any. For at that time nobody did.
As monks go, Bernardo was a fairly decent writer, so he wrote a letter to Pope Innocent —he really wasn’t— in terms so eloquent, that Innocent could not but take quick and firm action. And very firmly he excommunicated the Bishop of Noyes, suspended the bishops of Senlis and Laon, annulled the annulment of the marriage between Raoul and the daughter of the Count of Champagne, annulled the marriage of Raoul with Petronilla and sent a letter to Raoul demanding that he return to his wife and throw the whore of Aquitaine out of his house.
Innocent was not nearly as sophisticated as the Count of Champagne, but we can overlook that because he was neither French nor a count. The fact that Innocent was counting on the munificence of the Count of Champagne and the assistance of Bernard de Clairvaux in the preparation of a little crusading enterprise played no role in his decision. Those are fallacies planted by people with bad intentions.
It is hard to describe Eleanor’s reaction when word got to her in Paris. Louis’ is even harder.
A whore?—Eleanor was heard screaming— a fricking whore? Who the crap does that dress wearing SOB think he is! And you! —now looking at Louis— Damn Parisian sissy! You are going to let that impotent fool say that about your wife’s sister!
Louis didn’t say anything but moved closer to his guards, just in case.
And so it went, day after long day. Until Louis could no longer hide and called his army and marched towards Champagne to have a few words with the count. In a very friendly manner he began to lay waste to anything he encountered on a road that, coincidentally, led to Clairvaux.
Bernardo did not like the way things were looking. And even less the direction things were taking. So he did what he did best, and wrote another letter to Innocent begging for a Papal intervention.
What do you want me to do now? — wrote back the Pope — didn’t you want me to annul that which we have annulled and disallow the annulment that we have disallowed? So? It’s done!
Bernard took some time to figure that one out. Innocent didn’t write nearly as well as Bernard and tended to get into complicated sentences for no reason. That is precisely the reason Innocent was Pope and Bernard wasn’t. After some thinking, he wrote the Pope with a proposed solution: If Louis is laying waste to my lands because you annulled the marriage of Raoul and Petronilla and disallowed the annulment of that between Raoul and the Champagne girl, well, now you annul the disallowment of the annulment and disallow the annulment of the disallowment and done! Let’s see if Louis wants to spend more money in the war without the raison d’etre!
Ma che catzo! — exclaimed the Pope — The French are crazy! And was absolutely convinced that the bubbly in the Count of Champagne’s cellars had something to do with Bernardo’s prose.
Bernardino, caro figlio! — He replied — What the crap are you talking about? If I disallow the disallowment of the annulment and annul the annulment of the disallowment we go back to square one and then what? The wine guy comes after me like a Berber, closes your monastery and we’re toast!
No problem — wrote Bernardo — As soon as the Chaste goes home and releases his army, you disallow the annulment of the disallowment of the annulment and confirm the disallowment of the annulment and let’s see if he can find the copper to raise another army.
Madonna! — said the Pope wondering why the heck wasn’t he a Buddhist, surely the Dalai Lama didn’t have to deal with this kind of crap.
However, Bernardo’s letter did contain an absolute truth, and anyone who didn’t get it could be told that it was a Mystery of the Church and presto! So off to write he went. And after a month, Petronilla was back with Raoul, Louis with Eleanor, the count’s daughter pouting in her room, and the Count of Champagne saying all the obscenities he had said before but in French, which always sounds so much more sophisticated, n’es pas?
But no sooner had they all settled in that the new Papal letter arrived, believe it or not. But this time Innocent did not call Petronilla a whore, just in case.
Louis was so happy and relaxed after months of defending his sister-in-law’s honor, and was so well received by Eleanor, that later they had to name it Alix, a new Princess. And soon after, he received the new letter from Innocent.
A pox on that bleeding bastard! — said Louis, who could say anything he wanted because he was King and no one dared question him (except for Eleanor, who could but didn’t). And without wasting time, off he went again to Champagne, where he intended to have a friendly conversation with Bernard de Clairvaux.
The results of Louis’ expedition to Champagne never made it to Innocent for, curiously enough, just at that very moment he decided to croak. Louis helped a new guy, Clement, to mount the throne of Rome — other mounts he mounted without Louis’ help. And since one favor deserves another, Clement disallowed the annulment of the disallowment of the annulment…well, you know what I mean.
Thus, Raoul of Vermandois and Petronilla of Aquitaine lived happily ever after and engendered a whole tribe.
Happiness is not what followed the return of Louis’ to Paris as Alix was born.
What? Another wench? — He exclaimed — That won’t do! The guys at the coffee shop are giving me tutus and dolls and call me mama! — He did not know they called him a number of other things, too. Eight years, for crying out loud! Eight years, no heir and all I have to show for them are two girlies!
What he didn’t say is that besides the lack of a male heir, he was getting tired of getting the horns every time he went out for a walk, and if he kept sending lovers into exile soon there was going to be no one left in France to make him a cup of coffee. So, taking advantage of his new friend in Rome, he got himself an annulment on the grounds of…You guessed it: consanguinity! It took him eight years to remember Eleanor was his cousin! Could happen to anyone.
Clement, who had no inclination to pick up a fight with Louis and who wanted to finally launch that bloody Crusade to the Holy Land to evict from Jerusalem those ignorant barbarians who ate with a fork, used perfume, and God knows with what evil intent took daily baths (no end to their perversity!), signed the annulment without delay and left Eleanor out to dry.
Eleanor was not amused and, as we have come to expect, had the mother of all tantrums. Per the annulment, Louis remained in charge of HER lands until she married again, what he had no intention to allow. And so Eleanor went to visit her old friend and playmate Geoffrey of Anjou to whom, in between bouts of horizontal exercises, she told her problems.
No problem! — said Geoffrey, who was married to the Empress of England because at that time the English did not even think of crowning a woman. — You marry my son, Henry, and let’s see if that fruit has the nuts to come against us.
With your son? — said Eleanor unable to hide her disappointment. — But I thought…
No, darling — said Geoffrey, the one with the plant on his head. — Matilda is the one with the mullah here. And if I let Shorty go (Matilda was 4.2) we all end up in the poorhouse and there’s no way I’m starting over. Plus, without metal, the frog will trounce us.
So, six weeks later Eleanor married Henry of Anjou before Louis could even find out. When Louis did find out, this time the tantrum was his. And I cannot repeat what he said, French or not.
Eleanor had a slew of children with Henry who, not for nothing was called “fornicatur excelsus” by the same gossip, Geraldus Cambrensis, who called Eleanor “perpulchra.”
In time, Henry became Henry II of England, because somebody beat him to the name and he could not be Henry I. And besides the slew of children he had with Eleanor, he sired a great deal more with others in miraculous numbers that, somehow, did not make it to the Annals of the Saints.
The children inherited the vigor and temperament of their parents and became players in the greatest dust-ups of their times. Richard and John, in particular, received a lot of attention although neither could bed Lady Marion.
As this things go, Eleanor eventually separated from Henry and spent a lot of time in the north of France jumping from one bedroom to another until, tired, old, arthritic and wasted in a general state of decay, she entered the convent of Fontrevault — not without an impressive if surely disinterested donation — where he gave up the ghost, vox Papam, a Saint!
Louis remarried. This time, he fired the spiritual counselor and made out like a rabbit until the awaited heir was produced after which he went to the Holy Land to get away from his wife.
Henry II Curt mantle (because he wore short skirts to facilitate you-know-what, did not spend a single moment of his life by himself and, missing Eleanor — apparently the other few hundred did not measure up to her beauty or prowess — eventually leaving his kingdom to Richard and then John who continued the family tradition albeit with some colorful variations.
But that is another story.
Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine are the author’s 24th-35th great-grandparents, several dozen times, through John “Lackland” and Isabell Taillefer, and through Eleanor of England and Alfonse VIII of Castile. Talk about inbreeding!