One Queen. Two Kings.
When you are a wealthy and beautiful duchess, marrying two kings is totally normal.
This week back on the 18th of May, 1152, Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitiers (Aliénor d’Aquitaine in French) married her second husband Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine, and future King Henry II of England. This is the dynastic alliance of the Middle Ages. What makes it even more extraordinary? A mere eight weeks earlier, Eleanor had finalized the dissolution of her prior marriage. To the King of France. Juicy royal scandals have been around for a long time!
What is the net result of this king swap? A whole lot of war that literally goes on for centuries. The reason is more clear when we look at a map:
True confession time. Eleanor is one of my favorite historical figures and, as you may have guessed, I also love the early Plantagenet period. We won’t explore Eleanor in full in this article–her story is too incredible to be limited to one post. But the annulment from Louis VII and her marriage to Henry II set into motion a number of events that happily bring us back to the Polidor restaurant, which we explored earlier this month. Of course I couldn’t resist expanding our historical context. 😀
Without further ado, let’s see how we get from medieval marriages to Hemingway. Hang on tight!
Eleanor Swaps Husbands
To sum it up and somewhat oversimplify things: Eleanor’s marriage to Louis VII was a disaster. After 15 years, one crusade, and two daughters, Louis finally agreed to annul their marriage. This gave him the freedom to find a new wife, one who would hopefully be more docile than the spirited Eleanor and could begat a male heir.
However, Eleanor marrying one of Louis’ vassals–who owed allegiance to the king for his continental territories–only two months after leaving him was beyond the pale. Not only did his vassal now possess his ex-wife, Henry possessed all of her land. And the following year Henry was confirmed as the heir to the English throne, Louis’ traditional enemy. It is safe to say Louis was not amused.
Louis did manage to rally and remarry. It took two tries (setting precedence for his descendant Henry VIII?), but Louis finally got his longed-for son: Philippe Auguste. If you read the Polidor article, you can see where this is going. 🙂
Eleanor and Henry had eight children together: five sons and three daughters. Three of the sons later became kings. All of whom schemed, plotted, and fought with and against Louis and Philippe. It was a messy dynastic struggle, both for the Angevin Empire (the collective name for Henry and Eleanor’s lands) and for the Capetian Kings of France, who naturally wanted more control over their region.
As a result of all this trouble, Philippe ordered new fortifications built around the city of Paris to protect it from Henry and his sons. Over time, the wall fell out of use, the ditch and paths around it became roads, and about 630 years after the wall was built, a little cremerie opened. Important modern literary figures would later hang out in this building that was constructed over the ruined wall. One built to keep Eleanor’s sons out of the city she had once ruled as queen. This endless connectivity is why I love history!
Did Hemingway or Hugo know this as they drank their wine and coffee? Hugo may have, more so than Hemingway. He was chronologically closer to the development of the street and much more interested in historic Paris. Do the medieval spirits mingle with the literary ghosts? What would they talk about? I’m pretty sure Hemingway would make a pass at Eleanor. After turning him down maybe she would become his patroness, as she did for the old troubadours? It would be a fun exchange to witness, regardless. 😀
Experiencing Eleanor’s World
Eleanor gave up her title as Queen of France in 1152. Most of Paris from this period has disappeared or been incorporated into other buildings, much like Philippe Auguste’s wall. But we do still have some ways to physically connect with the Paris that Eleanor ruled over as queen.
The Conciergerie: One of the most impressive extant medieval buildings in Paris, the Conciergerie is the remaining part of the former Palais de la Cité or the primary royal residence before the original Louvre took the title. While plenty of the Conciergerie is medieval, most of what we see comes from the later medieval period of the 13th and 14th centuries.
However, the small chapel now known as the Chapel of the Girondins is in the same location as a chapel built by Louis VII. The incredible Sainte Chappelle was built over the former La Chapelle Saint-Nicolas, which is the church Eleanor would have known. When you are in the Salle des Gens d’Armes (built 150 years after Eleanor), you are at the medieval street level, about two meters below the modern street!
The foundations of a tower built by her former father-in-law Louis le Gros (Louis the Fat), known simply as the Big Tower (Tour Grosse–sometimes size speaks for itself) can be found in the basement of the Palais de Justice. Sadly, I could not find information on access. In the future, the city is planning to open more of the Palais de Justice to tourists. They may even connect the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle–which will be very convenient! Currently, though, I would not recommend just wondering around freely. It is still a government building and the gendarmes are not just for show.
Once the monuments (and France) are open again to the public, you can check here for the current rules and prices. It has also historically been part of the Paris Museum Pass. Be aware that the pass program has been in flux the last few years and may eventually be entirely replaced with the more expensive Paris Passlib’.
The Louvre: Incredibly we have one surviving artifact that we know Eleanor owned! It is a family heirloom (above) that she gave to Louis VII as a wedding gift. He gave it to Abbot Suger, a very powerful religious and political figure at the time. Suger took the original rock crystal vase and had it encased in the beautiful gold filigree mount. And it eventually found its way to the museum.
The Louvre’s website states that it is currently on display in the Richelieu wing, should you want to swing by next time you visit Mona.
Added bonus: parts of the original Louvre–built to keep her family out of Paris–are visible to the public near The Petite Galerie dining/shopping area and even more impressively in the Pavillon de l’Horlage (etage -1) in the Sully wing.
Once the Louvre is available to us, check their website for current hours, costs, and restrictions. It too is part of the Paris Museum Pass program, though you also need a timed entry reservation and a lot of patience.
The Church of Saint Germain des Prés: The cornerstone of the Saint Germain neighborhood, l’église Saint-Germain-des-Prés existed as part of the larger abbey while Eleanor was here. This would have been on the outskirts of Paris at the time and was actually left outside of Philippe Auguste’s wall. Bon chance to the monks!
The church truly is incredible but is quite old and showing her age. Parts of the building, including the tower, are from the 10th and 11th centuries (i.e. Eleanor’s period). Before coronavirus, she was under renovation, so be prepared for scaffolding and draping when you go. Check out their website for hours, events, and how to donate to support the renovation. And then–wait for it–drop by the Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots down the street to further connect the dots between Eleanor and Hemingway!
Eleanor, like all medieval royals, was highly mobile. Never fear, we’ll look at her territorial travels outside of Paris in another post. 🙂
For now we bid adieu to these two very different adventurers from Paris’ past. Please let me know below if you enjoyed this quick jump through time and meeting, if briefly, the amazing Eleanor of Aquitaine!
Eleanor’s Seal: From “Mélanges généalogiques et historiques, classés par ordre alphabétique des noms de familles et de matières. I ABENSBERG-ARCHEVÊQUES.” From the Clairambault 1058 Collection. Public Domain. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Angevin Empire Map: France 1154 Eng.jpg. Wikimedia Commons. French Original created by Sémhur under Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0). English language version created by Latroo under Public Domain and cleaned up by Hohum.
Eleanor and Louis Wedding: From Grande Chroniques de France, Bodleian Library. ©Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Bodleian Library MS. Douce 217, fol. 192r. Related to the style of Jehan de Nizières.
Gladiator GIF: https://gifer.com/en/Uo0N
Eleanor and Henry: Lancelot-Graal, copie partielle : Lancelot du Lac incomplet ; Queste del Saint Graal, la Mort Arthus. Département des Manuscrits. Français 123. Public Domain. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Conciergerie: by Michelle Keel, author. October 12, 2018
Eleanor Crystal Vase: Vase de cristal “d’Aliénor”, © 1990 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet. MR 340. Louvre collection.
St. Germain des Pres: Abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Prés 140131 1.jpg. Wikipedia Commons. Created by DXR, under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.