Laura Gathagan

title.none: Parsons, Wheeler, eds., Eleanor of Aquitaine (Laura Gathagan)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.003 05.01.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Laura Gathagan, SUNY Cortland,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Parsons, John Carmi, and Bonnie Wheeler, eds. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady. Series: The New Middle Ages Series. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002. Pp. xxix, 506. $65.00 0-312-29582-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.03

Parsons, John Carmi, and Bonnie Wheeler, eds. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady. Series: The New Middle Ages Series. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002. Pp. xxix, 506. $65.00 0-312-29582-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Laura Gathagan
SUNY Cortland

Celebrated heiress, queen twice over, royal prisoner, powerful widow, and influential mother, the bare bones of Eleanor's life are dramatic enough to fire both the post-modern and medieval imagination. It is not surprising that fantastic tales still cling stubbornly to her. Anti-Angevin sentiment in England under John and Henry III and Capetian "spin" ensured that her reputation suffered after her death. Her disastrous connection to the French throne also resulted in the erasure of her name throughout Capetian archives, marring what evidence historians have for her role and activities during her years with Louis VII. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady is a collection of 20 essays that examines various facets of the life and career of this renowned twelfth-century figure. The text features scholars who successfully provide a more sober portrait of Eleanor of Aquitiane, [hereafter: EA] and address the tensions between her authority as lord of Aquitaine and her more subject position as lady of England and Normandy. While a collection of this size invariably has a diffuse quality, the editors have provided coherence through its organization. Essays in which scholars share a particular focus or source material are grouped together, allowing the reader easy comparison. EA has been the subject of sustained interest, but rarely with a high degree of scholarly rigor. In the prologue, co-written by Bonnie Wheeler and John Carmi Parsons, the editors note four book length studies of Eleanor's life in the last century. Amy Kelly's EA and the Four Kings (1950), Marion Facinger Meade's EA: A Biography (1977), D. D. R. Owen's EA: Queen and Legend (1993), and Alison Weir's EA: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England(1999). Though successful to varying degrees in throwing off lingering but untenable pieces of the EA "romance," none of these authors are able to divest themselves fully of the traditional view of her. Fanciful legends of Amazonian behavior, court intrigue and scandal still cling tenaciously to her. Wheeler and Parsons suggest that rumors about EA's supposed sexual peccadilloes, such as the affair involving her uncle Raymond of Poitiers, were disseminated by later chroniclers who favored the Capetian dynasty.

The first essay of the group is "EA Reconsidered: The Woman and Her Seasons," a re-written version of Elizabeth A. R. Brown's 1977 article, "EA: Parent, Queen and Duchess." Brown examines briefly the artistic evidence of the so-called "Eleanor Vase" and the relics of Saint Valérie. Her discussion then turns to numismatic and sigillographic portrayals of EA. On both extant seals, the unusual inclusion of a dove (indicative of the Holy Spirit) and EA's position (standing, not enthroned) both contrast with contemporary queens and female rulers. Her coins are even more restrained, none of which bear her name. Brown asserts that EA's sigillographic portrait conveys wisdom and intelligence, but not the majesty emphasized by other female rulers of her age. Brown concludes that EA wanted to be viewed less as a figure of drama, more as a wise and devout ruler.

Chapters 2 and 3 feature Marie Hivergneaux and Ralph Turner respectively, who each examine charter evidence to trace the outline of EA's political role. Hivergneaux's essay, "Queen Eleanor and Aquitaine, 1137-1189" is especially convincing, concentrating on the fifty extant charters produced for EA during the fifty-two years spanned by her two marriages. Though her identification with Aquitaine was carefully maintained by Louis VII, her official activity there was more limited than during her marriage to Henry. Her charter activity virtually ceased as their marriage began to unravel. As Queen of England, EA's involvement in Aquitaine waxed and waned as Henry's needs dictated. Hivergneaux demonstrates that widowhood was the only circumstance that freed Eleanor to reign without restriction. Ralph Turner's work, "EA in the Governments of Her Sons Richard and John," completes the discussion of EA's charter activity addressing fifty extant charters dating from 1189, issued during the reigns of Richard Lionheart and John. Turner disputes the characterization of historians who blame Eleanor's failings as a mother for John's incompetence, claiming that she was committed to keeping the Angevin kingdom intact for both sons in succession. Though she had hoped for a child from Richard's marriage to Berengaria, after his death without heir she enthusiastically worked for her youngest son's success. Turner shows that EA's support for both kings was fuelled not only by affection, but by her desire for Angevin dynastic and geographical integrity.

In Chapter 4 "Wife, Widow and Mother: Some Comparisons between EA and Noblewomen of the Anglo-Norman and Angevin World," RáGena C. De Aragon compares EA to other noblewomen with unusual careers: Constance of Brittany (whose son Arthur was originally Richard Lionheart's heir), Lucy Countess of Chester, Isabel Countess of Gloucester, and Agnes Countess of Oxford. De Aragon recounts that some of the remarkable aspects of EA's life were not particularly unusual for noblewomen of her day. Her "gallery of countesses" includes contemporaries who lived longer, had more children, and contracted numerous marital alliances at a more rapid rate than did EA. The examples she produces serve to illustrate how little we know about twelfth-century noblewomen.

The next two chapters engage the topic of queenship in EA's career. Chapter 5, "Alainora Regina Anglorum: EA and Her Anglo-Norman Predecessors as Queens of England," by Lois Huneycutt places EA's career in the context of the contemporary expectations of twelfth-century queens. Her examination of the two earliest Anglo-Norman queens, namely Matilda of Flanders and Matilda of Scotland, shows that EA's expectations of independence were not without precedent. All four queens of England that preceded EA operated with a great deal of influence and autonomy. Huneycutt concludes that EA failed to capitalize on some of the strengths of her office, including her unique relationship to the king and her children, her duties as counselor, and her role as chief intercessor for her subjects. While EA was much wealthier and had greater longevity than her earlier sisters, her strength and influence as queen is eclipsed by them. In fact, Huneycutt observes that EA's shortcomings may have narrowed opportunities for later queens.

In Chapter 6, "Queenship: Office, Custom or Ad Hoc? The Case of Queen Mathilda III," Heather Tanner concentrates on the performance of Matilda of Boulogne, EA's immediate predecessor, and traces out the differences between the two rulers. EA's position as an English queen was weakened, Tanner suggests, by circumstances such as a new coronation ordo that emphasized her subordination to the king, and a reduced presence in the curia. Even EA's impressive inheritance created a locus of power and land for her that was removed from the Angevin court. Her absence as a signator in royal charters also provides an insight regarding her restricted role. While most Anglo-Norman queens had a high incidence of charter attestation, EA was an exception.

Andrew Lewis in Chapter 7 "The Birth and Childhood of King John: Some Revisions," sets out to rewrite some of the chronology regarding EA and finds that she was born in 1124 (two years later than historians have assumed) and thus had her last child in 1166. In addition, he tackles the question of EA's children and increases the number of her offspring from eight to nine (a son, who did not survive, was probably born circa 1158-1165). Like Turner and Brown, Lewis also discusses EA's relationship with her son John. John's experience of his mother was indeed different from that of his brothers. In examining the itinerary both of EA and of John, Lewis concludes that John not only rarely saw his mother, but also was deprived of his sister's company.

In Chapter 8, "A Taste of the Feast: Reconsidering EA's Female Descendants," Miriam Shadis and Constance Hoffman Berman follow the lives of EA's daughters and granddaughters. Debating the findings of historians who have seen a decline in thirteen-century noblewomen's power, Shadis and Berman find EA's female progeny in positions of authority accommodated, perhaps, by the Crusading movement. The naming conventions and patterns of monastic patronage followed by EA's female descendants, the authors conclude, illustrate their consciousness of her. While her Capetian daughters erased her from their genealogies, her name is found repeatedly through the line descending from the English throne.

Chapters 9 and 10 address EA's divorce from Louis VII. James Brundage outlines the canon law governing divorce in Chapter 9, "The Canon Law of Divorce in the Mid-Twelfth Century: Louis VII and EA," while Constance Brittain Bouchard discusses consanguinity and the degree to which noble partners exploited blood kinship. Brundage finds that Louis VII followed the "appropriate protocol" (217) in pursuing the divorce and the division of property was fair in the context of French property law. Bouchard in Chapter 10, "Eleanor's Divorce from Louis VII: The Uses of Consanguinity," follows the church's decrees concerning degrees of relation. Initially figured to seven degrees in the tenth century, by the eleventh the upper classes were joining with third and fourth cousins. Bouchard notes that the thirteenth century saw a rise in noble exploitation of the decree in order to divorce. This led the church to eventually rule that only the closest degrees of relation (that is, between first and second cousins) were forbidden in an attempt to put weight behind the indissolubility of marriage.

In the next group of chapters, historians address EA's reputation through contemporary chronicles and literary sources. In Chapter 11, "The Reciprocal Loyalty of EA and William Marshal," Evelyn Mullally examines the Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, one of the only extant contemporary sources whose author had access to the royal household. EA appears very favorably in this account as a queen of intelligence who understood the value of largesse. This source is contrasted in Chapter 12 by Peggy McCracken. In "Scandalizing Desire: EA and the Chroniclers," she examines the tales of sexual misconduct and intrigue that gain popularity after EA's lifetime. McCracken contextualizes these salacious tales by reading them as expressions of societal anxiety about the queen's sexuality. As the intimate partner of the king, the queen's desire poses a potential threat to good government.

In one of the most unusual treatments in the collection, "Damned If She Didn't and Damned When She Did: Bodies, Babies and Bastards in the Lives of Two Queens of France," John Carmi Parsons compares EA's French rule with Marie Antoinette's experiences six hundred years later in Chapter 13. Both had early difficulties conceiving, both were accused of incest and adultery (though the charges against EA were posthumous) and both queens served a locus for anxiety about the king's ability to rule. Parsons highlights "the precarious relationship between women's sexual bodies and the body politic" (285). The sexuality of a queen reflected directly on the health of the king's administration, especially when the king's advances are perceived as impotent. For the French, EA's delay in bearing children pointed to Louis' weakness. For the English, EA's pack of sons bore the shadow of adultery. Parsons identifies both queens as reigning through periods of unease and change, Marie Antoinette's, obviously, as the more tempestuous of them.

Chapters 14 to 16 examine the literary works that, though not connected to EA specifically, might have aspired to her as their intended reader. Tamara O'Callaghan in "Tempering Scandal: EA and Benôit de Sainte-Maure's 'Roman de Troie,' " maintains that this work may have made an appeal to EA through its characterization of Briseida, a faithless wife, as a foil for the love of Helen and Paris. Unlike other depictions of Helen, Benôit's portrayal highlights Helen's strict sense of propriety and fidelity, even while her situation mirrors Briseida's. While Benôit indulges in upbraiding Briseida, he describes Helen and Paris' romance as courtly, faithful and even honorable. O'Callaghan maintains that this careful divorce was meant to flatter and reassure EA while still popularising the Trojan tale to a twelfth-century audience.

Fiona Tolhurst contrasts two portrayals of Guenevere to trace out the declining reputation of EA in Chapter 15 "What Ever Happened to EA? Reflections of EA in Wace's 'Roman de Brut'â and Lawman's 'Brut.' " According to Tolhurst, Wace's "Roman de Brut" depicts Guenevere much as EA was described by contemporary chronicles; that is, noble, well-bred, and beautiful. Guenevere's betrayal of Arthur is set at the feet of Mordred in Wace's tale. Tolhurst claims that Guenevere suffers a decline at the hands of Lawman, however, and is made despicable because of her treachery. She positions Lawman's version of Arthurian legend as part of the general thirteenth-century trend toward a negative portrait of EA.

In Chapter 16, "Marie de France, Aliénor of Aquitaine, and the Alien Queen," Margaret Aziza Pappano argues that Marie de France's "Lanval" represented EA in what may be the only female-authored contemporary source. The lai of Lanval, Pappano argues, actually figures EA in two ways: as the passive consort Guenevere and as the "fairy lady" who Marie de France positions outside the normal courtly system and who, supported by her own wealth, is guided only by her desire. While Guenevere is left behind in Camelot to reign as an earthly queen, the fairy lady rides off into her own kingdom of Avalon with Lanval mounted behind her, "where the queen is not foreign, but her king is" (357).

Chapter 17, 18 and 19 discuss extant physical monuments that have connections to EA. George Beech in Chapter 17, "The EA Vase," describes the provenance of the vase, and makes a convincing case for how it came to William IX from Muslim Saragossa. Perhaps more fascinating than EA's connection to the vase, is the idea that William of Aquitaine may have received it as a gift for fighting alongside a Muslim prince during the Reconquest. Against the backdrop of royal women's control over the burial of their families, Kathleen Nolan in "The Queen's Choice: EA and the Tombs at Fontevraud," examines EA's choices both of the location of her family's burial and its artistic components. She argues that Fontevraud was located in a "liminal space" between Henry and EA's lands and that it had become a place of relative calm and retreat for her during her lifetime (380). Nolan then moves on to discuss the radical artistic shift EA underwrote when commissioning the burial effigies. EA's contact with the royal shrines in Constantinople, which held as many royal empresses in state as it did emperors, was influential. Even more, the figural tradition of the Capetians, Nolan argues, influenced EA. Her first mother-in-law, Adelaide of Maurienne, commissioned a figural, though one-dimensional, tomb slab much like that of Frédégonde, a Merovingian queen, completed in 1163. After EA's divorce, Louis VII widow, Adela of Champagne, commissioned the first fully sculptural tomb effigy in which the subject was gowned for coronation. All other inspiration aside, no doubt EA's desire to express her family's status against that of the French throne was a motivating factor behind her "patronal originality" (392). Charles Wood in Chapter 19, "Fontevraud, Dynasticism, and EA," argues that the arrangement of the tombs at Fontevraud reflects not just the importance of the Plantagenet dynasty, but of EA's matrilinear line. The burials of Isabelle of Angouleme and Raymond VII of Toulouse at the budding necropolis, forty years after EA's death, reflect EA's importance as a royal ancestor.

The epilogue of the collection by Jane Martindale, "EA and a 'Queenly Court'?" reviews EA's activity after Henry II death and in her old age. At Richard's succession, as he was occupied outside of England, EA was empowered to act for him. Using chronicle sources, Martindale uncovers EA's activity as she sent justices into the localities to maintain royal courts, and imposed new fines on sheriffs and local officials to uproot abusive practices. Martindale concludes that EA was at the heart of twelfth-century political and governmental power, though she has been under-represented. During the years of Richard's crusading and captivity, EA continued to play a vital role within and outside England's borders. As in the case of many medieval queens, contemporary sources were often overlooked by later historians when they described a queen's power and autonomy. Martindale points to the chronicler Roger of Howden's term "reginalis curia" to describe EA's power in 1189, a term later historians would neuter (428). Because no construct existed that explained EA's power to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century historians, contemporary sources have often been misread or ignored. Martindale also describes how EA's influence undoubtedly marginalized Berengaria of Castille, who never had the opportunity to hold power. Like EA herself as a young queen, Berengaria's influence and activities were limited by a powerful mother-in-law. EA's role in government continued until her death, as John also granted her power throughout his realm.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Lord and Lady offers a powerful scholarly corrective for the rumors and fantasy that continue to beleaguer one of England's famous queens. Even more fascinating will be a complete collection of primary source documents pertaining to Eleanor's reign. With any luck, scholars and students of queenship will not have to wait long for these to surface.