Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, in Fontevrault Abbey


"But I know nothing about French history," you might say.
"Ah, but you do!" I would reply.
Robin Hood?  Richard the Lionhearted?  Prince John?  Sound familiar?
Religious?  How about Saint Patrick?
Or a bit harder now:  William the Conqueror?  Eleanor of Aquitaine?

Let's go chronologically.  England was a "green and happy land", as the hymnal says, until 1066 when William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, sailed across the Channel from France and defeated England's King Harold in the famous Battle of Hastings.  With that defeat, England's fate changed hands for two centuries.
English, which had flourished as a language, now was spoken only by the Common Man, while Latin governed the church and French, in its Norman version, ruled the castle.  For example, while English serfs raised and ate pigs, by the time they reached the Norman's table they were porc.  Sheep became mouton, ox or cow became boeuf, calf was veau and deer, venaison.  (Do those French words sound familiar?  If not, ask your butcher.)
In 1154, Henry, Duke of Anjou in France and grandson of William the Conqueror, was crowned king of England as Henry the Second.  Henry's wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had previously been Queen of France for 15 years, even going on the Second Crusade with her then-husband, King Louis VII.  But she was a bit too wild and sensuous for Louis.  They became estranged and the marriage was annulled so that Louis could remarry (Catholic country, no divorces).  That meant Eleanor's dowry was returned to her:  the entire province of Aquitaine.  Just as William had brought Normandy into the English realm with him, so Henry brought Anjou and Eleanor, Aquitaine.  Now the borders of England stretched all the way down the Atlantic (with the exception of Wales) from Scotland in the north to Spain in the south, and inland on the Continent almost to the gates of Paris in the tiny kingdom of France.
Chinon Castle
Now for the easy part.  Remember Richard the Lionhearted (think Robin Hood) and his evil brother Prince John?  Well, they are two of the sons of Henry and Eleanor.  And where did Richard die?  No, not in Sherwood Forest or on one of the Crusades, but at Chinon in France’s Loire Valley, at the castle where Joan of Ark later offered her services to the French king to help "throw the English out of France", services for which said English burned her at the stake.  And where are Henry, Eleanor and Richard buried?  No, not in London's Westminster Abbey.  Their graves are in the Abbey of Fontevrault, again in France's Loire Valley.
"But what’s this about St. Patrick," you ask?  Well, he was born in England, carried off into slavery by Irish raiders, then later after being freed studied at the Abbey of Lérins, on a tiny Mediterranean island off of Cannes.  Right next to the island of The Man in the Iron Mask (but that's another story).

So you see, you may never have set foot in France, or read about its history, but you know a lot about it.  You just didn't know you did.

Additional reseach:
Bayeux Cathedral
William the Conqueror:  go to Bayeux and see the famous tapestry woven by his wife Mathilda.
For Richard Lionheart, tour Chinon and its castle.
For Eleanor, Richard and son Henry, visit Fontevrault Abbey near Chinon.
For a touch of Aquitaine, try any Bordeaux vineyard or truffle farm in Périgord.
Joan of Ark - choose Chinon, or Lorraine where she was born, or Rouen where she was burned
For St. Patrick, take sunscreen, travel south and hop a ferry from Cannes to St. Honorat Island.

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