part two [yeah yeah, it only took five months for me to un-procrastinate]
Welcome to part two of “Dinner is Served,” the joint project over here and with the sparkling Jenalyn over yonder at Map of Time. Click here to check out part one. For some reason I labored under the impression that we also had to be in attendance for our ‘Worst Dinner Ever’ debacle-brainchild. There is little doubt that my guest were invited out of sheer curiosity as to their true appearance. Since four of them hail from the 12th Century and medieval art was hardly an accurate representation of an individual, lying eyes on someone who lived 900 years ago is just too irresistible a temptation. [Finger pyramid of evil contemplation. Heh heh heh.] Yes, my final two choices, while denizens of the late 18th Century, were influenced by the constant debate of how “kind” portrait painters where to their royal subjects. The best part is, they all speak French so they can talk amongst themselves. Ironically, my French isn’t so hot.
Eleanor of Aquitaine and Raymond of Poitiers, Prince of Antioch
Second Crusade: March 19, 1148. Louis VII of France and his queen, the famed heiress to the O’Henry Candy Bar Fortune, Eleanor of Aquitaine, disembarked at the port of Saint Simeon in Northern Antioch. [You know we kid about the candy bar part but the heiress part was completely true.] The route the French took involved a grueling, stormy, three-week voyage from Greece. The King and Queen of France were received by a welcoming committee replete with choir and cheering masses, sent by the Prince of Antioch, Eleanor’s uncle, Raymond de Poitiers. Aimery of Limoges blessed the crusaders while they still had their sea legs. Two fun geographical facts! (1) Antioch was once the 3rd most important city in the Roman Empire and (2) Poitiers is the county to the north of Aquitaine, of which Eleanor was Countess. [Additionally, she was the Duchess of Gascony. She was the catch.] Soon after, Uncle Raymond himself arrived on the scene, [left] having sailed ten miles up the Orontes River, courtiers en tow. The Uncle-Prince escorted the King and Queen-Niece to the walled city of Antioch. The wall boasted more than 360 towers in constant vigilance against the threat of Nureddin of Aleppo. Check out the standard of living in Antioch, no wonder Nureddin wanted in…
Antioch was a city of uncanny prosperity and luxurious standards of living. Its streets were paved with marble–good luck with that Antioch DPW! Raymond’s palace had glass windows, running water and was lit only by perfumed candles. It really sounds outlandishly opulent for the 21st Century so image the 12th! Naturally, siege of the walled Antioch was a constant temptation. Yes, we too are most impressed with the running water in the 12th Century bit.The welcome Prince Raymond threw for Louis and Eleanor was über-lavish, with gifts of “jewels, lucky charms and relics…also new silk gowns for Eleanor.” Tournaments and banquets were held in their honor, the wine was chilled with mountain snow. (Wow. And Mr. Blog Hostess said the bar made entirely out of ice in Las Vegas was too spendy. *pouting*)
so that’s how it is in their family…Days of festival aren’t uncommon when one monarch hosts another, especially after a long journey. Your run-of-the-mill harmless display of excessive wealth took on an inappropriate feeling, shall we say, and eventually broke out into a full-blown scandal. Eleanor and Raymond spent a superfluous amount of time alone much more than an uncle and niece finally catching up. Raymond, 36 at the time, was
taller, better built and more handsome than any man of his time; he surpassed all others as warrior and horsemen.
The ruler of Antioch was also known to be an accomplished conversationalist and charming beyond reproach. Instead of continuing on to Jerusalem, Raymond wanted Louis and his crusaders to remain in Antioch and secure defeat over Aleppo and retake Edessa (see map) for the Christians. When King Louis refused, insisting on the original itinerary destination of the Holy Land, Raymond flew into a snit and, according to William of Tyre,
Eleanor was widely known as one of the most beautiful women in Europe and her smoking-hot uncle Raymond had to be much more sexually-alluring than her pie-faced husband Louis. John of Salisbury, papal secretary in 1149, recorded the details of Louis and Eleanor’s marriage counseling sought with Pope Eugenius later that year. After the King and Queen of France separated, Salisbury divulged the secret details of the tête-à-tête,
resolved to deprive [Louis] of his wife, either by force or secret intrigue. The queen readily assented to this design…her conduct before and after this time was far from circumspect. Contrary to royal dignity, she disregarded her marriage vows and was unfaithful to her husband.
the attentions paid by the Prince to the Queen and his constant, indeed almost continuous conversation with her aroused the king’s suspicions.
The rumors of uncle and niece’s sexual relationship spread throughout Europe. Giraldus Cambrensis enjoyed spreading the gossip of Incest in Antioch (provocative move title, no?) while contemporary Richard of Devizes cryptically advised denial:
Many know what I wish none of us knew. This very Queen was at Jerusalem in the time of her first husband–let none speak more thereof, though I know it well. Keep silent.
The Incest in Antioch even inspired folk songs. Cercamon, a troubadour from Aquitaine, composed a song during the crusades condemning an unfaithful wife, believed by many historians to be an allusion to Eleanor and her uncle.
“Better for her never to have been born than to have committed the fault that will be talked about from here to Poitou.”
What? You’re not humming the tune already? Catchy! The rumors would not have been so widespread and nor have lasted for years afterward if the wanton in question wasn’t someone as famous as Eleanor. John of Salisbury asserts,
the Queen wanted to stay behind and the Prince [of Antioch] made every effort to keep her, if the King would give his consent.
Given the aberrant request of his wife not to mention without her vassals, the crusading army’s success would be minimal, King Louis resolutely reaffirmed his intentions to hit the bricks, menacing that he would “tear her away” by force. Prepared for this threat, Eleanor countered that she would not remain “the wife of a man whom she had discovered was her cousin.” [Yet she demanded to remain with one who was her uncle!] This was the first of many times Eleanor demanded a divorce on the grounds of consanguinity from Louis. She and Louis were cousins in the fourth degree but I don’t see how this didn’t come up before the marriage. Not to mention the common-blood between Eleanor and Raymond was far closer than that.At midnight on March 28th, Louis left for Jerusalem and absconded with Eleanor under
the dark cover of night, obviously in shame. The Queen was abruptly woken in her bed, arrested by soldiers, “unceremoniously bundled up” and absconded outside the city walls where Louis and the army were waiting to march south to Tripoli. The French eventually reached Jerusalem but the crusade overall was a bust, much like the remnants of the King and Queen’s marriage. Eleanor and Louis returned to France on separate ships via disparate routes.
Don’t feel too badly for Louis VII, aside from ruling the Île de France and all of her surrounding vassals, the King went on to marry Constanza de Castilla (above left) and Adèle de Champagne, respectively. You’d think it would be a relief to get that bossy Eleanor out of his hair. You’d think, until you find out that she had an even better back-up husband in the wings.
Curious? Click here for the next two guests in the dinner party from Hell!
Additional provocation for selecting this couple is simply to see what Eleanor really looked like. Her beauty–at every age–has been noted upon, an excessive amount even for an age that invented the art of courtly love and so forth. There exists no true representation of the duchess who changed the face of Europe, marrying two kings and giving birth to three more. [Overachiever. Show off.] Her effigy in the cathedral at Fontainebleau reflects the run-of-the-mill high medieval art. Features, any bodily characteristic really, didn’t exist in medieval sculpture.
- photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
- Weir, Alison. Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life. 1999.