Day Three: L’Epau Abbey

DISCLAIMER: This post will not be properly edited until I return home from France.

In the last post, you were updated on the marriage status of Eleanor. She went from being the queen of France to the Queen of England. In fact, she was and is the only queen to have held the titles of both nations.   Because my trip is based on geography and not the chronological events of the past, I need to skip some exciting events. Do not worry; you will learn about them later.

Who was meant to follow Henry after he died?  His first son William died as a toddler. His second son, named for his father, died in his twenties, rebelling against his father. (Great story here!)  Richard was next on the list, the famed Lionheart, the king whose military strategies were genius and who always seemed to be in the heat of the battle.  Richard actually became king while fighting a war against his father! It seemed that poor Henry made a few poor decisions while parenting. What made him a great king also made it hard for him to relinquish control to his sons who were chaffing at the bit for more responsibility.

Richard, with the help of his fiance’s father, had been at war with Henry when Henry took ill and died.  It was a sad way for Henry to end his life; most of his supporters saw the inevitable and abandoned their king for his son, hoping to curry favor with Richard. Henry died, alone in the fortress of his beloved Chinon. (I will be staying in Chinon tonight!)  The story goes that Henry was stripped of his clothes and jewelry and left unattended.  Such a sad end for a man who kept his territories united and under control. It turned out that Richard, valuing loyalty, rewarded those who stayed with his father!

Who was this mysterious supporter of Richard? Why, King Philip II, the son of Louis with a subsequent marriage.  Yes, Richard was betrothed to marry the French king’s sister!   It was not a love match but it would help strengthen the French-English ties.  One can see how that the French king, potentially bitter against Henry and Eleanor because of the slight against his father, would want to meddle and assist his future brother-in-law.  Perhaps he thought he could control the affairs of England by manipulating Richard.

As it turns out, Richard did not marry Alys.  Instead he left on Crusade and married another woman on the way.  One could imagine Philip’s reaction to learning this!  Richard used the excuse that Alys had been having an affair with his father Henry and he could not possibly marry a woman who had her honor compromised in such a manner.  The rumor has never been proven or disproved.  While it was true that Henry had no shortage of mistresses, having an affair with his son’s fiance would have been reckless and needlessly endangered his country.

So who did Richard marry?  He married Berengaria of Navarre; her father was king of Navarre and it would strengthen the alliance of Richard’s lands which bordered with Berengaria’s father.  She accompanied Richard on Crusade but never conceived a child.  When Berengaria died, later in France around the age of sixty, she would buried in L’Epau Abbey in which she was the benefactress.   A woman’s skeleton, believed to be Benengaria, was discovered in the abbey during renovations in the 1960’s and was buried beneath the effigy.

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