Fontevraud Abbey was founded in 1101 and housed both male and female members of the order. What made the abbey unique was the fact that it was ruled over by a female. The abbey was very popular during the second half of the century because of one particular abbess, Matilda of Anjou. This Matilda should not be confused with Henry II’s mother, because this Matilda was actually married to Mom Matilda’s older brother. That brother died, however, in a shipwreck. (Which is why Henry was able to be king.) Matilda, the aunt, decided to take holy orders and become the abbess of Fontevraud. It only makes sense that the Plantagenet family would favor the abbey with prestige and wealth.
It was this abbey that gave Eleanor refuge in her later years. Her marriage, although passionate and successful for many years, had soured by the time John was born. Henry had, by the time, been flaunting his newest mistress Rosamund Clifford throughout the court and had even installed her in one of Eleanor’s favorite castles. Eleanor, instead, spent her time promoting the interests of her older sons. This meant that she assisted Henry the Young King in his revolt. Although Henry would forgive his son, Eleanor was locked away from 1173-1189. Although she was released from her prison-castles for some special occasions, she never gained complete freedom or enjoyed a repaired relationship with Henry. Some might argue that being locked in a castle might not be a hardship but Eleanor was constantly supervised by a custodian and had limited contact with the outside world.
Once Eleanor was completely freed from custody once Henry II died and Richard became king. In fact, when Richard was on crusade, his mother helped rule the kingdom. It would not come as a surprise to learn that Eleanor would retire to Fontevraud in her later years. I also like to think that the queen, accustomed to ruling, appreciated a place which was ruled by woman.
It was eerie walking in the church, looking at the effigies of Eleanor and Henry II resting peacefully side-by-side for eternity, unable to do so while alive. Richard’s effigy is also at with his parents, residing beside his sister, Joan. On an aside, Joan also has an exciting history. She was first married to the King of Spain at age twelve and after his death, accompanied Richard to the Holy Land. After returning home she married a count and later died while delivering her son. Knowing she was dying, she took holy orders to be ordained as a nun.
My gaze immediately focused on the effigies.
I am thrilled that Eleanor, like me, enjoyed reading!
I was so excited to see these effigies of the royal family. Sadly, I knew their bones were not resting below their effigies. During the French Revolution. The abbey was claimed by the French government and the nuns were tossed out. The royal graves were dug up and the bones were discarded in an unmarked grave elsewhere. Joan’s effigy was destroyed and that of her son. Her present effigy is a recreation based on artwork.
Richard and Joan
The abbey was later used by the government as a prison and several Resistance members were executed here.
The neighboring leper hospital, founded by Eleanor, is now a hotel.
Raven took a few moments to sit peacefully in the gardens while I wandered the abbey.
I stared, mesmerized, at this sculpture of the monarchs going to heaven. Why? There is recorded evidence of King John referencing this sculpture when talking to the clergy. I meant that his eyes looked at the very images my eyes were looking at. (Yes, I know I am a nerd.)
The village of Fontevraud is full of small restaurants and shops. I need to retire here! I may have a bit of a problem getting my effigy carved and places in the abbey though.
Click HERE for a video of the abbey.
Coming up: I try and fail to break into an abandoned palace.