Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and England

Tomb effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Fontevrault

Eleanor of Aquitaine is the only woman to have ever worn the crowns of both England and France. Eleanor was the ultimate survivor and, despite many setbacks, lived to a great age, revered and respected to the very end. Her life story has filled many a volume over the years; she has even been promoted as the first feminist. However, Eleanor lived within the bounds of medieval society, even if she did break the mould in many ways. Eleanor was born in the early 1120s, probably around 1122–4. Her father was Guillaume, 8th Count of Poitou and 10th Duke of Aquitaine. Her mother was Alienor, or Aenor, daughter of Aimery I, Vicomte of Châtellerault. Eleanor was one of three children; she had a sister called Petronilla and a brother, Guillaume. Little Guillaume died during childhood, shortly before the death of the children’s mother. After the death of her brother, Eleanor became her father’s heir, at least until he remarried.

Duke William died unexpectedly during Easter week 1137, while on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Eleanor was somewhere in her mid-teens at the time of her father’s death, and was not expected to be able to rule the valuable inheritance of Aquitaine alone. Just months after her father’s death, in July 1137, she was married to Louis VII of France. It is entirely possible the marriage had been planned during her father’s lifetime and brought forward due to the Duke’s untimely death. At the time of the wedding, Louis was heir to the French throne. Although he had been crowned as junior king in 1131, during his father’s lifetime, a tradition in the French royal house, a way of securing or at least signalling the succession. Shortly after the wedding on 1 August 1137, he succeeded as sole King of France, when his father, Louis VI, died of dysentery. During the years of the marriage the significance of Eleanor’s lands was highlighted by the fact Louis went by the combined title of ‘King of the French and Duke of Aquitaine’.

A 14th-century representation of, at left, the wedding of Louis and Eleanor; at right, Louis leaving on Crusade.

There seems to have been some issue concerning Eleanor’s fertility, with her first child not arriving until eight years into the marriage. There is a story that the revered abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux, had a meeting with Eleanor sometime around 1144, at St Denis, and promised to intercede with God for a son and heir to the French throne. Although Eleanor’s first surviving child was born soon after, in 1145, it was a daughter, Marie, rather than the much-desired son. The year 1144, however, also saw the fall of Edessa, far away in the Holy Land, prompting the pope to call for a new Crusade. A Crusade appealed to Louis, who was seeking atonement for an atrocity committed in his name during the invasion of Champagne, in support of Eleanor’s sister, Petronilla. Petronilla had caused scandal at the French court, by running away with Raoul of Vermandois and marrying him, despite the fact he already had a wife, the niece of the Count of Champagne. As a consequence, the two lovers were both excommunicated. However, conflict with Champagne soon followed. When Louis’ men took the town of Vitry, some 1,300 men, women and children sought sanctuary in the town’s church. Every single one of them perished when the church was burned to the ground by Louis’ marauding soldiers.

It may well be that Eleanor joined the Second Crusade in the hope that God looked favourably on her, enough to give her a son. Maybe she wanted to help her uncle, Raymond of Toulouse, who was Prince of Antioch, who had sent presents accompanied by appeals for help, to his niece and her husband. Or maybe it was Eleanor’s own desire for adventure. Whatever her reason, it was both Eleanor and Louis who took the cross at Vézelay on Easter Day, 31 March 1146, following an inspiring call to arms by Bernard of Clairvaux.

Louis VII

The Second Crusade proved to be the defining point of Eleanor’s marriage to Louis. Led jointly by Louis and the German emperor, Conrad III, it was an unmitigated disaster. Louis lost his personal bodyguard in the heavy defeat by the Seljuk Turks, at Laodicea, in January 1148, while still en route to Outremer. The French forces finally reached the Holy Land, arriving at Antioch, the home of Eleanor’s uncle, Raymond, just a few months later. The warm welcome and lavish attention to his niece soon brought about rumours that Raymond and Eleanor were more than niece and uncle. The persistent rumours of Eleanor’s infidelity, and incest with her uncle, led Louis to put her under close guard, despite a lack of any firm evidence of wrongdoing. She remained under such supervision – although discreetly, so as not to offend her vassals from Aquitaine, who made up a considerable part of Louis’ army. Looking at the evidence today, it is impossible to know whether the rumours, which included not just infidelity but also the birth of a child, had any foundation in truth or were merely fanciful accusations.

Louis fulfilled his pilgrimage by entering Jerusalem in 1148, making the final leg of the journey to the Holy Sepulchre, on foot and fasting, just like countless pilgrims before him. In a council at Acre, Louis and his allies then decided that the best course of action was to take Damascus, with the original aim of the Crusade – to retake Edessa – being forgotten or sidelined. However, attempts to retake the city ended in failure and Louis returned, first to Antioch and then to Jerusalem. The Second Crusade was at an end and, owing to the rumours of infidelity, Louis and Eleanor’s marriage had been dealt a fatal blow.

In 1149, Louis celebrated Easter in the Holy City of Jerusalem, before embarking at Acre for the return journey to France. Eleanor and her ladies travelled separately in another ship. They were reunited in September 1149 and were given a magnificent reception at Potenza, by King Roger of Sicily. From Sicily, they visited the pope, Eugenius III, at Tusculum. Eugenius attempted mediation in the royal marriage, going so far as to insist that they sleep together in a bed which he had personally blessed. Some temporary reconciliation must have been achieved, as their second daughter, Alix, was born within a year. However, with the failure to produce the desired male heir, a permanent reconciliation escaped them and
a divorce, on the grounds of consanguinity, was finally proclaimed during Lent of 1152.

Henry II

Louis attempted to retain control of Aquitaine by insisting that he approve of any prospective husband of Eleanor’s; but the duchess rode away from the French court, and her daughters, returning to her own lands in Aquitaine in the spring of 1152. Eleanor’s marriage – and Aquitaine – was a coveted prize and her journey home was not without its perils. She is said to have narrowly escaped ambushes by the Count of Blois and Geoffrey of Anjou, second son of Empress Matilda and Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. Nevertheless, it seems likely that Eleanor had already decided her future even before her divorce was proclaimed by the clerics at Beaugency. A year earlier, Henry of Anjou and his father, Count Geoffrey, husband of Empress Matilda, had been in attendance at the French court for Henry to swear fealty for the Duchy of Normandy, and to settle disputes over the northwestern county, the Vexin. Although the Vexin issue was far from settled, Henry rode away, confirmed as Duke of Normandy and, possibly, with a promise of marriage from the soon-to-be divorced queen.

Although the marriage of Henry and Eleanor is often presented as a love-match, it was a marriage of hardheaded practicality with mutual benefits. Eleanor needed a husband who was strong enough to stand up to Louis. As Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, and with the possibility of the crown of England tantalisingly close, Henry was the ideal choice as Eleanor’s new husband. They were married in Poitiers Cathedral in May 1152; Eleanor was around thirty years old and Henry was nineteen. Louis was furious and called Henry to court to explain himself for having married without the permission of his liege lord. When Henry failed to appear, Louis formed a coalition against him, persuading King Stephen to attack Normandy from England, while he attacked from the south. Stephen was keen to oblige, hoping to secure the English succession for his son, Eustace, and neutralise the threat posed by Henry. Louis’ other allies included Thibault of Blois, recently betrothed to Alix, the two-year-old daughter of Louis and Eleanor; and Henry of Champagne, who was now married to seven-year-old Marie, Louis and Eleanor’s eldest daughter, and Eleanor’s heir to Aquitaine, at least until Eleanor and Henry had a son.

Louis had thought Henry was preoccupied with plans for invading England. Instead, he quickly reacted to the French king’s aggression, conducting a lightning campaign, which caught Louis off guard. The French king was completely outmanoeuvred and was quick to acquiesce when the Church called for peace. Henry
could then turn his attention to England, which he invaded in However, the death of Stephen’s oldest son and heir, Eustace, in August of that year ultimately led to the Treaty of Winchester, with Stephen bypassing his youngest son, William, in order to settle the succession on Henry and bring to a close the twenty years of warfare, known as the Anarchy. When Stephen died the following year, Henry’s accession followed peacefully. Henry and Eleanor were crowned, together, in a magnificent ceremony in Westminster Abbey, on 19 December 1154. They now ruled an empire that stretched from the borders of Scotland in the north, to the borders of Spain in the south.

Tomb effigies of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Fontevrault

By the time of her marriage to Henry, Eleanor had already survived the birthing chamber on at least two occasions, with the births of her daughters, Marie and Alix, by Louis VII. Although she had only produced two children in fifteen years of marriage to Louis, by the time of her coronation Eleanor had already provided Henry with a son and heir, William, born in August 1153. William died in England in 1156, aged just three, with his mother by his side, and his father away in the family’s Continental domains. However, he had already been joined in the nursery by another son, Henry, born in February 1155, and a daughter, Matilda, who was two months old when little William died. Childbirth was a dangerous time for women, with no guarantee that having survived once, twice or three times, you would survive a fourth or fifth confinement. Nevertheless, after William’s death, Eleanor safely delivered another five children into the world. Her favourite son, Richard, who was her choice as heir to Aquitaine, was born in September 1157 and another son, Geoffrey, who became Duke of Brittany when he married the duchy’s heiress, Constance, arrived twelve months later. Eleanor, who would become Queen of Castile, was born in October 1162, and Joanna, who would initially marry the King of Sicily and then Raymond VI of Toulouse, arrived in October 1165. Eleanor’s fifth son, and tenth and last child, John, was born at Christmas, 1167. Having given birth to ten children over the course of twenty-two years, Eleanor had survived the most perilous aspect of any medieval woman’s life. She would have been well aware of the risk she was taking every time she entered the birthing chamber, knowing that either she or the baby, or both, may not survive.

During their married life together Henry was constantly on the move, travelling between his vast domains, dealing with restless barons, dispensing justice and holding court. Eleanor joined him when she could, depending on her state of pregnancy or recent childbirths. In 1156, for example, still grieving for her three-year-old son William, Eleanor crossed the English Channel with her surviving son, eighteen-month-old Henry, and daughter Matilda, when Matilda was just two months old, journeying to join Henry in Anjou, before moving on to Aquitaine in October. Travel had its own dangers; the English Channel is not the calmest of sea roads and Henry’s own uncle, William, son and heir of Henry I, had been killed in the White Ship tragedy in 1120, when his ship had foundered leaving harbour, killing all but one of the people on board.

Tomb effigy thought to be William Marshal, the Temple Church, London

Land journeys could be equally hazardous. Indeed, Eleanor was almost kidnapped or killed in April 1168, when travelling through the hills of Poitou, escorted by Patrick, Earl of Salisbury, and his men. The party were ambushed by Eleanor’s rebellious vassals, Geoffrey and Guy de Lusignan. Salisbury and his men were travelling, unarmoured, when the de Lusignans fell upon them. The earl ‘sent the Queen on to the castle’ at Poitiers while he and the remainder of his men held off the attackers, giving the queen time to make it to safety. The earl was killed by a lance during the vicious skirmish; his nephew, William Marshal, was wounded in the thigh and captured after having his horse killed under him. William spent several months in captivity, his wounds healing despite the harsh treatment meted out by the de Lusignans. William was a young, penniless knight and was finally released when Queen Eleanor agreed to pay his ransom. William then joined the queen’s household, before joining that of her son, Henry. William Marshal would faithfully serve five English kings – Henry II, Henry, the Young King, crowned during his father’s lifetime, Richard I the Lionheart, King John and, finally, Henry III, for whom the aged Marshal was regent.

The years 1169 to 1173 were spent, almost exclusively for Eleanor, in her duchy of Aquitaine with her son, Richard, who she was training as her eventual successor. Richard was invested as Count of Poitou and, in 1169, paid homage to Eleanor’s first husband, King Louis, for the Duchy of Aquitaine. In 1173, however, news reached Henry II that his sons were plotting against him. The boys – now men – were tired of frequently having the possibility of power and responsibility dangled before them, only for their father to withdraw it at the last minute. Henry’s eldest son, Henry, the Young King, fled to the court of Louis VII, his father-in-law since his marriage to Louis’ daughter, Marguerite, in 1160. For unknown reasons, Eleanor sided with her sons against their father. It was later suggested that Eleanor had been incensed at Henry’s relationship with Rosamund Clifford – the Fair Rosamund – and that, wounded by this betrayal, had joined or incited her sons’ rebellion.

Eleanor prepares to poison Rosamund by Evelyn De Morgan

There is, in fact, no contemporary evidence that the affair caused Eleanor’s rebellion and her reasons remain obscure. She may have resented the restrictions of power placed on her, or the fact Henry would not allow their sons any exercise of power. Whatever the reason, Eleanor joined the rebellion, and lost. Her sons were outmanoeuvred and defeated by Henry. Far from humiliating them, however, Henry came to terms with his sons and an uneasy peace ensued. On the other hand, Henry was not so forgiving of Eleanor, who was captured while trying to escape Poitou; she had tried to reach the safety of the French court, dressed in men’s clothing. In 1174, Henry sent his queen to imprisonment in England, possibly at Salisbury, under heavy guard.

Eleanor was kept securely at first, but her imprisonment was relaxed as the years passed, especially after the death of her son, Henry, the Young King, who had pleaded with his father from his deathbed in 1183, that his mother be treated less harshly. In subsequent years, Eleanor was allowed at court for some ceremonial occasions, and was allowed visits by her daughter, Matilda, who had been exiled with her husband, Henry of Saxony, from their German lands. Matilda was instrumental in getting the restrictions eased even further and, although she was still in the custody of guards, Eleanor was allowed to reside with Matilda at various locations in England, including Windsor and Berkhamsted. However, fifteen years of imprisonment in England, far away from her homeland and court in Aquitaine, cannot have been easy for a queen used to riding freely across the vast domains she and her husband possessed.

The queen was only released after Henry’s death in 1189; indeed, ordering his mother’s release was one of the first acts of her son, Richard I. And the queen was there to welcome him for his ceremonial entry into Winchester in August 1189. Now in her mid-sixties, Eleanor was given a new lease of life, and lived it
with the same energy and vigour she had in the years before her imprisonment. Almost immediately, Eleanor was trusted with the oversight of the government of England. In 1190 she travelled to Navarre, to collect Richard’s bride, Berengaria, and deliver the princess to her son, then en route to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade. After a winter journey over the Alps, the queen, now almost seventy, escorted Berenagria to a rendezvous with Richard at Messina in Sicily in March 1191. Having fulfilled her mission, Eleanor set off home, almost immediately; although not before what must have been an emotional reunion with her youngest daughter, Joanna, who was Queen of Sicily and had been widowed in November 1189, but held prisoner by her husband’s successor, Tancred. Richard affected her release and his sister was now to be a companion for his bride; Joanna accompanied Richard and Berenagria to the Holy Land.

Richard I

Eleanor was later instrumental in securing her son’s release from captivity in Germany. Richard had been captured by Leopold V, Duke of Austria, on his return journey from the Holy Land, in December 1192. He was handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor, Heinrich VI, in March 1193. During Richard’s captivity, Eleanor was inexhaustible in her attempts to raise the ransom, some 150,000 marks and to keep her son, John, in check. John took the opportunity created by Richard’s absence to make a play for power; he and Philip II Augustus, King of France, went so far as to offer Heinrich 80,000 marks to keep Richard incarcerated. John was still in open opposition to his brother when Eleanor finally secured Richard’s release, on 4 February 1194. Eleanor travelled to Germany to personally hand over the ransom payment and escort Richard home. As news of Richard’s release reached England, John fled to France.

Richard’s death in April 1199, must have come as a horrific blow for Eleanor; the loss of her favourite son, at just forty-one years of age, caused immense grief. Richard’s death was soon followed by that of Joanna, Eleanor’s youngest daughter, who, heavily pregnant and hurt, had sought refuge with her mother at Rouen. Eleanor was by her daughter’s side as she gave birth to a son, Richard, who lived only long enough to be baptised. Joanna died within moments of her son, in September 1199, and mother and baby were buried together at the Abbey of Fontevrault.

Having lost four of her children in quick succession – her two daughters with Louis, Alix and Marie, also died in 1197 and 1198, respectively – and with her youngest son, John, now on the English throne, Eleanor undertook one final, diplomatic mission. Nearing her eightieth year, Queen Eleanor journeyed across the Pyrenees to Castile, in search of a bride for Louis, the dauphin of France and grandson of her first husband, Louis VII. England’s Dowager Queen was received at the court of Alfonso VIII and her own daughter, Eleanor, Queen of Castile, with all the pomp and pageantry the Castilians could muster. She stayed there for more than two months, taking the opportunity to spend some time with her daughter and getting to know her granddaughters. Eleanor of Aquitaine seems to have decided that twelve-year-old Blanca would make a more suitable bride for Louis than her sister, Uracca. Eleanor then brought Blanca back to France and delivered her to her bridegroom, Louis; the couple were married in Normandy, as France was under papal interdict at the time, owing to the marital indiscretions of Louis’ father, King Philip II Augustus.

King John

Following her delivery of Blanca to her new husband, Eleanor retired to the Abbey at Fontevrault. She did not take the veil as a nun, but lived in her own house within the abbey’s precincts. However, the eighty-year-old queen had one final adventure in 1202, when she was besieged by her fifteen-year-old grandson, Arthur, Duke of Brittany, at Mirebeau. Arthur had rebelled against his uncle, King John, and made an attempt on the English throne. In a remarkable forced march, John quickly came to his mother’s rescue, capturing Arthur and his sister, Eleanor, and raising the siege. Arthur disappeared into King John’s dungeons at Rouen and probably died there during Easter, 1203. His sister, Eleanor, was sent to England, to a perpetual, if comfortable, imprisonment.

The event was Eleanor’s last major adventure; increasingly frail, she retreated to Fontevrault, where she died on 31 March 1204, aged around eighty-two. She had outlived all but two of her children, with only Eleanor in Castile, and John in England, still living. She was buried in the abbey church alongside her second husband, Henry II, and her son, Richard, and daughter, Joanna. Eleanor of Aquitaine had survived the Second Crusade, several kidnap attempts, fifteen years of imprisonment and giving birth to ten children. She was the most remarkable woman of the medieval age, the ultimate survivor and a heroine to the core.

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Images:

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Sources:

.Jane Martindale, Eleanor, suo jure Duchess of Aquitaine (c.1122–1204) (article), Oxforddnb.com; Douglas Boyd, Eleanor, April Queen of Aquitaine; The Plantagenet Chronicles, edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens; Thomas Abridge, The greatest Knight; Mary Anne Everett Green, Lives of the Princesses of England from the Norman Conquest; Alison Weir Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Alison Weir Eleanor of Aquitaine, by the Wrath of God, Queen of England; britannica.com; geni.com; royalwomenblogspot.co.uk; medievalqueens.com; Brewer’s Royalty by David Williamson

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Earl Warenne and the Second Crusade

Coat of arms of the Warenne earls of Surrey, in the Gundrada Chapel of Trinity Church, Southover

William (III) de Warenne was the son of William (II) de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and Isabel de Vermandois, a granddaughter of King Henry I of France. William was born in 1119, a year after his parents’ marriage. He was the eldest of five children. His two brothers, Reginald and Ralph, appear frequently in his story, suggesting a close family bond. Of his sisters, Ada married Prince Henry of Scotland, and was the mother of two Scottish kings, Malcolm IV and William the Lion. Gundreda de Warenne married Roger de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick, who was a cousin of Gundreda’s half-brothers, the famous Beaumont twins, Waleran and Robert.

Waleran and Robert de Beaumont were the eldest sons of Isabel de Vermandois by her first husband, Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and Earl of Leicester. Isabel had nine children with her first husband and five more with Earl Warenne. Interestingly, the two families appear to have got on rather well together. William (III) can often be found in the company of one or both of his older, twin, half-brothers, such as at the deathbed of Henry I, at Lyons-la-Forêt in 1135; William was there alongside his father, the second earl, and his brothers Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, and Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester.

Following his father’s death in 1138, William (III) inherited the lands and titles of the earl of Warenne and Surrey. As such, he was heavily involved in that period of history known as the Anarchy, the contest between King Stephen and Empress Matilda for Stephen’s crown. As his father had done, the 3rd earl supported King Stephen, fighting at both the First Battle of Lincoln and the siege of Winchester in 1141. By the late 1140s, although the conflict between Stephen and Matilda was still not resolved, Earl Warenne and his half-brother, Waleran de Beaumont, appear to have wanted to get away from the constant unrest of the cousins’ war and looked to join a more noble enterprise.

Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk

On 24 March 1146, Palm Sunday, near Vézélay, and perhaps motivated by the example of his royal cousin, Louis VII of France, William de Warenne took the cross and committed himself to the Second Crusade. From this moment on, the earl’s time was taken up with preparations for the expedition and making arrangements to ensure the security and administration of his earldom during his absence. Among others, he confirmed grants to Castle Acre Priory of the land of Thexton in Norfolk which Osmoda de Candos had given with the consent of her husband Philip: William’s brother Reginald is named in the charter and his brother Ralph, as well as his wife, Countess Ela, are both listed among the witnesses. He also confirmed a gift made to his brother Reginald whereby William son of Philip, gave his land of Harpley in Norfolk. During the winter of 1146–47, the earl granted to the monks of Castle Acre, a confirmation of any acquisitions which they might make, ‘from my fee of whatever tenancy within my tenseria [authority], whether by way of gift or purchase.’1

In 1147, before leaving England’s shores, the earl, his family and leading magnates congregated at Lewes Priory for the dedication of the new priory church. Most of the royal court were present, as were Ralph and Reginald de Warenne, the earl’s brothers; four leading church prelates attended, including Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester as well as the bishops of Rochester and Bath. Also present were the abbots of Reading and Battle, the prior of Canterbury and William d’Aubigny, Earl of Sussex. Earl Warenne appears to have used the occasion to set his affairs in order and guarantee the security of his earldom during his absence.

St Pancras Priory, Lewes

The most significant charter issued on this occasion added to the endowment of Lewes’ priory church and promised that the earl would pay the taxes that the priory would ordinarily owe to the king. In it, the earl confirmed ‘all its lands of his fee, undertaking to acquit it of danegeld and all other services due to the king; and gift of tithe of corn, etc., from all his demesne lands and a full tenth penny of all his rents in England. He issued the charter when he caused the priory church to be dedicated and endowed it with the tenth penny of his rents, giving it seisin thereof by hair from his own head and that of Ralph de Warenne his brother, cut with a knife by Henry, bishop of Winchester, before the altar.’2 The locks of hair of Earl William and his brother Ralph, ceremoniously cut off by Bishop Henry before the altar, would afterwards have been placed on the altar, alongside the knife used in the ceremony, and may have later been ‘filed’ within the charter when it was sealed.

His affairs in order, the earldom was placed under the supervision of his very capable brother, Reginald de Warenne. The pope stipulated that church sanctions should not be invoked, ‘in respect of those men whom our beloved son Stephen the illustrious king of the English or his adversaries disinherited on the occasion of the war held for the realm before they took the cross.’3 In a time of continued civil war, this guaranteed protection of a crusader’s lands was a necessity. Earl William was now able to depart on crusade, secure in the knowledge that the family and lands he left behind were well protected from anyone wishing to take advantage of his absence:

At Whitsuntide Lewis [Louis], king of France, and Theodorie, earl of Flanders, and the count of St Egidius, with an immense multitude from every part of France, and numbers of the English, assumed the cross and journeyed to Jerusalem, intending to expel the Infidels who had taken the city of Rohen. A still greater number accompanied Conrad, emperor of Germany; and both armies passed through the territories of the emperor of Constantinople, who afterwards betrayed them.

Henry of Huntingdon
Louis VII, King of France

There were, in fact, two crusades that departed England’s shores in 1147. Some of the crusaders, an Anglo-Flemish force, went to Portugal and successfully captured Lisbon from the Muslims. Earl William de Warenne and his older brother Waleran de Beaumont joined their cousin King Louis VII of France and set out for the Holy Land. Taking the overland route, they followed in the footsteps of the German emperor, Conrad III, who had left Germany in May and arrived in Constantinople in September. Louis, accompanied by his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, arrived in Constantinople with his army, on 4 October. Tensions ran high from the start. On initially hearing of the proposed crusade, Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus, afraid of losing local trading connections, made a truce with the Turkish sultan of Rum in 1146 to protect Constantinople’s Asian lands from attack. To the Western crusaders, this was more proof of the apostasy of the Eastern church. The more fervent of Louis’ followers accused Emperor Manuel of treason and urged Louis to attack the emperor. Louis, on the other hand, was persuaded to appease the emperor by his less volatile advisers and the king promised to restore any imperial lands they may capture.

The German and French contingents met at Nicaea in November, with the Germans having already suffered a defeat at Dorylaeum on 25 October, after taking the inland route towards the kingdom of Jerusalem. The two armies combined now set off on the coastal route, following the path of the first crusaders’ advance into Philadelphia in Lydia. By the time they reached Ephesus, Conrad was seriously ill and returned to Constantinople to recover. The French king and his army continued on to Antioch; marching through difficult terrain in mid-winter proved particularly harrowing. The Seljuk Turks waited for the crusaders on the banks of the river Meander, but Louis’ army forced their way through. On 6 January 1148, they reached Laodicea and from there marched into the mountains that separate the Phrygia of the Pisidia. It was here that the army met with disaster.

As they crossed Mount Cadmus, the vanguard advanced too far ahead under the leadership of Geoffrey de Rançon, thus becoming detached from the main body of the army. As the vanguard progressed across Mount Cadmus, the French column followed behind, secure in the knowledge that the vanguard occupied the high ground to their front. William de Warenne was in the king’s bodyguard, towards the rear of the column, as they advanced. When the Turks appeared, the French broke their ranks and rushed upon them with swords drawn; the disorder in the ranks handing the advantage to their enemy. Retreating, the French found themselves in a narrow gorge, with a steep precipice on one side and crags on the other. Horses, men and baggage were forced over the precipice by the advancing Turks. Louis VII’s biographer, Odo de Deuil, related the events:

“…the king, who had been left behind in peril with certain of his nobles, since he was not accompanied by common soldiers or serjeants with bows (for he had not fortified himself for crossing the pass, which by common agreement he was to cross the next day), careless of his own life and with the desire of freeing the dying mob, pushed through the rear-guard and courageously checked the butchery of his middle division. He boldly assaulted the infidel, who outnumbered him a hundred times and whom the position aided a great deal; for there no horse could stand, I shall not say gallop, but barely stand, and the slower attack which resulted in the weakened knights’ thrust when wounding the enemy. On the slippery slope our men brandished their spears with all of their own might, but without the added force of their horses, and from the safe shelter of rocks and trees the Turks shot arrows. Freed by the knights’ efforts, the mob fled, carrying their own packs or leading the sumpter animals, and exposed the king and comrades to death in their stead….During the engagement the king lost his small but renowned royal guard; keeping a stout heart; however, he nimbly and bravely scaled a rock by making use of tree roots which God had provided for his safety. The enemy climbed after, in order to capture him, and the more distant rabble shot arrows at him. But by the will of God his cuirass protected him from the arrows, and to keep from being captured he defended the crag with his bloody sword, cutting off heads and hands of many opponents in the process…”

 Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem
Laodicea

King Louis’ bodyguard was cut down in the fighting and William de Warenne was among the fallen. Louis himself was able to escape the carnage, standing alone against a number of attackers. As the night drew in, the king and survivors were able to take advantage of the darkness to reunite with the vanguard, which had believed the king lost.61 In one of his letters to Abbot Sugar, King Louis wrote of the disaster on Mount Cadmus, explaining how he had been separated from the vanguard and his escort had been cut down, with the loss of his cousin, William de Warenne. He was too upset to give any more details and Mount Cadmus remains a battle of which very little is known beyond the basic details.

“Nearby the baggage train was still crossing the pass, because the closer packed it was, the slower it fled over the crags. When he came upon it, the king, who was on foot, secured a horse and accompanied the men through the evening, which had already fallen. At that time breathless cohorts of knights from the camp met him and groaned when they saw him alone, bloody, and tired, for, without asking, they knew what had happened and mourned inconsolably for the missing royal escort, which numbered about forty (to wit, the count of Warenne and his brother Evrard of Breteuil, Manasses of Bulles and Gautier of Montjay and others; but I shall not record the names of all, lest I be considered unnecessarily wordy.)”

 Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem


Despite the heavy losses, King Louis’ crusade continued, reuniting with the German contingent between March and June 1148. They failed to take Edessa and were forced to withdraw from Damascus after a week of heavy fighting, when fresh Muslim forces arrived. The crusade ended in failure and the French king, who blamed Emperor Manuel Comnenus for the fiasco, accepted the aid of Manuel’s enemy Roger of Sicily, who sent ships to take the French forces home. Of the English forces, while William de Warenne was lost at Mount Cadmus, his brother Waleran de Beaumont, Count of Meulan and Earl of Worcester, made it back to England’s shores, narrowly surviving a shipwreck along the way; he founded a monastery in gratitude. Of the two Anglo-Norman bishops who accompanied the crusade, Roger of Chester died at Antioch and was buried there, whereas Arnulf of Lisieux, who had served as one of the leading diplomats, returned but with his reputation faded.

Seal of Isabel de Warenne, Countess of Surrey

Perhaps it was always on the cards that the 3rs Earl Warenne’s unspectacular military career would end with his death in battle. He was only 28 years old and had held the earldom for just over nine years. The earl had been a stalwart supporter of King Stephen, not once wavering in his allegiance, despite his failures in Normandy and at Lincoln early on in his career. He had done extensive work on the family’s property at Castle Acre, reinforcing the castle and replanning the town, building the ramparts that now surround it. William de Warenne had been a generous benefactor to the church, especially the Warenne foundations at Lewes and Castle Acre.

Even in his absence on crusade, the earl was still technically in charge; his brother, Reginald, issued a number of charters, each with the proviso that ‘if Jesus Christ brought back the earl [from the crusade] he would cause him to confirm it’ or ‘do his best to obtain the earl’s confirmation.’4

The death of William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Warenne and Surrey brought an end to the senior male line that had been founded with the creation of the earldom for William (I) de Warenne in 1088. The earl was survived by his wife, Ela de Talvas, still a young woman, and his daughter, Isabel de Warenne, still only a child. Isabel was now the richest heiress in England and married to King Stephen‘s youngest son, William of Blois. The earl’s estates were left in the capable hands of his youngest brother, Reginald de Warenne, Baron of Wormegay, who would watch over them for his niece and her young husband.

Notes:

1 Edmund King, King Stephen; 2 Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; 3 Epistolae Pontificum Romanorum ineditae quoted in Edmund King, King Stephen; 4 Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem, magnacharta.com.

Sources:

Robert Batlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings; Dan Jones, The Plantagenets; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; doncasterhistory.co.uk; A History of the County of Sussex: Volume 2 edited by William Page; W.H. Blaauw, On the Early History of Lewes Priory, and its Seals, with extracts from a MS. Chronicle, Sussex Archaeological Collections; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey, and Their Descendants to the Present Time, Volume I;  Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem; magnacharta.com; Cokayne, G.E., The Complete Peerage, Vol. XII; Henry of Huntingdon, The Chronicle of Henry of Huntingdon.

Images:

Louis VII and Laodicea courtesy of Wikipedia; Warenne seal, Castle Acre Priory, St Pancras Priory and Seal of Isabel de Warenne are ©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

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©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly