We began looking at this meeting a few years ago at the RNA Conference in Leicester, where Alison accessed Eleanor and Henry when I asked her to go to that first meeting. What came across in July 2007, was not exactly that of lust at first sight, or even of great dynamism on Henry's behalf.
Here's the first meeting session from 2007:
I asked Alison to go to Eleanor of
Aquitaine in Paris in 1151 when she was queen of . The Count of France , Geoffrey le Bel would have been visiting, together with his son, Henry, then 18 years old. Anjou
Alison: She has a shape and make up rather like one of the Sitwells, that kind of long-limbed elegance but not such a long face. She has her hair done in a sort of net. The net is made of – looks like metal, but it’s flexible and the mesh is really wide and the strings of metal are quite wide as well and every so often there are little jewels in that.
What colour is her hair? Can you see her hair? It’s a sort of golden colour. I would say a sort of burnished colour, quite fair.It’s difficult to put an absolute word on it, but fair. I’ll just go back from the detail and more into her character now.
She’s a very composed, centred sort of person. In this context she is very composed.
Now to her meeting with Geoffrey Count of Anjou and his son, Henry Duke of Normandy, the future Henry II. I am getting her reaction to Geoffrey Count of
. I get the sense she is not at ease with him. She’s not keen on him. He’s a man she needs to deal with, but it’s not a source of pleasure for her. And his son? There’s not such a strong reaction to his son. She doesn’t seem to mind Henry so much. I think I need to go deeper into the meeting to get any more out of this. Anjou
She’s swallowed down her initial reaction. She’s re-centred herself to deal with the situation, so she can put on this very powerful front in the sense that it’s difficult to see through it. It seems very solid. In this I’d say she’s very much the diplomat. She’s looking at Geoffrey with her head slightly down with a fairly fixed smile but she’s thinking inside ‘What do you want?’ She’s weighing him up, she’s very shrewd. I feel as if the meeting is on Geoffrey’s instigation rather than hers. I don’t feel as if she has an agenda here so much as wondering what his agenda is. To find that out I need to focus on him. Go over to Geoffrey? Yes, or I can watch him through her. Yes, do that.
Geoffrey is diffusing what he wants by going from one to the other.He’s chit-chatting, he’s digressing. He’s not coming to the point at all. He’s got what he thinks are very shrewd eyes but to Eleanor they look kind of weasely. It’s like he’s fooling himself into thinking he’s shrewd and he’s thinking that this chit-chatting is doing its job as if he’s fooling her, but he’s not. Now they’re coming to the part that he’s really interested in and it’s to do with his son. So he has just brought it casually (so he thinks) into the conversation. He says ‘And this is my son. This is the jewel in the crown.'
He’s saying ‘Look at him, isn’t he fine? Wouldn’t he make anyone a good husband? Where would you ever do better? And he’s got my eyes…’ Eleanor has a little bit of a giggle herself. ‘Mmm, yes.’ She’s not committing herself or being drawn into anything. She’s not going to show her hand here. She is offering them hospitality. She’s offering them very nice food, very richly presented. She’s talking about what’s going to be going on later. There’ll be dancing later and more entertainment. There’s going to be musicians and poetry. A bard is coming and there’ll be interesting news.
An interesting thing is that she has this urge to stroke Henry’s hair.I don’t know if she’s actually going to do it but there’s a pulse of affection that comes into her. It’s a sort of mildly, motherly sort of feeling, but a pulse of affection definitely. I get the feeling that she’s taller than him as well. She wants to separate him off from his father so that they can talk on a more sensible level. So does she do that? I can feel the impulse and I don’t want to create that. I just want to watch to see what happens. Yes, she takes him to a different part of the room to look out of the window. They’re not saying much. She’s getting a bit of a feel for him. I think her information comes less from words and more from how she feels about people and the subtle things she gets about them – their body language. She sees him almost as a child. Let’s see what they say. There’s not much being said at all. She’s asking him about where he’s been recently. He seems not very forceful somehow – quite introverted. I think I’m running out of information here. So end here:
2007 was when I began to think seriously about writing about Eleanor, even though I kept the project on the back burner. There was a lot of food for thought in the above. I remember shaking my head and thinking that this wasn't at all like the personality of Henry II, but then I thought it might be because he was only 18. But then, he'd taken himself to England at 14 and wasn't exactly backwards in coming forwards. I was intrigued, because Alison is very seldom wrong.
Now cut to the present time, and now, writing my novel about Eleanor in depth, I return to this situation. What really happened at the first meeting of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the 18 year old future King of England?
Go to the summer of 1151 when the future Henry II and Geoffrey of Anjou came to court for political negotiations. Wwere there any political meetings between Henry and Eleanor?
Alison: I don’t quite understand this. At first I saw that scene I saw at the RNA conference with Eleanor at that latticed window and looking at Henry. Then I backed off from that and saw this very medieval looking figure. Usually I see real figures but this one was much more stylised and looked like some carved figure, but it was leaning slightly forward. It had a crown on and was very medieval looking and in colours of gold and red and blue. It wasn’t a young man, so not Henry.
Me: Perhaps it’s Henry’s tomb? Eleanor designed his tomb.
Alison: She says it is a glossary, I suppose like skipping to the end and getting the essence out of the meaning of things. Glossing over the period intervening. I feel that she is a bit reluctanct about this. I think she wants to come through. Yes. She says ‘You don’t know what this means for me and you probably will never truly understand. This was an escape for me. An escape from the clutch of a hand that left nothing but bruises and into a world of freedom and light as I saw it then. Little did I know. Beware. Beware all men, save for the few – those you give birth to, and even then be aware that they are men still.
It is enough for a woman to preserve her dignity in those circumstances, but it was not of my choosing.
Alison Why do you say it was not of your choosing Eleanor?
It was not my choosing to be in that position. I chose a life of light and honour and goodness. And I got instead a life of dishonour, cruelty, crudeness and disfavour for my honour.
Alison: I think we are starting to get an idea of why she feels as she does. It’s very different to the tales we know.
Me: These tales are only one facet and not necessarily true. (perhaps not even likely to be true it has to be said).
I’m back at that room. It is the first meeting and it’s significant. There is an atmosphere of wariness and sizing each other up. There’s distance between them. It’s very political. Again she is talking more to Geoffrey than to Henry. Occasionally she is giving Henry a good look. Henry is very quiet.
Why is she giving Henry a good look? She is trying to assess him. Why? Because this is the turkey that they are cooking! Ah, so if they are cooking the turkey, then they’ve had to go out and catch the turkey first? Yes, but Henry hasn’t been involved in it, or involved in the meetings.
Okay, so I need to find out about the meetings between Eleanor and Geoffrey before Henry became involved. Eleanor has just been insulted by Louis. Geoffrey is sitting next to her at the table. He puts his hand across near to Eleanor’s and says ‘You don’t have to put up with this. You can come and stay with me. You will be made very welcome.’ Eleanor doesn’t find this invitation attractive because there is no honour in it, no future in it. It’s just not of benefit to her. It doesn’t improve the situation that she’s in and it doesn’t offer longterm benefits. It could work to her disadvantage.
I can see that they have both got up to dance. Whenever they meet he gives significant facial indications. He says in the end (this is little by little) ‘If you feel uncomfortable about coming, my son is of very marriageable stock.’ He is giving an indication that this could be a way out for her from the Paris court. A clean break, a fresh start with a young man who is like a blank page. A very young man who is going to be whatever Eleanor wants him to be. I think this is part of the advantage of Henry. He can still be viewed as a child to be educated and formed and that therefore Eleanor will be safe.
Alison: Oh my God, little did she know!
Me. Henry hadn’t viewed himself as a child since he was five!
Alison: This is like standing on the side of a precipice and jumping off. Total misjudgement. I am just stunned. This takes place over several conversations, not all in one.
How was she responding to this? She was starting to be interested – calculating but very much non-committal. She is assessing Henry and looking him over.
Impressions? She thinks him a well made, well presented young man with a capacity for nobility. She is assessing him with her knowledge of the squires who have worked for her and seeing how they have turned out.
If that was the first significant moment – go to another time and any conversation between her and Henry. I can see Henry saying ‘My Lady’ and kneeling to her. He is saying ‘My father bids you welcome.’ That’s strange. Perhaps she has gone to Geoffrey’s room or tent. It’s in a garden. He has turned and he is leading her through the garden and up some outside steps onto a walkway. It’s a really massive walkway and there are crenellations either side of it. I don’t know where it is.
Perhaps his father was lodging somewhere and having a ‘house party’ or some such. I have tried the words again and it is definitely ‘bids you welcome.’ Just go with it and see what happenes.
I am seeing male legs, sitting, with a tunic almost to the knee. The legs are steeped in a bath or something. I am feeling that Geoffrey is not able to go out and do the greetings himself because he has his feet in this tub. To me he doesn’t feel well enough to get up. Something is going on with his feet. It would take a better doctor than me to suss out what it is. It looks kind of blackish round his feet. So that’s why Henry is doing the welcome, because Geoffrey can’t go and do that himself. Geoffrey raises his hand and says ‘As you see I am quite weak and cannot rise to greet you.’ It is really sad for Eleanor to see the difference in his appearance. But Eleanor keeps a really strong exterior with real fortitude and acts as if nothing is amiss, but underneath she feels really sorry for Geoffrey. And there is real sadness that this is something that comes to all. She is looking at Henry with sympathy and empathy. She believes that Henry is sharing her feelings. About his father? It might be, but I held back from that because I couldn't feel his feelings and I didn't get the instinct that they were what she was expecting. They weren’t quite in tune. I'll check. Henry is impatient. Henry is really frustrated at being held back, are being held down because his dad can't move. Henry wants to go off on his own. He is frustrated that he is being left to care for his father like a nurse - although he's not. It’s his feeling. He doesn't sense the seriousness of it.
I think perhaps at 18 you don't; you think your parents are fairly immortal. And Geoffrey was only 19 when Henry was born, so it's more of a big brother mate sort of thing. So it's more like Oh dear he can't come out boozing tonight. Yes that's exactly it, and also the attitude that a real man gets over this kind of thing. So Henry’s brightness isn't a brave brightness, it's a not understanding brightness.
Now that the three of them are together, is there any more discussion about the relationship? Not from Geoffrey, Geoffrey is feeling pretty weak. And actually, strangely, a bit reluctant to hand Eleanor over. He is enjoying her attention for himself. There's a bit of rivalry between Henry and Geoffrey.
One of the chroniclers who was out to make mischief said that Geoffrey told Henry that he wasn't to trust Eleanor because he Geoffrey had slept with her. I don't know how true the remark was - whether it was actually said. Could we find out? Geoffrey really wants to have it known, he tries to lay it on thick that this is a flirtation at the very least, because it does his reputation no harm whatsoever.
Did Geoffrey ever say to Henry at any time, don't trust Eleanor because I have slept with her? I am with Geoffrey and I'm feeling pretty ill and pretty sick. Quite bilious. His sight is not good. I feel that he wants to give the benefit of his experience to his son. It's like leaving final instructions for looking after the castle, looking after the keys. He is thinking of his own experience and he is saying ‘Always my son be on top of your wife, be she ever so royal - he is definitely thinking of Matilda here. 'Because she will undoubtedly want to ride you as she will all men. Believe me, I know this from experience. So don't trust her an inch.’ Really he is talking about Matilda but he is saying it in Henry's terms so that Henry is applying it to Eleanor. Always make sure she is fruitful and bears sons, otherwise she is no wife. Do not allow her to deceive you, for yours is the realm and the kingdom, not hers. It is for you to rule and for her to provide what you rule. This is the way of God and do not forget it my son, for I leave this in trust to you as it was left in trust to me by my father alone. Ah, there's a recipe for misogyny! Obviously it could be taken whichever way you want. Yes, Gerald of Wales could turn this into something really nasty
Henry is really emotional. He has finally come to realise that his father is not going to last. He is ready to agree to any pearls of wisdom his father passes on to him, because these will be the last ones. He will no longer have that standard in his life, that solidity that his father provided. He does feel such love for his father. It's not turned to grief yet but it's kind of a blossoming love. It's slightly nostalgic, slightly painful, and for that reason taking all his focus and attention. Because of that focus he's paying a lot of attention to what's being said. You know how Henry is with learning. When he is intent about learning he learns very well. It certainly explains Henry's mindset later on
Was there any interaction between Henry and Eleanor at all? No. It's all done properly, when it comes to negotiations it’s all done by messenger. That's interesting, because some writers have suggested that Henry and Eleanor indulged in a lustful bonk-fest at the Parisian court at that time.
Do you know, I think that is the last thing Eleanor would ever want.
She says you are so right.
That is cruel.
The passionate sexual mindset at first sight promulgated on small evidence makes me very uneasy.
Henry was very much of the opinion that we've seen before. That the marriage is very political and that if you want an emotional relationship you look elsewhere. He is quite clear about that.
There was a lot more to cover than in this session, including more of Henry's response to that first meeting and why he was so quiet, but I'll post that next time around.