Eleanor of Aquitaine, Empress Matilda, Henry I of England, Henry II of England, Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, Matilda of England, royal wedding, William Ætheling, William the Conqueror
From the Emperor’s Desk: Much leads up to this historical marriage. Over the next few days I will cover what lead up to the marriage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
1152 – The future Henry II of England marries Eleanor of Aquitaine. He would become king two years later, after the death of his cousin once removed King Stephen of England.
Henry II (March 5, 1133 – July 6, 1189), also known as Henry Curtmantle Henry FitzEmpress or Henry Plantagenet, was King of the English from 1154 to his death. He was the first king of the House of Plantagenet. King Louis VII of the Franks made him Duke of Normandy in 1150. Henry became Count of Anjou and Maine upon the death of his father, Geoffrey of Anjou.
Henry was born in France at Le Mans the eldest child of the Empress Matilda and her second husband, Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. The Empress Matilda Matilda was born to Henry I, King of the English and Duke of Normandy, and his first wife, Matilda of Scotland, possibly around February 7, 1102 at Sutton Courtenay, in Berkshire. King Henry I was the youngest son of King William I the Conqueror, who had invaded England in 1066, creating an empire stretching into Wales.
Matilda had a younger, legitimate brother, William Ætheling, and her father’s relationships with numerous mistresses resulted in around 22 illegitimate siblings. In late 1108 or early 1109, Heinrich V, Holy Roman Emperor, sent envoys to Normandy proposing that Matilda marry him, and wrote separately to her mother on the same matter. The match was attractive to the English king: his daughter would be marrying into one of the most prestigious dynasties in Europe, reaffirming his own, slightly questionable, status as the youngest son of a new royal house, and gaining him an ally in dealing with France.
The couple met at Liège before travelling to Utrecht where, on 10 April, they became officially betrothed. On July 25, Matilda was crowned Queen of the Romans in a ceremony at Mainz. There was a considerable age gap between the couple, as Matilda was only eight years old while Henry was 24.
Matilda and Heinrich remained childless, but neither party was considered to be infertile and contemporary chroniclers blamed their situation on the Emperor and his sins against the Church.
In early 1122, the couple travelled down the Rhine together as Henry continued to suppress the ongoing political unrest, but by now he was suffering from cancer. Heinrich V died on May 23, 1125 in Utrecht.
Now aged 23, Matilda had only limited options as to how she might spend the rest of her life. Being childless, she could not exercise a role as an imperial regent, which left her with the choice of either becoming a nun or remarrying. Some offers of marriage started to arrive from German princes, but she chose to return to Normandy.
Matilda’s brother, William Ætheling, heir to the English throne, died in the White Ship tragedy of November 25, 1120. William Ætheling and his companions had been crossing the English Channel from Barfleur in the Blanche-Nef, the swiftest and most modern ship in the royal fleet. William drowned when trying to rescue his illegitimate half-sister, Matilda FitzRoy, Countess of Perche; when they and several others threw themselves into the small dinghy, it, “overcharged by the multitude that leapt into her, capsized and sank and buried all indiscriminately in the deep.” His death created a succession crisis.
Matilda returned to Normandy in 1125 and spent about a year at the royal court, where her father was still hoping that his second marriage would generate a son. In the event that this failed to happen, Matilda was now Henry’s preferred choice, and he declared that she was to be his rightful successor if he should not have another legitimate son.
Henry began to formally look for a new husband for Matilda in early 1127 and received various offers from princes within the Empire. His preference was to use Matilda’s marriage to secure the southern borders of Normandy by marrying her to Geoffrey of Anjou, the eldest son of Fulk, the Count of Anjou, and Countess Ermengarde of Maine, (died 1126), the daughter of Elias I, Count of Maine, and Mathilda of Château-du-Loire.
Matilda appears to have been unimpressed by the prospect of marrying Geoffrey of Anjou. She felt that marrying the son of a count diminished her imperial status and was probably also unhappy about marrying someone so much younger than she was; Matilda was 25 and Geoffrey was 13.
Hildebert, the Archbishop of Tours, eventually intervened to persuade her to go along with the engagement. Matilda finally agreed, and she travelled to Rouen in May 1127 with Robert of Gloucester and Brian Fitz Count where she was formally betrothed to Geoffrey. King Henry I knighted his future son-in-law, and Matilda and Geoffrey were married a week later on June 17, 1128 in Le Mans by the bishops of Le Mans and Séez. Fulk finally left Anjou for Jerusalem in 1129, declaring Geoffrey the Count of Anjou and Maine.