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The marriage between the Empress Matilda and Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou proved difficult, as the couple did not particularly like each other. There was a further dispute over Matilda’s dowry; she was granted various castles in Normandy by King Henry I, but it was not specified when the couple would actually take possession of them. It is also unknown whether King Henry intended Geoffrey to have any future claim on England or Normandy, and he was probably keeping Geoffrey’s status deliberately uncertain.

Soon after the marriage, Matilda and Geoffrey separated Matilda returned to Normandy. King Henry appears to have blamed Geoffrey for the separation, but the couple were finally reconciled in 1131. Henry summoned Matilda from Normandy, and she arrived in England that August. It was decided that Matilda would return to Geoffrey at a meeting of the King’s great council in September. The council also gave another collective oath of allegiance to recognize Matilda as Henry’s heir.

Matilda gave birth to her first son in March 1133 at Le Mans, the future Henry II. King Henry was delighted by the news and came to see her at Rouen. At Pentecost 1134, their second son Geoffrey was born in Rouen, but the childbirth was extremely difficult and Matilda appeared close to death. Matilda made arrangements for her will and argued with her father about where she should be buried. Matilda preferred Bec Abbey.

King Henry I died on December 1, 1135, and his corpse was taken to Rouen accompanied by the barons, where it was embalmed; his entrails were buried locally at the priory of Notre-Dame du Pré, and the preserved body was taken on to England, where it was interred at Reading Abbey.

Despite Henry’s efforts, to secure the succession to the throne for Matilda with the Barons, the succession was disputed. In July 1136 Matilda gave birth to her third son William at Argentan.

The news of Henry’s death had reached Stephen of Blois, conveniently placed in Boulogne, and he left for England, accompanied by his military household. Robert of Gloucester had garrisoned the ports of Dover and Canterbury and some accounts suggest that they refused Stephen access when he first arrived.

Henry I, King of the English

Nonetheless Stephen reached the edge of London by December 8, and over the next week he began to seize power in England. The crowds in London proclaimed Stephen the new King of the English, believing that he would grant the city new rights and privileges in return, and his brother, Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester, delivered the support of the Church to Stephen.

Stephen had sworn to support Matilda in 1127, but Henry of Blois convincingly argued that the late King had been wrong to insist that his court take the oath, and suggested that the King had changed his mind on his deathbed. Stephen’s coronation was held a week later at Westminster Abbey on December 26.

A civil war between the factions of King Stephen and Empress Matilda dominated the majority of King Stephen’s reign.

Count Geoffrey of Anjou died in September 1151, and Geoffrey’s eldest son, Henry Curtmantle, postponed his plans to return to England, as he first needed to ensure that his succession, particularly in Anjou, was secure. At around this time he was also probably secretly planning his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine, then still the wife of King Louis VII of the Franks.


Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 – April 1, 1204) was queen consort of the Franks (1137–1152) and the English (1154–1189) and Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right (1137–1204). As a member of the Ramnulfids (House of Poitiers) rulers in southwestern France, she was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in western Europe during the High Middle Ages.

Eleanor’s year of birth is not known precisely: a late 13th-century genealogy of her family listing her as 13 years old in the spring of 1137 provides the best evidence that Eleanor was perhaps born as late as 1124. On the other hand, some chronicles mention a fidelity oath of some lords of Aquitaine on the occasion of Eleanor’s fourteenth birthday in 1136. This, and her known age of 82 at her death make 1122 more likely the year of birth.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor (or Aliénor) was the oldest of three children of Guillém X, Duke of Aquitaine, whose glittering ducal court was renowned in early 12th-century Europe, and his wife, Aenor de Châtellerault, the daughter of Aimery I, Viscount of Châtellerault, and Dangereuse de l’Isle Bouchard, who was Guillém IX’s longtime mistress as well as Eleanor’s maternal grandmother. Her parents’ marriage had been arranged by Dangereuse with her paternal grandfather Guillém IX.

The King of the Franks, known as Louis VI the Fat, was also gravely ill at that time, suffering from a bout of dysentery from which he appeared unlikely to recover. Yet despite his impending death, Louis VI’s mind remained clear. His eldest surviving son, Louis the Younger,, had originally been destined for monastic life, but had become the heir apparent when the firstborn, Philippe, died in a riding accident in 1131.

The death of Guillém X of Aquitaine, one of the king’s most powerful vassals, made available the most desirable duchy in France. While presenting a solemn and dignified face to the grieving Aquitainian messengers, Louis VI exulted when they departed. Rather than act as guardian to the duchess and duchy, he decided to marry the duchess to his 17-year-old heir and bring Aquitaine under the control of the French crown, thereby greatly increasing the power and prominence of France and its ruling family, the House of Capet.

Within hours, the king had arranged for his son Louis the Younger to be married to Eleanor, with Abbot Suger in charge of the wedding arrangements. Louis was sent to Bordeaux with an escort of 500 knights, along with Abbot Suger, Theobald II, Count of Champagne, and Count Ralph.

On July 25, 1137, Eleanor and Louis VII were married in the Cathedral of Saint-André in Bordeaux by the archbishop of Bordeaux.nImmediately after the wedding, the couple were enthroned as reigning Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine. It was agreed that the land would remain independent of France until Eleanor’s oldest son became both King of the Franks and Duke of Aquitaine. Thus, her holdings would not be merged with France until the next generation.

The pairing of the monkish Louis VII and the high-spirited Eleanor was doomed to failure; she reportedly once declared that she had thought to marry a king, only to find she had married a monk. There was a marked difference between the frosty, reserved culture of the northern court in the Íle de France, where Louis had been raised, and the rich, free-wheeling court life of the Aquitaine with which Eleanor was familiar. Louis VII and Eleanor had two daughters, Marie and Alix.

In the autumn of 1145 Louis was still burned with guilt over the Massacre at Vitry and wished to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to atone for his sins. Massacre at Vitry was when 1,300 people burned alive in a church by forces of King Louis VII of the Franks. Also in the autumn 1145, Pope Eugene III r. 1145-1153) requested that Louis lead a Crusade to the Middle East to rescue the Frankish states there from disaster.

Louis VII, King of the Franks

Accordingly, Louis declared on Christmas Day 1145 at Bourges his intention of going on a crusade. The Second Crusade (1147–1150) was the second major crusade launched from Europe. The Second Crusade was started in response to the fall of the County of Edessa in 1144 to the forces of Zengi. The county had been founded during the First Crusade (1096–1099) by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem in 1098. While it was the first Crusader state to be founded, it was also the first to fall.

Eleanor also formally took up the cross symbolic of the Second Crusade during a sermon preached by Bernard of Clairvaux. In addition, she had been corresponding with her uncle Raymond, Prince of Antioch, who was seeking further protection from the French crown against the Saracens.

However, even before the Crusade, Eleanor and Louis were becoming estranged, and their differences were only exacerbated while they were abroad. They went to see Pope Eugene III in Tusculum, where he had been driven five months before by a revolt of the Commune of Rome.

Pope Eugene III did not, as Eleanor had hoped, grant an annulment. Instead, he attempted to reconcile Eleanor and Louis, confirming the legality of their marriage. He proclaimed that no word could be spoken against it, and that it might not be dissolved under any pretext. Eventually, he manipulated events so that Eleanor had no choice but to sleep with Louis in a bed specially prepared by the Pope. Thus was conceived their second child —not a son, but another daughter, Alix of France.

Without a male heir the marriage was now doomed. Facing substantial opposition to Eleanor from many of his barons and her own desire for annulment, Louis bowed to the inevitable. On March 11, 1152, they met at the royal castle of Beaugency to dissolve the marriage. Hugues de Toucy, archbishop of Sens, presided, and Louis and Eleanor were both present, as were the archbishop of Bordeaux and Rouen. Archbishop Samson of Reims acted for Eleanor.

On March 21, the four archbishops, with the approval of Pope Eugene, granted an annulment on grounds of consanguinity within the fourth degree; Eleanor was Louis VII’s third cousin once removed, and shared common ancestry with King Robert II of the Franks. Despite the annulment their two daughters were, however, declared legitimate.

Eleanor remained the Duchess of Aquitaine and was considered beautiful, lively and controversial.