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Eleanor of Provence

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Eleanor of Provence

Post  Elena on Sat Aug 31, 2013 10:37 pm

An informative article on the Queen of Henry III.

Provence was once known as a place where troubadours and poets flourished (Goldstone, p.9), so Eleanor would likely have known the romantic poetry and songs that were part of the tradition of the Provencal court. Chivalry and courtly love was the subject of many a verse, with helpless young men falling in love with a beautiful, unattainable noblewoman. It was not all romance, though; troubadours also wrote satirical verse and commented on political issues of the day (Howell, p.6-7; Goldstone, pp8-11). Though it was a commonly repeated story that Eleanor herself caught the attention of Richard of Cornwall and Henry III by writing a romance poem, this is now thought to be a myth (Howell, p.7). Eleanor did enjoy the written word and had a particular fondness for the tales of King Arthur. Shortly after she was married, Henry III took her to Glastonbury where she could see the reputed burial place of Arthur for herself.

Eleanor’s political skills were also developed during her upbringing. Her father had lived through a difficult minority, as had her future husband, and in seizing control of his state he had demonstrated his intelligence. Raymond Berenger’s policies were effective and his court was filled not just with noblemen but clerks and lawyers too (Howell, p.Cool; working men from lower social orders that had gained their place through skill and intelligence. Eleanor grew into a capable politician, learning from her father’s example about how to rule successfully in these early years. She also had an air of royal dignity, a part of her personality which would have affected her life as the years went by.

The Provencal sisters benefitted greatly from their upbringing, each going on to make an excellent marriage and becoming a queen. The eldest, Marguerite, became the Queen of France in 1234 when she married Louis IX; her links and friendship with Eleanor, who became Queen of England, arguably assisted in the friendship between England and France during this century as Marguerite would have had the skills and exposure to political events as Eleanor, and the two women were known to be close. Sanchia married Richard of Cornwall, Henry III’s brother, and became Queen of the Romans when Richard was elected as their ruler. Finally Beatrice, the youngest of the sisters, married Charles, Count of Anjou and brother of Louis IX. She inherited Provence from her father when he died in 1245, and also reigned as Queen consort of Sicily with her husband for the final year of her life.

The closeness between Eleanor and her parents did not suffer when she came to England to be married. Beatrice of Savoy came to England in 1243 to escort Sanchia to her wedding and was a key person in resolving the conflicts between Henry, his sister Eleanor and her husband Simon de Montfort. She commissioned a text in 1256 when her daughters were having children which advises the reader in paediatric care (Howell, p.3; Goldstone, p.14), showing that her maternal feelings were still present even though her daughters had all grown up. The loving home Eleanor remembered from Provence was recreated at Windsor when she and King Henry had children of their own; Eleanor’s children all knew a happy home life, and when her daughters had grown up, left home and married they too returned to England to visit their mother and father.

Eleanor of Provence was an extraordinary woman in many ways, and most of her strengths as a woman were both taught and encouraged while she was a young girl in Provence. To me, the Count and Countess were quite modern in their ways, equipping their daughters with the skills they would need to become more than just homemakers. They were all beautiful women, but also clever and capable politicians, who challenge the idea of what it was to be a woman at this time in European history.

Je pardonne à tous mes ennemis le mal qu’ils m’ont fait.

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