All in the Family

The passionate relationship between Plantagenet King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, has entertained countless history buffs in the eons following their mid-12th century marriage. It is the classic tale of a dysfunctional dynasty and family.

The legitimate Plantagenet children numbered five boys and three girls. The first-born, William, came into this world in 1153 and left it in 1156. Henry’s cavalier reference to this loss is found on Page 153 of Aureus, when he informs the pregnant Gweneth that she must undertake a physically arduous journey with him: “If you lose a baby, then have another. The queen and I lost our first-born son when he was just a toddler; so we had more sons.”

Second son, Henry Fitzhenry, born in 1155, was crowned Young King, at age 15, during his father’s reign. By his twenties he had become rebellious. He had just finished looting monasteries in order to pay his mercenary army when he contracted dysentery and died in     June 1183.

Richard came along in 1157. Said to be his mother’s favorite, he became king upon his father’s death. He had been a loyal son until he joined his older brother Henry’s insurgency. His sobriquet, Richard Lionheart, came from his reputation as a military commander in fighting the famous Saladin during the Crusades. In fact, in his ten years as monarch (1189 – 1199), he spent only ten months in England, raising money for his foreign expeditions.

Lionheart’s death was a fluke. His troops were engaged in a castle siege in a rebellious part of the Aquitaine. Because no real battle was underway, he was not wearing body armor. A crossbow arrow found its way to his left shoulder. It was a minor wound, but gangrene set in. Richard knew his fate and made plans for his burial; his entrails were interred in the Aquitaine, his heart was sent to Rouen in Normandy, and the rest of him was laid to rest in Anjou’s Fontevraud Abbey. Nothing of Richard went to England.

Geoffrey (1158 – 1186) began his rebellion at age 15. He was a good friend of the French royal family, with whom he plotted against his father. Like his brother Henry, he robbed churches and monasteries to raise money for his ventures. There are several accounts of his demise, but the most common is that he was trampled to death in a jousting tournament.

There was another Geoffrey, born in 1152 to a woman named Ykenai. Eleanor raised this boy with the rest of the royal brood, though she was annoyed to begin her marriage to Henry with this illegitimate addition to the family. Later, half-brother Richard Lionheart made Geoffrey the Archbishop of York, thereby eliminating him as a possible contender for the throne. Geoffrey was King Henry’s only son to be with him at his death.

John (1166 – 1216) tried to overthrow Richard, then succeeded him as king. He is the monarch who agreed to the Magna Carta (1215), his principal contribution to English history.

The Plantagenet girls, Matilda, Eleanor and Joan, were raised to be bartered brides. As a pre-teen, each was sent to a foreign court to be married. Only Eleanor, wed at age 12 to King Alfonso VIII of Spain, found contentment in her assigned role. She and Alfonso had 12 children.