Plantagenets in Fontevraud: Eleanor's tears, dead body's blood

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The recumbent figures - ©Nono vlf / CC-BY-SA The recumbent figures - ©Nono vlf / CC-BY-SA
Fontevraud abbey Abbey Burial place Richard Lionheart Eleanor of Aquitaine Henry II of England Benedictine

The recumbent figures

The Plantagenet

Here we are in the "Plantagenet's St-Denis basilica"! Founders of the famous dynasty were buried here, between 1189 and 1254: the place is known as "King's cemetery". Kings of England went to great lengths for the abbey.

They were counts of Anjou and loved above all this area bathed with river Loire, with its mild climate, with white stony castles... Several women, in this family, took holy orders in Fontevraud. Oh, by the way, since we're talking about women...

Let's begin with Eleanor: the beautiful and elegant lady repudiated by king of France Louis VII... a man who never loved her. How could he love her, he, the insignificant and puny man, too jealous of the proud and independent Eleanor? She finally married the king of England and duke of Normandy Henri II, in 1154. But she was so unhappy...

Eleanor and her men

She gave birth to 8 children: her two favourite sons were John and Richard. Oh, but meanwhile, the king was unfaithful! Hurt, Eleanor set her two boys against their father: so king locked her up for 16 years, in an English abbey...

She only left it to see her husband died. Then she moved in Fontevraud, where she died in 1204, she was 82 years old. She commissioned recumbent statues for her husband and sons just before she died, maybe with her own figure.

Poor Eleanor! She wept so much... Children never died before their parents, usually! Richard was her favourite, her reason to live: he passed away in Châlus castle, in 1199, an arrow pierced through his heart. That was the biggest drama in her life. She loved him more than anything... They'll meet again in Fontevraud.

A gory sign

What about Henri II's death? He was harassed by his two sons Richard and Jean, united against him with the king of France (the supreme enemy!!). So he had to move in Chinon. Tired and old, Henri had to give back his cities (Le Mans, Tours) and signed the treaty of Colombières. Then, he fell badly ill. He knew he was going to die... and asked to be bury in Fontevraud... that would be done!

Here, in the middle of the vast room of the abbey rested Henri. His rebellious son Richard came by his father's body... and suddenly, blood started to flow from the old king's nose, without stopping! It bleed since Richard left the place...

Richard, this Lionheart who was the first English king to wear the lion on his blazon, brutally started to cry and collapsed. He only wished his father had forgiven him... Henri II laid here, in the abbey: later will come Richard's body, buried near the father he betrayed, then John Lackland and Eleanor.

A family story

Colourful recumbent statues

Nowadays, the abbey only keep recumbent figures of Eleanor, Richard, Henri II and Isabel of Angoulême (John Lackland's wife, died in 1246). Those are large-scale statues, polychrome, made of tuff, except Eleanor's one made of wood.

Hey! Do you recognize him? Henri II, with his sceptre, his red clothes and blue coat; same thing for Richard. The two men also wear a sword, a crown, gloves (royalty symbol) and stirrups. Eleanor wears a blue coat and a grey tunic.

Isabelle holds a book in her hands: she was John Lackland's last wife, and she was the last Plantagenet to be bury here. Oh, why? Because, she had a dissolute life! They buried her all alone in the chapter room, in 1246... and moved her in near the other in 1254.

Lost souls

The other recumbent figures were destroyed during the Revolution: we found Joan of England (queen of Sicily, Richard's sister, died in 1199) and her son Raymond VII of Toulouse (died in 1245), John Lackland, Henri III of England, heart of Richard's daughter, Beatrice... Centuries later, they started to bury other people, as for instance king Louis XV's daughter, died as a child in 1744: her name was Maria-Theresa-Félicité...

Damned French!

The other recumbent statues which weren't destroyed in 1793 were claimed by the English, in 1817. Oh, those Froggies... bunch of boors! They let those statues rot in some spot, in the abbey... But France did everything to keep them, and even moved them in Versailles in 1848. They restored them... then, welcome back to Fontevraud!

And also!