Blogging the Age of Faith

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Peter of Blos to Eleanor of Aquitaine

Medieval Sourcebook: Peter of Blois: Letter 154to Queen Eleanor, 1173
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine: An Attempt to Chastise Her

Introduction [Markowski]:

This letter was composed by Peter of Blois in 1173 at the request of his patron, Rotrou the Archbishop of Rouen (and no doubt at the request of the archbishop's patron, King Henry II). Eleanor was succeeding in her revolt against her king and husband. Eleanor's sons had also joined in the revolt against Henry. This letter was an attempt to stop her.

1.) What sort of view of Eleanor emerges from this piece of evidence? Who is really behind the authorship of the letter and how might this powerful bias alter the truth about Eleanor?

2.) How much validity is there in the picture of Eleanor which Peter of Blois provides? How does this picture compare and/or contrast with the "Queen of Hearts" portrayal in Amy Kelly or the feminist interpretation of Marion Meade?

3.) What does this letter reveal about the emerging concept of separating church and state? What does it show about professional writers, about medieval rhetoric, about royal power, about medieval marriage, about royal rebellion, about the nature of medieval power & government?

4.) Putting this letter into the context of what we know about Eleanor, what does it say about the status of women, e.g., the "Pit and Pedestal" paradigm of Eileen Power?

5.) Finally, how does one go about further research? For example, if the information and approach in the letter is seriously flawed by the bias and self-interest of King Henry (not to mention Peter of Blois or the Archbishop of Rouen), then how can we correct this view?

To Aleanor, Queen of England. From [Rotrou] the Archbishop of Rouen & his Suffragens:
Greetings in the search for peace --

Marriage is a firm and indissoluble union. This is public knowledge and no Christian can take the liberty to ignore it. From the beginning biblical truth has verified that marriage once entered into cannot be separated. Truth cannot deceive: it says, "What God has joined let us not put asunder [Matt 19]." Truly, whoever separates a married couple becomes a transgressor of the divine commandment.

So the woman is at fault who leaves her husband and fails to keep the trust of this social bond.

When a married couple becomes one flesh, it is necessary that the union of bodies be accompanied by a unity and equality of spirit through mutual consent. A woman who is not under the headship of the husband violates the condition of nature, the mandate of the Apostle, and the law of Scripture: "The head of the woman is the man [Ephes 5]." She is created from him, she is united to him, and she is subject to his power.

We deplore publicly and regretfully that, while you are a most prudent woman, you have left your husband. The body tears at itself. The body did not sever itself from the head, but what is worse, you have opened the way for the lord king's, and your own, children to rise up against the father. Deservedly the prophet says, "The sons I have nurtured and raised, they now have spurned me [Isaiah 1]." As another prophet calls to mind, "If only the final hour of our life would come and the earth's surface crack open so that we might not see this evil"!

We know that unless you return to your husband, you will be the cause of widespread disaster. While you alone are now the delinquent one, your actions will result in ruin for everyone in the kingdom. Therefore, illustrious queen, return to your husband and our king. In your reconciliation, peace will be restored from distress, and in your return, joy may return to all. If our pleadings do not move you to this, at least let the affliction of the people, the imminent pressure of the church and the desolation of the kingdom stir you. For either truth deceives, or "every kingdom divided against itself will be destroyed [Luke 11]." Truly, this desolation cannot be stopped by the lord king but by his sons and their allies.

Against all women and out of childish counsel, you provoke disaster for the lord king, to whom powerful kings bow the neck. And so, before this matter reaches a bad end, you should return with your sons to your husband, whom you have promised to obey and live with. Turn back so that neither you nor your sons become suspect. We are certain that he will show you every possible kindness and the surest guarantee of safety.

I beg you, advise your sons to be obedient and respectful to their father. He has suffered many anxieties, offenses and grievances. Yet, so that imprudence might not demolish and scatter good will (which is acquired at such toil!), we say these things to you, most pious queen, in the zeal of God and the disposition of sincere love.

Truly, you are our parishioner as much as your husband. We cannot fall short in justice: Either you will return to your husband, or we must call upon canon law and use ecclesiastical censures against you. We say this reluctantly, but unless you come back to your senses, with sorrow and tears, we will do so.

Translation by M. Markowski [] of Peter of Blois' Letter 154 from the Latin text in Chartres Ms #208; Cf. Migne, P.L. 207:448-9. Feel free to copy or download this translation, but please e-mail me and let me know in order that I might satisfy my own desire to be useful.

A couple fine books: Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly who provides an excellent 'Life-and-Times' approach, and Eleanor of Aquitaine by Marion Meade who gives a feminist interpretation. The award-winning film, Lion in Winter, (Katherine Hepburn) shows Eleanor's inner life during her captivity.

A couple of useful books for context: Medieval Women by Eileen Power who opened this subject to scholars, and Women's Lives in Medieval Europe edited by Emilie Amt who has put together an excellent book of primary sources with good introductions.


  • At 9:02 PM, Anonymous bittersweetaddiction said…

    The argument that the Archbishop poses in the letter wouldn‘t have any standing what so ever in the present day. Given for the close ties of popular culture to Christianity in the Middle Ages, it can be understood from the letter, that her husband (through a high reigning church official) is seemingly trying to scare and frighten her back into her place. Apart from being extremely chauvinistic to the point of even saying that the woman is subject to the mans power. What shocks me is the emphasis on marriage the Archbishop takes in the letter. How it is a completely indissoluble union between two people and “whoever seperates a married couple becomes a transgressor of this divine commandment.” All I have to say of this is that the Archbishop is full of it. What he doesn’t officially state is how Eleanor’s husband, King Henry basically slept throughout the town. Going so far as to father numerous illegitimate children throughout his marriage. There is even instances when Henry himself flaunted his mistresses throughout his court. Personally, I can’t blame Eleanor for wanting to revolt against her philandering husband. Revenge is sweet and might be the only cure for her sweet tooth. She ultimately did nothing to deserve the way her husband treated her. Then the nerve of the Archbishop to write to her saying that SHE was the cause of her marriage problems by being an extremely disobedient wife. The nerve of some people.

  • At 11:42 AM, Anonymous PirateARG said…

    This letter that was sent by the archbishop is a growing testement to the type of subjegation that women were put through during that period. I could maybe understand him sending a letter if her husband, King Henry II, was Mr. Perfect and never did anything wrong. Yet, that was most certainly NOT the case. With all the illeginamte children being born by his many public love affairs, one would think that any woman in her right mind would be a tad pissed off. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" definitly comes to mind after reading this letter. I mean, after reading the line in paragraph ten which states, "When a married couple becomes one flesh, it is necessary that the union of bodies be accompanied by a unity and equality of spirit through mutual consent" is contradictory in the sense that Queen Eleanor never gave her consent for her husband to lie and cheat on her with other women. By her revolt, she is simply returning the same treatment she recieved back to her husband. Also, I found it interesting how the Arch Bishop keep repeating how a woman is subject to a man's will and so forth, yet, he ironically is bending to her will by pleading with her to stop the revolt. Don't you just love irony? Another point that one of the questions in the very beginning of the article brought was who is the real author of this letter? Is it the Arch Bishop or King Henry himself? I believe that it is King Henry using the Arch Bishop as a cover up. If this is true, then I also believe King Henry may have been a little scared by his wife. If I was him, I sure as hell would be. However, the result of this letter ended up sadly by King Henry being murdered by his own sons.

  • At 5:29 AM, Anonymous kisstheconcrete said…

    This letter seems to be both written in a powerful yet pleading tone. Powerful in the sense of the values contained within it and pleading in the sense that the letter urges Eleanor to end the revolt and reunite with her husband. I agree with the letter in the aspect that marriage is something sacred, but it requires equal work from both partners. In all relationships there comes a time when one person has the opportunity to have the upper hand and if they seize this opportunity the relationship becomes unequal. In the letter it mentions how when united through marriage the woman becomes lesser to the man and is under his power. Most people do not view marriage in this way today.

    As the two people mentioned above me, King Henry expected more from his wife than what he was willing to contribute. The author of the letter defines marriage as a permanent union and the values he places on it make me conclude that he would not agree with adultery, in which King Henry committed several times. The revolt, being Eleanor's response, is probably just what King Henry needed to put him in his place.

  • At 10:00 PM, Blogger bcpcguy said…

    This letter is interesting in its composition. Clearly the author is attempting to be authoritative and demanding in his tone in order to convince Eleanor cancel the revolt that she is currently succeeding in and to have her children respect their father. Some of the language and phrases used almost appear to employ scare tactics in the persuasion of having Eleanor return to submission. For example “We know that unless you return to your husband, you will be the cause of widespread disaster. While you alone are now the delinquent one, your actions will result in ruin for everyone in the kingdom.”

    This letter clearly no longer respects the widespread view of marriage. This letter sends the message that it is the woman’s responsibility to make the needed changes in order to please her husband and to maintain a successful marriage, but in today’s culture it is now an understanding that both husband and wide must effectively work together in order to have success in their relationship. This letter also points out the medieval view that women are under the power of the men and that the man is the head of the woman. Today’s culture would have a great deal of problems with that concept as nowadays both the husband and wife are seen as equal contributors to the relationship.

  • At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree with kisstheconcrete in the sense that marriage is not its sacred vow if both parties are not putting equal work into it. His plea to Eleanor says very little of what her husband really did and was more forgiving of everything that he was doing than her choice to end the marriage. The rites read to a newly married couple reflects those types of old way view of how a marriage should be viewed. A man's rule over a woman should be equal to that of a woman's over a man...that being none. I also agree with bittersweetaddiction that this type of plea would not stand at any time in this era. Instead we see the reasoning of why she would want to deny her husband, although they agreed in a holy matrimony. A successful marriage is made by compromise on both sides of it and fails when only one side is expected to do everything and to fix everything.

  • At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Divorce is as popular as marriage is in today's society. It takes a special bond of unity and an equality of spirit to develop and maintain a relationship, especially a marriage. In today's popular culture, the media portrays marriage as an act of spontaniety or a publicity stunt done purely to receive attention. With Hollywood marriages lasting mere hours, its no wonder why, women or men don't think twice when it comes to filing for a divorce. In the times that this letter was written it is obvious that the act of a woman leaving her husband, or vice versa, are seen as sins. The Bible supports that marriage is solid, unable to be broken, and forever-lasting, until the day you die.

    The one thing that I found interesting in this letter is the verse from Ephesians 5 "She is created from him, united to him, and is subject to his power." In my opinion, marriage is something that links two souls together, EQUALLY! This verse is one that I think would lead to domestic violence in religious homes. When this verse states that the woman is subject to her husband's power, this is just an open invitation for the man to do whatever it takes to get his wife to obey him, and the woman has no choice but to stay in the relationship, regardless of violence, because she is made from him, and subject to his power.


Post a Comment

<< Home