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18 May 1152. The Wedding at Poitiers

On Sunday, 18 May 1152, Henry the Young King's parents, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204) and Henry fitz Empress (1133-1189) were married in the cathedral of St Pierre, Poitiers, the match that was to result in forging the greatest empire of the 12th century-Europe. Henry, the eldest son of Geoffrey le Bel of Anjou and Empress Matilda, already the duke of Normandy, heir to England, Anjou and Maine, was lucky to win the greatest prize on the then marital market- the former queen of France now free to be wed again, Duke William X’s eldest daughter and heiress, divorced two months previously, her first marriage declared null and void on grounds of consanguinity.
The detail of the large stained glass*, Sainte-Pierre Cathedral, Poitiers (source: Web Gallery of Art)

For fifteen years she had been the consort of Louis VII of France (1120-1180), but apparently displeased her husband with bearing him only two daughters, Marie (b.1145) and Alix (b.1151). By marrying Henry fitz Empress just eight weeks after her first marriage was annulled she must have shocked entire Europe - as an English chronicler noted she "with unlawful license soon sent for her new partner" (William of Newburgh) - and angered the other candidates eager to reach for the richest heiress of Christendom. Theobald of Blois, second son of Louis’s vassal, the count of Champagne, and Henry’s own brother, Geoffrey, were both planning to kidnap her. Their plans came to naught, for as Gervase of Canterbury described vividly and in detail: "The duke [Henry] indeed allured by the nobility of that womanand by desire for the great honors belonging to her, impatient in all delay, took with him a few companions, hastened quickly over the long routes [he was in Normandy at the time] and in little time obtained the marriage which he had long desired". Impatient in all delay, true perhaps, but first and foremost, prudent, cautious and foreseeing - he must have known full well that Eleanor or rather her domains were too great a prize not to attract the attentions of other potential "suitors" and that haste was vital if their, his and Eleanor's plans, could come to fruition. He also must have known that the hasty and secret wedding arranged without his overlord's knowledge and consent would mean trouble. As we can read in one of the contemporary chroniclers, his marriage to Louis' ex-wife "was the cause and origin of great hatred and discord between the French king and the duke"(Henry of Huntigdon, Historia Anglorum).

By remarkable coincidence, today is a day when Matthew Strickland's biography of Henry the Young King is out. Just as a kind reminder to all those who haven't ordered it yet, you can purchase the book here.

Here you can see the stunning photos of St Pierre Cathedrale, Poitiers. 

* The famous Poitiers window comissioned by Eleanor and Henry who are shown in it as donors. The four figures of children are to represent the royal couple's then-surviving sons, Henry (b.1155), Richard (b.1157), Geoffrey (b.1158) and John (b.1166/67), which places the creation of the window sometime between the birth of the youngest, John, in 1166/67 and the Great Revolt of Henry the Young King, in which he was supported by his mother and two brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, in 1173.

All the quotes come from Eleanor of Aquitaine by Ralph V. Turner


  1. I have ordered it! And thanks for reminding me of this important date, Kasia. :-)

    I'm sure the marriage caused a scandal of sorts, at the time, although you can hardly blame Eleanor. She knew as well as anyone that the alternative was losing control over her destiny yet again, and she believed that Henry might just be the man with whom she could gain more political influence and freedom, at the same time. In hindsight, it seems a strong motivation for the match, added with whatever you want to add about Eleanor's attraction to a very much younger man :) Since we're not sure about just how good-looking Henry was or what Eleanor's taste in men, physically speaking, was, I think it's safe to let that one fly into the realm of fiction-storytelling and conclude that it seems fairly sure that, aside from her safety, Eleanor must have been highly motivated to agree to the marriage, even promote it, in order to further her own ambitions. About 2 decades later on it would all come crashing down - again, but there and then in 1152 it must have seemed to both Henry and Eleanor that the world now lay at their feet.

    P.S. Good redesign of the blog. It feels fresh and inviting - especially the list of articles popping up just over the "fold", whereas in the old design there was just one big central block of text. Great!

  2. Surely one of the most memorable marriages in history!

  3. This story never loses its appeal nor fails to inspire our imagination. The Poitiers window must be stunning in real life.

    What I love about the redesign, apart from being so darn pretty to look at, it's conducive to re-reading past posts. (very clever Kasia, lol)

  4. I just had to mention Eleanor and Henry's wedding, as I always do :)
    Thank you for all your kind words about the redesign of the blog.

    Unfortunately, it seems that I will have to show the patience of a saint while waiting for my copy of Henry biography. I have been infromed that the item is unavailable, the only thing I can do rght now is to pre-order it and wait :( Nice...

    1. It's delayed for me, too. So I've cancelled my order. I don't want to risk it arriving when we are on vacation, which we will be soon. I'll try again in August. Wonder what is going on ... :-/


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