• A London Student

Toulouse, Alienor of Aquitaine & the failure of her husbands

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

A quick note to begin with: In this post and subsequent ones, I will refer to Eleanor of Aquitaine as Alienor as that was her name at the time, and in Latin means 'Another Aenor', which was her mother's name linking and differentiating her from her mother. It also recognises her for who she was instead of the perception of who she was, although she was called Helienordis when she was a Queen of France according to some sources.

Alienor of Aquitaine has long been famed for having husbands on both the thrones of England (Henry II) and of France (Louis VII), but they did both have one thing in common: their failure to recapture Toulouse in the name of Alienor, who had a strong claim to the southern county (and therefore they both had to face her wroth at their failure!)


The claim to Toulouse

Alienor of Aquitaine's family tree is as much intriguing as it is shocking, all due to the actions of William IX of Aquitaine, often called the Troubadour, who married twice and had a infamous affair with the wife of one of his vassals, Dangerosa, Viscountess of Chatellerault, yet the claim to Toulouse came through his abandoned wife, Phillipa of Toulouse (#forgottenfigures).

When William went to marry Phillipa, she was the nineteen-year-old widow of the King of Aragon, who was looking for a powerful second husband to claim Toulouse in her name after her uncle Raymond, Count of Saint-Gilles, had usurped the duchy on her father's death. When Raymond then went on crusade, in 1096, renouncing his claim to favour his son (Bertrand) William IX of Aquitaine laid claim to Toulouse in Phillipa's name. He succeeded, giving Phillipa her rightful inheritance as sole heiress of Toulouse (although this acquisition angered the church (because it was taken from a man on crusade), and it was only with the intervention of Bishops that William wasn't excommunicated). Phillipa of Toulouse died in 1118 of unknown causes in Fontrevault abbey, having left William after she quickly found out about his affair with Dangerosa.

Toulouse was held by William IX until 1122 when Bertrand's brother Alphonso-Jordan reclaimed it in the name of his father (a usurper) and William didn't have energy to try to reclaim it. The county was passed down to in turn his son, Raymond V who was count from 1148 to his death in 1194 and then to his son Raymond VI who ruled from 1194-1222, (and also married Joan Plantagenet, the youngest daughter of Alienor of Aquitaine and Henry II, as his third wife and they had two children who lived to adulthood before Joan's death in 1199: Raymond VII Count of Toulouse and Joan of Toulouse).


The Attempt of Louis VII of France

Alienor of Aquitaine married the nineteen-year-old Dauphin of France, Louis, in 1137 when she was thirteen, at the death of her father. It was in early 1141 that Louis prompted by Alienor tried to lay claim to the County of Toulouse that was being ruled by as mentioned, Count Alfonso Jordan. This was a rash decision on all accounts, made to please his young wife, mainly because he was so excited about establishing his name in the campaign, and got fired up about it so quickly that he didn't consult Abbot Sugar, who was a key part of his life, or his chief vassals.

This quickly backfired on Louis and became one of the reasons for the failed campaign, when some of these vassals, including the powerful Theobald IV, Count of Champagne, refused to support him in the attack. Fuming at this embarrassment and show of disrespect, Louis went over to Toulouse anyway, planning to take Count Alfonso Jordan by surprise, by marching his army through Aquitaine. Not expecting much resistance Louis' army was ill-equipped, poorly organise and had an obvious lack of siege engines. At arrival in Toulouse, Louis was shocked to find that the city was well defended- Count Alfonso Jordan had been aware of the King's plans and had prepared- leaving only one option for Louis: to slink back to Poitiers where he'd have to confess his failure to Alienor!

And that was the end of the first pathetic attempt to Toulouse!


The Attempt of Henry II of England

In 1159, Henry II hatched his plan to reclaim Toulouse from the new Count Raymond V who was also the brother-in-law to Louis by Raymond's marriage to Constance of France (#forgottenfigures). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Louis was very against any invasion, and protested although he had done the same thing almost twenty years before. Henry has always been known for his military prowess, and abilities as a battle commander, so the conquest of Toulouse should have been an easy one and should have soon gone the same way as Brittany. However, there was a game-changing complication- Louis of France.

It is easy to understand why Louis didn't want Henry to be able to successfully conquer Toulouse; it would've looked very bad for him and exploit his failure of many years before, however, if he still loved Alienor, then surely he would've wanted her to get what was rightfully hers even if he couldn't give it to her. Therefore, Louis by this point no longer loved Alienor (fair enough, they had got their marriage annulled fifteen years previously) and may have also stood in the way of Henry due to jealousy at Henry for having the capabilities to give Alienor what he had failed to do. (But that's a whole other debate!)

Henry's huge army that was rumbling down from Aquitaine included a large number of nobles on his side (unlike Louis) like Malcom IV of Scotland and Raymond-Berengar IV, Count of Barcelona. As discovered by Louis, Toulouse was a large and well defended city, both naturally as it was situated in a strategic bend in the river and had large fortifications, but Henry's army was in good condition with morale high after Welsh and Brenton victories, so the campaign was looking positive.

Henry's elevation to King of England from a mere French Vassal (with vast holdings) had been a particular problem to Louis, and there had always been friction between the two monarchs (that wasn't helped at all by Henry quickly marrying Louis' ex-wife!), so when Louis surprisingly arrived in Toulouse half way through Henry's siege of the city, on a visit to his brother-in-law was not a coincidence as Henry was all too aware. Louis knew that appearing in Toulouse would make Henry think very carefully about attacking and it did. Henry held council with his barons and Thomas Beckett who all agreed that it was a step to far attacking the King of France (well almost all of them- Beckett was all for attacking, but was promptly ignored), who was Henry's liege lord for some of his territories. A siege against the King of France would also appear to be a power struggle for the Plantagenets and Capetians, and in the (unlikely) event that Henry lost, it would be disastrous for his image of a powerful king and ruler of many domains. Henry was forced to extract himself from siege and leave Toulouse alone as what was often described as Henry's 'unfinished business'.

Then, like Louis eighteen years before, he had to return to Alienor and tell of his failure...


To conclude this post... It was almost entirely the fault of Louis VII of France that Alienor of Aquitaine didn't get her rightful inheritance of Toulouse (as well as the vast territory of Aquitane) and that it was instead passed down in a line of counts from Raymond IV of Toulouse who originally stole it from the heiress Phillipa.


Sources include:

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones; Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Wier; Queen Consort by Lisa Hilton

Image is courtesy of Wikipedia

By France_blank.svg: Eric Gaba (Sting - fr:Sting)derivative work: Hchc2009 (talk) - France_blank.svg, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12603376

#alienorofaquitane #plantagenets