"The French Connection": England and France Under One Monarch

Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1122-1204), Marie de Champagne (1140- 1181), Marie de France (fl. 1160-90), Chretien de Troyes (fl. 1170-90), and Andreas Capellanus (fl. 1180-90)

           Eleanor inherited the duchy of Aquitaine when she was 15 (1137), married Louis le Jeune (Louis VII) three months later, and became Queen of France. Under her protection, the French court welcomed the new Provencal poets called troubadours and their emphasis on the individual, secular psychological experience of love and loss. This poetry posed a direct threat to the Church's control of inner experience through doctrines of faith and the recently mandated annual sacrament of confession. These ideas, recorded in courtly lyrics, metrical and prose romances, and decorative arts, were called the doctrine of "courtly love" by 19th-century scholars, following usages common in 14th-century Italian.

        Eleanor had two daughters, including Marie who married the Count of Champagne, expanded patronage of Provencal artists, and was said to hold "courts of love" to debate the merits of lovers' disputes much as baronial courts handled their political disputes. Eleanor also followed Louis VII to the Holy Land on the Second Crusade (1147) which tried and failed to recover Christian shrines from Islamic forces. This was followed by Saladin's reconquest of Jerusalem (1187). On their return, the marriage between Eleanor and Louis was annulled (1152)--she resented his religious fervor, and he feared their consanguinity and her relationship with her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers.

        Within two months, Eleanor negotiated a marriage to Henry II, the Plantagenet Duke of Anjou with a claim to the throne of England, and brought to him the Duchy of Aquitaine. Henry crossed the channel and defeated the unpopular King Stephen, who agreed to make Henry his heir. Henry II was crowned in 1154. Eleanor continued her support of literature and music in England, and established routine contact between French and English composers. The couple had five legitimate sons, including the future kings Henry III, Richard I, and John, as well as three legitimate daughters (later Matilda, Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria, Eleanor, Queen of Castile, and Joan, Queen of Sicily. Henry's most famous bastard sons were Geoffrey, Archbishop of York, and William Longsword, earl of Salisbury. It was the loss of Eleanor's continental estates of Aquitaine, Poitiers, and finally Normandy (1204) which later were the cause of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) during Chaucer's time.

        Marie de France appears to have worked in the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, perhaps following her to England when she married Henry in Anjou. See the Introduction to the Burgess and Busby edition of the Lais for further information about her life and the manuscript history of her work. Chretien, a major figure in the history of Arthurian romance, says he wrote at the request of Marie de Champagne, and may have lived in her court at Troyes as his name suggests. Andreas may have been chaplain to Marie's court but there is no evidence for this other than his name.