Eleanor, Brittany
French noble
Eleanor, Brittany
Eleanor the "Fair Maid of Brittany", 5th Countess of Richmond, also known as Damsel of Brittany or Pearl of Brittany for her peerless beauty, was the eldest daughter of Geoffrey Plantagenet and Constance, Duchess of Brittany.
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  • 1241
    Age 57
    The Annals of Tewkesbury record the death "IV Id Aug" in 1241 of "Alienora de Britannia consanguinea domini regis Henrici Angliæ" (in English: Eleanor of Brittany a blood relative of the lord King Henry of England).
    More Details Hide Details The Chronicle of Lanercost recorded Eleanor as being a most beautiful, determined and tactful woman; the limited sources about her character are consistent with this assessment and suggest that she was never resigned to her fate as even decades of confinement could not force her to relinquish her rights although depended on little hope. The bailiffs there were commanded to provide tapers and alms for her obsequies. In 1246, Henry III endowed a chaplain to say masses daily for her soul; In 1268, Henry III gave the manor of Melksham, Wiltshire, a place that Eleanor had been fond of, to Amesbury for the souls of Eleanor and Arthur. Thus Eleanor became a benefactress to the abbey. Nobody made Eleanor the heroine of any prose or poem for a long time, and the first academic article with her as its heroine did not come into existence until 1907.
    But in 1241 Swaffham was controlled by Henry III and Eleanor only received a cash income from it by the gift of the king.
    More Details Hide Details During the imprisonment as long as 39 years, Eleanor was apparently innocent of any crime, never tried or sentenced, but viewed as a "state prisoner" she was forbidden to marry and guarded closely even after her child-bearing years.
  • 1238
    Age 54
    On Easter or November 1238, she was transferred back to Bristol.
    More Details Hide Details In 1235 Peter renounced Richmond and Eleanor was supposed to be offered the honour of Richmond manor of Swaffham.
  • 1237
    Age 53
    She appeared in Woodstock in November 1237.
    More Details Hide Details In the same year she was again kept at Gloucester Castle under the custody of William Talbot, with whom she appeared to have quarreled. The sheriff John Fitz Geoffrey paid for her expenses.
  • 1225
    Age 41
    From 1225, she got an allowance.
    More Details Hide Details Henry III himself once sent her 50 yards of linen cloth, three wimples, 50 pounds of almonds and raisins respectively and a basket of figs; he offered her another saddle, a proof that she could still go horse-riding; he once asked the mayor and bailiff to increase her household there. The governor exhibited her to the public annually, in case of rumours that the royal captive had been injured. This might suggest that the local people were sympathetic to her. Sometimes local mayor, bailiffs, responsible civilians and certain noblewomen visited her to prove her safety.
  • 1223
    Age 39
    Though Henry III established a law that could prevent Eleanor from legal succession to the crown, from 1223 he and his government took serious actions to keep Eleanor captive.
    More Details Hide Details They appointed and monitored her keepers, and frequently changed them. Among her later guards were: Engelard de Cigogné, Walter de St. Audoen, Richard de Landa, Gilbert de Greinville, Ralph Musard, Robert Lovel and Matthew de Walop. However, Eleanor lived and was treated as a royal princess, and it was recorded that she received generous gifts from the royal family such as game, fruit, nuts and wine. She also had proper but unshowy clothes.
  • 1222
    Age 38
    From June 13, 1222, she was transferred between Gloucester (July 31, 1222 to July 20, 1223), Marlborough (August 20 to October 9, 1223 and January 1224) and Bristol (before Michaelmas 1224).
    More Details Hide Details She was finally settled at Bristol from June 1224 for a time and was visited by Henry III. Gloucester Castle temporarily moved all its prisoners elsewhere to accommodate the princess.
  • 1221
    Age 37
    In 1221, there was a rumour of a plan to rescue Eleanor and deliver her to the King of France. In 1225, Peter de Maulay was accused of planning with the king of France to get a ship to spirit the princess away, and he subsequently fell out of favour. The allegation may have been false, to discredit Peter and Peter des Roches, who also fell out of royal favour in spring 1234.
    More Details Hide Details Whether the plot existed or not, Eleanor was soon moved away from the coast.
  • 1219
    Age 35
    In 1219, she ceased to be styled Countess of Richmond after William Marshal Henry's regent recognized Peter as the Earl.
    More Details Hide Details Henry III styled Eleanor, now with no title left, as "king's kinswoman", or "our cousin".
  • 1216
    Age 32
    John died towards the end of the civil conflict in 1216; although according to the laws of primogeniture the claim of Eleanor was better, English barons allowed King John's young son, Henry III of England, to succeed, leaving the 32-year-old princess, apparently still beautiful and defiant, under guard by Peter de Maulay.
    More Details Hide Details As her claim to England and Aquitaine was still a threat to his son, before his death John stated that Eleanor should never be released. Thus, albeit never a rallying point for English discontent during the early part of Henry III's reign, Eleanor was still put under semi-captivity, or "under a gentle house arrest", no matter how much ransom the Bretons would pay. Her survival was ensured according to the treaty between England and France.
  • 1214
    Age 30
    In February 1214, John campaigned in Aquitaine and Poitou with Eleanor, as well as his queen and Prince Richard, against Alix, hoping to get Breton support and establish Eleanor as his puppet duchess; his ambition was dashed in his defeat at the Battle of Roche-au-Moine.
    More Details Hide Details In July, John withdrew to England, with Eleanor still in hand. In the same year John again talked with Breton nobles about the rights and freedom of Eleanor, but after this expedition John became convinced that he could get nothing from her claim to the Duchy, so he also recognized Alix as duchess of Brittany and never again supported Eleanor even in name: neither did Henry III upon his succession to the throne. The tensions between John and the Anglo-Norman barons finally began to spill over into the First Barons' War in 1215, and Louis of France led an invasion to England in support of his claim to the English throne, as husband of Blanche, a maternal granddaughter of Henry II, whilst Innocent III argued that Eleanor had a better claim than John's. When Magna Carta was issued that year, it was demanded that all John's hostages including Scottish and Welsh princesses be released; however, Eleanor was excluded.
  • 1213
    Age 29
    In 1213, John used Eleanor to blackmail Peter I, Duke of Brittany, husband and co-ruler with Alix, into an alliance with England, tempting him with the offer of Eleanor's Earldom of Richmond, but Peter kept loyal to France, even after John's capture at Nantes of Peter's elder brother Robert.
    More Details Hide Details In the same year John declared England a Papal fief, and Pope Innocent III thus claimed to be guardian of Eleanor.
  • 1208
    Age 24
    In 1208, bishops of Nantes, Vannes and Cornouaille attempted in vain to negotiate Eleanor's freedom.
    More Details Hide Details Many of her supporters were banished. Eleanor was forced to entrust Brittany and Richmond to John, who referred to her as his "dearest niece" in communicating with Bretons. As the eldest daughter of Constance, Eleanor should have been recognized as Duchess of Brittany after the death of her brother Arthur. But instead, the Breton barons, fearing King John's claims to rule Brittany in representation of Eleanor's rights or to marry her to a vassal loyal to England, made her younger half-sister Alix duchess instead. Eleanor was styled Duchess of Brittany and Countess of Richmond, as successor to her brother but this was only a titular title as Alix became Duchess of Brittany in 1203 and was also styled Countess of Richmond, even making charters about this estate. The Breton barons, ignorant of her whereabouts, were always ready to install her as duchess in case she were released. In fact John permitted her to use the titles of Brittany and Richmond, and he even talked with Breton nobles about letting her go. He had Eleanor write a letter to Breton barons and churchmen, describing her life in captivity, expressing her hope of being liberated, and asking them to arrive in England to negotiate with her release. This letter is the only surviving document written by Eleanor.
  • 1206
    Age 22
    Initially John organized local barons to visit Eleanor in order to prove her well-being. In 1206 John briefly detained her at Brough Castle, entrusting entrusted her to Robert de Vieuxpont who was in its custody, before moving her to Bowes Castle, and finally, Corfe Castle in the Isle of Purbeck on the Dorset coast,along with 25 French knights loyal to her, guarded by Stephen de Turnham.
    More Details Hide Details After an attempt to escape, 22 of them were recaptured and starved to death. Eleanor lived in Corfe's Gloriet Tower, took her meals in the Long Hall and was allowed to walk abroad along the walls. She was allowed three maids and was provided fabric for clothes and bedding, and pocket money as much as 5 marks per quarter. She also received from John a saddle with gilded reins and scarlet ornaments, a gift which implies that she was not closely confined. John also sent her figs and almonds. A week's shopping list for Eleanor in captivity that has survived suggests the aristocratic diet at that time: Saturday: bread, ale, sole, almonds, butter, eggs. Sunday: mutton, pork, chicken and eggs. Monday: beef, pork, honey, vinegar. Tuesday. pork, eggs, egret. Wednesday: herring, conger, sole, eels, almonds and eggs. Thursday: pork, eggs, pepper, honey. Friday: conger, sole, eels, herring and almonds.
  • 1204
    Age 20
    In spring 1204, Philip II of France demanded that Eleanor be released in order to marry his younger son.
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  • 1202
    Age 18
    Eleanor was probably already under John's control when Arthur's forces were defeated and he was captured at the Battle of Mirebeau, 1 August 1202.
    More Details Hide Details Certainly, there is no mention of her capture after the battle. Arthur disappeared mysteriously while in captivity the following year. However, as Eleanor was still the potential heiress, as John was currently with no legitimate issue, and was at least preferable to later claimants to the throne such as Prince Louis of France, it is unlikely that John had already decided to confine his niece for life. On December 6 in the same year, John fled Normandy taking with him Eleanor, his captive. It was said that she was initially taken to the North of England and then to Bristol, guarded by four knights.
  • 1198
    Age 14
    Another marriage, with Duke Odo of Burgundy, may have been suggested, for in 1198 Philip ordered Odo not marry any relatives of Richard without his permission.
    More Details Hide Details Upon the death of King Richard in 1199, a power struggle commenced between the supporters of 12-year-old Arthur and Richard's youngest brother, John.
  • 1195
    Age 11
    In summer 1195, a marriage between her and Louis son of Philip II of France was suggested, for an alliance between Richard and Philip, but negotiations failed again.
    More Details Hide Details It is said that the Emperor opposed the marriage; and the failure was also a sign that the King would replace Arthur as heir to England with his only living brother, John. This soon led to a sudden deterioration in relations between Richard and Philip.
  • 1193
    Age 9
    In 1193, she was engaged to Frederick, son of Leopold V, Duke of Austria, as part of the conditions to release Richard, who had been taken prisoner by Emperor Henry VI.
    More Details Hide Details However, when she was on the way to Austria with Baldwin of Bethune the next year, the duke died, so the marriage never took place, and under order of Pope Celestine III she returned to England, accompanied by her grandmother Eleanor.
  • 1190
    Age 6
    In 1190, after Richard failed to marry his younger sister Joan to Al-Adil I, brother of Saladin, he proposed that Eleanor should be the bride instead, but the negotiation was also in vain, as Al-Adil showed no interest in Christianity.
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  • 1182
    Age -2
    Born in 1182.
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Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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