On this day 1152…Bordeaux tied to England

On this day in 1152 Henry Plantagenet married Eleanor of Aquitaine, which ensured the city and vineyards of Bordeaux and Gascony would become an English possession for the next 300 years.

The effigies of Eleanor and Henry at Fontevraud Abbey

The effigies of Eleanor and Henry at Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon

The couple were married in Poitiers and the wine served at their wedding came from the new lands Eleanor’s inheritance brought the English crown.

Records appear to show the wine came from Château Lamothe-Cantenac, which exists today as Margaux third growth, Château d’Issan.

The marriage was a curious mix of dynastic manoeuvering and love match. Eleanor was already 30 in 1152, the wife of Louis VII of France, and 11 years older than the 19 year-old Henry Plantagenet .

A remarkable, headstrong, well-educated and very beautiful woman, Eleanor was also one of the most powerful landowners in Europe. Her duchy of Aquitaine, which she inherited at the age of 15 in 1137* stretched from the Pyrenees to the Loire, covering an enormous area of central, western and south-western France.

Married to the pious Louis the same year, her marriage produced only daughters and the pair became increasingly estranged. The marriage was annulled on the grounds of consanguinity (they were fourth cousins) in March 1152, whereupon Eleanor quickly remarried Henry, then Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and her third cousin) in May of the same year.

Henry quickly fell in love with his new bride as much for her beauty and character as for the huge tracts of land** their marriage brought him. Nonetheless, their marriage was also tumultuous and from 1173 to 1189 Henry actually imprisoned her in various castles around England for supporting their sons’ revolts against him.

Henry_II,_Plantagenet_Empire

The Angevin Empire (in yellow) in 1172.

Upon Henry’s coronation as King of England in October 1154, the empire their combined lands created catapulted England into the ranks of the most powerful European kingdoms; with the King of England owning more of France than his supposed feudal overlord, the King of France, himself.

The marriage also produced the all important male heir, in fact Eleanor and Henry had five sons in total and three daughters.

The empire did not last long following Henry’s death however, collapsing under the reigns of his and Eleanor’s two most famous sons, Richard I ‘The Lionheart’ and John I ‘Lackland’.

Richard squandered the empire’s wealth on campaigns and crusades while John lost the support of his Norman, Poitevin and Angevin nobles and with it those territories in 1204. Eleanor died the same year at the age of 81 (or perhaps 82), having outlived her younger husband by 15 years. She had already made clear she wished to be buried beside Henry at the abbey of Fontevraud in his ancestral homelands of Anjou. The pair lie alongside one another to this day in the abbey church.

Although the ‘Angevin Empire’ collapsed, large parts of Aquitaine and most importantly Bordeaux and the vineyards of Gascony, remained, resolutely, in English hands.

The wine produced there became a staple of the English wine trade and tastes for the next three centuries.

The lands were finally reclaimed for France in 1453 but the taste for its wines has never really gone away.

 

*The idea that women were unable to inherit land and titles through Salic Law was largely manipulated by Philip V in 1317 to exclude his niece, Joan, from inheriting the French throne.

**Without putting too fine a Monty Python point on it.

2 Responses to “On this day 1152…Bordeaux tied to England”

  1. was it because that Eleanor of Aquitaine loved wines that caused the increase in wine trade between the 2 countries?

    • Rupert Millar says:

      Christopher,

      Not exactly. The marriage of Eleanor and Henry brought Aquitaine into the sphere of English kingship and it was lucky that Bordeaux of all continental possessions remained in Plantagenet hands as long as it did.

      In Eleanor and Henry’s time the preferred wines were in fact the white wines from La Rochelle – and Eleanor may have liked those from Poitou as well as that was her favourite fief.

      In fact it was only thanks to John failing to maintain control over the Angevin lands of Normandy and the Loire through his wars with Philip Augustus, that England turned increasingly to the wines from Gascony to stock its cellars.

      John for all his other faults and outright failures as king was in fact primarily responsible for encouraging the planting of vines closer to Bordeaux – the ‘Haut-Pays’ being the chief viticultural heartland prior to the 13th century. He gave a number of tax breaks to vintners and merchants in Bordeaux in order to keep them loyal and maintain England’s last major foothold in France and in doing so helped create a thriving vinicultural region and opened up a burgeoning trade between England and Bordeaux that lasted another 250 years.

      Hope that’s of some help.

      Rupert

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