This letter was composed by Peter of Blois in 1173 at the request of his patron, Rotrou the Archbishop of Rouen (and no doubt at the request of the archbishop's patron, King Henry II). Eleanor was succeeding in her revolt against her king and husband. Eleanor's sons had also joined in the revolt against Henry. This letter was an attempt to stop her.
1.) What sort of view of Eleanor emerges from this piece of evidence? Who is really behind the authorship of the letter and how might this powerful bias alter the truth about Eleanor?
2.) How much validity is there in the picture of Eleanor which Peter of Blois provides?
3.) What does this letter reveal about the emerging concept of separating church and state? What does it show about professional writers, about medieval rhetoric, about royal power, about medieval marriage, about royal rebellion, about the nature of medieval power & government?
4.) What does the letter say about the status of women, e.g., the "Pit and Pedestal" paradigm of Eileen Power?
To Aleanor, Queen of England. From [Rotrou] the Archbishop of Rouen & his Suffragens:
Greetings in the search for peace --
Marriage is a firm and indissoluble union. This is public knowledge and no Christian can take the liberty to ignore it. From the beginning biblical truth has verified that marriage once entered into cannot be separated. Truth cannot deceive: it says, "What God has joined let us not put asunder [Matt 19]." Truly, whoever separates a married couple becomes a transgressor of the divine commandment.
So the woman is at fault who leaves her husband and fails to keep the trust of this social bond. When a married couple becomes one flesh, it is necessary that the union of bodies be accompanied by a unity and equality of spirit through mutual consent. A woman who is not under the headship of the husband violates the condition of nature, the mandate of the Apostle, and the law of Scripture: "The head of the woman is the man [Ephes 5]." She is created from him, she is united to him, and she is subject to his power.
We deplore publicly and regretfully that, while you are a most prudent woman, you have left your husband. The body tears at itself. The body did not sever itself from the head, but what is worse, you have opened the way for the lord king's, and your own, children to rise up against the father. Deservedly the prophet says, "The sons I have nurtured and raised, they now have spurned me [Isaiah 1]." As another prophet calls to mind, "If only the final hour of our life would come and the earth's surface crack open so that we might not see this evil"!
We know that unless you return to your husband, you will be the cause of widespread disaster. While you alone are now the delinquent one, your actions will result in ruin for everyone in the kingdom. Therefore, illustrious queen, return to your husband and our king. In your reconciliation, peace will be restored from distress, and in your return, joy may return to all. If our pleadings do not move you to this, at least let the affliction of the people, the imminent pressure of the church and the desolation of the kingdom stir you. For either truth deceives, or "every kingdom divided against itself will be destroyed [Luke 11]." Truly, this desolation cannot be stopped by the lord king but by his sons and their allies.
Against all women and out of childish counsel, you provoke disaster for the lord king, to whom powerful kings bow the neck. And so, before this matter reaches a bad end, you should return with your sons to your husband, whom you have promised to obey and live with. Turn back so that neither you nor your sons become suspect. We are certain that he will show you every possible kindness and the surest guarantee of safety.
I beg you, advise your sons to be obedient and respectful to their father. He has suffered many anxieties, offenses and grievances. Yet, so that imprudence might not demolish and scatter good will (which is acquired at such toil!), we say these things to you, most pious queen, in the zeal of God and the disposition of sincere love.
Truly, you are our parishioner as much as your husband. We cannot fall short in justice: Either you will return to your husband, or we must call upon canon law and use ecclesiastical censures against you. We say this reluctantly, but unless you come back to your senses, with sorrow and tears, we will do so.
Translation by M. Markowski [M-Markow@wcslc.edu] of Peter of Blois' Letter 154 from the Latin text in Chartres Ms #208; Cf. Migne, P.L. 207:448-9. Feel free to copy or download this translation, but please e-mail me and let me know in order that I might satisfy my own desire to be useful.
A couple fine books: Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings by Amy Kelly who provides an excellent 'Life-and-Times' approach, and Eleanor of Aquitaine by Marion Meade who gives a feminist interpretation. The award-winning film, Lion in Winter, (Katherine Hepburn) shows Eleanor's inner life during her captivity.
A couple of useful books for context: Medieval Women by Eileen Power who opened this subject to scholars, and Women's Lives in Medieval Europe edited by Emilie Amt who has put together an excellent book of primary sources with good introductions.
This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.
© Paul Halsall May 1997