Eleanor’s Blog Archive

Hang in There, Eleanor of Aquitaine

Katie Wohl's Depiction of EleanorPicture of Katie WohlKatie Wohl writes:

“An homage to Eleanor of Aquitaine (1137-1204), one of the most powerful women in the Western world during the Middle Ages. She was a Queen of both England and France.

She caused quite the ruckus during her reign. She was beautiful, manipulative, and intelligent.”

Acrylic painting with gloss over canvas, 18″ x 18″.

Posted on Jul 11, 2011 3:21 PM
By Robert Fripp

CzechPower1Eleanor ~ in Czech

March 4th, 2011: A NEWSFLASH

It seems that ‘Power of a Woman’ is a big hit in the Czech language, with orders for books and requests that I write a new one along similar lines. This is great, but it’s tough to market several titles while writing another. If someone would only market my charming, imperious Eleanor of Aquitaine for me, I have other calls to answer.

Eleanor, I have lived with you for nearly ten years. I rise and fall with your moods; I calm you in stressful moments. You were my mistress for almost a decade. Now, as your author, I say we should both move on! So I commend you to the good people of Prague where more suitors await you than waited for Penelope. Let us hope you and I can go forward, apart. / RF

Posted on Mar 4, 2011 2:04 PM
By Robert Fripp

Channeling a gothic mind

Getting locked into Salisbury Cathedral one night may have moved me to write “Power of a Woman” decades later. The experience was freezing, dark, vast, medieval, and animated by slight sounds amplified by echoes under vaulted stone. Then came morning, when the sun burst through the (former) eastern windows in the Lady Chapel, bringing mental relief before someone unlocked the vault to bring spatial release and return to the 1950s.

At the time I was a chorister in Salisbury Cathedral, an unwitting model for William Golding, who wrote “Lord of the Flies” (1956) about a choir school, while he taught at the school next door. Those threads twine in a partially-causative strand that started me channeling the character of Eleanor of Aquitaine decades later in order to write her memoirs. Another strand: Salisbury Cathedral School was founded in 1091 and its first known graduate (Class of 1129) was John of Salisbury, a leading twelfth century theologian and a presence at Henry II’s and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s courts in England. John disapproved of Eleanor. Later, John would witness Thomas Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral.

Ghosts. Many ghosts. But, in the south of England, where eight thousand years of settlement are graven into the land, the deeds and misdeeds of Henry II, Thomas Becket, King John, Richard Lionheart and their mother Eleanor almost call for the present tense. They are close, even intimate.

Novelist John Fowles, who wrote the foreword for my book “Let There Be Life” (Amazon.com), remarked in his novel “Daniel Martin” that a man writes best who is not afraid to restrain the feminine part of his brain (yin), but aspires to park his gender beside his name on the title page. Hence my take on Eleanor of Aquitaine. Reader Lani Lila of Chico, California, writes of “Power of a Woman” that, “[It is] so vividly expressed from the mouth of a wise and passionate woman. Reading Fripp’s words, and a man’s at that, I am amazed at his stunning ability to bring to life this woman.”

Ah, but what is the minor chasm of gender when set against the great gorge of time and events that separates us: eight lost centuries and a wholly different mindset divide us from the anxieties, terrors and joys inflicting the life-span and life-space of our magnificent Eleanor.

Posted on Dec 10, 2010 11:17 AM
By Robert Fripp

The Mystery of Mystique

We have heard a lot about Eleanor of Aquitaine recently, but not from the lady herself. Until now! I should explain that. Years ago I stumbled on Eleanor of Aquitaine and became wildly impressed. Available biographies did not plumb her depth of character, so I decided to write her memoirs, eventually publishing in “her” voice, “Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a turbulent life: Eleanor of Aquitaine.”

Along the way I wrote notes about prominent factors in Eleanor’s life. Arleigh Johnson of Historical Fiction.com (URL below) graciously published this piece in a guest blog, giving me a chance to update one of those notes. Here is “On Courtly Love. Therapy, or Affection?” (Or, if you prefer, the title I use above, “The Mystery of Mystique.”)

The quoted dialogue below is Eleanor’s, from “Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a Turbulent Life: Eleanor of Aquitaine“:

“Men have written much, muttered more and understand nothing of our Court of Ladies and my Code of Poitiers,” says Eleanor, dictating her memoirs to her young scribe, Aline.

After troubled marriages to two kings, Eleanor staged a dramatic protest against her husband King Henry II’s lust for his mistress, Rosamond Clifford. She packed her household into seven ships and crossed the Channel to establish her “Court of Ladies” in Poitiers. In Eleanor’s day, noble and royal woman might be summarily cast off, sent to convents or housed in distant castles while their lords took new wives or mistresses. Eleanor comments from experience, “The Church continues to censure this failing in princes with a blind eye, a deaf ear and a silent tongue.” By abandoning Henry, Eleanor threw the first blow.

Around the year 1100, the concept of “courtly love” (amour courtois) or “fine love” (fin ‘amor) took root in the princely courts of Aquitaine, Provence and Burgundy. Courtly love described an attraction between a man and a woman who were not married to each other, but felt mutual passions that might involve erotic desire, spiritual or emotional attraction, respect, admiration, or passionate love. In an age when marriage most often consummated a loveless political alliance between families, courtly love was a path to genuine affection, respect or love. (For centuries, alliancewas the French word for a wedding ring.)

In parallel with courtly love, the code of chivalry grew through the twelfth century in French-speaking lands. Young men training to be knights learned more than martial arts. They learned respect for women. Many vowed to devote their duty and martial prowess to the service of a lady. A second reason why marriage and love seemed mutually exclusive in medieval Europe was that only the eldest son of a noble family was permitted to marry. This prevented multiple heirs dividing a family’s inheritance. Younger sons had to find love where they might. This they did, exchanging tokens, vows and passion with their lady, and wearing her colors in tournaments. Intriguingly, the lady was often from a higher social class.

The Church did not approve of courtly love. Young knights who had looked to priests for blessing and salvation now turned to their lady for reassurance and support.

Eleanor would have been aware of the disparity between the upbringing of firstborn sons and others. Here, she looks back on the fact that she might have married the king of France’s firstborn, Philip. “Philip had been born to grace; Philip had been bred to rule. By all accounts Philip was wise in learning, skilled in diplomacy, accomplished in arms, in the etiquette of courtly ways and at ease when conversing with women.” This last point made him a rare find. But marriage to Philip was not to be: “He was riding one day, escorted, of course, when a sow waddled out of the Seine and thrust her muddy carcass under his horse. What use were splendid knights in all their trappings, set against a pig? That was the end of Philip.”

Instead, Eleanor married King’s Son Number Two, Louis — the spare, not the heir, as British noble families say. Eleanor tells us that Louis “had been packed off at a tender age to the monastery at Notre Dame. Life on his knees, prayers ten times a day, mindless discipline attained through exhaustion imposed by the rule of bells, a diet of guilt and penance for sins he had neither the imagination nor opportunity to commit, and a thorough disgust for the agents of sin, we women. Mark me, he seldom saw one, saving likenesses of the Blessed Mary.”

As for the female side of a strange equation, Eleanor and her Court of Ladies did not originate courts of love, but her prestige reinforced the need for social evolution. After her thirty years of trials at the courts of two kings and quarrels with the patriarchal Church, her person and authority came to represent and empower amour courtois. Eleanor explains her position and her Court of Ladies: “If women are to be put to marriage without love, let us claim true love as our mystery. Love is as worthy of study as those mysteries claimed by the Church. Love! That was what we debated and judged at my Court of Ladies.”

Arleigh Johnson published the above on her HistoricalFiction.com blog (June 2, 2010. For posts and about 30 comments, see <http://historical-fiction.com/?p=1780>.

Posted on Dec 3, 2010 1:51 PM
By Robert Fripp

 Why write Eleanor’s memoirs?

“Why?” a young woman asked me. “Why did you choose to write about Eleanor? And why write her memoirs, rather than biography? Wasn’t it more difficult to write her memoirs?”

“Yes,” I agreed. However, Eleanor of Aquitaine stands among those exceptional women whom history knows. I wrote her memoirs because I believed in reaching — channelling — her person to find what she stood for. I believed in her right to challenge the status quo, telling the dominant male hierarchies of Church and state, “Here I stand!” I believed in her right to intuit the mindset of alpha males so well that she asserted herself among them, moved forward, spelled progress for women, shaped roles for herself, and, at least in part, moved armies and ruled an empire.

That’s why I wrote “Power of a Woman…” in the way it turned out, in effect channelling Eleanor. I believe she needs a hearing. The ‘Why’ of her life is what matters. ‘Why’ motivates her life’s events, her astonishing being. In a world of distrust she believed in herself, setting a model for assertiveness; not only in the past, her past, but for our present.

Posted on Aug 18, 2010 3:15 PM
By Robert Fripp

Rumor: sharper and clearer than fact

A young woman asked me during a reading, “Why did you write Eleanor of Aquitaine’s history as a memoir, rather than as a straight historical biography?”

The short answer is that there are already plenty of historical biographies. The honest answer is more elaborate, taking work to explain. A “straight” historical biography is as good as its author’s ability to gather research, to link known facts artfully, and to connect patterns established by intelligent observation. The biographer stands at a distance, limited by sources, resources, linguistic ability, available time and other commitments and constraints. The end-product is likely to be rational, and the real players in medieval Europe’s dynasties were about as far from rational as human affairs can get! (Believe me, I produced current affairs television for a few decades.)

On the other hand, writing a memoir of a person long dead strays past reason and steps into passion. The whole affairebetween subject and author perforce touches passion or it sacrifices valuable qualities. In memoir, the known facts become guides, and the author must play two roles: first, as the principal actor in the subject’s life-long drama; second, as a venturer beyond one’s own mind and mental resources, tapping into a greater, eternal consciousness. In memoir, the author/actor must transcend what Eckhart Tolle describes in The Power of Now as an “opaque screen of concepts, labels, images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks all true relationship.” This screen of mind-busy-ness, Tolle writes, “creates the illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and a totally separate “other.” One forgets that “underneath the level of physical appearances and separate forms, you are one with all that is.”

So, can we derive a clearer or more imaginative picture by channeling our subject’s memoirs as if we were interrogating her eternal soul? Twenty years ago I channeled Shakespeare’s English for four years in my play “Dark Sovereign.” The task was impossible at first, the strain never easing, but slowly the exhaustion became more bearable and the end more attainable. Pursuing a long-lost character is a similar chore. It’s a matter of spending twelve to fourteen hours a day with pen in hand, succumbing to the fatigue that eats away one’s mental constraints and restraint, replacing them with wholly intuitive inspiration that springs up free and unrestrained.

I learned the writer’s first lesson, endurance, the hard way, but still chose to write “Power of a Woman…” as a memoir. That meant venturing into rumor based upon historical fact to draw forth Eleanor’s persona, or, rather, to draw forth a persona worthy of Eleanor!

Here’s a perceptive observation by Julian Barnes (The New Yorker, 09/29/1997, p. 81): “Rumor, despite its mythical cloudiness, is really much sharper and clearer than fact. Fact is messy, doubtful, ambiguous, interpretable; rumor has a wonderful simplicity. It’s so much easier to worship rumor than fact.”

Memoir may be the better option for the story of a life, especially one that is long gone, in which facts are indeed “messy, doubtful” and much else that Barnes says about them. In Eleanor’s case, memoir comes as close to reality as the many slanted accounts written by her contemporary critics. Long live memoir! It blends intuitive rumor with lots of hard facts.

Posted on Aug 11, 2010 4:22 PM
Robert Fripp

The Reading Cure

Blake Morrison reported in Britain’s “Guardian” newspaper that reading may bring lasting relief (“The reading cure,” The Guardian, January 5, 2008). Reporting an “incredible response” to Morrison’s story, the Reader Organisation “decided to run several one-day ‘bibliotherapy’ workshops.” Similar responses came from all over Britain.

Morrison studied a reading group near Liverpool that included an agoraphobic, a woman with bipolar disorder, a recent widow and someone from a homeless hostel. The language of “The Winter’s Tale” challenged them, but they persevered. People in fifty similar groups around Liverpool are reading challenging titles, too. Morrison found reading groups “in care homes, day centers, neurological rehab units, acute psychiatric wards” — in fact many therapeutic situations. “These reading groups,” he writes, “[are] an experiment in healing, an attempt to see whether reading can alleviate pain or mental distress.”

Morrison describes how the writer George Eliot recovered from grief by reading Dante with a friend, John Cross, who wrote, “The divine poet took us to a new world. It was a renovation of life.”

The philosopher John Stuart Mill experienced recovery after a “severe mental crisis,” reporting: “I seemed to have nothing left to live for.” But then Mill read a passage about the death of another man’s father. Mill described his own reaction: “A small ray of light broke in upon my gloom. I was moved to tears. From this moment my being grew lighter. The oppression that all feeling was dead within me was gone. I was no longer hopeless…”

“If books are to be therapeutic,” Morrison comments, “it’s because they take us to dark places rather than bright ones.”

During a long life, Eleanor of Aquitaine spent years in dark places — including many winters exiled in England. As an old woman dictating “Power of a Woman…” her mood is often dark when she recalls memories of crisis and abiding grief. As an author, I found writing Eleanor’s memoirs from those dark places cathartic. I would be interested to know if readers, living her trials, found personal relief in this book.

Posted on Jul 29, 2010 3:49 PM
By Robert Fripp

 Fearing women

•  “There was not much to like in the Vatican’s news conference this week about its pedophilia scandal, but among all the defensive posturing and inept statements, there was one real stunner: The citing of the movement for the ordination of women as a ‘grave crime’ that Rome deems as offensive as the scandal of priests who sexually assault children.” [Editorial, The New York Times, July 17, 2010]

• “Re Female Ordination and Sex Abuse of Minors (July 16): The Vatican says the ‘attempted ordination’ of women is one of the gravest crimes under church law… Why is the Catholic Church so afraid of women?” [From a letter to the editor, The Globe and Mail, Toronto, July 17, 2010]

• The year is 1203. At the Abbey of Fontevrault, Eleanor of Aquitaine is instructing her young secretary, Aline:

“Language is a woman’s weapon. It is the siege engine that knocks down male walls. A woman’s body and her language are twin powers, Aline. Use them to negotiate from strength.

“Therein lies a man’s fear. That his very being lives in awe of women is a secret he dare not disclose, although females know it, deep in their bones. Men’s awe makes them vulnerable. It is the hole in their chain-mail, the rip in their cassock. O, yes. Priests are no less men for being priests. They are vulnerable, too. Hence the fear and loathing shown us by the Church. If you would negotiate with men, Aline, you have but to dazzle, reject, enchant, confuse, torment and allure. Men need their goddesses, child. They need their Virgin Mary in her very flesh and warmth.” [From ‘Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a turbulent life: Eleanor of Aquitaine‘ Chapter 28, All Rights Reserved © Robert Fripp 2006]

Posted on Jul 17, 2010 6:01 PM
By Robert Fripp

Call it self-possession

Eleanor digresses from time to time to instruct her young secretary on how a woman can win in a man’s world: “There have been times since ancient days when Woman is deified,” Eleanor tells Aline. “She attains a stature worthy of worship. Why our sex should be represented in this fashion used to mystify me. But it is a manifest failing in the minds of men which we can put to great advantage.”

Eleanor possessed a hard-won wealth of wisdom in this arena, as well as a lasting reputation perpetuated by a press corps of troubadours through eight hundred years.

Two female bloggers discovered this section independently, copying a comment that Eleanor makes looking back on her life: “Kings have lain me. But what man can claim me?” [From ‘Power of a Woman. Memoirs of a turbulent life: Eleanor of Aquitaine‘ Chapter 15, All Rights Reserved © Robert Fripp 2006]

Posted on Jun 15, 2010 5:24 PM
By Robert Fripp

Clarendon: a visit to old ghosts

If you are a constitutional lawyer or historian in an English-speaking country you may have heard of “Clarendon Palace” or “Clarendon Lodge.” From 1164 to 1166 this medieval palace, three miles east of Salisbury, in Wiltshire, echoed with heated argument in Norman French. That debate marked the birthing pains of what is sometimes called England’s first constitution.
I walked among Clarendon’s ruins once, one of sixteen small boys in gray flannel shirts and uniforms, with blue ties and matching caps. We were the choristers of Salisbury Cathedral in the mid-1950s, kept in school to sing Christmas or Easter services after the other boys had gone home for the holidays. During these extra days in school, teachers took us on outings. Hence our trip to Clarendon’s ruins.
My memory of that day finds me walking the length of the king’s court, trying to keep to the few remaining brown floor tiles covered with yellow heraldic and beastly designs. Those surviving tiles were interspersed by clumps of bramble big as haystacks, jumbles of nettle, willow-herb and ragged-robin.
In the twelfth century, Clarendon was indeed a palace. In 1166, King Henry II reformed English justice here (The Clarendon Assize). But it is the events of 1164 which trigger my memory among this decay. At the end hidden from me by brambles, King Henry II once sat on the king’s bench, shouting invective at his erstwhile friend and chancellor, Thomas Becket, who had become an intransigent archbishop of Canterbury.
At Clarendon in 1164, Henry set out to curb the power of Church courts. Henry’s queen-consort, Eleanor of Aquitaine, explains: “More than two men in ten pleaded exemption from our royal courts by virtue of their claims to be in holy orders. Rascals of all stripes claimed the Church’s protection. Better a dozen Paternosters than a whipping! Better six hundred Hail Marys than one noose!” The king’s law could be evaded as long as its reach was constrained. “Before the king’s law could be seen to be just,” adds Eleanor, “the mesh in the net had to be of one size.”
Henry’s demands on the Church, the Constitutions of Clarendon, were too severe. Thomas Becket turned his back on the king and walked away, leaving Henry and his conclave of nobles and prelates astounded. Becket passed out of the hall at the point where I stood eight centuries later.
This incident sowed several tragedies, constitutional and personal. Henry had insisted that his nine year old son and heir, Young Henry, should sit with him on the king’s bench, as if father and son jointly judged Becket. Becket was Young Henry’s godfather, tutor, advisor, protector and friend; Young Henry and his betrothed had lived for several years in Becket’s household. Possibly the boy never recovered emotionally from this event. His short life mixed arrogance with tragic failings.
Constitutional separation between Church and state found wings on that day, between walls long since levelled. Young Henry’s mother, Eleanor, described another rift: “In that instant Young Henry watched the love between his father and his mentor rend like the veil of the Temple. Poor boy. He never healed. What a sad breach. So signal. So complete. It was there that our Angevin future cankered and started to die.”

Posted on Jun 10, 2010 1:59 PM
By Robert Fripp

Our age condemns inquiry

Our age condemns
Inquiry beyond faith’s pale
As sin.

Memes, In Memoriam Eleanor of Aquitaine
The Paris years, 1137-’47

Posted on  Jun 4, 2010 6:06 PM
By Robert Fripp

On King Arthur’s myth

How myth sustains ghosts!
Bury the Sibyl’s adage.
Let Arthur be dead.

Haiku, In Memory of Eleanor of Aquitaine,
On the reach of the Sibyl’s adage

Posted on Jun 2, 2010 5:44 PM
By Robert Fripp

Ah, Time…

Ah, Time,
You thief in the storehouse of memory.
How you crowd and cloud the brains!

Memes, In Memoriam Eleanor of Aquitaine
Fontevrault 2003

Posted on Jun 1, 2010 6:04 PM
By Robert Fripp

Famines in Normandy

Fall fell fruitfully.
This year it saved the poor from
Death at hunger’s bowl.

Haiku, re. Eleanor of Aquitaine
Famines in Normandy, 1190s

Posted on May 29, 2010 5:40 PM
By Robert Fripp

One jury, twelve jurors. Why twelve?

Did you ever serve on a jury? You took your seat in a panel of twelve jurors solemnly sequestered behind a soundproof door. Then came a shock. Seven jurors reached the verdict. The others went with the majority. That was my experience. So why empanel twelve people to do the work of seven?

Blame King Henry II of England. Henry won the throne of England in 1154 after nineteen years of civil war left the country in ruins. He spent his first decade as king restoring what years of strife had destroyed, including the judicial system. A man of tireless energy, Henry worked with his chancellor, Thomas Becket, to create a code of laws and penalties to be interpreted in new county courts by incorruptible officers. Judicial systems in many English-speaking countries descend from the model that Henry wrote into law at Clarendon in 1166.

But why empanel exactly “twelve just men” to “report malefactors”? Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, explains: “Henry showed populist leanings in curious ways. He set his legalists striving to codify the common law, and twelve is the common measure in the market-place.”

Indeed, twelve was the common market measure. Not ten. Counting ten fingers takes you to ten, and you can’t measure quarters and thirds in whole numbers. But twelve, a dozen (douzaine), takes you to a gross, 144, while whole numbers (multiples of three and four) express quarters and thirds.

Try it! Use your left thumb to tally the number of bones in the other four fingers of that hand. You’ll count twelve. Now transfer your left hand’s score, twelve, into “Memory” by using your right thumb to tally twelve on the first bone of your right forefinger. The left hand keeps the active tally (e.g. measures of peas, apples, sausages, onions, turnips or livestock) while the right hand keeps track of the twelves to subtotal the “bottom line.” Twelve was the benchmark for commerce.

And the benchmark for juries? What suited trade suited King Henry’s justice.

Henry achieved his reforms at a time of vicious discord with Thomas Becket, and with Eleanor, Henry’s queen. Eleanor removed herself from Henry’s court in England to protest his flouting his mistress, “Fair” Rosamond Clifford.

We can imagine Eleanor saying, “Let Henry draft his Constitutions, his Assize! Let him prefer his twelve just men! Let him judge England!”

Fired by her own passion for reform, Eleanor set up her Court of Ladies in her capital city, Poitiers, where women debated “courtly love” and addressed their rights, devising Eleanor’s Code of Poitiers. “I imagined for women a state above strife and far above men. Would that our human estates were ruled by twelve just women!”

The supremacy of base-twelve in trade dates from before the reign of Charlemagne, who died in 814. Charlemagne never ruled England, but good ideas travel. Henry II adopted base-twelve for English money as well as commerce. For nearly eight hundred years a shilling was worth twelve pence.

So! Measures of peas, grain, sausages, livestock, pennies and jurors. All over the planet, jurors still file in and out of courts, in twelves.

Posted on May 27, 2010 12:06 PM
By Robert Fripp

Old stories

I recall his face:
But his stories? As mist gone,
They are heard no more.

Haiku, In Memoriam Eleanor of Aquitaine
Remembering Bleheris, Bordeaux 1130s

Posted on May 14, 2010 5:36 PM
By Robert Fripp

Preferring love to marriage

Héloïse declares,
Preferring “Love to marriage,
Liberty to chains.”

Haiku, In Memoriam Eleanor of Aquitaine
The Paris years

Posted on May 11, 2010 5:28 PM
By Robert Fripp

On Courtly Love. Therapy, or Affection?

“Men have written much, muttered more and understand nothing of our Court of Ladies and my Code of Poitiers,” says Eleanor of Aquitaine, dictating her memoirs to her young scribe, Aline.

After troubled marriages to two kings, Eleanor staged a dramatic protest against her husband King Henry II’s lust for his mistress. She packed her household into seven ships and crossed the Channel to establish her “Court of Ladies” in Poitiers. In Eleanor’s day, noble and royal woman might be summarily cast off, sent to convents or housed in distant castles while their lords took new wives or mistresses. Eleanor comments, from experience, “The Church continues to censure this failing in princes with a blind eye, a deaf ear and a silent tongue.” By abandoning Henry, Eleanor threw the first blow.

Around the year 1100, the concept of “courtly love” (amour courtois) or “fine love” (fin ’amor) took root in the princely courts of Burgundy, Provence and Aquitaine. Courtly love described an attraction between a man and a woman who were not married to each other, but felt passion for the other that might involve erotic desire, spiritual or emotional attraction, respect, admiration, or passionate love. In an age when marriage too often consummated a loveless political alliance between families, courtly love was a path to genuine affection, respect or love.

The code of chivalry grew through the twelfth century in French-speaking lands. Young men training to be knights learned more than martial arts. They learned respect for women. Many vowed to devote their duty and martial prowess to the service of a lady. A second reason why marriage and love seemed mutually exclusive in medieval Europe was that only the eldest son of a noble household was permitted to marry. This prevented multiple heirs dividing a family’s inheritance. Younger sons had to find love where they might. This they did, exchanging tokens, vows and passion with their lady, and wearing her colors in tournaments. Intriguingly, the lady was often from a higher social class.

The Church did not approve of courtly love. Young knights who had looked to priests for blessing and salvation, now looked to their lady for reassurance and support.

As for the female side of a mismatched equation, Eleanor and her Court of Ladies did not originate courts of love, but her prestige reinforced the debate. After her thirty years of trials at the courts of kings and quarrels with the patriarchal Church, her person and authority came to represent and empower amour courtois. Eleanor explains her position and her Court of Ladies: “If women are to be put to marriage without love, let us claim true love as our mystery. Love is as worthy of study as those mysteries claimed by the Church. Love! That was what we debated and judged at my Court of Ladies.” / Copyright 2010 Robert Fripp

Posted on Apr 28, 2010 1:38 PM
By Robert Fripp

Storm wracks the Channel

Storm wracks the Channel.
To go aboard one babe in arms and one enwombed,
Or lose a kingdom?

Eleanor takes ship at Barfleur 1154

Posted on Apr 27, 2010 5:10 PM
By Robert Fripp

Gothic time. Then as now as shall be

Dwell in the Present.
Let life preserve the wholeness
In eternity.

Haiku, In Memoriam Eleanor of Aquitaine
Fontevrault 1203

Posted on Apr 12, 2010 5:48 PM
By Robert Fripp

Of light and nature

Hold tight to trobar.
Celebrate light and nature
For vanquishing ills.

In Memoriam, Eleanor of Aquitaine
Memes, Fontevrault 1203

Posted on Apr 6, 2010 5:57 PM
By Robert Fripp

On traits in memory, and DNA

This blog reflects me playing with a pet toy, trying to integrate strands from dissimilar themes:

Eleanor (Chapter 1): “The many bends along the highroad of my life conceal the vistas between this fleeting moment of pure being and ancient recollections coursing like deerhounds through my brains. In a life of fourscore years and more, who can look so far back? So many rivers crossed; too many days. The very richness of experience crowds and clouds the brains.”

Pure science: The “Most Recent Common Ancestor” (MRCA) formula detects the most likely past generation from which two individuals derive a single common ancestor. Thus, MRCA detects the earliest genetic memory of diverging kinship.

Eleanor: “Whole years are banished. Other memories have stamped themselves into my mind as if they were illuminations, painted for posterity upon the wind-whipped pages of a book: now seen, now gone again. Memory can be a stranger in its own house. Or do I mean estranged from its own house? I struggle to recall the crucial things, while trivia come clothed in gilt and shining colours and the fashions of the day.”

Pure science: Calculating MRCA depends on determining mutation rates per generation. This value, the Mutation Constant, is the rate at which a mutation shows up at a specific locus between a father and his son.

Eleanor: “Do all one’s memories speak truth? Some must be wishes masked as recollections, borne as fact upon the current of old time. The loneliness of age bestows one singular advantage: no mortal body from my generation lives to contradict what I shall say.”

Posted on Mar 5, 2010 12:21 PM
By Robert Fripp

Troy, transposed to the medieval world

I had been writing the background to a medieval wedding when something about it struck me as familiar. The wedding suggested people, events and a long, bitter war that had been fought twenty-three hundred years earlier near the northwest coast of Anatolia.

Why should the marriage of King John in the year 1200 resemble the epoch-defining Trojan War?

The tale of the Trojan War goes like this: The goddess Aphrodite chose to make Helen the most beautiful of mortal women. Helen attracted many suitors, choosing in time to marry Menelaus, king of Sparta. However, one rejected suitor, Paris, could not accept rejection, plotting to abduct her.

Paris, who happened to be a prince from the city of Troy, came to Sparta on the pretext of visiting Menelaus, who extended his hospitality. With the help of Aphrodite’s divine powers, Paris contrived to send Menelaus out of Sparta on a false pretext. Aphrodite created a storm to extend his absence by blowing his ship across the Mediterranean, to Africa. While his crew struggled to return, Paris seized Helen and carried her off to the island of Kranai. Then they set sail for Troy. The Spartans and their allies gave chase. The resulting war reduced Troy to ruins in ten years.

In the year 1200, King John developed a great passion for another beauty, Isabella of Taillefer, who would soon be another man’s bride. That man was Hughes le Brun, head of the House of Lusignan, a clan hostile to John’s ruling Angevin family.

John’s redoubtable mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, recounts the tale, replete with parallels to the Trojan War: “Isabella of Taillefer is Helen; Hughes le Brun is Menelaus; Sparta with its warrior clan is Lusignan; and Paris, prince of Troy, is my foolish son, John.” As the queen of England, and then as the mother of two kings, Eleanor had been at war against France for almost half a century. She had earned the right to spit with real feeling, “Paris! What a nemesis hangs upon that name.”

Eleanor saw the connections: Hughes le Brun had fed and entertained his betrayer, her son John, as Menelaus had welcomed Paris. John had sent Hughes on a fool’s errand, as Aphrodite had sent Menelaus. The castle of Chinon, where John spent an extended honeymoon with his stolen bride, substituted for the island of Kranai. Worse, Eleanor belatedly recognized that she had unwisely encouraged John to abduct Hughes’ bride. At eighty-one, she bitterly concludes that she herself played the role of Aphrodite in abducting Isabella. And Troy? “God help me, Troy is everything my life’s work built to be possessed and ruled by men now dead!” (Chapter 44). Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Angevin Empire would succumb to enemy forces in the year of her death, 1204.

Posted on Mar 2, 2010 1:25 PM
By Robert Fripp

Courtship with an Iron Butterfly

I was working on something else when I stumbled on Eleanor, read part of her life, and was smitten. It wasn’t sufficient to write another biography along the lines of biographers Amy Kelly and Régine Pernoud. (Pernoud was born in the shadow of the Plantagenet’s treasure castle, the Chateau Chinon.) By definition, a biography written in the third person studies its subject from the outside looking in. I reasoned it would be better to write Eleanor’s memoirs as if channeling her life from the inside, looking out.

Twenty years ago the British novelist John Fowles did me the honor of writing the foreword to one of my books. In his novel “Daniel Martin,” Fowles comments that, to attain a degree of accomplishment, a writer has to be able to express thoughts from the other gender’s point of view. So, in contemplating the life of Eleanor, the next challenge was to project her life and personality. In this respect reviewers have been kind.

To help this process I commissioned two portraits, both of them based on the sculpted head of Eleanor twinned with her second husband, the future Henry II of England. Henry and Eleanor adorn a capital in the Metropolitan Museum’s Cloisters, in New York. The first portrait, Copyright by Duncan Long of Kansas City, puts flesh on the stone of the thirty year old Eleanor depicted in the Cloisters carving. This is the Eleanor whom troubadours celebrated “from the Rhine to the western sea.” The second image is less kind. I asked forensic artist David Major of Toronto to add fifty years to the bust at the Cloisters. David gave me Eleanor in old age (Copyright David Major) – but this may be the more important portrait of the two. The subject of this portrait is the eighty-one year old woman who dictates her very long life of triumphs and tragedies onto the pages of “Power of a Woman…”

May “Power of a Woman” carry you, readers, into an unfamiliar, medieval world, and bring you safely home.

With my best wishes,

Robert

Posted on Feb 4, 2010 5:18 PM
By Robert Fripp