Queen Consort of Henry III
Born 1222 Died 1291
Also known as Eleanor Berenger
Eleanor was born at Aix-en-Provence in France most likely around the
years 1222-1223, although some sources suggest a date as early as the year 1217. She was the second of the four daughters of Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence and Beatrice of Savoy, and since Provence was a near neighbour of English Aquitaine a likely candidate for a dynastic alliance with the English crown.
When the young king Henry III reached his majority in 1227 he began casting around for a suitable bride. A number of candidates were considered, with potential brides from Brittany, Scotland and France duly examined but the final choice fell upon Eleanor with the marriage contract signed in the October of 1235. On the 14th January 1236, at the age of 14 or so she was married to Henry III at Canterbury Cathedral in Kent and crowned queen six days later at Westminster on the 20th January 1236.
Eleanor was soon to be joined in England by many of her relatives, notable amongst whom were her uncles Peter of Savoy who came to England in 1240, and was created Earl of Richmond and Bernard of Savoy who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1245. This influx of foreigners and various sundry hangers-on who were to receive various favours and positions of authority rendered Eleanor rather unpopular in England, but despite her unpopularity Eleanor developed into a vigorous and decisive woman who, it appears exercised a great deal of influence over her husband. When Henry went abroad to Aquitaine in the July of 1253, he placed England in the hands of his wife, a position she only relinquished in May 1254, when she left England to join her husband abroad. (And leaving Richard of Cornwall in charge.)
Eleanor also seems to have been prominent in urging her husband
to refuse any degree of compromise with the reform movement that emerged during the early stages of the Baronial Revolt in the years after 1258, insisting that Henry should not surrender any of his royal prerogative.
This Revolt eventually escalated into war in 1264 and Henry
found himself the prisoner of Simon de Montfort who became the defacto ruler of the country. Whilst England was under the control of Simon de Montfort, Eleanor remained at Boulogne in France, where she became the
focus for a group of exiles intent on restoring Henry to the full enjoyment
of his royal powers. There she was busy borrowing money in the king's name, and raising troops for a planned invasion of England. Although she was a thorn in the side of the Montfortian government, the invasion never quite happened. Apart from a few raids on the coast, nothing much was achieved
until the Lord Edward escaped from custody and organised the counter-revolt in the Welsh Marches that soon led to the defeat and death of Montfort at the battle of Evesham in the August
With the restoration of Henry III in 1265, her influence appears to have lessened somewhat as there was a greater spirit of compromise in the air following the horrors of the civil war of 1264-1265. Henry died in 1270 and her son Edward succeeded as king, and Eleanor increasingly faded into the background.
In the July of 1284 Eleanor retired to the convent at Amesbury Abbey
in Wiltshire, although it seems unlikely that she took full religious vows, as she seems to have retained full control of her estates. It is notable that she chose Amesbury in England rather than
Fontevrault Abbey in Anjou as her place of retirement, presumably in
order that she might continue to keep an eye on her son. It is noteworthy that the family conference of 1290 organised to discuss the dynasty's future took place at Amesbury, indicating that the views of the dowager queen remained of some consequence.
Eleanor died soon afterwards on the 24 June 1291 at Amesbury Abbey, where she was buried. Although she and Henry had a total of nine children, only two survived into adulthood; the aforementioned Edward who became Edward I and Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster.
- T. F. Tout The History of England From the Accession of Henry III to the Death of Edward III (1216-1377) See http://www.cwru.edu/UL/preserve/stack/1216.html
- The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001.
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- Maurice Powicke The Thirteenth Century (OUP, 1962)