Crowning a Favorite Son: The Coronation of Richard I
Eleanor of Aquitaine not only had two coronations (through her marriages to the kings of France and England), but three of her sons were also crowned King of England. One, her oldest son Henry, was only a “junior king.” He was crowned during his father’s lifetime with, to his displeasure, purely ceremonial status. Unfortunately for young Henry, he predeceased Henry II.
Two of Eleanor’s younger sons, Richard and John, became King of England in turn, and during her lifetime.
Eleanor’s son Richard had always been her favorite. By her wish, in 1172, when he was 15 years old, Richard was invested as Duke of her own treasured province of Aquitaine. A year later, Richard and his brothers, encouraged by Eleanor, rebelled against their father.
That rebellion ended with reconciliation between father and sons, but with no reconciliation for Eleanor. Henry could not forgive that wifely betrayal. She was, thereafter, kept in custody in England by Henry II until his death on 6 July 1189.
Henry II did, on occasion – when it was to his benefit – wheel Eleanor out for public display. One such occasion occurred in 1185. Even though Henry had been reconciled with his sons in 1174, conflict (albeit muted) continued. In April 1185, hoping to quell a restive Richard in Aquitaine, Henry II, then in Normandy, sent for Eleanor to join him. He then sent a message to Richard in Aquitaine, telling him to give Aquitaine back to its rightful Duchess, his mother. Richard obeyed.
Thereafter, Henry, Eleanor and Richard acted together as joined rulers. It was a victory for Henry, who was no longer in conflict with Richard. The victory was temporary. The cooperation did not last. Richard and Henry were in open armed conflict at the time of Henry’s death in 1189. It was also a very temporary victory for Eleanor since she had been briefly reunited with her son and had at least the minimal satisfaction of having her personal status recognized. It was also a victory of sorts for Richard since, when his father necessarily turned his attention to his other lands, Richard’s position as heir of Aquitaine had been confirmed.
When Richard did succeed his father on 6 July 1189, he sent orders to England for his mother’s immediate release, giving her full authority until his arrival. Among other matters, she must have immediately turned her attention to the planning needed for her son’s magnificent coronation.
Richard set sail for England on 13 August 1189. He landed at Portsmouth the next day and, from there, rode to Winchester where his mother joined him. They traveled eastward together, arriving in London on September 1st.
Richard was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 3 September, in what must have been a proud and victorious moment for Eleanor. She had outlived her much-younger husband. She had survived her long and cruel 16-year imprisonment. And she was watching now as her favorite son was crowned King of England.
There were undoubtedly bells, trumpets, eager crowds cheering, houses draped with tapestries and adorned with flowers and garlands. Our descriptions come from monkish chroniclers, however, who were only interested in the events at Westminster Abbey. They are woefully silent on the festivities but give splendid details for the coronation itself.
Officiating at the coronation was Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury. Led by a cross-bearer and with incense censers swinging, he processed into the Abbey with the archbishops of Rouen, Treves and Dublin, and other bishops, abbots and clerks.
Following the clerics came four barons carrying candlesticks, then Godfrey de Lucy and John Marshall carrying Richard’s cap and spurs; and then William Marshal, Earl of Striguil, carrying a golden scepter topped with a cross and William Fitzpatrick, Earl of Salisbury, carrying a golden wand topped with a dove.
Then followed three earls, David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of the king of the Scots; John, Earl of Montaigne, Richard’s younger brother; and Robert, Earl of Leicester, each carrying a sword in a golden sheath. Six earls and barons carrying the royal arms and robes came next, and finally William de Mandeville, Earl of Aumarle, carrying a great massive golden crown, decorated with gemstones, which he placed on the altar.
Then the man of the hour – Richard, processing under a silk canopy whose corners were held upright by four spears carried by four barons, and flanked by Hugh, Bishop of Durham, and Reginald, Bishop of Bath, with a crowd of other earls, barons, lords, knights and members of the clergy following behind.
Once Richard had arrived at the altar, on which were placed a copy of the Gospels and relics of saints, he swore that he would “observe peace, honor and reverence, all his life, towards God, the holy church and its ordinances … [and] that he would exercise true justice towards the people committed to his charge, and abrogating all bad laws and unjust customs” (These are the chronicler’s words in translation, probably not the exact words used by Richard).
Richard removed his outer robes and was anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury on his head, on his chest (through tears in his shirt) and on his right arm. He was subsequently redressed in his royal robes.
Richard then took the crown from the altar and gave it to the Archbishop, who placed it on Richard’s head. Mass was then celebrated. Richard was then escorted to a private chamber, where he took off the heavy royal robes and heavy ceremonial crown, and put on lighter robes and a less weighty crown.
After the religious ceremony, a coronation banquet ensued, attended by the archbishops, bishops and other assembled clergy, earls and barons, all carefully seated according to their rank at tables so closely pressed together that they could not be numbered. There they were served, according to a French observer, “such abundance of meats set forth that none might keep tally thereof,” and the wine flowed freely, served in “vessels of great price.”
The financial records for the coronation show that no expense was spared. Eleanor and her attendants received new gowns. Eleanor’s cape used some four yards of silk and was trimmed with squirrel’s fur and with sable. She also received some seven yards of red cloth, two sables and a miniver with which to refurbish her wardrobe. (Sable and miniver are both furs from stoats, a species of weasel; sable is the stoat’s summer coat and miniver, an extravagantly expensive pure white fur, is its winter coat.)
The most honored female guests at the coronation, including the sister of the king of France, Richard’s sister-in-law Isabella of Gloucester and the Duchess of Striguil, were gifted with silken cloaks. Even the horses ridden by the members of the royal party received festive new saddlecloths.
Those fabrics and furs are the only mention of Eleanor in the records. She obviously had an important part in the event but, whether she was publicly seen at the coronation, or whether she was playing a behind-the-scenes role ensuring that the procession stepped off in proper order, or that the banquet was being prepared properly, or that the royal entourage was appropriate and magnificently garbed – or all of the above! – we simply do not know.
Eleanor was, however, definitely front and center for what is sometimes described as Richard’s “second coronation” in 1194.
After only three months in England, largely spent fundraising for the Third Crusade, Richard sailed for the continent and the start of his holy adventure. He arrived in Palestine in early summer of 1191.
Although Richard did win several victories (in the course of which, he severely offended several of his European allies), he did not have the resources to take Palestine from the Saracen leader Saladin.
In September 1192, he and Saladin signed a truce and, the following month, Richard sailed for home, ending the Third Crusade. Due to a series of misadventures, he was captured in December near Vienna on 21 December 1192 by one of those irate former allies and held in prison by the German emperor for over a year. He was set free on 4 February 1194 after his mother, Eleanor, had personally delivered an enormous ransom that she had worked tirelessly to raise.
Eleanor and Richard sailed together for England, landing on 14 March 1194. On 17 April 1194, he held an imposing “crown-wearing” ceremony at Winchester Cathedral to emphasize to one and all that the king was back and, once again, totally and magnificently in control.
This ceremony was deliberately patterned on Richard’s original coronation. Once again, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by now a new one named Hubert, followed by an enormous crowd of assorted archbishops, bishops, abbots and clerics, led the procession to the altar.
Following the clerics came three lords carrying three swords with golden sheaths. The honors in 1194 were done by William, King of the Scots; Hamelin de Warenne, Earl of Surrey; and Ranulph, Earl of Chester. Richard was flanked by William, Bishop of Ely, and Richard, Bishop of London, and again processed under a silk canopy supported by the spears of four barons.
But, and here there are critical differences, Richard entered the church already wearing his great golden crown and carrying the golden scepter and golden wand himself. He received a blessing from the Archbishop of Canterbury while wearing his crown, but he was NOT re-anointed. He then sat for the celebration of Mass. And, in another wonderful difference, the chronicle specifically notes that Eleanor, his mother, was seated with her maids of honor, directly opposite her son, King Richard.
After Mass, and after once again exchanging his weighty robes and crown for lighter robes and a lighter crown, he proceeded to another magnificent banquet, this one held in the monk’s refectory, before returning to his rooms in Winchester castle.
One month after his crown-wearing, Richard sailed for France, never to return. He died in France on April 6, 1199. At his death, he was succeeded by the youngest brother, John. When John was crowned at Westminster Abbey on 25 May 1199, Eleanor was not present.
This was not a sign of disaffection. John’s claim to the throne of England was not without problems. He was the fourth surviving son of Henry II and Eleanor. His older brothers Henry “the young king” and Richard had died without children. His older brother Geoffrey, however, had left a son, Arthur of Brittany, who had a strong claim to the throne by right of inheritance. Eleanor’s support for her son John, in preference to her grandson Arthur, was significant in John’s success.
While John was being crowned, Eleanor was ensuring that her own duchy of Aquitaine stayed loyal. We know Eleanor was in Poitiers on 4 May, journeying from there to Andilly and La Rochelle, and finally to Bordeaux, where she arrived 1 July.
Arthur did not take his dispossession quietly. He found a natural ally in the French. In 1202, as John was in Normandy gathering troops, Arthur trapped his grandmother, Eleanor, at Mirabeau Castle. John bestirred himself as he never had before (and never did afterwards). He made a dramatic and near-miraculous forced march to rescue his mother, capturing Arthur in the process. Thereafter, Eleanor, perhaps now feeling her age, retired to the French abbey of Fontevreault. There, she may have heard the rumors that, in April of 1203, her son John had killed her grandson Arthur.
By March of 1204, she was fading quickly. When she died March 31,1204, she was probably not aware that, three weeks earlier, the castle of Chateau Gaillard, built by her son Richard – his pride and joy and crowning architectural achievement – had been surrendered to Philip of France by the forces of her son, King John.