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Eleanor & Rosamund: Rivals Shmivals

Okay Ladybirds and Gentlemen Callers, grab yo’ wine and settle in for another intriguing installment of history as interpreted by moi, your crappy-haired-television-obsessed faithful imparter of whimsy and cold hard facts.

Shamefully (as she seems to be a favourite subject of the Pre-Raphaelites), I knew nothing about Henry II’s mistress Rosamund Clifford until The History of England filled me in. On his podcast, Mr Crowther calls her ‘the love of Henry’s life’ and I’m all too ready to jump on board with any romantic overstatement of that nature.

I guess we really don’t know too much about the whole thing–tis now the stuff of legends.

What we do know is that Fair Rosamund (Rose of the World) was very…fair. And as she is beloved by the Pre-Raphaelites (and a mistress), let’s go ahead and endow her with luscious auburn Fanny Cornforth hair.

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Rossetti’s rosacea-suffering Fair Rosamund, 1861

So, I mean, if we’re going to relate this to Game of Thrones, which we obviously are, Rosamund is kind of like Sansa Stark. (Well, not really at all but let’s go with it–wine!)

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Which would make Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, like Lysa Tully?

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Bleck.

So, apparently Henry had a lot of affairs. But Rosamund was different. The affair began in 1166 and Henry finally publicly acknowledged his relationship with Rosamund in 1174 (according to an un-cited Wikipedia source) (#learning). Eleanor didn’t like that very much.

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Just kidding. Eleanor was actually in prison (for, you know, inciting her sons to rebel against their own father) when Henry decided to go public about his affair, so it’s unlikely that the above-featured cat fight occurred.

BUT legends of Eleanor murdering Rosamund have been circulating since the 14th century so my imagination, stemming from an attempt to appeal to your salacious instincts (heathens), isn’t that far off base. It was said that in order to keep their affair a secret from Eleanor, the lovemaking was conducted in the middle of a maze that had been constructed at Henry’s behest. Yada yada yada despite the maze, Eleanor eventually found Rosamund and offered her a choice between two tempting options: a dagger or a bowl o’ poison.

Rosamund apparently chose the bowl o’ poison. Good call.

Here are some crime photos illustrating this exchange:

There are also some references to Eleanor chopping Rosamund up in a bathtub or something??? I don’t know. I don’t know what that’s all about. Forget it.

But, at the risk of ruining the fun, I wonder if Eleanor was even that bothered about the whole thing? It seems to me that she was a pretty big badass who is habitually painted in a negative light. Like I just did – I cast her as Lysa Tully! Who is the worst! THE WORST!

In all of these paintings Eleanor is depicted as the haggy, witchy, cold wife misplacing her revenge on Henry’s virginal (?!) innocent mistress. When really all we know of Eleanor seems to indicate that she was kinda more concerned with being powerful and successful and independent and cool. She was highly educated, married to two kings, went on a freaking crusade, had about a billion children, was in prison for 16 years, and lived to be like 80-something years old!!!!!!!

I mean, 80 is pretty much the equivalent of 400 in the Middle Ages.

So let’s recast Eleanor of Aquitaine as a grownup Arya – undeniably awesome and unconcerned with petty jealousies.

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And let’s place the burden of adultery where it is due.

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Henry II

Tragically, unlike long-enduring-Eleanor, Rosamund ended up dying in a nunnery (we think) in 1176 before she even reached the ripe old age of 30.

Perhaps it was a broken heart?

Unfortunately, all we really know of Rosamund is defined by her relationship to the king. But I’m betting she was just a normal gal who appreciated good takeout, a bottle of wine, and Netflix.

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Fair Rosamund waiting for her pizza delivery, John William Waterhouse (1917)

Next time we delve into #history we’ll look at another one of Henry’s mistresses — one who shares my name as well as my penchant for being passed between famous men like a piece of pork belly. jkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjkjk!

xWG


This Weekes Word is, apparently, a common British word that I had never heard used in the States. So… it will hopefully at least be obscure and useful to my American readers.

Scarper: evidently from ‘Vulgar Latin’ excappare and first used in 1846 meaning to flee or run away. Ex: Shoving Henry aside, Fair Rosamund scarpered from the mundane solitude of her tower to eagerly greet the Deliveroo driver at the edge of the maze.

8 thoughts on “Eleanor & Rosamund: Rivals Shmivals Leave a comment

  1. Like you, I sincerely doubt that Eleanor d’Aquitaine was overly concerned about Rosamund Clifford, considering that her husband was a frequent frolicker with women to whom he was not wed, including Ida de Tosny (my 25th great-grandmother via their son William I Longespée).

    Of course, it could be that I am merely trying to smooth out family squabbles, as not only is one of Henry II’s illegitimate kids an ancestor but also two of his legitimate offspring via Eleanor d’Aquitaine: John “Lackland” (my two-times 24th great-grandfather) and Eleanor (my two-times 24th great-grandmother and my 25th great-grandmother.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • What!!! That’s insanely cool!!! I can’t believe you’ve been able to trace back to all these folks… Incredible! Ol’ Lackland is featured my ‘Mouthy Matilda’ post, but I’m afraid I didn’t paint your great grandfather in the best light!!! 😬😂

      Liked by 1 person

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