Peter of Blois: Letter 154
to Queen Eleanor, 1173
Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine: An
Attempt to Chastise Her
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? How does this picture compare and/or
contrast with the "Queen of Hearts" portrayal in Amy
Kelly or the feminist interpretation of Marion Meade?
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.) Putting this letter into the context of what we know about
Eleanor, what does it say about the status of women, e.g., the
"Pit and Pedestal" paradigm of Eileen Power?
5.) Finally, how does one go about further research? For example,
if the information and approach in the letter is seriously flawed
by the bias and self-interest of King Henry (not to mention Peter
of Blois or the Archbishop of Rouen), then how can we correct
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
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
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
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
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© Paul Halsall May 1997