Eleanor, named after her mother, was the sixth child of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was born in about 1161 but in 1170 she was married to Alfonso VIII of Castile. The aim was to secure the border with Aquitaine. One of Eleanor’s daughters born in 1188 was named Blanche. Initially a sister of Blanche’s was betrothed to Philip II of France’s heir but the girls’ grandmother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, decided that it was Blanche who would make a better queen of France.
In 1200, Blanche was escorted across the Pyrenees by her indomitable grandmother, the marriage being made to the benefit of King John of England and involving the dower of lordships held by the English Crown. There was only a year between the bride and groom.
In 1215, King John’s revolting barons offered the English throne to Louis because he was married to Henry II’s granddaughter – and who was going to turn down an entire realm? At one point two thirds of England’s barons recognised Louis as their king, he held London and one third of the country. In 1217 the tide turned in the aftermath of the Battle of Lincoln but Louis tried to regain the military imperative. It was Blanche who put the fleet together that would resupply her husband when Philip II of France refused to help. She gained cash from her father-in-law by threatening to offer her children as hostages. It was all to no avail. Following the Battle of Sandwich in the summer of 1217 Louis was forced to come to terms with King Henry III’s supporters and take himself home.
Philip died in 1223 but was followed three years later by Blanche’s husband. Louis IX was only 12 years old but unlike Henry III’s mother, Blanche had no intention of deserting her son and besides which Louis VIII left the regency in Blanche’s hands on his deathbed. She forced the French magnates to accept the young king and in the capacity of regent played both the military and diplomatic cards in a way that her grandmother would have applauded. In 1229 she forged the Treaty of Paris. She remained an influential political player throughout her life and in 1248 became regent of France for a second time when Louis went on the Seventh Crusade.
She died in 1252, perhaps to the relief of her daughter-in-law, Margaret of Province, who had a difficult relationship with Blanche who was jealous of any time that Louis spent with Margaret.
John’s worst fault perhaps was that he was an unlucky king. The mercenaries he’d amassed to challenge his barons in 1215 were scatted and drowned during autumn storms at sea. Things went from bad to worse for him after that. By the following year John was fleeing from castle to castle with King Louis VIII in hot pursuit. He’d lost London and Winchester. The french seemed to be everywhere and it was the fact that they pursued John into Cambridgeshire that sent John north to Lincolnshire where he followed a scorched earth policy and relieved Lincoln which was being besieged by the revolting barons. John chased them off but failed to intercept King Alexander `ii of Scotland who was making the most of the chaos in England. John’s letter record the fact that he was in Lincoln on September 22nd. He inspected the castle and made its custodian, the indefatigable Nichola de la Haye Sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right (I feel a post on her coming on even as I type).
From Lincoln John travelled back towards East Anglia via Grimsby, Louth, Boston and Spalding. He arrived in Bishop’s Lynn on October 9th. Historians cannot be sure what John was planning but Lynn was an important port and John arranged to have supplies sent to his northern castles. It is reasonable to assume that he was planning a campaign in the north. John was taken ill whilst in Lynn. Ralph of Coggeshall assumed it was gluttony. Morris makes the very good point that at 49 the king had been setting a ferocious pace. He could simply have been exhausted.
In any event John set out once again for Lincolnshire on the 12th October. He travelled via Wisbech whilst his baggage appears to have taken a different and rather more disastrous route near Sutton Bridge. He spent that night in Swineshead Abbey where famously he ate rather too many peaches, pears and cider becoming ever more ill. Bereft of his household belongings and his treasures he arrived at the Bishop of Lincoln’s castle at Sleaford on the 14th October where he stayed overnight. On the 15th he wrote to Pope Honorius III (Innocent had died in July) that he was suffering from an ‘incurable infirmity.’ John took the opportunity to put his kingdom under the Church’s protection. This was a stratagem that he hoped would save England from Louis for Prince Henry who would shortly become King Henry III.
By then he was too ill to ride, so John was carried by litter to Newark – a journey of some twenty or so miles. He arrived at Newark on the 16th of October. He wrote his will and that night the king died having given Margaret de Lucy who was the daughter of William and Matilda de Braoze, permission to found a Hospital of St John along with land for its foundation in memory of her mother and brother who’d starved to death in Windsor. John’s will along with his tomb can be seen in Worcester Cathedral.