Plantagenet Dynasty: Abbey of Fontevrault

Robert d’Arbrissel, Archpriest of the Rennes Diocese, carried out reforms on behalf of his bishop, until his death in 1095.  Hostility erupted following the bishop’s death, amongst the local clergy, forcing the Diocese to step in and remove Arbrissel from his position.

Arbrissel became a hermit, practicing a life of penance in Craon forest.

In 1096 he founded a monastery of Canons at LaRoe, with himself as the first Abbot.

Pope Urban II summoned Arbrissel to Angers, appointing him as apostolic missionary, and granted him the right to preach anywhere.  His preaching drew crowds of devoted followers.

In 1099, Robert d’Arbrissel, settled in the Fons Ebraldi Valley, where he established his monastic community.

The foundation flourished, attracting more followers to his dream , a new monastic order; the Order of Fontevrault, consisting of a monastery and nunnery, within a single complex, governed by an Abbess.  As such nuns and monks lived by the Rule of St.Benedict.

Aristocratic ladies often retreated or retired to the Abbey of Fontevrault, banished from court, discarded mistresses of Kings.  Robert d’Arbrissel ruled that the Abbess would never be one from within, but drawn in from outside, one with worldly experience.  In 1201, Pope Innocent III removed this rule.

The Abbey of Fontevrault is located in the Pays de la Loire region, a monastic city of Europe, and royal necropolis cemetery of the Plantagenet dynasty.

In 1804, it was saved from destruction when Napoleon transformed it, into a prison, and it remained so until 1985.

The Plantagenet Dynasty and Fontevrault Abbey

Founded in 1101 by Robert d’Arbrissel, known as the Royal Abbey of Fontevrault, characterised by its two orders, and governed by women.

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) was Queen to Louis VII, King of France and King Henry II of England.

In 1137, her father died and she became heiress of the duchy of Aquitaine, the richest province of Southern France.

In 1173, Eleanor backed her sons, when they revolted against their father; King Henry II.

Her actions came at a price, Henry defeated his sons and imprisoned Eleanor until his death in 1189.

Richard I (The Lionheart) became King, and appointed his mother, Eleanor as his regent when he was in the Holy Land.

Richard died in 1199, in her arms, and was succeeded by his brother Prince John (John Lackland).

Eleanor retired to the Abbey of Fontevrault where she died in 1204.

In the early years the Plantagenets became major benefactors of the Abbey, and during Isabella d’Anjou time as Abbess, Eleanor of Aquitaine, made the Abbey her home.

With the passing of the Plantagenet dynasty, Fontevrault fell on hard times, and Abbess Matilda of Flanders (1189-1194) complained of extreme poverty.

In 1247, during the time of Abbess Mabile of La Ferte, nuns were permitted to receive inheritances to provide income for their daily needs, which was contrary to monastic custom.

Abbess Louise de Bourbon left her crest on many of the alterations she made, during her term of office (1534-1575).

The Holy Order at Fontevrault Abbey was dispersed during the French Revolution, and in November 1789, all Catholic Church property, became the property of the nation.

On the 17th August 1792, by revolutionary decree, the evacuation of all monasteries was so ordered, and completed by the 1st October 1792.

The Holy Order’s last Abbess, Julie Sophie Charlotte de Pardaillan d’Antin (1765-1792) died of poverty in Paris of 1797.

List of Abbesses:

Petronille de Chemille (1115-1149)

Matilda of Anjou (1149-1155)

Audeburge of Hautes-Bruyeres (1155-1180) 

Gilles (1180-1189)

Adelaide (1189-1189)

Matilda of Flanders (1189-1194)

Matilda of Bohemia (1194-1207)

Marie of Burgundy (1207-1208)

Alice of Bourbon (1208-1209)

Alice of Champagne (1209-1218)

Bertha (1218-1228)

Adele of Brittany (1228-1244)

Mabile of La Ferte (1244-1265)

Jeanne de Dreux (1265-1276)

Isabeau Davoir (1276-1284)

Marguerite de Pocey (1284-1304)

Eleanor of Brittany (1304-1342)

Isabel of Valois (1342-?)

Marie of Brittany (1457-1477)

Anne of Orleans (1477-1491)

Renee de Bourbon (1491-1534)

Louise de Bourbon (1534-1575)

Eleonore de Bourbon (1575-1611)

Louise de Bourbon de Lavedan (1611-1637)

Jeanne-Baptiste de Bourbon (1637-1670)

Gabrielle de Rochechouart de Mortemart (1670-1704)

Louise-Francoise de Rochechouart de Mortemart (1704-1742)

Marie-Louise de Timbrone (1753-1765)

Julie-Gillette de Pardaillan d’Antin (1765-1792)

Fontevrault Abbey during the Plantagenet dynasty became a mausoleum for King Henry II of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Richard I of England, Joan their daughter, grandson Raymond VII of Toulouse and Isabella of Angouleme.  Their remains possibly destroyed during the French Revolution, or during change of use to a prison.  Today, the Abbey house figures represent Plantagenet sovereigns… Counts of Anjou and benefactors of the Abbey.

During the early years of the 1980’s Fontevrault Abbey, a former Plantagenet Mausoleum underwent restoration, turning it from a prison back to that of an abbey.  Much was based on the Abbey’s writings and how a Cistercian Abbey should look.

The Chapter House, would be located around the cloists, and used for ceremonies.  Fontevrault was built in the 16th century and its walls painted, covering up monastic images and texts, when it became a prison.

The Warming Room, as it became known, was the only area to have heating.

Three Dormitories are located on the first floor, access by way of a Renaissance staircase, and date back to the 16th century.

The Infirmaries were built in the 12th century, then rebuilt in the early part of the 17th century and originally formed the main courtyard of the Abbey.  This is where Nuns would end their days.

The Romanesque Kitchens were built in the 12th century.

Fontevrault, is no different to other Abbey’s, surrounded by gardens; Utilitarian kitchen garden, Cemetery orchard and a medicinal herb garden.

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