Plantagenets: Cistercian Abbey of L’Epau

The old Plantagenet town of LeMans rises high upon a pinnacle, with tiered houses in golden coloured stone, clinging for dear life, to the riverside hill.  Part and part girdled by a 3rd century Roman wall, with richly decorative brickwork, displaying the Empire’s wealth.

Berengaria of Navarre, daughter of Sancho VI, King of Navarre, was born in 1165, and married Richard the Lionheart in May of 1191 in Limassol, Cyprus.  In April of 1199, her estranged husband died.

England’s crown passed from Richard to his brother John.  John withheld funds due to Berengaria, and she lived a life of poverty, until she could stand no more, and threw herself at the mercy of the French Monarchy, who gave her the town of LeMans.

Berengaria opted to build the Cistercian Abbey of L’Epau between the town and forest in 1228.  Construction commenced on the 25th March 1229 by Citeaux monks, who resided in the area.  She retired to the Abbey and on the 23rd December 1230 died, and was buried within the Abbey.

Design of the Abbey, was based on a classic construction, similar in style to other Cistercian buildings.  The main buildings took till 1280 to complete and final construction was completed in 1365.

Monks fled the Abbey during the Hundred Years War, and the town inhabitants, feared troops would seize the building, as a base to attack LeMan.

In 1366, the damaged sections, destroyed the previous year were rebuilt by the Bourgeois (Middle Class Property Owners) of LeMans.

Charles VI taxed the local inhabitants, leading to the restoration of the Abbey and Church (1400-1444).  Guillaume de Bonneville, an artisan played a major part in its restoration.

In 1960 during the restoration of the Abbey, Pierre Terouanne uncovered a skeleton of a woman who died in her sixties, which is thought to be; Berengaria of Navarre.  The remains have been preserved beneath the stone effigy of the queen, which is now located in the Chapter House of the Abbey.

Wife of Richard I: Berengaria of Navarre

Berengaria of Navarre, the daughter of Sancho VI, King of Navarre and Sancha of Castille was born in 1165. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother to Richard I of England, and Dowager Queen, stepped in, and selected Berengaria of Navarre, as an appropriate wife for his son. 

Whilst Richard was on route to the Holy Land, Eleanor of Aquitaine, collected Berengaria of Navarre, and escorted her to Sicily, arriving in March 1191. 

Berengaria and Joanna travelled on together, their ship was struck by storms, and limped into Cyprus, for shelter.  Isaac Komnenos ruler of Cyprus, took them prisoner, and demanded a ransom for their return.  Richard was outraged at their capture and attacked Cyprus, and Isaac Komnenos was arrested and thrown in prison. 

King Richard I of England married Berengaria of Navarre on the 12th May 1191, at the Chapel of St.George at Limassol on Cyprus.  On the very same day, she was crowned Queen of England.

The Third Crusade was by and large successful in shoring up Christian dominance of Palestine.  In the September of 1192, Berengaria, Joanna and the former Cypriot princess set sail from Acre, bound for Poitou in France.  Richard chose to remain behind, and negotiate a treaty, ending the Third Crusade.

Duke Leopold of Austria, captured King Richard I of England, handing him over to the Holy Roman Emperor, supported by Philip Augustus of France, to be held prisoner in Germany.

On one hand Richard’s brother, Prince John wanted nothing more than to see his brother remain in prison, so he could claim the English throne.  It fell to Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard’s mother, who was overseeing Richard’s government to raise the ransom money.  She resorted to fair and foul means to raise the 100,000 marks required, leading to Richard’s release in 1194.

In the March of 1199, Richard’s forces were besieging “Chateau de Chalus-Chabrol” in Chalus, France.  On the 25th March, was struck down by a crossbow bolt, from the castle’s battlements.  The wound became infected and turned gangrene.

King Richard I of England died in his mother’s arms, on the 6th April 1199.  Richard’s neglected wife; Berengaria of Navarre was not even summoned, she was not invited to Richard’s funeral at Fontevrault Abbey.

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