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.

Plantagenet King: Richard I

1189 Henry II dies on the 6th July in France and is succeeded to the English throne by his son Richard, who was crowned at Westminster Abbey in the September.

King Richard I and Philip Augustus of France, head to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade, leaving the newly appointed William Longchamp as Chancellor of England, to govern his subjects in his absence.

Richard’s interests in France and being part of the Crusades in the Holy Land meant he spent less than one year of his entire reign in England.

1190 Cyprus and the town of Acre were captured.  Philip Augustus of France chose to withdraw his armies from the crusade, leaving Richard I with insufficient forces to take Jerusalem at that time.

1191 John, brother of Richard I replaced William Longchamp as governor of England, in his brother’s absence.

Richard I married Berengaria, daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre on the 12th May 1191 Limassol in Cyprus, and was crowned Queen of England.

Richard I captured Palestine and defeated Saladin at Arsuuf.

1192 Richard I negotiates an agreement, by which Saladin would guarantee Christians a safe pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Richard I is captured in 1192 and held prisoner by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor of Germany at Trifels Castle on the German border.  The ransom for his release was set at 100,000 marks.

When John heard of his brother’s misfortune, he believed he would soon be King.

1194 The ransom for King Richard I had been raised by his people.

On the 20th March he landed at Sandwich, followed by a procession on the 23rd through the streets of London to St.Paul’s Church.

On the 12th May, he met his brother; John who sought clemency for his actions in the Kings absence… Richard forgave him, and named him as his successor.

From 1195-1199 Richard never set foot on English soil, and died in battle at Chalus in France by a crossbow arrow on the 26th March 1199.

Richard I King of England was buried at Fontevrault Abbey in France.

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.

Angevin Empire: Angevin Kings

The lands of the Angevin Empire extend from Scotland to the Pyrenees, and ruled by King Henry II and his sons; Richard I (the Lionheart) and John.  They were known as the Angevin Kings because Henry’s father was the Count of Anjou.  Henry acquired much of his continental lands before becoming King of England, by way of inheritance through his mother; Matilda daughter of King Henry I.  In 1150 the Duke of Normandy, and in 1151 succeeded his father as Count of Anjou, Maine, and Touraine, and in 1152 married Eleanor of Aquitaine, thus acquiring the duchy of Aquitaine along with Gascony, Poitou and Auvergne.

In 1113 Henry I conquered Brittany, and it became part of the Angevin Empire, when Geoffrey, son of Henry II, who had married the heiress of Duke Conan IV, succeeded as Duke of Brittany in 1171.  Although these lands were fiefs, held of the King of France, yet their concentration in one man’s hands was seen as a serious threat upon the French Monarchy, which itself had control of a smaller area of land.

As King of England from 1154, Henry had direct rule over England and South Wales, along with the principality of Gwynedd in northern Wales.  In 1171 Henry annexed Ireland, and took direct control of eastern lands of Ireland, retaining minimal land across Ireland.  From 1174-1189, William I, the Lion King of Scotland was captured in 1174, and was left with no choice but to accept Henry as his overlord.

Henry planned to divide the Angevin Empire amongst his sons, but this led to many quarrels and wars, whilst the French King stood back, watching and waiting.  Only Richard and John survived Henry’s death in 1189, John was confirmed as Lord of Ireland, a post that had been granted to him back in 1177.

John was subjected to Richard’s rules, as he took the title; King Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart).  In the early part of John’s reign as King John of England, the French King, Philip II Augustus, took from him the lands of Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Touraine, and in 1259 by order of the “Treaty of Paris” the English would only retain the duchy of Guyenne (parts of Aquitaine with Gascony).

With its confiscation in 1337, and an English claim of the French throne, which duly led to the outbreak of the “Hundred Years War,” and by the end England found itself holding on to Calais in France, which it finally lost in 1558.


King Henry II:

Born:          5th March 1133 at Le Mans – France

Died:          6th July 1189 at Chinon Castle and buried at Fontevrault Abbey –

Reigned:   1154-1189

Parents:    Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and Empress Matilda

Married:   Eleanor of Aquitaine

King Richard I (The Lion Heart):

Born:          6th September 1157 at Beaumont Place, Oxford

Died:          Wounded on the 26th March at Chalus-Chabrol Castle and died on
the 7th April 1199 at Limousin and buried at Fontevrault Abbey

Reigned:   1189-1199

Parents:    King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine

Married:    Berengaria, daughter of Sancho V of Navarre

King John:

Born:          24th December 1166 at Beaumont Place, Oxford

Died:          18th October 1216 at Newark Castle and buried at Worcester Cathedral

Reigned:   1199-1216

Parents:     King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine

Married:    (1) Isabella of Gloucester

                   (2) Isabella, daughter of Count Angouleme

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