This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21 -- Feast of Blessed Eleanora of Provence

The stuff of novels
I've got to hand it to Raymond Berenguer, Count of Provence, and his wife, Beatrice of Savoy.  They had no suriving son sons to inherit the title and land, which is a hard thing for thirteenth century aristocrats, but they could not have done better for their four daughters.  Margaret, the oldest, married the King of France.  Beatrice, the youngest, married the King of Sicily.  She must have been the toughest one, since she joined her husband on the Seventh Crusade and gave birth to their first child in Nicosia.  Sanchia, whose beauty was "incomparable," married the King of Germany [officially the King of the Romans].  King Richard might have held this title, as well as Earl of Cornwall, Count of Poitou, and many others besides, but his real power was in his immense wealth and influence with his brother, the King of England.  The second oldest daughter, Eleanora, is today's beata.  She married Henry III, King of England, making it a clean sweep: four daughters and four queens. 

Doesn't really do her justice somehow.
Eleanora was apparently also easy on the eyes.  Piers Langtoft, an Augustinian canon, calls her "the fairest may of life."  Hot enough to turn a monk's head, she was.  And to think that she was only twelve when she married Henry.  Imagine how good-looking she was when she grew up.

But beatae are judged on their inner, not outer, beauty.  I don't reckon her first years would have won her a spot in the canon, though she was a good enough queen.  She was very loyal to Henry at a time when rival families (e.g. the Marshals and the Mountforts) would have toppled him.  She and her sisters used their pull with each other's husbands to keep the lid on western Europe.  Eleanora definitely took care of the first obligation of women, having somewhere between five and nine children.  It is hard to imagine losing count, but five (Edward, Margaret, Beatrice, Katharine, and Edmund Crouchback) are well attested and the other four (William, Richard, John, and Henry) are from less reliable sources.

The folks of London didn't care for her much, at least in her first years.  She brought with her a large contingent of cousins, and nobody likes to see the royal court jammed up with a bunch of damned foreigners when locals could do all those jobs.  Once her barge was pelted with stones, mud, and garbage while she was out on the Thames.  She began to return the hatred of the Londoners, even to the extent of claiming the Queen's Gold, a tenth of all revenue from fines in the city.  This had lapsed prior to her arrival, but in her spite, she revived it.

A mother's grief is a holy thing
Okay, so far we have a good-looking, loyal, fertile, and faithful wife with a streak for petty vengeance when assaulted.  Her daughter Katharine died at age three.  If the later accounts are to be believed, Richard, John, William, and Henry all died young as well.  A mother's grief is a holy thing -- if it doesn't say as much in the Gospels, the artists made it clear in their pietae.  When son Edward was grievously ill, she stayed with him three weeks at Beaulieu Abbey in complete violation of the rules about women after dark.  Of course, a mother's care is a holy thing too.
Some look good in wimples

Eleanora was a fashionista without rival in England.  This probably didn't make her any too popular with the common folk either, but her new design of wimples was a godsend for weavers.  Suddenly every woman at court needed extra bolts of fine fabric to wrap in giant sculptures on top of their heads.  And Eleanora totally rocked the dagger tucked casually in her golden girdle -- Henry's girl to the end, you know.

Prince Edward was thirty-three years old when King Henry died.  Eleanora, having been married thirty-seven years, settled into life as Queen Dowager.  She raised several of her grandchildren, which might have been hard on some mothers, but Edward's wife (also Eleanor) was ever by her husband's side.  Thus, the Queen Dowager was a very convenient and helpful woman.  Canon-worthy, yet?  Hmmm... but helpful, to be sure.  [By the way, Edward I is one of the few English monarchs who did not have any illegitimate children.  Apparently he and his Eleanor were the happiest couple to ever rule Britannia.]

Edward I -- good husband, good son, but also Longshanks
After Eleanor's grandson Henry died in her care, she retired to a convent.  No hint of fault was whispered -- hell, kids died by the bushel back then.  She herself had lain at least one of her own in the grave; perhaps as many as five had gone to rest.   But it was time to be done, and so she became a Benedictine nun, a pious and prayerful woman. 

The next year she would lose her daughters Margaret (age 35) and Beatrice (age 33).  Edmund and Edward both outlived her, which is a blessing.  But a mother's grief is a holy thing, and the comfort that her daughters had lived well and borne children of their own could only partially assuage the pain of laying them in their graves.  Faith beats grief, and those who knew her best attested to Eleanora's faith.  If they say the wimpled queen with too many cousins at the palace was a beata, it is not for me to challenge. 

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