Saturday, August 25, 2012

Touring Poitiers: Henry & Eleanor And Other Stuff

Poitiers ("Pohwatiyea") is Pilote's favorite city in France.  Here's a photo essay:

...and his father, Henry II: England and half of what became France.

"France" and "England" would have made no sense to Medieval Europeans living in a feudal system.  When William the Conqueror of Normandy successfully invaded England in 1066, it became "his."  He, in turn, owed (at least) nominal fealty to the King of France.  But it was sometimes joked over the next 400 years that the King of France ruled Paris and not much else.

When Louis VII of France married Eleanor of Aquitaine, he acquired most of what is now southwestern France.  Although she had roots and and ties and castles in Bordeaux, her capital was Poitiers (very center of the map above).  He divorced her.  Big mistake.  She quickly married Henry of Anjou, a direct descendant of William the Conquerer and soon-to-be King Henry II of England.  Eleanor was a very liberated woman for her time: a true mover and shaker in a man's world.  The story of Eleanor and Henry and their sons is the political history of England and France from 1150 to 1250.  There is an excellent film about them, The Lion In Winter.  The heart of Eleanor's turf was Gascony and Poitou, although she and Henry traveled constantly, sometimes together and sometimes holding court separately.  She ruled England as his Regent when he was in France, which was most of the time.  Later he put her under house arrest (that's a preview of coming attractions.)

South wall, Salle des Pas Perdus, Maubergeonne Palace, Poitiers.  It is the only original wall still standing; the other three sides are now enclosed by the 19th century Palace of Justice (regional courts and offices, still in business use today).  Maubergeonne was built by Eleanor's grandfather, but considerably expanded and upgraded by her.

Maubergeonne Tower.  It is said to be Eleanor's living quarters when she was in Poitiers.  If you've seen the film The Lion In Winter you can imagine the happy family times here.  ;-)
Salle des Pas Perdus ("Hall of Lost Footsteps"), Maubergeonne Palace.  Said to be the largest clear-span room in Europe when it was constructed c. 1150's.  The point of it was to impress Henry's vassals and rivals.

Notre Dame La Grande.  When Henry & Eleanor  married here in 1152, they instantly became Europe's Power Couple.
One of the oldest churches in France, Notre Dame La Grande is first mentioned in the 900's although religious structures
on the site probably go back further.  It was rebuilt in the 1050's and several times since.  A major restoration was
 completed in the 1990's.  Al fresco coffee from where this photo was snapped is about as good as it gets.

The square in front of the Hotel de Ville (city hall) in Poitiers.

Just your average Foi Gras truck.

Market Saturday, Poitiers.  This shot shows about 10% of the market square, next to Notre Dame La Grande.  You can find American-style supermarkets with frozen food in France, but they are smaller.  Most French people shop and eat fresh.  The variety is amazing.  It's more efficient than it sounds: you walk to work and pick up the non-perishables and staples, along with your morning coffee and croissant.  You get serious about the good stuff on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  The stands are run by local growers or, in the case of meats and seafood, franchisees of larger commercial operations.

Cathedral St. Pierre.  Endowed by Henry and Eleanor in 1162, it took over a century to complete.

Joan of Arc stained-glass window in the Cathedral St. Pierre.  This is a modern artifact, installed in the 1800's.  Joan was "examined" by clerics in Poitiers to determine if she was the real deal (that is, her Revelations).  They decided she  was.  Before
she was burned at the stake in Rouen, she was again "examined" by clerics who decided "not so much..."  There is no
exact parallel to Joan in America.  She is part Paul Revere, part John Adams, and part George Washington.  Sort of.

Baptistere St. John, reputed to be the oldest Christian building in France.  The center part was built over a natural spring, on the site of pagan religious ceremonies, around 360 C.E.  It is just down the hill from St. Pierre.

Espace Mendes-France, a Socialist think-tank named after the ditto Premier.  It is across the street from the Baptistere and adjacent to St. Pierre.  French Socialists are not liberal Democrats--they are socialists.  Juxtapositions like these are one of the many things Pilote loves about France.

Site of one of the Battles of Poitiers, in a valley northwest of town, in 732 C.E.  This was where Charles Martel stopped the Saracens cold: the high-water mark of the Muslim invasion of Europe.  (They ruled Spain for centuries.)  The Saracens were tired from forced marches, their cavalry was not handled well, and they obliged Charles by charging straight up the valley.  There were several later battles of Poitiers as Henry's descendants battled Louis VII's for control of "France" and Hugenots battled Catholics for control of what by then really was France.


Annie Kennedy said...

Interesting info. I'm reading G the Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick.
Any other books on French nobels please inbox me Annatjie Kennedy

Annie Kennedy said...

Interesting info. I'm reading G the Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick.
Any other books on French nobels please inbox me Annatjie Kennedy

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