The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

In the good old summer time, and whilst touring regions of France, Barbara and Rod wanted to explore the significance of Fontevraud, a monastic town in the Loire valley. They cycled the 22km from the fortress of Chinon, along the path of the  lovely River Vienne towards their objective. On arrival at the outskirts, B fell off her electric bike and sustained some cuts and abrasions. Instantly, two French soldiers of the Scorpion Division came to her assistance, ministering expertly, and a lady from a nearby house applied competent first aid, dressing her wounds. So we continued in our quest.

L’Abbaye de Fontevraud was constructed in 1202 by Robert d’Abrissel as a double monastery, housing both monks and nuns. He decreed that it should always be overseen by a Abbess, and founded a new Order - that of the Order of Fontevrault. The Plantagenet Dynasty, which ruled England after the Normans, were great benefactors of the Abbey. During the French Revolution, the spiritual connection was dissolved and it became a prison from 1804 to 1963. The celebrated film director Jean Genet based his great film Miracle de la Rose on the Abbey-Prison. Since 1963 the site has been a cultural centre, attracting a considerable tourist following. Much of the monumental structure has been renovated and made commercially attractive - including the Great Hall and the round turreted Bakery. The latter is based on a similar design in Glastonbury. On all documents and at various places on the campus, the ‘badge’ (logo) of Fontevraud is evident.

The Plantagenets, named after the habit of Geoffrey of Angou to place a sprig of broom (planta genista) in his cap for identification purposes, were a powerful dynasty and many of these Angevins and subsequent Bourbons were abbesses there or were buried in the grounds. In particular, the recumbent statues (gisants) of some of the Plantagenets are to be seen inside the Great Hall: King Henry II of England;  Queen Eleanor his wife; King Richard the Lionheart; Queen Isabella of AngoulÍme.

Winter Edition 2011

Resting Place of the Plantagenets

- and many others, though in the Revolution the graves were dispoiled and their locations are not now precisely known.

Henry II, the first to be designated ‘King of England’, reigned from 1154 to 1189 and owned vast lands from the Mediterranean to Scotland and Ireland. He was a great warrior and law-giver, producing a form of order throughout his domains, despite his quarrelsome sons, a rebellious wife and challenging barons and courtiers. His dispute with Thomas a’Becket is widely known and often the only incident known about this otherwise admirable monarch.

Aliťnor (anglicised as Eleanor) of Aquitaine, (1122-1204) was at one time Queen of France and subsequently, as wife of Henry, Queen of England. She participated in the second crusade and was probably the most powerful woman in Europe at the time. She bore eight children, two of whom became Kings. After estrangement (and at one time imprisonment) from Henry, she presided over a glittering Court of Courtly Love in Aquitaine, patronising music and the arts. She also was involved in warfare and successfully defended her own castle when it was under siege.

Richard Coeur de Lion, a son of Henry and Eleanor, ruled England from 1189 until his death in 1199. It is noted that 1189 in legal circles is the date of the beginning of ‘Legal Memory’ ie ‘the time that the mind of man runneth not to the contrary’ - rights and conferments accepted as recognised. He was a magnificent warrior and leader, took part in battles against his father and also the great Saladin - though he failed in his objective to take Jerusalem.

Isabella of AngoulÍme was the second wife of John Lackland (another son of Henry and Eleanor). John Lackland became our notorious King John - who lost his treasure, squandered away his lands and was forced by rebellious barons to sign Magna Carta (1215), upon which is based our conception of liberty under law.

Altogether Rod and Barbara experienced a marvellous insight into the history of this fascinating and vibrant dynasty, which has continued to shape the England of today.

Rod Dawson

The ‘badge’ of Fontevraud

Rod inspects the gisants of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine