Monday, August 15, 2011


NB This is NOT Petronella (fitting given the contents below) but just a suggestive image to brighten the blog!
Nothing is ever simple when it comes to researching Eleanor of Aquitaine, her family and her affiliations. Having wrestled with the problem of her half brothers and having proven that Joscelin was actually the brother of Queen Adeliza of Louvain, I now find myself with several puzzles concerning Eleanor’s younger sister Petronella. Except sometimes she's not call Petronella, she is called Aelith.  Already I'm beginning to suspect that I am going to wind up banging my head on the table in frustration.

There is no birth date for Petronella. We now know that Eleanor was born in 1124 not 1122. Petronella was a younger sibling.  We know their mother died in 1130 and that Petronella was old enough to be involved in a sexual relationship by 1141, and that she bore a child circa 1143 or 1144.  It is therefore likely that she was born fairly close to Eleanor, perhaps in 1125 or 1126. Having said that we have no birth date for the brother William Aigret, who died around the same time as their mother in 1130. Some biographers say he was first born, some that Eleanor was first born. No one seems to know, and William’s birth order may have affected the dating of Petronella's birth.  In the great scheme of things, it’s really just a minor puzzle though.

With regard to Petronella's alternative name, I do wonder if she was baptised Aelith but known as Petronella, perhaps because her birth date was close to the feast of St. Petronella on the 31st of May, and perhaps because St. Petronella had associations with Charlemagne from whom she and Eleanor claimed descent.  It may also be telling that the cathedral in Poitiers is dedicated to St Peter, who seems to have loomed large in the lives of the Dukes of Aquitaine,  Petronella being  the feminine form of Peter. 
Or of course, she could have been baptised  Petronella.and called Ailith.  Or Eleanor may have had two sisters – perhaps Aelith was illegitimate. The mention of Ailith comes from existing documentation concerned with the Abbey of St Mary of Saintes.  Perhaps Aelith was a nun?  I don’t know.  I feel probably not, but it is still there as a consideration when pondering all the possibilities. 

Here is a letter from 1140 naming the sister known as Aelith.  It’s also interesting to see ‘Eleanor’ rendered in Medieval Latin.  I have bolded Aelith’s name in the text.

1140, December 28
Original letter:
Ego Helienordis, Francorum regina, et Willelmi ducis Aquitanici filia, hoc donum, sicut rex vir meus concessit Beate Marie Xancton[ensi] ecclesie, sic concessi et hujus [sign of cross] impressione confirmavi, et in perpetuo habendum Sancte Marie et Agneti amite mee ejusdem loci abbatisse, et omnibus ejus successoribus in eadem die, non in eodem loco, confirmavi; videntibus Aienrico de Niela, Aelith, sorore mea, Maengo de Bono Occulo, Arveo panetario, et pluribus aliis.
Translated letter:
I Eleanor, queen of the Franks, and daughter of William duke of Aquitaine, have granted and confirmed by this stamp* the gift as the king my husband granted it to the church of Blessed Mary of Saintes, to be held in perpetuity by St. Mary and Agnes, my aunt, abbess of that place, and all her successors, I confirmed it on the same day not in the same place: with witnesses Aienric (Henry?) of Niela, Aelith my sister, Maengo of Bono Occulo, Arveo my steward, and many others.
We do know that in 1142, Petronella, then in her early or mid teens, began an affair with King Louis’ much older, war-scarred second cousin, Ralph of Vermandois.  He had lost an eye in a siege, when struck by an arrow, but as well as being a warrior, he was a valued and experienced courtier.  He also liked the ladies.  Chronicler John of Salisbury tells us that even when ordered to abstain from intercourse by his doctors, he paid them no heed because he was ‘very uxorius’.  He was married to Leonora – some say niece of Count Theobald of Blois (Ralph Turner, Douglas Boyd, Marion Meade, Desmond Seward, Marjorie Chibnall, Amy Kelly)  some say sister of (Alison Weir, Wikipedia) and some say first cousin (Ivan Goubry). You see what I’m up against when researching?!  Anyway, the couple were keen to wed and three bishops – including Ralph’s brother, Simon Bishop of Noyon, annulled Ralph’s first marriage. The Pope, on receiving a complaint from Theobald of Champagne on his disparaged sister’s/niece’s/cousin’s/take your pick behalf, immediately reversed the annulment and put Ralph and Petronella under interdict.  Without going into masses of political detail at this stage, it caused tremendous political upheaval and was partly the cause of a war between France and Champagne.
Ralph and Petronella weathered the storm and Petronella bore Ralph either two or (here we go again) 3 children. Some time in the early 1150’s she died…. Or did she?  Off I go to bang my head on the table.
UK Wikipedia says: However, Petronilla and Raoul divorced in 1151, as he remarried the next year. Petronilla remained a member of the French royal court and a constant companion to her sister Eleanor while she was imprisoned by her husband King Henry II in England and Wales. After Henry's death, Eleanor was freed, and Petronilla planned on returning to France. Yet, records of Petronilla after 1189 are scarce. It is believed that she came down with a fever on her voyage from England back to France and died in early 1190 before her arrival at port.  
There are no sources given for this bit of information, although the entire article is quoted as sourced from a French work by Patrick van Kerrebrouck (2000). Les Capétiens 987–1328. Since I have no access to this work, I can’t check the veracity or whether Petronella’s death is mentioned in it.  Records of Petronella before 1189 are hardly leaping out of the woodwork, and I suspect that here ‘scarce’ is a euphemism for ‘non existent.’
 French Wikipedia says she died after 1151 and that Ralph was widowed. ‘devenu veuf’  In 1152 he married his 3rd wife Lauretta of Alsace.
Chronicler John of Salisbury writing circa 1164 saysShe did not survive for long; and though she bore a son and two daughters  before her death.’…’ ‘As for Count Ralph, he married his 3rd wife, a daughter of Thierry count of Flanders called Laura.’This being from primary source it’s more promising.
Then I came across this url.
ELIS [Petronille] d'Aquitaine ([1125]-after 24 Oct 1151, bur St Arnould in Crépy).  The Chronicle of Alberic de Trois-Fontaines specifies that "Alienor Guilielmi filia comits Pictavorum et Aquitanie ducis" had two sisters one of whom married "Radulfus…comes Perone et Veromandie", although he does not name them[562].  The Historiæ Tornacenses record the wife of "Radulfem comitem" as "germanam Alienore regine Francorum" but also do not name her[563].  Robert of Torigny refers to the mother of the infant children of "Radulfus de Perrona comes Viromandorum" as "iuniore filia Willelmi ducis Aquitanorum" but he does not name her either[564].  The Chronique de Guillaume de Nangis names "Eléonore et Pétronille" as the two daughters of "Guillaume comte de Poitou et prince d'Aquitaine", recording in 1142 that Pétronille married "Raoul comte de Vermandois" after he repudiated his first wife[565]m (1142) as his second wife, RAOUL I "le Vaillant" Comte de Vermandois, son of HUGUES "le Maisné" de France Comte de Vermandois & his wife Adelais Ctss de Vermandois, de Valois et de Crépy ([1094]-13 Oct 1152, bur Priory of Saint-Arnoul de Crépy). 
The above source has Petronella buried at the Priory of Saint Arnould de Crepy. Note the mention of two sisters in the above source details.  Which brings us back to Aelith and Petronella as separate individuals rather than the same person.
Now, to further muddy the waters, the English Pipe Rolls of 1155 to 1158 carry at least a strong suggestion that Petronella was still alive after Ralph’s remarriage to Laura of Flanders and hadn’t died as John of Salisbury says. There is a reference to a Petronille in close proximity to mention of the Queen with reference to payment of Danegeld in the Pipe Roll for Essex of l155, and chances are highly likely that it is her sister.   In that of 1158, there is a reference to a payment for the passage of the Queen’s sister (it doesn’t name her and the wording just might possibly refer to the King’s sister – in which case it would be an illegitimate one).
Look at the last word on the 3rd long line down and just above it the word 'Regine
Alison Weir states: ‘During the period 1154-58, there are regular payments of generous sums for wine for Petronilla.’
 Having trawled these same pipe rolls, I can find only one such entry and it involves bread as well as wine and does not name Petronella herself and is therefore ambiguous.   There is only one mention of a Petronella ( see above full paragraph and photo).  The other un-named mentions of a sister might or might not be Petronella.  The entries could as easily refer to Henry II’s illegitimate sister Emma, later to marry Dafydd ap Owain Gwynedd, prince of North Wales.  It’s not clear enough to say for certain, as ‘Reg’ or 'R' could be short for ‘Regis’ as well as ‘Regine.’


Current conclusion. Until more evidence turns up, my personal belief, based on the seriously muddled and  contradictory evidence is that Eleanor definitely had a sister called Petronella and that she married Ralph of Vermandois.  They divorced, and Petronella came to live with her sister Eleanor, and died some time after 1155 but before 1164.  I am not entirely satisfied with this conclusion, but it’s the most I can go on at the moment.  What I need to find out is where the UK Wikipedia got its statement from that Petronella was still alive in 1189.  It may well be from a novel, but without references, I can go no further, and as everyone knows, while Wikipedia is a good starting point, it’s never to be trusted.  My inner jury is also out on the Aelith business. Two sisters, or one with dual names?  It’s in the balance…and there are dints in my table!


Carole Blake said...

Good gracious! It's made me tired just to read the detective story you've been trying to unravel. Thank goodness you send me your manuscripts, and not your research conundrums!

Carole Blake

Jules Frusher said...

Crikey, what a mess to sort through! You have my sincere sympathies with trying to find missing details lol! I see the Weir references are as ambiguous as ever!

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your research puzzle! Looks like you're definitely putting in the time to sort it out. Conflicting sources can be so fun.... :-P

Carol said...

My goodness.

As a fan of historical fiction, you have just highlighted to me how a fact which may seem to fall into a novel so effortlessly can take a lot of research.

I was fascinated by this posting.


Jean Fullerton-East End Girl & Author said...

Such is the life of an historical novelist. Always trying to find truths that always seem to be just a fingertip away.

Lynne said...

I know it's frustrating, but also rewarding. Thank you so much for your research. When we read your books we know we are getting the most authenticity and accurate historical knowledge that you can give us. Which is what makes your books so rewarding and along with your great story telling...entertaining.

Yvette Hoitink said...

How wonderful that you're going to so much length to find out the truth to base your story upon instead of going for the easy option and claim 'artistic license' :-) I've been trying to find primary sources for these people as well, for my own genealogical research. I've found the Medieval Lands site you mentioned to be a very valuable source, although it tends to give a bit too much credence to chronicles in my opinion, especially if the chronicles are not contemporary. I haven't found any other sources about Petronilla than the ones you mention here, unfortunately.

Yvette Hoitink said...

The Chronicle of Guillaume de Nagis, which is referenced in the Medieval Lands site, is available on Google Books. Page 26 has the following fragment: "Eodem anno Guillermus comes Pictavensis et dux Aquitaniae, ad sanctum Jacobum peregre proficiscens, in die Parasceve moritur et ante altare sancti Jacobi sepelitur, relinquens duas filias Alienordem et Petronillam. Qui, moriturus, proceres suos quos secum habebat contestatur ut filia sua major Alienordis". This shows that at the time of his death, Duke William of Aquitaine left behind two daughters called Eleanor and Petronilla. Since this chronicle was written in the early years of the 14th century, it's not contemporary so the chronicler may well have missed a daughter, especially if she died young or didn't marry anyone important.

Linda Hunt said...

Will you be able to use the Akashic Records to try and discover which facts are nearer the mark? I find your sessions with Alison King really fascinating.

Taminator said...

And the Akashic says???? Fascinating stuff!

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Thank you Yvette - interesting and food for thought.
Tammy, Linda, The Akashics have Petronella still alive in 1160 but very unwell. I haven't actually investigated the Aelith/Petronella side with them, but I may do so. I am going to be putting up some Akashic excerpts fairly soon - perhaps I could begin a 'Friday Akashic' paragraph each week on the blog and at my Eleanor Facebook page.

mark richard beaulieu said...

The threads of time are so tantalizing. Your chain of reasoned sources is good to see. I often wonder how much of the histories have been purged and altered.

Reconstructing the life of Petronilla is formidable, however for me, the riddle of Petronilla vs Aelith is simple. It is a translation. 'Little rock' vs 'ancient rock'. Consider that Eleanor is written as Alienor, Helienordis, etc depending on the Latin, French or English variant. I have no problem with people having nicknames.

A good source is Abbot Suger's letter writing of Eleanor's wedding. (I agree with you, she was married at 13 not 15.) Raoul of Vermandois accompanies the knights of Paris to Bordeaux. It seems perfectly reasonable that there were instances and motives enough for the Chancellor of France and Eleanor's sister to meet. In my conjecture, big sister is forced to marry the princely monk, while Petronilla gets to pick/make herself available to the Chancellor, a more regal and accomplished man. Sisterly jealousies perhaps.

So now the story of Petronilla gets interesting looking at Raoul and Bernard of Clairvaux's documents. It seems a large motive of the French Civil war - the secession of Champagne that led to the fires of Vitry - was Bernard's contempt for Raoul's annulment in order to marry Eleanor's sister. (I have not checked A. Wier, or A. Kelly's or R. Turner's sources - but this is their theme.)

Even deeper digging. In Abbot Suger's letter Thibault, Lord of Champagne, leads the knights of Paris to Eleanor's wedding. He had given his sister's hand to Raoul. So when Thibault finds out that Raoul wants to divorce his sister he is outraged. The loss of power and status with the King is humiliating, and to Bernard unholy. When Louis does nothing about it at he new wife's behest for her sister's future, and despite Bernard's insistence for which Louis gets excommunicated, Thibault succeeds from France.

PS: You may know that when Eleanor returns from the 2nd Crusade she names her second child Aelith after her sister. Petronilla had named her last child Eleanor. If you follow the genealogies you will see that Eleanor's best men on the Crusade marry into her sister's bloodline.