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Royal Burials: Fontevraud Abbey

You may think that all the Kings and Queens of Great Britain are buried somewhere in our sceptre isle, even if in the case of some efforts are still going on to work out exactly where. In fact, two of our Kings and one of their wives at buried at the Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud, in Anjou, France. They are Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and their son Richard I. For this was in the time of the Angevin Empire when England actually ruled a lot of Western France, though sadly under their other son John this empire began to seriously crumble.

The Abbey itself had been formed at the beginning of the twelfth century, and was unusual at that time as it was founded as a double monastery, with separate quarters for monks and nuns under a single Abbess. Some others in France such as Chelles to the north of Paris began as single monasteries and when they became more popular became double monasteries. At this time, they were great centres of religious and general teaching, and produced most of the manuscripts we see today.

The order was formed by Robert of Arbrisell, with a set of rules along the lines of a Benedictine Order and given a Papal blessing by Pope Pascal II in 1106. At the time of Robert’s death in 1117 there were some 3,000 nuns in the order.

Henry II, had taken the nearby Chinon Castle from his brother Geoffrey of Anjou and it as probably one of his favourite residences in the Angevin Empire. It was there he died in 1189, his widow Eleanor had been imprisoned for some years in England and was now released and was Queen Consort for him and ruled while he was away on the Third Crusade. In fact, for most of Richard’s reign he was away from England, and it was in France where he died in 1199, in his mother’s arms, and he was buried near his father in the Abbey.

Eleanor continued to help her younger son, King John with his reign but in her late seventies spent most of her time in France latterly as a nun in the Abbey. She died in 1204 and was entombed at the Abbey with her husband and her son.

The Abbey continued but was not as rich and powerful without the influence of the Plantagenet’s. However, just as the monasteries in England were swept away by the Reformation under Henry VIII, so the monasteries in France were swept away by the revolution, possibly due to their association with aristocracy.

Around 1804 during the time of Napoleon the Abbey was converted into a prison, and one with a fierce reputation. Even during World War II resistance fighters were held there and indeed executed by the Vichy Government. However, in 1963 the prison was closed and it was handed back to French Ministry of Culture and it is now a major cultural centre and indeed part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


  • Mark Richard Beaulieu

    Indeed, Eleanor of Aquitaine is the greatest queen you never knew. The other fascinating aspect about Fontevrault Abbey was its popularity in the 12th-century when between 80-100 were franchised throughout Europe. There are still a few in England. The Fontevrist faith was popular in that it was neither celibate convent nor monastery. The order had a code where men and women lived together which was a founding principle by Robert Arbrissel. – mark richard beaulieu

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