How To Be A Lady: Eleanor of Leicester and the Benefits of Legal Decorum

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A lady should never allow a dispute to descend into a shouting match, though she may elevate one into an international crisis if necessary.

Eleanor of Leicester, sister of King Henry III of England and daughter of the late King John, was one of the greatest ladies of the thirteenth century. She was even honored in a ballad that praised her fair skin, her golden locks and her many feminine virtues, though oddly it left out her litigiousness.

In 1231 Eleanor was sixteen, in the full flower of her youth and newly widowed. Her late husband, William Marshal, had owned lands across the British Isles, and as his widow Eleanor was entitled to one-third of them for her lifetime. But William’s eldest brother Richard was also entitled to inherit, and in the ensuing legal tussle he tried to waltz off with her dowry lands as well as the furniture William had left her.

To end the spat, King Henry finally accepted payment for the lands on Eleanor’s behalf, but Eleanor felt the amount offered was far too low. She wasn’t finished yet.

Fast-forward to 1257 — King Henry sought a treaty with France, whereby he would accept payment in exchange for giving up historical claims to French lands (Seems there were a lot of real estate deals trending among the nobility at the time. Like fancy pointed cone hats, or dysentery). Eleanor, as his sibling and fellow claimant, would need to agree to the exchange. And she didn’t miss her chance.

Eleanor suddenly recalled that other long-buried real estate deal she was never happy with, and flatly refused to sign.

The treaty negotiations continued for two years.

Finally, King Henry dangled a bribe of ten manors in front of Eleanor and pleaded, “Now will you sign?”

Eleanor graciously acquiesced.

And then insisted that 15,000 marks of the French payment to Henry be held in escrow, until the Marshal case was resolved to her satisfaction.

(The Marshal case wasn’t concluded until after the king’s death in 1272, when Eleanor was in her fifties. Must have made an excellent pension plan.)

Thus, it is worth remembering that in every dispute, a lady should always maintain a pleasant and courteous demeanor. Even while stonewalling an international treaty to get what she wants.

Further Reading

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How To Be A Lady: Blanche of Castile and the Importance of Liquid Assets

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A lady who finds herself occasionally short of funds should always keep assets on hand that she can sell off in a pinch — including her offspring.

Consider the case of Blanche of Castile, wife of the French prince Louis VIII and soon-to-be queen consort of France in the early thirteenth century. Like most couples who face frequent long-distance business travel, Prince Louis went off to England to lead a baronial uprising against Blanche’s uncle, King John, while Blanche and her two sons tended the home fires back in Paris. When Louis called for additional financial support, Blanche decided to petition her father-in-law, King Philip Augustus, on Louis’ behalf. But the result was not what she had expected.

Whatever the reason, whether his investment returns were a little low that month or the recent sale of a castle or two hadn’t brought as much as expected, Philip Augustus refused.

Point blank.

So Blanche, unwilling to mow the neighbors’ lawns or maison-sit while they were Christmasing in the Alps, started casting about for something she could sell. And realized, like a princess in a fairy tale, that her most valuable possessions came from within.

“By the Blessed Mother of God,” she said to the king. “ I have fair children by my lord; I will pawn them and see what I can raise on them.”

Faced with the prospect of the future king of France and the future Duke of Artois being handed over for cash like Grandpa’s old hauberk, Philip Augustus relented. Those pawnshop loans are only good for the short term anyway.

So, thanks to Blanche’s quick thinking, Prince Louis got his support. Blanche even got to keep her children. And therein lies a valuable lesson about good financial management and the importance of always having assets that can be liquidated in a hurry. Even if they are your progeny.

Further Reading

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