« PreviousContinue »
Elinor of Guienne, and Blanche of Castile, who from part of the group around Constance are sketches merely, but they are strictly historical portraits, and full of truth and spirit.
At the period when Shakspeare has brought these three women on the scene together, Elinor of Guienne, (the daughter of the last Duke of Guienne and Aquitaine, and like Constance, the heiress of a sovereign dutchy,) was near the close of her long, various, and unquiet life—she was nearly seventy: and, as in early youth, her violent passions had overborne both principle and policy, so in her old age we see the same character, only modified by time: her strong intellect and love of power, unbridled by conscience or principle, surviving when other passions were extinguished, and rendered more dangerous by a degree of subtlety and self-command to which her youth had been a stranger.
Her personal and avowed hatred for Constance, together with its motives, are mentioned by the old historians. Holinshed expressly says, that Queen Elinor was mightily set against her grandson Arthur, rather moved thereto by envy conceived against his mother, than by any fault of the young prince, for that she knew and dreaded the high spirit of the Lady Constance.
Shakspeare has rendered this with equal spirit and fidelity.
Till she bad kindled France and all the world
Upon the right and party of her son ?
Our strong possession and our right for us!
Your strong possession much more than your right;
Queen Elinor preserved to the end of her life her influence over her children, and appears to have merited their respect. While entrusted with the government, during the absence of Richard I., she ruled with a steady hand, and made herself exceedingly popular; and as long as she lived to direct the counsels of her son John, his affairs prospered. For that intemperate jealousy which converted her into a domestic firebrand, there was at least much cause, though little excuse. Elinor had hated and wronged the husband of her youth,* and she had afterwards to endure the negligence and innumerable infidelities of the husband whom she passionately loved :-" and so the whirlygig of time brought in his revenges. Elinor died in 1203, a few months after Constance, and before the murder of Arthur-a crime which, had she lived, would probably never have been consummated; for the nature of Elinor, though violent, had no tincture of the baseness and cruelty of her son.
* Louis VII. of France, whom she was accustomed to call, in contempt, the monk. Elinor's adventures in Syria, whither she accompanied Louis on the second Crusade, would form a
+ Henry II. of England. It is scarcely necessary to observe that the story of Fair Rosamond, as far as Elinor is concerned, is a mere invention of some ballad-maker of later times.
Blanche of Castile was the daughter of Alphonso IX. of Castile, and the grand-daughter of Elinor. At the time that she is introduced into the drama, she was about fifteen, and her marriage with Louis VIII., then Dauphin, took place in the abrupt manner here represented. It is not often that political marriages have the same happy result. We are told by the historians of that time, that from the moment Louis and Blanche met, they were inspired by a mutual passion, and that during a union of more than twenty-six years, they were never known to differ, nor even spent more than a single day asunder. *
In her exceeding beauty and blameless reputation ; her love for her husband, and strong domestic affections ; her pride of birth and rank ; her femi
* V. Mezerai.
nine gentleness of deportment; her firmness of temper; her religious bigotry; her love of absolute
power boues and upright and conscientious administration of it, Blanche greatly resembled Maria Theresa of Austria. She was, however, of a more cold and calculating nature; and in proportion as she was less amiable as a woman, did she rule more happily for herself and others. There cannot be a greater contrast than between the acute understanding, the steady temper, and the cool intriguing policy of Blanche, by which she succeeded in disuniting and defeating the powers arrayed against her and her infant son, and the rash confiding temper and susceptible imagination of Constance, which rendered herself and her son easy victims to the fraud or ambition of others. Blanche, during forty years, held in her hands the destinies of the greater part of Europe, and is one of the most celebrated names recorded in history—but in what does she survive to us except in a name ? Nor history, nor fame, though“ trumpet-tongued,” could do for her what Shakspeare and poetry have done for Con