Located at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, the royal tombs of King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Richard I, and Isabelle of Angoulême lie in the western bay of the abbey church’s nave. An unusual phenomenon in northern Europe, the tombs are among the first fully-sculptural, life-sized effigies. The effigies of Henry, Richard and Eleanor are of a painted tuffeau, a chalky limestone; Isabelle’s is carved of wood. While the effigies of Henry, Richard, and Isabelle depict the individuals in death, Eleanor is portrayed in the perpetual study of a devotional book. The tombs are dated circa 1199-1254 CE.
Importance for the Study of Angevin History:
In the tradition of queens controlling burial sites and monuments, Eleanor of Aquitaine commissioned her family tombs at Fontevraud, a place to which she had ancestral ties. Historically an elusive figure, it is suggested that through a lifetime of travel Eleanor became knowledgeable of the existing traditions of Christian dynastic burial sites and of figural funerary monuments. With the death of Henry II in 1189, Eleanor’s choice of Fontevraud as his final resting place has been interpreted as a reflection of her own political identity where her ties to the nuns would lead to the eventual repose of the souls of her family as well as her own.
Nolan, Kathleen. “The Queen’s Choice: Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Tombs at Fontevraud,” Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady (New York: Palgrave, 2003), 377-405.
Simmons, Lorraine N. “The Abbey Church at Fontevraud in the Later Twelfth Century: Anxiety, Authority and Architecture in the Female Spiritual Life.” Gesta, Vol. 31, No. 2, Monastic Architecture for Women (1992), 99-107.