The historical material on the reign of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine is considerable insofar as battles, plots, wars, treaties and alliances are concerned. This play, while simplifying the political maneuvering – and combining a meeting of the French and English Kings in 1183 with a Royal Court held at Windsor the following year into a Christmas Court that never was – is based on recorded accounts. Henry and Eleanor saw four sons reach adulthood – the eldest, named after his father, was crowned as co-ruler when he was just 15, and was called Henry the Young King. Hungry for power and jealous of their father's greedy control, Henry the Young King and his brothers Richard and Geoffrey staged a massive revolt against the king in 1173. King Henry successfully quelled the rebellion, but he imprisoned Eleanor in Salisbury Tower in England, on the grounds that she had encouraged and supported her sons in their war efforts. By 1182 Henry the Young King was again growing restless – he threatened his father, and instigated another war with the aid of Geoffrey. The next year, he contracted dysentery, and died in the summer of 1183, unreconciled with his father. The Lion in Winter picks up here, in the midst of the tension surrounding King Henry's refusal to name the next heir.
As if attempting an explanation for the bloody behavior of his family, Geoffrey is alleged to have said:
It is our own basic nature, planted in us as if by hereditary right from both our close and distant ancestors, that none of us should love the other, but that always brother should fight against brother, and son against father.
Tombs of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, housed in Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France.
Born in 1927, James Goldman grew up and attended university in Chicago, Illinois. In the midst of post-graduate studies in music criticism at Columbia University, Goldman was drafted to fight in the Korean War. Upon his return, he decided to take up playwriting – his first play was They Might Be Giants, a witty story about a man who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes and sees a psychiatrist named Dr. Watson. Best known for The Lion in Winter, Goldman's plays for stage and screen also include Nicholas and Alexandra, Robin and Marian, A Family Affair, as well as the librettos for Follies and Evening Primrose, both with scores by Stephen Sondheim. He died in 1998.
Mural from the Chapel of Saint Radegonde in Chinon depicting Eleanor's (crowned figure in center) departure for imprisonment in Salisbury.