|by Jake Simpkin
|Some readers may remember the first million
dollar question on the TV programme, Who Wants to be a Millionaire,
"Who was the Queen of King Henry II?" I immediately shouted back at the
telly, "Eleanor of Aquitaine". The reason I knew this was because their
marriage, in 1154, was to have a major impact on the development of
Southampton as a royal wine depot.
|King Henry II, through his to marriage
Eleanor, became the first ruler of the vast Angevin empire encompassing
not just England, but two thirds of France as well, including the
abundant wine growing region of Gascony.
|Henry now controlled the wine trade. Wine
was a high status commodity, and in an age of patronage, local magnates
entertained lavishly, and needed wine at their tables to demonstrate
their importance and status. King Henry needed the cooperation of such
men, which he skilfully achieved by the age old method of carrot and
stick. Needless to say, wine was a persuasive carrot.
|The King chose Southampton to store his
wine. It was ideally situated in the middle of the South coast, with a
safe sheltered anchorage with plenty of high water. Radiating out north
from the town were dry tracks, along chalk ridge country, to link it
with the important cities of Winchester, London, and the rest of the
|Throughout Christendom there was an
insatiable demand for English wool, and most opportunely, flocks of
sheep grazing on the surrounding downs provided the fleeces, which could
be exported though the port in return.
|Another asset was the existence in the town
of a loyal community of Norman- French merchants, who could not only do
the King's bidding, but also be important sources of revenues
themselves, as the king could levy their cargoes.
|Upon the King's orders work began on a
quay, and two strong warehouses, Castle Hall and Castle Vault. These
were constructed against the gravel cliff on the shoreline; now Western
Unloading wine at Castle Hall and Castle Vault
|Henry II became a regular visitor to the
port, and much of the surviving castle remains date from his time.
Records show that in 1162 the King's treasure was shipped through
Southampton, and his wines were unloaded the following year.
|Subsequent English kings continued their
interest in the wine trade, sometimes importing themselves, but also
demanding the 'ancient prise' of taking wine from the merchants in the
form of a levy.
|Southampton City Council archaeologist Andy
Russell explains, "Before the conversion to money payment, merchants
were required to set aside for the king two tons from every cargo of
twenty tons or more".
|The governor of Southampton castle was
responsible for the King's wines and had the title, 'taker of the king's
wine in England'. Records of Royal transactions are revealing. There is
a constant traffic of wine from Southampton to Winchester and to
Clarendon Palace near Salisbury. In 1225, for example, wine from
Southampton is being despatched to Portsmouth, and to the castles of Corfe and Portchester.
|Henry maintained peace throughout his vast
dominions, and was one of England's most successful monarchs. His
marriage to Eleanor produced eight children including Richard and John,
however, their relationship ended in treachery and deceit, superbly
enacted in the film The Lion in Winter (1968) staring Peter O'Toole and
|I for one raise my glass to Henry and
Eleanor for the wonderful legacy they have left us in Southampton. The
remarkable Castle Vault exists today almost intact, along with remains
of the king's apartments, which together form just part of Southampton's
The remarkable Castle Vault exists today almost intact, along with remains of the king's apartments