By Dr. Anton Anderssen
Becky Turza and John Sartor
Henry II, King of England (also called Henry Curtmantle or Henry Plantagenet) was the grandson of King Henry I of England (Henry Beauclerc).
James Goldman’s 1966 play The Lion in Winter, set in 1183, depicts an imagined encounter between Henry Plantagenet’s immediate family and Philip Augustus (Philip II of France) during Christmas at Chinon France. The Lion in Winter is fictional, and none of the dialogue and actions is historical. There was not a Christmas Court at Chinon in 1183, but the events leading up to the story are generally accurate. The 1968 film adaptation conveys the present popular perception of the monarch as a somewhat sacrilegious, fiery, and resolute ruler, despite Goldman’s admission that Henry’s passions and personality are essentially imaginary.
Philip Augustus was the son of Louis VII of France. Henry II’s wife, Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine (Aliénor d’Aquitaine) was once married to Louis VII of France. On Christmas day 1137, Eleanor and her husband of five months became King and Queen of France.
Together, Eleanor and Louis VII went on a crusade to Jerusalem, where Eleanor’s uncle governed. Eleanor had an affair with her Uncle Raymond of Antioch, which triggered Louis VII to petition The Pope for an annulment. Officially, the annulment said the marriage was invalid because Eleanor and Louis were cousins. Upon the dissolution of marriage, Eleanor seized the opportunity to marry her third cousin who was 11 years younger than she.
Eleanor rapidly married Henry Plantagenet on 18 May 1152, not even two full months after her marriage to Louis VII was annulled on 21 March 1152. Two years later, Henry Plantagent became Henry II of England. Eleanor was having an affair with Henry’s dad (Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou) before her marriage to Henry, and dad advised Henry to pick a better woman for a wife, but marrying Eleanor meant he also received the Duchy of Aquitaine, a large area in the southwest of France. He chose the obnoxious Eleanor, assuming he could out-bully her.
In January 1169, Louis VII of France and King Henry II of England signed a contract for the marriage between Louis’ daughter Princess Alais/Alys and Henry’s son Richard the Lionheart. The 8-year-old Alais/Alys was then sent to England as Henry’s ward. Instead of proceeding with marriage between Alais and Richard, Henry II took Alais as his mistress. When Richard decided he really didn’t want to marry one of his dad’s mistresses, Henry tried to marry Alais off to his youngest son John (the future King John Lackland), thinking this would be a good way to keep her around. John didn’t want his dad’s leftovers either.
In James Goldman’s 1966 play The Lion in Winter Henry is having an affair with Princess Alais; the Princess wasn’t his great love, but she was convenient. His foremost side chick, Rosamund Clifford became Henry II’s mistress in 1166 at age 16. Henry II was 33 at the time. Their affair lasted less than 10 years. At her death, age 26, Henry II and The Clifford family purchased a tomb for her inside Godstow Abbey, however Hugh of Lincoln, the Bishop of Lincoln ordered her dead body to be taken outside and buried, like trash, in 1191. The Bishop was repulsed by the behavior of Henry and Eleanor, and their family. Oh, and there was that other thing where Henry II had Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in 1170.
I know Henry II and Eleanor, because I am their direct blood descendant. My distant cousin, Queen Elizabeth II is the direct blood descendant of 5 of Henry and Eleanor’s children who had issue.
In my mind, I see James Goldman’s 1966 play The Lion in Winter as twisted version of the American sitcom “My Three Sons” which ran for 11 seasons beginning in 1960. In “My Three Sons,” the dad is the leader, the wife is out of the picture, there are three sons who each have their issues, plus a really pushy, crabby character. In Lion in Winter, Henry II is the dad, Eleanor is pushy and crabby, but has been out of the picture only because Henry II threw her in prison for about 16 years due to her constant scheming to have him killed. Then there are the three sons. Eleanor wanted Richard to become the next King of England. Henry II wanted John to succeed him. Then there is the middle child, but nobody cares. Marcia Marcia Marcia! Does anybody ever care about the middle child? Did you know August 12 was “Middle Child Day”? Probably not, because nobody cares. It appears James Goldman thought, “What if I took My Three Sons and replaced Fred MacMurry’s family with really screwed up people?” In the end, John wound up winning the monarchy lottery, but John was so incompetent, he lost half the country to France, hence going down in history as “King John Lackland.”
Evalino Productions, a federally registered 501c3 nonprofit corporation, performs The Lion In Winter August 19 to 21, 2022 at the Village Theater at Cherry Hill, 50400 Cherry Hill Road in Canton Township. The stars are: John Sartor of Canton Township as Henry II, King of England; Jema McCardell of Trenton as the Queen, Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine; Duane London of Ann Arbor as their eldest surviving son, Richard the Lionheart; Duncan McCardell Trenton as Geoffrey, the second surviving male heir; Matt Raybaud of St. Clair Shores as John, the youngest son (the future King John Lackland) ; Becky Turza of Canton Township as Princess Alais Capet, Henry’s mistress and the sister of the King of France; and Noah Bias of Lincoln Park as Philip II, the King of France (son of Louis VII).
I was really impressed by Jema McCardell in the role of Eleanor. She had excellent posture, a sort of mid-Atlantic brogue, not quite Received Pronunciation and not quite American. I sat nearby her for at least an hour at an afterglow, and I didn’t recognize Jema was Eleanor until she made a comment about her lines in the show. You know someone is a great actor when you don’t recognize them in everyday life.
Duane London was perfectly cast as Richard The Lionheart. I had seen him in a show before, but can’t remember which one. Again, I didn’t recognize him as Duane because he was so convincing as Richard.
Matt Raybaud made for really cute Prince John. He had great physical comedy.
John Sartor and Becky Turza were a beautiful couple as King Henry II and The Princess Mistress. When she professed her love for The King, it looked as real as could ever be.
“The lion in winter” is a little-used but wonderful phrase, a real compliment. It refers to a proud, competent man who’s aging (in the winter of life) but remains active and vital. In 1183, Henry II was 50 years old. I don’t think we would consider a 50 year old man to be in “his winter” in the modern era, but the compliment does apply to John Sartor, Artistic Director of Evalino Productions, and star in the leading role. Public records indicate Sartor is age 56. In the summer of 2018, Sartor asked me to meet him at Karl’s Cabin in Plymouth Michigan, to brainstorm the possibility of starting his own theatre company. In November 2018 Sartor and associate Becky Turza came to my house to discuss forming a legal nonprofit State of Michigan corporation, to be called Evalino Productions. Evalino is the Italian “Little Evan”, named after Sartor’s son, Evan. In December 2018, I drafted the articles of incorporation, and formed the Michigan nonprofit on his behalf. The real challenge was the 30-page IRS 1023 application for federal recognition under section 501c3 of the IRS code, which takes over a year for the government to process. Every statement in the application had to be perfectly worded, otherwise the recognition for status would be rejected, and the costly application fee forfeited. I am proud to announce Evalino Productions received federal recognition as a 501c3 nonprofit on July 27, 2022.
John Sartor is a true Lion in Winter. He built Evalino Productions from scratch in his early 50s, and expanded it to become a significant production company in Michigan. As artistic director, he has given hundreds of children their start in community theatre, and directed dozens of shows under the Evalino trademark for actors of all ages. His passion and talent have attracted admiration and appreciation from the theatre community, all over Michigan.
The Directorship of Evalino Productions INC is diverse, as required by section 501c3 of the IRS code:
John Sartor: Artistic Director
Becky Turza: Producer
Dr. Anton Anderssen: CEO
Marco Airaghi: Classics Scholar
Lisa Cortez RN: Community Outreach
The show runs 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20, and 3 p.m. Aug 20 and 21 at the theater. Tickets are $18, with a $2 discount for seniors and those 18 and under. For more information, go to the Evalino Productions Facebook page, or send an email to [email protected]