Captive Queen by Alison Weir


  “A fair princess, lady!” the midwife announced, beaming, as the infant started squealing. Eleanor, almost drained of energy, took her daughter into her arms and found herself gazing at the very mirror image of herself.

  “There’s no doubt as to what your name will be, little one.” She smiled, kissing the crumpled face. “You will be Eleanor, like me.” Henry could never object to that.

  Relaxing in bed after the birth, too elated at the safe delivery of so pretty a daughter to sleep, Eleanor recalled how her husband had said that, unlike poor Louis, he was rich in sons and would welcome a girl, because girls could be married off for policy or profit. It was true, but she sometimes wished that Henry would stop seeing his children as pawns to be moved about in some giant game of political chess. There was no doubting that he loved them, but it grieved her that he could speak of disposing of them profitably without a qualm. Marrying off a daughter often meant sending her far away to a distant land—and the pain of a parting that might be forever.

  She was not pleased with Henry. She felt he had behaved with less than his usual wisdom in recent months. It had all begun when news of the death of Archbishop Theobald reached them in Rouen, brought by Gilbert Foliot, the Bishop of Hereford. Henry had been shocked and grieved.

  “Theobald was my true friend,” he said. “I owe my kingdom to his support.”

  “God rest him, the good man,” Eleanor murmured, crossing herself. “He has earned his place in Heaven.”

  The Empress got to her feet stiffly—she suffered miseries from painful joints these days—and rested a hand on her son’s shoulder.

  “He must be replaced,” she counseled. “England cannot long be without an Archbishop of Canterbury.”

  “I agree, sire,” Bishop Foliot chimed in. He was a portly, bushy-browed ecclesiastic, a traditionalist much respected for his integrity and learning. Eleanor had always admired his directness and fearless honesty. You always knew where you were with him.

  “Yes, but who could fill Theobald’s shoes?” Henry asked, obviously reluctant to have to consider replacing his old friend.

  The answer was obvious, Eleanor felt: it could be none other than Foliot himself. He would be an outstanding choice, having all the requisite qualities and experience.

  Matilda evidently felt the same, for she too was looking hopefully at Foliot.

  “You have not far to seek, my son,” she said.

  “Indeed, I have not,” Henry answered her, his eyes lighting up, but not on the expectant bishop. “Thomas Becket shall be my archbishop.”

  “Thomas Becket?” echoed three dissonant voices in unison. Oh, no, Eleanor thought; Becket would be a disaster. He was far too preoccupied with earthly glories, and insufferable enough as it was.

  “Have you gone mad, Henry?” the Empress cried, abandoning her customary self-control and deference. “He is too worldly a man for high ecclesiastical office.”

  “That is exactly what I was going to say, sire,” chimed in Foliot. “And he is not even ordained a priest.”

  “Then show me a better candidate,” Henry challenged.

  “I said before, you have not far to look,” the Empress bristled.

  “I want an archbishop who is on my side, and prepared to work with me, not against me,” Henry declared.

  “My Lord King, all your bishops are ‘on your side,’ as you put it,” Foliot said smoothly, unruffled by the implied slur. “And, unless I am very much mistaken, none has ever worked against you. We are loyal to a man, depend upon it.”

  “True, very true—to a point!” Henry rounded on him. “But, if put to the test, your first loyalty would be to the Church. Am I correct?”

  “It would be to God,” Foliot stated firmly.

  “Well, I can’t argue with that,” Henry sniffed, with a rueful smile. “As long as God is on my side, at least. Anyway, the matter must wait. Louis is threatening war, although I doubt he will exert himself greatly. Even so, I must strengthen my defenses on the Norman border, in case he tries to take back the Vexin. And then I have to go south to Aquitaine, for there is trouble in Gascony—again.”

  “To Aquitaine?” Eleanor echoed joyfully. “I will go with you, my lord! I can stay in Bordeaux.” It would be wonderful to see her domains again, to feel once more the heat of the southern sun, hear the lays of the troubadours and the summer buzzing of the crickets, taste succulent duck and rich truffles, and see the majestic hills and sparkling rivers of her homeland.

  “No,” Henry said.

  It had been that adamant refusal, and what followed, far more than the matter of Canterbury, that drove a wedge between them. She had insisted, cajoled, and begged, but Henry proved immovable, arguing that her condition prevented her from traveling far. This was nonsense, she countered, arguing that during her earlier pregnancies, she had journeyed hundreds of miles around England during his absences, right up to her ninth month. She was as strong as an ox, she told him, and had never felt better. But still he had refused. And soon it was to become clear why.

  She had stayed in Rouen with the Empress, fretting at her enforced idleness and wishing beyond hope that she was in Poitiers and Gascony with Henry. He sent messengers fairly regularly, though, with news and solicitous inquiries as to her health, and the first tidings of his venture were good. He had besieged and taken the strong castle of Castillon-sur-Agen within just one week, and the rebel lords were so overawed—utterly terrified, in fact—by this feat that all resistance quickly melted away.

  It was the next reports from Henry that made Eleanor see red. She had left her uncle, Raoul de Faye, in charge of her domains, but Henry made it quite clear to Raoul, when he saw him in Poitiers, that he had a poor opinion of Raoul’s ability to function effectively as the duchess’s deputy, and overruled him on several important matters. Raoul, in turn, had written to Eleanor to voice his protest and warn her that her subjects were up in arms about it, complaining that the duke was infringing on their liberties. And they had even more cause to gripe when Henry began installing his own Norman administrators in positions of influence.

  As soon as she heard of this, Eleanor had written to him in furious haste, demanding to know what he thought he was doing. He replied briskly that it was desirable that Aquitaine, like Normandy and England, should have strong, centralized government, and that he meant to enforce it upon her unruly, whoreson barons if it was the last thing he did! Which it might be, she thought savagely.

  At the same time, another letter arrived from Raoul. “The people have withdrawn from their allegiance to the King of the English,” he wrote, deliberately omitting to refer to Henry as Duke of Aquitaine, his proper title in the duchy. “They complain that he has pruned their liberties. They have even approached the legates of the Pope, showing them a chart of lineage and asking them to dissolve your marriage to the King on the grounds of consanguinity.”

  When she read this, Eleanor’s blood ran cold. Beside herself with frustration, she took the letter and sought out the Empress, thrusting it in front of her.

  “See what your son has done!” she cried.

  Matilda said not a word, but read the parchment. “I should not worry yourself, Eleanor,” she said coolly. “The legates will not dare to offend the King; they are only in Aquitaine because they seek his support for their master, Pope Alexander.”

  “I am aware of that,” Eleanor retorted. “What angers me is that Henry has once more alienated my subjects—and gone against my wishes.”

  “Strong measures are never popular,” Matilda observed, “but sometimes they are necessary. Your Aquitainian lords are a menace, you must admit.”

  “I will write to Henry,” Eleanor fumed. “I will protest at his interference in my domains. How dare he!”

  “Because he has every right,” Matilda pointed out. “He is your lord, and he is their duke.”

  “He should have consulted me!” Eleanor raged.

  “He does not need to,” Matilda told her. Eleanor sensed she was enjoyi
ng seeing her daughter-in-law discountenanced. She snatched back her letter, swept out of the room, and dashed off a response to Henry, castigating him for his folly and for arousing the ire of her subjects.

  His reply made her want to howl with rage. He had ignored all her complaints! There was not a word in justification or apology. He wrote only that the legates, who were falling over themselves to humor him, told him that the Pope had agreed to canonize King Edward the Confessor. He himself, he continued, was still in Poitiers, where he had inspected the building work at the cathedral and found it satisfactory; she might like to know that he had ordered the building of a new church, new city walls, new bridges, a marketplace, and shops, and that he was having the great hall of her palace refurbished with bigger windows.

  Her heart lay cold, like a stone in her breast. All this he had put in hand without consulting her—and he’d ducked out of discussing the larger issues. Was it for this that she had wed him? What had become of their shared vision for the future, their marriage of lions? Henry’s behavior was a betrayal of their marriage and all it stood for. It was not to be borne! So here she was, lying in with her new daughter, her heart torn between love for this exquisite child and a burning resentment against her father.

  18

  Bayeux, 1161

  Henry had sent to say he would rejoin her in Bayeux, and there she resentfully repaired with her children and their nurses, thankfully leaving the unsympathetic Empress in Rouen. During the days before Henry’s arrival, to distract herself from the coming confrontation that she must have with him, she took Young Henry and Richard to see the glories of the cathedral of Notre Dame, where they were shown a wonderful old strip of embroidery depicting the whole story of King William’s invasion of England in 1066. It was hanging in the apse of the church, and the little boys stood there marveling at the colorful, lifelike figures of the soldiers and horses, staring open-mouthed at the battle scenes, and listening entranced as Eleanor recounted to them the stirring story of the Conquest.

  “There is King Harold, with an arrow piercing his eye,” she said, pointing. “And there he is, being felled to the ground with an axe.”

  “I’m going to be a soldier when I grow up, and I’m going to kill people with axes!” Henry boasted.

  “No, I am!” cried Richard fiercely, not to be outdone. Eleanor rejoiced that these boys of hers had such spirit.

  “You both will be soldiers,” she said firmly. “Very brave soldiers, like your father.”

  Mollified, the two lads contented themselves with buffeting each other surreptitiously.

  “Come now,” said their mother, aware of the watching clergy exchanging disapproving glances. “We must offer prayers for your father’s safe return.” Firmly, she guided them into a side chapel and pushed them down to their knees, constraining them to quietness.

  Husband and wife faced each other across the castle courtyard, as Henry clattered in at the head of his retinue and leaped off his horse at the dismounting block, where Eleanor was waiting for him, her children standing behind with her ladies and the knights of her household.

  “Welcome back, my lord,” she said, her face expressionless as she offered the customary stirrup cup and waited for Henry to greet her. He brushed her lips briefly, then stood back, looking at her quizzically, his face weather-beaten and tanned, his unruly hair more close-cropped than usual.

  “My lady,” he said formally, raising her hand for a second kiss. “I am well pleased to see you, and looking forward to meeting my new daughter!”

  Eleanor beckoned, and the nurse stepped forward with the infant, who regarded the big strange man solemnly for a moment, then broke into a gummy smile.

  “You’re a little beauty, aren’t you?” Henry murmured, taking her into his arms and touching her downy head gently with his lips. He looked up at his wife. “You have done well,” he said in a softer voice. “Princes will be clamoring for her hand, if she fulfills this early promise. She is just like you.”

  Eleanor accepted his compliments with the barest hint of a smile.

  “Won’t you come within, my lord, and take some refreshment after your journey?” she asked formally, taking the baby and handing her back to her nurse. The other children now ran forward, clamoring to greet their father, and after boisterous greetings, they entered the castle together.

  Later, when dinner was over and their offspring were in bed, Henry came alone to Eleanor’s solar, where she served him strong cider distilled from the apples that grew plentifully in this part of Normandy.

  “Nectar!” he pronounced. “My, that’s potent!”

  “Henry, we need to talk,” Eleanor began, bracing herself.

  “Indeed, we do,” he said quickly. “The Archbishop of Rouen has just had a word. He is fretting about Young Henry’s education.”

  “Is he? Why?”

  “He is concerned that the heir to England is still living with his mother and has not even begun his lessons.”

  “I have taught him much!” Eleanor exclaimed indignantly, immediately on the defensive, and fearful of what Henry was about to propose.

  “Yes, I know that, but it wouldn’t count with our friend the Archbishop. He was going on at some length about how I was different from other kings, who are all rude and uncultivated, in his opinion at any rate. He was waffling on about how my wisdom and prudence—as he put it, God bless him—had been informed by the literature I read in my youth, and he told me that my bishops unanimously agree that my heir should apply himself to letters, so that he can be my true successor.”

  “And so?” Eleanor asked warily.

  “Well, I take his point. Young Henry is now six, and it’s time he was sent away to be educated.”

  It was indeed the custom for princes and sons of the nobility to be placed in great aristocratic households to be nurtured and schooled away from their parents, mothers and fathers considered too loving and indulgent to do the job properly. Eleanor knew this, and accepted it. It was just that, the time now having come, she was devastated at the thought of being parted from any of her children. She had kept Young Henry close to her all his life; given what had befallen two of his brothers, she could hardly bear him out of her sight. Parting from him would be like losing a limb. How would he fare without her? Who would tend to his hurts, or calm his fears, or kiss him good-night? She could not bear the thought of him crying into his pillow, alone and homesick.

  Henry said gently, “I know it will be hard for you, but you must realize that a boy cannot grow to manhood tied to his mother’s apron strings. He has to learn to be independent, to fight his own battles and to grow brave and strong as befits a warrior. But you will see him from time to time, more than most mothers see their sons. I have hit upon the ideal arrangement.”

  “You have?” Eleanor asked, unable to hide the eagerness in her voice.

  “Yes.” Henry smiled at her. “He is to be placed with my Lord Chancellor, my devoted Thomas.”

  “Becket?” Eleanor echoed sharply.

  “Yes, Becket. Why not? He has a great household, into which he has already accepted several noble boys. They will be companions for Young Henry. He will be well looked after.”

  Eleanor was about to protest, but she could see the wisdom in the plan. Becket was often in attendance upon the King, and she and Henry were frequent guests at his table. Her lord was right: there would indeed be plenty of opportunities for her to see her child.

  “When will he go?” she inquired.

  “After Christmas,” Henry informed her.

  She had three weeks, she reckoned quickly, before they took Henry from her. She vowed to herself that she would spend every possible moment with him. This was going to be far worse than parting from Marie and Alix had been. She’d had so little to do with them, those sweet girls, had been kept at a distance and never got to know them well. But Young Henry had been with her from birth, and she loved him fiercely; not quite as much as she adored Richard—her lion cub, as she thought of
him—but deeply and protectively. Yet it would not be good-bye, she told herself resolutely. She must not think of the parting as final; she would see her son again, soon enough. And she would still have Richard, and Geoffrey, of course: if she could help it, she would never let her darling Richard be taken from her. He was to be her heir, so surely she would have some say in his upbringing. They would have to snatch Richard over her dead body.

  “It is a wise decision,” she said evenly, conceding defeat. “But there was something else I wished to discuss with you, and that is what you have done in Aquitaine.”

  “Aquitaine is quiet now,” Henry said, his tone final, indicating that was the end to the matter.

  “Quiet, but seething under the surface, so I hear,” Eleanor persisted.

  “From your uncle Raoul? I didn’t notice him keeping your unruly vassals in check!” Henry smirked unpleasantly.

  “No one has ever succeeded in doing that, not even my father or my grandfather,” Eleanor snapped. “The geography of my lands does not lend itself to unity; can’t you see that?”

  Henry rose and began pacing up and down the room.

  “Well, I’m not content with my authority extending only to the regions around Poitiers and Bordeaux,” he told her. “With my officials in place, answering directly to me, I intend to bring some order to your domains.”

  “You are alienating my subjects by doing that!” Eleanor flared. “They resent having strangers lording it over them. Things were bad enough before, when Louis sent in his Frenchmen to rule in his name; when I went home and they were sent away, the people rejoiced. It was very moving to see that. It meant everything to them to be governed by their own. Henry, I want my subjects to love you, but if you persist in this folly, they will only hate you.”

  Henry had been listening with an irritated expression. He stopped his pacing by the door and turned to face her.

  “I’m not doing it to win popularity,” he declared. “I mean to have your vassals bend to my will, like it or not. They must recognize my authority, and you must support me in enforcing it.”

 
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