Captive Queen by Alison Weir


  “Then you must go about it a different way!” Eleanor flung at him.

  “No one says ‘must’ to me,” he snarled. “I don’t take orders from you, or anyone. You are in no position to dictate to me, Eleanor. Might I remind you that a wife’s duty is to obey her husband, to rear his children, and to warm his bed when he so desires. And there it ends.”

  “If you think I’m in any mood to warm your bed after you’ve insulted my intelligence, then let me put you straight now!” Eleanor riposted, her face flushed with anger.

  “Please yourself!” Henry said testily, and went out of the room, leaving Eleanor wanting to scream with frustration. She could never win with him. He was utterly incapable of seeing her point of view, and once his mind was made up, there was no moving him.

  The King stormed down the spiral stairs and into the great hall of the castle, nearly colliding with two of the Queen’s ladies, who were making their way up to her chamber with their arms full of freshly laundered veils and chemises, smelling of sweet herbs. One of the ladies looked him boldly in the eye. She had a heart-shaped face set off to perfection by the widow’s wimple that framed her chin and her rosy cheeks. He knew who she was—what man didn’t? Rohese de Clare, Countess of Lincoln, had the reputation of being the most beautiful woman in England. It was well known that during the five years since her husband’s death, she had resisted all offers of remarriage, and it was also bruited about that it was because she enjoyed taking her pleasure where she listed, although Henry was of the opinion that people would say such things about such a lovely widow.

  Now he was not so sure. His eyes locked for a moment with the countess’s, then the moment passed and she and her companion dipped into quick curtsies and hurried on. But his blood was up. He was furious with Eleanor for questioning his rights in Aquitaine—again—and powerfully intrigued by the enigmatic Rohese. He’d long admired her from afar but had never quite seen in those slanting green eyes and pouting lips what other men had. There was something almost childlike about the woman, although the look she had just given him was anything but childlike. Now he could see what had made her so admired—and the promise in that brief moment of eye contact had fired his imagination.

  That evening, after supper, he sought her out, and finally came upon her standing, wrapped in her cloak, gazing out over the battlements at the green fields of the Cotentin below.

  “I thought you would come, my Lord King,” she said in a modulated, mellow voice. Again her eyes met his, boldly, vibrant with promise.

  “People speak truth when they say you are beautiful,” Henry told her. “My wife is beautiful too, but in a different way, and I like variety.”

  She came to him then, and he folded her in his strong arms. Both of them were trembling with desire.

  “I want you,” Henry muttered gruffly against her veil. His hands delved inside her cloak, roved eagerly over firm breasts and hips. Rohese parted those full lips for him to kiss, and he obliged, tenderly at first, then hungrily, devouringly …

  When they had taken their fill of each other, Henry returned alone to his bedchamber thinking how marvelous it had been simply to swive a woman without the added complications of having to enter into any other congress or pay heed to her whims. He loved Eleanor, there was no question about that in his mind, but she would insist on prolonging these endless, fruitless power struggles, and interfering in matters that were not her concern. He valued her judgment, of course he did, but only up to a point. She was a woman, God damn her, and as his wife, she owed him due obedience; he thought he had been unusually generous in allowing her some say in the governance of his domains.

  He was still angry with her. Her denying him her bed yet rankled. Not that he would have sought it after their quarrel, but it was his right! It infuriated him that she had such scant regard for his rights. Sleeping with the beautiful Rohese had been his means of taking revenge on her, and he meant to go on exacting that sweet revenge. Even if Eleanor never got to know about it, he would enjoy his victory in private!

  He lay down in his bed. His body was sated and ready for sleep, but his mind was strangely ill at ease. He was a plain man, a direct man, so this puzzled him. It would not have occurred to him to feel guilty for betraying his wife.

  It was some time, in fact, before he realized that what he was feeling was an odd sense of loss.

  19

  Falaise, 1162

  They were keeping Easter at Falaise, the birthplace of the Conqueror, and the court was lodged in the massive fortress that dominated the town from its high position on the escarpment overlooking the River Ante.

  “This was where William’s father, Duke Robert the Magnificent, was staying when he espied the woman Herleva,” Henry told Eleanor as they stood in the bailey staring up at the great buttressed keep with its Romanesque windows. “She was extraordinarily beautiful.” When he mentioned Herleva, he was thinking of Rohese.

  “I heard he was called Robert the Devil,” Eleanor said wryly.

  “Indeed he was, at least to begin with.” Henry grinned. “You see, I am doubly descended from the Devil!”

  Eleanor made a face. “I can believe that!” she said, a touch tartly. “Wasn’t Herleva meant to be washing clothes in the river at the time?”

  “She was, or so the story goes. She was a tanner’s daughter from the town. The duke saw her and fell in love instantly. She bore him two children. He couldn’t marry her, of course, as he had a wife already, so their son was called William the Bastard before his victories earned him the name of Conqueror.”

  They strolled around the bailey and entered the little Chapel of St. Prix, where Henry pointed to an iron-studded door.

  “That leads to the crypt, where I store some of my treasure. There are only two keys. I have one—and Thomas has the other.”

  At the mention of Becket, Eleanor frowned. If anyone should have held the second key, it was herself, but again Becket had usurped her.

  “I wanted to talk to you about Thomas,” Henry said. They sat down on a stone bench beneath the window.

  “I have made up my mind that he is to be my archbishop. No, wait!” He held up a hand to still her unvoiced protest. “Thomas is my friend, and loyal to me. The Church has become too powerful, and I have radical plans for reforming the abuses within it. I know he will support me.”

  “What makes you so sure?” Eleanor asked, her expression troubled.

  “His unstinting and faithful service over these past years speaks for itself,” Henry said warmly. “With my true Thomas as Archbishop, I foresee no trouble in implementing these very necessary reforms.”

  “Then you have made up your mind,” Eleanor stated, knowing that nothing she could say would make any difference. She knew too, in her bones, that Henry was making a bad decision for all the wrong reasons, and feared that no good would come of it. Others, wiser than herself—among them the Empress Matilda and Bishop Foliot—had voiced their concerns, but Henry paid them no heed. Well, he must go to Hell in his own way.

  “I have made up my mind,” Henry said firmly. “You could at least look cheerful about it!”

  She smiled distantly. “Let us hope that your confidence in Thomas is justified.”

  “Oh, it will be, it will be,” he assured her blithely.

  ——

  They were enthroned on the dais in the hall when Becket came in response to Henry’s summons. Eleanor noticed how regally he was dressed, his embroidered scarlet tunic and blue cloak in stark contrast to the plain, mended garb of his master. But Henry had never cared much for the trappings of majesty. He let Becket be his ambassador in such things: Becket’s magnificence could proclaim the wealth and status of the King of England.

  Henry leaped up from his throne and embraced his chancellor warmly.

  “Thomas, I have a mission for you.”

  “Yes, my lord?” Becket’s handsome face bore an eager look, as if he could not wait to hear about this latest duty that Henry was now to require
of him.

  “First, I want to ask after your adopted son, the Lord Henry. How is he?” the King inquired.

  “He is well, my lord, and his diligence at his studies is indeed praiseworthy, although I daresay he would rather be learning swordplay than attending to his letters.” Becket smiled.

  “I pray you, my Lord Chancellor, remember his mother to him,” Eleanor said wistfully.

  “Rest assured, my lady, that he includes you in his daily prayers without fail,” he told her, then turned back to the King. “Does this mission concern my adopted son?” he asked.

  “Yes. I want you to take him to England and have the barons swear fealty to him as my heir,” Henry commanded. “You are to leave at once, so that the ceremony can take place at Whitsun, but first, have the boy brought here now to say farewell to us.”

  “If my lord will grant me leave,” Becket said, bowing and departing.

  Eleanor was thrilled. She was to see her son, albeit briefly. It had been four long months since she’d set eyes on him.

  When Becket returned later, bringing the seven-year-old Henry with him, Eleanor noticed the change in the boy at once. He seemed taller, more self-assured; on greeting, it became clear that there was, for the first time, a palpable distance between him and his mother. He bowed gracefully over her hand and stood a little stiffly when she opened up her arms to embrace him. His father’s boisterous hug he bore more readily, and it was brought home to her that in her son’s eyes, she had diminished in importance, although his courtesy toward her was faultless. It nearly broke her heart, but she remained smiling, and resolutely kept her distance.

  “I see you have taught the lad courtly manners!” Henry observed, ruffling his offspring’s red curls. “Well, my Lord Henry. You are to go to England to receive the homage of my barons, as my heir. All you have to do is sit there and look happy about it. Just remember you are not king yet!”

  They all laughed, but there was an excited and defiant glint in the boy’s eyes that rode ill with the humility he was supposed to show to his royal father. Eleanor alone noticed it, and felt a fleeting chill in her heart. Was her son, young as he was, ambitious to fill that father’s shoes? Had Henry’s words brought home to him the reality of his great destiny? Both of them had done their best to prepare Young Henry for eventual kingship, but maybe he had not quite understood what it would really mean—until now. Or maybe he was just excited at the prospect of a sea voyage and of being made to feel important, as any young boy would be. She shrugged off her fears. She was overreacting, she told herself, a bad habit of hers. It was the prospect of yet another parting from her son that was making her so sensitive, undoubtedly.

  “Go and make ready, my young lord,” Becket was saying. “And walk! A future king does not run, but maintains a dignified pace.”

  Henry burst out laughing. “I think I ought to take some lessons in kingship from you, Thomas!”

  Becket bestowed that slow, attractive smile of his. “I too will go and prepare for the journey, my lord.”

  “Wait,” Henry said. “You do not yet fully comprehend your mission.”

  “My lord?” Becket, for once, looked bewildered.

  “It is my intention,” Henry said, gazing upon him affectionately, “that you should become Archbishop of Canterbury.”

  A look of horror fixed itself on Becket’s face. He stood there, seemingly unable to speak. Eleanor had never seen him so discomposed.

  “My lord,” he whispered, his voice hoarse with shock, “do not do this, I beg of you.”

  The smile froze on the King’s face.

  “Come now, Thomas. Surely you can see the wisdom in my decision,” he said evenly.

  “Lord King,” Becket replied desperately, “I beseech you to reconsider, for many good reasons. I know that if you make me Archbishop, you will demand many things of me—things I might be unable to grant. Allow me to speak plainly. Already it is said that you presume much in matters affecting the Church. If you seek to push through reforms that conflict with the honor of the Church, I would be bound to oppose them.”

  “But Thomas, you have said yourself that the Church is in need of reform,” Henry protested.

  “As your chancellor, I might voice such an opinion, but as Archbishop of Canterbury, I would be in a difficult position. And my enemies would be waiting to exploit that, to drive a wedge between us. Sire, England is not lacking in good churchmen who could ably fill Archbishop Theobald’s shoes. There is Bishop Foliot, for one, although I have never liked him; yet he would be the ideal choice. I am not even a priest, and I have never celebrated a mass!”

  “It’s no good, Thomas. My mind is made up,” Henry declared with an air of finality. “I have thought long on this, over many months, and I know that you are the right man for the office. And you know, as well as I do, that you can be ordained priest one day, and consecrated Archbishop the next. I promise you, we will work together for the good of the Church—and of England. Now, no more arguments.”

  Becket knew when he was defeated. He stood there miserably, looking as heavyhearted as a man who has just been sentenced to some terrible fate. Not for the first time, Eleanor felt pity for him. She knew his arguments were well founded, knew too that he would be at a disadvantage from the start. But both he and she were powerless to gainsay Henry once his mind was made up.

  Becket had risen from his departing bow when the King bade him pause.

  “I will have letters prepared, informing my English barons and bishops of my decision,” he said. “I must stay here in Normandy, but my son will be a witness to your enthronement. There is one other matter. I want you to purchase gold for the fashioning of a crown and scepter for Young Henry. I am minded to have him crowned in my lifetime, after the custom of the French kings.”

  “Very well, sire,” Becket said, his voice unsteady, his face hollow. Eleanor was torn between elated surprise at her son’s coming elevation to kingship and dismay at Henry’s folly in believing that his friend would be able to render him unstinting loyalty once he was safely installed at Canterbury.

  The court was still at Falaise when, in May, reports reached Normandy of Becket’s formal nomination as Archbishop in the presence of the Lord Henry and the King’s justices; then came the news of his ordination as a priest, and his consecration in Canterbury Cathedral the very next day. He had been overcome with emotion, it was said, and wept when the Archbishop’s miter was placed on his head. Eleanor wondered uncharitably if he had done that for effect; Thomas had a great sense of occasion, she knew, and a flair for the dramatic gesture. It appealed to his vanity.

  The next news was brought by an unexpected visitor, the new Archbishop’s secretary, John of Salisbury. Eleanor had long known of John by reputation. He had studied in Paris and worked in the Papal Curia before entering the household of Archbishop Theobald, by which time he had become famous as a man of letters, and he was now accounted one of the greatest scholars and thinkers of his time.

  “He has no great opinion of me!” Henry grimaced, after John had been announced and they were waiting for him to come into their presence. “He thinks my court too frivolous.”

  “He sounds a lot like Abbot Bernard,” Eleanor observed dryly, thinking of that austere old terror who had long since gone to his reward.

  “I think it was Abbot Bernard who recommended our friend John to Archbishop Theobald,” Henry told her.

  A tall, dignified cleric in his early forties was ushered into the solar. John of Salisbury was known to be high-minded and uncompromising, yet his manner toward his King could not be faulted.

  “Greetings, John,” Henry said.

  “Greetings, sire. I trust that you and the Queen are in health. My Lord Archbishop sends his fealty and his love, and has charged me to give you this.” He held out a richly embroidered purse with drawstrings and placed it in Henry’s hands. Henry looked dumbstruck.

  “The great seal of England?” he queried, in apparent disbelief.

  “
The very same, sire,” John replied gravely. “My master has sent me to tender his resignation as chancellor. He begs you to excuse him, but he wishes from now on to devote his life wholly to the Church.”

  “What?” Henry was ashen, and also angered. “I need him both as my chancellor and as my archbishop.”

  John of Salisbury regarded his king with something akin to pity. “My master has said that the burdens of both offices are too heavy for him to bear.”

  “Does he no longer care to be in my service?” Henry burst out. There were tears in his eyes. Eleanor could not bear to look at him, or to witness his crushing disappointment, which seemed almost akin to a betrayal.

  “Lord King, he has changed. You would not credit it.”

  “In what way has he changed?” Eleanor asked sharply.

  “A miraculous transformation took place just after his consecration, my lady.”

  “Miraculous?” echoed Henry. Eleanor, remembering how Becket had always reveled in playing his roles to the hilt, thought that perhaps John should have said “calculated” instead.

  “As soon as he put on those robes, reserved at God’s command for the highest of His servants, my Lord Archbishop changed not only his apparel, but the whole cast of his mind. Overnight, he who had been a courtier, statesman, and soldier, a worldly man by any standards, became a holy man, an ascetic even. He has changed from a patron of play-actors and a follower of hounds to a shepherd of souls.”

  “Thomas? An ascetic?” Henry could not believe what he was hearing. He looked utterly bewildered. Eleanor said nothing. She was thinking that, having ceased to be the patron of play-actors, Becket seemed to have become one. She could not credit this transformation as sincere, let alone miraculous. Becket had never done things by halves.

  “Yes, sire,” John was saying. “He has so completely abandoned the world that all men are marveling at the change in him. He has cast aside his elegant robes for a monk’s habit, and beneath it he wears a hair shirt, to keep himself in mind of the frailty of the flesh; my lord, it swarms with vermin. He drinks only water that has been used to boil hay. He has sold all his worldly goods, and now performs great acts of charity and humility. He washes the feet of thirteen beggars every day, and gives them alms. He asks his monks to whip his bare back in penance for his sins. His nights are spent sleepless in vigil.”

 
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