Captive Queen by Alison Weir

  Henry was listening to all this with his mouth agape. It seemed incredible to him, who loved Becket, but not to Eleanor, who did not, and who viewed him with suspicion. She sensed that Becket was reveling in his new role, and enjoying the fame it was bringing him. How else could such a radical change be explained?

  The King, still stunned, summoned Bishop Foliot and made John of Salisbury repeat to him what he had said of Becket’s transformation. Foliot, the only bishop who had opposed Becket’s election, looked grimly skeptical.

  “My Lord King, you have wrought a miracle,” he said dryly. “Out of a soldier and a courtier, you have made an archbishop. And a saintly one, it seems.”

  Eleanor made a face. The bishop looked at her, realizing that she was shrewder than he had hitherto supposed.

  Henry was crestfallen. “I know not what to think,” he said. “I feel as if I have been abandoned. I feel as if I have lost a friend.”


  Woodstock, 1163

  Eleanor was walking with her children in the park that surrounded the royal manor of Woodstock. Earlier they had visited the menagerie established there by their father, and young Richard and Geoffrey were enthralled to see the caged lions, leopards, lynxes, and camels that had been sent as gifts to the King by foreign princes.

  Matilda and little Eleanor were particularly taken with a curious stick-backed beast.

  “Hedgehog!” Eleanor cried in delight.

  “No,” her mother said, “it’s a porcupine.”

  They stood watching it rootling about for a few more minutes, then Richard dragged them back to see the lions, shouting, “Raaarr!! Raaarr!” Eleanor smiled lovingly upon him, then her thoughts strayed to her eldest son, whom she still missed painfully. He had remained in Becket’s household, and she had not seen him since February, when she organized a little festival for his eighth birthday. But it fell somewhat flat. He was very grand now, Young Henry, too old to be thrilled by birthday treats, and all too conscious that he was his father’s heir.

  The July sun was warm, and when they returned to the Queen’s enclosed garden, a pretty arbor made enchanting with its flowery mead of delicate, heavenly colors, and its laden fruit trees, they were served ale that had been hung in buckets to cool in the moat. There, Henry joined them, fresh from hunting deer in the park. He was feeling particularly pleased with himself, for only the day before, every one of the princes of Wales had come to Woodstock to pay homage to him, following his vigorous suppression of a Welsh uprising in the spring.

  When the children’s nurses had taken them back to the manor house to have their supper, Henry and Eleanor sat on a stone bench, basking in the late afternoon haze and talking of his ambitious plans to enforce law and order in his kingdom. This was his cherished project, and he had been working on it from the moment of his accession.

  “What worries me the most is the increase in crimes committed by the clergy,” he said. “And the law, as it stands, allows them to get away with it!”

  This was a topic long familiar to Eleanor. She had heard him grumble about it many times before. But there was a new determination in his voice when he spoke again. “I intend to put an end to this anomaly,” he declared.

  He could never have guessed, she was to think years later, looking back on this summer’s day, how brutally that resolve would impact upon his life.

  “It’s wrong, and it must be ended,” Henry went on. “If a lay person commits a crime, they end up in my courts and are punished according to their desserts, and often severely. That is the law of the land, and it is just. I have seen to that.” He got up and began pacing up and down in his usual restless manner. “But anyone in holy orders, even the lowliest clerk, if he commits a crime, be it murder or theft or rape, can claim benefit of clergy and be tried in the Church courts. And you know what that means.”

  “The Church is not allowed to shed blood,” Eleanor said.

  “Exactly. So it imposes the lightest penalties. Murder a man, and as long as you’ve got a tonsure, you get three Hail Marys! But if you or I were to commit murder, Eleanor, we would be hanged.” Henry’s face was flushed with anger. This issue rankled with him, and had for a long time. She suspected there was only one reason why he had not decided to act until now, and that was because he had not wanted to provoke a quarrel with Becket. Relations between them since Henry’s return to England had been at first wary and then amicable, but increasingly there was a distance between them that had never been there in the past, and she guessed that Henry grieved for what he’d lost, and feared to upset the equilibrium of what remained of the friendship. Even so, either he had become sufficiently vexed by the matter of the criminous clerks, as he called it, to put Becket to the test, or had managed to convince himself that his beloved Thomas really was on his side.

  “No, my love, I have decided,” Henry was saying. “All offenders must be tried in the royal courts, without exception.”

  He sat down, and Eleanor laid her hand on his. It was becoming increasingly rare for them to share such private moments of tenderness these days. Henry was always too busy with the many cares and duties that went with ruling such vast and far-flung domains, while she, for her part, was preoccupied with the demands of her growing family. And above all that, they existed in a state of truce, skirting around the issues that divided them. It did not make for intimacy.

  “Some will see that as an attack on the Church itself,” she said.

  “I know that. I expect some resistance. But I am determined to have my way.” His jaw was thrust forward, his gray eyes steely with determination. It would be a brave man who defied him.


  The next night, he came to her in some anger and distress.

  “Thomas defied me!” he raged. “We were in council, and in order to replenish my treasury, which keeps emptying at an alarming rate, I proposed that the profits from revenue collected in the shires by my sheriffs be diverted to the crown. It’s a thoroughly reasonable proposal, but what did my Lord Archbishop do? He opposed it. He defied me openly. He made me look a fool!” Henry was almost shouting.

  “What did your barons say?” Eleanor asked gently.

  “They supported Thomas. Bastards, the lot of them!” His face was puce.

  Eleanor, shaking her head in despair, snuffed some candles, took off her nightrobe, and slipped naked into bed.

  “Perhaps my Lord Archbishop wishes to show that he can assert his authority as primate of England,” she suggested, as casually as she could. Privately, she wondered if Becket had gotten wind of the bigger issue that was soon to be made public, and was testing the water to see how much support he might expect to gain.

  Henry sat down heavily on the bed and began stripping off his clothes. At thirty, he was still broad-chested and muscular, but he had the beginnings of a paunch, the result of enjoying too much of the good, sweet wines of Anjou.

  “Does he indeed? Well, I’ll not let him best me again!” he vowed, and climbed in beside her. “But let us not waste time on Thomas. I came here for another purpose.” Gathering her in strong arms, he kissed her avidly, and she marveled at how her body still had the power to arouse him. She was forty-one now, and there was a light silvering of gray in her still-thick hair. Faint lines ringed her eyes, her lips were not as full as they had once been, and her jaw less defined; her breasts were soft from too many pregnancies, and her stomach rounded. Yet she still knew how to tease and please Henry, and her eager fingers and tongue could always find ways to bring him quickly to the point of ecstasy, as she was proceeding to do now, rejoicing to feel his penis grow instantly hard in her hand, and feeling her own surge of pleasure at his touch. They came together, as they always did, in a mad fervor of passion, and when it subsided, Eleanor lay slick and hot, with Henry’s weight upon her, marveling at how they could still take such joy in each other after eleven years of marriage and seven children.

  Presently, Henry fell asleep, his arm flung across Eleanor in its usual position.
When he awoke in the small hours, the candle had burned down, and in its dwindling light he lay gazing at his wife, recalling their lovemaking. She was still a magnificent woman, he reflected, and he still loved her. He might make secret trysts with Rohese de Clare—indeed, he was so captivated by her erotic appeal that he could not give her up—but Eleanor had his heart, and often his body, which was something of a marvel to him. When he was with her like this, he could forget for a space how deeply Thomas had wounded him by betraying their friendship. Never in history, he told himself, had a prince done so much for a subject, only to have it cast back in his face. It was as if Thomas was determined to assert his authority above that of his king! That he could not—and would not—tolerate. If there was to be a power struggle between them, then so be it. But why should Thomas wish to initiate such a thing, when he owed so much to him, and after they had enjoyed the most enriching of friendships? Dear God, Henry thought, must he keep torturing himself by remembering those heady days when he and Thomas had been close and carefree, heedless of the storms that were swirling threateningly on the horizon? He’d loved Thomas, loved him as a brother, and had believed that Thomas returned that love. It seemed he had been wrong about that, devastatingly wrong. And at the very thought, Henry of England buried his lionlike head in the pillow and wept.

  Eleanor awoke in darkness and lay there gazing through the high, narrow window at the starry night sky. A light, warm breeze drifted across the pillow, gently stirring the tendrils of her hair. England’s climate might be as cold as that in northern France, but the summer months could be delightful, although not as blazingly hot and glorious as in Aquitaine. For the thousandth time she struggled to suppress a longing for the land of her birth. It had been four long years since she was in Poitiers, and longer since she’d seen the vast golden swaths of the South. Soon, she must contrive to go back, make any excuse. Her mind was full of plans.

  Suddenly, she became aware of a harsh, muffled sobbing, and realized to her horror that it was coming from the pillow next to hers, and that Henry was weeping. She had never seen her tough, strong husband cry, and was at a loss to know what to do. Should she pretend she was asleep and hadn’t heard? Would it embarrass him to have her witness his vulnerability? Or should she follow her instincts and comfort him, as she comforted her sons when they came to her in tears over some childish hurt?

  He had his back to her. She reached out a tentative hand and placed it on his bare shoulder.

  “Henry? What is the matter?” she whispered.

  He froze for a moment, then his shoulders slumped and he dragged his forearm over his eyes.

  “I am betrayed,” he murmured brokenly, “betrayed by the one who has the most cause to love me.”

  For answer, Eleanor drew him into her arms, pulling his head against her breasts. Normally, such intimate contact would inflame his desire, but not tonight. He just lay there, his eyes closed, sunk in misery.

  “Henry,” she said at length, “you should not let Thomas affect you so. He is not worthy of this mindless devotion.” That roused him, and he drew back and stared at her through the gloom.

  “Thomas was the best servant a king ever had,” he said hotly, “and the best friend. You never liked him. You’ve always been jealous of him—admit it!”

  “I admit I resented his hold on you,” Eleanor said carefully, anxious not to make this situation any worse than it was. “I wanted you to seek my advice and opinions, not his. That was only natural. Yet it did seem to me—and others—that you were in thrall to him, and that worried me, because I feared you would one day find him wanting in some way, as is sadly the case now. And I was not the only person who felt you had advanced him too greatly, as you well know.”

  “I am not in thrall to him,” Henry snapped. “What rot!”

  “Then why are you so hurt?”

  “I feel betrayed!” he blurted out. “Anyone would, if they had done as much for someone as I have for Thomas, and then had it thrown back in their face!”

  “Then let anger be your guide, not hurt,” Eleanor urged. “You have his measure now. You will be prepared when he thwarts you again, and displays such base ingratitude—as he will! Do not let him get away with it a second time.”

  “It’s not as simple as that,” Henry said, a tear trickling down his cheek. “I loved that man like a brother, yet suddenly he is my enemy.”

  “Oh, Henry, can you not see what others see?” Eleanor sighed. “Love can make us blind to others’ faults. Always remember, whatever he does, you are his king. He owes you fealty and duty. You must swallow your pain and make him obey you, as all your other subjects are bound to do.”

  “You don’t understand at all, do you, Eleanor?” Henry was almost shouting. “He has a higher allegiance than his duty to me. He tells me he has God on his side, and I can’t fight God!”

  “Thomas is a man, for all that he is an archbishop,” Eleanor flung back passionately, “and it’s as a man that you must deal with him, on the level. All this boasting of putting God first is more of his play-acting, yet you could never see it. He’s reveling in this role and playing power games with you. And you’re letting him do it!”

  “Enough!” howled Henry, his face ravaged in the moonlight. “I won’t listen to your venom. You always hated Thomas.”

  “It’s not venom, it’s common sense!” she cried. “You would see it if you weren’t so besotted with this man! By God’s blood, Henry, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that you love him in the way that he loves you.”

  He stared at her, shocked into silence for a moment. “What do you mean by that?” he asked, slowly, menacingly.

  “I saw it years ago,” she went on, “and if I could see it, then others must have seen it too. The way he looked at you. He wanted you, Henry. It was glaringly obvious. If you hadn’t been so blinded by love for him, you’d have known.”

  The slap landed stingingly on her cheek, leaving her as shocked as he. Henry had never raised a hand to her before, unlike many other husbands she had heard of.

  “You are truly sick in your mind if you think such things,” he snarled. “I can only think it’s your foul jealousy that has led you to make such vile allegations.”

  “Believe that if you wish,” Eleanor said quietly, her palm pressed to her burning cheek. “I will say nothing more, for I know that what I am convinced is the truth is painful. But when he hurts you again, Henry, I will be here. I love you. I would do nothing to harm you or betray you.”

  In later years, she was to look back on those words with bitter regret, and to that night as one that marked a turning point in their relationship. Suddenly, she had become the enemy too, for daring to probe the raw place within her husband’s heart. He had come to her for comfort, and she had only made matters worse. She was overwhelmed with the hopelessness of it all. Thomas Becket was still standing between them, more potent as an adversary than he had ever been as a friend.


  Westminster, 1163

  Henry stood up and there was an instant hush. The barons and bishops who had gathered for this meeting of the Great Council were packed into every cranny of the lofty, stone-vaulted chamber, and all were craning forward to hear him speak. The word was that something momentous—and controversial—was in the wind.

  “My lords,” the King began, “I am minded to address a legal anomaly in my realm: the issue of criminous clerks, those who have been leniently sentenced by the Church courts because they have claimed benefit of clergy. It seems, good sirs, that these men, because they are in holy orders, are literally getting away with murder in some cases, and I will not tolerate it any longer!”

  There was general murmuring at this, and a few “ayes” from the barons, while Archbishop Becket and the prelates sat stone-faced.

  “I am resolved to require the Church courts to hand over those offenders who have broken my laws to my courts for corporal punishment!” Henry declared firmly. “This is no new thing, my lords, but a return to th
e customs of King Henry, whom you all honor as the ‘Lion of Justice.’”

  There were a few puzzled faces, as people struggled—and failed—to recall the first Henry enforcing such a law. The King smiled grimly to himself. In truth, he had made that bit up, hoping he would not be challenged on that point.

  He sat down in his chair of estate, glaring at his councilors, almost daring them to disagree with him. “Well, my lords? What say you?” he rapped out.

  Becket rose to his feet. His face was thunderous.

  “Lord King, like everyone else here present, I am aware of abuses within the Church courts. But as your archbishop, and primate of all England, I cannot sanction any infringement of the authority and liberties of the Church.”

  Henry’s expression was glacial. He sat rigid on his throne, gripping its wooden arms. “Are you defying me, my Lord of Canterbury?” he asked, his tone intimidating. But Becket stood his ground.

  “Lord King, when you raised me to be Archbishop, you conferred on me a sacred trust. I would be betraying that trust if I failed to protect the Church’s immunity from secular interference.”

  “You are practiced at betrayals, priest,” Henry muttered. A few caught his words and exchanged speculative glances. The expression on Becket’s face revealed that he had heard them too. He swallowed, then regained his composure.

  “I am utterly opposed to this proposed reform, Lord King,” he stated, then looked sternly at his bishops, challenging them to support him. Some gazed at the floor, others seemed suddenly to have discovered something fascinating about their episcopal rings.

  Bishop Gilbert Foliot stood up.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]