Captive Queen by Alison Weir

  “I am with you, Lord King,” he announced defiantly. “It is the spirit of the law that counts, not the letter, be that law human or divine.”

  “Thank you, my Lord of Hereford,” Henry said, gratified. “At least one of my clerics has some sense. What do the rest of you say? Who is for me?”

  To a man, the barons raised their hands, and a few bishops tremulously followed suit. Becket rounded on them.

  “Whom do you serve first, God or the King?” he barked. Across the chamber, his eyes met Henry’s. There was hatred in both men’s faces, and, in the King’s, pain also. But Becket was a man on a mission. He knew himself to be in the right. Earthly friendship must give place before the honor of God and His Church.

  “I command you to oppose this so-called reform,” he instructed his clergy. “Every one of you, without exception.”

  “Be careful, Thomas,” Henry growled. Becket ignored him.

  “Those opposing, stand up!” he commanded. “There is more at issue here than your obedience to the King. You have your immortal souls to consider.”

  No one moved for a moment, then one bishop stood up, followed by another, and another, until they were all standing, apart from Bishop Foliot, who remained resolutely seated.

  “My Lord Bishop of Hereford?” Becket prompted. “I hope you are thinking of God, and of your conscience.”

  “God and my conscience are in complete agreement,” Foliot retorted, folding his arms across his ample paunch.

  “Very well,” Becket said in a dissatisfied voice.

  “Enough of this charade!” Henry snarled. “You, my bishops—you will all swear obedience to the ancient customs of this realm. I command it!”

  “But that would mean us swearing to uphold this law that you say King Henry passed,” Becket said.

  “It is my right to require such an oath,” Henry told him firmly. “My laws must be upheld, and if my bishops don’t set a good example, what hope in Hell is there for the rest of us?”

  Wincing at the King’s casual mention of Hell, Becket turned to his colleagues. “You must take the oath, as your duty to the King requires,” he told them, “but you must add the words ‘saving our order.’ Is that clear?”

  “By the eyes of God!” Henry thundered. “Let me hear no word of your order! I demand absolute and express agreement to my laws.”

  “Then, in all conscience, my King, I cannot require the bishops to take this oath,” Becket insisted. At that, Henry saw red. Shaking with anger, he got up and strode furiously from the chamber.

  All of a sudden there were frenzied sounds of activity from the palace courtyard below, the shouts of agitated men, the whinnying of horses, the trundling of carts.

  “Get your women to pack,” Henry told Eleanor as he burst into her chamber.

  “What has happened?” she asked, rising to her feet and letting her embroidery fall to the floor. Little Matilda and Eleanor abandoned their skittles and looked up at their father warily. His rages terrified them. Mamille, seeing their anxious faces, set down her goblet, knelt on the floor, and rolled the ball in an attempt to distract them.

  “It’s Becket!” Henry hissed. “He defied me again! In council, in front of all my lords, temporal and spiritual. He took the part of his criminous clerks; he opposed my reforms; and he forbade the bishops to swear an oath upholding my laws. Such defiance is treason!”

  Eleanor poured him some wine and handed it to him, forbearing to speak. He gulped it back and resumed his tirade. “It is not to be borne! He shall pay for this.”

  “What will you do?” Eleanor asked. She had resolved never to criticize Becket again, but to remain quietly supportive of Henry when he needed her to be. That way, she hoped to repair the damage she had done on that awful night in July.

  Henry sat down heavily in her vacated chair, staring into the fire, breathing furiously. When at last he spoke, his voice was calmer, deadlier. “For a start, I’ll confiscate the rich manors and castles I bestowed on him when he was chancellor. He’ll find out what the loss of my favor must mean to him.”

  He got up and began pacing. His daughters, at their mother’s nod, scuttled out of the way and retreated to the safety of the window seat, where they sat watching him fearfully. Eleanor smiled at them encouragingly, then turned back to their father.

  “Is it right that, after what he has done, Thomas still has care of our son, your heir?” she inquired.

  “No, by God, it is not right!” Henry stormed. “I will remove the boy from his household at once.”

  “Let him come back to me,” she urged, but he looked at her as if she were mad.

  “He is eight now, and far too old to be governed by women,” he said dismissively. “He shall have his own establishment and servants.”

  Eleanor quelled her surging disappointment and reasoned that this would be more fitting for a king’s son.

  “As long as I may see him from time to time,” she said hopefully.

  “Of course,” Henry told her, but his mind was clearly on other things, festering over Becket’s betrayal. He was like a man possessed. She longed to comfort him, but knew very well that he would not welcome it.

  “Shall I still get packed?” she asked. “Are we leaving here?”

  Henry sighed. His rage was subsiding, now that he had thought of the means to have his revenge. “No. Forget it. I spoke in haste. I’ll go hunting tomorrow, and no doubt I’ll feel better afterward. Then I’ll be able to think clearly and decide what to do next.”

  She smiled. “You had better go down and tell them to unload the carts and the sumpter mules.”

  “I’ll be popular!” he said with a tired smile as he left her.

  The highest in the land had gathered in the barrel-vaulted gloom of Westminster Abbey. Candles flickering in their tall sconces illuminated the faces of the great and the good, here to witness this momentous event. Word had recently come from Rome: the Pope had spoken. Nearly a hundred years after his death, King Edward the Confessor was now officially a saint, and Henry, in honor of his canonization, had built him a glorious shrine. Today, his remains were to be translated to their splendid new resting place, a masterpiece of stone, Purbeck marble, and mosaic, surmounted by an intricately carved wooden canopy.

  The court and all the lords of England, spiritual and temporal, were crammed into the Confessor’s new chapel and its precincts. Eleanor was standing in her place of honor at the front with the King and their children, glad to have her eldest son at her side for once. Young Henry had grown in height and dignity these last years, and now wore his exalted status like a mantle. They had Becket to thank for that, she could not but admit it.

  Becket was here too today, which was why the atmosphere in the abbey was so tense. He and Henry had faced each other across the floor of decorated tiles, and the air between them almost crackled with hostility. Yet on the surface, all was genial, with King and Archbishop exchanging the kiss of greeting, and Becket proceeding to conduct the long service with grave dedication, his clever, chiseled face set in a lofty, detached expression.

  Beside Eleanor, Richard fidgeted. He never could stand still, loving to be off riding his palfrey or practicing the swordplay at which he was becoming so adept. But his mother’s warning hand on his shoulder quelled his restlessness. How like his father he is, Eleanor thought. Her gaze swept her other children, who were all on their honor to behave composedly. They were standing solemnly, overawed by the august gathering and the sense of occasion that inspired the stately proceedings.

  Henry watched the ritual with narrowed, steely eyes. He had longed for this day, could not do enough to honor the memory of this saint whose canonization he had pressed for so passionately—and now it was all spoiled by the presence of Thomas Becket. Damn him, he thought, as fresh rage infused him. What was the matter with Thomas? It seemed he was deliberately doing everything in his power to provoke his king. Take that matter of William of Eynsford, one of Henry’s vassals. It had been but a petty dispute
over some land, but my Lord Archbishop must take umbrage and excommunicate the man! Thomas had known that would infuriate him, but it hadn’t deterred him. What was Thomas trying to prove? That he was more powerful than the King?

  Receiving a surreptitious nudge from Eleanor, Henry realized he had forgotten where he was and why he was here. He pulled himself up: this business of Becket was becoming an obsession. Get public opinion on your side, his mother, the Empress, had written. Well, he would do that. But first he must try to focus his mind on the present.

  They were opening the vault now. Sixty years before, the monks of Westminster had lifted the lid and found the Confessor’s corpse whole and uncorrupted. Henry was glad he had ordered the abbot secretly to peek into the sarcophagus to confirm that it was still intact, if only for the sake of his daughters, whose eyes were wide with apprehension; Matilda had her hand to her mouth. Young Geoffrey, he noted, was watching it all with avid interest, unshrinking. A clever boy, Geoffrey, fearless and cunning; he would go far, his father thought proudly.

  There was a reverent hush as the corpse of the saint was gradually exposed in its cloth-of-gold vestments, its skin parchmentlike and brown, the eyes sunken, the nose still firm. After the King and Queen and the peers had a chance to view it, it was wrapped in precious silk cloths, then reverently lifted into its dazzling new gold coffin encrusted with gems, which Henry and his principal barons hoisted onto their shoulders and conveyed in solemn procession through the abbey cloisters before reverently placing it in its new shrine. Then the Te Deum Laudamus was sung in joyful celebration.

  The ceremony over, the King bowed low before St. Edward’s shrine, swept unseeing past Archbishop Becket, and led the way out of the church. He should have felt jubilant on this great occasion, but all he wanted to do was weep.


  Berkhamsted, 1163

  It was Christmas Eve, and the Yule log had just been dragged into the great hall by several beefy serfs, while the castle servants were busily picking out the best branches from the great piles of evergreens strewn across the floor; these would be used to decorate the hall. The younger royal children scampered among them, full of excitement, eager not to miss out on the festive fun. They had already been shooed out of the kitchens, where the Christmas brawn was seething in its pan, and great joints of meat were roasting over the spits.

  Upstairs, the King was bursting into the Queen’s bower with his usual lack of ceremony. He wore a look of triumph.

  “He has submitted!” he announced without preamble. “He has sworn to uphold the ancient customs of England—without qualification!”

  Eleanor stood up, laid down the rose silk bliaut she was embroidering as a gift for young Matilda, and smiled.

  “I think we have Bishop Foliot to thank for that,” she said. Henry had cunningly translated Foliot to the important See of London, so that he would be on hand to advise his king and lead the opposition to Becket. One by one, persuaded by Foliot’s eloquent arguments, the bishops had gone over to Henry.

  “And the Pope!” the King cried jubilantly. “Don’t forget Alexander needs my support. He ordered Thomas to submit, and told him he could expect no help from Rome if he did not. So Becket is defeated on all sides. Eleanor, this is the best Yuletide gift I could have received!”

  Eleanor twined her arms around his neck; these days, they were not so openly demonstrative toward each other as they once had been, but she was so pleased to see Henry’s face lit up by his victory that she could not help herself. She knew he was reluctant to display his inner hurts to her nowadays, yet he would not despise her sharing his victory. But although he briefly returned the embrace, he soon disentangled himself and went to warm his hands by the fire. They were rougher than ever now, scabbed and callused from hours spent in the saddle, gripping worn leather reins.

  He stood with his back to her. She could not—thank God!—know that he had just come from the arms of Rohese, that Thomas’s messenger had encountered him as he’d left her chamber. He had been too spent to respond to Eleanor, too focused on Thomas’s submission.

  He turned around.

  “Thomas showed good taste when he did up this place,” he said slowly, looking at the rich hues of the expensive hangings, the decorated floor tiles, the painted and gilded furniture, and the delicate ironwork on the window bars and the fire screen. Eleanor agreed with him. She too had been conscious of the all-pervading, unseen presence of Becket in this castle, once bestowed so lovingly, which Henry had taken from him. Was there no escape from the man? She feared she would scream if she heard the name Thomas Becket again. He dominated their lives to an unacceptable extent. If only Henry had not been so besotted, was not still obsessed! She bit down the need to lash out verbally.

  He was looking at her—a touch shiftily, she felt. Was he embarrassed by his obsession with Becket? Had it occurred to Henry that he ought to draw a line under this finished friendship, that it was unfair to her to prolong the agony any further? Evidently not, for when he spoke again, it became clear that his mind could focus on only one thing—or one person, to be more exact.

  “Of course, I only have Thomas’s promise privately, in a letter,” Henry said. “He must submit publicly to my authority.”

  “Is that wise?” Eleanor asked, taking up her embroidery again. “He must feel he has been humiliated enough.”

  “It is necessary,” Henry said coldly. “He must be seen to submit, then my bishops will know without a doubt where their allegiance should lie.”

  “I am sure you know best,” Eleanor said sourly, unable to help herself. Let be! Let be! she was crying inwardly.

  Henry came to stand in front of her, looking down sardonically.

  “Oh, I do,” he said softly. “And I hope you will be there to see it happen.”

  “You may count on that,” she replied briskly. “And now, let us think of our children, and our guests, and do all honor to this season of Christ’s birth.” And put Becket out of your mind. Those words lay unsaid, like a sword between them.


  Clarendon, 1164

  Eleanor seated herself beside Henry, huddling inside the heavy folds of the gold-banded crimson mantle that swept the floor around her feet, and extending one gloved hand to straighten the circlet that held her linen veil in place. They were enthroned in the spacious hall at Clarendon, the magnificent royal hunting lodge near Salisbury. The lords and clergy were swathed in furs against the January chill, and as soon as the King sat down, they settled with a rustling of silks on their benches. Archbishop Becket sat slightly apart, his face grim beneath his bejeweled miter, his white hand clenched around the staff of his crozier.

  Henry leaned across to Eleanor.

  “This should be plain sailing,” he murmured. “I have already taken counsel of my civil and canon lawyers, and they tell me that my Lord of Canterbury has no grounds whatsoever for opposing my proposals.”

  “I pray God that he will see it that way too, and that we can have an end to this quarrel,” Eleanor said low, her fingers mindlessly pleating the rich brocade of her bliaut.

  Henry bristled. “It was not of my making. I merely seek to extend the same justice to all my subjects. But let us not waste time. They’re all waiting.” He sat up straight in his seat.

  “My lords,” he began in a ringing voice, “I have summoned you today to ask for your endorsement of a new code of sixteen laws, in which are enshrined the ancient customs of this realm. I am happy to tell you all that our good friend here, Archbishop Becket, has already sworn to uphold these customs, so you need have no qualms about approving them.”

  Becket’s expression was unreadable; it seemed he was keeping a tight rein on himself. But then he would, Eleanor thought: everything he did was studied, lacking in spontaneity. She did not believe he would acquiesce as meekly as Henry anticipated. He would be looking for a loophole. He would not go down without a fight.

  The Archdeacon of Canterbury, who was acting as Henry’s unofficial chanc
ellor, since no one of Becket’s stature and abilities could be found to fill his shoes, stood up and unscrolled the parchment on which were listed the new laws. There was a lot of nodding and a few ayes from the company as they listened intently to the first two articles, and Becket seemed to relax a little. So far it was all just a reiteration of the old and familiar customs, as Henry had said.

  Henry was watching Becket too, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. Eleanor wondered what game he was playing. Almost certainly he had something up his sleeve.

  She did not have to wait long to find out, for the archdeacon—a man who was not stupid, and who knew he was about to summon up a tempest—cleared his throat and read article three, as Henry sat smiling complacently.

  “The King has decreed that, henceforth, criminous clerks be handed over to the royal courts for sentencing.”

  Becket leaped to his feet.

  “Lord King, there is not, nor ever has been, any law in this realm to that effect!” he protested. The bishops looked unhappily at one another.

  “Be that as it may, there is such a law now,” Henry said softly, his tone menacing.

  “It is laid down in Holy Scripture: render unto Caesar those things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are His,” Becket rejoined. The bishops were now writhing in distress.

  “You have sworn to obey me!” Henry snarled.

  “I swore to uphold the ancient laws of this land,” Becket flung back. “You have duped me, sire—and all of us.”

  “How dare you!” roared Henry, rising, trembling with fury. “Swear, priest! By God, you will swear!”

  Becket ignored him. He turned to the assembled clergy and addressed them. “My Lords Spiritual, you know very well that these new laws encompass not just the laws of the late King Henry, but also this new, pernicious law of the King’s, made plain to you just now, and contrary to the honor of God and His Church. I therefore command you, on your allegiance to me and to our Heavenly Father, not to accede to these unjust demands.”

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