Captive Queen by Alison Weir

  He remained in a foul mood throughout the festivities, his anger at Becket, Louis, and the Pope gnawing at him remorselessly. On St. Stephen’s Day, Eleanor attempted yet again to talk to him, but he silenced her with a glare. No one could reach him; he was too deeply sunk in ire and misery. That evening, deeply concerned for him, she decided to try again. She found him calmer, however. He was sealing a document, which he then handed to one of his clerks.

  “This is my revenge!” he declared.

  “What is?” she asked, wondering what on earth it could be, and if it would provoke more trouble.

  “An order for the banishment of every one of Thomas’s relatives from England,” Henry said with grim satisfaction.

  “But they have done nothing wrong! And there are many of them, women, children, old folk.” Eleanor was appalled.

  “About four hundred, I think,” Henry said with some satisfaction. “They will be stripped of all their possessions and deported. Let them beg for their food!”

  “Henry, I beg of you, rescind that order!” she pleaded, falling on her knees. “It is cruel, it is vindictive, and it is born purely of unbridled passion, which is unbecoming in a king of your wisdom.”

  He stared coldly down at her. “Get up. It’s no use, Eleanor. These tactics are necessary. Thomas is in Rome, beyond my reach, but this should bring him hurrying back. Let him see the consequences of his defiance; let him feel the heat of my anger, and know what it is to be my enemy.”

  Eleanor rose to her feet, shot him a withering look, and was about to leave when Henry grabbed her hand.

  “I have thought of a way to force Pope Alexander and King Louis to abandon Becket,” he said. “You had better hear about it, as it concerns our daughters.”

  “Our daughters?” Eleanor echoed. “How can they be involved? What new scheme is this?”

  “I intend to make an alliance with the German Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa,” Henry revealed smugly. “That will put the noses of His Holiness and King Louis out of joint, I can tell you, because our friend the Emperor is Louis’s enemy, and he has supported Alexander’s rival, the antipope Victor. I’ll wager that Louis and Alexander will do anything to stop me from allying with Frederick, and that the very prospect of it will make them shit themselves and drop Becket like a hot cake!”

  “But where do our daughters fit into this?” Eleanor asked, wondering if this plan was as foolproof as it sounded.

  “I have proposed that the alliance be cemented by two marriage treaties,” Henry explained. “It is my intention that Matilda marry the Emperor’s greatest vassal and ally, Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, while Eleanor will wed the Emperor’s young son, Frederick. I have written requesting the Emperor to send his envoys to Rouen to draw up the agreements. I hope to meet them there in February.”

  “Are your plans so far advanced?” Eleanor asked, utterly dismayed at this news and at the prospect of losing two more daughters—cherished daughters this time—and furious that Henry had said nothing of this business until now, when he must have been planning it for weeks. “Did you not think to discuss it with me first? They are my children too.”

  “I am discussing it with you now,” Henry said. “You of all people know very well that kings marry their daughters for policy. These are advantageous marriages that will benefit us all.”

  “You are using our daughters to be revenged on Becket!” Eleanor cried.

  “That would be one advantage of the treaty,” Henry admitted, “but there would be many others.”

  “I do hope so!” she retorted. “And when are you sending our little girls to Germany? Henry, they are so young! Eleanor is but three.”

  “That is to be decided, but it will not be for a while yet,” he told her.

  “Then I must be grateful for that small mercy,” Eleanor hissed, and hastened from the room before the tears fell.

  She stood her ground all through January and into February. She would not go to Normandy to witness the selling of her daughters in a hopeless cause. She was adamant about that. Henry shrugged and did not bother to argue with her.

  “You can stay here in England,” he said.

  “I shall go to Winchester with the children,” she told him. “Then perhaps I might travel a little. Shall I act as regent for you?”

  “No,” Henry replied crushingly. “My justiciar can act in my absence.”

  She hid her distress and wondered—not for the first time—why he was increasingly reluctant of late to allow her any autonomy in state affairs. At one time, he unhesitatingly would have relied upon her to rule in his absence, but that had been before this distance had opened up between them. It had been four years now since she had issued a writ in her own name. It was all Becket’s fault, she believed. Becket had been the sole cause of the discord between them.

  “When the treaty is signed, I want you to summon the Great Council to Westminster to confirm it,” Henry commanded her. “I shall then send the Emperor’s envoys to pay their respects to you in England, and to meet Matilda and Eleanor. You will receive them with all honor. I know you will not fail me.” His tone was aggressive.

  “You can rely on me,” Eleanor said coolly. “I know how these things are done.”

  On the last night before Henry’s departure for Normandy, he came to her bed and took his pleasure of her, little caring whether or not he was welcome. She lay beneath him, wishing she could give him more, but her heart was too bitter against him. She did not like the man he had become, the vengeful, petty man who could use his own daughters to score points against his enemies. She grieved to find his heart closed to her, to have him treat her as an adversary, and, worse than that, a mere chattel he could use at will. It seemed that no one could oppose Henry these days: he would not brook it. You were either for him or against him.

  They said their farewells in public the next morning, Eleanor standing by Henry’s great charger with the warming stirrup cup.

  “God speed you, my lord,” she said formally.

  “Join me as soon as you can,” he said, bending down in the saddle to kiss her hand. Then he wheeled his horse around and was off, clattering through the gatehouse, his motley retinue and cumbersome baggage train lumbering in his wake.


  Rouen and Angers, 1165

  It was May before Eleanor was reunited with Henry in Rouen, and by then she knew she was pregnant again. He was delighted by the news, but it only saddened her, for this was the first of her children not to have been conceived in love. Yet she supposed the infant would be as precious to her as the others when it arrived.

  She was shocked by the change in the Empress. Matilda had aged much in the years since they had last met and was now quite frail and stiff in her joints. Eleanor had brought Richard with her, and the younger Matilda, and had to sternly enjoin them not to behave so boisterously around their grandmother.

  The Empress had mellowed with the years. There was little left of the antipathy she had once shown toward her daughter-in-law. Eleanor found it comforting to sit with the older woman and confide her opinions of the quarrel between Henry and Becket, and was gratified to have her own position bolstered by the old lady’s wise views robustly expressed.

  “That man has written repeatedly to me, claiming that Henry is hell-bent on persecuting the Church,” she revealed. “Of course, he got no satisfaction from me. I ignored all his letters.”

  “It is Henry who worries me,” Eleanor confessed.

  “Henry was a fool to advance Becket,” the Empress declared, sipping delicately at her wine cup.

  “He is obsessed with him. He will not listen to reason.”

  “But Henry is right!” his mother said sharply. “He has good reason to be angry. Becket is a menace, and he appears deliberately to have provoked Henry from the moment of his consecration.” She leaned forward, her faded blue eyes steely beneath paper-thin lids. “This issue of the criminous clerks—it is all wrong, and must be stopped. Becket is a fool to take his stand
on that.”

  “I know, but it seems to me he has taken his stand on so many things that we have all lost sight of what the quarrel was originally about.” Eleanor sighed. “I have done my best to support Henry, truly I have, but he does not appear to need my support. I too am the enemy these days. I have criticized his need for vengeance too often.”

  “You were right to do so,” Matilda pronounced. “Someone needs to keep my son in check. He is too passionate and headstrong for his own good.” She leaned her bewimpled head back against her chair. “Alas, I fear this will end badly. It goes on relentlessly.”

  “It dominates our lives to an unacceptable extent,” Eleanor told her. “It has spoiled my marriage. I pray God it is resolved soon.”

  “Amen to that,” the Empress murmured. “But I suspect it will not be.”

  Eleanor spent a mere fortnight with Henry before he was off on his horse again, bound this time for Wales, to teach a lesson to the Welsh princes who had united to cast off his rule.

  His mood had been kinder these past few days. She wondered if his mother had said anything to make him treat her more tenderly. He’d come to her bed every night, and they had made love frequently—not as fervently as they once had, but with something of their former passion and a sense of closeness. Eleanor dared to hope that if things went on like this, they would in time recapture some of the joy they had once taken in each other.

  She knew for certain that matters were mending between them when Henry told her, two days before he left, that he was entrusting the government of Anjou and Maine to her while he was overseas.

  “I want you to go to Angers,” he said. “Take up residence there; be a visible presence in my dominions.” It was wonderful—and heartening—to have him pay her such a compliment.

  She went, her heart singing, to Angers. Once installed in the massive fortress that dominated the town, she sent to Poitiers, requesting that her faithful uncle, Raoul de Faye, come to join her to assist her in her great task. Henry had never had a good opinion of Raoul’s abilities, but Eleanor had found him to be a true and loyal deputy these past few years, dedicated to her service and diligent at attempting—not always successfully, she had to admit—to keep her troublesome lords in check. Anyway, Henry was far away, fighting the Welsh. The decision to send for Raoul was hers to make.

  Raoul came. Eleanor had never before noticed how elegant and attractive he was; for years she’d had eyes for no other man than Henry, and the two men could not have been more different. At forty-nine, Raoul was just six years her senior, long wed to Elizabeth, the heiress of Faye-le-Vineuse, who had borne him two children. He had all the charm and humor of her mother’s family, the seigneurs of Châtellerault, and Eleanor felt entirely comfortable in his company. He was courtly in manner, ready to do her service in any capacity, and full of good advice, much of which she was happy to heed. Most important of all, he shared her tastes in music and literature, and in doing so proved himself to be a true son of the South.

  The long hours they spent together discussing the affairs of Anjou and Aquitaine—how she delighted in hearing news of her own land!—lent an intimacy to their relationship. She found herself eagerly anticipating their meetings and captivated by Raoul’s wicked smile and sharp wit. He was capable of saying the most outrageous things—court gossip was his specialty, particularly the amorous exploits of the Queen’s ladies—and she enjoyed his earthy turns of phrase. She found herself laughing a lot of the time she was in his company—something she had not done very much with Henry in recent years. It was all exceedingly pleasant.

  She was aware, of course, of something flowering between them. She knew instinctively that Raoul wanted more from her than an uncle should expect of a niece, but she could hardly blame him for that. Her scandalous affair with another uncle, Raymond of Antioch, was universally notorious, and gossip about it had been circulating for years. Raoul would surely have heard it and perhaps concluded that she would not be averse to a similar dalliance with him. The idea amused Eleanor, although she did not consider it seriously. She was content to enjoy flirting with him, indulging in the old familiar game of courtly love—so much a part of their common culture—and keeping him tantalizingly at arm’s length. There was no harm in that, was there?

  There were, of course, more serious moments, as when they discussed the problem of Becket.

  “I have never met him, but I know I would detest him,” Raoul declared loyally. “He is a dangerous man, and the King your husband is well rid of him.”

  “But he is not rid of him, that’s just the point!” Eleanor exclaimed. “However far away he may be, Becket is a constant presence in our lives, stirring up trouble.”

  “If I were the King, I would find a way to silence him,” Raoul declared.

  “And think what a furor that would cause!” Eleanor rejoined.

  “It could be managed … discreetly,” he suggested. She wondered if this was a game, if he was really in earnest.

  “And tongues would wag. No, my dear uncle, it wouldn’t work. And Henry would never agree to it. He has many vices, but murder is not one of them.”

  “Forgive me, I spoke only in his interests,” he hastened to assure her. “I would rid him of that bastard archbishop if I could.” The hostility in his voice was palpable.

  “Why do you hate Becket so?” Eleanor asked curiously.

  “Because he has been the cause of your pain,” Raoul answered, his hand closing on hers.

  They were alone in her solar, seated at the table with a bank of scrolls and tally sticks before them and the sun streaming in through the windows. Eleanor silently withdrew her hand.

  “You are still very beautiful,” Raoul said softly. “You have a fine bone structure that will never age. You are incredible.”

  “Flatterer!” She smiled.

  “It is the truth. I know beauty when I see it.”

  She laughed. “You expect me to believe that—me, an old married woman, pregnant with her tenth child? Look at me, Raoul!”

  He did, intently, his deep-set, dark eyes full of yearning, and suddenly they were no longer laughing.

  “It is now, especially, that you should be cherished,” he said. “Does the King your husband cherish you as he should, sweet niece?”

  “Henry cannot help the fact that the Welsh are in rebellion,” she answered lightly.

  “But if he were here, would he be cherishing you as you deserve?” her uncle persisted.

  “Of course,” Eleanor answered, although her voice betrayed a lack of conviction. The recent renewal of the bonds she shared with Henry was too fragile, too precious, to be taken for granted. He had never been one to cosset her when she was carrying his children, but then she herself had not encouraged it, preferring to carry on much as normal. Raoul, on the other hand, was a true son of the South, a ladies’ man in every sense, courtly and extravagantly devoted. He would not understand how she and Henry functioned together. He didn’t like Henry anyway, never had—and now he had an ulterior motive for finding fault with him.

  He was frowning, still looking at her intently.

  “You know he is unfaithful to you,” he said. His words hit her like a slap in the face. She reeled inwardly from the blow. Coming out of the blue, it forced her to confront a truth she had long feared to face. She had wondered countless times if, when they were apart, Henry took his pleasure where he would, but she’d had no proof. And there were those rumors she had heard … She had dismissed them as mere gossip. Yet now it all made sense; and there was no surprise in her. Of course Henry had been unfaithful. How could she ever have doubted it?

  “Explain exactly what you mean by that!” she cried, rising and going over to the window, keeping her back to Raoul so he should not see how profoundly he had shocked her. If what he said were true, she would not want to look a fool—the poor, ignorant wife, the last to find out. Already, she feared, she had betrayed herself by her violent response.

  Raoul swallowed. He had not e
xpected her to react so explosively. He had thought only to cozen from her an admission of what she already knew, so they could forget Henry and proceed to amorous matters. Clearly he had miscalculated. Still, he had said the words and, hurt her though he knew he must, had no choice but to qualify them.

  “When he was in Poitiers, there were women,” he said, swallowing again. “He made no secret of it. They were whores, brought up from the town. Everyone was drunk. It was the same each night.”

  Eleanor took a deep breath. It was not as bad as she had feared. She was surprised to find that she was not as hurt by these casual betrayals as she would have expected. What she had feared most, could not have tolerated, emotionally, and as a wife and queen, was her husband becoming involved with one particular woman. It was almost a relief to hear that Henry had resorted to whores.

  “Well, he is a man!” she said, as lightly as she could, and turned to face Raoul with a brittle smile. “Women learn to shut their eyes to such things. They mean nothing.”

  Raoul guessed she was putting on a brave face, and resolved not to repeat what Henry had said in his cups about a beautiful mistress called Rohese …

  He stood up and put his arms around her. He knew it was unfair to take advantage of her when she was so vulnerable, yet he could not help himself. She was still lovely, even in her maturity, and he wanted her. But although there was a brief moment when he thought she would yield, she gaily disentangled herself.

  “Raoul, my life is complicated enough, not so much by other women, as by another man!” she told him. “And no, there’s no need to look so shocked. It is nothing like that, at least on Henry’s part.”

  “You mean Becket …?” Raoul was staggered.

  “I would swear to it. I could understand if it was that; it’s Henry being in thrall to him that is beyond me. He’s never explained it satisfactorily, and I don’t suppose he knows himself why Becket has this hold over him.”

  “Becket is older,” Raoul ventured. “Mayhap Henry reveres him as a father figure, or elder brother. Maybe there is something in Becket that Henry would like to be.”

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