Captive Queen by Alison Weir

  Eleanor could only imagine what it had cost Henry to make this public confession, humiliating in the extreme for a proud man such as he. Maybe being formally absolved of the murder by the Archbishop of Rouen had helped to alleviate his guilt and remorse, but it came at a price. She had winced when they told her how the King, wearing only a hair shirt, submitted to the shame of a public flogging by monks, in the presence of the Young King and the papal legate. It was not the most edifying example for a father to present to his son, still less for a king to show his subjects—and yet she knew it had been a necessary gesture. She still shuddered to think how painful a penance this must have been for Henry, in every way, and could have wept for the bloody lacerations inflicted by the whips and the hair shirt, and for the deeper wounds to her husband’s soul.

  Yet still, it seemed, God, the Church, and the ghost of Becket were not satisfied, for the King had also vowed to undergo a similar public penance in England at some future date; in the meantime, he was to make reparation to the See of Canterbury and to those who had suffered as a result of supporting Becket. He was also to found three new religious houses, and—most galling of all, Eleanor knew—revoke the most contentious articles of his cherished Constitutions of Clarendon.

  Of all this, she said nothing to Raoul, who knew it already. She was still incensed on Henry’s behalf that Becket, in death, had won the moral victory, when Henry had had right on his side—she was convinced of this—all along. Unwilling to pursue this line of thought any further, for she had gone over it relentlessly in her mind, seething with indignation, and knew there was nothing to do but accept what had happened, she changed the subject.

  “My lord has new plans for our youngest son, John,” she said. “He is not after all to be dedicated to the Church, which, I might say, is something of a relief.” She smiled faintly as she called to mind the unruly, lively five-year-old, whom all Abbess Audeburge’s strictures had failed to tame. John, she had realized on her all-too-rare, conscience-appeasing visits to Fontevrault, was meant for the world, not for the spiritual life. “Instead, he is to be married to the daughter of Count Humbert of Maurienne. As the count has no son to succeed him, John will inherit his lands, and that will be of some advantage to Henry, because whoever rules Maurienne controls the Alpine passes between Italy and Germany.”

  “What is the daughter like?”

  “Alice? She’s a mere child. As usual, my lord is resorting to hard bargaining. I doubt we will see them betrothed for many a month.”

  “And is John to stay at Fontevrault now that he is not to enter the Church?” Raoul looked at Eleanor searchingly.

  “That is for Henry to decide,” she said firmly. “I am more concerned about the Young King.”

  She had been worrying about her eldest son for some time now. At seventeen, the younger Henry was ambitious and thirsty for power. He was a king, but he had no real authority beyond the superficial privileges that his father allowed him, and that had made him increasingly resentful.

  “Geoffrey has Brittany, and Richard is to have Aquitaine, and both already have the freedom of their domains, yet I, the eldest, am ruled by my father,” he had complained, his eyes blazing, just before Eleanor left Argentan. “My titles are meaningless! I have asked him again and again to let me govern at least one of the lands I am to inherit—England or Normandy, even Anjou or Maine—Mother, I would even settle for Maine!—but he will not relinquish any part of his power, even to his own flesh and blood. I asked him if I could rule England as regent during his absence, but he appointed the justiciar instead.”

  “I will talk to him,” Eleanor told him, but of course there had been no way of approaching Henry at that time, not when he was suffering agonies of guilt over Becket’s murder.

  “It’s not just that,” the Young King had added. “He keeps me short of money. Even William Marshal thinks so. I have had to exist on what I can purloin from the Treasury or what profit I earn from tournaments. My father forgets I have a reputation for open-handedness to maintain. But what does he do? He bans tournaments in England, because he says that too many young knights have been killed. And he reserves the right to choose the members of my household. Mother, am I a king, or am I not? I cannot see why Father made me one, just to treat me like a child.” The boy was in anguish.

  “It is hard for a father to accept that his children are grown up,” Eleanor soothed, “much less that they will one day hold what is his. Your father takes great pride in his domains. No English king before him had such an empire. I counsel you, my son, be patient, and act prudently in all things. You are young yet, and must prove yourself worthy.”

  After the Young King had gone away, sullen and unmollified, Eleanor reflected that her wise words had not been what he had wanted to hear. Yet she knew him well, and she knew too why Henry was keeping him on a tight rein. Young Henry was a restless youth, inconstant as wax. He was a spendthrift, and had shown himself to be lacking in wisdom and energy. He had not yet learned to control the violent temper he inherited from his Angevin forebears, and probably never would. If the father couldn’t do that, there was no hope for the son. But Eleanor was confident, with a mother’s instinct, that given the privilege of adult responsibilities, Young Henry would quickly learn to live up to them. It was being treated like an incompetent child that was turning him into a wastrel. But Henry could not see that. He did not realize that he was driving a wedge between his son and himself.

  “Henry is a doting parent,” she told Raoul now. “He lavishes more affection on his children than most fathers, and takes it for granted that his love is returned. He cannot see any faults in his offspring, and they know well how to deflect his wrath by bursting into tears. It never fails!”

  “You are both indulgent and loving parents,” her uncle pointed out. She accepted the implied criticism, knowing it to be justified.

  “Yes, I know. We have spoiled our children, and as a result, they are too headstrong for their own good. And unfortunately they have been witnesses to much discord between us, so they have learned to compete for our attention, and to play off one parent against the other shamelessly!” She threw a mock grimace at Raoul. “I have failed as a mother!”

  It was a remark lightly made, but it masked an underlying anxiety. Despite the balmy night, with stars studding the clearest of skies, Eleanor felt a sudden chill. She ripped off a leaf from a creeper and began crushing it in her palm.

  “You may recall a curse laid by a holy man on Duke William the Troubadour, my grandfather,” she said. “He swore that William’s descendants would never know happiness in their children. I told Henry about it once, long ago, and it quite upset him, because he could not imagine any of our brood causing us grief. Of course, they were small then, and easy to rule.”

  “Does any parent ever know happiness in their children?” Raoul asked. “We nurture them, we love them as our second selves, then they go away and leave us. It is the natural course of things. Every time they are hurt, we suffer. If they forget us, we suffer. Is that happiness?”

  “What on earth did you do to your children, Raoul?” Eleanor exclaimed, trying to inject some humor into the gloom. Yet there was an uncomfortable degree of truth in what he had said, and she felt depressed by it. Then she remembered something else.

  “There is another ancient prophecy, Raoul, of Merlin’s. It has always puzzled me, and yet I have increasingly come to feel that it has some relevance for me and mine. It says that the ‘Eagle of the Broken Covenant’ shall rejoice in her third nesting. Is that prophecy to be fulfilled in me? Am I the eagle? And the broken alliance? Is that my marriage to Louis?”

  “It is too vague to say,” Raoul opined dismissively, and began to walk toward the door that led to the abbey guest house. “I should not concern yourself with it.”

  “Yes, but if it is about me, then it portends well for Richard. If you think of my living sons, then Richard is the third nesting, of whom I shall have cause to rejoice. I am almost convinced th
at he will be the fulfillment of the prophecy. It’s what might be meant by the ‘broken covenant’ that worries me.”

  “Eleanor, you are worrying over nothing,” her uncle told her. “Let it alone. I am sure that, prophecy or no prophecy, Richard will fulfill your every hope.”

  The Young King had been crowned again, with Queen Marguerite, in Winchester Cathedral. Now, Eleanor hoped, Henry would permit their son to exercise more power. He had written to say that since Marguerite had reached the age of fourteen, he had allowed the young couple to consummate their marriage and live together. That sounded promising; it was a start. But hot on the heels of that messenger came another from Young Henry himself.

  He wrote indignantly that his father now insisted on keeping him under his eye at all times. He had dragged him from Normandy to the Auvergne to witness the betrothal of John to Alice of Maurienne, and when Count Humbert had asked what John’s inheritance would be, Henry promised to give him three castles. “But they are mine!” the Young King had dictated. “They were to come to me.” He made his anger clear to his father but had been ignored. Instead, Henry forced him to witness the marriage treaty that dispossessed him.

  Henry was acting like a bull-headed fool, Eleanor thought. He loved his children, true, but when it came to inheritances, he was back to his game of pushing them around like pawns on a chessboard, with no thought for their feelings. All was policy, and often there seemed no rhyme or reason to it! But what of the wider implications of his heavy-handedness? Did he not realize that a house divided against itself falls?

  The next she heard, King Louis had invited his daughter Marguerite and the Young King to Paris. That in itself was worrying.

  “Louis has long been trying to make divisions in Henry’s empire,” she told Raoul one morning as they rode out with their hawks. “It would not surprise me if he has heard of the Young King’s dissatisfaction and is trying to exploit it to his own advantage. He fears that vast concentration of power in Henry’s hands.”

  “And the French have always liked to make trouble for the English!” Raoul observed. “Maybe the King should have forbidden Young Henry to go to Paris.”

  Eleanor agreed. “Maybe he does not wish to offend Louis,” she said. “After all, Marguerite is Louis’s daughter. But I think it is folly for them to go to the French court now.”

  Soon it became clear that the situation was worse than she could ever have expected. In his next letter, her son informed her that before setting out for Paris, he had visited his father in Normandy and once more demanded to be given his rightful inheritance. But Henry had again been adamant in his refusal. “A deadly hatred has sprung up between us,” the young man confided. “My father has not only taken away my will, but has filched something of my lordship.” There was a palpable sense of grievance in his words—and it was entirely justified, Eleanor felt.

  Her anger against her husband was mounting. How could he be so blind? It was unfair and unjust, the way he was treating their son—and it could be disastrous in the longer term. She almost hoped Louis would do something to provoke Henry into realizing that he was acting destructively and forfeiting the love of his heir.

  She wondered if there was anything that she herself could do to stop it. She felt so helpless, so impotent—and so frustrated!


  Chinon, 1172

  Christmas had arrived. Eleanor was keeping the festival with Henry at Chinon, and their three oldest sons had been invited. The King greeted her with unexpected warmth and one of his bearlike hugs, and complimented her on her rich attire. It was the green Byzantine robe she had worn in the years of their passion, when the mere sight of her dressed in her finery had been sufficient to inflame his desire, but he seemed to have forgotten all that.

  She had learned not to let herself get upset at his fitful interest in her; they were, after all, meant to be separated. She soon saw that, for all his bonhomie, put on for the season, Henry remained preoccupied with his own private demons and was impatient with everyone, and she suspected that he was building up to yet another confrontation with the Young King.

  “I summoned Young Henry back from Paris,” he told her. “My spies warned me that Louis was cozening him to demand his share of my dominions. I put a stop to that immediately!”

  “I am glad that our son is coming here,” Eleanor said, trying tactfully to convey to Henry that there was more to this situation than a power struggle. “I have not seen him for many months. And Marguerite has always been like a daughter to me.”

  But the Young King did not come. He sent word to say that his friend, Eleanor’s warlike troubadour Bertran de Born, had invited him to his castle at Hautfort, whither Young Henry had extravagantly summoned all the knights in Normandy named William to feast with him.

  Henry exploded. “God’s blood! Is there no end to the cub’s stupidity? Of all the pointless, frivolous things to do! What is he thinking of? And as for Bertran de Born, as you should know, he is a dangerous troublemaker.”

  “Henry.” Eleanor laid a calm hand on his shoulders and looked directly into his purple-veined face. “Our son indulges in frivolous and pointless pursuits because you force him to. His whole life is frivolous and pointless. You have made him a king, yet you allow him no kingly power, so the whole exercise was in vain. You keep him short of money and curtail his pleasures; you insist on appointing all the members of his household. You even dictated when he could sleep with his wife, who has been ripe for the marriage bed these past two years, as we both know. Henry, before it is too late, let him be the king he wants to be. Then he can prove his true worth. He needs to cut his teeth before he can rule an empire.”

  The King stared at her as if she were mad, and shook her off angrily. Then she realized that he was looking beyond her, and she turned to see Richard and Geoffrey standing there. By the looks on their faces, they heard what had been said.

  “Mother is right,” said Richard defiantly. “Why will you not give us any power, Father? I am Duke of Aquitaine and Geoffrey is Duke of Brittany, but they are empty titles.”

  “Richard speaks truth, Father,” asserted Geoffrey.

  “Shut up!” snapped Henry. “You’re only fourteen—what do you know? Are you all in this against me?”

  “In what?” Eleanor inquired. “A conspiracy? How could you think that, Henry? I am looking to the future, and doing my best to prevent a rift between you and our sons. I believe they have a just grievance.”

  “Yes, we do!” Richard and Geoffrey echoed.

  Henry faced them, a man at bay. “It is written that every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and I cannot risk that happening. I have built up my empire, domain by domain, and I have spent most of my life fighting to hold it and keep it intact. One day, thanks to me, it will be your inheritance. One day. But if I now give England, Normandy, Anjou, and Maine to Henry, Aquitaine to you, Richard, and Brittany to Geoffrey, what will I be left with? I might as well retire to Fontevrault and become a monk!”

  “We ask only that you share your power with us, Father, and give us some proper responsibilities,” Richard said.

  “No,” Henry told him. “You are yet young and inexperienced. There will be time enough for that when you are older.”

  “Henry, when you inherited Normandy, you were eighteen, only a year older than Young Henry is now,” Eleanor reminded him.

  “Yes, but I did not consort with troubadours, or feast with unworthy knights just because they bore a name that took my fancy. I had to grow up quickly, in the midst of a civil war, and I learned early on to fight in the field and pit my wits against my mother’s adversaries. Thanks be to God, our sons have never had to deal with such difficulties.”

  “Even so, you have overly protected them,” Eleanor retorted. “Now you must let them be men and stand on their own feet, and give them cause to be thankful to you. Heaven knows, their demands are not unreasonable.”

  “I beg leave to differ. The courier who brought Yo
ung Henry’s message was my own man. He had heard the cub boasting that he ought by rights to reign alone, for at his coronation, my reign, as it were, had ceased.”

  Eleanor’s sharp intake of breath pierced the stunned silence. The two boys looked at their feet, knowing themselves defeated by their brother’s thoughtless stupidity.

  “That is the kind of poison that your Bertran de Born has been dripping in my son’s ear,” Henry snarled. “I wonder where he got the idea.”

  “Not from me!” Eleanor cried hotly. “That is unjust! How could you think it?”

  “You always take his part.”

  “That is because you refuse to see things his way.” She was in a ferment, past caring if she offended or upset him. “And now, clearly, it is too late. It is you who have brought us to this pass, Henry. You can never admit that you are wrong. Look at what happened in Aquitaine. It’s the same with your vassals all over the empire. They complain that you are too heavy-handed, too authoritarian. That’s exactly what is wrong with your treatment of your heirs, and I will not stand by and see it!”

  Henry hit her, hard, across the mouth. “That’s enough!” he roared.

  “Mmmm!” she cried in pain, clapping her hand to her bleeding lips. This could not be happening, she thought. Henry had been that rarity among husbands: only once before had he used violence on her, the time she unwisely taunted him about Becket—and that had been only a slap. Thus his lashing out at her now, and drawing blood, was shocking in the extreme. It was bad enough that he had struck her—worse still that he had done it in front of their sons.

  Richard’s hand had flown to his dagger, and Geoffrey, equally outraged, sprang to comfort their mother. Henry glared at Richard.

  “I am your king, and your father, to whom you owe all honor and obedience,” he said menacingly. “Lift one finger in anger against me and you commit treason, which I will punish accordingly, whether you be my son or no.”

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