Captive Queen by Alison Weir

“I am taking you—and these young ladies—to England. Thanks to your efforts, we are still at war.” He glared at her. “Even the Scots are joining the fray now, as if Louis and our beloved sons are not making enough mischief. They are all threatening England with invasion, and my justiciar there is bombarding me with appeals for help. No doubt it pleases you to hear that, madame.”

  Eleanor could not ignore the barb. “I am very sorry for your trouble,” she said, “but you only brought it upon yourself.”

  “So you had nothing to do with it?” he sneered, his manner icy.

  “I never incited anyone to invade England. And I don’t see how my presence there will help your cause.”

  Henry grinned at her nastily. “Did you think I would leave you in Rouen, with war breaking out on all fronts, and Paris not that far off? One of our sons—nay, Louis himself, possibly—might take it into his head to free you and exploit once more your treacherous heart. I’m not a fool, Eleanor. You are going to a more secure prison in England, where you can stay out of trouble.”

  It was as if a dead weight were pressing on her chest. She feared she might faint again, as she had when he last told her what her fate was to be. To have her hopes of freedom suddenly raised and then as speedily dashed was devastating. But she managed to maintain her composure.

  “Where are you sending me?”

  “I am thinking about it. Where would you least like to go?”

  She almost said Woodstock, and stopped herself in time. Any prison, however grim and gloomy, would be preferable.

  “While my sons are in peril, I care not where I go,” she answered. “But what of these young girls, their wives?”

  “They will be well looked after. I am sending Marguerite, Constance, and Alys to Marlborough Castle, as hostages for the good behavior of their lords and King Louis. My sister will have the care of them.”

  “And Joanna and John?”

  “Joanna goes with them. John stays with me from now on. Of all my sons, he is the only true one.” Henry’s face had softened at the mention of the youngest of his brood.

  “Might I be permitted to embrace my children?” she ventured.

  “You weren’t worried about embracing them when you packed them off to Fontevrault,” Henry retorted.

  “You packed them off there,” she threw back.

  “Be honest, Eleanor: you couldn’t wait to see the back of John, baby that he was.”

  She was taken aback. “It is another thing for which I have you to blame,” she accused him.

  “Me? What have I got to do with it?”

  “It’s a long story, and you would never understand it,” Eleanor said wearily.

  Henry shook his head in exasperation. “Eleanor, I don’t have time for this. We must board our ship soon, to catch the tide. Tell your woman to bring your gear.”

  It was 1154 all over again, except that one would not have expected the voyage to be so rough in July. As soon as they put to sea, the waves swelled, heaving so violently that the ship was pitched and tossed to within a timber’s breadth of breaking up.

  The women, Eleanor included, were all confined to a cabin in the forecastle; some were seasick, most were very frightened. Nine-year-old Joanna crept warily to her mother’s side and clung to her.

  “There, there, sweeting,” Eleanor murmured, glad beyond measure to be able to embrace her child, and grateful for this small blessing amid all the fear and misery. But when she tried to comfort the wailing Constance, the girl shook her off rudely. Eleanor recoiled; she would do no more for Constance, she vowed.

  Outside, they could hear the sailors shouting warnings. The rain came, pattering furiously against the wooden walls and roof. The terrible motion of the waves was relentless. Eleanor tried to pray but could not focus her mind. Did she really want God to spare her? Would it not be best for everyone, herself included, if she drowned and sank to the bottom of the sea?

  Then they could hear the King’s voice, roaring above the storm, addressing the ship’s company: “If the Lord in His mercy has ordained that peace will be restored when I arrive in England, then may He grant me a safe landing. But if He has decided to visit my kingdom with a rod, may it never be my fortune to reach the shores of my country!”

  God was merciful. Soon afterward, the sea calmed and they sighted Southampton by nightfall. But Henry had less mercy than his Maker. As soon as they disembarked, and the royal party had been given bread and fresh water for their saddlebags to stay them on the journey, he turned to Eleanor, whom he had contrived until now to ignore, and bade her walk a little way off with him.

  “I am for Canterbury, to do my penance at last at the tomb of the holy blissful martyr, as they now call my late lamented Thomas,” he told her. “You did know that he had been made a saint?”

  She did. She experienced a wicked pleasure at the thought of the monks of Canterbury lashing Henry’s back; God knew, he deserved it, and not just for his unwitting part in Becket’s murder!

  “Yes,” she replied. “That was before you locked me up.”

  He let that pass, his mind racing ahead. “I have decided to send you under guard to Sarum Castle, where you will remain during my pleasure. Be clear, Eleanor, that this is your punishment for jeopardizing my crown—and for willfully destroying our marriage.”

  “For that, you have only yourself to blame!” she cried, stung to anger.

  “All the world condemns you as a traitor to your lord and king, Eleanor. You should hear what they say about you! Do you think that, after what you did, I could ever trust you again?”

  “Trust is a mutual thing,” she said bitterly. “You broke mine years before. Your contribution to our marriage was one long betrayal! You were destroying it long before I came out in support of our sons.”

  He shrugged. “Men sow their wild oats. What makes you think that you were so special among wives that you should expect fidelity? You had my love, God knows—and you killed it.”

  “Ah, but that was after Rosamund had stolen that love. You didn’t love me anymore; you loved her—you told me so yourself. It was quite affecting!” She spoke the words with scorn, but deep inside the wounds were yet tender: she could still feel the pain. And the prospect of her continuing imprisonment was terrible to her. “Henry, how long do you mean to keep me shut up?”

  He had been about to make some tart response to her remark about Rosamund but her sudden changing of the subject put that out of his mind. He wanted to hurt her, wanted to pay her back for the long and bitter year of struggle, strife, and hard fighting for which she, in part, was responsible.

  “For as long as you live!” he said venomously.


  Sarum, Wiltshire, 1175

  The forbidding stone keep of Sarum sat solid and foursquare in a windswept position on a grassy mound atop a hill. The hill was in fact an Iron-Age fort, but no one knew much about “the old ones” who had built and occupied it. There were vague rumors that those humps on the top of various hills in the vicinity were their burial mounds, but no one wanted to go near them for fear of the evil shades that might be lurking there, protecting the dead. Later, the site had been colonized by the Romans; bits of masonry and pottery surfaced in the soil from time to time, and once, a fragment of a mosaic pavement, which had the town dwellers shaking their heads and murmuring about heathen spirits. Sarum—or Salisberie, as some now liked to call it—was the source of many legends, and the latest ones were already in the course of being embroidered from the gossip about the Queen of England, who was shut up in the castle.

  Nobody had seen her, although she had been there for many moons. She had arrived in secret, at dead of night, and—rumor had it—was kept locked in a secret chamber high in the gloomy keep. Why she was there, no one knew for sure, so discreetly had the business been handled, but the word in the taverns was that she had somehow been responsible for the terrible wars that had raged in England and over the sea for the past year and more. A ferocious conflict it had been, between
the King and his sons, who had throughout been abetted by the King of France—and God knew, the French were never to be trusted. It had been an unnatural war, with son against father, husband against wife—if rumor spoke truth. But what could you expect, when the King and all who were of his blood were descended from the Devil?

  It was over now, the war, and the quarrel. That was all thanks to St. Thomas the Martyr! No sooner had King Henry done penance at Canterbury for his part in the saint’s wicked murder, than—God be praised—the holy, blissful Becket had won for him a victory against the Scots. The Scottish King, William the Lyon, had been taken prisoner, even as King Henry lay smarting from his stripes, a sure sign of Heaven’s forgiveness and approval. With God and St. Thomas as his allies, Henry FitzEmpress had been seen to be invincible; and King Louis had taken fright and made the Young King and his brothers call off their invasion—the news had been all over the marketplace, brought by carriers in their carts and a man with a dancing bear, lately come from London.

  Next the townsfolk heard King Henry had returned to Normandy in triumph, the craven French King had sued for peace, and the English princes had made their submission, on their knees, to their father, who had given them the kiss of peace. A treaty had been signed, and they promised never again to rise against him. My, there had been such a ringing of bells throughout the land in celebration as never before!

  Eleanor had heard the bells, clanging deafeningly from the tower of the half-built cathedral that stood, dark and squat like a crouching beast, on the hill beneath the castle mound. She knew those bells must betoken something momentous, some great victory—but whose? Had Henry triumphed over their sons at last? Or had he been defeated, and—joy of joys—would her sons soon come to free her?

  Her heart ached for freedom. This was a bleak, inhospitable place—and a dirty one, for water was scarce. Isolated on its hill, and surrounded by strong walls and a deep, wooded ditch, Sarum was cut off from most civilized amenities. And the wind! It roared. Amaria had told her that in the cathedral a clerk could not even hear the man next to him singing. Even in summer the blasts whipped and whistled around the castle and its battlements, rattling doors and shutters; in winter the wind came in gales, lashing the walls and howling mercilessly through the window slits, repeatedly extinguishing the fires they tried to keep blazing in the inadequate braziers. Eleanor’s first winter here had been a martyrdom. She had been so cold, colder than ever before in her life. She had suffered miseries with chilblains, and could only thank God that she had not yet fallen victim to the rheumatism that was chronic in this benighted place.

  Otherwise she had to admit that she had little cause to complain. Far from being immured in a dank prison, as the townsfolk imagined, she was housed and served as befit a queen. The chambers assigned to her were no worse than those in her palaces, and equipped with luxuries such as the cushions and rich hangings to which she was accustomed. That had been a welcome surprise until she realized that it betokened the permanence of her confinement. All the same, it was good to enjoy once more the privileges of her rank, even if she was deprived of her freedom. She was served reasonable fare, on silver plates, and the good wines of Bordeaux in jeweled goblets. She had even been provided with illuminated books from the treasury at Winchester, an ivory chess set, and the finest silks for her embroidery. For all this, though, the allowance allocated by the King for her household was small, and did not allow for the employment of more than the one maid.

  She was grateful that Amaria had been allowed to accompany her to Sarum, yet exasperated that they were still required to share the same bed. At least she had tactfully succeeded in educating Amaria in the necessity of daily washing herself and changing her body linen, but all the same, they faced an uphill struggle to maintain hygiene in the face of the meager supply of water, and the sometimes brackish mess that passed for it in their washing bowl. She never ceased complaining that they were forced to go about smelling of damp weeds.

  Her custodians were men of standing, much trusted by the King: the lawyer and diplomat, Ranulf Glanville, was the very man who had captured the Scottish King the previous year. He told her so himself: it was one of the few items of news she had been permitted to receive. Glanville was an energetic, versatile man, wise and well spoken. He had assisted Henry in his legal reforms, and even written a treatise on the laws and customs of England. Eleanor liked him, for all she suspected that his fidelity to the King precluded him from entirely approving of her, and she had early on taken the initiative in inviting him to dine with her. To her surprise, Glanville readily accepted, and his presence at her table was now a regular arrangement. Their lively and witty conversation, which never, by unspoken mutual consent, strayed to contentious matters, helped considerably to enliven the dreary monotony of her days.

  Her other custodian—she was impressed to find that Henry had deemed two necessary to keep her under lock and key—was one of the royal chamberlains, Ralph FitzStephen. He was more taciturn than Glanville, yet although he never scanted his respect toward her, she knew he was wary of her, and she could not warm to him. She knew instinctively that if she wanted any favors, it was Glanville whom she should approach. And indeed, he did his best for her. He allowed her to take the air on the battlements, when the wind permitted; otherwise, it was dangerous to go up there, and she—and the guards who had to accompany her—would run a very real risk of being swept over the parapet if they defied the elements.

  When the weather was clement, she would climb to her high eyrie and gaze out across the mighty ramparts and the teeming, overpopulated town they protected to the vast sweep of the Avon Valley beyond, with its gentle hills that led to the eastern edge of the New Forest, invisible in the far distance. Then she would turn and look wistfully southward, where—hundreds of miles distant—lay Aquitaine. It pained her to think of the land of her birth, which she feared she might well never see again, yet her heart was drawn toward it inexorably. In her mind, she often traveled the hidden, lushly wooded valleys, the sundrenched hilltops and narrow gorges, and feasted her eyes once more on the mighty castles on their craggy heights, the mellow stone churches and pretty villages, the ranks of vines, and the glittering rivers. Aquitaine was a constant ache in her heart.

  Did her people feel grief and anger at the cruel way in which their duchess had been treated? Her imprisonment must have had an unwelcome and brutal impact on their lives, for Henry, in the wake of the war that—she guessed—had almost succeeded in toppling him from his throne, would not scruple to lay his heavy hand of authority on his domains. (No one had thought fit to tell her that Richard now sat in her place in Poitiers, accepted by her subjects and acclaimed as the doughty warrior he had proved himself to be. Richard, who was there at Henry’s command, and subject to his vigilance … )

  Perched in her lofty refuge, her useless veil in her hand, ignoring the wind whipping the tendrils that had escaped from her plaits, and with her face pressed forlornly against the rough stone of the crenellations as she stared fixedly into the distance, Eleanor had often reflected that the prophecies had been misleading. The “King of the North Wind”—that was Henry—still wielded his scepter over Aquitaine, but the “Eagle of the Broken Covenant”—that had to be herself; she was beginning to understand its meaning now—had yet to discover why she should especially rejoice in her third nesting. The cubs had awakened, roared loud, as Merlin long ago predicted; but the only person who remained loaded with chains, as the seer had described, was their mother.

  Her inner torment was ceaseless. Her harp was turned to mourning, she told herself, reverting in her distress to the language of the troubadours, on which she had been reared. “My flute sounds the note of affliction; my songs are turned to lamentations,” she grieved.

  There was only Amaria to whom she could unburden herself, although Amaria was still scared of her superiors, and usually just sat and listened, clucking sympathetically here and there.

  “I had a royal liberty!” Eleanor told
her, over and over again; she was remorseless with herself. “I lived richly, I took pleasure in the company of my women and delighted in my music. I was a queen with two crowns! I had everything. But now I am consumed with sorrows—my heart is ravaged with tears. I cry out unanswered!”

  Then she would grow defiant, her old spirit burgeoning. “Never fear, I will not cease to cry!” she assured Amaria. “I will not weary; I will raise my voice like a trumpet, so that it may reach the ears of my sons. They will deliver me!”

  Hearing the bells, her breast was filled with hope surging anew, and she was in a ferment, desperate to know what they betokened. She could not sit, but got up and paced about, up and down, up and down the chamber, hugging herself tightly, as Amaria watched her, dismay all over her face. She had been in the cathedral this morning; she had gone, as she often did, to be shriven, not liking that snooty chaplain charged with the cure of the Queen’s soul. And she had heard of the King’s victory. But, as usual, she forbore to say anything of what she heard beyond these walls.

  Eleanor was well on the way to convincing herself that Richard and the Young King—and perhaps even Geoffrey—were coming to free her. “The day of my deliverance is here, I know it!” she breathed. “And then I shall come again to dwell in my native land. Please, O God, let it be so!” Amaria looked away, unable to bear much more of this.

  The door to the chamber opened. Ranulf Glanville stood there, his attractively craggy, clever face wearing a look of jubilation. For one blissful moment Eleanor thought he was going to tell her that she was free. She even got as far as thinking that she would be bountiful toward him when she was restored to power, for he had been a considerate gaoler … But with his first words her hopes were savagely dashed.

  “My lady, I am commanded by the King to inform you that your sons have submitted to his authority, and that King Louis has conceded defeat. The bells you can hear are being rung in celebration of the peace that has been agreed. They are being sounded everywhere, for the whole of England rejoices!”

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