Captive Queen by Alison Weir


  “That is what some of the King’s courtiers said, my lady. But he answered that he fears his youngest, whom he now embraces with such affection, will someday afflict him more grievously and perilously than all the others.”

  “That is nonsense,” Eleanor snapped.

  “I think one has to understand the King’s frame of mind when he said it, my lady. He observed that a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.”

  And the women, she thought, remembering her own part in her sons’ revolt. But John! John would never betray the father who spoiled him so and lavished so much love on him.

  Joanna had gone, off in her gay cavalcade to Southampton where her ship was waiting to take her across the seas. Saying farewell and standing there at the castle doors, watching her go, had been hard, but Eleanor had fought to maintain her composure. She had long grown used to dealing with sorrow, had coped with far worse ordeals than this, and kept her resolve to say good-bye to her daughter with a smile on her face.

  She had expected to be taken back to Sarum immediately, but Ranulf Glanville was temporarily absent on the King’s business, and no one mentioned her leaving. So she stayed on at Winchester, rattling around the luxurious royal chambers with just Amaria for company and her two sentinels on the outer doors. Henry, she reasoned, must be preoccupied with other, more pressing matters. For her part, she could only thank God for this welcome respite from the tedium and discomforts of Sarum.

  Michaelmas; and she was still at Winchester. Through her windows, she could hear music and dancing and the cathedral bells ringing to celebrate the bringing in of the harvest. September drew mildly to a close. The weather turned colder with the coming of October, and still there was no summons back to Sarum. Then, one morning, the steward arrived with a leather traveling chest.

  “My lady, this has come from the Lord King. It is for the use of you and your serving woman.”

  Eleanor, who had assumed that the arrival of the chest betokened that she was to pack and depart, gaped at him—and the iron-bound case—in astonishment. Could this really be a gift from Henry? Was it another peace offering? Had God at last turned his heart?

  When the steward was gone and there was only Amaria to see, she lifted the lid in a fever of speculation, and drew from the chest, in some amazement, two scarlet cloaks, two capes of the same color, two gray furs, and an embroidered coverlet. Amaria let out a sigh of wonder.

  “I think I know whence these proceeded,” Eleanor said, her heart full. “I think I have my daughter Joanna to thank for them.” Of course. Dear Joanna, who had seen her poverty, must have appealed to Henry. That in no way diminished his gesture, she told herself, for he could have ignored the appeal. Instead, he had sent these fine clothes, and had remembered Amaria too. It rankled a tiny bit that he had not thought to distinguish in status between his queen and her servant, for whom he had supplied identical garments, but he was a man who liked to dress plainly himself and cared little for the trappings of estate, so maybe it would not have occurred to him that she should have clothing of greater richness than her maid. At least he had sent it. That was something indeed, and they would now have good warm robes for the winter.

  52

  Godstow Abbey, 1176

  The abbey was nestled on an island between streams gushing from the River Thames. It stood solid and gray amid green fields, in which the good sisters could be seen toiling diligently. The work of the hands, Henry reflected, was almost as important to the Benedictine Rule as prayer, the work of God.

  He had ridden over from Woodstock on this special pilgrimage. Going to Woodstock had been a torment: he’d barely been able to bring himself to climb the stairs to the dusty, deserted tower rooms, or walk past the overgrown labyrinth with its sinister tangles of briars. He’d realized almost at once that he should never have come, that being in the place that had housed his love would conjure up memories too painful to confront.

  So he’d come instead to Godstow, to seek peace in the abbey where his love had sought refuge. Well he recalled that awful day, two years before, when Rosamund had come to him, anxiety written clear on her sweet face, her cherry lips trembling …

  She had found a lump in her breast, she said, and was scared because her granddame had died of a canker in that very part of her body.

  Henry thought that she was making much out of nothing. He felt the lump, declared it nothing but a spot, then, as lust asserted itself at the soft swell of his beloved’s exposed bosom, he’d taken her without further ado, and stilled her fears—or so he had believed.

  But the lump had not gone away. Over the months, it had grown, and the place became sore and nasty, and increasingly painful. Rosamund became tearful and at times hysterical, declaring that this was a punishment for the great sin she had committed in loving him. They must no longer bed together, she cried. Thoroughly alarmed by that, and by the state of the lump, Henry summoned his doctors, who had clucked on about an imbalance of the humors, and bled his dear love, applying leeches; but none of it did any good. Rosamund had steadily lost weight and grown frail. In the end there was nothing more the physicians could try.

  “This is a judgment on me,” Rosamund had said again. “I have sinned grievously, not only against God but against Queen Eleanor. What we have done is wrong.”

  “You can cease worrying about the Queen,” Henry told her roughly. “I would have married you, had it not been for her obstinacy.”

  “No, Henry,” she answered sadly. “That would not have been right. The Pope knew it, which is why he would not annul your marriage. Queen Eleanor is your wife, and the mother of your children, whatever she has done. And in committing adultery with you, I have wronged her deeply—and I am being punished for it.”

  “This is a vain fancy!” he had stormed, but there was no moving Rosamund. No longer was she the laughing girl he had loved, but a sick woman consumed with remorse.

  “I wish I could make amends,” she wept. “I cannot go to my rest with this great wrong on my conscience.”

  “Just confess it and have done!” Henry growled, his voice gruff with emotion.

  “Let me send a letter to her, please. Just to explain my folly and say I am sorry for it.”

  He turned on her, shocked. “No. I absolutely forbid it. She does not deserve your guilt or your apologies. When I think of what she has done to me—”

  “Please, Henry!”

  “I said no.” And he had got up and left her.

  After that, Rosamund’s condition deteriorated rapidly. His heart breaking, Henry agreed that she should go to Godstow, the nunnery in which she had been raised, where the sisters could care for her; it would be convenient for Woodstock, whence he could visit her. He insisted on escorting her as she was carried to the abbey by litter; their progress had of necessity been slow, since she had become so weak by then. Once she was tucked up in her narrow bed in the infirmary, the infirmaress let him see her briefly. He found he could hardly bear to look upon Rosamund’s wan, wasted face as she lay on the coarse pillow, her fair tresses curling across it.

  He had blundered back to court, for there could be no shirking the manifold duties of a king. Ever a plain, practical man, he faced the fact that his beloved was dying, and that he might never see her again, would certainly nevermore lie with her. His nights were a martyrdom, and in the end he could bear it no more and took to his bed a serving wench, a nameless, forgettable hussy who lay there mute with awe as he slaked his need and his desperation on her body. After that, true to form, he had repeatedly fallen prey to his lusts. His most notable conquest was Ida de Toesny, an aristocratic girl of good family, who was already growing heavy with his child.

  It had not been that long since his wife—he could not bring himself to say her name—had betrayed him. What she had done near cost him his crown, and a lot else besides. Well, she was paying for that, and she would pay more dearly yet, he thought in his grief and bitterness. Although he’d banned her from receiving any news, he hoped merci
lessly that someone had told her how, after her incarceration, he had lived openly with Rosamund, blatantly flaunting her as his mistress for all to see. As for Rosamund begging to make amends to Eleanor—well, the poor lady was not in her right mind with this terrible illness. The guilt should all be his wife’s. As for Rosamund writing to her … The very idea!

  Once Rosamund was gone from his daily life, and likely to die very soon, Henry found himself wanting to cry out his agony to the world. He needed desperately to be comforted. The pain he suffered was unbearable, exacerbated by the eternal gnawing craving to be revenged on Eleanor. It was then that the desire to take another wife flared again in him. To be honest, it had occurred to him not long after he had looked anew at Alys of France, Richard’s betrothed, and realized that she was growing into a graceful beauty, with high breasts and voluptuously rounded hips and thighs. It now seemed to Henry that Alys would make the most suitable wife, with her royal blood and a figure fit for breeding. She could never replace Rosamund, of course, but marrying her might help ease the pain of his loss. And it would be a magnificent way of getting back at his faithless queen!

  But Alys was a princess, the child of King Louis, who was now supposed to be his ally, and—to make matters infinitely more complicated—she was affianced to his own son. Despite the outward appearance of peace and amity that he had worked hard to establish, Henry was still sufficiently resentful toward Richard to take some pleasure in depriving him of his bride. By God, he was so disappointed in all his elder sons that he had even considered naming John the heir to all his domains!

  Now that he had decided he wanted Alys, he knew he must act soon, before Louis started making noises about the much discussed marriage ceremony taking place.

  There was just one obstacle: he had a wife already, of course. But both Eleanor and the Pope had proved obdurate, to his chagrin. Neither bribes nor veiled threats could move His Holiness, and that bitch at Sarum was determined to hold onto her lands, come what may. Small good they would do her, shut up as she was, he thought vindictively.

  He went to see Rosamund, although it caused him infinite pain to do so; he visited as often as he could get away, and each time he found her in worse condition. He realized she was gone from him forever, the woman he had loved, and in her place was a wraith whose mind was focused on repentance and the hope of Heaven to come. That much, and no more, had the nuns done for her.

  Each time he left her, he was in a ferment of grief and longing for what could no more be. Back at court, seated restlessly at his place at the high table, or departing for the hunt, he would catch sight of Alys, alluring and sinuous in her clinging silk bliauts, and feel the old familiar excitement burgeoning. After a time, he became aware that she was watching him too, with her catlike eyes, and posing provocatively to catch his attention. Richard, he knew, had little time for her; Richard was too preoccupied with fighting and whoring, and Alys meant little to him, beyond the fact that she was a great prize in the royal marriage market.

  The Pope had not spoken in his favor; Eleanor had refused to go into a nunnery. He was as far from remarrying as he was from growing wings and taking flight, but he wanted Alys in his bed, and no longer cared whether she was there legally or sinfully. And neither, it seemed, did she.

  He had stolen to her chamber one night after she spent the evening sending him significant glances across the teeming, noisy dining hall. He found her waiting for him in the firelight, clad only in a chemise so fine in texture that it was diaphanous. He took one look and was damned.

  Barely had he caught his breath, it seemed, than Alys too was pregnant. Of course, he had to send her away, to a convent in the wilds of Norfolk, while warding off eager inquiries from Louis as to wedding plans. It was at that point that the news he most dreaded to hear came from Godstow. Rosamund was dead.

  So here he was, approaching the church door in trepidation, come to mourn his love in private. The abbess had been waiting to greet him at the gatehouse, and given him permission to enter the enclosure, marveling at how the King had aged since he had first come there with his lady love. He was now a broken man of forty-three, grizzled of hair and portly of body, his ravaged face grooved with the lines of care and sorrow. Whatever the right and wrong of it, he had truly loved his mistress—no one could doubt that.

  Henry found himself alone in the church. A single lamp burned in the chancel, signifying that God was here in His house. The King bowed his head in respect, then paced slowly toward the altar and the freshly laid tombstone before it. She was there, beneath the chancel pavement, his Rosamund, no longer fair but food for worms. The thought broke him. He sank to his knees before the grave, weeping uncontrollably, vowing that he would build a fine stone sepulchre to the memory of his beloved, and have it adorned with silken palls and lit by candles. It should be lovingly tended by the nuns; he would pay them handsomely, he swore, and grant many favors to the abbey.

  So lost in anguish was he that he did not see the sad-faced, cobweb-fine gray shadow glide slowly up behind him with its filmy arms outstretched, and hover there for a long, wistful moment before vanishing into the gloom of the vaulted chapel—but he felt even more bereft.

  53

  Winchester, 1180

  Eleanor was fifty-eight, and she had been a prisoner for seven long and difficult years. Yet nowadays her prison was a gilded cage appropriate to her rank, for after her visit to Winchester, the security that surrounded her had been relaxed by degrees. The monotonous tedium of Sarum was gradually ameliorated, as the King had been increasingly pleased to permit her to lodge at different places—in Northamptonshire, in Berkshire, and at the royal castle at Ludgershall in Wiltshire. Always, she was in the custody of the charming Ranulf Glanville or the taciturn Ralph FitzStephen, and attended by the faithful Amaria. Henry had never allowed her any additional personal servants.

  Now she was comfortably installed at Winchester again, in greater state than hitherto, occupying well-appointed chambers, with the choicest food on her table and a newly appointed chamberlain to order her small household.

  By and by, the rules had been relaxed, and she was permitted to write the occasional letter—although not to her sons; Henry still did not trust her enough for that—and to receive news of the outside world. Ranulf Glanville, whom she now accounted a dear friend, often imparted snippets of information at the dinner table. Amaria, in her forays to the market and through seemingly idle chatter with the castle servants, picked up a lot more, which, these days she was less reluctant to repeat to her mistress. Thus it was that Eleanor learned of Rosamund’s death, although not of the strange rumors that had begun to circulate about it, or of the great scandal of the King living openly with their son Richard’s betrothed; both Glanville and Amaria were anxious to protect the Queen from anything that might cause her pain and distress. Yet the gossip on both counts was rife throughout the kingdom and beyond.

  Eleanor indeed wondered why Richard’s marriage to Alys had not yet taken place. Both were of age, and ripe for bedding—and Aquitaine needed an heir. The Young King had sired a son on Queen Marguerite three years ago, although sadly his little William died soon after birth. Eleanor felt deeply grieved that she had never seen any of her grandchildren; it was a continuing sorrow to be cut off from her flesh and blood.

  Had Louis been pressing for Alys’s marriage? He had good reason to chafe at the delay, but she suspected that Henry had some devious reason of his own for putting it off. And Richard seemed to be in no hurry. She heard that he was still much occupied with enforcing his authority in Aquitaine—and shuddered to think what that might mean.

  By all reports, Matilda was contentedly producing baby after baby in Germany, and Joanna seemed to have settled down happily in Sicily, although something Ranulf let slip had disturbed Eleanor.

  “They say that King William has adopted many of the customs of his Moorish subjects,” he told her, “and that Queen Joanna lives entirely in seclusion.”

  “Don’t tell
me he has a harem!” Eleanor had interjected sharply. She’d seen harems in Constantinople and the lands of the Turks during the long-ago crusade, and knew what ills they concealed.

  Ranulf looked ill at ease. “I did hear something of the sort,” he disclosed, “but the Queen his wife has her own apartments.”

  So poor Joanna was having to deal with her lord’s infidelity right from the first, Eleanor thought, dismayed. If she had been given her head, she would have hastened across the seas and snatched her daughter back, but there was no hope of that. She must endure the knowledge of Joanna’s situation, just as Joanna herself was having to learn to bear it. But how uncivilized of King William to expect his wife to tolerate a harem in the palace! Eleanor was fuming inside.

  It was Ranulf Glanville who informed Eleanor when John was made nominal King of Ireland, and when her daughter Eleanor was sent to Castile to marry King Alfonso. It was hard to believe that little Eleanor, with her heart-shaped face, was nineteen and a bride. How the years had flown—and so many of them, latterly, wasted. She felt weary with the futility of it all.

  “The Lord Geoffrey has been knighted by the King,” her custodian told her one rainy July evening.

  “I rejoice that my lord now enjoys good relations with our sons,” Eleanor replied, remembering that Henry and his three eldest had kept such a magnificent court together last Christmas at Angers that it was still spoken of with wonder.

  “God be thanked, they are at peace at last.” Ranulf’s sentiments were genuine. “I hear that the Young King has been rushing around all over France fighting in tournaments and carrying off the prizes. His fame is sung everywhere.”

  “Henry will like that,” Eleanor observed.

  “Indeed he does. In fact, the King has been so delighted by the Young King’s many triumphs that he has restored to him in full all the lands and possessions he had taken away.” It did Eleanor’s heart good to hear that, but—as always—there was, underlying her pleasure, a nagging sadness and resentment that she herself was never embraced by Henry’s evident desire to set things right.

 
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