Captive Queen by Alison Weir


  Where did we go wrong with our children? Henry wondered, sighing to himself, as his gaze lighted on each of his three elder sons in turn. Of course, Eleanor was much to blame, for seducing them into believing they could seize their father’s domains, and then encouraging them in their treasonable rebellion—but Henry believed that the rot had set in well before then. We both spoiled them, he reflected. I was as much to blame as Eleanor in that respect. And now we reap what we have sown.

  Richard, seated to his father’s right, was reining in the famous Angevin temper, which he had inherited from his father, and taking pains to avoid his brothers. Only fifteen-year-old John sat stolidly enjoying the rich food and imbibing too much wine, while basking smugly in his father’s love and approval. It was good to be the favorite, adored son! But the atmosphere was tense, and it became tenser still when William Marshal arrived on the Feast of St. Stephen and, ignoring the venomous glares of Young Henry and the embarrassed fluster of Queen Marguerite, presented himself immediately before the King, his fine face flushed with indignation.

  “Sire,” he cried, so that all the courtiers could hear, “certain persons are spreading calumnies about me, which touch my honor and that of this blameless lady here!” He bowed to the blushing Young Queen. “These foul lies accuse me of having cast amorous looks on her. In your presence, I challenge all those who have spread these falsehoods to let me prove my innocence and hers by ordeal of combat! If I win, I ask no reward but the vindication of my honor and hers. If I lose, then I will be hanged for my crime.” So saying, he drew off his heavy gauntlet and threw it on the floor before the King’s high seat.

  No one spoke. Marshal was staring hard at Young Henry, as if daring him to respond. At length, the younger man had the grace to look away. Beside him, Marguerite was weeping silently.

  “Will no one take up this noble knight’s challenge?” Henry asked.

  No one did.

  “And you, my daughter, what have you to say to these calumnies?” Henry demanded, fixing a stern eye on Marguerite.

  “Marshal spoke truth, my lord. They are malicious lies,” she insisted, casting a sideways glance at Bertran de Born. Henry nodded, satisfied, then turned back to Marshal.

  “It seems that those who have slandered you are craven, and afraid to defend themselves,” he observed.

  Marshal knelt before the King, his face a mirror of distress. “I had hoped that God would make my innocence manifest,” he declared. “Forgive me, sire, but I cannot remain in a place where my enemies hide their faces. I beg leave to depart. I am bound on pilgrimage to the shrine of the Magi at Cologne.”

  “In truth, I am sorry to see you depart, old friend,” Henry said, glaring at his eldest son and the smirking Bertran, who had clearly seen off the rival who would have counseled prudence rather than pursue some hot-headed scheme.

  But Bertran had not finished stirring up trouble. He played on the Young King’s insecurities and grievances.

  “There goes the Prince of Cravens,” he sneered when Richard was within earshot. “Did you know he has built a castle on your land?”

  Richard threw him a menacing look, but, respecting the season, walked on without comment. But he was obviously seething inside and determined to settle the score as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

  “If Geoffrey had been made Count of Anjou in your place, he would have known how to enforce his rights!” Bertran whispered, his words dripping like poison into Young Henry’s ear until, in the end, he could bear it no more, and seeking out his father in private, exploded in a furious outburst, much to the secret amusement of Richard and Geoffrey, who were looking on.

  “Father, I swear I will renounce my titles and take the Cross if you refuse to allow me more power!” he shouted.

  “When you have learned discretion and wisdom, I might consider doing that,” Henry said calmly, leaning back in his chair.

  For answer, the Young King burst into hot, angry tears. “At least make Richard dismantle the castle he has built on my land!” he cried.

  Henry’s brow creased in a frown. He was aware that Philip of France was waiting for an opportunity to make trouble between the Angevin princes, and he feared that a disaffected Young King might seek Philip’s support, much as he had sought King Louis’s eight years ago. And look where that had led! Good statesman that Henry was, he saw the necessity of appeasing his son and warding off the threat.

  “Henry, you are my heir,” he said in a steady, placatory tone. “Your brothers come after you in the succession, and therefore they shall do homage to you as their overlord. Will that content you?”

  “Yes, Father,” the Young King sniffed.

  “Richard, Geoffrey, will you now render homage to your brother?” the King demanded.

  “Yes,” muttered Geoffrey.

  “No, by our Lady, I will not!” Richard snarled. “It might have escaped your notice, Father, that I hold Aquitaine of the King of France, and to him only do I owe homage. And,” he went on, as Henry opened his mouth to protest, “might I remind you that I had my domains as a gift from my Lady Mother, whom you have unjustly held prisoner these many years!” The venom in his voice was frightening. “If my brother the Young King wants land, let him go and fight for it, as I have had to do!” With that, he picked up his lyre and slammed out of the room, uttering threats and defiance, and leaving Henry looking at his remaining sons in perplexity. One glance at the Young King’s face told him that all his efforts to reconcile his feuding brood had been for nothing. Young Henry’s blood was up; war was in his heart.

  As for Eleanor, despite what Richard had said, Henry had no intention of freeing her. The thought of what havoc she might wreak in this present conflict and chaos was enough to deter him from even considering it. In fact, her presence in Winchester, the ancient capital of England, was now a matter of concern to him. Security must be tightened … That meddling woman must go back to Sarum!

  56

  Sarum, 1183

  Eleanor was awakened by the dream and sat bolt upright in the bed in alarm, disturbing Amaria.

  “What is it, my lady?” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes.

  “Nothing. Go back to sleep,” Eleanor whispered, breathing deeply to still her thudding heart. She needed privacy and quiet to work out what the dream might mean. For in it she had seen, as in a vision, her son, the Young King, lying recumbent on a couch, his hands pressed together as if in prayer. It struck her, with a chill, that he had looked not unlike an effigy on a tomb. But what puzzled her were two things: one was the ring, a great sapphire, that twinkled and flashed on his finger. It was a ring she had never seen before. The sapphire, of course, symbolized the sky, God’s Heaven and His protection; in the East, she had heard, people believed it warded off the evil eye. Was there some portentous meaning to be divined from this?

  The other thing that troubled her beyond measure was the remembrance of two crowns hovering in the air above her son’s white face. One she recognized as the crown Henry ordered for his son’s coronation; the second was no earthly crown, but a circle of pure dazzling light that shone with the incomparable brilliance of the Holy Grail itself.

  She knew in her heart what the dream must mean, yet her reason and her terrified soul rejected it. She rose from the bed and fell on her knees before the window, gazing up at the narrow view it afforded her of the starry summer sky, and prayed as she had rarely prayed before that this dream was but a warning of what might pass if this bitter war between her sons did not cease, rather than a preparation for news she must shortly have to hear.

  The morning brought with it a strange calm, as if she were cradled in a cocoon of peace and security from which she would emerge strengthened and ready to take on lions or wolves. The dream now seemed a distant, unreal memory, born of the fears that come by night. In the dark, everything seems more frightening, she told herself, and by and by the memory faded, until her fear had dissipated. In its place she was left with the uplifting feeling that even if
her dream foreshadowed the worst, death was merely the gateway to unimaginable bliss and joy, and should be a matter for rejoicing, not sorrow.

  Her calm mood persisted, even when Ranulf Glanville, his face gray, announced the arrival of Thomas Agnell, Archdeacon of Wells.

  “The King has sent him to you, my lady,” he told her, his voice unusually tender.

  Even before Agnell entered, she knew the tidings he had come to break to her. The dream had foretold this; that, and the fact that Henry himself had sent this man to her.

  The archdeacon came in unwillingly. He was a devout and compassionate man, and his placid face was lined with distress. He bowed low, not just out of respect to one who was Queen, but with deference to one who was about to have cause to grieve. Eleanor stood to receive him, marveling that she should feel so serene. God, she believed, was succoring her, holding her in His loving hands. The thought, and the vivid memory of the dream and its promise, sustained her.

  “My lady,” Agnell said quietly, “I am asked by the Lord King to inform you that your dearest son, the Young King, has departed to God.”

  She had known it.

  “I was prepared,” she said simply. “I had a dream.” She told him about it.

  “What other meaning than eternal bliss can be ascribed to that brilliant second crown, that perfect circlet with no beginning and no end?” she asked. “What can such pure and resplendent brightness signify, if not the wonder of everlasting joy? That crown was more beautiful than anything that can manifest itself to our senses here on Earth.”

  The archdeacon marveled. This was not the wicked queen to whom rumor attributed all manner of scandalous deeds, but a brave and venerable lady honed by adversity, strong in her faith. He looked on her in admiration.

  “God in His goodness has vouchsafed you the tiniest glimpse of what Heaven must be,” he told her. “He was surely offering you divine comfort against your sad loss.”

  Eleanor could not even think of what that loss would mean for her. The time for that, and for grieving, would come later. But she was fortified by her belief that her son was in a better place and that there was no real need to mourn him, only to await the time when she could be reunited with him in Paradise.

  “I have had my epiphany,” she told Agnell. “As the Gospel says, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of Man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.’”

  “My lady, I can but praise your courage in meeting this great sorrow with such staunch faith,” he replied. “I am humbled by the way you have fathomed the mystery of the dream, and by the discernment and strength with which you are bearing your son’s death. May God comfort and console you.”

  “Thank you,” Eleanor said simply, suddenly feeling grief welling like an unquenchable tide within her. “I would be alone now, by your leave. Come back later. I will be ready to hear what happened to my son.”

  After he was gone, the tears came flooding. Young Henry might be in Heaven, and exulting in its eternal glories, yet he was gone from her on this Earth, and never more would she see his handsome face, or hold him in her arms. Her calm had deserted her. She cursed Henry for keeping her from her son for ten wasted years. She had never seen him grown to full manhood, and now never would. And Henry had treated him so unjustly, promising him power, yet always keeping it tantalizingly out of reach. If the Young King had turned out feckless, quarrelsome, and ruthless, Henry had made him so. She could not but remember that dear little boy with the angelic golden curls, playing with his wooden horses and his toy dagger. What hopes she’d had for him! And now they were all come to dust, as was he.

  Her grief went very deep. Always, she knew, she would be tortured by the memory of this beloved son.

  “He had fought his father and brothers,” Agnell began. “He even shot twice at the King when the royal troops were drawn up before Limoges. He sent a messenger to apologize and explain that it had been an accident, but it was widely bruited about that he secretly lusted for his father’s death.”

  Where did we fail, as parents, that our son should be driven to that? Eleanor asked herself in remorse. She closed her eyes in misery.

  “The King stopped his allowance,” the archdeacon went on, “and of course the Young King ran out of money. He and Duke Geoffrey began sacking and looting monasteries and shrines, and holding villages to ransom. He became a leader of outlaws and excommunicates. I hesitate to tell you this, but only last month he and his men desecrated the holy shrine at Rocamadour and stole the altar treasure and the famous sword of Roland, as the horrified pilgrims looked on.”

  She could not bear to think that her son had been such a monster. Yet if he had been past all redemption, why had God vouchsafed her that dream? Was it to show that His forgiveness was boundless? Had Young Henry truly repented at the last?

  “Then the Young King’s life was suddenly cut short,” Agnell recounted. “He fell violently ill with dysentery and a fever. They carried him to a house in the town of Martel, and, he being in extremis, the Bishop of Agen was summoned hastily, to whom he made fervent confession of all his sins.”

  Eleanor sent up a silent prayer of thanks.

  “His case being hopeless, he asked that his father the King be summoned. But as the King told me himself, he suspected a trap, so he sent the Young King a message expressing the hope that when he had recovered, they would be reconciled. And with it he sent, as token of his forgiveness, a sapphire ring.”

  Agnell’s eyes met Eleanor’s. A sapphire ring!

  “I never knew Henry to wear such a ring,” she said, marveling, “yet I saw it in my dream, as clearly as I can see you now.”

  “He had taken it from his treasure; it belonged to the first King Henry.”

  “Truly, I am astonished,” she told her visitor. “If I had thought before that my dream was sent by God, then I am utterly convinced of it now, for how could I have known about that ring?”

  “The ways of God are indeed mysterious and wonderful,” Agnell declared.

  “I feel a little better now,” Eleanor said, her voice gaining strength. “I think I can bear to hear the rest.”

  “There is not much more to tell, my lady. At the end, the Young King was so overcome with remorse for his sins that he asked to be clothed in a hair shirt and a crusader’s cloak, and laid on a bed of ashes on the floor, with a noose around his neck and bare stones at his feet, as became a penitent. As he lay there, his father’s ring was brought to him, and he begged that the King would show mercy to you, his mother, whom he had held so long in captivity, and he asked all his companions to plead with your lord to set you at liberty.”

  His last thoughts had been for her, his mother. With his dying breath he had asked for her to be freed. Eleanor’s heart was full. She could not speak.

  “He gave up his spirit later that evening,” the archdeacon concluded. “The end was very peaceful.”

  “He was only twenty-eight,” Eleanor murmured, choked.

  “Young in years, but full of time when measured by the experiences of his life,” Agnell observed. They were silent for a few minutes.

  “Henry must bitterly regret not going to him when he lay dying,” Eleanor said at length. “Tell me, how did he take the news of his death?”

  “He was inconsolable, my lady. He threw himself on the ground and pitifully bewailed the loss of his son. He was so distraught that his secretary, in some alarm, was moved to reprove him for his excess of grief.”

  Eleanor found herself inexplicably wanting, needing, to comfort Henry. This was our son, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, she thought desperately; we conceived him in love and joy, and we should mourn him in love and compassion. We should be sharing our grief together. Alas, it was clearly not to be. If Henry had wanted to heal the breach in the hour of their terrible sorrow, he would have come here. There was no point in torturing herself.

  “Good Father, where has my son been laid to rest?” she inquired.
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br />   “His body has been interred by the high altar in the cathedral at Rouen, clothed in his coronation robes. His entrails lie, at the King’s request, at the monastery of Grandmont, which, regrettably, the Young King had recently sacked. I am happy to say that the brethren received them in the spirit of forgiveness.”

  Eleanor knew Grandmont well. It was one of Henry’s favorite monastic foundations. He had spoken of being buried there himself one day.

  There was no doubting, she told herself later, as she knelt in prayer, forcing herself to face the facts, that the Young King’s death would leave Henry more secure, and Richard the undisputed ruler of Aquitaine and, now, of course, heir to England. Agnell had told her that on hearing of the tragedy at Martel, the rebels immediately disbanded and fled. So Richard, her Richard, would have all except Brittany when Henry died. Maybe, in the end, the eagle would rejoice in her third nesting.

  She prayed for her daughter-in-law, the widowed Marguerite, now bereft and childless. No doubt Henry would want to keep his hands on the Vexin, her dowry, although Eleanor doubted that King Philip would be happy about that. At least Marguerite was young and likely to marry again; her life lay mostly ahead of her. Unlike me, poor prisoner, Eleanor thought mournfully. I am sixty-one, and my autumn is upon me. What is there left to me?

  A letter came for her from a grief-stricken Bertran de Born; renowned troubadour that he was, for all his treacherous soul, he had couched it in picturesque and evocative language that moved Eleanor deeply, for it evoked the spirit of her native land and sang to her grief. “Youth stands sorrowful,” he wrote. “No man rejoices in these bitter days. Death, that mortal warrior, has harshly taken from us the best of knights.”

  The parchment fell to the floor. Eleanor could read no further.

  57

  Sarum and Normandy, 1183

 
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