Captive Queen by Alison Weir

  She began to make excuses, not for Henry—he was past redemption where women were concerned, in thrall to that unruly and mischievous member between his legs that seemed to have an independent life of its own, in defiance of all sense or morality! But Richard … Richard, she told herself, was merely being pragmatic—and chivalrous too, yes, in standing by his compromised betrothed. It took a very special man to do that. Most would have abandoned Alys, or demanded satisfaction from her seducer. But Richard was not most men: he was a lion among mortals.

  Having consoled herself with such reasoning, Eleanor decided that she would say nothing of this to anyone. If that meant she was colluding too, then so be it. She could find it in herself to feel pity for Alys, unpleasant chit though she was, and as for Henry—well, what should she feel but disgust, that old, familiar revulsion at his concupiscence, but far more strongly this time, because he was injuring not only herself, and Alys, but—far more importantly—her adored Richard? Yet even that she would conceal, for Richard’s sake.

  Had she really wanted Henry in her bed again? She must have been mad! Something had died in her this day, and she feared it might never be revived.


  Westminster, 1184

  It was on St. Andrew’s Day that Eleanor arrived at Westminster to be reunited with her husband and sons. Her presence, and theirs, had been required by Henry in the wake of the war that broke out in Poitou that autumn between Geoffrey and John on one side—Geoffrey being ever ready to assist in the stirring up of trouble—and Richard, valiantly defending his lands, on the other. It was only after a stern command from their father that the brothers had lain down their arms and come north to England. They were already uneasily installed in the Palace of Westminster when Henry came to greet Eleanor at the river stairs.

  “Greetings!” he called chirpily as she stepped out of the boat. He took her hand and pressed it to his lips. “My lady, welcome. I have long looked for your coming.”

  Instantly, she was wary. He wanted something from her. Aquitaine for John, no doubt! To what else could she attribute these fair words and cozening smiles?

  “Greetings, my lord,” she murmured, thinking of Alys and the unknown Bellebelle, and disengaging her hand from Henry’s. She could not bear him to touch her at this moment. “So our boys have been fighting again. Do you really think they will make peace when you keep inciting them to war?”

  “I incite them?” Henry threw her a sideways glance. She was going to be difficult. “They must learn to obey me.”

  “They are grown men now, and have their own sense of what is right and just,” Eleanor told him. “Might cannot always triumph over right, Henry.”

  “Why do you always like to make out that I’m in the wrong?” he asked aggrievedly, his good mood rapidly dissipating.

  “If the cap fits …” She smiled.

  “You and I need to have a little talk,” Henry told her brusquely. “I have summoned you to help me bring about a concord between our princes, not to join in the quarreling. I have summoned the Great Council as well, as we also have to confirm the election of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Baldwin’s the man. A saintly soul he is too, a gloomy bag of nerves, in fact, and I’ve no doubt he’d prefer to remain a monk, but he’ll be useful to me.”

  “You mean he won’t defy you as Becket did,” Eleanor murmured.

  “Hardly!” Henry grinned. “Not with all his wavering and lack of guile. Just the right man for the job! There’ll be no obstinacy from this one.”

  When Eleanor had refreshed herself and rested after her journey, a page came to summon her to the council chamber. There, she found the King and her sons waiting for her, with the new Archbishop, who quavered a greeting, and the barons of England, resplendent in their fine tunics and heavy furred mantles of scarlet, blue, vermilion, or tawny.

  Henry handed her to the seat of honor next to his—he does want something, badly, she thought—and then, the company being also seated, called upon their three sons to come forward and publicly make their peace before her. They stood forward, Richard’s and Geoffrey’s faces set, John’s triumphant—and stiffly gave one another the kiss of peace. Then they stood facing their parents, waiting to see what would happen next.

  Henry turned to Eleanor. He’d given her no formal warning of what he was about to say—but she had guessed! “My lady,” he said in ringing tones, “I now ask you to approve the assignment of Aquitaine to the Lord John.”

  Eleanor stared at him, fury mounting within her breast. How dare he! How dare he do this to Richard, to her, publicly, in the face of his entire council! She could see the flush of anger on Richard’s handsome face, hear his sharp, indrawn breath, sense Geoffrey’s secret enjoyment of this human drama being enacted before him—and catch John’s complacent, gloating smirk.

  “My lord, we should discuss this privately,” she murmured, her profile rigid. She could not look at Henry.

  “There is no need for discussion, my lady,” he countered. “I only wish to make a fairer distribution of my empire. Surely you can understand that?”

  “All I understand is that you are depriving your rightful heir of his lawful inheritance in favor of your favorite son, who has yet to prove himself,” she said.

  “Richard, always Richard!” Henry muttered, fuming. Then, in a louder voice, he reiterated his demand for Eleanor to approve the transfer of Aquitaine to John.

  “No, my lord, I will not approve it,” Eleanor stated firmly.

  The barons leaned forward, to a man. This was going to be interesting!

  “I call upon you all, my lords of England,” the Queen went on, “to tell my lord the King if this is indeed a fair division of his domains.”

  “I say it is not!” thundered Richard, who had been itching to speak.

  “And I!” echoed Geoffrey. John glowered at him.

  “Shut up,” Henry said brutally, his face puce with rage. Eleanor would pay for her defiance! By the eyes of God, she would pay! “Well, my lords?” His jutting jaw brooked no opposition.

  The lords, who had been conferring perplexedly among themselves, looked at their sovereign warily. None of them wanted to see that spoiled brat John in control of Aquitaine, and none of them wanted to offend the man who might well be their future king, for Richard’s reputation was fearsome indeed; yet they were all afraid of Henry’s notorious temper.

  The quavering voice of the new Archbishop broke the silence, to everyone’s astonishment. “Lord King, I say this cannot be a fair division,” the saintly Baldwin opined, and if an angel from Heaven had come down and voiced his view, Henry could not have been more shocked.

  “And you thought he’d be useful to you!” Eleanor mocked quietly under her breath.

  Some of the barons took courage from the brave old man’s stand and added their voices to his. Much gratified, Eleanor turned to Henry. “You must know, my lord,” she warned him, “that I can appeal this matter to King Philip, of whom I hold Aquitaine. And if I do, you know as well as I that he will support me, if only to discountenance you and drive a wedge between you and your sons.”

  Henry threw her a murderous look. “I see I am defied on all sides. Very well. My Lord Archbishop, a word in private, if you please!” With that, he rose and stalked out of the council chamber in high dudgeon, with the faltering prelate scuttling in his wake. Poor old man, Eleanor thought, having to face the King’s wrath, and so soon after his election.

  But she had won, she reminded herself exultantly, as she went to embrace her two eldest sons, John having flounced off in a sulk. It was some small, sweet revenge for Alys and Bellebelle!


  Windsor, 1184–1185

  When Eleanor arrived at Windsor Castle for the Christmas court, wondering why Henry had bothered inviting her after their spectacular falling out at Westminster, after which he sent her summarily back to Winchester with not a word of farewell, the first person who came to greet her was Constance, now grown tall and proud, bearing a tiny
infant in her arms. Yet her face bore no trace of the serenity and joy of young motherhood; instead, the winged brows were creased in a petulant frown, the wide, bee-stung lips pouting in a disagreeable grimace. Barely had the Duchess of Brittany risen from her curtsey than she was complaining.

  “Madame the Queen, I beg of you, go to the King for me. He will not permit me to join Geoffrey in Normandy for Christmas. It’s so unfair!”

  “Daughter,” Eleanor enjoined, a touch sharply, “will you not allow me a moment to get my breath after braving these treacherous roads?” She sank thankfully into a cushioned chair. “And first things first! May I not greet my new grandchild?” She held out her arms. Plainly irritated by this distraction, Constance placed the baby in them, then opened her mouth to have her say …

  “Oh, you are gorgeous!” Eleanor cooed to the tiny pink and white face blinking up from the swaddled bundle. “Is it a boy?”

  “No,” Constance said flatly, smarting with disappointment, for she had been convinced she was carrying an heir to Brittany—and perhaps to more than that, if her own and Geoffrey’s ambitions were fulfilled; she was convinced that her instincts would prove correct in regard to that.

  “A little girl! How delightful!” Eleanor baited her, tracing the soft cheek with her finger. “And what is she called?”

  “She is named after you, my lady,” Constance said grudgingly, recalling how Geoffrey had insisted, despite her protests.

  “I am most touched. How kind!” Eleanor smiled sweetly, and handed the baby back. Immediately, Constance called for the nurse to take her, at which Eleanor deliberately prolonged matters by calling for wine and comfits.

  “Now,” she said comfortably, when they were brought, “what’s all this about Geoffrey and Normandy?”

  “The King sent him to take charge of Normandy while he himself was in England,” Constance told her, with the air of one throwing down the gauntlet.

  Eleanor was surprised. “Indeed,” she managed. Was this some new ploy of Henry’s to discountenance her and Richard? Could it—surely not!—even mean that the King was now grooming Geoffrey to succeed to his empire? One look at Constance’s smug face was enough to tell her that it could—or at least that Constance herself was interpreting it that way, and therefore probably other people as well.

  She mastered herself. “And you want to join him there?” she inquired, neatly deflecting the subject in favor of something far less contentious.

  “Yes, my lady, that’s why you must go to the King for me!” Constance insisted.

  “Must?” Eleanor lifted her eyebrows. “I should have thought that with you so lately delivered and barely up on your feet, braving the conditions out there would be foolhardy. The King has made a very sensible, and considerate, decision in keeping you here. You must rest, child, and then you can join your lord when the weather is improved.”

  “But, madame!” Constance protested. Eleanor cut her short.

  “That’s enough!” the Queen reproved, raising a hand in warning. Constance scowled at her and subsided.

  Henry was remote but polite, Richard studiedly courteous to his father and overly attentive to his mother, John mutinous and foul-tempered. The court held its celebrations in an atmosphere as hostile as it was tense, making a mockery of the holy season of Christ’s birth. Not all the lavish outlay of fine wines, meats, spices, choice fare, and gifts could compensate for the rifts that had opened up within the royal family, and as soon as Twelfth Night had come and gone, Richard hared off south to Poitiers. A day later, with a perfunctory kiss on her hand and a lowering look of dislike, Henry dispatched Eleanor back to Winchester.


  Normandy, 1185

  Eleanor was glad to leave England. After that mighty earthquake, which had been heard and felt throughout the whole realm and brought the mighty cathedral at Lincoln crashing to the ground in a storm of dust and masonry, she had not felt safe there. Cracks had even appeared in the walls of Winchester Castle. She had lain there at night tormented by fears that the building would collapse over her, crushing her as she slept.

  But now she was bound for Normandy, on Henry’s orders, with Matilda and her husband for company. Could it be that the King too was concerned for her safety? She would have liked to think so, but she suspected it was something other than that. And, as so often before, her intuition was right.

  No sooner had Henry received her, as coldly as he’d left her all those months before, than he raised the matter of Aquitaine. They were alone in his solar this time; he was not about to risk any more public outbursts of disobedience.

  “I have decided that Richard must surrender the duchy to you, Eleanor, and that you will rule it once more,” he said, his tone brooking no defiance.

  She sank down wearily into her chair, bone-tired after the long ride, and momentarily defeated. Oh, but he was clever! To offer her the one thing that meant so much to her, the chance to return to her beloved lands after so many long years of exile, and the liberty to rule them as sovereign duchess—but only in return for the dispossession of the person she loved best in the whole world, her lionhearted Richard. It was an exquisitely cruel choice. How her husband must hate her! Yet did she have a choice? One look at Henry’s face gave her the answer to that.

  “And if I refuse?” she challenged.

  “Then you go back to Sarum,” he replied brutally. It was like a blow.

  “I suppose you will dispossess Richard anyway, whether or not I agree?” she said. At least let Henry bear the guilt for injuring his son, rather than herself.

  “No, you will do it,” the King said. He was being deliberately vengeful.

  “Ah, but I will not,” she declared, her old spirit flaring. “You are only doing this to show Richard who is master. How low of you!”

  “I think you will agree, Eleanor. You have no choice. You are my wife, and have vowed obedience to me. I could make a public example of you. Already your faithlessness is notorious. You had your way at Christmas, and made me look a fool. You will not defy me again. Now, say you agree to demand Aquitaine back from Richard, or you go straight back to Sarum, and I warn you, you will not be so comfortably accommodated!”

  It was at times like these that Eleanor found it hard to reconcile the nasty, brutish Henry of recent years, the Henry who was descended from the Devil, with the Henry who had desired her, who had bedded joyfully with her, bred children on her, and cried out his grief to her, the one person who could console him. It was as if he possessed two souls in his one body, and the one she was dealing with now was certainly not the one to whom she had once jubilantly given her heart and her body. Because her insubordination had rankled so deeply and publicly humiliated him, this ferocious Henry was taking his revenge—she could see it, very clearly. It was his pride, his stubborn pride, that drove him—and his usual talent for walking roughshod over people’s sensibilities. How tragic, though, that they should have come to this—and how tragic that he should no longer have the power to break her heart with his cruelty, and that all that was left of her for him to arouse was her anger and contempt!

  She had no choice—she saw that too, and prayed that Richard would understand her predicament.

  “Very well, as you insist so persuasively,” she said dryly.

  “Good! I’m glad you’ve seen sense at last.” There was a hint of relief in Henry’s steely eyes. He called immediately for his clerk to bring parchment and writing materials, and then began dictating a letter to Richard. She listened in mounting consternation as he instructed his son to surrender without delay the whole duchy of Aquitaine to his mother, Queen Eleanor. The only reason he gave for this was that it was her heritage—as if that would satisfy Richard as an excuse for robbing him of the inheritance he had fought bloodily to secure. But there was worse to come. If the Lord Richard in any way delayed to fulfill his father’s command, the King went on, he was to know for certain that his mother the Queen would make it her business to ravage the land with a great host. El
eanor gasped aloud at that.

  “As if I would set myself up in armed opposition to my own son!” she cried.

  “You did not scruple to set yourself up in armed opposition to your King and husband!” Henry reminded her. There was, of course, no answer to that.

  She spent the next weeks agonizing over what Richard might think of her when he received Henry’s orders, and grieving for him, knowing that they would come as the heaviest of blows. Secretly, she smuggled out a letter explaining how his father had suborned her and advising him to surrender with all meekness, laying aside his weapons. She never knew whether he received it, but was utterly relieved to learn, in due course, that Richard had wisely ceded Aquitaine into her hands and was on his way north to Normandy. Later still, she stood looking on as Henry received him with open arms, and saw incredulously that—for the moment at least—the lion had been tamed.

  Toward herself, Richard betrayed no shred of animosity or resentment. She was a woman, subject to her lord’s will, and the King’s prisoner. She’d had no choice—that much was clear to him.

  Soon, though, it became perfectly clear that Henry meant to rule Aquitaine himself.


  Bordeaux, 1186

  Things had not turned out as badly as she’d feared, Eleanor reflected as she stood on the ramparts of the Crossbowman, the tall keep of the Ombrière Palace, looking down with pride on the beautiful courtyards with their tiled fountains playing in the sunshine and the gardens with their exotic plants and flowers, spread out before her like a carpet of jewels in myriad colors. It was heaven to be back in Bordeaux, her southern capital, to feel once again the summer’s heat warming her aging bones, and the soft breeze from the ocean breathing new life into her, making her feel young again, and deliciously aware that the familiar air once more held a promise of something wonderful and precious.

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