HENRY MOURNED DEEPLY. HE had so loved his eldest son. I knew he would be thinking of that handsome boy; he would be remembering all the glorious plans he had made for him; all had come to nothing.
And on his deathbed, with his sins heavy upon him, he had thought of his mother.
I was sure Henry wondered why my children loved me so much more than they loved him. But he did remember young Henry’s words. Richard had reviled him for his treatment of me: Henry on his deathbed had pleaded that I be treated with more kindness. Henry could not ignore one of his son’s last requests, so I received a visit from the Archdeacon of Wells.
He respectfully told me that he had come on the King’s behalf and that I was to prepare to leave Salisbury for Winchester. This I should be happy to do, I told him. I preferred Winchester.
“The King wishes me to say that much will depend on your behavior at Winchester. The King thinks that it would be well for you to be with your daughter, the Duchess of Saxony, at the time of her confinement.”
My heart leaped with joy. To be with my dear daughter. I could hardly contain my delight. This was surely due to my son’s deathbed request.
“The King thinks you may need garments, and he is arranging for some to be sent to you.”
I was exultant. The end of my imprisonment must be in sight. Should I be invited to Court? What excitement that would be! What was Alais thinking? I should not mind being at a Court where my husband’s mistress was. After all, I was the Queen. I should find it very amusing. I should be plunged once more into intrigue. What a pleasure not to have to rely on hearsay.
And to be with my dearest Matilda, to watch over her while she was waiting for her child!
A hamper of clothes came. Delicious red velvet. I handled the soft materials, loving the feel of them. How I had missed my beautiful clothes over all these years!
My women crowded around me. Amaria was so delighted for me, and the prettiest of them all who waited on me, Belle, whom we called Bellebelle, danced with joy. They would all love going to Court.
We were moving too fast, I told them. I was not yet released.
I stroked the white fur which lined the cloak and thought of facing Henry. How would he look after all these years? How would I look to him? I had taken care of myself and had not allowed my imprisonment to cause me undue anxiety. I had been shut away from the world, so he thought, but I had managed to keep myself aware of what was happening. The years had been kind to me as far as my appearance was concerned.
Should I see them all again? Most of all I wanted to see Richard, I wanted to talk to him about his father’s intrigue with his intended bride. But of course Richard would not have her now. There would be no compromise with Richard. It was either Yea or Nay, and as far as Alais was concerned it was most definitely Nay. What a joy it would be to see him! A boy no longer. A great soldier. And there was something else. He was now heir to the throne of England. What did Henry think of that? How I should love to know.
Well, I should soon be seeing and hearing at first hand all those things for which for so long I had had to rely on others.
Matilda was at Winchester, eagerly awaiting my arrival. We stood for a moment looking at each other. This was my daughter who had been a child when I had last seen her, and now she was twenty-eight years old, a wife and a mother who had endured much suffering.
There was no ceremony between us. We ran together and were in each other’s arms.
“My dearest child,” I cried.
“Oh . . . my mother . . .”
We held each other at arms’ length and stared eagerly.
“You are beautiful still,” she said. “I remembered always how beautiful you were. I expected to find . . .”
“An old woman? I am an old woman . . . but I try to forget it. That is the best way. I will not admit that. I am not an old woman to myself, and therefore I can pass for being younger than my years.”
I looked at her anxiously. She was heavily pregnant and looked tired. She told me that the journey from Normandy had been exhausting in her condition but her father had wanted the child to be born in England.
“Besides,” she added with the lovely smile I remembered so well, “it means that we can be together.”
There was so much to talk about during those days.
She told me of her life in Saxony, of how she had at first been impressed by her husband’s power. She described the ducal palace in front of which rose the column of Lwenstein at whose top was a great lion made of brass. It had been put there because her husband was known as Henry the Lion. He had received the title, a story ran, because when he was in the Holy Land he had watched a fight between a lion and a serpent; the lion was getting the worst of the combat, so Henry destroyed the serpent and the lion was grateful to him and became his companion, always at his side.
“Was it true?” I asked.
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Did you not discover from your husband?”
“He liked us all to believe it was true, but I could never say for sure.”
“Men like to preserve legends about themselves,” I commented.
“Henry wanted to make Brunswick the most beautiful city in the Empire,” she told me. “He built a magnificent church. I helped him in this. We planned to be buried there side by side. Who knows now?”
“Burials are a dismal subject,” I said, “and now we are together after all these years let us not be dismal.”
I learned a great deal about her life: the joy she had in her children and how she missed little Lothair, who had had to stay behind in Brunswick; she looked forward to the birth of another little one.
The quarrel with the Emperor Frederick had been their undoing. He wanted all the governors of the Saxon towns to accept him as their overlord. She had discovered his intentions while Henry was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and she had sent a messenger to him to tell him of her fears. They were anxious days until Henry returned. Before he had left he had built Der Hagen, a hunting park, for her.
“I always remembered Woodstock,” she said. “I wanted to make a Woodstock there. Der Hagen was not quite the same, but I used to go to the hunting lodge there and think of England while I was waiting for Henry to come back. I thought a great deal of England, and it seemed a kind of haven to me then. But you know of our trouble and our exile.”
“I am glad of one thing,” I said. “It brought you here. Do not speak of it though. It makes you sad. Here you are and we are together. Let us be happy for a while.”
“And all this time, dear Mother, you have been a prisoner, my father your jailer.”
I laughed. “Don’t pity me, dearest child, for I do not pity myself—though sometimes the cold stones of Salisbury seem to seep into my bones. But I kept myself warm and I had good friends about me. My dear Amaria has been a great comfort over the years; little Bellebelle amuses me, and there are the other women too. They bring me news. I have enjoyed piecing it all together. It has been like a great picture puzzle to me, and I think that being apart from events I have perhaps been able to see them more clearly. I know so well all the actors in the drama, it is as though I sit before a stage watching their performances.”
“And now Henry is dead.”
I nodded. “Poor Henry. He always strove for the unattainable. Your father made the biggest mistake of his life when he crowned him.”
“He knows it, but it does not ease his pain. He thinks a great deal about Henry . . . and Richard and Geoffrey and John . . . all the boys. He knows Richard hates him, yet I think he admires him in a way.”
“No one could help admiring Richard.”
“Yet it seems it is John he loves now. He talks constantly of John.”
“He must be about seventeen now.”
“He is ambitious, Mother. He wants to be King.”
I laughed. “The crown is for Richard. Richard will be King of England.”
“But what of Aquitaine?”
“Richard will be the King of England and Duke of Aquitaine.”
“I think my father wants Aquitaine for John. I even think he wants the crown of England for him, too.”
“That will never be.”
“If my father decided . . . who could stop him?”
“Richard would. And he will never give up Aquitaine.”
She nodded. “Yes, Richard is a great warrior.”
“Have you seen John?”
“Tell me, what sort of a man is he? I saw little of him in his childhood, you know. He was at Fontevrault and then under the care of Ranulf de Glanville.”
“I do not like Ranulf de Glanville, Mother.”
“I think he has allowed John to go his own way. He . . .”
“He is dissolute. There are always women and . . . he is rather cruel. I think he finds pleasure in hurting people. He is like our father in one way. He falls into rages. He lies on the floor and kicks and gnaws the rushes.”
“That is certainly like his father,” I said.
“But our father is never unjust in rages. When they are over, he does not look around to vent his spite on anyone who happens to be nearby.”
“No, he did not do that. And John does?”
She nodded. “I know it may seem strange but I am sorry for my father now that he is turning to John. I think he is going to be very disappointed.”
“He was always a fool where his family was concerned. He could never see those who would be loyal to him. So now John is taking the place of Henry?”
“It would seem so.”
“From what you tell me, I would say ‘God help him’ then. And Geoffrey? You say little of Geoffrey.”
“He would be rather like John . . . but kinder. I think he is happy with Constance, and they have their little Eleanor. If John had someone like that . . . a wife to steady him . . .”
“Then we have to be grateful to Constance.”
“Geoffrey seems to be safe in Brittany. They accept him. I suppose because Constance is there. She is the heiress, in fact, and he is her husband, and as they seem happy together that pleases the people.”
“Let us at least be glad of that.”
There was much to be glad about during those days. Matilda would sit embroidering little garments for the child, and I would sing to her, read and play the lute. I sang some of the ballads I used to hear in my grandfather’s Court. How it brought it all back . . . those stories of gallantry, chivalry, of ladies rescued from tyrants, of unrequited love.
There were Matilda’s children to amuse us. They talked of their grandfather with affection. At least he had managed to win their hearts. They loved me, too. Sometimes I thought it a pity we did not forget ambition and become a happy family.
We talked of songs, and Matilda told me how, when Bernard de Borne was at Court, he used to write them in praise of her beauty.
“In truth they were for my brother Henry,” she said. “De Borne was in love with him. It was those verses of his which led to Henry’s death in a way. He flattered him and wrote of him as though he were a mighty warrior . . . invincible . . . and that was how Henry began to see himself. It was the reason why he thought he could get the better of our father.”
“Poor Henry,” I said. “He died penitent.”
“I pray his sins will be forgiven.”
“He did not repent,” I said, “until he saw that the game was lost. I suppose it is at such time that we all repent our sins.”
“I heard about the bed of ashes and the stone pillow.”
“Yes. A humble recompense. Let us hope God forgave him as his father did.”
So the days passed, and to be free and with my daughter was wonderful to me. I felt like a young woman—alive, vital, deeply interested in all that was going on around me.
It was a happy day when Matilda came safely through her confinement. She had given birth to a healthy boy and we called him William after his great ancestor the Conqueror.
We celebrated his birth with much merry-making, drinking a special spiced ale made with corn barley and honey, and I laughed maliciously when I saw that it cost the King 3.16.10, for I knew he would resent having to pay so much for a mere drink—which showed my attitude toward him had changed little.
Orders came for a move from Winchester to Westminster, and I was to accompany the party. So I was to be received back at Court! I had to thank my son Henry for this. His father could not refuse his dying wish.
A saddle ornamented with gold arrived for me. Clearly he did not want me to ride through the streets looking impoverished. He would not know what the people’s reaction would be, but one thing was certain: they would all be in the streets to see the Queen who for so long had been her husband’s prisoner.
I was going to enjoy this, particularly as I guessed Henry was thinking of it with some apprehension.
Clad in my red velvet gown with my fur-trimmed cloak, mounted on my horse with his gold-ornamented saddle, I rode to Westminster.
I had been right when I suspected that there would be crowds to see me. They watched in amazement. I knew I looked splendid. I had taken great care with my appearance, and I was practiced in the art of applying those aids to nature which are so effective. I had made sure that my dark hair looked almost as it had in my youth. My skin was unwrinkled; it had not been exposed to rough winds for years. They had been expecting an old woman; and in spite of my years I certainly did not look that.
At the palace I came face to face with Henry. He had aged considerably and was an old man now. All the defects he had had were more pronounced: the legs were a little more bowed; he leaned on a stick. I learned later that he had had a fall from a horse. Was it when Henry’s men had killed the horse under him? He had ingrowing toenails which caused him some pain. Poor old man! Was this the greatest soldier in Europe? He was still, I supposed. Age could not alter that completely. His hair was gray and there was much less of it than I remembered. He was still careless over his clothes; still the same short cape, the hands that were more reddened than ever.
Yet for all this, one only had to look at him to know he was a king.
I felt a sudden emotion. It was certainly not love. I would never forgive him for what he had done to me. Hatred? Yes, in a measure, but not entirely. A little pity because he was no longer active and must have hated leaning on a stick—and pity too, for the unrequited love he had given to his sons.
Then I thought with a glow of pleasure: You are an old man, Henry Plantagenet. You are older than I am in truth, although you are eleven years younger.
“You are beautiful still,” he said.
I bowed my head. I gave him one of those looks which implied that I could not return the compliment on his looks. He understood. We still knew each other very well, and even after all these years we could read each other’s thoughts.
“It is long since we met,” he went on.
“It was your pleasure,” I reminded him.
“It is now my wish that there should be no rancor between us while we are here.”
“Then the King’s wishes must be obeyed.”
His lips twitched; he was admiring me, I knew; and I felt my spirits rise. I knew that there would soon be conflict between us and I welcomed it.
I thanked him for the clothes and the saddle he had sent.
He smiled faintly. “I dareswear you needed them.”
“I did. I understand it is because Henry asked it that you freed me from my prison.”
“For this visit,” he reminded me.
“Then I must be grateful to him,” I said. He was moved at the mention of our dead son.
I said: “He was my son too. I knew the end was near. I saw him in a dream.”
He was too emotional to speak for a moment.
“He was a handsome boy,” I said.
“There was never one as handsome as he was.”
“The end was sad. All that conflict. I know you loved him dearly . . . more dearly than any of the others.”
“He turned against me. He was led astray.”
I wanted to say to him: No, it was not as simple as that. When you crowned him, you created a rival. You were to blame. He had no love for you . . . yet on his deathbed he remembered me. You made me a prisoner but you cannot take that away from me. In the love of our children I have something for which you would give a great deal.
But I said none of these things. I was sorry for him.
“We both loved him,” I said. “He was our son. We must pray for him.”
“Together,” he said. “None understands my grief.”
“I understand it,” I said. I looked at him and saw the pain in his eyes. “Because,” I added, “I share it.”
He took my hand and pressed it; then he lifted it to his lips.
For a moment our shared grief had taken us right back to the days when we had meant a great deal to each other.
Then the greatest joy I had known for years came to me. Richard arrived at Westminster.
I stood staring at him. He had changed. He was so tall. I had forgotten how handsome he was; it was those blond looks inherited from his Viking ancestors, those bluest of blue eyes which could look like ice and which glowed like flames at the sight of me.
“My mother!” he cried and I was in his arms. I could not help it but the tears were in my eyes.
“This is wonderful . . . wonderful,” I cried.
“At last,” he answered. “I have dreamed of this moment.”
“I have gleaned every bit of information I could about you. I have followed all you have done as far as I could. I have chafed with impatience because I could not know more. And now you are here. Richard, my dearest son.”
He looked at me, smiling. “There is no one like you,” he said. “You look wonderful. At first I thought it could not be. You are so . . . young.”
“I have kept myself young and I take a great deal of care to do so. There is so much we must talk of.”
“In secret,” he said.
“Oh yes . . . yes . . .”
“We shall find a way.”
“I intend to be at your side whenever I can be.”
“That shall be my endeavor, too. I have thought of you constantly. You have never been out of my thoughts.”
“You are to be a king now, Richard.”
“Aye,” he replied. “But he will do all he can to deprive me of my rights.”
“Hush,” I said. “We will talk of it later. We are going to prevent that, Richard. We are going to see that everything that is yours shall come to you.”
I was dazzled and bewildered. This meeting was something I had dreamed of for so long. I had never doubted that it would take place someday, but now it was here it seemed too wonderful to be true.
Later we contrived to be alone and we talked of Aquitaine.
“He can’t take it from you,” I said. “Aquitaine is not his to give or take. It is mine and I made you my heir.”
“He wants to give it to John.”
“Nonsense. I will never allow it. And you are the heir to England now.”
“He will try to deprive me of everything.”
“He will not succeed.”
“I am determined that he shall not.”
“He does not really want war between you.”
“No, he wants to get his own way without it.”
“We will defeat him. Why has he brought me here? Why has he suddenly released me?”
“Sancho of Navarre advised him to, and Henry asked it on his deathbed.”
“I know. But it would be more than that. He will have a reason which we shall discover in due course.”
“There is something else. All this time he has kept Alais here. She is my betrothed and everyone knows how it is between them.”
“She has been his mistress for years. Do you know what surprised me more than the fact that he has taken his son’s intended bride? His fidelity to her. I had never thought he could be capable of it, as he has been to her and was to Rosamund Clifford.”
“He does not always act as one expects him to. I will not take Alais now. And I shall tell him why.”
“It is amazing how he keeps up the pretense. How old is she? She must be about twenty-five by now.”
“I prefer Sancho’s daughter Berengaria.”
“And it is Berengaria you shall have. Even your father would not expect you to take Alais now. What is wrong in Aquitaine, Richard?”
“I do not understand it. I have brought law and order to the land. It is quiet now but one is never sure when disruption will break out. They did not like my father and they do not like me.”
I said: “When my grandfather ruled, Aquitaine was happy . . . well, as happy as a state will ever be. There were always dissenters . . . but never on the scale that there have been since I went away. There was music and laughter in the Courts.”
“Bernard de Borne inflamed rebellion with his poetry.”
“That was because he flattered your brother and made him believe all he told him. Sometimes poetry can inspire men and women to greatness. Why will not the people accept my son?”
“They thought I was on my father’s side against you.”
“They hated my first husband, Louis, but not as much as they hated Henry.”
“They will hate anyone but you, Mother. You are the only one they will accept. I know of only one way to keep order and that is by strict application of the law. And that is what they will never wholly accept.”
“If I went back . . .”
“The King is a fool to keep you a prisoner. There are too many people who love and respect you . . . and admire you, too. I tell you this: as soon as I am King of England, I shall have you beside me.”
“I am fortunate,” I said, “to be so deeply loved.”
And so we talked, but we knew that Henry would have his reasons for bringing us all together and most of all for releasing me from my prison . . . if only temporarily.
Christmas was to be spent at Windsor. Preparations were in full swing to make this a very special occasion. For the first time for years the King and Queen would spend the festival together. Special wines were sent to Windsor with food of all description. Musicians,jongleurs, acrobats . . . nothing was spared to make this a memorable time. I guessed it would have been so without such trifles.
Alais was there. She was a beautiful girl, very gentle, a little uneasy at this time, particularly as Richard was one of the party. He treated her with a cool disdain almost as though he were unaware of her. I know of no one who could present such an icy front to the world as Richard. Geoffrey was rather amused by the situation, I believe. One had the impression that he was hoping for trouble and if he saw a chance would do his best to provoke it.
John was there. I could not like my son John. He was different from the others. Now he was placating his father at every turn, being the dutiful, affectionate son. Surely Henry was not deceived. Oddly enough he seemed to be. It was strange that he who was so shrewd on all other matters should be so blind where his sons were concerned—believing what he wanted to rather than what was blatant fact.
There were meetings. At some of them I was present.
Henry was trying to persuade Richard to give up Aquitaine, and Richard refused. Henry raged and ranted and Richard stood firm.
Henry wanted to distribute the power among his sons, and for that he had to have my agreement. That was why I was there. He did realize that I was of some significance on the Continent. I believed that a certain amount of his troubles there were due to his imprisoning me.
When he asked me to agree to the distribution of his possessions, of which John was to get the larger part, I stubbornly refused my consent.
“Why do you always go against me?” he demanded in exasperation.
“I only go against you when you act foolishly.”
“You are speaking to the King.”
“I am well aware of that for he never lets me forget it. I remember that he has been my jailer for a great many years.”
“And could be for a great many more to come.”
“If it suits his purpose, I have no doubt.”
“Why cannot you listen to reason?”
“Why do you not do the same?”
“I am the King—I make the rules.”
“As we have seen on occasions . . . disastrously. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Was there ever a greater mistake? Yes, one. The crowning of your son in your lifetime. Think about that, Henry Plantagenet, and then ask yourself whether you have always listened to reason.”
I bowed my head. The shafts had gone home.
“There is going to be trouble in Aquitaine. They don’t like Richard.”
“Do you think they would like John?”
“They are stupid ridiculous people. They spend their time singing romantic songs. They think that if you were their ruler it would be paradise. Richard will not give up Aquitaine to John. Perhaps he would to you.”
I stared at him.
He did not look at me and went on: “You could spend some time there. Go among them. Let them see you . . . how well you have fared in prison. Satisfy their love of romance. I have no doubt they will make up songs about you.”
To go back to Poitiers, to be in my Court again, surrounded by musicians and poets . . . long summer evenings out of doors . . . the scent of pines and glorious flowers . . . long winter evenings around a fire . . . laughing, carefree . . . beautiful clothes to wear . . . he was opening the gates of Paradise.
“Think about it,” he said.
“Yes,” I replied. “I will go.”
And I thought: Aquitaine returned to me and held for Richard.
What could be better?
From Windsor the Court traveled to Winchester.
I had told Richard about the King’s suggestion.
“If Aquitaine is mine, it is as good as yours,” I told him. “He is suggesting that I go there to keep order.”
“Which shows how worried he is. It is quiet for a while but revolt is always there . . . ready to break out. He thinks you will have a sobering effect and this is his way of bringing it about.”
“But if it is handed back to me—and that will have to be without double-dealing . . . if it is all fair and legal . . . I shall go there. I shall be free, Richard. And I shall see that, when I am no more, Aquitaine shall be yours.”
“You are the only one I would give it to.”
“So let us think about it. Let us consider every little detail so that he has no opportunity of cheating us.”
Richard agreed that we must do that.
As for myself, I was in a state of bemused delight. I could hardly believe it was true. After years of resignation to quiet living in Salisbury or Winchester or some such place . . . I was to be free.
Henry was ready to go ahead with his suggestion. Aquitaine was to be returned to me just as I had given it to Richard. Geoffrey was to go back to his dominions, and John would go to Ireland where he was the King.
I think it was clear to Henry that I was going to insist on this before I agreed to anything. Richard was to be the next King of England. He was the eldest son now, and the people would never accept either of the others.
Richard would suit England better than he did Aquitaine; and in his heart Henry must know that. Henry loved England, although he spent so little time there, but that was only because the other dominions were where trouble was always breaking out.
While we were at Winchester we were disturbed by the visit of Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Henry would have wished that he was anywhere but in England, especially when he was aware of what had brought the Patriarch. Saladin was on the point of taking Jerusalem. King Baldwin was dying and Queen Sybil was pleading for help from the whole of Christendom. Her son was an infant. Prompt action must be taken.
Henry, who was always anxious to appear to his subjects as a deeply religious man, listened sympathetically and declared that he would raise money without delay.
But it was not money that Heraclius wanted. He wanted crusaders.
Henry said: Yes, he could see that, but he himself was in no position to go and fight in the Holy Land.
Heraclius was desperate and did not mince words. He reminded Henry that when he had done penance at the tomb of Thomas Becket he had promised to undertake a crusade to the Holy Land.
Henry was always upset by references to Becket. It was astonishing how that man still haunted him. I was sure he thought of him often. There would be constant reminders . . . places they had visited together in the days when Becket was Chancellor, before his disastrous elevation to the archbishopric . . . the conversations they had had. There must have been thousands of memories.
“I said I would go when the time was ripe,” he declared. “And when the time is ripe, I will. That time is not yet.”
“This is the time,” declared Heraclius. “The heathen is at the very heart of the Holy Land.”
“I could not leave my dominions now,” said the King and added: “This is too important a decision for me to make alone. I must leave it to my ministers.”
Heraclius was shocked that he could rely on others to decide for him. Had he not taken an oath?
Henry could have retorted that the decision would not depend on them; he would follow their advice, yes, because their advice would be what he had commanded them to give him.
In spite of Heraclius’s disappointment Henry called together a council headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who obediently rose and announced: “My lord King, your duty lies in your own dominions.”
Heraclius could be very disturbing. Perhaps he guessed Henry’s men were merely obeying his orders. He said he would call on another Archbishop, one whose blood had stained the stone of his own cathedral. He would remember that the King had made an oath to go to Jerusalem.
“When it was in his power to do so,” the Archbishop reminded the vehement Patriarch. “The King has his duties here, and God will agree that it is his duty to remain in his own dominions.”
Henry rose and then said that he believed his council spoke good sense, and although in his heart he would be in the Holy Land, he must perforce think first of his duty. He would give money to the cause and he would help any of his subjects who wished to join the Crusade.
How fiery and how venomous these good men can become when they are flouted and prevented from carrying out their good works.
“You and your family,” cried Heraclius, “came from the Devil and to the Devil you will return. No good will come to you, Henry Plantagenet. You have turned from God.”
Henry was trembling with rage.
Heraclius mocked him. “I do not fear you,” he said. “I fear only God, and He is on my side. Murder me if you will, as you murdered that saint Thomas Becket. I could esteem the infidel in his ignorance who knows not what he does . . . yes, I could esteem him more than I do you.”
Henry was very shaken. That talk of God and Becket and the Devil unnerved him now that he was getting older.
I was sorry for him.
I had a feeling that I might comfort him more than anyone else could just now. I could laugh at the fiery Patriarch who used God as his ally to get his own way.
By chance I came across him alone in one of the chambers. The door was ajar, and when I looked in he was staring pensively at the wall. I believe he often went to that chamber, and it was said that he liked to remain there alone and study the murals.
“Henry,” I said quietly.
He looked up and I could see that Heraclius and of course Becket were not far from his thoughts.
“The Patriarch is a very fierce man,” I said.
“He cursed me.”
“I dareswear he distributes his curses widely. It is a method of getting his own way. Not a bad one really. It is amazing how those so-called holy men can strike fear into the bravest.”
“I did say I would go on a crusade.”
“When the time is ripe. It has never been ripe and never will be, I fancy. You have not broken your oath. It is only when the time is ripe that you have said you will do it.”
“It is so.”
He put his hand to his head. A rare gesture with him. It suggested weariness.
He was standing before one of the paintings on the wall. I had seen some of them before. They were allegorical studies of life . . . very cleverly done. This one was new to me. It was of an eagle and four eaglets.
“This is new,” I said.
“Yes. I recently ordered it to be painted.”
“It means something.”
“Yes, I am the eagle. The four eaglets are my sons. Look. They are preying on me. There are Henry, Richard and Geoffrey.”
“And the fourth is John.”
“Yes, that is John. He is waiting until the others have all but finished me, and then he will pluck out my eyes.”
“Oh Henry,” I cried. “What a terrible picture.”
“I face the truth now and then in this room. They are my own sons. I have given them affection. I have planned for them. I wanted them all to be great men. Between them they were to own the whole of Europe . . . and there is not one of them who has given me any affection. They are all ready to wrest from me what I have been preserving for them.”
“I did not realize you knew all this.”
“You know it?”
I nodded. “You were a fool to crown that boy, Henry.”
“I see it.”
“You were told . . . yet you did it. You would listen to nobody. You did it hastily so that you could show Becket that you did not need him. You have thought too much of Becket.”
“I loved that man.”
“That was clear enough. You loved the wrong people . . . apart from Rosamund and Alais. Oh yes, I know about Alais, your son’s betrothed and your mistress. They were gentle, kind, unquestioning. They gave you comfort. You did not get that from me. But it was more exciting, was it not? You and I could have done much together, but I was no Rosamund . . . no Alais. If you had been a faithful husband we could have worked together.”
“You did not care for me.”
“I did . . . in the beginning. It was when you brought that boy Geoffrey into the nursery that it changed for me. Unfaithful immediately after our marriage! It was too much for me to endure. But it is all over. You have treated me shamefully. That was a mistake. It has hurt you more than it has hurt me. Look at me. Look at yourself. And ask who has suffered more from your ridiculous behavior . . . imprisoning your own wife, the Duchess of Aquitaine at that! Do you imagine I am the sort of woman who sits down and weeps and tears her hair at misfortune?”
“Never that,” he said.
“Then at least you have learned something. But it is too late for your eaglets.”
“They are against me . . . all of them.”
“Richard might have worked with you.”
“He hates me more than any of them.”
“Because of what you have done to me.”
“I did nothing more than you deserved. You are the one to blame. You always were. You turned them against me.”
“I have told you before. You turned them against you.”
“Enough of this.”
“Yes. It is too uncomfortable for you.”
“I might have known that you would plague me.”
“You plague yourself. If you do not want to think of your sons, why liken them to eaglets and have an artist depict them so that they may always be before you?”
He turned away.
“You do not know,” he said, “what I would have done for just one of them to have been a good son to me. Instead of that, I have to rely on bastards. I can trust that other Geoffrey as I can trust none of yours. It is because they are yours. You turned them against me in their cradles.”
“As you like to think that, you must go on doing so.”
He looked old and tired. In spite of everything he had gained during a lifetime, in spite of his power and might, he was a sad and lonely man.
He leaned on his stick for a few moments and then turned and went away; and as I listened to the tapping of the stick, I felt pity for him and a certain sadness. I should have liked to comfort him, if that had been possible.
Freedom is one of the greatest gifts life can bestow, and like all great gifts it is only appreciated when it is lost.
To ride out again through my beloved country, to feel the sweet balmy air of the south, to see the people greeting me, calling long life to me in their warm and friendly voices—it was a pleasure to be savored and remembered.
They saw me as the deliverer. I was their true ruler. They had glorified my grandfather and my father, conveniently forgetting certain strife which had been evident during their reigns. They saw in them the great romantics. Aquitaine was never the same as when we had our own among us, they said.
And I was the direct descendant, but being a woman, I had married and brought strangers among them. Now I was back. There were rumors of what had happened to me. I had been cruelly imprisoned by my monster of a husband, but now I was free to come back among them and take my rightful place.
The troubadours came back to Court, which was filled with jongleurs seeking to return to the ways of the old days which, looking back, they were assured had been full of pleasure.
They wanted no strangers among them. They wanted to live their lives as their grandfathers had. And I . . . the true heiress . . . one of themselves, was back.
Calm settled on Aquitaine.
Henry had been right. This was what was needed.
So passed the days and life began to return to the old carefree ways. The people were happy.
A great deal was happening far away. I could not forget Henry as he had looked when he stood before that picture of the eagle and the eaglets. No wonder he turned to Alais for comfort. I think she must have cared for him, for it was not to her advantage to remain the mistress of an old man when she might have been the bride of a young one with a kingdom in view.
I wondered if Henry realized how dangerous were his eaglets. He was still deceiving himself about John. And John was the least likely to bring him happiness if all I heard of him was true.
My youngest son was wild, sadistic, profligate, a hypocrite and a liar, according to reports. Geoffrey might be pleasure-loving, suave and self-seeking, but he was not as bad as John. Richard of course was cold and stern and in a way high-minded; he would call his rule just, but some called it cruel. But John, from what I heard, was depraved.
Henry had been foolish to send him to Ireland. He ought to have known that that would end in failure. I could imagine John, surrounded by young men imitating him to curry favor. John would not care for the good of the country, of making it a prosperous addition to his father’s Empire. All he would think of was his own pleasure.
Messengers brought news to the Court of how John had roamed the countryside looking for mischief, ridiculing the local inhabitants, because of the way they dressed and wore beards, which he was reputed to have tweaked provocatively and insultingly. The Irish would not accept that. Of course his main pursuit was women, and as he was the King he thought that all were at his command. He was immediately in conflict with Hugh de Lacy, who had been sent over earlier and was governing the country.
I remembered Hugh de Lacy. He was a very dark man, by no means handsome, with small black eyes and a flattened nose; he was short of stature and far from elegant; but he had power, I remember. I could imagine his dismay at having John giving orders above him.
After a while, having run out of money, John returned to England, where Henry apparently received him warmly, still deceiving himself that this was the one son who loved him. I could imagine John’s playing the affectionate son, laughing inwardly at the old fool, determined to get what he could out of him.
Soon after that Hugh de Lacy was murdered. He was in the process of building a castle at Durrow when a man from Teffia with an unpronounceable name—I think it was Gilla-gan-inathar O’Meyey—picked up an axe and severed his head from his body.
Henry was deeply shocked and perturbed for de Lacy had kept good order in Ireland. John’s comment was that it was the old fool’s just reward.
In the meantime Geoffrey was at the French Court. Henry was uneasy about his sons’ friendship with the French King. I wondered if Philip Augustus knew that Henry’s worst enemies were now his own sons; and of course Philip Augustus was Henry’s perennial enemy—just as his father had been. There would always be strife between the kings of France and England while England owned so much of France; constantly there would be on one side the desire to retrieve and on the other to acquire more.
But between the King of France and Henry’s sons there was a great attraction. Philip Augustus was a clever young man, quite different from his father. He might not be as powerful on the battlefield as Richard, so successful at the joust as Geoffrey, but he had a subtlety they lacked.
At the Court of France Philip Augustus was now treating Geoffrey as an honored guest. It might have been that he was trying to sow further distrust between Henry and his sons. That would not be difficult. However, the entertainment he arranged for Geoffrey was lavish.
Geoffrey loved tournaments above everything else. He was brilliant in the lists, and it was only natural of course that with a prince from England there should be rivalry between the two countries, and as the jousts were conducted as a war, the two sides should vie with each other for victory.
They had agreed that this should be a mock battle. The two sides were to face each other, and if one member of the party could be separated from the rest and forced to dismount, that was considered a capture. Later they would count their “prisoners.”
Constance, Geoffrey’s wife, was with him. She was pregnant at the time. They had one daughter only, Eleanor, named after me, and this time they were hoping for a son.
He wore her colors, I was told, as he rode confidently out.
None quite knew how it happened. Perhaps he was overconfident. Perhaps he was taken by surprise. The joust had scarcely begun when a lance struck his horse, and the creature reared and fell, throwing Geoffrey. He was called upon to yield in the name of the King of France. I could imagine his chagrin. He, Geoffrey Plantagenet, to yield to a knight of Philip Augustus! He raised himself and as he did so a rider and horseman came thundering past. The horse’s hoof caught him at the side of his head and he lost consciousness immediately.
He was taken into the castle. Constance ran to his side while Philip Augustus shouted for doctors.
But when they came it was too late. Geoffrey was dead.
We had lost another of our sons.
I was grief-stricken and knew that Henry would be, too. What was this ill fate which dogged him? Did he remember the curse of Heraclius? Did he go into that chamber and look at the eaglets? One would not now peck him to death.
Two remained—Richard and John—and he was at odds with Richard and putting his trust in John.
I imagined that he would be even more fond of John now. He would delude himself in his grief that he had one son who loved him.
I remembered so much—Geoffrey when he was a baby, sweet and dependent. That was often how I thought of them . . . before they grew up, before the faults began to show, when they were royal babies and the years before them seemed full of promise.
I was due to return home. Aquitaine was quiet now . . . at peace. It had worked out as Henry intended. The duchy was mine now, and that meant a return to the old way of life.
I said I would come back to them again. Oddly enough, much as I loved my native land, I wanted to know what was happening. I felt I had to watch over Richard’s inheritance, for I was sure the King planned to cheat him of it.
I was met at Dover. The King had given orders that I was to be taken to my old quarters in Winchester.
I could not believe this.
I was once more a prisoner.
What a fool I had been to come back when I could have continued in freedom in my beloved Aquitaine. I had trusted Henry. I should have known better. I had settled affairs in Aquitaine; the duchy was at peace; the people looked on me as their ruler. So now, for the time being, he had no further use for my services; and having done his work for him I could return to being his prisoner.
For some time I was so overcome by hatred for Henry that I was unable to think of anything else. Later my anger abated a little as I saw that it was really as well that I was back. I could keep an eye on what was happening here, and I had to be watchful of him. He was planning to disinherit Richard and make John his heir. That was something I had to prevent, and I could do that better even as a prisoner here than I could in Aquitaine.
Constance’s child had been born. I heard that Henry was delighted with a grandson and had wanted him named after himself. It amused me that the people of Brittany refused to allow this, and the boy was named Arthur after their national hero.
Being an inveterate matchmaker, Henry was immediately planning remarriage for Constance—a match which would be advantageous to him, of course.
Henry was far from well. I gleaned little bits of news about his indisposition. The ingrowing toenail was making walking painful, but of course he spent a great deal of time in the saddle. There was something else. He was suffering from a vague internal disease and could no longer ride for a whole day without becoming exhausted. He had indeed not worn as well as I had. No one would have believed I was the elder. The thought gave me considerable gratification when I remembered how he had taunted me that I was eleven years older than he.
With the coming of autumn there was disturbing news from Jerusalem. Heraclius had warned of impending disaster; now it had come. Saladin, the legendary Saracen hero, had taken Jerusalem, and the tomb of Christ was now in the hands of the Infidel.
Everyone was talking of the need to save the Holy Land for Christianity, and all over Europe people were taking the cross.
I was appalled to hear that Richard had fallen victim to the fervor. At Tours he had vowed to undertake a crusade. Henry was enraged when he heard. When he had taken the vow at the time of his penance, he had been wise enough to add “when the time is ripe.” Richard had shown no such good sense and seemed determined to honor his vow. I was disturbed, for if Richard went off on a crusade, that would leave the way clear for John. How could he have done such a thing!
Of course Richard was a fighter and to fight in a holy cause was an incentive to all Christians. There was a glimmer of hope. Crusades could not be undertaken in a matter of weeks. They needed years to prepare, and much could happen in that time. My thoughts went back to those days when Louis and I went off on our crusade. I remembered the fervor and the preparations, how I had fitted out my ladies with fine clothes and how we had looked forward to an exciting adventure. Exciting it had been but not always pleasant. There were times when I wished I were going with Richard. Then I laughed at myself. It had been considered rather absurd for a young woman to undertake such a venture. What of an old one?
There was conflict with France: Philip Augustus was demanding the marriage of Alais and Richard or the return of her dowry; he was threatening Normandy.
I knew now that Henry had no stomach for war. The old lion was tired, and tired men long for peace. Richard, caught up in religious fervor, although he hated his father, remembered the biblical injunction to honor his parents. John was with him, too, and that other Geoffrey the bastard, with William Marshal. With his sons and such men beside him, Henry’s spirits must have lifted a little. After all, he was at heart a fighter . . . one of the greatest of his day.
The two armies were drawn up facing each other. Richard told me about it later, so I had a clear picture of what happened. It was night in the camp when one of Richard’s men came to him and told him that a knight was asking to see him and when he was brought into Richard’s camp, he was amazed to see the Count of Flanders. He came from Philip Augustus, he said, to remind Richard that he could not fight against the King of France, his suzerain, to whom as Duke of Aquitaine he had sworn fealty. Richard replied that the King of France was at war with his father and that meant at war with him.
“It is of that matter which the King wishes to speak to you,” said the Count.
“Does the King of France want a truce?” asked Richard.
“He wants to speak with you.”
Richard was always fearless. He must have known what a risk he took. He went with the Count of Flanders through the enemy lines.
I knew of the relationship between Richard and Philip Augustus. Richard never kept anything from me. They had loved each other and there was a strong bond between them.
He said that when he arrived the King of France came out of his tent to greet him with such infinite tenderness that it was difficult to remember that they were on opposing sides; and when Richard asked what Philip Augustus wanted him for, he answered: “Friendship. Could I ever be anything but your friend?”
Richard went into the King’s tent. Philip Augustus was alone and unarmed. “Take off your armor, Richard,” he said.
Richard protested, saying that he was in the midst of his enemies.
“I would not allow any to harm you,” replied the King. “We should be together . . . not against each other.”
“Do you expect me to fight against my own father?” asked Richard.
“Has he not fought against you? He is betraying you, Richard. He has taken my sister, who was to have been your wife, and made her his mistress . . . and she a Princess of France! If she married you, you and I would be brothers. We must be friends. War destroys us both . . . and war against each other is unthinkable. The King of England is more your enemy than he is mine. Do you know he plans to disown you and set up another in your place?”
“I do not trust him, it is true, but he cannot do that.”
“No. I must go back but I will think of what you have said.”
They talked awhile. Then Richard left. Philip Augustus said that, if any harm came to him in the French camp, those responsible would have to answer to him.
The next day, as soon as dawn broke, Richard went to his father. He was shocked to see the King look so ill. He shrugged off Richard’s inquiries about his health. “I am well enough. It is always thus first thing in the morning. I grow better as the day wears on.”
“The King of France would be ready for a truce,” Richard told him.
“He would impose humiliating terms.”
“You would have to give up the Princess Alais.”
Henry blustered. “She is to marry you when the time is ripe.”
Richard gave him a steely look. “Methinks she may be overripe. Tell me. Why are you so reluctant to relinquish her?”
“I could have talked to Louis. He was more reasonable than his son.”
“Louis was continually asking for the marriage to take place when he was alive. The ripening process has taken a very long time.”
“Some time ago I made a promise to go to the Holy Land,” said Henry. “Now the need is great. I would go on a crusade if Philip Augustus would agree to a two-year truce.”
“I have already taken the cross,” said Richard.
“I know that well. We will go together. The King of France shall be told, and if he will agree to this truce we will make our preparations.”
Richard knew, of course, that his father would never go to the Holy Land. He was too old and ill; moreover he would never leave his own dominions. What he wanted was to evade war with France, for which he had no heart.
He sent envoys to the French camp. Richard regarded him with skepticism.
“How could I go on a crusade?” demanded Henry. “How could I leave my kingdom? How could I trust the King of France?”
“You are repenting your rash suggestion already,” said Richard.
“You were once friendly with the King of France. You could perhaps arrange a truce. That is what we need. We do not want to go to war. We could come to terms and these you could arrange.”
Richard said he would go to the King of France.
Philip Augustus received him with the utmost pleasure. I pictured it all clearly. Richard standing bare-headed before him, taking his sword and handing it to him, then kneeling before him, Philip Augustus perhaps reaching out a hand to caress his beautiful red-gold curls, for the King of France made no secret of his delight in the presence of his enemy’s elder son.
“I come on behalf of my father,” Richard said. “He wants a truce.”
“That he might go on a crusade?”
“He cannot go on a crusade. He is too old and sick and would never leave his dominions.”
“If we fought now, I should certainly win,” said the King.
“My father has never been defeated in battle.”
“He knows he will be this time. It is why he asks for a truce. For you, I will consider a truce, but only for you, because if you fight with your father you will be defeated, and I know that would humiliate you, my friend. I do it for you, but there will be terms.”
“What are these terms?”
“First, that the King of England leave his son with me while we discuss them.”
“Would you make me a hostage?”
“Nay, only an honored guest. It is because I want you near me that I will agree to this truce. If you leave me now . . . which you will not be prevented from doing, I shall go into battle and defeat the old lion this time. I will beat him so soundly that he will not be able to fight again.”
Richard knew this was possible, so he agreed to remain with the French while terms were discussed.
Philip Augustus was overjoyed to have Richard with him. There was never a question of his being treated like a hostage. He was the most honored of guests. The King would have him sit beside him at table; he insisted that they eat from the same plate. He told Richard that the greatest honor a King could bestow on a guest was to ask him to share his bed. The friendship was as it had been before—one of passionate attachment.
They talked together; they would have long discussions in bed. Richard told the King of his vow to go on a crusade.
“We will go together,” declared Philip Augustus. “I, too, will take the vow.”
They talked of preparations for this shared adventure, but Philip Augustus’s main object was to warn Richard against his father, for he was sure Henry was planning to take Richard’s inheritance from him. Richard did not see how he could do so. He was the eldest son now, the legitimate heir to the throne of England and the dukedom of Normandy.
“Perhaps one day you will discover,” said Philip Augustus.
Henry would of course hear rumors of the relationship between the two young men, and it must have given him cause for alarm.
Richard was being royally entertained by the King of France, who seemed in no hurry to proceed. He was quite content with things as they were as long as Richard stayed with him.
Henry would not have been able to understand the relationship between Philip Augustus and Richard. It was alien to anything he himself could experience. He wrote to Philip Augustus saying that he believed the main difference between them was the Princess Alais. He had decided that the princess should marry John instead of Richard, and John should have all his lands except Normandy and England.
How Philip Augustus must have laughed. Here he had actual proof of Henry’s duplicity. He promptly showed the letter to Richard. Now surely he could not doubt his father’s treachery. Give John Aquitaine—the land for which he had fought! It was his mother’s, in any case. How could he ever have been such a fool as to range himself against his dear friend, the King of France?
The confrontation of the two Kings took place at Gisors, under an elm tree. It was not the first time the Kings of France and England had met at this spot. The English, who had arrived first at the scene, took up the position in the shade, leaving the hot sun to the French.
I could imagine Henry seizing the smallest advantage gleefully.
Philip asked that the Princess Alais should be given to Richard as his wife and that fealty, throughout the English Court, should be sworn to Richard as the heir to Henry’s dominions.
Henry must have been astonished. It was as though it were Richard who was making the terms. He was in a quandary.
The King of France signed for Richard to come forward.
“Here is your son,” he said. “You will swear to these conditions before him.”
Henry hesitated and Richard went on: “Swear that I shall have my bride. Swear that I shall have the inheritance due to the eldest son.”
There was no way out for Henry. He was trapped. He glared with hatred at his son and began to shout: “No, no I will not do it.”
“So,” said Richard, “I see that what I have heard of you is true.”
He turned his back on his father and approaching the King of France, took off his sword and handed it to him.
In the presence of his father he was offering allegiance to Philip Augustus.
How joyfully the King of France accepted it. Henry could not believe it. How could his son go over so blatantly to the enemy? I could have answered that. “Because, my dear Henry, you have shown so clearly that you are his enemy.”
Philip Augustus, eyes shining with love and gratitude, said he would agree to a truce; the two Kings should meet in a month’s time. Meanwhile Henry could consider his terms.
“Come,” he said to Richard. He gave him back his sword. Richard mounted his horse, and the two of them rode off together.
So Henry had lost another son—if not to death this time, to the King of France.
He went to Saumur for Christmas. It must have been a gloomy one. He would hear reports of the great friendship which existed between Richard and the King of France. They were always in each other’s company and now were planning the crusade they would take together.
The two Kings met again as planned. Philip Augustus implied that he wished for peace because he wanted to give his mind to the proposed crusade. The Holy Land was in danger while they played out their petty quarrels. All he wanted was that Richard should have his bride and be proclaimed heir to his rightful inheritance. The marriage had long been arranged and Richard was Henry’s eldest living son. Philip Augustus was only asking for what was right. There was another point. It would be necessary for John to join the crusade. This was so that he could not be up to mischief while Richard was away.
Henry raged to William Marshal and Geoffrey the Bastard at the insolence of the King of France. They must have been very unhappy—those men who really cared for him.
Henry said he would not agree to the terms, and Alais was to marry John.
Once more the conference ended in failure.
John joined him. Henry was at Le Mans, one of his favorite cities because it contained the tomb of his father, and he had often rested there to visit it.
It was while he was at Le Mans that he heard that Philip Augustus was on his way to attack him. He had given him many chances and still he refused to see reason; so now the French were on the march and with them Henry’s own son, Richard.
“What have I done,” demanded Henry of William Marshal, “that my own son should march against me?”
William Marshal was one of those honest men who could not lie even if it meant saving their lives. “You have tried to rob him of his inheritance,” he said.
Henry must have smiled wryly. One could trust William Marshal to put a finger on the truth. He had tried to rob Richard of his rights because he wanted John, whom he believed to be his only faithful son, to have everything.
How tired he would have felt, how despondent. I never knew why, hating Henry as I did, I could feel sorry for him. The great raging lion, the invincible warrior. How did it feel to be brought to the stage when one’s aging body did not match one’s valiant spirit?
From a high point he would see the French camp and know that his son Richard was there with his enemy.
There was a high wind blowing straight into the French encampment. He had an idea. Fearing he might not be a match for the French and his son Richard, he would attempt other methods to win the battle. If he had fires lighted, the wind would blow them straight at the French camp and might destroy it completely. At worst it would do much harm and impede their advance. All means are fair in war.
He gave the order and the fires were lighted.
It was like a miracle. It was as though God was working on the side of the French against him. For no sooner were the fires lighted than the wind changed, and instead of blowing them into the French camp, they blew back to the town of Le Mans.
He could not believe it. The flames were enveloping the city. He cried out in anguish; then his rage overtook him. He shook his fist at the heavens. Such a disaster could only come from one place. God was against him. God had determined to destroy him.
William Marshal said it was an unusual change in the wind. Such things happened.
“It was deliberate,” shouted Henry. “It was done to plague me. It shows God is not on my side. I have prayed to Him . . . worked for Him, and He has deserted me in my hour of need. By His eyes, I will pray no more. I will curse Him who curses me.”
His son Geoffrey was in fear of what would happen next. He implored his father not to blaspheme. They needed God’s help as never before.
“He has deserted me. I will plead with Him no more,” shouted Henry.
Geoffrey was greatly distressed. I think that must have comforted him a little. He had been good to Geoffrey, and Geoffrey had always adored him and had had that attitude toward him for which he had looked in vain from his legitimate sons.
Then came news that the French were preparing to advance. William Marshal urged him to mount his horse for they must retreat at once.
Henry, the great warrior in retreat! The humiliation must have been intolerable to him. Old, tired, sick, the only son left to him, John, about whom he must know he was deluding himself; and thebastard Geoffrey, of course, was the only one on whom he could rely.
Richard told me about an incident which occurred at that time.
Intending to parley with his father, Richard set out with a few men. Unarmed for combat and isolated from his party, suddenly he was halted by a man on a horse who had a lance which he pointed at Richard’s throat.
“It was too late for me to do anything,” said Richard. “He could have killed me. I knew the man. It was William Marshal. I said, ‘You are going to kill me, William Marshal. But see, I am unarmed.’ He paused for a moment, then he said: ‘No, I will not kill you. I will notbe the one to send you to the Devil.’ And with that he slew my horse from under me and rode off. I could only find my men and lead them back to the French camp, thus allowing my father to escape.”
I should always be grateful to William Marshal. I knew he was a good man. He might have considered it his duty to kill the King’s enemy, and Richard at that time was one.
Henry must have known that he was no match for the French. Le Mans was a burned-out town, burned out by his act which made it all the harder to bear. William Marshal and Geoffrey and the others discussed what they should do next. Marshal thought they should make for Normandy, where they would find men to rally to their banner. The King was too tired to make plans. He wanted to know where his son John was; he wanted to discuss with him what was the best thing for them to do.
John could not be found.
“He has gone off to find men to come to our aid,” said Henry. “Soon he will be with us. And then we shall be ready for the enemy when they come.”
There were messengers from the King of France. He wished to parley with Henry once more.
As usual Henry prevaricated. He felt ill and he looked it. I guessed he was too proud to be seen in such a state. No doubt he thought a few days’ rest would be beneficial.
He tried to delay, but Philip Augustus made it clear he would wait no longer. If Henry did not agree to a conference, it would be a matter of all-out war.
So he rode to the meeting. Richard told me about it afterward.
“The King could scarcely sit his horse. William Marshal and Geoffrey rode close to him one on either side. I think it was because they feared he would fall from his horse.”
Philip Augustus’s terms were that Henry must pay homage to him for his lands in France. He, Philip Augustus, and Richard were going on a crusade and as soon as they returned the marriage of Richard and Alais must take place. Richard must be proclaimed heir of all his father’s dominions, and Henry must pay for the cost of the war. If he did not adhere to these conditions, the knights and barons of England were to desert him and join Richard.
“My father was overcome with shame, but there was no alternative. It was either submit or become the prisoner of the King of France. Can you imagine my father a prisoner! He had to accept. The King of France was insistent. He gave me the kiss of peace before all assembled there. We embraced and as his face was close to mine I saw the hatred there. You know how he could not hide his feelings. His lips were close to my ear. He said, ‘I pray God I live long enough to take my revenge on you.’ I took no notice. I thought it better not. And then he went away.”
I heard the rest from William Marshal later.
Henry was overcome with exhaustion, depression and the pain he was suffering. The castle of Chinon was not far away and there he could rest for a while and recuperate his strength.
William Marshal said it was pitiful to see him attempt to mount his horse. Geoffrey, who could speak to him more frankly than the others, insisted that he be carried in a litter. The King protested. He, who had been more at ease in the saddle than on his own two feet, to be carried in a litter like a woman! But Geoffrey was firm, and it was an indication of Henry’s weakness that at length he agreed. And so, by litter, he was carried to Chinon.
What distressed him so much was that after the incident of the fire at Le Mans several of his knights had gone over to Richard, which meant going over to the French. He could not abide traitors. He wanted to know who they were.
He said to Marshal: “I want a list of those knights who deserted me. I am sure the King of France would not deny me this. Nay, perhaps he would take a pleasure in giving it to me.”
Geoffrey said: “Perhaps it would be better to forget them. They are not worthy of a moment’s thought.”
“Don’t be a fool,” retorted the King. “I must know my enemies and I regard these as such.”
Geoffrey suggested that he should try to rest.
“Send my son John to me as soon as he comes,” said the King.
He did sleep after that. There was terrible consternation in the camp, for everyone knew how ill he was. The fact that he would not admit it could not disguise it.
When he awoke he saw Geoffrey and William Marshal whispering together. He heard Geoffrey say: “Better not to show it to the King.”
Henry was then fully awake, demanding to know what was not to be shown to him. They were holding something back. What was it? They tried not to tell him but he saw through their ruse and demanded to know.
At length they admitted that it was the list which Philip Augustus had obligingly supplied.
Why were they hiding it? They should bring it at once or feel the weight of his wrath.
I could imagine his anguish when he saw that the name at the head of the list of those who had deserted him was that of his son John.
He could no longer deceive himself.
Did he think of that picture at which he had often looked so sadly? Did he see how true it was? The old eagle worn out . . . finished . . . and the young eaglets waiting to finish him off. They could not wait for him to reach his end gracefully. They were ready to snatch from him that which he had been so reluctant to give during his lifetime.
Gone were all his illusions. He had gained much territory; he had been the most powerful man in Europe—but he had failed to win the love of his sons, and that was something he had dearly wanted.
He did refer to the picture, they told me. He said: “You see, it was right. My youngest was waiting for the moment when it seemed that all was lost to me, that he might peck out my eyes. I no longer wish to live . . . unless it is to take revenge on them. They are her children . . . all of them. That she-wolf . . . who laughs at me. I made her my prisoner but still she laughs at me, and she defeats me through her sons . . .”
I think he must have been delirious then. He talked about the early days of our marriage and of Rosamund and Alais . . . the three women who were most important to him among the myriads he had known.
Geoffrey was beside him, for he was uneasy when this son was not there.
“Would to God you had been my legitimate son,” he said to him. “Why did it have to be the bastard who was loyal to me?” He asked Geoffrey to call him “Father.” He said: “You are the best son I ever had. The sons of the Queen have been my enemies, and the son of a whore my friend.”
Geoffrey and Marshal consulted together. They thought the end was near and they should call a priest.
There was no priest. In fact, they were almost alone with the King. He was dying and all knew it. Most of the knights were concerned for their own safety. What would happen to them when he was dead? There was no point in remaining if the King were dying.
I hope he did not know they were deserting him. Geoffrey and William Marshal kept that fact from him. They remained by his bedside and watched life slowly ebb away.
Then he looked at them with anguish in his eyes. He grasped Geoffrey’s hand, and suddenly the young man felt the grip slacken.
He bent over his father. The King murmured: “Oh, the shame that I suffer now . . . the shame of a vanquished King.”
And those were the last words of Henry Plantagenet.