THE MONTHS WERE PASSING. Christmas was upon us. News came that the key town of Acre had fallen to the Christians. I was delighted. This would mean that they were ready to march on Jerusalem. I prayed that their crusade would soon have achieved its purpose and Richard would be back with us.
I spent Christmas at Bonneville-sur-Touques. It was very quiet but I was in no mood for merriment. I was very anxious about Richard. I was sure the climate he was enduring would bring little good to his health, and I was uneasy about England and the French provinces.
Then I had disquieting news. A jongleur came to the castle. He had been in Paris and could tell us that Philip Augustus had returned home from the crusade.
“He is very ill, my lady,” I was told. “His hair has fallen out and his nails are dropping off.”
“Was it some pestilential fever?”
“No one knows. He said he was forced to return home because of the treachery of the King of England.”
“This is nonsense,” I said. “He is more likely to be treacherous than my son.”
“It is what he is saying, my lady. He says that the Franks captured Acre and that Richard Plantagenet would take all the credit for it.”
“A likely story. How dare he!”
“The people of Paris are giving him a hero’s welcome.”
I was very uneasy. They must have quarreled, and this, like most lovers’ quarrels, would be violent. I knew Philip Augustus was jealous of Richard. How could he help it? Philip Augustus was a wily King; he could be more devious than Richard; but he lacked Richard’s charisma; he was no Coeur de Lion. I had heard it said that, as soon as they saw Richard, men clustered about him and were ready to go wherever he led. That must have been galling to Philip Augustus. It was true he had loved Richard but that was one part of himself; the rest was all king, and kings of France would always regard kings of England as their natural enemies.
Philip Augustus was saying that his illness was a result of poison and, in view of his relationship with Richard, had half suggested that Richard was behind the attempt to poison him.
I thought the quarrel must have gone very deep.
Philip Augustus was determined to show his anger. He went into Normandy and at Gisors demanded that his sister Alais be returned to him. The Seneschal refused to give her up. I supported him in this. Alais must remain where she was for a time. I did not want more stories spread about her seduction by Henry and her desertion by Richard.
It looked to me as though we might be at war with France and, with Richard far away, that was the last thing I wanted.
However, I was mistaken. Having just returned from what was evidently an exhausting experience and being truly very sick, Philip Augustus had no stomach for war at such a time.
I should have looked elsewhere for trouble.
Messengers came from England with disturbing information. My son John was spreading the fabrication that his brother Richard had no intention of coming home, and as the people could not continue without a king, he, the late King’s son, was ready to be crowned. For this purpose he would need allies. He must have heard of the quarrel between Philip Augustus and Richard, and the French King was just the ally for him. With Richard away and with the French King’s help, it should be an easy matter to take the crown. What revenge for Philip Augustus! What glory for John!
Now I was really worried. I could no longer stay in France. I must go to England with all speed.
It was February—just about the worst time of year to cross the treacherous Channel, but no matter, I must go.
I suffered the journey and made my way to Windsor, where I summoned all the barons and the clergy to come to me.
When they were assembled, I said: “I have information that my son John is gathering together a fleet and an army of mercenaries. His object is to go to France and solicit the help of the French King in gaining the crown. He is ready to give up certain overseas possessions in return for this help; and Philip Augustus is ready to give it. I have heard that he is offering John his daughter Adela in marriage and proposing to give her all Richard’s Continental lands.”
The Council was grave. They did not approve of the King’s absenting himself from his country. He was asking for trouble in doing so. But by now they knew something of John’s character, and the last thing they wanted was for him to usurp the throne. They agreed with me that it must be stopped. The best way to do this was to threaten to seize all John’s English lands the moment he attempted to cross the sea.
Sullen and angry, John knew he dared not leave the country. He went down to his castle of Wallingford to brood over the wrongs he had suffered.
But I knew this would not be the end of his endeavors. I had to be watchful all the time.
I did immediately dispatch a messenger to Richard telling him he must come home. His throne was in danger. We had foiled John once, but we might not be able to do it again. John was obstinate and he longed to get possession of the crown. He was unstable and cruel. It is sad to have to admit this of one’s son but it was true. I was glad that the barons were aware of it.
But we had a mighty enemy in the King of France. His love for Richard had turned sour, and there is never greater hatred than that which has grown out of an old love.
News came in now and then from the Holy Land. Richard was going from success to success. His name was continually mentioned. He was the hero of the Third Crusade. I was sure that it was he and his men, not Philip Augustus and the French, who had taken Acre.
There was talk of a mighty Saracen warrior who it was said was a match for Coeur de Lion. His name was Saladin. There were stories of a meeting between the leaders. Saladin was as outstanding among the Saracens as Richard among the Christians. It was certain that two such men would have the utmost respect for each other.
Richard’s illness persisted. There were bouts of ague and fever. I think they were his real enemies.
Richard and Saladin had come to a point when they must make terms, and Saladin’s brother wanted to marry Joanna. I was outraged at the thought; so, it seemed, was Joanna. But Richard apparently was so impressed by Saladin that it did not occur to him that the proposition was not acceptable. Why should not Christian and Saracen love each other rather than make war? Joanna might convert Malek Adel to Christianity. But what, I asked, if Malek Adel made a Moslem of Joanna?
Inevitably it came to nothing. I could imagine Joanna’s rage at the suggestion.
There had been a truce. Saladin would not surrender Jerusalem, but he allowed the Christians to make pilgrimages to the holy shrines when they wished, and he gave them a strip of the coast between Jaffa and Tyre so that they could travel unmolested.
Many of the crusaders went to Jerusalem and worshipped at the shrines. Richard did not go.
He was reputed to have begged the Lord not to let him set eyes on Jerusalem: he had set out to deliver the Holy City from the enemies of Christianity, and in this he had failed, so he should be denied a sight of it. He had made the way easier for pilgrims, but that was all his campaigning and tremendous expense had been able to achieve. His greatest enemy had been the ague and the fever, from which he suffered still; they had plagued him just when he should have been going into battle.
He respected Saladin, and Saladin respected him, but he had failed in his mission, and he could see there was no use in continuing. It was time to go home.
My relief was intense. So now he would come back and I could hand over the reins of government to him. I need not lie awake wondering what mischief was brewing in John’s mind.
I was an old woman. It was time I had a little rest.
I was planning that Richard should be home for Christmas. I was happy and excited. There should be minstrels and the music he loved. How I longed to see him again.
Berengaria would be with him. Was she pregnant? What joy there would be if she were!
I was very happy.
But Richard did not come home for Christmas.
The weeks passed and still he did not come. I began to realize that something was wrong.
Each day I waited for news. Tension was rising. I knew that John was biding his time. Where was Richard? Why did he not come back home? We had known that he was on his way, but why did he not come?
Something terrible had happened. It was frustrating to live in ignorance. He had just disappeared without trace.
I think that was the most agonizing period of my life. I had seen many tragedies, but this, wrapped in mystery as it was, seemed the hardest to bear.
I needed him. The country needed him. He must return soon or all England, all Normandy and his possessions in France would be thrown into confusion. The people were becoming restive. What sort of king was this to desert his country and go off to fight in other lands? And now the fighting was over, why did he not come home?
Joanna and Berengaria had arrived safely in Rome. They had sailed on the same day as Richard but not in his ship. I could glean nothing from them. They had not seen Richard since they left the Holy Land.
It was the same story whichever way I turned.
Richard had simply disappeared.
Then one day Richard’s chaplain, Anselm, arrived at Court. He had a tale to tell which threw a faint glimmer of light on the mystery. This was the story he told me.
When Richard had arrived in Acre after leaving Cyprus, the French King, who had been eagerly awaiting his arrival, was overjoyed to see him. He made a significant gesture by wading out to the galley in which Berengaria had been sailing, lifting her in his arms and carrying her ashore so that she need not get her feet wet. That implied that all animosity over Alais was at an end.
The two Kings embraced affectionately. Now the conquest of Acre seemed certain. It had been inspiring to see the effect Richard had on the men. He looked magnificent, of course. They cheered him, the sick rose from their beds, and they cried: “Coeur de Lion is here. Now we shall be victorious.” There were men from Germany, Italy and Spain as well as from France.
Now the Kings of France and England conferred together and planned to march on Jerusalem once Acre had fallen. Philip Augustus warned Richard of the mighty Saladin. Moreover, the Saracens had a deadly weapon which they called Greek Fire. Richard knew of this: he had encountered it before. It was sulphur, wine and pitch mixed together with Persian gum and oil, which produced an almost inextinguishable fire. A mixture of vinegar and sand was the only substance that appeared to be of any use against it—and that not very successfully. Greek Fire had impeded progress considerably.
Richard had a new contrivance with him called Mate Griffon. It was a tower on wheels which could be run up against a castle wall, so that men on top could step onto the castle and take it. It was easier than battering the way in.
They planned the assault on Acre. Richard wanted to perfect his weapons before they began. There was a mangonel, a machine which threw stones high in the air so that they fell into a city, causing great damage. This was jocularly called “the Bad Neighbor.” The Saracens invented a machine to throw the stones back which they called the “Bad Kinsman.”
In the midst of these preparations Richard was attacked by the ague and fever. Anselm had no need to tell me of his frustration. He was really ill. Berengaria and Joanna nursed him. Berengaria was delighted to look after him, for when he was well she scarcely saw him and she was deeply enamored of him.
The King would have liked them to wait until he was well before they began the assault, but that was not possible. He could not, however, be prevailed upon to stay in his tent while the battle was going on. He ordered that a litter be brought and he was taken out on it; he shouted his orders to his men; but to see Richard the Lionheart in such a state robbed them of their spirit.
The battle ceased temporarily and the siege was still unbroken. The strangest thing happened then. Richard had heard a great deal about Saladin. His followers saw him and immediately believed in victory. It was the same as with Richard. But Richard was sick, and it was said that he was near to death.
The two men were very much aware of each other. Richard was eager to meet Saladin. He knew that he had a formidable enemy and that in his state he could not hope to compete with him. Richard’s view of Philip Augustus as a soldier was not great. He might score in diplomacy but the battlefield was another matter. Richard knew that Acre could not be taken with Philip Augustus in command.
He must meet Saladin and see if some terms could be arranged. Saladin was not only a great fighter but a man of honor. He was too fine a man to show meanness or pettiness, and he and Richard respected each other as one great leader did another. They instinctively knew certain things about each other because they were so much alike. Richard sent a messenger to Saladin’s camp asking if he would meet him.
Saladin’s reply was that he could not talk with the King of England except over food and drink, and if they ate together as friends, how could they fight each other?
The messengers were allowed to return to their camps unharmed.
Then this strange thing happened. Richard was in his bed, prostrate with fever, when one of the guards came to tell him that a messenger was without and wished to speak with him.
“Bring him in,” said Richard.
The guard did so and remained, suspecting treachery. Richard commanded him to leave.
The messenger leaned over Richard and touched his brow.
“You know who I am,” he said.
There was such accord between them that Richard had no hesitation in answering: “You are Saladin.”
“I am Saleh-ed-Din,” he said.
“Why do you come to me on my bed of sickness?”
“Because I have a talisman which can cure you.”
“We are fighting against each other.”
“You are my enemy on the battlefield. In the sickroom you are my friend.”
“Is it possible to be both?”
“We will prove it to be.”
He held a stone object in his hand. The King was helpless before his enemy but he had no fear. It might have been an assassin’s dagger which was held over him, but, helpless as he was, Richard believed that this man had come in friendship.
When the stone was laid on Richard’s brow, he was aware of a coolness sweeping over him. He felt a little better.
“You need chicken and fruit. You do not have them in your camp. They shall be sent to you.”
“This is beyond belief.”
“There is much that is beyond belief.”
“But why . . . why?”
“You are a great warrior.”
“Better for your cause that I should die here miserably like this.”
“No. You may die in battle. So may I. That is what is intended for us. I want to face you out there. It is decreed that we shall be enemies. We might have been friends . . . and for this night we are. You serve your God and I serve mine. Perhaps it was your God who sent me here tonight and my God who bade me come.”
He laid a cool hand on Richard’s brow.
“You speak strange words,” said Richard, “but I feel the fever going out of me.”
“So should it be.”
“You are a brave man to come through our camp.”
“Allah protected me.”
“I shall add my protection to his. You shall not be harmed when you go back. Shall we meet again?”
“It is in the hands of Allah and perhaps your God. And now I shall go. I believe you will find the fever is past.”
Richard called his guard and told him that the messenger was to be escorted from the camp, and if any harm came to him, whoever caused it would be answerable to him.
All were surprised when that very night Richard slept peacefully, and next morning the fever was gone.
He might have thought he had had a dream, but gifts began to arrive that day. There were grapes, dates and young chickens with the compliments of the Sultan Saleh-ed-Din.
When I heard that story, I was amazed. It seemed to me so strange. I could have believed that Richard had suffered a hallucination. But then Saladin was an unusual man, as Richard was. There was some bond between them. Richard had always been an admirer of his own sex. Perhaps there was some invisible rapport between such men. They were two of the great heroes of the day. One worshipped Allah, the other the Christian God. Perhaps the two were not so very far apart. If that were so, why this war? Why could we not sit down and come to terms about the differences? If the Saracens owned Jerusalem, why should not the Christians be able to visit the shrines in peace? And if the Christians owned it, why should they shut it to the Saracens?
However, that almost mythical meeting between the two leaders made me ponder. I must confess I doubted its authenticity, but the fact remained that from that time Richard began to recover.
Anselm’s story continued. The King of France also became ill. He had been less affected than Richard but made far more of his illness. In Anselm’s view he was getting very tired of the campaign. It was always thus with the crusades. People set out with such fervor, dreaming of the glorious deeds they would perform and the recognition they would get in Heaven; but when the reality was thrust upon them, it must occur to them that there were easier ways of earning eternal salvation.
As soon as Richard was well, the storming of Acre began; there were great losses on both sides; but the town, in due course, surrendered and Saladin was in retreat.
I wondered what his thoughts were at that time, and if he regretted saving Richard’s life, as he appeared to have done. It was inexplicable. It was obvious that Richard was the leading spirit in the battle, and victory would not have been certain without him.
There was still the battle for Jerusalem to be fought.
An unpleasant incident occurred. When he was inspecting the walls of the city, Richard noticed the flag of Austria flying there. He demanded that the Duke of Austria be brought to him and before his eyes tore down the flag and ground his heel on it. The Duke of Austria was naturally furious at the insult, but Richard said: “We come as Christians; we are one army; we cannot have every leader who has brought a handful of men claiming victory for his country.”
The Duke of Austria went away muttering that he would remember the insult. Richard had made a bitter enemy.
It was Philip Augustus who claimed his attention. The French King had been very ill and wanted to go home. He came to Richard and told him that he was worried about his country. A king could not remain away for so long and expect all to be well. That was true enough. I wished Richard had felt the same. Philip Augustus was longing for home. He hated being in this inhospitable land. The flies pestered him; the mosquitoes were dangerous; many had suffered from them; then there were the accursed tarantulas. Philip Augustus said that if they remained here one of them would die, and he did not intend it to be himself. He went on to say that he loved his country and his duty lay there. He was beginning to see that the task they had taken on was hopeless.
“Hopeless!” cried Richard. “When we have just taken Acre!”
“These Mohammedans are great fighters,” argued Philip Augustus. “Sometimes I think they are invincible.”
“We have a cause,” Richard reminded him.
“Have they not? Their Allah seems often to work better for them than God does for us.”
“That could be called blasphemy.”
“Then blasphemy is truth. I believe this man, Saladin, is a very wise one.”
“I would agree with that.”
“He is a noble enemy.”
“But the Saracens are in possession of Jerusalem. If you go now, you will break your oath.”
Philip Augustus called attention to the weight he had lost, to his thinning hair and his broken nails. “All this I have suffered. It is God’s way of telling me to go home.”
“I have been in a worse state than you have.”
“You have always suffered from the ague.”
“Philip Augustus, tell me, have you made up your mind to go home?”
“I will leave you some of my knights to command when I go.”
“I thought you were my friend who would want to be with me.”
“I would be no good to you dead. And what of this Saladin? Why did he send food to you when you were ill?”
“I do not know,” said Richard.
Philip Augustus looked at him suspiciously. “They say he is a very noble-looking creature.” Richard was silent.
“And you met him?” asked Philip Augustus.
Richard told him of his experience.
“He came to your tent by night . . . uninvited?” said Philip Augustus suspiciously.
And after that there was a great coolness between them. Richard said that he could see that Philip Augustus was going to break his oath.
The French King said that his country was more important to him than anything else. “To stay would be to condemn myself to death. I will leave you to make friends with our enemy. What of Tancred? You became friendly with him too.”
“You have a jealous nature.”
Their friendship was considerably strained when they parted.
It became clear that Richard missed the French King. He tried to console himself with music and became greatly pleased by a young boy named Blondel de Nesle who was an excellent musician; he and Richard composed songs which they sang in harmony.
While Richard was repairing the walls of Acre, Saladin attempted to bring about a truce and sent his brother Malek Adel to Richard’s camp to discuss terms. It was while he was there that Malek Adel had seen Joanna and been so impressed by her charms that he wanted to marry her. That Richard should find such a suggestion feasible told me a good deal about his respect for the Saracens. Joanna, naturally, had been indignant and the project came to nothing. There was no truce, and the battle for Jerusalem persisted.
There was a great deal of trouble among the crusaders. I suppose that was inevitable when there were so many nations involved, each trying to claim credit for his own country’s achievements. Richard, as leader, managed to engender a certain amount of enmity and venom, and the task of delivering Jerusalem—daunting as it would have been without any of these disturbances—became almost impossible.
Meanwhile Richard was receiving urgent messages from me which must have given him anxiety. He had to fortify the towns he captured and garrison them to make them safe for pilgrims. It was a great task he had undertaken, and plagued as he was by bouts of recurring fever, life was not easy.
He was depressed. He was discovering more and more how formidable were his foes; and in Saladin they had a leader equal to himself. Moreover, the climate could be more easily borne by the Saracens. It was another enemy. The heat brought the perpetual flies, the poisonous insects, and with the passing of the summer came the torrential rains and the mud.
However, Richard continued to conquer towns and make them safe for pilgrims; and all the time he was plagued by my entreaties to return home.
I, who understood him so well, suffered with him. I could picture his frustration. He had thought to capture Jerusalem long before this, but Saladin was there, with a skill and valor which matched Richard’s own.
There came a time when Richard intercepted a caravan full of food and ammunition on its way to Saladin’s camp. That was a great achievement and must have cost the Saracens much anguish. Soon after this a great battle took place at Hebron Hills. The crusaders won the day and captured five thousand camels and mules laden with gold and silver as well as provisions.
After winning such prizes it seemed that the way was open to Jerusalem, and Richard believed he was on the point of taking the city and bringing the crusade to a glorious end. But Saladin was too clever to allow this happy conclusion to come about. He spread rumors throughout the Christian camp that, fearing their advance, he had poisoned all the drinking wells outside the Holy City.
It turned out to be not so, but Richard could not ignore such a rumor. He returned to Jaffa and by doing so lost his great chance.
Such are the fortunes of war. A successful general must win at the crucial moment, and Saladin’s rumor of poisoned wells had cost Richard Jerusalem.
Richard knew there would be no easy victory. Saladin had had time to fortify the town, and the bad news from home, Richard knew, meant that if he did not return he was in danger of losing his kingdom.
There was nothing to be done but make a truce with Saladin. It was a heartbreaking finale to what was to have been a great enterprise. The peace terms were just. Richard had made it possible for pilgrims to visit Jerusalem. He himself did not visit the Holy City. He could not bear to. He cried out in his anguish: “Sweet Lord, I entreat You, do not suffer me to see the Holy City since I am unable to deliver it from the hands of Thine enemies.”
Poor Richard! He must have felt defeated and for such a man defeat was the worst thing that could happen. He had to admit that, after all the lives that had been lost, all the gold with which his people had supplied him, he had failed.
He was going back to his country with his mission unfulfilled.
Joanna and Berengaria went off before he did. Berengaria was often in my thoughts, and I wondered what she thought of her husband’s aloofness. As far as I could gather, they had rarely been together. What hope was there of an heir? Very little, I feared.
Richard eventually sailed away. Anselm said he leaned over the rail watching until the land had disappeared and murmured: “Oh Holy Land, I commend thee to God. May He of His mercy grant me such space of life that I may one day bring thee aid. And it is my hope and determination, by God’s will, to return.”
In due course Joanna and Berengaria arrived in Rome. As for Richard, he sailed off . . . into mystery.
Richard may have failed in his mission, but his fame was known throughout the world. Everywhere people talked and sang of Richard the Lionheart. He was reckoned the greatest soldier of his age, although he had been unable to conquer another who was said to be as great as himself, Saleh-ed-Din, known throughout the Christian world as Saladin.
Anselm, who had sailed with him, had been able to tell me much up to this point.
In glowing terms he told me of the encounter with pirate ships and how Richard’s courage impressed the pirates who allowed him to board their ships. Richard had decided to go home overland; he knew that he had many enemies and wished to travel incognito. He therefore sent his ships back to England while he, in the garb of a merchant, proposed to make his way across Europe. The pirates agreed, for a sum of money, to take him where he wanted to go.
Richard left Anselm on the ship, and that was the last the priest had seen of him.
I was desperately anxious. Where was he? How much better it would have been if he had stayed with the ships. How could he have thought he would be safer traveling overland dressed up as a merchant! Richard was the sort of man who could never be anything but a king and whatever garb he was in would not disguise that.
I was glad to have heard Anselm’s story but frustrated that it stopped short of the vital part.
And so we waited, but news of Richard did not come.
I could not believe he was dead. I wondered how long it would be before John claimed the throne. If Richard’s absence continued, the way would be clear for him. And what of Arthur? His mother, Constance, was ambitious for him. Would he attempt to claim the throne? And what would the choice of the people be? Arthur, the young foreigner of whom they knew little, or John of whom they knew too much?
And so I waited, fearful of the future.
Then one day there was news. I had very good people working for me in those Courts where I thought there might be information useful to me—and none was more important than France. Philip Augustus’s love for Richard had now turned to hate, so I could expect treachery from that quarter, and I respected Philip Augustus as one of the wiliest kings in Europe. How different from his father! And for that reason I greatly feared him.
News came from the French Court that Philip Augustus had had a letter from the Holy Roman Emperor, a very good friend of his at the time, and it explained the reason for Richard’s continued absence. A copy of this letter had been smuggled out of France and brought to me.
It ran as follows:
Richard the King was crossing the sea for the purpose of returning to his dominions and it so happened that the winds brought him, his ship being wrecked, to the region of Istria at a place which lies between Aquileia and Venice where, by the sanction of God, the King, having suffered shipwreck, escaped, together with a few others. A faithful subject of ours, Count Maynard of Grtz, and the people of the district, hearing that he was in our territory and calling to mind the treason and accumulated mischief he was guilty of in the Land of Promise, pursued him with the intention of making him prisoner. However, the King taking flight, they captured eight knights of his retinue. Shortly after, the King proceeded to a borough in the archbishopric of Salzburg, which is called Frisi, where Frederic de Botestowe took six of his knights. The King hastened on by night, with only three attendants, in the direction of Austria. The roads, however, being watched and guards being set on every side, our dearly beloved cousin Leopold, Duke of Austria, captured the King in a humble house in a village in the vicinity of Vienna. In as much as he is now in our power and has always done his most for your annoyance and disturbance, what we have above stated we have thought proper to notify to your nobleness . . .
Given at Creutz on the fifth day before the calends of January
When I read this, I felt an immense relief. So he was alive! That was great cause for rejoicing. Next came the serious consideration of what we must do. We had to start to work at once for his release.
I remembered what Anselm had told me about his quarrel with Leopold of Austria, and it was very unfortunate that he had been the one to capture Richard.
What was happening to my dear son? Whatever it was, I told myself, he would be able to withstand his enemies, and they would not for long triumph over him.
But what were we to do?
It seemed that we must first find out where he was.
The news traveled fast. Soon everyone was talking about the capture of Coeur de Lion. What sort of prisoner would he be? A caged lion. I could imagine him prowling about his dungeon, his frustration, his attempts to escape; and I prayed for his safe return to me.
Why had he ever undertaken this crusade? What good had it done? Made it possible for Christians to go to Jerusalem. For how long? Saladin might honor the pact, but what of other Saracen leaders? What mistakes people make! First Henry, now Richard.
A wonderful thing happened soon after that. It was like an incident from one of the romantic ballads which used to be sung at my grandfather’s Court.
Blondel de Nesle, the charming young minstrel of whom Richard had been so fond, had adored his master. When he heard that Richard was a prisoner in Austria, he went in search of him. That would seem almost laughable—a young man with nothing but an exquisite voice and a musical talent to set himself such a task. His method of search was original. He would rely on his talents. He went to Austria, knowing only two things: his beloved King was a prisoner and he was in a castle in that country. With the confidence of youth and the spur of devotion, Blondel set forth on what most people would have said was an impossible task.
He traveled through Austria and sang outside every castle he could find. I could imagine his strong voice carrying over the air. He sang a song which he loved beyond all others because he and the King had composed it together. No one had sung it but those two. It was in the form of a duet.
Blondel sang this song beneath the walls of castles and one day when he sang he heard a voice taking up the duet. They sang in unison; then each took his part.
There was no doubt that Blondel had found the King.
He came home with speed. One could hardly credit the story, yet it was true. No one knew that song but Blondel and Richard; and Blondel would know the King’s voice anywhere.
Richard was a captive in the tower of Drrenstein Castle. He was in the hands of a bitter enemy but at least we knew he was still alive.
John was furious that Richard had been found. He had been fervently hoping that his brother was dead. He had already gone to Normandy, declaring himself King of England and Duke of Normandy. I was glad the Norman barons rejected him. Then he had gone to Paris and become a close ally of Philip Augustus.
I had to bring Richard home somehow.
Now that the news that he was incarcerated in Drrenstein was broken, he had been taken out of Leopold’s hands and delivered into those of Henry Hohenstaufen, the Holy Roman Emperor.
I knew what would happen next. A ransom would be demanded. How delighted Richard’s enemies must be! It was not so much the King himself whom they hated but the power of the Plantagenets. The Emperor, Philip Augustus, Leopold of Austria and the rest had seen that empire extending over Europe. It had been the realization of Henry’s dream. They wanted to smash it, and they thought to do so by demanding a ransom that would cripple not only England but the French provinces as well.
Richard was taken to Haguenau—no longer the prisoner of the petty Duke of Austria but of the Holy Roman Emperor—and the ransom asked was 100,000 silver marks. Two hundred hostages would have to be submitted until the money was paid, and those hostages must be from the noblest families in England and Normandy.
I could hardly believe it when I heard it. How could we raise such an amount? But we should have to do so. The people were already complaining of the taxation necessary to finance the crusade. How much better it would have been if that money had been used for England’s needs, and Richard had remained at home.
But at least we could now communicate with him. He wrote to me, his beloved mother. What joy it gave me to read his letters! He had seen a draft of that letter which the Emperor had written to the King of France, and he was indignant. There were other matters, too, which annoyed him. He wanted to know why he should be held in captivity like a common thief. He had not taken Jerusalem, and that was held against him. He would have taken it but for the treachery at home in England which had made it necessary for him to return. Philip Augustus had slandered him. This was due to pure jealousy because the King of France had broken his oath and, being unable to endure the hardships of the crusade, had shirked them. He was angry because he, Richard, had been more successful in battle.
This was true, of course, but I thought it wiser to hold back recrimination until after his release.
It was a busy time that followed. I had to think of every means of raising money. And what a difficult task it was! It was not so long since we were making demands for the crusade. Richard was proving an expensive monarch. But it had to be; England was unsafe while Richard was a prisoner. John was not to be trusted, and now that Philip Augustus had become Richard’s vicious enemy we were in danger. I gathered together a council of barons and clergy and we decided on new taxes. We had to ask for a quarter of their income from all men; a fee of 20 shillings from every knight; and we must have gold and silver from every abbey and church in the country; the Cistercians, who had no gold and silver but whose wealth was in sheep, must contribute a year’s wool. No one could escape.
All through those anxious weeks, the wagons came into London with their goods, and they were all placed in coffers and stored in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
While I was calculating the accumulation of the ransom, I had to be watchful of John. He was with Philip Augustus and was offering him parts of Normandy and Touraine if he would make him ruler of all Plantagenet territory in France. I was relieved that the people of Normandy had rejected him, and I succeeded in getting the barons’ agreement to confiscate his English territory so that he could not offer that as bribes to the King of France; while Normandy remained loyal, John was a pest rather than a menace.
That had been a year I would never forget, and I hoped never to pass through another like it. It was December before the ransom was ready. It was loaded onto one of the ships. I must go to deliver it. I would not let such a task be left to anyone else.
I took with me a company of all the highest in the land and arrived at Speyer in January. There I learned that there had to be a delay. I could not imagine why. We had the ransom for which they had asked. What more did they want from us?
To my horror it transpired that Philip Augustus and my son John had offered an equal sum to the Emperor if he would keep Richard prisoner. I was appalled by such venom from Richard’s onetime great friend and his own brother, and I was amazed that the Emperor could contemplate acting so dishonorably, after having settled terms with which we had complied.
Fortunately the Emperor’s advisers were also shocked by the idea of accepting money to keep Richard prisoner, and they prevailed upon him not to tarnish his reputation by such an act. He therefore declared that he would release Richard if he would be a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire.
I was able to see Richard. He took me in his arms and we embraced warmly.
“It is so wonderful to see you,” I cried. “I would never let myself believe you were dead . . . but it was hard sometimes, Richard.”
“One of the hardest things to bear in my captivity was the thought of the anxiety I was causing you,” he replied.
“Let me look at you. You don’t appear to have suffered much.”
“It is true. This climate has suited me better than that of Acre, and Drrenstein was more comfortable than the Holy Land.”
“It was wonderful the way young Blondel found you.”
Richard laughed. “I thought I was dreaming. To hear that pure young voice out there. Then I knew who it was . . . and I answered in song. Thank God I have a good strong voice.”
“I have rewarded Blondel.”
“I am glad of that.”
“Oh, it is good that we have found you. John . . .”
“I know of John. He is a young fool . . . urged on by Philip Augustus.”
“He hates you now, Richard.”
“I know. It is the way of the man.”
“And now the Emperor wants to make you a vassal.”
“I will never agree.”
“But the alternative . . . to stay here. It is what he demands, and remember he is in a position to demand.”
“I will never do it.”
“I have had consultations with the justiciar. The act would be quite meaningless. It would be considered illegal.”
“Then why does he ask it?”
“He is a proud man. He wants to see Coeur de Lion kneel before him.”
“I cannot do it, Mother.”
“Do you want to remain a prisoner? Do you want to let John take over your kingdom? John as King . . . can you imagine that? The Emperor is on good terms with Philip Augustus. Think of what they might concoct between them.”
“Do you mean kneel to him? Make myself a vassal?”
“It is meaningless and will bring about your release.”
“It is hard to do it.”
“Never mind if it brings your freedom. Better to pretend to humiliate yourself for a few moments than lose everything you have.”
He did at last see the point of this but before paying homage to the Emperor he defended himself before those who had accused him of treachery and accumulated mischief, and with such skill and grace did he do this that the Emperor was moved to tears. He went to Richard and embraced him.
Thus, after being a prisoner for a year and six weeks, Richard was free.
On a March day we landed at Sandwich and on our way to London passed Canterbury to give thanks at the shrine of St. Thomas Becket.
London gave a great welcome to the returning King. There were banners everywhere and singing and dancing and general rejoicing. For this day the citizens had forgotten what it had cost to bring him out of captivity. He was the returning hero; he might not have captured Jerusalem but he had been acclaimed wherever he went . . . Coeur de Lion, the greatest warrior the world knew. Richard was made for pageantry. He stood out against all others with his magnificent height and dazzling fair looks; his godlike appearance made of him a natural hero.
So the return of the King was celebrated.
But there was one who was not there to welcome him: his brother John. I guessed he was in Paris, gnashing his teeth with Philip Augustus, asking himself what his best move would be.
It was wonderful to be with my beloved son. Now that he was home, I told him, he must not go away again; and I think he agreed with me. Prison had had its effect on him. But, of course, he was an adventurer by nature.
“You must now show yourself to your subjects,” I told him. “You have been too little in England. The English want to see their King. We shall make a tour of the countryside. It is the perfect time of the year to do this. Spring is the best time in England.”
He was very grateful to me for all I had done. He knew that I, and I alone, had kept his kingdom intact during his absence, and he was fully aware of what a difficult task it had been. He was ready to take my advice.
There followed a happy time for me. We were together, as close as ever. We talked freely and frankly. He told me how he had traveled across Europe disguised as a merchant.
“I called myself Hugo of Damascus. It was interesting to stay in inns and to hear the talk of how King Richard was traveling in disguise across the country. One innkeeper told us that he would have to report our presence to the governor because we were strangers and they were told they must be watchful everywhere for the King in disguise.”
“That should have been a warning to you.”
“It was. Then there was Roger.” His eyes were soft, he was smiling. “I wish you could have met Roger. He was such a charming fellow. I knew him for a Norman as soon as I saw him; he had the fair looks and long limbs of a Viking.”
“One of your own kind,” I said.
“We met on the road. He asked us where our destination was and we told him England. He then said that we could spend a night or two at his castle. I liked the man on sight. Do you know, dear Mother, I trusted him. The others did not. They were very suspicious. But then they were suspicious of everyone.”
“And rightly so.”
“Yes, indeed, rightly so. But there was a feeling between myself and Roger. I knew he would not betray us.”
“Because of his handsome looks?”
“Oh far more than that. There was a rapport between us. He gave us a great welcome at his castle. I can see it now . . . the smell of roasting venison, the sweet sound of music, the warmth of the great hall. He had a good voice and we sang together; we played a game of chess. I checkmated him. I think he may have allowed me to.
“He said to me after the game, ‘You are no ordinary merchant. I think you are a great nobleman.’ I had a feeling that he knew who I was, and I asked him if this were so. I said to him bluntly: ‘Do you know who I am?’ And he answered, ‘I think I do. You are the great Coeur de Lion. There could not be another who looks as noble as you, and I have heard that the King of England is the most noble-looking man on Earth.’ Such was the understanding between us that I did not deny it.
“He looked worried. He said, ‘You are in danger. There are those here who would make you prisoner. There is an order throughout the land that any who suspect a traveling merchant may be the King must immediately get a message to Frederick of Betsau.’ He was more afraid for me than I was for myself, and I found that touching.”
He paused, looking straight ahead, smiling tenderly.
Then he went on: “He said, ‘You must leave here at once. You are unsafe. In a few hours they will be here to take you.’ ‘You have not told them I am here?’ I asked. He fell on his knees and, taking my hand, kissed it. He said, ‘I was to set the trap. I was to bring you here. I was to have you here in bed when they arrived to take you. There is little time to lose. Go from here. But do not travel with your companions. You must have just one to accompany you.’ ‘You have deceived your master,’ I said. He nodded. ‘Why so?’ I asked. He said, ‘Because, my lord, I love you.’ I knew he spoke the truth.
“I went back to my friends. I told them what had happened. They said they knew that Roger was laying a trap for us, but I replied that he had opened the trapdoor and we should all be the better for having walked into it. So we rode away and I traveled with only one page to look after me.”
“When I think of the dangers through which you have passed, I tremble,” I said.
“Life is all danger. Compared with what we suffered in the Holy Land, this seems like a small adventure.”
“And it was when you were with your page that you were taken?”
“Yes. Perhaps we were careless. He used to go into the town to buy food. I would be outside in the country. I gave him jewels to sell. We had to have food somehow. It was inevitable, I suppose, that sooner or later someone would ask what a young page was doing with such gems. What we think of as of little value seems very grand to some people. My page was taken and threatened with torture. Poor lad, he was a good boy, but he did not want to lose his eyes or have his tongue cut out, so he told them where I was. We were staying the night at the cottage of a workman and his wife. They were glad to have us for a little recompense. When I heard the horsemen approaching, I went into the kitchen and tried to look like a yokel watching the meat on the spit.”
I laughed at the thought. “You could storm the walls of Acre with more success than you could pretend to be a yokel watching meat on a spit.”
“There were two guards and a captain. They burst into the kitchen. The captain said, ‘You are the King of England and I have come to arrest you.’ ‘On whose orders?’ I asked. He replied, ‘On those of my master, Duke Leopold of Austria.’ I knew I could expect little mercy then. Leopold of Austria, my great enemy!”
“Oh Richard,” I said, “we should never make enemies. They have a habit of turning up at the most awkward moments.”
“‘I demand you give me your sword,’ said the captain. I replied, ‘I will not give my sword to you, Captain. Your master will have to come to take it.’ He was nonplussed. I doubt he had ever arrested a king before. He set one of his men to guard me while he went off, and after a while he returned with Leopold, who was smiling smugly. He said, ‘This is a little different from the walls of Acre, eh?’ I replied that there was naturally a difference, but he was arrogant then and I saw no change in him now. ‘But the positions are reversed,’ he said. ‘You are my prisoner. There are men all over Europe who will sing my praises and rejoice when I have you under lock and key.’ ‘Those who are afraid of me, you mean,’ I said. ‘Weak men who yearn for the glory they have not the courage to win.’”
“You were in his power. Was it wise to speak to him thus?”
“I said what I meant, and you may rest assured he was discomfited.”
“But you were his prisoner . . . and all that time. You must never put yourself in danger again.”
“I am home now. There is much to do here. It is my great pleasure to be with you and to know that you are well.”
“Now that you are back,” I said, “what of Berengaria?”
“She is happy enough where she is.”
“She would be happier with you. Richard she must come to England. She cannot stay so far away. She must be brought here, and when she comes you must live together as man and wife. There must be a child. Think of John and Arthur. His mother, Constance, is a very ambitious woman. It would be disastrous if there was war.”
“I intend to live a long time yet.”
“Long enough to get an heir and see him climb to manhood. But Richard, Berengaria must return.”
“Yes,” he said, “you are right.”
But I knew he would shelve the matter. He did not want a wife.
Our tour was successful. The people clearly rejoiced in such a handsome King. What a difference appearances made! And with his reputation they were proud of him.
I thought: We must keep it so.
After leaving Canterbury we came to St. Albans, and from there we went to Winchester where Richard was crowned again. That was a splendid ceremony.
There were certain castles which had been passed over to John because people believed that Richard was never coming back. These had to be retrieved. Those who had rallied to John were now required to come forth and beg forgiveness of Richard. He forgave them freely. Richard had never been really vindictive; he had been away for a long time, and they had thought him dead, he reasoned—well, they had given their allegiance to his brother because of this. If they gave it back to him, they would be forgiven for having strayed. It was understandable.
Then to Nottingham to receive more penitents.
Having traveled through England, he must now visit Normandy, where there had been a great deal of unrest. John was in France, and it would be as well to see him and let him know that, now his brother was back, there must be no more dallying with treason.
I was to be with him. I wanted to see the meeting between him and John. I greatly feared strife in the family.
I traveled down to Portsmouth with him, but although it was April the weather was too rough for a ship to sail, and we had to wait nearly three weeks before setting out.
Then to Caen first, where we planned our journey.
It was amazing and gratifying to see how those who had been ready to defect to John were only too happy to come back to Richard now they saw him. It might have been that John was getting such a terrible reputation that they had all been afraid to defy him. He was already showing himself to be cruel and sadistic, and naturally if he were about to be King they did not want to upset him.
John must now know that he was beaten. He came secretly to my apartments, for he wanted to see me alone, he said.
As soon as we came face to face, he fell on his knees and buried his face in my skirts.
I said to him coolly: “You thought it wise to come to me.”
“I have been a fool, dear Mother. Please understand. I meant no ill. But the country needed a king. I have been a wicked brother to Richard. You cannot blame me more than I blame myself.”
I said: “Get up. At least you admit your fault. Your brother Richard is the noblest of men. You should be proud to be his brother.”
“I am. I am.”
“And serve him with your life.”
“I will. I will.”
I was not so foolish as to believe him. He was repentant now because he was afraid of Richard, of course; and when the next opportunity to betray his brother came, he would seize it with both hands.
“I do not know what I must do to show my repentance,” he went on. “Perhaps I should run my sword through my heart.”
I fancied he was looking covertly at me to see what effect this statement had. I was scornful but I was thinking: There must be a reconciliation . . . a public one. But we shall have to watch Master John. He is bound to be up to mischief sooner or later.
I said: “Get up off your knees and talk sense. As for taking your life, that is the coward’s way. I will not have any son of mine a coward.”
“But I have sinned. I should be punished. Richard hates me. You must hate me.”
“I think Richard does not respect you enough to hate you,” I said. “He looks upon you as his feckless young brother.”
John smirked. I think that was the impression he was trying to give.
“Mother,” he said. “Dearest Mother, please tell me what I must do.”
“Go now. I will speak to your brother. It may be that he will find it in his heart to forgive you. If he does, you will be fortunate. It would be something for you to remember if ever you felt inclined to play the traitor again.”
“I swear to God . . .”
“I should not if I were you. Those who break their vows to men are treacherous, those who break them to God much worse.”
He went away and I thought a great deal about him. I had never liked him. I remembered always that it was at the time of his birth that I discovered I no longer loved Henry, and I had resented the fact that I was pregnant with his child. Perhaps I had been at fault. I had sent him to Fontevrault. I had given all my love to the other children—particularly Richard—and there had been none to spare for John.
Now I saw him clearly—ambitious, avaricious, self-seeking, sensual as his father was; but there was something sadistic about John which had never been there in Henry. We should have to be careful of John. Naturally I did not believe in his repentance but I should have to pretend to. We had to break John’s friendship with the King of France. We could not have brother against brother.
I told Richard my feelings in the matter.
“He is coming to ask your forgiveness. You must give it to him, Richard.”
“No, not too willingly, but for the sake of expediency. Never forget that, if the opportunity arose, he would betray you. But let it be thought publicly that you are good friends.”
I was present at the reconciliation scene. John went to his brother and threw himself at his feet. He would have given quite a good performance but he was always inclined to overact.
He seized Richard’s legs and gazed up at his brother.
“I deserve to be punished,” he said. “Punish me, Richard. Devils possessed me. How could I behave so to a brother I hold in such great honor . . . as does the whole world. I am so proud of you, Richard. I would I could be more like you.”
“It was evil counselors, not devils,” said Richard. “You are young, and the young fall easily into the scheming hands of unscrupulous men. Come. Do not grovel there. Stand up.”
John did, and Richard kissed him.
There was peace between the brothers.
There was still no mention of Berengaria.
I brought up the matter again. “You are thirty-six years old, Richard. It is time you had a son.”
“I have many years left to me.”
“That is what I pray for. But you should have children by now. If you do not live with your wife how can you get legitimate sons?”
“She shall come here.”
“When I have settled Normandy. There is much to do here, Mother.”
Later he said he thought we should send for Arthur.
“Why?” I asked.
“So that he learns to speak English and becomes accustomed to our ways.”
“You mean . . . because he may be the future King?”
“It is a possibility.”
“Can you imagine the conflict? Do you think John would allow that to happen without a fuss?”
“John is young and headstrong.”
“All the more reason why we should be careful.”
“That is why I believe it would be a good idea to send for Arthur. People should get to know him. He is a handsome boy, I believe.”
I knew in my heart that one of my hardest tasks would be to get Berengaria and Richard together.
I was an old woman, and the agony of Richard’s captivity had taken its toll of me. Now that Richard was home and was taking over the reins of government, I needed a rest—if only a temporary one.
I had always been interested in Fontevrault. It seemed to hold the very essence of peace within its walls. I told Richard that I intended to go there and stay for a while. He thought it an excellent idea and encouraged me in this. I would be close at hand if needed.
I felt as near contentment as I could be there. Richard, my beloved son, was safe and well, and the only regret he gave me was the avoidance of his wife. I understood that the state of marriage did not appeal to him. It was difficult to understand why he—who appeared to be the very essence of manliness—should have what was almost an aversion to women . . . not as women, of course, but as a sexual attraction. No two could have been closer than he was to me. But nature is strange—and so it was. If only he had been the father of sons, so that my mind could have been at rest and I could visualize a safe Plantagenet empire, I could have been a very contented woman.
The weeks began to pass quickly. They were very peaceful, with each day very like another. I surprised myself that I could be happy in such a life, but I supposed it was because I was so tired.
Then I was constantly receiving visitors, and Richard and others wrote to me frequently, so that I was well aware of what was happening in the world outside.
My daughter Joanna had married Raymond of Toulouse. She had met him when she was with Richard on the crusade and had fallen in love with him. That seemed incongruous in view of the conflict which had always existed between our two houses. I wondered whether he was a good choice. Joanna was headstrong and would have her own way; she was more like me than my other two daughters; and Raymond had been married three times before. I was a little concerned, for his record in marriage was not one to inspire much trust.
His first wife, Ermensinda, had died; his second, Beatrice, had been living when he was in the Holy Land. Richard had taken the daughter of the Emperor of Cyprus as a hostage and she had lived for some time with Berengaria and Joanna. Raymond had become so enamored of her that he tried to persuade Beatrice to go into a convent. She was a spirited woman, and her retort had amused me. Yes, she said, certainly she would go into a convent providing Raymond became a monk. However, he was said to have made her life so miserable that she preferred the life of the cloister, and in time gave in; so he married the Cypriot princess.
I am afraid Raymond was not meant to be a faithful husband: he soon tired of his third wife and on some pretext divorced her. That left him free for Joanna. He must have been a very fascinating man to have captivated my daughter, particularly as she would have witnessed his romance with her predecessor. The fact remained that she married him and in a short time gave birth to a son, another Raymond.
I hoped she would be happy. Perhaps, being strong-minded and forceful, she would keep the wayward Count in order.
Alais, now restored to her brother, was married to William of Ponthieu, a vassal of Philip Augustus. Not a very brilliant marriage for a Princess of France, but I supposed it was the best Alais could hope for after her shady past. I thought she might find contentment. Alais was the kind of woman who would make a man happy. She must be if she had been able to keep Henry’s devotion all those years; gentle, docile, ready to submit to her lord in all things. Well, that was what most of them wanted.
Arthur had not come to England. His mother, Constance, would not allow him to do so. She must have been afraid of treachery. I thought she was rather foolish. She was ambitious for her son, and she should understand that, if in time he was to become King of England, he must learn its ways and speak its language. But no, she was adamant.
Then a strange thing happened which brought about that which I had for so long been trying to achieve.
When Richard was hunting in Normandy and riding a little ahead of his party, he was confronted by a man who stood before him and lifted his arms above his head, causing Richard to pull up sharply.
“What are you doing here?” demanded the King.
“I would speak with you,” replied the man.
“Do you know who I am?”
“King of England, Duke of Normandy and sinner.”
Richard was amused. “You are a bold man,” he said.
“You will need to be bolder when you face One who is greater than an earthly king.”
A religious fanatic, thought Richard. The country abounded with them.
“Repent,” said the man. “Repent while there is time.”
“You are an insolent fellow. Do you know I could have your tongue cut out?”
“Do so, sinner. And remember Sodom and Gomorrah. You will be destroyed if you do not repent . . . destroyed as were the Cities of the Plain.”
The King was angry and drew his sword, but he did not strike the man, who walked quietly away.
The rest of the party had joined him and were prepared to catch the man, but Richard shook his head.
“Leave him,” he said. “He suffers from a madness, poor fellow, which is no fault of his own.”
That was typical of Richard. It was only rarely that he wanted revenge.
Oddly enough, very soon after that encounter he had an attack of fever and was very ill indeed. In fact, his life was despaired of. He may have remembered the old man in the woods and wondered whether he was indeed a messenger from God.
Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, went to visit him. He was a man who had often been in conflict with Richard but whom Richard admired for his courage. Like the fanatic in the woods, the Bishop was not afraid of speaking his mind. He told Richard that he had an immediate need of repentance.
“Does not every man?” asked Richard.
“You, my lord, are the King. Your responsibilities are heavy. You do not live with your wife, though it is your duty to give the country an heir. Instead you pursue a way of life which is against nature. Mend your ways. Life is short. If you die now, you will have failed in your duty. Give up your way of life. Recall your wife. Admit your sins.”
“You dare to talk to me like this!” said Richard.
“My lord King, I dare,” was the answer.
“I could order that your tongue be cut out. How would you like that?”
“I should not wish to burden your soul with further sin.”
Conflict always made Richard feel better. He was amazed at the boldness of Bishop Hugh.
He said: “I respect your courage. You are right. I have sinned. There is the future to think of. Pray for me. If I have another chance, I will recall my wife. I will try to do my duty.”
Bishop Hugh fell on his knees in prayer. He stayed at the King’s bedside and when he finally arose Richard’s fever had left him.
Richard traveled to Poitou where Berengaria was living. Poor girl, she must have been very lonely now that Joanna had gone. I wondered what she thought when she sat with her embroidery, or plucked halfheartedly at her lute or rode in the forest.
What indeed were her thoughts when Richard came riding into the courtyard?
I knew that in the beginning she had idolized him, but what had the years of neglect done to her love? She must have known why he left her. She knew of the handsome men and charming boys with whom he surrounded himself.
And now he was here . . . come for her . . . implying that he intended to play the faithful husband.
I know Berengaria’s type of woman. Meek, docile, not unlike Alais. I rejoiced. All would be well now.
Such a man as Richard should have many children . . . sons to follow him . . . to save the throne from conflict with John and Arthur . . . to continue to build up that great Plantagenet Empire which bad been Henry’s dream.
Philip Augustus and Richard were now deadly enemies. That was not surprising when one considered the position of their domains. What was to be marveled at was that they had ever been friends.
Philip Augustus was no Louis. He might not have been a great general but he was an astute monarch; he was constantly seizing every advantage and now was posing a threat to Normandy since the all-important Vexin had come into his possession.
Richard built a castle where it overlooked the little towns of Andelys—Petit and Grand—right on the banks of the Seine. Set high on a hill it had commanding views of the countryside, and advancing armies could be seen from miles off from whichever direction they came. It stood there in defiance of Philip Augustus, and Richard named it Chteau Gaillard—the Saucy Castle.
When Philip Augustus heard of this, he said: “I will take it, were it made of iron.”
These words were reported to Richard. His reply was: “I will hold it, were it made of butter.”
Thus the rivalry continued and the once-dear friends were now the bitterest of enemies.
There was a rumor abroad.
A peasant, ploughing his master’s fields, had discovered a wonderful golden treasure, said to be figures of gold and silver, worth a fortune. The land belonged to Acard, Lord of Chlus.
Richard was intrigued. Perhaps there was more treasure on the land—and treasure found in his dominions belonged to him. He needed money. The exchequer was always low and taxes were unpopular.
Then it was said that the value of the treasure had been exaggerated—it was nothing but a bag of golden coins; and Acard was a vassal of Adamar of Limoges, who himself claimed the treasure. This seemed like defiance to Richard, and that was something he would not tolerate. He would make immediate war on the insolent barons.
So he marched.
It was Lent—not the time to make war. These things were remembered afterward.
All Richard wanted was the treasure. Let them give it to him and the war would be immediately over.
Richard arrived before the castle of Chlus. It would be an easy matter to take it. How could they possibly defend it against the great Coeur de Lion? No doubt they wished they had handed over the treasure since it was not so very great, but it was too late.
It was so tragic—so ridiculous that so trivial an incident could bring about such a momentous event.
It was revenge, I suppose.
The castle was not a great fortress but it did stand on an elevation which gave it an advantage. Even so, it would be no great task to take it.
It was a March day—one I shall never forget. Richard was inspecting the fortifications when suddenly an arrow struck him on the shoulder. It had entered below the nape of his neck near his spine and was so deeply embedded that it could not be withdrawn. He mounted his horse and rode back to the camp. There his flesh had to be cut away to remove the arrowhead.
I think Richard must have known that death was close, for he sent to me asking me to come to him. I prepared to leave at once, first sending the Abbess Matilda to tell Berengaria and send the news to John. Then I left Fontevrault with the Abbot of Turpenay.
We did not stop all through the night.
When I reached him, I knew there was no hope. He lay there, my beautiful son, with the knowledge that he must go, his work unfinished. His great object now was to make his dominions safe. He wanted me there beside him . . . not only because the love we bore each other was greater than we had ever given to any other but also because he believed that I was the only one in whose hands he could safely leave his kingdom.
Arthur had not come to England; therefore it must be John who followed him. There could be trouble but it was too late to avert it now.
Berengaria arrived. She was at his bedside. He looked at her sadly, apologetically. I knew he was wishing he had been different.
They had found the man who had shot the fatal arrow. He was young, little more than a boy. His name was Bertrand de Gurdun.
When he heard that his murderer had been arrested, Richard wanted to see him. He was amazed that one so young could have been responsible.
He said: “Why did you want to kill me, boy?”
“You killed my father and my two brothers,” was the answer. “You would have killed me . . . for a pot of gold. I wished to avenge my family.”
The King nodded. “Have you any idea what terrible punishment I could order for you?”
“I care not. I have done what I set out to do. I have laid you, tyrant, on your deathbed.”
“This is a brave boy,” said Richard. “No harm shall come to him. Let him go free.”
That was typical of Richard. He understood the boy’s motives. He would have done the same himself.
From the moment I arrived, I was at his bedside. I would not leave him.
“Richard,” I said, “you must live. You cannot die like this . . . in such a place . . . for such a reason.”
“We die when our turn comes, dear Mother. What I regret most is leaving you. Do not weep. This is the end for me. I sought to take Jerusalem and I died fighting for a bag of coins.”
“Richard, you have been ill before. You have been plagued by the fever, but you have always recovered. You must do so now.”
“You must watch John,” he said. “It has to be John. Arthur is not in England . . . and they would not have him. Pray, Mother. Pray for peace in the realm. Send for the Archbishops. They must hear me. They must understand that it has to be John.”
They came and stood by his bed. I was there with my poor Berengaria.
“Farewell, dearest Mother,” he said. “There has been much love between us two.”
And then he died and I felt that my heart was broken. I could have borne anything but this.
I had lost my son, the one in the world who had meant more to me than any other being.
I was alone, desolate, the most unhappy woman in the world.
I found some consolation in writing. I wrote: “My posterity has been snatched from me. My two sons, the young King and the Count of Brittany, sleep in the dust, and now I have lost the staff of my age, the light of my eyes; and I am forced to live on.”