PARIS IS A FASCINATING city. I have never known one like it. When I knew it, it stood on a crowded island in the River Seine. Parts of the wall which the Romans had built around it remained, and where it had fallen away steps had been made down to the river, making a landing-place for the numerous craft. Two bridges connected the Ile de la Cit with the banks of the Seine and that extension of the city which was fast expanding.
The island city seemed to be divided into two parts—the west dominated by the Court and the east by the Church in which rose the gray walls of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The eastern streets were full of churchmen, and those on the west side housed knights and barons. The sound of bells was ever present. Every little byway was crowded and boats of all description filled the river. Students flocked to the place to hear the monk Peter Abelard who had arrived in Paris to preach; there were scholars from many countries eager to hear him.
I had never seen such a motley crowd. There were quarters where the tanners lived—butchers, bakers and tradesmen of all kinds. They filled the streets, rubbing shoulders with the prelates and gentlemen of the Court. It was a city of vitality. Young students sat about in taverns talking of Life; traders shouted their wares. They joked with each other; they abused each other; everything was there—except silence.
Intrigued as I was, I felt homesick for Poitiers and Bordeaux.
I did my best to make the Court similar to those I had known all my life. I had brought many followers with me; I had my minstrels and my poets. I wanted to re-create the Courts of Love in Paris—and this with a King who was almost a recluse and a mother-in-law who disapproved of everything I did.
I was so sure of myself. My friends were there. I was frivolous; I was pleasure-loving and my success with Louis made me feel omnipotent. He was very much in love with me and I found I could bring him to my point of view with the utmost ease because he wanted so much to please me. I could have my own way with him and considering the difference in our natures, that was certainly an achievement.
I was gentle with him in those days. I suppose that was how I achieved my hold over him. I was often impatient with his pious ways. There were times when he seemed to be trying to turn the Court into a monastery.
He was constantly at church. He used to pray for what seemed like hours at night when I lay shivering in my bed waiting for him. I took a venomous delight in contemplating how cold he must be kneeling on the floor. But of course people like that enjoyed discomfort; they took a delight in it because they felt it must be good.
I enjoyed riding through the streets of Paris, for the people cheered us. When they considered what I had brought to France, they must have thought Louis had made a good choice.
But I had my trials—chief of which in the beginning was my mother-in-law, Adelaide of Savoy, and of course the Abbot Suger was always there in the background casting a shadow over any form of pleasure.
They were forever criticizing me. They objected to the way in which I was bringing the Provenal way of life into the Court. The songs my minstrels sang were about love, just as they had been in the Courts of my father and grandfather. My grandfather was referred to as a man who had lived immorally and died excommunicated, who had abducted another man’s wife, living openly with her and actually allowing his son to marry her daughter.
And I was the child of this union! “Bad blood,” said my mother-in-law, Adelaide.
Her disapproval was more obvious than that of Suger. His criticism was spoken in prayers directing God to be lenient with me, to remember my youth. I supposed old Suger thought he was important enough to give God instructions. I was always amused by the prayers of the saintly. “God do this, God don’t do that.” I thought God probably laughed at them too, unless He was a little annoyed by their temerity.
My mother-in-law began gently in the beginning. “My dear Eleanor, you are so young . . . and so is Louis. Two children, in fact. Do you think that dress is just a little too revealing?”
No, I did not. I had always worn such dresses.
“What a color you have, my dear. You haven’t a fever, have you?”
“I find color becoming, Madame.”
She was such an old hypocrite. She pretended not to know that I had put it on.
Petronilla and I used to laugh at her. I thanked God for my sister. She was enjoying life at the French Court, although my mother-in-law’s disapproval extended to her.
I heard her murmur once to one of her ladies: “Dear God, how were they brought up in that licentious Court? One must not blame them. They are only children.”
I think that to be referred to as a child annoyed me more than references to the family’s licentious Court. It was not true in my father’s case, but I suppose it might be an apt description of my grandfather’s.
It was inevitable with one of my temperament that the little niggling annoyances which I suffered from Adelaide should eventually become more than I could endure.
One day she came unannounced to my apartments. Petronilla was there, and we were trying on new gowns. Petronilla was in her petticoat when Adelaide appeared.
She said: “I heard you laughing . . . quite immoderately . . .”
I had had enough. I was bolder in Petronilla’s company than I should have been alone. My sister was too. We gave ourselves courage. I said: “Is there a law in France against laughing?”
“What a thing to say!”
“You seemed to object.”
“I was just passing. . . .”
“And listening to our discourse, I doubt not.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you had not been listening, you would not have heard.”
Petronilla was looking at me with shining eyes, admiring, encouraging, urging me on.
“I prefer not to be spied on,” I said, “and I ask you to desist from the practice.”
“You forget to whom you speak.”
“Do not forget that you speak to the Queen of France.”
“You . . . you . . .” she spluttered.
I drew myself up to my full height. “You may go now,” I said haughtily.
She stared at me in amazement; her face turned white and then red. She turned abruptly and went from the room.
Petronilla collapsed onto my bed and covered her face with her hands, her body shaking with mirth.
I was not amused. I wondered what I had done. She was after all the Dowager Queen and I was a newcomer.
“‘You may go,’” said Petronilla imitating me, between gusts of laughter.
“There will be trouble now,” I said.
“Oh, you only have to talk to Louis. He’ll be on your side. He’s madly in love with you.”
I wished I had been more dignified. What had taken place had bordered on a brawl.
Louis was upset. He said: “My mother is unhappy. She says you don’t want her at Court.”
“I have never said that,” I told him.
“She says she thinks she should go away.”
“Did she really say that?”
He nodded wretchedly. “I have tried to persuade her to stay but she is adamant.”
It seemed too good to be true. But it was not. A few days later Adelaide of Savoy left the Court. She said she thought there was no place for her there.
What a triumph! If only I could always rid myself of all my enemies so easily.
Louis was sad for a while. He hated conflict of any sort. But in time he seemed to forget it; and he bore no malice to me because of her departure.
I was amazed by my power over him. It was wonderful to be so cherished.
About this time there were murmurings of discontent in France. It was hardly to be expected that there would not be some malcontents. A king who had been much respected, and who, I know now, had been one of the best rulers France had ever had, had died leaving a young one in his place. Naturally there were some who believed they could take advantage of the situation.
Louis was panic-stricken. I felt annoyed with him. There were times when he seemed to forget that he was king. Much as I liked having a docile husband I did not want a poltroon.
“You will have to quell this revolt at once,” I told him.
“I thought of sending one of my generals with a few men.”
“One of your generals with a few men! Oh no! You must go yourself. You are the King. It is you who has to defend your realm. You must go at the head of your army.”
He looked dismayed. Poor Louis, he would be much happier on his knees before an altar or praying in a monk’s cell than leading an army. His early beginnings when Suger had molded him into a churchman had formed his nature—just as my upbringing in the Courts of Love had molded my character. He hated the thought of war, but he had to go. I insisted. France was my destiny now as much as it was his. If he did not put down this uprising, there would be more.
Because he could not bear that I should despise him he put on armor and went to Orlans.
I proved to have been right. The sight of him with the might of the army behind him settled the question. The people of Orlans meekly surrendered, gave up their leaders to the executioners and shouted: “Vive le Roi!” as Louis rode through the streets.
He returned to me triumphant. It had not been so difficult after all. He was sorry he had had to order that the leaders be executed, but that was what his generals had suggested should be done.
“They were right,” I said. “If you had allowed them to escape, any little town which thought it had a grievance would rise up against you. Oh, Louis, I am so proud of you. This is your first real test since you became king, and see, you have come right through with shining honor.”
I kissed him and told him how great he was and that it was nonsense to think he was not a soldier at heart. It was the duty of every king to defend his realm.
“I have no real feeling for it, Eleanor,” he said. “The thought of inflicting pain and death nauseates me.”
“You’ll grow out of that,” I assured him. “A king must be strong. The death of a few troublemakers is nothing compared with that of thousands which a war would bring about. You should rejoice in your action, for I do.”
So I soothed him.
One rebellion will often breed another. This one was particularly depressing because it took place in my own dominions . . . and in Poitiers of all places, which I had always considered my home.
I suppose it should not have been so unexpected. Their Duchess had become Queen of France and they—a proud people, who had always known independence—were now under the sway of a foreign land, for that was what they considered France to be. They decided they would have none of it. They would throw off the yoke of the foreigner to whom they had been casually handed just because of their Duchess’s marriage to the King of France. They announced that they would rule themselves and set about forming a Poitevin government.
This seemed to me the height of disloyalty. I was very angry. I did not stop to consider how these people might be feeling. They had lived in a free and easy manner under their dukes. There had been the occasional riots but my grandfather and father had known how to settle them with the minimum of fuss. This was different. I was more than their Duchess now; I was the Queen of France, and when they rose in rebellion, it was against France as well as against me.
“They must be punished severely,” I said to Louis. “You must not be so lenient with them as you were in Orlans. You see, because you were not harsh enough, these people believe they can behave with impunity.”
“I did have the leaders executed,” he reminded me.
“It is not enough. You have to show these people that you are their master. Your father always did and people say he was a good king. The people appreciated him even though they did laugh at his fatness. You have to show them, Louis. It is no use being soft.”
That disastrous affair of the Poitiers rebellion, I can see now, looking back, was the beginning of the rift between us. Had I been older and wiser, I should have known that I could not hold him in thrall forever, because there were too many forces working against me. I thought I could because of my victory over Adelaide of Savoy, but she was of small account compared with Suger, that shriveled-up little man of humble origins, who had somehow risen to be the power behind the throne.
Louis rode off with his army. It was as easy a conquest as Orlans had been. The Poitevins had not been expecting him to come in such force. No doubt they had thought there would have been negotiations and some plan worked out. When they saw Louis and his army arriving, they immediately capitulated.
Louis then remembered my words. I knew he was anxious for me to think well of him. He would remember that he could not just meekly accept their submission and ride off again. I had impressed on him that he had to show them that this sort of rebellion was no light matter. Someone had to suffer for it.
He hated bloodshed but he knew he dare not return to me and say that he had forgiven them, merely disbanded their so-called government and declared all was over. He had an idea that he would take as hostages all the young men and women of Poitiers. They should be taken to France as exiles from their native land; and if ever any others felt they might rebel against him, they could remember what happened to those who did.
He named a day when all the young men and women were to assemble in the square prior to their departure for France.
It was not a wise thing to do. He should have executed the leaders of the revolt, but doubtless he remembered how contemptuous I had been of his previous mild action and that was why he had devised this plan.
The Poitevins were loud in their lamentations. To be robbed of their young was more than they could endure. They sent messengers all over the country appealing for help against this cruel sentence.
Suger was at this time at St. Denis, and it was not long before he heard what was happening. He saw at once the folly of this action and realized that it could bring the whole of Aquitaine to revolt against the King of France.
He immediately set out for Poitiers, where he was welcomed by the citizens, who knew he had come on their behalf.
I could imagine how easily he swayed Louis. He had been doing it all his life, and Louis was made for swaying, I thought contemptuously. I could hear that voice . . . with the hint of the peasant in it, but perhaps all the more forceful for that. “This must be stopped, my son. This is folly. These people have suffered enough. Give them back their children.”
I understood Louis. The thought of separating parents from their children did not horrify him so much as bloodshed. Emotional ties did not touch him so much as the contemplation of violence. Taking life was breaking a commandment. Nothing had been said in the Scriptures about the sin of separating parents from their children.
He gave way. The revolt was settled and the only punishment which had been inflicted on the rebels was a few days of fear that they would lose their children.
He came back and said to me: “It is over. The revolt is quelled.”
“I know what happened,” I told him. “Suger came and countermanded your order.”
“He came and showed me the way.”
I snapped my fingers at him. “You gave way just like that.”
“It was the right thing to do.”
“It is the wrong thing to give an order and then withdraw it just because a priest comes along and tells you to.”
“I had to do it. Suger explained to me.”
“Suger! Suger! It is all Suger. He runs this country . . . not you.”
“He was my father’s trusted minister and he is mine.”
“He was your master when you were at St. Denis. He still is now that you are on the throne.”
“He was right, Eleanor.”
“I don’t care. You should not have done what you did in the first place if you had no intention of carrying it through.”
“But I had to do what I did. Suger made me see that I could not separate those young people from their families.”
“It was a foolish thing to contemplate in the first place. You should have made them deliver up the leaders and then had them executed in the square so that all could see.”
“I couldn’t bear that. I hate bloodshed.”
“Oh, Louis. How can you be a king if you can’t even be a man? And you will never be a man while you have Nurse Suger to feed you his pap religion.”
“He is a good man. He is a priest.”
“He means more to you than anyone . . . I know that. I am as nothing to you compared with him. My wishes are of no account. You were dealing with my country. It came to you through me. I know these Poitevins. They will be laughing at you. They will be singing songs about this, mark my words. And they will make you live in their songs—the lily-livered King of France.”
I turned and left him.
He was very subdued for days after that. He was deeply wounded. I did not try to win him back, which was foolish of me. I think he avoided me by day. At night he would pray for a long time and I would doze off while he was still on his knees. He slept at one extreme end of the marital bed, I at the other. I was getting very restive. I wanted a lover and I could see that my husband was failing me miserably in that respect. How could a full-blooded woman, reared in the Courts of Love, granddaughter of the roaring lover-troubadour, find satisfaction with a husband who looked upon physical contact as sinful? With him there was only one reason for cohabitation, and that was the procreation of children.
And we had had no luck in that direction so far. Louis was only just capable of performing the sexual act with a good deal of coaxing and encouragement, so perhaps he was unable to beget a child.
This marriage which I had thought I might turn to great advantage was already proving a disappointment.
I lay in bed thinking of all the handsome men at Court. And here was I with this one!
I wondered whether he slept. I had a feeling that he was not altogether displeased by the rift between us. It gave him an excuse to escape the arduous and faintly distasteful business of making love.
Gradually my relationship with Louis returned to what it had been before the disastrous affair at Poitiers. There was talk of my coronation.
I was delighted at the prospect of this and temporarily forgot my disappointments. There was little I liked better than such a show, particularly when I was at the center of it.
Petronilla and I spent a great deal of time discussing what I should wear, what she should wear and what my attendants should wear. It was fascinating.
I was surrounded by young men . . . my attendants and those who came to Court to learn the social graces. I could easily have imagined I was back in Poitiers or Bordeaux, but for the fact that Louis was there with Suger in the background. I tried to draw Louis into our entertainments but he did not fit in. He danced awkwardly; he could not sing; and it was quite clear that he did not enjoy the theme of the songs we sang. He was an outsider on all these occasions.
Some of the men took to them with enthusiasm; one of these was Raoul of Vermandois. What an attractive man he was—knowledgeable and worldly, by no means young, but widely experienced, I was sure. He could convey so much by a look. I often thought how easy it would be to fall into temptation with such a man.
He was not the only one, of course, but for special reasons he stands out in my memory.
I had my coronation at Bourges, and it was a great success. I know I looked very beautiful and Louis was proud of me; he had forgotten his disappointment in me. He knew how lucky he was. Several of the men spoke of this, and of course they sang of it constantly.
I had begun to fret over Suger’s influence over him, but I could see how futile that was. It would not be a simple matter to remove him, and in any case I was not sure that that would be wise. Suger, for all his distrust of the good things in life, was a great minister and I knew he was necessary to the government of France. Moreover, I knew in my heart that Louis would not agree to let him go, and if it came to a conflict between Suger and me, I could not be entirely sure who would be the winner.
I wished that I could become pregnant. I was beginning to be a little worried about my barrenness. I could not believe that I was incapable of bearing children. The fault must lie with Louis. It was not that I had a great many opportunities of conceiving. Oh, how ironical it was that fate should have married a woman like me to a man who was more like a monk.
I was also disturbed by Raoul of Vermandois. He was a farseeing man in matters like this. He had a reputation of being a rake. To me, having been brought up in my grandfather’s Court, where I had known many such men, that was a mild enough failing. But Raoul did seem like a kindred spirit.
There was suggestion in his eyes as he lay at my feet with the others. He had the trick of almost creating a sexual encounter by willing it to take place, a kind of mental seduction. I found it amusing and stimulating; and with a husband like Louis I needed a little stimulation at times.
The months were passing. I took various trips into Aquitaine visiting my subjects. I was always greeted with enthusiasm and they were a success. I very much enjoyed these journeys. They made me feel that I was their ruler in very truth. This was what they wanted. They did not want the French yoke, as they called it. They were Provenal and would remain so.
I used to sit in the castle halls and there would be singing and dancing such as I had known in the Courts of Love. I could see how important these journeys were. They said to the people: “All is as it was. The fact that I am Queen of France makes no difference. I am your ruler. I belong to you as I never can to France.”
There was, of course, a great deal to interest me in Paris. I loved to ride through the cobbled streets where there was so much going on. It was a city of great contrast which struck me forcibly after my sojourns in Aquitaine where people lived a healthier, cleaner life. There they were not huddled together in little dwellings in dark streets where the crowded buildings with their overhanging gables shut out the light. Paris is a muddy city. The Romans called it Lutetia for this reason, the city of mud. But there was such vitality there . . . noise everywhere, stalls, little shops, salesmen and -women shouting their wares.
What struck me most was the number of students who had come there to discuss and listen to the new opinions which were flourishing. One saw them wandering through the streets or along the riverbanks, deep in thought. Theories were thrashed out, opinions circulated.
I could not fail to find it interesting.
There was one who aroused my curiosity more than any other, and that was Peter Abelard, who, some said, was the most shrewd thinking and the boldest theologian of the day. I was first drawn to him because of his romantic history. His story was like one of those renowned in the songs I heard in my childhood. He could have been a gentleman of leisure for he was the eldest son of a noble Breton family, but he chose to be a scholar. His talent was soon discovered; he was a brilliant speaker and as he had new and startling ideas to express, he began to be talked of. He became one of the Realist teachers at the school of Notre Dame. He was all set for a brilliant career.
But how easily one can fall! And since he fell through love, he seemed to me a romantic figure. He became tutor to Hlose, the niece of the Canon Fulbert. She was seventeen and very beautiful; they became lovers. When this was discovered, the Canon used every means at his disposal to separate them but he could not do so. They fled to Brittany, where Hlose bore a son. They were married. Hlose, having been assured that she had ruined Abelard’s career, agreed to give him up. How stupid lovers can be! But if they were not, there would be no story. Abelard was brought to the judgment of the monks, who, in order that he might not be tempted again, castrated him.
That seemed to me a very tragic story—and to others too, for Abelard’s misfortune was talked of throughout France. For a while he lived in a hut but so many disciples came to him that the hut became a school known as the Paraclete. Then he was invited to become abbot of St. Gildas-de-Rhuys in Brittany. As for Paraclete, nuns came there and Hlose was put in charge of them. Abelard remained in the abbey for some time but he was persecuted, and the chief of his enemies was that Bernard of Clairvaux who had, indirectly, been the cause of my father’s death, for I was convinced that if he had never set out on the pilgrimage—which he would not but for his encounter with Bernard—he would be alive still.
Abelard now and then was in Paris, and when he was there people flocked to his rooms to hear what he had to say.
I often thought about him. He could have been another Bernard, another Suger, but love had stood in his way; and now, of course, for all his brilliance, he was something less than a man. I wondered whether he ever regretted it or, if he could have gone back, would have done it all again.
How much wiser were those who took love lightheartedly, as surely it was meant to be taken.
So the months slipped into years; and I was growing more and more restive, asking myself how a woman such as I was could go on living with a monk.
Four years passed in this unsatisfactory manner. There were times when I felt rebellious, but I had remained faithful to Louis. Not with a very good grace, I admit. I often railed against my fate. Yet I had to be careful. I was in a precarious position. I had always to remember that I was Queen of France. There were times when I was tempted to take a lover. There were so many attractive men at the Court and all eager. If it had not been for the fact that I must bear the heir of France, I think I should have overcome my scruples. But the French crown was a matter of the utmost importance. I dared not risk having a child who was not Louis’s. It was something which, if it were discovered, could result in the most dire consequences.
So I kept my emotions in check and tried to reconcile myself to Louis. He still admired me, though at times he remembered one or two little things against me: my conflict with Suger, for instance, and the fact that his mother, a woman of considerable ability, who had worked well with his father, had left the Court because of me. These were matters which could not be entirely forgotten, and of course, when grievances appeared, they were remembered.
Like most people, Louis could at times act unexpectedly. I was amazed when I first discovered that he had a violent temper. Fortunately it was very rarely aroused, but when it was it seemed to change his character completely.
I shall never forget my surprise after the case of Lezay, the vassal who had caused trouble in the early days of our marriage. Lezay was a troublemaker who would never bow to any form of discipline, and it was not to be expected that he would forget his grievances and settle down, particularly while there was an absent overlord. He refused the usual homage to his suzerain and, with a small party of men, to show his contempt for authority, stole some falcons from one of the royal hunting lodges.
One of Louis’s rages overcame him then. He had the culprits brought to him and with his own sword cut off their hands.
This was so unlike Louis, who was thought to hate violence in any form, that all were amazed. But that was how he was when one of his violent rages overtook him. He suffered terrible remorse afterward. “It was as though some devil possessed me,” he said, and that was exactly how it seemed.
Then there was the case of Marcabru, the poet-singer, who was so highly thought of in Aquitaine. I invited him to Paris. He had an exquisite voice, but unlike most troubadours he was no lover of women. His verses were cynical, which gave them an unusual and amusing quality. When he came to the French Court, however, he wrote songs dedicated to me. I have to admit that I was gratified to have the admiration of such a misogynist so openly expressed.
Louis took exception to it. I supposed it was because he believed this man meant what he said, and he was jealous of Marcabru’s ability to express his feelings. One day when Marcabru was singing Louis stood up and shouted: “You will leave this Court at once.”
Everyone was astounded to see mild Louis in such a mood. He even looked unlike himself. His face was set in stern lines; his eyes blazed with fury; but those who had witnessed Louis’s sudden rages before knew that he meant what he said. In that moment he was the King who must be obeyed.
I could see I had to be careful in my dealing with him. So for those four years I lived unsatisfactorily, indulging in fantasies as I could not in realities, listening to the protestations of love, through the songs which were sung, and dreaming dreams as I listened.
I was becoming more and more dissatisfied. I felt that, if I could turn Louis into a man, a king, I could find some contentment with him. I set myself the impossible task of trying to change him. I see now how foolish I was. But in those days I believed I was capable of anything.
If only he could have been as enthusiastic about the things which I cared for as he was over ecclesiastical concerns, all would have been well. He was at heart a churchman. When there was a conflict between Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard, he presided over the disputation with the clergy and the papal legate, and for this he received a great deal of credit.
But it was not as a member of the Church that a king should excel. A king was a ruler in his own right, and everyone knew that on occasion there had been conflict between Church and State. Louis must be a fighter, a conqueror, and I never gave up hope of trying to make him the man I wanted him to be. I should have liked to see him marching with his army, conquering, adding to our domain. France and Aquitaine were now joined by marriage, and had events turned out differently, Toulouse might be with us, because, after all, it had belonged to my grandmother Philippa.
Why did we not claim Toulouse? I was excited by the notion.
When I mentioned it to Louis he received the suggestion without enthusiasm.
Toulouse was now in the hands of Alphonse-Jourdain, the son of that Count Raymond, my grandmother Philippa’s uncle, who had taken Toulouse before she had had time to claim it. She had regained it when Raymond was killed in the Holy Land, but then my grandfather had sold it back to Raymond’s son, and Alphonse-Jourdain was now in command.
They had no right to it, I declared.
Louis was certainly not of that opinion, in view of the fact that my grandfather had handed it over in order that he might be able to pay for his visit to the Holy Land.
But I insisted that it belonged to me because my grandmother had brought it to Aquitaine.
Louis did not want to listen, but I accused him of cowardice, of turning his back on the matter, not for reasons of logic but because he was afraid to go into battle.
He was very anxious for my good opinion and after some months I wore down his resistance. Once I had done that he seemed quite eager to go ahead with the plan.
It was necessary to raise an army, and for that we needed to bring all our vassals together, so we sent messages throughout the country calling them to Paris. There was a response from most but there was one notable exception.
When Thibault of Champagne came to see Louis, I insisted on being present. I was rather attracted by Thibault. He was a very important man and had strong opinions. He never offered me that blatant flattery which I expected from most and I felt a little irritated because of this, but perhaps it helped to stimulate my interest in him.
He told Louis quite frankly that he had no desire to join in a campaign against Toulouse.
“And why not?” asked Louis.
“Because, sire, I consider it would be doomed to failure and even if you succeeded in winning Toulouse, it would soon be taken back. The people of Toulouse are content with the way things are.”
“But,” I said, “Toulouse belongs to me. It is part of my inheritance.”
Thibault bowed. “I crave my lady’s pardon. I thought it was sold to the present family by your grandfather when he went to the Holy Land.”
“It belongs to me,” I said stubbornly.
Thibault inclined his head once more and made no further comment.
Louis said: “I shall expect you with your company. We leave a week from today.”
Thibault replied: “My lord, I think I could not expect my men to follow me in such a cause.”
“I shall expect you,” said Louis.
Thibault then retired.
“A contentious fellow,” I said. “He forgets you are his liege lord.”
I could not believe that he would dare disobey Louis’s summons but he did, and on the day we left he simply did not arrive.
Louis said: “Perhaps one could not expect him to join in a fight for which he has no heart.”
“Vassals obey their liege lords,” I said. “If they do not, it should be the worse for them.”
“When this campaign is over, you will not expect me to wage war on Champagne, I hope,” said Louis, a little testily.
“We can do without the help of Thibault of Champagne,” I said.
It was thrilling to ride off with pennons flowing in the wind. There is something magnificent about an army on the march.
I did not intend to accompany Louis into battle. I was going to my beloved Poitiers, there to await the triumphant return of his army.
We said goodbye to Louis, and Petronilla and I with our little company rode on to Poitiers, which would always be home to me.
Such memories came back. It had changed little. The people would always be the same. They had no great interest in conquests; they did not care that we were now bound to France by marriage. It was only when their easy way of life was threatened that they could be roused to anger.
Petronilla indulged in memories of the past as we rode through the forest, hunting, hawking. Our evenings were spent in singing and reading poetry, and each day we watched for Louis’s victorious armies.
Alas it did not happen that way. Why had I ever thought that Louis could be a conqueror? He and his army arrived in Poitiers just as they had left Paris. They were an army in retreat.
Louis explained to me. “They were prepared for us . . . waiting for us.”
“And you turned back.”
“There was nothing else to do. The army would have been cut into pieces. Alphonse-Jourdain had his men everywhere. They were on the castle battlements . . . arrows ready. Our men would have been mown down if they had attempted to advance.”
“So you just turned and came away?”
“It was the only thing to do, unless I wanted to see my army destroyed.”
Why had I thought he would make a soldier! There was nothing to be done but disband the army.
Louis remained at Poitiers with a small company and, despairing of him, I said: “We could at least make a tour of my cities in Aquitaine.”
So, although the expedition was a failure in one way, in another it was a success. I loved Aquitaine. Never could any other country have the same place in my heart; and to be with my own pleasure-loving people was a great joy.
In the various castles we were lavishly entertained. I loved to sit in the great halls listening to the songsters, watching the dancers and remembering the past. I could almost see my grandfather seated there, putting out a hand now and then to caress his beloved Dangerosa. How different from the Court in the Cit Palace in Paris presided over by a puritan!
Louis was with us, aloof, uneasy, shuddering at the implications in some of the songs. I felt more frustrated than ever. I longed for a dashing lover who would carry me off and force me to obey him so that I could not be reproached for what happened.
The troubadours were handsome, their voices so soft and appealing, their eyes brilliant with desire.
Petronilla was languorously excited by it all. I thought: It is time she was married. We must find a worthy husband for her. I had watched her often. She was too much like myself for me not to understand her. I had seen her laughing and flirting with a score of men, and she had not my responsibilities to consider.
I was most attracted by Raoul of Vermandois. The fact that he was not young was an asset. I was sure he was a very experienced man. How different from my poor, inept, bumbling Louis. Raoul was married to the niece of Thibault of Champagne, a very virtuous lady, I believed. I wondered how she felt about being married to such an attractive man. I had heard rumors that he was by no means a faithful husband.
Raoul was always in the group nearest me. He would sing with his eyes on me. He was a reckless man, I knew, and there was no doubt what he was suggesting. Would he dare, I wondered, even if I would?
I could imagine Louis’s falling into one of his rages. Raoul must know that he was on dangerous ground. But still he continued in his unspoken courtship.
Louis was becoming aware that I despised him. I think he felt humiliated by what had happened at Toulouse. A soldier would have gone on and fought. Alphonse-Jourdain might not have been such a formidable foe as he appeared—who knew? Louis had simply lost his nerve; so he had turned away. Any man would be ashamed of such an action—and even Louis was no exception.
I did not refer directly to the subject, but I suppose I did taunt him in many ways, and I was sure that it was because of this that he acted as he did about the election of the Archbishop of Bourges.
When the archbishopric fell vacant, the man most capable of filling the post was a certain Pierre de la Chtre. Louis, however, had decided otherwise and had put in one of his ministers called Carduc. He consulted Suger who assured him that he had a right to elect his own Archbishop but there was no doubt that Pierre de la Chtre was the best man for the post. Louis was obstinate on this occasion. The Church stood against his candidate. It was always unwise to stand against the Church. I had learned that through my father and grandfather; yet often there was an irresistible urge to do so. Louis now felt such an urge. The Church was strong and in spite of the King, Pierre de la Chtre was made Archbishop and before Louis could protest Pope Innocent had accepted the decision and consecrated Pierre de la Chtre.
This was one of those occasions when Louis was the slave of his temper. I was always amazed by these, and sometimes I welcomed them. They did relieve the monotony of my existence with my usually spineless monk.
“I’ll not have it. I’ll not have it,” he cried. “When he comes to Bourges, the gates of the city shall be locked against him.”
I did point out to him that he was playing a dangerous game, that the Church was against him. I watched with interest to see how he would extract himself from this dilemma.
The Pope, like most people, was amazed at the stand Louis was taking. He thought he was under some evil influence—and what influence could that be but mine? He announced publicly that Louis was a child. He must get schooling and be kept from learning bad habits.
When Louis heard this his rage really exploded. He took a solemn oath that Pierre de la Chtre should never enter Bourges, and this of course had the inevitable result. Louis, who had been brought up in the Church, who was devoted to the Church, was now being denounced by the Pope himself, who passed the sentence of excommunication upon him.
Louis was bewildered. He could not believe this was happening to him. There was little which made a king so unpopular as this Edict, for it was not only the king who suffered from it. In every place he visited the churches would be closed and it would be as though the Church did not exist.
It did not please either of us to hear that Pierre de la Chtre, having been denied entry to Bourges, had gone to Champagne, where he had been welcomed by Thibault.
This made it clear that Thibault had ranged himself on the side of de la Chtre against the King.
Louis was deeply distressed. His prayers were intensified; he was nervous. I was constantly in fear that he would commit some weak action which would make the whole world despise him.
Then another matter drove all those from my mind.
I had been so concerned about Louis and this unfortunate trouble over the Archbishop that I had not seen as much of Petronilla as I usually did. Normally she was constantly in my company. We liked to be together and although we did not discuss affairs of state, we shared memories of the past and had always been the best of friends.
I noticed now that she looked a little pale, and there was a secretive expression on her face. A suspicion came into my mind which I immediately dismissed. Of course it could not be!
Something had happened and I decided to tackle her, but I had to wait until we were quite alone; this was a subject entirely between us two.
I made the opportunity and I said: “Petronilla, you had better tell me.”
The color rushed into her face. I began to think: It is so. Oh no! Impossible!
“Come on,” I said firmly. “It would seem that you are keeping me in the dark.”
She said almost defiantly: “I am . . . so happy.”
“Well then, let me share that happiness. Are you with child?”
She did not answer. I was dumbfounded for, although the idea had occurred to me, it seemed so incredible that I could not seriously believe it. Petronilla pregnant . . . the sister of the Queen in such a condition . . . like some serving wench!
“We can be married,” she said.
“I should hope so. Who is this man?”
She was silent for a few seconds. I took her by the shoulders and shook her.
“Tell me,” I cried. “Tell me.”
“It is Raoul of Vermandois.”
I could find no words. I had expected it to be some humble squire . . . some msalliance. This was far worse.
At last I said: “But . . . he already has a wife.”
“There is going to be a divorce.”
“A divorce? On what grounds?”
“And who do you think will grant that?”
“Raoul’s brother is the Bishop of Noyon. He can get two other priests to support him.”
“So you have arranged all this?”
“When I became . . .”
“Petronilla, you fool! I could have arranged the grandest marriage for you.”
“Raoul is one of the most important men in France.”
“And already a husband.”
“I have told you that can be overcome.”
“And then you will marry. Oh, how could you? How could he?”
“I have always loved him . . . from the time I first saw him. Do you remember? He came with Thibault of Champagne before you were married.”
“Thibault of Champagne! Holy Mother of God, Vermandois’s wife is his niece.”
“What of it?”
“What of it? Do you realize that we are on the worst possible terms with Champagne? Do you think he will meekly stand by and let his niece be cast aside?”
“Raoul says it will come out right in the end.”
“He is a philanderer . . . so to take advantage of an innocent girl.”
“He didn’t have much chance, poor man. I forced him.”
Petronilla laughed suddenly and I laughed with her. “You are an idiot,” I said.
“I know, but a very happy idiot. I shall have the best man in the world for a husband.”
“Not yet and I would challenge that statement.”
“And I have the dearest sister in the world. None could challenge that, Eleanor. You’ll help, won’t you?”
“I am most displeased.”
“I know. But you do like him, don’t you? You do agree that he is the most fascinating man at Court?”
“At least that is one matter on which you and he will agree. He is conceited and arrogant.”
“And so very attractive. Admit it, Eleanor.”
“I suppose he would appeal to some.”
She looked at me archly. She would have heard those honeyed compliments which had come my way. She knew that I liked the man myself. I could not hide such things from Petronilla.
She cried: “I am so glad that you know. I wanted to tell you before. We always shared things, didn’t we? But Raoul thought you would not approve. He was afraid you would try to prevent us. But now . . .”
I said: “I see this has gone so far that there is only one thing for you, and that is marriage. But I do not think it is going to be as easy as you appear to think, sister.”
“But you will help us, won’t you?”
I nodded slowly.
I wanted to be alone to think about him. I was deeply shocked. For so long I had thought that I was the one who mattered to him. I was the one for whom he was singing his songs. The looks had been directed at me, and all the time he and Petronilla were lovers!
It was a great blow to my self-esteem. I began to wonder how sincere any of the men were who cast desirous eyes on me. I wondered what they said to their mistresses in moments of intimacy.
But of course there was nothing to be done than to get Petronilla married as soon as possible. The sister of the Queen of France could not produce a bastard. What a scandal that would be! I could imagine how the Pope, Bernard and Suger would receive such news. To get them married quickly was common sense, and face whatever came of it after that.
I sent for Raoul of Vermandois. He came at once, bowed low and lifted his eyes to my face. They were full of the yearning which I had come to expect from him. That angered me.
I said: “So, Monsieur, you are a monster. My sister has told me of this matter between you and her.”
“I await your pleasure, my lady.”
“I have not yet told the King. He will be even more displeased than I. I am surprised and shocked.”
“My lady, mortal man cannot go on yearning for the impossible forever.”
“So he takes the next best? I think my sister should hear this.”
He smiled at me ruefully. “My great sorrow is that I should cause you concern.”
“Did you think I should not be concerned to find my sister in this condition?”
“I will marry her at once.”
“You have yet to learn that the laws of France allow a man to have only one wife.”
“I no longer have a wife. I hope soon to remedy that when Petronilla honors me.”
“And when will that be?”
“Now. I have the annulment. I am a free man. It was granted to me this very day.”
“Through the good grace of your Bishop brother.”
“Families should always stand together. Do you not agree, my lady?”
“It is fortunate for some that they do. Well then?”
“I shall soon have the inestimable honor of calling you my sister.”
“I wonder how much good that will do you when you have to face the wrath of the Count of Champagne . . . not to mention the Pope.”
“I am a man who will face his difficulties when it is necessary to do so and not before.”
“Sometimes that is not a very wise policy.”
“So I have your approval of our marriage, my lady?”
“I can do nothing else but approve when I am faced with such a situation. Please go now.”
He bowed and left me.
I was very angry. What a deceiver he was! To think that I might so easily have given way. It had been in my mind. He was very attractive and would be a skilled lover, I was sure, for practice makes perfect, they say, and he would be a very practiced man.
And Petronilla had been his mistress! Of course, she was beautiful and more feminine than I. There was something helpless about Petronilla and men like Raoul of Vermandois were attracted by that sort of thing. I was more handsome than Petronilla but of a stronger and more forceful nature; I lacked that helpless femininity which I supposed was irresistible. And all the time he was pretending to long for me he was making love with Petronilla!
Moreover she had become pregnant, a state which eluded me although I had been longing for it intensely since my marriage.
This liaison between Petronilla and Vermandois would make trouble, I was sure. I dreaded to think of the action Thibault of Champagne might take. But what in the first hours upset me was the conduct of this man who had aroused such strong emotions in me.
I had anticipated the effect this would have on Louis. He could not believe it, and when I was able to assure him that it was true, he was overcome with shock.
“But it is so . . . immoral.”
“All men do not care to spend half the night on their knees,” I told him tartly.
“It would perhaps be better for all concerned if they did,” he retorted.
He was looking at me with the faintest of criticism in his eyes. This is your sister, he was thinking. It is to be expected considering the family from which you come. Your grandfather’s antics were the talk of Europe . . . and your father was in perpetual conflict with the Pope.
I came at once to Petronilla’s defense.
“She is in love with Vermandois and he with her. There is such a thing as love in the world, you know . . . real love . . . not the tepid variety which some have to put up with.”
He was too bemused to take in what I was saying. “With child,” he kept murmuring. “But this is impossible. We cannot have a scandal at Court.”
“It would seem we have that already,” I said. “Louis, listen to me. This is regrettable but it has happened. Petronilla is my sister . . . yours now. Raoul of Vermandois is your kinsman. Let us face facts. There is only one thing to do. We have to accept this marriage. After all, Vermandois is divorced from his first wife. These things have happened before. It is of the utmost importance that we stand with them in this. If you give your approval, who can raise his voice against that?”
“I can imagine there are some who will.”
“Louis, you have to remember that you are the King. Your will is law.” I went to him and put my arms about him. “You only have to stand firm, Louis. All must obey you.”
He said: “You are right. There is nothing else we can do.”
When the marriage was announced there was a great deal of gossip throughout the Court. What of Vermandois’s first wife? What was to become of her? Was this a precedent? When a man wanted to be rid of his wife, did it mean that all he had to do was to arrange for a divorce through obliging relatives? Of course, everyone did not have such relatives. Everyone was not related to the King and Queen.
I was astonished by Raoul and Petronilla. They were quite blissful, seeming oblivious of the storm they were raising.
I heard that Raoul’s first wife had taken her children to her uncle Thibault of Champagne, and I knew then that it could not be long before there was real trouble.
I was right.
He did what I expected. He took the case to the Pope. His niece had been cursorily cast out by her husband because he wished to take a younger woman to be his wife. There had been a bogus annulment arranged by a relative of the Count of Vermandois, and two priests had been bribed to assist in this. Moreover the whole dastardly scheme had the approval of the King and Queen, whose sister was the new wife. Thibault begged the Pope to intervene on behalf of his wronged niece.
Louis was, of course, still in trouble with the Papacy, so we could expect Innocent to come down heavily on the other side. This he did. He answered Thibault’s plea without delay by sending his legate to judge the case. A verdict was soon arrived at: Raoul was still married to his first wife, and he and Petronilla were living in sin. They were excommunicated and so were the bishop and the priests who had granted the annulment.
I was furiously angry with Thibault of Champagne.
“There lies our enemy,” I said. “You are too lenient, Louis, with those who work against you. This man should have been punished long ago for refusing to send troops to Toulouse.”
Toulouse was an unhappy subject with Louis. He knew he had behaved in an unkingly manner, and if ever I wanted to get my own way I could do so by subtly referring to it.
“He is our enemy,” I persisted. “He has done this to discountenance us.”
“Well,” murmured Louis, “one would have expected him to be angry, Raoul’s first wife being a close kinswoman.”
“I would she had been anyone else.” That was a point on which we could agree. “But it is as it is,” I cried. “And now he has done this. What a scandal! What when the child is born? There will be those to say it is a bastard.”
“Which it will be if the marriage is invalid.”
“We are not going to accept this, Louis.”
“I do not see what can be done.”
“Something has to be done.”
He looked at me fearfully.
“We could march,” I said.
“You mean war?”
“What else is there to do? Sit meekly here and accept their insults?”
He was silent. I could see the fear of war in his face. I despised him. Raoul was a rogue, but at least he had courage to act as he wished and face up to the consequences.
“You will have to take up arms against him,” I insisted. “You cannot allow him to flout you in this way. People will laugh at you. They will say you are not worthy of the crown.”
“I shall pray that God will settle the matter for us.”
“He will expect you to do something about it, Louis. It is your affair . . . not His.”
“All matters are for God’s judgment.”
“I think God expects His servants to act for themselves. That is what you must do, Louis. In my mind, you have no alternative., You must take an army into Champagne. You must ravage the country. You must let him see that he is but a vassal of the King of France. If you do not act, he will be calling himself the King of France . . . for that is what the people will say he is.”
Louis was silent, grappling with his thoughts, trying to find some good reason why he should not go to war against the Count of Champagne.
He could find none.
And I knew that in time I should wear down his resistance.
Once I had made Louis see that war was inevitable, he began to grow enthusiastic about it. I reminded him again and again of how many times Thibault of Champagne had flouted him. He should take no more insults from him. Drastic action was necessary. Thibault had to be taught a lesson, and this was an opportunity to do so.
We discussed plans together and when Christmas was over he set off with an army for Champagne.
This was no Toulouse. The last thing Thibault had expected was war, and he was not ready as Alphonse-Jourdain had been. Marching through Champagne taking towns was an easy matter.
I was delighted by Louis’s victories. Champagne was fast falling into our hands.
Then there was to occur an event which scarred Louis’s conscience for the rest of his life and which I believe was responsible for widening the rift between us.
It happened at Vitry-sur-Marne.
Louis himself was never in the forefront of the battle, war being so alien to his nature. He loathed violence and it was only when spurred on by one of his violent rages that he was guilty of it. He knew that his soldiers had ravaged the towns through which they passed, taking provisions, burning what they thought fit, ill-treating the women. Knowing him, I realized that he would have grappled with his conscience telling himself that it was all part of war. It was the soldier’s reward for coming to the help of his lord. Why should they leave their homes, risk their lives, if not for the spoils of war, the warriors’ perquisites? It shocked Louis, but he realized it was inevitable. It was one of the reasons why he hated war.
Truly he should never have been a king. It was an unkind act of Fate to send that pig running wildly under his brother’s horse’s hoofs.
At Vitry Louis suffered the supreme horror. He was encamped on the La Fourche hills with a few men while the army went in to storm the town. He could see what was happening from his vantage point.
The people of the town were unprepared. There was no defense, and Louis’s soldiers went through the gates to the town with ease. Louis could hear the lamentation of the people, their cries for mercy. He covered his face with his hands because he could not bear to look. He had wanted to call a halt. I knew exactly how he felt for he told me afterward. In fact he could not stop talking of it. He talked at odd moments during the day and in his sleep he woke from nightmares shouting about it.
He saw the blazing town. He knew that people were suffering. But what upset him most was when he learned later that women and children and old people had crowded into the church for sanctuary and the rough soldiers had lighted the roof of the church with their torches and had flung others through the door so that in a few moments the whole building was a mass of flames.
Not a woman, child or old person who had sheltered in the church survived. They were all burned to death.
When Louis heard what had happened, he was overcome with remorse.
I think what upset him more than the deaths of the people was the fact that his men had burned them to death in a church.
Louis had little stomach for war after that. He had been successful for once and almost the whole of Champagne was in his hands. Thibault was once again speaking to the Pope. This time Bernard took a hand.
The terrifying man wrote to Louis in a forceful manner. What did he think he was doing? He was waging war on an innocent man who had done nothing save protest at a wrong done to a member of his family. What devil’s advice was Louis taking?
Was I that devil? I think Bernard regarded all women as such, and I was the chief demon. Louis was being used by the enemies of the Church for their own ends, he said. He believed that if Louis would give up the lands he had sequestered, Thibault would do all in his power to get the sentence of excommunication rescinded.
Louis, of course, was eager for peace but I urged him to be cautious. It never occurred to him that Bernard and the Holy Father could be capable of duplicity; but this was proved to be possible, for when he eagerly called a halt to the war in Champagne it was only to find that the sentence of excommunication was still in force.
A certain antagonism was building up between Louis and me. I think he partly blamed me for Vitry, remembering that I was the one who had urged him to go to war; I had tried to persuade him against giving way to the demands of Bernard and Rome. Bernard then had the temerity to suggest that when Raoul of Vermandois returned to his true wife the ban would be lifted.
“This was not what was promised,” I cried in fury.
“They say that all will be forgiven if Raoul will take his wife back.”
“But we shall have gained nothing. All that expense . . . all these victories and . . . nothing!”
I do not know what would have been the outcome if Innocent had not died suddenly in the midst of all this. It was a happy release . . . for us.
Celestine II was elected Pope and no doubt because of the pleas of Suger was persuaded to lift the ban of excommunication from Louis. Louis’s relief was great. But I was furious because nothing was done about that on Raoul and Petronilla. They must remain outcasts. Not that they seemed to care. They appeared to be satisfied with each other. They now had a son named after his father. I could feel almost envious of Petronilla. She had a man and a child. I had neither.
I was now twenty-one years of age and barren. Yet in my heart I knew that the fault for this did not lie with me. But the matter concerned me deeply and I gave a good deal of thought to it.
Life was becoming intolerably dull. Louis was turning more and more to religion. There was hardly any intimacy between us. I might have been living in a nunnery. I had little desire for him, Heaven knew, but desperately I wanted a child.
In a way he was still in love with me. Sometimes I would find him watching me furtively, but in his mind was the thought that I was the temptress urging him to acts which although he might indulge in them with mild relish, were repulsive to him in retrospect. I understood him well. It was ironic that such a man should have come to the throne. I often thought of that pig as one of Heaven’s jokes.
He was growing rather haggard. The nightly prayers were longer than ever. There we lay at our respective ends of that cold, cold bed from which he would often start up in nightmares, shouting: “The town is burning. Save them. Leave everything. Save them. Save the church.”
Vitry lived on in his tortured mind.
And I lay there thinking: I must get a child. What a temptation to give up to my impulses. There were so many handsome, virile men at Court, so many in love with me . . . if one could trust their words. But could one? All the time Raoul of Vermandois had been singing his love for me, he had been meeting Petronilla. The thought maddened me, but it cautioned me, too.
There must be a way.
It was said that Bernard was a saint and as such might have the power of miracle working. I believed that he wished France well. France was his country and he had always kept a paternal eye on Louis. I was sure he believed that Louis was meant for the Church, and no doubt he regretted that sudden appearance of the pig as much as Louis had. I felt an irresistible desire to laugh at the thought of Bernard’s admonishing God for letting that fateful animal run out at the crucial moment.
An idea occurred to me. What if I went to Bernard? What if I talked to him of my predicament? What if I begged him to intercede for me with the Almighty, as he seemed to be on such good terms with Him? Could he influence God to make me pregnant?
An opportunity occurred which made me feel that God was watching over me. For some time Suger had been building a cathedral at St. Denis. This was now completed and was to be opened with a brilliant ceremony which Louis and I were to attend with the leading churchmen. Bernard would most certainly be there.
If I could speak to him at the time, it would be more diplomatic than visiting him or asking him to visit me. So this was what I proposed to do. He would understand the need to give France an heir, I was sure. He might possibly be able to help me.
It was a beautiful day when we set out for St. Denis. There were crowds everywhere to cheer us. The people were happy on this occasion. They loved a ceremony. There were so many people making their way to St. Denis for the opening and dedication that there was no room to accommodate them all. Tents had been set up in fields, and there were crowds of all sorts and conditions of men and women. The inevitable pedlars called their wares, and there were apprentices, religious sects, the infirm looking for a miracle, and a smattering of pickpockets, I had no doubt.
Suger came out to greet us and to take us to those apartments which had been prepared for us. I asked if Bernard of Clairvaux was present and was relieved to hear that he was.
“I wish to speak with him,” I said. “Would you arrange a meeting between us?”
Suger looked surprised but rather pleased, I thought. No doubt he believed that, if I wanted to see the saint, it might be a sign that I was reforming. I had never shown any desire to speak to him before.
I was left alone in the apartments. Louis had gone to the chapel to pray. I could imagine his pleas for forgiveness. Vitry, Vitry, Vitry. I was heartily sick of the name.
But I would not waste my thoughts on that. I had to prepare myself. What should I say when I found myself face to face with Bernard? How should I best approach him? He would be aloof, I knew. He cared not that I was the Queen of France. He was one of those who saw themselves above all others on account of their saintliness and their special relationship in heavenly circles. I had always found the saintly arrogant.
There were many stories about him, and I began to build up a rather terrifying picture.
I remember conversations I had with my women about him.
“He thinks it is sinful to eat. They say he was very handsome when he was young, and he hated his body because it was strong and virile, so he starved himself and nearly killed himself until some doctor made him see that if he did not change his ways he would die. Then he realized that God had sent him to Earth for a purpose and it was necessary for him to keep himself alive.”
“He never washed himself,” said another. “He thinks that would be vanity. He wears a hair shirt . . . and the more full of lice it is the better he likes it, for he feels it is saintly to be tormented.”
“He never speaks to his sister. He has cut her right out of his life because she married and has a large family. He thought she should have gone into a convent.”
“He hates all women because he thinks the Devil has put them on Earth to tempt men to perdition.”
I had grown angry at that. “Why do you regard this man as great?” I cried. “If everyone were like him, there would be no people on Earth in a very short time. Of course people must marry. It says in the Bible ‘Be fruitful and replenish the Earth.’ I do not believe all these stories of this man.”
“He does hate women, my lady,” insisted one of them. “I heard that when he was a young man he broke the ice on a river stream and plunged into the water because he had felt desire for a woman. He was only discovered just in time and nearly lost his life. But they revived him.”
“What silly tales,” I said. “I do not believe any man would behave so.”
“My lady, this is a saint.”
“Surely a man could do God’s work without going to such extremes. God put women on Earth surely for the purpose of procreating the race. It was He who arranged the relationship between men and women, and He presumably made it enticing so that there would be no lack of children. So all this seems nonsense to me.”
They smiled. They were accustomed to my forthright views.
I was rather disturbed though to contemplate the man I had to face.
The ceremony, led by Louis, was most impressive. He was in his element there among the clergy and the monks. He looked ecstatic. I felt almost sorry for him. What a tragedy that he had come to the throne when he would have been so much at peace in the Church.
I was impatiently awaiting the meeting with Bernard, which was to take place immediately after the ceremony. He would be waiting for me in a small room.
We stood for some seconds regarding each other. There could not have been a greater contrast in two people. Perhaps he had expected me to come in somber robes, but I did not. I was not going to make myself out to be what I was not. I knew I looked splendid in my velvet and my jewels, with my gown close fitting at the waist to show off my perfect figure, with the skirt flowing extravagantly to the floor. I wore a jeweled band about my hair. I wished to look my most seductive in defiance perhaps of this man who, when he was young, may have been ready to stifle his desire by plunging into ice water.
He was so frail that he looked as though he were not long for this world. They had exaggerated a little. He was not exactly dirty but I kept wondering about that lousy hair shirt. He had an unhealthy pallor; his hair was white and thin but there was a hint of blond in his beard and I wondered what he had looked like as a young man before the self-inflicted torture of his body had begun.
He was all that I disliked in men and I could see that I was all that he feared in women. Surely this could not augur well for our meeting.
I was remembering words I had heard attributed to him in which he stated his opinion of women. He had deplored their use of ornaments. “Fine clothes and paint might seem to adorn the body,” he had said, “but they are used to the detriment of the soul.”
I sat down and lifting my head high said: “Pray be seated.”
He regarded me in silence for a few seconds and then took one of the chairs. I did not wish to be too close to him, for although the women had exaggerated it was obvious that he had no great regard for cleanliness.
“I wish to speak to you on several matters,” I said.
He bowed his head. I noticed that he did not look at me directly. Did I perhaps turn his thoughts in sinful directions? I hoped so.
I wanted him to work a miracle for me and I had to discover whether this man could help me to have a child. He had prophesied the death of Louis’s brother, Philip; he had held the Host before my father who had crumpled before him. I had to face the truth. There was some spiritual quality in this man. If I did not think so, I should not be here at this moment.
I felt a certain awe which I tried to suppress. I was not sure whether it was due to the man himself or what I knew of him. I thought I would not speak immediately of my problem but of other matters on which I wanted to consult him.
I said: “My sister and her husband are still under the ban of excommunication. It was promised that if we withdrew from Champagne that ban would be lifted.”
“Your sister has no husband. He who calls himself so is the husband of another.”
“The marriage was annulled.”
“Men of the Church.”
“Alas,” he said.
“I would ask you to use your influence. You of all men could do so if you wished. You have the power to subdue those about you. You have been chosen by God.” I could see that he was unimpressed by flattery. A different approach was necessary. I went on: “Our troops have been withdrawn from Champagne.”
“The land must be given back to the Count.”
“It will be when the ban on my sister and the Count of Vermandois is lifted.”
“That cannot be until the Count of Vermandois returns to his lawful wife.”
I looked at his thin, austere face and saw the stubborn purpose there, and I knew in that moment that it was no use pleading for my sister. She must continue to pay for her pleasure; and indeed she was less disturbed about the consequences than I. I was in the presence of an extraordinary man and I was aware of the power which came from him. I had come here to plead my own cause not that of Petronilla. I decided to change my mood. I would try to be a little humble.
“I know that you are favored by the Lord God,” I said. “I would have you know that I have a great respect for you and for all you have done and are doing.”
“I am surprised to hear that.”
“Perhaps I have not appeared as appreciative as you might have thought necessary. The King, my husband, holds you in great regard.”
“The King is a good man but often misguided. He is led by evil influences.” The steely eyes bored through me. I was that evil influence, he implied. He went on: “He has been led into wars. He has offended God. He has taken up arms in evil causes. That must stop. I am sure the King is penitent. It is necessary for others to follow his example.”
I said: “I wish to ask your help. In all the time of my marriage there has been no child.”
“Then it is God’s will that there should be none.”
“I believe you could intercede for me.” I raised my eyes to his face pleadingly.
Bernard was having an effect on me. I could believe there was something holy about this man. There came into my mind a vivid picture of my father, standing before him in the church and then falling to the ground. Yes, there was a certain power about him. I believed he could work miracles.
So great was my faith in him that I was sure he was aware of it. His attitude changed subtly.
“So,” he said, “you wish for a child.”
“It is necessary,” I answered. “France must have an heir.”
“It is in the hands of God,” he said.
“You could help me.”
“It will be God’s will.”
“But if you could intercede for me. Please . . . I beg of you.”
He was silent. He stared above my head as though he were in communication with some spirit above me.
“If you were to change your ways,” he said, “if you were to dispense with sinful thoughts, if you listened to the voice of God, there might be a child. It is for you to change your ways.”
“I will do anything,” I said.
He bowed his head and folding his hands began to pray, and I was praying with him.
I said: “If you would speak to my husband . . .”
“He also wishes for a child.”
“But,” I replied, “he does little to help us get one.”
“Then let us pray.”
I had never thought to find myself on my knees with this strange man, who was so different from everything I had hitherto admired. Yet I believed in him.
“There would have to be peace with Champagne,” he said.
“Yes,” I said, for I knew it must be so and that our object in attacking Champagne would come to nothing. Petronilla and Raoul would remain under the edict. They must fight their own battles. I had one object in mind. I must have a child.
So there was peace between us and nothing gained from that futile war.
This was unimportant, for Louis, no doubt primed by Bernard, returned to my bed and at last I became pregnant.
Great was my joy. I was ready to accept Bernard as a miracle worker. I had kept my part of the bargain. I had refrained from meddling in state matters. I had spent my days with my women, embroidering, reading good works. This was not as irksome as it might have been, for during the months of pregnancy I was naturally less energetic. I was determined to do nothing that would harm the baby, and I was in a state of exultation because that which I had so much desired was soon to be mine.
And in due course the baby appeared. A girl.
There was disappointment throughout the Court. A boy would have been so much more suitable. Not for me. My child was perfect; and I had never accepted the idea that a boy was more important than a girl.
Motherhood changes women . . . for a while. I had my nurses and attendants, but I was eager to be with my child during those first months. I marveled at the miracle which that unsavory old man had been able to perform.
Life was wonderful when such things could happen. I had my baby whom I called Marie.
It was not to be expected that I could become the sort of woman who was content with motherhood alone. I loved my child; I was proud of her; but I was not of the stuff of which doting mothers are made; and although I delighted in her, I needed stimulation, exciting adventure. I felt I was becoming stultified in my husband’s Court.
Now that we had a child, he appeared to assume that he had done his duty and could dispense with the mating process which always left him with a sense of guilt. The prayers grew longer. I was very restive in my cold, unwelcoming bed. He still had nightmares about Vitry. I thought: He will never forget it.
I told myself that a woman of my nature could not be expected to spend her life in a Court which was more like a cloister. Petronilla and her husband were not often at Court. Oddly enough they seemed content with each other, and the fact that they were excommunicated did not seem to bother them very much. They shrugged it aside with such nonchalance that people were beginning to forget about it. Never devout, they did not care that they were banned from the Church. I was a little envious of Petronilla.
Then news from the East set France in a turmoil. The town of Edessa had been captured by the Turks and all the inhabitants, many of them French, had been brutally massacred. All Christians should spring to arms. It was time to take another crusade to the Holy War.
At first I was not very interested. Nor was Louis. War had no charm for him and he was still humiliated by the affair of Toulouse and worse still by Vitry.
But it soon became clear that this was a matter to which we must give some attention. There was a grand assembly at Bourges, where the possibility of getting together men who would be ready to fight for the Holy Cause was discussed. There was another at Vezelai and yet another at Etampes. Louis was beset by doubts. He hated war, so might this not be God talking to him! It was not likely that he could expiate his sin by doing something he wanted to. He became morose; in his prayers he asked for guidance.
One day he said: “A king who led an expedition to the Holy Land would surely wipe away his sins.”
Louis to go on a crusade! I considered it. I should not miss him—that much was certain.
Louis consulted Suger as he always did on important matters, wishing no doubt that he had discussed Champagne with him instead of with me. Suger was not enthusiastic.
“You have your kingdom to govern,” he said. “It would be a great glory to save the Holy Land for Christianity, but that is for others. Your duty lies in France.”
Louis by this time was growing very undecided. He was more obsessed by Vitry than ever, and his one great aim was to expiate that sin; he had to shut out the cries of those people in the burning church who continued to haunt his dreams. And seeing how deeply concerned he was, Suger implored him to take no steps without consulting the Holy See.
There was yet another Pope by this time, Eugenius III, and he believed that people’s indignation should be aroused against the Turks and that it was time to go into battle.
Someone was needed to preach with this purpose, and the Pope’s thoughts went to one who had more influence in France than any other: Bernard of Clairvaux.
The Pope wrote to him asking for his help, and so fired by enthusiasm was Bernard that he replied at once, promising that he would go forth without delay. He was sure he could raise a worthy company of crusaders, who would go off to fight for God. So he came to Vezelai to preach the cause.
If Bernard gave his support to it, it must be right, reasoned Louis. He was growing more and more determined and Suger, who had at first raised his voice against the enterprise, no longer did so as it was supported by the Pope and Bernard.
It seemed a certainty that Louis would go on this crusade. And what would happen to me? If I could have been appointed Regent, I should have been content, but I knew that would not be. Suger, of course, would be in charge, and I should have even less power than I had at this time. It was a dismal prospect.
Then an idea occurred to me. Why should I not go with Louis? It would not be the first time a woman had gone on a crusade. The more I thought of it, the more I liked it. Visiting strange places, bringing a little comfort into the lives of valiant crusaders, was an excellent thing to do. I imagined my ladies singing to them. We would take wardrobes of beautiful gowns with us. We could lift the spirits of the warriors and make a great contribution to the enterprise. Men needed comfort after a hard day’s fighting.
I became obsessed by the idea and when Bernard came to Vezelai to whip up enthusiasm for the cause, I accompanied Louis to hear him.
There was a unique power in that man. The frail little creature, looking more dead than alive, could inspire an audience, he could seize them and hold them; he could weave a spell about them. Skeptic as I was, I could believe there was some divine power in Bernard.
There was absolute silence in the square as his voice rang out: “If you were told that an enemy had taken your castles, your cities, your lands, ravished your wives and daughters, desecrated your temples, would you stand by and let him continue or would you take up arms? My children, greater harm has been done to your brethren in the family of Christ. Christian warriors, why do you hesitate? Christ, who gave His life for you, now asks you to risk yours for Him. Defenders of the Cross, remember your fathers who conquered Jerusalem and who are now happy in Heaven. God has charged me to speak to you. Fly to arms. It is God’s will.”
There was a deep silence when he stopped. He stood there, his arms raised to Heaven, and I think that all in that square felt the presence of divinity.
Suddenly there was a shout from the people: “God willeth it. God willeth it.”
The King came to Bernard and kneeling took the cross from him. I followed. Bernard’s eyes rested on me momentarily and there was approval in his glance.
Then the people were pressing forward. There was scarcely a man who did not want to pledge himself to the cause.