THE WAVES WERE LASHING the coast; the wind shrieked a warning to all mariners; and we were drawn up at Barfleur contemplating that menacing sea and thinking of our new kingdom which lay on the other side of it.
It is impossible to cross in such weather, was the general verdict. No ship could be sure of doing it. It would be thrown about and all on board drowned.
Henry could never bear delay. He looked at the angry sea and gnashed his teeth. I thought he was going to fall into one of those rages which I dreaded. I had seen only a few of them but they were terrifying. No. Surely he would not dare show his rage against the heavens at such a time.
He gritted his teeth and said: “We sail.”
Sail in this weather! We were all aghast.
They tried to dissuade him. Perhaps by tomorrow the sea would be calmer.
He shouted at them. We were not waiting until tomorrow. We were sailing that very day. The ships were seaworthy. He could not wait. Rough seas could go on for months. December was not the month he would have chosen to set sail, but Stephen was dead and England without a ruler. It was a hazardous situation for any country to be in. He was not going to risk disaster just for the sake of a trip across the water. It happened to be a time when he had inherited a kingdom for which he had waited many years, and he was not going to allow a little wind to stop him taking it.
Never shall I forget that crossing. I do not know how we survived it. I was pregnant too, and in any case suffering certain discomforts. I should have demanded that we wait for more clement weather; but not even I argued with Henry when he was in his present mood.
He could not stand still. He strode about the deck, ever watchful. I remained below. I could not face the terrible pitching and tossing of the vessel. My condition made me feel really ill, and I knew that Henry would not care to have sick females about him. He never would, and certainly not at such a time. He was in a fever of impatience to claim the throne.
It seemed that we suffered this torment for hours; and then one of my women told me we were in sight of land. I staggered onto the deck. There was no sign of the rest of the convoy.
Henry wanted to get ashore at once. He would not wait for the others. He would go straight to Winchester.
As we rode along, people came out to look at us. I realized that they had not been expecting the arrival of their new King, for they could not believe that any could cross the Channel in such weather. Already they were recognizing him as a man of power since he defied the elements and with a jaunty nonchalance.
He acknowledged their greeting with obvious pleasure and so we rode into Winchester to be greeted by Theobald, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
We were in due course joined by the rest of the company who had reached England, and Henry, having satisfied himself that that portion of the treasury which was kept in Winchester was intact, made arrangements to set out for London.
He was insistent that his coronation should take place without delay, for he firmly believed that a king was not accepted by the people until he was anointed.
So we came to London. I had never seen anything like this city. The sky was overcast and there was a light drizzling rain in the air. There was activity everywhere; the river was crowded with craft of every description; I saw the great Tower which Henry’s great-grandfather, the Conqueror, had built. It dominated the landscape. The cobbled streets were full of people. Everywhere there were shops and stalls; and the great purpose of these people seemed to be to buy and sell. There were two great marketplaces, I discovered later, one near the western gate by the Church of St. Paul, where the folkmote was held; the other in Eastcheap. I was amazed to see what goods were offered; they seemed to have come from all corners of the world. There were taverns and eating-houses. No, I never saw a city like this one. It seemed as if the streets must be crammed full of life as compensation for the leaden skies.
In Paris I had missed the clear brilliance of my native skies; but here, in spite of the weather I felt an uplifting of my spirits. An excitement gripped me. This would be my country. I had noticed the brilliant green of the countryside as we passed on our way to the capital, but this city filled me with anticipation. I was surprised that I should be contemplating living here with pleasure.
I saw from the glint in Henry’s eyes that he was feeling a similar emotion. Of course, it was not new to him. He had lived in this country for several years. But now it was his and I believed he was going to love it with an intensity which neither Normandy nor Anjou could arouse in him.
First we went to Westminster Palace, which was in such a state of disrepair that we could not stay there. Alternative accommodation was found for us at Bermondsey Palace which, though somewhat primitive compared with those to which I was accustomed, was at least an improvement.
Henry said that the coronation should take place without delay. Until he was crowned King he could not be contented.
I doubt whether there had ever been such a speedy coronation.
“These people will expect a grand display,” he said, “and even though there is little time for the preparation we must give it to them.”
Fortunately I never traveled if I could help it without as splendid a wardrobe as I could muster. I was seven months pregnant, but that must be no deterrent. I intended to be crowned beside Henry, for if he was King of this country, I was its Queen.
I was determined to impress the people of England. I wanted to give them the sight of fashions they would never have seen before.
My kirtle was of blue velvet with a collar of the finest gems; over it I wore a pelisse, edged with sable and lined with ermine, with very wide sleeves. It was not unlike the pictures I had seen of the costume worn by the wife of the Conqueror. I thought it would be a good idea to look a little like her, to remind them of the stock from which their King had come. I wore my hair flowing with a jeweled band about my brow.
Even Henry had taken some trouble with his appearance on this occasion. His dalmatica was of brocade and embroidered with gold, but he clung to the short cape which had earned him the nickname of “Curtmantel.” In spite of his rather stocky figure and his contempt for fashion, he looked quite impressive with his leonine head and close-cropped tawny curls. A King they could be proud of.
The people had crowded into the streets to see us as we went back to the Palace of Bermondsey. They cheered but they were not overenthusiastic. It was as though they were waiting to see what would come from this new reign.
They had suffered civil war, and that must always have a sobering effect. But now the succession was settled. This was the grandson of that great Henry, and they knew, now that he was dead and they had experienced life under a weak monarch, that he had been a great King.
The new reign had begun and Henry was eager to put right those wrongs which had been perpetrated during the reign of his predecessor and to introduce his own rule.
Our coronation had taken place on December 19, and although he was impatient to be off on a journey which would take him to the important places throughout the country, he did realize that the people would expect Christmas to be celebrated in a royal manner—he must not make the mistake his mother had. As soon as the Christmas celebrations were over (and he warned me they must be lavish, as I would know how to make them), he would set out to discover what was wrong with the country and what he was going to do to remedy it.
With Petronilla’s help I devised some entertainment for Christmas. I would send for some of my minstrels but of course there was no time for that now. I thought of the pleasure it would give me to see Bernard de Ventadour again. I would create a Court under these gloomy skies which would equal that of my beloved Aquitaine.
But now the time was short. We planned feverishly. We must not disappoint Henry. Nor did we. It might well be that he would not have wanted anything bearing a resemblance to the Courts of Love, but later I should make my own Court to suit myself.
One memory which stands out very clearly from those Christmas revels is that of Thomas Becket, because I first saw him there.
I did not see any great significance in the meeting then; it was only afterward that it became of such importance. But I could not fail to notice him. There was something distinguished about him, and that was obvious in the first moments of meeting him. He had great presence. He was very tall and good-looking, with a somewhat hooked nose which gave him a patrician look, and one of the most compelling pairs of dark eyes I have ever seen. He must have been about fifteen or sixteen years older than Henry.
I had rarely seen Henry take to anyone as quickly as he did to Thomas Becket. He had charmed Archbishop Theobald equally, it seemed, for he had spent several years in the Archbishop’s household and had been favored by him, which of course had aided him in his career.
Henry brought him to me and, almost before the usual pleasantries had been exchanged, he would have him tell me of the romantic love affair of his parents.
“It will please the Queen,” he told Becket. “Doubtless she will make a song of it, or get one of her minstrels to. She has a great liking for poets, and she is one herself.”
Becket and I took each other’s measure steadily, and I knew in that moment that there was some special quality about this man; I was not sure whether I should be wary of it.
“I am honored,” said Becket, “that my gracious Queen should wish to hear the story of my humble beginnings.”
Henry gave the man an affectionate push. I wondered why it was that they had become on such familiar terms so soon; he could not have known the man long. We had arrived in England only a few weeks before. Henry, of course, was open in his dealings with people. If he liked them, he did not disguise the fact; nor did he if it were otherwise. He had no time for subtlety.
Becket was learned and well read. So was Henry. I had gathered that. They made allusions to classics with which they were familiar and which the others might not understand. The difference in their ages was great, but Henry was mature beyond his years; he was not the sort of man who would suffer those about him who bored him.
He urged Becket to tell me the story. It was certainly strange. It went something like this:
His father, Gilbert, had been a native of Rouen, but after the Norman invasion of England, like so many, he decided to seek his fortune there. When he was a boy, in his little village of Thierceville, in Normandy, Gilbert had played with Theobald, who was determined to go into the Church. Theobald was a very ambitious man; he followed the Conqueror to England and in due course became Archbishop of Canterbury. Like many men of his generation, Gilbert decided to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and, taking with him one servant, he set out. He reached Jerusalem without any great mishap but on his way home the party with which he was traveling was captured by the Saracens.
Becket continued: “To my father’s horror, he heard that he was to be taken to the Emir Amurath, who was a sadistic man whose favorite pastime was torturing Christians. My father in due course was brought before him. Now, I must tell you this: my father was a man of unusually dignified bearing and outstanding good looks. The Emir admired beauty in men as well as women, and he could not bring himself to impair such beauty, so he sent my father to a dungeon. My father must have been blessed by God for his jailers were also struck by his appearance and showed him some kindness. He responded and they became so friendly that he learned their language.”
“He certainly was fortunate,” I said.
Henry said jocularly: “Naturally so, good Becket. Providence was determined to put no hindrance in the way of your entry into the world.”
“I thank you, sire,” said Becket, bowing with mock irony.
Yes, I thought, they are certainly on unusually good terms.
“In time,” went on Becket, “the Emir remembered my father and sent for him. He was amazed to see that the only effect prison had had on him was to make him understand their language. My father told him that he had learned it from his jailers. The Emir asked him questions about London. My father knew how to talk entertainingly and he amused the Emir with stories of that part of the world which the powerful ruler had never seen, but of which he had heard much. He was given fine garments, for the Emir made a companion of him; and soon my father had apartments in the palace, and the friendship between them grew so much that in time he was invited to dine at the Emir’s table.”
“Now,” said Henry, “the romantic story begins. This is what you will want to sing about.”
“The Emir’s daughter dined with her father, and she was impressed by Gilbert’s fair looks as well as his talk.”
“You know what is coming,” said Henry to me.
“There was love between them?” I asked.
Thomas Becket nodded. “Of course he was a Christian and she was of another faith. For all his friendship with my father, the Emir would never have agreed to a marriage between them. She was very determined. She insisted on my father’s teaching her to become a Christian. He gave her a name . . . a Christian name. He called her Mahault—which is another name for Matilda—because that was the name of the wife of the great Norman, Duke William, who had conquered England. My father was fully aware of the dangerous game he was playing. If the Emir discovered how far this matter with his daughter had gone, he would be put to death . . . very likely crucified, a favorite punishment for Christians. They were always singing the praises of One who died in such a manner, so it seemed logical that they should die in the same way. My father was prepared for that, for he was a deeply dedicated Christian.”
I cannot remember his exact words, but he went on to tell us how the Christian prisoners planned to escape and Gilbert, of course, was to escape with them. His position had made it possible for him to help them, and this as a Christian he was committed to do. But there was Mahault. He could not take her, of course; but his duty lay with his fellow Christians. The escape was well planned and succeeded.
“And the poor girl was left behind?” I cried.
“She was heartbroken. They thought she would die. Then suddenly she began to recover, because she had decided what she would do. She was going to England to find Gilbert. She planned with care, sewing priceless jewels into her garments, and when she was ready she stole out of the Emir’s palace and set out. There were many pilgrims on the road and she joined a party of them. She found some who could speak her language and told them what she planned to do. She knew two words in English: London and Gilbert. It seemed that God was watching over her, for in time she arrived in England.”
“Now comes the end of the story,” said Henry. “I like it.”
“Yes,” said Becket. “She went through the streets of London calling Gilbert. That was all. She became a familiar sight. People talked of her—the strange woman with the Eastern look who knew only two words—Gilbert and London. She called for him, sometimes piteously, sometimes hopefully. It was my father’s servant who saw her, for he had been in captivity with my father. He took her to him. The quest was over.”
“There,” said Henry, “is that not a tale of true romance?”
“It is indeed. I never heard the like.”
“It was God—making sure that we had a Thomas Becket.” Henry slapped the man on the back.
I certainly was intrigued by the story but most of all perhaps by the quick friendship Henry appeared to have formed with this man.
Later I spoke of him.
“It is not surprising that this Becket is an unusual man,” I said, “with such a father and an Eastern mother.”
“A woman of great purpose.”
“And a noble gentleman.”
“Yes, that is what produced Becket.”
“I wonder what his childhood was like in such circumstances.”
“He has told me parts. He was brought up in a very religious way. His mother was a convert to Christianity and, remember, they are often the most intense. Both his parents wanted him to go into the Church. A nobleman who had visited the house was interested in their story of the strange marriage and naturally his attention turned to Thomas. He took him to his home in Pevensey Castle and brought him up as a nobleman’s son.”
“Ah yes, there is certainly a touch of the nobleman about him. His tastes would appear to be expensive.”
“I tell him he is too fastidious for a commoner,” said Henry.
“He could scarcely accuse you of being too fastidious.”
“Becket did not want to go into the Church. He fancied business. He did well—which was to be expected. Then disaster struck. His mother died and his father’s house was burned to the ground—and soon after that Gilbert died. Becket was melancholy. His parents had meant a great deal to him. Theobald, who had become Archbishop of Canterbury and remembered playing with Gilbert as a boy, persuaded Thomas to join his household. Thomas was twenty-five then. Of course, there he was noticed immediately.”
“Yes, he is a man who would be. He is so tall . . . and those dark eyes of his, which he must have inherited from his mother, are very handsome. His very thinness makes him look taller and he seems to stand about four inches above other men.”
“He did not stay in the Archbishop’s house. There were those who were jealous of him and made his life difficult, and although Theobald was aware of Thomas’s brilliance, he let him go for the sake of the peace of the household. He sent him to his brother Walter, who was the Archdeacon of Canterbury. After Walter’s death, Becket took that post.”
“He hardly seems like a man of the Church.”
“No, he is far too amusing. I think he considered for a time which way he should go.”
“He seems to have taken your fancy.”
“I verily believe he is the most interesting man I have met since coming to these shores.”
I suppose I should not have been surprised when shortly afterward Henry told me that he had made Becket his Chancellor.
I was now heavily pregnant. Henry had left London and was traveling through the country. I missed Matilda and wished she were with me. But I had Petronilla, now a sober matron, mother and widow, quite a different person from the frivolous girl whose hasty love affair had created such consternation.
Eagerly I awaited the birth. From the palace I could look across the river to the Tower of London, that great sentinel which guarded the eastern side, and from there to the west, dominated by the spire of the cathedral, and beyond to Ludgate. I could see the strand along the river, with the wharves and the houses of the nobility with their fine gardens and their boats staked to the privy stairs which ran down to the river. I knew the strand led to Westminster Palace where we should have taken up residence, of course, if it had been fit for habitation. This would have to be remedied. There would be so much for me to do. But first I must give birth to my child.
It was not a difficult birth, and there was great rejoicing throughout the palace when it was over and I had another boy.
I said: “This one shall be called Henry after his father.”
After the birth of the child, I took my place beside Henry in his journeyings around the country. I was enthralled by my new realm and wanted to learn as much about it as possible. The people were very different from the natives of Aquitaine, but I liked them nonetheless. They marveled at me and I felt that they were by no means hostile. They had taken to Henry; his ways suited them. They liked his careless way of dressing, his rough and ready style. I suppose he made them feel he was one of them. On the other hand they did appreciate my elegance and they were obviously delighted and rather overawed by my appearance. They were very interested in my clothes and seemed to like their Queen to look attractive.
So that was a happy time.
One could not expect it to continue. We were both back in Bermondsey for a brief respite when we were disturbed by a visitor, Henry’s brother Geoffrey.
We made much of him, but I could see he was envious and bent on making trouble. That irritated me. Did he think he would have had the wit and courage to win this crown? People like Geoffrey wanted everything to fall into their hands with no effort from themselves.
I guessed that he had come to see what he could get, and he soon made it clear that I was right about that.
“Now you have England,” he said, “Anjou should be mine.”
“I think not,” retorted Henry.
“It was what our father intended.”
“You could not hold on to Anjou.”
“Why should I not?”
“Because you lack the experience to do so,” Henry told him. “I cannot throw away my father’s inheritance. He left you three castles.”
“And you took them from me.”
“I might restore them.”
Geoffrey was furious. He left us in a huff.
Henry snapped his fingers. “Young fool,” he said. “How long does he think he would hold Anjou?”
“He has a very high opinion of himself,” I replied. “What a lucky escape I had. The young fool had the temerity to make a bid for me. Of course, it was doomed to failure—as all Geoffrey’s projects would be.”
Henry dismissed his brother from his mind but I did not think the matter would end there.
Then Matilda announced her intention of coming to England. Henry was delighted and great preparations were made to receive her.
“She will want to see you in your crown,” I said. “She has dreamed of that for so long.”
“And worked for it,” said Henry soberly.
She was indefatigable in his service. No sooner had she come than I realized she had a purpose in doing so.
“I think it is necessary for you to come over,” she told Henry. “Geoffrey is intent on trouble.”
“He has been here, you know,” said Henry.
“I do know it. He came back with grievances. You are brothers, he says. Why should you have everything?”
“It was as my father left it,” said Henry. “But I have been thinking I should do something for Geoffrey.”
“Not Normandy,” said Matilda.
“No. And not Anjou either. I don’t intend to throw away my dominions.”
“He is preparing an army,” went on Matilda. “How I hate this warfare in families.”
“To give him Anjou would be tantamount to throwing it away. How long do you think he would hold it?”
“Not long,” said Matilda.
“There is Ireland.”
“What of Ireland?”
“I had thought of conquering it and giving that to him.”
Matilda was very serious. “You have Anjou, Normandy and England. My dear son, your resources are going to be stretched as far as they can go with those territories. Do not add to that, for the love of God. You could lose them all by taking one more bite. Besides, the Irish are a troublesome race. They would need a constant army to subdue them. And how do you think either of your brothers would like that?”
“I suppose they should have something.”
“Geoffrey has shown that he cannot even hold his own castles. You must come back to Normandy with me. Eleanor can look after matters here. She has good men around her, has she not?”
“She has. There is Becket, my Chancellor, in whom I have great trust, and there are Robert of Leicester and Richard of Luci. Yes, that is what we must do. I will come back with you and settle this brother of mine once and for all. And Eleanor will make sure that all is well here. My two generals . . . I am lucky to have you both.”
“You can put your trust in us—can he not?” said Matilda to me.
I agreed that he could.
I was sad that he was going away so soon, but I was reconciled that this would be our way of life. And at least he did me the honor of respecting me to such an extent that he could leave me in charge.
He and Matilda departed. The matter was urgent and once he had decided on a course of action, Henry could never delay.
I was very busy. I had conferences with the Earl of Leicester and Richard of Luci. I liked them both and we understood each other well.
Then one night the nurses came to me in great distress. Little William was fighting hard for his breath, and they feared that he was very ill indeed.
We had had many alarms with William and I was constantly anxious about him. I called in the doctors but, alas, there was nothing they could do. My little William, the boy of whom I had been so proud, passed away while Henry was in Anjou fighting his brother.
I was very sad. I had loved the girls I had had from Louis, but Henry’s boys were especially dear to me.
It was while I was mourning for William that I found I was once more pregnant.
Henry returned from Anjou. He was triumphant. Naturally Geoffrey’s pathetic little revolt had been put down. He did have a certain conscience though, for it was true that his father had said that, when Henry came to the throne of England, Anjou should go to Geoffrey.
Henry explained it to me. “To give it to him would be to throw it away. If my father had really known what he was like, he would never have agreed to that.”
“But he had done so.”
Henry went on: “I have told him he cannot have Anjou . . . or Normandy. I must make sure that they are safe. I have compromised with him and I think he is satisfied. An income for life . . . a handsome income . . . on condition he leaves Anjou to me.”
“That should suffice,” I said.
“My mother will look after Normandy, and if there is any trouble and I have to leave England, you will look after this country for me.”
“We are a close triumvirate,” I replied.
“That is so, my love. You and my mother are my two most trusted generals, as I have told you.”
He was delighted that I was once more with child.
His friendship with Thomas Becket was growing in a manner which surprised not only me. The two were becoming inseparable. They hunted together, hawked together, rode, walked and talked. Like others I could not understand this attraction. They were so unlike each other. Becket was meticulous in his dress; he always wore the finest clothes. He had a love of luxurious living which ill accorded with his calling but which I have often found a characteristic of those who come to gracious living rather than were born to it. True, at Pevensey Castle, where he had spent many years with Sir Richer de l’Aigle, he had developed a fondness for easy living which stayed with him. There was a natural elegance about him; I could understand Henry’s regard for him; but this intense friendship was strange indeed.
Becket was a man of the world, churchman though he might be. That he was unusually clever, I had no doubt. He gave the impression of one who had no regard for ambition. He made no concessions to royalty whatsoever; he treated the King as his equal and had no hesitation in disagreeing with him if he thought fit. It might have been that which Henry found so refreshing. There was no doubt that the man had an unusual charisma.
Henry set him to organize the refurbishment of the palace in the Tower of London, a task which Becket performed with great competence—and extravagance.
Henry was amused and chided Becket about the cost, asking him how he, as a churchman, could spend so much on luxuries for the King when the money might have been spent in helping the poor.
“And what do you think his answer was?” said Henry to me. “‘Better to have a well-housed King than leave him so uncomfortable that his temper frays from time to time.’”
Henry slapped his thigh, indicating how the remark had amused him. Becket was, of course, referring to the King’s rages.
“I pointed out to him that my temper frayed no matter where I was housed, and when I was provoked my rages overcame me.
“‘You admit to weakness,’ he said. ‘That is one step along on the road on which God will guide you.’ What do you think of that?”
“That this man takes great liberties with the King.”
“He cares not for kingship. I am a man. He is a man. That is how he sees it. Becket says what is in his mind. That is why conversation with him is so interesting. He is such an amusing fellow in a quiet and witty way.”
“He should take care that you do not fly into one of your rages with him.”
“With Becket? Never!” He laughed. “Though it would be amusing to see his reaction. I know what he would do. He would stand looking on in silence, watching, and then ask God to forgive me my waywardness.”
“And you would merely say, ‘Thank you, my good and faithful servant, for interceding with your good friend the Almighty on behalf of your humble sovereign.’”
He laughed aloud.
“You must admit he is a great man.”
He went on smiling, evidently thinking of some aspect of their conversation which amused him.
It certainly was a most incongruous friendship, and there was hardly a day when they were not together.
In due course I brought forth a daughter. We both wanted to call her Matilda after Henry’s mother. She was baptized in the priory of the Holy Trinity at Aldgate, which was appropriate, as the priory had been founded by Queen Matilda, the wife of Henry’s grandfather.
I still mourned William, but little Henry had consoled me, and this one was an added comfort. But soon after her birth I began to grow restless. It is probably a state in which women find themselves after childbirth. There is so much preparation before the child appears and one is carried along on a tide of serenity, but when the child is there, life for a time seems lacking in purpose and one feels the need to take some action.
I found the gray skies depressing. I saw the sun too rarely and I felt a longing for my native land.
Henry was in France at this time. There was more trouble over Anjou. I knew that Geoffrey would never be content. He was a born troublemaker.
Suddenly I decided I would consult no one. I would go and visit my own country, taking the children with me.
A great excitement possessed me. I was going home . . . perhaps only briefly, for I should never forget that I was Queen of England. I could leave the country in the good hands of Leicester, Richard de Luci—and Becket, of course. So I gave orders to make ready for the journey.
I joined Henry in Anjou. He was pleased to see me and, having settled matters there, agreed that we should take the opportunity, being on the spot, to make a progress through Aquitaine to remind the people that we were their rulers.
I was delighted at the prospect. Alas, I was less contented as the tour proceeded, for, although I was welcomed warmly by my people, it was not the case with Henry, and they did not hide the resentment they felt toward him.
Henry had declared that the government of Aquitaine was inefficient. It was not good enough, he said, to have the province defended by individual castellans who looked after their immediate surroundings. There should be a head of government, and of course that must be Henry, and deputies appointed by him to take charge in his absence according to his wishes.
I knew them well enough to realize that they were asking themselves: Who is this upstart who has married our Duchess and now thinks he owns us? He is worse than the King of France.
It was not as it had been. Alas, life does not stand still. Change comes . . . a little here, a little there, and soon the whole picture is different.
I tried to make my Court at the Maubergeonne Tower what it had been in the past, but it was not the same. I had my troubadours, and I was delighted to see Bernard de Ventadour, who had earlier graced my Court with his verses and his rendering of them in exquisite music.
Henry had his life—his rough riding, his forays into the countryside, his journeys, his friendship with Becket. I would have mine. I did not care for the outdoor life. I longed for those days when I had my poets around me singing of romantic adventures. And I was going to have it.
I kept Bernard de Ventadour with me. He raised my flagging spirits. It was wonderful to be courted and loved through his music. I had been brought up in such an atmosphere, and it was natural that I should re-create it.
This was Aquitaine, not England.
I had a notion that Henry had something on his mind and that it concerned me. I would catch him watching me covertly, as though he were assessing me.
He came to the hall one evening when Bernard de Ventadour was lying at my feet singing one of his love songs. My ladies and the gentlemen of the Court were listening intently. The song was about the beauty of the loved one, who was too high and noble for the singer to reach.
Henry stood, legs apart, head thrust forward, glowering at Bernard, who went on singing unfalteringly and perhaps putting more expression than ever into his voice, while his warm southern eyes rested on me.
“By the eyes of God,” cried Henry, “what nonsense!”
Then he turned and strode away.
Bernard went on singing.
When he had finished there was halfhearted applause from those who did not know what action to take. I knew it was no use ignoring the incident, so I said: “The King did not like your verses, Bernard.”
“If the Queen liked them, that is all I ask.”
There was a breathless silence. I was asking myself, could Henry really have been jealous?
I was a little afraid for Bernard, knowing how violent Henry could be. Indeed, I had been astonished by his restraint. He might well have commanded Bernard to stop singing, even ordered him to leave. I did not want that to happen. I would try to placate him, and perhaps it would be better if Bernard were slightly less prominent for a while.
When I was in our apartment, Henry came in. He looked at me, his tawny eyebrows raised a little. He was not going to wait for me to comment. He was coming straight into the attack.
“That insolent fellow will have to go.”
“Are you referring to Bernard de Ventadour?”
“Bernard de Ventadour! A fine name for a serving wench’s bastard.”
“Oh, come,” I said. “We are talking about a great poet.”
“Indeed yes, and recognized as such by people who know of such matters.”
“Which I don’t, eh? I have better use for my time than listening to such jibbering. Insolent dog.”
“Insolent! He has never shown me anything but the utmost respect.”
“And he has shown me something, too. He is your lover.”
“That stuff he was singing . . .”
“You must know it was just poetic imagination.”
“Imagination! Tell him he can go back to the kitchens from which he came. They can find a place for his imagination down there among the spits and pots.”
“I thought you liked those who are intelligent.”
“I could have his tongue cut out. That would put an end to his licentious driveling.”
“Do you think my people would allow that? Already you are no favorite of theirs. This is my country, Henry. You would do well to remember that.”
I saw the color coming into his face. He tore off his cloak and flung it from him. He lay on the floor and kicked at the wall. He gnashed his teeth, biting the flounces about the bed.
I watched him. I had seen these rages before, but there was something not quite the same about this one. The thought flashed into my mind: He is staging this. There is something behind it. He is performing for my benefit.
On other occasions when I had seen those senseless rages I had been alarmed . . . for his health, for his sanity. I had indeed thought he was possessed by devils and there was something in that story about his ancestry. But this was different.
He was shouting obscenities about Bernard and me.
I drew in my skirts and walked past him, out of the apartment.
Henry said no more about Bernard de Ventadour, but I advised the troubadour not to sing when he was present. I told him I feared the King was jealous and when he was enraged he could be terrible.
Bernard was no fool. He might say that he only cared for me and that the opinions of others mattered not to him, but Henry was formidable, even in Aquitaine where he was unpopular.
I was once more pregnant and was beginning to wonder whether my life was to be spent bearing children. It was true that I had wanted them and that I now had only one son, but I did feel that the pregnancies were too frequent, and a little respite in between would be desirable.
My sojourn in Aquitaine had been a disappointment. It was no longer the same, for while the people loved me and accepted me as their Duchess, they could not forget that I had a husband and that he was trying to force his rule upon them. They did not like it. He did not understand them and they did not understand him. He thought that what was successful in England could be successful here. We were a different people. We had lived too long in the sun; we did not care for discipline; we liked to go along smoothly, effortlessly. Henry was quite alien to these people. They could not understand his restlessness, his love of law and order, his immense energy.
I wanted to go back to England. I found life too depressing in the sunshine of my native land.
It was February when we arrived in England. Henry had gone to Anjou. He was still concerned about troublesome Geoffrey. Matilda was as good as a general, and Normandy was in excellent hands; he trusted those in England. But I knew he would be with me as soon as possible.
He would be missing Becket, I thought ruefully.
I was feeling well in spite of my pregnancy. I was getting used to that state now.
An uprising on the Welsh borders brought Henry back to England before Easter. This was what we had to expect from life, I supposed. As soon as one little corner was safe, there would be trouble in another.
With his unbounded energy he set about getting his army together. The Welsh campaign was not a great success. The Welsh were fierce fighters, and the victory Henry had expected had not come. Instead he was all but defeated and shrewdly he quickly made a concession to the Welsh which would confine them to their own country and make the border safe.
He came back less triumphant than usual. We had an affectionate reunion, but again I had that feeling that he had something on his mind.
We were alone in the bedchamber when he looked at me steadily and almost defiantly said: “We shall have another in the nursery.”
I naturally thought he was referring to the child I was carrying and I replied: “I wonder if this one will be a boy.”
“It is a boy,” he said. “His name is Geoffrey.”
I stared at him. I saw the defiant look in his eyes and I knew. He had been preparing me for this. His mock rage over Bernard de Ventadour was when he was wondering how to broach the subject. He had been hinting at my infidelity to excuse his own. And now he had decided to exert his rights and to let me know he was the master. Hence his arrogance.
“Geoffrey?” I said. “And who might this Geoffrey be?”
“He is my son.”
“Your . . . bastard?”
“Yes, of course. Since he is not yours he must be.”
“And you want to bring him into the royal nursery?”
“I am bringing him into the royal nursery.”
“Without consulting me?”
“I am telling you of my wishes now.”
“And you think I will consent to this?”
“He is coming tomorrow.”
“But yes. It is good for him to be with his brother and sister.”
“I do not understand how you can behave like this.”
“There is much you have to learn of me then.”
“These are my children.”
“Mine too, I hope.”
“How dare you!”
“Why so outraged? Your reputation is not exactly chaste.”
“And yours, my lord?”
“Not chaste either. I have never questioned yours. Why should you mine?”
“How old is this boy?”
“A little older than Henry.”
“Then . . . so long ago . . . you were unfaithful!”
He looked puzzled. “Madam, I was far from home. Do you expect me to live like a monk? There are women, of course. They mean nothing . . .”
“And this one . . . the mother of the boy . . . she means nothing to you?”
“Nothing at all.”
“Yet her bastard . . .”
“Is mine also. I care about the boy.”
“How do you know this child is yours?”
“Men can be fooled, you understand.”
“I understand that in him I am not mistaken. He will arrive tomorrow. He is to be treated as the others.”
I was speechless with rage—not so much by the prospect of having the child in the nursery as that almost immediately after our marriage he had been unfaithful to me.
He went on: “He will be brought here and he will come straight to the nursery. He is a pleasant child.”
“Are we to have a succession of your bastards invading the nurseries?”
“It is only this one whom I wish to have here at the present.”
“What a lecher you are! I suppose when you are with your armies you take any woman you like as you pass through the towns. You sport with the camp-followers.”
“It is the way of men on the march. And I am surprised that you are surprised it should be so. I believe you had certain adventures when you were on the march. I have heard some spicy scandals about you and your uncle. I always went outside the family.”
“How dare you speak to me thus.”
“I speak as I will to you, as to any of my subjects.”
I had been a fool. I should have known. I remembered the days when we had first met and that immediate attraction between us. It had been nothing but what might have happened with a tavern wench. I felt humiliated and angry with myself.
I said: “I married you when you were a mere duke, Duke of Normandy, and hard pressed to keep the title.”
“That is past. Now I am King of England.”
“And I am the Queen and Duchess of Aquitaine.”
“Queen because I made you so, remember?”
“You are insulting me by bringing this child into the nursery.”
“As I see it, I am doing my duty by him.”
“Could you not put him into some nobleman’s household?”
“I want him to be in mine.”
“And you will disrupt your family to do this?”
“I command that he be brought up here and that there shall be no prejudice against him.”
I felt beaten. I knew him well by now. I could imagine those journeys of his, the nights he spent with women . . . any woman who happened to be available. Why had I thought it could be otherwise with such a man? He was lusty and licentious; this was the life he had led before his marriage and he saw no reason to discontinue it. This was how it had always been. I had to get used to it.
I turned away from him but he caught my arm and pulled me around to face him.
“Have done with fancy songs from fancy troubadours,” he said. “Face the real world. Men will be men and if the woman they would have is not there they will take another. It is always so with such as I am and always will be. You must needs face the truth.”
“You have been trying to tell me this for a long time. You wanted this boy brought in. You were going to ask me to take him in. You have been steeling yourself to do it. Then you decided on this arrogance . . . this insistence.”
“My dear Eleanor, you are too clever by half.”
Then he laughed and held me against him. He was knowledgeable about women—having had so much experience of them, I supposed. He thought that if he made love to me, made me believe that I was still more desirable to him than anyone else, he could bend me to his command. But my feelings had changed toward him. I wrenched myself free and left him.
The boy came. There was no doubt that he was Henry’s—the tawny hair and eyes, the confident manner; he was the lion’s cub. He was a pleasant creature. Young Henry took to him right away. Matilda liked him. He quickly became a favorite in the nursery.
September 8 of that year 1157 was a day I have often thought of as the happiest in my life because on it my son Richard was born. He was beautiful from the moment he appeared. Not for him that period which most little babies go through when they look like old men of ninety. He was fair-haired and blue-eyed with a skin like milk and pale pink roses. I loved him dearly from the moment I saw him, and for the rest of his life he became the most important person in mine.
It may have been not only because of his unusual beauty but because my relationship with Henry had undergone a change. There had been times before he brought young Geoffrey into the nursery when he had irritated me, but he had never failed to charm me. I had seen those violent rages which had appalled me and I had realized that some of them were performed for effect, because he liked people to be in awe of him, simply because he wanted to be able to do with them what he wished. But still he had remained the man I loved. Now I looked at him through clearer eyes. Why should I, a fastidious woman, have become so besotted about a man who did not care for his appearance, dressed in a slovenly manner, ate his food walking about—not caring how it was served, had no great good looks, was bow-legged and weatherbeaten with rough red hands? He had power, yes, great power, but he was devious, crafty and unscrupulous. He had never paid his brother Geoffrey the amount he had contracted to in exchange for Anjou. True, he had read a great deal. He would read while he was in church.
He was a great King; he did know how to rule. But he was greedy. He wanted to take as much land as he could. He chafed that anything should belong to anyone else.
I was growing out of love with Henry, and all my affection had been transferred to my golden-haired child.
Even at an early age Richard responded. His smiles were for me. He was contented only when I was near. There had been a bond between us from the moment he was born. He was a blessing. He soothed those wounded feelings engendered by Henry’s disloyalty. I now faced the truth. He must have bastards all over the country. He would pass through a town taking women as it pleased him and thinking no more of it.
I often wondered about Becket. They were so much together. Was Becket around when Henry was wenching? And if so, did he share in the sport? He seemed to in everything else.
Once I asked Henry this.
“Did you know,” he said, “that Becket has taken a vow of chastity?”
“People do not always keep to their vows,” I pointed out.
“He does. He’s a churchman, remember.”
“A very unusual churchman,” I commented.
I was annoyed that Becket should take up so much of his time and charm him so obviously. Before I had Richard I should have been jealous. Now I could shrug it aside. I said I thought it was rather odd for a chancellor-churchman to be so frequently in the company of a king-rake. That amused Henry.
“I’ll tell Becket that,” he said.
I could imagine how Henry teased Becket, how he would try to lay him open to temptation. Becket, of course, would go his own way. I was sure that one of the holds he had over the King was due to his independent outlook and his indifference as to whether he offended Henry or not.
Accounts of their adventuring were brought to me from time to time. There was one incident which rather amused me and about which there was a good deal of talk.
They made such a contrast when they went riding out together: Henry in his plain Angevin jacket and short cape, his red hands unencumbered by gloves and the Chancellor, elaborately clad in scented linen and a fine embroidered sable-lined cloak.
One day, as King and Chancellor rode together through the streets of London, they came upon an old man shivering in his rags. Henry pointed out the man to Becket and asked if it would not be an act of charity to give him a warm cloak. Becket agreed that it would indeed, at which Henry leaned toward Becket and attempted to take the magnificent fur-lined cloak from his Chancellor’s shoulders. Realizing what was about to happen, Becket tried to save his cloak, and the two of them tugged at it. Their followers thought there had been a disagreement between them and stood back amazed. The King was triumphant. He won the cloak and shouted to the shivering man, who must have looked on with amazement, that the Chancellor wished to make a gift of it to him. Poor old man, I daresay he could not believe his good fortune. But I wondered how Becket felt to lose such a garment, which he must have treasured. I liked to think of Becket cloakless against the cold, joining in the King’s amusement, for I was sure he was too clever to have done anything else.
People talked of the incident and that was how it reached my ears. It really was amazing—the terms those two were on. Henry seemed as though he could not have enough of the man’s company. It was almost like a love affair.
There was a strong vein of humor in Henry’s character. He liked to make a bizarre situation. This was apparent when he came up with an idea for young Henry’s betrothal.
He said to me: “It is time young Henry was betrothed. I have the very bride for him.”
“Who?” I asked.
He looked at me slyly. “Louis has a daughter. It is clear to me that he will never have a son. He couldn’t get one with you, could he? And look you, you manage very well to get them with me. But he does have a girl through this new marriage of his . . . Marguerite. I want her for Henry. And then . . . as there will not be a male heir, in due course Henry could have the crown of France.”
The audacity of the suggestion so took me aback that I could find no words.
“I think he might be persuaded,” went on Henry.
“His daughter to marry my son!”
“There is no blood tie between them, although you and he were once husband and wife . . . apart from that remote one which you used to get free of him. It is a piquant situation.”
“He would never agree.”
“I believe he would. His Marguerite has a chance of being Queen of England, our Henry of being King of France. Why, it is irresistible.”
“It seems vaguely incestuous to me.”
“That is because you have such stern morals in these matters, my love.”
I recognized this as an oblique reference to Raymond of Antioch, but was too astounded to resent. I was trying to contemplate what Louis would feel when confronted with such an outrageous suggestion.
“It is a good idea,” went on Henry enthusiastically. “I can see a union between France and England. Between us, in the family, we already have a large part of France. I see no reason why we should not take over the whole country.”
“Louis would not even see us if we went to France. Think how embarrassing that would be.”
“I have already thought of it and I have made up my mind how I will start this matter. I shall send an ambassador to Louis. I shall choose someone who can present the case in all its reasonableness, who can charm and persuade in the most graceful manner possible.”
“Who could do that?”
“Becket of course.”
“Becket! Would this be the task of a chancellor?”
“It would be if I made it so.”
“And do you think Louis would for a moment entertain such an idea?”
“He will . . . the way Becket will present it.”
I could not stop thinking of the audacity of the idea. I wondered what Louis would think of his daughter’s marrying my son. How he had longed for a son. And no sooner had I left him than I produced one. It must have seemed ironic to him, hurtful too. People must say that he was incapable of getting sons. How disappointed he must have been when, after all his efforts in his new marriage, the result was only a girl.
No. He would never agree. At first I thought Henry was joking. But no. He was very serious about the matter.
Becket came to see me. He told me he was to go to France on this very delicate mission of which I would be aware. I was well acquainted with the French Court and he would be glad of my advice on certain aspects of his visit.
I explained to him that the French Court was more elegant than the English; the French would not be impressed if he traveled without some state. This seemed to please Becket. I had an idea that he was rather fond of ostentation. He liked to assume grandeur. Understandable, I thought, in one who came from humble beginnings.
He asked me about Louis, and I thought back to the days which I had spent with my former husband.
I said: “Louis is a good man at heart. He is timid, no great soldier, no diplomat; there is nothing subtle about him. He should have been a man of the Church, so it may be you have something in common, my lord Chancellor.”
I smiled to myself. I could see no resemblance between them whatsoever.
I went on: “He is as unlike our King as any man could be. You will need to be earnest and show that you are deeply religious. That would win his respect. He will be shocked by your mission. I can hardly believe it will succeed.”
“I shall do my best to make it.”
“He is a man who hates war and cares for his people. He ought to be a good king; but good kings are made of different stuff, for it does not seem necessary for a good king to be a good man.”
He agreed with me and thanked me.
I was interested to see what he made of my advice, and it was with amusement and wonder that I watched the procession depart. Becket was certainly going to make an impression.
It was June and, to my chagrin, I was pregnant once more. Henry was an indefatigable lover. I understood now that I had been foolish to expect fidelity from him. Women were a need in his life. Although I could now regard him dispassionately, he still attracted me physically more than anyone I had ever known . . . even Raymond. I found him irresistible, as I believe he found me. But it was different from those early days when I had loved him. I did not anymore. I just had need of him; and that this intercourse should have led to another pregnancy, and so soon, was a source of irritation to me. It was ironic that during the first years of my marriage to Louis I had longed to conceive; now I could not stop doing so.
I had three months to go and was getting unwieldy.
Becket’s entourage was very grand indeed. The procession was led by his servants, who walked in groups of ten or twelve singing as they went; then came his huntsmen with their greyhounds and other dogs, and after that six wagons containing his bed and other furnishings, and two wagons which had been packed with flagons of the best English ale, which he proposed to present to the French. Each wagon was drawn by five horses, all of them magnificent, with mastiffs to guard them. There followed the packhorses on each of which sat a monkey to create a comic effect. Then came the squires with their falcons and hawks, followed by the gentlemen of his household; and finally, in all his glory, the Chancellor himself.
And how he reveled in it.
I wondered what effect he would have on Louis. It might not be the way to win him over, but I was sure the French would be impressed by all the show. Accustomed to Louis’s somber appearance they would say to themselves: If this is the Chancellor, what must the King be like?
I wished I could have seen Becket’s arrival in Paris. I should so much have enjoyed seeing him riding through the streets. I heard later that Louis entertained him in royal fashion and that Becket retaliated by giving an even grander banquet for Louis. Years later I heard the visit referred to, and one item remains in my memory still. It was that Becket paid one hundred shillings for just one dish of eels.
Once again I marveled at this intimacy between him and the King. They were so different—Becket reveling in that ostentation for which Henry had no desire whatsoever.
But there was some magic about Becket for he achieved what I had thought to be impossible. He made Louis see that a marriage between my son and his daughter could be feasible.
Henry was delighted. He came to me in a state of enthusiasm.
“He has done it,” he said. “I knew he would. Only Becket could have brought this off. I shall leave for France at once. I shall get this thing settled.”
His eyes were shining. I could see that he believed the crown of France was within his grasp.
While he was away my child was born. I had three sons now—Henry, Richard and this new one, Geoffrey.
I recovered quickly but I had made up my mind that I was going to have a respite from childbearing. I was tired of all those weary months, and then, when the child was born, almost immediately I was expecting another.
Here I was confined to my apartments while exciting events were taking place in the world. Then I hated to be in one place for long. I started to pine for Aquitaine and knew that it was not good for me to be absent for so long. I was the ruler of Aquitaine; they would not accept Henry. They were even more suspicious of him than they had been of Louis. At least Louis had been ineffectual. None could say that of Henry.
I had made my son Richard heir of Aquitaine. The eldest, Henry, would, of course, have England; the new Geoffrey I supposed Anjou. There was territory enough for them. And if everything went as Henry planned, young Henry would have France as well.
I knew how Henry’s mind worked. He would wring the utmost advantage from this match. He had talked to me often of the Vexin, that buffer state between Normandy and Louis’s kingdom; and I had seen the acquisitive gleam in his eyes. If he could get control of the Vexin he could feel that Normandy was considerably safer than it was at this time. He longed for the Vexin and I knew he was going to ask for it as Marguerite’s dowry.
I imagined Henry’s meeting with Louis. Louis must have schooled himself. I wondered whether the thought of Henry and me together came into his head. The puritanical often suffer from acute imagination in these matters, I believe. He would be most uncomfortable and obsessed by his visions. Poor Louis. Did he in his heart feel reproachful toward God for not making better arrangements for the procreation of the human race?
Henry would go to Paris in a manner entirely different from that employed by his Chancellor. I pictured him in his short cape and simple jacket—no concessions from Henry—riding his horse magnificently—he and his horse always looked as though they were one—his gloveless, chapped hands unashamedly exposed. “Is this the King?” the people would ask. “How different he is from his Chancellor.” But there would be no mistaking the regality. Henry could not hide that if he tried. I imagined that proud head, leonine and tawny—a King to respect and fear.
Louis and his Constance received him graciously. Henry of course could put himself out to be charming when there was much to be gained. He would show his erudition; his conversation would be witty and very much to the point. Perhaps I should not have been surprised that, between them, he and Becket should manage to get what they wanted from Louis.
On the marriage of Marguerite and Henry, the Vexin should form part of her dowry. The poor child was only a year old, so Louis had a long time before he need relinquish his hold on that important territory.
Henry remained in France. He would not leave it until he was sure it was safe to do so. Meanwhile he was stabilizing his friendship with Louis.
He sent messages to me. I was to join him in Cherbourg with the children.
England was peaceful, and Robert of Leicester and Richard de Luci were capable of firm governing. So I went.
Henry was delighted with the new baby.
“There is nothing like a bevy of sons to strengthen the throne,” he said.
“Perhaps too many could make trouble,” I reminded him. “Think of your brothers.”
“There you have a point,” agreed Henry. “But my sons will be different. I shall bring them up the way I wish them to go.”
I looked at him steadily and said: “They are my sons also. I shall have a hand in their upbringing.”
He laughed. “Our interests must be as one,” he said. “I would not care to have you as my enemy.”
“Nor I you, my lord.”
Then he kissed me and I was rather afraid that this might lead to the usual encounter, but I eluded him, saying that I had much to which I must attend.
I was all eagerness to hear about his meeting with Louis, and he was only too pleased to tell me.
“Louis does not appear to have changed much since he was your devoted husband. Constance . . . well, she is meek and mild. As different from you, my dear, as one woman could be from another. I’ll swear she does not plague him as you used to.”
There was grudging admiration in his voice and I did not resent his words.
“Did he mention me?” I asked.
“By no means. He skirted over the subject. I saw his eyes on me and I guessed he was thinking ‘What can that fastidious lady see in this coarse creature?’ He seemed to have forgotten that she has a coarse side to her nature. Think of all those adventures in the Holy Land.”
“So you read the thoughts of others?”
“Such as Louis, yes. He would not allow me to bring Marguerite to England, and do you know why? Because he did not want his little daughter brought up in your Court . . . even though she is to marry your son.”
“Did he say this?”
“I told you your name was not mentioned. When I reminded him that a bride is brought up in her husband’s country, his mouth tightened and I’ll swear he was murmuring a prayer under his breath. ‘Oh God, save my innocent daughter from that wicked woman.’”
“I am sure he was doing no such thing.”
“Well, he said no most firmly. ‘No, no. My daughter stays in France.’ Now this, of course, was something which I could not allow. We might as well not have gone there . . . all that expense . . . it would be for nothing.”
“And Becket’s trip must have been a costly one.”
“What Becket did was right.”
“You mean for him to travel like a king and you as a commoner?”
“Our own styles suited us best. And what matters it, since we achieved the desired result?”
“But you say Louis will not allow Marguerite to come to England.”
“That has nothing to do with Becket’s ostentation and my humility. It was due to absent influences.”
“You mean because of me.”
“But you did not mention me.”
“Your presence was there . . . floating between us. You are not easily dismissed from people’s minds, my love.”
“So she is still with her father, and your mission is unfulfilled.”
“By the eyes of God, what do you take me for? Certainly that is not so. You know my Chief Justice, Robert of Newburg. What a righteous man! His castle is so convenient. Right on the borders of Normandy, so that he can keep an eye on what goes on on the other side. He is very pious . . . a man after Louis’s own heart. I suggested that the little girl be brought to his household. It would be safer than the perilous journey across the water. Louis had to give way. Not a breath of scandal concerning Robert of Newburg has ever passed any lips. In fact, all talk of his piety. So, that little matter was settled and the innocent child will be spared the evil influence and be brought up in a house of virtue.”
“I see,” I said. “Well, I suppose it would have been somewhat ironic for Louis’s daughter to be brought up under my care.”
“Incongruous indeed. But all is well. Louis and I have visited churches together. I have been a very virtuous man for his sake—and now we are the best of friends.”
“For how long?” I said.
“For as long as it is necessary, I hope,” he replied with a mischievous grin.
So we spent Christmas at Cherbourg, and Henry’s delight in his son pleased me; it was a happy time.
There was a new development. Henry’s troublesome brother Geoffrey died suddenly. Henry expressed no remorse for their quarrel; he was without sentiment and would have considered it hypocritical to feign grief he did not feel, which was honest, of course. It was typical of him that he immediately began to assess the advantages his brother’s death could bring to him.
For one thing, it was the end of a troublemaker. By great good fortune, two years before his death Geoffrey had been offered the county of Nantes which he had eagerly accepted. Nantes was one of the most important cities in Brittany and there had been unrest in the province for some years. It was hoped that Geoffrey would be able to prevent rebellion. Well, now he was dead and, said Henry, Nantes belonged to the family.
I was amazed by him. His resources were stretched to the limit. He was trying to rule England, Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine. And now he was thinking of adding Brittany to his possessions. I recognized the acquisitive gleam in his eyes. Sometimes I believed it was a dream of Henry’s to conquer the whole world.
He set about stabilizing his claim to Nantes and, because of his new friendship with Louis, he asked his permission to take over the city. It did not surprise me that Louis gave in to this. There had been trouble in Brittany for some time, and Louis was always seeking peace. He recognized in Henry a strong man, and although even he must have known that Henry had his eyes not only on Nantes but on the whole of Brittany, he agreed to his taking possession of the city.
Henry did not hesitate. He went in with his armies and set up his deputies to rule.
This visit to France, this friendship with Louis, was proving very useful to him.
It was I who first talked to him of Toulouse. It had always rankled in my mind that it had passed out of my family’s hands. It had come to us through my grandfather’s wife Philippa, and although my grandfather had sold it to raise money to go on his crusade, I had never felt that that justified our not bringing it back to where it belonged.
To add Toulouse to what he already had was a great temptation to Henry. I knew he was looking ahead a few years to when our son was King of France and almost the whole of that country was in our hands. England and France should be ruled by one king. Together they could stand against the world.
Henry believed he knew Louis. A man of peace would do anything in his power to avoid going to war. Yet even Louis must view with disquiet the prospect of Henry’s acquiring more territory in France.
Louis had added to his stature in a way. He was no longer the tool of Suger and Bernard of Clairvaux; and this had made him more his own man. They were both dead and he had escaped from their influence long enough to have developed a little character of his own.
When Henry demanded the return of Toulouse in my name, Louis must have been overcome with shock. In his simple honest way he would have believed the King of England was his friend. I wondered that he had not yet learned that there is no true friendship between kings; there is only expediency. It was unfortunate that Louis’s sister, Constance, was married to the Count of Toulouse. She was the widow of Eustace, King Stephen’s son, and Louis would naturally feel that he must look after his sister’s interests.
I felt strongly about Toulouse. I always had. I did remember Louis’s abortive attempt to take it. But Louis’s attempts would always end in failure. It would be quite different with Henry. He was enthusiastic for the campaign and set about raising an army. In due course he had with him the most influential barons of England. Becket was there, with equipment and followers more splendid than any. It seemed to me that he fancied himself as a conqueror; he certainly had great energy and the will to succeed. The Scots were there, with the Welsh, and it seemed certain that Henry could not fail to take Toulouse.
Louis, however, made an unpredictable move. He took a few troops with him and went to the aid of his brother-in-law. Consequently when Henry’s army arrived to take possession of the town, Louis was inside it.
Henry was faced with a dilemma. To attack Toulouse meant attacking Louis, and Louis, while Henry was in France, was his feudal lord. I never thought that Henry would be overplagued by such scruples. It may have been that he foresaw that if he made the French King his captive he might be catapulted into a war of gigantic proportions. England was docile at the moment but if anything went wrong there he would have to return at short notice. There were men in Normandy, Anjou and Brittany who would be only too ready to turn against him if they thought they had an opportunity of succeeding. I suppose that on reflection Henry acted in his usually shrewd manner; but the disappointment was intense.
There was nothing more frustrating for an army in perfect order than to come within sight of victory and have it snatched from them because of scruples.
I was amused to hear that there was discord between Becket and the King. Thomas, that holy man, was bent on war. He wanted to cut a fine figure on the battlefield. He wanted to take his splendidly caparisoned equipage into a battle which should have been won before it started.
Becket said the King was acting foolishly.
Henry told Becket to remember to whom he spoke.
Becket, so sure of himself, continued to tell the King that he was acting in an ill-considered way.
That was not true. Henry never did that. Even his rages were calculated to terrify people and remind them of their fate if they offended him.
Henry cried out that Becket had better have a care. He would do well to remember who was the master of us all.
Becket must have been nonplussed. I was rather pleased that the arrogant man had been taken down a step or two, but he apparently realized he had gone too far and that because Henry had shown him unusual favor he must not take advantage of that. The King had helped him rise. He could as easily put him down. I could not believe for one moment that Becket would want to lose all that magnificence by which he set such store.
Henry withdrew his army but he did capture a few strongholds and peace was concluded. Alas, Toulouse remained out of our hands. It was a terrible disappointment to me. I had always had a special feeling for Toulouse and I had believed that Henry would bring it to me. In a way, Louis had scored over him. It had been a masterly stroke to go to the city when he knew an attempt would be made to take it. It showed real courage and perhaps—though unlikely—shrewd reasoning. Had Louis guessed that Henry would not attack when he was there? He was of course taking a great risk, but Louis had never been a coward. The care of his own skin had never come first with him; as long as he was sure he was in the right, he was contented.
So . . . Henry had failed.
Perhaps he was not the mighty figure I had imagined him. In fact, he was by no means the man with whom I had fallen passionately in love. Unfaithful . . . from the start of our marriage . . . slovenly, often ungracious, far from good-looking. In fact, with every year he grew less so. His skin was freckled and rough from the wind, his curly hair allowed to go its own way. He cared nothing for the gracious way of living.
Why had I married him?
Physically he was still exciting. It was, I suppose, that immense strength, that arrogance, that power. But I was beginning to think that I had been unlucky in both my husbands.
Events being as they were, he must stay on the Continent, but I must return to England. Both of us could not be away too long. I was nothing loath. I wanted no more children and I feared that if Henry and I remained together the inevitable would happen.
I enjoyed being in England with my children—particularly Richard, although I loved them all. I fancied they were all fonder of me than they were of Henry who had no idea how to behave with children. He overawed them. They were suspicious of him when he tried to be jocular with them. I was the one to whom they rushed for comfort.
My little Richard grew more beautiful every day. He was a true Plantagenet and did not resemble my side of the family at all. He was golden-haired and blue-eyed, with a beautifully clear skin. He was going to be taller than the others.
I heard news from France, from Henry, who wished me to pack up and join him without delay.
Louis had been married to Constance for six years and had managed to produce one daughter, Marguerite, now betrothed to our Henry. But news had seeped out that at last Constance was pregnant again. I laughed to contemplate it, imagining all the efforts Louis must have undertaken to achieve this result. I pictured those nights on his knees beside the royal bed before he took the plunge and managed after an effort to perform his duty for France.
Now his efforts were crowned with success.
Henry was far from pleased. What if the child should be a boy? Young Henry would be cheated of the crown of France. There was only one thing we could do. We could betroth our little Matilda to the boy as soon as he was born, thus making sure that, if our son could not be King of France, our daughter should be Queen.
I laughed aloud. The man’s mind was so devious. One had to admire him. He let no opportunity pass.
I prepared to travel with the children.
When I joined Henry in Rouen, he was in a mood of great excitement. The birth was imminent.
“Becket will have to persuade the King once more,” he said. “We shall have to find some way of making the project agreeable to him.”
“It will not be easy,” I told him. “Do you think he will want two of our children married to two of his?”
“He has to want it. We managed with one. We will with the other, and if it is a boy, it will be imperative.”
We were all in a state of nervous tension when Queen Constance was brought to bed. She produced another girl and, poor lady, died in the attempt.
The immediate threat was lifted. There was no boy to displace Marguerite. The throne of France was safe for Henry’s son.
Then there was more cause for alarm. Louis proposed, with indecent haste, to marry again. It was for France, of course. He had not given up hope of producing that boy. There was no difficulty in finding a bride for the King of France. Adela of Blois and Champagne was chosen.
Now Henry was in a ferment of apprehension. A new marriage! A young woman! Even Louis might succeed.
Louis’s daughter was named Alais. Henry told me that he thought as a precaution a marriage should be arranged between her and Richard; but that could hardly have been suggested at this stage.
His thoughts turned in another direction.
“Until Marguerite and young Henry are married,” he said, “our position is very uncertain. You know how often these intended marriages are brushed aside. Trouble has only to blow up between Louis and me and all our efforts will come to nothing.”
“We must hope for peace between you. Toulouse has made no difference to the proposed marriage.”
“That was settled amicably.”
“Were you thinking of that when you did not take the city?”
He lifted his shoulders. “What I plan is to get the young pair married.”
“They are little more than babies.”
“That is of no account. They can go back to their nurseries afterward. I did not intend that the marriage should be consummated in their cradles.”
“Louis will not agree.”
“Louis will not know until after the ceremony.”
“You would do that?”
He grinned at me. “Robert of Newburg has the girl. He could not withhold her from me. You know there is a little trouble in papal quarters. I don’t think anyone there would want to offend me. Any consent we needed from them would be freely given. Everything will be done as it should be, and Louis will be presented with a fait accompli.” I could not help admiring him. “And,” he went on, “I shall get my hands on the Vexin, for once the marriage is performed the dowry must be paid.”
“Do you think all this is possible?”
“It will be if I decide it shall.”
Henry had decided, as he said, so it should be. Marguerite, aged three, was married to Henry, aged six. Poor bewildered children, they did not know what was happening to them.
Henry took possession of the Vexin and the rest of the dowry and was very pleased with himself.
Louis was less pleased, but he was as bewildered as our young bride and groom. He had just married and had to face those fearful bedroom ordeals once more. His one thought must have been, Let me get a son quickly, oh Lord—and nothing else matters.
We spent Christmas at Le Mans, and during that time, to my intense irritation, I became pregnant again.
We remained in France. It seemed necessary. Henry had acquired new possessions and he was very watchful of the King of France, fearful that at any moment he would hear that Adela had given birth to a son.
During that year, while we were so involved with the birth of the child who turned out to be little Alais, the Archbishop, our good friend Theobald, had died.
This was a blow to us. Theobald could be completely trusted. He was that rare creature—a truly good man. He had been deeply religious, generous to the poor, ever ready to help those in trouble. He had been learned and liked to surround himself with men of his own caliber but that did not mean that he had not had sympathy and attention to give to those less gifted than himself. He had remained faithful to Stephen throughout that King’s troublous reign and had on Stephen’s death given that loyalty to Henry, whom he considered the rightful heir. Henry was wise enough to know a good subject when he found one and Theobald had certainly been that.
During the last year he had been very ill, and it was known that death was not far away. He had written several times to Henry, begging him to return to England that he might behold “his son, the Lord’s anointed, before he died.” Henry could not, of course, allow sentimental attachments to defer him from protecting his lands overseas, so Theobald’s request went unanswered. Theobald also asked that Thomas Becket, his archdeacon, might be spared to visit him. But Henry would not send Thomas either.
They had patched up their quarrel over the action at Toulouse, but I imagined Thomas had learned a lesson. He could go so far and no farther—although that was a great deal farther than most men would dare go.
Theobald expressed the hope that the King would consider Thomas Becket to fill the post of Archbishop of Canterbury which would fall vacant on his death.
Theobald died that April. Henry was upset that he had lost such a good man, but he said he was in no hurry to fill his post. He could very well do without an Archbishop of Canterbury.
I was surprised that Theobald had suggested Becket. That worldly man—whose vanity was clearly a part of his nature, for otherwise why should he always appear in such exquisite garments and surround himself with beautiful possessions and revel in the life of luxury—Archbishop of Canterbury! It must have been a joke.
“Of course,” said Henry, “if he were my Archbishop I could expect to be on better terms with the Church than I and my ancestors have sometimes been.”
“Thomas is a man who has his own opinions. Remember what he felt about Toulouse.”
“Thomas comes around to my way of thinking when it is necessary to do so.”
“Have you broached the subject with him?”
Henry shook his head. “Not yet. I am unsure . . . so far. There is another matter I have to discuss with you. It concerns young Henry.”
“What of him?”
“He is now a married man.”
“He is six years old.”
“Too old for a future king to be in his mother’s nursery.”
“I have always watched over the care of my children.”
“Which you must admit is not quite expected for a royal brood.”
“I care not what is expected. These are my children.”
“But listen to me. Henry has to be brought up in the household of a nobleman where he can learn the manly arts . . . where he is not able to run to his mother when he hurts his little finger.”
“That is not how the nurseries are run. The children are taught to be strong and resolute.”
“I know your feelings for them and I applaud them . . . in a measure. But Henry has to get out into the world. It has always been thus.”
I pondered this. It was true. Henry was getting to an age when he must leave the family nest for a while. I should not lose him altogether. Like all my children he was especially devoted to me. Henry’s relationship with his children was perhaps the one part of his life in which he failed. His attempts to show affection were often clumsy. They respected and admired me; they liked my beautiful gowns; they would stroke the material and I would explain to them what it was and how I had designed my gown myself. They were my children more than his.
Henry would have to go, of course. I was delighted that Richard had quite a long time to stay with me.
I said: “Into whose household did you propose to send him?”
“Why, Becket’s, of course.”
“Why not? I shall send him to England with the child very soon.”
“You have told Becket?”
“And what does he think?”
“He is delighted. He already loves the boy.”
I said: “At least he will be brought up to have a pride in his appearance.”
That amused Henry. “True,” he said. “He will be turned into an exquisite gentleman who will please his mother. Becket will make a man of him as well.”
Of course the boy would have his riding masters, his archery instructors; he would learn the laws of chivalry and everything that was necessary to his upbringing; and with Becket he would be trained in art, literature, music and all those accomplishments which I thought so necessary. No, I was not displeased. If he had to go to someone, Becket was the best choice.
“And what,” I said, “if Becket becomes the Archbishop of Canterbury?”
“I seen no harm in the future King’s being brought up in the household of an Archbishop, do you?”
“None whatsoever,” I replied.
“There is something else. I want to make sure that there is no strife after my death. I want Henry crowned King of England.”
“What . . . now!”
He nodded. “I lead a somewhat hazardous life. Here one day, but who knows where I shall be the next. What if I were to die tomorrow?”
“Thank you for your heartfelt expression of love for me.”
“Why do you talk of death in this way?”
“Because it is all around us. I want to make the throne safe for the boy.”
“But he is the natural heir.”
“There would be some, I daresay, to cast doubt on that. I want to be sure that, when I die, there is a king on the throne. I want Henry crowned . . . soon.”
“But what of you?”
“There will be two Kings.”
“Two Kings! Who ever heard of such! And one a boy of six.”
“He shall be King before I die. He won’t know it, of course. It will make no difference, but he will be crowned, and if I died tomorrow, he is the King of England. The English would be very loath to turn from the throne one who has been anointed as their King.”
“I wonder at the wisdom of it.”
“I am sure of the wisdom of it.”
“Would the lords agree?”
“They might have to be persuaded.”
“I expect you could do that.”
“With Becket’s help.”
“You have discussed this with Becket?”
“Not yet. Of course if he were Archbishop of Canterbury he would crown the boy.”
This man amazed me. I felt I should never know him.
We traveled to Rouen to see Matilda, who received us with great joy. She had changed even in the time since I had last seen her. I wondered if I should alter like that when my life was nearing its end. She was no longer the stormy creature of her earlier years. I believe her rages had been as violent as Henry’s, only more dignified. I could not imagine her lying on the floor biting the rushes. Now she was a lady of good works. The people of Normandy had always respected her; it was those of England who would not have her. She had completed a Cistercian house near Lillebonne, was very proud of it and pleased that she had lived long enough to see its completion for, she told me, when she had been in Oxford, just before she had sped across the ice, she had made a vow to God that, if he would allow her to escape, she would build such a place.
Now she felt at peace.
Henry talked to her as he always had. He really did regard her as one of his generals. He always remembered that he could rely on her loyalty as on few others’, and in addition to that he respected her judgment.
He talked about the vacant See of Canterbury.
“Theobald was a good man,” she said. “It is always a sadness to lose such as he was. He was never a friend of mine. He was always Stephen’s man, but he was unswerving in his devotion, and being a man of some wisdom he must have known that Stephen was not good for the country. Then on Stephen’s death he turned to you with great relief. But he would never have helped you while Stephen lived. That is the sort of man you want around you. As I grow older, I regard loyalty as the greatest gift.”
“We have to fill the vacancy,” Henry said.
“Which you must do with the utmost care. An Archbishop of Canterbury can have too much power for a monarch’s comfort.”
“That is what I think,” said Henry. “It is why I am considering putting Becket in it.”
Matilda put her hand to her throat and turned pale.
“Becket!” she cried. “Oh no, you must not do that.”
“Why?” cried Henry. “He is the very man. He will work with me . . . not against me . . . as so many churchmen would do. I want no one taking his orders from Rome.”
“I feel it would be wrong to appoint Becket,” she said quietly.
“You do not know him as I do.”
“He is not so much a man of the Church as a diplomat.”
“Why should not the two go together?”
“It would be wrong.”
“I tell you, you do not know Becket.”
“I know it would not work.”
“But why . . . why? Give me one reason why it would be wrong.”
I reached out and touched her hand. She took mine and held it fast. “I spend a great deal of time in prayer and meditation now, Henry,” she said. “I can only say that something tells me it would be wrong. If you do this you will regret it. It will bring you great sorrow.”
“To have my best friend in such a post!”
“He cannot be Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury.”
“Why not? Tell me why not.”
“He cannot,” she said.
“My dear lady Empress, you are not acting with your usual good sense. Tell me what you have against Becket.”
“Nothing—except that he must not be your Archbishop of Canterbury.”
“Why? Why? Why?”
“I know it. There will be pain and suffering . . . violence. It must not be. I know these things.”
Henry said: “I have made up my mind.”
“Becket has not agreed yet,” I reminded him.
“Becket will do as he is told.”
I could see that opposition was strengthening Henry’s resolve. Usually he listened to his mother but in this matter I feared his mind was made up.
When I was alone with her, Matilda said to me: “Try to persuade him. It is wrong. I am convinced of it.”
“You know Henry. Can anyone ask him to change his mind once he has made it up?”
“Oh, he is obstinate . . . obstinate. I trust this will not come to pass.”
“If you know something . . . if you could give him some good reason, he would listen to you.”
She touched her heart. “It is just a feeling I have here.”
And that was all she would say.
We took our farewells of her. Henry was as affectionate as ever toward her but he did not mention Becket to her again.
I said to him: “She is very insistent. It was almost as though she had some spiritual knowledge.”
“She has become very religious. I would never have believed it of her. She thinks Thomas a dandy, an ambitious man—and of course that is not her idea of what a man of the Church should be.”
“She did not say that . . . just that she had a strong conviction.”
“She is growing old, alas. She was a great woman when she was younger.”
I said: “I think she is a great woman now. Have you discussed this matter of Becket with your ministers?”
“The decision is mine.”
“Why not wait until you get back to England and take it up with Leicester and de Luci?”
“I don’t need to. My mind is made up.”
“And you think Becket will accept?”
“I think he must when he knows it is my will.”
I knew then that Becket would become our next Archbishop of Canterbury.
Becket’s reaction to the suggestion was one of dismay. Henry told me of his reluctance.
“He declares that it will be the end of our friendship.”
“Because the Church has always been at variance with the State.”
“Did you not tell him that your reason for appointing him was that your being such great friends—one head of the State, end head of the Church—you could put an end to such variance?”
“I told him that, yes.”
“And what did he say?”
“That if the variance was there, our friendship would not change it.”
“I must admit it is a strange appointment for such an ambitious man.”
“All archbishops are ambitious. Otherwise they would be parish priests all their lives.”
“But a man who is known for his sumptuous hospitality, who lives like a prince, who spends most of his time hunting and hawking with his dear friend, the King . . . he is not the man for the Church. A strange choice indeed for such a post.”
“I want it,” said Henry. “He will work for me. My Chancellor and my Archbishop. It is an excellent arrangement.”
“You hope to manipulate Becket.”
“He might attempt to manipulate me.”
“He will not succeed. No one would succeed in doing that.”
“Ah, you have confidence in me then?”
“Confidence in your determination to have your own way and brush aside all who attempt to stop you.”
“Then I will have my way in the Church.”
“And has he accepted?”
“He was persuaded at length by those prelates who were present. They knew my will and they wanted to please me. Thomas said he was uneasy and he told me privately that he would be deeply grieved if there was friction between us.”
“He was outspoken about Toulouse.”
“Thomas would always be outspoken.”
“We can only hope that this appointment will bring harmony between Church and State.”
Thomas returned to England, taking young Henry with him. I was relieved to see that there was already affection between them. Thomas would be kindly and gentle with the boy, and that eased my qualms considerably.
In due course I heard that the Canterbury Chapter, having been made aware by the justiciar of the King’s insistence, elected Thomas Archbishop, and later the election was ratified at Westminster by the bishops and clergy there. By June he was ordained priest in Canterbury Cathedral by the Bishop of Rochester, and the following day he was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester. Henry arranged for the pallium to be sent to him from Rome, so that he did not have to make the journey there to get it; and by August he had received it.
He was now Archbishop of Canterbury but Henry thought it wise to postpone that other scheme for crowning Henry for a while, although he intended to do it in time.
Our progress through our dominions had taken us to Choisi on the Loire, and it was while we were resting there for a short period that the first indication of what trouble might be brewing between Henry and Thomas was given to us.
A messenger arrived from Canterbury. Henry received him at once. I was with him at the time and eager to know what news there was from England.
The messenger handed Henry a package. He opened it and stood for a moment looking in astonishment at what it revealed. It was the Great Seal of England and could mean only one thing. I saw his face grow purple as he read the accompanying letter.
I dismissed the messenger for I could see that Henry was going to have one of his rages and it would be well for the innocent carrier of bad news to be out of sight of that.
I went to him and took the letter from him. It was from Thomas Becket. It stated that he must resign the chancellorship as he could not do his duty to one master while he served another.
Henry was spluttering: “The knave! What did he think . . . it was what I planned. Chancellor and Archbishop . . . his duty lying with me. Now he will be a slave to the Pope.”
I shook my head slowly. Now was not the time to remind him of how his mother and others had warned him against taking this step. I saw the foam at his mouth and the wild look in his eyes. He picked up a stool and threw it at the tapestried wall. He clenched his fists, and blasphemies poured from his lips.
I stood watching him quietly.
This was a genuine rage. He had thought to rule Thomas Becket and he had thrust him into a position which he did not want; now he was realizing that even he could make mistakes. His rage was against himself as much as Thomas. He flung himself onto the floor and catching up bunches of rushes gnawed at them insanely.
I think I fell completely out of love with him in that moment. I was uneasy. Instinct told me that this was the beginning of conflict between the King and his newly appointed Archbishop.
My daughter was born that year. She was named Eleanor after me. We were in Normandy at the time, at a place called Domfont. She had a ceremonious baptism conducted by the Cardinal Legate who happened to be there at the time, and she was presented at the font by the Bishop of Avranches and Robert de Monte, Abbot of Mount St. Michael.
She was a healthy baby—as all my babies had been, with the exception of William.
I was very happy with my children but I did miss my eldest, Henry, and his absence brought home to me the fact that I could not keep my children with me all the time.