HENRY’S REACTION WAS WHAT I should have expected. When he finally realized that Becket had escaped him and landed in Flanders and was doubtless on his way to take advantage of Louis’s offer of protection, he was overcome with rage.
This time he did not attempt to suppress it. He raved and ranted, tore at his hair, screamed abuse, lay on the floor, kicked the furniture and, seizing handfuls of rushes, gnawed them.
I stood watching him dispassionately. Everyone else made haste to get out of the way when these moods took him.
He was aware of my analytical gaze. It angered him. He would have liked me to be terrified. I just thought he was behaving like a spoiled child.
At length he grew calmer. He stood up and, after kicking viciously at the legs of the table sat down heavily and stared into space.
“He’ll go to Louis,” I said. He nodded.
“And Louis,” I went on, “will make much of him.”
“Oh yes, indeed he will. He’ll do anything to make trouble for me. He will be laughing at this. These two good men of the Church will put their pious heads together. I can see that. I must write to Louis without delay. I must tell him my side of the story. I shall demand that Becket be sent back to me. What right has Louis to keep a subject of mine?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “If he is there and Louis allows him to stay, he will,” I said.
“Oh yes, yes, he’ll be there . . . with his tales of the wickedness of the King of England.”
“I daresay he will tell what actually happened.”
Henry sent for writing materials. I saw what he wrote.
“Thomas, who was my Archbishop of Canterbury, has been judged in a court of a company of lords, a traitor against me. I beg you not to allow this guilty man to remain in your kingdom. Let not this enemy of mine have help from you, as I would never give to any of your enemies . . .”
Becket had gone but could not be dismissed. Henry would sit glaring before him and I knew he was wondering: Where is Becket now? What is he doing?
We left Northampton and traveled by degrees to Marlborough where we were to spend Christmas. I guessed that it would not be a very merry one, haunted, as I was sure it would be, by the ghost of Becket. We were already at Marlborough when messengers returned from France. They brought no reply from Louis but did report on the manner in which he had received Henry’s information.
Louis had read the letter with some amazement and all he had said was: “The King of England states that Thomas Becket was his Archbishop. Has he been deposed then?” The messenger had not known how to reply to that, for in truth Becket had not been deposed. “It must be by the King of England,” Louis replied. “I can think of no other. I am also a king but I do not have the power to depose the humblest cleric in my country.”
The messengers reported that Louis had then said to the papal representative, who happened to be present: “Pray tell my lord Pope Alexander that I hope he will receive the Archbishop of Canterbury in friendship. I fear that unjust accusations have been made against him which must be ignored.”
It was obvious whose side he had been on. It was no surprise. For all their show of friendship in the past, and the fact that Louis’s daughter was married to Henry’s son, they were enemies and, I feared, always would be.
The return of the messengers brought on another of Henry’s rages, which were becoming more and more frequent—and it was all due to Becket. That man was the most important person in his life and always would be until the death of one of them.
He turned to me. There was a certain bewilderment about him, as though he were asking me where he had gone wrong. I felt pity for him and a slight return of the affection I had once had for him. Over that Christmas we were together again—not as we had been in the beginning, but Henry was a very sensual man and he did gain comfort from physical contact.
Our children made a bond between us. Henry’s eyes would grow acquisitive as he discussed them. Through them he intended to govern the whole of France. Young Henry would be King of France one day. He had plans for Richard—another daughter of the King of France, young Alais—just to be on the safe side. Geoffrey? Well, there might be a marriage into Brittany for him. The whole of France would fall into Plantagenet hands. He was also thinking of our daughter, Matilda. She was eight years old now. Quite young, but it was not too soon to look around for her.
Then to my great dismay I found that I was once more pregnant. I had thought to be done with childbearing. I was nearly forty-three years old, and that was surely an age when I could expect to have a rest from the wearisome business. True, I was well preserved. I had always taken the utmost care of my appearance, and when a woman looks younger than her years she usually is. But there was no denying the facts: I was too old to want this now and in any case we had a good family—three boys and two girls; and I had had two by Louis before I began to breed Plantagenets.
However, what was, must be and I had to endure it, so I gave myself up to the contemplation of my daughter Matilda.
She was very dear to me—as all my children were, but Matilda had been my constant companion since her birth, and although we were very different in character—she was of a gentle nature, quiet and retiring—we were very close.
Henry, ever aware of the advancement of his family, had been putting out feelers for some time and he was delighted with the response he had had from Henry, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, known through Europe as “Henry the Lion,” because he had proved bold and fearless.
I said: “He is a little old for Matilda, is he not?”
“What does age matter?” demanded Henry. “You are eleven years older than I. People shook their heads over that, did they not? And look at our fine brood.”
“Matilda is not yet nine years old. He is thirty-six. It is rather a lot.”
“I want this alliance,” said Henry. “A mature man will be best for Matilda. She is quiet and gentle. He will understand her better than a young man could.”
I thought there might be some truth in that, and I found out all I could about the proposed suitor.
His father, another Henry, was known as “the Proud” and was descended from the Guelphs from the noble house of Este, and his mother had been Gertrude, the only daughter of the Emperor Lothair, Duke of Saxony. This meant that Henry was the heir to two dukedoms; but as his father died when he was ten years old, he had had to struggle for his inheritance. He had distinguished himself and earned the sobriquet of “Henry the Lion” at an early age, and in time he dealt with his enemies and proclaimed himself Duke of Saxony and Bavaria.
Some twenty years before, he had been married to Clementia, the daughter of the Duke of Thuringia. From this marriage there had been only one daughter. As usual this was a cause for complaint, and after seventeen years the marriage ended in divorce—on the usual grounds of consanguinity, of course.
Now here he was seeking the hand of our Matilda.
There was trouble, as usual, in France. My own Aquitaine was a source of anxiety. My people had never settled under Henry’s rule. It was not what they had been accustomed to. They did not like the discipline he tried to impose upon them; they wanted their old style of government, when handsome and romantic men rode out to settle their differences with panache, and filled the Courts with laughter and song. Consequently there was trouble, and Henry could not stay in one place for long.
The conflict with Becket had kept him in England for two years. It was time he crossed the sea to govern his other possessions.
I was to remain in England.
Before Henry left, we received the embassy from Henry the Lion. It was necessary that they be treated with the utmost respect. It was a most splendid company that arrived and we had to meet their grandeur with everything as fine ourselves. Royal unions were always costly, for each side had to outdo the other if that were possible and it ended in everyone’s being more extravagant than was wise.
There was inevitably trouble.
“It is a mercy that Becket is not here,” I said, “or this little matter would be blown up into a great one.”
This time it was about the controversy which was going on in papal circles. Henry had supported Pope Alexander while the Germans gave their allegiance to his rival, Paschal III. This meant that the clergy were not present to welcome the German embassy. It was indeed fortunate that Becket was not in England or there would certainly have been trouble. However, the priests, no doubt remembering Becket’s fate and not wishing to share a similar one, were determined not to offend the King, so they were particularly mild in their disapproval.
The necessary pledges were given, the contracts signed. I pleaded the wedding be postponed for say two years, when Matilda would be of a more suitable age. I had promised her I would insist on this and I was determined to fight Henry for the concession if need be.
He gave way. The relationship we had been enjoying since Christmas had softened him in that respect; he did see that his daughter was young to leave home—though, Heaven knew, many princesses had left at a much earlier age—and he did have some affection for his children. It was merely that he did not know how to show it.
However, I won the day and Matilda was to remain with me a little longer so that we could plan her trousseau at leisure and decide all she would want to take with her.
The child clung to me and told me she never wanted to leave me. That was gratifying, but it made me anxious about her. I soothed her and reminded her that it was the fate of all princesses to go away from their homes. “But that does not mean we shall not see each other,” I went on. “I shall come to see you. I am a great traveler, as you know. I am always on the move. I shall come to see how my Duchess of Saxony and Bavaria is faring.”
Henry left for Normandy in March. I now had to face the fact that several months of discomfort lay ahead of me. I was certainly not a stranger to childbearing, but I was getting rather old for it.
In the meantime I devoted myself to my children. Young Henry was getting a little proud of himself. He and Marguerite had their own establishment now, and he was convinced he was going to be King of France. Too much adulation came his way, and the King was now openly talking of having him crowned. That would be difficult, because the Kings of England were supposed to be crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury. And where was the Archbishop of Canterbury? Everything seemed to come back to Becket.
For two months I enjoyed the domestic life with my children. My favorite would always be Richard. He was so tall, so fair and golden, quite the most handsome of them all in my eyes, though some would say that Henry was more so. Poor little Geoffrey had missed those good looks and lacked the height of the other two. One should not allow looks to influence one, but how could one help it? Moreover, Richard was so like me in character. He loved poetry and had a beautiful singing voice. I felt he would have been at home in my grandfather’s Courts of Love.
I heard from the King. There was a great deal of trouble everywhere. He believed Becket was stirring it up. Not that he did anything very much. He was just there, playing the martyr and making Henry the tyrant. Of course, he was getting help from Louis. A plague on the man!
Henry wanted me. He needed me in Anjou and Maine. I must leave at once. Leicester and de Luci could take care of England, as they had so well in the past.
So in May I left England with Richard and Matilda. We stayed briefly in Normandy, paying a visit to the Empress Matilda in her palace near Notre Dame des Prs. She was delighted to see the children and me but I was saddened to see that her health was deteriorating. She had changed a great deal since her fiery youth and was giving herself over to good works. But she cared deeply for her family and was distressed by Henry’s quarrel with Becket.
“It should never have happened,” she said. “He should never have given him Canterbury.”
How right she was! On the other hand, she was delighted by her namesake’s coming marriage. She said she had never really felt well since her illness five years before. But she did not altogether regret it, for being less active gave one time for reflection.
When we left her, we made our way to Angers, where I was to stay and act as Regent.
I was quite happy to be in Angers. It recalled the days when I was the Queen of Love, and poets and musicians sang their songs to me.
I reviewed my life. I had had two husbands, and neither of them had given me the satisfaction I needed. Louis was incapable of it but he was a good and gentle man. I had hoped for much from Henry but he had failed me and the disappointment was bitter. Chiefly I resented his infidelity; his driving ambition I could understand; the childish rages could be excused; but his attitude to women, his picking them up and casting them aside, his ability to take equal satisfaction from a night with a prostitute and a wife who loved him . . . that was something I could not tolerate.
No, he had killed my love for him.
I had loved my uncle Raymond in Antioch. Looking back, it seemed that that was the most satisfactory love affair of my life. And I was old now and could no longer expect the raptures of youth.
Henry was back in England now, in conflict with the Welsh. He had failed there once, and failure rankled with Henry.
Meanwhile here was I in Angers, not greatly caring that we were separated. I knew I could rule my own people better than he could because I understood them. I had my little daughter Matilda to prepare for her wedding; and there was my beloved Richard, always a joy to be with. And in addition I was growing unwieldy.
August had come. In two months my child would be born. This was a wearisome time, when I was feeling exhausted by the least exertion. This was different from my first pregnancies, when I had eagerly looked forward to the birth. I had already proved my fruitfulness to the world and had enough sons to govern our empire and two daughters to make alliances beneficial to us. I had done my duty and had had enough.
I shall never forget that day. A messenger came to the castle, and as soon as I saw him I knew he had important news.
“A son!” he panted. “A son for the King of France. The Queen has given birth to a son. There is rejoicing through France.”
I could not believe it. Louis the father of a son! After all these years of endeavor! It was not true.
“I do not believe it!” I cried.
“It is true, my lady. They are singing in the streets of Paris. They are calling the child ‘the God-Given.’ They say he is going to save France . . . from the English.”
I felt dismayed and at the same time a kind of mischievous amusement. I was imagining the news reaching England. How would Henry take it? Would he lie on the floor and gnaw the rushes? It was almost certain that he would. And he would have good reason for anger on this occasion. His most glorious plans quietly dispersed by the birth of one small boy to the King and Queen of France! Our Henry could not be King because this little boy would wear the crown. Equally he would imagine Louis’s joy, the hours of kneeling in thanksgiving. In the churches there would be paeans of praise to God who had granted this longed-for wish.
I was soon hearing accounts of that rejoicing. There was talk of nothing but the heir to the throne of France. Paris went wild with delight. Bells rang through the nights; the people danced in the towns, and bonfires were lighted at every street corner.
France at last had an heir. He was called Philip Augustus. He was the hope of France. Merely by being born he had scored the greatest possible victory over the English.
And Henry—in Woodstock, of course, where he seemed to spend a great deal of time nowadays—would be gnashing his teeth in rage.
It was a sobering thought that all his devious plans could be destroyed by one stroke.
In October our daughter was born. She was called Joanna.
I had expected Henry to come to Angers. Christmas was approaching, and it was a custom to spend it together with the family. I wondered what was keeping him in England. I had heard of no reason, and he was usually so restless. It was rare for him to spend so much time in one place. He was at Oxford or Woodstock most of the time.
Of course, he must have been deeply shocked by the birth of Louis’s son, but I should have thought that event would hardly produce listlessness, rather would it have goaded him into action. I began to wonder whether he was ill. He must have fallen into violent rages when he heard the news from France. It had often occurred to me that he might do himself an injury when he was in such a state.
Christmas came. It was pleasant to have the children around me, and the new baby brought joy to me. There was unrest in the provinces over which I had jurisdiction and, of course, the fact of Philip Augustus’s arrival had weaned Henry of a certain power, and those who had hesitated to rise against him before might be bolder now. On the other hand the people had a certain affection for me, and I felt I could keep the revolt simmering without its actually boiling over. With his sweeping reforms, his disciplines and his uncouth appearance and manners, Henry had alienated my people.
We heard he was coming over in early March, but that was canceled and he remained a week longer in Woodstock. It was not until April that he arrived in Maine, and then he traveled through Alenon and Roche-Mabille to Angers.
He was delighted with the new baby. Matilda was indifferent to his presence. She was getting apprehensive about her marriage, poor child. As for Richard, there was a suppressed hostility in his relationship with his father; for some reason they did not like each other very much. I wondered why: Richard was by far the most outstanding of our sons. I thought he was more handsome even than young Henry; he was more cultured, more balanced, less vain; moreover, he shared my love of music and poetry. Perhaps it was that which Henry did not care for. But Richard excelled in all manly sports in fact, more so than any of the others. Perhaps he objected to Richard’s affection for me, for the boy showed it in every look and gesture.
However, our meeting passed amicably.
Henry expressed his fury over the arrival of Philip Augustus. I saw the red in his eyes and the purple in his face when he referred to the matter and he could easily have indulged in one of his rages on the spot. He said it was a disaster. We might have found another bride for young Henry if we could have seen into the future.
“Who would have believed that Louis would be able to do it?” he cried.
I said: “It’s no use harking back. We have to go on from here. Louis has his son. He’ll probably have another now. The French throne will never come your way, Henry.”
“By God’s eyes, who would have thought I could be cheated so?”
“Louis would not call it cheating. He will think it is God’s reward for all the praying he has done.”
“It’s true. We have to look elsewhere. There is this marriage of Matilda’s. That will be a good thing. And I want Brittany for Geoffrey. Then there is a match for Eleanor and the new child.”
“Pray let us get her out of her cradle first.”
“Becket’s causing trouble, of course.”
“Simply by doing nothing.”
“Posing as the passive martyr. Alexander has received him. Louis has arranged that. This alliance with Henry the Lion has come at a good moment. Alexander will be worried . . . and rightly so. My friendship with Saxony could mean I’m wavering toward Paschal. I could withdraw the obedience of all my Angevin dominions from Alexander. Oh yes, he’ll have some anxious moments about this alliance, and that is good.
“But there is much to be done. I want this matter of Brittany settled with the union of our Geoffrey and the heiress, Constance; and Henry must be recognized as the heir of Normandy and Anjou; and Richard as the heir of Aquitaine. I am thinking of the King of Castile for Eleanor, and Sicily for Joanna. Unfortunately we should have to get Louis’s approval.”
“You have been busy making plans. Is that what you were doing at Woodstock?”
“That and other matters,” he said.
He was showing his age. In fact, in spite of those eleven years between us, he looked older than I. I understood what a terrible blow the birth of Louis’s son must have been to him. I still had a twinge of affection for him and found him physically attractive—in a minor way, it was true, but it did surprise me that it still existed.
I comforted him in the usual way.
He did not stay long with us. He was deeply disturbed by the rumblings of rebellion in all the provinces, and to my intense dismay, soon after he had left, I was once more pregnant.
I could not believe it. It was too much to be borne. I did not want another child. I had just emerged from the tiresome pregnancy with Joanna—and now it was going to start all over again.
I returned to England in the autumn.
Henry had said that he wanted young Henry to accompany him on a trip through the Angevin provinces as they must become accustomed to their future ruler. I felt that if there was going to be trouble, particularly in Aquitaine, it was better for me to accompany them. The people would be more likely to think kindly of me. But he was anxious for Henry to go, and now that I was going to have another child I did not want to do a lot of traveling.
It was October when I came back to England. I was at this time seven months pregnant, and although it seemed to be more or less a habitual state with me I felt tired and realized I was right to stay where I was and await the birth of my child in comparative peace.
Young Henry had changed. Perhaps this was since he had had his own apartments and was aware that he was soon to be crowned King. He was already giving himself the airs of a king, and Marguerite behaved as though she were Queen. I did not think this a very satisfactory state of affairs, and I was amazed that the elder Henry could not have seen how unwise it was to endow the boy with such ideas of his own importance. He was too young; moreover, he was surrounded by people ready to do him great honor at every turn, thinking no doubt of the power which would one day be his.
I was sure the King did not intend this. He was the King and would remain so until the day he died. He merely wanted to safeguard the throne for his son so that when he himself died there would be a king waiting to mount the throne. The memory of Stephen and Matilda lingered on.
Young Henry did not see it in this way. He was already the little King.
When I told him that his father wished him to go to France, he was dismayed.
“But I do not want to go,” he said.
Certainly he did not and I could understand why. Here he was, the idol . . . almost a king . . . deferred to in every way. Why should he want to go and endure discomforts, riding out to possible war with his father whom he would have to obey?
“Why should I go?” he demanded.
“Because it is your father’s wish,” I told him.
“I do not want to go. I like it here.”
“Of course you do. Here you are treated like a king; there is entertainment in your apartments; you ride out with your subjects around you; everyone defers to you. Kingship is not like that all the time, my son. There are provinces to be kept in order. You have to learn that side of kingship as well as the pleasant side.”
“Why should I have to go now?”
“I tell you, because your father commands it.”
“But I . . .”
“You are his subject, Henry.”
“But I am going to be King.”
“Not yet. And when you are, it will be in name only. There is only one king of this realm, and that is your father. You must remember that.”
“I do not want to be with him.” He came to me and put his arms around me. “I want to stay with you.”
I confess to a thrill of pleasure which I could not help feeling when my children showed their preference for me—which they did fairly frequently. I stroked his beautiful fair hair.
“We cannot always have what we want.”
“He is dedicated to his country. He suffers discomfort for what he feels must be done.”
“He is dedicated to his own pleasure! All last winter he was here with that woman. He stayed at Woodstock and Oxford . . . and there she was . . . like the Queen. He does what he wants. Why shouldn’t I?”
“What woman was this?” He was silent for a while. “Tell me,” I said sternly.
He replied: “It was Rosamund . . . Rosamund Clifford.”
“And he was here . . . with her . . . through the winter?” He was silent again.
“Listen to me, Henry,” I said. “I want to know.”
“Everyone in the Court knows. She was here . . . just as though she were the Queen . . . in your place . . . Why should he do what he wants when I . . .”
I was staring over his head. So this was the reason for that period of inactivity. He was here with Rosamund Clifford. Anger swelled up within me. I had known of his infidelities. I had grown used to them, telling myself that they were of no account . . . passing fancies which never lasted more than a day or so. Women . . . just women . . . And he, the restless one, with Becket making trouble for him on the Continent, with his provinces ready to revolt, with justice to maintain in England . . . had dallied at Woodstock and Oxford to be with Rosamund Clifford! Not for just a night . . . but all those months.
This was different from anything that had ever happened before.
I was certain of one thing. I was going to discover the exact relationship between the King and Rosamund Clifford.
Nobody wanted to talk at first. But they all knew. It was a feature in cases like this that everyone knows the intimate details while the one chiefly concerned remains in ignorance.
Gradually I learned the story. The alarming part was that the liaison was a lasting one. It had been going on for quite a few years.
She was the daughter of Walter de Clifford, I discovered, and Henry must have met her during one of his campaigns in Wales. She was certainly not like the prostitutes and serving-girls with whom he usually contented himself. Rosamund was a lady, and of outstanding beauty, by no means the sort of woman who would indulge in a fleeting affair with anyone—not even the King.
He was actually in love with her. That was what was so galling to me. He cared about her. She was not just a woman of the moment. He had brought her to the palace of Woodstock, and while I was in France taking care of the dominions there, Rosamund was living in my apartments as Queen!
This was too much to be borne.
At this time every vestige of affection I had had for him departed. I could think only of revenge. He had insulted me. He had married me for my possessions. Apart from those I was no more to him than any woman for whom he briefly lusted. I hated him.
And when I thought that it was this woman who had kept him in Woodstock all that time when he should have been on the Continent dealing with the troubles there, I was incensed. I had never known anyone able to charm him sufficiently to take him away from his commitments before.
I had to see this woman for myself. All those about me were too terrified to tell me anything. They feared what I would do—and what the King would do when he learned that they had told.
I said to myself: I will not harm this woman, but I will see for myself what she is like.
I had always thought Woodstock one of our most charming palaces. “Woodstock” had originally been “Vudestoc” which meant “a woody place,” and the woods were indeed beautiful. Henry’s grandfather, the first Henry, had built an enclosure for wild beasts in which the lion, leopard and lynx had roamed. The first porcupine ever seen in this country had been brought there. Stephen had used the place as a garrison for his troops during his skirmishes with Matilda. Henry had always been fond of it, and so had I . . . until now.
So Rosamund had been installed here. But where was she now? She must be at Woodstock. He would keep her here so that he could summon her at any time. The only reason she was not in the palace now was because I was there. When I was absent on the Continent, he kept her there as his Queen.
I must see her. I must discover what sort of woman could keep Henry interested to the extent that he went to the great trouble of keeping her with him, and who had evidently been his mistress for several years.
I knew that I would get no information as to her whereabouts from those around me, for there was no one who would be bold enough to tell me where she was.
There was a maze built close to the palace. It consisted of a number of vaults, underground passages and arches walled in brick and stone. It was supposed to provide a diversion . . . a game for the courtiers to find their way out. Few people went there. I referred to it quite casually once, and there was a constrained silence which aroused my suspicions.
I determined to explore the maze. I did so, making sure that I should be able to retrace my steps. I made one or two fruitless excursions, and then one day I found a piece of silk thread in one of the passages. It was a fine silk as used in embroidery and looked as though someone had caught it up in a boot or shoe. I stooped and picked it up. It was a long, unbroken thread. I started to roll it into a ball, and I saw that it went on through the passage. I was surprised, for it led me into a part of the maze which I had never seen before. Then suddenly I saw a shaft of sunlight and came out into the open.
My eyes were dazzled after the dimness of the maze. Before me was a miniature palace. It looked mysterious in the November mist, and instinctively I knew I had found what I had sought. I approached cautiously, crossing the lawn to the iron-studded door.
I rapped sharply on it. I heard a shutter being drawn and I was looking into a pair of intensely blue eyes.
Rosamund Clifford! I thought.
“I wish to come in,” I said.
“But who . . .” she began.
“I am the Queen.”
A bolt was drawn. She stood back. Oh yes, she was indeed beautiful. Her rippling fair hair, falling about her shoulders, was in some disorder; her lashes were dark, as were her well-formed brows; they accentuated the blueness of her eyes and the cornlike color of her hair; her cheeks had flushed to a rosy shade at the sight of me. She looked very frightened.
I stepped inside.
The hall was beautifully furnished. He would have given her all this. I could see at once the sort of woman she was. Meek, docile, ready to await his pleasure; with all that beauty no wonder he came back and back again to her.
“You are Rosamund Clifford,” I said. She bowed her head. “I would speak with you.”
She curtsied uneasily and led the way. We were in a richly furnished chamber, and the first things I noticed were two little boys. They were playing some game and stopped short as I entered to stare at me.
“Your sons?” I asked.
“Yes, my lady.” She went on: “William . . . Geoffrey . . .”
They ran to her. I could see him in them . . . the tawny curls, the leonine head . . . the Plantagenet arrogance, and I felt a surge of rage, not against this woman but against him.
She took the boys by the hand and led them to the door. The elder one . . . William, I think . . . could not resist looking over his shoulder at me. A woman had appeared; she took the boys, and Rosamund Clifford came back into the room.
She stood before me, her eyes downcast.
“How long have you been the King’s mistress?” I asked. She was trembling and it seemed she could not find her voice. I went on: “I know it is for several years. Those boys, are they his?” She nodded. “And he has been coming often to Woodstock to see you, and you are always here in this place when he is not here, and if I am absent you take my place in the palace, do you not?”
“It was . . . his will.”
“And what of my will?”
“I . . . I told the King that it should not be.”
Suddenly I was sorry for her. I could see how it had been. She was no wanton. Perhaps she would not have attracted him so intensely if she had been.
“When did you meet him?” I asked.
“It was in Wales . . . where the King was. My father served him.”
“Your father is Sir Walter de Clifford, is that so? And you have brothers and sisters.”
“Yes, my lady. I have two brothers and two sisters.”
“You see, I know something of you, Rosamund Clifford. Do not think that your conduct with the King is a surprise to me. Anyone, whether noblemen’s daughters or serving girls . . . they are all one to him. So it does not surprise me. But you are much talked of. And all because you flaunted yourself and your sinful behavior at the palace . . . my palace . . . for I am the Queen and, as you know, the King’s lawful wife. So the King first saw you in Wales.”
“I was at my father’s castle of Llannymddyvri. The King was campaigning . . .”
“I know. And your father was pleased that you should behave thus with the King?”
“He is the King, my lady.”
“Yes,” I said slowly, “he is the King.”
I knew I should not blame her. I could see it all so clearly. The campaign in Wales, all the women there would have been . . . and this one. She was different; her father was an honorable knight, and his daughter could not be treated like a serving-girl. I could imagine her attraction. She was outstandingly beautiful; her type would appeal to him; she was completely feminine. An English beauty and mild with it. A pure virgin when he first saw her. He would soon change that. She would be a little reluctant, yet overawed. That would add to his passion. He would soothe her. “Have no fear. I am your King. I swear no harm shall come to you.” And so she succumbed and she was in love with him. Women fall in love with power, and kingship is supreme power . . . or almost. Master of us all . . . the lover. I could see it all so clearly.
But it had lasted. That was what rankled. He would not be faithful to her any more than he had been to me. Fidelity did not exist for Henry. But he did come back to her. She had his sons. How many women in England had Henry’s sons? Too many to be remembered. There must be little Plantagenets in every village in the country.
I said: “It must end.”
“The King . . .” she began.
“I say it must end. How dare you come to my palace! How dare you take my place!”
“It was the King’s orders . . . I . . .”
I should not be hard on her, poor silly simpering little thing. She was like an insect, causing a moment’s irritation. She had no power to resist him. I was terrifying her. Well, let her be terrified. Let her fear what I would do to her.
I would have looked formidable. I was clearly pregnant with her lover’s child. What a situation!
I felt my face contort with hatred. She thought it was for her but it was for him.
“You are a harlot,” I said. “Are you not afraid?” She nodded. “Not of me, you little fool,” I said. “Of God.”
I had struck the right note. This was one who would suffer a great deal from her conscience. She had obviously been brought up as a virtuous girl. And she had lost that virtue. But as it was to the King I daresay her family would find that acceptable. It was not her fault. But I was not going to let her escape lightly. I was angry and bitter, and my marriage was completely ruined, for it could not be revived after this, and she had done it with her simpering manners, her pink and white beauty and her virtue which could be assailed by the King.
“You are a whore,” I told her. She blushed painfully, and I went on: “If you had not been, you could have married some good and worthy man. Then you would have been able to hold up your head and not bow it with shame as you must now. It were better that you had never been born. You should break this liaison with an adulterer.”
She was trying to speak but the words would not come.
“Yes,” I went on. “Better if you had not been born. Are you not afraid to face me, the King’s lawful wife and your Queen, to whom you as a subject owe allegiance? I could bring you a dagger and say, ‘Plunge that into your heart, or do you prefer a poison cup?’ I could take your life. After all, did you not take my husband?”
“If you were to harm me,” she said with a shade of defiance, “the King . . .”
“The King would say, ‘Poor Rosamund, I knew her well. She was a very willing partner in my bed. But there are plenty of others ready to take her place. England abounds in whores. Why should I fret for one?’”
“It was not so . . .”
“Oh no, with you and him it was romance, was it not? The adulterer and the wanton. There is one thing for you to do, Rosamund Clifford . . . if you truly repent your sins, and that is go into a nunnery. I recommend Godstow, which is not far from here. There perhaps, by the time your span runs out, you will have earned remission of your sins.”
I saw the sudden hope in her eyes. I laughed inwardly. I had sown a seed.
What would Henry say if he returned to Woodstock and found his mistress installed in a convent! That would be rather amusing.
“Think about it,” I said; and I left her.
I made my way back to the palace. I had given Rosamund Clifford something to think about. I wished Henry were here. I should have loved to tell him I had discovered his love-nest.
I was soon to have his child. That made the situation more ironic. I hated him. I began to dislike the child I carried because it was his.
Every vestige of gentle feeling for Henry had gone. Rosamund Clifford had killed it. This really was the end. I would never have another child by him, should never again share a bed with him. Our relationship was over.
I thought about divorce. He would lose Aquitaine, and for that I rejoiced.
I thanked God that I was still the Duchess. If I returned to Aquitaine, I was sure the unrest would end. I would rule as my grandfather and father had. I belonged there. Henry could go and gnash his teeth in rage—not because he had lost me but because he had lost Aquitaine. And France would be lost to him because of the birth of Philip Augustus. He would feel his possessions slipping away from him.
I would not live with him again. He would have to learn that I was no Rosamund Clifford to accept his lecherous ways and be calmly waiting for him whenever he deigned to visit me.
This was a turning-point in my life. I was now making a great decision. I would leave this land of cool days and cloudy skies. I would return to my native country, where I was the ruler. And perhaps I would take my children with me. I was the one whom they loved, the one to whom they gave their allegiance . . . and not only Richard: the others too.
Henry would learn that, although he might have his will with Rosamund Clifford, it would not be so with Eleanor of Aquitaine.
My time was near. Another Christmas was approaching. I decided to spend it at the Beaumont Palace in Oxford, and there my child should be born.
Henry did not come to us for Christmas. It was a disappointment because I wanted to tell him what I had discovered and that I loathed him and had made up my mind to leave him.
It was frustrating that he absented himself.
My son was born on Christmas Eve.
He was unlike the other children. He lacked their golden looks and was smaller than they, a dark-haired creature. I could feel little love for him. It was a pity. The boy could not be blamed for his father’s sins. It was just that he gave me no joy. In the past, though I had deplored my pregnancies while they were in progress, I was always thrilled when the child arrived. But this was not the case with John. I handed him over to his nursemaids.
My thoughts were occupied with my plans for a new life . . . without Henry.