Post-classical history

England’s Most Unpopular Queen

HENRY was twenty-nine when he married. This was not due to any disinclination on his part for the state of matrimony. On the contrary, he had been anxious to have a wife and had striven hard to find one.

As a boy he seems to have admired the Scottish princesses who were held at Corfe Castle as hostages, and his first thought when old enough to take a mate was that he would wed Marion, the younger of the two, even though she was a number of years older than he was. As Princess Margaret, the elder, had married Hubert de Burgh, the Council refused to sanction this plan, holding that it would be derogatory to the royal dignity to have one of his own subjects as a brother-in-law.

Disappointed in his first choice, Henry sought a bride in three different European courts in turn. It was considered wise to cement relations with Germany, and the Bishop of Carlisle was sent to Vienna to propose a marriage between Henry and a daughter of Leopold of Austria. A son of Henry of Germany carried off the lady, however, under the very nose of the discomfited bishop. Matches were then proposed for him with a daughter of the Count of Brittany and a Bohemian princess, without results in either case. Henry began to believe that some malign influence was at work or that a more positive force was working against him. When the charges were revived against Hubert de Burgh for the last time, the King added a new item to the familiar farrago of claims, that it had been Hubert himself who had secretly connived to prevent him from marrying. He even went to the extent of asserting that in one instance Hubert had conveyed to the prospective bride the information that he, Henry, was “squint-eyed, silly, and impotent, that he had a sort of leprosy, and that he was incapable of enjoying the embraces of any noble lady.” This absurdity may have been based on something which had happened, an intrigue, perhaps, to prevent one of the matches from being carried through, but it is indicative of the character of the King that he would publicly refer to the matter in this highly undignified form.

It is hard to understand why the many casts made in the matrimonial waters failed to get more than nibbles. Henry was handsome enough, he was of agreeable address, his tastes were cultivated, and he had a reputation as a man of learning. The English throne was ranked in the top bracket of international importance, and the country was attaining once more to some degree of opulence. No reasonable explanation has been found; but the fact remains that Henry, anxious as he was to find a wife to share his throne and sit by his side, finally gave up in despair and for the space of four years made no further efforts in that direction.

Perhaps by way of compensation the young King turned his attention to aesthetic concerns. He became much interested in poetry and minstrelsy and still more deeply in the great developments which were being seen in architecture. The title of Henry the Builder, which was given him later, was well deserved, for he became an intelligent leader in that field and left monuments behind him to attest his vision and taste. He was sincerely devout (so much so that his fellow monarch, Louis of France, had to order churches closed in advance in order to get him by them), which put him in complete sympathy with the movement to create a purely English type of cathedral and church. The preaching of St. Bernard had roused in the Christian world a deep reverence for the Virgin Mary, and from this had grown the tendency to have Lady Chapels in all important edifices. Henry’s first venture in building, therefore, was the beautiful Lady Chapel at Westminster. He was dreaming and planning at this early stage also of rebuilding the abbey; a work which he accomplished later.

It was in his mind that he would make Windsor Castle into a great King’s residence, worthy of the nation and the throne. The First King’s House, which Henry I had erected for his lovely Saxon bride, had been badly damaged in the sieges to which it had been subjected, although the Hall and St. Edward’s Chapel still remained, in a somewhat battered condition. Henry’s mind was already filled with a picture of what he would do: a three-sided wall to enclose the level ground west of the Norman keep which could allow for three baileys (courtyards devoted mostly to domestic activities), and in the lower of these there would rise a much handsomer house than the one the first Henry had provided. He was planning royal chambers for himself and the Queen (when he succeeded in persuading someone to be his Queen), a large and magnificent chapel to be dedicated to Edward the Confessor, his favorite saint, and a Great Hall which would be the finest thing of its kind in the kingdom. All this he brought to pass in due course.

When Henry reached the age of twenty and nine it was agreed in the Council that the problem of finding a wife for him must be solved at once. The choice fell on Joanna, daughter of the Earl of Ponthieu in Normandy. It is probable that the girl’s mother had been angling for Henry because it is on record that she sent him a present of a costly table of Sardinian ivory, whatever that is. A favorable response was received from the parents, and Joanna herself was said to regard the prospect with approval. The marriage contract was drawn up and ambassadors were posted off to Rome to obtain the consent of the Pope.

The ambassadors had reached a point within a few days’ journey of their destination when word was received from Henry that they were to return at once to England. He had changed his mind. A princess had been found who more closely touched his fancy and who, moreover, was ready to become Queen of England. It was unfortunate that the ambassadorial party did not ride a little faster or spend fewer nights in Paris so that they might have completed their mission before being recalled. Joanna of Ponthieu might or might not have made Henry a good wife, but the lady on whom his choice had fallen was to prove the most unpopular queen England ever had.


Provence at this stage of history was smaller than it had once been and much smaller than it would become later. It was, in fact, a mere slice of land east of the Rhone, too unimportant for egress to the Mediterranean, too restricted to contain any city of size save the old Roman town of Orange. It was still, nevertheless, the symbol of the South, the cradle of literature and minstrelsy, the core of European culture and sophistication. Here the troubadours loved and sang, finding the Courts of Honor a fitting background for the cultivation of the muse, their inspiration waxing in the lovely gardens and the plantations where the white mulberry grew.

The Count of Provence was Raimund Berenger V, who made his headquarters in quite restricted splendor at Courthezon, close to Orange. The classic age of the troubadour was passing and the high-flown sentiments which had made the sirventes a tedious form of enjoyment were giving way to a more robust form of ballada after the fashion of Bernard of Ventadour, who sang:

“You say the moon is all aglow,

The nightingale is singing.

I’d rather watch the red wine flow,

And hear the goblets ringing.”

Raimund was determined to maintain the old standards and had gathered about him so many singers who still waxed ecstatic over a lady’s eyebrow and filled their verses with classic allusions that the impression was created of a court of great brilliance. He was a composer himself, and his wife Beatrice, who had been a princess of Savoy, was as famed for her compositions as her beauty. It was in this rarefied atmosphere that the couple raised a family of four daughters who were to become more famous for their loveliness than the court was for its culture. The charm of the Provençal princesses was on an ascending scale, each one to arrive being more highly praised than those before her. Marguerite, the first daughter, was fresh and pretty with dark hair and fine eyes. Eleanor, the second, was thought at first to have transcended all comparison and was known as La Belle, although Sanchia, who followed her, was of such subtle charm and fascination that she was described as “of incomparable beauty.” It remained, however, for Beatrice, the fourth daughter, to set men’s hearts thumping and the fingers of troubadours to fevered twanging of lyres. Two of the balladists at the Provençal court were temporarily deprived of reason for love of the entrancing Beatrice.

The father of these four fair charmers was so poor that his household, which is described as “noisy with youth,” traveled about from one château to another in order to take advantage of all the food which was grown, sometimes staying in one place no more than a single night. Money was so scarce that clothes were handed down, from mother to daughter, from one child to another. The officers of the household had patches on their elbows; the minstrels sometimes did not get the suppers for which they sang. But the atmosphere was always gay, the intoxication of Provençal gardens made up for the lack of the vinous kind, and when supplies were exhausted the court trumpeter, Mort-du-Sommeil (Death of Sleep), would sound his horn and a laughing cavalcade would ride on to the next château, confident that ahead of them the harvests had been good and that there would be fat capons and plenty of stubble geese for the table.

Count Raimund was so poor, in fact, that he never possessed enough money to make up a suitable dowry for any of his beautiful daughters. He had an asset of much greater value than gold, however, an officer named Romeo of Villeneuve, who possessed such a shrewd head on his threadbare shoulders that he could devise ways and means of snaring kings for the lovely brood without paying out as much as a single coin. This Romeo had already managed to marry Marguerite to King Louis of France. It would have been a most successful match if the mother of Louis, Blanche of Castile, had not become so accustomed to running the kingdom and keeping the royal household under her thumb that she could not share her son with another woman. Blanche made so much trouble for the young couple that they were only happy in their castle at Pontoise, where the King’s chambers were directly above those of the young Queen and there was a discreet winding stair connecting them. The two married lovers used to meet on the stair in great secrecy, after setting watchers to give them warning if the formidable tread of the Queen Mother were heard on either floor.

About the time that Henry’s proposal of marriage was sent to Joanna of Ponthieu, the nimble mind of the machiavellian Romeo was considering means of attracting his attention to Eleanor La Belle, who was now fourteen and ready for marriage. The scheme he evolved was roundabout but sufficiently ingenious to accomplish its purpose. Eleanor had begun already to dabble in versification and had completed a long and romantic poem about one Blandin of Cornwall who had fallen in love with Princess Briende and underwent all manner of adventures and tests for her sake. Romeo saw to it that a copy was sent to Richard of Cornwall (who might be expected to see a compliment in it to himself), written in Eleanor’s own fair hand and with a note from her as well. Richard, who was passing through the South of France on his way back from the Crusades, was as charmed and flattered by this attention as the wily majordomo had conceived he would be. If he had not been married happily to Isabella of Pembroke, he might have sought the hand of the royal poetess himself, having heard glowing reports of her beauty and refinement. He did the next best thing; he sent the poem (it is still in existence and a perfect sample of adolescent fervor) to Henry and hinted that here, perhaps, was the very best consort for him. Henry was as much dazzled by the genius of the fair Eleanor as his brother had been, and his imagination became inflamed with the reports he heard of the court of Provence and the charms of Eleanor La Belle. He decided to jilt the Ponthieu heiress and propose himself instead as a husband for the second of the daughters of Provence. Fortunately his Council agreed that there would be an advantage in having Louis of France as a brother-in-law, and negotiations were started at once. Procurators were hurried off to Provence to act for the King, the bishops of Ely and Lincoln and the abbot of Hurlé.

Henry proposed to give his bride the reversion of his mother’s dower, but Raimund Berenger objected to this on the score that his daughter would have to wait for the Queen Mother’s death before having any adequate provision. Henry had become so enraptured by this time over the prospect of getting the belle of Provence as his bride that word of the count’s objections threw him into a panic, as no doubt the shrewd Romeo (whose hand is seen at every stage of the negotiations) had intended it should. He decided at once to lower his own demands in the matter of the bride’s dowry, having set his figure at twenty thousand marks. Without a moment’s delay he wrote to his representatives and instructed them to reduce their demands, even specifying the steps by which they were to come down; first to fifteen thousand marks, then to ten thousand, to seven thousand, to five thousand, to three thousand. They were not told that if the count demurred at the lowest figure (he was certain to do that, not having anything like that amount in his bare cupboard of a treasury) they were to accept the lady empty-handed, but such was Henry’s intent. After sending off his bargaining instructions the King fell into a still greater panic, thinking that he had perhaps compromised his chances, that in Provence they would scorn him as a pinchpenny and niggler. He then sat down in a very great hurry and wrote to his procurators that “they were to conclude the marriage forthwith.” They were to do so with money or without, so long as they procured Eleanor for him and conducted her safely to England. When the question of the bride’s dowry was thus dismissed, Count Raimund promptly agreed to accept the reversion of the Queen Mother’s dower rights for his daughter and the marriage contracts were signed, the major-domo rubbing his hands with satisfaction, no doubt, as he watched the proceedings.


The boy who had been crowned with a circlet of plain gold belonging to his mother and in makeshift clothes, and had then sat himself down to a chine of beef with a few noblemen instead of the usual elaborate coronation banquet, decided that his wedding would make up for all this, that it would be the most dazzling ceremony in the memory of man. He spent the time before his bride’s arrival in feverish activities. The royal tailors made wedding clothes for him of gold-threaded baudekin and a whole wardrobe for Eleanor on the same scale. It was his intention to have her crowned immediately after the marriage, and a splendid diadem was designed, studded with precious stones and costing fifteen hundred pounds, an enormous sum in those days. Chaplets of gold filigree, rings of beautiful design, and jewel-encrusted girdles were among the many articles he ordered for her.

Fearing that she would find the royal quarters at Westminster dingy after the glories (sic!) of Provence, he decided to have the palace redecorated. The Queen’s chamber was provided with handsome new furnishings, and the walls were covered with historical paintings. He gave instructions for the Great Chamber to be painted a good green color and that a French inscription was to be lettered in the great gable. He had no money for all this—in fact, he was in debt for the dowry of his sister Isabella who had married the Emperor of Germany—but this did not concern him. He went on spending, freely and lavishly, with both hands.

He was not the only one who was busy in England. All the nobility were getting ready for the event, and the citizens of London were going to unheard-of lengths by way of preparation. They were cleaning up the streets and setting up cressets of oil at corners to provide illumination. They were planning pageants and spectacles on a most elaborate scale. Moreover, they were going to have a conspicuous part in the ceremony of crowning the young Queen, figuring, perhaps, that they were entitled to that much after the way Henry had been gouging them by forced loans over the years and suspecting, furthermore, that the cost of the wedding would fall on their shoulders finally. They were placing orders for riding equipment in such a rush that the saddlers around St. Vedast’s were busier than ever before, and horse clawers were at a premium.

The bridal train, with an impressive retinue of relatives, knights, ladies-in-waiting, troubadours, and jugglers, traveled slowly. From Navarre they rode down through the vineyard country of Gascony and on to the fair district of the Loire, where Queen Marguerite met her sister, accompanied by a great train of knights and servants, the knights with red noses and blankets under their armor and gloves instead of gauntlets because the weather was freezingly cold. Marguerite was delighted to see her sister but was perhaps just a shade condescending. Was not Louis considered a much more powerful and important king than Henry?

The party landed at Dover on January 4, 1236, after a pleasant enough crossing. Eleanor was in the best of health and spirits when Henry met her, and they seemed to like each other at once. There could be no doubt of Henry’s feelings, certainly. He paid her extravagant compliments and handed out gold and presents to her attendants as though he were another King Midas. They went at once to Canterbury, where the archbishop married them; and when Henry saw his bride in a gown of material which shimmered like the hot sunlight of Provence, tight-fitting to the waist and then flaring out in generous pleats to her feet, the sleeves long and lined with ermine, he became her captive and never did recover his freedom thereafter.

The bridal party then rode to London for the Queen’s crowning, and here a procession of citizens greeted them, three hundred and sixty of them on horseback, the men in tunics of cloth of gold, their wives with fur-trimmed cloaks, each carrying a cup of gold or silver to be presented to the royal couple. The new Lord Mayor, Andrew Buckerel, a pepperer (as grocers were called), cavorted in the lead. The ride from the Tower to Westminster was through clean streets hung with silk banners and trumpeters at each corner blowing furious fanfares for the lovely young Queen. There could be no doubt that Eleanor La Belle had made a most favorable impression, and no one who saw her on this cold but sunny day, without a hint of fog or cloud or smoke in the sky, would have believed that on a raw and gloomy day much later the citizens of London would pelt her barge on the Thames with stones to drive her back to the Tower, calling her a harridan and a witch.

The crowning was followed by a banquet which perhaps blotted finally from Henry’s mind the painful memory of his humble start as King. Never before in the history of merrie England had there been such feasting. The nobility were out in full force, performing their hereditary parts in the ritual. The Lord Mayor served wine to those who sat at the head table, the finest wine that Gascony could supply. Food was lavishly provided for the spectators who had braved the cold to walk from London and who packed the gardens and roadways about Westminster. At the finish everything which had figured in the ceremony was given away to those who had served the newly married couple, even the Queen’s bed being claimed by the chamberlain.

The start had been more than auspicious, but Henry promptly destroyed the fine effect of it by not sending back the large train of attendants accompanying the Queen. Louis of France had packed them all off as soon as he married Marguerite (Blanche of Castile, that managing woman, saw to it), but Henry liked them so much he could not part with them. Three uncles had come to England with the Queen. One of them, William, the bishop-elect of Valence, gained an immediate hold over Henry, who considered him wise and enlightened and listened to everything he said. Peter of Savoy, another of the trio, a very handsome and superior-mannered man, made such an impression on the gullible Henry that he was created Earl of Richmond and given (or, rather, sold for three feathers) a strip of most valuable land on the Thames for the building of a permanent home which became known as the Savoy. The third uncle, Amadeus, was also given valuable lands, which he promptly sold at a fine price. Even Thomas of Savoy, the father of this brood, was given a grant of a groat on every sack of English wool which passed through his territory.

The King, in the first flush of his enthusiasm for the wonderful thing which had happened to him, filled the pockets of the rest of the train with gold and even granted life pensions to many of them. One Richard, a musician, was made the King’s special harper and was allowed forty shillings and a tun of wine a year. Henry of Avranches, a poet, was put on the household list as the King’s versificator, which made him the first poet laureate. Master Henry wrote some verses about Cornishmen which made hackles bristle in the duchy, but this did not lose him possession of his hundred shillings a year. All this, however, was of small importance; what counted most seriously was the fatuous King’s granting of pensions to all the Queen’s relatives running into thousands of marks.

The Provençals were a most superior lot. They voiced the greatest contempt for everything English and looked down their long noses at the native population. They shuddered at the weather and sang mournful songs about their beautiful, sunny Provence so far away; but they were only too glad to stay and in many cases never did go back to beautiful, sunny Provence. The English people conceived a hatred for them which grew with each day.

Henry, it will thus be seen, was one of the most generous of men but with a perverse habit of displaying his generosity in all the wrong quarters. He never had any left over, certainly, for his subjects who paid the bills. The royal wedding and the orgy of spending which preceded and followed it left him in a most serious financial position. All the money granted to him for his sister’s dowry, amounting to two marks on each knight’s fee of land, and for his own marriage expenses, had vanished. Not a penny had been sent to Germany, and the royal spendthrift, moreover, acknowledged that he had gone deeply into debt as well.

The dissatisfaction of his subjects was so great that less than three weeks after the wedding a great council was held at Merton to discuss the King’s situation and the new danger which had arisen from the influx of foreigners. The barons most emphatically affirmed that no change was to be made in the laws or the methods of government.

The attitude of the Council should have been a warning. Henry preferred instead to listen to the advice of his new friends. They said to him in effect, these poverty-stricken but haughty relatives of the young Queen: “Be firm. Don’t give in an inch to these English traitors. Let them know you are the King.” This was the kind of advice Henry liked to hear. It coincided with his own thinking, the inner convictions which he had never dared state openly and unequivocably, although he had often given intimations of the reactionary ideas he harbored. Now, following the advice of the feudal-minded Provençals, he came out into the open. He let it be known that he intended to take the full task of government into his own hands. To this end he appointed a new council of twelve to act under him and follow out his orders. William of Valence was at its head, and none of the leading men of the kingdom were included.

On the twenty-ninth of April the Common Council of the kingdom gathered to protest these arbitrary measures which were in direct contradiction to the Great Charter which Henry had sworn so often to observe. Their indignation was so vigorously expressed that the King, never of stout enough resolution to face the whirlwind he continuously sowed, took his adored Eleanor to the Tower of London. They remained in the safety of its high stone walls until, in a somewhat cowed mood, he gave the barons his solemn promise to reform.

The promise had been made without any intention of keeping it. The new council of twelve was retained, with William of Valence at its head, and several of the officials who had served during the regime of Peter des Roches were called back to office. Henry, with his land-hungry in-laws whispering in his ear, was being firm in his own fashion.


The Queen, having conceived a poor opinion of the people over whom her husband ruled, was never happy unless surrounded by her relatives and favorites from Provence. In addition to those who remained permanently there was a constant stream of visitors. It is recorded that when the four sisters were together the two elder, Marguerite and Eleanor, insisted on the two younger sitting on stools in their presence because they were not queens. This irked Sanchia and Beatrice very much, neither realizing that fate (without any assistance from the archschemer Romeo) would provide both of them with crowns ultimately and that Beatrice particularly would live a most romantic and exciting life.

Henry found himself now under constant pressure to aid not only the immediate family of the Queen but her mother’s brothers and sisters as well. There were, unfortunately, a great many of them. Thomas of Savoy had brought a succession of brilliant sons and beautiful daughters into the world while lacking the means to provide for them. They came flocking and honking into England like a sord of hungry mallards. Boniface, the eleventh child, must have been a special favorite with his niece Eleanor, because she manifested a great desire to help him. Boniface, bold and handsome in a dark and masterful way, was full of ambition; but what prospects were there for an eleventh child in a state as lacking in prosperity as the mountainous slopes of Savoy? Intended by nature to be a soldier, he had found it necessary to go into the Church, where sinecures were always available for the younger sons of ruling families. When a very young man he had been made Bishop of Bellay. This, however, did not content him.

The chance to provide for Boniface came soon enough through the death of Edmund Rich. Although he had acted as archbishop with some of the spiritual conviction of Anselm and at times with flashes of political insight and courage, Edmund had been an unhappy man. His duties had involved him in continuous conflict; with the Pope over the exactions of the Vatican, with Henry because of the latter’s weakness and his wrongdoing, even with the monks of his own chapter at Canterbury because of the easy and voluptuous ways into which they had fallen. He lacked the stern fiber of that resolute man, Robert Grosseteste, and finally he reached the stage where he could fight no longer. The last straw was a letter from Gregory IX, the most demanding of pontiffs, instructing him to find three hundred livings for Italian incumbents. At this the gentle and unworldly scholar, who had been drafted into the leadership of the Church against his will, threw his hands in the air. This was in the summer of 1240 and the archbishop had reached his seventieth year.

Edmund did not resign. Over his shoulders, wasted by a lifetime of fasting and deprivation, he slipped the robe of the Cistercians. Crossing the Channel, he made his way to the Cistercian monastery at Fontigny where Thomas à Becket and Stephen Langton had found refuge when kept out of England. He said simply, “I have come to lay down my bones among you.” He continued to live there as one of the brothers until the heat of summer became so great that he was advised to go to the priory of Soissy where the weather would be more moderate, On departing he said, “I will return on the feast of St. Edmund.” He had spoken truer than he knew. The feast of St. Edmund falls on November 20. On the sixteenth day of that month he died at Soissy, and it was four days later that his body was brought to Pontigny for burial.

With the saintly Edmund gone, it occurred to Eleanor at once that the chance had come to do something for her favorite uncle. She began to urge his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury.

It would have been difficult to conceive of a less likely candidate for that exalted post. Boniface was a man of the world, hard and covetous and completely lacking in spiritual qualities. He spoke no word of the language and shared with the rest of his family a sense of superiority over the English. He was already unpopular with the people of the country. The year after Eleanor’s marriage to Henry he had visited England and had been entertained with such magnificence that the King had been compelled to demand a gift of twenty thousand marks from the Jews, with the threat that they would be expelled from the kingdom if they refused. It had been believed at the time that part of this money had vanished into the empty, capacious pockets of the visitor.

By this time Henry’s affection for his young wife had reached the fatuous stage and he could deny her nothing. With reluctance and inward misgivings (it is hoped) he sent the congé d’élite, the official permission for an election, to the monks of the Canterbury chapter, accompanied by a demand that they choose Boniface of Bellay.

The monks had often shown themselves obstructive and set in their convictions, but they were not at this time in a position to oppose the King. Before leaving Canterbury, Edmund Rich had placed the chapter under the ban of the Church. Henry’s peremptory instructions in favor of Boniface were accompanied by a promise to do what he could to get the ban lifted. The unhappy monks proceeded, therefore, in a long procession, two abreast, into their handsome chapter house and, seating themselves on the bench around the circular wall, cast their votes for the foreigner. The favored uncle of the Queen thus became the second man in the kingdom.

It was a long time before he could get his appointment confirmed at Rome. Gregory died early in 1241, worn out by his struggles with the German Emperor. The latter had defeated the armies of the Pope and had seized ships carrying cardinals to the general council of the Church which Gregory had called just before his death. He continued to hold the cardinals as his prisoners, and as a result there were only ten members of the Sacred College in Rome when the need for an election arose. He agreed to allow his prisoners to attend the conclave, but with one condition, that they would return to his custody if they did not elect his own candidate, Cardinal Ottobuoni.

The imperial candidate stood no chance whatever of election. The fact that Frederick favored him was enough to destroy his chances. There had been at no time, however, any sentiment in his favor. The favored candidate was an Englishman, Robert de Somercote, who had been created cardinal deacon of San Adriano in 1234.

Cardinal Somercote had been a protégé of Stephen Langton and, perhaps through the influence of the latter, had been made chaplain to the King. He was noticed favorably by Gregory while serving in that capacity, and a summons to Rome put him in the way of rapid preferment. He is said to have been much the same type of man as Adrian IV, who had been Nicholas Brakespeare of Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire, the only Englishman to become Pope. Somercote was a strong and reserved man, firm in his judgments and of proven discretion. On one occasion when the imperial armies were marching on Rome he was the only member of the cardinalate with the courage to remain by the side of the old Pontiff. It was believed that Gregory had thought him worthy of the succession. If the votes of the conclave had been cast for the Englishman, he would undoubtedly have pursued the vigorous policy of Gregory, which also had been the course followed by Adrian IV during his brief years of dramatic incumbency a century before. It was found when the ballots were cast, however, that the reluctance of the cardinals to elect an alien had not been overcome. Only nine votes had been registered, and of these six had gone to a compromise candidate, the oldest member of the College, Godfrey Castiglione of Milan.

When the smoke rose from the burning ballots in the Palace of the Sun and the news was conveyed to the outside world, there was another startling piece of information with it. Cardinal Somercote was dead. The first version of what had happened was that he had died before the election, that he had been poisoned by his opponents who feared his strength and had gone to this extreme to get him out of the way. Later it was said that he was poisoned after the balloting because a new election had been decided upon and the opposition, convinced he would win if this were done, had chosen to remove him from their path. The truth was never ascertained, but it was generally believed that Somercote had not died a natural death. This was probably the closest that England ever came to having another pope.

Godfrey was confirmed in the post on October 25 and took the name of Celestine IV. Then, adding intensity to a situation already charged, Celestine died on the tenth of November, his death being followed immediately by that of his closest supporter, the cardinal bishop of Ostia. The sixteen-day Pope had been of such advanced years that the strain to which he had been subjected might have exhausted his small store of strength. Such an explanation was not accepted in the inflamed state of Roman opinion. The poisoners were still at work! Panic swept the city. All the remaining members of the Sacred College fled for their lives and went into hiding.

For two years thereafter it was found impossible to appoint a successor. A few of the cardinals, the bolder spirits, returned to Rome, but the majority remained in hiding. Frederick, the German Emperor, railed at them as cowards and sons of Belial. Month after month passed and still nothing was done. The Emperor finally sent troops to seize the estates of all the cardinals who had not returned to their duties.

Finally in June 1243 a small conclave was held at Anagni and Sinibaldo Fiesco was elected, a member of the noble Genoese family of Lavagna, who assumed the name of Innocent IV. He was a man of great ambition and grim resolution, which caused him to oppose the Emperor as bitterly as his predecessors. “Christ established not only a pontifical but a royal sovereignty,” he declared, “and committed to blessed Peter and his successors the empire both of earth and heaven.” The clash which followed immediately resulted in the new Pontiff fleeing from Rome and establishing himself in French territory at Lyons.

It was to Lyons, therefore, that Boniface had to go for confirmation. He had not thought it necessary in the meantime to remain in the country over which he was to exercise spiritual sway. In his absence Henry sequestrated the revenues of Canterbury and cut severely into the possessions of the see, selling off timber and livestock and diverting the funds into the royal coffers. When the King went campaigning in Poitou (if it could be called that), he left Walter de Gray, the Archbishop of York, in charge of home affairs. The latter managed the vacant sees with such a firm hand that he was able to send Henry at Bordeaux, in addition to large sums of money, ten thousand measures of corn, five thousand of oats, and five thousand sides of bacon. If he had realized this, Boniface might have returned earlier. As it was, he preferred to remain as commander of the papal guard, to which the new Pontiff had appointed him. He was so interested in the politics of the Vatican, in fact, that he did not arrive in England for his enthronement until four years later.

It did not take long for the people of England to realize that Boniface of Savoy was the strangest primate the country had ever seen. After a succession of old men which stretched back into the mists of the past, sometimes men of great ability and inspired qualities of leadership, always of some degree of saintliness, it was disturbing to see the leadership of the Church in the hands of a worldling in his thirties, a soldier, moreover, contemptuous and grasping. The only thing which could be counted even slightly in Boniface’s favor was his prepossessing appearance. He soon became known throughout England as the Handsome Archbishop.

Boniface was as able in his way as any primate of the past. Having one objective only, to make a fortune for himself, he proceeded to employ his very considerable abilities to that end. Realizing that he could not accumulate wealth until he had put the affairs of the see on a better basis, he reduced his staff, made economies in all departments, sold off what was left of the timber. As a quick means of personal aggrandizement he persuaded the Pope, with whom he remained a great favorite, to grant him the first fruits on all vacancies in the province of Canterbury. He proceeded to fill the vacancies, allowing the new incumbents one sixth of the income and keeping five sixths for himself. His pockets filled quickly.

It then entered his head that what Robert Grosseteste had done for the spiritual improvement of the Church could be carried on with an eye to personal profit. He began to make visitations, and when he detected proofs of slackness (his sharp eye found them everywhere) he imposed fines on the delinquents, keeping the money for himself. Sometimes he agreed to forgo visitation when a sufficient inducement was offered.

Finally he came to London, expecting figuratively to find gold coins hanging in the clerestory of St. Paul’s like hops on a string, and silver in enticing piles in the churches whose modest spires rose everywhere above the tenements of the old town. He took possession, without permission, of the town house of the Bishop of Chichester and then turned his guards loose on London to exercise a concession the King had given him (and which he had no shadow of right to give), that of purveyance. The armed Poitevins visited markets and shops and took whatever they wanted without making payment London, incredulous that such things could be happening, did nothing at first. Soon, however, rumblings were heard in the Shambles and in Barking. Wherever men gathered there was talk of what must be done. The anger of London, sometimes slow to rouse, was always hard to appease.

Ecclesiastical London had decided to resist visitation. When Boniface came to St. Paul’s, his guards in chain mail at his heels (and all of them from Savoy), he was greeted by a strange silence. No organ sounded, no processional of cathedral officers in ceremonial robes, no censers swinging, no chanting of plainsong. St Paul’s, in fact, was as empty as a cavern under the sea. Finally the dean, old Henry of Cornhill, came doddering up to explain that there had been some mistake. Boniface excommunicated old Henry in a towering rage. Then, not being content with such an insignificant reprisal, he sent his men scurrying in all directions for candles and proceeded to dash them out on the paving stones while he cast into outer darkness everyone connected with the see of London.

The Handsome Archbishop now decided to visit St. Bartholomew’s and sent a command for everything to be in readiness at the appointed hour. He must have been aware as he made his way through the crowded streets that he walked in an atmosphere charged with menace. If he had understood the mettle of London he would have known that the scowls on the faces he passed were not mere idle resentment, and his ear would have told him that the trained bands were marching before him, behind him, in parallel streets. The great city was getting ready to act.

As soon as he appeared at the entrance of St. Bartholomew’s the bells began to ring, the boom of the organ rose from the interior of the church; it was plain that a service had just begun. Boniface saw at once that it had been timed to prevent him from making hisinspection. He was white with rage when the aged sub-prior, who did not seem aware of what was going on, came up to receive him.

“Where are the canons?”

The old man gestured in the direction of the stalls, and the wrathy archbishop saw that the canons, to a man, were already on their knees in prayer and could not be interrupted. He was sure, in spite of the soberness of their faces, that they were laughing at him.

Boniface fell into such an uncontrollable fury that he knocked the venerable sub-prior down and then, as he lay on the stone floor, struck him on the head and face, the blows having all his vigor behind them.

“Thus, thus,” cried the furious primate, “will I deal with English traitors!”

He called loudly for a sword so he could finish the helpless old man at his feet. As none was offered him, he reached down and crushed his victim against a spondyl between two of the stalls with such force that several bones were broken. The service was brought to an abrupt end, and the canons crowded between the irate archbishop and his victim. In the struggle which ensued the rochet was torn from the back of Boniface and it was discovered that he was wearing under it, not a penitential hair shirt as might have been expected, but a coat of chain mail!

Even the violent archbishop sensed the impropriety of what had been revealed. He seems to have desisted at once and to have left the church, taking his followers with him.

Word of what had happened had already reached the streets, which were filled with the rising tumult of the angry mobs. Boniface, an experienced soldier, knew that he and his men would be torn to pieces if they did not get away quickly. He succeeded in breaking his way through the people and led his men to the river. Here they secured boats and crossed to Lambeth. The mobs followed to the other side of the water and milled about the palace.

“Where is the bloody aggressor?” they cried. “Come out, infamous assailant of helpless priests! Come out, extorter of money, married priest that you are!”

In the meantime the canons of Bartholomew, acting on instructions from the Bishop of London, went in a body to tell the King what had happened. Henry refused to see them.

Boniface managed to slip away from his palace at Lambeth and took a boat down the river to Westminster. He had no difficulty in gaining admission. The King seems to have taken a serious view of the incident at first, fearing that Boniface had been hasty and ill-advised. Queen Eleanor did not agree with him. She supported her uncle, declaring indignantly that he could not have done otherwise when confronted with such impudent opposition. She even persuaded the weak-kneed King to issue a proclamation warning the people of London not to take part in a controversy which was purely ecclesiastical.

However, the Handsome Archbishop left the country soon afterward and remained away for seven years.


There can be no doubt that Eleanor was beautiful. No description of her is available, but it is probable that she inclined to the ivory and brown of the South rather than the dazzling gold-and-pink loveliness of the former Queen. Peter Langstoft speaks of her as “The erle’s dauhter, the fairest may of Me.” Even after people began to entertain a wholesome dislike of her they remained fascinated by the legend of her learning, and the women never did lose their interest in the clothes she continued to import from France. England even then was under Latin influence in all matters of dress. There had been insouciance in the trousseau Eleanor brought to the court of Henry; the parti-colored cotte, the gold or silver girdle in which a dagger was carelessly thrust, the wide goring at the hips, the daring effect of red silk damask and decorations of gilt quatrefoil, the mantle of honor over the shoulders, the very high and very new type of wimple into which the head receded until the face seemed like a flower in an enveloping spathe, the saucy pillbox cap.

That she failed to produce an heir until after nearly four years of marriage added to Eleanor’s unpopularity. A land tired of succession quarrels had no place in its affections for a barren queen. There was excitement, therefore, and even a resurgence of her early popularity when it became known in the first months of 1239 that she was with child.

On June 18 of that year a healthy male child was born at Westminster. It was quite late at night when the happy event occurred, but all London was awake and waiting. As soon as a loud clangor of bells conveyed the intelligence that the child was a boy, the city was illuminated and the streets filled with excited people. Already the descent of the royal infant had been traced back from Matilda, the Saxon wife of Henry I; to Margaret, her mother, who had been Queen of Scotland; to Edward the Exile, Edmund Ironsides, Ethelred, Edgar, Edward, Alfred. There it was to con, to talk over, the proof of descent from Alfred the Great, Alfred of glorious memory! For the first time in many years Henry had succeeded in making his people happy.

Four days later the child was baptized and given the name of Edward, which again delighted the people because it was so completely English. By this time, however, the first flush of enthusiasm, the first glow of content, was beginning to wear off. Henry was up to his old tricks, demanding gifts for the heir from everyone. He was so demanding as to the nature and value of the gifts, in fact, that one of his Norman officials who stood beside the font remarked dryly to those about him, “God gave us this infant, but our lord the King sells him to us.”

Not one of the nobles in their handsome surcoats of silk or samite or their wives in somewhat less costly grandeur had any conception of the importance of the event they were witnessing, that the infant held before the font, this son of vacillating Henry and grandson of the vicious John, would prove to be one of the greatest, if not the very greatest, of all English kings, that after a wild and unpromising youth he would assume office with an intensified sense of responsibility and govern so well that he would be called the English Justinian. They would perhaps have been unhappy and indignant if they had been given a glimpse of a future in which common men sat in the great council of the nation known as Parliament and that the tall man into which this child would grow, after killing in battle the great leader who first called “loyal and honest men” from all counties to sit in deliberation with baron and bishop, would be the one to adopt the idea and give it the sanction of long usage.

There was nothing of this, of course, to be read in the wrinkled face of the rather long infant on whom the holy water was sprinkled this warm day of June. The common people, massed outside and well fortified with the stout English ale always drunk on such occasions, had more prescience than the bowing and chattering people of the court. The boy was descended straight from Alfred, he was to bear the fine name of Edward: it stood to reason that he would grow into a proper man. The common people had high hopes for this prince.

It soon became apparent that the lord Edward was going to be of kingly appearance. He was called Edward with the Flaxen Hair. His eyes were blue, his complexion high, his features fine. He grew quickly and strongly. Some slight dismay was felt when it was found that one eyelid drooped in close imitation of his father’s defect, because that famous squint of Henry’s was generally believed to be the manifestation of slyness and his other maddening qualities. Would the boy develop the traits of his sire? The heir, however, showed early signs of being different from his father in most respects; a rugged, high-spirited, hot-tempered lad, always willing to exchange a blow for a blow but always fair about it, with a love from the very start for horses and dogs and weapons.

As soon as he had weathered an infantile illness or two (in the course of one Eleanor scandalized the monks of the Cistercian monastery of Beaulieu by insisting on remaining with them to nurse her son back to health) he was taken to Windsor Castle, where Henry’s ambitious building plans had been partly carried out, and there he was put in charge of one Hugh Giffard. His tutor soon found out other things about the boy: that he was quick in understanding, an excellent scholar up to a point; that he had an inherent sense of honor. Edward was beginning to grow very tall for his age, and it was certain that he was going to overshadow in height both his father and his grandfather, the thickset John. People began to call him affectionately Longshanks. The name stuck to him, and it is as Edward Longshanks that he is most often referred to in history.

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