The Courts of Love: The Story of Eleanor of Aquitaine (38 page)

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.

         

The Turbulent Priest

I
WAS IN NO HURRY
to leave England. I was feeling in limbo after the birth of John. I could not completely repress the revulsion the child aroused in me. Poor mite, it was unfortunate that he should have come at a time when I felt such an aversion to his father, and I was filled with a sense of shame every time I looked at him to remember how at one time I had enjoyed my relationship with Henry.

Moreover, it would soon be time for my daughter Matilda to leave England for her marriage. She clung to me. She was apprehensive of the future, as well she might be. But I was of the opinion that Henry the Lion would be indulgent as some men can be when they are so much older than their wives. I prayed this would be so.

I tried to make her excited about our preparations. We discussed her trousseau and the jewels she would have. And while I planned what Matilda would need, I was thinking of my own freedom, which could not be far away.

I wanted desperately to see Henry so that I could pour scorn on him. I wanted to tell him that I had discovered Rosamund’s bower and how I wished him well of her, for he should never be a husband to me again. But that could wait. I had many plans to make and I did not want to be rash.

I would not lose my children. They were mine more than Henry’s. I was the one to whom they gave their love. It always had been so. Henry would discover that in time.

So while I waited I planned, and the months passed.

Henry was occupied in Normandy and the Vexin. He had no plans as yet to return home. Trouble there must be rife. It could even keep him away from the fair Rosamund.

I saw little of the new baby and left him to his nurses. I tried to overcome my dislike of him, but in vain. My anger against Henry was so great that I was angry with myself, I supposed, for allowing him to get this child on me.

Henry was bent on using our children to extend his domain, and after leaving the Vexin he was in Brittany.

He had supported Count Conan, whom he intended to use to further his designs, for he wanted Conan’s daughter, Constance, for Geoffrey. This would need a cautious approach as, although Conan might agree, the people of Brittany, like those of Aquitaine, were not eager to accept Henry as their overlord. In due course Henry was successful. Conan gave his promise and Geoffrey, aged nine, was betrothed to Constance, aged five. Henry was doing well: Saxony and Bavaria through Matilda, Castile for Eleanor, and even baby Joanna was given her part, with Sicily. And now Brittany. He was stretching out all over France. I wondered what Louis was thinking; still giving thanks to God, I presumed, for the God-Given, Philip Augustus.

Sad news came from Rouen. I knew that the Empress Matilda had been ailing for some time. Ever since she had caught a virulent fever some seven years ago there had been occasional recurrences of it. Early in the morning of September 10 she died.

Matilda’s character had changed a great deal as she aged. In youth she had been fiery, ambitious, imperious and very reckless, antagonizing so many people with whom she came into contact. How she had mellowed! She had become very wise; she had always been clever but, losing her recklessness, she had given quiet thought to her problems and those of her family and had acquired a shrewd wisdom. If only Henry had listened to her over Becket         .         .         .         But one could not go on saying “If only         .         .         .”

On her deathbed, so pious had she become that she took the veil as a nun of the Abbey of Fontevrault.

I should have liked to be with her at the end. She and I had a great deal in common. We had admired each other, and that is always a reason for mutual regard. She had made a very careful will and had given a great deal to the poor. She had founded many religious houses and supported many more. She had set aside a large sum for the completion of the bridge over the Seine at Rouen—an object which she had started some years before her death. So she died full of good works.

I mourned her and I knew Henry would.

Now my great task was to see that young Matilda left the country for her future home in a fitting manner, and to do my best to make her believe that she could be happy in her new life.

We were to go to Dover and there embark for Normandy. Robert, Sheriff of Kent, was in charge of our passage and three vessels from Shoreham had been engaged to carry our small party and all Matilda’s belongings. We were going to Argentan, where the King would be waiting for us. There we were to celebrate Christmas, after which Matilda would begin her journey to Saxony.

I was looking forward to my meeting with Henry. I had been thinking of it for a year, and many times had I rehearsed what I would say to him. I wanted to see his face when he knew he had lost Aquitaine.

And so we came to Argentan. It was to be a family Christmas. Henry greeted me warmly. He was always attentive after long separations. I received his embrace coolly in the presence of others.

He had the effrontery to come to my bedchamber, smiling confidently, certain that we were going to resume marital relations. I looked at him coldly. I said: “Henry, there is something I have to tell you. I have decided I am going to leave you.” He stared at me uncomprehendingly.

I went on: “I shall return to Aquitaine. It will be as though I never married you         .         .         .         except for the children, of course. They are mine and I do not forget it.”

“By God’s eyes,” he said, “you strike a dramatic pose. Does aught ail you?”

“I am well, thanks be to God. I have made a few discoveries. I went through your maze at Woodstock one day. I think a piece of embroidering silk must have become attached to your spur. It led me to her pretty little home. I must say it is very charming. Did you design it, or did she? You seem as though you have not understood. I am talking of Rosamund Clifford.”

His eyes narrowed and I saw the smile curve his lips.

“You were at one time extremely fond of her,” I went on. “Don’t tell me you were guilty of that weakness of some women         .         .         .         and men even now and then. Were you in
love
?”

“With Rosamund,” he said. “Yes. She is a delightful woman.”

“The mother of your two sons?”

“I admit the charge.”

“And you took her to live in the palace         .         .         .         in my place?”

“Ah, that is what rankles, is it? That is what you could not bear. Yes, she did live in the palace. She was a more gracious queen than you ever were.”


She
had to please her master. Has it occurred to you that I do not have to please you?”

“Enough of this nonsense.”

“It is no nonsense. This did not happen yesterday. It was a whole year ago when I found my way through the maze to that charming abode of love. I have had ample time to think and I have made up my mind         .         .         .”

“Made up to what, may I ask?”

“You may indeed. Made up my mind that I have finished with you.”

He threw back his head and laughed. He came to me and took me by the shoulders. He was ready, I knew, for a little love play. He was going to placate me, tell me that no other woman—not even Rosamund—was of importance to him. I was the Queen, was I not?

I threw him off.

“You could not tear yourself away from her. All those months at Woodstock         .         .         .         and all that was happening to the dominions overseas         .         .         .         it mattered not. You could not leave your mistress. Very well, you are free now to set her up in the palace, to live openly with her, for I shall not be there. Never         .         .         .         never         .         .         .         Our marriage is over.”

“I did not think you would be so jealous.”

“Jealous? I? Do you think I envy your whores? No, I pity them. That poor creature at Woodstock         .         .         .         awaiting your summons         .         .         .         You want to own the world         .         .         .         but most of all, womankind, I do believe.”

“It is a dazzling prospect.”

“Laugh if you will. My mind is made up. I am not sure about divorce. I don’t think it is necessary. There are children enough. I shall go back to my home. I shall go to Poitou. And I hope I never have to see your face again.”

“Are you not being a little rash         .         .         .         just because you have discovered I have had a beautiful mistress? What are you envious of         .         .         .         her beauty? Her youth? You are eleven years older than I, you know.”

“Eleven years older in wisdom, I hope. But I have been foolish. I should have done this before. I have no need of you, Henry. I can go home to my own estates.”

“You will forget all this         .         .         .”

“I have been thinking of it for over a year and I have made my plans.”

“What a fuss to make!”

“I have had enough. As soon as I saw your mistress and knew that you had set her up in the palace while I was absent, I knew that that was the end. Oh, she is pretty enough and the boys are fine ones. What a man you are for getting sons on harlots. We have your bastard Geoffrey in the nursery as proof of that.”

“A very pleasant boy he is.”

“He has been brought up in my nurseries, that is why.”

“You accepted him.”

“It was different. His mother was a camp-follower. I wonder you did not set her up as a queen. Your conduct is a constant scandal.”

“And your past is not free from it. You should not be surprised. Were you not brought up in a Court where it was the order of the day? I am tired of this nonsense. I will not be called to book for my misdeeds. I will do as I will.”

“With your low-born loose-living women, perhaps, but not with the Duchess of Aquitaine and Queen of England.”

“Even those two august ladies shall not dictate to me.”

“Nor shall any dictate to them. You speak of having your will. But at least you tried to hide your mistress from me in her cozy little place beyond the maze.”

“I thought to spare your feelings. Do you blame me for that?”

“I want no such kindness from you. Do you think I care how many mistresses you have? I know they are legion. It would be a superhuman task to try to count them.”

“You may be right.”

“And this one was different, was she not? You had a special fondness for her.”

He smiled reminiscently. “I have,” he said.

“She has been as a wife to you and no doubt you wish she were.”

He looked at me, his hatred matching mine. “I do,” he said.

“Very well then. Go to her. Go.”

“Don’t be a fool.”

“It is you who are a fool         .         .         .         over this woman.”

“You are not planning to harm her         .         .         .         If aught happened to her through you I would kill you.”

“Oh, you feel as strongly as that, do you? And what do you think would happen to you if you harmed me? The people of Aquitaine hate you as it is. They would rise against you. In addition to all your troubles, you would have war with Aquitaine         .         .         .         and this time they would defeat you.”

“I would soon subdue them. Stop this folly. You are the Queen, no matter what other women there may be.”

“I will not have it. I shall never share your bed again.”

“So be it,” he said. “You are past childbearing now         .         .         .         or soon must be. I am surprised you went on so long. You are no longer a young woman.”

“So you have already pointed out. And there are others who please you more.”

“I won’t deny it.”

“I hate you,” I said. He smiled at me cheerfully.

“I shall go to Aquitaine,” I went on.

“It is not a bad idea. Perhaps you will be able to bring a little sense to the natives.”

“They are my people,” I said. “I am going to rule them, and when I do, you will see there is no more trouble in Aquitaine.”

He was looking at me shrewdly. I knew that he was thinking that that could be true and that it would be an excellent idea for me to go back to Aquitaine and remain there for a while.

I hated him. He was not thinking of me but of his dominions. Then I felt exultant. Aquitaine was one he was not going to keep.

         

That was a strange Christmas. Neither Henry nor I wanted to publicize our differences. When he had seen that I was adamant and determined to leave him and settle in Aquitaine, he suggested that when the festivities were over he and his army escort me there. That would give the impression that, as there was a state of unrest in the country, I was going to stay there for a while and see if I could bring about a more peaceful atmosphere.

I could see that this was a concession I must make, for if it were generally known that there was a permanent rift between us, it could throw our affairs into confusion. So we left together as though we were on good terms.

As we came near to Aquitaine a shock awaited us. The country was in revolt under the leadership of the Count of Angoulme.

This was one of those occasions when Henry’s genius for governing came into play. In a short time he had repressed the revolt, punished the offenders and restored peace—although an uneasy one—to Aquitaine. I had to be grateful that he had returned with me.

When he left, it was more or less calm, although there was an attempt to kidnap me when I was riding not far from Poitiers.

It was a band of rebels who had the idea of capturing me and holding me to ransom until their demands were met. I was alert for trouble and before they were able to catch me I had galloped back to safety, but the commander of the military force which had been left by Henry to guard the castle was killed in the affray. So it was clear how dangerous the situation still was.

But it was amazing how my presence there affected the people. Perhaps they guessed that all was not well between Henry and me, that I had left him and had come back         .         .         .         alone. That was what they cared about. They wanted no foreigners governing them. I was a branch of the old tree. They had resented Louis, but Henry even more so.

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