Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 100

  Richard shrugged. “I can hardly do less for him, Maman. Until I have a son of my own, he is my heir—unless you’d rather I pick Arthur in Brittany. So he must be provided for, but you notice all his new lands are located in England, not Normandy or Anjou. I’d as soon keep the Channel between him and my good friend, the French king.”

  “So in effect you are buying John’s loyalty.”

  He shrugged again. “Well, my father kept him hanging, too, with little to call his own. So he deserves a chance to show he can be trusted if I play fair with him. And if he proves himself to be unreliable, I’ll deal with it. I cannot say I see him as any great threat. Now Geoffrey…he would have borne watching. But I’m not likely to lose sleep fretting about Johnny.”

  He paused to take a sip from his wine cup. “I did not tell you, did I? I am honoring my father’s last wishes, and one of them was to see Geoff as Archbishop of York.”

  “And you are going to follow through? Is that wise, Richard? Geoff will not be grateful to you, will never forgive you, and I think you know that.”

  “Of course I do. Hellfire, I could buy him the papacy, and he’d still act like I am Saladin. But there are advantages to having him wear a miter. Once he is ordained as a priest, he cannot harbor any illusions about laying claim to my throne. You look dubious, Maman. Geoff is an able man, and an ambitious one. You cannot tell me it has not crossed his mind that William the Bastard was born out of wedlock, too. So I’d as soon he kept his eye upon Heaven’s Crown and not my own. Besides,” he added with a sudden grin, “he is not at all happy about it, so how could I resist?”

  He continued to confide his plans, pleasing her with most of them. So far he’d yet to take a misstep. She would have felt better, though, if he were not intending to journey to the other side of the world, leaving his kingdom for God knows how long. “So I mean to name the Earl of Essex as one of my justiciars whilst I am away. Willem is a good man, and if he serves me half as well as he served my father, I will be content. I hear there will soon be a vacant bishopric at Ely, as the current occupant of the see is ailing. Once he goes to God, I will name Guillaume Longchamp in his stead. I intend to give Longchamp Geoff’s chancellorship, too, for I want to make sure that I have men I can trust to watch over my kingdom whilst I am gone. Of course you will be the one I’ll truly depend upon to keep order and quench any rebellious sparks ere they can take fire.”

  Eleanor assured him that she would do whatever he asked of her, and he smiled, but then startled her by saying, “You know, Maman, you’ll have to see Johnny sooner or later. He’s as nervous as a treed cat, so why not put him out of his misery and let me get him?”

  She hadn’t realized that he’d sensed her ambivalence about John. “You are too sharp-eyed for my own good. Very well, go and fetch him.”

  “If you do not mind, I’ll send someone for him. I am a king now,” he joked, “and it is not seemly to be running my own errands.” He got to his feet, but took only a few steps toward the door before he halted. “Do you blame me for my father’s death?”

  Eleanor was taken aback. “No, Richard, I do not.” She studied his face intently, and then said quietly, “Do you?”

  “No! No, I do not.” But despite the vehemence of his denial, she was not convinced and waited for him to reveal more. “Others do, though,” he said, with enough heat to tell her that this had been preying on his mind. “No one dares say it to my face, of course, but I know what is being whispered behind my back. There is even talk that when I stood beside Papa’s body, he began to bleed from the nose and mouth. That is not so!”

  Eleanor was not surprised by the story, for it was a widely accepted belief that a murder victim would often bleed in the presence of his killer. “That is foolish folklore, Richard. No one of any sense would believe it.”

  “I would hope not,” he said brusquely, obviously vexed with himself for paying any heed to superstition. He was not yet ready to let it go, though, shooting her a searching glance. “I did not believe Papa was ill,” he said abruptly. “I was positive he was feigning, that this was yet another of his cunning tricks, and I assured Philippe of that. It was only when he dragged himself from his bed to ride to Colombières that we saw he’d not been lying.”

  “Well, your father gave you reason to suspect his good faith. He was always too clever by half, and it was inevitable that it would eventually catch up with him.”

  Richard nodded as if agreeing, but he was gnawing his lower lip. “But I still did not believe he was dying, Maman. It was obvious at Colombières that he was ailing. I still expected him to recover, though. How did I not see what everyone else did?”

  Eleanor smiled sadly. “Sons always find it difficult to see their fathers as they truly are, and how much more true that would be for a living legend like Harry. Now wives rarely have that defect of vision, but I suspect most sons are like you, finding it hard to realize their fathers are mere mortal beings, no longer the all-powerful patriarchs they remember from childhood.”

  “So you are saying I was not willfully blind, merely immature,” he said wryly. “Philippe insisted that he give me the kiss of peace. For the first time, I saw how frail he’d become, almost feeble. But then he growled that he asked only to live long enough to revenge himself upon me, and I found myself looking into a hawk’s eyes, fierce and proud and still defiant.”

  “Yes,” she said, “according to Will, his spirit burned brightly to the end. It was his body that failed him.”

  Richard was silent for a moment. “I truly did not think I had a choice but to do what I did.”

  “I know.”

  He tossed his head then, as if shaking off the past. “Well, let me get Johnny for you.” He stepped forward, gave her a brief hug, and then strode from the chamber. Eleanor paced as she waited, still not sure what she would say to John. With her other sons, she could argue convincingly that they’d had legitimate grievances, especially in Richard’s case. It was not that easy to absolve her lastborn, for he’d been the best-loved by Henry and his betrayal seemed the cruelest of all.

  When John entered the chamber, she saw what Richard meant. His unease was evident. What struck her most forcefully, though, was how young he seemed. At his age, Henry had already made himself England’s king, and Geoffrey and Richard were putting down rebellions in Brittany and Poitou; even Hal had carved out a niche for himself upon the tournament circuit. Why had John not crossed the border from boyhood to manhood by now? She reminded herself this was Harry’s doing, not hers. But she had her own sins to answer for, and she owed a debt, if not to this faithless young prince, to the wounded child he’d once been.

  When he greeted her formally and warily, she smiled and held out her hand to him. “We are alone,” she said. “Greet me as your mother, not the queen.” John’s relief was as obvious as his discomfort had been. He came quickly toward her, took her hand in his.

  “Mother…I want to explain, to make you understand why—”

  “Hush, John,” she said, stopping his words by putting her fingers to his lips. “We need not talk of it.”

  THE SUMMER HEAT that had seared France and England did not reach North Wales. August was cool and rainy, but on the day the message arrived from Morgan, the sky was clear of clouds and the manor at Trefriw was dappled with mellow sun. Ranulf regarded his son’s missive with some trepidation. He knew of Henry’s dismal death at Chinon, thanks to his niece Emma. He sensed, though, that this news was not likely to be good. Escorting his wife out into their hillside garden, he seated her on a wooden bench and only then did he break the seal, scan the contents.

  Rhiannon waited patiently until he was ready to read it to her. “Morgan is not coming home, is he?” she said at last, and Ranulf nodded before remembering that his wife needed verbal, not visual cues. Passing strange that after so many years of marriage, he occasionally forgot that.

  “No, love, I think not. He does not say so, but I expect he will take the cross and accompany Richard to t
he Holy Land.”

  Sitting beside her on the bench, he slipped his arm around her shoulders and read her their son’s letter. They were regretful, but resigned, for they’d realized long ago that Wales was too small to hold their youngest. Rhiannon’s fears were more immediate, her concern for her aging husband, not her adventuresome son. “I suppose…” she began, trying to sound matter-of-fact, not wanting him to hear any echoes of reproach in her voice. “I suppose you will want to go back to England, to attend Richard’s coronation.”

  Ranulf did not answer at once, regarding her fondly, this brave woman who’d done so much to heal his wounds, who’d assured him on their wedding night that she understood his loyalties would always be divided, understood that England would always exert a powerful pull upon his soul.

  “No, Rhiannon,” he said, “I will not be going back to England. I can grieve for Harry here in Gwynedd. I wish Richard well, but that is Morgan’s world now, not mine. I am home.”

  Her smile was luminous. He read Morgan’s letter again for her, and they lingered in the garden afterward, sharing the quiet contentment that had no need of words.

  AS SHE RODE ALONG WINCHESTER’S HIGH STREET, Eleanor soon drew a cheering crowd. She smiled and waved before turning into the narrow street that led into the cathedral close. Later that day, she and her sons would be departing the city for Sarum and then Marlborough. This visit to the cathedral of St Swithun’s had been an impulsive one; she was still enjoying being able to indulge her whims as she chose. It amused her that she was being escorted by her erstwhile gaolers, Ralf de Glanville and Sir Ralph Fitz Stephen. Richard had given her the right to punish them if she wished, but she could not blame them for merely obeying Henry’s orders, and in his unobtrusive way, Sir Ralph had done what he could to mitigate the severity of those early years of confinement.

  The bishopric of Winchester was presently vacant and so it was the prior of St Swithun’s and his monks who’d gathered in the garth to bid her welcome. When she explained that she’d come to offer prayers for the success of her son’s reign, the prior personally led her toward the west door and then showed unexpected sensitivity by asking if she’d prefer to pray alone.

  She would, and leaving her companions outside, Eleanor moved up the nave, pausing briefly at the font of black Tournai marble before turning into the north transept. The small chapel of St Saviour had always been a favorite of hers, for she greatly admired the vibrant biblical scenes painted on the wall above the altar. She noticed now that several of them were looking dull and faded, though. She resolved to give the prior money for their restoration, and then smiled, thinking that she’d not take her privileged life for granted again.

  Kneeling before the altar, she said a prayer for Richard’s safety in the Holy Land, and murmured prayers for the repose of Hal and Geoffrey’s souls. Rising, she lit a votive candle, then, for her husband.

  “I’ve been doing good for the sake of your soul, Harry,” she said, laughing soundlessly as she imagined his pithy response to that. What a twisted road they’d traveled together. “What is so very sad,” she said softly, “is that it did not have to end like this. We had chances to turn aside, to find our way again. Ah, Harry, we were so well-matched, you and I. If only we could have learned to forgive each other. ‘If only’ and ‘what if,’ fitting epitaphs for both our tombs. Well, you’ll have all eternity to learn to forgive us and yourself. Knowing you, it is likely to take that long, too.”

  The candle flickered and seemed about to go out, but then it steadied and she smiled again. “At least it was never dull, my darling. And you will be remembered long after we’ve all turned to dust. But so will I.”

  The sound of footsteps drew her attention then, and she glanced out into the nave, saw a monk approaching. “Forgive me for disturbing your prayers, Madame, but your son the lord duke has sent a messenger to inquire when you’ll be returning to the castle.”

  Eleanor sighed, thinking her husband and son were much more alike than they’d been willing to admit. Like Henry, Richard had no patience for delays, was eager to be on the road. “Thank you, Brother,” she said. “I am coming.” And she walked with a sure step from the shadows of the cathedral out into the sunlit priory garth.


  First of all, I want to address the queries of fans of The Lion in Winter, that classic film about the Devil’s Brood, with Henry and Eleanor memorably portrayed by Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn. As I was writing this novel, I could hear their puzzled voices echoing in my ears. Then Henry did not take Alys as his concubine? And Richard was not gay? He did not have an affair with the French king?

  I defer to none in my admiration for James Goldman; The Lion in Winter remains one of my all-time favorite films. But it came out in 1969, and what was accepted as gospel forty years ago is not necessarily true today. I have to confess that I was quite disappointed to conclude that Henry’s purported affair with Alys was a political calumny, for writers are irresistibly drawn to high drama, and what could be more dramatic than a man seducing his son’s betrothed? Oh my, the scenes I could have written…But once I’d researched the accusation, I realized that it would not withstand close scrutiny.

  Sexual slander was as common a weapon in the Middle Ages as it is today. Henry was accused of lechery and adultery, Eleanor of incest and adultery, Richard of rape, and John of virtually every crime known to man. Many of the more unsavory stories involving Henry and Eleanor come from a very untrustworthy source, the man known as Giraldus Cambrensus or Gerald the Welshman, a Norman-Welsh cleric who has made brief appearances in both Time and Chance and Devil’s Brood as Gerald de Barri. Giraldus was a gifted and prolific writer, and his books about Wales are a treasure trove of information about medieval life. But Giraldus had a sharp axe to grind when it came to the Angevins; he bitterly blamed them for thwarting his ambition to become Bishop of St David’s. Most of Giraldus’s scandalous stories about Henry and Eleanor are better read as fiction; his literary career is aptly summed up by the eminent historian Hans Eberhard Mayer, who described Giraldus’s writings as “always delightful to read, but often hard to believe.”

  Rumors of a liaison between Henry and Alys were mentioned by several English chroniclers, but there is no evidence to support them. I am not alone in reaching this conclusion. Dr. W. L. Warren, author of the definitive biography of Henry, did not find the story credible. Most of Henry’s biographers are skeptical of the charge, although Eleanor’s biographers are inclined to accept it. This is interesting but not surprising, for her biographers tend to become her partisans and Henry suffers accordingly. I plan to discuss this in greater detail on my website, but will confine myself here to pointing out the implausibility of these rumors. Henry would have had limited opportunities even to be with Alys, given his peripatetic lifestyle. Alys was at Winchester for a while and then apparently resided at the Tower of London with two other highborn heiresses, Isabella de Clare and Denise de Deols. Not even Giraldus suggests that Alys accompanied Henry on his unending excursions through his domains. But apart from the difficult logistics of it, such an action on Henry’s part would have been sheer insanity. And while Henry did not lack for flaws, he was always a pragmatist and never a fool.

  Richard was able to benefit from these rumors, though. When the French king objected to his plan to wed Berengaria, the daughter of the King of Navarre, he expressed shock that Philippe could expect him to wed his father’s mistress. If Philippe had indeed made use of the gossip to try to worsen Richard’s precarious relationship with Henry, he was hoist with his own petard. All we can say for absolute certainty is that Alys was the true victim in these political machinations, a pawn caught up in a cold-blooded game of kings, treated very shabbily by Henry, Richard, and Philippe. When she was finally returned to France, Philippe married her off to the Count of Ponthieu, and we can only hope that she found some contentment in that union.

  Now…on to Richard. He and Philippe were never lovers. This notion st
ems from a patent misreading of medieval culture and custom. Richard’s sexuality was first questioned in the second half of the twentieth century, and this speculation can be traced in large measure to a passage in The Annals of Roger de Hoveden, who described Richard’s visit to the French court in 1187 as follows: “After peace was made, Richard, earl of Poitou, remained with the King of France, though much against the will of his father, and the King of France held him in such high esteem that every day they ate at the same table and from the same dish, and at night had not separate chambers. In consequence of this strong attachment which seemed to have arisen between them, the King of England was struck with great astonishment and wondered what it could mean, and taking precautions for the future, frequently sent messengers into France for the purpose of recalling his son Richard.”

  To us, this clearly indicates a sexual relationship. But in the Middle Ages, sharing a bed did not have the same meaning that we would place on it today. Medieval people were accustomed to sharing beds, often with strangers. More to the point, this was an accepted means of bestowing honor and demonstrating royal favor. Throughout the Middle Ages, and beyond, kings used such ostentatious intimacy to flaunt political alliances and mend political fences; for example, Edward IV, surely the greatest womanizer ever to sit on the English throne, with the possible exception of Charles II, shared his chamber with the rebel Earl of Somerset to dramatize their reconciliation. And while our tabloids would go into meltdown mode in comparable circumstances, neither Philippe’s nor Edward’s subjects would have read something sexual in such familiarity.

  So Richard was not the French king’s lover. But was he homosexual? In her insightful book Sexuality in Medieval Europe, Dr. Ruth Mazo Karras explores this challenging subject, setting forth the reasons why sexual mores in the Middle Ages cannot be easily compared to the beliefs of our more secular society. They saw sodomy as an act not an orientation, and they were unaware that sexual identity is biologically determined. We must bear this in mind when trying to answer questions about Richard’s sexuality.