Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 101


  What little we know of Richard’s sex life is as follows: He had an unhappy marriage, and an illegitimate son, and was accused of lechery in his lifetime; a chronicler writing in the thirteenth century reported that he’d scandalized his doctors on his deathbed by demanding that he be provided with women. We also know that he made a flamboyant and public confession of his sins in Messina, en route to the Holy Land, and that in 1195 he was accosted by a hermit who chastised him for his sinful ways, warning, “Be thou mindful of the destruction of Sodom, and abstain from what is unlawful, for if thou dost not, a vengeance worthy of God shall overtake thee.” According to Roger de Hoveden, Richard remained “intent upon the things of this world and not those which are of God,” not taking the warning seriously until he became gravely ill, after which “he was not ashamed to confess the guiltiness of his life, and after receiving absolution, took back his wife, whom for a long time he had not known, and putting away all illicit intercourse, he remained constant to his wife.”

  This is all we know for certain. Anything else is conjecture. Was the hermit admonishing him for the sin of adultery or the sin of sodomy? John Gillingham, Richard’s preeminent biographer, contends that the Sodom warning does not refer to homosexuality, arguing that in the Middle Ages it referred to the terrible nature of the punishment, not the nature of the offense. Not every historian agrees with his interpretation, and so there is no academic consensus about Richard’s sex life. How could there be? He may have been heterosexual. He may have been bisexual. The only person who could answer the question with certainty has been dead for eight hundred years, and in any event, those were terms that would have been foreign to him.

  Geoffrey has always been the son who interested me most, perhaps because he was the most enigmatic and the one most neglected by historians. Unfortunately for him, there were no Breton chroniclers writing during the years that he governed the duchy, and he was mentioned by English chroniclers only in passing, and always in connection with his rebellions against his father. Modern historians have tended to rely on Roger de Hoveden’s colorful quotation—that Geoffrey was a “son of perdition”—and on Giraldus Cambrensus’s condemnation of him as an eloquent dissembler, making no attempt to delve into the reasons for his rebellions. I have even seen his motives dismissed as mere “mindless malice,” and I always knew there was more to his story than that! He had to wait more than eight hundred years, but in 2000 a historian finally examined Geoffrey’s career in the context of his role as Duke of Brittany, giving us a much more nuanced and logical explanation for his actions.

  The book is Brittany and the Angevins: Province and Empire, 1158–1203, by Judith A. Everard, and I recommend it highly for anyone interested in medieval Brittany. Dr. Everard demonstrates very convincingly that Geoffrey’s goal was to secure the full possession of his wife’s inheritance, the county of Nantes and the Honour of Richmond. Seen in that light, his actions make sense. And it can be argued that his conspiracy with the French king in the last months of his life may not be admirable, but it is understandable under the circumstances, for he saw the possession of Anjou as essential to protect his duchy against his hostile brother Richard.

  Just as controversy swirled around Geoffrey during his lifetime, it followed him faithfully to the grave. Roger de Hoveden reported that he died of injuries received in a French tournament, while Philippe’s French clerk, Rigord, recorded that he died in Paris after enduring “a bed of suffering.” Until recently, it was accepted that Geoffrey died after being unhorsed in a tournament. But Dr. Everard argues that he really died of a fever, as reported by Rigord, and she postulates that the tournament was a “cover story” to explain his presence in Paris and to allay Henry’s suspicions. While I admire Dr. Everard’s work enormously, I did not find this argument persuasive. There was nothing secretive about Geoffrey’s presence in Paris; he issued his last charter there. And immediately after his death, Philippe claimed wardship of his daughters as his liege lord, thus revealing to Henry that his son had done homage to the French king. I could see the French king offering a false account of Geoffrey’s death, however, to avoid any difficulties with the Church over Geoffrey’s state funeral in Notre Dame cathedral, for men who died in tournaments were to be denied Christian burial. (Nor does it seem to me that there is an inherent conflict between Roger de Hoveden’s account and the one offered by Rigord. The English chronicler says Geoffrey was unhorsed and trampled after refusing to yield to his foes, and it is quite possible that he survived for hours or days. Rigord then focused on his actual death, rather than the circumstances of it, to spare his king any awkward conflict with the Bishop of Paris.)

  Very little is known of the circumstances of Eleanor’s capture, other than the fact that she was disguised as a man. We do not know when it occurred or where. Some historians place her flight in the spring of 1173, but I do not agree. She had too much pride to run, until there was no other choice. I am convinced that she did not leave Poitou until Henry’s army was driving into the heart of her duchy in November. The French historian Alfred Richard was the first to contend that she had been betrayed, having discovered the generous grants that Henry bestowed on four of her Poitevin barons. Since Henry went so far as to name Porteclie de Mauzé as Seneschal of Poitou in 1174, he seemed the most likely suspect to me. I set the ambush at Loches because of its proximity to Chinon, where she was apparently taken after her capture.

  Roland de Dinan’s attack on Geoffrey’s castle at Rennes is often dated to 1182, which makes no sense, for Roland would not have acted on his own and Henry had no reason to launch such an assault at a time when he and Geoffrey were on good terms. But it is quite logical for the attack to have been made during the rebellion of 1183, as a means of drawing Geoffrey back to Brittany.

  Only one significant fictional character has ever infiltrated my books—Ranulf Fitz Roy, Henry’s uncle in the trilogy. Henry I is known to have sired at least twenty illegitimate children, so what is one more? Otherwise, I prefer to use actual historical figures even in minor roles, such as the provost of Loches and the novice monk Jocelin of Brakelond. Often I have only a name to work with and must create a history on my own, as with Amaria. She is briefly mentioned in the Pipe Rolls, as when Henry paid for a gilt saddle with scarlet for Eleanor and a plainer one for Amaria, “her maid.” Obviously I often had to invent attendants, squires, and servants, although I was fortunate enough to find the actual household knights serving Henry, Hal, Richard, and Geoffrey. I arbitrarily picked the name Nicholas de Chauvigny for Eleanor’s loyal household knight, and was later delighted to discover that the de Chauvignys were stalwart supporters of the duchess and her son; I then made my fictional Nicholas kinsman to Richard’s real cousin André de Chauvigny.

  Readers of my previous books know that I try not to tamper with established historical facts. I took a few liberties, but only those that kept my conscience clear: Hal’s presence at Henry’s Christmas Court in 1178; Eleanor’s presence at Woodstock in the summer of 1179. I indulged a whim and placed John of Salisbury on the scene when his friend the Bishop of Poitiers saved Hal’s hapless vice-chancellor, Adam de Churchedune, and since we don’t know who alerted the bishop to Adam’s peril, I gave that honor to Marguerite. I occasionally allowed my characters to receive news faster than their real-life counterparts. And I committed a minor sin of plagiarism, giving to Henry’s cousin Roger a sardonic assessment of the Archbishop of Canterbury when the acerbic judgment really came from the English chronicler William of Newburgh. It was simply too good not to use: “The man is laudably inoffensive, with the virtue of realizing his limitations.”

  There is still so much that I want to share: the obvious cause of death for Hal and likely cause of death for Henry, personal details gleaned from the chronicles, discussion of the ways an individual’s death can alter the course of history, Eleanor’s age and Geoffrey’s actual date of death, my guidelines for creating medieval dialogue and the problems of writing of a bilingual society. But even
I think a ten-page Author’s Note would be pushing the limits. So once Devil’s Brood is published, I will post some of these additional musings on my website, Readers who do not have access to the Internet but who share my curiosity about the Angevins may write to me at PO Box 1134, Mays Landing, New Jersey 08330, and I will send you copies of the website material.

  On the last page of the book, I could not resist having Eleanor comment that she and Henry would be remembered long after their deaths. Henry is judged to be one of England’s greatest kings, and Eleanor continues to bewitch and confound us just as surely as she bewitched and confounded her contemporaries. Even people with no interest in medieval history have heard of Richard Lionheart and Robin Hood’s nemesis, evil King John, for they have long since moved into the land of myth and legend. Even after spending more than a decade immersed in the compelling, improbable lives of this fascinating and dysfunctional family, I am not ready to let them go. So my next book will continue the story of Eleanor, Richard, John, Joanna, Constance, Will Marshal, Philippe Capet, and Saladin.


  May 2008


  For a time I feared that Devil’s Brood would become a literary Flying Dutchman, doomed never to reach port or print. I am so grateful to so many for their support and encouragement when I most needed it. No writer ever had a better midwife for her books than Valerie Ptak LaMont. Lowell LaMont has exorcised more of my computer demons than either of us can count. My readers have patiently endured the long delay with understanding and humor; my all-time favorite query is the one that said simply, “Did Eleanor get lost in Aquitaine?” I have been blessed with wonderful agents, Molly Friedrich and Paul Cirone of the Friedrich Agency, and Mic Cheetham of the Mic Cheetham Agency. I owe so much to my editors, Clare Ledingham at Penguin and Kate Davis and the incomparable Marian Wood at G. P. Putnam’s Sons. I thank M. Markowski for translating the letter that Peter of Blois wrote on behalf of the Archbishop of Rouen to Queen Eleanor and then for generously posting it on the Internet Medieval Sourcebook website so that others might make use of it; I am grateful, too, to Dr. Paul Halsall, the ORB Sources editor for the Internet Medieval Sourcebook website,, for giving me permission to use this translation. I am very grateful to Dr. Diego Fiorentino, who was kind enough to act as my “medical consultant” for Geoffrey’s accident. I do not think I could have done without Dr. David Crouch’s masterly work on L’Histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal, for William Marshal was an eyewitness to many of the events in Devil’s Brood. Lastly, I would like to thank Antony and Genie, two young French knights-errant in blue jeans who came to our rescue when our car broke down on a rainy autumn night in Saumur.



  Sharon Kay Penman, Devil's Brood

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