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Gilded Cages: The Trials of Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Novel

Gilded Cages: The Trials of Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Novel

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Gilded Cages: The Trials of Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Novel

3.5/5 (3 évaluations)
978 pages
13 heures
Jan 29, 2013


A novel of the betrayals and rivalries that set a family of royals against each other in medieval England—and ignited a devastating conflict.
 Tumultuous. Passionate. Timeless. The marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet was like no other, born of power, politics, and an all-consuming, fiery love. Within two years of their wedding, Henry conquered England and together they ruled a vast kingdom. At first they worked to unify and repair their war-torn lands—before being torn apart by intrigue, adultery, and deadly revenge. Henry II dreams of enacting a new judicial system, a common law that would help foster peace. But a devastating betrayal by his closest confidante, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, thrusts Henry into a rivalry that threatens to tear church and state apart. Eleanor, an accomplished ruler in her own right, steps in to help Henry quell the rebellions across their lands. But when she learns of her husband’s secret romance with the fair, young Rosamund de Clifford, it shatters her heart and ignites a bitter vengeance that will engulf their family in treachery and betrayal. As Eleanor takes the side of her sons against their father, these young royals, chafing for power of their own, wreak havoc across the continent, igniting a war whose tragic consequences Eleanor could never have foreseen.
Jan 29, 2013

À propos de l'auteur

Ellen Jones was born in New York City and raised in a family of history teachers and musicians, who exposed her to a variety of ideas, cultures, and lifestyles. After graduating from Bennington College, she spent a few years studying drama in graduate school, which led to her first writing efforts. After getting married and while raising two young children, Jones wrote two plays, one set in eighteenth-century Vermont and the other based on Japanese history. These two works were performed by the Honolulu Theatre for Youth in Hawaii. Jones and her family then moved to England,, where she fell in love with London and its colorful history. During her five years in England, Jones was able to explore the country; she also traveled throughout Europe, including a visit to the French region of Aquitaine. Her travels deepened her interest in history and the seeds of her novels began to take root. Jones made her fiction debut with The Fatal Crown (1991), a historical novel about the twelfth-century British princess Maud. This launched Jones’s trilogy about three strong, passionate, and self-willed founders of the Plantagenet empire: Maud, Henry, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. 

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Gilded Cages - Ellen Jones

Gilded Cages

The Trials of Eleanor of Aquitaine

A Novel

Ellen Jones



Eleanor of Aquitaine—Family as of 1166

Main Cast of Characters

Author’s Note


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51


Author’s Postscript


Preview: Beloved Enemy


IN THE MALE-DOMINATED PERIOD of the twelfth century two women stand out like shining stars: the empress Maud of England and Eleanor, duchess of Aquitaine. Each created breakthrough roles for themselves as women at a time when women were virtually invisible. Ambitious and eager for power in their own right, they played leading parts in the world of politics, challenging the patriarchal barriers of their time.

Maud was the granddaughter of Duke William of Normandy, who claimed England by right of conquest in the eleventh century, and daughter of Henry I, the Conqueror’s youngest son, who followed his own bloodstained path to the throne. A victim of the patriarchal dynastic order of the period, Maud was sent from home at the age of nine to wed the Holy Roman Emperor of Germany. He died when she was twenty-four, and the empress, as she was called, was ordered by her father to return to England. With no son to inherit the crown, and desperate to continue his line, King Henry named Maud his heir. Such an act was unheard-of during the early Middle Ages in England.

Proud, intelligent, and accustomed to having her own way, Maud possessed the fierce efficiency and iron will of her Norman forebears. Although legend has it that she loved her cousin Stephen of Blois, her father forced her to marry Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou. At her father’s death in 1135, the nobles in England, despite their sworn oath to honor Maud as their queen, allowed Stephen of Blois to usurp the throne.

Her cousin was now her enemy, and Maud retaliated. For nineteen bitter years she fought Stephen to regain her crown. Her eldest son, also named Henry, grew up in a hate-filled atmosphere dominated by distrust and his mother’s fierce desire for vengeance. At fourteen, young Henry of Anjou was already aiding his mother in her struggles against the usurper, and when he was seventeen, the empress relinquished her rights to England and the duchy of Normandy in favor of her son.

The early years of Eleanor of Aquitaine could not have been more different. She was the granddaughter of Duke William of Aquitaine, a hedonistic philandering noble whose ancestors had ruled Aquitaine for three hundred years. Known as the First Troubadour, his earthy songs of sensual passion became the forerunners of what later evolved into the complex lyrics of courtly love. Eleanor grew up influenced by her irreverent and free-spirited family in Aquitaine, a civilized pleasure-loving land devoted to luxury and enjoyment. Its independent-minded inhabitants were often capricious and quarrelsome, but compared to the heavily controlled north, they enjoyed greater freedom and prosperity. In sex and religion . . . there was a greater degree of tolerance in Aquitaine, according to Eleanor’s biographer, Marion Meade.

At fifteen Eleanor was beautiful, brilliant, and worldly. Her father’s unexpected death left her in control of the vast duchy of Aquitaine, and in order to protect her inheritance from greedy vassals, she married Louis, son of the king of France. By the following year the young couple had ascended the French throne. For fifteen years, the passionate Eleanor endured an unhappy marriage to a passionless husband, thwarted by the Church and helpless to prevent the incompetent Louis and his peers from wreaking havoc in her beloved Aquitaine. By 1151 she had produced two daughters but no male heir. Much to her relief, annulment proceedings began.

On a visit to Paris to pay homage to the king of France, Maud’s son, the eighteen-year-old Duke Henry of Normandy, met and fell in love with the French queen, who was eleven years his senior. Eleanor, hopelessly smitten with the young duke, married Henry in 1152. A year later he defeated King Stephen’s forces in England, and in 1154 ascended the throne. Henry II Plantagenet was now king of England, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and count of Anjou and Maine; his empire stretched from the Pyrenees to the borders of Scotland.

The new monarch had a daunting task ahead of him: the unification of England, lawless and ravaged by years of civil war, and the consolidation of his holdings on the Continent. An experienced ruler in her own right, Eleanor would be able to help him in Aquitaine, but in England he would need someone equally suitable. Thomas Becket, an able lawyer and cleric, was appointed chancellor of England. Together, he and Henry set about healing the wounds of conflict. They restored law and order, brought about needed reforms in fiscal policy, and set about creating a system of justice that would bring peace to the realm.

After ten years of marriage, Eleanor had produced three sons and two daughters. England’s succession was assured. Despite the difficulties of maintaining their far-flung possessions; the rivalries and conflicts engendered by their own strong personalities; and Henry’s promiscuous nature, the Plantagenets’ passion for each other, as well as their mutual goals, had not diminished and their fortunes prospered. Then, in 1162, Henry made Thomas Becket archbishop of Canterbury, never dreaming that he had unleashed a whirlwind.

It was the first major misstep of his reign—but not his last. Unbeknownst to both Henry and Eleanor, the years of harmony were coming to an end. Years of conflict, intrigue, adultery, betrayal, and murder were about to begin.

Main Cast of Characters

House of Anjou:

Henry II Plantagenet, king of England, duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, count of Anjou

Henry’s sons:

Henry, the young king, called Harry in this book (married to Marguerite of France)

Richard, also duke of Aquitaine under his father

Geoffrey, count of Brittany (betrothed to Constance, heiress of Brittany)

Prince John

Henry’s misbegotten son, Geoffrey Plantagenet, oblate and later bishop-elect of the See of Lincoln

Henry’s daughters:


Little Eleanor


Henry’s cousin:

Count William of Gloucester

Henry’s misbegotten half sister:

Emma of Anjou

Members of his English administration:

Robert de Beaumont the Elder, earl of Leicester, justiciar

His son, Robert de Beaumont the Younger, also justiciar

Richard de Lucy, justiciar

Ranulf de Glanville, sheriff and later justiciar

William FitzNigel, treasurer

Earl Patrick of Salisbury, military commander in Aquitaine

Marshals of England:

John, marshal of England

His eldest son, also John, later marshal of England

His fourth son, William, knight in the train of Henry’s eldest son, Harry

House of Aquitaine:

Eleanor: duchess of Aquitaine, Henry’s wife and queen of England

Her uncle, Ralph de Faye, lord of Châtellerault

Her niece Isabella, countess of Flanders

Bertran de Born, lord of Hautefort, influential troubadour at the court of Poitiers

Peter of Blois, secretary-chaplain to Eleanor and Henry

House of Capet:

Louis VII, king of France, formerly husband to Eleanor of Aquitaine

Marie, countess of Champagne, Louis’s eldest daughter by Eleanor

Marie’s husband, Count Henri of Champagne

Marguerite, Louis’s eldest daughter by Constance of Castile and wife to Prince Harry

Alais, Louis’s second daughter by Constance of Castile

Adela of Champagne-Blois, Louis’s third wife and queen of France

Philip, Louis’s son by Adela of Champagne-Blois

The de Cliffords of Bredelais:

Sir Walter de Clifford, a petty knight

Lady Margaret, his wife

Rosamund, his youngest daughter

Peers of the church and churchmen:

Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, primate of England

Roger, archbishop of York

Father Matthew, priest at Salisbury


Aude, midwife and healer

Hildi, servant to Rosamund

Abbess of Godstow

Amaria, attendant to Eleanor

Ermengarde, countess of Narbonne

Women at Canterbury: Meg, Agnes, Cicily, Ragenhild

Note: Aude, Father Matthew, Hildi, the women at Canterbury, and the abbess of Godstow (although an abbess undoubtedly existed) are fictional characters. The others had their place in history.

Author’s Note

This is a work of fiction set against the backdrop of actual events of history. The characters, with few exceptions, have their place in history. Many of the incidents depicted actually occurred; others are based on rumor and legend; and still others are the product of my imagination. Chroniclers of the twelfth century do not always agree on what may or may not have occurred, and neither do later historians, who bring their own interpretations to the past. I have taken my own liberties with some dates, locations, and the natures of various events.

Wind time, Wolf time,

There shall come a year

When no man on earth

His brother man shall spare.


Rouen, 1162

ON A HOT DAY in mid-July, Henry II Plantagenet, king of England, sat in the garden of the ducal palace at Rouen surrounded by his family. The sun blazed down from a glittering pale-blue sky; roses and lilies drugged the air with their sweetness. A light wind stirred the filigree of lacy green leaves on the flowering chestnut. In the background he could hear the murmur of conversation from servitors and female attendants mingled with the sound of a minstrel’s lute and a plaintive voice singing a love song.

How good it was to sit drowsily in the sun, basking in an unaccustomed tranquility, savoring this moment of quiet happiness. So much of his life was spent in constant motion, riding through his vast empire in a tireless effort to see justice done, ensuring his subjects were at peace, his lands safe. Sometimes Henry felt life slipping by while he fought to keep the reins of power under his control. Soon that would change, he reminded himself. Now that his chancellor, closest companion, and trusted confidant, Thomas Becket, had been made Archbishop of Canterbury, much of the burden would be lifted.

Through half-closed eyes, Henry turned toward Eleanor, his beloved queen, cool and lovely in her rose-colored tunic and matching headdress. Seated next to him on the cushioned stone bench, she read aloud to their six-year-old, Matilda, from a gold- and purple-lettered Book of Days. Idly he reached out a hand and caressed her knee. A meaningful glance from her brilliant hazel eyes, accompanied by a slow sensual smile, brought back with a tingle of pleasure the memory of the previous night’s passionate revels.

Henry’s gaze passed on to his mother, Maud, dozing under the chestnut. Regal in gray and mauve, she looked every inch her self-styled title of empress. Although she had once been the empress of Germany before returning to England, that had been many years ago. His eyes lingered affectionately on her resolute face. Without her heroic efforts on his behalf, he would not now be the king of England, count of Anjou, and duke of Normandy. He owed her everything.

Baby Eleanor, fast asleep, stirred in his arms and Henry shifted his leg to make her more comfortable. A short distance away, his second and third sons, Richard and Geoffrey, five and three, were learning the art of balancing small swords, points capped, and wielding little shields under the protective eye of a sergeant-at-arms. Geoffrey, slender and russet-haired, the cleverer of the two, was no match for the older, broad-shouldered Richard, a natural warrior even at this young age. Golden hair matted to his forehead, Richard’s fierce blue eyes were fixed upon his brother with intense concentration.

Geoffrey, mind how you move your feet. Henry jabbed his finger to the left. No, no, no! To the left! God’s eyes, don’t lower your shield, that will give him an opening. That’s it, that’s it. Well done. He nodded at Richard. You make a formidable opponent, my son.

Never articulate, Richard swallowed, obviously overwhelmed by these rare words of praise. Poor lad. Henry knew the boy was starved for the attention he never felt able to give him.

They should wear helms, Eleanor called to the sergeant, looking up from her book. Less dangerous.

As the sergeant led the boys away to a deserted part of the courtyard, Henry murmured, I wonder why I hold myself aloof from Richard.

He’s always put your back up, for no discernible reason.

You’re right, Nell. Unfair really, but there it is.

The jarring sound of hooves abruptly shattered the afternoon’s tranquility. Henry frowned. God’s eyes, what’s this?

Baby Eleanor woke up and began to cry. Henry rose to his feet and gently deposited her into the arms of a waiting nurse.

Who has arrived? Eleanor closed the book and laid it on the bench.

Members of my council, it seems.

He watched his co-justiciars, the marshal of England, and their entourage dismount. Grime streaked their flushed faces; sweat dripped from under their caps. The horses stood with heaving flanks while grooms ran to attend them. Ridden hard, poor beasts. A matter of some urgency then, but what?

One of the justiciars, Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester, handed Henry a small packet together with a square of parchment. For a moment he stared at it, as, unaccountably, his heart began to pound. With unwilling fingers he opened the packet. Inside, wrapped in blue cloth, lay the Great Seal of England. Uncomprehending, he looked up at the earl.

Why has Thomas Becket sent me his chancellor’s seal?

Because he has resigned his chancellorship, my lord king. Leicester’s expression was grim. He claims he cannot cleave to both God and the royal will.

But—but— Henry shook his head in disbelief. I don’t understand. The whole point of making Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury was that he would also remain as chancellor to ensure harmony between church and state.

To ensure royal control of both church and state was more apt, but Leicester and the others already knew that. Henry hesitated, then forced himself to break the green wax seal on the parchment. As the words leapt out his face grew hot and his hands began to twitch.

Thomas has betrayed me, he said, his voice trembling with mingled rage and hurt. Why? Why? Did I not love and trust him as deeply as any brother? Did I not raise him from the dust to the very peak of power and wealth? The Great Seal of England slipped from his hands. I have not deserved such disloyalty.

Of course not, said Eleanor, her face pale. She gripped his shoulder protectively.

Did I not warn you he was consumed by ambition? the empress Maud said in a tight voice. Why did Thomas not tell you that he could not be both primate and chancellor when you first offered Canterbury? The question hung unanswered. Now, as archbishop, he is your equal in power.

Henry glanced at his wife and mother, their faces wearing almost identical expressions of grave concern. But was there also a glint of triumph? Both had warned him not to appoint Thomas to the See of Canterbury. Now they were proved right, he wrong. Henry turned angrily away, as though his wife and his mother were to blame.

Ungrateful rogue, said John the marshal, following his own line of attack. He should be horsewhipped naked through the streets of Canterbury for all to see. An example must be made.

He will suffer more than that before I’m through, Henry said between clenched teeth. By God’s splendor he will rue the day he was born, my lords, I promise you.

Can we not request the pope to depose him? Eleanor asked.

As I have only recently asked the Holy Father to confirm Thomas’s appointment, which was done; that would make me look a proper fool. Henry scrunched the missive in one hand, then threw it on the ground next to the seal. Easier to make an archbishop than unmake one.

Suddenly he began to sway; the earth rocked under his feet, the courtyard tilted to one side, and control slipped away even as he fought to hold on to it. Dimly, with that corner of his mind that remained the observer, Henry felt his body crash to the ground, could hear a voice—it must be his—mouthing gibberish. Fingers clawed the dry grass, his legs thrashed wildly against the hard earth. Shouts echoed in his ears. He felt someone roll him over and thrust a piece of wood between his teeth.

When he opened his eyes, anxious faces loomed above him, the earth was restored to its normal aspect, and the seizure’s grip began to loose its savage hold. It was always this way upon awakening. Memory returned slowly, then picked up speed as his head began to clear. The realization of Thomas’s treachery was so overwhelming that Henry could scarcely breathe. Solicitous arms raised him up. Still unsteady on his feet, he waved away any more help. Loss of control—which occurred every time a seizure of rage possessed him—was always deeply humiliating.

I am all right, he said thickly. Leave me. He felt rather than saw the others melt away.

Alone in the courtyard, Henry knew that this golden afternoon that had started out so joyously would be forever fixed in his mind. All his plans and hopes for the future of his realm lay in ruins about him, undone by the man whom he had believed to be the very linchpin of his administration. By his treasonous behavior, Thomas Becket had forever changed not only his loving friendship with his king but his own fate, and perhaps all England’s, as well.

Chapter 1

Rouen, 1162

THE NIGHT AFTER THOMAS Becket returned the chancellor’s seal, Henry lay shaking in Eleanor’s arms. The physicians assured her that he had been bled of his foul humors and would have a quiet night. Now, at last, they were alone in their private chamber in the ducal palace at Rouen. The room was in shadow, lit only by a single ivory taper in a silver holder. Although he made no sound, Henry was weeping, his tears drenching Eleanor’s neck and shoulder. He wept until his grief spent itself and his body no longer trembled.

I do not understand, he whispered. How could Thomas betray me so? I gave him the sun, the moon, and stars and he throws them into my face as if they were gall and wormwood. I loved him more than anyone, except you and my mother—even more than my own brothers when they were alive—and trusted him to serve me with the same loyalty I showed him.

Wisely, Eleanor kept silent. Recrimination and reminders would serve no purpose.

Thank God I have you, Nell. Henry butted his head between her breasts, not like a lover, but a child seeking reassurance. You, my mother, and my children. Faithful counselors like Leicester, the marshal, and my cousin William. His eyes closed. And others, too, of course. Within moments he was asleep.

Lying quietly so as not to wake him, Eleanor stared up at the crimson canopy covering the bed. Yes, Henry had loved Thomas Becket, and Thomas loved him. She had never been entirely comfortable with Henry’s dependence on Thomas, and neither had she herself liked or trusted the chancellor. Still, she would never have expected Thomas to go so far. He must have known from the start that he could not serve both God and Mammon. Why had he not spoken out? What could he hope to gain by antagonizing his king?

On the other hand, the scope of the problem that Henry had hoped to solve by appointing Thomas archbishop was enormous and grew worse with each passing year. There were two separate systems of jurisdiction in England: the royal courts and the ecclesiastical courts. The church courts were in charge of all men in holy orders as well as marriage contracts, wills, oaths, and church property. If a minor clerk, even a deacon, committed an offense, he was tried in the church courts. Eleanor had seen the result of church justice. In the king’s courts a layman found guilty of murder would be heavily fined, mutilated, or imprisoned. A clerk found guilty of a similar offense could be deprived of his orders—defrocking was the heaviest punishment the ecclesiastical court could impose—and set at liberty or given a penance which might include a pilgrimage to Rome at some later date. Henry had once told her that he reckoned that one man in thirty was a cleric, so the magnitude of the problem was obvious.

The only grain of comfort to be derived from this whole sorry coil was that Henry had returned to her as a confidante once more. Selfishly, Eleanor was glad that Thomas was no longer a rival for her husband’s affections. But as far as the weal of the realm was concerned, a rift between king and archbishop was potentially disastrous.

Eleanor carefully withdrew her arm, which had gone numb, and glanced at Henry. Sound asleep he looked so young and untroubled. But she knew what would happen when he awakened: the grief and heartache would bury itself beneath the armor of pride and the shield of anger. He would find ways and means to pay Thomas back—all legal, of course. The teaching of the Gospel was sometimes lost on Henry, who served a God of justice, not mercy. He did not know how to turn the other cheek, only how to gouge an eye. Eleanor sighed, knowing she would have a sleepless night. As she stared up at the bed canopy the deep crimson color reminded her of blood.

Rouen, 1162

By early November the atmosphere in the ducal palace at Rouen crackled with as much tension as a stroke of lightning. Even the elements contributed to a sense of doom. The weather grew damp and unseasonably cold. Gray skies loomed over Normandy; heavy rain fell intermittently. Imprisoned by the weather, Henry prowled the castle like a caged wolf, a fierce expression on his face. He fired off one missive after another to the archbishop, to his co-justiciar Richard de Lucy, to various bishops, the pope in Rome, and many other magnates and prelates.

Unfortunately, Henry had so many affairs to attend to in Normandy and Anjou that he was prevented from leaving immediately for England to confront the object of his rage. Instead, a constant stream of couriers sailed back and forth across the channel bearing with them the evidence of his increasing displeasure.

One afternoon, Eleanor, accompanied by Henry’s mother, walked into his council chamber as the cathedral bells rang for nones. Henry was pacing while dictating a letter to one of four clerks perched on stools around an oak table. He held up his hand before Eleanor could speak.

. . . to inform Your Holiness of the latest in the series of intolerable events that have occurred in England as a result of Thomas Becket’s high-handedness. The most recent is the uncalled-for excommunication of Sir William Eynsford of Kent, my tenant in chief, who was never even informed of the matter. Not to mention that—

It is a custom of the realm that no tenant in chief of the king may be excommunicated without the king being consulted first, interjected Maud, appalled. Thus it is a—

Gross miscarriage of justice, finished Eleanor.

Perhaps you would like to write to the pope for me, mesdames? Henry gave them an arch smile then rubbed his hands together. I’ve got him. As I was about to write the Holy Father.

Eleanor exchanged a glance with her mother-in-law. Got him how?

I just received word that he is trying to retrieve lands belonging to Canterbury—so he says—from before the Conquest. Have you ever heard the like? And most outrageous of all, Thomas is trying cases in his own courts that clearly belong in the royal courts!

Is it to be total war, then? his wife asked with a frown.

Henry stuck his thumbs in his black belt and rocked back and forth on his heels. He’s gone too far this time. What would you have me do? Lick his boots? Pardon, sandals now, I hear, like the humblest monk. How dare he try lay cases in his own courts and call it justice!

No one expects you to grovel, retorted the empress, merely to behave with circumspection and wisdom, not your usual impetuosity.

It might behoove you, madam, to remember who started this quarrel. Henry fixed his mother with piercing gray eyes.

And you seem determined to fight it to a roaring finish. All I ask, my son, is that you think before acting. Thomas has power now, the power of Canterbury. She paused. Which you gave him.

Henry’s face swelled and grew red. How alike they were, Eleanor noted. Attack and counterattack. Feint and counterfeint. Like distorted reflections in a silver mirror.

Am I right, Eleanor? The empress raised her brows, obviously seeking support.

How she hated being dragged into one of their battles. It was impossible to please everyone. As they say in Rome, revenge is better served cold than hot.

I prefer my food hot to cold. Henry turned his stony glare toward Eleanor. In any case, did I ask either of you for advice? He kicked at the rushes that carpeted the floor.

I intend to give it anyway, said the empress coolly. This is a grave situation and must be handled with the very greatest of care—

God’s splendor! I was weaned twenty-eight years ago. His face grew redder and his eyes darkened like thunderclouds. I expect loyalty from my own family! Support! Not unasked-for advice and warnings. Out, both of you. He turned on his heel and stomped furiously back to the table.

The empress sighed and followed Eleanor out of the chamber into the passageway.

Where will it end? The empress gave her a concerned look. How will it end?

Eleanor did not reply. It was a question to which she had no answer.

Southampton, England, 1163

When Henry approached the shore at Southampton in February of the New Year, he had not expected Thomas to be there to greet him. The sight of the tall figure waiting on the beach filled him with such a tumult of emotions—pain, distress, anger—it took his breath away.

The three small hoys anchored in the shallows. Several burly sailors, smocks tied above their waists, hoisted Henry on one pair of shoulders while the others gripped a whining bloodhound under each arm, then splashed through the icy green water and deposited them on the wet sand. The rest of Henry’s men climbed overboard and sloshed their way to shore. Henry and the dogs shook themselves, brushing off droplets of water. The hounds, delighted to be on solid ground, frolicked up and down the beach.

It was a storm-filled morning, the air wild with wind, the skies covered with banks of menacing black clouds. Across the expanse of sand Henry could see the archbishop observing him. Thomas took a hesitating step, then stopped. Was the former chancellor waiting for him to make the first move? A king submit to an archbishop? Henry smiled grimly to himself. Thomas would wait until hell froze over. He crossed his arms and held his ground. Around him the beach swarmed with sailors and men carrying roped bundles and boxes from the ships.

He watched as Thomas conferred with several prelates in his entourage. Then the archbishop started walking slowly across the sand. Henry knew that his old friend had heard a tale or two about his violent reaction to the return of the chancellor’s seal and the excommunication of his tenant in chief, William Eynsford; Thomas would already have seen ample evidence of the king’s displeasure. A wary stiffness about the shoulders, the magisterial pace, all indicated that Thomas was anxious about his reception. As he well might be. This is only the beginning, my friend, Henry said to himself.

Since receiving his chancellor’s seal in July, Henry’s initial rage had cooled into a firm resolve. In order to spare himself the continued entreaties and pleas of his womenfolk, he had allowed them to think their wisdom had prevailed: that he had accepted the inevitable and would let bygones be bygones. It never ceased to amaze him how easily women—even highly intelligent women—deceived themselves into believing what they wanted to.

When he judged that Thomas had covered more than half the distance, Henry began walking toward him. He reminded himself of Nell’s Roman proverb about revenge being a cold dish. Yes. Let the archbishop think that his former master’s anger was under control; that he was even restored to favor in the king’s affections. On no account must Henry reveal his intention: to make Thomas grovel or face ruin.

Well met, Thomas—or would ‘Your Grace’ be more apt?

Henry held out his hands and set an anticipatory smile upon his face, a smile that quickly disappeared when the former chancellor was standing directly in front of him.

It was virtually impossible to conceal his shock. Although Henry had heard tales of how drastically changed was the archbishop since he had last seen him, he was unprepared for the reality. Thomas’s black cowled robe hung like sackcloth on a frame gaunt to the point of emaciation. His grayish hollow-cheeked face appeared to have aged ten years in the last seven months. What with his long feet blue with cold in their thong sandals, he looked like a fasting anchorite. The tales of excessive efforts to mortify his flesh were obviously true.

Well met, Sire— Thomas’s whole body, quivering like a taut bowstring, suddenly went lax. His relief was palpable.

The mellifluous voice was the same, as were the deep-set dark eyes and the hawk nose. The elegant hands that reached out were icy cold, yet the clasp was strongly familiar. A wave of his old affection overcame Henry. It was all he could do to resist the treacherous impulse to give in to it, to throw his arms around his old friend whom he had sorely missed, to weep at the sight of the frightening apparition standing before him.

I feared you might— Thomas did not finish his sentence; his eyes were eloquent as they met Henry’s.

Indulge in a display of the famous Angevin temper? I did, Thomas, I did. As I’m sure you have heard. Well, you know how I am—indeed, none better, eh? But when have I ever taken back a love once given? Or forgiven an injury, Henry silently reminded himself. That madness has passed, and I am delighted to see you.

And I you, Sire. Thomas pointed a finger farther up the shore. I’ve brought horses for you and your men.

As always, you think of everything.

They were walking across the sand when Henry became aware of an unpleasant odor coming from the archbishop. Certainly Thomas had never offended in this manner before. On the contrary, his fastidious habits were well known. Had he given up cleansing himself altogether in an effort to mortify his flesh? Then widespread rumors of the hair shirt he never removed were probably correct as well.

Henry was even more shocked when instead of mounting a magnificent Arab stallion—he had possessed one of the most noteworthy stables in all England—Thomas climbed onto the back of a poor cob.

Is it true you have given up all recreation, even chess? Henry asked suddenly.

Yes, Sire.

But you were the best chess player in all England, he said inanely. Well, my equal certainly.

‘Vanity of vanity, all is vanity,’ sayeth Holy Writ. All my time is devoted to the business of God.

Your time would be better spent as my chancellor, Henry blurted out, although he had not intended to say anything of the kind.

‘If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out . . .’ Thomas intoned.

What was that supposed to mean? Henry hardly knew how to answer such a non sequitur, so he held his tongue. In silence he rode to Westminster, Thomas a black shadow beside him. How he wished Nell were with him; he had hardly left Rouen and already he missed her reassuring presence. In truth, he did not know how, exactly, to handle the crisis of a defiant archbishop on his own. Once he would have turned to Thomas for advice on such matters. Again he wished Eleanor were there, although he already knew what she would advise.

When they arrived at Westminster it was growing dark and the vespers bell was ringing. The archbishop went immediately into the chapel—to pray for him, he told Henry. Morose, Henry decided to avoid the service and sat down to supper in the great hall surrounded by a few attendant lords. He picked at slices of smoked venison and roast partridge, and sipped indifferently from a goblet of red wine from a cask that, the steward said, was newly arrived from Gascony. He could not escape the emptiness in his heart. Nor the uncomfortable feeling that if he turned his head he would see his former chancellor, dressed in his favorite scarlet robes with the silver seal of his office around his neck, seated beside him at the high table rubbing his hands together in anticipation of the wine.

The finest vintages come from Gascony and Bordeaux, Thomas would say as he had so often before. Whatever else one may say of your wife, her duchy of Aquitaine produces the best wines in Europe.

Henry knew very well that Eleanor and Thomas had always disliked each other, and they frequently gave him conflicting views on a similar subject. The result of this opposition had led to some of his wisest decisions. What action should he take now that would best serve the realm?

If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, Henry said aloud to no one in particular.

Was that the answer? It seemed to be Thomas’s. Perhaps, yes, perhaps it should be his as well.

Chapter 2

Woodstock, England, 1163

THE MOMENT ELEANOR ARRIVED at the manor house of Woodstock on Oxfordshire in late May she sensed trouble brewing.

Accompanied by all her children, as well as a small entourage of attendants, she had hardly dismounted when the sound of raised voices swept through the open doors.

She turned to Earl Robert of Leicester, co-justiciar of England, who had limped into the courtyard to greet her. King Henry holds a meeting of his council, madam, said the earl, in answer to her startled look.

I need not ask if Thomas attends. Eleanor followed Earl Robert into the hall where the central fire was burning brightly.

Archbishop and king are already at it hammer and tongs.

And I was hoping for a few peaceful months in Oxfordshire with Henry and the children. She took a goblet of wine offered by a servitor.

Leicester sighed. You’re not likely to find much peace here—not at the moment, anyway. Although the king has had a victory of sorts in that he persuaded the archbishop to absolve his tenant in chief and restore him to the bosom of Holy Church.

Thank God for that.

Eleanor and the children had left Normandy a sennight earlier, eagerly looking forward to their stay at Woodstock. Late spring was a most pleasant time of year in England; the manor house, especially charming at this time, resembled a burnished jewel set in the surrounding diadem of greenery and wildflowers. With a reluctant sigh, Eleanor settled her older children into various chambers, keeping the younger ones with her in the solar, then helped her women unpack the boxes and saddlebags. The door opened and her future daughter-in-law, Marguerite, walked hesitantly into the chamber, followed by the empress. Daughter of the king of France and his second wife, when she came of age Marguerite would be married to Eleanor’s eldest son, young Henry, whom they called Harry.

"Ma petite, I’m so pleased to see you, Eleanor said, clasping the child to her. I was hoping to find my son here. Where is he?"

Harry is in the council with the king, madam, Marguerite said in a piping voice. Flaxen-haired and fair-skinned with pale blue eyes, she was small for her age and very fragile-looking.

Such a pretty child, said Maud fondly once Marguerite had left. Quite biddable, I’m thankful to say. The empress glanced at Eleanor. Does she resemble your daughters with Louis?

It always came as a shock to Eleanor whenever anyone mentioned her marriage to Louis of France. She had almost forgotten those fifteen years of misery. Eleven years had passed since the marriage had been annulled, and she had been forced to leave her daughters with the French court as the price of her freedom to marry Henry. Louis had never forgiven her for wedding Henry Plantagenet and allying the vast wealth of her duchy of Aquitaine with Henry’s lands of Normandy and Anjou. The French king steadfastly refused to allow her to see her girls.

When my children were little, they did not resemble Marguerite in either looks of personality. Far more robust then, but Marie will be eighteen and Alix is fourteen. Who can say what they are like now?

The empress’s face broke into a broad smile. Sweet Marie, she swore, your girls will soon be of an age to marry and then they can please themselves. It won’t be long before you see them.

Eleanor’s heart skipped a beat. She longed to see her daughters again, but would they want to see her? In their eyes no doubt they felt their mother had abandoned them. How would they feel about her after so long? She retreated from this painful speculation and concentrated on the fact that all her children with Henry were together at Woodstock. Eleanor prayed they might have an enjoyable time despite the storm signals already in progress. She prayed the atmosphere would not be as turbulent as it had been in the ducal palace at Rouen.

When she entered the great hall at supper she could hardly believe her eyes. Eleanor had not seen the archbishop since he left Normandy in the late spring of 1162. Naturally she had heard—as who had not?—of his wasted look and the extreme penances he visited on himself. Nevertheless, seeing him in the flesh for the first time was a shock. Thomas Becket looked a grotesque shadow of his former self.

Quite a sight isn’t it? The bishop of Oxford, seated next to her at the high table, raised his brows. He lacks only sackcloth and ashes.

Not to mention a crown of thorns, Eleanor refrained from saying. The archbishop’s appearance has taken me by surprise. Having just lost her appetite, she nibbled on a wing of guinea hen.

The torches flaring in their sconces on the walls cast flickering shadows over the high table, covered with a snowy cloth and set with silver saltcellars and a variety of dishes. Under the table, hounds snarled and fought for scraps of food.

If one did not know Thomas for such a self-seeking opportunist, one might be moved, said the bishop, giving her a sideways glance.

Eleanor took a sip of wine from a pewter goblet, then gave the bishop a guarded smile. She had no intention of letting him goad her into an indiscretion.

But even his martyred appearance does not entirely ring true, does it? The bishop’s lip curled. As God is my witness, there lies a hidden motive behind this display, of that I am sure. Thomas is as ostentatious in depriving himself as he was in flaunting his luxuries as chancellor. I wonder if our saintly archbishop brought his whip with him. You know that he flagellates himself—or has it done?

Eleanor, who had heard the rumors, wholeheartedly agreed with the bishop’s observation: something about Thomas’s demeanor did not ring true.

Be more discreet, my lord bishop, said the earl of Leicester, who sat on the bishop’s other side and had followed the exchange. Everyone knows you wanted the primacy for yourself. Heaven forefend that anyone should suggest you speak from disappointed hopes.

Eleanor bit back a smile.

The bishop, a robust man, simply dressed in a black habit and hood, a silver pectoral cross his only adornment, merely shrugged. Perhaps some prelates are jealous of what they consider a parvenu’s undeserved success. Others, like myself, simply wait for the inevitable.

You mean on his rise to power the archbishop has made enough enemies only too ready now to see him brought down? Eleanor glanced at the bishop, curious to see how he would respond.

I have always admired your political acuity, madam. Thomas has made foes, of that you can be sure. And now the king is among them. The bishop speared a sliver of hare stewed in greens. The pack scents blood. As God is my witness, troublous times lie ahead.

Eleanor feared the bishop was right.

One evening a sennight later, Henry came to their bed red-faced and aflame with resentment. Eleanor, lying naked under a blue silk coverlet, in the small but well-appointed solar at Woodstock, watched him sit heavily on a stool and angrily tug at his scuffed black boots.

We just finished another argument. To do with the sheriffs! My God, that man is so puffed up with pride.

What did he do? she asked.

His boots finally off, Henry stood up and practically tore the rust-colored tunic from his body. What does it matter what he did? It is his attitude. He thinks he is king, he thinks he is God!

He was prickly as a porcupine and Eleanor knew she must tread carefully. With a great effort, she refrained from pointing out that antagonizing Thomas over every little thing that arose was a grave error. She watched Henry with troubled eyes and a heavy heart. It was unusual for him to be so blind to his own best interests, but any reasonable argument was wasted upon him. In his present state of mind, he would never admit he was wrong.

What do your magnates say to his—his attitude?

Well, of course, they don’t want to get on the wrong side of the Church. Henry blew out the candle sitting in its silver holder on the oak table and crawled into bed.

My dear, she began.

Thomas thinks I cannot rule without him, waits for me to put a foot wrong. I am no longer the green boy he first knew, and I don’t need his counsel. By God’s eyes, if he thinks—

My dear, she interjected, I have put up with Thomas as your closest confidant and advisor in all things. His presence has overshadowed our lives. But where he has never been, and where I will not allow him now, is in our bed.

Henry was silent; after a moment, he said, Forgive me, Nell.

She leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek. Ever since I’ve arrived, your mind has been obsessed with the archbishop and how to bend him to your will. The two of you remind me of nothing so much as two stubborn boys quarreling over a toy—only in this case the prize is no less than England itself. You tread dangerous ground here, Henry. However much you may regret it, the deed is done. You and Thomas must now deal with one another as king and archbishop. Compromise—

England itself. Henry wagged a finger at her. Exactly. Thomas wants to control what is mine, to prove to everyone that he is my equal in power. He raised himself on one elbow. Thus he seeks to ruin my plans for the realm! He began to pound the bed with his free hand. Is this not treason? Every Englishman owes loyalty first to his king—

Eleanor wanted to scream. Had he heard one word she said? She closed her ears to his endless harangue peppered with phrases like cut him down to size . . . he will rue the day . . force the pope to take action . . . and other threats of a similar nature.

She felt she was going mad. Henry was more preoccupied with Thomas now, when he hated him, than he had been when he loved him! And yet—were not the bonds of hate as strong as those of love?

The following morning, Eleanor persuaded Henry to allow her into the council chamber to observe.

Not one word, Nell.

I promise.

Trying to remain inconspicuous in a corner of the hot, stuffy chamber, Eleanor saw their eldest son, Harry, seated on a stool beside his father. He stifled a yawn, and she smiled.

Thomas rose to his feet. In regard to the matter of the sheriffs, my lords, Sire. According to the ancient custom of the realm, no new taxes may be imposed without the unanimous consent of the magnates.

Who said anything about imposing a tax? Henry looked surprised. I simply said that moneys that now go to the sheriffs will go into the treasury.

Eleanor could see the magnates look at one another in dismay. They glanced at Henry and then at Thomas. Not one of them wanted to support the archbishop, that was obvious, but loyalty to their purse was stronger than loyalty to the crown.

If the sheriffs’ recompense is paid directly into the treasury, then it is no different from a new tax, Sire, said John the marshal. I believe you said yourself it would go into the treasury as a legal tax. Much as I wish to support you in this matter, I cannot give my consent.

Trust the venal marshal to look to himself first. But even the others, albeit somewhat reluctantly, agreed. An expression of satisfaction flitted across the archbishop’s pale countenance. Henry, crimson-faced, was barely managing to stay in control.

But he was no fool, thank the Holy Mother. To flout his own magnates would be to cut his own throat, and he knew it. Harry looked from his father to Thomas and back again. He understood nothing, poor lad; nor did she in this instance, Eleanor realized—but the boy must make a start sometime if one day he was to rule.

My lords, I will not press you against your will, Henry said in a strangled voice. Let matters proceed as usual.

Eleanor breathed a sigh of relief. She saw Thomas step forward then suddenly stop. No wonder. The expression on Henry’s face was decidedly menacing—the expression of a man who has been checkmated, and will make his opponent pay dearly.

Unable to breathe in such a dread atmosphere, Eleanor slipped out the door of the chamber and walked outside into the lucent courtyard and the laughter of her children at play. Overhead a blue sky dazzled, the air sparkled with sunshine, and the scent of summer roses overpowered the senses. But the oppressive ambiance in the council chamber clung to her spirits like a giant cobweb. Henry was setting his own course. Where will it end? his mother had asked her. He was without a guide now, refusing to listen to anyone’s advice.

Thomas started across the courtyard, a lonely black-robed figure, head bent, hands behind his back. Harry ran out behind him. Eleanor held out her arms, expecting him to run to her. To her great surprise, her son ran up to Thomas and embraced him. The archbishop patted the boy’s head, an obvious affection strong between them.

Oddly moved, Eleanor turned away—and allowed herself to complete a thought that had hovered at the rim of her mind for some days. Now that Thomas no longer threatened her in the inexplicable way he always had, was she actually going to miss his presence at Henry’s side? It was a shocking realization.

Chapter 3

Woodstock, 1163

IN AUGUST, HENRY, STILL nursing his humiliation at Thomas’s hands, discovered that the incident in the council had reaped an unexpected harvest: The leading barons, few of whom had liked Thomas the chancellor, became openly hostile to Thomas the archbishop. Gilbert Foliot, the bishop of London, went so far as to refuse to renew his oaths of obedience to Canterbury.

Gratifying as this was, it fell short of the mark—which was to retaliate in kind. He needed a potential weapon—but what would best serve him?

One morning late in the month, Henry was sitting at the head of a long oak table in his council chamber, two bloodhounds curled at his feet. Eleanor sat on one side of the table, Robert of Leicester on the other, both reading through official dispatches. A clerk perched on a high stool in one corner, stylus and wax tablet in hand. The table was littered with quill pens, wells of ink and rolls of parchment. Those documents Eleanor and Leicester thought merited Henry’s attention were placed on a growing pile in front of him. It was stifling in the small chamber, thick with the odor of stale air, goblets of warm wine, and a platter of overripe peaches.

Here is a protest from the sheriff of London, said Eleanor, reading aloud from a square of parchment. Last month a clerk stole a chalice from the church of St. Mary-le-Bow in London. He should have been tried by the lay courts but—

But Thomas ignored my request to do so, Henry interjected, and plucked the knave out of the sheriff’s hands and tried him in an ecclesiastical court. I don’t wonder the sheriff’s nose is twisted of joint, but what can I do now?

Eleanor shrugged, laid the parchment aside, and picked up another one. The chapel bells rang for nones.

Enough for today. God’s eyes, if I read another document or sign one more writ or charter, I shall go from my wits. With impatient fingers Henry shoved away the pile of dispatches. Leicester, what do you say to a few hours of hunting in the woods? Plenty of time before it grows dark. He rose eagerly to his feet; the hounds yawned and jumped up to join him.

Just a moment, Henry, said Eleanor, her eyes swiftly running down the new sheaf of parchment. Holy Mother, listen to this—

Not now, Nell. Please.

This is from the sheriff in Bedfordshire. You remember the recent case of the canon in Worcester who was tried in the ecclesiastical court?

If you mean the one who raped a girl and murdered her father, I recall it only too well. Henry had one hand upon the door. Been hanged at last, has he? Not before time.

Is this the case that the archbishop managed to transfer to the church courts? Frowning, Leicester rose heavily to his feet.

Henry nodded, opening the door. "And I returned to the sheriff’s custody. This problem of trying every criminatory cleric in the church courts was one I hoped Thomas’s appointment as chancellor would right. I did not object that strongly over a church theft, but murder is another matter." He stepped out into the passage.

"If this is the same case, the man has not been hanged. Eleanor laid down the parchment. The sheriff ordered the canon to stand trial again and he flatly refused, insulting the sheriff in the bargain."

Impatiently, Henry turned around. Yes, yes, I know all that. But I ordered the sheriff to try the canon again, for contempt as well as murder this time.

The sheriff of Bedfordshire, who dictates this, says he summoned the canon to stand trial again as you ordered, but the archbishop once more intervened, tried the canon in his own court, and again acquitted him!

Thomas acquitted him again? I don’t believe it! Henry marched back into the chamber.

Read for yourself. The sheriff says Thomas had the canon flogged for insulting a king’s official, and denied him the revenues from his benefices. When the sheriff again protested in the strongest terms, Thomas told him that no cleric may be tried by the royal justices.

Henry felt the blood pound in his head. He, king of England, had explicitly ordered that the canon be tried again in the lay courts. No one had the right gainsay him in this matter. No one! For a moment he could not get his breath; he felt exactly as if a horse had kicked him in the chest.

What an outrage! The fury in Eleanor’s voice echoed his own. Because church courts cannot impose a sentence which involves the shedding of blood, a cold-blooded murderer and rapist will get off with only a loss of income and a flogging!

In the royal courts, murder is a hanging offense; rape can be punished by blinding and castration. It is a huge discrepancy. Leicester shook his head. And going on far too long.

Henry snatched the letter from the table. That Thomas dared to countermand my writ in order to acquit a murderer is intolerable! He struggled to gain control as he tried to read the words through the red mist of rage that blinded him. It was almost beyond belief that his once-treasured friend should have so totally betrayed him.

Since the beginning of my reign nine years ago, he said in a choked voice, more than a hundred clerics have committed murder. Many more have committed rape, theft, and extortion. Not one found guilty in the church courts was ever turned over to lay authority for punishment. My protests have gone unheeded; even the pope is dilatory in righting this matter.

Eleanor rose to her feet. And now?

Henry flung the parchment onto the floor. Such leniency will no longer be tolerated. It goes against the ancient customs of the realm and the power of kingship. He turned to Leicester. This abuse of justice started in the last reign, did it not?

In point of fact it started with the Conqueror in the last century when he separated the lay courts from the church courts—

Do you dare blame my great-grandfather for this disastrous state of affairs?

Leicester went pale. No, my lord king, I sought only to clarify—

Henry waved him to silence, spun on his heels, and stalked the chamber, thumbs hooked into his belt. Surely clerics should be punished more severely than laymen, for they are supposed to be educated and of a spiritual bent. But suppose they are not?

Eleanor jumped up from the table. Certainly that is part of the problem! Virtually anyone can get himself consecrated as a clerk in minor orders and neither his education nor his character are ever put to the test.

Adulterers, robbers, rapists, fire-raisers, and murderers, all of them!

I must protest. You go too far, replied Leicester, eyes wide in shock.

Ignoring him, Henry smote his clenched fist into an open palm. We will return to the traditions and customs of my beloved grandfather, the first Henry. Jesu! I’ve been concentrating on legal reforms in the lay courts, when the church courts are where they’re sorely needed. He gave a grim smile. My purpose has always been to create laws common to all men. Clerics are men, made like any other. He paused then slowly nodded. I’ve thought of something. . . . But it will take time to work through.

Both Leicester and Eleanor looked mystified. It mattered little. They, like everyone else in England, would soon discover what he had in mind.

London, 1164

The following autumn Henry convened an assembly of bishops and barons at Westminster. Telling no one of his real intentions, he had given it out that the meeting was to settle a dispute between the archbishops of York and Canterbury, both of whom were to be present.

On a chill October morning, Henry, flanked by his two co-justiciars, Leicester and de Lucy, as well as Eleanor, stood in the open doorway of the great hall of Westminster, watching the bishops arrive in litters or on horseback. The sky was a bold blue streaked with feathers of white. Eddies of wind blew gold and russet leaves into little piles in the courtyard. Henry took in deep breaths of the bracing air. Not a day to be imprisoned inside a musty chamber with a lot of dry clergymen, most of them in their dotage.

A sudden commotion in the courtyard caught his attention. The archbishop rode into view, properly mounted this time on a black gelding. A horde of commoners, some in rags, ran at his stirrups and pushed one another aside to clutch his habit. Thomas stretched out his hands and blessed them, before the guards waved everyone off.

The common people love him, commented de Lucy, just as the humble priests of the clergy do.

Henry turned from the door. The image of an old man dressed in a threadbare brown cloak, his feet wrapped in rags, kissing the hem of the archbishop’s gown stayed in his mind. He stroked his chin with thoughtful fingers.

Thomas has become rather more dangerous than I had previously thought.

People will flock to a man they think stands up to authority, Eleanor murmured, especially such a charismatic figure as our saintly archbishop.

These simple folk are but beguiled and dazzled by all the far-fetched tales they have heard about Thomas Becket, said de Lucy.

"They will learn that it is a common law I am trying to achieve, a law that does not set one man above another but declares all equal before the bar of justice, Henry replied. The poor and humble—clergy or otherwise—are not excluded."

In truth, he had been rather dismayed at the expression of devotion just witnessed. Only rarely had the populace of England shown such affection to their king. Henry knew he had the good of the people in mind far more often than Thomas did, yet, seemingly, they preferred the primate. He repressed a strong surge of jealousy and hardened his heart. Thomas was now more than an adversary; he had become a rival.

Take a seat at the back of the chamber, he told Eleanor, you will be less noticeable. Most of these dry old sticks don’t approve of a woman being present.

When all the magnates and prelates were assembled around the long table in the council chamber, Henry rose to his feet. In a deliberately low and calm voice he addressed the assembly: As you all know, it has long been my desire to establish tranquility and peace in my dominions. From the corner of his eye he glimpsed Thomas’s unreadable face. I feel sure it is yours, too?

The prelates glanced at one another, then at their king.

Indeed, Sire, several voices rang out.

You can imagine, then, my shock and surprise to discover that the clergy—of all people—are guilty of disorder and lawlessness.

From the look of shock on their faces Henry knew it was the last thing they’d expected him to say. He went on to explain that he had consulted his legal advisors and had himself looked through the records of his reign. He declared his shock at the number of murders and other criminal acts committed by the clergy, and at the church courts’ failure to impose

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