WHEN I LOOK BACK over my long and tempestuous life, I can see that much of what happened to me—my triumphs and most of my misfortunes—was due to my passionate relationships with men. I was a woman who considered herself their equal—and in many ways their superior—but it seemed that I depended on them, while seeking to be the dominant partner—an attitude which could hardly be expected to bring about a harmonious existence.
I inherited my good looks and fiery passionate nature from my forebears—and my surroundings no doubt played a big part in forming my character, for until I was five years old I lived at the Court of my grandfather, the notorious William IX of Aquitaine, poet, king of the troubadours, adventurer, lecher, founder of the “Courts of Love,” and the most fascinating man of his day.
It was true that I knew him when he was past his adventuring and had reached that stage when a man who has lived as he had is casting uneasy eyes toward the life hereafter and forcing himself into reluctant penitence; but, all the same, even to my youthful eyes, he was an impressive figure. Engraved on my memory forever are those evenings in the great hall when I sat entranced watching the tumblers and listening to the jongleurs—and most of all hearing my grandfather himself singing songs of his exploits in those days when he was a lusty young man, roaming abroad in search of love. I thought him godlike. He was as handsome as Apollo, as strong as Hercules and as ingenious a lover as Jupiter. I was sure he could assume any shape in his love adventures. All the songs were of beautiful women, mostly unattainable, which seemed to make them more desirable than they would otherwise have been. Women were glorified in his Court, and when I left Aquitaine and discovered how differently they were treated in other countries I was amazed.
Seated beside him would be the exciting Dangerosa. I had heard her called Dangereuse, which was appropriate. She was tall, statuesque and flamboyantly handsome. He was my father’s father and she was my mother’s mother; but they were lovers. Nothing in my grandfather’s Court followed conventional lines.
My grandfather often sang of how he had ridden into the castle where he found her; and he had fallen in love with her the moment he set eyes on her. She was married to the Viscount of Chtellerault to whom she had borne three children; but that was no obstacle to my grandfather’s passion. He abducted her and brought her to his castle—a willing captive—and he set her up in that part of the castle known as the Maubergeonne Tower. Not that her presence was kept a secret. All knew what had happened; and when my grandfather’s wife, Philippa—who had been away at the time—returned to the castle to find a rival actually in residence, understandably she left my grandfather forever.
I never knew my grandmother Philippa. She died before I was born, but of course I knew the story of that stormy marriage. My grandfather’s affairs were openly discussed and he himself sang of them.
However, I was enchanted by my dashing troubadour grandfather and my merry, wicked grandmother, Dangerosa, living in riotous sin together.
I think my mother was a little shocked and would have liked the household to have been run on more orthodox lines. She was Anor, daughter of Dangerosa and the Viscount of Chtellerault; as Dangerosa could not be the Duchess of Aquitaine, she decided that her daughter should marry my grandfather’s eldest son so that her grandchild could inherit Aquitaine in due course. This was adding to the unconventionality, and I believe even my grandfather hesitated, but he was so besotted with Dangerosa that he gave in.
Very soon after the wedding, to the delight of all, I appeared. No doubt they would have preferred a boy, but because of the status of women in Aquitaine I was warmly welcomed.
I heard afterward that before I was born one of the holy pilgrims came to the castle. They were always turning up like birds of ill omen. The man was understandably shocked by the situation at the castle: the abduction, the blatant living together of the unmarried pair, and the flight of the true Duchess to Fontevrault Abbey, and to follow that the marriage of the son and daughter of the guilty pair.
He stood before my poor pregnant mother and declared: “Nothing good will come of this.”
What I am wondering now is: Was the pilgrim right?
Aquitaine is one of the richest provinces in France. It had been a law unto itself since the time of the Romans when the Emperor Augustus divided Gaul into four provinces and added to Aquitaine the land between the Garonne and the Loire. It included Poitou and Gascony and contained some of the most beautiful scenery in France. Fruit and flowers grew in abundance; the grape flourished and the wine was the best to be found anywhere. My grandfather ruled over a prosperous land.
Living was easy in Aquitaine and that made its people pleasure-loving. Nature was indulgent toward us and we were a contented community, my grandfather a popular ruler. People liked his merry ways; they did not care that he was often in conflict with the Church; they did not criticize his way of life; his amorous adventures were a cause for laughter, and his exploits were recounted throughout the Duchy.
I learned a little about him during those five years when I knew him and I discovered a great deal later. He really had an influence on my life, for he it was who set the tone of the Court which my father was later to inherit and which was to continue to be my home during my childhood.
My grandfather had come to the throne when he was fifteen or sixteen years old, and even at that time the pursuit of women seemed to be the great aim of his life. At the Court of Poitou this was considered a lovable failing. Perhaps his ministers thought that such a youth would be easy to handle; they soon found their mistake. He might first and foremost wish to play the part of lover, but he was determined to rule as well and he intended that one pursuit should not deter him from following the other.
It was thought a good idea to get him married quickly. On our northern borders was the province of Anjou, and the daughter of Fulk of Anjou was chosen for William. She was Ermengarde and reckoned to be a great beauty—as most royal brides are made out to be—and they were married.
He appeared to be delighted for a while but he was not a man to give up old habits, and there was friction between them. Moreover she failed to produce an heir—a terrible fault in women of noble families—and there was agreement between them that divorce would be desirable.
This was obtained without too much difficulty but of course a man in my grandfather’s position was in duty bound to produce an heir so he must again think of marriage.
An interesting situation had arisen in the neighborhood. Count William of Toulouse had gone to fight in the Holy Land and had been killed. He had a daughter but no son, and his brother, Raymond, immediately seized Toulouse and the title that went with it. Philippa, Count William’s daughter, had married Sancho Ramirez the ruler of Aragon, and, fortuitously, just at this time he was killed in battle, leaving her a widow. William, having heard accounts of her outstanding good looks, decided she was the wife for him and set out to woo her, and with his handsome looks and gift of words he was soon a successful suitor.
At first the marriage was successful. Moreover, inspired by religious fervor, Raymond of Toulouse joined the First Crusade and on the way to the Holy Land met his death; so all my grandfather had to do was ride with Philippa into Toulouse and take it.
While this was happening, Philippa gave birth to a son—my father.
There was a great deal of religious enthusiasm at that time. A certain monk who had once been a soldier and was the father of several children had what he called a revelation from God and became a recluse. He was known as Peter the Hermit and created a great stir when, having been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he returned with such stories of the manner in which Christians were being treated that he attracted the attention of Pope Urban II. Together they preached about the wickedness of the villainous Turks who were desecrating the Holy Shrine, and such was the mystic power of Peter the Hermit that all over Europe men rallied to his call, eager to join the crusade which was to free Jerusalem from the Infidel.
My grandfather was caught up in the excitement, no doubt seeing that by such a venture he could wipe out his sins with one stroke and save himself years of wearying virtue. As an important ruler, he must set out in great style, and for that he needed money. He then did what in Philippa’s eyes must have been unforgivable. He sold Toulouse to Raymond—son of that other Raymond—without asking Philippa’s permission; and she, who was in Toulouse at the time, knew nothing about the transaction until Raymond came to take possession.
William found the Turk a formidable enemy and had the mortification of seeing his army cut to pieces in battle. He himself managed to escape, but all he came back with was some poems glorifying the crusade and telling of the cruelty of the wicked Infidel.
Philippa must have forgiven him, for she bore him two more children—there were five girls and another boy—but their relationship had been seriously impaired. She turned to religion and came under the influence of Robert d’Abrissel. I later took notice of this man for he founded Fontevrault, which consisted of four convents—two for women and two for men. He was the first of his kind to show a respect for women, and for that I applauded him. I came to love Fontevrault and could well imagine what a haven it would be to a woman who could embrace the cloistered life. I could not imagine myself doing so, but that did not stop my loving Fontevrault.
William had no interest in the place and did his best to discourage Philippa from the religious life she was leading. He deplored d’Abrissel’s view of women for he wanted to keep them in that niche which men of his kind arranged for them. Had I been older, I would have made known my disagreement with him. I should have enjoyed doing battle with him on the subject.
He ridiculed d’Abrissel and talked of building a convent for courtesans. He was the sort of man who enjoyed shocking all those about him. Philippa was determined to pursue her own way of life; and the final break between them came with the appearance of Dangerosa, which was more than any woman could be expected to endure.
So Philippa left him forever and retired to Fontevrault.
I was called Eleanor, named after my mother, for Eleanor meant “That other Anor.”
They made much of me. Like many sinners my grandfather and grandmother were indulgent. I doubt the virtuous Philippa or the Viscount of Chtellerault would have given me so much loving attention. My mother was there in the background, gentle, rather timid, an alien in this flamboyant Court. She was devoted to me and I know did her best to counteract the effect of the spoiling. I am afraid she was not very successful in this; but I did love her dearly and she represented a steadying influence in my young life which was certainly necessary.
When my sister Petronilla arrived, I was not quite sure of the effect she would have on my position; but very soon I was in charge of her. The elders watched me with amusement as I exerted my influence over her and by the time she could walk she was my abject slave. She was pretty and charming, but just as my father lacked the charisma of my grandfather, so Petronilla, for all her prettiness and charm, could only take second place to me.
So all was well. I was the little Queen of the Court. I would sit on my grandfather’s knee and make my quaint remarks which set his beard wagging, implying that he was amused. I was the one who received most of the sugarplums fed to us by Dangerosa.
At this time I heard someone say that the Lady Eleanor could well be the heiress of Aquitaine. That was a great revelation. Aquitaine, that beautiful country with its rivers, mountains, flowers and vineyards, its many castles . . . all would one day be mine! I was a very contented little girl.
And then it happened. My mother had been sick for a long time. Her shape changed; she rested a good deal. There was a great fuss about what they called “her condition.” I was told: “There is going to be another little one in the nursery.”
I naturally thought of another Petronilla—someone for me to mold and direct and who would become my ardent admirer.
The great day arrived. One of the nurses came to me in great excitement.
“What do you think, my lady!” she said. “You have a little brother.”
What rejoicing there was throughout the castle. “Now we have a male heir,” they said.
My grandfather was full of glee; so were Dangerosa and my father.
It was treachery. I was the heir of Aquitaine. But it seemed that, in spite of all the songs dedicated to the glory of women, they were forgotten when a boy was born.
This was the first setback.
I sat on my grandfather’s knee and voiced my protests.
“But you see, little one, men want a leader.”
“I could lead them.”
“Sometimes we go into battle.”
“I did . . . when I was a younger man.”
Dangerosa said: “Never mind. Women have their way of ruling.”
My father tried to console me. “You will make a great marriage when the time comes.”
My mother said: “Happiness does not come with great titles, my child, but with the good life. If you marry and are a good wife, that will bring you more happiness than great estates.”
I did not believe her. I wanted to be the heiress of Aquitaine.
But no one could help loving little William Aigret. He was such a docile child; and I still ruled the nursery.
Soon after that my grandfather died and my father became the Duke of Aquitaine.
My grandfather was genuinely mourned. I spent a great deal of time with Dangerosa; she used to tell me stories about him; and it was from her I pieced together the events of his turbulent life. She loved to tell the story of her abduction and how he had come to the castle to talk business with his vassal the Viscount of Chtellerault and as soon as he set eyes on her all thought of business was driven from his mind. I felt I was there during those periods in the castle when they had planned their flight. I seemed to have ridden with them through the forest, she riding pillion, clinging to him as they sped away to happiness. It was very romantic. I did not spare a thought for the poor deserted Viscount and my wronged grandmother Philippa. My sympathies were with the lovers.
Philippa was dead now but in the Courts of Love, which my grandfather had created, their story would be sung for years to come.
The Court changed of course. My father was a very different man. He was not the great lover; he was more of a fighter. At least he was constantly embroiled in some dispute with his vassals. He was quick-tempered and ready to go to war on the slightest pretext; and he was absent a good deal during the years which followed my grandfather’s death.
There were plenty of young people at the castle, for girls were sent to my mother to be brought up as the Court ladies they would eventually become. There were boys too, who must be taught the art of chivalry and horsemanship. We girls had to learn how to embroider and do delicate needlework, which was so much a part of a lady’s education; we had to sing and dance and make gracious conversation; but I was taught other things besides, such as reading and writing. I had shown such an aptitude for learning when it was thought I might be Duchess of Aquitaine that they decided I should continue. I was, therefore, apart from the other children, and I intended that none should forget it.
There was still a great deal of music in the evenings but my father, although he loved it, was no composer. He sang well, and this he liked to do; and he enjoyed the ballads and stories about his father. But he was so often away and the character of the Court had changed from what it had been in his father’s day.
When my father came home he would want to know how we had progressed. He was very interested in William Aigret’s performance, but I fancied he had a special fondness for me.
Then one day fever struck Poitou. Several people died and there were restrictions as to who should be allowed to come into the castle.
My mother became ill and she died within a few days. That was not all. William Aigret caught the fever from her and very soon afterward he was dead.
It was a time of great mourning. It was then that I realized how much I had cared for my mother and that William Aigret had been such a loving little boy.
It was a great loss. There were only two children now—Petronilla and myself; but I had become the heiress of Aquitaine.
My father called me to him. He held me close and said that I was his precious child. He was very sad. He told me how much he had loved my mother and their son, and to be deprived of them both was almost more than he could endure. He thanked God he had his daughters; and I knew that he was especially thankful for me.
I was eight years old now but more like a girl of ten, and ten was nearing maturity. Girls were married at thirteen—twelve even. So I did not seem like the child my years might suggest.
We wept together over our loss. My mother had not been a great beauty but perhaps there were qualities which some men found even more attractive. She had been gentle, tender and uncomplaining; and he had loved her as my grandfather had never loved the beautiful Ermengarde and Philippa. Of course Dangerosa had reigned supreme for several years but she had been a perfect match for my grandfather.
“This has made a difference to your position, daughter,” he said. I nodded. “You will inherit this duchy when I am gone.”
“That will be years and years away.”
“I pray God so. For we are both unready as yet . . . I to go, you to rule. You will have to learn a great deal.”
I nodded again, but I felt I already knew a great deal.
“These are troublesome times. There is always some vassal ready to make mischief. That is why I am so often from Court.”
“I know, Father.”
“We have to remember that we ourselves are vassals of the King of France. You and I must talk together. There will be times when I shall take you with me on my journeys. You will have to know the domain which one day . . . unless I remarry and get a male heir . . . will be yours.”
“Will you marry?” I asked with trepidation.
He shook his head and there were tears in his eyes. “No, no,” he said. “How could I think of replacing your mother?”
I rejoiced. I could not bear the thought of a boy replacing me.
Life had certainly changed with the death of my brother. Everyone was subtly different toward me. I had become important.
They were writing songs about me now. I loved to hear them sing of my beauty and my cleverness. I noticed that several of the young men—even those of quite mature years—glanced at me in a special way. It was exciting.
My father took me on a journey with him. It was wonderful to ride beside him over the hills and through the forests with the courtiers about us, and then to receive the lavish hospitality at the castles where we stayed.
I had thought of Poitiers as home because that was where I had spent most of my childhood, but we had other castles and palaces of which I could grow fond.
Best of all these was the Ombrire Palace at Bordeaux, where we stayed for a time. My father had to deal with disgruntled vassals, many of whom had made trouble. He wanted me to be with him so that I could see how justice was meted out. It was illuminating.
I loved Bordeaux. There was evidence of Roman occupation there and I liked to dream of those old days and wonder what life had been like then. The palace was built on the old Roman wall, and from its windows I could look down on the Garonne winding its way to the sea.
I think that in the year following the death of my mother and brother I grew up. I was like a plant in a greenhouse where the atmosphere tends to force growth. My father was beginning to treat me like an adult. I do not think I am being unduly conceited when I say that I did have a rather special aptitude for ruling. That was to develop and bring me trouble later, but at the time my father rejoiced in it.
He talked often of the King of France. I would see his eyes on me and there would be an uneasy expression in them. I asked him if anything worried him.
He said frankly: “In a duchy of this size there will always be trouble. It is too big for a ruler to be everywhere at once. It is necessary for that ruler to be loved by his people . . . loved and respected. It is the only way.”
“They do love you and respect you.”
He smiled ruefully. “We do have trouble, you know. There are some who think they can do as they will and because of the distance between us will never be found out. There could be uprisings.”
“You will stop that.”
“If I can.”
“Is it worse now than it used to be?”
“Your grandfather was respected. It is strange. He was a man who defied the Church and who even died excommunicated; but he was loved throughout the Duchy . . . partly for what the Church deplored. That is the strangeness of human nature.”
“Perhaps you should be like him?”
“My child, we can only be like ourselves.”
I knew that he was quick to anger and perhaps acted recklessly. I was learning that it was no easy matter to keep order over a vast territory. And there was more trouble than there had been in my grandfather’s day.
“One needs friends,” he said.
“And you have them?”
He lifted his shoulders. “The King of France is very powerful,” he said.
“We are his vassals.”
“Yes. I think he casts envious eyes on Aquitaine.”
“Do you mean he will try to take it from you?”
He shook his head. “He has sons and I have daughters.”
“You mean . . . marriage?”
“My child, I should like to see you married to the son of the King of France.”
“One forgets how young you are. But the years pass quickly, daughter, and one day a husband will be found for you.”
“Perhaps I shall find my own.”
“That would not be easy for you. The Duchess of Aquitaine could not choose from those around her. It would have to be someone worthy. I should like to see you Queen of France.”
“But I am to be Duchess of Aquitaine.”
“Queen of France and Duchess of Aquitaine.”
“Queen of France!”
“Why not? The King of France has a son who will be King when his father dies.”
I was excited. It was impossible in the Courts of Love not to be aware of the relationships between men and women. Looks came my way even now. I had noticed the men’s eyes watching me, assessing me. It excited me to attempt to probe their thoughts.
I knew instinctively that marriage was not something I should shrink from. But Queen of France! I had not thought of that. Duchess of Aquitaine had seemed a glorious enough title. We were all vassals of France, and although we in Aquitaine might be richer, France was the master of us all.
“Tell me about the King of France and his son,” I said.
“Louis VI. Let me see. He must be in his late forties. He is the son of Philip I. Philip’s story is not unlike that of your own grandfather. He married Bertha of Holland and there was a son, Louis, the King’s heir. Philip fell in love with Bertrade de Montfort who was the wife of Fulk of Anjou, who as you know has connections with our own family. As your grandfather did with your grandmother, Dangerosa, he abducted Bertrade.”
“It is indeed the same story,” I cried.
“Love stories often resemble each other, and when you have two powerful men who act according to their whims and desires, similar results often come about. The Holy See rose in protest and Philip was obliged to promise to give up Bertrade, which he failed to do and consequently was excommunicated.”
“Just like my grandfather.”
He nodded. “The trouble is that when a leader is excommunicated, the edict can fall on the entire community. This is what happened. Churches were closed and people were in revolt against that, so Philip eventually had to make a show of giving up Bertrade, and when he died he was reconciled to the Church. Bertrade was an ambitious mother and wanted her son by the King to be heir to the throne. When Philip was alive she made an attempt to poison his son Louis—her stepson—but that attempt fortunately failed and on his father’s death Louis came to the throne.”
“And he is the father of the man I shall marry?”
“The man I should like you to marry. This is between ourselves at the moment. There will be many to seek alliance with France, my dear, but we have much to offer. We have the rich duchy of Aquitaine and with it one who must be the most beautiful girl in the whole of France.”
I smiled complacently. I had no doubt of my ability to capture the son of the King of France.
“Louis VI has two sons—Philip and Louis.”
“It will be Philip for me,” I said.
“The elder, no less.”
“Does he . . . know?”
My father shook his head. “Though Louis will be looking out for his son’s best interests.”
“Tell me about the Court of France. Is it like ours?”
“Oh, no, no. I doubt there is another Court in the world like ours. Your grandfather founded it, and although he is no longer with us, it does not change greatly. There will be differences. They call the King of France Louis the Fat . . . for obvious reasons. He is a great eater . . . a great drinker . . . and it is difficult for him to move about, so large is he. He is a very religious man which is why France is called ‘the Elder Daughter of the Church.’”
“It would not be very merry at his Court.”
“If you were Queen of France, you would see that your Court was how you wanted it to be.”
“That is true,” I said. “But the King of France has said nothing as yet regarding his son’s marriage.”
“Not as yet, but I am his most powerful vassal, and Aquitaine covers about a quarter of France. He would be hard put to it to find a more worthy bride for his son.”
“So you think it will come to pass.”
“I am as sure as a man can be of anything.”
After that I thought a good deal about France and tried to learn all I could from the travelers who came to our Court.
It was at Ombrire that I first saw Raymond.
I was in the gardens with a group of girls who were being brought up at Court with us, and Petronilla was beside me. Some of them were embroidering altar cloths, while others took it in turn to recite verses and sing to us.
It was a pleasant summer’s day—not too hot for the shade under the trees was pleasant.
I saw him walking through the gardens with my father, and I thought he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. He was very tall and upright, with blond hair, blue eyes and a merry expression. Since my talk with my father about marriage. I was paying more attention to young men. I had always been aware of them and liked to see what effect I had on them, and I was accustomed to receiving ardent looks which delighted me. I liked to think of myself as one of those sought-after maidens who kept themselves aloof because they were far too precious to fall into the hands of lesser men and must wait for the perfect knight.
I left the group of girls, Petronilla at my heels; she followed me everywhere.
My father saw us and smiled. “Oh, Raymond,” he said, “here are my daughters Eleanor and Petronilla. Daughters, your uncle Raymond.”
We curtsied. Uncle! I was thinking. There must be some mistake. He gazed at me and murmured my name.
“And Petronilla,” said my father.
Petronilla gave him a dazzling smile but I was delighted to notice that it was I who held his attention.
“I did not know that I had such enchanting nieces,” he said.
“You should have come before,” my father told him. “It is not good for there to be rifts in families.”
We went into the palace with him. I think he was rather surprised by the easy manners between us. We were doubtless expected to be in awe of our father instead of making light conversation with him . . . at least I did. Petronilla said little, but I could see that she was as enchanted by this new uncle as I was.
He proved to be about eight years older than I, and he was Philippa’s youngest son, born just after she had left the castle on the arrival of Dangerosa.
Alas, his visit was brief, but I was with him a great deal during the ten days he stayed in the palace for he was as attracted by me as I was by him. Each morning I awoke with the joyous thought: Raymond is here. We would ride together. I would sing for him. Petronilla was often with us and so was my father but I liked best the times when we were alone.
He told me that I was the most enchanting little girl he had ever met. There was a certain regret in his eyes and in his voice, and being precocious I knew what he meant by that. This was love, of which the troubadours sang, but he was a man, and for all my sophistication I was but a child, and he was my uncle, so there was too strong a blood tie between us for us to be lovers. But all our looks and gestures spoke of love; and I shall always remember Raymond as my first love.
He talked to me of serious things. I had an idea that he believed that by pretending I was not a child I should miraculously become a woman and then we could both give expression to what we felt.
He reminded me of my grandfather although I had only known him as an old man and this was a radiant young one. He was after all my grandfather’s youngest son but he had never known him because he had been born after Philippa had left.
He told me that he was without fortune which was why he was setting out to make it. He was starting first in England, for he had met Henry, the King, who had promised him a welcome. I was sure he would make a name for himself, for he was meant for greatness . . . even though at this stage it was difficult to see how he would do this.
He was a great talker and I loved to listen.
He told me much of what was happening around me and of which I had been ignorant before. I had thought that my father was all-powerful; it was a revelation to learn that this was not the case and that he had dangerous enemies.
The greatest of these was the Church.
I began to see my father through new eyes. Not that Raymond ever spoke against him. But when he told me of affairs in Europe I realized that my father had only a very small part in them.
Raymond was interested in Bernard of Clairvaux, who was at this time in conflict with my father.
“He is a very powerful man,” Raymond told me, “and it is unwise to cross swords with him.”
“And that is what my father is doing . . . crossing swords?”
“I should not be talking to you thus, dear child. Let us sing a beautiful song together. That is more suitable to the occasion, I am sure.”
“Let us sing certainly . . . but first I would hear of this Bernard of Clairvaux.”
“If you have not heard of him, assuredly you soon will. He is a monk and he is renowned for his power with words. He draws the most hardened sinners to the monastic life. It is said that mothers hide their sons, wives their husbands and friends their companions for fear that he will lure them away from them. As a young man he went to the monastery of Cteaux because it was noted for its austerity, and that was the life he chose.”
I grimaced. “How tiring such people are!” I cried. “They want to be miserable themselves and to make everyone else so at the same time. If they want to starve and mourn, I say, let them, if they will allow those who want to enjoy life to do so.”
He laughed at my vehemence. “I see you are a little hedonist. I am of your opinion. But we cannot ignore this Bernard. He is becoming too powerful a figure in the world.”
“It seems to me that one must either be very wicked or very good to win the approval of the people.”
He laughed again. “And an observer of human nature too, I perceive. What a wise niece I have.”
“Tell me more of this Bernard.”
“He and his followers became so well known that many wanted to join their Order and there was not room at Cteaux to hold them so they decided to build a new monastery. They went in search of a place where they could build it and they came upon the wooded valley of Langres which was very dark and gloomy and would have to be cleared.”
“They make me impatient,” I said. “Why choose a place which demanded a lot of hard work before they began to build? They might have chosen a sunny plain somewhere.”
“But that would not suit Bernard. He believes that only by suffering can a man come to God. So they worked hard; they cut down trees; they settled there and built the famous abbey of Clairvaux. They endured great hardship and as a matter of fact, Bernard became so ill because of the austere life he led that they feared he would die.”
“He had none but himself to blame.”
“You are a realist, my dear little niece. Of course you are right. But there was great consternation. He was regarded as a saint. You have heard of the great doctor William of Champeaux. He went to Bernard. He cured him, taught him that it was possible to live frugally and be healthy. So now we have Bernard traveling the country, urging people to forsake their evil ways and whipping them up to a frenzy of piety. But the point of his discourse now is the acceptance of Innocent II as the true Pope.”
“I know of the rivalry between the two Popes.”
“It is splitting not only France but the whole of Europe. There are the supporters of Anacletus and those of Innocent.”
“But why are there these two Popes?”
“Because there was a split among the Cardinals and each candidate for the Papacy declares himself the winner. It is dividing the whole of Christendom. Italy stands for Anacletus and France for Innocent. At least that was how it was until Bernard took a hand in the dispute. You see, Louis sent for Bernard. Louis, indulgent as he is to his own appetites—and his immense body bears witness to that—is a very religious man. How the ascetic Bernard and gross Louis became so reconciled to each other it is hard to say, but the fact is that Louis has persuaded Bernard to stand for Innocent; and that means that he will win the whole of Europe to his side with his honeyed words.”
“So this matter will be settled then?”
“What I am telling you is that there are some who still stand for Anacletus and your father is one of them.”
“Is that why he is so troubled lately?”
“It may well be.”
“Why should we in Aquitaine be bothered by what is happening in Rome?”
“What happens in the world affects us all. Does your father talk to you of these matters?”
“Of some. He did not talk of this.”
“I would guess that it is because it weighs heavily on his mind.”
“What is Anacletus to him?”
“It is hard sometimes for people to change a course when they have set out on it.”
I knew what he meant. My father was a stubborn man and he would often cling to a decision because he had made it even when he discovered it could do him harm. He had an innate pride which would not let him do otherwise.
Raymond was smiling at me. “Why do I talk to you so?” he said. “Eleanor, there are times when I forget you are so young.”
“Then go on forgetting,” I begged him.
He took my face in his hands and kissed me gently. I flung my arms about his neck and cried: “Do not go away. Stay here at our Court.”
He sighed. “I would that I could!” he said.
“Why not?” I demanded. “You are seeking your fortune. Why not do it here?”
He laughed. “What a glorious prospect! Every day to be with Eleanor. Ah, the temptation is great. Tell me this, little wise one, why are the best things in life so often out of reach?”
“The clever ones stretch out far enough to reach them,” I replied.
Then he took me in his arms and held me tightly against him. I was deeply stirred, and if I could have shut out of my mind the knowledge that he would soon be going away, that could have been the happiest moment I had ever known.
But he released me and said he must leave me. He had much to do and he must prepare for his departure and not delay too long or King Henry would have forgotten his invitation, and that would be another lost chance.
When he went away, I was sad for a long time.
The conflict between the Popes dominated the country. From what I could gather, we stood apart, for now that the King of France had persuaded Bernard to give his approval to Innocent, it seemed the whole world followed him. Bernard only had to appear with his spare, emaciated figure and his loud condemnation of sin, for people to know that they were in the presence of a saint. They immediately followed him—all except my father.
“I will not be told what to do by this man just because he tortures his body and talks like a fanatic,” declared my father. “I will go my own way.”
I was a little alarmed for him. To my way of thinking it was of little importance to us which Pope ruled. They were all the same, all in search of the same thing: self-aggrandizement, power.
But my father was stubborn. When an invitation came for him to meet Bernard at the Abbey Montierneuf, he refused to go at first. It was only when he was advised that this was a dangerous attitude to take, for the King of France was firmly behind Bernard as was most of Europe, that he finally decided to go.
I wanted to accompany him. I should have loved to see the celebrated Bernard.
Of course I was not allowed to, and when he did come back I was amazed to see how chastened he was.
“There is something about the man,” he admitted. “Something spiritual.”
“Have you promised to withdraw your support from Anacletus?” I asked him.
“I was bemused by him,” he admitted. “One really did feel that one was in the presence of a saint.”
Now, I thought, all will be well. This silly business will be settled. We shall be at peace with our neighbors. Raymond would have said this was the wise thing to do.
My father was a strange man. He had certainly been impressed by Bernard. He had come back subdued, and remained so for a whole week.
One evening, when we were in the great hall, my father sat listening to the singing with a brooding look in his eyes. I was beside him as I often was at this time. The lute-player was singing a love song about a lady who bore a strong resemblance to myself. Petronilla was at my side listening intently.
Then my father spoke. He said quite softly so that only I heard him: “A plague on these reformers. I’ll have my own way. I’ll not be led by them.”
I said: “Do you speak of Bernard?”
He said in a loud voice: “I speak of all who would seek to rule me. This is my land and I am the master of it.”
The next day he rode with a party to Montierneuf and smashed the altar on which Bernard had said Mass, and he declared that all those who supported Innocent should be driven from his kingdom.
I was beginning to learn that my father was not the great ruler I had thought him to be; nor, I supposed, had my grandfather been. Neither of them had had any great success in battle; both were men who followed their own desires to such an extent that they could not see any other point of view. My grandfather had died excommunicated from the Church—and the Church was a force to reckon with. Because of his colorful personality, he had won the affection of his people; my father did not have that.
It is all very well for a ruler to be strong; that he must be. But when the forces against him are so great that they are superior in every way, he should reconsider his position and avoid unnecessary danger. My father was a stubborn man. If he found himself on the wrong path, his pride would not allow him to retrace his steps. He must go on. Only a miracle could change him. Who would have thought that a miracle was possible?
Bernard must have had some spiritual power. I would not have believed it could happen any more than my father did; but both of us were forced in the end to believe what was an actual fact.
It was hardly likely that my father’s intransigence would be allowed to pass.
Bernard of Clairvaux was not accustomed to being flouted. He had preached to my father; he had persuaded him; he had, he believed, led him out of his evil ways—and as soon as Bernard had gone my father reverted to them!
Bernard came once more to Poitou to see him.
Although my father refused to see him, that did not deter Bernard. He remained in Poitou, visiting the town, preaching to the people. Wherever he went there were crowds. He was a later Jesus Christ—and I believe that was how he saw himself. People fell down and worshipped him; they declared themselves enemies of sin and the Devil forever more.
And my father still refused to admit him to the palace.
When Bernard arrived in Poitiers and preached in the square, people came from miles around to beg for his blessing.
My father could not allow him to use his city, his church. He rode into the town to see what was happening. I do not know what he intended to do. I was afraid that in his stubborn recklessness he would seek open conflict with Bernard; and I could guess what the outcome of that might be.
When he arrived in the center of the town, Bernard was already in the church celebrating Mass. The crowd outside was great, for the church was not big enough to hold all the people. My father pushed his way through the press of people and stood at the door of the church. I can imagine the silence. Bernard was holding the Host and when he saw my father, still carrying the Host, he walked slowly down the aisle toward him. I could imagine my father, choking with anger, because this man who had come into his territory was acting as though he owned it. So great would his anger have been that he drew his sword. Nearer and nearer to each other came the two men. My father, sword in hand, and Bernard holding the Host. It must have been the most dramatic confrontation the watchers had ever seen.
Then Bernard began to castigate my father; he said he had spurned God, that he had desecrated the Church and had rejected God’s servant.
Closer and closer they came to each other and the people waited breathlessly for what would happen next. Would my father slay the saint?
Bernard had no fear. Such men never have. They embrace martyrdom as the worldly do their lovers. It would not surprise me if, at the moment, Bernard hoped my father would kill him, for if he did that would no doubt be the end of my father—and such men as Bernard are vengeful—and for Bernard the crown of glory.
Then the miracle happened. My father lifted his sword, for having come so far a man such as he was could not retreat. Bernard came nearer, waiting for the blow, but as my father raised his arm, he fell suddenly at Bernard’s feet.
This was seen as the power of God against the forces of evil. The sword had no power to strike the Host.
My father lay on the floor, and Bernard made him rise and make his peace with God.
The strange thing was that my father was able to get to his feet, and Bernard embraced and kissed him.
“Go in peace, my son,” he said.
The miracle had brought about the effect which Bernard had desired. My father had been vanquished. There would be no more objections to Innocent, no more support for the man whom his enemies called the anti-Pope.
My father came back to us, a changed man.
He was never the same again. He was given to moods of melancholy. Immediately after his return he shut himself in the palace. It was a shattering experience to have been shown so clearly that God was displeased with him.
Bernard was a saint. He was sure of that. The man had proved it. And he himself was a miserable sinner.
Everyone was afraid to go near him—with the exception of myself, and even I went tentatively at first. But I soon found that he wanted me with him. He wanted to talk to someone, and he could do that with me more easily than with anyone else.
He explained to me how he had lifted his sword. “I was going to strike a holy man. What if I had? I should have been damned forever.”
“But you did not,” I soothed. “You were saved in time.”
“Bernard saved me. He looked into my eyes . . . such glittering eyes he has. I seemed to lose myself in them; and there he was . . . holding the Host, and my knees buckled under me. I found myself swaying like an aspen in the wind. It was as though something flowed over me . . . like a gigantic wave . . . and there was I, helpless at his feet.”
“Try to forget it,” I said. “It is over.”
“It will live with me forever. I see that I have failed and not done what I should for my country . . . and for God. What shall I do, Eleanor my child? What shall I do?”
“Forget what has happened. Have no more trouble with these Popes. Let them fight their own battles. Rule Aquitaine. This is your country. What else matters?”
“I fear I have not done well. There is unrest in the country more than there was during my father’s time.”
“Your father did not worry with such matters as you do.”
“No, he was content in his Courts of Love.”
“As you must be.”
“I am different from my father. I see how neglectful I have been of my duties. My dear wife died . . . and our son with her. I am left with two daughters.”
“We are as good as any sons, Father.”
He smiled at me. “There is none like you, my dear child, nor ever could be, but you are a woman. There will be trouble when I am gone if there is not a strong hand on the reins.”
I held out my hands to him. “They are strong, Father.”
“They are beautiful . . . soft as a woman’s should be. You do not understand, dear child. There should be a male heir.”
“You have me now.”
I was shaken with horror at his next words. “It is not too late.”
“What do you mean?”
“I must do my duty. It is expected of me. I am going to change my ways. I have been brought face to face with the truth. Because I did not wish to marry again I thrust the matter out of my mind. But I see that I must.”
“No!” I cried.
“My dear daughter,” he said, “you want to be the ruler of Aquitaine. That is because you do not know what it entails. It would bring you little joy. It is a task for a man.”
“But you have said you have not done well, and you are a man.”
“This is not the time to twist words, dear daughter. I have been thinking over the past days that I must marry. I must give Aquitaine a son. If only your brother had lived . . .”
I stood up and, without asking permission, left him.
How weak he was, how clinging. He could not bear that I should withhold myself from him. When I look back, I am amazed at the power I had in that Court. I was thirteen years old but more like eighteen. I was both physically and mentally developed beyond most girls of my age. I had been in the forcing-ground of maturity ever since I was born. I had seen romantic love and lust in my grandfather’s Court; I had gradually become aware of my father’s weakness; I had seen him disintegrate before my eyes. Oddly enough, this made me feel strong. It made me more certain than ever that when the time came I should be capable of ruling Aquitaine. I should not have made the mistakes I had seen my father make. I should not have considered the Popes’ quarrel mine. I should never have given way to the influence of Bernard.
And now my father, in his weakened state, was reaching out to me. I felt strong, important. Aquitaine was going to be mine.
My father sent for me. He told me with some humility that he had not meant to hurt me. He thought I was wonderful. Many of the young men at Court admired me, looked up to me as an ideal. That pleased him. He, too, venerated me. He knew that I was no ordinary girl. He was proud of me.
“And yet you would replace me by some sickly boy!”
“I merely feel that a son would be more acceptable to the people. I have not thought enough of my people, Eleanor. There is no reason why the boy should be sickly.”
“You are becoming old now. I believe the age of its parents has an effect on a child. Here am I strong and healthy, the daughter of your youth. I can read and write with ease; I can reason. Rest assured I shall be fit to govern when the time comes.”
“I doubt it not. But the people want to look to a man.”
“Where will you find this bride?”
“I must look for her.”
“Then I suppose you will go on a pilgrimage to some shrine or other to pray for a fertile wife.”
“A pilgrimage,” he said slowly. “Perhaps I should go on a pilgrimage.”
I thought: If it is going to stop these thoughts of marriage, yes, certainly you should go.
I said: “You have been deeply disturbed by what has happened to you in the church. You need to make your peace with God before you think of marriage.”
He stared at me incredulously. “By all the saints, I believe you are right.”
He had made up his mind. He would go on a pilgrimage; he would earn complete forgiveness for his past sins; he would find favor in the eyes of God. He would go not as a great ruler but as the humblest pilgrim without splendor of any sort; his garment should be a sackcloth robe; he would endure all the hardships of a long journey; and the more discomfort he endured the more quickly his sins would be wiped away. He would return to Aquitaine in triumph, and God would give him a fruitful bride.
Being headstrong, as he always had been, when he came to a hasty decision he found it hard to wait to put it into action; and when what he thought of as a great opportunity came, he was ready to seize it.
Emma, daughter of the Viscount of Limoges, had been married to Barden of Cognac who had recently died. The heiress of Limoges seemed to my father an excellent bride. He became convinced that God had removed Barden of Cognac to show him, William, the way.
He did not stop to assess the situation. He talked of the honor he was about to bestow on Limoges, for the Limousin was a vassal state to Aquitaine. He forgot that there had been a great deal of friction between the two states in the past; he believed that now he was a changed man, everyone’s attitudes must change toward him.
The last thing the people of the Limousin wanted was to come under the direct rule of Aquitaine; and there were others who did not wish to see Aquitaine become more powerful and who would do a great deal to prevent William’s marrying Emma.
They managed very skillfully and prevailed on the Count of Angoulme to abduct Emma. He came in strength and took her from her home as Philip of France had taken Bertrade and my grandfather Dangerosa; and that settled the matter. My father’s attempt to marry Emma of Limoges had failed.
He seemed to regard this as another expression of God’s displeasure and was sunk in melancholy. He continued feverishly to make plans for his pilgrimage. He was anxious for me to know that he still loved me dearly. I was sure that he did so more than he could any sons even though they possessed the magic quality of masculinity.
I was angry with him, and I should have been more so if I had believed he was going to achieve his purpose. First he had to make the pilgrimage, and that was going to take some time. He was not in especially good health, and the hardships he would have to endure would surely not act as a restorative. Then he had to find a bride and she must be fruitful. I was not one to anticipate disaster, and I think at that age I had an unshakable belief in myself and my destiny.
Preparations took some time. He explained to me that for a man in his position there was a great deal to arrange; and I was his main concern.
“I?” I cried, “It would seem to me that I am your least concern since you plan to replace me with a more desirable heir.”
He was distressed. “Eleanor,” he said severely, “you will have to learn to curb your temper.”
“My temper, my lord! Have I not been extremely accommodating? I have helped you with your plans when, if they are successful, they will culminate in my loss!”
“Do not see it that way. You are my great concern. Much as I wish to go to the shrine of St. James, I am constantly plagued by my fears of what will happen to you.”
“The answer is simple. Give up the idea of the pilgrimage and sons. If I am worthy of your concern, surely a better fate should be found for me than to be packed off in marriage.”
“Packed off in marriage! My dear girl, your marriage shall be the most brilliant in Europe. That is what I wish to talk about. Louis . . .”
“The fat one or his son?”
“Both, my dear. Louis is a fine fellow. When his brother died, he stepped into his shoes with the greatest of ease.”
“Can that be true of one who was trained to be a priest?”
“Sons of kings have their duty to perform and they must take whatever comes to them.”
I wondered about Louis. I had for some time, for it was no news to me that, if all went well and we did not displease the King of France, there might be a match between me and his eldest son. I did not know how far my father had offended him over this matter of Innocent and Anacletus, but presumably Aquitaine would be a big enough prize for such matters not to be an irrevocable handicap.
I had discovered all I could about the Court of France since I had heard that I might well one day marry into it. I was fascinated by the reputed size of the King. He had grown so large through excessive eating and drinking that it was difficult for him to move about. In his youth he had been tireless and excelled in all physical exercise. I suppose this had developed his appetite, which continued to be large when he was less active. In spite of this foolhardy indulgence, he was a wise man and a shrewd ruler. He had always been on friendly terms with Aquitaine until this unfortunate matter of the Popes had arisen. I think he probably wanted a match with us as much as we with him.
Now that my father had repented, friendship between the two was resumed. But I was not sure whether the union between myself and the heir to the crown of France would be so attractive if he discovered that my father was contemplating marriage. As the sister of the ruler of Aquitaine, I would be a much less desirable match than its Duchess would have been.
I had always imagined that my husband would be Philip but a strange thing had happened. He had been killed when out riding. It was so sudden that it was almost like an act of God. Philip had been riding through Paris when a pig had run under his horse’s legs. He had been thrown clear, hitting his head on a stone wall; he had died instantly.
This was so unusual, so unexpected, that people said it was “meant.”
Louis the Fat had several children besides Philip and Louis. There was Robert who became Count of Dreux, Peter de Courtenay, Henry and Philip and a daughter, Constance. She was later Countess of Toulouse, and the two younger boys became bishops. The second son, Louis, was intended for the Church and was being brought up to this until the pig changed the course of history. Louis was taken from his cloisters to become heir to the throne of France; and that meant that if I were to marry into France, Louis would be my husband.
My father went on: “There is one great concern for me. I hesitate to leave you and Petronilla.”
I stared at him in amazement. “What harm could come to us?”
“What harm indeed! There are those who might well take advantage of my absence. I shall talk to you very seriously. You are not ignorant of the ways of men. You are a very attractive girl. I have seen some of the men’s eyes on you and I have heard their songs. They sing of romantic love, my dear, while they are planning seduction, perhaps even rape.”
“I understand well the nature of men, Father.”
“Then you will understand my concern. If I left you here alone . . . you and Petronilla . . . some brigand might come along, take possession of the castle and of you. He might even force his attentions on you.”
“Do you think I should submit . . . to that?”
“If his physical strength was greater than yours, you would be obliged to. Only recently there was the case of poor Emma of Limoges. You are especially attractive; you have exceptional beauty; but to some, Aquitaine would be even more desirable.”
“I would fight to the death.”
“But I do not want you dead, dear child. No, no, you have had freedom here at Court. You have been surrounded by young men and girls. You have made your verses, sung your songs, indulged in flirtatious conversations with young gallants. You have happily basked in their admiration. You revel in it. Some of these young men have been very handsome, very plausible. Sometimes I have feared . . . There must be no dalliance, Eleanor, neither for you nor for Petronilla. You must go to your husband completely pure . . . virgins . . . nothing else will do.”
I laughed aloud. “You have no need to remind me of that, Father. I saw no reason why I should not be amused by these young men. Light amusement . . . that is all it has been.”
“I could not be at peace if I left you and your sister here while I was away. We shall all leave for Bordeaux, and I want you two to remain in the palace there until I return. I have spoken to Archbishop Geoffrey du Lauroux. He is a good man and he is one whom I can trust. He will watch over you and there will be none who dare flout his rule. He is a man of God and much respected.”
“Father, there is no need.”
“Daughter, there is every need, and that is how it shall be.”
I was not displeased. I loved Bordeaux and, in spite of the stern Archbishop, I intended to have a merry time there. I would discuss with Petronilla which members of our entourage we should take with us.
“I shall inform the King of France of my intentions,” said my father.
“Of your intentions to marry?” I asked quickly.
“No . . . no . . . that is in the future. I shall tell him that I am leaving for a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. He will understand. He knows well what has happened and will realize the necessity for me to make my peace with God.”
“It seems,” I said, “that it is all arranged.”
He nodded. “We will make preparations to leave for Bordeaux without delay. I am eager to begin my pilgrimage and return to you.”
So we left for Bordeaux.
None would have believed that the man at the head of the little group of pilgrims was Duke William of Aquitaine. Dressed in sackcloth, a pilgrim’s hat on his head, he resembled the humblest of his subjects. I thought that he must indeed be a worried man to contemplate such hardships as he would have to face.
But that was the object of the pilgrimage; it was a penance: if it were a pleasant journey, there would be no merit in it.
Petronilla and I stood in the Courtyard to say our farewells. There was a chill wind, and although we were wrapped in our fur-lined cloaks we shivered.
He embraced us with great emotion. “I shall pray to God and all the saints to guard you,” he said.
“And we shall pray to them for you, Father,” I replied. “You will need their help more than we shall.”
“I shall be returned to you . . . refreshed.”
But, I could not help thinking ruefully, as a prospective bridegroom.
“We shall eagerly await your return,” I told him.
We watched him leave and afterward Petronilla and I went to the highest point of the ramparts and strained our eyes looking into the distance until we could see him no more.
“I wonder how long it will be before he returns,” said Petronilla.
“I wonder what sort of man he will be when he comes back,” I replied.
She looked at me expectantly but I ignored her. I did not want to explain my thoughts to Petronilla.
“Now,” she said, “you are the ruler of Aquitaine.”
“Yes,” I answered slowly.
“You must be pleased about that. It is what you always wanted.”
I laughed and taking her by the shoulders kissed her.
“Yes,” I agreed, “it is what I always wanted. And it is mine . . . for a while. Come. We’ll make the most of it.”
“What shall we do?”
“You’ll see. The Court at Ombrire will be as it was in our grandfather’s day. Do you remember how we used to sit in the hall in the evenings watching the jugglers and listening to the singers? You were too young. But our grandfather used to take me on his knee and sing to me.”
“Tell me about it,” said Petronilla, for she could remember little.
So I told her of the songs they sang glorifying love and telling of the exploits of our grandfather and his knights.
“I remember some of it,” I said, “but I did not understand it all at the time. They were a little risqu. Men were very daring in those days and they have changed little. They will sing songs of love and devotion and how they adore you and set you on a pedestal so that they can worship you, and all the time it is merely to lull your feelings into a sense of security, and when you are sufficiently lulled they will take advantage of you. And once that has happened they will tire of you.”
“Is that really true? Our grandfather did not tire of Dangerosa.”
“That was because she was clever. We have to be clever . . . more clever than they are, Petronilla. That is what I learned in the Courts of Love.”
And during those months while we awaited my father’s return I set up my own Court. In the evenings I would have the minstrels play for us; there were the story-tellers and the itinerant troubadours who were constantly arriving. It was becoming more and more like the Court of my grandfather’s day.
I was the Queen of it all. It was in praise of me that they wrote their songs. They would sit at my feet, those handsome knights, and in their songs and in their looks they would proclaim their love for me.
I believe there were some who thought I would succumb. It was not that I should not have liked, on occasion, to do so. I was susceptible to their handsome looks and charming manners. I would pretend to waver. It was exciting to see the hope in their eyes. But I never gave way. I had learned my lessons. Whatever happened, I must be aloof. I must be the one they dreamed about, the one about whom they wove their fancies.
The Archbishop was dismayed. This was not seemly in his eyes. There was too much levity. There should be more time spent in devotions. I pretended to be contrite, but I did not change my ways. This was my Court and because my power might be transient, I was determined to enjoy it while I could.
I feared that, if my father came back a rejuvenated man with his sins washed away, he would marry, and if he had a son, that would be the end of my hopes. I threw myself into the enjoyment of those days when I was in truth Queen of my Court, the ruler of Aquitaine, and the days passed all too quickly.
There was no news.
Sometimes I went to the topmost tower and looked around. One day I must see the returning party. Surely he must come home soon, and this pleasant existence at Court must end.
Petronilla would stand beside me. “He must soon come back,” she said. “He has been gone so long.”
“It is a long way to go.”
“Then when he comes back he will take a wife, our stepmother, Eleanor. I think we shall hate her. She will have children, and if they are boys they will be more important than we are.”
“She may be barren.”
“I hope she is. No one but you should be ruler of Aquitaine.”
“If I marry the son of the King of France I shall have to go away.”
“I shall come with you.” I was silent and she went on: “Please say I may. I should hate to be parted from you. I wouldn’t. I should run away to where you were.”
I smiled, pleased by her devotion. “You are always impulsive, Petronilla,” I said. “You are a little like our father. You act without thinking what effect your actions will have.”
“Some say that of you.”
“Then we are a pair.”
“Promise I shall come with you when you marry and go away.”
As we stood there one day, we saw a lonely figure riding along the road.
“He brings news,” I said. “Let us go down and see what he has to tell us. It may be that he comes from our father.”
We were not the only ones who had noticed the arrival and when we went down a little crowd had gathered there.
A groom took the rider’s horse. He was clearly exhausted and must have ridden a long way. He came to me and kneeling before me lifted woeful eyes to my face.
“I bring sad news, my lady.”
“You come from my father?”
“The Duke is dead, my lady.”
“Dead! No, that cannot be.”
“Alas, it is so, my lady. There were many hardships on the journey. The Duke developed a cough. It settled on his lungs. His legs became stiff. There were nights when there was no shelter. We could not travel fast.”
“He should never have gone,” I said. “He should have stayed with us. There are other ways of expiating sins.”
“He became too ill to ride, my lady. We had to make a litter for him. It impeded our progress. It became clear to us all that he could not make the journey to Compostela.”
“Why did you not bring him back?”
“He would never have made that journey either; and he wished to go on.”
“And he did not reach the shrine.”
“He passed away when we were within a mile or so of it. We could see it in the distance. But he died contented. He knew that, although God had denied him the satisfaction of reaching the shrine, his sins would be forgiven and he would be received into Heaven. He talked of Moses, who did not reach the Promised Land. He wished to be buried at the shrine, my lady; and this was done.”
I felt dazed. I said: “You are exhausted. You must rest. You should take some food. Come into the palace.”
This was a possibility which had not occurred to me. I had thought my father might return debilitated, for I knew his health was not such that he could endure hardship, but I had not thought of death. Never to see him again. Then one thought overwhelmed all others: Aquitaine was mine. No one could replace me now.
The Court was still in mourning for its Duke. Attitudes had changed. I had been admired by the courtiers as a beautiful girl; now I was their Duchess. They regarded me with a new respect.
I missed my father. When people have gone forever, one remembers so much that one wished one had done. I wished that I had let him know how much I had cared for him, that I had known, even when he planned to displace me, that his great concern had been for me. He did not want me to have to face difficulties such as those which had confronted him and given him great anxiety. I could have told him that I was different from him. I believed I would not have made the mistakes that he did. This was not so much conceit as conviction. I know now how wrong I was when I look back over a lifetime of mistakes; perhaps as great as any he made. But I wanted him back; I wanted to talk to him; I comforted myself with the thought that God had accepted his final sacrifice and given him absolution in return for his life, that he would be in Heaven and from there perhaps be able to look down on me and know that his fears for me were groundless.
I learned more from the messenger, of the hardships they had endured, and how when he became so ill he had sent a messenger to the King of France offering him my hand in marriage with the King’s eldest living son. He had received assurances from Louis before he died, and I was told that because of this he died content.
That Louis intended to keep his promise was evident. Almost immediately emissaries from the Court of France arrived at Bordeaux.
The King’s son, Louis, was on his way to visit Aquitaine, and I knew that he was coming to ask my hand in marriage. It was a courtly gesture—and typical of the French—for it was a foregone conclusion that I should accept him, since the marriage had been a possibility for some time. There was no fear now that any son of my father could claim Aquitaine from me. I was the best match in France for him; and as he would one day be King of France, he was the best for me.
Petronilla and I talked constantly of what would happen next. Perhaps it was rather soon after the death of my father for there to be all this excitement about a wedding, but the circumstances were unusual. I was a girl of fifteen and therefore in need of protection, and the King of France had decided to waive convention and act as good sense commanded him.
We were often at the tower from which we had a good view of the road. We expected to see signs of the French cavalcade at any moment. When I was Queen of France, Petronilla reminded me, she would be with me. I assured her that was a promise I intended to keep. She was too young as yet to be married and it was only to be expected that I should want to keep her with me and choose her husband for her.
So we talked as we watched and waited, and one day our patience was rewarded, for we saw in the distance a glittering company approaching. Pennants waved in the wind and from far off came the strains of music.
As we watched, a messenger came riding up. It was the Archbishop Geoffrey du Lauroux, whom my father had made my guardian while he was away. I went down to greet him, Petronilla beside me as usual.
“The French are approaching, my lady,” he told me. “We must welcome them. The Prince is with them and I think I should bring him to my palace. A meeting between you must be arranged without delay.”
I agreed that this should be and he went off immediately.
Petronilla and I could not contain our excitement. Soon I should see my prospective husband. We went up to the top of the tower from where we could see the French camped close by. Their tents and pavilions made a colorful show with the banners displaying the fleurs-de-lys. It was as though an army was encamped there.
It is a never-to-be-forgotten moment when one is presented to a man never seen before and who is to be one’s husband.
Poor Louis; knowing him so well now, I realize he was far more nervous than I. I try now to analyze what I felt then. Was I disappointed? In a way. He was no bold knight like those of whom I had heard so frequently in the songs of the Courts of Love, and scarcely a romantic figure. There was something rather timid about him. While that irked me in a way, for perhaps I had dreamed of a masterful lover, in another way it pleased me for I knew at once that I should be able to lead him the way I wanted him to go.
He was tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed, with rather pale skin, and there was little animation in his face. I suppose he was about as different from me as any person could be from another.
I had discarded my wimple and wore my abundant dark hair loose about my shoulders; it was too beautiful to be hidden. I had dressed with care in a blue gown with long, wide, hanging sleeves, a little demure yet seductive. The color suited my dark eyes and olive skin.
The Archbishop stood there like some recording angel. I was sure he disapproved of my flowing hair. But there was so much that good man disapproved of.
Louis bowed. I curtsied. I spoke first: “Welcome, my lord, to Aquitaine.”
“It gives me great joy to greet you,” he replied. “May I present my commanders, Count Thibault of Champagne and Count Raoul of Vermandois.”
I turned to the two men who accompanied him. Count Raoul was very attractive; his eyes betrayed his admiration for me in a manner to which I was accustomed, but it was none the less welcome for that. I had heard of him. He was the Seneschal of France and the King’s cousin, a man of great importance at the Court of France. I thought how differently I should be feeling if he had been the prospective bridegroom instead of Louis.
And there was Abbot Suger—a little old man, another of those who frowned on all that was merry.
The Archbishop glanced at Suger and said: “Perhaps the Prince and the Duchess would care to talk together.”
As Louis said nothing, I replied that we should.
The Archbishop nodded, and drawing the others to a far corner of the room, he invited them to sit down. They would not leave us. That would be quite out of the question. Did they think that Louis would attempt to rape me? I looked at Louis and wanted to laugh, but he saw no humor in the situation.
I took him to a window-seat and there we sat side by side. The whole room separated us from the other little party—and this was as near to being alone together that we should get before we were married.
“You had a long and arduous journey, my lord,” I said.
He stammered: “Yes . . . we had. The heat was so intense that we were forced to travel by night.”
“And sleep by day?”
He nodded. I could see that he found it difficult to stop looking at me. I was pleased for I was sure that he found me attractive.
“It must have been slow progress traveling with so much. It is like an army.”
“There . . . there were the packhorses carrying the tents and provisions and cooking utensils. Yes . . . it was like an army. It has taken us most part of a month to get here.”
I leaned toward him smiling. “I hope you will find the journey worthwhile.”
He stammered: “Oh, yes . . . yes . . . indeed.”
Poor boy. He did not know how to pay compliments. But somehow I liked him for that. In fact I was liking him more every minute. There was a rather charming innocence about him.
He said: “I . . . I have come to ask your hand in marriage.”
“I know. I was expecting you.”
“I trust that I shall be fortunate enough to please you.”
“And I you.”
“You . . . you are beautiful.”
“Oh, did you expect some horrid creature with bad teeth and a squint?”
“No, I had heard that you were beautiful.”
“And you thought that all prospective brides are said to be that?”
A faint smile touched his lips. “That is so,” he said. “But you are really beautiful.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “I am sure we shall like each other.”
He looked very relieved.
I said: “Tell me about the Court of France.”
“I hope soon you will see it for yourself.”
“I wonder if it is anything like our Court here. Do you like music?”
“Then that is something we both like.”
“I . . . I have only been at Court for a few years. Before, I was with the Abbot Suger at St. Denis. I was going into the Church but my brother . . .”
“Yes, I know. He was killed by a pig.”
“It changed my life.”
“Think of that. But for a pig you would not be sitting here today.”
“It is God’s will.”
“I suppose one could say that of anything.”
The Abbot Suger and the Archbishop had risen simultaneously. The tte--tte with my future husband had gone on long enough for propriety. I felt rather annoyed that I should be told what I might and might not do. That situation should soon be rectified, but this was not the occasion to show my irritation. I wanted to create a good impression on Louis, so I dutifully rose and said au revoir to him and the rest of the company.
Then I went to Petronilla, to tell her about my first encounter with my bridegroom elect.
“He looks mild,” she said.
“How do you know?”
“I peeped down when they arrived. I had a good view. He hardly looks like the man I should have expected you to marry. I thought at first that it was one of the others . . . and I quite envied you.”
“There were men with him.”
“Do you mean the Abbot Suger?”
Petronilla was overcome with mirth.
“You know I didn’t mean him. Abbot Suger indeed! He looks such another as the grim old Archbishop. I mean the handsome one who was presented to you.”
“Do you mean Thibault of Champagne or Raoul of Vermandois?”
“The attractive one.”
“They were both attractive.”
“One was especially so.”
“What a lot you noticed!”
“One would be blind and insensitive not to notice that one.”
“Are you sure you did not mean Louis?”
“Indeed I did not.”
“I think I know. It was Raoul of Vermandois. I must say, he did seem rather attractive.”
“Rather! He was overwhelmingly so. I hope I shall have the opportunity of meeting him soon.”
“Petronilla, you are getting frivolous.”
“I follow the example of my sister always.”
“You must show more respect. Remember, I shall be not only the Duchess of Aquitaine but very soon, they say, the Queen of France.”
“I am looking forward to being there . . . particularly if this Raoul is going to be in attendance.”
“I can see I shall have to watch you. And how did you like my Louis?”
“He seemed rather mild . . . and very young.”
“And you had eyes only for the charming Raoul. I daresay he is something of a rake.”
“Oh, Eleanor, how can you know?”
“I have a sixth sense about these things. You are a very young girl, Petronilla, and I can see that you will have to be careful. And how can you talk frivolously about your preference for this man when your sister is soon to be cast up on the altar of marriage?”
“It won’t be an unwilling sacrifice. You must tell me all about it. I think Louis looks quite nice in a way. I think you will not have any difficulty in handling him.”
“He is attracted by me. I think he was afraid they were going to present him with some monster.”
“Well, he must have had a pleasant surprise, and you have not been disappointed. This is a happy day for us all.”
She was smiling smugly and I was sure she was thinking about Raoul of Vermandois. I could see that I should have to keep a wary eye on Petronilla. She was growing out of childhood and, like myself, she had been brought up in the Courts of Love.
We had to entertain our guests in a royal manner and I was determined to show the French that we in Aquitaine lived as graciously as they. But though I arranged banquets and tournaments, Louis took little part, though the Counts of Champagne and Vermandois distinguished themselves. I watched Petronilla. Her eyes were on Raoul of Vermandois. I thought: I really do believe she has fallen in love with him.
I had discovered certain facts about Raoul. He was married to the niece of the Count of Champagne. Of course, I told myself, Petronilla was young and frivolous. I remembered my own infatuation for my uncle Raymond. That had been intense while it lasted. I believed Petronilla would be more reckless than I, and I guessed that she had inherited our grandfather’s sensual nature. I had myself inherited that nature to a certain degree but I had always been imbued with the love of power, and I thought that would prevent my being carried away by my emotions.
Meanwhile I was interested in Louis. I had to be if I were to spend the rest of my life with him.
I was pleasantly pleased. Not that I was by any means in love with him. Perhaps I did not want to be. I wanted to be in command, and being in love might prevent that. I saw that I could make Louis my slave. He was inclined to be puritanical. Poor boy, fancy being in the care of Abbot Suger all those years! I could imagine what that had been like. He would have led the secluded life of a monk . . . prayers, austerity, discomfort . . . And suddenly to be snatched from that sequestered life and brought out into the activities of the Court . . . and not as an obscure member of it but as its future King. No wonder he looked bewildered half the time. If what I had heard of his father’s health was true, it would not be long before the crown rested on Louis’ head; and now he had to be a husband.
I was not sure which would be giving him the greater qualms.
But his shyness certainly endeared him to me and I was beginning to think that I liked him better the way he was than I should have if he had been a man of the world like Vermandois. I knew that gentleman’s type well. I had seen so many of them at my grandfather’s Court. They were exciting, true; but they were not to be trusted.
So, on the whole, I was grateful for Louis. I would look after him as I looked after Petronilla. I would mold him to my way of thinking. I would make of him the husband best suited to myself.
Our wedding day arrived. It had been decided that there was no point in delay.
It was a hot July Sunday and Bordeaux was en fte. Even the smallest houses had banners hanging from them, and the people had been crowding into the streets since dawn. All over town bells were ringing.
Louis and I rode through the streets amid the cheers of the people. They shouted for me. I was their Duchess. For Louis they had curious stares. He was the son of the King of France, but what was France to Aquitaine? Still, it was a good marriage. I was young and female and there should be strong men to protect Aquitaine now. They had to remember that France was the sovereign state and even prosperous Aquitaine was a vassal to its King.
So we stood before Archbishop Lauroux and made our vows. The golden diadems were placed on our heads. We were Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine and heirs to the throne of France.
As soon as the wedding banquet was over we left Bordeaux for our journey to Paris. At Taillebourg we were to spend the first night of our marriage.
As a girl I had listened to many songs of such occasions, and this was perhaps an advantage for I was more prepared than Louis. I saw at once that it was I who must take charge and teach him. He was extremely nervous, having some garbled idea of what was expected of him, but he was in no way certain how he must go about it. I had to guide him.
I was rather proud of the manner in which I was able to do this. The act of love came naturally to me. As I suspected, I was meant to enjoy it and I did. I knew at once that, even with my stumbling Louis, marriage suited me.
Louis was extremely grateful. I had been tender and tactful. I was a year younger than he, but I might have been several years older and compared with him I was worldly. I think I had been born sophisticated. From the age of two I had been precocious, and of course those first five years in my grandfather’s Courts had made a deep impression on me.
Louis changed overnight. He admired me. Not only was I beautiful beyond his imaginings, not only had I brought him rich Aquitaine, but I had made him see that marriage was not so fearful after all. There was even some enjoyment to be gleaned from it.
The marriage was a success.
We were in Poitiers for a few days, and there we were to be consecrated Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine at a very impressive ceremony.
It was pleasant to be in that castle which—much as I had loved the Ombrire Palace at Bordeaux—had always been my home. Dangerosa was there and it was wonderful to go into the Maubergeonne Tower and talk to her. She wanted to hear all about the wedding and I was able to talk to her frankly about my relationship with Louis.
She was amused. She said it was a pity that the fat King of France did not see fit to teach his son a little of the ways of the world instead of so much about those of Heaven. “Time enough for that when you get there,” she added.
She was still the same Dangerosa who had delighted me in my childhood and my grandfather in the last days of his life.
We were now going to entertain the company at Poitiers and she must help me.
“We have to show the French that we can do better than they can,” I told her.
“We shall. What do they think of us so far?”
“We shock them a little. Our dresses . . . our gaiety . . . our women. They think we should be a little more demure. And what they think of our songs, I cannot imagine. I believe they think we should be more subtle.”
“We will shock them even more. I will tell the minstrels to sing our most bawdy songs.”
“I don’t think my Louis would be amused by that.”
“What a pity your grandfather is not here to see this.”
“Louis is not like my grandfather.”
“Nobody on Earth ever was.”
“No. But I am rather pleased with my young Louis.”
“Then I rejoice with you. Let us plan how we shall entertain them. Does he love the chase?”
“I think he loves best meditation and prayer.”
“I hope he does not engage too much in those habits in the bedchamber.”
“I think he is just a little eager to be in bed with me.”
Dangerosa laughed. Then she looked wistful—thinking of my grandfather, I guessed.
While we were at Poitiers I arranged a hunting expedition for Louis and some of the men. An unfortunate incident occurred—or perhaps not so unfortunate, for it gave me a different view of Louis. One of the castellans of the duchy, a certain Lezay, who had often been in conflict with my father and was always stirring up some mischief, had refused to pay homage to Louis as Duke of Aquitaine, and when the party went out on the hunt, Lezay with a few followers waylaid them and set upon them. It may well have been that they planned to take Louis hostage. However, Louis, it seemed, had a side to his nature which I had not suspected. He had a violent temper and when it was aroused—which was rarely—he was quite unable to control it.
He turned on his would-be captors and slew several of them. Lezay, unfortunately, managed to escape. The party returned to the castle with the tale of how they had been attacked and how, largely through Louis, they had routed Lezay and his men.
Louis told me his version of the affair after. “When they attacked us, I was seized with a fury which was uncontrollable. I just drew my sword and slashed at them. I am afraid I killed several of them.”
“They deserved it. I’m proud of you.”
“Such rage is not pleasing to God. I should have controlled my anger.”
“And stood by and let them slay you! No, Louis. It is no use your pretending you are not a hero. You are. And I intend to treat you as such.”
He was very pleased that I should admire him, but I could see that his conscience still troubled him, and he was on his knees for a long time that night before getting into bed, though I was there waiting, propped up on my pillows, looking, I knew, most alluring.
His upbringing could never be completely eradicated. Even I, with all my wiles, could not do that. But I did not give up hope.
It was a glittering ceremony which took place in the cathedral at Poitiers when Louis and I were consecrated as Duke and Duchess of Aquitaine.
Afterward we went back to the castle for a banquet, and we were feasting merrily when Suger came into the hall.
He strode to where Louis was seated and fell on his knees.
Louis rose to his feet and I saw his color fade. He knew what this meant.
“Long live the King,” said Suger, kissing Louis’s hand.
Poor Louis! He had only just become accustomed to a wife and now a crown was being thrust at him—neither of these had he wanted, although he was becoming reconciled to his wife. The unwelcome crown was going to weigh heavily on his head.
As for myself, a great triumph was rising in me.
I had just been proclaimed Duchess of Aquitaine and now I had become Queen of France.