Authors: Alison Weir
Tags: #Historical, #Biographical, #France, #Biographical Fiction, #General, #France - History - Louis VII; 1137-1180, #Eleanor, #Great Britain, #Historical Fiction, #Great Britain - History - Henry II; 1154-1189, #Fiction
Having proven herself a gifted and engaging novelist with her portrayals of Queen Elizabeth I in
The Lady Elizabeth
and Lady Jane Grey in
New York Times
bestselling author Alison Weir now harks back to the twelfth century with a sensuous and tempestuous tale that brings vividly to life England’s most passionate—and destructive—royal couple: Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II.
Nearing her thirtieth birthday, Eleanor has spent the past dozen frustrating years as consort to the pious King Louis VII of France. For all its political advantages, the marriage has brought Eleanor only increasing unhappiness—and daughters instead of the hoped-for male heir. But when the young and dynamic Henry of Anjou arrives at the French court, Eleanor sees a way out of her discontent. For even as their eyes meet for the first time, the seductive Eleanor and the virile Henry know that theirs is a passion that could ignite the world.
Returning to her duchy of Aquitaine after the annulment of her marriage to Louis, Eleanor immediately sends for Henry, the future King of England, to come and marry her. The union of this royal couple will create a vast empire that stretches from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees, and marks the beginning of the celebrated Plantagenet dynasty.
But Henry and Eleanor’s marriage, charged with physical heat, begins a fiery downward spiral marred by power struggles, betrayals, bitter rivalries, and a devil’s brood of young Plantagenets—including Richard the Lionheart and the future King John. Early on, Eleanor must endure Henry’s formidable mother, the Empress Matilda, as well as his infidelities, while in later years, Henry’s friendship with Thomas Becket will lead to a deadly rivalry. Eventually, as the couple’s rebellious sons grow impatient for power, the scene is set for a vicious and tragic conflict that will engulf both Eleanor and Henry.
Vivid in detail, epic in scope, Captive Queen is an astounding and brilliantly wrought historical novel that encompasses the building of an empire and the monumental story of a royal marriage.
This is the worm that dieth not, the memory of things past.
—ST. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX,
The most persistent hate is that which doth degenerate from love.
De Nugis Curialum
Ah, cruel fate,
How swiftly joy and sorrow alternate!
—BAIMBAUT DE VAQUEYRAS
Please God, let me not betray myself, Queen Eleanor prayed inwardly as she seated herself gracefully on the carved wooden throne next to her husband, King Louis. The royal court of France had assembled in the gloomy, cavernous hall in the Palace of the Cité, which commanded one half of the Île de la Cité on the River Seine, facing the great cathedral of Notre Dame.
Eleanor had always hated this palace, with its grim, crumbling stone tower and dark, chilly rooms. She had tried to lighten the oppressive hall with expensive tapestries from Bourges, but it still had a stark, somber aspect, for all the summer sunshine piercing the narrow windows. Oh, how she longed for the graceful castles of her native Aquitaine, built of light mellow stone on lushly wooded hilltops! How she longed to be in Aquitaine itself, and that other world in the sun-baked south that she had been obliged to leave behind all those years ago. But she had schooled her thoughts not to stray in that direction. If they did, she feared, she might go mad. Instead, she must fix her attention on the ceremony that was about to begin, and play her queenly role as best she could. She had failed Louis, and France, in so many ways—more than anyone could know—so she could at least contrive to look suitably decorative.
Before the King and Queen were gathered the chief lords and vassals of France, a motley band in their scarlets, russets, and furs, and a bevy of tonsured churchmen, all—save for one—resplendent in voluminous, rustling robes. They were waiting to witness the ending of a war.
Louis looked drawn and tired, his cheeks still flushed with the fever that had laid him low for some weeks now, but at least, thought Eleanor, he had risen from his bed. Of course, Bernard of Clairvaux, that meddlesome abbot standing apart in his unbleached linen tunic, had told him to, and when Bernard spoke, Louis, and nearly everyone else in Christendom, invariably jumped.
She did not love Louis, but she would have done much, especially at this time when he was low in body and spirits, to spare him any hurt—and herself the shame and the fearful consequences of exposure. She had thought herself safe, that her great sin was a secret she would take with her to her grave, but now the one person who might, by a chance look or gesture, betray her and imperil her very existence was about to walk through the great doors at the end of the hall: Geoffrey, Count of Anjou—whom men called “Plantagenet,” on account of the broom flower he customarily wore in his hat.
Really, though, she thought resentfully, Louis could hardly blame her for what she had done. It was he, or rather the churchmen who dominated his life, who had condemned her to live out her miserable existence as an exile in this forbidding northern kingdom with its gray skies and dour people; and to follow a suffocating, almost monastic régime, cloistered from the world with only her ladies for company. For fourteen long years now, her life had been mostly barren of excitement and pleasure—and it was only in a few stolen moments that she had briefly known another existence. With Marcabru; with Geoffrey; and, later, with Raymond. Sweet sins that must never be disclosed outside the confessional, and certainly not to Louis, her husband. She was his queen and Geoffrey his vassal, and both had betrayed their sacred oaths.
Thus ran the Queen’s tumultuous thoughts as she sat with the King on their high thrones, waiting for Geoffrey and his son Henry to arrive, so that Louis could exchange with them the kiss of peace and receive Henry’s formal homage. The war was thus to be neatly concluded—except there could be no neat conclusion to Eleanor’s inner turmoil. For this was to be the first time she had set eyes on Geoffrey since that blissful, sinful autumn in Poitou, five years before.
It had not been love, and it had not lasted. But she had never been able to erase from her mind the erotic memory of herself and Geoffrey coupling gloriously between silken sheets, the candlelight a golden glow on their entwined bodies. Their coming together had been a revelation after the fumbling embarrassment of the marriage bed and the crude awakening afforded her by Marcabru; she had never dreamed that a man could give her such prolonged pleasure. It had surged again and again until she cried out with the joy of it, and it had made her aware, as never before, what was lacking in her union with Louis. Yet she had forced herself to forget, because Louis must never know. One suspected betrayal was enough, and that had hurt him so deeply his heart could never be mended. Things had not been the same between them since, and all she was praying for now was the best way out of the ruins of their marriage.