Lady of the English
Author:Elizabeth Chadwick

Seven

Westminster, March 1127

M atilda lifted her head and listened to the wind rattling the shutters of the queen’s chamber where she sat sewing with Adeliza. Now and again rain spattered too, sounding like handfuls of flung shingle striking a board. Beyond the complex of buildings the river was a turbulent grey churn, showing whitecaps on the tidal crests. Not a day to be outside unless one was forced. Spring was supposedly on the threshold, but was taking a long time to knock on the door.

Adeliza moved closer to the brazier and told her attendant, Juliana, to bring more light. “I started my flux again this morning,” she said in a neutral tone as she threaded a length of silk through the eye of her needle.

“I am so sorry,” Matilda said.

Adeliza shook her head. “I must accept that it is not to be and that God has other plans. I wrote to the archbishop of Tours for advice and he said I should concentrate on good works on Earth that would bear spiritual fruit. He says that God has closed up the mouth of my womb so that I may adopt immortal offspring, and he is right. Weeping and wringing my hands is foolish. Better to concentrate on the good I can do. I have already begun plans to build a leper hospital at Wilton.”

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Matilda murmured with understanding. Such was the work of queens. Their task was to conciliate, to make peace between warring factions, to alleviate the suffering of the sick by good works and to patronise the arts. She had done all of this in Germany for Heinrich, whilst grieving that she could not bear him a living son.

Keeping busy so that there was no time to brood.

“I have also commissioned David of Galway to compose a history of your father’s life.”

“Who?” Matilda asked.

“The little scribe in your uncle’s entourage.”

“Ah.” Matilda’s mind filled with the image of a short, balding but still youngish man with ink-stained fingers just like Brian’s. He was a favourite in the chamber after supper when tales were told. “That sounds like a fine notion. I am sure he will make an excellent work.”

Adeliza secured the thread in the fabric. “It means Henry will always be remembered,” she said, her words bearing a note of poignant resignation. “I want to commemorate his deeds in a work of literature that will live on when we are gone.” The women looked up as Brian FitzCount was shown into the room by Adeliza’s clerk, Master Serlo. Approaching the women he bowed, his expression grim.

“What is it, my lord?” Adeliza gestured him to rise, and directed him to the opposite window seat.

He sat down, removing his rain-jewelled cap. Today his boots were laced with blue cord to match the vamp strips up the centre and they had an elegantly pointed toe. “Madam, Domina, I am sorry to tell you that the Count of Flanders is dead,” he said. “Murdered by his servants while at his prayers in his private chapel.”

Matilda stared at him in shocked dismay. Adeliza gasped and crossed herself. “That is wicked!” She pressed her hand over her mouth.

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Brian grimaced. “Louis of France is to preside over the election of his successor, and William le Clito is his likely choice.” Matilda felt as if she had been double-punched. Charles of Flanders was a close ally of her father’s and popular with his people. It was terrible to hear of his murder—wicked, as Adeliza said. Anyone who killed a man at his prayers was damned to hell. But then to be told that le Clito…She forced herself to think beyond her shock. “What’s to be done?” Brian rubbed his chin. “Your father is sending your cousin Stephen to negotiate and put forward other names for the title.

Even if le Clito is elected, he will not stay in the saddle. There are already riots in Flanders over the count’s death and the disturbances are not going to settle down in a minute. Your father has given the order that England is to cease supplying English wool to Flemish looms.”

Matilda nodded. Such a move would cause severe unrest because without work, the weavers starved. Her father would then enrich his own candidates from England’s bulging coffers, supporting their rebellions with his silver, because he could not allow William le Clito to become the entrenched lord of Flanders. Given that political decision to make, she would have done the same.

Brian bowed and excused himself to other duties while Adeliza and Matilda went from the palace to the cathedral, there to pray for the soul of Charles of Flanders. As Matilda knelt before the altar, she could not help thinking of a young man murdered at his devotions and that their own bent necks were in just such a vulnerable position, waiting for the blow to strike.

ttt

Brian sat before the fire in the king’s private chamber, fondling the silky ears of a sleek gazehound. Robert of Gloucester was also present, standing by the hearth, gazing into the soft yellow 54

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flames of a well-seasoned fire. They had been summoned by Henry for an unspecified reason, although Brian suspected it was concerned with the news about the young Count of Flanders, because the king now had to deal with a situation that had turned an ally into an enemy.

Henry entered the chamber with his usual vigour, his cloak an energetic swirl at his shoulders. He joined Robert at the hearth, rubbing his hands briskly, and waved aside their obeisance. Then he patted the dog and took the cup of wine that Brian poured for him.

“Curiosity is written on your faces as big as an incompetent clerk’s scrawl,” he said with scornful amusement before taking a hearty swallow.

“Are you not surprised, my lord father?” Robert replied.

“I scarcely think you have summoned us here to talk of the weather, or hunting.”

Henry grunted. “I wish that was indeed the nature of it.” He sat down on a cushioned bench and stretched out his legs, crossing them at the ankle. “Let us say that the weather has changed and so has the manner of the hunting. I want to talk to you about my daughter’s marriage. I have been observing her conduct over the past months and she pleases me greatly. But for her sex, she would be entirely fit to rule when I am gone.” Brian felt the heat of the flames on his face. He knew a decision had to be taken, but each time her father rejected a suitor, Brian was relieved to have a few more moments of borrowed time to enjoy her presence.

“But you had us all swear an oath to uphold her as your heir?” Robert’s statement was a question. “Is she not then to rule?” Henry raised one bushy silver eyebrow. “Indeed I did have you swear, but how many will keep their word? I am not so fond a father that I have lost my wits. It seems probable that the queen and I are not going to be blessed with heirs. Matilda bore 55

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a child to her first husband, so I know she is capable, and I hope that with a different spouse she will be fruitful. My intention is to raise my grandsons to follow in my footsteps. Should I die before they are grown, they will have their mother as a regent, and she in turn will have the backing of her close family.

Robert, I am looking to you to be an adviser and protector to your sister and her children, should it be necessary, and I expect Brian to back you to the hilt.”

Brian swallowed. The tension in the chamber was palpable.

“And my sister’s husband?” Robert asked, his complexion red with pleasure. “Will he not desire to play his part?” Henry shook his head. “His part will be to provide her with children and military support. He will not have a say in ruling my lands.” He clenched his fist on his knee and his voice developed a harsh note as his gaze shifted between the younger men, calculating, watching narrowly for their response. “I have decided she will marry Geoffrey, heir to Anjou.” For a moment Brian forgot to breathe, then sucked a swift gulp of air over his larynx and turned his shock into a cough.

“But he is only a boy,” Robert said with widening eyes. “It’s scarcely a moment since he was taking suck!”

“That is the point,” Henry replied. “He can be moulded and as such he can grow accustomed to the notion that he will not wear a crown.”

Brian steadied himself. “What of your daughter? What will she say about marrying a raw youth, the son of a count, when she was once empress of Germany?”

“She will do as she is told,” Henry said curtly. “I am her father and she will obey my will. She will not be disparaged. Geoffrey’s sire is to take the throne of Jerusalem through marriage to King Baldwin’s daughter, and there is no higher kingdom on earth than to rule over God’s own city. When Fulke of Anjou goes to his marriage, then Geoffrey will take the title of count.” 56

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“But he will still not be of equal status with her, or her first husband.”

Henry sent Brian a dark look. “Were you when you married Maude of Wallingford?”

Brian recoiled from Henry’s unsubtle reminder that he had raised him from the dust and that a major part of that raising had been to wed him to Maude when he was a youngster—although he had still been several years older than Geoffrey of Anjou.

“My daughter will understand the necessity,” Henry said.

“This match will secure my southern border and prevent Anjou from uniting with France. Instead, it will be woven into my sphere. When Matilda bears a son, he will be heir to England, Anjou, and Normandy. This is for the greater good. It is not about Geoffrey of Anjou’s status, and, as I have said, his sire is to become king of the holiest city in Christendom.” Robert tugged on his upper lip. Brian could see the advantages in terms of cold strategy, not least that Anjou would no longer be an ally of France. But serving Henry’s requirements was going to be hard for Matilda with all her pride.

Robert said casually, “I thought at one time you were considering my cousin Stephen as your successor.” Henry gave him a measuring look. “A prudent man keeps more than one horse in the stable, but there is always one he prefers to ride.” He extended his hand and his voice softened.

“You are the son I would have chosen to wear England’s crown if circumstances had been different. This is the nearest I can give to you.”

Robert reddened. “I do not ask for a crown, my father.”

“I know that, and it is one of the reasons I have confidence in you to hold fast for your sister and her heirs. There are very few I can trust so wholeheartedly.” Robert’s flush darkened. “The Blois faction will not approve of the match. Relations between them and Anjou are unsettled.

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If they have to choose between paying homage to France or to Anjou, they may well choose France.” Henry’s extended hand closed into a fist and he drew it in against his body. “There is time to work on all of that, but I must lay the foundations now, and for that, I must have Anjou in my camp.”

“What of the bishop of Salisbury, sire?” Brian asked. “He took the oath to the empress, but he said it was on condition that everyone be consulted on the matter of her marriage, and that she should not wed outside your lands.” Henry said frostily, “The bishop of Salisbury may be my adviser and chancellor, but he is also my servant and he will know his place. I will deal with him.”

“Will you at least summon a council to debate the matter?” Robert asked.

Henry shook his head. “I will open the matter to wider debate when I deem it is time, and not before. Besides, I require a response from Anjou before I act on anything.” 58

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