Lady of the English
Author:Elizabeth Chadwick

Nine

Rouen, Summer 1127

M atilda dropped a curtsey to her future husband while rebellion surged through every fibre of her being, warring with her duty to her father, to Normandy, and to England.

Geoffrey of Anjou was a truly beautiful youth, with smooth alabaster skin, hair of warm apricot-gold, and eyes the colour of clear sea shallows. He had a prominent Adam’s apple, a voice that had scarcely broken, and a supercilious curl to his top lip that made her loathe him. Although he bowed to her deferentially, she could tell he did not mean it. This betrothal was a travesty, a golden cloak laid over a corpse. How in the name of Saint James was she going to lie in a marriage bed with him? As he slipped a great sapphire ring on to her finger, she was aware of her father smiling with satisfaction, and felt sick. Beside him, Adeliza smiled too, her face bright with the pleasure that Matilda was obeying her father’s wishes.

The marriage was not to take place until Geoffrey was made Count of Anjou. First, today came the vow of consent, pinning her down while the bars of her cage were constructed around her.

Geoffrey escorted her to the formal feast that had been prepared in the great hall of the palace of Rouen. He extended his arm for her to set her palm to his sleeve and performed LadyofEnglish.indd 76

6/9/11 5:35 PM

Lady of the English

the formal bows and flourishes under the watchful gaze of her father and his. His swagger as he walked and the conceit in his eyes made her want to swipe him round the ear as she would a disrespectful page boy. She could think of nothing to say to him because they had nothing in common. She neither knew nor cared about his likes and dislikes, for whatever they were, none would match hers. The way he puffed out his chest and smiled with bravado at his cronies reminded her of a young cockerel that hadn’t developed its full plumage, yet still wanted to strut on the dung heap. Was she supposed to be impressed by this?

She had to share dishes with him as they dined. He did not ask what she wanted to eat, but, showing off, displayed that he could deal with the food neatly and precisely. He carved meat from a bone with an arrogant flourish of his jewelled sleeve. He dissected a pigeon with a delicacy that was intimate and almost erotic and made Matilda feel ill as she saw the smirk on his lips.

This posturing, supercilious boy was to be her consort and the father of her children?

Between courses, as Geoffrey went off with a comrade to empty his bladder, Adeliza took the opportunity to squeeze Matilda’s hand. “It’s not so bad,” she whispered with an encouraging smile. “He is truly handsome and much older than his years, do you not think?”

Matilda could feel Adeliza willing her to return the smile and agree, wanting everything to be right. But how could it be, when she had known such a different world of power, dignity, and cherished deference where her opinions and goodwill were actively sought? She could already tell she would receive no such consideration from Geoffrey of Anjou. “I do not know,” she said, “but he makes me feel much older than mine.” ttt

Henry of Blois, abbot of Glastonbury, folded his robes neatly over his lap and sat down on the hearth bench to regard his 77

LadyofEnglish.indd 77

6/9/11 5:35 PM

Elizabeth Chadwick

brothers Stephen and Theobald. Most of Rouen slept under a clear, dark sky salted with stars, but here at Stephen’s lodging, candles still burned in the sconces and a recently replenished jug of wine stood on the table. Henry poured himself a cup and drank, careful not to soil his full moustache and beard.

“The deed is done,” he said. “Against all advice our uncle has betrothed his daughter to the Angevin whelp.” Stephen refreshed his own cup. “That is up to him.” He shifted in his chair to ease his broad frame and powerful thighs.

“You do not really believe that, do you?” Henry looked Stephen up and down. Sometimes his brother irritated him beyond belief. “Do you really want to see a woman on the throne? Are we all to become petticoat-followers?” Stephen flushed. “It won’t come to that. Matilda is just another pawn for him to move around on his chessboard. You know what he’s like.”

“But if it does happen, the last thing we want is Angevin influence spinning the policies. We would be finished. Better that one of us rules than a woman who has lived in Germany all of her life and is about to take a puppy for a husband.”

“There is le Clito too,” Theobald spoke up.

Henry faced his eldest brother, who was Count of Blois and head of the family in name, although Henry’s policies and opinions were usually the ones that held sway. “He is our common enemy for the moment, I agree.” He leaned forwards, the light shining on his silk sleeve. “But both of you have a claim to England and Normandy as the king’s nephews.

Stephen is married into the English royal house and we know one of our uncle’s schemes is to bring him close to the throne.

We must make sure that it stays the foremost plan despite the vows everyone has been forced to make.” He fixed his gaze on Stephen. “We have to be ready with a strategy should the king die.”

78

LadyofEnglish.indd 78

6/9/11 5:35 PM

Lady of the English

A look of alarm crossed Stephen’s face and he signed his breast with the cross. “I wish him continued longevity.” Theobald cleared his throat. “I will not be a party to anything that threatens our uncle’s well-being.” Henry mentally rolled his eyes. Sometimes he thought their wits were made of fleece. “Was I advocating any such thing?

I too wish him continued long life, but even if our cousin Matilda bears a son nine months from her marriage, the king will have to stay alive and in sound mind until that son is fit to rule, and she is not even wed yet. It does not take a fool to tally up the years. The same goes for a son of his blood born of the queen.” He spread his hands in an open gesture. “I am not asking you to contemplate treason, but we must plan ahead, just like a farmer husbanding his supplies for the winter. If we want to see our family prosper, we must work to ensure it happens.

Do you really want to see Robert of Gloucester rule by proxy when one of you could wear a crown? Because that is what will happen if Matilda becomes queen. Robert will be the true power behind the throne.”

As Henry had known he would, Stephen recoiled. There was little love lost between himself and Gloucester. Since boyhood they had been rivals over everything, from games of chess, to swordplay, to contesting for the king’s attention and approval. The king had always shown them both favour and affection, but had played one off against the other. Stephen was malleable, Henry thought; furthermore he was his brother and his own best chance to become the power behind the throne—because every ruler needed a chief minister and every reign could be manipulated.

“What shall we do?” Stephen asked.

Henry touched the jewels on his sleeve, exploring with his fingertips the cold gemstones. “Find men who are reliable, utterly discreet, and who see matters the same way that we do, 79

LadyofEnglish.indd 79

6/9/11 5:35 PM

Elizabeth Chadwick

and make of them allies so that they will support us when the time comes. You have charm, brother, and prowess. Men like you. Use it to win them to your side.”

“And those who won’t be won over?”

Henry shrugged. “If we are sufficiently thorough, they will be too few to matter.” He raised a warning forefinger. “But let us not act rashly in this. We must prepare the ground, and that will take time and consideration.”

80

LadyofEnglish.indd 80

6/9/11 5:35 PM