Read The Winter Crown Online

Authors: Elizabeth Chadwick

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #General

The Winter Crown

Also by Elizabeth Chadwick

T
HE
W
ILD
H
UNT

T
HE
R
UNNING
V
IXEN

T
HE
L
EOPARD
U
NLEASHED

T
HE
F
IRST
K
NIGHT

D
AUGHTERS OF THE
G
RAIL

S
HIELDS OF
P
RIDE

T
HE
C
ONQUEST

T
HE
C
HAMPION

T
HE
L
OVE
K
NOT

T
HE
M
ARSH
K
ING’S
D
AUGHTER

L
ORDS OF THE
W
HITE
C
ASTLE

T
HE
W
INTER
M
ANTLE

T
HE
F
ALCONS OF
M
ONTABARD

S
HADOWS AND
S
TRONGHOLDS

A P
LACE
B
EYOND
C
OURAGE

T
HE
G
REATEST
K
NIGHT

T
HE
S
CARLET
L
ION

T
HE
T
IME OF
S
INGING

T
O
D
EFY A
K
ING

L
ADY OF THE
E
NGLISH

T
HE
S
UMMER
Q
UEEN

COPYRIGHT

Published by Sphere

ISBN: 9780748133918

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright © Elizabeth Chadwick 2014

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

Sphere

Little, Brown Book Group

100 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DY

www.littlebrown.co.uk

www.hachette.co.uk

Table of Contents

Also by Elizabeth Chadwick

Copyright

Map

Note for Readers

1. Westminster Abbey, London, December 1154

2. Manor of Bermondsey, near London, December 1154

3. Winchester, September 1155

4. Windsor Castle, May 1156

5. Chinon, June 1156

6. Bec-Hellouin, Rouen, Summer 1156

7. Bordeaux, Christmas 1156

8. Rouen, Normandy, February 1157

9. Beaumont Palace, Oxford, July 1157

10. Beaumont Palace, Oxford, September 1157

11. Worcester, Easter 1158

12. Westminster, Spring 1158

13. Sarum, Wiltshire, November 1158

14. Poitiers, Midsummer 1159

15. Poitiers, September 1159

16. Falaise, Christmas 1159

17. Autumn 1160

18. Le Mans, Christmas 1160

19. Fécamp, February 1162

20. Falaise, Normandy, April 1162

21. Barfleur, Spring 1163

22. Westminster, October 1163

23. Palace of Westminster, Easter 1164

24. Palace of Woodstock, Oxfordshire, Summer 1164

25. Lewes, Sussex, November 1164

26. Rouen, April 1165

27. Castle Acre, Norfolk, June 1165

28. Angers, December 1165

29. Angers, Easter 1166

30. Winchester, August 1166

31. Beaumont Palace, Oxford, December 1166

32. Dover, September 1167

33. Argentan, Christmas 1167

34. Poitou, April 1168

35. Poitiers, Summer 1168

36. Poitiers, January 1169

37. Colombiers, Anjou, Summer 1169

38. Caen, February 1170

39. Caen, July 1170

40. Bures-le-Roi, Normandy, Christmas 1170

41. Poitiers, October 1171

42. Fréteval, Anjou, January 1173

43. Poitiers, Summer 1173

44. Falaise, July 1174

45. Southampton, July 1174

Author’s Note

Select Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Note for Readers

I have called Eleanor ‘Alienor’ in the body of the novel, rather than Eleanor, because Alienor is what she would have called herself and it is how her name appears in her charters and in the Anglo-Norman texts where she is mentioned. I felt it was fitting to give her that recognition.

1
Westminster Abbey, London, December 1154

At the precise moment Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, placed the golden weight of a crown on Alienor’s brow, the child in her womb gave a vigorous kick that resonated throughout her body. Clear winter light rayed from the abbey’s Romanesque windows to illuminate the Confessor’s tomb in the sacrarium and cast pale radiance upon the dais where Alienor sat beside her husband, the newly anointed King Henry II of England.

Henry gripped the jewelled orb and the sword of sovereignty with confident possession. His mouth was a firm, straight line and his grey gaze purposeful. In the mingling of gloom and light, his beard glinted copper-red and he exuded all the glow and vigour of his twenty-one years. He was already Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou and consort Duke of Aquitaine, and had been a force to be reckoned with ever since leading his first battle campaign at the age of fourteen.

The Archbishop stepped to one side and Alienor felt the full focus of the congregation strike her with the intensity of a fixed beam of light. Every bishop, magnate and English baron was gathered here to bear witness, to pay homage and to usher in an era of peace and prosperity during which the wounds suffered by decades of civil war might be healed by the young King and his fertile queen. An air of anxious optimism filled the air. Everyone was eager to seek favour and advantage from their new sovereign. In the months to come she and Henry would have to pluck the jewels from the piles of common stones and discard the dross.

This was the second time Alienor had worn a crown. For more than fifteen years she had been Queen of France until her marriage to Louis had been annulled on grounds of consanguinity. The latter had been a convenient box in which to conceal the true reasons for parting; not least that she had only borne Louis two daughters of their union and not the all-important sons. That she was more closely related to Henry than to Louis gave Alienor cause for sardonic amusement. Money, influence and human imperatives always spoke more loudly than conscience and God. In two years of marriage with Henry, she had produced one healthy son and expected another child before winter’s end.

Henry rose from King Edward’s carved throne and all knelt to him and bowed their heads. He extended his hand to Alienor, who sank in a curtsey, her silk skirts a flood of gold around her feet. Henry raised her up by their clasped fingers, and they exchanged glances bright with exultation and a mutual awareness of how significant this moment was.

Cloaked in ermine, hand in hand, they paced down the abbey’s great nave, following the Archbishop’s jewelled processional cross. Frankincense-perfumed smoke and the vapour of icy breath swirled heavenwards. Alienor held her head high, and walked with a stately tread and straight spine in order to balance the weight of the jewelled crown and the swollen curve of her womb. Her gown shone and flared with each step, and the choir sang triumphant praise, their voices soaring to twine with the smoke and carry all to God. Within her the child tumbled joyously, flexing and testing his limbs. It would be another boy; all the signs were auspicious. Their firstborn son, sixteen months old, was being cared for at the Tower with his nurse, but one day, God willing, he too would be anointed king in this cathedral.

Outside the abbey, crowds had gathered in the sharp December cold to watch the spectacle and to fête England’s new king and queen. Ushers and marshals held the throng at a distance, but the mood was cheerful, the more so when servants of the royal household showered the gathering with fistfuls of silver pennies and small loaves of bread. Alienor watched the scramble, heard the cries of blessing and approbation and although she barely understood a word of English, the sentiments were clear and made her smile.

‘We have made an auspicious beginning,’ she said to Henry.

‘Given what has gone before, it would be impossible not to do so.’ His own smile was wide, but Alienor saw his glance flick across from the abbey to the palace of Westminster and harden for an instant. Once a grand residence, it had become ruinous during the later years of King Stephen’s reign and needed urgent repairs to make it habitable. For now he had set up his administration at the Tower and his domestic quarters across the river at the manor of Bermondsey.

‘But you are right,’ he said, ‘we have made a favourable start. Long may it flourish.’ He placed his hand on her rounded womb, deliberately displayed to their subjects through the parting in her cloak. Being fruitful was a vital part of queenship and never more than now at the start of their reign. He gave a delighted chuckle to feel the baby’s firm kick against his palm. ‘This is our time. We should make the most of every moment.’ Taking a handful of coins from an attendant, he flipped them into the crowd. A young woman standing near the front with a small child caught one in mid-air and sent him a dazzling smile.

Alienor was tired but still bright with excitement as the barge bumped against the jetty on the river entrance to the Tower. A crewman cast a rope around a mooring stake and hauled the vessel closer in to the steps. Attendants hastened with lanterns to illuminate the winter night and escort the royal party from landing stage to apartment. Splintered gold reflections spilled across the dark waters of the Thames, heavy with the salt-scent of the estuary. Alienor’s teeth chattered despite her fur-lined cloak. She had to step carefully on the frost-rimed paths, wary of slipping in her thin kidskin shoes.

Talking animatedly to a group of courtiers, including his half-brother, Hamelin, Vicomte de Touraine, Henry strode ahead, his voice ringing out in the clear night. He had risen long before dawn and Alienor knew he would not retire until the small hours. Their domestic use of candles and lamps was a major item of expenditure in winter; no one could keep up with him.

Entering the Tower keep, she slowly climbed more stairs to their chambers, pausing for a moment to rest her hand on her womb. A swift peek into a partitioned alcove reassured her that the heir to the new throne was sound asleep in his crib tucked under soft fleeces and blankets, his hair a burnished gold flicker in the light of a single lamp. The nurse smiled at her with an expression that said all was well, and Alienor turned to the main chamber where she and Henry would spend the night before crossing the river to Bermondsey next day.

The shutters were secured against the bitter winter’s night and a fine red fire blazed in the hearth. Alienor went to stand within the arc of heat and let the comforting warmth envelop her and banish the chill left by the icy gusts from the river. The reflection of the flames danced hypnotically on the surface of her gown, inscribing stories in the silk.

Her senior maid, Marchisa, came to disrobe her but Alienor shook her head. ‘No,’ she said, smiling. ‘I want to savour the day for a little longer; there will never be another like it.’

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