Skip to main content

Henry, Richard and Geoffrey: "Three Sons Bearing Witness to The Fruitfulness of Their Mother"

To celebrate the birthdays of Henry the Young King's younger brothers, Richard and Geoffrey, who were born respectively on 8 September 1157 and 23 September 1158, I have prepared something special. With Ms Sharon Kay Penman's kind permission I would like to share one of my favourite scenes from her bestselling novel Devil's Brood, featuring the three Angevin princes. Their mother, Queen Eleanor, the duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, is kept in close confinement by her husband for the part she played in the Great Revolt of 1173-74, King Henry is pondering the annulment of their marriage, their three oldest sons meet to discuss their mother's and their own future. They come as a united band of brothers this time, just as they are to come in 1181 as the allies of the young Philippe Capet against Philip of Flanders. As Ralph Turner points out in his biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine '...one fact that stands out is the devotion to Eleanor demonstrated by her sons in their adult lives, and it testifies that their experience of her love was more powerful than their father's fitful affection. Clearly the queen had cemented  solid ties of affection with them at some point, whether during their infancy or adolescence...' (p.145)

The tavern was located in Goldstret in the goldsmiths' quarter, close by St Clement's Church. Richard had been waiting long enough for his simmering impatience to reach boiling point. He was fidgeting restlessly, drumming his fingers on the scarred, wax-splattered table, waving away a serving maid who'd approached to see if he wanted more wine. Finally the door was shoved open and his brothers swaggered in. Geoffrey was accompanied only by a squire, but Hal had his usual entourage of household knights, and they made such a noisy entrance that all heads turned in their direction.
'What took you so long?' Richard demanded as soon as they approached his table. 'I told you by Compline!'
'Blame Sir Bountiful here,' Geoffrey said, pointing his thumb at Hal. 'He had to stop and give alms to every beggar within a half-mile of the castle, even chasing one across the street to press coins upon him.'
'Charity is a virtue.' Hal responded, jostling Geoffrey good-naturedly, 'but then you'd not know much about virtues, would you?'
'Sit down.' Richard said quickly, before Geoffrey could retort in kind. 'We need to talk.' Hal's knights were milling about nearby, and he added, 'Alone', with a pointed glance towards other men.
Hal dismissed them with an airy 'You heard my little brother. Go off and debauch yourselves. I'll pay for your wine, but not for your whores. There you're on your own.' As they grinned and obeyed, he looked around at the other tavern patrons and said, 'Ah, why not? I'll buy drinks for everyone!'
His generosity won him enthusiastic cheers from all but his brothers and the tavern keeper. Richard saw Hal's magnanimous gesture as shameless grandstanding, and Geoffrey laughed out loud at the look of horror on the tavern owner's face. Pulling up a stool to the table, he said, "The poor sot knows he has a better chance of sprouting wings than collecting so much as a farthing.'
'That is not so.' Hal protested. 'I always pay my debts... eventually.' He and Geoffrey both laughed, and looked vexed when Richard waved the serving maid away again.
'I did not ask you here to drink this swill. We need to talk about Fontevrault Abbey. Maman says that-"
'I already know all about it.' Hal interrupted, with a hint of smugness. 'Papa told me last night.'
'Well, no one bothered to enlighten me,' Geoffrey said testily, 'so suppose one of you lets me in on the secret.'
Richard looked around to make sure the other customers had gone back to their drinking and gambling. 'He wants Maman to agree to an annulment and then retire to Fontevrault Abbey - as an abbess.'
'As bribes go, that is not a bad one,' Geoffrey allowed, and Hal grinned, saying that was his thinking, too.
Richard glared at his brothers. 'She does not want to enter a nunnery!'
Hal shrugged. 'Is she sure of that? It is a generous offer, would give her far more influence than she is enjoying these days. Maman could make of it what she wanted. We're not talking about life as a recluse or an anchoress, for pity's sake. She's to be abbess of Fontevrault, and there are queens who might well envy that.'
'Is your hearing faulty? I said she does not want to do it, Hal!'
Hal returned Richard's scowl in full measure, and Geoffrey could see another of their squabbles brewing. Before Hal could respond, he said sharply, 'Enough!'
They looked at him in surprise, and he glanced over his shoulder to see if they'd attracted attention. 'As usual, Hal, you see only what is right in front of your nose. As for you, Richard, even when you're right, you're right for all the wrong reasons. Neither one of you has fully considered the consequences of their annulment.'
Temporarily united in their irritation with Geoffrey, they launched a joint attack, Hal insisting that he understood the situation quite well and Richard wanting to know what he meant by the 'wrong reasons'.
'Keep your voices down,' Geoffrey warned. 'Tell me this. How old is Papa?'
'I do not know,' Richard said snappishly. 'Forty-two?'
'No, forty-three,' Hal corrected, remembering Chinon and his his father's March birthday. 'What of it?'
'To us, that seems as old as God. But he is not. He could easily wed again and have sons with his new queen. Think about it for a moment.'
Hal was already shaking his head. 'He would never disinherit me!'
Richard did not look so sure. 'You truly think we could be put at risk, Geoff?'
'I do not know,' Geoffrey admitted. 'But I am not willing to take that chance. Are you? Look how he has begun to dote upon Johnny, even giving him the earldom of his uncle Rainald. I am just saying that if he had a few more sons, we could become superfluous. At the very least, it would give him a formidable club to hold over our heads. Now if you both have utter faith in his good will, there is no cause for concern. So... do you?'
Niether Hal nor Richard answered him, but words were not needed. They regarded one another in silence, in a rare moment of mutual understanding and total accord.

(Devil's Brood, pp. 315-317)




Read Devil's Brood to learn what followed. Of course it is the author's interpretation of the events that took place in the spring of 1176 at Winchester, but I find it quite convincing :-)

The quote in the title comes from The Images of History by Ralph of Diceto

Comments

  1. In a way, 'ol Henry could be glad that his sons did not get along with each other most of the time, or he'd have had even more problems with the lion cubs. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Gabriele. Just think what they might have achieved if they had acted as a real band of brothers - and I do not mean acting against their father :-)

      Delete
  2. To me, that scene shows how self-serving the brothers were. Concern for their mother? Worried their father will disinherit them! I do like it when Hal says he will pay his debts....eventually:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The scene has been chosen carefully, Anerje. I think that Ms Penman managed to capture and show the different personalities of the young princes. And I wanted the three of them all together :-) Yes, perhaps it was self-concern, but for once they were united and the scene that followed showed that theyw ere thinking not only about themselves and acting in their self-interest.

      As for Hal and his grand gesture - I laughed out loud with Geoffrey :-D Brilliantly written.

      Delete
  3. They certainly are an interesting trio. Yes, just imagine what they might have accomplished with ongoing solidarity. I'll have to re-read Devil's Brood one day. Good post , Kasia!

    cheers, Joan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Joan. It is a good post, I cannot agree more, after all the greater part of it has been written by one of the best authors of historical fiction ;-) I too re-read Devil's Brood from time to time and each time I do it leaves me filled with wonder. To put all those pieces of the intricate family jigsaw puzzle together and in such a compelling way... Brilliant.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Guest Post: The Three Sisters of the Young King by Sharon Bennett Connolly

Today I am delighted to welcome Sharon Bennet Connolly to the blog. Sharon is going to present her new book, Heroines of the Medieval World, and tell us a few words about Henry the Young King's younger sisters, Matilda, Eleanor and Joanna. Over to you, Sharon...

In history we tend to focus on the actions of the men in a family. Well, let’s face it, the life of Henry II and his sons is fascinating, full of love, honour, death and betrayal. Who wouldn’t be drawn into that world? But did you know that the women of the Young King’s family had no less exciting and eventful lives?
With a mother like Eleanor of Aquitaine, you would not expect her daughters to be shrinking violets. And, indeed, they were not. And neither were the girls sent off into the world, never to see their parents again. In what may be a unique occurrence for royal princesses, each of the three daughters of Eleanor and Henry II would get to spend time with their mother later in their lives.
Matilda of England, the elde…

19 December 1154. Coronation of Henry's Parents

On Sunday, 19 December 1154, Henry the Young King's parents were crowned king and queen of England at Westminster Abbey by Theobald Archbishop of Canterbury*. The chronicler Henry of Huntigdonexpressed the feelingsthat must have filled all the hearts in the ravaged by the civil war England: … Henry was crowned and consecrated with becoming pomp and splendour, amidst universal rejoicing, which many mingled with tears of joy!’ (Henry of Huntingdon p.296-97).
The then Henry fitz Empress was staying in Normandy when he learned that on 25 October king Stephen died. ‘… Theobald, archbishop of Canterbury, with many nobles, dispatched messengers in all haste to their now lord the Duke of Normandy, intreating him to come over without delay, and receive the crown of England. Hindered, however, by contrary winds and a stormy sea, as well as other circumstances, it was not till six days before Christmas that, accompanied by his wife and brothers, with a retinue of great nobles and a strong forc…

28 February 1155: In Celebration of Henry the Young King's Birthday

On the pages of his Chronicon Geoffrey, prior of Vigeois, described in meticulous detail how young Henry packed as much repentance into his deathbed as he could before he passed away.  Geoffrey left nothing unsaid. The hair shirt, bed of ashes, halter around neck, Bernard, bishop of Agen administering the last rites, and many other men of religion … all was there to ‘draw the readers attention away from the affairs of this world to those of the next’. Of course, Geoffrey, a man of religion himself, must have seen young Henry’s untimely passing as a divine punishment. But there were other voices who disagreed with that of the prior. Thomas de Agnellis, for example, in his sermon claimed that as the Young King’s sad retinue was toiling over the jolly sunbathed hills and dales of Aquitaine, it became the focus for many miracles. The rumors of the late king’s sainthood began to circulate. The monasteries pillaged by him shortly before his death- as it happened some of the most sacred shri…