Friday, May 28
Sometimes the prettiest flowers have the longest thorns. It may not sound romantic or even appealing, but roses have thorns, cactus blossoms mask spines of steel, and fragile water lilies float among spears of bull rushes and reeds. Maybe the thorns cause us to handle roses with the care they deserve. The spines and reeds screen the casual eye from getting closer and taking a good look at the harmonious details that beautify barren deserts and lush ponds. Flowers are food for some, and thorns deter the hungry predators from destroying not only beauty but life.
I've finished reading "Time and Chance," a historical novel by Sharon Kay Penman, about the early lives of King Henry II and his famous queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Both people were far ahead of their times, remarkable and fabulous characters. Henry was a courageous, intelligent king as well as a tireless and brilliant empire builder/warrior. Because of his brilliance, he seldom consulted with anyone about his decisions and some of them were disastrous. His catastrophic battle with St. Thomas Becket could have been avoided if he'd listened to his wife's warnings, but he ignored her and underestimated her. He saw only her beauty and did not acknowledge her thorns until he was wounded in his most vulnerable place, his heart.
The book presents the warrior king viewpoint of this dynastic marriage and his future plans for his sons, Hal, Richard, Geoffrey. His plans for his daughters were also dynastic and even though his queen conceived and birthed these children, he betrothed them as he saw fit and told Eleanor later, always assuming that she would agree and support him in his empire building plans. Henry II accomplished so much, so quickly, it was refreshing to hear the Queen's voice as a counter balance. Throughout the Becket controversy and despite his thoughtless plans for his children, she sheathed her claws, stiffened her spine and sought to view King Henry's ruthless ambitions as beneficial to her and her children. She was beautiful Eleanor, a royal brood mare and an able administrator and surrogate for his majesty, as needed.
All of that changed while she was pregnant with her eighth child, John. Her sister, Petronilla, told her about Rosamund Clifford, Henry's high born concubine, residing in one of Eleanor's favorite English castles, Woodstock. Although she was in France, at least eight months pregnant at the age of forty, and it was mid winter, she sailed across the English Channel and arrived at Woodstock in time to see the nineteen year old, Rosamund playing with a puppy in Eleanor's garden at Woodstock. She asked only one question, "How old are you." Received her answer, went to the next available castle, Oxford, and gave birth to John - almost dying in the process.
Henry's betrayal killed her love and her loyalty. She had trimmed her thorns, allowed another to love and be loved, and learned that women, especially married women, were powerless despite beauty, wealth and status. Her pride, the biggest and most deadly thorn, was mauled and because Henry never admitted his betrayal, the wound festered, becoming the scar that allowed her to join her sons in insurrection.
I'm just starting the second book in this series, "Devil's Brood." The actions of this amazing family are so far fetched and outrageous, I am still surprised that I'm reading accurate accounts of history. No soap opera or movie fantasy can match the beginnings of the House of Plantagenet.