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Henry II

Henry II

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Henry II

356 pagine
7 ore
Jan 25, 2021


Book 13 in the Anarchy Series.

With the civil war seeming to be never ending, the Warlord and Duke Henry decide on a bold strategy which pits the men of the north against the might of Stephen and his forces. At the same time a conspiracy of Kings and Counts attempt to wrest the young Duke's lands from him. Betrayed by his own family, Henry becomes the king who in later life will conquer Wales and Ireland.

Jan 25, 2021

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Henry II - Griff Hosker



My men and I had thwarted an attempt by Stephen the Usurper to capture Henry, Prince of England. He had gone back to London with his tail between his legs. We had shown that our men and our leader were made of steel. Henry had shown that he had grown as a leader. He had learned from his mistakes and was now ready to become king. I had helped him to develop into such a leader. Now I had to ensure that he attained the throne.

There were still many obstacles in his way. Stephen still held on to London and, with it, the power of the Tower and the City. There he had the money from the richest city in England and the strongest fortress, the White Tower. He was an ally of King Louis and now pressure was being applied to Normandy. Geoffrey, Henry’s father, was now Duke of Normandy but there were still enemies. Henry’s younger brother, Geoffrey, sought a title for himself. I foresaw problems there. Younger brothers wanted more power than they were entitled to.

Although I was growing weary of this war I had sworn an oath and nothing would stop me fulfilling it. My wife and daughter had died. My son had gone on a Crusade to atone for his sins and the woman I loved, Henry’s mother, Empress Matilda, now lived in a priory. My only purpose was to ensure that Henry became king.

As I stood on the battlements of Chester Castle, I thought about the events which had led us to this moment. If we could neutralize the Scots then it might be possible for us to start to build up an army which could defeat Stephen, once and for all. We had come close many times but each time events had conspired to snatch victory at the last moment. Many men had died in the last sixteen years but the last to die, the Earl of Gloucester, had been a blow for although we had disagreed on many things, he had brought a great number of supporters to Henry’s side. I was now Henry FitzEmpress’ major ally. It grieved me but when we went to visit King David of Scotland, I would have to put Henry’s future before my own feelings. I did not trust the Scots but King David had intimated that he was willing to support Henry and to relinquish his claims. I hoped so.

You are quiet, my lord and you are alone. Is aught amiss?

I turned and saw my hostess. The Countess of Chester, Maud daughter of the Earl of Gloucester, was a dear friend and ally. Her husband was neither. I turned and bowed. I was aware that the Earl of Chester’s sentries were watching us.

My lady, I am putting my thoughts into some sort of order. Tomorrow we ride to visit your Great Uncle and we may bring peace to our northern lands. My own people will be safer as will England. This is a moment for reflection.

She laughed and put her hand on my arm, You can fool many others, Alfraed, but not me. You hate the Scots and your heart will not be in your words. You do this for Henry. Had my father been alive then you would never have even considered it.

I nodded, Perhaps. Or it may be that I am older and wiser now.

Your body may have aged but your mind is as sharp as ever. You have done all that my aunt, the Empress, could have asked. Your loyalty has been nothing short of remarkable. Do not berate yourself. There is no dishonour in making peace with the Scots for the good of the country and the future king.

You may be right. I fear that I have put honour on too high a pedestal.

Would that my husband had too.

She was right but it was not my place to criticise him while his guards were listening. We should return to the hall. I have upset your husband enough by my private conversations with you.

She linked my arm as she led me from the battlements. And I do not think that you will lose one moment of sleep worrying about offending my husband. There is no knight in this realm or any other who would willingly face you in battle. You are still the Empress’ Knight and the Warlord of the North. I, for one, sleep better, knowing that to be true.

Chapter 1

I had sent most of my men back to Stockton. I had retained James, my youngest squire and the son of my old friend and comrade Sir Edward, and Dick along with ten archers. Henry FitzEmpress was not surprised by the size of my escort but Ranulf, Earl of Chester was.

My lord, we go to meet with the Lion of Scotland! You have a handful of archers and a half-trained boy. What if his words of peace are false and this is a trap?

Ranulf was far too much of a plotter and a politician for my liking. Henry’s disparaging look told me that he saw through this shallow earl. If King David is foresworn and tries to trap us then he will have broken an oath he swore to me and Prince Henry as well as Empress Matilda. Oaths are sacred, my lord, and men do not break them.

He flashed me an angry look for he had broken oaths so many times that his word meant nothing. He had switched sides to suit his own purposes each time the wind shifted. I was only surprised that he had not jumped back into bed with Stephen. I suspect the fact that I had outwitted Stephen and come away victorious had swayed him and he had decided to stay in our court; at least for the time being.

We were travelling through the Duchy of Lancaster. It had been part of the Earl’s domain until the Battle of the Standards when Stephen the Usurper had given it to King David. I knew that the real reason Ranulf, Earl of Chester, accompanied us was in the hope of regaining this fertile land. Even Henry was impressed with the land through which we rode.

This is fine land. No offence, Warlord, but the lands along the Tees are crude and wild compared with this. The land reminds me of parts of the Loire.

I am not offended, lord. My land is hard and unforgiving but it breeds tough men. We can face harsh winters and fierce enemies. I was not born there; your grandfather gave the land to my father, but I am grateful that he gave it to my family for I have come to love it.

And yet your son has spurned it, apparently. I detected the hint of a sneer in Ranulf’s voice.

Before I could answer Henry snapped a retort. He had fought with my son and considered him a friend, Hold your tongue, Chester! You go too far. Sir William has gone to atone for something he feels he did wrong. He fights in the Crusades which is God’s work against the enemies of Christ. He has spurned nothing! I, for one, hope that when he has done his penance then he will return home. When I am King he shall have a fine manor! He and his father have been the most loyal of my supporters and I do not forget such acts. You would do well to remember that.

I knew that if Maud had been with us she would have said something to her husband too. He reddened and dropped his horseback a little so that he was riding amongst his household knights. There he would not be criticised. He was shallow. Prince Henry and I did not need to seek the shelter of those who owed us fealty. Dick, my captain of archers, and our squires rode with us and we had an easy manner amongst us. We had fought together and shared hardship, hunger and thirst. There were no secrets between us. Henry’s grandfather and his uncle had been the same. They enjoyed the company of their warriors. That was the difference: Henry was a warrior and Ranulf was a politician.

We had many knights and men at arms with us. We had wagons for the meeting would be one which would shape the future of our two countries and Prince Henry did not wish to appear like a ragged urchin begging at the high table. We would break our journey at Preston which was the chief town of Amounderness. This was the largest wapentake in the Duchy. I hoped that we would be afforded a good welcome by the burgesses. They did not like Scottish rule. If they became part of England, once more, then their lives would be richer and more peaceful.

We were greeted like a conquering army. It was a rich town with a good stone wall around it and fine buildings, many of them, stone. With a population larger than Stockton, the streets were thronged as we headed through them. Only a few of us would be housed in the large hall and the rest would camp beyond the walls. Dick and James stayed in the hall with me. James enjoyed both the food and the company. He was wide-eyed at the array of dishes presented to the future king. I was cynical enough to realise that the burgesses were making a good impression. If they feted Henry, then they would reap the reward in the future. I hoped that I had trained him well enough so that he could see through their plans. The burgesses spoke of the privations they had suffered under the Scots.

Their taxes are unendurable, lord. It seems they tax us so that their own people do not have to pay taxes. Their tax collectors tell us that we can afford to pay and therefore we should. We are paying so that the Scots can live better than we do!

Aye, lord, they see us as a milk cow to be milked dry.

I said nothing but I looked pointedly at Henry. He gave the slightest of acknowledgements to me and then stood. This would be the first time I had seen him speak to those who were not warriors. I would be interested to see how far he had come or how far he had yet to go.

My burgesses, things will change. I am not yet king but with allies like the two earls who flank me then I believe I will soon attain that most sacred of offices. But when I am king you will still pay taxes. I saw their faces fall. But they will be fair and equitable taxes which all shall pay. This time of anarchy has emptied the coffers of this land. The treasure my grandfather and great grandfather had accumulated has been frittered away and lost. If we are to make this land great once more then we will have to endure hard times first.

The burgesses knew business. They understood, as did my steward, John, about profit and loss, good times and bad. They nodded. As he sat down I said, quietly, That was well done, lord.

He looked at me and said, equally quietly, And that means I must tax you, Warlord. I can show no favourites.

I smiled, And that is as it should be. I am happy to be taxed so long as it is by the rightful king of England. John, my steward, will wince. That is in the nature of money counters; that is the worst pain that they can endure. He laughed. And besides, before this civil war is over I hope to continue to make money at the expense of Stephen and his people.

He frowned slightly, You did not make money from Queen Matilda, did you?

My men found treasure, lord. As you know my men always share such bounty.

He laughed, Now I see why she had a face which looked as though she had sucked a lemon!

It is hard to say, lord; that look may have been because she is a shrew and that is her natural expression. She is a thin-faced woman whom I suspect has a cold heart. I know that I have never seen her smile. Unlike your mother who always smiled.

I know what you mean. I hope my mother is happy. It is sad to see my parents apart.

The marriage was arranged, lord. I fear that is what happens to kings and princes. They are not allowed the freedoms such as I enjoy.

Then I will break that mould. When I marry, it will be to a woman whom I wish to be my queen. It will not be for a political alliance. I would take the wife of an enemy if I thought it right for me.

As we ate I could see that I had helped to raise a strong prince who knew his own mind. Had I done the right thing? Time alone would tell. As Athelstan, my mentor had once said, ‘When you cast the bones then the result is out of your hands. Do not complain because there are not enough spots! If you do not wish to gamble, then do not throw the bones!

The road through Cumberland was a dangerous one. This land had been debated by the English and the Scots since before the time of the Romans; since before they were even known as English and Scots. This was not Amounderness. The loyalty of the folk of this land was not obvious. The road twisted and turned between high fells, deep valleys and more lakes than I had ever seen. My archers reverted to their role of scouts rather than my bodyguards. We kept shields close and eyes watchful. Again, I was impressed with Henry. He carried himself like a warrior. Ranulf, in contrast, comported himself as he had in Amounderness.

Once we had passed the road east, to the Tees, the land became flatter and we could breathe a little easier. Here King David maintained control and when we approached Carlisle Castle we saw that we were expected and would be welcomed. King David himself rode from the castle to greet us.

My great-nephew, it is good to see you again. This day will finally see an end to the bickering and fallings out which have plagued our two lands.

I saw, behind the king, Henry, Prince of Cumberland. His father may have smiled but there was enmity as well as hatred in the Prince’s eyes.

Henry FitzEmpress nodded, And I am happy to be here too. The Earl of Cleveland has chased Stephen south. I am hopeful of a successful conclusion to my campaigns.

You will soon be king?

I will be king. I am not so presumptuous to say when. My mother and I have suffered setbacks before.

Come let us continue this inside the castle. We have prepared an area by the river. I see you have wagons. We have food for them. We slaughtered some cattle.

Good, for I like English beef.

I had spoken to gauge the reaction of the king and his son. His son jerked his horse’s head around and galloped back to the castle. The king smiled, You never change, Earl. My son has yet to understand how you deliberately provoke him.

If he is to be king, lord, then he must learn to control his feelings and not let others see them. You, of all people, know that a good king has to be measured and cool.

He turned his horse’s head around, And I can see, Earl, that you have managed to do with the Empress’ son what I have failed to do with mine. He nodded to Henry, You are a credit to your parents and to the Earl here. I can see his hand in the moulding of a future king.

The Earl has helped and I am grateful but, uncle, I am my own man. I do not move to another man’s hands on the reins.

And that is as it should be. Tonight, we feast and tomorrow we negotiate as I promised when last we met.

The feast was one worthy of a monarch and future monarch. The food, ale and wine flowed freely. I was pleased to see that Henry drank conservatively. I listened more than I spoke; as did Henry. I learned much. I learned of trouble in the islands to the north where there were still rebels, Vikings and those who sought the Scottish crown. It explained much about the present situation. I had caused King David enough trouble in the southern part of his land. I could now see why they had taxed Amounderness so heavily. They were taking as much as they could, while they could. He needed peace as much as we did. Henry, Prince of Cumberland, glowered and drank. His enmity did not bother me.

The result was that the next day when we gathered with the priests and clerics to discuss the new treaty, the Prince of Cumberland was absent. King David apologised and blamed the eels and oysters his son had consumed. I knew better.

So, Henry, what is it that you wish?

Henry smiled. We had discussed this many times. I wish the lands you took from King Stephen returned to me.

King David nodded, You mean the lands of Scotland which your grandfather took from us.

We can debate the ownership of those lands from now until judgement day for I could go back beyond that time to the time when the Scots were still bandits in Ireland who stole the land from the Picts. I wish the lands to the south of the Roman Wall and as far north as the Tweed returning to England.

No, I will not agree to the land north of the Tyne and south of the Tweed. The land south of the wall is open to negotiation.

The Earl of Chester could contain himself no longer, I wish the Duchy returning to me!

Both Henry and King David looked at him and he quailed.

King David shook his head, I am sorry, Earl, but you are not Henry FitzEmpress. I am not certain that I like the idea of you as a neighbour.

The Earl made to rise and I snapped, Ranulf, sit! You are now at the table with kings and princes. This is not a petty matter. I turned to the king. I understand your doubts. I think I have a solution. The Earl will acknowledge both your sovereignty and that of Henry FitzEmpress. Henry flashed a look at me. Of course, Henry FitzEmpress would have the higher duty of fealty from the Earl. That way your borders would be assured for the Earl would be a mutual assurance for both kingdoms.

I saw Henry and the King both nod. Ranulf looked to open his mouth but I shook my head and he nodded. It was better than he might have hoped.

If I agree to that then I need something for my son. Prince of Cumberland is an empty title if that land is part of England. He is Earl of Northumberland and that is the land between the Tyne and the Tweed. He leaned forward, I can see that you are well-read, Henry and you will know that the Earls of Northumberland often owed allegiance to Scotland. If my son is retained as Earl of Northumberland, then he will swear fealty to England in the same way that the Earl of Chester does for the Duchy of Lancaster.

There was silence. I thought it a reasonable proposal. I could not say anything. This had to be Henry’s decision.

Will your son agree to this?

He is my son and heir. He will do as I command. The Earl of Cleveland has devised a secure plan for peace. The Earl of Chester and my son are our guarantee of peace.

It made sense. The Duchy of Lancaster was worth more than the wild lands of Northumberland. Henry smiled, Then I agree. He clasped hands with his great uncle.

King David turned to the clerics and priests, I would have you draft a treaty and then we shall sign it. I need to speak with my son first. As he stood he leaned over to me and said, quietly, It seems you are not only a warlord but something of a diplomat, Earl. I can see now why my generals found it so hard to defeat you.

I nodded, And now that we have peace then the problem will not arise again.

The Prince of Cumberland was not happy to be relinquishing his lands and it was not until the next day that the treaty was drawn up and all of the interested parties signed and sealed the document. King David pointedly asked me to be a signatory. I knew why. I was known to be a man of my word. By signing the treaty, I agreed to keep to my own lands. Prince Henry of Scotland was not happy but he had to agree. When we left, the next day, that was the last time I would see him alive. He remained a bitter enemy of mine until his death.

Ranulf, Earl of Chester, headed south to his home and Henry FitzEmpress headed east with me. We called in at Barnard Castle on the way home. It was important that Sir Hugh of Gainford know the contents of the treaty. His life would become much easier.

When we reached Stockton my ship, ‘Adela’ was in port. More importantly, there was a letter there which summoned Henry back to Normandy. His father, the Duke of Normandy, wished to see him. This fitted in well with our plans for he had already decided to return home to raise an army to invade England and retake his lands. The south-west remained in his hands and my enclave in the northeast was the perfect place to begin an attack. With our backs safe we could bring a mighty army from my valley to aid those raised in Normandy.

I will stay in touch with you, Warlord. Henry clasped my arm as he prepared to board my ship. I thank you again for bringing me so far. I am ready to seize back my throne but I still need you at my right hand.

And I will ever be at your right hand. Farewell. Tell your mother I asked after her.

I will.

Chapter 2

And so, we had a year of peace. It was the first year I had known without war since I had come to England as a young knight. The Scots kept their word and we had a peaceful frontier. Stephen and his Queen licked their wounds and tried to recoup the money they had lost to my men. They raised their taxes and tried to get money from the church. They stayed in the south and east. That was where their strength lay. The only disturbing element was Eustace of Boulogne, the son of Stephen and his Flemish queen, Matilda. Now named heir, he rampaged the lands around the east. It was said he was little more than a bandit or robber baron and the people suffered. His men raped and pillaged; they ravaged the land and made life in East Anglia and Essex intolerable. He was too far away for me to punish and it was the only cloud in an otherwise perfect sky.

We prospered. I knighted Richard, my squire. I did not give him a manor. He was my household knight. Gilles and Mary had a son, Edward, and Gilles was a good lord of the manor of Norton. When he had lived at my castle James, Sir Edward’s son, had been Sir Gilles’ squire. Sir Gilles had insisted that James remain as my squire. He took on another; Walter was John my Steward’s son and he was not a cleric. He would not follow his father into the world of books. He had grown up in a castle filled with young knights and he wished to be one. James was Mary’s brother. The arrangement was better. Walter was out of his father’s view and Mary was not there to fret and worry about her little brother; it suited me. I would not have to train a new squire for some time. Sir Harold’s son, Richard, began training to be a squire too. Walter and Richard came to my castle when their lords did not need them and they trained under James’ critical eye. With Wilfred, my sergeant at arms, to oversee them it worked. Wilfred was a common man but my squires respected him for he knew all there was to know about fighting and war.

The peace with the Scots allowed Stockton to expand. The wooden wall and ditch fell into disrepair as houses spread beyond our former boundary. We had many settlers who came from the north. Prince Henry of Scotland was not popular amongst those who lived around Hexham, the New Castle and Berwick. Many farmers and former soldiers headed south to my land. I had fought alongside many of them. I recognised men at arms who came from Rothbury, Morpeth and Otterburn. They had survived in the hope that I would come and reclaim Northumberland for England. In that, I had failed. The new settlers, however, would prove to be an asset when we came to attack Stephen and I knew that day was coming.

My town was showing signs of prosperity in the houses which were being built. Although most were of wattle and daub there were some built partly with stone and which occupied two floors. Ethelred, Alf’s brother, even had a stone-built house. The streets close to their homes were paved with cobbles. It was a true sign of civilisation.

My estate in Anjou also prospered. Leofric was a good lord of the manor and I received as much coin from La Flèche as I did from the rest of my manors with the exception of Stockton. I also receive a steady influx of warriors he had trained. With trade restored, my two merchant ships were in constant demand and our industries prospered. My avaricious steward, John, was happy that his coffers were being filled.

My life would have been perfect save for two things. I heard nothing from my son William, who had gone on a crusade and I heard nothing from Matilda, the Empress and Henry’s mother. She now lived in a priory and communication was impossible. I made up for it by hunting and absorbing myself in the training of James to become a knight. He had already learned much from both Richard and Gilles. Had Richard had been knighted by me he would have continued his training with him. I wondered if James would be the last squire I would train to be a knight. When this war was over I could not see myself needing one. Many knights used their squires as a sort of glorified servant. I had always used them as an extension of my sword arm and shield. During the year, he

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