The King's Arrangement
Henry never gave much thought to his betrothed, only the increasing desire to have an heir, and yet as he stood at the altar before the Archbishop his feet grew cold. However, he was king and a king couldn’t runout of a wedding. Well, I could, he mused silently to himself as the Archbishop rattled on with his sermon. I could do anything I want. He brought his attention back to the Archbishop and realized how short the man actually was underneath his mitre. A smile crossed Henry’s face, realizing how the clergy always tried to come off larger than they were.
With a lighter heart, Henry glanced down at his ten-year-old bride Matilda of Frisia, sixteen years his junior and she immediately reminded of the chore before him, having to wait for an heir until she came into child-bearing age. He sighed and straightened his posture as he looked away.
How was it possible to elevate France, when the future queen was so young and so meek? Perhaps it was a clue to his own weakness as a monarch that he wasn’t able to acquire a better bride. This was the best he could do. His face tightened, and then he reminded himself this was a political arrangement with Frisia, for which would give him greater access to the sea and trade.
At age twenty-six, passionate flames ignited in him and he wondered how others managed not only political and fruitful marriages, but loving? Was it simply because he was king and forced to marry a woman for whom he had no feelings.
When it came time to exchange vows, he did so as if chanting a church cannon – monotone and with no passion, not even understanding fully the words and when the deed was done, he took his seat on the throne as the Archbishop crowned his girl queen, Matilda.
Maybe she would grow into the role, maybe she would grow into a beauty to be envied by all his nobles and maybe she wouldn’t make him look so desperate. Could she be the one for him to give up concubines and offer loyalty to his true wife? He wondered. All these questions haunted him as she took her place beside him, before all of France – a twenty-six-year-old king and a ten-year-old queen. Was this the front he really wanted for his kingdom? Was this mark of a strong king? The wanderings of his mind made his heart sink.
It was only a short time later when Henry retreated to the privacy of his solar, while his guests celebrated his nuptials in the grand hall downstairs. It was all a lie. No one cared for him, nor his bride. They cared for his wine and his feast, an occasion for nobles to be drunk and disorderly. All he could do was to pray they would quiet soon.
The door opened without his invitation and in walked his sister, Adele who had found a suitable husband in Count Baldwin V of Flanders. As she sat by the hearth, Henry recalled how much they have witnessed together – their father’s butchery of Jews and heretics, their mother’s insanity by stabbing clergy – all for what was supposed to be for the benefit of the kingdom. It was Adele’s later husband, Richard, the Duke of Normandy who came to his rescue when his mother tried to assassinate him. Maybe this is why love of a good woman alluded him, he had bad luck with women since birth. Not even his mother loved him, how could he expect love of a wife?
“Henry,” Adele said softly, “You have left your young bride alone with all your rowdy nobles. Shouldn’t you be by her side?”
“She will have to learn how to handle herself,” Henry replied.
Adele took a moment to watch the flames flicker in the hearth, and then turned toward Henry. “I have never known you to be cruel. It’s not your nature. It never was, even at your most trying times.”
Henry slumped in his seat. “What do you think of her? Don’t lie to me.”
Adele reclined against the back her chair and stared into the flames as if they held wisdom. She turned back to Henry. “She is a girl, but with proper attention she can be of value to you. I believe she is taken with you and wants to make you a good queen. You must take care not to break her.”
“Is my destiny to live without passion, without love of a queen? Our father traded his sins on the backs of others, paying off the clergy with acts of violence, and yet I can’t find a worthy wife to love.” He twisted in his chair. “Do you know how weak I look seated next to that girl. She is not even of child-bearing age.”
“My brother, it was you who agreed to marry her,” Adele reminded with a smile. “You deal girls for political diplomacy and land, and yet you whine because she doesn’t quite match your romantic ideal.”
Henry twisted in his seat. “Baldwin seemed to do well with you.”
“Baldwin isn’t king,” Adele responded. “It’s easier for men of lower nobility.”
“What a luxury it is not to be king,” Henry muttered sarcastically.
“But with your power, you can make it what you want. You can be dismissive to the girl, and she will grow to be weak, or you can empower her to be your equal. It is your choice.” Adele rose from her seat and gestured to Henry. “Come. Celebrate your new alliance with her and Frisia.”
Standing reluctantly from his chair, Henry followed Adele down the stairs to the rowdy hall. At the far end of the table, he saw his girl queen seated by herself, awkward and unsure, but with a smile. Her shoulders slouched forward and the crown appeared too big for head. Despite being thin, her face still had the roundness of a child.
Henry took a deep breath to encourage his pride as he walked across the room to take a seat alongside the newly crowned Queen Matilda. She looked up to him, not nervous and scared but with a blush of a crush. He offered her a gentle smile of hope. It was the best he could do for her and his kingdom.