Read THE BOOK OF YEA - CHAPTER XVII of The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay, free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on


I suppose that the present relations of King Richard and the Countess of Poictou (as she chose to call herself now) were as singular as could subsist between a strong man and beautiful woman, both in love.  I am not to extenuate or explain, but say once for all to the curious that she was never again to him (nor had been since that day at Fontevrault) what a sister might not have been.  Yet, with all that, it was evident to the world at large that he was a lover, and she mistress of his mind.  Not only implicitly so, as witnessed their long intercourse of the eyes, their quick glances, stealthy watching of each other, the little tender acts (as the giving or receiving of a flower), the brooding silences, the praying at the same time or place; but explicitly he pronounced himself her knight.  All his songs were of her; he wrote to her many times a day, and she answered his letters by her page, and kept the latest of them always within her vest, over against her heart.  She allowed herself more scope than he, trusting herself further:  it is known that she treasured discarded things of his, and went so far as to wear (she, the Fair-Girdled!) a studded belt of his made to fit her.  She was never without this rude monument of her former grace.  But this was the sum-total of their bodily intercourse, apart from speech.  Of their spiritual ecstasies I have no warrant to speak, though I believe these were very innocent.  She would not dare, nor he care, to indulge in so laxative a joy.

He conversed with her freely upon all affairs of moment; there was no constraint on either side.  He was even merry in her company, and astonishingly frank.  Singular man! the Navarrese marriage was a common subject of their talk; she spoke of it with serious mockery and he with mock seriousness.  From Richard it was, ’Countess Jehane, when the chalk-faced Spaniard reigns you must mend your manners.’  And she might say, ’Beau sire, Madame Berengere will never like your songs unless you sing of her.’  All this served the girl’s private ends.  Gradually and gradually she led him to see that thing as fixed.  She did it, as it were, on tiptoe, for she knew what a shyer he was; but luckily for her schemes, the Queen-Mother trusted her to the bottom, said nothing and allowed nothing to be said.

Meantime the affairs of the Crusade conspired with Jehane to drive Richard once more to church.  If he got little money in England, where abbeys were rich in corn but poor in pelf, and the barons had been so prompt to rob each other that they could not be robbed by the King, — he got less in Gaul, eaten up by war for a hundred years.  You cannot bleed a stuck pig, as King Richard found.  England was empty of money.  He got men enough; from one motive or another every English knight was willing to rifle the East.  He had ships enough.  But of what use ships and men if there was no food for them nor money to buy it?  He tried to borrow, he tried to beg, he tried what in a less glorious cause a plain man would call stealing.  King Richard came not of a squeamish race, and would have sold anything to any buyer, pawned his crown or taken another man’s to get the worth of a company’s pay out of it.  Fines, escheats, reliefs, forfeitures, wardships, marriages — he heaped exaction on exaction, with mighty little result.  When his mind was set he was inexorable, insatiable, without scruple.  What he got only sharpened his appetite for more.  King Tancred of Sicily owed the dowry of Richard’s sister Joan.  He swore he would wring that out of him to the last doit.  He offered the city of London to the highest bidder, and lamented the slaughter of the Jews when the tenders were few.  Here was a position to be in!  His Englishmen lay rotting in Southampton town, his ships in Southampton water.  His Normans and Poictevins were over-ripe; he as dry as an unpinched pear.  He saw, to his infinite vexation, his honour again in pawn, and no means of redeeming it.  Jehane, with tears in her voice, plied the Navarrese marriage with more passion than she would ever have allowed herself to urge her own.  Richard said he would think of it.  ’Now I have him half-way,’ Jehane told the Queen-Mother.  He was driven the other half by his banished brother John.

Prince John, bundled out of the country within a week of the coronation, went to Paris and a pocketful of mischief in which to put his hand.  King Philip, who should have been preparing for the East, was listening to counsels much more to his liking.  Conrad of Montferrat was there, with large white fingers explaining on the table, and a large white face set as lightly as a mouse-trap.  His Italian mind, with that strange capacity for subserving business with passion, had a task of election here.  The Marquess knew that Richard would sooner help the devil than him to Jerusalem; not only on this account, but on every conceivable account did he hate Richard.  If he could embroil the two leaders of the Crusade, there was his affair:  Philip would need him.  In Paris also was Saint-Pol, fizzling with mischief, and behind him, where-ever he went, stalked Gilles de Gurdun, murder in his heart.  The massive Norman was a fine foil to the Count:  they were the two poles of hatred.  The Duke of Burgundy was not there, but Conrad knew that he could be counted.  Richard owed him (so he said) forty pounds; besides, Richard had called him a sponge — and it was true.  There, lastly, was Des Barres, that fine Frenchman, ready to hate anybody who was not French, and most ready to hate Richard, who had broken up the Gisors wedding and put, single-handed, all the guests to shame.  Now, this was a company after Prince John’s own heart.  Standing next to the English throne, he was an excellent footstool; he felt the delicate position, he was flattered at every turn.  The Marquess found him most useful, not only because he was on better terms with Philip than himself could hope to be, but because he understood him better.  John knew that there were two tender spots in that moody King, and he knew which was the tenderer, pardieu!  So Conrad’s gross finger, guided by John’s, probed the raw of Philip’s self-esteem, and found a rankling wound, very proud flesh.  Oh, intolerable affront to the House of Capet, that a tall Angevin robber should take up and throw away a daughter of France, and then whistle you to a war in the East!  Prince John, you perceive, knew where to rub in the salt.

The storm broke when King Richard was again at Chinon.  King Philip sent messengers — William des Barres, the Bishop of Beauvais, and Stephen of Meaux — about the homage due to him for Normandy and all the French fiefs.  So far well; King Richard was very urbane, as bland as such an incisive dealer could be.  He would do homage for Normandy, Anjou, and the rest on such and such a day.  ‘But,’ he added quietly, ’I attach the condition that it be done at Vezelay, when I am there with my army for the East, and he with his army.’

The ambassadors demurred, talking among themselves:  Richard sat on immovable, his hands on his knees.  Presently the Bishop of Beauvais, better soldier than priest, stood out from his fellows and made this remarkable speech: —

’Beau sire, our lord the august King takes it very ill that you have so long delayed the marriage agreed upon solemnly between your Grace and Madame Alois his sister.  Therefore — ’ Milo (who was present) says that he saw his master narrow his eyes so much that he seemed to have none at all, but ‘sockets and blank balls in them, like statues.’  The Bishop of Beauvais, apparently, did not observe it.  ‘Therefore,’ he went on, orotund, ’our lord the King desires that the marriage may be celebrated before he sets out for Acre and the blessed work in those parts.  Other matters there are for settlement, such as the title of the most illustrious Marquess of Montferrat to the holy throne, in which my master is persuaded your Grace will conform to his desires.  This and other matters a many.’

The King got up.  ‘Too many matters, Bishop of Beauvais,’ he said, ’for my appetite, which is poor just now.  There is no debate.  Say this to your master, I pay homage where it is due.  If by his own act he prove that it is not due, I will not be blamed.  As to the Marquess, I will never get a kingdom for him, and I marvel that King Philip can make no better choice than of a man whose only title is rape, and can get no better ally than the slanderer of his sister.  And upon the subject of that unhappy lady, I tell you this upon the Holy Gospels, that I will marry King Philip himself before I will marry her; and so much he very well knows.  I am upon the point to depart in the fulfilment of my vows.  Let your master please himself.  He is a bad sailor, he tells me.  Am I to think him a bad soldier?  And if so, in such a cause, what sort of a Christian, what sort of a king, am I to think him?’

The Bishop, his diplomacy at an end, grew very red.  He had nothing to say.  Des Barres must needs put in his word.

‘Bethink you, fair sire,’ he says:  ‘the Marquess is of my kindred.’

‘Oh, I do think, Des Barres,’ the King answered him; ’and I am very sorry for you.  But I am not answerable for the trespasses of your ancestry.’

Des Barres glared about him, as if he hoped to find a reply among the joists.

‘My lord,’ he began again, ’it is laid in charge upon us to speak the mind of France.  Our master is greatly put about in his sister’s affair, and not he only, but his allies with him.  Among whom, sire, you must be pleased to reckon my lord John of Mortain.’

He had done better to leave John out; Richard’s eyes burnt him, and his voice cut.  ’Let my brother John have her, who knows her rights and wrongs.  As for you, Des Barres, take back to your master your windy conversation, and this also, that I allow no man to dictate marriages to me.’  So said, he broke up the audience, and would see no more of the ambassadors.  They, in two or three days, departed with what grace they had in them.

The immediate effect of this, you may perhaps expect, was to drive Richard all the road to Navarre.  He was profoundly offended, so much so that not Jehane herself dared speak to him.  As he always did when his heart mastered his head, he acted now alone and at once.  In the heart we choose to seat rage of all sorts, the purest and the most base, the most fervent and the most cold.  It so happened that there was business for our King in Gascony, congenial business.  Guillem de Chisi, a vassal of his, had been robbing pilgrims, so Guillem was to be hanged.  Richard went swift-foot to Cahors, hanged Guillem in front of his own gatehouse, then wrote letters to Pampluna inviting King Sancho to a conference ‘upon many affairs touching Almighty God and ourselves.’  Thus he put it, and King Sancho needed no accents to the vowels.  The wise man set out with a great train, his virgin with him.

The day of his expectation, King Richard heard mass in a most unchristian frame of mind.  There was no Sursum Corda for him; but he knelt like a stone image, inert and cold from breast to backbone; said nothing, moved not.  How differently do men and women stand at the gate of sorrows!  Not far off him knelt Countess Jehane, who in her hands again (it may be said) held up her bleeding heart.  The luxury of this strange sacrifice made the girl glow like a fire opal; she was in a fierce ecstasy, her lips parted, eyes half-shut; she breathed short, she panted.  There is no moralising over these things:  love is a hearty feeder, and thrives on a fast-day as well as on a gaudy.  By fasting come visions, tremors, swoonings and such like, dainty perversions of sense.  But part of Jehane’s exaltation, you must know, came of another spur.  She had a sure and certain hope; she knew what she knew, though no other even guessed it.  With that to carry she could lift up her head.  No woman in the world need grudge the usurper of place while she may go on, carrying her title below the heart.  More of this presently.  Two hours before noon, in that clear October weather, over the brown hills came a company of knights on white destriers, with their pennons flying and white cloaks over their mail, the outriders of Navarre.  They were met in the meadow of the Charterhouse and escorted to their quarters, which were on the right of the King’s pavilion.  That same pavilion was of purple silk, worked over with gold leopards the size of life.  It had two standards beside it, the dragon of the English, the leopards of Anjou.  The pavilion of King Sancho was of green silk with silver emblems — a heart, a castle, a stag; Saint George, Saint Michael, Saint James the Great, and Saint Martin with his split cloak — a shining place before whose door stood twenty ladies in white, their hair let loose, to receive Madame Berengere and minister to her.  Chief among these was Countess Jehane.  King Richard was not in his own pavilion, but would greet his brother king in the hail of the citadel.

So in due time, after three soundings on the silver trumpets and much curious ceremony of bread and salt, came Don Sancho the Wise in a meinie of his peers, very noble on a roan horse; and Dame Berengere his daughter in a wine-coloured litter, with her ladies about her on ambling palfreys, the colour of burnt grass.  When they took this little princess out of her silken cage the first face she looked for and the first she saw was that of Jehane Saint-Pol, who received her courteously.

Jehane always wore sumptuous clothing, being aware, no doubt, that her person justified the display.  For this time she had dressed herself in silver brocade, let her bosom go bare, and brought the strong golden plaits round about in her favourite fashion.  Upon her head she had a coronet of silver flowers, in her neck a blue jewel.  All the colour she had lay in her hue of faint rose, in her hair like corn in the sun, in her eyes of green, in her deep red lips.  But her height, free build, and liberal curves marked her out of a bevy that glowed in a more Southern fashion.  She had to stoop overmuch to kiss Berengere’s hand; and this made the little Spaniard bite her lip.

Berengere herself was like a bell, in a stiff dress of crimson sewn with great pearls in leaf and scroll-work.  From the waist upwards she was the handle of the bell.  This immoderation of her clothes, the fright she was in — so nervous at first that she could hardly stand — became her very ill.  She was quite white in the face, with solemn black eyes, glazed and expressionless; her little hands stuck out from her sides like a puppet’s.  Handsome as no doubt she was, she looked a doll beside the tall Jehane, who could have dandled her comfortably on her knee.  She spoke no language but her own, and that not the langue d’oc, but a blurred dialect of it, rougher even than Gascon.  Conversation was very difficult on these terms.  At first the Princess was shy; then (when she grew curious and forgot her qualms) Jehane was shy.  Berengere fingered the jewel in the other’s neck, turned it about, wanted to know whence it had come, whose gift it was, etc., etc.  Jehane blushed to report it the gift of a friend; whereupon the Princess looked her up and down in a way that made her hot all over.

But when it came to the time of meeting King Richard, Berengere’s nervous fears came crowding back; the poor little creature began to shake, clung to Jehane.  ’How tall is the king, how tall is he?  Taller than you?’ she asked, looking up at the Picard girl.

‘Oh, yes, Madame, he is taller than I.’

‘They say he is cruel.  Did you — do you think him cruel?’

‘Madame, no, no.’

‘He is a poet, they say.  Has he made many songs of me?’

Jehane murmured her doubts, exquisitely confused.

‘Fifty poets,’ continued nestling Berengere, ’have made songs of me.  There is a wreath of songs.  They call me Frozen Heart:  do you know why?  They say I am too proud to love a poet.  But if the poet is a king!  I have a certain fear just now.  I think I will — ’ She took Jehane’s arm — ’No! no!’ She drew away.  ’You are too tall — I will never take your arm — I am ashamed.  I beg you to go before me.  Lead the way.’

So Jehane went first of all the ladies who led the Queen to the King.

King Richard, who himself loved to go splendidly, sat upon his throne in the citadel looking like a statue of gold and ivory.  Upon his head was a crown of gold, he had a long tunic of white velvet, round his shoulders a great cope of figured gold brocade, work of Genoa, and very curious.  His face and hands were paler than their wont was, his eyes frosty blue, like a winter sea that is made bright, not warm, by the sun.  He sat up stiffly, hands on knees; and all about him stood the lords and prelates of the most sumptuous court in the West.  King Sancho the Wise was ready to stoop all his wisdom and burden of years before such superb state as this; but the moment his procession entered the hall Richard went down from his dais to meet it, kissed him on the cheek, asked how he did, and set the careworn man at his ease.  As for Berengere, he took from her of both cheeks, held her small hand, spoke in her own language honourable and cheerful words, drove a little colour into her face, screwed a word or two out of her.  Afterwards there was high mass, sung by the Archbishop of Auch, and a great banquet, served in the cloister-garth of the Charterhouse under a red canopy, because the hail of the citadel was too small.

At this feast King Richard played a great part — cheerful, easy of approach, making phrases like swords, giving and taking the talk without any advantage of his rank.  His jokes had a bite in them, as when he said of Bertran that the best proof of the excellence of his verses was that he had undoubtedly made them himself; or of Averrhoes, the Arabian physician and infidel philosopher, that the man equalised his harms by poisoning with his drugs the bodies of those whose minds had been tainted by his hérésies.  But he was the first to set the laugh against himself, and had a flash of Dame Berengere’s fine teeth before he had been ten minutes at table.

After dinner the Kings and their ministers went into debate; and then it seemed that Richard had got up from his meat perverse.  He would only talk of one thing, namely, sixty thousand gold besants.  On this he harped maddeningly, with calculations of how much victual the sum would buy, of the weight in ounces, of its content in sacks in a barn, of the mileage of the coins set edge to edge, and so on, and so on.  Don Sancho sat winking and fidgeting in his chair, and talked of his illustrious daughter.

‘Milled edges they should have, these besants,’ says King Richard, ’whereof, allowing (say) three hundred and fifty to a piece, we have a surprising total of’ — here he figured on the table, and King Sancho pursued his drift until Richard brought his hand slamming down — ’of one-and-twenty million ridges of gold upon the treasure!’ he concluded with a waggish look.  Agreement was as hard as to prolong parallels to a point.  Yet this went on for some two hours, until, worn frail by such futilities, the Navarrese chancellor plumply asked his brother of England if King Richard would marry.  ‘Marry!’ cried he, when they brought him down the question, ’yes, I am all for marrying.  I will marry one-and-twenty million milled edges, our Saviour!’ They reported to King Sancho the substance of these words, and asked him if such and such would be the dowry of his lady daughter.

’Ask King Richard if he will have her with that in hand and the territories demarked,’ said Don Sancho.

This was done.  Richard grew grave, made no more jokes.  He turned to Milo, who happened to be near him.

‘Where is the little lady?’ he asked him.  Milo looked out of the window.

‘My lord,’ he said, ’she is in the orchard at this moment; and I think the Countess is with her.’  Richard blenched, as if he had been struck with a whip.  Collecting himself, he turned and looked down through the window to the leafy orchard below.  He looked long, and saw (as Milo had seen) the two girls, the tall and the little, the crimson and the white, standing near together in the shade.  Jehane had her head bent, for Berengere had hold of the jewel in her bosom.  Then Berengere put her arms round the other’s neck and leaned her head where the jewel lay.  Jehane stooped her head lower and lower, cheek touched cheek.  At this King Richard turned about; despair set hard was on his face.  He said in a dry voice, ‘Tell the King I will do it.’

In the tedious negotiations of the next few days it was arranged that the Princess should await the Queen-Mother at Bayonne, and sail with her and the fleet to Sicily.  There King Richard would meet and marry her.  What had passed between her and Jehane in the orchard, who knows?  They kissed at parting; but Jehane neither told Richard, nor did he ask her, why Berengere had lain her cheek upon her bosom, or why herself had stooped so low her head.  Women’s ways!

So Red Heart made her sacrifice, and Frozen Heart suffered the Sun; and he they called later Lion-Heart went out to fight Saladin, and less open foes than he.