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Authors: Judith Koll Healey

Tags: #Historical, #Mystery

The Rebel Princess

BOOK: The Rebel Princess
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Judith Koll Healey
The Rebel Princess

To my four sons,
Sean, Paul, Michael Brian, and Colin,
every one worth a risk and a rescue

The enemies of God must die.

They will go up in smoke,

Burn like summer grasses.

—Psalm 37



The Abbey Church of St. Denis

Book One

Intrigue in Paris


Chambers of the Princesse Alaïs


The King’s Privy Chambers


The Palace of Philippe Auguste


Chambers of the Princesse Alaïs


The Great Hall


Chambers of the Princesse Alaïs


The King’s Presence Chambers


The King’s Privy Chambers


In the Pavilion


On the Field


Chambers of the Princesse Alaïs


The Great Hall


Chambers of Princesse Alaïs and the Courtyard


The King’s Council Chambers

Book Two

In the Heart of the Beast


On the Road to the South


The Castle at Lavaur


The Chambers of Countess Joanna


The Great Hall of the Castle of Lavaur


A Pilgrim Hostel Near Verdun


Fontfroide Abbey


The Women’s Hut and the Church Nave


The Women’s Hut


In the Field and Back to the Hut


In the Abbot’s Quarters


On the Road to Foix


The Castle at Foix


The Chamber of the Princesse at Foix


The Chamber of the Princesse at Foix


The Chamber of the Princesse at Foix


(Languedoc and France in the 12th Century)

egend has it that at the Last Supper, Saint John was handed a cup of poisoned wine. He blessed the cup, whereupon a snake was seen crawling from it and the wine was made whole. The Cathars had a special devotion to Saint John the Evangelist, who is believed to have written the fourth gospel and possibly the Apocalypse.

t the turn of the twelfth century France was a very small kingdom. It occupied the land of the Île de France in the north, but not much more. The kings of France were constantly involved in skirmishes with the Angevin Plantagenet kings of England, Henry II and subsequently his sons, Richard and John. Much of Normandy, Le Mans, and the Aquitaine, which King Louis had to relinquish when his first wife, Eleanor, left him to marry young Henry, were under Plantagenet control.

Philippe Auguste, called Dieu-Donné by his father who had waited long for a son, ruled France. Many powerful duchies surrounded his lands, notably Burgundy and Champagne, which were intermittently friendly and quarrelsome. They operated independently, although their leaders gave homage to the king of France as their overlord under the prevailing system of fealty.

The lands to the south, ringing the Mediterranean Sea, were under the control of petty nobles or viscounts who gave homage to the counts of Toulouse. In those lands the culture was much freer than in the north, the art of beauty more admired and attended to, and the counties smaller than the large northern duchies.

The south, as it was called in Paris, was rich in other ways. Closer to the trade centers, these lands had no shortage of gold, a condition that permeated France, which at this time had to mint all
of its coinage in silver. And the ports that facilitated the trade that brought the gold must have looked inviting to the king of France in his landlocked northern lands.

Still, the south was far away from the center of France and busy with its own affairs. At the time our story opens, it must have seemed an unlikely candidate to become part of the northern kingdom.

All of that changed with the advent of a peculiar religious sect that sprang up during the latter half of the twelfth century. These people identified as Christians, and called themselves
“bons hommes”
or “
bons chrétiens,
” “Good-Men” or “good Christians.” Their enemies called them “Cathars,” or
the “pure ones,” and labeled them heretics. Though relatively small in number, they presented a powerful challenge to the church of Rome because of their simple ways, reminiscent of the early Christians. Through debates for some decades in the twelfth century, the Roman church representatives tried to cajole these errant sheep back into the fold of the dominant Christian church, but the new religion only spread and became stronger.

These Cathars were sometimes called dualists, believing variously in two sides of God (the light and the dark) or, in some cases, in two gods, good and evil. It was said the origins of their faith lay in ancient Persia, in the Manichean religion, transported through the Bogomils in the kingdom to the east of the Lombards. Wherever it came from the new belief presented an increasing threat to the church of Rome in a number of ways: The new religion employed wandering lay preachers, needed no official priests, and filled the needs of the faithful without the organization, indulgences, or the quest for gold that characterized the dominant Christian church of the times.

In 1207, Pope Innocent sent his third and final letter to King Philippe Auguste of France, asking him to raise an army and go south to fight the new religion. Philippe refused this demand, although eventually the call of orthodox religion, land, and gold would prove irresistible to the state of France. The Albigensian Crusade, as it came
to be called, would become the first religious war that set Christian against Christian. But at the time of our story Philippe of France was not persuaded that he wanted to join the battle.

King Philippe was at his court in Paris when the emissaries of the pope arrived bearing his letter. They were accompanied by his long-time friend William of Caen. With the king was his redoubtable half sister, the Princesse Alaïs, who was anything but retiring. And this is how our fiction begins.


, O

The Abbey Church of St. Denis

hen I recall how the adventure began, I see again in my mind’s eye the abbey church at St. Denis and the remarkable characters that made up my life at that time: my brother, King Philippe of France, my aunt, the dowager Countess Constance of Toulouse, Etienne Chastellain, the king’s sinister chief official, and all the people of the court of Paris.

We were attending the high Mass at the abbey at the direction of my brother, the king. He always insisted that we make the hour’s journey from our home on the Île de la Cité to St. Denis on feast days. He honored the abbey church which was the burial place of the kings of France. His own father and grandfather, who had placed so much confidence and wealth in this place, now rested here, their souls called to their eternal glory, or so we supposed.

I knelt slightly behind my brother and his
wife, my prie-Dieu less ornate than theirs but still elegant, fitting for the sister of the king of France. We were at the side of the great altar, in our private royal space, where we could see the glorious liturgy and still remain hidden from the prying eyes of Philippe’s pious subjects.

A thousand candles lit the cavernous interior and torches dispelled the shadows near the stone walls. The new fashion of filling the windows with stained glass, begun in the king’s own Sainte Chapelle only a few years earlier, had reached St. Denis. The bright October sunlight, muted by the colors of the glass, gave a rich glow to the interior. The abbot’s flowing gold vestments added luster to the scene. Even the novice choir members wore stoles of bright silk in honor of the feast.

It was during the consecration of the host that peculiar events began to happen. The priest was intoning the Latin, bending over the chalice and murmuring the incantatory prayers. This special cup held ordinary wine now, but soon would hold the consecrated wine, the very blood of Christ. Ripples of the gold and white silk chasuble trimmed in fur flowed over the altarcloth, hiding the chalice even from the view of those in the royal box.

The abbot was muttering words we could not hear, but we knew what he said from our student days. The cathedral school clerks had taught us well.
Hic in enim calyx sanguinis mei.
“This is my blood…of the new and eternal testament.” The words Christ spoke at the Last Supper, turning the wine into his own blood, or so they said.

He raised high the chalice then, for all to adore, and that was when I noticed something singular. The gold chalice was extraordinary, ringed with jewels glinting in the lights from the multitude of tapers on the altar. It was special not only for the gems that dotted it. St. Denis, with its long ties to the kings of France and their wealth, had many valuable and beautiful sacred vessels, equally bedecked. No, it was something else that captured my attention. This chalice had the longest stem I had ever seen on such a vessel.

Regal, full, tapering from the cup to the round base, it was nearly twice the height of the usual chalice stem. Around it, wrapped like a snake, braided gold wove a hypnotic covering so broad that the abbot needed both hands to grasp it. It was a wonder.

I had no sooner taken in the unusual form than I remembered that I ought to cast my gaze downward. The chalice was raised to be venerated, our cathedral tutors had taught us when we were royal children, but not ogled like a common tavern goblet. I must reflect on my restless soul, my constant lack of decorum in these religious ceremonies which lasted so long and seemed to bring me no nearer to the God I sought.

But as I looked demurely away a soft rustle of silk at my side caught my attention. My aunt Constance, dowager Countess of Toulouse and sister to our late father King Louis, had risen from her prie-Dieu and was watching the lifted chalice with a look of intense concentration. It was not exactly an expression of rapture, but rather one of calculated assessment.

And I was not the only one who caught this striking scene. The king, sitting directly in front of me, glanced back at the noise. For a moment our gaze met. Then a sudden commotion in the middle of the church claimed our attention.

The royal family turned as one toward the center of this disturbance and saw a party of three knights in chain mail clanking forward. They had entered the church still wearing their swords, which was expressly forbidden. They were covered with sweat and even from my distance I could see they were oblivious to everything but reaching the front part of the church. They pushed the standing throng aside as they came forward. As one, they roughly shouldered past the choir pews in the center of the church, where the monks labored valiantly to continue their singing despite the distraction.

The impolite knights reached their goal in the front ranks of the standing worshippers and I could see the king’s shoulders stiffen. The
king of France was not used to having his worship interrupted, especially when those who entered with such little show of ceremony were coming for his counselor and not his royal self.

Etienne Chastellain, the king’s chief minister, stood at the center of a small group in the very front of the worshippers. He turned as the knights reached him, and brushed aside one of his counselors who would have intercepted the visitors. He bent to hear their suit, then suddenly made a dismissive gesture with his hand, a slice downward as if he had heard enough. I saw him snap his fingers and two of the small coterie of men who always surrounded him jumped to his service. They placed their hands on the arms of the knights who had entered the church with such ill grace, and hustled them to the side aisle and back through the crowd of standing faithful.

My attention was reclaimed by the drama at the high altar. The ritual continued in full progress, as if nothing had happened. The acolytes carried the posts of bells and jangled them with joy, the monks swung the censers on their golden chains, releasing the sweet perfume of their burning cargo. All heads bowed in reverence.

The abbot himself came to the royal box to distribute communion. The king and queen, my aunt Constance and myself, were invited to receive the body and blood of our Lord every Sunday. Pity the poor, vast body of other worthy Christians who were allowed the privilege only at Eastertide. Such were the perquisites of royal life.

I tried to put myself into a devout frame of mind, and took my turn after Philippe and Queen Ingeborg had been served the host. But I was consumed with curiosity about the importunate knights and their speedy escort from the public eye. I drifted close to Philippe as we swept from the basilica after the final blessing, hoping to learn something on the way to the waiting litters.

I was rewarded to hear the king issue a peremptory summons to his chief minister through one of his squires as soon as the priest had
left the altar. I watched Chastellain receive the messenger, detach himself from his group of counselors and hangers-on, and approach the king as we descended the steps of the abbey church. I was nearly clinging to my brother’s arm in an attempt to hear the news, and this was so unlike me it caused the king to turn in my direction several times with a questing expression. But he forbore to reproach me and I continued to hover by his side.

Chastellain bowed low to the king, and then to the queen and finally to me. His bows, I noted, were slightly more perfunctory each time; the bow to me could have been characterized as a bob. We did not like each other, this minister and I. No doubt he sensed I found him arrogant when he was away from the king, and overly solicitous when he was in his presence. But the man dared not show any hint of open disrespect to me, the king’s sister.

“Well, Chastellain, what was that all about?” Philippe’s impatience had reached his voice.

“Your Grace,” the minister began, in exactly that kind of unctuous tone I deplored. He smiled, revealing stained teeth, twisting his hands together all the while as if washing them. “A slight misunderstanding. The knights were part of an advance guard I had sent to the west, to gather news about King John of England’s troop movements. You yourself ordered me to find confirmation of our reports last week.”

“Yes, yes, but why the interruption of Mass?” Philippe could not conceal his increasing annoyance. “Why did they not come to the
and speak with Us after Our dinner today? What did they have to say that could not wait? Has significant movement in John’s forces been observed?”

“A mere misunderstanding, Your Grace. These men had no great news to impart. The situation remains the same as we were told last week. King John’s men are in the same place as before. I gave you the briefing only yestermorn.” He spread his hands as if to soothe his
monarch with his assurance. “The knights thought I would want to know immediately what they had to say but, indeed, matters are no different than before.”

“Hunh.” With that indeterminate grunt, the king turned abruptly and made ready to mount his richly caparisoned horse. “See that they understand that We do not favor interruptions at the Mass, especially at the point of consecration.” Philippe’s groom cupped his hand and the king made use of it to spring upon his horse. From that height he spoke again, looking down at his minister. “Such an affront offends my people and makes it appear We do not take religion seriously.”

Chastellain bowed his head.

The conversation seemed to be over, so I was now forced to move toward the litter waiting for me. Ingeborg had already left and I surmised we would see her no more until the following Sunday service, where she made a point of joining us to let the people of France see how devoted their queen was to the praise of the Lord.

As I bowed to Philippe and prepared to enter the waiting litter, I heard a final comment in a brusque tone that gratified me. The king’s stern voice carried well: “Chastellain, I’ll expect a full briefing after the noonday dinner.”

When I settled back among the velvet cushions, the scenes from the cathedral replayed themselves before my unwilling eyes: the odd chalice, the way Constance looked at it, the interruption of Mass by the armed knights, the strange response of Chastellain to the king’s inquiry. A whisper within me matched the clap-clap of the horses’ hooves on the stones of the Paris road: There is more here; there is more here.

BOOK: The Rebel Princess
8.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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