The Norman Court
Henry I, king of England, duke of Normandy
Mathilda of Scotland, queen of England
Mathilda, oldest child of the king, also known as “Maud”
William Ætheling, son and heir of the king
“The King’s Lads”:
Robert Fitz Roy, King Henry’s eldest illegitimate son
Brian Fitz Count, illegitimate son of the duke of Brittany
Stephen of Blois, nephew of the king
Roger, bishop of Salisbury, chief justiciar of England
Anselm of Bec, archbishop of Canterbury
David, prince of Scotland, brother of the queen
Lady Beatrice, caretaker of the royal children
Herbert, the king’s groom
Godfrey of Bayeux, tutor of the royal children
William d’Albini, steward of the king’s household
Emma, chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Mathilda
The Imperial Court
Henry V, king of Germany, Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick, duke of Swabia, nephew of the emperor
Conrad, duke of Franconia, nephew of the emperor
Adalbert von Saarbrücken, imperial chancellor, later archbishop of Mainz
David, imperial chancellor after Adalbert
Bruno, archbishop of Trier
Friedrich, archbishop of Cologne
Lothair of Supplinburg, count of Nordheim, later duke of Saxony
Agnes, margravine of the Eastern March, sister of the emperor
Welf II, duke of Bavaria
Hartmann, the emperor’s chaplain
Altmann, the empress’ chaplain
Burchard, a clerk
Drogo, knight in the empress’ service
Gertrude, a lady-in-waiting
Adelaide, a lady-in-waiting
Paschal II (Ranierius)
Gelasius II (Giovanni da Gaeta), formerly papal chancellor
Calixtus II (Guy of Burgundy), formerly bishop of Vienne
Robert Curthose, brother of King Henry I, imprisoned
William Clito, son of Robert Curthose, claimant to the dukedom of Normandy
Mary of Scotland, countess of Boulogne, sister of the queen of England
Philip of Ravenna, imperial chancellor in Italy
Mathilda of Tuscany, contessa of northern Italy, wife of Duke Welf of Bavaria
Pontius, abbot of Cluny
Maurice, bishop of Braga
Ptolemy, count of Tusculum
Warring Roman Famiglia:
Many are the tales men tell about me. Many are the names I have been given.
“Tyrant” they called me. They hated and despised me. But they will never know me: not as you shall know me, for my blood flows in your veins.
When I first asked Lawrence to help me write my story, he became the latest man to question my judgment.
“My lady, if I may be so bold, what need is there for such an account? Have the scribes not sung your praises? Has Robert Torigni not recorded it all, even as those before him?”
“Yes, Lawrence,” I said, “But that is just the problem. The accounts of my deeds are both too many and too few, for they tell the world about me, but they omit my true self.”
“And why does the world need to know you?” he asked.
“Not the whole word – only one.”
Some tales are not meant for public show. There are things that must remain secret for a time, until the day when they may be revealed. What my own age lacks, I pray that yours might gain. For though today I may be a tyrant, I have had other names as well: names that are worthy of remembrance.
My Christian name is Mathilda, the same that was borne by my beloved mother. It is taken from the ancient language of the Germans: mahta, meaning strength, and hildr, signifying battle. To the people of that land, I was die Kaiserin, “the Empress”. I have carried that name for so long that I can scarce remember any time before it. It is strange to consider that in the flower of youth I should have acquired that highest of titles. Stranger still is how one may strive unceasingly for something less than the bounty already provided by God. So I shall remain die Kaiserin.
They have also called me regina, noting my time as queen of the Romans. Truly, a deceptive title, and one in which I take little solace. Where now are the Romans, descendants of the Caesars of old? Is there an empire so impregnable, so immune to the forces of nature and time? Sic semper reginas.
To two men I have been a wife, and to three I have been a mother. Yet, though they call me by name, my words fall upon their ears as into a void. I ask myself, what good is such a reference, which is not accompanied by reverence? But perhaps I am too harsh, for I still have hope for my offspring, and I pray that they may excel their aged mother in all of her virtues.
Yes, many names men have called me, but none can soon compare to that which was spoken to me at the beginning: the world of love that was granted to me as my mother, in the language of her ancestors, proclaimed me to be “Maud”. That is my true self, the woman which God created and not man, and the name by which he will summon me on Judgment Day to recite all that I have done in this temporal realm. Whether it be good or evil, you must decide.
Even as I write these words, the eternal bounds press in on me, and the veil that separates the quick from the dead shall soon be pulled back. The ship makes out to sea and plots its windward course, each new tempest threatening to draw it down. I look now for that safe harbor in which, returning, I may find my eternal peace. Yet, it is peace that is denied me in these final days, much as it has been throughout my time on this earth.
Thus, it seems proper to me that I should make known to you the things that I have done, and beyond that the things I have seen. I pray that in these tales you will find something to rouse your spirit: some pearl of wisdom that may enable you not only to rise to the level of your ancestors, but to journey even further, rise even higher, and know things beyond the power of a single generation. Remember me, I say, not only for my mistakes, but for what I have endured. May it make you stronger – may you persevere longer.
Hear now my story, dear daughter, for you were born...
‘To know wisdom and instruction, to understand the words of knowledge,
To receive instruction to do wisely, by justice and judgment and equity’
How shall I begin? As I have no memory of the day of my birth, I rely on the chroniclers for my account. My mother bore me on the seventh before the Ides of February in the second year of the reign of my father, King Henry. As was so often the case in those days, the king was traveling throughout England with the royal household, making his court at different fortresses. Heavy with child, my mother was no longer able to maintain the pace with which he traversed the land. So it was that for a time she resided in the village of Sudtone, a quiet sort of place that sits upon the River Thames in the fair land of Oxford Shire. It is home to but one church of any consequence, a pair of inns beckoning travelers along the river, and one of the loveliest market squares you will find in that part of the world. My mother made her dwelling in a small manor house for the extent of her lying in, with only her ladies, faithful knights, traveling clerks, and a few visiting officials for company.
Two others were there: Faritius, the abbot of Abindgon and long-time royal physician who, at the king’s bidding, remained with the queen while she was in her childbed; and Grimbald, a physician with whom my mother had become acquainted and who, having remained with her throughout the king’s progress, now pledged to stay by her side until the long awaited birth. It was Grimbald who advised that the queen’s retinue must be small, in order to avoid undue stress to mother and child. Where better to spend those days than in his native village, so close to where the king continued his travels throughout the land? Of course, neither man could be allowed in the birth chamber unless there was some problem beyond the skills of the midwives. Such circumstances were few, but my mother surely felt better knowing that should things go ill, both Faritius and Grimbald, with their years of experience, would be close at hand.
The day of my birth was one of muted rejoicing, for it was the express wish of everyone involved that I ought to have been born a boy. Indeed, the court astrologer had promised as much when the queen visited him at Michaelmas. I never set much store by the stars, but my mother longed for hope from any source. Though I believe for herself she would have been satisfied with a child of either sex, a queen’s duty is well known to all.
My father’s position was rather delicate given the quarrel with his brother, Duke Robert of Normandy, who was always intent on claiming the throne of England for himself. The duke was without a proper sense of fraternal devotion, nor did he pay any regard to the wishes of their father, whose firm desire was that Robert should have no part of the English inheritance. My own father, Henry, was always the truest to his father William’s desires, but Robert was a man without proper feelings.
A son would have ensured greater stability for my father’s reign and established a mode of succession, but these hopes came to naught. When my father first set eyes on me, he is said to have told his queen, “A pretty girl, I’ll grant you, with all the graces of her mother. Do not be too hard on yourself, my dear, for such things cannot be helped. When you are well again, we may yet find that our dearest wish is fulfilled within the year.”
So it was that my brother William’s birth took place in the third year of my father’s reign. The whole kingdom greeted this news with great satisfaction, and I am sure that my mother’s countenance was raised to think that her chief obligation had been so happily fulfilled. As with Rachel and Hannah of old, the Lord had heard the cries of his daughter and ensured that she not be put to shame.
This also took place beyond the bounds of my memory, for to me William Ætheling had always been. I can remember trying to play with him in the garden when he was little more than a year old, attempting to take him by the hand and run through the arbor without much success. Alas, he was rather poor company then, but he soon became a more able companion. Those were sunny days, or so they seemed, with little to vex us.
My first years were spent mostly in the old palace of Winchester, which is now exceeded in splendor by Bishop Henry’s edifice on the banks of the River Itchen. In the shadow of the great cathedral I lived out those days, scarcely aware of the wider world. Two times only did I make my home in that castle: in my younger days, and at a far less happy juncture. But I must not trespass the historical order.
Having ensured the succession, though the clamoring masses ever hoped for her to increase her progeny, my mother the queen made her primary residence at Westminster, less than a mile from London town. I confess that I do not understand her decision, for she cannot have taken any great pleasure in such proximity to the realm of the merchants. So close was that palace to the city that the smells of the London fishmongers, butchers, tanners, and others would be caught up in the air, and when the wind was directed along a certain path, they would make their way even to our abode. How lucky we were that our home lay further up the River Thames, before it had become tainted with the waste of those thousands of residents!
The window of my nursery faced north, and I would often look toward the city with its imposing walls, built by the Romans and improved by further generations. Along the river, ships dispensed their wares, and upon the higher ground the road could be seen entering the city by the Ludgate, which lies quite close to the cathedral of Saint Paul. Sadly, the church has been under construction for the entirety of my natural life, owing to the great fire some fifteen years before my birth. The masons persevere with their work, and with each year there comes new hope that it might be finished.
Farthest away was the great tower first built by my grandfather William and then fortified by my uncle William – also called “Rufus” – at the expense of the taxpayer, as many have noted. It stood guard upon the eastern border of the city; its stone walls were so impregnable that some declared it would last until the end of time. Of course, men once spoke in the same manner of Rome.
Westminster itself was quieter, save when the royal presence drew persons of all kinds to court, hoping as they so often did to receive some favor from the royal hand. Queen Mathilda established herself there in the great hall, another project of my uncle, the second King William. It at first met with controversy, as many feared it would empty his exchequer. When the king arrived to view his mighty creation, those present declared that it had been built too large, exceeding even the great cathedrals in its dimensions. The immense wood roof had no equal in the kingdom.
“Too big? Hardly!” the king proclaimed. “I declare it is not half as large as it ought to be!”
All who gathered there wondered at his words. Though this excess created many enemies for the king during his reign, they were soon filled with pride to receive such largess.
As a girl, I was not allowed to join in the queen’s regular audiences or attend special occasions in the great hall. This was harsh punishment indeed, since my mother was fond of bringing in the most eminent musicians of the day to entertain both herself and her guests. Lady Beatrice, who was charged with my care, would at times allow me to sit with her in the upper walk and listen to the melodious sounds issuing from within, provided that I had been on my best behavior, which I am loath to report was not often. On occasion, when none but the servants were present, my brother and I were given free rein to run throughout the hall as we wished. This was undoubtedly one of our choicest pastimes. There were few other children with whom we visited, and none with whom we shared a close acquaintance. Barefoot, we would dash across the straw-covered floor, running circles around the long wood tables and hiding beneath them.
My mother the queen was a constant presence in my life. At the time, I did not comprehend that such a circumstance was rather odd for the child of a sovereign. Indeed, I scarcely saw my father in those early years. His visits only became more frequent when the time came for my brother’s training. The king preferred to apply himself to other matters. In times of war, he was much occupied across the channel, where his affairs might keep him for years at a time. In times of peace, he preferred the hunt, and such a pursuit is no place for a young lady, nor did the queen find particular joy in such occasions.
My mother was descended from the kings of Wessex, a true daughter of Britannia. She delighted in telling us myths and legends that had been passed down for a thousand years. Provided she was in residence, she put me to bed herself rather than leaving it to Lady Beatrice. As she held me in her arms, she would read to me such lovely passages that still echo in my mind to the present day. Most dear was that great hymn of Caedmon, which was set down for us by Bede:
Nunc laudare debemus auctorem regni caelestis,
potentiam creatoris, et consilium illius
facta Patris gloriae: quomodo ille,
cum sit aeternus Deus, omnium miraculorum auctor exstitit;
qui primo filiis hominum
caelum pro culmine tecti
dehinc terram custos humani generis
Few women could equal Mathilda of Scotland in piety and devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ. Her own excellent mother and my grandmother was Saint Margaret, Queen of the Scots, about whom Turgot wrote a satisfying account at my mother’s express request. This heritage was passed down and further strengthened by the long years that my mother spent at Romsey and Wilton Abbeys. The abbess Cristina, her own aunt, impressed upon my mother the need for singular devotion to the Almighty.
Provided there was not some pressing matter to attend to, my mother would follow much the same schedule each day throughout my childhood. She would rise before dawn to say her first prayers, usually reading a portion of scripture or one of the lives of the saints, for my mother was entirely literate. She carried with her always a small Book of Hours, colored but sparely compared to the glorious volumes found in the monasteries, and a paternoster of jasper beads that had once belonged to her mother. In between audiences, my mother could often be seen fingering through the beads. She would hear the Mass daily and three times on Sundays from the household priest, Maelgwyn, who hailed from a mountain village in the Welsh lands. Day after day, she would urge me, “Maud, you must not forsake the Almighty God, for in the word of the Lord you shall be made content.”
At least once a week, my mother would appear outside the castle gate to grant alms to the beggars who came daily to await her beneficence. Some said she was too liberal with such offerings, but it was merely the product of her generosity of spirit. When the queen was away or unwell, this duty was passed on to her attendants. During the season of Lent, Queen Mathilda forbade the presence of meat in the castle, and she would even wear a hair shirt underneath her garments to better understand the Lord’s sufferings.
It was not until I grew older that I understood why my mother spent so much time in solitude, why she often chose not to join the king’s progress, and why she felt the need to commit herself almost solely to the raising of her children and works of righteousness. Where I had seen only piety and firmness of character, there was in fact a darker side to my mother’s tale, of which I only became aware from conversations of less discreet members of the household.
My parents must have loved each other deeply when they married. Why else would my father have gone to such great lengths to induce His Grace Anselm of Canterbury to permit the marriage when so much of the world denounced the union, falsely claiming that my mother had taken the veil during her time with the sisters? Some claimed that he merely sought to increase his own standing among the men of England, but perchance such persons did not understand the depth of feeling which was evident to those who knew them well.
When my father’s brother William made a visit to the nunnery – seemingly to discuss his patronage of the institution, but in actuality to court my mother for his bride – young Edith placed a veil upon her head so as to ward off his attentions, knowing him to be a man of poor character. Her description of my father’s visits was quite different. He was a Norman prince with black hair and dark eyes, who never ceased to bring her a gift of flowers or a ballad declaring his undying affection. She was a young maiden raised in the wilds of the North – for so they must have seemed to my father at that time – with bright red hair and the gentility and poise of a much older woman. She would allow him to join in her daily walk, prolonging his desire for as long as seemed necessary, until she finally consented to be his bride. As you can see, daughter, the beginning was as happy as any two people could wish.
Even so, the marriage was also one of great convenience for both parties. My mother was, by that time, an orphan with little to recommend herself to the world, save for her family name. My father was a young Norman prince, the son of England’s conqueror, who desired to increase his own authority as king of England by forming an alliance with one of the last living descendants of the great line of Wessex.
I have no doubt that their marriage was at first a great triumph. However, it was not long before Mathilda, as she had come to be known, was made aware that my father’s great love of the female sex, which had already produced offspring before my parents married, could not be limited merely to herself. King Henry had several concubines, none of whom I shall condescend to name. These noble ladies would often travel with the king’s court, and few were left to wonder with whom the king shared his bed. My mother was the best of royal consorts: she never drew attention to my father’s transgressions nor sought to induce a change of behavior, choosing instead to live out her life in quiet submission, knowing that from God she would receive her reward and that there was little she could do to change the ways of the world.
I was well aware of my father’s other children. The eldest, Robert, later Earl of Gloucester, exceeded me in age by more than a decade. He was old enough to take his place by my father’s side and accompany him on his journeys while I was still a baby. I would see Robert more often as I advanced in years, and in time I came to regard him with affection, but from my mother he always received a cool if completely courteous reception. I was far along in life before I was able to understand what my mother must have endured.
Robert was but one member of what came to be known as “the king’s lads,” for there were several young men who benefited from my father’s grace and favor. However, Robert was the eldest and also the most charming. He was well liked at court, a fine rider and even finer soldier from his early manhood, who first made a name for himself in the king’s battles in Normandy. In truth, he was but a half-brother to me, being the natural son of Constance, she of the Gay family line that has its roots in the north of Oxford Shire. Before he was four years old, my father the king summoned young Robert to court to be raised as his undoubted son, and I suspect he never saw Constance again. Perhaps this explains why in our lifetime together I never observed anything remotely feminine in Robert. He was all strength and resolve, a man not without mercy, but willing to stoop to no one.
Close to him in age was Brian Fitz Count. His mother was also of somewhat obscure origin, but his father was said to be the duke of Brittany, Alan Fergant, which in the language of the French means, “iron glove.” In the years long before my birth, the Breton duke had been at war with my grandfather, the first King William. Seeking to prevent any further incursions into Norman territory, my grandfather offered his own daughter Constance in marriage, the blessed union taking place in the city of Bayeux.
However, as fate would have it, there was little wedded bliss in store for Alan and Constance, the lady having a rather harsh temperament that actively discouraged any kind of affection. So it was that some say the duke was driven to take another mistress, his own wife being barren in addition to her other faults. Brian was the child produced by this unlawful union.
Although the duke wished to acknowledge his son openly, Constance demanded that the child not be given any of the advantages afforded by such a position. Instead, they sent young Brian to be raised in England by my own father. Constance died of consumption the following year, and Alan Fergant was finally forced to relinquish his title.
My memory of Brian in those early days was that he was a great scholar of the written word, more so than his cousin Robert, devoting hours at a time to the study of the ancient philosophers and making visits to Malmesbury Abbey to view the monks’ extensive collection of books. Despite this difference, the two young men became great friends, and they could often be seen sparring with one another in the inner ward ere they were called in to supper. Perhaps Brian had more of a gentleness of character, but he was also strong after his own manner and would later prove to be equally formidable.
The third of the “king’s lads” was a cousin of mine, this one of legitimate parentage: Stephen of Blois. He was the son of Stephen-Henry; count of Blois and Chartres, and my aunt Adela, a woman of great temperance. The count was a leader of the army that made its way to the Holy Land during the pilgrimage of 1096, but he gained a poor reputation as rumors of his ill conduct made their way back to Western Europe. He is said to have fled before the Turks at one point, and upon his return received the just humiliation for such a misdeed.
The count once again sojourned to Palestine when Stephen was yet a boy, where he met his doom in the Battle of Ramlah. Eager for her son to be raised at the feet of a truly great man, and perhaps never believing her husband to be up to the task, Lady Adela sent her middle son – for so he was, having two elder brothers and one younger – to benefit from her brother King Henry’s care. Stephen was a few years younger than Robert Fitz Roy and Brian Fitz Count, and thus he naturally followed their lead. Though more reserved than the others, he was nevertheless resolute in all his dealings and became a firm challenger in all manners of sport. My cousin was all courtesy, and I seldom remember hearing a cross word from him one way or the other, except perhaps to express the general feeling that the weather was not fit for any proper endeavor, or that some ill food was not to be borne, or that it was too long since he had known a decent kill on one of the king’s hunting expeditions.
This I will say of Stephen, that as the youngest of the three men, he always appeared the most eager to prove himself, and he did not possess that easy confidence that seemed to come naturally to the older boys. Whether this was on account of his inferior age, the rumors surrounding his father, or some other business unknown to us all, I was never able to fully ascertain.
My brother and I were of a different stock entirely, for we were the offspring of both His Excellency King Henry and the rightful Queen Mathilda of England. Growing up side by side, being as close in age as we were, William Ætheling and I were bound to be treated differently, he as the future king of England. I never saw my father take such joy in anything as he did in young William, and he was determined from the beginning to make sure that his son received the full recognition he was due. I had my mother to provide the chief share of my comforts, and the king was not remiss in ensuring that all the rest was provided for.
When time for our schooling came, no ordinary scholar would do. My father employed Godfrey de Bayeux, a man of letters noted for his work as a tutor to many of Normandy’s brightest young sons. He was to become my brother’s and my second great teacher, the first being our mother. His was a more regimented form of study than that to which I had been accustomed. He believed that we must achieve mastery of Latin, a language of which I knew little in my early years. Most of my experience came from the daily Mass in the upper chapel, or on grander occasions in King Edward’s abbey church.
Of course, we understood both the Norman and English languages through my mother. Each had its own kind of beauty. I also knew a few words in the language of the Scots, mostly gained from visits by my mother’s kinsman to the English court. (Her brother David was always most favored and often among us.) Sadly, my own mother was not skilled in that tongue, for she spent so much of her life in an English monastery, far away from the northern heights. Yes, all these I knew, but Latin was another matter entirely.
Master Godfrey had a great regard for Julius Caesar, having committed many hours of his life to the Commentarii de Bello Gallico and the Commentarii de Bello Civili. “One day when you are old enough, you too will enjoy these pleasures,” he would tell us. I could never make out whether or not he meant it as a threat.
He did make a point of reading to us from the works of our own people, especially Gildas. Perhaps he felt that because of my brother’s destiny to rule over the people of England, he ought to be made aware of the vanities and weaknesses of character that had caused those before him to stumble. “An illiterate king is no more than a crowned ass,” was one of his choice sayings, though I was fairly certain it did not originate with him.
On many a fair summer afternoon, when our thoughts were only of the endless adventures that awaited outside, Godfrey would continue his attempts to expand our minds.
“‘This island, stiff-necked and stubborn minded’ – for so the Lord referred to the ancient Israelites, you will note – ‘from its first being inhabited, ungratefully rebels, sometimes against God, sometimes against its own citizens’ – Heaven forbid! They take no heed of the words of Saint Paul! – ‘And frequently also, against foreign kings and their subjects.’”
Here he was forced to subdue any commentary about “foreign kings,” for the Norman rule of England was yet young.
“Listen now, young master, young mistress: ‘For what can there either be, or be committed, more disgraceful or more unrighteous in human affairs, than to refuse to show fear to God or affection to one's own countrymen, and without detriment to one's faith to refuse due honor to those of higher dignity, to cast off all regard to reason, human and divine, and, in contempt of heaven and earth, to be guided by one's own sensual inventions?’ May all such men perish in the method that God deems fit!’”
I owed it to my mother that I was included in these lessons. While the training of royal children was considered necessary, it was often not as formal for girls as it was for boys. Indeed, I must have been Master Godfrey’s first female pupil. Fortunately, despite his resistance--for I am sure he thought my time better spent embroidering--the queen induced Godfrey to take me on, and my father did not stand in the way. Although I did not know it at the time, for I found many of those lectures quite dull, I possessed a privilege that had been granted to few women in the entirety of history, and this preparation was essential for what was to come. I would not say that my mind was opposed to learning, but I did find Master Godfrey’s lessons to be exceedingly tedious, and he always seemed to take a keener interest in my brother than he did in me.
Despite any faults that he may have had, Godfrey did possess a firm devotion to the Holy Scriptures, particularly the works of Saint Paul, which he seemed to quote unceasingly. One occasion stands at the fore of my memory:
It was during the early days of my sixth year and Godfrey was reading to us from one of the works of Saint Augustine when I saw through the window a fox, bright red against a field of green, making a rare appearance. Forgetting the purpose of the lecture, I said to my brother, “Look, William – a fox!”
Now William’s attention was also turned from the afternoon reading to the sight unfolding outside the window as the fox, perhaps aware of so many eyes upon his form, quickly darted away into the nearby brush. My brother let out a mournful sigh, but he was not the only one to offer a commentary.
“Lady Mathilda, you ought to take better care than to allow such exclamations to escape your mouth while we are in the midst of hearing from one of the most serene fathers of our holy Church!”
I pulled my eyes away from the window and turned my head to face Master Godfrey, whom I was dismayed to see was now standing directly in front of me, close enough to strike me with his rod. His eyes were wide and his nostrils, to my great alarm, were flaring slightly as he took heavy breaths in and out, the very skin of his face now taut. I sensed that much depended on each word I chose.
“I am sorry, Master Godfrey, but we do not often see a fox so near to the town, and I knew that William would want to see it as well. I have no wish to dishonor you or Saint Augustine.”
The tutor quickly turned and began to pace back and forth in front of our desks, his hands clasped behind his back and his mind apparently busy deciding his next move. So deliberate was his stride that the wood floor seemed to groan with each step. Having continued in this manner for what seemed an eternity, he finally spoke.
“Lady Mathilda, this is hardly the first time that you have interrupted our lessons. It is wrong for you to behave in such an unseemly manner. While I attempt to instruct you in the ways of God, I find you half the time either lost in some thought of your own or eager to pull your brother into your mischief. I am forced to conclude that you have no regard for the subject at hand, but allow yourself to be controlled by your feminine weakness.”
“You are incorrect, sir,” I replied, and then tempered my comment as I saw him cast another evil glance my way. “I only mean to say that I hold all the workings of our Lord in the highest regard. After all, do not the scriptures teach us that God created all the creeping things that creep upon the earth? Surely the fox is such a good creation.”
“That is beside the point,” he answered. “My concern is that you show a lack of respect for authority, and particularly for the natural order of things. You seem to think that each moment in time is established not for you to learn obedience, but rather to amuse yourself by regaling us all with the latest workings of your overly active mind. This would be a serious enough vice in a male pupil, but in a female….”
Here he seemed to cringe for a moment, upset by the thought of such unfettered feminine speech. I turned to my brother for support, but could see by the look on his face that he was more afraid of the tutor’s rod than he was of any torment he was likely to receive from me. Now Godfrey was speaking again.
“Perhaps you remember the words of Saint Paul in his first letter to Timothy, when he clearly forbade a woman ‘to speak or to exercise authority over a man,’ but rather to learn from him quietly and in complete submission. He then noted that it was Eve rather than Adam who first tasted the forbidden fruit and through her undue influence was able to draw her husband into sin. Surely even you are familiar with this tale?”
“Yes, Master Godfrey.”
“As I said, we have the word from the apostle, which is now confirmed through observation. I have borne your presence here, young lady, because it was the express wish of your great mother, the queen, from whom you ought to be taking a better example. She is all goodness and restraint, and she never seeks to trespass the rights and responsibilities assigned by God. It pains me to see how her hopes for you have been frustrated by your own unwillingness to learn. Not only that, but you would seek to poison the instruction of your brother, on whom the future of this kingdom depends, for he is to follow in the footsteps of his renowned father.”
“Sir, I would never do anything to hurt my brother….”
“Silence! Again, you display your inability to sense the proper time for speech. Rightly did Tertullian say of your kind that you alone sought to pervert the glory and conscience of man, which even Beelzebub was too fearful to assault. ‘You are the devil’s gateway,’ and through this gate you would seek to cast your brother into the fires of hell!”
Daughter, I do not know what made me do it. Prudence was attempting in that moment to hold my words in check, help me weather the storm, accept the punishment being meted out, and recover another day. Sadly, I could not brook such abuse, so troubled was my spirit within me. My entire being compelled me to answer him in kind.
“Master Godfrey, if it be true that I am the devil’s gateway, then I shall be glad to welcome you to your eternal home.”
As fate would have it, those were the last words I ever spoke in my tutor’s presence. As soon as they had left my mouth, he was too consumed with fury to reply and simply pointed in the direction of the door. My brother granted me a look of pity as I walked past and closed the door behind me, my eyes now free to let loose the tears I had been holding back. For all the things Master Godfrey had said, I believe none cut so deep as his assertion that I had failed my mother.