At nine, Maud, an English princess, was sent to Germany to become the bride of the Holy Roman Emperor—a political alliance with a man her father’s age. At twenty-five, the widowed Maud must marry once again, this time to fourteen-year-old Geoffrey Plantagenet. But it is with Stephen of Blois, Maud’s fiercest rival for the British throne, that the headstrong princess discovers the true meaning of desire. Stephen, a descendant of William the Conqueror, believes absolutely in his God-given right to rule. Torn between his illicit passion for Maud and his own towering ambition, he knows he must choose. Stephen’s decision will wrench him from the arms of the woman he loves, ignite civil war, and lead to a shattering act of betrayal that, decades later, will come full circle and change the course of English history.
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The Fatal Crown
By Ellen Jones
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Ellen Jones
All rights reserved.
Maud, princess of England, shrank back against the damp stone wall of her father's castle. The fat greyhound puppy, Beau, clutched tightly against her small body, growled softly. Around the corner of the narrow passage she could hear the ominous tread of booted feet coming toward her. It must be one of the guards.
Where could she hide? If no one could find her, she thought, suddenly hopeful, the Imperial escort might leave Windsor without her. Holy Mother, she prayed, do not let them take me away to Germany to be married. Cautiously, she looked down the still deserted passageway and saw the nail-studded oak door of her mother's solar slightly ajar. Running toward it, Maud pushed the door open and slipped inside. Her eyes scanned the open casement window, gold and scarlet tapestries swaying in the April breeze, the royal arms emblazoned on the walls, the prie-dieu and ivory crucifix. The room was empty.
Her disappointment was so intense that her head started throbbing. Yet what else had she expected? When had the Queen of England, her mother, ever been a refuge? But today, of all the days in her nine years of life, today when her need was desperate, she had hoped it would be different.
The sound of heavy footsteps stopped just outside the solar. Maud darted toward the tapestries, sliding quickly behind the soft folds just as someone pushed open the door. Sick with dread, she buried her face in Beau's silken fur.
"Maud! Where are you, child?" She winced at the sound of Aldyth's anxious voice. Distant kinswoman of her Saxon mother, Aldyth had acted as combination nurse and foster mother ever since her birth. "I know you're here, a guard saw you open the door. Maud! Come out at once!"
Maud's heart thumped so loudly she was sure Aldyth must hear it. The puppy, struggling to be free, gave a sharp bark. Footsteps approached the tapestries.
"By the Rood, here you are!" Aldyth's plump arm reached behind the tapestries, jerking her out. "What mischief is this? The Emperor's escort is ready to leave for Germany, and I have run out of excuses to feed your father." She paused. "He's threatening to whip you."
Aldyth scanned Maud's appearance with critical concern. The thick, cinnamon-colored hair, twined with gilt ribbon, fell in two plaits to the tiny waist, framing a creamy oval face. From under dark feathered brows, luminous eyes the color of pewter stared fearfully at Aldyth. The slender body, almost lost in the saffron gown and amber velvet tunic, was stiff with fear. Aldyth's face softened and she made a clucking sound as she straightened the skirt of Maud's gown.
"No tears or tantrums, my child. The King is not to be trifled with this morning. Give me that animal." She pried the puppy loose from Maud's grasp and set it on its feet. "Come." She held out her hand.
Maud shrank back against the tapestries. "I don't want to leave England, Aldyth. Oh, please, can't you find a way for me to stay?"
"What has come over you, child? You've known for months that you must leave in April. The betrothal ceremony is to be held next month."
Maud stared at her in stricken silence. It was true. She had known she was to travel to Germany in order to become the betrothed of the powerful Holy Roman Emperor, a man close to her father's age, ever since his envoys had arrived at the English court to ask for her hand a year ago. The offer had been presented to her as a great honor for the House of Normandy. At the time, the prospect of going to strange places had seemed exciting, an adventure she could lord over her twin brother, William, her father's heir and the focal point of everyone's attention. But now that the moment had actually arrived, she was filled with fear and anguish.
"Come, my poppet," Aldyth continued in a wheedling voice. "Let us find your father and tell him you're ready to go." She held out a plump hand.
Maud's lower lip began to tremble. "Where is Madam, my mother?"
"The Queen is in the chapel, praying you will have a safe journey."
"All she does is pray," Maud murmured with an unaccustomed surge of bitterness, wondering, not for the first time, how her mother had managed to become a queen when she behaved in all aspects like a nun. How could she have believed for a moment that the pious Queen would be able to protect her against her formidable father?
She knew it was wicked to have such thoughts about her devout mother, but at the moment she did not care; her pent-up fears suddenly burst out of control.
"Please, please, please don't make me go," she cried. In despair she threw herself onto the newly spread rushes of the solar floor. The soft grasses mixed with wildflowers felt cool against her burning cheeks.
Suddenly the door of the solar swung open with terrifying force. Henry, King of England and Duke of Normandy, strode into the solar, two greyhound pups snapping at his heels. He was followed by his only legitimate son, Prince William, and the eldest of his bastard sons, Robert. The King's hooded black eyes widened in disapproval when he saw Maud on her knees.
"By God's splendor, Mistress, what wickedness is this? Get up at once!"
Mortified, Maud rose hastily to her feet, brushing bits of grass off her skirts. Her father, his bull-like frame clad in rusty brown tunic and hose, the crown of England planted firmly on his dark head, folded thick muscular arms across a broad chest.
"What is the meaning of this unseemly behavior?" His soft voice held a threatening undertone. "The emperor's ambassador, Graf von Hennstien, grows impatient to leave."
"I don't want to go to Germany to be married, Sire," Maud said in a choked voice.
"Not want to go? Not want to go?" Henry turned to the two boys. "Did you hear that, my sons? I arrange the finest match in Christendom for your sister and the ungrateful creature refuses to go!"
Henry swung round and scowled at Maud. "What in God's name is the difficulty now? Are you squeamish about the marriage itself? I've already explained that it won't be celebrated until you are thirteen, but the betrothal ceremony has been arranged for May since last year. This was a convenient time for the Emperor and the plans cannot be altered now."
He hooked his thumbs in the wide leather belt encircling his waist and began to pace the solar on legs bowed from many hours in the saddle. He strode to the prie-dieu with its pale blue cushion, wheeled around, and walked back to Maud. The two pups tumbled after him, joined by Maud's puppy, the runt of the litter.
"I just don't want to leave home," Maud whispered. "Please, I beg of you, let me remain in England."
"Where is the Queen?" Henry asked Aldyth, ignoring Maud. "Why isn't she here to deal with this coil? Why are such tasks left always to me?"
"She's in the chapel, Sire," the Saxon nurse replied.
The King glowered at Maud. "I need not have asked. If your mother spent less time on her knees and more time teaching you the rudiments of proper behavior we would all be better served!" He took a menacing step in her direction, as if she were to blame for the Queen's absence.
"Robert—don't let him send me away." In desperation, Maud ran to her half-brother, a sturdy youth of fourteen, with deep-set dark eyes and brown hair, a gentler version of his father. They had developed a deep affection for each other ever since Robert had come to live at court three years earlier.
"Think of all the merry times you will have, Sister," her half-brother said, as he put an arm around her shoulders.
"There's no more time to waste," Henry said. "Robert, fetch me a riding whip from the stables."
Robert's face paled. He tightened his arm protectively around Maud's shoulders. "Let me talk to Maud alone, Sire. I can convince her to be reasonable."
"The time for talk is over. A disobedient child is like an unwilling ass. It must be made to obey. Get me the whip."
"I'll get one for you, Father." Maud's twin brother, William, flaxen-haired and blue-eyed, gave his sister a nasty smile as he ran from the solar.
"Do you think to shame me before the Emperor's escort? To make me the laughingstock of Europe? By God's splendor, I'll teach you a lesson you won't soon forget."
At the ominous tone in her father's voice, Maud's stomach twisted into a coiled knot; terrified, she clung to her brother like a leech.
William ran into the solar waving a short leather whip in one hand. "Here, Sire." He brandished the whip above his head with a triumphant smirk.
As far back as Maud could remember William had hated her. Jealous of her place in the King's affections, which he resented sharing with a girl who was quicker at her lessons and more skilled at games, he lost no opportunity to be cruel, consistently rejecting her clumsy attempts to win his love. Now, enraged and hurt at her twin's gloating expression, Maud suddenly leapt at William, knocking him headlong to the ground. The whip flew from his grasp, and he set up a loud howl as she fell upon him. Clawing, biting, pulling at his flaxen curls, Maud managed to leave several scratches on her brother's pink and white face before Robert succeeded in prying her loose.
King Henry picked up the whip and slapped the leather thongs into his open palm. "Come here, girl, we'll soon exorcise that willful demon."
Maud clutched at Robert with all her strength but Aldyth dragged her rigid body across the rushes to the King. William continued to lie on the ground, sniveling and whimpering.
"Stop bleating like a goat," King Henry growled. "You ought to be ashamed, William, letting a girl get the better of you. If you don't learn to defend yourself more successfully, what kind of a prince will you make, eh?" He gave his son a hard look, before muttering under his breath, "I always said Maud should have been the boy."
William turned crimson. His sobs abated as he rose to his feet and wiped his dripping nose with the sleeve of his grubby tan jerkin. Hatred gleamed in his pale blue eyes as he glanced at his sister.
As the King approached, Maud, her face white and pinched, slowly backed away. His hand shot out and grabbed her shoulder with fingers of steel. She twisted away from his grasp, almost wrenching her arm from its socket, then ran toward the bed, stumbled against an oak table, and fell to her knees. Quicker than the blink of an eye he was beside her. She tried to crawl under the table but his booted black foot barred her way. Maud saw his arm lift in a menacing gesture, heard the sound of the whip whistling through the air as his hand descended. Through her gown and tunic she could feel a stinging pain as the leather thongs bit into her back.
Her body sagged forward against her knees. She made no outcry but bit her lip, drawing blood. Tears welled up in her gray eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
"Stop that weeping at once," Henry commanded sternly as he towered over her. "A granddaughter of the Conqueror does not cry, no matter how great the provocation. Never did I see my mother shed a single tear."
Beau began to howl. Henry reached down to pat the sleek gray head. Straightening, he again lifted his arm.
Maud swallowed convulsively, brushing the tears away with her hand. Tightly screwing her eyes shut, she squared her shoulders, tensing herself for the next blow.
"How stupid Maud is," William said to Robert in a spiteful voice. "Imagine not wanting to be a queen."
Henry glanced swiftly toward William, then down at Maud. After a moment he lowered his arm, slapping the whip thoughtfully against his thigh. Squatting down in front of her, he lifted Maud's chin with his strong fingers.
"Your brother William is wrong, is he not? Surely you wish to be a queen, an empress?"
"Yes," she whispered, with a defiant look at her brother, willing to agree to anything that would make the despicable William wrong.
Tossing aside the whip, Henry slowly lifted the crown from his head, and put it solemnly into her hands. The gold plates studded with sapphires and rubies felt cool and heavy against her fingers.
"Men have fought and died to possess this crown," he said, his eyes fixed upon her in an unblinking stare. "Your grandfather, the great William, took it by conquest amid much bloodshed and suffering. Regard it well." He paused as she looked down. "It represents power, wealth, respect. Everything that matters in this world. When you become an empress such a crown will be yours."
With everyone's eyes on her, Maud turned the glittering gold plates over and over in her hands. Such a small thing, really, to carry so much importance.
"To refuse this opportunity would be considered the deadliest insult imaginable, Daughter." Henry leaned toward her, his voice low and conspiratorial. "After all, you have been promised to the Emperor, agreements have been made. Think of the disgrace. Would you bring his wrath down upon our house because you were too cowardly to leave home?"
"What would he do?" she whispered. Her father's familiar odor of horses, sweat, and damp leather was particularly strong this morning.
"Attack England perhaps. His army is vastly superior to mine. To offend so mighty a prince—would you put us all at risk?"
Fighting back the tears, Maud knew further resistance would be futile. The whipping alone would not have budged her, but now she felt as if the welfare of the realm rested upon her shoulders. What could she do? There was no choice.
"I would not bring disgrace upon our house," she said, feeling more alone than she had ever felt in her life.
"There speaks the true Norman princess! I knew you wouldn't fail me." With a smile of quiet satisfaction, Henry stood up, then reached for the crown.
Reluctantly, for the gold plates had started to have a reassuring pressure against her hands, Maud gave it back to him. Henry placed the crown on his head, then held out his hand to help her up.
By midday, as the church bells tolled for Sext, Maud stood in the courtyard, surrounded by her family and members of the court. The mild April morning had turned chill; the sky, heavy with dark clouds threatening rain, reflected her inner despair. She noticed three new children of noble birth, two of them twins, who had just arrived from Brittany and Muelan to be brought up at the court of the English king. Another boy, Maud's first cousin, Stephen, son of her father's sister, was also due to arrive today from across the channel. The look of abject misery on the faces of the three young strangers as they huddled together filled Maud with compassion. Her heart went out to them but a similar ordeal awaited her in Germany and she could offer no solace.
"It has cost this land dear to dower you properly, Daughter," her father said, weighing the enormous procession of carts, men, and beasts assembled before him.
Maud's eyes followed his. A goodly number of sumpter horses and carts carrying bolts of silk and wool, pelts of fox and ermine, jewels and ivory caskets, stood massed together while Norman and German knights, restive on their huge chargers, paraded up and down the courtyard. An array of waiting litters already held Norman ladies-in-waiting as well as her nurse Aldyth, clergymen, servants, and the Emperor's ambassador, Graf von Hennstien, with his entourage. Two men-at-arms rode in the cart carrying a wooden chest with Maud's dowry of thousands of silver coins.
Suddenly Henry looked round him with a scowl. "Jesu, where is the Queen? Go to the chapel and bring her here at once," he ordered a servant.
A short while later Queen Matilda appeared, out of breath, her face white as alabaster. She was accompanied by her confessor and several priests. Gaunt, almost wasted from long hours of fasting, the Queen was dressed in a plain white wool gown. A simple wooden crucifix adorned her neck and thick flaxen braids formed a coronet around her head. As was usual for her mother during Lent, she had gone to chapel with bare feet, and Maud knew she would be wearing a hair shirt next to her skin.
"Mea culpa," she said, with an apprehensive glance at her husband, as she knelt to take Maud in her arms. "Forgive me. I was in the midst of kissing the feet of the blessed poor and did not realize you were ready to leave."
Having often seen the ulcerous and bleeding feet of the beggars that came to the castle gates, Maud hastily turned her lips away so that her mother's kiss fell on the side of her head.
"May our Blessed Lady send you safe to Germany." She pressed a crude wooden rosary into Maud's damp palm.
"Fare well, Sister," Robert said, holding Maud's puppy in his arms. "I'll miss you." He leaned forward to kiss her hot cheek. "I'll take good care of Beau."
Excerpted from The Fatal Crown by Ellen Jones. Copyright © 1991 Ellen Jones. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Weaves historical facts, making it read like a novel; good pace and very interesting. If you are entranced with this period of British history or with the Plantagenets and Tudors this is one book not to be missed.
I Have never read a book like this b4 I usualy read Fantasy Fiction Books but I found this book to be excellent I read it in a little less than 3 days I couldn't put it down I was so interested in it I had to know what happened next I would recomend it to anyone its very good & It makes you feel like your right there with them...
I was captivated by the tragic story of Matilda ("Maud") of Flanders, granddaughter of William the Conqueror, told by Ellen Jones in The Fatal Crown. The title led me to think someone had either killed her or attempted to kill her to prevent her from being crowned, and they very likely tried. Maud was one of the first women to encounter the glass ceiling when, following her only legitimate brother's death, her father, King Henry I, named her as his successor. Kings were allowed mistresses and illegitimate offspring, but queens were expected to be faithful. It was the only way to ensure the "purity" of the royal bloodline. "Royalty" is questionable, as this was a time in which crowns were often won in battle rather than inherited. The book contains a little sex, a lot of romance, and is rife with political intrigue. Until that time, there had been no women who were queens in their own right, only queen consorts. That is, women who were crowned queen simply because they were married to a king. Although one of Maud's granddaughters became Queen of Sicily, and another Queen of Castile, no woman would inherit the throne of England until Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, was crowned, 582 years after the death of Maud's father. Married against her will at age 9 to the Holy Roman Emperor of Germany, a man her father's age, Maud begged not to be sent away from home. As she was taken away to Germany, she met eyes with her cousin, Stephen of Blois. Fourteen years later, after the death of the Emperor, Maud was summoned home by her father. On seeing each other again, both Maud and the married Stephen felt the pull of attraction. At a time when political alliances dictated royal marriages, no matter the wishes of the two people involved, the 23-year-old Maud was again forced into marriage to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. At age 15, Geoffrey was rude, arrogant, and unable to consummate the marriage. After becoming pregnant with Stephen's child, Maud felt forced to seduce Geoffrey, and convince him the baby was his own premature child. Unfortunately, the political situation between England, France, Flanders, Anjou, Maine, and Normandy; and the meddling of the Catholic church in political affairs forced a wedge between Maud and Stephen. Stephen's brother, a bishop who wanted to become Archbishop of Canterbury, was instrumental in pitting the lovers against each other in seeking the crown. Stephen eventually was crowned king, but was ineffective and a poor manager of money, almost breaking the kingdom. After the death of his son, Eustace, Maud revealed to Stephen that her son, Henry, was also his son. It was then that Stephen named Henry his successor, and Henry was crowned King Henry II. This was the Norman-Angevin dynasty. This was also a time when people did not have surnames. Geoffrey had a love of the bright yellow flower, yellow broom or golden broom, whose botanical name was plantagenesta. From this flower he chose a surname, Plantagenet. Geoffrey's grandson, Henry III, believed by most at the time to be his direct descendant, was the first king of the Plantagenet dynasty. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am anxious to read more by this author. Ms. Jones admits to taking a bit of license with the calendar to fit it to her story, but the book is otherwise true to history.
The book drew me in with the idea of star-crossed lovers. That they would actually usurp each other over the crown of England? The tension between them is well-played and it makes for an enjoyable read.
Ellen Jones brings "history to life". Reader is able to keep the confusing drama of these times understandable and memorable.
This was a well-written and very enjoyable read. I loved this book and look forward to reading more of this author's books.
Great book! Loved every word of it.
I love Historical Fiction. This was a good story. If you like Phillia Gregory you will love this book. I can't wait for the next one!
Kept me entertained - well written - great story.
This book was absolutely wonderful! i could not stop reading it....Ellen Jones did a spectacular job on this book!
As the history part if accurate is too depressing and grafic details of same off putting last one i read had too much about llce and lack of sanitation and disposables hygene wise
WELCOME!!! Ender Princess &crown