Monday, December 26, 2011

The Devil's Brood, Part 3

And we're back.

When last we left our villains, Henry II, patriarch of the Plantagenets, had just finished reforming the English legal system, doing penance for accidentally having his best friend killed in a fit of pique, marrying the most beautiful, accomplished woman in Europe, and assembling a feudal empire that stretched from Ireland to Spain and included more French possessions than belonged to the King of France. 


But impressive fathers often have troubles with their kids. The drive that makes them successful in the world doesn't necessarily translate into parental ability, and that seems to have been especially true for the Plantagenets (cf. Edwards I-III, Kings, bad parenting of). 

Of course, from a writer's point of view, this is what makes them so damned juicy. And I'm not even the fiftieth writer to recognize it. The classic Plantagenet melodrama is James Goldman's The Lion in Winter, with Henry meeting his three surviving sons, his estranged wife Eleanor, and Philip of France for a Christmas court in which they all plot against one another. (If you're interested, I heartily recommend the movie version, with Peter O'Toole as Henry, Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor, Anthony Hopkins as Richard, and Timothy Dalton - aka James Bond, aka Rassilon of Gallifrey - as Philip. Yes, just as over-the-top and fun as you might imagine.)

Bottom line, Henry's sons - Young Henry, Richard, Geoffrey and John - rebelled against him and fought one another, not just once, but over and over. Queen Eleanor egged them on, and Philip was delighted to set them all against each other in the hopes of breaking up Henry's stranglehold on French territory. 

Gerald of Wales, the of 12th Century England, claimed that Henry had a "curious painting in a chamber of Winchester Castle, depicting an eagle being attacked by three of its chicks, while a fourth chick crouched, waiting for its chance to strike. When asked the meaning of this picture, King Henry said: "The four young ones of the eagle are my four sons... who will not cease persecuting me even unto death. And the youngest, whom I now embrace with such tender affection, will someday afflict me more grievously and perilously than all the others."

From a distance of nine hundred years, we can only guess at how the sons saw things. It seems possible  that they were much more relaxed about war than we are, post-infantry and Gatling gun. War was what you did if you were a noble. Sure, it was a little dangerous, and you had to be good at it, but it was all in a day's work (if you were a knight. If you were some poor bastard on foot, things were a lot more dangerous.) So Richard, John and company could fight each other, betray each other, kill each others' foot soldiers, lose, beg forgiveness, get it...and then go back to fighting in a year or two.

But Henry's sons also seemed to be fairly messed up, even by the standards of medieval nobility. More on that in Part 4, along with  some choice comparisons about Momma Eleanor.

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