Susan McGeown, Author

Books With Heart And Soul

HISTORICAL FICTION:  Rosamund's Bower





He was a prisoner of war at seven.  She was a widow at fifteen.

 

For Thomas, bastard by birth, the opportunity to fight and serve the King was an honor he should never have expected, but by chance received.  Focused and driven, his dreams were simple; just to have a place to call home.


For Rosamund, her beauty was renowned, yet it was her faith that was her strength.  She struggled with the reality of her world; dreams were for fools and love was for wastrels.


Life in the 12th century, when King Henry II ruled, was a time when responsibilities and obligations were your birthright and honor demanded you saw them through to the end.  The price was high, even to death.  As Thomas and Rosamund struggle in the separate paths of their lives, the complications of politics and war and hatreds and revenge swirl around them making every forward step seemingly impossible.


And then things get even worse, for they fall in love.


Could it really be that the path most difficult to follow is the only one worth choosing?


READ THE FIRST 3 CHAPTERS!

Actual Facts About ROSAMUND

Yes, there really was a Rosamund Clifford, so beautiful that she was known as ‘Fair Rosamund’.  And her avaricious father, Walter FitzRichard (who changed his name to Walter Clifford) encouraged her to become mistress to King Henry II.

But it was the fictional Thomas whom I imagined first when I began to write the story.  As his character developed, I just liked the person he was so much that I wanted him desperately to find everything he wanted and more.  I wanted him, in the end, to have more than he had ever hoped or dreamed, because life can be that way. So often, the medieval times are romanticized with handsome knights and beautiful ladies who meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after.  That was hardly the truth.  As I searched through British monarchies, looking for a time and place to settle Thomas, I happened upon the account of King Henry II and Fair Rosamond, and I thought now here’s something I just can’t pass up.

The facts surrounding Rosamund and the King segue into legend and folklore quickly, making it the perfect story for any historical fiction author to write.  I enjoyed having the King say to Rosamund, ‘Fair Rosamund will disappear.  No one will every truly know the story of what became of her.  You will simply be remembered as the woman who caught the eye of the King for the briefest of intervals and then vanished like so many others before you.’  Which is all too true today.  No one knows the true story and never, ever will.

King Henry II, who ruled England from 1154 to 1189, was by most accounts an excellent king.  He was organized, intelligent, and ruthlessly determined to reestablish England to the glory it had achieved under his grandfather, King Henry I.  W.L. Warren, in his biography King Henry II, wrote, “Given the framework within which Henry II chose to operate, his achievement is remarkable.  That any man should have tried to rule such wide and diverse dominions … was an astonishing piece of impertinence.  With no means of communication swifter than the horse, without the aid of maps and gazetteers, with, at first, only rudimentary means of enforcing his authority, and with no rational body of law or a corps of trained administrators, he set out to establish law and order.”[1]  Even those in power during his time thought highly of him.  Wrote the Bishop of Lisieux in March of 1165, ‘He is great, indeed the greatest of the monarchs, for he has no superior of whom he stands in awe, nor subject who may resist him.”[2]

His reign was framed by the chaos of his country which had endured ten long years of civil war, the constantly problematic Welsh to the west, the ever difficult French to the east, the unpredictable Scots to the north, and the growing controversy between Henry and the Church which culminated with the brutal murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170.  When King Henry bemoans the burdens of his obligations to Rosamund that night in the maze you could almost feel sorry for him … as I have Rosamund do, albeit briefly.

Rhys ab Gruffydd was the leader of the southern kingdom of Wales during the reign of King Henry II.  He was the last surviving one of four boys, all who died brutally in the constant Welsh/English battle that was the way of life at the time.  He was captured in battle and brought back to Woodstocke as prisoner and his son – Hywel - was held for many years as hostage but was finally released by King Henry II as a show of good faith. Rhys did eventually become a trusted ally and agent of King Henry II and achieved such a favorable status that he was given the title ‘Lord Rhys’.  At the end of his life in 1197, he had been an active participant in war and politics for sixty years, and had been the dominate ruling prince in Wales for more than forty years.[3]

King Henry II was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine, the greatest heiress in Western Europe.  Just eight weeks after her annulment from King Louis VII of France, she and Henry II married. She was thirty and he was nineteen.  In the first six years of their marriage she had five healthy children, four of them boys.  Eleanor was “a remarkable woman, surrounded all her life by an aura of romance and scandalous rumour.”[4]  I found numerous sonnets singing her praises.  One of my favorites was by a German poet who wrote, ‘Were the world all mine, From the sea to the Rhine, I’d give all away, If the English Queen, Would be mine for a day.”[5]  She did indeed lead her own army of soldiers in the Second Crusade, intent on saving the Holy Land from the Saracens.  She was only twenty-five at the time!  In the later years of her marriage to Henry II, Eleanor sides with two of her sons (Richard and John) in a plot to overthrow Henry.  She spends her remaining years of marriage imprisoned and only finds freedom once her sons begin to rule.  Whether she and King Henry II ever found love with each other, they certainly were aptly suited in personality and temperament.

There were various speculations about the when and where in which King Henry II and Rosamund first met.  Some felt that they met when she was just a child, while others firmly believed that they became involved after Eleanor ceased to bear Henry any more children.  (Henry certainly made no effort to be faithful to Eleanor, as there are numerous known mistresses and bastard children.  Why, by some accounts, Henry even saw fit to ‘try out’ son Richard’s intended bride to assure that she would be tempting enough in bed.)  Other sources definitively state that Rosamund bore the King two sons, Geoffrey, who became the Archbishop of York, and William, who became the Earl of Salisbury.  But other sources, who argue different dates in which they were involved, strongly feel that there were no children from the relationship.

And then there was the maze.  Supposedly located at Woodstocke Manor, now the home of Blenheim Palace near Woodstock, England, the only thing still remaining is ‘Rosamund’s Well’.  Was there really a maze?  It depends on what you read.  The stories of one hundred and fifty doors, silver threads secretly trailing the way in and out, and Queen Eleanor forcing Rosamund to drink a bottle of poison in a jealous fit of rage makes for a wonderful … story.  But fact?  Again, who knows?

But what if the entire legend of the maze were true?  What if King Henry loved this beautiful young woman so very much that when he traveled (and he did extensively throughout his reign) he sought to keep her safe by placing her in the center of this complicated labyrinth so that no one could cause her harm.  He would put her in her richly furnished and amply supplied bower garden and then go away.  For months.  Maybe Years.  And leave her.  Alone.  Isolated.  When I thought it through, my mind screamed What kind of love would that be?!  Maybe King Henry would have been happy with that arrangement, but I find it hard to believe Rosamund would be. 

The Ballad of Fair Rosamund has one stanza that has King Henry saying, "And you, Sir Thomas, whom I truste, To bee my loves defence; Be carefull of my gallant Rose, When I am parted hence."  That’s how Thomas got his name in the story (I started out liking the name ‘Walt’).  My fictional Thomas rose above and beyond all the adversity of his beginning.  He’s a bastard who doesn’t know anything about his family or his heritage, and yet he has an intrinsic goodness that everyone seems to recognize.  He’s sincere, he’s honest, he’s honorable, he’s loyal … and yet it’s those qualities that begin to weigh heavily on him when Rosamund comes on the scene.  Not because his love overshadows them, but because he cannot justify what he sees his King doing given what he knows is right and wrong.  He’s the thinking man’s good guy.  In the end he has to realize, as he drags Rosamund out of the maze and is determined to take her away at the cost of probably everything including his life, that being honorable doesn’t mean you follow blindly and never question, it means doing what’s right even when the price is higher than you can truly pay.  Rosamund, dealing with her own version of the very same issues, is his perfect soul mate, even though their love and any future together seems a complete impossibility.

Women of that day (as in many other days!) were by and large pawns in the political intrigues in which they lived.  Marriages were rarely for love, especially among the nobility, but always to forge alliances and gain advancements.  It was all about who you were, who you knew, where you planned to be, and how you were going to get there – no matter the cost.  As I had Rosamund describe to Sir Thomas the terror that every bride and unmarried woman felt, the enormity of the plight most of these women faced overwhelmed me. 

One of the saddest things I read in my research for the book was the declaration written by Marie, Countess of Champagne, who was Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughter by Louis VII, which said, We declare and we hold as firmly established that love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other, for lovers give each other everything freely, under no compulsion or necessity, but married people are in duty bound to give in to each other’s desires and deny themselves to each other in nothing.[6]  There in a nutshell was the reality of married life in medieval times.  It was not pretty.

Medieval women were tough.  They had to be in order to survive.  What means they used to survive, be it avarice, deception, benevolence, hatred, love, or faith was up to them.  I gave Rosamund faith.  A huge faith, set as a child by her beloved Aunt Helen, and then nurtured and tested and proved over the course of her life.  Her faith made her honorable to her obligations as a young woman such that she was dutiful in following through on her first marriage, but it also made her principled when she was faced with the unsanctioned relationship with the King. 

This story, mixing a little bit of fact and a lot of fiction, was meant to illustrate the reality of God’s faithfulness and the rewards for us should we choose to follow in His directed path.  In many ways, as it is in real life, Rosamund’s faith made life more difficult at times.  But in the end that faith made the rewards all that much greater.  She stayed the honorable course, passed through the many fires unscathed, and ultimately had a glorious reward; Thomas, William, freedom, and hope. Was it all worth it?  Rosamund would say it is.  And for those of us who walk daily in that spiritual realm, we would say it was all worth it, too.

 

And we know that God causes everything to work together

for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.[7]

Romans 8:28




[1] Henry II, by W. L. Warren, University of California Press, 1973, ISBN: 0-520-03494-5, pg. 628.

 

[2] Arnulf of Lisieux, Letters, no. 42, 73, Henry II, by W. L. Warren, University of California Press, 1973, ISBN: 0-520-03494-5, pg. 628.

 

[3] Medieval Wales, By David Walker, Cambridge University Press, 1990, http://www.castlewales.com/lrdrhys.html

 

[4] The Middle Ages, By John Gillingham and Peter Earle, Edited by Antonia Fraser, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000, ISBN 0-520-22799-9, pg. 44

 

[5] The Middle Ages, By John Gillingham and Peter Earle, Edited by Antonia Fraser, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000, ISBN 0-520-22799-9, pg. 44

 

[6] Marie, Countess of Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Louis VII, proclamation issued by her in 1174, The Women’s Chronology, By James Trager, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1994, ISBN 0-08050-2975-3, pg. 66

 

[7] Romans 8:28, New Living Translation

 

Where Did Rosamund's Bower Go??!!
 
Available for edownload at my Lulu Storefront.
 
 
I'm the proud author of ten books, but if you look closely you'll see only nine books featured on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu. Who would have thought that progress in my writing career would have meant that I’d ‘lose’ a book? The missing book is Rosamund’s Bower my historical fiction story set in the 12th century.

To my great delight, Rosamund’s Bower won the 2008 Golden Rose award in the category “novel with romantic elements.” (http://www.rosecityromancewriters.com/2008contest-winners.html). What excitement! Oh what uninhibited screaming and dancing with joy in the privacy of my office!

But things have gotten even more exciting! The agent responsible for judging that contest category asked to see my entire manuscript. (The contest only allows you to enter your 1st fifty pages.) After almost three months, my writer dreams have come true! Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Management, (http://www.foliolit.com/) has offered to represent my stories and me!!! Consequently, the self published edition of Rosamund’s Bower needs to be withdrawn for the time being while this wonderful story of faith, love, and hope gets shopped around to publishing houses.

Who would have thought that ‘losing’ a book would be such a wonderful thing? Not me … until now.

What’s next for me? Only the Lord knows. Seriously. I’m praying for Big Black Arrows (God’s clear direction). I’m determined to be known as a ‘woman after God’s own heart’ (I Samuel 13:14) which means my primary goal is to make Him smile in all I say and do.

It’s a fascinating journey. I’ll keep you posted!



My Theme:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:20-21 NIV


In the course of my research on Rosamund Clifford, I discovered this glorious painting of Rosamund and Queen Eleanor. It's currently on display at The Bridgeman Art Library in London. They were kind enough to give me permission to use the picture on the cover of my self published book.


Cover Art Credit: Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund (WDM27988)
by Morgan, Evelyn De (1855-1919)
© The De Morgan Centre, London/ The Bridgeman Art Library
Nationality/copyright status: English/out of copyright
Used by permission.

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