In the 233 years since the Norman Conquest of 1066, Normans and English had learned to live together, although Norman French was still the language of the court and the aristocracy, and Middle English the language of the commons. English would replace French as the official language of the law courts in 1362 and of Parliament in 1363. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, Parliament was well established and incorporated both lords and commons. It was not a permanent institution and could only be summoned by order of the King. The Church wielded enormous authority within the state, being the largest landowner after the Crown.
England, as Marguerite would soon have seen, was predominantly a land of great forests, green fields, quiet villages, and many beautiful churches.
The bells were ringing out when she arrived at Canterbury, where the Archbishop's palace had been made ready for the King and his new Queen and tents had been erected for their retinues. Marguerite was presented to her future husband, who evidently liked what he saw. If the stone heads of her on the Alard tomb in St. Thomas's Church at Winchelsea and in Malmesbury Abbey are likenesses, then she was beautiful, with wide-set eyes and long, fashionably curled locks. Unmarried girls, and queens on ceremonial occasions, wore their hair loose in symbolic emulation of the Virgin Mary. On her first "uprising" as a married woman, Marguerite would be obliged to cover her hair and wear a triangular-shaped linen or silk headdress comprising a chin barbe, veil, and wimple, which was padded at the sides with ramshorn and exposed the hair only at the temples. Her statue on the south side of Lincoln Cathedral also shows her with loose hair beneath her coronet and veil, although the head is a nineteenth-century replacement. What this twenty-year-old girl made of her sixty-year-old bridegroom is not recorded, but that she pleased him is not in doubt.
The wedding took place in Canterbury Cathedral on September 8, with Archbishop Winchelsey officiating and "an abundance of splendour." The bride wore a crown. The fifteen-year-old Prince of Wales was present with many English nobles and Spanish princes. A score of minstrels and vielle players from all over Christendom had been hired to play during the ceremony. Afterward, at the church door, as was customary, the King granted his bride her dower.
There followed two or three days of celebratory feasts, jousts, and sports, after which the dukes of Burgundy and Brittany returned to France, well satisfied and laden with gifts. Edward had funded the feasting from loans given him by the Frescobaldi bankers of Florence, and had spent extravagantly on 245 pieces of gold and silver plate and jewels purchased in Paris for himself and his new Queen.
On September 10, he made a brief visit to Chartham, then the newlyweds resumed their honeymoon in Canterbury and spent a further week at Leeds Castle, which stood on two connected islands on a beautiful lake and had been the property of Edward's first wife. Eleanor's stone gloriette, or pavilion, which enclosed a courtyard garden with a fountain, stood on the smaller island, and Edward later built a second castle on the larger island for Marguerite. The chambers and bathroom she used initially were in the gloriette, which must have been imbued with memories of Eleanor. Edward next took her to Winchester, where she was warmly welcomed, and another tournament was staged in honor of her marriage. Henry III had extended the defenses of Winchester Castle and converted its royal lodgings into a palatial residence with a magnificent great hall that now housed the so-called Round Table of King Arthur, which had in fact been commissioned by Edward I.
From the twelfth century onward, the English royal family had reverenced the memory of Arthur, who had come to embody all the idealized valor and virtues of the ideal medieval monarch. He featured large in aristocratic literature and the mythology of the English monarchy. The supposed remains of Arthur and his Queen, Guinevere, had been discovered at Glastonbury Abbey—the Isle of Avalon in the Arthurian legends—in 1191, and Edward I and Eleanor of Castile had been present when their tomb was opened in 1278.
On October 12, the King took Marguerite to London. Four miles outside its gates, she was received by 600 citizens, all wearing liveries of red and white with the symbols of their guilds embroidered on their sleeves. They conducted her to the Tower of London. The keep of this mighty fortress—known as the White Tower since 1240, when Henry III had had it whitewashed—had been built by William the Conqueror in the late eleventh century to stand sentinel over London. Richard I had encircled the bailey with a vast curtain wall bisected by towers, and Henry III had built more towers and, between the keep and the river, constructed a palace with a great aisled hall; but the most recent and impressive improvements were those made by Edward I, who had created a moat and built massive concentric defenses, including a water gate (now known as Traitor's Gate) and new royal apartments above it in St. Thomas's Tower.
The Tower housed the King's treasure, the Great Wardrobe (a repository for royal furniture, jewels, clothes, and food), the state archives, the largest of the royal mints, and the greatest arsenal of weapons in the kingdom. It also contained a menagerie created by Henry III in 1235 to house the many animals that were given to monarchs as gifts. At various times this had held lions, bears, leopards, and even an elephant. In Edward I's time, the Tower had not gained its later notoriety as a state prison, although a few prominent persons had been held prisoner there.
Edward and Marguerite stayed in the sumptuous state apartments, which lay at the west end of the great hall. They were brilliantly decorated in bright colors with gold stars, painted angels, heraldic emblems, and Purbeck marble fittings, with hooded fireplaces and large Gothic windows in the main chambers. The walls of the Queen's chamber were wainscoted, whitewashed and painted with roses and trompe l'oeil imagery that looked like cut stonework. Edward had refurbished for Marguerite the apartments created for his mother, Alienor of Provence.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O'Connell's Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People by Tracy Kidde.