Richard I - Jacob Abbott


While Richard was in the kingdom of Sicily during this memorable winter, he made a new contract of marriage. The lady was a Spanish princess named Berengaria. The circumstances of this betrothment were somewhat extraordinary.

The reader will recollect that he had been betrothed in his earliest youth to Alice, an infant princess of France. His father had thrown him in, as it were, as a sort of makeweight, in arranging some compromise with the King of France for the settlement of a quarrel, and also to obtain the dower of the young princess for his own use. This dower consisted of various castles and estates, which were immediately put into the hands of Henry, Richard's father, and which he continued to hold as long as he lived, using and enjoying the rents and revenues from them as his own property. When Richard grew old enough to claim his bride, Henry, under whose custody and charge she had been placed, would not give her up to him; and long and serious quarrels arose between the father and the son on this account, as has already been related in this volume. The most obvious reason for which Henry might be supposed unwilling to give up Alice to her affianced husband, when he became old enough to be married to her, was, that he wished to retain longer the use of the castles and estates that constituted her dowry. But, in addition to this, it was surmised by many that he had actually fallen in love with her himself, and that he was determined that Richard should not have her at all. Richard himself believed, or pretended to believe, that this was the case. He was consequently very angry, and he justified himself in the wars and rebellions that he raised against his father during the lifetime of the king by this great wrong which he alleged that his father had done him. On the other hand, many persons supposed that Richard did not really wish to marry Alice, and that he only made the fact of his father's withholding her from him a pretext for his unnatural hostility, the real ends and aims of which were objects altogether different.

However this may be, when Henry died, and there was no longer any thing in the way of his marriage, he showed no desire to consummate it. Alice's father, too, had died, and Philip, the present King of France, and Richard's ally, was her brother. Philip called upon Richard from time to time to complete the marriage, but Richard found various pretexts for postponing it, and thus the matter stood when the expedition for the Holy Land set sail from Marseilles.

The next reason why Richard did not now wish to carry his marriage with Alice into effect was that, in the mean time, while his father had been withholding Alice from him, he had seen and fallen in love with another lady, the Princess Berengaria. Richard first saw Berengaria several years before, at a time when he was with his mother in Aquitaine, during the life of his father. The first time that he saw her was at a grand tournament which was celebrated in her native city in Spain, and which Richard went to attend. The families had been well acquainted with each other before, though, until the tournament, Richard had never seen Berengaria. Richard had, however, known one of her brothers from his boyhood, and they had always been very great friends. The father of Berengaria, too, Sancho the Wise, King of Navarre, had always been a warm friend of Eleanora, Richard's mother, and in the course of the difficulties and quarrels that took place between her and her husband, as related in the early chapters of this volume, he had rendered her very valuable services. Still, Richard never saw Berengaria until she had grown up to womanhood.

He, however, felt a strong desire to see her, for she was quite celebrated for her beauty and her accomplishments. The accomplishments in which she excelled were chiefly music and poetry. Richard himself was greatly interested in these arts, especially in the songs of the Troubadours, whose performances always formed a very important part of the entertainment at the feasts and tournaments, and other great public celebrations of those days.

When Richard came to see Berengaria, he fell deeply in love with her. But he could not seek her hand in marriage on account of his engagement with Alice. To have given up Alice, and to have entered instead into an engagement with her, would have involved both him and his mother, and all the family of Berengaria too, in a fierce quarrel with the King of France, the father of Alice, and also with his own father. These were too serious consequences for him to brave while he was still only a prince, and nominally under his father's authority. So he did nothing openly, though a strong secret attachment sprang up between him and Berengaria, and all desire ever to make Alice his wife gradually disappeared.

At length, when his father died, and Richard became King of England, he felt at once that the power was now in his own hands, and that he would do as he liked in respect to his marriage. Alice's father, too, had died, and her brother Philip was now king, and he was not likely to feel so strong an interest in resenting any supposed slight to his sister as her father would have been. Richard determined, therefore, to give up Alice altogether, and ask Berengaria to be his wife. So, while he was engaged in England in making his preparations for the crusade, and when he was nearly ready to set out, he sent his mother, Eleanora, to Navarre to ask Berengaria in marriage of her father, King Sancho. He did not, however, give Philip any notice of this change in his plans, not wishing to embarrass the alliance that he and Philip were forming with any unnecessary difficulties which might interfere with the success of it, and retard the preparations for the crusade. So, while his mother had gone to Spain to secure Berengaria for him as his wife, he himself, in England and Normandy, went on with his preparations for the crusade in connection with Philip, just as if the original engagement with Alice was going regularly on.

Eleanora was very successful in her mission. Sancho, Berengaria's father, was very much pleased with so magnificent an offer as that of the hand of Richard, Duke of Normandy and King of England, for his daughter. Berengaria herself made no objection. Eleanora said that her son had not been able to come himself and claim his bride, on account of the necessity that he was under of accompanying his army to the East, but she said that he would stop at Messina, and she proposed that Berengaria should put herself under her protection, and go and join him there.

Berengaria was a lady of an ardent and romantic temperament, and nothing could please her better than such a proposal as this. She very readily acceded to it, and her father was very willing to intrust her to the charge of Eleanora. So the two ladies, with a proper train of barons, knights, and other attendants, set out together. They crossed the Pyrenees into France, and then, after traversing France, they passed over the Alps into Italy. Thence they continued their journey down the Italian coast by land, as Richard had done by water, until at last they arrived at a place called Brindisi, which is on the coast of Italy, not far from Messina. Here they halted, and sent word to Richard to inform him of their arrival.

Eleanora thought that Berengaria could not go any farther with propriety, for her engagement with Richard was not yet made public. Indeed, the betrothal of Richard with Alice still remained nominally in force, and a serious difficulty was to be apprehended with Philip so soon as the new plans which Richard had formed should be announced to him.

Eleanora said that she could not remain long in Italy, but must return to Normandy very soon, without waiting for Richard to prepare the way for receiving his bride. So she left Berengaria under the charge of Joanna, who, being her own—that is, Eleanora's—daughter, was a very proper person to be the young lady's protector. Joanna and Berengaria immediately conceived a strong attachment for each other, and they lived together in a very happy manner. Joanna was glad to have for a companion so charming a young lady, and one of so high a rank, and Berengaria, on the other hand, was much pleased to be placed under the charge of so kind a protector. Joanna, too, having long lived in Sicily, could give Berengaria a great deal of interesting intelligence about the country and the people, and could answer all the thousand questions which she asked about what she heard and saw in the new world, as it were, into which she had been ushered.

The two ladies lived, of course, in very close seclusion, but they lived so lovingly together that one of the writers of the day, in a ballad that he wrote, compared them to two birds in a cage. Speaking of Eleanora, he says, in the quaint old English of the day,

"She beleft Berengere

At Richard's costage.

Queen Joanne held her dear;

They lived as doves in a cage."

The arrival of Berengaria at Brindisi took place in the spring of the year, when the time was drawing nigh for the fleets and armaments to sail for the East. As yet, Philip knew nothing of Richard's plans in respect to this new marriage, but the time had now arrived when Richard perceived that they could no longer be concealed. Philip entertained suspicions that something wrong was going on, though he did not know exactly what. His suspicions made him watchful and jealous, and at last they led to a curious train of circumstances, which brought matters to a crisis very suddenly.

It seems that at one time, when Richard was paying a visit to Tancred, the King of Sicily, Tancred showed him a letter which he said he had received from the French king. In this letter, Philip—if, indeed, Philip really wrote it—endeavored to excite Tancred's enmity against Richard. It was just after the treaty between Tancred and Richard had been formed, as related in the last chapter. The letter said that Richard was a treacherous man, in whom no reliance could be placed; that he had no intention of keeping the treaty that he had made, but was laying a scheme for attacking Tancred in his Sicilian dominions; and, finally, it closed with an offer on the part of the writer to assist Tancred in driving Richard and all his followers out of the island.

[Illustration] from Richard I by Jacob Abbott


When Richard read this letter, he was at first in a dreadful rage, and he broke out into an explosion of the most violent, profane, and passionate language that can be conceived. Presently he looked at the letter again, and on reperusing it, and carefully considering its contents, he declared that he did not believe that Philip ever wrote it. It was a stratagem of Tancred's, he thought, designed to promote a quarrel between Richard and his ally. Tancred assured him that Philip did write the letter, or, at least, that it was brought to him as from Philip by the Duke of Burgundy, one of his principal officers.

"You may ask the Duke of Burgundy," said he, "and if he denies it, I will challenge him to a duel through one of my barons."

It was necessary that the parties to a duel, in those days, should be of equal rank, so that, if a king had a quarrel with a nobleman of another nation, he could only send one of his own noblemen of the same rank to be his representative in the combat. But this proposal of sending another man to risk his life in maintaining the cause of his king on a question of veracity, in which the person so sent had no interest whatever, illustrates very curiously the ideas of those chivalrous times.

Richard did not go to the Duke of Burgundy, but, taking the letter which Tancred had shown him, he waited until he found a good opportunity, and then showed it to Philip. The two kings often fell into altercations and disputes in their interviews with each other, and it was in one of these that Richard produced the letter, offering it by way of recrimination to some charges or accusations which Philip was making against him. Philip denied having written the letter. It was a forgery, he said, and he believed that Richard himself was the author of it.

"You are trying every way you can," said he, to find pretexts for quarreling with me, and this is one of your devices. I know what you are aiming at: you wish to quarrel with me so as to find some excuse for breaking off your marriage with my sister, whom you are bound by a most solemn oath to marry. But of this you may be sure, that if you abandon her and take any other wife, you will find me, as long as you live, your most determined and mortal enemy."

This declaration aroused Richard's temper, and brought the affair at once to a crisis. Richard declared to Philip that he never would marry his sister.

"My father," said he, "kept her from me for many years because he loved her himself, and she returned his love, and now I will never have any thing to do with her. I am ready to prove to you the truth of what I say."

So Richard brought forward what he called the proofs of the very intimate relations which had subsisted between Alice and his father. Whether there was any thing genuine or conclusive in these proofs is not known. At all events, they made a very deep and painful impression on Philip. The disclosure was, as one of the writers of those times says, "like a nail driven directly through his heart."

After a while, the two kings concluded to settle the difficulty by a sort of compromise. Philip agreed to give up all claims on the part of Alice to Richard in consideration of a sum of money which Richard was to pay. Richard was to pay two thousand marks a year for five years, and was on that condition to be allowed to marry any one he chose. He was also to restore to Philip the fortresses and estates which had been conveyed to his father as Alice's dowry at the time of her betrothment to Richard in her infancy.

This agreement, being thus made, was confirmed by a great profusion of oaths, sworn with all solemnity, and the affair was considered as settled.

Still, Richard seems to have been a little disinclined to bring out Berengaria at once from her retreat, and let Philip know suddenly how far his arrangements for marrying another lady had gone; so he concluded to wait, before publicly announcing his intended marriage, until Philip should have sailed for the East. Philip was now, indeed, nearly ready to go; his fleet and his armament, being smaller than Richard's, could be dispatched earlier; so Richard devoted himself very earnestly to the work of facilitating and hastening his ally's departure, determining that immediately afterward he would bring forward his bride and celebrate his marriage.

It is not, however, certain that he kept his intended marriage with Berengaria an absolute secret from Philip. There would be no longer any special necessity for this after the treaty that had been made. But, notwithstanding this agreement, it is not to be supposed that the new marriage would be a very agreeable subject for Philip to contemplate, or that it would be otherwise than very awkward for him to be present on the occasion of the celebration of it; so Richard decided that, on all accounts, it was best to postpone the ceremony until after Philip had gone.

Philip sailed the very last of March. Richard selected from his fleet a few of his most splendid galleys, and with these, filled with a chosen company of knights and barons, he accompanied Philip as he left the harbor, and sailed with him down the Straits of Messina, with trumpets sounding, and flags and banners waving in the air. As soon as Philip's fleet reached the open sea, Richard took leave, and set out with his galleys on his return; but, instead of going back to Messina, he made the best of his way to the port in Italy where Berengaria and Joanna were lodging, and there took the ladies, who were all ready, expecting him, and embarking them on board a very elegantly adorned galley which he had prepared for them, he conducted them to Messina.

Richard would now probably have been immediately married, but it was in the season of Lent, and, according to the ideas of those times, it would be in some sense a desecration of that holy season of fasting to celebrate any such joyous ceremony as a wedding in it; and it would not do very well to postpone the sailing of the fleet until after the season of Lent should have expired, for the time had already fully arrived when it ought to sail, and Philip, with his division of the allied force, had already gone; so he concluded to put off his marriage till they should reach the next place at which the expedition should land.

Berengaria consented to this, and it was arranged that she was to accompany the expedition when it should sail, and that at the next place of landing, which it was expected would be the island of Rhodes, the marriage ceremony should be performed.

As it was not considered quite proper, however, under these circumstances, that the princess should sail in the same ship with Richard, a very strong and excellent ship was provided for her special use, and that of Joanna who was to accompany her, and it was arranged that she should sail from the port just before the main body of the fleet were ready to commence the voyage. The ship in which the ladies and their suite were conveyed was placed under the command of a brave and faithful knight named Stephen of Turnham, and the two princesses were committed to his special charge.

But, although Richard's regard for the sacred season of Lent would not allow of his celebrating the marriage, he made a grand celebration in honor of his betrothment to Berengaria before he sailed. At this celebration he instituted an order of twenty-four knights. These knights bound themselves in a fraternity with the king, and took a solemn oath that they would scale the walls of Acre when they reached the Holy Land. Acre was one of the strongest and most important fortresses in that country, and one which they were intending first to attack.

Also, before he went away, Richard made King Tancred a farewell present of a very valuable antique sword, which had been found, he said, by his father in the tomb of a famous old English knight who had lived some centuries before.