Tuesday, August 27, 2013

When Eleanor and Mary de Bohun were young girls, their father died.  They became very wealthy co-heiresses while still children.  Their wealth included the Fitzalan Arundel Castle.  After Eleanor married Thomas of Woodstock,  he devised a plan for he and his wife to receive all the wealth by putting little Mary in a convent though still a child.  Thomas' brother John of Gaunt stole her away from the convent and planned to save her for his son Henry Bolingbroke as a bride.  He planned to have them wait until she was sixteen; however, the young couple  fell in love and were soon married at the castle.  Henry not only robbed the convent but robbed the cradle!  She was what you could truly call a child bride.  Her first son, born when she was merely fourteen, died.  Later she had six more children dying in childbirth with her last daughter, Philippa.  Henry Bolingbroke became Henry the IV after her death taking the throne from Richard II.  Earlier Thomas Woodstock, who we know was not above putting little girls in convents in order to steal their inheritance, led a rebellion against Richard II.  He was imprisoned and mysteriously died there being smothered by a feather bed: a feather bed in prison, hmm.  Mary died before becoming the Queen of England.  Her son, Henry the Prince of Wales, became Henry the V of England following his father.  Here is a fictionalized account of Mary and Henry's story. 

The girl had tried to pretend that she did not hear her sister's maid. But alas, her name was being called it seemed from every corner of the castle yard.  She could not even find refuge among the stables. 
"I'm here.  What does my sister want now?  Is it more lessons from the priest?"   Her sister Eleanor and her brother-in-law Thomas seemed unbending in their desire that she join a convent.  She was being tutored by a priest hardly allowing time for the young girl to think for herself.  If all men were as strong-willed and greedy as Thomas, Mary was beginning to think it would be a decent refuge from the worthless world of the wealthy.  Her father's riches had not bought him more years of family pleasure; instead, a power struggle resulted in his early death.  Even her mother was more caught up in seeking revenge than in loving her daughters.  Now her sister's husband, when not waging war for the King, was involved with other nobles in intrigues against the King.  Sometimes they forgot Mary had ears and assuming she lacked the intelligence to understand the plottings she overheard in the drawing room or around the dining table.  Fortunately, the Castle Arundel was large and she could snatch a few moments hidden away before being found, like now.
"Your sister is desperate for your presence.  I've been run ragged trying to rout you out from wherever it is you stash yourself away.  They have company, and you are wanted at table for dinner."
Mary sighed and followed the servant obediently back across the courtyard to go to her room to dress for company.  She had not noticed their arrival, but now saw a pair of sleek mounts being walked by the groom after evidently being ridden hard, still flecked with foam.  The horses would be cooled down, fed, watered and groomed while their owners were at the table.  According to the color and designs on their saddle blankets, the guest was probably Thomas' older brother John of Gaunt.  Mary couldn't help wondering if his son Henry would be with him.  When that young man had visited before, his eyes followed her everywhere.  She didn't know whether to be complimented or annoyed by the unwanted attention.
Of course at dinner, she was seated across from this Henry Bolingbroke.  Behind his back, she called him Henry the bowlegged bloke.  She hardly dared to look up from her food for nearly always his eyes met hers.  However, when she looked towards the adults she saw her brother-in-law Thomas glaring at her.  It did not take anything to stir up his displeasure with her, but she had no idea what brought it about this time.  At times like this, her sister Eleanor would not meet her eyes.  Only his brother John smiled warmly at her.  Mary could not help but notice that Henry was becoming as handsome and nearly as tall as his father.
As soon as her sister rose to leave the table she did likewise and escaped outdoors.  This time she slipped outside the castle wall and took the familiar path to the old ruins.  At one time her mother's people, the Welsh,  had ruled this part of the kingdom.  This had been an ancient Welsh castle until William the Conqueror had driven them out.  Nothing made her happier than to be wrapped in the quiet of the ancient walls.   
Her sister had been more like a mother to her until her husband Thomas ruled his wife with an iron fist.  It was as if she had lost a mother as well as a sister, a double grief.  Mary as usual was trying to sort this through when she heard footsteps on the path.  She stood frozen against the cold stone wall.
A low laugh greeted her.  It was Henry.  She had never been alone with him and looked for a way to escape. 
"Don't run away again, little Mary.  I won't hurt you.  I'm just as happy to escape Thomas' company as you are, I believe."
"You are?"
"Yes, my father has come to try to talk some sense into him once again, but he is as bull-headed as ever.  The man is as power hungry as any man alive, probably more than the King himself."
"Unfortunately, he has completely conquered my sister Eleanor as well."
Henry looked at her sharply.  Perhaps the girl was not as childish and easy to be manipulated as he and his father had been led to believe.  "So you are alone here against the world I see.  I guess it is off to the convent with you.  I'm assuming this is not every girl's dream, so I venture to say it is being forced upon you." 
Mary sighed.  There had been no one else who had ever seen events from her point of view.  She looked more closely in this Henry's face and saw true concern.  The tears were very close to the service now.  "There is no use in fighting it.  The decision has been made for me.  At least I won't have to live here under his thumb anymore."  She disolved into weeping.
Henry walked over and put his arms around her as the sobs came.  He did not speak, but only held her until she quieted. 
"I'm so sorry.  I have never let anyone see my tears before.  Please forgive me."  Mary wiped her face with her sleeve as she backed away embarrassed at his embrace. 
He only cocked his head and smiled at her and said, "I would not be any kind of gallant gentleman if I walked away from a damsel in distress."  Then he became somber, "I truly am sorry for your predicament.  I know for a fact that my father is trying to talk sense into Uncle Thomas right now concerning you."  He blushed and looked away as he said, "His opinion is that it would be better to wait just a few years until you are of marriageable age and can come into your own."
Mary laughed bitterly, "That is the last thing Thomas desires.  He wants what is mine as well as what Eleanor has brought into the marriage.  It makes him one of the wealthiest men in all of England.  No, he will never consider that.  He has decided I am to live my life in a convent and is making my life so miserable to make me want to escape there away from him."
Henry's eyes seemed to rest so compassionately upon her that she felt her heart flip.  Mary knew she might cry again so she began talking.  "All of England's history has been about a struggle for power, the Welsh, the English, the Vikings, the Romans, the Irish, the Scotts and the nobles and the kings.  William the Conqueror took this castle away from the Meredith, Prince of Powys and gave it to the Fitzalans.   It's always about the power.  Even my mother is bloodthirsty with revenge for her brother killed in battle.  It makes me think that the convent won't be so terrible after all, to get away from it all," she shrugged taking a shaky breath.
"I would like to think that if I were king like my grandfather, I would be different.  But if you have power, there is always someone who wants to take it away from you.  It is difficult for  a king to trust who is his friend and  who is his foe.  It keeps changing. And of course, there is always the call of God to fight for Truth."
Mary gasped, "Are you in line for the throne?  If so, I would watch out for Thomas."
Henry threw back his head and laughed.  "No, I am not in line, thank God.  My grandfather was King Edward, but there are many before me.  But you are right: it's hard to know if even your family can be trusted."  Then more seriously he added, "However, dear Mary, I hope that you would always feel that you could trust me."
Once again he had his arms around her.  As she lifted her face up, the kiss he intended for her forehead seemed to natural fall softly on her lips.  They both backed away surprised. 
"I beg pardon, Miss De Bohun. I hope you do not think me too forward.
Mary's fingers rested on her lips as if to feel the kiss still upon them  They hid the smile blooming there until she said with a twinkle in her eye, "I suppose if I was to be kissed, it had better be in a hurry before I am off to the convent."
Henry's eyebrows shot up as his eyes grew bold.  Grinning, he offered, "Well, perhaps I might sneak in another before the gate has been locked behind you."
Mary felt warmed by his kisses as well as the first sympathy she had felt from anyone in her young life.
A shrill whistle called him away, yet he lingered squeezing her hand gently.  "Remember, dear Mary, you have a friend.  Remember me in your prayers, as I will pray for you."
Then he went running to the castle gate where his father waited on his horse with Henry's mount pawing the ground beside him.  He waved, then was gone.
Mary did not know how she could feel more alone, but she did.  The moments with Henry had put a longing in her heart that ached more than before he came. 
She hung her head down as she made her way back to the castle.  Once inside the girl could hear her sister and Thomas in a heated discussion behind the drawing room door.  She was going to walk by quickly until she heard her name being spoken.
"Mary is too young to be sent away from me." It was her sister's voice.
"She is not too young to obviously have caught my nephew Henry's eye.  My brother is desirous of making a marriage pact for them.  If we don't send her away to the convent soon, she might become too difficult to manage about it.  I will take her first thing in the morning."
"But if she refuses?"
"No one refuses me!  She will go."
Mary knew he was right.  She could not refuse him.  She sighed and touched her lips again knowing she would cherish those kisses for all her lonely life. 

Though there was no overt tenderness toward a little girl committing her life to serving Christ in a convent, she clung to any warm glance and the slightest of smiles that might come her way. She spent her days devoted to the contemplation of Scriptures and to prayer, that is, when she wasn't doing the most menial of tasks assigned her. Mary truly loved God, and knew He loved her.   Even the music, as somber as it was, calmed her.  She was the youngest and newest one there though and felt she was making mistakes constantly.  They seldom talked to her never wasting an idle word.  She missed some of the more sumptuous dishes served at their richly laden table at the Castle Arundel, but did not miss much else, only the "might have been" of dreams.  Solitude had been her long time companion.  The child managed to keep from having her hands slapped as much as possible.
She had received a cryptic letter from Henry and read it everytime she was alone in her room.  "Remember to pray, Mary.  You have a true friend waiting for you."  It was all he wrote.  Did he mean God was waiting to hear her prayers, or was he somehow waiting?  Waiting for what?
She did not know what he meant until late one night she was summoned to the common room.  The young girl did not even take the time to put on her sandals.  "I must have done something wrong and will be disciplined," she thought anxiously.  Upon seeing John the Gaunt standing there, she was thrown into confusion.  "Has something happened at home.  Is my sister alright?"
He came over encasing her cold hands in his large warm ones.  "Little Mary, everyone is fine.  I was just in the area and begged to be able to see you so I could carry word to Eleanor that you are well.  I see you are except perhaps not eating enough."  She felt him press some paper into her hands and close her fingers over it.  She wondered why he would bring her money since she had no use for it in the convent.  He did not stay long under the stern eye of the nun.  Mary did not look at the paper until she was back in her room with her candle lit.  It was a note.
"Dear Mary, Will you let us help you escape?  I cannot rest until you are here with me.  My father has said he will shelter you until you are of age to be married, to me, of course.  I offer you more than your freedom.  I offer you my heart.  Actually, you have had it since our first kiss.  There is an empty wine barrel by the gate at the back wall. We told the convent we are giving them a new full barrel and will make the exchange when we feel you are safely inside the empty one.  Throw a stone over the wall when you are ready.  Hurry.  Be brave.  Love, Henry"
Mary could hardly breathe as she read it over again quickly.  Her eyes swept her room. She had come with nothing, and had nothing to bring with her now, but her heart.  She blew out her candle.  Quietly she slipped out of her room and crept down the hall feeling along the wall in the dark.  Her foot wacked a stool which seemed to ring out loudly against the tiles.  She hardly dared to breath, but tried to hurry on.  The doors were never locked, so she let herself out into the moonless night.  Finding the empty barrel on its side, she crept in backwards, before realizing she forgot to throw a stone for a signal.  She unfolded enough for her hand to feel the hard packed dirt until she found a handful of gravel to throw.  It skittered along the wall so softly, she was afraid it might not be heard.  Just as she was about to try again, she heard the back gate squeak open and a two men huffed evidently carrying the heavy barrel of wine.  Soon Mary felt herself being lifted like in a dream and being gently set into the back of a wagon cushiond with hay. The smell of hay had never been sweeter.  She heard the stomp of impatient horses.  "Get-up," was the only word spoken and she was running away from the convent.  Her heartbeat seemed to reverberate in the barrel so that she felt light-headed with the smell of the wine saturating the wood. 
"Mary!"  It was Henry's anxious whisper.  Are you alright?  We will let you out with a few more miles behind us."
"Yes...thank you."
He laughed.  His father laughed with him.  Mary giggled choking back happy tears.
Mary was feeling a little seasick from the rocking of the barrel.  Once it practically rolled across the wagon bed and she almost screamed. 
"I can't wait any longer, Father!"
She heard Henry climbing into the back as his father slowed the horses   Mary tried to climb out, but found her legs were asleep cramped under her.  Henry lifted her out and held her in his arms.  She threw her arms around him as her legs were still asleep.  Nothing had ever felt better in her life. She laughed and cried.  His kisses were salty sweet as well.  Mary finally slept nestled on the hay protected in his arms, happier than she had ever been in her life.  No riches could ever have made a better bed than the back of that wagon in the hay riding to a future with Henry. 

"Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today..."
Ruth 14
A beautiful love story told in the Old Testament is of Ruth and Boaz.  David did not have to go back very far in to find them in his lineage.  Ruth was a foreigner, a young widow who followed her mother-in-law back to Israel.  Boaz is a picture of Christ as our kinsman-redeemer.  He looked out for the lovely Ruth.  As she gleaned in his fields, he offered his protection and commanded that extra be left for her.  Finally, he offered her his heart and hand, redeeming her out of her destitute situation and taking her to himself with all his ability to love and care for her.  Christ has done this for us, His bride, the church.  This is why Mary and Henry's love story is so touching as he rescued her from a forced cloistered existence after she had been robbed of her family and inheritance.  Mary is related to my relatives as her mother was a Fitzalan of Arundel Castle.




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