The Tale of King Henry and the Marriage of State

[The day was clear, a soft breeze was blowing through the garden, and it was a lovely day to sit therein and read a good book, while snacking on a cookie or two. That was just what old Father Roger, the King's Chaplain, was not doing; he was instead enjoying the company of six very pretty Ladies-in-waiting. The young women were there to learn some basic herb lore, so that when they added plants and flowers to an embroidery project the resulting patterns would at least vaguely resemble nature's own artistry. This was not seen as an enjoyable use of their time by the women, and the old monk had great difficulty keeping the Ladies attention focused on the subject at hand.

It was true that five of the Ladies were at least pretending to be following Roger's lecture, but Josephine had lost the thread of his conversation over ten minutes ago, and she was not looking even remotely interested anymore. Instead of taking any notes for later use, she was busy watching a spider create a web in a nearby bush, and paid no attention to the old monk's discourse.

When she at last noticed that all sounds had stopped, she looked around, and saw everyone staring at her. Roger repeated what she evidently had not heard the first time; "I asked you if the spider was more interesting than my lecture. From your lack of response, I can see that is so. I think . . ."

"Oh, I don't care what you think!" Josephine shouted at the startled monk, and grabbing her basket she ran out of the garden.

As her friends all stared with amazement, the old monk calmly asked one of the Ladies to go after her and ask her to come back. The other girls shivered, for they all knew Roger had a ferocious temper, and they knew that their friend was in deep trouble. When the two maidens returned, Roger thanked the one for getting her companion, and then turned to the recalcitrant Josephine. "This kind of thing occasionally happens," he began. "It reminds me of a story . . ."

"I don't want to hear any of your old stories!" blurted out Josephine; "I'm sick to death of stories!"

Shocked silence was the response. "I can see you don't want to listen to a story now" said the monk softly. "Ladies, I think it best if we end our herb lecture for the afternoon; if you could leave us in private for a time?" As Josephine also started to rise, Roger added, "Not you, Josephine, please stay seated. I think we need to talk." As her friends looked panic-stricken at their tearful friend, the storyteller told them; "Do not worry, I always let someone explain herself before I chew her head off; your friend is safe for now."

With occasional glances back to see if the old monk would continue to keep his word, the Ladies eventually left Roger and Josephine all by themselves. Roger looked at a rose bush in the garden for what seemed like forever, and then turned to the trembling girl, and in a very soft voice asked her the one question she had not expected: "What is the lad's name?"

"Lad? Aren't you going to yell at me for being rude to you?" The poor girl was stunned.

"When a young woman who has in every way been kind to me, and used to beg me for 'one more story' turns and tells me she hates stories now, all I can think of is someone else has been telling her stories, and she has been told some that are very unpleasant. So tell me, who is the boy?"

"He is not a boy; that is the problem! He is a grown man, and after winning my heart now tells me that 'I am too young for him'. He let me fall in love with him, and now it seems as if I was 'just a passing fancy!' He promised me!" The tears that had been threatening now cascaded in torrents.

"Did he, uh, . . ." the old monk was suddenly at a loss for words.

"No, he never asked, but if he had, I would have," admitted the despondent lover. "He said he wanted to wait until marriage, that his love for me would be pure and unsullied. He said that just one kiss from my lips was enough to sate any man. He said . . ."

"He evidently said a number of things; but I think I am coming to understand the situation now. When did he tell you that you had to end your romance?"

"Well, he didn't say that exactly, but what he said was just as bad!"

"What did he tell you?"

"He said that we were too young to wed, and that we must wait over six years, when I reach my twenty-first birthday! No man can wait six whole years! He will find some woman who is older and much prettier than me, and I will lose his love!"

"I see; he has 'let you down gently' by wanting you to be older before you wed? This is how he has spurned your love?"

"I know how men are; no man wants a child, when there are grown women chasing after him! Already I have seen other Ladies enticing him into conversations, and his smiles at their words prove he would not be faithful to me for such a long time. I'm ruined!" Josephine put her hands to her face and wept into them.

The old monk took the girl's hands, and looked straight into her eyes; "You are Definitely Not Ruined! I have heard nothing from you that makes me think this lad, no, this young man means anything but what he says. You have not told me his name, but I have seen you talking to one of the King's Squires lately; is the 'man' you talk about Squire Andrew?"

Looking surprised, the maiden blushed, and answered a meek "Yes." Then full realization hit her, and she spoke out, "You Knew about us? Does everyone know? He promised to keep this a secret! Now I truly AM ruined!" Tears again sprung from Josephine's eyes, and it took Roger a full five minutes to get the lass calmed down enough to talk to her.

Finally, the broken-hearted child's tears subsided, and Roger began to speak again. "I have no doubt that Andrew has not been telling tales about your fondness for each other." Seeing the protest lighting in her eyes, he quickly continued; "yes, I know it is more than mere fondness, that fact truly is evident. You must realize, however, that there are things going on that you may not be aware of that he has realized plays a factor in the union of the two of you in marriage. Andrew is one of the Crown's Squires, and he is forbidden to marry until either he is knighted or he reaches his twenty-first year. Furthermore, even if he is Knighted in two years, which is the earliest that he could be dubbed, he will have to establish a home for you both to live. By saying that you should be twenty-one, he is being prudent; if things go well, perhaps you might wed sooner." The old monk paused for a moment to catch his breath, and then continued; "Have you spoken to your parents?"

"Not of marriage, but they know I, er, am very fond of Andrew. My parents think him a fine man, and even my grandfather has said that 'he was sure to be a knight someday.' I do not see any problem with them."

"Well, if you wait until you are twenty-one, perhaps not. But if you go home and tell them you are getting married tomorrow. . ."

"Oh, not tomorrow! But surely as soon as we can be married, we should be married. Does not the Bible say 'It is better to marry than to burn?'"

The monk briefly thought to himself that if every 'burning' young person married, weddings would be between twelve year olds, and when lust burned out, so would the marriage. "That passage refers to people thinking of serving God directly. Are you saying you have thought of becoming a nun?"

The young maid looked shocked. "Is that what that means? No, I fear the life of a sister is not for me!" Then thinking that her words might have harmed her counselor, she quickly added, "not that it is a bad way for a man or woman to live, if that is how God has led you!"

"I know full well the choice of which you speak," the monk said dryly, "and I agree with you, your life will probably follow a different path. Now to something you 'mentioned' before, you no longer like stories? Has Andrew told you a story or two?"

"He has told me hundreds of stories, all about what he wants to do with his life. He tells me of his knighting, of him serving the Crown, of the home he will build on land his father shall give to him; he has a story about everything except the day of our wedding!"

"Have you thought that he has held back such tales so as to protect your virtue? Andrew is a fine lad, but all young men dream of marriage, and of the rights married couples have, to be with each other. He may be afraid to speak to you, lest his already over-full heart burst, and he propose something that should be left until after the marriage vows are spoken."

"He has not ever tried to take advantage of my virtue, but in truth, I would not put up too much of a fight. I want to be with him!"

"Then even more so, it is best you follow his lead in this." The old monk considered something for a moment, and then continued; "may I tell you a story? I know you have heard more 'stories' than you would like from Andrew, but this one is true, it actually happened, and I think you will see it pertains to your problem."

Drying her eyes, the young maiden nodded her head, and after taking a drink from his mug, Roger began his tale . . .]

It was the springtime in the Kingdom of Good King Henry, and all the thoughts of the young folk were filled with dreams of romance. Some young maidens daydreamed of Knights on white chargers rescuing them from the lair of a dragon, while the young men all saw themselves as that noble Knight, slaying monsters, and winning fame, glory, and of course, the hand of the rescued Lady in wedded bliss.

For the somewhat more grown up Lords and Ladies, the thoughts were not so generic, but still each one of them thought about who would be the perfect life-mate. Ladies-in-waiting examined each Squire and Officer in the King's Guard, and imagined how life would be in his home and heart. Those selfsame men wanted nothing more than to be found worthy of a young, caring, noble maiden. If the good Lord decided to make that hoped-for partner as beautiful as the day, or the handsomest hero in the realm, so much the better, but mere beauty was the dream of children; these dreams were much more practical. All had some idea of their future partner, and secretly or openly, each set out looking for him or her.

One young woman was a bit amazed at her own lack of interest; the Lady Robin had that winter passed the golden year of twenty-one, and had until that point not really thought about with whom she would like to spend the rest of her life. Oh, when she was younger she had dreams of being rescued by a Knight from an Ogre or a Griffin, but more often than not she herself was that Knight, and the rescued person, although very appreciative, was not who she would spend her days with in marriage. She had many friends, of course, and was well liked by all the Squires and Men-at-arms. Indeed, she was loved by all who knew her, for she had proved her worth in saving the life of the Queen herself, let alone helping the King defeat an Ogre. Yes, Robin was loved by all.

And that was the problem; every man she knew loved her, but as a sister-in-arms. When you know a woman could likely beat you in a mock duel, and was a worthy partner to guard your back, it was sometimes difficult to picture her in your arms as your future wife. There was no collaborative effort to stay away from her, and at dances and balls she was a willing and enthusiastic partner in a dance. Still, for all her friendliness and affability, she was not seen as a prospective spouse by the men in the castle. To be truthful, nor did she see any of the young men as the one she wanted to give her heart and body to in a marriage vow.

She was discussing this one day with her close friend and confidant, Sir Harold. Sir Harold had spent most of his life as an orphaned Squire, and it was only recently through the King's efforts was he shown to be worthy of the Knight's accolade. Although in his mid-fifties, and eligible for a well-earned retirement, he enjoyed his life as the chief teacher of Good King Henry's Pages and Squires. He instructed them in the history and customs of the Kingdom. When she was a Page Robin had studied under his care, and they had developed a friendship that had grown over the years. Each felt comfortable in confiding with the other, and each brought a unique perspective to the friendship that helped the other see life from a very different point of view.

So it was no surprise that when she told Sir Harold of her concerns, he quickly came up with a fine solution. "Why not talk to our Gracious Queen? As one of her Ladies, she is the perfect one to set you on the right course. It may be that she may know of some noble Lord elsewhere in the realm that might be the perfect lad for you. Yes, I would go and speak to your Lady."

When it was next her responsibility to serve her monarch, Lady Robin asked Queen Eleanor leave to talk to her. "You always have permission to talk to me, my dear, how can I help you?" Robin quickly told the Queen of her dilemma, and after going into detail of how she was liked by all, but loved by none, she begged the Queen for a solution.

The Queen smiled, and saw the answer immediately, but knew that Robin needed to find the answer for herself. To aid her to see what the Queen saw as perfectly obvious, Queen Eleanor started to ask Robin a series of questions; What traits did she want in a husband, what should he look like, need he be rich, must he be of noble birth, and many more, each question eliciting from Robin another little bit of information that when put together would describe her ideal husband.

As Lady Robin slowly answered the Queen's questions, the Queen grew more and more certain that the answer was obvious. At last, when every possible question had been asked and Lady Robin had a list of characteristics ten pages long, the Queen asked one final question: "Forgetting about everything else, who in your life meets most, if not all of your criteria?"

Robin sat and thought of every lad she knew, and for the life of her she could not see who that might be. Finally, the Queen gave her a hint: "Lady Robin, ignoring the man's age, what man in the Kingdom has the most of the characteristics you say you find desirable in your husband?"

Robin had an epiphany; the answer had been right in front of her all this time! "Sir Harold? But he is old enough to be my father!" she told the Queen.

"Does that really matter to you?" The Queen paused for a moment, and then went on, "I do not remember you specifying an upper age limit when you were answering my questions. In fact, I believe you put it; 'Oh, age does not matter, although I would rather not marry some man too much younger than myself; I want a man who is mature in mind, body, and spirit.' Do you think Sir Harold meets that criterion?"

"Yes, he surely does. He really is the man of my heart. But will he have me?"

"Ah, the real question at last. As he is a typical male, no doubt he will be pig-headed about this if it is sprung upon him unexpectedly. However, I think I have a solution. Let me speak to my husband, and between the three of us, we shall surely get the good Knight to see reason!"

The Queen went and spoke to the King, and when he had heard his wife tell him of Robin's dilemma and the Queen's proposed solution, Good King Henry smiled. "I have often thought that Sir Harold needed a wife to love and cherish him, and Lady Robin is the perfect woman! She is the one who can see his true worth, and he is the kindest, most loving man in my kingdom. They were made for each other!"

Together the King and Queen hatched a plan. Telling Lady Robin only enough so her responses would be genuine, the King and Queen called Sir Harold to their personal chamber. As he was totally unaware of why he was called, the King put him at his ease, calling for a steward to fetch him a goblet of wine and bidding the Good Knight be seated before them. Sir Harold had but one full leg, the other was cut off just below the knee.

"Sir Harold," began the King, "have you ever given thoughts to marriage?"

"Frequently, your Majesty, but mostly in my youth. Nowadays that thought is an idle visitor to my mind, rather than the constant tenant it was when I was but a child." Sir Harold smiled as he remembered the passions that possessed him as a young man.

"Would you consider marrying a woman for reasons of state?" was the next question.

"I had never actually thought of that," replied the startled Knight, "I guess if it was for the sake of the realm, I would try to consider it. But I will not give my word if I do not think I can keep it, and so I must be able to honestly say that I will try to love and cherish her."

"What if the woman was much older than you?" inquired the Queen. "Could you love someone regardless of age?"

"Well, your Majesty, I have often thought that once you were an adult, age becomes irrelevant. If your Majesties were to ask me, for reasons of state, to wed an older woman, I would do my best to comply. I realize that her physical beauty may seem to some to have faded over the years, but I will try to see the inner beauty, that is the only beauty truly worthy of being sought." The Knight then asked a question of his own; "May I inquire, are these rhetorical questions?"

"No, Sir Harold, we have a situation that needs to be addressed, and we feel you are the perfect man for the task. It will affect your tasks here as a teacher, for as a husband, you will naturally need to focus on your new wife. Can I count on you to do us this great favor?"

"Your Majesties know that I am your devoted servant and that my life is yours to use as you will. As your Majesties request, I shall do. I will wed the woman you ask me to wed, and I will do my best to love, honor, and cherish her, as long as the Lord God gives me life. May I ask your Majesties who shall I be marrying?"

"We shall do better than that; we shall send for her." The King asked his Page to ask the Lady in the next chamber to come before him, and the Page speedily obeyed. When Harold's dear friend Lady Robin entered the room, he did not understand at first, and expected the Page was delayed in helping an old woman walk to the chamber. However, when the King and Queen each took Robin by the hand, Sir Harold saw that there was no other woman; the Crown wanted him to wed his best friend.

"Your Majesty, I can not do this; she is young enough to be my daughter. Is this fair to her?"

"Not five minutes ago you told me that age among adults was irrelevant; are you taking back your words?"

"Of course not, your Majesty, but you must listen to reason!"

"Reason tells me this Lady loves you. Do you think she is pretty enough to wed?"

"My King, she is the fairest maiden in the entire realm! She would have Noblemen from the entire Kingdom seeking her hand, if you would announce that she was questing for a husband."

Lady Robin then spoke up; "My dearest friend, my beloved friend, what I have looked for in a husband sits now before me. You have shown me that you can be trusted with my honor. You are my ideal, you have proven yourself the finest man in the Kingdom in my eyes. Where else should I look for wedded bliss but in the heart and mind of the best man I know of in the whole world? Sir Harold, if you would have me, I beg you to take me to wife."

With difficulty Sir Harold went down on one knee, and looking the fair maiden in the face he spoke; "Dear Lady Robin, before these witnesses, I humbly ask you to be my wife. I love you, I have loved you for your courage since the day you helped the King fight the Ogre. I have loved you for your wisdom since the days you were my student of history. I have loved you for your beauty from the day you were made a Lady-in-waiting. But today I have realized that I love you most of all for your beautiful spirit, and I want to spend the rest of my life making you happy. I had put aside all hope of wedded bliss, but your words have freed me to disclose my passionate devotion to you. Will you please grant me this gift, and become my wedded wife?"

"Sir Knight, be my husband, you are already my love!"

[". . . And so the banns were posted, and at the proper time, Lady Robin and Sir Harold were wed. The Queen herself was Robin's matron of honor, and the King escorted Lady Robin down the aisle and into the hands of her love. The King was wrong on one point, however, Sir Harold stayed on in the castle as the teacher of history, and if his students envied their teacher's marriage, that was of no great matter, for the newlyweds both were loved by all that knew them. They had a very long and happy life together; indeed, Sir Harold was heard to remark on more than one occasion that his life only started the day he was wed." The old monk paused, and looking into the eyes of Josephine, he added, "Do you see why I told you this story?"

"I think so. You want me to see that I have my whole life before me, and that waiting will only make us love each other more. Just like Robin and Harold, our age difference means little now, and nothing by the time we are ready to wed. But six years is still such a long time!"

"Well, maybe I can do something about that. I will remind young Andrew that once he is a Knight, it is very likely that he will be asked to serve at the pleasure of the King, and such a posting would more than adequately support a wife. Do you think you can wait until you are eighteen, and he has been given the accolade?"

The hug the girl gave the old monk nearly knocked him out of his chair. "I'll take that as a yes. Now, if you will do me a favor, I want you to put on a sad face, and try to cry a little bit more. I have a reputation to uphold, and if you look happy after what the rest of your friends think is a full measure of stern lecture, my secret will be out, and I'll never get any respect!"

"Roger," the suddenly shy maiden asked; "why didn't you give me the lecture I deserved?"

"My dear child," responded the monk, "I lecture those sinners who need to be reminded of the agonies of Hell. You were already so deeply buried in those agonies that I needed instead to remind you of the hope of Heaven." He paused briefly and then smiling added "Now go forth and look properly penitent!"

The young Lady hid the smile on her lips, and solemnly promised to look thoroughly scolded. At the request of the old monk she went into the kitchen. She needs must search to see if a cookie or two had escaped being devoured by all of the Ladies-in-waiting who for some reason had gotten a reprieve from their tiresome herb lecture. After all, grumpy old monks who yelled at frightened young maidens needed their proper nourishment!]

Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2005, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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