Another Digression: how Grand-father Peire (and my father and uncles) served Queen Eleanor/ how my father married my mother/ Of a royal mid-wife/ Of my education in Old Sarum Castle.

Since the time of  Emperor Charlemagne, there had always been a William, Count of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitaine. Do we not still sing how the first William fought Saracen

Giants and did other feats of valour? However, in the days of my Grand-father, when Aquitaine passed not to a William, but to a maiden named Eleanor, (for no male heir had been born) Grandfather, Pierre by name, paid homage to her and, in due course, her husband: first Louis Capet of France and then Henry Plantagenet of England, for she out-lived the French King, as she was to out-live the English King as well).

And with her Grandfather travelled to Paris, Jerusalem and England and served her many years, and so did his son, my father…..

When Henry locked in the Queen at Old Sarum Castle, my father went there with her.

This, I’m told, is how he met my mother, Gwendolynn, daughter of Gerald, a harper.

My mother had accompanied the daughter of a troublesome Welsh baron, taken by Henry as hostage and security on her father’s promise of loyalty. These young maidens of Wales waited upon the Queen from Aquitaine, loving her as their own grand-mother. My father wooed and won Gwendolynn’s heart with sweet music, I suppose, for that is the way with minstrels.

Blind and old, Gerald’s heart was not gladdened when told that his only daughter would marry a man of the Normans. Guided by Cousin Seamus, (who was then but a boy), Gerald came down from the mountains of Wales to Old Sarum. The pair arrived at the castle, Gerald’s harp hanging from his shoulder by a leather strap and one of his long fingered hands resting upon Cousin Seamus’ shoulder. Then Grand-father Gerald and my father sat together by the well in the garden and after the old man had eaten and rested, father began singing the ancient and secret melodies of Galicia, softly toning upon his Hoordy-Goordy as his Grand-father Olivier had taught him to do. On hearing this music the old harper softened his sightless regard, picked up his harp and then did his fingers begin an elfish dance upon the strings of his instrument, weaving and twinning his melody with father’s………After the wedding Gerald returned to his home in the wild mountains of Wales.

Queen Eleanor took much pleasure in my mother’s harp, but the Norman ladies at court, (kept there by King Henry to spy upon the Queen), were jealous of my mother’s beauty and sweet melodies. They whispered of her to be a witch and other such lies. When her time came to bed with a child, these spiteful ladies paid the midwife to loose her way.

They then declared themselves afraid of devilment and wouldn’t help my mother.

When Queen Eleanor saw this she told those ladies not to be afraid, that she herself had tumbled with the devil on many occasions and was not the worse for it. Rolling up her sleeves and pulling the curtains round the bed, she herself helped my mother.

That is how it came to pass that Queen Eleanor served as a mid-wife and pulled me into the world……..

With my cousin Guy as companion, I grew up there at Old Sarum, which is more like a fortified town than a castle. We swam in the river Avon, along with the rest of that great brood of castle children, and played at spinning tops and shooting marbles. But most of all our passion was to play at being knights, and mounted on cousin Guy as my Dester, I slew whole armies of Saracen giants. Once, Uncle Thoebald (Guy’s father) carved for us mounted knights and fastened them on to short sticks: one of them we named Sir Gewain and the other Sir Mehe-mehe-met, a fierce Saracen warrior: and they jousted and battled with great honor.

From my mother I learned to harp and sing the heroic rhymes of the Welsh tongue, which resembles more the singing and twittering of birds than any speech of man. From my father and  uncles  we learned to sing boldly the Chansons de Geste and gently recite the Lais in French, with accents both of Normandy and and Aquitaine. We learned from them  to play our lutes, harps, flutes, pipes, fyddels and Chifonées, both soft and loud, as well as many other courtly and pleasant arts; to serve lords and ladies at table and converse in a courtly  manner.

From the Friars at the Abbé we learned our credos and pater nosters, to read and write Latin and French, and to accept in silence (whenever we could not recite our rote) the sting of the rod. Using a clever system lately brought by these monks from Italy, we learned the secret art of reading and writing music as well. From the servants we learned English and other vulgar tongues.

From the  Senéschel we learned to fight with sword and shield and to ride and care for our ponies as well as to care for the horses and armour of Knights. But it was only from Uncle Theobald that we learned to keep and use a secret dagger–and sometimes I think that was the most important lesson of all……

            Since the king forbade her going out from Old Sarum (save at Christmastide),

Father served the Queen not only as Minstrell but also as messenger, traveling all about her Dominions in England, France and Aquitaine, often crossing La Manche, that rough sleeve of water between England and Normandy.

One day at the end of summer it happened that father returned to Sarum, his horse all asweating  from the hard gallop. He brought tidings from Duke Richard to his mother the Queen: Henry II,  King of England and Duke of Normandy, had breathed his last.

Directly after Mass (at which Guy and I sang) Eleanor began preparations for Richard’s coronation as King of England.

Father spoke with Uncle Theobald and then told us: “You two boys now are old enough.” And so father took Cousin Guy and I along with him on his travels, showing us how to pack our ponies, find our way on the roads, stay at inn or hospice, make a rough camp in field or forest, and how to pass (without hindrance) in and out of the gates of castles and Townes. On the road we had as company, pilgrims, friars, tinkers, peddlers, and not a few thieves and runaway villains: a merry sort of traffic moving here and there……And I have lived all my days ever since as a wayfarer and minstrel.

Frontpiece

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Epilogue