Once upon a time, a young maid named Fair Rosamond was murdered by jealous Queen Eleanor in the royal palace of Woodstock, near Oxford. Despite the best efforts of King Henry II to keep his women apart, evidently he had failed. The question that remains: who was the villain of the piece?
Was it Rosamond Clifford the mistress, or the unfaithful King Henry of England or his vengeful wife Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine? Over the centuries there have been many tales of jealous lovers killing the object of their affections and today’s television news and tabloids thrill to exposés of husbands killing their wives, wives killing their husbands, mistresses hiring contract killers to shoot their male friend’s wife, and so on. Crimes of passion are always difficult to explain, which is of course why they are so interesting. But how was it done back in the 12th century?
It was widely known at the time, throughout both England and France, that Henry was having an affair with young Rosamond de Clifford. Eleanor’s spies reported the goings-on to her in her castle at Poitiers, to which she had now retired. It seems that as the affair persisted, she became angrier, since Henry’s past affairs had never lasted long and this new infatuation appeared to be growing more intense. Eleanor decided to act, stealing into England with her knights, headed for Woodstock, where Henry had his mistress hidden away. The palace was deep in the forest and its approaches were constructed like a labyrinth designed to foil Eleanor, should she ever decide to do what she was doing now. Alas for Rosamond, a silk thread had become detached from a needlework chest that the King had given her for embroidery. Once the Queen discovered it, she was able to follow it to the heart of the labyrinth and surprise the young woman. The Queen’s soldiers quickly overpowered the single brave knight who was there to protect her and at last Eleanor confronted her nemesis. She offered Rosamond a choice between a dagger and a cup of poisoned wine. Rosamond apparently chose the poison and died, and that was the end of her, or so the story goes.