With upmost admiration for the film, The Lion in Winter, the play holds even more fascination for me. Its humor, mental gymnastics and searing focus on the gut-level dynamics of a “positioned” family drew me in. And, a powerful king going up against his beautiful queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is also prime combat material for the stage –the George and Martha of 1183. Not in the least to say that James Goldman’s script, to me, lends some of the theatre’s most exciting words to the modern stage.
And, there is the renowned history of a most influential and powerful king. In only looking at the factual and historical influence of Henry II, I’d like to quote Ronald Hamilton from his Now I Remember – A Holiday History of Britain:
“Henry Plantagenet impressed his subjects by a powerful mind trained in the continental fashion and by his vast possessions. An Anarchical England required a firm hand, and got it. Pacification was swift. By appointing his brilliant Chancellor – Thomas Becket- as Archbishop of Canterbury, it would be possible to solve the problem of Church vs. State. The two powers were at loggerheads and Becket, graceful courtier, metamorphosed into ascetic prelate, opposing Henry. For safety’s sake, Becket left for the continent, while Henry controlled his vacancy and attempted to assure the future by having his son Henry (“The Young King”) crowned. Becket eventually returned, provoked his king to a hasty utterance, and was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by knights who sought to please the King.
In 1173 and 1174 there was rebellion on both sides of the channel. The King triumphed but his last years were poisoned by the revolts of his sons. The great man died unhappy in 1189. Still King Henry II had established the royal power as never before in England. His legal systems started a system which would, eventually, be uniform throughout the country and become one of the glories of England: the “Common Law.”
The power of a great King, dark deception in a cold castle at Christmastime, games that can make one dizzy, a family that defines dysfunction, and love being the quick flip-side of hate — all may account for my interest in these goings-on at Chinon in 1183.