Helen Rayson-Hill

Helen Rayson-Hill trained as an infant teacher, and taught in country Victoria, Melbourne and the UK. Later, she became a drama teacher following a long interest in the theatre. After a family transfer to Brisbane, she was appointed Queensland Manager of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. For two years she co-ordinated National Arts Week in Brisbane working closely with the Queensland Government’s Ministry of the Arts and Brisbane City Council. On returning to Melbourne, Helen held a position at the Victorian Arts Centre in the Membership and Fundraising and Development Department. For two years she was an adjudicator for the Victorian Drama League. Helen has also performed both on the stage in Melbourne and Brisbane and on television in Neighbours on Channel 10 and Something’s in the Air on the Australian ABC network. Writing has always been an interest of Helen’s and she is a member of the Writers’ Circle at Melbourne’s Lyceum Club. She has written plays for her drama students as well as sketches for amateur theatre. Also an artist specialising in oils, Helen has held several successful exhibitions at several Victorian galleries. Helen’s short stories and memoir pieces have been published in anthologies, and she has written a children’s book, Kid Detectives. The story was inspired by her grandson who wanted to know how children entertained themselves before electronic devices filled their lives. Helen has long been interested in Medieval history, especially in the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. After many years of research, inspired originally by the play The Lion in Winter by James Goldman, Helen was motivated to write about Eleanor’s amazing life. Consequently, Eleanor, the Firebrand Queen became the first in a planned series of historical novels about this Medieval feminist.


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from Eleanor the Firebrand Queen

Petronilla was gazing out the door of the old school room in our palace at L’Ombriere as Papa recited a chapter from the multitude of laws of our Duchy of Aquitaine. A well-thumbed copy of Cicero lay on the table. The aroma of freshly threshed hay drifted in from nearby fields mixed with the scent of the blossoms from the garden.

Papa’s voice broke into my reverie, ‘Eleanor! Are you listening? Nilla, why do you not run off and play? You are daydreaming.’

‘That is not fair! Nilla is always allowed to miss lessons.’

‘Elea, it is you who is destined to be Duchess of Aquitaine, not your little sister.’

‘But Papa, I already know them off by heart. I feel like a talking parrot, over and over, law after law, till my eyes cross.’

Papa chided me for being rude but at times my heart is heavy with the responsibility I know will be mine one day. I hung my head and stared at the gold, bejewelled girdle round my waist, fiddling with a loose pearl. I must ask Renée to restitch it before it falls off. Papa gave me the girdle for my twelfth birthday.

Although I have been encouraged to question everything from Latin verbs to discourses by Aristotle, it was no use arguing with Papa. No, I was stuck in the schoolroom while Nilla and my friends, Clotilde and Jerome, played in the gardens, breathing fresh air instead of ink and parchment, practising, practising, practising, a never-ending education. Papa’s voice rang in my ears, ‘Do your duty, Eleanor’.

The wealth of the Aquitaine surrounds me. The opulence of our palaces and estates I take for granted as I do my education, music, poetry and the love in which I am enveloped. But the weight of my future duty hangs over me. I hope Papa lives forever.


We played many games around the old Roman walls. Renée was always darning our hose and kissing better scraped knees. I remember trying to learn the names of all the herbs in the Herbarium one summer. Everything grows so well here in the gardens, flowers as well as fruits and vegetables. The vines produce the most delicious wine. There are olive trees, too, some so old and twisted our gardeners say they were planted by the Romans. L’Ombriere has always been a favourite palace, but now it is carved on my heart as the place where the Archbishop broke the news that Papa had died.

Archbishop Geoffrey told me I was special in the eyes of God. If I was so special to God, why has He taken away all whom I love? He took my Maman before I knew her or can remember what she looked like, and my little brother also. He was only a baby named William after Papa. Everyone was crying. Renée came to look after Nilla and me because Maman died with William.

And now God has taken my beloved Papa. The Archbishop said Papa was in the bosom of St James in his shrine at Compostela and therefore mightily favoured by God. If I were not so bereaved this would be funny. Papa only went on this pilgrimage because the Pope had excommunicated him again. Maybe His Grace was trying to be kind. That I am now Duchess of Aquitaine is too fearful to comprehend. I think I am too young.

In this old school room Papa told us many stories about our Roman ancestors. It was here he read The Aeneid to Petronilla and me. He said I was Juno and Nilla was Dido. I love Aeneas’ adventures. Whatever fate awaits us, I must keep The Aeneid. I know Nilla will not want it. I will find some special trinkets for her.

Archbishop Geoffrey told me King Louis of France was to be my guardian. It was Papa’s wish to keep me safe. I find this most odd. Papa had no liking for the French. He said they were pious and dirty and spent more time praying than bathing. There was little I could do. I must obey Papa’s wishes. Renée said Papa would never have made this decision if it was not for a good purpose. I have heard King Louis is grossly fat.

Renée is calling me to get some fresh air. She grumbles if I stay at my journal too long, and worries I am becoming melancholy which is not my usual disposition.

But my head is whirling with the abrupt changes in my life when all around me life seems normal. Birds are tweeting, Petronilla’s pet monkey Simian, has stolen the laundry maids’ freshly washed linens and has dragged them though the dirt. The maids are furious. Nilla tried to catch the naughty monkey. He is now in a tree.

from The Lion and the Tigress

Chapter 1. London

We celebrated the birth of Christ in Westminster Abbey. It felt odd after all the pomp  of our Coronation to be back in the that mighty house of God, but also a relief the concerns and nerves leading up to that momentous day were over. However, the ritual, the spirituality and solemnity of the occasion would remain forever in my heart.

What a fateful year it had been for Henry and me. Stephen of Blois and his evil son Eustace were no longer. Henry’s mother, Empress Matilda was at last avenged, and England her rightful inheritance, returned to its dynastic roots.

The year of 1154 was carved like an inscription on a monument in my mind. Judith’s prophesy all those years ago in Antioch had provoked within me every emotion from doubt to anger. Now that it was coming true, I wrestled still with its predictions: You will marry the love of your life, you will bear him many sons, but your life will be tumultuous. You are destined to become a great queen.


This morning while we knelt in Westminster Abbey, I glanced at Henry with his head bowed and I pondered what his thoughts might be. The responsibilities of his kingdom lay heavily on his young shoulders even though his mother had groomed him for this role. I prayed not only for God’s guidance of our onerous future, but to endow Henry and me with the wisdom to unite this war-torn nation. Henry was a natural leader of men, a soldier, a valiant knight, but not a patient diplomat. I prayed I could provide that influence.

After we returned to the old Saxon Palace of Bermondsey, our temporary home, our families enjoyed themselves and were able to relax. Our Christmas court was informal, allowing us to partake in simple fun. We exchanged little gifts, drank mulled wine, and ate goose and other fowl such as grouse and pheasant. With sticky fingers we relished sweetmeats made from dried fruits and nuts flavoured with spices and laced with honey.

This would be the first Christmas little William would remember; such a joy. My Aquitainian court was as excited as puppies with the appearance of snow. Laughter and sport took place in the fairyland-like gardens as we made snowballs and hurled them in all directions. It became quite a joust with the Plantagenet men trying to outdo each other. Henry’s brothers, Geoffrey, and William were as competitive as he was. Nilla’s children ran about squealing with joy, for the first time since their father Raoul’s death. Wrapped up in furs, my sister and I looked like cuddly bears. We joined in the fun. But the cold eventually won as flurries of snowflakes sent us indoors to the warmth of the braziers, but not before I hit Henry on his ear with a snowball, dislodging his cap. He whirled around.

‘What the… Eleanor!’

I saw him wrestling with his thoughts – should he retaliate with someone in my condition or not. But, with a peel of laughter and speed that surprised him, I had shot indoors before he could hurl his handful of snow.

Henry caught me puffing up the stairs. He backed me into a corner. My expanding belly was no barrier as he forced the snow down my neck. My shrieks brought everyone to see what the commotion was. With a fiendish chuckle, Henry picked me up despite my protests and carried me to the great hall.

‘No! Henry, stop. Put me down!’

To get my own back, I shoved my freezing hands under his tunic.

‘Ahhh! God’s teeth Eleanor. Your hands are freezing!’

from The Tigress Caged

Chapter 1 The Young King

Papa’s old library was my sanctuary. I slumped into the chair at my desk and turned the pages of my journal. So much had happened.

Henry had arrived at the Palace of L’Ombrière to collect Hal. The time had come for him to be crowned the Young King of England in Westminster Abbey, but he balked at the prospect.

‘Darling, your crowning is a great honour. It is your father’s tradition. Not only that, it is your duty.’

‘I do not care! I do not want the damn title, two meaningless words. And I am not going back to England, so there!’ He stomped to the door.

I raised my voice. ‘I am sorry, Hal, but you must obey. As I have said, you are duty-bound. Furthermore, this is your destiny. It is ordained…’

‘No!’  The door slammed.

But I was certain it was his suspicions regarding the state of Henry’s and my marriage that was behind his reluctance. His father and I were estranged. I had walked out, bolted to the Aquitaine after discovering his affair with Rosamund Clifford, which was at its height when John was born. Amidst the hurt and humiliation, though, I think I still loved Henry, desired him…but?

When Henry arrived, he begged my forgiveness. He kissed me and tried to unlace my gown, but the braided cords knotted in his haste. Frustrated, he tried to rip the sumptuous robe from my body. We ended in a tangled heap on my bed fully clothed, boots and all. Henry tore at his braies with one hand, with the other, he tried to hoist the twisted silk above my knees. My passion for him almost over-ruled common sense. But, at the last moment, I could not bring myself to lie with a husband I no longer trusted. I struggled from his groping and pushed him away.

Hell was about to break lose between us when Jerome banged on my chamber door.

‘Lord Henry! Lord Henry!’ His voice was insistent. ‘A courier has just delivered a missive for you, Milord. He said it is most urgent and must be placed in your hands immediately.’

Henry stormed to the door, wrenched it open and snatched the letter from my dear childhood companion, now a Benedictine monk. I dashed towards my dressing room, but an animal howl halted me. The letter was from Henry’s brother William. Their mother, Empress Matilda, had died.

Within days, the family sailed to Barfleur and galloped to Rouen. Matilda had been interred in her beloved Abbey of Bec by the time we arrived. We attended memorial services and prayers for her immortal soul in Rouen Cathedral.

Henry readied himself to sail to England after the ceremonies were over. But Hal was still stubbornly protesting.

‘I am not going! I do not want to be crowned.’

I tried to calm him. ‘Hal, please, listen. I have told you; you have no choice. You are your father’s heir—by the Grace of God, the Young King of England.’

Hal was about to bolt. I barred the door.

‘Hal, please…please…do it for me.’

We stood eyeball to eyeball.

‘I am not going without you, Maman. I do not care what you say!’

I took Hal’s face in my hands. ‘I promise I will accompany you. I want to, and it is my duty.’ I kissed his forehead and left to inform Henry of my decision.

I steadied myself and entered Henry’s chamber.

‘Henry, I am sorry to interrupt, but I must speak to you.’ Icicles hung in the air. ‘I will be returning to England with you to attend Hal’s crowning as the Young King.’

‘And so you should, Eleanor. It is your duty, as my queen as well as to Hal.’

‘I am aware of my duties to Hal, Henry.’

His tone of voice had me gritting my teeth, so I turned to leave, muttering, ‘It is a pity you do not.’

‘So that is it, Eleanor?’ Henry shouted after me, ‘Why not just send a courier?’


We arrived in London. Preparations for the crowning were finalised. Richard, Geoffrey and the three girls were excited as was our youngest son John, who was with us from Fontevrault Abbey.

The ceremony proclaiming Hal as the Young King was deeply spiritual. The pride I had in my beloved son was immeasurable when the crown was placed on his head.

But Thomas Becket’s bitterness hovered. Henry had forbidden him from crowning Hal, although it was his right as Archbishop of Canterbury. Instead, Archbishop Roger of York officiated. Becket was out for vengeance. He had refused to obey the Common Laws of England like his predecessor, and his defiance led to a schism between him and his king. Becket insisted unordained clerks who committed crimes while employed by the church should be judged by Canon Law, rather than within England’s legal system. Thomas Becket then exiled himself in Paris and endeared himself to no-one other than like-minded clerics.


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