Susan CoventrySusan CoventrySusan Coventry

The Queen's Daughter


The Queen's Daughter

They said her family descended from the Devil. By the age of seven, Princess Joan knew the oft-sung tale by heart. She loved to roll the heroine's wondrous name around on her tongue—Melusine.

One of the earliest counts of Anjou, Fulks the Black, had returned from an unexplained journey with a mysterious bride, a woman of unearthly beauty—Melusine. The countess bore four sons in quick succession. For their sakes, Count Fulks suffered his wife's hot temper and strange ways.

Her most provoking habit was to leave mass before the consecration of the Host. When Fulks could no longer tolerate the resulting scandal, he commanded three of his knights to prevent her next departure from church. The following Sunday, when Melusine rose during mass, two men seated behind her stood to block her exit. The third knight barred the door.

The priest marched down the aisle, determined to see her take communion. But as he brought the body of Christ to her lips, Melusine turned away, eyes flashing fire. At once her skin sloughed, revealing scales. Serpents writhed in her hair, and a twisted tail emerged from beneath the hem of her skirt. Recognizing a daughter of Satan, the knights fell back in horror. Melusine gathered her howling sons in her claws and flew out the window but, in her haste, dropped the youngest.

The later counts of Anjou descended from that boy.

Joan's father, King Henry II of England, was born Count of Anjou. He took fierce pride in the tale, blaming his own hot temper on Melusine's blood. Joan's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, often added that the King had no lack of sins to excuse. Sometimes, when her brothers ran wild, courtiers crossed themselves, whispering, "From the Devil they've come, to the Devil they'll return." Joan hid her own temper as best as she could. Even so, once, in a fury, she bit her nurse, and the woman called her "Devil's child."

Her mother found her weeping. She smoothed Joan's hair and petted her. She said, "Remember, a good girl says her prayers and listens to her mother."

Eleanor said the Devil could not claim a girl who was good.

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