The Prisoner of Bowes

Bowes Castle in County Durham was once the prison of Eleanor, Fair Maid of Brittany. She had been imprisoned by King John, and afterwards his son Henry III, because she arguably had a better claim to the crown than they. Furthermore, she was heiress to vast tracts of European lands in Anjou, Aquitaine, and Brittany. Her prisons, though comfortable, were many, and she was moved around the country as security and royal diktat required.

According to an old legend of unknown origin, King Henry gave an elderly Eleanor a gold crown to wear, but she returned it after only wearing it for one day. Was it a joke? Was it an attempt to legitimise himself and his heirs by claiming the rightful heiress had passed it back, surrendering her claim? For a golden crown which neither John nor Henry could keep, they imprisoned this poor woman. Ezekiel prophesies in chapter 21:

‘Now to you, O profane, wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose iniquity shall end, thus says the Lord God:

“Remove the turban, and take off the crown;

Nothing shall remain the same.

Exalt the humble, and humble the exalted.

The crowns and glories of this world are passing away. Even if Eleanor had rightly inherited her lands and honours, she could not have kept them. On the other hand, the apostle Peter promises:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (1: 5:4)

Many of us feel like prisoners of Bowes. There are things we might do, or achieve, or accomplish, if only we had this, that or the other. Let us rather look up to Christ, obedience to whose will is far nobler than satisfying human ambition. The crown He gives will be far better and last longer than anything the Prisoner of Bowes was able to wear.