The Prisoner of Foix
Ximene Trencavel is a Cathar. The hallmark of Cathar culture is the ritual performance of the Courts of Love.
The Courts of Love are a woman’s world. Sometimes men are excluded whilst women advise each other on how to best manage their affairs of the heart.
When men are invited to attend they are expected to express their admiration for one of the women present, not necessarily their own wife.
Cathars regard marriage as a mere legal contract associated with the inheritance of material wealth. To them affairs of the heart are far more important . Sexual pleasure is simply God’s way of giving a sample of what union with him (or her) might be. Nothing associated with giving or receiving sexual pleasure is regarded as sinful.
In the Courts of Love the expressions of admiration were presented as perfect unrequited love, but the possibility remained that the lady praised might eventually succumb. In practice, everybody knew that many of the ladies did succumb but only at a time and location of the ladies choice.
Despite being a Cathar Ximene has little direct experience of this culture. She is kept a virtual prisoner in the Chateau de Foix, a formidable fortress by her uncle and guardian, Gaston Pheobus, the Comte de Foix.
Gaston is conducting an auction for Ximene’s hand in marriage and one of the bidders is Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, heir to the Plantagenet throne.
Despite being determined to seek her freedom and negotiate her own marriage contract. Ximene agrees to meet the Prince during her Uncle’s summer hunt. Privately she sees the hunt as an opportunity to escape.
John Stanley, son of a forester, as a result of talent, bravery and loyalty is promoted to be one of the Black Prince’s bodyguard. During the hunt he is assigned the task of ensuring Ximene’s welfare.
He is part of a very different culture, where any sexual pleasure, apart from that involved in creation is regarded as sinful and where behaviour is controlled by concepts of chivalry, faithful duty to the church and king and respect and protection of women, who are elevated to an asexual pedestal.
An attempt is made to abduct Ximene during the hunt, John rescues her and they are thrown into close contact.
When Ximene meets John she sees in him the potential to be her champion, a perfect knight. She believes he has the potential to protect her against those who threaten her. she sets out to seduce him to ensure his commitment to her cause.
John sees Ximene as the most outrageously desirable woman he could possibly imagine. However he is wracked with guilt. Are his feelings sinful?
Ximene is the woman who may be his future Queen. is his contact with her a breach of every concept of chivalry?
Could he be executed as a traitor?
Together they face adventure and danger. As their relationship develops they ask themselves if they can learn to love? A love which must survive the most traumatic circumstances?