Great Aunt Gertrude
In writing about Ximene I have drawn my inspiration from the fascinating stories told to me by my Great Aunt Gertrude whilst I helped her tidy up after her monthly “Soirees”. She and her husband ran a successful repertory company and the guests were her theatrical peers. She called me “daaarling” and encouraged me to smoke Gauloises, because she liked the smell.
Great Aunt Gertrude claimed John Stanley, founder of the Stanley Dynasty as an ancestor and my own research since then has found nothing to nullify that claim.
The identification of the Stanleys as ancestors had real meaning because both my aunt and myself had grown up in the industrial town of St Helens which adjoins the extensive Stanley estates of Knowsley and Lathom, much of which still exist to the present day. As a child I had played on the “coach road” between Knowsley and Lathom, a private road providing express contact between the two estates. By the time of my childhood it was a place of mystery and exitement; a secret highway, mostly overgrown, running through farmers fields but still well paved.
Again for me this had instant impact. As a child one of the greatest delights was to visit the Isle of Mann, travelling on one of the old steamers out of Liverpool.
Aunt Gertrude talked about an unnamed “French Woman” who was John Stanley’s first wife, the mother of John Stanley’s eldest son and who facilitated John’s rise to prominence.At first glance this was not supported by any genealogical records. I found no specific record of “the frenchwoman” and have no idea where Auntie Gertie got her information from. However she told her story with conviction, she implanted images in my mind which I have never forgotten.
When I started my own investigations I discovered that John was in what is now Southern France with the Black Prince’s army in 1355 -1356 and was present at the battle of Poitiers when English forces captured the French King John. I became particularly interested in the year before Poitiers when the Black Prince carried out a cavalry raid (chevauchee) starting at Bordeaux in the west and penetrating as far as Beziers in the east. This whole campaign is shrouded in mystery and the chroniclers disagree about time duration and places visited.
If there was a frenchwoman,here was the mechanism by which John might have met her. Almost immediately there were ideas formulating which were to form the basis of a story, but which story? Who would be the main protaganist?
It was a cyclical process; visits to libraries, nearly four months in total in the south of France. It became increasingly obvious that this was a story about John meeting Ximene and that the meeting lead to a life changing experience for both of them.
Whilst in the south I became aware that many of the local people speak their own language, Occitan and that there is an Occitan independence movement.
This was completely new to me and so an understanding of a history of the relationship and differences between the French and the peoples of Occitan became essential.
It did not take long for another item to be added to my list of research topics. It was virtually impossible to discuss the history and culture of Occitan without discussing the Cathar religion and the genocidal Albigensian crusade. Concepts of people being thrown out of their homes and being burned to death in their hundreds seemed beyond belief. Slowly I learned that the true story of the Albigensian crusade was, if anything, worse than described in these first discussions.
Six powerful women
I made notes about the stories Auntie Gertie told but for long period I was so busy earning a living that I put the notes to one side exept for occasion visitations in holiday periods. Then an opportunity presented itself. For over twenty years I worked throughout Australasia and S E Asia as a trainer, lecturer and consultant in Engineering Management.
As there was a dearth of published material dealing with the subjects covered, Longmans published a whole series of books to support my lecture tours. This made writing a central part of my life. From time to time I returned to Occitan and came to fall in love with its rugged beauty.
Slowly I made time to revisit the notes I had made. In trying to match Great Aunt Gertudes stories with recorded history I found myself reviewing the political and social forces which lead to the Wars of the Roses. This became yet another research topic.
I identified six powerful women who shaped events and concluded that their actions were in some way co-ordinated . I discovered that in one way or another they all had contact with John Stanley. I speculated on the presence of a seventh person, probably a woman who facilitated the introduction of the others to their positions of influence.
Circumstantial evidence says this could be “The French Woman”. She, not John Stanley became my protagonist. I have given this shadowy woman a name–Ximene–and told her story.
Change of Focus
Ximene’s adventures were first documented in hotel rooms and alongside hotel swimming pools during my years touring the southern continents on various lecture tours. In those early years almost everything I wrote caused a need for additional research. I have created this web site as promotion for my books, a repository for my research and a record of my involvement with the craft of writing.
The progression from revisting notes I had made of conversations with Aunt Gertrude was relatively slow, there was so much to learn.
As my work slowly turned from a genealogical investigation into a desire to write about the mystery frenchwoman, a series of topics acted as stimulation for my imagination.