‘The river always bustles with merchants and barges. A good sign; increasingly it is trade which is generating the wealth of the nation.’
Philippa d’Asvesnes -10th March 1355
The King’s lounge in the Palace of Westminster was less than luxurious.
Philippa d’Asvesnes, Queen of England, found the stone floor, heavy oak-panelled walls and the enormous stone fireplace reminiscent of a castle armoury.
The sole concessions to comfort were the thick carpet and the glass panes in the huge bay window overlooking the Thames.
Philippa sat at a respectful distance from the fire and watched her husband stride the room. She sighed. ‘Sit down, Edward; tell me how much you love me.’
‘I tell you all the time how much I love you.’
She pushed out her bottom lip. ‘If you are not off on a military campaign, there is always the jousting and failing that, the hunting, and when none of those is scheduled you spend your time training for one or the other!’ She glanced up at her husband.’At least it keeps you fit. For such a big man you are very slim, even now.’
‘When we were young you used to come hunting with me.’ Edward purred.
‘Not for long. Given that the original reason for our marriage was to give you an heir, I was locked up for three months before our mating to make sure that any child I bore would definitely be yours. I was guarded by a prial of clerics. It was perhaps a good precaution.’ The chance comment caused memories to come flooding back. ‘There are, I think, not many Moors or Egyptians in your family. The Prince’s dark skin could have caused great concern.’
She rose and took his hand in hers, pressing herself close against him. ‘The time of the Death was the best time for us. The mad gallop to Clarendon, taking care not to stop on the way. Rounding up the animals and securing them inside the walls, locking the gates, digging up the gardens and planting crops, doing all the work ourselves. We really were together then. Those poor unfortunates who died have my sympathy, but for us… we grew very close. One of the best parts about Clarendon was that there were no other women. All your attention was focused on me.’
King Edward patted her hand. ‘I do love you, Philippa. I do not know what I would do without you. I feel indefinable contentment whenever I am with you.’ He smiled. ‘And you offer such good counsel, which is why I asked you to be here this morning.’
Without warning a scowl passed over his face. ‘Do you know where the Prince is?’ The King gazed around as if he thought his son might be hiding somewhere in the room. ‘I despair, Philippa. I never know where he is.’
‘That is not quite true, Edward. We know that four days ago he visited the monks at Vale Royal and we know that he was intending to spend two nights in Chester, at a meeting of the Marcher Lords, saving the need for you to make the trip.’
‘But where is he now? If he left Chester two days ago and changed horses regularly, he should be here by now.’
Philippa studied her husband. ‘I think you have omitted to consider that he would need some sleep.’
King Edward would not be pacified.
‘I continue to hear how loved and admired he is, the flower of chivalry, the bravest soldier, the darling of the populace. Yet I can never get him to do anything I want. In truth, I have great difficulty getting him to listen to me!’
Philippa chortled. ‘He is everything a man should be. Lithe, handsome, strong, agile, brave—not to mention smart. He is a champion in the lists.’
The king pressed his lips together. ‘However… he is also impetuous. He spends more time than he should practising his jousting and making minor adjustments to his armour and the dressage of his horses. He is lacking in formal education, against which he has always rebelled. He has never had the patience to sit down and learn languages, philosophy or history. He generally learns fast, don’t get me wrong, but he does make mistakes. He has a small group of friends, but outside of that circle he trusts no one. And… of course, there is no doubt that he is still obsessed with Joan…’
Philippa smiled. ‘Despite all that… I love my son, just as I love you despite your faults.’
Her husband moved away, clearly, he did not want to discuss his own faults.
‘I’ve waited long enough, let’s do the finances first. It’s going to determine what we can do and can’t do and it may include considerations of moderation so it will not be of any interest to the Prince.’
‘Who have you invited?’
‘The Chancellor, John Thoresby, and William de la Pole.’
Philippa chuckled. ‘Financial advisors always advise economy, reducing expenditure and avoiding excess. If they followed their own advice they should be slim and modestly dressed. In fact, those two gentlemen are rotund, even fleshy, and more often than not extravagantly dressed.’
The King joined Philippa briefly in her laughter and turning toward a flunkey stationed by the door, issued a curt command.
‘The Chancellor and his companion. Now, please.’
Philippa watched with great interest as the trio took their places at the table.
Bishop Thoresby was the first to speak.’Sire, our State is virtually bankrupt. It is currently impossible to raise taxes for the army you intend to send to Aquitaine, either here or in Aquitaine itself. We cannot borrow money. It is because of this situation that I suggested William might attend.’
King Edward’s eyebrows rose, and Philippa was equally surprised. It was the most uncompromising statement the bishop had ever made.
The King turned to William de la Pole. ‘William, thank you for coming. Can we once again request your help?’
William clearly thought carefully about his answer. ‘In 1341, you reneged on your debts to the Bardi and Peruzzi banks. I know you thought they were taking advantage of you…’ He shrugged. ‘Perhaps the nation and therefore you were justified in what you did but it then became impossible for you to borrow from any of the existing sources. I lent you money and you gave me special warrants to earn the money I was lending you.’
‘Your help was much appreciated.’
‘Unfortunately, some petty-minded citizens saw what I did as illegal and I have spent significant time in custody. Twice I have needed your intervention to free me.’
‘As soon as I knew of your difficulty I rushed to your aid.’
William smiled and kept his voice level. ‘I am prepared to continue with the same terms as before. We will keep it simple and trade with Aquitaine; wool and cloth for wine. You will provide me with a monopoly and I will keep only thirty per cent of the profit. I am prepared for someone you nominate to audit my accounts.’ He nodded towards John Thoresby. ‘Perhaps the Chancellor himself? I will, of course, rely on your support if, once again, I run foul of minor bureaucrats.’
‘Good,’ said the King. ‘It is agreed.’
‘Then I will make you an advance to fund the army you are sending to Aquitaine. Ask for more than you need; we must make sure the expedition is successful. In the longer term, I would appreciate the award of a title which would put me beyond the jurisdiction of petty -minded local officials.’
The King nodded gravely.
William de la Pole sat straighter. His chin jutted forward just a little as he spoke. ‘My concerns are not just for myself, but for you, for the nation. It would be beneficial, Sire, if you could regularise the way you raise revenue. If you could establish a store of wealth; gold, silver, precious jewels and allow people to inspect and value it, you would find that banks and individuals would again be prepared to lend you money at reasonable interest, secure in the knowledge that they could, if necessary, recover the capital. If you could borrow money there would be a multiplying effect as my own humble efforts would only be concerned with paying the interest.’
The King was stony-faced. ‘Thank you for your advice, William. There is just the small matter of where I might lay my hands on a treasure trove of precious metals and gems! But thank you anyway, I really am most grateful.’
He waved his hand in dismissal.
Bishop Thoresby hesitated. ‘A moment in private your majesty?’
The bishop waited until the doors closed behind William de la Pole and then leaned forward conspiratorially. ‘I have been asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Islip, acting in his supplementary role as the Pope’s legate to prepare plans for the strengthening of ecclesiastical courts in all of your domains.’
‘What exactly does that mean?’
‘To reintroduce measures by which church appointees can take direct measures in ecclesiastical matters without submitting to the civil…’ he hesitated, ‘King’s courts.’
The King sighed. ‘To arrest those accused of heresy and deal with them without any need to go to trial?’
‘Well yes, that is part of it, The Archbishop is of the opinion you have already agreed to this. It is just a matter of implementation.’
‘I have agreed to nothing of the sort. What I told him was I would prevent the practice of the Cathar religion in my domains, which was not difficult for me, as these measures are already in place.’
‘He came to me because of my position of chancellor, I fear he sees things quite differently,’
‘Make an appointment for him to see me directly and make sure you also attend. I have no intention of relaxing the constitutions of Clarendon. Until that meeting, I do not want to discuss it any further.’
The bishop hurriedly left the room.
King Edward rose from his desk and walked to the bay window.’Will no one free me from these troublesome clerics?’
Philippa joined him. ‘Careful Edward, weren’t those the very words Henry II used which led to the murder of Thomas a Becket.’
The King grimaced. ‘Yes, they were. It was an attempt at humour, not a very good attempt, but I ask you?’
Philippa decided to change the subject. From the window, she could see for a league in either direction. ‘You like the view from here, don’t you Edward.’
Edward nodded, puffing out his chest. ‘The river always bustles with merchants and barges. A good sign; increasingly it is trade which is generating the wealth of the nation.’
Philippa rested her hand gently on his shoulder. ‘If you could do more deals like that one you have just completed, your problems in funding military campaigns and my problems in keeping a suitable wardrobe would be over. But William is right; we must look to find a treasure trove! And incidentally, he must have his title.’
The King turned from the window. ‘Where is the Prince?’ he growled.’Do you think he’s with her? Might he be with Joan even now?’
Philippa eyed her husband sympathetically. ‘I have heard that currently, she is in Brittany, though not with her husband. Usually, I hear rumours of her visits to the Prince, servants who pass on their observations to Monsieur Froissart or his like, but I have heard nothing lately which can be relied on…However,’ she added, a certain droll challenge in her eyes as she looked at her husband, ‘she has perhaps had no little experience in getting into men’s bedrooms without being noticed!’
Edward ignored the jibe.
‘What can be keeping him? Where is the Prince?’