‘If we could gain control of Occitan, we might be able to stabilise the whole of Aquitaine.’
Edward of Woodstock-10th March 1355
Sir Ralph had brought his own map, which showed the current territories under English control. He unrolled it on the table in front of the King.
The Prince returned to the table and leaned forward, examining the map.
Sir Ralph continued talking. ‘Over the last one-hundred-and-fifty years, we have lost control of huge areas of our own lands. Our strategy was to establish secure frontiers with major geographic features delineating the boundary. Long before my time, we chose the Loire and the Central Massive—’
‘No, no, Sir Ralph. Please stick to the current discussion.’
‘Yes, Sire. We now try to use the Garonne River as our boundary. We would like to extend it north as far as the River Lot or even the Dordogne, but those lands are currently in dispute. Even during the Death, there was sporadic fighting. We have managed to secure harbours on the northern bank of the Garonne. La Reole, Aigullion and Agen have all fallen to us, and the other ports tolerate our presence. In the aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade, we lost control of the area around Toulouse, including the river crossings. The area to the east of Toulouse, Occitan, was at that time part of Aragon, governed by the Comte de Carcassonne, Raimon Trencavel.’
‘The present, the present, Sir Ralph!’ The King slammed a fist on the table.
‘Yes, Sire, but this is relevant. Under the excuse of eliminating heresy during the Albigensian Crusade, the Franks stole the Trencavel lands. This is where the Routiers now hide from us, and it is the route the Northern Franks use to consolidate gains. The Franks move down the Rhone valley, though the Occitan territories, Beziers, Narbonne, Carcassonne and then up through Toulouse.’
‘So the lands of Occitan are important to us? They represent an opportunity’
‘Absolutely, Sire. There is no doubt that Comte d’Armagnac is defecting partly because we cannot protect him from either the Franks or the Routiers, who use the river crossing at Toulouse to infiltrate his territory.’
‘And the supposed heiress to Occitan territories, Ximene Trencavel?’
‘I know little about her, Sire, but one does hear rumours.’
‘She is the niece of the Comte de Foix, both the Comte and His Holiness seem to think her claim is genuine, and they want to marry her to the Prince.’
‘Really?’ Sir Ralph said. His cheeks reddened and he turned his head away, only to look back at the King again, wide-eyed. ‘Really!’ His smile grew too big for his face. ‘If we could gain control of Occitan, we might be able to stabilise the whole of Aquitaine.’
‘That is useful information,’ the King said. ‘Now I must tell you that Monsieur Froissart has spent most of the winter negotiating with Comte de Foix and the Pope to obtain an agreement on a marriage between the Prince and Ximene Trencavel.’
Sir Ralph looked surprised; ‘I was not aware of that. If it could be achieved it would be wonderful.’
King Edward smiled. ‘The information you’ve just given me confirms the importance of Occitan and the Prince has heard for himself.’ He glanced at his son. ‘You have heard, haven’t you Edward.’
The Prince nodded.
King Edward gently steered Sir Ralph towards the door. ‘Thank you, Sir Ralph we needed that.’ He paused and allowed his gaze to roam the room.
The Prince realised the pause was for his benefit, his father was making sure he was listening, which he certainly was. The Prince looked directly into his father’s eyes to emphasise his attention.
The King now spoke in a regal tone. ‘Sir Ralph, you must report all this to my lords in Parliament. You are an accomplished orator. It will come better from you.’ He lifted his eyebrows. ‘Try to convince them, Sir Ralph. If they do not give me more of their wealth, we will not be able to extend or even defend our empire in the south and in the end, that will affect them all, even those who have no possessions in Aquitaine.’ He put his hand on Sir Ralph’s shoulder. ‘Thank you. Sir Ralph.’
When the door had closed the King walked back to the window. He spoke without looking directly at the Prince. ‘This is probably the most important year of your life, Edward. Aquitaine is in great strife and in need of a strong leader. If I move to Bordeaux, it is likely that we will lose the north of England to the Scots and, perhaps, England, itself, to one of the more powerful barons. We need a new initiative against the Franks. I will play my part to communicate to everyone that you have my support, but you must take control in Aquitaine, and build a new and more powerful state!’
The Prince saw the opportunity he had been waiting for to put his own imprint on the initiative, hoping he sounded like an elder statesman offering advice. ‘We must wage war more vigorously and make it clear that it is in pursuit of your claim to the Frankish throne. If we can win that war then all the French lords will be forced to swear fealty to you. Any who refuse could be replaced by lords or the younger sons of lords from English families. That may well win the support of our nobility, and not a moment too soon, as they have become increasingly disinterested in the needs of Aquitaine.’
The King nodded once, his head turned slightly to one side as though he could only see out of one eye. ‘The same tactic the Franks used in Occitan.’ He raised a hand. ‘Talking of which, did you understand the importance of Ximene Trencavel and her inheritance to our plans.’
‘I did indeed, but the same thing applies to Occitan. It must not be a question of making them independent. The lords of Occitan must be made to swear fealty to you. Any other solution will simply extend our difficulties. The only way to defeat these Routiers is to drive them out of Occitan and then impose our rule.’ He hesitated. ‘I am not sure whether this solution will be acceptable to the Comte de Foix or his ward.’
The King smiled icily. ‘Ximene, Edward! Her name is Ximene.’ He sighed. ‘But you are right. We must find out exactly what terms will be acceptable to the Comte … and to Ximene.’ He flicked his head in exasperation. ‘She apparently wants to re-establish the Cathar faith in Occitan.’
The Prince stared carefully at his father, considering his reply. He knew the King was aware of his own Cathar sympathies and forever counselled him on the need to keep them hidden from the wider world. ‘Religion is an issue. It will be up to us to persuade her to adopt our model, where we tolerate rather than actively support the Cathar religion, and we limit the activities of the Inquisition to a point where they cannot uncover privately held beliefs.’
The King smiled and approached his son. ‘Edward you live in a world of black and white—no room for shades of grey.’ He put an arm around the Prince’s shoulder. ‘In this case, I agree with you but do not look for differences that will cause difficulty. Let the details of an agreement unfold. I believe that an essential part of your strategy must be to marry Ximene Trencavel. To find out what she wants, you will meet her at Muret at the beginning of June. That is not a request. It is an order. The details, I leave to you.’
The Prince eyed his father. ‘I will do as you wish and just to show our commitment to this lady …’
‘Ximene, Edward, Ximene!’
‘To show our commitment to … Ximene, once we have dealt with the Comte d’Armagnac, we will invade Occitan and disturb these Routiers in the places they like to hide. If the Franks, in their bastides, do not want to assist us then so be it. We will disturb them also. By the time I have finished, the Routiers will no longer see Occitan as a safe haven. While I am there, I will seek a conference with lords and nobles, to test out their support for … Ximene.’
The King’s eyes bulged. ‘Edward, I have just told you I will leave the details to you but be careful. Do not overextend yourself. These Routiers will not comply with the rules of chivalry. They will attack without warning. They are devious and, from what we have been told, ruthless.’
He relaxed then, looking at his son, he sighed then smiled. ‘I have just given you authority for Aquitaine and now I am trying to control you. You must do what you must do. In any case, the Routiers’ business will be later in the year. In the meantime, to meet Ximene at Murat in June, you will have to leave in advance of the main army.’
From her seat, by the fire, Queen Philippa nodded her agreement. The Prince walked to his mother and kissed her cheek. He turned and gave a curt half bow to his father signifying that he believed his audience was over. ‘And so I will leave immediately to make the necessary arrangements.’
The King had followed the Prince across the room and hurriedly reached out and caught him by the arm.’Oh, just one last thought. Terminate your relationship with Joan of Kent. She will never accept a position as your mistress, so you must never see her again…’He paused and took great care to search deep into the Prince’s eyes. ‘Once again, that is an order, not a request.’