19 The Agreement

‘ I can’t remember the details of the marriage, but I do remember the consummation. That was my invention…pure theatre, I lay on the altar, draped in white…a virgin princess sacrificing herself to a barbarian invader to save her people.

Joan of Kent-10th March 1355

Memories came flooding back. Joan repeated the question. ‘Do you think you have treated me well mother? She found full voice as she established firm eye to eye contact with the Queen. ‘Yes,it is true, I entered into a stupid marriage at a ridiculously early age, but it should never have been taken seriously. I was seduced by the environment you created, at your own court.’


‘At my court?’

‘Yes at your court, where you gathered around you the best of English society. Not just the lords, nor even the knights—though they were not excluded—but the artists, writers and musicians. The walls at Gillingham were lined with fine art and tapestry and the court was filled with music and resounded with laughter and the buzz of conversation as the nightly drama of courtly love unfolded. When I was very young, I used to peep through the spindles of the balcony, whilst you thought I was in bed.’

‘No, we knew you were there.’

‘As I got older, I watched more closely as the rules of courtly love played out. Men were expected—as the central feature of social activity—to pay court to a lady of their choice. The lady might or might not have been married but, in any case, the man could not expect any formal response until he had displayed total devotion.’

‘As men’s skills varied enormously, admiration could be expressed through song, poetry or prose. The whole process was presented as perfect unrequited love, but the possibility remained that the lady might eventually succumb. In practice, everybody knew that many of the ladies did succumb. The ladies used to confide in me as they prepared for an assignation.’

‘Too late now, Joan. We should have had this conversation long ago. You immersed yourself in the game of courtly love but at an age and with a disposition that has led you to ignore the rules. And the marriage to John Holland?’

‘My love of the game led me to give my favour. I was only twelve—too young and inexperienced to realise he was taking advantage of me. I cannot remember how I came to be in the church, who organised it and arranged for the Roman priest. Possibly no friend of mine. I can’t remember the details of the marriage, but I do remember the consummation. That was my invention— pure theatre, I lay on the altar, draped in white—a virgin princess sacrificing herself to a barbarian invader to save her people. There were many observers, although again I have no idea who invited them. But I was pleased to have an audience. Those people, whom I hardly knew, gave witness later that the consummation had actually occurred.’ Joan sighed. ‘The truth is, that is not what I remember. I remember the richness of the tapestries and furniture, the nights of music and laughter, the elaborate costumes and the endless expressions of love. I just wanted to be a part of it.’ She paused. ‘But I have always loved the Prince. It is you and the King who have never accepted the inevitability of our love.’

‘But what about William Montacute?’ asked Philippa sharply. ‘You do still see him, don’t you?’

Joan looked firmly into Philippa’s eyes. ‘You married me to William. You hoped it would make me unavailable to the Prince, but you forgot that he was the Prince’s best friend. At first, my marriage was unconsummated, as we used it to cover my continuing love for the Prince, but I spent so much time with William that we came to love each other. It is a short step from being in love, to becoming intimate.’ She took a deep breath. ‘It was the happiest time of my life.’ Her cheeks reddened. ‘Have you any idea how wonderful it is to be adored by two men, who have no jealousy for the other’s involvement? But be aware, I did not create this situation. You did.’ Joan’s breasts heaved. She had long desired this conversation.

Philippa’s voice quavered. ‘And my husband, the King?’

‘My lady, I think you probably know as much about that as I do.’ Joan tried hard to weed the accusative note from her voice. ‘That night at Calais, the King was disturbed. When he decided to execute the Burgers for their unlawful opposition to him, you gave spirited objection. From that point, temporarily, you remained as King and Queen, but you were no longer partners. He wanted solace, and he picked on me. I tried to resist, but he forced himself on me. Ever since the court has attempted to place the blame on me. Attack is obviously the best form of defence. He has made his possession of my garter as the symbol of his new order of chivalry, Knights of the Garter. I ask you!’

Philippa looked away. ‘What about your subsequent appearance at court dinners with your breasts barely covered, men clustering around you as if there were no other women in the room and your claim that there was no man alive that would not bed you if you asked them to. You deliberately confronted me with the knowledge that one of those men was the Prince.’

‘When you became aware that my marriage to William was not separating me from the Prince, I was forced to divorce William and to submit to the advances of my childhood husband, a man I no longer loved or even knew. There seemed to be no difference between lying with him or any other man. I made it clear that I was available. In this way, I built my power, wealth and influence.’

Renewed courage welled up inside her. ‘You know, some of them actually loved me. King David Bruce of Scotland was a major conquest, during his captivity in England. He left his wife and never married again. I didn’t intend for that. In the end, there were only two men I loved.’

Philippa moved forward and stroked Joan’s hair. ‘Froissart christened you the most beautiful and amorous woman in Europe, and there could be no doubt what he really meant. Now, Joan, what about the present?’

‘It is all over. I found that even men in whom I had no interest expected to bed me, simply because so many others had done so. Suddenly, it was not the life I wanted. There was one particularly dreadful man who was nothing less than a nightmare! Bertrand du Guesclin expected my favour just because he asked for it. Du Guesclin’s parents were relatively close neighbours of mine in Brittany but on the Frankish side of the border. Their son had a reputation for mindless violence and cruelty. When I firmly rejected his advances, he laid siege to me in the Château Suscinio. I could not leave for fear of being abducted by him. He threatened to kill my friends and servants if I did not submit. I was terrified.’

‘I knew nothing of this.’

‘William arrived in Brittany as if by magic when I needed him most. He brought a small army from Brest and confronted Du Guesclin. Du Guesclin was given twelve hours to leave and told that if he ever returned he would be executed. William then spent several weeks at Château Suscinio, while he confirmed that Du Guesclin had left. While William was there, I happily fell back into a loving relationship with him.’

‘And does that relationship still exist despite the renewal of your relationship with the Prince?’

Joan found it necessary to lower her eyes. ‘Yes, Mother.’

Philippa held Joan’s hands to her lips and kissed them tenderly. ‘The King has instructed the Prince to marry Ximene Trencavel, the heiress to Occitan. He has also instructed him to terminate his relationship with you. If you really do want to marry the Prince, I will give you a tiny window of hope. Almost anything might go wrong in arranging the marriage with Ximene, and if it does fall through, I could persuade the King to look more favourably on you. However, you will be marrying a future King. Any children you may have will rule this kingdom. There must be no doubt about their parentage.’ She narrowed her eyes. ‘Therefore, here is my ultimatum—end your involvement with William and end it soon. If the marriage with Ximene does not occur for any reason I will intercede on your behalf, but only if you distance yourself from William.’

Joan’s eyes rested on the older woman’s. A promise. ‘Yes, Mother.’

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel