52 Fashions of Paris

‘Gaston it is so good of you to consider Ximene’s future so carefully, you are so clever! And who do you think would make the most suitable partner?’

Joan of Kent-13th March 1354

Joan of Kent knew far more about Ximene than either the Prince or the Earl; knowledge she had never shared with either of them.

A little more than a year earlier Joan had entered Château de Pau, in the county of Bearn to act as the sponsor for the first stage of Ximene’s transition to adulthood in the Cathar tradition. The ceremony was known as The Progression. Joan’s invitation had come because sometime earlier, Joan had visited Paris for the marriage of her close relative, Princess Agnes of Navarre to Gaston, Comte de Foix.

While in Paris, Joan had established a close relationship with Lady Eleanor, their common interest being a secret adherence to the Cathar faith. They had attended Cathar ceremonies together, always a risky thing to do in Paris and the two had remained in contact ever since. Joan had welcomed the invitation to Ximene’s Progression as it gave her a chance to meet again the young woman who was by now the talk of Europe.

When Joan first entered the Château she had been impressed. The elegant central hall and the huge sandstone pillars which blended smoothly into the vaulted ceiling were, she knew, the latest fashion in Paris.

Agnes and Lady Eleanor made Joan welcome. They told her that they had made sure that she had been given the best available accommodation. Joan marvelled at her small suite of rooms. Outside her day room window, a terrace overlooked the gardens. Two rows of pencil pines aligned perfectly with the two sides of the terrace. The main garden promenade ran between the pines, framing in the background a magnificent view of the Pyrenees. Her large bedroom, decorated in deep red and gold was completely to her taste. She particularly liked the design of the bed linen–pure white silks and a silver coverlet which gave the effect of a shaft of light playing on the bed. Here lay the inspiration for the decoration of the bedroom over the stables in Westminster. Discovering her own personal bathroom, Joan knew that the Château could offer no more impressive accommodation. The suite had probably been designed for visiting royalty, and as a granddaughter of a French princess and an English king, Joan felt that she fitted that description.


On the afternoon of her arrival, on a lawn by a lake at the end of the promenade, servants offered her light refreshments as she took the opportunity to converse with the Comte and his wife. She tiptoed carefully around any discussion of politics, deliberately posing as someone with a limited appreciation of worldly affairs – not a difficult thing to do in view of her reputation as a courtesan. However she could not avoid discussing Ximene’s future, an unavoidable topic given her sponsorship role.

‘We are enormously proud of Ximene,’ the Comte told her. ‘Her hand will be acceptable to every royal house that can offer a suitable heir. Of course, if she forms a union with a powerful house, and claims back her rightful inheritance, a major reshaping of the power-base here in the south of France would take place. As such, I must attend to my own security during all lead-up negotiations.’

Joan fluttered her eyelashes. ‘Gaston it is so good of you to consider Ximene’s future so carefully, you are so clever!’Privately she had already concluded that the Comte was delaying proceedings, seeking to add contractual terms to any betrothal agreement to give him additional land holdings. It seemed he was playing off one suitor against another but she had no clear evidence that this was so.She fluttered her eyelashes again. ‘And who do you think would make the most suitable partner?’

‘I have to consider my relations with the English, French and Aragonese kings, and I must make sure that I appear to consider them all equally. It is also a question as to whether any of these royal houses have a suitable heir. ‘A note of caution crept into his voice. ‘However, I must say that I will be very disappointed if we cannot arrange a match between Ximene and the Black Prince.’

Considering his answer, Joan knew he was not giving any weight whatsoever to her political standing. She had thought that he also must know about her long-standing relationship with the Prince. Clearly, in his mind, it was of no importance. Joan did not reply, or react in any way, she simply fluttered her eyelashes a third time, something she had found over the years made conversation with most men totally unnecessary.


Back in her own rooms, she fought back her irritation that Gaston regarded her as a non-entity. She forced herself to look forward to tonight’s reception as it gave her the first opportunity to meet Ximene since her visit to Paris.

She thought long and hard about what she would wear. She had brought only three evening gowns with her. Two were conservative almost dowdy, one grey, one brown, but the third one was rather different, in the style she wore in both the French and English courts.The dress had been made in pure white with a perfectly normal long skirt, but with a bodice, which laced underneath her breasts in such way that they were pushed upwards and outwards, away from her body. It was intended to be worn with a chemise which was elaborately ruffled at the back of her neck but below that simply outlined the edge of the bodice. This outfit would leave her breasts totally exposed.

She agonised over the decision. She knew that what was an acceptable fashion in Paris or London might be considered quite shocking in the southern countryside. On the other hand, she desperately wanted to make Gaston take notice of her.

After several changes of mind, she decided on the white dress. She had long lived by a mantra that she would rather be remembered than ignored.

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

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Extract from The Prisoner of Foix--Chapter 43 -The EntranceNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley-26th April 1355

 

'Looks like we are going to see a bit of excitement, John. The Captain tried to get an agreement from the Prince that if there is surf running across the channel to Arcachon we will turn back to Bordeaux, but the Prince would hear none of it. Instead, he has offered to provide insurance for all three ships. If they are damaged or sunk, the owners will be compensated and every sailor who makes the passage will be given a bounty payment. What none of this seems to take into account is that if we sink in rough, fast-flowing waters we might all drown.'

John raised his eyebrows. 'But that is what we are going to do?'

'Yes, despite the fact that surf running accross the entrance is not uncommon and the deep water channel moves continually. In the end, the Prince attacked their captains on their weakest point, their professional pride! He threw down the gauntlet. He offered to take the Sally first through the channel, and to take control during the passage.' He raised his brow. 'We are going into the Bay of Arcachon, come what may! '

Extract from The Eagle of Carcassone -- Chapter 24-- A Real GoddessNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley - 22 July 1355

An hour later John walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.

Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. 

He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’

Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.

She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so  I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’

The Prisoner of FoixVol 1 of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

Aquitaine, an English possession, is in crisis. It is under threat from neighbouring nations and internal dissension.

The Black Prince, King Edward III’s eldest son has been given the task of taking command in Aquitaine.

Suddenly there is an opportunity. Ximene Trencavel is the heiress to the lands of Occitan, to the east of Aquitaine: lands controlled by the Franks. Ximene wants independence, both for herself and for Occitan.

A union between Aquitaine and Occitan would be mutually beneficial. The Black Prince undertakes a secret journey to meet Ximene to negotiate a marriage contract. It is, however, a marriage neither of them really wants.

Meanwhile, the  Franks plot to murder Ximene to prevent ,not just the marriage, but any kind of union between England and Occitan.

The Eagle Of CarcassonneVol II of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

The loose alliance between Ximene Trencavel and the Black Prince is under threat.

The Prince invades Occitan, to show his support for Ximene but it becomes an invasion which creates more problems than it solves.

The Prince has fallen hopelessly in love with Joan of Kent and Joan is now determined to marry him and become the next Queen of England.

Joan is therefore  determined to convince Ximene that she should not marry the Prince.

Part of her strategy is to encourage Ximene’s relationship with John Stanley—one of the Princes bodyguards—not an easy task as both John and Ximene have doubts about their compatibility.

However, John is grievously injured in a battle and Ximene commits herself to nurse him back to health.