Shaftesbury 17th September 1356.
Joan of Kent gazed around at the crumbling ruin of the abbey dormitory on the crest of the hill in Shaftesbury in the county of Dorset ‘ Oh god! what a total mess, typical of Edward! You can’t possibly stay here let alone live here. Even if we mend the walls and windows it will take a year to dry out! He may own it but he has probably never been here.’
Ximene frowned. ‘ Don’t be so negative Joan, It might have potential. I will accept the Prince’s generous offer and get someone to look at it.’
‘Probably Don Fernandino, he seems to have put himself in charge of the negotiations and I have already learned that I can trust his judgement. ‘ Ximene gazed around. ‘It is really a wonderful location. there are wonderful views every direction. and I have already been given the title of Countess of Salisbury.’
‘So you have! And a state reception when you arrived. Good, good, it is your decision, with the money coming to you you could rebuild it entirely if you really want to. There was the sound of a large bell somewhere in the distance. it chimed five times.
‘Five o clock, Come on, let’s go and see the Queen.’
‘What was that.’
Mechanical timepiece, clockwork, clock. Recent invention but already commonplace in monasteries and large houses. Monasteries use them to call the monks to prayer. Large houses use them so that servants can keep track of time. There is one at King’s Court. Hate them. Disturb my sleep. Nothing wrong with candles to keep time.
‘Do we have to travel far?’
‘No, you heard the clock. King’s Court is just at the bottom of the hill. Come on Henry, Charles, let us go and get some hospitality.’
Joan charged ahead down the hill, but pulled up at the entry to the long tree lined drive which framed the view of the Palace.
‘It is of course a complete misnomer. It is not the King’s Court it is the Queens Court. Always has been. Beautiful place, wonderful atmosphere, My childhood there is my fondest memory.
Yes this is where I was brought up. The Queen more or less adopted me. She is the only mother I have ever known. She paused. ‘l have deliberately picked a night when the King is in London. I warned you about the King and I was serious.’ You must do everything possible to avoid staying overnight under the same roof as the King..
Joan of Kent grinned. ‘Of course you might like having the King of England as your lover. Tonight is good, he is a long way away.’
‘She nodded to their two escorts, who kept a respectful distance. Henry and Charles have been specially selected by me, they are both the younger sons of earls and therefore known to and totally acceptable to the Queen.
They will join us at dinner. Incidentally if you warm to them they have both expressed a willingness to become the first members of your entourage.’
‘Oh, yes! You have been in England, what is it? Four months. Countess of Salisbury? High time you had an entourage, We can’t have you charging round the countryside without an entourage. If officially appointed they will bring their own men at arms with them.’
‘Don’t forget I already have a very senior military advisor, who is currently preoccupied with preparations for war in Aquitaine.’
‘Won’t be a problem if it is presented to them properly. In fact that is brilliant. If John Stanley is presented as your military advisor, that will be totally acceptable to everyone. As a countess of course you can have a captain in the Prince’s Bodyguard as your military advisor.’
She glanced sideways at Ximene. ‘ Why didn’t I think of that . But there is of course a subsidiary question… why would a countess need a military advisor?’
Oh! before we go in, I should perform the introductions. Thomas de Vere, Charles Percy, gentlemen my good friend Diana, Countess of Shaftesbury.
The Queen was to put it mildly curious about the relationship between Ximene and Joan, but in front of the two knights was circumspect and discrete.
Ximene found herself distracted by the clock, it made conversation impossible whilst it counted out the hour.
At the end of the meal, The Queen dismissed the knights. ‘There is a visitors lounge near the main gate, I need to discuss some details of my wardrobe with these two ladies.’
When they had left the room she rounded on Joan. ‘What are you doing here? I knew you had an had a hand in the arrangements but I did not expect you to come in person.’
‘Mother, I can still call you mother?’I thought that it was better than you worrying about what I was up to behind the scenes. I hoped my presence would prove that I have given up my plans to marry Edward but that I was supportive of Ximene as his future wife.’
The Queens head whipped around and she gazed deep into Ximene’s eyes. ‘Is this true or is this just a cover? Tell me the truth. Have you agreed that Joan will continue as Edwards mistress even after you have married him?’
Ximene was astonished. The Queen had been docile during dinner, but now was distrustful, abrasive even, not what she had expected.
However she was gaining experience in this game. She took a deep breath. ‘Your Majesty, I can assure you that Joan has no intention of remaining as the Prince’s Mistress.’
‘Are you sure? Is this what she has told you? can you believe her?’
‘Yes, Majesty, we have been though some trying times, I can believe her.’
The Queen gazed at Ximene long and hard. Eventually she sighed. ‘I believe you. Now tell me about your negotiations.’
‘The truth is I am not handling the negotiations, my ambassador and my agent are handing the negotiations.’
The Queen smiled. ‘Your reputation has gone before you, my dear, the Earl of Salisbury has told me that you are a determined negotiator. So. Tell me what you want.’
‘It is very simple. According to the Prince, my family’s treasure will be important to you and as a member of the family I will be pleased to make it available to you.’
‘And this treasure is valuable?’
Joan broke in. ‘Fabulously’ She reached inside her purse and pulled out the diamond. ‘Just a sample, Mother.’
‘Oh! I see, and where is the rest?’
‘ In the wine cellars at Bordeaux.’
So what is the next step, please speak freely, as I have just said I may be able to help you get what you want.
Ximene took a deep breath. ”First of all I want to keep ten percent of the value of the treasure in cash to enable me to start on some short term projects. for instance, I looked today at the Abbey on top of Shaftesbury hill which the Prince has given to me. To make it viable, significant sums will be needed to spend on it.’
‘That might be difficult’
‘I Don’t see why, all we have to do is sell ten percent of it off.
‘Oh, see you have sought this through, and after that?’
‘The value of the treasure has been agreed and we are negotiating on what I will get in return. I want land. The land will come from the crown estates.
There are three issues. First the land must be sold to me unencumbered. That is what believe is known as freehold, not simply the right to use the land but total ownership. It would appear that there is some difficulty in doing this for crown lands. Not unassailable, but needing some legal attention.
The Queen blinked and bit her lip. ‘ and who is dealing with that issue.’
‘Your Chancellor, Bishop Thoresby.’
‘ Of course’
Secondly there is the suitability of the land. I do not want fens or forest which you have in profusion. I want a mixture of good arable land but also lands peripheral to towns or villages.
And that is a problem?
‘It seems to be, there seems to be an opinion that my holdings should be a total mach with the distribution of crown lands. That is unacceptable to me.’
‘Who is handing that?’
‘A profusion of petty officials, who all claim the designs originate with the King, but I suspect not.’
‘I might have get involve with that one.’
I would be pleased if you would, Thirdly there is the question of the value of the land I am offered. The value should be based on the audited income obtained from the land over the last five years not estimates of what it might yield in the future. It is not easy, for some of your lands there are no records.’
‘And what will you do about that?’
‘If necessary we will make our own valuation based on what we can see.’
‘You seem well informed. But you are not directly involved?’
‘I am kept well informed. I am the head of an independent state. The Prince has recognised me as such, it is the negotiator’s duty to keep me informed.’
‘And how is all this progressing?’
‘It hasn’t really started, we are still arguing about how the negotiation will be carried out.’
Ximene eyed the Queen carefully. ‘I want and need the ten percent right away and… there is no question of me marrying the Prince until the negotiations have been satisfactorily completed.’