Rene Bonfils – 21 June 1355
John and the Earl worked long into the night. John defended himself.
“I agree it did not go well but what else could I do. I believe I represented Ximene’s requirements accurately. Is it possible to proceed without the Compte?”
The Earl thought for a while and slowly whirled his armagnac around his glass.
“I think not. The Compte has control of the whole of the northern slopes of the Pyrenees. If we were to find ourselves compressed between a hostile Compte de Foix and the Franks it would be difficult to retain control of the intermediate strip of ground.”
John was also thinking.
“But what about his oath of fealty to the Prince ? Does that not stand for anything” John asked, desperately trying to understand the situation being described.
The Earl was extremely patient
“The Compte is perhaps more than anyone else causing the breakdown of the feudal system. He has sworn fealty to the French king for his lands at Foix and insists that both oaths can run concurrently. Whenever either monarch tries to call in his feudal obligations, however, he runs away to serve the Pope or fight a crusade. He is devious in the extreme”
“Could we not force him to comply with his oath of fealty as we are doing currently with the Armagnacs?”
The Earl shook his head.
“I think not. He has a succession of fortresses, all of which have a reputation for being impregnable. We could not afford the time or the expense to lay siege to them all!’
John became aware he was carrying the look that he had seen several times on Ximene’s face, disappointment to the point of defeat.
“So without the involvement of the Compte de Foix we cannot proceed! His objection has nothing to do with becoming linked to Aquitaine. His objection is that he does not want any association between himself and the Cathar religion.
The Earl smiled somewhat sourly.
“I think that is a good summary of the situation”
“So after all she has done she is still effectively under the control of the Compte de Foix.”
“Not quite” The Earl replied
‘If she becomes Duchess of both Aquitaine and Occitan she will be in a position of considerable influence. Suppose there is a strong swing towards freedom of worship within the Compte’s territory? Suppose “Les Etoilles” become aggressive and not defensive, infiltrates society and secures for its members every position of power? Who knows what might happen over a five to ten year period.
John thought for a moment
“I thought the Prince and other rulers were keen to marry Ximene? I thought the intention of all of them was to declare an independent Occitan and in this way extend their own territories”
The Earl frowned.
‘Yes but the barrier is your insistance on freedom of religious belief. The Prince is far more likely to fight for an independent Occitan than any of the others. We will soon be at war with the French and we have a good chance of winning that war.
‘And will that involve creating a free Occitan?’
‘Sooner than you think. In two days time we will put our ability to free Occitan from the rule of the Franks to the test. The Prince will allow the Compte d’Armagnac to renew his oath of allegiance. We will then move across the Garonne and sweep eastward as far as Montpellier to test out resistance. In the short term you can ask for no more than that.”
For a while John had been frustrated by this process but suddenly he realised the Earl was paying him a great honour. He was treating him appropriately as the Ambassador for Ximene and Occitan and was carefully pleading the Prince’s case.
John tried once more. ‘But no religeous freedom?’
The Earl continued
“The Prince wants to marry Ximene but Ximene must understand the conditions. She may quite possibly be made Duchess of Occitan in her own right but there will be no immediate freedom of worship. It is unlikely that freedom of worship will occur within her lifetime. That is a fact of life. The Compte was right however, once in this position she could create conditions in which private Cathar sects supported by “ Les etoilles’ or a similar organisation, set up by herself, could thrive. She could therefore still provide a better future for those who were dispossessed by the Albigensian Crusade.”
‘And would the Prince allow the wealth to be used in that way’
‘ I believe so. As long it was in some way at arms length and he could truthfully say he knew nothing about it. He would therefore, not approve but not take any steps to prevent it happening. I need to think about the correct formula which would give you confidence.’
He rose to his feet
“These are things for Ximene to consider. Now, I want to get Joan’s opinion on the samples of the treasure you have given me” I do believe that helping you with the treasure is a separate issue”
John noted the successive use of the word “you”. The Earl clearly had accepted John as Ximene’s Ambassador.
Joan was waiting for them in her own chambers. She greeted them both warmly. They pulled chairs into position so that they sat with their heads together as she took John’s treasures and examined them. John could immediately see a side of Joan he had not anticipated. She was certainly not the empty headed courtesan she often pretended to be.
She carefully looked at the sparkling stone and then the dagger.
She looked up at the two men with astonishment.
“I think they both come from the same place. The stone is called a diamond. It comes originally from India and is extremely rare. In the east they developed a skill at cutting the stone so that it shines like this. It was highly regarded as jewellery and its rarity caused it to be very valuable. There was then a disruption in supply. The stones which did reach the west were uncut and it has been common to crush then to a dust and use them as medicine.”
And where did they come from?
Not directly from India I think. There are now, once again, a small number of larger stones coming onto the European market. They are so valuable that they are regarded as something which should only be worn by kings. This is the biggest diamond I have ever seen and the one which shines the brightest.”
She then turned her attention to the knife
“The writing on the knife is Hebrew. It is a sacrificial knife from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Sacrifices ceased to be part of the Jewish religion when the Romans destroyed the temple and stole the temple treasure over a thousand years ago.
She could hardly conceal her excitement. Also in the temple was a vast collection of diamonds supposedly donated firstly by the Queen of Sheba and later by Cleopatra. I believe that both the diamond and the knife came from the temple. This diamond was quite possibly owned by one of those famous ladies. Just to add to the story, it is said that the treasure from Jerusalem was transported to Rome and subsequently stolen by the Visigoths. It was last seen in Toulouse , close to here. No one has any idea where it went after that. Both of these items are worth a fortune.”
John smiled. Joan was certainly knowledgeable. Her assessment tied in precisely with the stories he had heard.
She looked at John
“There is more of this?”
“Much, Much more” John replied
Well, well” said the Earl
“This confirms what I said, the Prince will certainly be interested in helping with the treasure regardless of the outcome of the betrothal negotiations.”
He stretched and stifled a yawn.
“We should retire… John I must be away for a couple of days reviewing the situation along the Gers and Garronne rivers. It is routine and will probably prove to be uneventful, perhaps you could stay here and keep Joan company. After that we must allow you to present your credentials to the Prince. It is also necessary to make sure that you are known to all the commanders in the Prince’s army so that you are recognised as a Royal Guard, in fact, the foundation Lion of Aquitaine. It will devise a special ensigna to recognise that fact. It is essential that you should have access to the Lions’ camp and the Prince’s compound. After that you should ride with the army at least as far as Carcassonne from where you can re-establish contact with Ximene and bring her to meet the Prince.
Joan was still looking at the diamond
“John, please can I keep the diamond for tonight?”
John still had little idea of the diamond’s value.
“Of course” he said
“In fact it would probably be sensible to leave it in your safe keeping as, at the bidding of the Earl, I will shortly be going into a combat situation. You may return it to me when I return to Bordeaux. Take the knife as well but remember that really belongs to Ximene.”
Joan looked at him in astonishment.
“You would place such trust in me?”
“You are the grand-daughter of a King of England. If I cannot trust you I cannot trust anyone!