In writing about Ximene, Brian drew inspiration from the fascinating stories told by his great aunt Gertrude whilst he helped her tidy up after her monthly “Soirees”. She and her husband ran a successful repertory company and the guests were her theatrical peers. She called Brian “daaarling” and encouraged him to smoke Gauloises, because she liked the smell.

Great Aunt Gertrude claimed John Stanley, founder of the Stanley Dynasty as an ancestor and recent research has found nothing to nullify that claim.

The identification of the Stanleys as ancestors had real meaning.

As a child, Brian had played on the “coach road” between Knowsley and Lathom; a private road which had providing express contact between the two Stanley estates. By the time of Brian’s childhood the coach road was a place of mystery and excitement; a well paved secret highway, mostly overgrown, running through farmers’ fields.

Aunt Gertrude talked about an unnamed “French Woman” who was John Stanley’s first wife, the mother of John Stanley’s eldest son and who facilitated John’s rise to prominence.

At first glance this was not supported by any genealogical records.

Brian found no specific record of “the French Woman” and had no idea from where Auntie Gertie got her information. However she told her story with conviction, she implanted images in his mind which have never been forgotten.

When Brian started his own investigations he discovered that John was with the Black Prince in 1355 during a cavalry raid, starting at Bordeaux in the west and penetrating as far as Beziers in the east. This whole campaign is shrouded in mystery and the chroniclers disagree about timing, duration and places visited.

However, if there was a French Woman, here was the mechanism by which John might have met her.

The most dangerous woman in the world

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