7 The Dowry

Agnes of Navarre- 22nd 1355

Agnes had never seen her husband so subdued.

Gaston Phoebus, Comte de Foix, sat slumped in a chair. They were in the great hall at Chateau de Foix which was still littered with the debris of the dinner which had been held two days earlier.

It had been planned to be the best ever formal dinner and the glittering culmination of Gaston’s campaign to marry Ximene into one of the royal houses of Europe.   In the event, it had been used as the cover for Ximene’s escape.

Now Gaston looked defeated, a shadow of his former self. Agnes could hardly hear what he was saying. He groaned. ‘Not more than ten minutes, which may have destroyed my work of the last five years. It must have been planned for a long time. It wasn’t only that Ximene was snatched away. So many others, Lady Eleanor, Alyse; the whole of the de Roet family, Henri de Vivar and another half a dozen of my guards, all spirited away into the night’

He groaned. ‘Ximene Trencavel was my greatest asset, and now she has gone. At least four members of various royal houses wanted her hand in marriage. In almost every case I could have gained a significant advantage from giving my approval for her marriage to any of the candidates. Now, all that has gone. Worse than that, I have been made to look a fool.

Agnes shook her head. ‘Gaston, I understand all that but I do think that brought it on yourself. Before Ximene’s escape, I had already decided to go to Bearn. Why did I make that decision? Because despite your apparent attempts to marry Ximene to the Black Prince. You had ambitions to keep her to yourself. I have no idea how you ever hoped to fulfil such totally incompatible objectives and I suspect what you are really morning is the end of your ambition to seduce her not the loss of any political advantage you might have gained.

Gaston whipped his head around to look Agnes directly in the eye before he reverted to his previous position with his head held in his hands. ‘No!.No! that it was never what I intended.’

Agnes chortled mirthlessly. ‘ You must think I am stupid.  I found out about the temple dedicated to Ximene. There was also the that elaborate camp on the way to Muret, clearly part of a determined seduction. Did you really think I would not have found out about that? There were two problems, Gaston. firstly that you kept your intentions a secret, you made no attempt to publicly make a suit for Ximene’s hand. Secondly, what you did came close to you forcing yourself on her…against her will. Oh! and before that, there was the issue of your infatuation with Alyse. She shrugged her shoulders. ‘ But that was less important, Alyse had made it clear that she was prepared to become your mistress.’

Agnes sighed. ‘I just wanted to get away for a while.’ She sighed again. ‘Gaston, I am sure that Ximene had no interest in you, but you put continual pressure on her. Keeping her here in this isolated chateau was one of the ways you exerted that pressure.  Now Ximene has gone, somewhere beyond your reach, so there is absolutely no reason for you or me to remain here in Foix,’ You know. I could have accepted you having a relationship with Ximene but what was unacceptable both to me and to her was the way you went about it. She hesitated, raising her eyebrows and opening her eyes wide. ‘We could both move back to Bearn and make a new start.? I can forgive you… But can you forget her?’

Gaston shook his head. ‘Tucked away, here in the mountains, Foix is not readily accessible to either the English or the Francs.   If I were to move permanently to Bearn it would be difficult to avoid the dominance of the English.’

Agnes frowned. ‘But now you want me to go, and to Pamplona not to Bearn. Is it because you fear English dominance. Is that why you are asking me to return to Pamplona, not to Bearn?’

Gaston grimaced. ‘It is not so much what I want Agnes. It is what you must do. I am sorry you lost your mother almost immediately after we were married, but the fact remains that your dowry has never been paid.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘Well, now I need it. Ximene Trencavel was my greatest asset, and now she has gone. I hear rumours that she has run away from the Prince as well; with a member of the Prince’s guard. She will almost certainly now be regarded as “damaged goods”. Neither the Prince or anyone else will want to marry her.’

Agnes jaw dropped. ‘You amaze me sometimes. No, I will re-phrase that. You astonish me all of the time. You say you are a Cathar. Therefore, you believe that affairs of the heart are far more important than dynastic marriages and yet you use a term like “damaged goods”. I any case I hear rumours she is travelling with the Prince on their way to Bordeaux.’

She paused, breathing hard. ‘Damaged Goods? So am I also “damaged goods” because I have had a relationship with Guillaume de Machaut. That did not seem so much of a concern when you married me to cement your military alliance with Navarre. ‘

Gaston winced. ‘In fact, it was a barrier for a time but I overthrew my scruples for our mutual interests.’

Agnes snorted. ‘Our mutual interests? I gave up any claim I might have had to the French throne as part of the contract for our marriage. I have tried to be a good wife and I do get some satisfaction out of occasionally getting you to make love to me. Oh! is that it? Your reticence has always been because you do see me as “damaged goods”. You moved me here to Foix not so you could be with me but to keep me away from Guillaume?

Gaston rubbed his hand over his face. ‘Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. I certainly don’t want the heir to Foix and Bearn to be a child fathered by a musical priest. Anyway, this discussion is irrelevant. I now believe I must advance my ambitions in a totally different way. I need to raise a larger standing army and that requires money. So for both our sakes go and remind your brother Charles of his obligations. Go to Pamplona and get the dowry.’

Gaston narrowed his eyes. ‘The Black Prince has returned to Bordeaux. If Charles will not pay what is owed to me then go to Bordeaux and ask the Prince to exert pressure on him. Charles is supposed to be negotiating a deal with the English, so that might be possible.

Alternatively write to your sister Blanche, Dowager Queen of the Franks, no less, She is supposed to be helping Charles to come to terms with the Franks. If that is so perhaps she might help.’

Agnes narrowed her eyes. ‘And why aren’t you coming with me?’

Gaston winced. ‘I think we can assume that as the Prince was willing to snatch Ximene away from me, he is not currently full of good will towards me. I am going to have to work on that. In the meantime, you may well do better than I could. Agnes don’t argue with me… just go.’

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

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