Ximene Trencavel-20 May1365
Over the past five years little had changed in the great hall of Landon house in Shaftesbury.
Ximene Trencavel used Landon House every time she visited England.It felt like home. Locally in Shaftsbury and indeed in the English Court she was known by her alias, Diana, Countess of Salibury.
The alias had been very useful. She knew that her arch-enemy Bertrand de Guesclin had never given up the search for her and even now. though he was imprisoned in Brittany, she was determined to keep up her cover.
The roof of the hall at Landon house still attracted comment because of the way it had been spanned with a structure of massive beams, designed so that there was no need for central supports.
It was still bordered by the ornate pillared walkway and the heat thrown out by the braziers positioned against each pillar still created a warm, comfortable environment.
Normally in winter rush mats were pulled across the roof beams io make a false ceiling to keep in the heat. However, today, the rush mats had been pulled back and watery spring sunshine poured in. A very large chair had been positioned under the centre of the brightest shaft of light. A semicircle of more conventional chairs were arranged around the large chair.
Joan of Kent., Princess of Wales and Aquitaine stroked the arms of the large chair and drawled, ‘I have been planning to hold this court of love for five years, Diana. It has been difficult to get you to attend. Are you now satisfied that it is properly constituted and that it is appropriate that you appear as an appellant.’
‘Yes I am.’
“Another question. Di-ana, this chair is more like a throne than a chair. Have you still ambitions of becoming Queen.’
Ximene smiled ‘ No I haven’t, you know I haven’t, In fact it belongs to Alyse, We found it when we were buying fittings for this house. I think she just likes it. It used to be in her bedroom before she moved to King’s Court but I thought it the perfect centre piece for what we have in mind this morning.’
‘The Alyse who sings like an angel, who studies law, who excels in erotic performances and who is now the close companion of my father-in-law, our King?’
Ximene chortled. ’Yes that Alyse,’
‘Has she ambitions of becoming Queen.’
‘I don’t think so…’
Joan pursed her lips. ‘Your voice suggests you are not entirely sure? I will have to keep a close eye on that Alyse.’
Ximene made a point of eying Joan from top to toe. For Joan, it was a most unusual dress. Pure white but extremely plain with the highest possible neckline.
‘I like the dress, it is just like the one Alyse wore, when she first sang for you four years ago. Very similar, almost virginal.’
‘Good, virginal is the image I am still trying to project. Other than some slight damage which cannot be repaired, I am virginal.’
Joan seated herself on the throne. Ximene sat in the centre of the semicircle of smaller chairs and Joan rang a bell.
The doors of the hall were thrown open and a procession of ladies entered the hall. Ximene had met all of them over the proceeding few days but Joan made a point of formalising the occasion by introducing them as the took their seats.
‘Isabel von Julich… Maude de Grey… Elizabeth de Badlesmere… Cecily de Weyland…Eve de Clavering… and of course you all know our appellant…’Diana Countess of Salisbury
Joan had moved on. ‘ Thank you for attending the first court of love held at Landon House. I would remind you that our considerations are meant to entertain us all, but any findings of the court must provide helpful guidance to the appellant, In this case Diana, Countess of Shaftesbury. Please ask the stewards to fill your glasses and then we will proceed.’
Ximene interjected. ‘I would like to request that someone with legal experience is allowed to, if necessary, represent my interests.’
‘And who did you have in mind Diana.?’
Who else but my lifelong friend, my cousin Alyse Perez.’
Joan raised her eyebrows. ‘Oh!That Alyse?’ There was only a momentary hesitation. ‘Of course, she is welcome.’
There was then a delay whilst the stewards attended to a wide range of requests.
Joan leaned forward in the throne and exchanged pleasantries with Eve de Clavering, who was seated nearest to her. When the to-ing and fro-ing with drinks had been completed she clapped her hands.
‘So Countess, what do you bring to this court’
‘ Madame President, under the understanding of the privilege accorded to members or appellants to this court, I declare myself to be an adherent to the Cathar faith.’
Joan looked around the room. ‘ We have selected members of this court to be either Cathars themselves or as having sympathy to the Cathar cause. You may continue.’
Ximene was surprised to find she was anxious.
By reputation Courts of Love were lighthearted opportunities for younger women to gain advice from older more experienced women. Today, now, she was in the position of appellant. It did not seem very lighthearted.
She gathered her thoughts. initially finding it difficult to control the pitch of her voice ‘I was told by my grandmother that marriage had been imposed on us by the Church of Rome as just one extra step in it’s attempts to accrue wealth. The objective of the Church was through concepts of legitimacy to contol the flow of wealth from one generation to the next. If they knew where was the wealth, the Church would be in a better position to put a tithe on that wealth.
I have therefore never had any interest in marriage, though I have several times considered it as a political expedient . I have always been determined that a man should never own me and I accept therefore that I should never own a man.’
Isabel Von Julich responded. “These are admirable sentiments… but changes in society, the domination of the church of Rome and their preoccupation with depicting sexual pleasure as a sin mean that there is pressure on everyone to be married, monogamous and totally unfulfilled.’
There was general laugter.
Joan waited for the laughter to subside. ‘ I don’t think you had quite finished Isabel, Please continue.
‘If we look to the Levant and to the south of the Pyrenees there is something much worse unfolding. In Islamic states women are literally owned by men. The only good thing the Church of Rome has ever done is to motivate us to fight against Islam.
However… to concentrate on what you put before us. Diana are you succeeding in maintaining your lofty standards.
This time there was a longer delay. Joan intervened. “Diana?’
‘When I was young, in my imagination I would live in a house just like this, surrounded by female friends and that an endless supply of honourable, virile men would come calling expressing their love publicly; through poetry, song or at the very least clever complements. Their proposals would be for one or other in our group.
The group would entertain itself by discussing each suitor and speculatin on wether they might be a better match with a different member of the group. Light hearted banter would ensue but it would not prevent women from following their heart.
A lady would symbolise her interest by giving her admirer her favour, a replicate token of affection. The expression of interest by the man and the award of a favour by the woman preferrably took place at a public function so there would be absolutely no doubt about the intentions of either party. Frequent dinner parties would be organised to facilitate this activity.
Any subsequent assignations would then be at a time and place of womans choice.’
Cecily de Weyland intervened. ‘An endless supply of honourable, virile men. Good luck in that. Is your Grandmother still alive? Did she know where to find these men? If so I would like to meet her and find her secret.’
Maude de Grey laughed out loud ‘Are you looking for a man Cecily? I’ve got one I could spare.’
Joan smiled and clapped her hands.
‘Is there anything else in your ideal world, Diana?’
‘Well, yes. In this environment sexual relations with other women would be perfectly acceptable, as would be sexual relations between men, although that is rarely talked about. Sexual pleasure is a gift from God no matter how it is obtained.’
Cecily rolled her eyes and held both hands in the air. ’Try telling that to the Pope…or the Caliph, if it comes to that.
‘However tell us more about the role of men in your Cathar society.’
Ximene shrugged. ’The men, even if chosen by the ladies would never become part of the group, merely a visitor. A man might however invite a lady to live with him in which case a new group was established which behaved in the same fashion as the first group.
The man who was now part of, or even head of the household, would have no special rights and could expect his partner from time to time offer her favour to other men who came calling. He himself could go calling elsewhere or indeed could make a suit for any of the women living in his own household.’
Cecily replied forcibly. ‘And therein lies the difficulty, a large number of men could never accept that aspect of the faith.
They enjoyed the ability to make proposals to a large number of women, but were unhappy about other men entering their households and making proposals to what they saw as “their” women. Because of this many men, some very powerful men, were complicit in the invasion of Cathar territories carried out by the Church of Rome. There were heroes, but there were also traitors.’
Joan leaned forward in her chair. ‘So tell us, Diana, what is yor problem. Do you know heroes or traitors?’