19 March 1355
Phillipa d’Avesnes, Queen of England, sat at respectful distance from the fire and watched her husband stride the room. The King’s lounge in the Palace of Westminster was less than luxurious. Philippa found the stone floor, heavy oak-panelled walls and the enormous stone fireplace reminiscent of a castle armoury. The sole concessions to comfort were the thick carpet and the glass panes in the huge bay window overlooking the Thames.
She sighed. ‘Sit down, Edward; tell me how much you love me.’
‘I tell you all the time how much I love you.’
She pushed out her bottom lip. ‘If you are not off on a military campaign, there is always the jousting and failing that, the hunting, and when none of those is scheduled you spend your time training for one or the other!’
She glanced up at her husband. ‘At least it keeps you fit,’ she conceded. ‘For such a big man you are very slim even now.’
‘When we were young you used to come hunting with me,’ Edward purred.
‘Not for long. Given that the original reason for our marriage was to give you an heir, I was locked up for three months before our mating to make sure that any child I bore would definitely be yours. I was guarded by a prial of clerics. It was perhaps a good precaution.’
She meant because of the Prince’s dark skin, if anything only slightly lighter than her own.
‘There are I think, not many Moors or Egyptians in your family. The child could have caused great concern.’ She rose and took his hand in hers, pressing herself close against him. ‘The time of the Death was the best time for us. The mad gallop to Clarendon, taking care not to stop on the way. Rounding up the animals and securing them inside the walls, locking the gates, digging up the gardens and planting crops, doing all the work ourselves. We really were together then. Those poor unfortunates have my sympathy, but for us… we grew very close. One of the best parts about Clarendon was that there were no other women. All your attention was focussed on me.’
‘I do love you, Phillipa. I do not know what I would do without you. I feel an indefinable contentment whenever I am with you.’ He patted her hand. ‘And you offer such good counsel, which is why I asked you to here this morning.’
He stopped as another thought broke in. ‘Do you know where the Prince is?’ He gazed around as if he thought his son might be hiding somewhere in the room. ‘I despair, Phillipa. I never know where he is.’
‘That is not quite true, Edward. We know that four days ago he visited the monks at Vale Royal and we know that he was intending to spend two nights in Chester, at a meeting of the Marcher Lords, saving the need for you to make the trip.’
‘But where is he now? If he left Chester two days ago, and changed horses regularly, he should be here by now.’
Phillipa’s eyes sparkled as she studied her husband. ‘I think you have omitted to consider that he would need some sleep.’
King Edward would not be pacified.
‘I continue to hear how loved and admired he is, the flower of chivalry, the bravest soldier, the darling of the populace. Yet I can never get him to do anything I want. In truth I have great difficulty getting him to listen to me!’
Phillipa chortled. ‘He is everything a man should be. Lithe, handsome, strong, agile, brave—not mention smart. He is a champion in the lists.’
‘However… He is also impetuous. He spends more time than he should practising and making minor adjustments to his armour and the dressage of his horses. He is lacking in formal education, against which he has always rebelled. He has never had the patience to sit down and learn languages, philosophy or history. He generally learns fast, don’t get me wrong, but he does make mistakes. And. of course, there is no doubt that he is still obsessed with Joan…’
Phillipa smiled. ‘Despite all that I love my son, just as I love you despite your faults.’
Of course, the King did not want to discuss his own faults.
‘I’ve waited long enough, let’s do the finances first. It’s going to determine what we can do and can’t do and as it may include considerations of moderation, it will not be of any interest to the Prince.’
‘Who have you invited?’
‘The Chancellor, John Thoresby, and William de la Pole.’
Phillipa chuckled. ‘Financial advisors always advise economy, reducing expenditure and avoiding excess. If they followed their own advice they should be slim and modestly dressed. In fact, those two gentlemen are rotund, even fleshy, and more often than not extravagantly dressed.’
The King joined Phillipa briefly in her laughter, and turning toward to a flunkey stationed by the door, issued a curt command.
‘The Chancellor and his companion. Now, please.’
Phillipa watched with great interest as the trio took their places at the table.
Bishop Thoresby was the first to speak.
‘Sire, our state is virtually bankrupt. It is currently impossible to raise taxes for the army you intend to send to Aquitaine, either here or in Aquitaine itself. We cannot borrow money. It is because of this situation that I suggested William might attend.’
King Edward’s eyebrows rose, and Phillipa was equally surprised. It was the most uncompromising statement the bishop had ever made.
The King turned to William de la Pole.
‘William, thank you for coming. Can once again request your help?’
William clearly thought carefully about his answer.
‘In 1341, you reneged on your debts to the Bardi and Peruzzi banks. Thus it became impossible for you to borrow from any of the existing sources. I lent you money and you gave me special warrants to earn the money I was lending you.’
‘Your help was much appreciated.’
‘Unfortunately, some petty minded citizens saw what I did as illegal and I have spent a significant time in custody. Twice I have needed your intervention to free me.’
‘As soon as I knew of your difficulty I rushed to your aid.’
William smiled and kept his voice level. ‘I am prepared to continue with the same terms as before. We will keep it simple and trade with Aquitaine; wool and cloth for wine and brandy. You will provide me with a monopoly and I will keep only thirty per cent of the profit. I am prepared for someone you nominate to audit my accounts.’
He nodded towards the John Thoresby. ‘Perhaps the Chancellor himself? I will of course rely on your support if, once again, I run foul of minor bureaucrats.’
‘Good,’ said the King. ‘It is agreed.’
‘Then I will make you an advance to fund the army you are sending to Aquitaine. Ask for more than you need; we must make sure the expedition is successful. In the longer term, I would appreciate the award of a title which would put me beyond the jurisdiction of local officials.’
The King nodded gravely.
William de la Pole sat straighter. His chin jutted forward just a little as he spoke.
‘My concerns are not just for myself, but for you, for the nation. It would be beneficial, Sire, if you could regularise the way you raise revenue. If you could establish a store of wealth; gold, silver, precious jewels and allow people to inspect and value it, you would find that banks and individuals would again be prepared to lend you money at reasonable interest, secure in the knowledge that that they could, if necessary, recover the capital. If you could borrow money there would be a multiplying effect as my own humble efforts would only be concerned with paying the interest.’
The King was stony faced. ‘Thank you for your advice, William. There is just the small matter of where I might lay my hands on a treasure trove of precious metals and gems! But thank you anyway, I really am most grateful.’
He waved his hand in dismissal.
The visitors left the room and King Edward rose from his desk and walked to the bay window. Phillipa joined him. From the window, she could see for a league in either direction.
‘You like the view from here, don’t you Edward.’
Edward nodded, puffing out his chest.
‘The river always bustles with merchants and barges. A good sign; increasingly it is trade, generating the wealth of the nation.’
Phillipa rested her hand gently on his shoulder.
‘If you could do more deals like that one, your problems in funding military campaigns and my problems in keeping a suitable wardrobe would be would be over. But William is right; we must look to find a treasure trove! And incidentally, he must have his title.’
The King turned from the window. ‘Where is the Prince?’ he growled. ‘Do you think he’s with her? Might he be with Joan even now?’
‘I have heard that currently she is in Brittany, though without her husband. Usually I hear rumours of her visits to the Prince, servants who pass on their observations to Monsieur Froissart or his like, but I have heard nothing lately which can be relied on.’
‘However,’ she added, a certain droll challenge in her eyes as she looked at her husband, ‘she has perhaps had no little experience in getting into men’s bedrooms without being noticed!’
Edward ignored the jibe.
‘What can be keeping him? Where is the Prince?’