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Katherine Ashe Interview on Fly High on the subjects of the Court of Love and Simon de Montfort

Montfort The Early Years 1229 -1243

Q. Montfort is a huge book, in four volumes, well over 1500 pages. How do you start a work like that?
A. Well, as Glenda the Good in The Wizard of Oz says, “It’s always best to begin at the beginning.” Actually the first scene I wrote for Montfort is now in Chapter Seven. It’s the scene in which Simon meets King Henry’s sister, the Countess Eleanor of Pembroke, who is a nun. Queen Eleanor – there are five Eleanors – is holding a Court of Love, and Simon blunders into it. The first words of Montfort that I wrote are the exchange between Simon and the Queen:
“Today we are discussing Tristan,” the queen said sweetly, in the manner of one talking to a child, or to a fool. She gestured toward an elderly waiting woman sitting by her. “Lady Alice contends that the sword Tristan placed between himself and Queen Isolde, as they slept in the grove, was the True Cross. What is your opinion?”
“That’s blasphemy!” The rude words broke from Simon’s lips.
A tight smile curved the queen’s bow mouth. “You speak strongly, Sire. But you are quite wrong. Would you have love fulfilled?”
“Yes, when it is sanctioned and lawful.” Simon gazed upward in exasperation, casting his glance anywhere but at the queen.
“But desire is far purer than possession,” she insisted.
“Tristan had possessed the queen. They were adulterers, Madam.” As he spoke his eyes met Queen Eleanor’s and his gaze locked in hers.
I’ve never changed a word of that scene, but I’m not sure I fully understand it even now. It does capture the essence of the Court of Love’s philosophy of courtesy – the belief that unfulfilled, yearned-for love is a spiritually purifying experience.