A Monty Python and His Holy Trail; Terry Jones Crusades into France and Uncovers a Dark, Medieval Secret from the Papal Past

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Byline: TERRY JONES

WE ALWAYS knew it was going to be a tough assignment.

We had to get through the whole of Champagne, Burgundy and the Cotes du Rhone.

But, if it had to be done, there was nothing for it but to grit our teeth, make sure we had credit cards capable of withstanding a full-frontal assault by a three-star restaurant and pack the liver salts.

'We' were Michael Foreman (the Paul McCartney of children's book illustration) and me (the Tina Turner of medieval historical fantasy).

Together we planned to go where no writer-illustrator team had gone before. Our aim was to trace the route taken by Edward III's army on his expedition through France in 1359-60.

This is, of course, one of the most justly uncelebrated episodes in British history. Edward had assembled the biggest army ever fielded by this country up to that date. It totalled 30,000 souls - 6,000 men-at-arms, squires, archers, foot soldiers, bowyers, fletchers, marshals, grooms, cooks and whatnot plus the usual camp followers.

It was also the best equipped army ever - taking with it countless carts and wagons, tents, portable mills and forges, collapsible leather boats and even the latest in mobile kitchens.

Its aim was to terrorise the natives to such an extent that, when Edward arrived outside the city of Reims, its inhabitants would open the gates to him, invite him in and crown him King of France.

Now this wasn't quite as daft as it sounds, since Edward already was the King of France - or, at least, he claimed to be. And, besides, the erstwhile King of France was currently living in fine style at Windsor. He was supposed to be a prisoner, but that was a pretty elastic term in those days if you also happened to be a king.

Edward, who was of course French-speaking himself, was John W the King of France's cousin and quite capable of mounting a good argument as to why he and not John should be regarded as the legitimate ruler of France.

It may be that he was simply defending his possessions further south - in Aquitaine - or he may have been simply in it for whatever profits he could wring out of the French. Whatever his reasons, Edward was there for his personal advancement and, naturally, the British taxpayer was footing the bill.

Now I don't want you to imagine that Michael Foreman and I were so enthused by Edward III's military campaign that we wished to restart anything. Far from it. We had sworn from the outset not to attack any cities with a population of more than 6,000, not to burn down farms and villages as we went and not to murder, rape and

plunder our way through the French countryside. I hope the French appreciated our restraint.

Our intention was to research the background for our latest book, The Lady And The Squire, a sequel to our 1997 medieval epic The Knight And The Squire.

The story is set in 1359-60 and follows the adventures of Tom, who runs away from home in order to try to become the squire to a knight.

OM soon finds himself part of Edward III's expedition and the first book left him encamped outside Reims, awaiting the city's surrender. Where the new book was to take us would depend on what we found on our journey.

Our first day gave us a wonderful impression of what it is like to be stuck in a traffic jam on the Periph-erique - that great road that rings T Paris. The four fascinating hours spent researching this location meant that we arrived at our first destination too late to look at anything remotely to do with the 14th Century. But at least the beer we drank was brewed by an Abbey that had been founded in those days.

One of the great things about

doing this sort of research is that it leads you to places that, as a tourist, you would never think of visiting. Our first day, for example, took us to the village of Bretigny, where the peace treaty was signed between France and England in

1360. …