HISTORY OF FRANCE
By M. Guizot
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
XXIII. THE HUNDRED YEARS' WAR.—CHARLES VI. AND THE DUKES OF BURGUNDY.
XXIV. THE HUNDRED YEARS' WAR.—CHARLES VII. AND JOAN OF ARC. (1422- 1461.)
XXV. LOUIS XI. (1461-1483.)
XXVI. THE WARS OF ITALY.—CHARLES VIII. (1483-1498.)
XXVII. THE WARS IN ITALY.—LOUIS XII. (1498-1515.)
LIST OF STEEL ENGRAVINGS.
CHAPTER XXIII.——THE HUNDRED YEARS' WAR—CHARLES VI. AND THE DUKES OF BURGUNDY.
Sully, in his Memoirs, characterizes the reign of Charles VI. as "that reign so pregnant of sinister events, the grave of good laws and good morals in France." There is no exaggeration in these words; the sixteenth century with its St. Bartholomew and The League, the eighteenth with its reign of terror, and the nineteenth with its Commune of Paris, contain scarcely any events so sinister as those of which France was, in the reign of Charles VI., from 1380 to 1422, the theatre and the victim.
Scarcely was Charles V. laid on his bier when it was seen what a loss he was and would be to his kingdom. Discord arose in the king's own family. In order to shorten the ever critical period of minority, Charles V. had fixed the king's majority at the age of fourteen. His son, Charles VI., was not yet twelve, and so had two years to remain under the guardianship of his four uncles, the Dukes of Anjou, Berry, Burgundy, and Bourbon; but the last being only a maternal uncle and a less puissant prince than his paternal uncles, it was between the other three that strife began for temporary possession of the kingly power.
Though very unequal in talent and in force of character, they were all three ambitious and jealous. The eldest, the Duke of Anjou, who was energetic, despotic, and stubborn, aspired to dominion in France for the sake of making French influence subserve the conquest of the kingdom of Naples, the object of his ambition. The Duke of Berry was a mediocre, restless, prodigal, and grasping prince. The Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Bold, the most able and the most powerful of the three, had been the favorite, first of his father, King John, and then of his brother, Charles V., who had confidence in him and readily adopted his counsels. His marriage, in 1369, with the heiress to the countship of Flanders, had been vigorously opposed by the Count of Flanders, the young princess's father, and by the Flemish communes, ever more friendly to England than to France; but the old Countess of Flanders, Marguerite of France, vexed at the ill will of the count her son, had one day said to him, as she tore open her dress before his eyes, "Since you will not yield to your mother's wishes, I will cut off these breasts which gave suck to you, to you and to no other, and will throw them to the dogs to devour." This singular argument had moved the Count of Flanders; he had consented to the marriage; and the Duke of Burgundy's power had received such increment by it that on the 4th of October, 1380, when Charles VI. was crowned at Rheims, Philip the Bold, without a word said previously to any, suddenly went up and sat himself down at the young king's side, above his eldest brother, the Duke of Anjou, thus assuming, without anybody's daring to oppose him, the rank and the rights of premier peer of France.
He was not slow to demonstrate that his superiority in externals could not fail to establish his political preponderance. His father-in-law, Count Louis of Flanders, was in almost continual strife with the great Flemish communes, ever on the point of rising against the taxes he heaped upon them and the blows he struck at their privileges. The city of Ghent, in particular, joined complaint with menace. In 1381 the quarrel became war. The Ghentese at first experienced reverses. "Ah! if James Van Artevelde were alive!" said they. James Van Artevelde had left a son named Philip; and there was in Ghent a burgher-captain, Peter Dubois, who went one evening to see Philip Van Artevelde. "What we want now," said he, "is to choose a captain of great renown. Raise up again in this country that father of yours who, in his lifetime, was so loved and feared in Flanders." "Peter," replied Philip, "you make me a great offer; I promise that, if you put me in that place, I will do nought without your advice." "Ah! well!" said Dubois, "can you really be haughty and cruel? The Flemings like to be treated so; with them you must make no more account of the life of men than you do of larks when the season for eating them comes." "I will do what shall be necessary," said Van Artevelde. The struggle grew violent between the count and the communes of Flanders with Ghent at their head. After alternations of successes and reverses the Ghentese were victorious; and Count Louis with difficulty escaped by hiding himself at Bruges in the house of a poor woman who took him up into a loft where her children slept, and where he lay flat between the paillasse and the feather-bed. On leaving this asylum he went to Bapaume to see his son-in-law, the Duke of Burgundy, and to ask his aid. "My lord," said the duke to him, "by the allegiance I owe to you and also to the king you shall have satisfaction. It were to fail in one's duty to allow such a scum to govern a country. Unless order were restored, all knighthood and lordship might be destroyed in Christendom." The Duke of Burgundy went to Senlis, where Charles VI. was, and asked for his support on behalf of the Count of Flanders. The question was referred to the king's council. The Duke of Berry hesitated, saying, "The best part of the prelates and nobles must be assembled and the whole matter set before them; we will see what is the general opinion." In the midst of this deliberation the young king came in with a hawk on his wrist. "Well! my dear uncles," said he, "of what are you parleying? Is it aught that I may know?" The Duke of Berry enlightened him, saying, "A brewer, named Van Artevelde, who is English to the core, is besieging the remnant of the knights of Flanders shut up in Oudenarde; and they can get no aid but from you. What say you to it? Are you minded to help the Count of Flanders to reconquer his heritage, which those presumptuous villains have taken from him?"
"By my faith," answered the king, "I am greatly minded; go we thither; there is nothing I desire so much as to get on my harness, for I have never yet borne arms; I would fain set out to-morrow." Amongst the prelates and lords summoned to Compiegne some spoke of the difficulties and dangers that might be encountered. "Yes, yes," said the king, "but 'begin nought and win nought.'" When the Flemings heard of the king's decision they sent respectful letters to him, begging him to be their mediator with the count their lord; but the letters were received with scoffs, and the messengers were kept in prison. At this news Van Artevelde said, "We must make alliance with the English; what meaneth this King Wren of France? It is the Duke of Burgundy leading him by the nose, and he will not abide by his purpose; we will frighten France by showing her that we have the English for allies." But Van Artevelde was under a delusion; Edward III. was no longer King of England; the Flemings' demand was considered there to be arrogant and opposed to the interests of the lords in all countries; and the alliance was not concluded. Some attempts at negotiation took place between the advisers of Charles VI. and the Flemings, but without success. The Count of Flanders repaired to the king, who said, "Your quarrel is ours; get you back to Artois; we shall soon be there and within sight of our enemies."
Accordingly, in November, 1382, the King of France and his army marched into Flanders. Several towns, Cassel, Bergues, Gravelines, and Turnhout, hastily submitted to him.
There was less complete unanimity and greater alarm amongst the Flemings than their chiefs had anticipated. "Noble king," said the inhabitants, "we place our persons and our possessions at your discretion, and to show you that we recognize you as our lawful lord, here are the captains whom Van Artevelde gave us; do with them according to your will, for it is they who have governed us." On the 28th of November the two armies found themselves close together at Rosebecque, between Ypres and Courtrai. In the evening Van Artevelde assembled his captains at supper, and, "Comrades," said he, "we shall to-morrow have rough work, for the King of France is here all agog for fighting. But have no fear; we are defending our good right and the liberties of Flanders. The English have not helped us; well, we shall only have the more honor. With the King of France is all the flower of his kingdom. Tell your men to slay all, and show no quarter. We must spare the King of France only; he is a child, and must be pardoned; we will take him away to Ghent, and have him taught Flemish. As for the dukes, counts, barons, and other men-at-arms, slay them all; the commons of France shall not bear us ill will; I am quite sure that they would not have a single one of them back." At the very same moment King Charles VI. was entertaining at supper the princes his uncles, the Count of Flanders, the constable, Oliver de Clisson, the marshals, &c. They were arranging the order of battle for the morrow. Many folks blamed the Duke of Burgundy for having brought so young a king, the hope of the realm, into the perils of war. It was resolved to confide the care of him to the constable de Clisson, whilst conferring upon Sire de Coucy, for that day only, the command of the army. "Most dear lord," said the constable to the king, "I know that there is no greater honor than to have the care of your person; but it would be great grief to my comrades not to have me with them. I say not that they could not do without me; but for a fortnight now I have been getting everything ready for bringing most honor to you and yours. They would be much surprised if I should now withdraw." The king was somewhat embarrassed. "Constable," said he, "I would fain have you in my company to-day; you know well that my lord my father loved you and trusted you more than any other; in the name of God and St. Denis do whatever you think best. You have a clearer insight into the matter than I and those who have advised me. Only attend my mass to-morrow." The battle began with spirit the next morning, in the midst of a thick fog. According to the monk of St. Denis, Van Artevelde was not without disquietude. He had bidden one of his people go and observe the French army; and, "You bring me bad news," said he to the man in a whisper, "when you tell me there are so many French with the king: I was far from expecting it. . . . This is a hard war; it requires discreet management. I think the best thing for me is to go and hurry up ten thousand of our comrades who are due." "Why leave thy host without a head?" said they who were about him: "it was to obey thy orders that we engaged in this enterprise; thou must run the risks of battle with us." The French were more confident than Van Artevelde. "Sir," said the constable, addressing the king, cap in hand, "be of good cheer; these fellows are ours; our very varlets might beat them." These words were far too presumptuous; for the Flemings fought with great bravery. Drawn up in a compact body, they drove back for a moment the French who were opposed to them; but Clisson had made everything ready for hemming them in; attacked on all sides they tried, but in vain, to fly; a few, with difficulty, succeeded in escaping and casting, as they went, into the neighboring swamps the banner of St. George. "It is not easy," says the monk of St. Denis, "to set down with any certainty the number of the dead; those who were present on this day, and I am disposed to follow their account, say that twenty-five thousand Flemings fell on the field, together with their leader, Van Artevelde, the concoctor of this rebellion, whose corpse, discovered with great trouble amongst a heap of slain, was, by order of Charles VI., hung upon a tree in the neighborhood. The French also lost in this struggle some noble knights, not less illustrious by birth than valor, amongst others forty-four valiant men who, being the first to hurl themselves upon the ranks of the enemy to break them, thus won for themselves great glory."
The victory of Rosebecque was a great cause for satisfaction and pride to Charles VI. and his uncle, the Duke of Burgundy. They had conquered on the field in Flanders the commonalty of Paris as well as that of Ghent; and in France there was great need of such a success, for, since the accession of the young king, the Parisians had risen with a demand for actual abolition of the taxes of which Charles V., on his death-bed, had deplored the necessity, and all but decreed the cessation. The king's uncles, his guardians, had at first stopped, and indeed suppressed, the greater part of those taxes; but soon afterwards they had to face a pressing necessity: the war with England was going on, and the revenues of the royal domain were not sufficient for the maintenance of it. The Duke of Anjou attempted to renew the taxes, and one of Charles V.'s former councillors, John Desmarets, advocate-general in parliament, abetted him in his attempt. Seven times, in the course of the year 1381, assemblies of notables met at Paris to consider the project, and on the 1st of March, 1382, an agent of the governing power scoured the city at full gallop, proclaiming the renewal of the principal tax. There was a fresh outbreak. The populace, armed with all sorts of weapons, with strong mallets amongst the rest, spread in all directions, killing the collectors, and storming and plundering the Hotel de Ville. They were called the Malleteers. They were put down, but with as much timidity as cruelty. Some of them were arrested, and at night thrown into the Seine, sewn up in sacks, without other formality or trial. A fresh meeting of notables was convened, towards the middle of April, at Compiegne, and the deputies from the principal towns were summoned to it; but they durst not come to any decision: "They were come," they said, "only to hear and report; they would use their best endeavors to prevail on those by whom they had been sent to do the king's pleasure." Towards the end of April some of them returned to Meaux, reporting that they had everywhere met with the most lively resistance; they had everywhere heard shouted at them, "Sooner death than the tax." Only the deputies from Sens had voted a tax, which was to be levied on all merchandise; but, when the question of collecting it arose, the people of Sens evinced such violent opposition that it had to be given up. It was when facts and feelings were in this condition in France, that Charles VI. and the Duke of Burgundy had set out with their army to go and force the Flemish communes to submit to their count.
Returning victorious from Flanders to France, Charles VI. and his uncles, everywhere brilliantly feasted on their march, went first of all for nine days to Compiegne, "to find recreation after their fatigues," says the monk of St. Denis, "in the pleasures of the chase; afterwards, on the 10th of January, 1383, the king took back in state to the church of St. Denis the oriflamme which he had borne away on his expedition; and next day, the 11th of January, he re-entered Paris, he alone being mounted, in the midst of his army." The burgesses went out of the city to meet him, and offer him their wonted homage, but they were curtly ordered to retrace their steps; the king and his uncles, they were informed, could not forget offences so recent. The wooden barriers which had been placed before the gates of the city to prevent anybody from entering without permission, were cut down with battle-axes; the very gates were torn from their hinges; they were thrown down upon the king's highway, and the procession went over them, as if to trample under foot the fierce pride of the Parisians. When he was once in the city, and was leaving Notre Dame, the king sent abroad throughout all the streets an order forbidding any one, under the most severe penalties, from insulting or causing the least harm to the burgesses in any way whatsoever; and the constable had two plunderers strung up to the windows of the houses in which they had committed their thefts. But fundamental order having been thus upheld, reprisals began to be taken for the outbreaks of the Parisians, municipal magistrates or populace, burgesses or artisans, rich or poor, in the course of the two preceding years;—arrests, imprisonments, fines, confiscations, executions, severities of all kinds fell upon the most conspicuous and the most formidable of those who had headed or favored popular movements. The most solemn and most iniquitous of these punishments was that which befell the advocate-general, John Desmarets. "For nearly a whole year," says the monk of St. Denis, "he had served as mediator between the king and the Parisians; he had often restrained the fury and stopped the excesses of the populace, by preventing them from giving rein to their cruelty. He was always warning the factious that to provoke the wrath of the king and the princes was to expose themselves to almost certain death. But, yielding to the prayers of this rebellious and turbulent mob, he, instead of leaving Paris as the rest of his profession had done, had remained there, and throwing himself boldly amidst the storms of civil discord, he had advised the assumption of arms and the defence of the city, which he knew was very displeasing to the king and the grandees." When he was taken to execution, "he was put on a car higher than the rest, that he might be better seen by everybody." Nothing shook for a moment the firmness of this old man of seventy years. "Where are they who judged me?" he said: "let them come and set forth the reasons for my death. Judge me, O God, and separate my cause from that of the evil-doers." On his arrival at the market-place, some of the spectators called out to him, "Ask the king's mercy, Master John, that he may pardon your offences." He turned round, saying, "I served well and loyally his great-grandfather King Philip, his grandfather King John, and his father King Charles; none of those kings ever had anything to reproach me with, and this one would not reproach me any the more if he were of a grown man's age and experience. I don't suppose that he is a whit to blame for such a sentence, and I have no cause to cry him mercy. To God alone must I cry for mercy, and I pray Him to forgive my sins." Public respect accompanied the old and courageous magistrate beyond the scaffold; his corpse was taken up by his friends, and at a later period honorably buried in the church of St. Catherine.
After the chastisements came galas again, of which the king and his court were immoderately fond. Young as he was (he was but seventeen), his powerful uncle, the Duke of Burgundy, was very anxious to get him married, so as to secure his own personal influence over him. The wise Charles V., in his dying hours, had testified a desire that his son should seek alliances in Germany. A son of the reigning duke, Stephen of Bavaria, had come to serve in the French army, and the Duke of Burgundy had asked him if there were any marriageable princess of Bavaria. "My eldest brother," answered the Bavarian, "has a very beautiful daughter, aged fourteen." "That is just what we want," said the Burgundian: "try and get her over here; the king is very fond of beautiful girls; if she takes his fancy, she will be Queen of France." The Duke of Bavaria, being informed by his brother, at first showed some hesitation. "It would be a great honor," said he, "for my daughter to be Queen of France; but it is a long way from here. If my daughter were taken to France, and then sent back to me because she was not suitable, it would cause me too much chagrin. I prefer to marry her at my leisure, and in my own neighborhood." The matter was pressed, however, and at last the Duke of Bavaria consented. It was agreed that the Princess Isabel should go on a visit to the Duchess of Brabant, who instructed her, and had her well dressed, say the chroniclers, for in Germany they clad themselves too simply for the fashions of France. Being thus got ready, the Princess Isabel was conducted to Amiens, where the king then was, to whom her portrait had already been shown. She was presented to him, and bent the knee before him. He considered her charming. Seeing with what pleasure he looked upon her, the constable, Oliver de Clisson, said to Sire De Coney, "By my faith, she will bide with us." The same evening, the young king said to his councillor, Bureau de la Riviere, "She pleases me: go and tell my uncle, the Duke of Burgundy, to conclude at once." The duke, delighted, lost no time in informing the ladies of the court, who cried, "Noel!" for joy. The duke had wished the nuptials to take place at Arras; but the young king, in his impatience, was urgent for Amiens, without delay, saying that he couldn't sleep for her. "Well, well," replied his uncle, "you must be cured of your complaint." On the 18th of July, 1385, the marriage was celebrated at the cathedral of Amiens, whither the Princess Isabel "was conducted in a handsome chariot, whereof the tires of the wheels were of silvern stuff." King, uncles, and courtiers were far from a thought of the crimes and shame which would be connected in France with the name of Isabel of Bavaria. There is still more levity and imprudence in the marriages of kings than in those of their subjects.
Whilst this marriage was being celebrated, the war with England, and her new king, Richard II., was going on, but slackly and without result. Charles VI. and his uncle of Burgundy, still full of the proud confidence inspired by their success against the Flemish and Parisian communes, resolved to strike England a heavy blow, and to go and land there with a powerful army. Immense preparations were made in France for this expedition. In September, 1386, there were collected in the port of Ecluse (Sluys) and at sea, between Sluys and Blankenberg, thirteen hundred and eighty-seven vessels, according to some, and according to others only nine hundred, large and small; and Oliver de Clisson had caused to be built at Trdguier, in Brittany, a wooden town which was to be transported to England and rebuilt after landing, "in such sort," says Froissart, "that the lords might lodge therein and retire at night, so as to be in safety from sudden awakenings, and sleep in greater security." Equal care was taken in the matter of supplies. "Whoever had been at that time at Bruges, or the Dam, or the Sluys would have seen how ships and vessels were being laden by torchlight, with hay in casks, biscuits in sacks, onions, peas, beans, barley, oats, candles, gaiters, shoes, boots, spurs, iron, nails, culinary utensils, and all things that can be used for the service of man." Search was made everywhere for the various supplies, and they were very dear. "If you want us and our service," said the Hollanders, "pay us on the nail; otherwise we will be neutral." To the intelligent foresight shown in these preparations was added useless magnificence. "On the masts was nothing to be seen but paintings and gildings; everything was emblazoned and covered with armorial bearings. But nothing came up to the Duke of Burgundy's ship; it was painted all over outside with blue and gold, and there were five huge banners with the arms of the duchy of Burgundy and the countships of Flanders, Artois, Rethel, and Burgundy, and everywhere the duke's device, 'I'm a-longing.'" The young king, too, displayed great anxiety to enter on the campaign. He liked to go aboard his ship, saying, "I am very eager to be off; I think I shall be a good sailor, for the sea does me no harm." But everybody was not so impatient as the king, who was waiting for his uncle, the Duke of Berry, and writing to him letter after letter, urging him to come. The duke, who had no liking for the expedition, contented himself with making an answer bidding him "not to take any trouble, but to amuse himself, for the matter would probably terminate otherwise than was imagined." The Duke of Berry at last arrived at Sluys on the 14th of October, 1386. "If it hadn't been for you, uncle," said the king to him, "we should have been by this time in England." Three months had gone by; the fine season was past; the winds were becoming violent and contrary; the vessels come from Treguier with the constable to join the fleet had suffered much on the passage; and deliberations were recommencing touching the opportuneness, and even the feasibility, of the expedition thus thrown back. "If anybody goes to England, I will," said the king. But nobody went. "One day when it was calm," says the monk of St. Denis, "the king, completely armed, went with his uncles aboard of the royal vessel; but the wind did not permit them to get more than two miles out to sea, and drove them back, in spite of the sailors' efforts, to the shore they had just left. The king, who saw with deep displeasure his hopes thus frustrated, had orders given to his troops to go back, and, at his departure, left, by the advice of his barons, some men-of-war to unload the fleet, and place it in a place of safety as soon as possible. But the enemy gave them no time to execute the order. As soon as the calm allowed the English to set sail, they bore down on the French, burned or took in tow to their own ports the most part of the fleet, carried off the supplies, and found two thousand casks full of wine, which sufficed a long while for the wants of England."
Such a mistake, after such a fuss, was probably not unconnected with a resolution adopted by Charles VI. some time after the abandonment of the projected expedition against England. In October, 1388, he assembled at Rheims a grand council, at which were present his two uncles, the Dukes of Burgundy and Berry [the third, the Duke of Anjou, had died in Italy, on the 20th of September, 1384, after a vain attempt to conquer the kingdom of Naples], his brother, the Duke of Orleans, his cousins, and several prelates and lords of note. The chancellor announced thereat that he had been ordered by the king to put in discussion the question, whether it were not expedient that he should henceforth take the government of his kingdom upon himself. Cardinal Ascelin de Montaigu, Bishop of Laon, the first to be interrogated upon this subject, replied that, in his opinion, the king was quite in a condition, as well as in a legal position, to take the government of his kingdom upon himself, and, without naming anybody, he referred to the king's uncles, and especially to the Duke of Burgundy, as being no longer necessary for the government of France. Nearly all who were present were of the same opinion. The king, without further waiting, thanked his uncles for the care they had taken of his dominions and of himself, and begged them to continue their affection for him. Neither the Duke of Burgundy nor the Duke of Berry had calculated upon this resolution; they submitted, without making any objection, but not without letting a little temper leak out. The Duke of Berry even said that he and his brother would beg the king to confer with them more maturely on the subject when he returned to Paris. Hereupon the council broke up; the king's two uncles started for their own dominions; and a few weeks afterwards the Cardinal-bishop of Laon died of a short illness. "It was generally believed," says the monk of St. Denis, "that he died of poison." At his own dying wish, no inquiry was instituted on this subject. The measure adopted in the late council was, however, generally approved of. The king was popular; he had a good heart, and courteous and gentle manners; he was faithful to his friends, and affable to all; and the people liked to see him passing along the streets. On taking in hand the government, he recalled to it the former advisers of his father, Charles V., Bureau de la Riviere, Le Mercier de Noviant, and Le Begue de Vilaine, all men of sense and reputation. The taxes were diminished; the city of Paris recovered a portion of her municipal liberties; there was felicitation for what had been obtained, and there was hope of more.
Charles VI. was not content with the satisfaction of Paris only; he wished all his realm to have cognizance of and to profit by his independence. He determined upon a visit to the centre and the south of France. Such a trip was to himself, and to the princes and cities that entertained him, a cause of enormous expense. "When the king stopped anywhere, there were wanted for his own table, and for the maintenance of his following, six oxen, eighty sheep, thirty calves, seven hundred chickens, two hundred pigeons, and many other things besides. The expenses for the king were set down at two hundred and thirty livres a day, without counting the presents which the large towns felt bound to make him." But Charles was himself magnificent even to prodigality, and he delighted in the magnificence of which he was the object, without troubling himself about their cost to himself. Between 1389 and 1390, for about six months, he travelled through Burgundy, the banks of the Rhone, Languedoc, and the small principalities bordering on the Pyrenees. Everywhere his progress was stopped for the purpose of presenting to him petitions or expressing wishes before him. At Nimes and Montpellier, and throughout Languedoc, passionate representations were made to him touching the bad government of his two uncles, the Dukes of Anjou and Berry. "They had plundered and ruined," he was told, "that beautiful and rich province; there were five or six talliages a year; one was no sooner over than another began; they had levied quite three millions of gold from Villeneuve-d'Avignon to Toulouse." Charles listened with feeling, and promised to have justice done, and his father's old councillors, who were in his train, were far from dissuading him. The Duke of Burgundy, seeing him start with them in his train, had testified his spite and disquietude to the Duke of Berry, saying, "Aha! there goes the king on a visit to Languedoc, to hold an inquiry about those who have governed it. For all his council be takes with him only La Riviere, Le Mercier, Montaigu, and Le Begue de Vilaine. What say you to that, my brother?" "The king, our nephew, is young," answered the Duke of Berry: "if he trusts the new councillors he is taking, he will be deceived, and it will end ill, as you will see. As for the present, we must support him. The time will come when we will make those councillors, and the king himself, rue it. Let them do as they please, by God: we will return to our own dominions. We are none the less the two greatest in the kingdom, and so long as we are united, none can do aught against us."
The future is a blank, as well to the anxieties as to the hopes of men. The king's uncles were on the point of getting back the power which they believed to be lost to them. On the 13th of June, 1392, the constable, Oliver de Clisson, was waylaid as he was returning home after a banquet given by the king at the hostel of St. Paul. The assassin was Peter de Craon, cousin of John IV., Duke of Brittany. He believed De Clisson to be dead, and left him bathed in blood at a baker's door in the street called Culture-Sainte-Catherine. The king was just going to bed, when one of his people came and said to him, "Ah! sir, a great misfortune has happened in Paris." "What, and to whom?" said the king. "To your constable, sir, who has just been slain." "Slain!" cried Charles; "and by whom?" "Nobody knows; but it was close by here, in St. Catherine Street." "Lights! quick!" said the king; "I will go and see him;" and he set off, without waiting for his following. When he entered the baker's shop, De Clisson, grievously wounded, was just beginning to recover his senses. "Ah! constable," said the king, "and how do you feel?" "Very poorly, dear sir." "And who brought you to this pass?" "Peter de Craon and his accomplices; traitorously and without warning." "Constable," said the king, "never was anything so punished or dearly paid for as this shall be; take thought for yourself, and have no further care; it is my affair." Orders were immediately given to seek out Peter de Craon, and hurry on his trial. He had taken refuge, first in his own castle of Sable, and afterwards with the Duke of Brittany, who kept him concealed, and replied to the king's envoys that he did not know where he was. The king proclaimed his intention of making war on the Duke of Brittany until Peter de Craon should be discovered, and justice done to the constable. Preparations for war were begun; and the Dukes of Berry and Burgundy received orders to get ready for it, themselves and their vassals. The former, who happened to be in Paris at the time of the attack, did not care to directly oppose the king's project; but he evaded, delayed, and predicted a serious war. According to Froissart, he had been warned, the morning before the attack, by a simple cleric, of Peter de Craon's design; but, "It is too late in the day," he had said; "I do not like to trouble the king to-day; to-morrow, without fail, we will see to it." He had, however, forgotten or neglected to speak to his nephew. Neither he nor his brother, the Duke of Burgundy, there is reason to suppose, were accomplices in the attack upon De Clisson, but they were not at all sorry for it. It was to them an incident in the strife begun between themselves, princes of the blood royal, and those former councillors of Charles V., and now, again, of Charles VI., whom, with the impertinence of great lords, they were wont to call the marinosettes. They left nothing undone to avert the king's anger and to preserve the Duke of Brittany from the war which was threatening him.
Charles VI.'s excitement was very strong, and endured forever. He pressed forward eagerly his preparations for war, though attempts were made to appease him. He was recommended to take care of himself; for he had been ill, and could scarcely mount his horse; and the Duke of Burgundy remonstrated with him several times on the fatigue he was incurring. "I find it better for me," he answered, "to be on horseback, or working at my council, than to keep resting. Whoso wishes to persuade me otherwise is not of my friends, and is displeasing to me." A letter from the Queen of Arragon gave some ground for supposing that Peter de Craon had taken refuge in Spain; and the Duke of Burgundy took advantage of it to dissuade the king from his prompt departure for the war in Brittany. "At the very least," he said, "it was right to send to Arragon to know the truth of the matter, and to thank the queen for her courtesy." "We are quite willing, uncle," answered Charles: "you need not be vexed; but for my own part I hold that this traitor of a Peter de Craon is in no other prison and no other Barcelona than there is in being quite comfortable at the Duke of Brittany's." There was no way of deterring him from his purpose. He had got together his uncles and his troops at Le Mans; and, after passing three weeks there, he gave the word to march for Brittany. The tragic incident which at that time occurred has nowhere been more faithfully or better narrated than in M. de Barante's History of the Dukes of Burgundy. "It was," says he, "the beginning of August, 1392, during the hottest days of the year. The sun was blazing, especially in those sandy districts. The king was on horseback, clad in a short and tight dress called a jacket. His was of black velvet, and very oppressive. On his head he wore a cap of scarlet velvet, ornamented with a chaplet of large pearls, which the queen had given him at his departure. Behind him were two pages on horseback. In order not to incommode the king with dust, he was left to march almost alone. To the left of him were the Dukes of Burgundy and Berry, some paces in front, conversing together. The Duke of Orleans, the Duke of Bourbon, Sire de Coney, and some others were also in front, forming another group. Behind were Sires de Navarre, de Bar, d'Albret, d'Artois, and many others in one pretty large troop. They rode along in this order, and had just entered the great forest of Le Mans, when all at once there started from behind a tree by the road-side a tall man, with bare head and feet, clad in a common white smock, who, dashing forward and seizing the king's horse by the bridle, cried, 'Go no farther; thou art betrayed!'
The men-at-arms hurried up immediately, and striking the hands of the fellow with the butts of their lances, made him let go the bridle. As he had the appearance of a poor madman, and nothing more, he was allowed to go without any questioning, and he followed the king for nearly half an hour, repeating the same cry from a distance. The king was much troubled at this sudden apparition; and his head, which was very weak, was quite turned by it. Nevertheless the march was continued. When the forest had been traversed, they came to a great sandy plain, where the rays of the sun were more scorching than ever. One of the king's pages, overcome by the heat, had fallen asleep, and the lance he carried fell against his helmet, and suddenly caused a loud clash of steel.
"The king shuddered; and then he was observed, rising in his stirrups, to draw his sword, touch his horse with the spur, and make a dash, crying, 'Forward upon these traitors! They would deliver me up to the enemy!' Every one moved hastily aside, but not before some were wounded; it is even said that several were killed, among them a bastard of Polignac. The king's brother, the Duke of Orleans, happened to be quite close by. 'Fly, my nephew d'Orleans,' shouted the Duke of Burgundy: 'my lord is beside himself. My God! let some one try and seize him!' He was so furious that none durst risk it; and he was left to gallop hither and thither, and tire himself in pursuit of first one and then another. At last, when he was weary and bathed in sweat, his chamberlain, William de Martel, came up behind and threw his arms about him. He was surrounded, had his sword taken from him, was lifted from his horse, and laid gently on the ground, and then his jacket was unfastened. His brother and his uncles came up, but his eyes were fixed and recognized nobody, and he did not utter a word. 'We must go back to Le Mans,' said the Dukes of Berry and Burgundy: 'here is an end of the trip to Brittany.' On the way they fell in with a wagon drawn by oxen; in this they laid the King of France, having bound him for fear of a renewal of his frenzy, and so took him back, motionless and speechless, to the town."
It was not a mere fit of delirious fever; it was the beginning of a radical mental derangement, sometimes in abeyance, or at least for some time alleviated, but bursting out again without appreciable reason, and aggravated at every fresh explosion. Charles VI. had always had a taste for masquerading. When in 1389 the young queen, Isabel of Bavaria, came to Paris to be married, the king, on the morning of her entry, said to his chamberlain, Sire de Savoisy, "Prithee, take a good horse, and I will mount behind thee; and we will dress so as not to be known and go to see my wife cone in." Savoisy did not like it, but the king insisted; and so they went in this guise through the crowd, and got many a blow from the officers' staves when they attempted to approach too near the procession. In 1393, a year after his first outbreak of madness, the king, during an entertainment at court, conceived the idea of disguising as savages himself and five of his courtiers. They had been sewn up in a linen skin which defined their whole bodies; and this skin had been covered with a resinous pitch, so as to hold sticking upon it a covering of tow, which made them appear hairy from head to foot. Thus disguised these savages went dancing into the ball-room; one of those present took up a lighted torch and went up to them; and in a moment several of them were in flames. It was impossible to get off the fantastic dresses clinging to their bodies. "Save the king!" shouted one of the poor masquers; but it was not known which was the king. The Duchess de Berry, his aunt, recognized him, caught hold of him, and wrapped him in her robe, saying, "Do not move; you see your companions are burning." And thus he was saved amidst the terror of all present. When he was conscious of his mad state, he was horrified; he asked pardon for the injury he had done, confessed and received the communion. Later, when he perceived his malady returning, he would allude to it with tears in his eyes, ask to have his hunting-knife taken away, and say to those about him, "If any of you, by I know not what witchcraft, be guilty of my sufferings, I adjure him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to torment me no more, and to put an end to me forthwith without making me linger so." He conceived a horror of Queen Isabel, and, without recognizing her, would say when he saw her, "What woman is this? What does she want? Will she never cease her importunities? Save me from her persecution!" At first great care was taken of him. They sent for a skilful doctor from Laon, named William de Harsely, who put him on a regimen from which, for some time, good effects were experienced. But the doctor was uncomfortable at court; he preferred going back to his little place at Laon, where he soon afterwards died; and eleven years later, in 1405, nobody took any more trouble about the king. He was fed like a dog, and allowed to fall ravenously upon his food. For five whole months he had not a change of clothes. At last some shame was felt for this neglect, and an attempt was made to repair it. It took a dozen men to overcome the madman's resistance. He was washed, shaved, and dressed in fresh clothes. He became more composed, and began once more to recognize certain persons, amongst others, the former provost of Paris, Juvenal des Ursins, whose visit appeared to give him pleasure, and to whom he said, without well knowing why, "Juvenal, let us not waste our time." On his good days he was sometimes brought in to sit at certain councils at which there was a discussion about the diminution of taxes and relief of the people, and he showed symptoms, at intervals, of taking an interest in them. A fair young Burgundian, Odette de Champdivers, was the only one amongst his many favorites who was at all successful in soothing him during his violent fits. It was Duke John the Fearless, who had placed her near the king, that she might promote his own influence, and she took advantage of it to further her own fortunes, which, however, did not hinder her from afterwards passing into the service of Charles VII. against the house of Burgundy.
For thirty years, from 1392 to 1422, the crown remained on the head of this poor madman, whilst France was a victim to the bloody quarrels of the royal house, to national dismemberment, to licentiousness in morals, to civil anarchy, and to foreign conquest.
When, for the first time, in the forest of Le Mans, the Dukes of Berry and Burgundy saw their nephew in this condition, their first feeling was one of sorrow and disquietude. The Duke of Burgundy especially, who was accessible to generous and sympathetic emotions, cried out with tears, as he embraced the king, "My lord and nephew, comfort me with just one word!" But the desires and the hopes of selfish ambition reappeared before long more prominently than these honest effusions of feeling. "All!" said the Duke of Berry, "De Clisson, La Mviere, Noviant, and Vilaine have been haughty and harsh towards me; the time has come when I shall pay them out in the same coin from the same mint." The guardianship of the king was withdrawn from his councillors, and transferred to four chamberlains chosen by his uncles. The two dukes, however, did not immediately lay hands on the government of the kingdom; the constable De Clisson and the late councillors of Charles V. remained in charge of it for some time longer; they had given enduring proofs of capacity and fidelity to the king's service; and the two dukes did not at first openly attack them, but labored strenuously, nevertheless, to destroy them. The Duke of Burgundy one day said to Sire de Noviant, "I have been overtaken by a very pressing business, for which I require forthwith thirty thousand crowns; let me have them out of my lord's treasury; I will restore them at another time." Noviant answered respectfully that the council must be spoken to about it. "I wish none to know of it," said the duke. Noviant persisted. "You will not do me this favor?" rejoined the duke; "you shall rue it before long." It was against the constable that the wrath of the princes was chiefly directed. He was the most powerful and the richest. One day he went, with a single squire behind him, to the Duke of Burgundy's house; and, "My lord," said he, "many knights and squires are persecuting me to get the money which is owing to them. I know not where to find it. The chancellor and the treasurer refer me to you. Since it is you and the Duke of Berry who govern, may it please you to give me an answer." "Clisson," said the duke, "you have no occasion to trouble yourself about the state of the kingdom; it will manage very well without your services. Whence, pray, have you been able to amass so much money? My lord, my brother of Berry and myself have not so much between us three. Away from my presence, and let me see you no more! If I had not a respect for myself, I would have your other eye put out." Clisson went out, mounted his horse, returned to his house, set his affairs in order, and departed, with two attendants, to his strong castle of Montlhery. The two dukes were very sorry that they had not put him under arrest on the spot. The rupture came to a climax. Of the king's four other councillors one escaped in time; two were seized and thrown into prison; the fourth, Bureau de la Riviere was at his castle of Auneau, near Chartres, honored and beloved by all his neighbors. Everybody urged him to save himself. "If I were to fly or hide myself," said he, "I should acknowledge myself guilty of crimes from which I feel myself free. Here, as elsewhere, I am at the will of God; He gave me all I have, and He can take it away whensoever He pleases. I served King Charles of blessed memory, and also the king, his son; and they recompensed me handsomely for my services. I will abide the judgment of the parliament of Paris touching what I have done according to my king's commands as to the affairs of the realm." He was told that the people sent to look for him were hard by, and was asked, "Shall we open to them?" "Why not?" was his reply. He himself went to meet them, and received them with a courtesy which they returned. He was then removed to Paris, where he was shut up with his colleagues in the Louvre.
Their trial before parliament was prosecuted eagerly, especially in the case of the absent De Clisson, whom a royal decree banished from the kingdom "as a false and wicked traitor to the crown, and condemned him to 'pay a hundred thousand marks of silver, and to forfeit forever the office of constable.'" It is impossible in the present day to estimate how much legal justice there was in this decree; but, in any case, it was certainly extreme severity to so noble and valiant a warrior who had done so much for the safety and honor of France. The Dukes of Burgundy and Berry and many barons of the realm signed the decree; but the king's brother, the Duke of Orleans, refused to have any part in it. Against the other councillors of the king the prosecution was continued, with fits and starts of determination, but in general with slowness and uncertainty. Under the influence of the Dukes of Burgundy and Berry, the parliament showed an inclination towards severity; but Bureau de la Riviere had warm friends, and amongst others, the young and beautiful Duchess of Berry, to whose marriage he had greatly contributed, and John Juvenal des Ursins, provost of the tradesmen of Paris, one of the men towards whom the king and the populace felt the highest esteem and confidence. The king, favorably inclined towards the accused by his own bias and the influence of the Duke of Orleans, presented a demand to parliament to have the papers of the procedure brought to him. Parliament hesitated and postponed a reply; the procedure followed its course; and at the end of some months further the king ordered it to be stopped, and Sires de la Riviere and Neviant to be set at liberty and to have their real property restored to them, at the same time that they lost their personal property and were commanded to remain forever at fifteen leagues' distance, at least, from the court. This was moral equity, if not legal justice. The accused had been able and faithful servants of their king and country. Their imprisonment had lasted more than a year. The Dukes of Burgundy and Berry remained in possession of power.
They exercised it for ten years, from 1392 to 1402, without any great dispute between themselves—the Duke of Burgundy's influence being predominant—or with the king, who, save certain lucid intervals, took merely a nominal part in the government. During this period no event of importance disturbed France internally. In 1393 the King of England, Richard II., son of the Black Prince, sought in marriage the daughter of Charles VI., Isabel of France, only eight years old. In both courts and in both countries there was a desire for peace. An embassy came in state to demand the hand of the princess. The ambassadors were presented, and the Earl of Northampton, marshal of England, putting one knee to the ground before her, said, "Madame, please God you shall be our sovereign lady and Queen of England." The young girl, well tutored, answered, "If it please God and my lord and father that I should be Queen of England, I would be willingly, for I have certainly been told that I should then be a great lady." The contract was signed on the 9th of March, 1396, with a promise that, when the princess had accomplished her twelfth year, she should be free to assent to or refuse the union; and ten days after the marriage, the king's uncles and the English ambassadors mutually signed a truce, which promised—but quite in vain—to last for eight and twenty years.
About the same time Sigismund, King of Hungary, threatened with an invasion of his kingdom by the great Turkish Sultan Bajazet I., nicknamed Lightning (El Derfr), because of his rapid conquests, invoked the aid of the Christian kings of the West, and especially of the King of France. Thereupon there was a fresh outbreak of those crusades so often renewed since the end of the thirteenth century. All the knighthood of France arose for the defence of a Christian king. John, Count of Nevers, eldest son of the Duke of Burgundy, scarcely eighteen years of age, said to his comrades, "If it pleased my two lords, my lord the king and my lord and father, I would willingly head this army and this venture, for I have a desire to make myself known." The Duke of Burgundy consented, and, in person, conducted his son to St. Denis, but without intending to make him a knight as yet. "He shall receive the accolade," said he, "as a knight of Jesus Christ, at the first battle against the infidels." In April, 1396, an army of new crusaders left France and traversed Germany uproariously, everywhere displaying its valiant ardor, presumptuous recklessness, and chivalrous irregularity. Some months elapsed without any news; but, at the beginning of December, there were seen arriving in France some poor creatures, half naked, dying of hunger, cold, and weariness, and giving deplorable accounts of the destruction of the French army. The people would not believe them: "They ought to be thrown into the water," they said, "these scoundrels who propagate such lies." But, on the 23th of December, there arrived at Paris James de Helly, a knight of Artois, who, booted and spurred, strode into the hostel of St. Paul, threw himself on his knees before the king in the midst of the princes, and reported that he had come straight from Turkey; that on the 28th of the preceding September the Christian army had been destroyed at the battle of Nicopolis; that most of the lords had been either slain in battle or afterwards massacred by the sultan's order; and that the Count of Nevers had sent him to the king and to his father the duke, to get negotiations entered into for his release. There was no exaggeration about the knight's story. The battle had been terrible, the slaughter awful. For the latter, the French, who were for a moment victorious, had set a cruel example with their prisoners; and Bajazet had surpassed them in cool ferocity. After the first explosion of the father's and the people's grief, the ransom of the prisoners became the topic. It was a large sum, and rather difficult to raise; and, whilst it was being sought for, James de Helly returned to report as much to Bajazet, and to place himself once more in his power. "Thou art welcome," said the sultan; "thou hast loyally kept thy word; I give thee thy liberty; thou canst go whither thou wiliest."
Terms of ransom were concluded; and the sum total was paid through the hands of Bartholomew Pellegrini, a Genoese trader. Before the Count of Nevers and his comrades set out, Bajazet sent for them. "John," said he to the count through an interpreter, "I know that thou art a great lord in thy country, and the son of a great lord. Thou art young. It may be that thou art abashed and grieved at what hath befallen thee in thy first essay of knighthood, and that, to retrieve thine honor, thou wilt collect a powerful army against me. I might, ere I release thee, bind thee by oath not to take arms against me, neither thyself nor thy people. But no; I will not exact this oath either from them or from thee. When thou hast returned yonder, take up arms if it please thee, and come and attack me. Thou wilt find me ever ready to receive thee in the open field, thee and thy men-at-arms. And what I say to thee, I say for the sake of all the Christians thou mayest purpose to bring. I fear them not; I was born to fight them, and to conquer the world." Everywhere and at all times human pride, with its blind arrogance, is the same. Bajazet saw no glimpse of that future when his empire would be decaying, and held together only by the interested protection of Christian powers. After paying dearly for their errors and their disasters, Count John of Nevers and his comrades in captivity re-entered France in February, 1398, and their expedition to Hungary was but one of the last vain ventures of chivalry in the great struggle that commenced in the seventh century between Islamry and Christendom.
While this tragic incident was taking place in Eastern Europe, the court of the mad king was falling a victim to rivalries, intrigues, and scandals which, towards the close of this reign, were to be the curse and the shame of France. There had grown up between Queen Isabel of Bavaria and Louis, Duke of Orleans, brother of the king, an intimacy which, throughout the city and amongst all honorable people, shocked even the least strait-laced. It was undoubtedly through the queen's influence that Charles VI., in 1402, suddenly decided upon putting into the hands of the Duke of Orleans the entire government of the realm and the right of representing him in everything during the attacks of his malady. The Duke of Burgundy wrote at once about it to the parliament of Paris, saying, "Take counsel and pains that the interests of the king and his dominion be not governed as they now are, for, in good truth, it is a pity and a grief to hear what is told me about it." The accusation was not grounded solely upon the personal ill-temper of the Duke of Burgundy. His nephew, the Duke of Orleans, was elegant, affable, volatile, good-natured; he had for his partisans at court all those who shared his worse than frivolous tastes and habits; and his political judgment was no better than his habits. No sooner was he invested with power than he abused it strangely; he levied upon the clergy as well as the people an enormous talliage, and the use he made of the money increased still further the wrath of the public. An Augustine monk, named James Legrand, already celebrated for his writings, had the hardihood to preach even before the court against abuses of power and licentiousness of morals. The king rose up from his own place, and went and sat down right opposite the preacher. "Yes, sir," continued the monk, "the king your father, during his reign, did likewise lay taxes upon the people, but with the produce of them he built fortresses for the defence of the kingdom, he hurled back the enemy and took possession of their towns, and he effected a saving of treasure which made him the most powerful amongst the kings of the West. But now, there is nothing of this kind done; the height of nobility in the present day is to frequent bagnios, to live in debauchery, to wear rich dresses with pretty fringes and big cuffs. This, O queen," he added, "is what is said to the shame of the court; and, if you will not believe me, put on the dress of some poor woman and walk about the city, and you will hear it talked of by plenty of people." In spite of his malady and his affection for his brother, Charles VI., either from pure feebleness or because he was struck by those truths so boldly proclaimed, yielded to the counsels of certain wise men who represented to him "that it was neither a reasonable nor an honorable thing to intrust the government of the realm to a prince whose youth needed rather to be governed than to govern." He withdrew the direction of affairs from the Duke of Orleans and restored it to the Duke of Burgundy, who took it again and held it with a strong grasp, and did not suffer his nephew Louis to meddle in anything. But from that time forward open distrust and hatred were established between the two princes and their families. In the very midst of this court-crisis Duke Philip the Bold fell ill and died within a few days, on the 27th of April, 1404. He was a prince valiant and able, ambitious, imperious, eager in the pursuit of his own personal interests, careful in humoring those whom he aspired to rule, and disposed to do them good service in whatever was not opposed to his own ends. He deserved and possessed the confidence and affection not only of his father, King John, but also of his brother, Charles V., a good judge of wisdom and fidelity. He founded that great house of Burgundy which was for more than a century to eclipse and often to deplorably compromise France; but Philip the Bold loved France sincerely, and always gave her the chief place in his policy. His private life was regular and staid, amidst the scandalous licentiousness of his court. He was of those who leave behind them unfeigned regret and an honored memory, without having inspired their contemporaries with any lively sympathy.
John the Fearless, Count of Nevers, his son and successor in the dukedom of Burgundy, was not slow to prove that there was reason to regret his father. His expedition to Hungary, for all its bad leadership and bad fortune, had created esteem for his courage and for his firmness under reverses, but little confidence in his direction of public affairs. He was a man of violence, unscrupulous and indiscreet, full of jealousy and hatred, and capable of any deed and any risk for the gratification of his passions or his fancies. At his accession he made some popular moves; he appeared disposed to prosecute vigorously the war against England, which was going on sluggishly; he testified a certain spirit of conciliation by going to pay a visit to his cousin, the Duke of Orleans, lying ill at his castle of Beaute, near Vincennes; when the Duke of Orleans was well again, the two princes took the communion together, and dined together at their uncle's, the Duke of Berry's; and the Duke of Orleans invited the new Duke of Burgundy to dine with him the next Sunday. The Parisians took pleasure in observing these little matters, and in hoping for the re-establishment of harmony in the royal family. They were soon to be cruelly undeceived.
On the 23d of November, 1407, the Duke of Orleans had dined at Queen Isabel's. He was returning about eight in the evening along Vieille Rue du Temple, singing and playing with his glove, and attended by only two squires riding one horse, and by four or five varlets on foot, carrying torches. It was a gloomy night; not a soul in the streets. When the duke was about a hundred paces from the queen's hostel, eighteen or twenty armed men, who had lain in ambush behind a house called Image de Notre-Dame, dashed suddenly out; the squires' horse took fright and ran away with them; and the assassins rushed upon the duke, shouting, "Death! death!" "What is all this?" said he; "I am the Duke of Orleans." "Just what we want," was the answer; and they hurled him down from his mule. He struggled to his knees; but the fellows struck at him heavily with axe and sword. A young man in his train made an effort to defend him, and was immediately cut down; and another, grievously wounded, had but just time to escape into a neighboring shop. A poor cobbler's wife opened her window, and, seeing the work of assassination, shrieked, "Murder! murder!" "Hold your tongue, you strumpet!" cried some one from the street. Others shot arrows at the windows where lookers-on might be. A tall man, wearing a red cap which came down over his eyes, said in a loud voice, "Out with all lights, and away!" The assassins fled at the top of their speed, shouting, "Fire! fire!" throwing behind them foot-trippers, and by menaces causing all the lights to be put out which were being lighted here and there in the shops.
The duke was quite dead. One of his squires, returning to the spot, found his body stretched on the road, and mutilated all over. He was carried to the neighboring church of Blancs-Manteaux, whither all the royal family came to render the last sad offices. The Duke of Burgundy appeared no less afflicted than the rest. "Never," said he, "was a more wicked and traitorous murder committed in this realm." The provost of Paris, Sire de Tignouville, set on foot an active search after the perpetrators. He was summoned before the council of princes, and the Duke of Berry asked him if he had discovered anything. "I believe," said the provost, "that if I had leave to enter all the hostels of the king's servants, and even of the princes, I could get on the track of the authors or accomplices of the crime." He was authorized to enter wherever it seemed good to him. He went away to set himself to work. The Duke of Burgundy, looking troubled and growing pale, "Cousin," said the King of Naples, Louis d'Anjou, who was present at the council, "can you know aught about it? You must tell us." The Duke of Burgundy took him, together with his uncle, the Duke of Berry, aside, and told them that it was he himself who, tempted of the devil, had given orders for this murder. "O God!" cried the Duke of Berry, "then I lose both my nephews!" The Duke of Burgundy went out in great confusion, and the council separated. Research brought about the discovery that the crime had been for a long while in preparation, and that a Norman nobleman, Raoul d'Auquetonville, late receiver-general of finance, having been deprived of his post by the Duke of Orleans for malversation, had been the instrument. The council of princes met the next day at the Hotel de Nesle. The Duke of Burgundy, who had recovered all his audacity, came to take his seat there. Word was sent to him not to enter the room. Duke John persisted; but the Duke of Berry went to the door and said to him, "Nephew, give up the notion of entering the council; you would not be seen there with pleasure." "I give up willingly," answered Duke John; "and that none may be accused of putting to death the Duke of Orleans, I declare that it was I, and none other, who caused the doing of what has been done." Thereupon he turned his horse's head, returned forthwith to the Hotel d'Artois, and, taking only six men with him, he galloped without a halt, except to change horses, to the frontier of Flanders. The Duke of Bourbon complained bitterly at the council that an immediate arrest had not been ordered. The Admiral de Brabant, and a hundred of the Duke of Orleans' knights, set out in pursuit, but were unable to come up in time. Neither Raoul d'Anquetonville nor any other of the assassins was caught. The magistrates, as well as the public, were seized with stupor in view of so great a crime and so great a criminal.
But the Duke of Orleans left a widow who, in spite of his infidelities and his irregularities, was passionately attached to him. Valentine Visconti, the Duke of Milan's daughter, whose dowry had gone to pay the ransom of King John, was at Chateau-Thierry when she heard of her husband's murder. Hers was one of those natures, full of softness and at the same time of fire, which grief does not overwhelm, and in which a passion for vengeance is excited and fed by their despair. She started for Paris in the early part of December, 1407, during the roughest winter, it was said, ever known for several centuries, taking with her all her children. The Duke of Berry, the Duke of Bourbon, the Count of Clermont, and the constable went to meet her. Herself and all her train in deep mourning, she dismounted at the hostel of St. Paul, threw herself on her knees before the king with the princes and council around him, and demanded of him justice for her husband's cruel death. The chancellor promised justice in the name of the king, who added with his own lips, "We regard the deed relating to our own brother as done to ourself." The compassion of all present was boundless, and so was their indignation; but it was reported that the Duke of Burgundy was getting ready to return to Paris, and with what following and for what purpose would he come? Nothing was known on that point. There was no force with which to make a defence. Nothing was done for the Duchess of Orleans; no prosecution began. As much vexed and irritated as disconsolate, she set out for Blois with her children, being resolved to fortify herself there. Charles had another relapse of his malady. The people of Paris, who were rather favorable than adverse to the Duke of Burgundy, laid the blame of the king's new attack, and of the general alarm, upon the Duchess of Orleans, who was off in flight. John the Fearless actually re-entered Paris on the 20th of February, 1408, with a thousand men-at-arms, amidst popular acclamation, and cries of "Long live the Duke of Burgundy!" Having taken up a strong position at the Hotel d'Artois, he sent a demand to the king for a solemn audience, proclaiming his intention of setting forth the motives for which he had caused the Duke of Orleans to be slain. The 8th of March was the day fixed. Charles VI., being worse than ever that day, was not present; the dauphin, Louis, Duke of Guienne, a child of twelve years, surrounded by the princes, councillors, a great number of lords, doctors of the university, burgesses of note, and people of various conditions, took his father's place at this assembly. The Duke of Burgundy had intrusted a Norman Cordelier, Master John Petit, with his justification. The monk spoke for more than five hours, reviewing sacred history, and the histories of Greece, Rome, and Persia, and the precedents of Phineas, Absalom the son of David, Queen Athaliah, and Julian the Apostate, to prove "that it is lawful, and not only lawful, but honorable and meritorious, in any subject to slay or cause to be slain a traitor and disloyal tyrant, especially when he is a man of such mighty power that justice cannot well be done by the sovereign." This principle once laid down, John Petit proceeded to apply it to the Duke of Burgundy, "causing to be slain that criminal tyrant, the Duke of Orleans, who was meditating the damnable design of thrusting aside the king and his children from their crown;" and he drew from it the conclusion that "the Duke of Burgundy ought not to be at all blamed or censured for what had happened in the person of the Duke of Orleans, and that the king not only ought not to be displeased with him, but ought to hold the said lord of Burgundy, as well as his deed, agreeable to him, and authorized by necessity." The defence thus concluded, letters were actually put before the king, running thus: "It is our will and pleasure that our cousin of Burgundy, his heirs and successors, be and abide at peace with us and our successors, in respect of the aforesaid deed, and all that hath followed thereon; and that by us, our said successors, our people and officers, no hinderance, on account of that, may be offered them, either now or in time to come."
Charles VI., weak in mind and will, even independently of his attacks, signed these letters, and gave Duke John quite a kind reception, telling him, however, that "he could cancel the penalty, but not the resentment of everybody, and that it was for him to defend himself against perils which were probably imminent." The duke answered proudly that "so long as he stood in the king's good graces, he did not fear any man living."
Three days after this strange audience and this declaration, Queen Isabel, but lately on terms of the closest intimacy with the Duke of Orleans, who had been murdered on his way home after dining with her, was filled with alarm, and set off suddenly for Melun, taking with her her son Louis, the dauphin, and accompanied by nearly all the princes, who, however, returned before long to Paris, being troubled by the displeasure the Duke of Burgundy testified at their departure. For more than four months, Duke John the Fearless remained absolute master of Paris, disposing of all posts, giving them to his own creatures, and putting himself on good terms with the university and the principal burgesses. A serious revolt amongst the Liigese called for his presence in Flanders. The first troops he had sent against them had been repulsed; and he felt the necessity of going thither in person. But two months after his departure from Paris, on the 26th of August, 1408, Queen Isabel returned thither from Melun, with the dauphin Louis, who for the first time rode on horseback, and with three thousand men-at-arms. She set up her establishment at the Louvre. The Parisians shouted "Noel," as she passed along; and the Duke of Berry, the Duke of Bourbon, the Duke of Brittany, the constable, and all the great officers of the crown rallied round her. Two days afterwards, on the 28th of August, the Duchess of Orleans arrived there from Blois, in a black litter drawn by four horses caparisoned in black, and followed by a large number of mourning carriages. On the 5th of September, a state assembly was held at the Louvre. All the royal family, the princes and great officers of the crown, the presidents of the parliament, fifteen archbishops or bishops, the provost of Paris, the provost of tradesmen, and a hundred burgesses of note attended it. Thereupon Master Juvenal des Ursins, king's advocate, announced the intention of Charles VI. in his illness to confer the government upon the queen, set forth the reasons for it, called to mind the able regency of Queen Blanche, mother of St. Louis, and produced royal letters, sealed with the great seal. Immediately the Duchess of Orleans came forward, knelt at the dauphin's feet, demanding justice for the death of her husband, and begged that she might have a day appointed her for refuting the calumnies with which it had been sought to blacken his memory. The dauphin promised a speedy reply. On the 11th of September, accordingly, a new meeting of princes, lords, prelates, parliament, the university, and burgesses was held in the great hall of the Louvre. The Duchess of Orleans, the Duke her son, their chancellor, and the principal officers of her household were introduced, and leave was given them to proceed with the justification of the late Duke of Orleans. It had been prepared beforehand; the duchess placed the manuscript before the council, as pledging herself unreservedly to all it contained, and Master Serisy, Abbot of St. Fiacre, a monk of the order of St. Benedict, read the document out publicly. It was a long and learned defence, in which the imputations made by the cordelier, John Petit, against the late Duke of Orleans, were effectually and in some parts eloquently refuted. After the justification, Master Cousinot, advocate of the Duchess of Orleans, presented in person his demands against the Duke of Burgundy. They claimed that he should be bound to come, "without belt or chaperon," and disavow solemnly and publicly, on his knees before the royal family, and also on the very spot where the crime was committed, the murder of the Duke of Orleans. After several other acts of reparation which were imposed upon him, he was to be sent into exile for twenty years beyond the seas, and on his return to remain at twenty leagues' distance, at least, from the king and the royal family. After reacting these demands, which were more legitimate than practicable, the young dauphin, well instructed as to what he had to say, addressed the Duchess of Orleans and her children in these terms: "We and all the princes of the blood royal here present, after having heard the justification of our uncle, the Duke of Orleans, have no doubt left touching the honor of his memory, and do hold him to be completely cleared of all that hath been said contrary to his reputation. As to the further demands you make, they shall be suitably provided for in course of justice." At this answer the assembly broke up.
It had just been reported that the Duke of Burgundy had completely beaten and reduced to submission the insurgent Liegese, and that he was preparing to return to Paris with his army. Great was the consternation amongst the council of the queen and princes. They feared above everything to see the king and the dauphin in the Duke of Burgundy's power; and it was decided to quit Paris, which had always testified a favorable disposition towards Duke John. Charles VI. was the first to depart, on the 3d of November, 1408. The queen, the dauphin, and the princes followed him two days afterwards, and at Gien they all took boat on the Loire to go to Tours. The Duke of Burgundy on his arrival at Paris, on the 28th of November, found not a soul belonging to the royal family or the court; and he felt a moment's embarrassment. Even his audacity and lack of scruple did not go to the extent of doing without the king altogether, or even of dispensing with having him for a tool; and he had seen too much of the Parisian populace not to know how precarious and fickle was its favor. He determined to negotiate with the king's party, and for that purpose he sent his brother-in-law the Count of Hainault, to Tours, with a brilliant train of unarmed attendants, bidden to make themselves agreeable, and not to fight.
A recent event had probably much to do with his decision. His most indomitable foe, she to whom the king and his councillors had lately granted a portion of the vengeance she was seeking to take on him, Valentine of Milan, Duchess of Orleans, died on the 4th of December, 1408, at Blois, far from satisfied with the moral reparation she had obtained in her enemy's absence, and clearly foreseeing that against the Duke of Burgundy, flushed with victory and present in person, she would obtain nothing of what she had asked. For spirits of the best mettle, and especially for a woman's heart, impotent passion is a heavy burden to bear; and Valentine Visconti, beautiful, amiable, and unhappy even in her best days through the fault of the husband she loved, sank under this trial. At the close of her life she had taken for device, "Nought have I more; more hold I nought" (Bien ne m 'est plus; plus ne m 'est rien); and so fully was that her habitual feeling that she had the words inscribed upon the black tapestry of her chamber. In her last hours she had by her side her three sons and her daughter, but there was another still whom she remembered. She sent for a child, six years of age, John, a natural son of her husband by Marietta d'Enghien, wife of Sire de Cany-Dunois. "This one," said she, "was filched from me; yet there is not a child so well cut out as he to avenge his father's death." Twenty-five years later John was the famous Bastard of Orleans, Count Dunois, Charles VII.'s lieutenant-general, and Joan of Arc's comrade in the work of saving the French kingship and France.
The Duke of Burgundy's negotiations at Tours were not fruitless. The result was, that on the 9th of March, 1409, a treaty was concluded and an interview effected at Chartres between the duke on one side and on the other the king, the queen, the dauphin, all the royal family, the councillors of the crown, the young Duke of Orleans, his brother, and a hundred knights of their house, all met together to hear the king declare that he pardoned the Duke of Burgundy. The duke prayed "my lord of Orleans and my lords his brothers to banish from their hearts all hatred and vengeance;" and the princes of Orleans "assented to what the king commanded them, and forgave their cousin the Duke of Burgundy everything entirely." On the way back from Chartres the Duke of Burgundy's fool kept playing with a church-paten (called "peace"), and thrusting it under his cloak, saying, "See, this is a cloak of peace;" and, "Many folks," says Juvenal des Ursins, "considered this fool pretty wise." The Duke of Burgundy had good reason, however, for seeking this outward reconciliation; it put an end to a position too extended not to become pretty soon untenable; the peace was a cause of great joy at Paris; the king was not long coming back; and two hundred thousand persons, says the chronicle, went out to meet him, shouting, "Noel!" The Duke of Burgundy had gone out to receive him; and the queen and the princes arrived two days after-wards. It was not known at the time, though it was perhaps the most serious result of the negotiation, that a secret understanding had been established between John the Fearless and Isabel of Bavaria. The queen, as false as she was dissolute, had seen that the duke might be of service to her on occasion if she served him in her turn, and they had added the falsehood of their undivulged arrangement to that of the general reconciliation.
But falsehood does not extinguish the facts it attempts to disguise. The hostility between the houses of Orleans and Burgundy could not fail to survive the treaty of Chartres, and cause search to be made for a man to head the struggle so soon as it could be recommenced. The hour and the man were not long waited for. In the very year of the treaty, Charles of Orleans, eldest son of the murdered duke and Valentine of Milan, lost his wife, Isabel of France, daughter of Charles VI.; and as early as the following year (1410) the princes, his uncles, made him marry Bonne d'Armagnac, daughter of Count Bernard d'Armagnac, one of the most powerful, the most able, and the most ambitious lords of Southern France. Forthwith, in concert with the Duke of Berry, the Duke of Brittany, and several other lords, Count Bernard put himself at the head of the Orleans party, and prepared to proceed against the Duke of Burgundy in the cause of dominion combined with vengeance. From 1410 to 1415 France was a prey to civil war between the Armagnacs and Burgundians, and to their alternate successes and reverses brought about by the unscrupulous employment of the most odious and desperate means. The Burgundians had generally the advantage in the struggle, for Paris was chiefly the centre of it, and their influence was predominant there. Their principal allies there were the butchers, the boldest and most ambitious corporation in the city. For a long time the butcher-trade of Paris had been in the hands of a score of families the number had been repeatedly reduced, and at the opening of the fifteenth century, three families, the Legoix, the St. Yons, and the Thiberts, had exercised absolute mastery in the market district, which in turn exercised mastery over nearly the whole city. "One Caboche, a flayer of beasts in the shambles of Hotel-Dieu, and Master John de Troyes, a surgeon with a talent for speaking, were their most active associates. Their company consisted of 'prentice-butchers, medical students, skinners, tailors, and every kind of lewd fellows. When anybody caused their displeasure they said, 'Here's an Armagnac,' and despatched him on the spot, and plundered his house, or dragged him off to prison to pay dear for his release. The rich burgesses lived in fear and peril. More than three hundred of them went off to Melun with the provost of tradesmen, who could no longer answer for the tranquillity of the city." The Armagnacs, in spite of their general inferiority, sometimes got the upper hand, and did not then behave with much more discretion than the others. They committed the mistake of asking aid from the King of England, "promising him the immediate surrender of all the cities, castles, and bailiwicks they still possessed in Guienne and Poitou." Their correspondence fell into the hands of the Burgundians, and the Duke of Burgundy showed the king himself a letter stating that "the Duke of Berry, the Duke of Orleans, and the Duke of Bourbon had lately conspired together at Bourges for the destruction of the king, the kingdom, and the good city of Paris." "Ah!" cried the poor king with tears, "we quite see their wickedness, and we do conjure you, who are of our own blood, to aid and advise us against them." The duke and his partisans, kneeling on one knee, promised the king all the assistance possible with their persons and their property. The civil war was passionately carried on. The Burgundians went and besieged Bourges. The siege continued a long while without success. Some of the besiegers grew weary of it. Negotiations were opened with the besieged. An interview took place before the walls between the Duke of Berry and the Duke of Burgundy. "Nephew," said the former, "I have acted ill, and you still worse. It is for us to try and maintain the kingdom in peace and prosperity." "I will be no obstacle, uncle," answered Duke John. Peace was made. It was stipulated that the Duke of Berry and the Armagnac lords should give up all alliance with the English, and all confederacy against the Duke of Burgundy, who, on his side, should give up any that he might have formed against them. An engagement was entered into mutually to render aid, service, and obedience to the king against his foe of England, as they were bound by right and reason to do; and lastly a promise was made to observe the articles of the peace of Chartres, and to swear them over again. There was a special prohibition against using, for the future, the words Armagnacs and Burgundians, or any other term reflecting upon either party. The pacification was solemnly celebrated at Auxerre, on the 22d of August, 1412; and on the 29th of September following, the dauphin once more entered Paris, with the Duke of Burgundy at his side. The king, queen, and Duke of Berry arrived a few days afterwards. The people gave a hearty reception to them, even to the Armagnacs, well known as such, in their train; but the butchers and the men of their faction murmured loudly, and treated the peace as treason. Outside, it was little more than nominal; the Count of Armagnac remained under arms and the Duke of Orleans held aloof from Paris. A violent ferment again began there. The butchers continued to hold the mastery. The Duke of Burgundy, all the while finding them very much in the way, did not cease to pay court to them, Many of his knights were highly displeased at seeing themselves mixed up with such fellows. The honest burgesses began to be less frightened at the threats and more angry at the excesses of the butchers. The advocate-general, Juvenal des Ursins, had several times called without being received at the Hotel d'Artois, but one night the Duke of Burgundy sent for him, and asked him what he thought of the position. "My lord," said the magistrate, "do not persist in always maintaining that you did well to have the Duke of Orleans slain; enough mischief has come of it to make you agree that you were wrong. It is not to your honor to let yourself be guided by flayers of beasts and a lot of lewd fellows. I can guarantee that a hundred burgesses of Paris, of the highest character, would undertake to attend you everywhere, and do whatever you should bid them, and even lend you money if you wanted it." The duke listened patiently, but answered that he had done no wrong in the case of the Duke of Orleans, and would never confess that he had. "As to the fellows of whom you speak," said he, "I know my own business." Juvenal returned home without much belief in the duke's firmness. He himself, full of courage as he was, durst not yet declare himself openly. The thought of all this occupied his mind incessantly, sleeping and waking. One night, when he had fallen asleep towards morning, it seemed to him that a voice kept saying, Surgite cum sederitis, qui manducatis panem doloris (Rise up from your sitting, ye who eat the bread of sorrow). When he awoke, his wife, a good and pious woman, said to him, "My dear, this morning I heard some one saying to you, or you pronouncing in a dream, some words that I have often read in my Hours;" and she repeated them to him. "My dear," answered Juvenal, "we have eleven children, and consequently great cause to pray God to grant us peace; let us hope in Him, and He will help us." He often saw the Duke of Berry. "Well, Juvenal," the old prince would say to him, "shall this last forever? Shall we be forever under the sway of these lewd fellows?" "My lord," Juvenal would answer, "hope we in God; yet a little while and we shall see them confounded and destroyed."