The original spelling and puncturation have been retained.
BEARN AND THE PYRENEES:
A Legendary Tour to the Country of Henri Quatre.
LOUISA STUART COSTELLO,
Author of "The Bocages and the Vines," "A Pilgrimage to Auvergne," Etc.
With numerous Illustrations.
In Two Volumes.
London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty. 1844. Printed by R. Clay, Bread Street Hill.
TO MISS BURDETT COUTTS, THESE VOLUMES ARE DEDICATED WITH MUCH RESPECT AND AFFECTION BY HER SINCERELY OBLIGED HUMBLE SERVANT, LOUISA STUART COSTELLO. LONDON, MARCH 16, 1844.
When I first indulged the inclination, which I had long entertained, of visiting the famous castle of Chinon, and the equally interesting abbey of Fontevraud—the palace and tomb of our English kings—and paused on my way in "the lovely vales of Vire," and gathered in romantic Brittany some of her pathetic legends, I thought I should have satisfied my longing to explore France; but I found that every step I look in that teeming region opened to me new stores of interest; and, encouraged by the pleasure my descriptions had given, I set out again, following another route, to the regal city of Rheims, visiting the vine-covered plains of Champagne and Burgundy, and all their curious historical towns, till I reached the dominion of Charles the Seventh at Bourges, to become acquainted with whose gorgeous cathedral and antique palaces is worth any fatigue. From thence I wandered on to the beautiful Monts Dores, and the basaltic regions of unexplored Le Vellay; and, after infinite gratification, I once more turned my steps homeward; but, like Sindbad, I felt that there was much more yet to be explored; and I had visions of the romantic and delightful realms, which extend where once the haughty heiress of Aquitaine held her poetical courts of Love and Chivalry. The battle-fields of our Black Prince were yet to be traced; the sites of all the legends and adventures of the most entertaining of chroniclers, Froissart, were yet to be discovered; and the land of mountains and torrents, where the Great Bearnais passed his hardy childhood, was yet unknown to me.
I therefore again assumed my "cockle hat and staff," and, re-entering the Norman territory, commenced exploring, from the stone bed of the Conqueror, at Falaise, to the tortoise-shell cradle of Henry of Navarre, at Pau.
Not inferior to my two former pilgrimages, in interest, did this my third ramble prove. How many "old romantic towns" I passed through; how much of varied lore I heard and found amongst the still original and, even now, unsophisticated peasantry; how numerous were the recollections which places and things recalled, and how pleasant were the scenes I met, I have endeavoured to tell the lovers of easy adventure—for any traveller, with the slightest enterprise, could accomplish what I have done without fatigue, and with the certainty of being repaid for the exertion of seeking for amusement.
In succession, I paused at Le Mans, the scene of the great Vendeean struggle, where the majestic cathedral challenges the admiration of all travellers of taste; at Poitiers, full of antique wonders; in the region of the Serpent lady, Melusine; at Protestant La Rochelle, with all its battlements and turrets, and the most beautiful bathing-establishment in Europe. At mysterious Saintes, and all its pagan temples and arches; at Bordeaux, the magnificent; on the Garonne, and by its robbers'-castles; at Agen, with its barber troubadour; in the haunts of Gaston de Foix and Jeanne d'Albret and her son; in the gloomy valleys of the proscribed Cagot; and where the mellifluous accents of the Basquaise enchant the ear. All the impressions made by these scenes I have endeavoured to convey to my readers, as I did before, inviting them to follow my footsteps, and judge if I have told them true.
CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
Honfleur—Dejazet—The Sailor Prince—Le Mari—Lisieux—La Croix Blanche—Arrival at Falaise—Guibray—Castle of Falaise—The little Recess—Arlette—The Father—The Infant Hero—The Uncle—Arlette's Tears—Her Reception.
Prince Arthur—Want of Gallantry Punished—The Recreant Sow—The Rocks of Noron—La Grande Eperonniere—Le Camp-ferme—Antiquities of Falaise—Alencon—Norman Caps—Geese—Le Mans—Tomb of Berangere—Cathedral—Ancient Remains—Streets—The Veiled Figure.
Tomb of Berangere—Wives of Coeur de Lion—Tombs—Abbey Churches—Chateau of Le Mans—De Craon—The Spectre of Le Mans—The Vendeeans—Madame de la Roche-Jaquelin—A Woman's Perils—Disasters of the Vendeeans—Henri—Chouans.
The Museum of Le Mans—Venus—Mummy—Geoffrey-le-Bel—His Costume—Matilda—Scarron—Helie de la Fleche—Rufus—The White Knight.
Lude—Saumur Revisited—The Garden—La Petite Voisine—The Retired Militaire—Les Pierres Couvertes—Les Petites Pierres—Loudun—Urbain Grandier—Richelieu—The Nuns—The Victim—The Fly—The Malle Poste—The Dislodged Serpents.
Poitiers—Battles—The Armies—King John of France—The Young Warrior—Hotel des Vreux—Amphitheatre—Blossac—The Great Stone—The Scholars—Museum—The Demon's Stone—Grande Gueule.
Notre Dame—The Keys—The Miracle—Procession—St. Radegonde—Tomb of the Saint—Foot-print—Little Loubette—The Count Outwitted—The Cordelier—Late Justice—The Templars.
Chateau de la Fee—King Rene—The Miniatures—The Post-Office Functionary—Originality—The English Bank-note—St. Porchaire—The Dead Child—Montierneuf—Guillaume Guy Geoffroy—Thomas a Becket—Choir of Angels—Relics—The Armed Hermit—A Saint—The Repudiated Queen—Elionore—The Bold Priest—Lay.
Melusine—Lusignan—Trou de la Fee—The Legend—Male Curiosity—The Discovery—The Fairy's Shrieks—The Chronicler—Geoffrey of the Great Tooth—Jaques Coeur—Royal Gratitude—Enemies—Jean du Village—Wedding—The Bride—The Tragedy of Mauprier—The Garden—The Shepherdess—The Walnut-Gatherers—La Gatine—St. Maixant—Niort—Madame de Maintenon—Enormous Caps—Chamois Leather—Duguesclin—The Dame de Plainmartin—The Sea.
La Rochelle—Les Trois Chandeliers—Oysters—Bathing Establishment—Gaiety—Military Discipline—Curious Arcades—Story of Auffredy.
Towers—Religion—Maria Belandelle—Storm—Protestant Retreat—Solemn Dinners—"Half-and-half"—Go to sleep!—The Brewery—Gas Establishment—Chateau of La Font—The Mystery explained—Triumph of Scenery over Appetite—Slave Trade—Charles le Bien Servi—Liberality of Louis-Philippe—Guiton—House of Le Maire Guiton—The Fleets—The Fight—The Mayor and the Governor.
Rochefort—The Curious Bonne—Americanisms—Convicts—The Charente—"Tulipes"—Taillebourg—Henry the Third—St. Louis—False Security—Romegoux—Puytaille
Saintes—Roman Arch of Triumph—Gothic Bridge—The Cours—Ruined City—Cathedral—Coligny—Ruined Palace—St. Eutrope—Amphitheatre—Legend of Ste. Eustelle—The Prince of Babylon—Fete—The Coteau—Ste. Marie
Frere Chretien—Utility of Custom-house Search—Bold Voyager—Pauillac—Blaye—The Gironde—Talbot—Vines—The Landes—Phantom of King Arthur—The Witch-finder—The Landes—Wreckers
Ports—Divona—Bordeaux—Quinconces—Allees—First Impression—Chartrons—Bahutier—Bacalan—Quays—White Guide—Ste. Croix—St. Michel—St. Andre—Pretty Figure—Pretty Women—Palais Gallien—Black Prince's Son, Edward.
The Garonne—The Lord of Langoyran—Miracle of the Mule—Castle of the Four Sons of Aymon—The Aged Lover—Gavaches—The Franchimans—Count Raymond—Flying Bridges—The Miller of Barbaste—The Troubadour Count—The Count de la Marche—The Rochellaises—Eugenie and her Song.
Agen—La Belle Esther—St. Caprais—The Little Cherubs—Zoe at the Fountain—The Hill—Le Gravier—Jasmin, the Poet-Barber—The Metaphor—Las Papillotas—Franconnette—Jasmin's Lines on the Old Language—The Shepherd and the Gascon Poet—Return to Agen—Jasmin and the King of France—Jasmin and the Queen of England.
BEARN AND THE PYRENEES. VOL. I.
HONFLEUR—DEJAZET—THE SAILOR PRINCE—LE MARI—LISIEUX—LA CROIX BLANCHE—ARRIVAL AT FALAISE—GUIBRAY—CASTLE OF FALAISE—THE LITTLE RECESS—ARLETTE—THE FATHER—THE INFANT HERO—THE UNCLE—ARLETTE'S TEARS—HER RECEPTION.
WITHIN ten leagues of the interesting town of Caen, where William of Normandy and his queen lie buried, the traveller, who devotes a short space of time to a search after the picturesque, may, without straying too far a-field, find what he desires in the clean, bright, gay town of Falaise, where the hero of the Conquest was born.
From Southampton to Havre it requires only twelve hours to cross, and, as was the case with myself and my companions, when, at the end of August 1842, we began a journey, whose end was "to be" the mountains which divide France from Spain, if the city of parrots is already familiar to the tourist, he has only to take the steam-packet, which in four hours will land him at Caen, or enter the boat which crosses the fine bold river to Honfleur. In an hour you arrive at Honfleur, after a very pleasant voyage, which the inhabitants of Havre are extremely fond of taking: a diligence starts from the quay, and proceeds through an avenue of a league's length between beautiful hills, orchards, and corn-fields, to the strange old town of Lisieux, to which we proceeded.
One of our fellow-travellers in the diligence was a smart, lively looking young woman, whose resemblance to the celebrated actress Dejazet, whom we had very lately seen in London, was so striking as to be quite remarkable. Her tone of voice, her air and manner, as well as her features, reminded us strongly of the artiste whose warm reception in England, where we are supposed to be correct even to fastidiousness, has not a little amused the Parisians at our expense. Whatever may be the objections to Dejazet's style, certain it is that her imitation of the manners of the class of grisettes and peasants is inimitable; not a shade, not a tone, is forgotten, and the truth of her representations is proved at every step you take in France, either in the provinces or in Paris.
Our little talkative companion had much to relate of herself and her husband, whom she described as a piece of perfection; he had just returned from a whaling expedition, after several years' absence, and they were now on their way to Lisieux to visit her relations, and give him a little shooting. He had brought back, according to her account, a mine of wealth; and, as she had incurred no debts during his absence, but had supported herself by opening a little cafe, which she assured us had succeeded admirably, they were proceeding, with well-filled purses, to see their only child who was in the keeping of its grandmother. She told wondrous histories of his exploits amongst the ice, of his encounters with the natives—"les Indiens," of the success of all his voyages, and the virtues of his captain, who was an Englishman and never spoke to his crew, but was the most just man in the world, and ended by saying that when she met with English people she felt in Paradise.
Although we listened to her continued chattering with amused attention, it was far otherwise with some quiet, silent, women who sat beside us; we soon gathered, by certain contemptuous glances which they exchanged, that they did not give credit to half our little Dejazet was telling; and when to crown the whole, she related a story of a beautiful maiden of Lisieux, who had been distinguished by the notice of the Duke de Nemours when he visited that place on his way to join his ship at Havre, they could support their impatience no longer, and broadly contradicted her on the ground that the Prince de Joinville and not Nemours was the sailor.
Nothing daunted, our gay whaler's wife insisted on every part of her history being true, asserting that she must know best, and if the young prince had left the navy since, it was not her affair.
As she approached Lisieux she became more and more animated, darting her body half way out of the window every minute to look out for her papa or her other relations;—at length, with a scream which would have secured Dejazet three rounds of applause, she recognised her parent in a peasant en blouse, trudging along the road carrying his bundle—on his way, no doubt, as she assured us, to see her sister, who lived at a village near. Tears and smiles alternately divided the expression of her countenance, as she now feared her sister was ill, and now rejoiced at seeing her father. All was however happily settled when the coach stopped and she sprang out into the arms of her papa, who had followed the diligence, and came up out of breath; and it was then that we became aware that a remarkably ill-looking, dirty, elderly, Jewish featured man, to whom she had occasionally spoken on the journey, was the identical perfection of a mari, of whom she had been boasting all the way. The incredulous listeners, whom she had so annoyed, now revenged themselves by sundry depreciatory remarks on the appearance of this phoenix, whom they pronounced to have the air of a tinker or old clothesman, and by no means that of the hero he had been represented.
As it was raining violently on our arrival at Lisieux, the town presented to us but an uncomfortable appearance; and as we had to search for an hotel, and were at last obliged to be content with one far from inviting, our first impression was by no means agreeable; nor does Lisieux offer anything to warrant a change in the traveller's opinion who considers it dreary, slovenly, and ruinous. There is much, however, to admire in the once beautiful cathedral, and the church of St. Jacques, both grand specimens of the massive architecture of the twelfth century.
In this town lived and died the traitor Bishop of Bayeux, Pierre Cauchon, who sold the heroic Jeanne d'Arc for English gold. An expiatory chapel was erected by him in the cathedral, where it was hoped the tears of the pious would help to wash his sins away; but no one now remembers either him or his crime, for we asked in vain for the spot; and when prayers are offered at the shrine of the Virgin in the chapel dedicated to her, which we eventually discovered to be its site, not one is given to the cruel bishop, whose ill-gotten money was therefore expended in vain; for the centuries it must have required to rescue his soul from purgatory cannot have expired by this time. The churches are being restored, and building, as usual in all French towns, is going on: when numerous ugly striped houses are removed, and their places filled up, the principal square of Lisieux may deserve to be admired, though whether it will ever merit the encomium of an old lady who resides in it, and who assured us it would in a short time be superbe, time will determine. The public promenades are good, and the views round the town pretty, but we did not feel tempted to wait for finer weather, and took our departure for Falaise with little delay.
The drive from Lisieux to Falaise is charming; and, although the appearance of the hotels is not in their favour, there is nothing to complain of in regard to cleanliness or attention: at least so we found it at La Croix Blanche, where the singular beauty of our hostess added to the romance of our position, perched, as we were, on a balcony without awning, in a building which had evidently been part of an old tower. It is true that we should have preferred something rather less exposed when we found ourselves confined for a whole day, in consequence of the pouring rain, and found that a stream of water had made its way from our balcony into each of our rooms; whose bricked floors were little improved by their visit. Our suggestion of covering the way, in order that, in wet weather, both the dinner and its bearers might be sheltered, appeared to excite surprise, though our attendants came in constantly with their high caps wet through and their aprons soaked.
Our nearly exhausted patience, as we gazed hopelessly on the dull sky of an August day, was at length rewarded; and the sun, which had obstinately concealed himself for several days, burst forth on the second morning of our arrival, and changed by its power the whole face of things at Falaise. We lost no time in taking advantage of the fine day which invited us, and sallied forth, all expectation, into the streets, which we found, as well as the walks, as dry as if no rain had fallen for months; so fresh and bright is the atmosphere in this beautiful place.
The town is clean and neat; most of the ruinous, striped houses, with projecting stories, such as deform the streets of Lisieux, being cleared away; leaving wide spaces and pure air, at least in the centre-town, where the best habitations are situated. There are other divisions, less airy and more picturesque, called the fauxbourgs of Guibray and St. Laurent, and le Val d'Ante; where many antique houses are still standing, fit to engage the pencil of the antiquarian artist.
The churches of Falaise are sadly defaced, but, from their remains, must have been of great beauty. The Cathedral, or Eglise de St. Laurent, is partly of the twelfth century; the exterior is adorned with carving, and gargouilles, and flying-buttresses, of singular grace; but the whole fabric is so built in with ugly little shops, that all fine effect is destroyed. The galleries in the church of La Trinite are elaborately ornamented, as are some of the chapels, whose roofs are studded with pendants. Much of this adornment is due to the English, under Henry V., and a good deal is of the period of the renaissance.
The church of Guibray was founded by Duke William, as the Norman windows and arches testify; but a great deal of bad taste has been expanded in endeavouring to turn the venerable structure into a Grecian temple, according to the approved method of the time of Louis XIV. A statue of the wife of Coeur de Lion was once to be seen here, but has long disappeared. That princess resided in this part of Falaise, at one period of her widowhood, and contributed greatly to the embellishment of the church.
There are many columns and capitals, and arches and ornaments of interest in the church of St. Gervais, defaced and altered as it is; but it is impossible to give all the attention they deserve to these buildings, when the towers of the splendid old castle are wooing you to delay no longer, but mount at once the steep ascent which leads to its walls.
Rising suddenly from the banks of a brawling crystal stream, a huge mass of grey rocks, thrown in wild confusion one on the other, sustains on its summit the imposing remains of the castle, whose high white tower, alone and in perfect preservation, commands an immense tract of smiling country, and seems to have defied the attacks of ages, as it gleams in the sun, the smooth surface of its walls apparently uninjured and unstained. This mighty donjon is planted in a lower part of the height; consequently, high as it appears, scarcely half of its real elevation is visible. Its walls are of prodigious thickness, and seem to have proved their power through centuries of attack and defence to which it has been exposed; careless alike of the violence of man and the fury of the elements. Adjoining the keep are ranges of ruined walls, pierced with fine windows, whose circular arches, still quite entire, show their early Norman construction. Close to the last of these, whose pillars, with wreathed capitals, are as sharp as if just restored, is a low door, leading to a small chamber in the thickness of the wall. There is a little recess in one corner, and a narrow window, through whose minute opening a fine prospect may be seen.
This small chamber, tradition says, was once adorned with "azure and vermilion;" though it could scarcely have ever presented a very gay appearance, even when used as the private retreat of the luxurious master of the castle. However, such as it is, we are bound to look upon this spot with veneration; for it is asserted, that here a child was born in secrecy and mystery, and that here, by this imperfect light, his beautiful mother gazed upon the features of the future hero of Normandy.
However unlike a bower fitted for beauty and love, it is said that here Arlette, the skinner's daughter, was confined of William the Conqueror. It is said, too, that from this height, the sharp-sighted Duke his father, gazing from his towers, first beheld the lovely peasant girl bathing in the fountain which still bears her name. In this retreat, concealed from prying eyes, and where inquisitive ears found it difficult to catch a sound, the shrill cry of the wondrous infant was first uttered,—a sound often to be repeated by every echo of the land, when changed to the war note which led to victory.
Little, perhaps, did his poor mother exult in his birth, for she was of lowly lineage, and had never raised her eyes to the castle but with awe, nor thought of its master but with fear; her pleasures were to dance, on holidays, under the shade of trees with the simple villagers, her companions; her duties, to wash her linen on the stones of the silver stream, as her townswomen do still at the present day—that silver stream which probably flowed past her father's cottage, as it still flows, bathing the base of cottages as humble and as rudely built as his could have been. There might, perchance, have been one, amongst the youths who admired her beauty, whom she preferred to the rest; her ambition might have been to become his bride, her dreams might have imaged his asking her of her father, whose gracious consent made them both happy: in her ears might have rung the pealing bells of St. Gervais—the vision of maidens, in bridal costumes, strewing flowers in her path, might have risen before her view—her lover with his soft words and smiles—his cottage amongst the heath-covered rocks of Noron—all this might have flitted across her mind, as she stood beside the fountain, beneath the castle walls, unconscious that eyes were gazing on her whose influence was to fix her destiny. A mail-clad warrior, terrible and powerful, whose will may not be resisted, whose gold glitters in her father's eyes, or whose chains clank in his ears, has seen and coveted her for his own, and her simple dream must be dispersed in air to make way for waking terrors. The unfortunate father trembles while he feebly resists, he listens to the duke's proposal, he has yet a few words of entreaty for his child: he dares not tell her what her fate must be, he hopes that time and new adventures will efface Arlette from the mind of her dangerous lover; but, again, he is urged, heaps of gold shine before him, how shall he turn from their tempting lustre? Is there not in yonder tower an oubliette that yawns for the disobedient vassal? He appeals to Arlette, she has no reply but tears; men at arms appear in the night, they knock at the skinner's door and demand his daughter, they promise fair in the name of their master; they mount her on a steed before the gentlest of their band, his horse's hoofs clatter along the rocky way—the father hears the sobs of his child for a little space, and his heart sinks,—he hides his eyes with his clenched hand, but suddenly he starts up—his floor is strewn with glittering pieces—he stoops down and counts them, and Arlette's sorrows are forgotten.
Arlette returns no more to her father's cottage. She remains in a turret of the castle, but not as a handmaiden of the duchess; her existence is not supposed to be known, though the childless wife of Duke Robert weeps in secret, over her wrongs.
All this is pure fancy, and may have no foundation in reality.
"Look here upon this picture and on that."
Perhaps Arlette did not repine at her fate; she might have been ambitious and worldly, vain and presuming, have possessed cunning and resolve, and have used every artifice to secure her triumph. Some of the stories extant of her would seem to prove this, and some to exculpate her from blame, inasmuch as she believed herself to have fulfilled a sacred duty in conforming to her master's will. When she told her lover that she had dreamt "a tree sprang from her bosom which overshadowed all Normandy," there was more evidence of policy than simplicity in the communication which was so well calculated to raise the hopes of a great man without an heir; and perhaps it was she herself who dictated the saying of the sage femme at her son's birth, who, having placed him on straw by her side, and observing that the robust infant grasped in his tiny hands as much as he could hold, cried out—"Par Dieu! this child begins early to grasp and make all his own!" At all events the little hero was "honourably brought up," and treated as if legitimate.
Another version of the story of Arlette is given by an ancient chronicler, (Benoit de St Maur,) which is certainly a sufficient contrast to the view I ventured to take of the affair, probably with but little correctness, considering the manners of the period.
It appears that the scruples of the fair daughter of Vertpres, the skinner, for his name seems to be known, were dispersed by the advice and injunction of her uncle, a holy personage, of singular piety, who dwelt in a hermitage in the wood of Gouffern. Convinced, by his arguments, that Heaven had directed the affection of the duke towards her, she no longer resisted her father's wish, and made preparations as if for a bridal, providing herself with rich habiliments calculated to enhance her beauty. When the messengers of the duke came to fetch her, they requested that she would put on a cloak and cape, and conceal her rich dress, for fear of the jeers of the common people, who would perhaps insult her if she appeared publicly with them; but she replied boldly and proudly, "Does the duke send for me after this manner, as if I were not the daughter of an honourable man? Shall I go secretly, as if I were but a disgraced woman? That which I do is in all honour and respectability, not from wickedness or weakness, and I am not ashamed that men should see me pass. If I am to be taken to the duke, it shall not be on foot and hidden—fetch, therefore, your palfrey, and let me go as it becomes me." Her dress is thus described:—"She had clothed her gentle body in a fine shift, over which was a grey pelisse, wide and without lacings, but setting close to her shape and her arms: over this she wore a short mantle conformable and of good taste; her long hair was slightly bound with a fillet of fine silver. It was in this guise, beautiful to behold, that she mounted the courser which was brought for her, and saluted her father and mother as she rode away; but at the last moment she was seized with a trembling, and burst into weeping, covering her fair bosom with her tears."
When she arrived, "by a fine moon-light," at the castle gate, her attendants made her alight, and opened a wicket for her to enter, but she drew back, saying, "The duke has sent for me, and it would seem that he esteems me little if his gates are not to be opened for my passage. Let him order them to give me entrance, or send me back at once. Beaux amis, ouvrez-moi la porte."
The messengers, awed by her dignity, hesitated not to obey her, and she was presently conducted into the presence of Duke Robert, who awaited her coming in a vaulted chamber, adorned with gilding, where "fine images were represented in enamel and colours." There he received her with great joy and honour, and from that time she possessed all his love.
PRINCE ARTHUR—WANT OF GALLANTRY PUNISHED—THE RECREANT SOW—THE ROCKS OF NORON—LA GRANDE EPERONNIERE—LE CAMP-FERME—ANTIQUITIES OF FALAISE—ALENCON—NORMAN CAPS—GEESE—LE MANS—TOMB OF BERANGERE—CATHEDRAL—ANCIENT REMAINS—STREETS—THE VEILED FIGURE.
CLOSE to the natal chamber of Duke William may be seen another recess in the thick walls, still smaller and more dismal, to which a ruined window now gives more light than in the days when poor young Arthur of Brittany looked sadly through its loop-holes over a wide extent of country, now all cultivation and beauty, but probably then bristling with forts and towers, all in the hands of his hard-hearted uncle John. After having made his nephew prisoner in Anjou, John sent him to Falaise, and had him placed in this dungeon in the custody of some severe but not cruel knights, who treated him with all the respect they dared to show. An order from their treacherous master soon arrived, directing that he should be put to death; but they refused obedience, and indignantly exclaimed, that the walls of the castle of Falaise should not be sullied by such a crime. Arthur was therefore removed to Rouen, and there less conscientious men were found to execute the tyrant's will, if tradition, so varied on the point, speak true.
Stephen maintained himself in the castle of Falaise against the father of Henry II., and these walls have probably echoed to the lays of minstrels, whose harps were tuned in praise of the beautiful and haughty heiress of Aquitaine. The fair wife of Coeur de Lion had this castle for her dower, and, for some time, is said to have lived here. Philip Augustus accorded some singular privileges to Falaise, two of which deserve to be recorded.
If a woman were convicted of being fond of scandal, and known to backbite her neighbours, they had the right of placing cords under her arms and ducking her three times in the water: after this, if a man took the liberty of reproaching her with the circumstance, he was compelled to pay a fine of ten sous, or else he was plunged into the stream in a similar manner.
If a man were so ungallant as to call a woman ugly, he was obliged to pay a fine. This offence was indeed worthy of condign punishment, if the women of Falaise were as pretty formerly as they are now: with their neat petticoats, smart feet in sabots, high butterfly or mushroom caps, as white as snow, scarlet handkerchiefs and bright-coloured aprons, with their round healthy cheeks, lively eyes, and good-humoured expression of countenance, the Falaisiennes are as agreeable a looking race as one would wish to see, and more likely to elicit compliment than insult.
Many curious customs prevailed in the middle ages in this old town; and one was formerly portrayed on the walls of a chapel in the church of the Holy Trinity. It was the representation of an execution: the delinquent had injured a child, by disfiguring its face and arms, and suffered in consequence. The culprit was no other than a sow; and when the crime committed was brought home to her, the learned judges assembled on the occasion pronounced her as guilty of malice prepense; and in order to hold her up as an example to all sows in time to come, her face and fore legs were mutilated in a similar manner to those of her victim. The spectacle of her punishment took place in a public square, amidst a great concourse of spectators, the father of the child being brought as a witness, and condemned to stand by during the infliction, as a due reward for not having sufficiently watched his infant. The "viscount-judge" of Falaise appeared on the solemn occasion "on horseback, with a plume of feathers on his head, and his hand on his side." The sow was dragged forth dressed in the costume of a citizen, in a vest and breeches, and "with gloves on, wearing a mask representing the face of a man."
What effect this wise judgment had is not related; probably it produced as salutary a result as most of those exhibitions designed for the amusement or instruction of an enlightened multitude.
The chain of the rocks of Noron, on part of which the castle is situated, is singularly picturesque; and from those opposite, rising from the side of Arlette's fountain, the fine ruins have a most majestic effect; and the prospect for leagues round is extremely beautiful. A soft turf, covered with wild thyme, heath, and fern, makes the meandering walks amongst the huge blocks of moss-mantled stone, tempting and delightful, in spite of their steepness; and the delicious perfume of the fragrant herbs, growing in great luxuriance everywhere, is refreshing in the extreme. The snowy tower of strength, rising from its bed of piled up rock—the broad high walls, and their firm buttresses and circular windows, through which the blue sky gleams—the nodding foliage and garlands of ivy which adorn the huge towers—and, far beyond, a rich and glowing country, altogether present a scene of beauty, difficult to be equalled in any part of Normandy, rich as that charming province is in animated landscape.
We spent many hours of a brilliant summer's day, climbing amongst the rocks, and making sketches of the castle in its different phases, all of which offer studies to an artist: here the majestic donjon forms a fine object; there the ruined arsenal; and farther off the battered walls, separated and hurled down by the cannon of Henri IV. when through this breach his white plume was seen triumphantly waving as he cheered his warriors on to the attack, changing the six months proposed by Brissac into six days, during which he took the fortress and the town.
An anecdote is related of a heroine of Falaise, whose exploits are recorded with pride by her countrymen, by whom she is called La Grande Eperonniere. She had headed a party of valiant citizens, who defended one of their gates, and fought with such determination, as to keep her position for a long time against the soldiers of Le Vert Galant.
The king, when the town was in his power, summoned her before him: she came, and approaching with the same undaunted air, interrupted him, as he was about to propose terms to her, and demanded at once the safety of all the women and aged men of the town of Falaise. Henry was struck with her courage, and desired her to shut herself up in a street with the persons she wished to save, together with all their most precious possessions, and gave her his word that no soldier should penetrate that retreat. He, of course, kept his promise; and she assembled her friends, took charge of most of the riches of the town, closed the two ends of the street in which she lived, and, while all the rest of Falaise was given up to pillage, no one ventured to enter the sacred precincts. The street is still pointed out, and is called Le Camp-fermant, or Camp-ferme, in memory of the event. The heroic Eperonniere was fortunate in having a chief to deal with, who gladly took advantage of every opportunity to exercise mercy.
The town of Falaise is well provided with water, and its fountains stand in fine open squares: a pretty rivulet runs through the greatest part, and turns several mills for corn, oil, cotton and tan; it is called the Ante, and gives name to the valley it embellishes as it runs glittering along amongst the rugged stones which impede its way with a gentle murmur, making a chorus to the voices of the numerous Arlettes, who, kneeling at their cottage doors, may be seen rubbing their linen against the flat stones over which the stream flows, bending down their heads which, except on grand occasions, are no longer adorned with the high fly-caps which are so becoming to their faces, but are covered with a somewhat unsightly cotton nightcap, a species of head-gear much in vogue in this part of lower Normandy, and a manufacture for which Falaise is celebrated, and has consequently obtained the name of the city of cotton nightcaps. However, there is one advantage in this usage—the women have better teeth than in most cider countries, owing perhaps to their heads being kept warm, and, ugly as the cotton caps are, they deserve admiration accordingly.
A house is shown in one of the streets, called the House of the Conqueror, and a rudely sculptured bust is exhibited there, dignified with his name. Some few tottering antique houses still contrive to keep together in the oldest parts of the town, but none are by any means worthy of note; one is singular, being covered with a sort of coat of mail formed of little scales of wood lapping one over the other, and preserving the remains of some carved pillars, apparently once of great delicacy. One pretty tower is still to be seen at the corner of the Rue du Camp-ferme, which seems to have formed part of a very elegant building, to judge by its lightness and grace; it has sunk considerably in the earth, but from its height a fine prospect may be obtained. There is a public library at Falaise, that great resource of all French towns, and several fine buildings dedicated to general utility; but the boys of the college the most excite the envy of the stranger, for their abode is on the broad ramparts, and their playground and promenades are along the beautiful walks formed on the ancient defences of the castle.
Our way to Alencon, where we proposed to stop a day, lay through Argentan on the Orne, a pretty town on a height commanding a fine view of plain and forest; the country is little remarkable the whole way, but cultivated and pretty. At Seez the fine, delicate, elevated spires of the Cathedral mark the situation of the town long before and after it is reached; but, besides that, it possesses no attractions sufficient to detain the traveller.
Alencon, the capital of the department of Orne, is a clean, open, well-built town, situated in a plain with woods in all directions, which entirely bound its prospects. The public promenades are remarkably fine, laid out with taste, and a great resource to the inhabitants, who consider them equal to those of Paris, comparing them to the gardens of the Luxembourg. The cathedral, once fine, is dreadfully defaced, and the boasted altars and adornments of the chapels are in the usual bad taste so remarkable at the present day.
A few fine round towers remain of the ancient chateau, now a prison, which is the only vestige of antiquity remaining. There was an exhibition of works of industry and art going on, which we went to see, and were much struck with the extreme beauty of some specimens of the lace called Point d'Alencon. The patterns and delicate execution of this manufacture are exquisite, equalling ancient point lace and Brussels. Some very fine stuffs in wool, transparent as gossamer and of the softest colours, attracted us, but the severity of an official prevented our examining them as closely as we wished, and as there was no indication of the place where they could be beheld at liberty, we were obliged to content ourselves with the supposition that they were the produce of the workshops of Alencon. As the large gallery in which the exhibition took place was principally filled with peasants in blouses and women with children, perhaps the vigilance of the attendants might not be useless; but whether their proceeding was judicious in refusing information to strangers or persons who might be able to purchase goods which pleased them, is questionable.
Amongst the customary Norman caps to be seen here, we remarked one which we recognised at once as Breton. The girl who wore it was very pretty, and in spite of the grave demeanour peculiar to her country and a distinguishing trait, was pleased at my wishing to sketch her singular-shaped head-dress, en crete de coq: she was from St. Malo, as I had no difficulty in guessing.
Through alleys of crimson-apple trees our road continued, and we were forcibly, and not very agreeably reminded, at almost every step, that there is a large trade carried on in this part of the country in goose down, for flocks of these unfortunate animals were scattered along the road, their breasts entirely despoiled of their downy beauties, offering a frightful spectacle; the immense numbers exceed belief, and all appear of a fine species. At every cabaret we passed, notices were stuck up informing those whom it might concern, that accommodation for four or five hundred oxen was to be had within; but we met no private carriages, nor, even in the neighbourhood of large towns, horsemen or pedestrians above the rank of peasants. This is a circumstance so universal in every part of France, that it becomes a mystery where the other classes of society conceal themselves—on the promenades, in the streets and shops, to see a well-dressed person is a prodigy, and the wonder is to whom the goods are sold, which are certainly sparingly enough exhibited.
We had looked forward to much pleasure in a visit to the ancient town of Le Mans, and its treasure, the tomb of Berangere, for the discovery of which, although a benefit unacknowledged, France and the curious are indebted to the zeal and perseverance of the late lamented Stothard, who sought for and found one of the most beautiful statues of the time under a heap of corn in an old church formerly belonging to the convent of Epau, but converted into a granary in 1820, when, by his entreaties and resolution, the lost beauty was restored to daylight and honour. Not a word of all this is, however, named by any French chronicler, although Berangere is now the heroine and the boast of Le Mans, the object of interest to travellers, the gem of the cathedral, and the pride of Le Maine.
Nothing can be more majestic, more imposing, or more magnificent than the huge and massive building which towers above the town of Le Mans, and now adorns one side of a wide handsome square, where convents, churches, houses, and streets have been cleared away, without remorse, to leave a free opening in front of this fine cathedral. The place is named des Jacobins, from one of the vanished monasteries, which a beautiful theatre now replaces, one of the most elegant I ever saw in France, and yet unopened, at the back of which spreads out a promenade in terraces, the site of a Roman amphitheatre. All the houses round this square are handsome, and a broad terrace before the arcades of the theatre completes its good effect. Numerous flying buttresses and galleries and figures combine to give lightness to the enormous bulk of the cathedral, which, being without spires, would otherwise be heavy; but the want of these graceful accessories is scarcely felt, so grand is the general character given to it by the enormous square tower, which appears to protect it, and the smaller ones, its satellites. Statues of the countesses of Maine, of nuns, and queens, may still be seen in niches at different heights of the tower, and the portals are enriched with saints and bishops, angels and foliage astonishing the eye with their elaborate grace and beauty. There are thirteen chapels projecting from the main building, that which forms the termination towards the square being the largest. One rose window is remarkable for the elegance of its stone-work, and the form of all the windows is grand and imposing.
This glorious fabric, equal to that of Beauvais, which it resembles, and more extensive, is sufficient of itself to render Le Mans interesting, but it is a town full of objects that delight and please. The streets are all wide, clean, and well-paved; there are good squares and handsome houses; and its position on the pretty, clear river Sarthe, from which the banks rise gracefully, crowned with foliage and adorned with towers and churches, makes the place really charming. There is a promenade, called Du Greffier, formed evidently on the ramparts of an old castle, part of whose massive walls may still be traced among the trees, which are planted in terraces above the river, whose water is as bright and glittering as those of the Loire itself: green meadows and pretty aits adorn the stream, and the usual picturesque idleness of fishing is carried on by its banks, while groups of wading washerwomen, in high-coloured petticoats and white caps, enliven the little quays.
The weather was very propitious while we were at Le Mans, and all appeared attractive and agreeable, and we enjoyed our unwearied walks, both in the environs, and in the town, extremely. Although there is a great deal that is entirely new in the principal quarter of the town, where our Hotel du Dauphin, in the spacious Place aux Halles, was situated, yet, to the antiquarian, there is no lack of interest in the antique parts, where much of the original city remains even as it might have been in the earliest times. Roman walls and towers extend in every direction between the three bridges of Ysoir, St. Jean, and Napoleon; and, in the old quartiers of Gourdaine and du Pre, arches, pillars, and ruins, attest the antiquity of the spot. We hesitated not to enter these singular old streets, where the lowest of the population reside, and, as is almost invariable in France, we always found civility and a cheerful readiness to afford us information. The inquisitive stranger is generally, however, obliged, after going through several of the narrow ways which excite his curiosity, to abandon his search after uncertain antiquities, from the inodorous accompaniments which are sure to assail him; and so it was with us when we had visited the Rue Danse Renard, Rue de la Truie qui File, Vert Galant, the Grande and Petite Poterne, &c. We found ourselves wandering in circles, amongst dwellings that looked as if they must be the same inhabited by the original Gaulish inhabitants, and at length, anxious to pay our daily devotions at the shrine of Berangere, we ventured on the ascent of an apparently interminable flight of stone steps, between immensely high massive walls, called Les Pans de Gorron.
We paused every now and then, on our ascent, to wonder at the appearance of the town, of which, and the river, we caught glimpses at intervals, and to gaze upwards at the strange old Roman walls above us, and the high houses, some with five and six rows of windows in their shelving roofs. At length, after considerable toil, we reached the platform where once stood the chateau, and where still stands a curious building, all towers and tourelles, some ugly, and some of graceful form, the latter apparently of the period of Charles VI. Immediately before the steps in the square above us rose the cathedral, which we came upon unawares; and, exactly in front of us, in an angle, partly concealed by the broad shadow, we perceived a figure so mysterious, so remarkable, that it was impossible not to create in the mind of a beholder the most interesting speculations. This extraordinary figure deserves particular description, and I hope it may be viewed by some person more able than myself to explain it, or one more fortunate than I was in obtaining information respecting it. To all the questions I asked of the dwellers in Le Mans, the answers were exclamations of surprise at a stranger having noticed that which had never been remarked at all by any one of the passers by, who classed it with the stones of the church or the posts of the square. Yet surely the antiquarian will not be indifferent to the treasure which, it appears to me, he should hail with as much delight as the discovery of a Druidical monument or a Roman pavement.
Seated in an angle of the exterior walls of the cathedral, on a rude stone, is a reddish looking block, which has all the appearance of a veiled priest, covered with a large mantle, which conceals his hands and face. The height of the figure is about eight feet as it sits; the feet, huge unformed masses, covered with what seems drapery, are supported on a square pedestal, which is again sustained by one larger, which projects from the angle of the building. The veil, the ample mantle, and two under-garments, all flowing in graceful folds, and defining the shape, may be clearly distinguished. No features are visible, nor are the limbs actually apparent, except through the uninterrupted waving lines of the drapery, or what may be called so. A part of the side of what seems the head has been sliced off, otherwise the block is entire. It would scarcely appear to have been sculptured, but has the effect of one of those sports of Nature in which she delights to offer representations of forms which the fancy can shape into symmetry.
There is something singularly Egyptian about the form of this swathed figure, or it is like those Indian idols, whose contours are scarcely defined to the eye; it is so wrapped up in mystery, and is so surrounded with oblivion, that the mind is lost in amazement in contemplating it. Did it belong to a worship long since swept away?—was it a god of the Gauls, or a veiled Jupiter?—how came it squeezed in between two walls of the great church, close to the ground, yet supported by steps?—why was it not removed on the introduction of a purer worship?—how came it to escape destruction when saints and angels fell around?—who placed it there, and for what purpose?—will no zealous antiquarian, on his way from a visit to the wondrous circle of Carnac and the gigantic Dolmens of Saumur, pause at Le Mans, at this obscure corner of the cathedral, opposite the huge Pans de Gorron, and tell the world the meaning of this figure with the stone veil?
* * * * *
Since I left Le Mans, a friend, who resided there some years, informs me the tradition respecting this stone is, that an English Giant brought the block from the banks of the river, up the steep ascent of the Pans de Gorron, and cast it from his shoulders against the wall of the cathedral, where it now stands.
Imagination may easily, here in the country, where the sage bard, the great Merlin, or Myrdhyn, lived, induce the belief that this mysterious stone represents the Druid lover of the fatal Viviana;—may this not be the very stone brought from Brociliande, within, or under, which he is in durance; or rather is not this himself transformed to stone? Thus runs the tradition:—
THE DRUID LOVER.
"Myrdhyn the Druid still sleeps under a stone in a forest in Brittany; his Viviana is the cause; she wished to prove his power, and asked the sage the fatal word which could enchain him; he, who knew all things, was aware of the consequences, yet he could not resist her entreaties; he told her the spell, and, to gratify her, condemned himself to eternal oblivion."
I know to tell the fatal word Is sorrow evermore— I know that I that boon accord Whole ages will deplore. Though I be more than mortal wise, And all is clear to gifted eyes; And endless pain and worlds of woe May from my heedless passion flow, Yet thou hast power all else above,— Sense, reason, wisdom, yield to love.
I look upon thine eyes of light, And feel that all besides is night; I press that snowy hand in mine, And but contemn my art divine. Oh Viviana! I am lost; A life's renown thy smile hath cost. A stone no ages can remove Will be my monument of love; A nation's wail shall mourn my fate, My country will be desolate:
Heav'n has no pardon left for me, Condemn'd—undone—destroy'd—by thee! Thy tears subdue my soul, thy sighs Efface all other memories. I have no being but in thee; My thirst for knowledge is forgot, And life immortal would but be A load of care, where thou wert not.
Wouldst thou but turn away those eyes I might be saved—I might be wise. I might recal my reason still But for that tongue's melodious thrill! Oh! wherefore was my soul replete With wisdom, knowledge, sense, and power, Thus to lie prostrate at thy feet, And lose them all in one weak hour! But no—I argue not—'tis past— Thus to be thine, belov'd by thee, I seek but this, even to the last, For all besides is vain to me. I gaze upon thy radiant brow, And do not ask a future now.
Thou hast the secret! speak not yet! Soon shall I gaze myself to stone, Soon shall I all but thee forget, And perish to be thine alone. Ages on ages shall decline, But Myrdhyn shall be ever thine!
TOMB OF BERANGERE—WIVES OF COEUR DE LION—TOMBS—ABBEY CHURCHES—CHATEAU OF LE MANS—DE CRAON—THE SPECTRE OF LE MANS—THE VENDEEANS—MADAME DE LA ROCHE-JAQUELIN—A WOMAN'S PERILS—DISASTERS OF THE VENDEEANS—HENRI—CHOUANS.
HOWEVER interesting the exterior of the Cathedral of St. Julien may be, the interior entirely corresponds with it. The windows of painted glass are of the very first order, and of surpassing beauty, nearly entire, and attributed to Cimabue. The double range in the choir, seen through the grille, or from the exterior aisle—for there are two on each side—present a magnificent coup d'oeil. The architecture is of different periods; specimens may be observed belonging to the 12th century and reaching to the 17th; but some of the finest is that of the Norman era; the zigzags of the portals, and the billets, rose mouldings, &c., being of peculiar delicacy and boldness. There is a great deal of ornament composed of those extravagant forms of animals which, at a distance, are confounded with the foliage to which they are attached, but which, viewed nearly, are mysteriously extraordinary. The circular arch reigns throughout, but many in ogive also occur in different parts. The arcades and galleries of the choir are of the utmost delicacy and elegance of form; but the chief attraction is the tomb of the widow of Richard Coeur de Lion, placed in one of the wings of the cross. The Lady Chapel is undergoing repair, and is being restored in the very best style. The new screen is beautiful, and the figures of the Virgin and Child in very good taste, as are all the ornaments, which exactly follow the fine originals. The exterior repairs are carried on with equal skill; and this precious monument will soon be in perfect order.
As I looked at the pure, dignified, and commanding outline of the face of Berangere, she appeared to me to have been a fitting wife for the hero whose effigy had inspired me with so much admiration when I visited it a few years since, at Fontevraud. Her nose is slightly aquiline, her upper lip short and gracefully curved, her chin beautifully rounded, as are her cheeks; her eyebrows are clearly marked, and her eye full though not large; but, even in stone, it has a tender, soft expression, extremely pleasing, and there is a sadness about the mouth which answers well to the tenderness of the eye. The forehead is of just proportion, and shaded by a frill which passes across, over which an ample veil is drawn: the whole confined by a diadem, the only part of the statue rather indistinct. Round her fine majestic throat is a band, to which a large ornament is attached, which rests on her chest; her head reclines on an embroidered pillow; her drapery falls over her figure and round her clasped hands in graceful folds, and the dog and lion at her feet complete the whole of this charming statue, which is of workmanship equal to that of the exquisite four in the little vault at Fontevraud.
Berangere was daughter of Sancho VI., king of Navarre—not, as some historians say, a princess of Castile or Arragon. After Richard's death, Philip-Augustus confirmed to her the dominion of Maine, in exchange for part of Normandy, which had been settled on her as her dower. She lived for more than twenty years in the town of Le Mans, where her memory was long preserved as La Bonne Reine Berangere. She founded the monastery of Epau, near Le Mans, where the mausoleum was erected which now adorns the Cathedral of St. Julien.
[Footnote 2: See a description of the statues of Coeur de Lion, Henry and Elionor, and Isabella of Angouleme, in "A Summer amongst the Bocages and the Vines."]
Two houses are pointed out in the Grande Rue, said to have formed part of her palace; and the singularity of the ornaments which can be traced amidst their architecture, makes it probable that the tradition is not incorrect.
The abbey of Epau formerly stood about half a league from Le Mans, on the banks of the river Huisne, in the midst of a fertile plain; the widow of Richard founded it, in 1230, for Bernardins of the order of Citeaux.
The inhabitants of Le Mans destroyed the monastery, after the battle of Poitiers, in 1365, fearing that the English would take possession of it and render it a place of defence; and it was reconstructed early in the fifteenth century. The church alone remains, which, after the Revolution, was desecrated, as has been related, and the tomb of the foundress treated so unceremoniously.
There seems a question, which has not yet been fully resolved, as to the identity of the wives of Richard; by some authors a certain Rothilde, otherwise called Berangere of Arragon, is described as his queen; who, "owing to some misunderstanding, caused a part of the city of Limoges to be destroyed, and salt strewn amongst the ruins; three days after which she died, and was buried under the belfry of the abbey of St. Augustine, in 1189 or 1190. Her mausoleum and statue were afterwards placed there."
This could scarcely be our Berangere of Navarre, since mention is made of her in public acts as late as 1234. In the annals of Aquitaine, by Bouchet, it is set forth, that, "in 1160, Henry, Duke of Aquitaine, and Raimond, Count of Barcelona, being at Blaye, on the Gironde, made and swore an alliance, by which Richard, surnamed Coeur de Lion, second son of the said Henry, was to marry the daughter of the said Raimond, when she should be old enough, and Henry promised to give, on the occasion of the said marriage, the duchy of Aquitaine to his son. This Raimond was rich and powerful, being Count of Barcelona in his own right, and King of Arragon in right of his wife." The Princess Alix of France—about whose detention from him, Richard afterwards quarrelled with his father—never became his wife; but whether it is she who is meant by the queen buried at Limoges, in 1190, does not appear.
That he married Berangere in 1191, in the island of Cyprus, seems an ascertained fact; and that she died at Le Mans appears also certain; but whether Richard really had two wedded wives it is difficult to determine.
On the Monday of Pentecost, the Abbey of Epau was for centuries the scene of a grand festival, in honour of the patron saint, and the ceremony was continued, to a late period, of passing the day there in gaiety and amusement. All the families of the neighbourhood sought the spot on foot, and every kind of country entertainment was resorted to. Although the object is now changed, an expedition to the remains of the Abbey of Epau is still a favourite one with the inhabitants of Le Mans; it is a kind of Longchamps, where all the fashion and gaiety of the town is displayed.
The only tombs, besides that of Berangere, remaining in the cathedral of Le Mans, are those in white marble, of Charles of Anjou, Count of Maine and King of Jerusalem and Sicily, who died in 1472. Opposite this, is a finely-sculptured tomb, worthy of the school of Jean Goujon, of Langey du Bellay; the carving of the fruits and flowers which adorn it is attributed to Germain Pilon. There is some good carving, also, in a neighbouring chapel, by Labarre, done in 1610; but little else of this kind remarkable in the church; all the other tombs of countesses, dukes, and princes, having long since disappeared. However, Berangere, perhaps, appears to the greater advantage, reigning, as she does, in solitary grandeur in this magnificent retreat.
The abbey churches of La Couture and Du Pre, are fine specimens of early architecture. In the chapel of the former, an inscription was once to be found on the walls, to the memory of a certain innkeeper and postilion, who, wishing that his name should be handed down to posterity, had set forth the fact of his having conducted the carriages of four kings of France, and after passing sixty-four years as a married man, died in 1509: he adds a prayer to this important record, that Heaven would provide a second husband for his widow, whose age appears to have reached not less than sixteen lustres. The subterranean church of La Couture is very remarkable, and is, no doubt, of Roman construction; the capitals of the pillars are extremely curious, and its height and dryness are peculiar. The famous warrior, Helie de la Fleche, so often named in the wars of the eleventh century, was here buried; and here, it is said, was deposited the body of the blessed St. Bertrand. It is a very grand and interesting church in all its parts, and preserves some curious memorials of Roman and early Norman architecture.
The abbey church of Du Pre is equally curious, and its circular arches, strange capitals, niches and ornaments, prove its extraordinary antiquity.
There are a great many houses still existing in the oldest part of Le Mans which retain part of their original sculpture, and are of great antiquity, though it is not likely that they reach so far back as the time of Berangere, or La Reine Blanche, as she is traditionally called—a designation always given to the widowed queens of France.
The house in the Grande Rue—one of the most dilapidated streets in the town—said to have formed part of her palace, is now divided into two poulterers' shops; and when we visited it, the chamber called that of the widow of Coeur de Lion, was occupied by seven women, not employed in weaving tapestry or stringing pearls, but in plucking fowls. The chimney-piece is curious, adorned with two fine medallions of male heads, in high relief, very boldly executed. The outside of the house has some curious carving of eagles with expanded wings, strange monkey-shaped figures, lions couchant, crosslets and scrolls; but the facade is so much destroyed, that it is difficult to connect any of these ornaments. The crosslets were the arms of Jerusalem, of which the counts of Anjou called themselves kings; but to what period all these sculptures belong it is difficult to say.
The Grande Rue is full of these remains; in the Rue des Chanoines, some circular-arched windows, ornamented with roses, stars, and toothed carving, indicate that here once stood the church founded by St. Aldric, in the ninth century; and some pieces of wall and brick still prove its original Roman construction.
In the Place St. Michel, a stone house of ancient date is shown as having been inhabited by Scarron; and in almost every street of the old town, some curious bits, worthy of an artist's attention, may be found; but the search after them is somewhat fatiguing, and involves a visit to not the most agreeable part of the pretty city: all of which is interesting, whether new or old.
Of the once famous Chateau of Le Mans, erected long before the time of William the Conqueror, who destroyed it in part, nothing now remains but the Pans de Gorron, and a few tourelles. Yet it was, in the turbulent times when such fortresses were required, a place of enormous strength; and its two forts, one called Mont Barbet, and one Motte Barbet, defied many an attack.
It appears that the Manceaux were impatient of the yoke of the conquering hero, who endeavoured to make all the territory his own which approached his domains; and three times they gave him the trouble of besieging their town; he, at length, having raised fortifications sufficient to intimidate them, placed in command in the chateau a female, whose warlike attainments had rendered her famous even in those days of prowess. She was an English woman by birth, the widow of a Norman knight, and called Orbrindelle. The fort in which she took up her head quarters, and from whence she sent forth the terror of her power, was called after her; but, by corruption, was afterwards named Ribaudelle.
This castle was destroyed by royal order in 1617, and at its demolition several Roman monuments and inscriptions were found on the walls and beneath the foundations.
King John of France was born in the Chateau of Le Mans, and several monarchs made it their temporary abode. The Black Prince sojourned within its walls till Duguesclin, the great captain, disturbed his repose. The unfortunate Charles VI., whom fate persecuted to the ruin of France, was at Le Mans when that fearful event occurred to him, which decided his future destiny. From the alleys of a great forest, now no longer existing, issued forth that mysterious vision which no sage has yet entirely explained. It is impossible to be at Le Mans, without recollecting the curious story connected with the poor young king, though the town is too light and cheerful-looking at the present day, to allow of its being a fitting scene either for so gloomy a legend, or for the sad events which modern days brought forth within its precincts.
The circumstances which caused the madness of the son of Charles the Wise, may not, perhaps, be immediately present to the reader's mind: they were as follows:—
Pierre de Craon, lord of Sable and Ferte Bernard, an intriguing man, who held a high place in the consideration of Mary of Brittany, the regent of Anjou and Maine in the absence of her husband, who was prosecuting his designs against Naples and Sicily, had proved himself a faithless treasurer of large sums of money confided to him by his mistress; which sums had been wrung from the two provinces of Maine and Anjou. De Craon had dissipated this money in extravagance, instead of supplying the army of Prince Louis, who died in consequence of disappointed hope and his unsuccessful struggles. The traitor made his appearance in Paris without fear; for he was protected by the powerful duke of Orleans, brother of the king.
Shortly afterwards, however, having had a dispute with the Constable, Olivier de Clisson, he laid wait for him, accompanied by a set of wretches in his pay, and fell upon the great captain unawares, wounding him in the head, and leaving him for dead. After this cowardly exploit, De Craon fled, and threw himself under the protection of the Duke of Brittany, who, although not his accomplice, was weak enough to take his part.
Pierre de Craon was condemned for contumacy; several of his people were punished with death, in particular a poor curate of Chartres, who was entirely innocent: his dwelling was razed to the ground, and its site given to a neighbouring church for a cemetery: and the Duke of Brittany was summoned by King Charles to deliver up the craven knight to justice.
This command, however, was treated with contempt, and the king accordingly put himself at the head of his troops, and set forth to attack the duke: it was at Le Mans that he arrived with his army.
Charles was greatly excited, and his nerves appear to have been agitated at this time, owing to various causes. The weather was intensely hot, and the sun struck full upon him as he rode in advance of his army, surrounded by his guard of honour. He entered the Forest of Le Mans, and was proceeding down one of its glades, when suddenly a gigantic black figure, wild, haggard, and with hair floating in dishevelled masses over his face, darted suddenly from a deep recess, and, seizing the bridle of the king's horse, cried out, in a sepulchral voice, "Hold, king!—whither ride you?—go no further!—you are betrayed!" and instantly disappeared amidst the gloomy shades of the wood, before any one had time to lay hands on him.
Charles did not turn back, but continued his way in silence; he emerged from the forest on to a wide sandy plain, where the heat was almost intolerable, and where there was nothing to shelter him from the burning rays. A page was riding near him, who, overcome with fatigue, slept in his saddle, and let the lance he held fall violently on the helmet of one of his companions. The sharp sound this occasioned roused the king from his gloomy reverie: he started in sudden terror; his brain was confused and heated; he imagined that the accomplishment of the spectre's denunciation was at hand, and, losing his senses altogether, he drew his sword, and, with a wild cry, rushed forward, hewing down all before him, and galloping distractedly across the plain, till, exhausted by fatigue and excitement, he fell from his horse in a swoon.
He was instantly surrounded by his people, raised from the ground, and conveyed with all care to Le Mans, where he remained till he was thought sufficiently recovered to be removed to Paris.
The storm about to fall on the head of the Duke of Brittany was thus turned aside, and the troops who had received orders to attack him were withdrawn. Whether this was a scene got up by the Duke of Brittany, in order to work on the diseased mind of the unfortunate monarch, or was merely the effect of an accidental meeting with a maniac, or whether the king's uncles, who disapproved of his just indignation at De Craon's conduct, had arranged the whole, it is impossible to say: but poor Charles was surrounded by traitors, foreign and domestic, and evidently had no good physician at hand, whose timely skill might have saved years of misery and bloodshed to France.
Throughout the deadly wars of the League, and the contentions between Catholic and Protestant, which desolated France, Le Mans and the whole of the department of Maine took a prominent part, and its streets, houses, churches, and villages were burnt and destroyed over and over again. The last stand of the unfortunate Vendeeans was at Le Mans. "Sad and fearful is the story" of the fight there, as it is told by Madame de la Roche-Jaquelin, whose pictures draw tears from every eye, and whose narrative, read at Le Mans, is melancholy indeed.
After dreadful fatigues and varying fortune, during which the devoted town was taken and retaken several times, the harassed Vendeeans, more remarkable for their valour than their prudence, remained in possession of the town on the night of the 10th of December, 1793, and gave themselves up to the repose which they so much needed, but without arranging any means of security, though a vigilant enemy was on the watch to take advantage of their state. They abandoned themselves, with characteristic superstition, to the care of Heaven alone; placing no sentinels, no out-posts, no guard whatever: and, although the next day the chiefs visited the town and its issues, no precaution was taken against the possibility of an attack,—no measures to secure a retreat, nor council held as to whither their course should be directed in case of such a necessity. The time was consumed in disputes, as to whether the wearied Vendeean army should pursue its transient success, and go on to Paris, or yield to the desire of the generality of the soldiers, and return to their beloved home, by crossing the Loire, which so many regretted ever to have passed. It appears that there were from sixty to seventy thousand persons in Le Mans, of the royalist party; including women, children, and servants, with baggage and money to a large amount.
The republican army, commanded by Marceau and Westermann, surprised the town at night. In spite of the active bravery of La Roche-Jaquelin, and the energy he displayed when the danger was so apparent, a fearful slaughter ensued. Street by street, and square by square, the Vendeeans disputed every inch of ground, till the corpses of the slain lay in heaps in the narrow ways; every house was a fortress,—every lane a pass desperately defended. The intrepid young leader had two horses killed under him, and was obliged to absent himself a moment to seek for others. No sooner did his people lose sight of him than a panic took possession of them; they thought all lost,—became confused and disordered. Many of them, waked from sleep, or from a state of inebriety, in which the Britons are too apt to indulge, horrified at the shrieks of their women, stunned by the sound of the cannon, which roared through the dark streets, and startled at the glare of artillery suddenly blazing around them,—entirely lost all presence of mind, and fled in every direction; killing and wounding friends and foes in their precipitous retreat. Horses, waggons, and dead bodies impeded their flight, and Le Mans was one scene of carnage and terror. Their leaders stood their ground, and kept the great square of Le Mans for more than four hours, performing prodigies of valour. But the republicans at last were victors: and horribly did they pursue their advantage; sparing neither age nor sex, and exulting in the most atrocious cruelties. The peasants of Le Mans and its environs, taking part with the stronger side, pursued the vanquished with disgraceful energy, and murdered the unfortunate Vendeeans in the woods and fields, and in every retreat where those devoted people sought shelter and safety.
The state of the unfortunate women, whose husbands, sons, and fathers were being slaughtered with every volley which rung in their ears, is horrible to imagine. Madame de la Roche-Jaquelin thus describes her own position in moving language:
"From the beginning, we foresaw the result of the struggle. I was lodged at the house of a lady who was very rich, very refined, but a great republican. She had a large family, whom she tenderly loved, and whom she carefully attended. I resolved to confide my daughter to her, as one of her relations had already taken charge of little Jagault. I entreated her to protect her,—to bring her up as a mere peasant only,—to instil into her mind sentiments of honour and virtue. I said that, should she be destined to resume the position in which she was born, I should thank Heaven for its mercy; but I resigned myself to all, provided she was virtuously brought up. She assured me that, if she took my child, she would educate her with her own. I used all the arguments a mother could in such circumstances, and was interrupted by the cry that announced retreat. She quitted me instantly; and I, losing at once all hope, but trusting at least to save my daughter's life, placed her secretly in the bed of the mistress of the family, certain that she could not have the cruelty to abandon the innocent little creature. I then descended the stairs: I was placed on horseback; the gate was opened; I saw the square filled with a flying, pressing crowd, and in an instant I was separated from every one I knew. I perceived M. Stofflet, who was carrying the colours: I took advantage of his presence to try to find the road; I followed him across the square, which I supposed was the way; I kept close to the houses; and at length reached the street which led in the direction I sought, towards the road of Laval. But I found it impossible to advance; the concourse was too great,—it was stifling: carts, waggons, cannon, were overturned; bullocks lay struggling on the ground, unable to rise, and striking out at all who approached them. The cries of persons trodden underfoot echoed everywhere. I was fainting with hunger and terror: I could scarcely see; for daylight was nearly closed. At the corner of a street I perceived two horses tied to a stake, and they completely barred my passage; the crowd pressed them against me; and I was squeezed between them and the wall: I screamed to the soldiers to take and ride off with them; but my voice was not heard or attended to. A young man on horseback passed by me, with a mild and sad countenance: I cried out to him, catching his hand, 'Oh! sir, have pity on a poor woman, near her confinement, and perishing with want and fatigue: I can go no further.' The stranger burst into tears, and replied: 'I am a woman, too: we shall perish together; for nothing can penetrate into yonder street.' We both remained expecting our fate.
"In the meantime, the faithful Bontemps, servant of M. de Lescure, not seeing my daughter, sought for her everywhere,—found her at length, and carried her off in his arms. He followed me, perceived me in the crowd, and called out, 'I have saved my master's child!' I hung down my head, and resigned myself to the worst. In a moment after I saw another of my servants: I called to him; he caught my horse by the bridle; and, cutting his way with his sabre, we entered the street. With incredible trouble, we reached a little bridge in the faubourg, on the road to Laval: a cannon was overturned upon it, and stopped up the way: at length we got by, and I found myself in the road; where I paused, with many others. Some officers were there, trying to rally their soldiers; but all their efforts were useless.
"The republicans, hearing a noise where we were, turned their cannon upon us from the height of the houses. A bullet whizzed past my head: a moment afterwards a fresh discharge startled me; and, involuntarily, I bent myself low upon my horse. An officer near reproached me bitterly for my cowardice. 'Alas!' replied I, 'it is excusable in a wretched woman to crouch down when a whole army has taken to flight!' In fact, the firing continued so violently that all of our people who had paused recommenced flying for their lives. Had it been daylight, perhaps they might have been recalled.
"A few leagues from Le Mans, I beheld the arrival of my father. He and Henri had been for a long time vainly endeavouring to reanimate the soldiers. Henri hurried towards me, exclaiming, 'You are saved!'—'I thought you were lost," cried I, 'since we are beaten.' He wrung my hand, saying, 'I would I were dead!'
"About twelve leagues from Le Mans, I stopped in a village: a great part of the army had also halted there. There was scarcely any one in the cottages: the road was covered with poor wretches, who, fainting with fatigue, were sleeping in the mud, without heeding the pelting rain. The rout of Le Mans cost the lives of fifteen thousand persons. The greatest part were not killed in the battle; many were crushed to death in the streets of Le Mans; others, wounded and sick, remained in the houses, and were massacred. They died in the ditches and the fields: a great number fled on the road to Alencon, were there taken, and conducted to the scaffold.
* * * * *
"Such was the deplorable defeat of Le Mans, where the Vendeean army received a mortal blow: it was an inevitable fatality. The day that they quitted the left bank of the Loire, with a nation of women, children, and old people, to seek an asylum in a country unknown, without being aware what route they should take, at the beginning of winter, it was easy to foretell that we should conclude by this terrible catastrophe. The greatest glory that our generals and soldiers can claim is that they retarded its accomplishment so long.
"The unfortunate and intrepid Henri did not abandon his cause till not a hope was left; and even at the last he lingered at Le Mans, and fought desperately in the Place de l'Eperon, establishing a battery of cannon which long kept the enemy at bay. But all was unavailing, and he yielded to necessity. He arrived at Laval at the close of day, spent and exhausted, and entered a house where he entreated to be allowed to rest. He was warned that he might run the risk of being surprised by Westermann,—'My greatest want,' said he, 'is not to live, but to sleep.'"
The Vendeeans had left behind them so much gold and merchandize, so much furniture, and such precious possessions, that, far from these sad events being a cause of ruin to the inhabitants of Le Mans, they were the means of establishing prosperity in the town in many instances, and its commercial influence increased very sensibly from that period. It is at this moment a town which appears in a very flourishing state, and is on the whole one of the most agreeable and interesting in this part of France.
The misfortunes and troubles which the ill-fated army of royalists experienced, did not prevent their renewal a few years after, when the sad events of the wars of the Chouans brought back all the miseries which the desolated country was but little able to contend with.
However high-sounding the supposed motives might be which re-illumed the war, it is now generally acknowledged that only a few enthusiastic men acted from a sense of honour and patriotism: the greatest part being influenced by less worthy ideas. Had it not been so, the excesses committed by the Chouans would never have disgraced the annals of warfare: wretches without religion, morality, or feeling, mere brigands and marauders, under the sacred banner of patriotism, ravaged the country, burning, torturing, and destroying, pillaging, and committing every crime, dignified meantime by the appellation of heroes, which one or two amongst them might have deserved if they had fought in better company, and been better directed. It is strange that any one, particularly at the present day, can be found to magnify into heroism the misguided efforts of a set of turbulent school-boys, who, again, at a later period, were made the tools of villains for their own purposes of plunder; yet, very recently, works have appeared in which the petite Chouannerie is exalted into a praiseworthy community. Pity for the sacrificed children who were betrayed, and the bereaved mothers who wept over the disobedience of their sons, is all that belongs to those concerned in the useless revolt which caused ruin to so many.
"The intention of the Chouans in taking arms," says M. de Scepeaux, in his letters on the Chouans of Bas-Maine, "was to defend and preserve, not to attack and destroy; and, like the soldiers of Pelayo, who kept the rocks of Asturias as a last stronghold against their besiegers, the Chouans made their Bocages a last asylum for the French monarchy." This is a fine phrase, but the facts are very far removed from this assertion. The Chouans were a terror and a scourge to their fellow-citizens: farms burnt, unoffending citizens robbed and murdered, all their possessions seized on and appropriated, stabbing in the dark, and cowardly cruelties of all kinds characterized these "honourable men," who were guerillas and nothing more. They took names such as in former times distinguished the bands of brigands who were the terror of the middle ages, and their acts rendered the similitude more striking. Some of these chiefs signed themselves, Joli-coeur, Sans-peur, Monte-a-l'assaut, Bataillon, &c.
It was a fearful time, and violence and cruelty reigned triumphant whichever party took the field. The province of Le Maine suffered severely in the struggle. Le Mans was again the scene of contention, and the streets of the town the theatre of slaughter.
Who, to look at the quiet, tranquil town now, would think how much it has suffered! and who but must feel indignant at the pretended patriot who is not grateful to the existing government, under whose wise sway the cities of France are recovering their beauty and importance after long years of torture and desolation!
THE MUSEUM OF LE MANS—VENUS—MUMMY—GEOFFREY LE BEL—HIS COSTUME—MATILDA—SCARRON—HELIE DE LA FLECHE—RUFUS—THE WHITE KNIGHT.
THE Museum of Le Mans is in the Hotel de la Prefecture, and as we heard that the famous enamel of Geoffrey Plantagenet, formerly on his tomb in the cathedral, was preserved there, we hastened to behold so interesting a remain of early art. A remarkably obtuse female was the exhibitor on the occasion, and, on my asking her to point out the treasure, she took me to a collection of Roman coins and medals, assuring me they were very old and very curious. It was impossible not to agree with her, and to regard these coins with interest, particularly as they were all found in the immediate neighbourhood of Le Mans; however, as a glance at them was sufficient, we proceeded to examine all the cases, hoping to discover the object of our search.
We were arrested before a case filled with objects of art found principally at the ruins of Alonnes, near Le Mans, which commune is a perfect emporium of Roman curiosities, where no labourer directs his plough across a field, or digs a foot deep in his garden, without finding statues, pillars, baths, medals, &c., in heaps. All these things are of fine workmanship, and thence, lately, two little wonders have been rescued from oblivion, which are really gems. One is a small female bust of white marble, perfect, and of singular grace; the other the entire figure, having only one arm wanting, of a Venus twenty-one inches high, and of exquisite proportion; she sits on the trunk of a tree; her beauty is incomparable, and she must owe her birth to an artist of very superior genius.
As if to prove how worthless is that beauty which attracts and rivets the attention, even in stone, close by is one of the finest and most perfectly-preserved female mummies I ever beheld,—hideous in its uninjured state, grinning fearfully with its rows of fine ivory teeth a little broken, glaring with its still prominent eyes, and appalling with its blackened skin drawn over the high cheekbones. Why might not this carefully-attended and richly-adorned queen be the beautiful and fatal "serpent of old Nile"—the fascinating Cleopatra herself?
The features are fine and delicate in spite of the horrible hue of the skin, and though it revolts the mind at first, one can even fancy that mass of horror might, in life, have been beautiful. This valuable specimen was brought from Egypt by M. Edouard de Montule, a zealous and enterprising young traveller, too early snatched from science and the world at the age of thirty-six.
A gentleman, drawing in the museum, who had arrived after us, hearing our questions to our guide, very politely stepped forward and offered to show us the objects of interest which he saw we might otherwise miss. He led us at once to the enamel we so much desired to see, and we had ample time to contemplate one of the most remarkable curiosities of art which perhaps exists anywhere.