François Pierre Guillaume Guizot.

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at the same time the most powerful; and he immediately took possession of
the duchy, went, on the 23d of December, 1362, to Dijon, swore on the
altar of St. Benignus that he would maintain the privileges of the city
and of the province, and, nine months after, on the 6th of September,
1363, disposed of the duchy of Burgundy in the following terms:
"Recalling again to memory the excellent and praise-worthy services of
our right dearly beloved Philip, the fourth of our sons, who freely
exposed himself to death with us, and, all wounded as he was, remained
unwavering and fearless at the battle of Poitiers . . . we do concede
to him and give him the duchy and peerage of Burgundy, together with all
that we may have therein of right, possession, and proprietorship . . .
for the which gift our said son hath done us homage as duke and premier
peer of France." Thus was founded that second house of the Dukes of
Burgundy which was destined to play, for more than a century, so great
and often so fatal a part in the fortunes of France.

Whilst he was thus preparing a gloomy future for his country and his
line, King John heard that his second son, the Duke of Anjou, one of the
hostages left in the hands of the King of England as security for the
execution of the treaty of Bretigny, had broken his word of honor and
escaped from England, in order to go and join his wife at Guise Castle.
Knightly faith was the virtue of King John; and it was, they say, on this
occasion, that he cried, as he was severely upbraiding his son, that "if
good faith were banished from the world, it ought to find an asylum in
the hearts of kings." He announced to his councillors, assembled at
Amiens, his intention of going in person to England. An effort was made
to dissuade him; and "several prelates and barons of France told him that
he was committing great folly when he was minded to again put himself in
danger from the King of England. He answered that he had found in his
brother, the King of England, in the Queen, and in his nephews, their
children, so much loyalty, honor, and courtesy, that he had no doubt but
that they would be courteous, loyal, and amiable to him, in any case.
And so he was minded to go and make the excuses of his son, the Duke of
Anjou, who had returned to France." According to the most intelligent of
the chroniclers of the time, the Continuer of William of Nangis, "some
persons said that the king was minded to go to England in order to amuse
himself;" and they were probably right, for kingly and knightly
amusements were the favorite subject of King John's meditations. This
time he found in England something else besides galas; he before long
fell seriously ill, "which mightily disconcerted the King and Queen of
England, for the wisest in the country judged him to be in great peril."
He died, in fact, on the 8th of April, 1364, at the Savoy Hotel, in
London; "whereat the King of England, the Queen, their children, and many
English barons were much moved," says Froissart, "for the honor of the
great love which the King of France, since peace was made, had shown
them." France was at last about to have in Charles V. a practical and
an effective king.

[Illustration: Charles V. - - 371]

In spite of the discretion he had displayed during his four years of
regency (from 1356 to 1360), his reign opened under the saddest auspices.
In 1363, one of those contagious diseases, all at that time called the
plague, committed cruel ravages in France. "None," says the contemporary
chronicler, "could count the number of the dead in Paris, young or old,
rich or poor; when death entered a house, the little children died first,
then the menials, then the parents. In the smallest villages, as well as
in Paris, the mortality was such that at Argenteuil, for example, where
there were wont to be numbered seven hundred hearths, there remained no
more than forty or fifty." The ravages of the armed thieves, or bandits,
who scoured the country added to those of the plague. Let it suffice to
quote one instance. "In Beauce, on the Orleans and Chartres side, some
brigands and prowlers, with hostile intent, dressed as pig-dealers or
cow-drivers, came to the little castle of Murs, close to Corbeil, and
finding outside the gate the master of the place, who was a knight, asked
him to get them back their pigs, which his menials, they said, had the
night before taken from them, which was false. The master gave them
leave to go in, that they might discover their pigs and move them away.
As soon as they had crossed the drawbridge they seized upon the master,
threw off their false clothes, drew their weapons, and blew a blast upon
the bagpipe; and forthwith appeared their comrades from their
hiding-places in the neighboring woods. They took possession of the
castle, its master and mistress, and all their folk; and, settling
themselves there, they scoured from thence the whole country, pillaging
everywhere, and filling the castle with the provisions they carried off.
At the rumor of this thievish capture, many men-at-arms in the
neighborhood rushed up to expel the thieves and retake from them the
castle. Not succeeding in their assault, they fell back on Corbeil,
and then themselves set to ravaging the country, taking away from the
farm-houses provisions and wine without paying a dolt, and carrying them
off to Corbeil for their own use. They became before long as much feared
and hated as the brigands; and all the inhabitants of the neighboring
villages, leaving their homes and their labor, took refuge, with their
children and what they had been able to carry off, in Paris, the only
place where they could find a little security." Thus the population was
without any kind of regular force, anything like effectual protection;
the temporary defenders of order themselves went over, and with alacrity
too, to the side of disorder when they did not succeed in repressing it;
and the men-at-arms set readily about plundering, in their turn, the
castles and country-places whence they had been charged to drive off the

Let us add a still more striking example of the absence of all publicly
recognized power at this period, and of the necessity to which the
population was nearly everywhere reduced of defending itself with its own
hands, in order to escape ever so little from the evils of war and
anarchy. It was a little while ago pointed out why and how, after the
death of Marcel and the downfall of his faction, Charles the Bad, King of
Navarre, suddenly determined upon making his peace with the regent of
France. This peace was very displeasing to the English, allies of the
King of Navarre, and they continued to carry on war, ravaging the country
here and there, at one time victorious and at another vanquished in a
multiplication of disconnected encounters. "I will relate," says the
Continuer of William of Nangis, "one of those incidents just as it
occurred in my neighborhood, and as I have been truthfully told about it.
The struggle there was valiantly maintained by peasants, Jacques Bonhomme
(Jack Goodfellows), as they are called. There is a place pretty well
fortified in a little town named Longueil, not far from Compiegne, in the
diocese of Beauvais, and near to the banks of the Oise. This place is
close to the monastery of St. Corneille-de-Compiegne. The inhabitants
perceived that there would be danger if the enemy occupied this point;
and, after having obtained authority from the lord-regent of France and
the abbot of the monastery, they settled themselves there, provided
themselves with arms and provisions, and appointed a captain taken from
among themselves, promising the regent that they would defend this place
to the death. Many of the villagers came thither to place themselves in
security, and they chose for captain a tall, fine man, named William a-
Larks (aux Alouettes). He had for servant, and held as with bit and
bridle, a certain peasant of lofty stature, marvellous bodily strength,
and equal boldness, who had joined to these advantages an extreme
modesty: he was called _Big Ferre_. These folks settled themselves at
this point to the number of about two hundred men, all tillers of the
soil, and getting a poor livelihood by the labor of their hands. The
English, hearing it said that these folks were there and were determined
to resist, held them in contempt, and went to them, saying, 'Drive we
hence these peasants, and take we possession of this point so well
fortified and well supplied.' They went thither to the number of two
hundred. The folks inside had no suspicion thereof, and had left their
gates open. The English entered boldly into the place, whilst the
peasants were in the inner courts or at the windows, a-gape at seeing men
so well armed making their way in. The captain, William a-Larks, came
down at once with some of his people, and bravely began the fight; but he
had the worst of it, was surrounded by the English, and himself stricken
with a mortal wound. At sight hereof, those of his folk who were still
in the courts, with Big Ferre at their head, said one to another, 'Let us
go down and sell our lives clearly, else they will slay us without
mercy.' Gathering themselves discreetly together, they went down by
different gates, and struck out with mighty blows at the English, as if
they had been beating out their corn on the threshing-floor; their arms
went up and down again, and every blow dealt out a deadly wound. Big
Ferre, seeing his captain laid low and almost dead already, uttered a
bitter cry, and advancing upon the English he topped them all, as he did
his own fellows, by a head and shoulders. Raising his axe, he dealt
about him deadly blows, insomuch that in front of him the place was soon
a void; he felled to the earth all those whom he could reach; of one he
broke the head, of another he lopped off the arms; he bore himself so
valiantly that in an hour he had with his own hand slain eighteen of
them, without counting the wounded; and at this sight his comrades were
filled with ardor. What more shall I say? All that band of English were
forced to turn their backs and fly; some jumped into the ditches full of
water; others tried with tottering steps to regain the gates. Big Ferre,
advancing to the spot where the English had planted their flag, took it,
killed the bearer, and told one of his own fellows to go and hurl it into
a ditch where the wall was as not yet finished. 'I cannot,' said the
other, 'there are still so many English yonder.' 'Follow me with the
flag,' said Big Ferre; and marching in front, and laying about him right
and left with his axe, he opened and cleared the way to the point
indicated, so that his comrade could freely hurl the flag into the ditch.
After he had rested a moment, he returned to the fight, and fell so
roughly on the English who remained, that all those who could fly
hastened to profit thereby. It is said that on that day, with the help
of God and Big Ferre, who, with his own hand, as is certified, laid low
more than forty, the greater part of the English who had come to this
business never went back from it. But the captain on our side, William
a-Larks, was there stricken mortally: he was not yet dead when the fight
ended; he was carried away to his bed; he recognized all his comrades who
were there, and soon afterwards sank under his wounds. They buried him
in the midst of weeping, for he was wise and good."

"At the news of what had thus happened at Longueil the English were very
disconsolate, saying that it was a shame that so many and such brave
warriors should have been slain by such rustics. Next day they came
together again from all their camps in the neighborhood, and went and
made a vigorous attack at Longueil on our folks, who no longer feared
them hardly at all, and went out of their walls to fight them. In the
first rank was Big Ferre, of whom the English had heard so much talk.
When they saw him, and when they felt the weight of his axe and his arm,
many of those who had come to this fight would have been right glad not
to be there. Many fled or were grievously wounded or slain. Some of the
English nobles were taken. If our folks had been willing to give them up
for money, as the nobles do, they might have made a great deal; but they
would not.

[Illustration: Big Ferre - - 376]

When the fight was over, Big Ferre, overcome with heat and fatigue, drank
a large quantity of cold water, and was forthwith seized of a fever. He
put himself to bed without parting from his axe, which was so heavy that
a man of the usual strength could scarcely lift it from the ground with
both hands. The English, hearing that Big Ferre was sick, rejoiced
greatly, and for fear he should get well they sent privily, round about
the place where he was lodged, twelve of their men bidden to try and rid
them of him. On espying them from afar, his wife hurried up to his bed
where he was laid, saying to him, 'My dear Ferre, the English are coming,
and I verily believe it is for thee they are looking; what wilt thou do?'
Big Ferre, forgetting his sickness, armed himself in all haste, took his
axe which had already stricken to death so many foes, went out of his
house, and entering into his little yard, shouted to the English as soon
as he saw them, 'Ah! scoundrels, you are coming to take me in my bed; but
you shall not get me.' He set himself against a wall to be in surety
from behind, and defended himself manfully with his good axe and his
great heart. The English assailed him, burning to slay or to take him;
but he resisted them so wondrously, that he brought down five much
wounded to the ground, and the other seven took to flight. Big Ferre,
returning in triumph to his bed, and heated again by the blows he had
dealt, again drank cold water in abundance, and fell sick of a more
violent fever. A few days afterwards, sinking under his sickness, and
after having received the holy sacraments, Big Ferre went out of this
world, and was buried in the burial-place of his own village. All his
comrades and his country wept for him bitterly, for, so long as he lived,
the English would not have come nigh this place."

There is probably some exaggeration about the exploits of Big Ferre and
the number of his victims. The story just quoted is not, however, a
legend; authentic and simple, it has all the characteristics of a real
and true fact, just as it was picked up, partly from eye-witnesses and
partly from hearsay, by the contemporary narrator. It is a faithful
picture of the internal state of the French nation in the fourteenth
century; a nation in labor of formation, a nation whose elements, as yet
scattered and incohesive, though under one and the same name, were
fermenting each in its own quarter and independently of the rest, with a
tendency to mutual coalescence in a powerful unity, but, as yet, far from
succeeding in it.

Externally, King Charles V. had scarcely easier work before him. Between
himself and his great rival, Edward III., King of England, there was only
such a peace as was fatal and hateful to France. To escape some day from
the treaty of Bretigny, and recover some of the provinces which had been
lost by it - this was what king and country secretly desired and labored
for. Pending a favorable opportunity for promoting this higher interest,
war went on in Brittany between John of Montfort and Charles of Blois,
who continued to be encouraged and patronized, covertly, one by the King
of England, the other by the King of France. Almost immediately after
the accession of Charles V. it broke out again between him and his
brother-in-law, Charles the Bad, King of Navarre, the former being
profoundly mistrustful, and the latter brazen-facedly perfidious, and
both detesting one another, and watching to seize the moment for taking
advantage one of the other. The states bordering on France, amongst
others Spain and Italy, were a prey to discord and even civil wars, which
could not fail to be a source of trouble or serious embarrassment to
France. In Spain two brothers, Peter the Cruel and Henry of Transtamare,
were disputing the throne of Castile. Shortly after the accession of
Charles V., and in spite of his lively remonstrances, in 1267, Pope Urban
V. quitted Avignon for Rome, whence he was not to return to Avignon till
three years afterwards, and then only to die. The Emperor of Germany
was, at this period, almost the only one of the great sovereigns of
Europe who showed for France and her kings a sincere good will. When, in
1378, he went to Paris to pay a visit to Charles V., he was pleased to go
to St. Denis to see the tombs of Charles the Handsome and Philip of
Valois. "In my young days," he said to the abbot, "I was nurtured at the
homes of those good kings, who showed me much kindness; I do request you
affectionately to make good prayer to God for them." Charles V., who had
given him a very friendly reception, was, no doubt, included in this
pious request.

In order to maintain the struggle against these difficulties, within and
without, the means which Charles V. had at his disposal were of but
moderate worth. He had three brothers and three sisters calculated
rather to embarrass and sometimes even injure him than to be of any
service to him. Of his brothers, the eldest, Louis, Duke of Anjou, was
restless, harsh, and bellicose. He upheld authority with no little
energy in Languedoc, of which Charles had made him governor, but at the
same time made it detested; and he was more taken up with his own
ambitious views upon the kingdom of Naples, which Queen Joan of Hungary
had transmitted to him by adoption, than with the interests of France and
her king. The second, John, Duke of Berry, was an insignificant prince,
who has left no strong mark on history. The third, Philip the Bold, Duke
of Burgundy, after having been the favorite of his father, King John, was
likewise of his brother Charles V., who did not hesitate to still farther
aggrandize this vassal, already so great, by obtaining for him in
marriage the hand of Princess Marguerite, heiress to the countship of
Flanders; and this marriage, which was destined at a later period to
render the Dukes of Burgundy such formidable neighbors for the Kings of
France, was even in the lifetime of Charles V. a cause of unpleasant
complications both for France and Burgundy. Of King Charles's three
sisters, the eldest, Joan, was married to the King of Navarre, Charles
the Bad, and much more devoted to her husband than to her brother; the
second, Mary, espoused Robert, Duke of Bar, who caused more annoyance
than he rendered service to his brother-in-law, the king of France; and
the third, Isabel, wife of Galas Visconti, Duke of Milan, was of no use
to her brother beyond the fact of contributing, as we have seen, by her
marriage, to pay a part of King John's ransom. Charles V., by kindly and
judicious behavior in the bosom of his family, was able to keep serious
quarrels or embarrassments from arising thence; but he found therein
neither real strength nor sure support.

His civil councillors, his chancellor, William de Dormans,
cardinal-bishop of Beauvais, his minister of finance, John de la Grange,
cardinal-bishop of Amiens; his treasurer, Philip de Savoisy; and his
chamberlain and private secretary, Bureau de la Riviere, were,
undoubtedly, men full of ability and zeal for his service, for he had
picked them out and maintained them unchangeably in their offices. There
is reason to believe that they conducted themselves discreetly, for we do
not observe that after their master's death there was any outburst
against them, on the part either of court or people, of that violent and
deadly hatred which has so often caused bloodshed in the history of
France. Bureau de la Riviere was attacked and prosecuted, without,
however, becoming one of the victims of judicial authority at the command
of political passions. None of Charles V.'s councillors exercised over
his master that preponderating and confirmed influence which makes a man
a premier minister. Charles V. himself assumed the direction of his own
government, exhibiting unwearied vigilance, "but without hastiness and
without noise." There is a work, as yet unpublished, of M. Leopold
Delisle, which is to contain a complete explanatory catalogue of all the
_Mandements et Actes divers de Charles V_. This catalogue, which forms a
pendant to a similar work performed by M. Delisle for the reign of Philip
Augustus, is not yet concluded; and, nevertheless, for the first seven
years only of Charles V.'s reign, from 1364 to 1371, there are to be
found enumerated and described in it eight hundred and fifty-four
_mandements, ordonnances et actes divers de Charles V._, relating to the
different branches of administration, and to daily incidents of
government; acts all bearing the impress of an intellect active,
farsighted, and bent upon becoming acquainted with everything, and
regulating everything, not according to a general system, but from actual
and exact knowledge. Charles always proved himself reflective,
unhurried, and anxious solely to comport himself in accordance with the
public interests and with good sense. He was one day at table in his
room with some of his intimates, when news was brought him that the
English had laid siege, in Guienne, to a place where there was only a
small garrison, not in a condition to hold out unless it were promptly
succored. "The king," says Christine de Pisan, "showed no great outward
emotion, and quite coolly, as if the topic of conversation were something
else, turned and looked about him, and, seeing one of his secretaries,
summoned him courteously, and bade him, in a whisper, write word to Louis
de Sancerre, his marshal, to come to him directly. They who were there
were amazed that, though the matter was so weighty, the king took no
great account of it. Some young esquires who were waiting upon him at
table were bold enough to say to him,

'Sir, give us the money to fit ourselves out, as many of us are of your
household, for to go on this business; we will be new-made knights, and
will go and raise the siege.' The king began to smile, and said, 'It is
not new-made knights that are suitable; they must be all old.' Seeing
that he said no more about it, some of them added, 'What are your orders,
sir, touching this affair, which is of haste?' 'It is not well to give
orders in haste; when we see those to whom it is meet to speak, we will
give our orders.'"

On another occasion, the treasurer of Nimes had died, and the king
appointed his successor. His brother, the Duke of Anjou, came and asked
for the place on behalf of one of his own intimates, saying that he to
whom the king had granted it was a man of straw, and without credit.
Charles caused inquiries to be made, and then said to the duke, "Truly,
fair brother, he for whom you have spoken to me is a rich man, but one of
little sense and bad behavior." "Assuredly," said the Duke of Anjou, "he
to whom you have given the office is a man of straw, and incompetent to
fill it." "Why, prithee?" asked the king. "Because he is a poor man,
the son of small laboring folks, who are still tillers of the ground in
our country." "Ah!" said Charles; "is there nothing more? Assuredly,
fair brother, we should prize more highly the poor man of wisdom than the
profligate ass;" and he maintained in the office him whom he had put

The government of Charles V. was the personal government of an
intelligent, prudent, and honorable king, anxious for the interests of
the state, at home and abroad, as well as for his own; with little
inclination for, and little confidence in, the free co-operation of the
country in its own affairs, but with wit enough to cheerfully call upon
it when there was any pressing necessity, and accepting it then without
chicanery or cheating, but safe to go back as soon as possible to that
sole dominion, a medley of patriotism and selfishness, which is the very
insufficient and very precarious resource of peoples as yet incapable of
applying their liberty to the art of their own government. Charles V.
had recourse three times, in July, 1367, and in May and December, 1369,
to a convocation of the states-general, in order to be put in a position
to meet the political and financial difficulties of France. At the
second of these assemblies, when the chancellor, William de Dormans, had
explained the position of the kingdom, the king himself rose up "for to
say to all that if they considered that he had done anything he ought not

Online LibraryFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotA Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 2 → online text (page 32 of 35)