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alliance with profligate characters who sometimes worked in concert with
them, and sometimes alone, and who always framed the model for their own
organization from that of the gipsies."

[Illustration: Fig. 374. - Orphans, _Callots_, and the Family of the Grand
Coesre. - From painted Hangings and Tapestry from the Town of Rheims,
executed during the Fifteenth Century.]

This alliance - governed by statutes, the honour of compiling which has
been given to a certain Ragot, who styled himself captain - was composed of
_matois_, or sharpers; of _mercelots_, or hawkers, who were very little
better than the former; of _gueux_, or dishonest beggars, and of a host of
other swindlers, constituting the order or hierarchy of the _Argot_, or
Slang people. Their chief was called the _Grand Coesre_, "a vagabond
broken to all the tricks of his trade," says M. Francisque Michel, and who
frequently ended his days on the rack or the gibbet. History has furnished
us with the story of a "miserable cripple" who used to sit in a wooden
bowl, and who, after having been Grand Coesre for three years, was broken
alive on the wheel at Bordeaux for his crimes. He was called _Roi de
Tunes_ (Tunis), and was drawn about by two large dogs. One of his
successors, the Grand Coesre surnamed Anacréon, who suffered from the same
infirmity, namely, that of a cripple, rode about Paris on a donkey
begging. He generally held his court on the Port-au-Foin, where he sat on
his throne dressed in a mantle made of a thousand pieces. The Grand Coesre
had a lieutenant in each province called _cagou_, whose business it was to
initiate apprentices in the secrets of the craft, and who looked after,
in different localities, those whom the chief had entrusted to his care.
He gave an account of the property he received in thus exercising his
stewardship, and of the money as well as of the clothing which he took
from the _Argotiers_ who refused to recognise his authority. As a
remuneration for their duties, the cagoux were exempt from all tribute to
their chief; they received their share of the property taken from persons
whom they had ordered to be robbed, and they were free to beg in any way
they pleased. After the cagoux came the _archisuppôts_, who, being
recruited from the lowest dregs of the clergy and others who had been in a
better position, were, so to speak, the teachers of the law. To them was
intrusted the duty of instructing the less experienced rogues, and of
determining the language of Slang; and, as a reward for their good and
loyal services, they had the right of begging without paying any fees to
their chiefs.

[Illustration: Fig. 375. - The Blind and the Poor Sick of St. John. - From
painted Hangings and Tapestry in the Town of Rheims, executed during the
Fifteenth Century.]

The Grand Coesre levied a tax of twenty-four sous per annum upon the young
rogues, who went about the streets pretending to shed tears (Fig. 374), as
"helpless orphans," in order to excite public sympathy. The _marcandiers_
had to pay an écu; they were tramps clothed in a tolerably good doublet,
who passed themselves off as merchants ruined by war, by fire, or by
having been robbed on the highway. The _malingreux_ had to pay forty sous;
they were covered with sores, most of which were self-inflicted, or they
pretended to have swellings of some kind, and stated that they were about
to undertake a pilgrimage to St. Méen, in Brittany, in order to be cured.
The _piètres_, or lame rogues, paid half an écu, and walked with crutches.
The _sabouleux_, who were commonly called the _poor sick of St. John_,
were in the habit of frequenting fairs and markets, or the vicinity of
churches; there, smeared with blood and appearing as if foaming at the
mouth by means of a piece of soap they had placed in it, they struggled on
the ground as if in a fit, and in this way realised a considerable amount
of alms. These consequently paid the largest fees to the Coesre (Fig.

[Illustration: Fig. 376. - The _Ruffes_ and the _Millards_. - From painted
Hangings and Tapestry of Rheims, executed about the Fifteenth Century.]

Besides these, there were the _callots_, who were either affected with a
scurfy disease or pretended to be so, and who were contributors to the
civil list of their chief to the amount of sevens sous; as also the
_coquillards_, or pretended pilgrims of St. James or St. Michael; and the
_hubins_, who, according to the forged certificate which they carried with
them, were going to, or returning from, St. Hubert, after having been
bitten by a mad dog. The _polissons_ paid two écus to the Coesre, but they
earned a considerable amount, especially in winter; for benevolent people,
touched with their destitution and half-nakedness, gave them sometimes a
doublet, sometimes a shirt, or some other article of clothing, which of
course they immediately sold. The _francs mitoux_, who were never taxed
above five sous, were sickly members of the fraternity, or at all events
pretended to be such; they tied their arms above the elbow so as to stop
the pulse, and fell down apparently fainting on the public footpaths. We
must also mention the _ruffés_ and the _millards_, who went into the
country in groups begging (Fig. 376). The _capons_ were cut-purses, who
hardly ever left the towns, and who laid hands on everything within their
reach. The _courtauds de boutanche_ pretended to be workmen, and were to
be met with everywhere with the tools of their craft on their back, though
they never used them. The _convertis_ pretended to have been impressed by
the exhortations of some excellent preacher, and made a public profession
of faith; they afterwards stationed themselves at church doors, as
recently converted Catholics, and in this way received liberal

Lastly, we must mention the _drilles_, the _narquois_, or the people of
the _petite flambe_, who for the most part were old pensioners, and who
begged in the streets from house to house, with their swords at their
sides (Fig. 377). These, who at times lived a racketing and luxurious
life, at last rebelled against the Grand Coesre, and would no longer be
reckoned among his subjects - a step which gave a considerable shock to the
Argotic monarchy.

[Illustration: Fig. 377. - The _Drille_ or _Narquois_. - From painted
Hangings from the Town of Rheims (Fifteenth Century).]

[Illustration: Fig. 378. - Perspective View of Paris in 1607. - Fac-simile
of a Copper-plate by Léonard Gaultier. (Collection of M. Guénebault,

There was another cause which greatly contributed to diminish the power
as well as the prestige of this eccentric sovereign, and this was, that
the cut-purses, the night-prowlers and wood-thieves, not finding
sufficient means of livelihood in their own department, and seeing that
the Argotiers, on the contrary, were always in a more luxurious position,
tried to amalgamate robbery with mendicity, which raised an outcry amongst
these sections of their community. The archisuppôts and the cagoux at
first declined such an alliance, but eventually they were obliged to admit
all, with the exception of the wood-thieves, who were altogether excluded.
In the seventeenth century, therefore, in order to become a thorough
Argotier, it was necessary not only to solicit alms like any mere beggar,
but also to possess the dexterity of the cut-purse and the thief. These
arts were to be learned in the places which served as the habitual
rendezvous of the very dregs of society, and which were generally known as
the _Cours des Miracles_. These houses, or rather resorts, had been so
called, if we are to believe a writer of the early part of the seventeenth
century, "Because rogues ... and others, who have all day been cripples,
maimed, dropsical, and beset with every sort of bodily ailment, come home
at night, carrying under their arms a sirloin of beef, a joint of veal, or
a leg of mutton, not forgetting to hang a bottle of wine to their belt,
and, on entering the court, they throw aside their crutches, resume their
healthy and lusty appearance, and, in imitation of the ancient
Bacchanalian revelries, dance all kinds of dances with their trophies in
their hands, whilst the host is preparing their suppers. Can there be a
greater _miracle_ than is to be seen in this court, where the maimed walk

[Illustration: Fig. 379. - _Cour des Miracles_ of Paris. Talebot the
Hunchback, a celebrated Scamp during the Seventeenth Century. - From an old
Engraving in the Collection of Engravings in the National Library of

In Paris there were several _Cours des Miracles_, but the most celebrated
was that which, from the time of Sauval, the singular historian of the
"Antiquities of Paris," to the middle of the seventeenth century,
preserved this generic name _par excellence_, and which exists to this day
(Fig. 379). He says, "It is a place of considerable size, and is in an
unhealthy, muddy, and irregular blind alley. Formerly it was situated on
the outskirts of Paris, now it is in one of the worst built, dirtiest, and
most out-of-the-way quarters of the town, between the Rue Montorgueil, the
convent of the Filles-Dieu, and the Rue Neuve-Saint-Sauveur. To get there
one must wander through narrow, close, and by-streets; and in order to
enter it, one must descend a somewhat winding and rugged declivity. In
this place I found a mud house, half buried, very shaky from old age and
rottenness, and only eight mètres square; but in which, nevertheless,
some fifty families are living, who have the charge of a large number of
children, many of whom are stolen or illegitimate.... I was assured that
upwards of five hundred large families occupy that and other houses
adjoining.... Large as this court is, it was formerly even bigger....
Here, without any care for the future, every one enjoys the present; and
eats in the evening what he has earned during the day with so much
trouble, and often with so many blows; for it is one of the fundamental
rules of the Cour des Miracles never to lay by anything for the morrow.
Every one who lives there indulges in the utmost licentiousness; both
religion and law are utterly ignored.... It is true that outwardly they
appear to acknowledge a God; for they have set up in a niche an image of
God the Father, which they have stolen from some church, and before which
they come daily to offer up certain prayers; but this is only because they
superstitiously imagine that by this means they are released from the
necessity of performing the duties of Christians to their pastor and their
parish, and are even absolved from the sin of entering a church for the
purpose of robbery and purse-cutting."

Paris, the capital of the kingdom of rogues, was not the only town which
possessed a Cour des Miracles, for we find here and there, especially at
Lyons and Bordeaux, some traces of these privileged resorts of rogues and
thieves, which then flourished under the sceptre of the Grand Coesre.
Sauval states, on the testimony of people worthy of credit, that at
Sainte-Anne d'Auray, the most holy place of pilgrimage in Brittany, under
the superintendence of the order of reformed Carmelite friars, there was a
large field called the _Rogue's Field_. This was covered with mud huts;
and here the Grand Coesre resorted annually on the principal solemn
festivals, with his officers and subjects, in order "to hold his council
of state," that is to say, in order to settle and arrange respecting
robbery. At these _state_ meetings, which were not always held at
Sainte-Anne d'Auray, all the subjects of the Grand Coesre were present,
and paid homage to their lord and master. Some came and paid him the
tribute which was required of them by the statutes of the craft; others
rendered him an account of what they had done, and what they had earned
during the year. When they had executed their work badly, he ordered them
to be punished, either corporally or pecuniarily, according to the gravity
of their offences. When he had not himself properly governed his people,
he was dethroned, and a successor was appointed by acclamation.

[Illustration: Fig. 380. - Beggar playing the Fiddle, and his Wife
accompanying him with the Bones. - From an old Engraving of the Seventeenth

At these assemblies, as well as in the Cours des Miracles, French was not
spoken, but a strange and artificial language was used called _jargon_,
_langue matoise, narquois_, &c. This language, which is still in use under
the name of _argot_, or slang, had for the most part been borrowed from
the jargon or slang of the lower orders. To a considerable extent,
according to the learned philologist of this mysterious language, M.
Francisque Michel, it was composed of French words lengthened or
abbreviated; of proverbial expressions; of words expressing the symbols of
things instead of the things themselves; of terms either intentionally or
unintentionally altered from their true meaning; and of words which
resembled other words in sound, but which had not the same signification.
Thus, for mouth, they said _pantière_, from _pain_ (bread), which they put
into it; the arms were _lyans_ (binders); an ox was a _cornant_ (horned);
a purse, a _fouille_, or _fouillouse_; a cock, a _horloge_, or timepiece;
the legs, _des quilles_ (nine-pins); a sou, a _rond_, or round thing; the
eyes, _des luisants_ (sparklers), &c. In jargon several words were also
taken from the ancient language of the gipsies, which testifies to the
part which these vagabonds played in the formation of the Argotic
community. For example, a shirt was called _lime_; a chambermaid,
_limogère;_ sheets, _limans_ - words all derived from the gipsy word
_lima_, a shirt: they called an écu, a _rusquin_ or _rougesme_, from
_rujia_, the common word for money; a rich man, _rupin_; a house, _turne_;
a knife, _chourin_, from _rup, turna_, and _chori_, which, in the gipsy
tongue, mean respectively silver, castle, and knife.

From what we have related about rogues and the Cours des Miracles, one
might perhaps be tempted to suppose that France was specially privileged;
but it was not so, for Italy was far worse in this respect. The rogues
were called by the Italians _bianti_, or _ceretani_, and were subdivided
into more than forty classes, the various characteristics of which have
been described by a certain Rafael Frianoro. It is not necessary to state
that the analogue of more than one of these classes is to be found in the
short description we have given of the Argotic kingdom in France. We will
therefore only mention those which were more especially Italian. It must
not be forgotten that in the southern countries, where religions
superstition was more marked than elsewhere, the numerous family of rogues
had no difficulty in practising every description of imposture, inasmuch
as they trusted to the various manifestations of religions feeling to
effect their purposes. Thus the _affrati_, in order to obtain more alms
and offerings, went about in the garb of monks and priests, even saying
mass, and pretending that it was the first time they had exercised their
sacred office. So the _morghigeri_ walked behind a donkey, carrying a bell
and a lamp, with their string of beads in their hands, and asking how they
were to pay for the bell, which they were always "just going to buy." The
_felsi_ pretended that they were divinely inspired and endowed with the
gift of second sight, and announced that there were hidden treasures in
certain houses under the guardianship of evil spirits. They asserted that
these treasures could not be discovered without danger, except by means of
fastings and offerings, which they and their brethren could alone make, in
consideration of which they entered into a bargain, and received a certain
sum of money from the owners. The _accatosi_ deserve mention on account of
the cleverness with which they contrived to assume the appearance of
captives recently escaped from slavery. Shaking the chains with which they
said they had been bound, jabbering unintelligible words, telling
heart-rending tales of their sufferings and privations, and showing the
marks of blows which they had received, they went on their knees, begging
for money that they might buy off their brethren or their friends, whom
they said they had left in the hands of the Saracens or the Turks, We must
mention, also, the _allacrimanti_, or weepers, who owed their name to the
facility which they possessed of shedding tears at will; and the
_testatori_, who, pretending to be seriously ill and about to die,
extorted money from all those to whom they promised to leave their
fortunes, though, of course, they had not a son to leave behind them. We
must not forget the _protobianti_ (master rogues), who made no scruple of
exciting compassion from their own comrades (Fig. 381), nor the
_vergognosi_, who, notwithstanding their poverty, wished to be thought
rich, and considered that assistance was due to them from the mere fact of
their being noble. We must here conclude, for it would occupy too much
time to go through the list of these Italian vagabonds. As for the German
(Figs. 382 and 383), Spanish, and English rogues, we may simply remark
that no type exists among them which is not to be met with amongst the
Argotiers of France or the Bianti of Italy. In giving a description,
therefore, of the mendicity practised in these two countries during the
Middle Ages, we are sure to be representing what it was in other parts of

[Illustration: Fig. 381. - Italian Beggar. - From an Engraving by Callot.]

[Illustration: Figs. 382 and 383. - German Beggars. - Fac-simile of a
Woodcut in the "Cosmographie Universelle" of Munster: in folio, Basle,

The history of regular robbers and highwaymen during this long period is
more difficult to describe; it contains only disconnected anecdotes of a
more or less interesting character. It is probable, moreover, that robbers
did not always commit their depredations singly, and that they early
understood the advantages of associating together. The _Tafurs_, or
_Halegrins_, whom we notice as followers of Godefroy de Bouillon at the
time of the Crusades, towards the end of the eleventh century, were
terribly bad characters, and are actually accused by contemporary writers
of violating tombs, and of living on human flesh. On this account they
were looked upon with the utmost horror by the infidels, who dreaded more
their savage ferocity than the valour of the Crusaders. The latter even,
who had these hordes of Tafurs under their command, were not without
considerable mistrust of them, and when, during their march through
Hungary, under the protection of the cross, these miscreants committed
depredations, Godefroy de Bouillion was obliged to ask pardon for them
from the king of that country.

An ancient poet has handed down to us a story in verse setting forth the
exploits of Eustace the monk, who, after having thrown aside his frock,
embraced the life of a robber, and only abandoned it to become Admiral of
France under Philip Augustus. He was killed before Sandwich, in 1217. We
have satisfactory proof that as early as the thirteenth century sharpers
were very expert masters of their trade, for the ingenious and amusing
tricks of which they were guilty are quite equal to the most skilled of
those now recorded in our police reports. In the two following centuries
the science of the _pince_ and of the _croc_ (pincers and hook), as it was
then called, alone made progress, and Pathelin (a character in comedy, and
an incomparable type of craft and dishonesty) never lacked disciples any
more than Villon did imitators. We know that this charming poet, who was
at the same time a most expert thief, narrowly escaped hanging on two
occasions. His contemporaries attributed to him a poem of twelve hundred
verses, entitled "Les Repues Franches," in which are described the methods
in use among his companions for procuring wine, bread, meat, and fish,
without having to pay for them. They form a series of interesting
stories, the moral of which is to be gathered from the following lines: -

"C'est bien, disné, quand on eschappe
Sans desbourcer pas ung denier,
Et dire adieu an tavernier,
En torchant son nez à la nappe."

The meaning of this doggrel, which is somewhat broad, may be rendered - "He
dines well who escapes without paying a penny, and who bids farewell to
the innkeeper by wiping his nose on the tablecloth."

Side by side with this poem of Yillon we ought to cite one of a later
period - "La Légende de Maître Faifeu," versified by Charles Boudigné. This
Faifeu was a kind of Villon of Anjou, who excelled in all kinds of
rascality, and who might possibly have taught it even to the gipsies
themselves. The character of Panurge, in the "Pantagruel," is no other
than the type of Faifeu, immortalised by the genius of Rabelais. We must
also mention one of the pamphlets of Guillaume Bouchet, written towards
the end of the sixteenth century, which gives a very amusing account of
thieves of every description, and also "L'Histoire Générale des Larrons,"
in which are related numerous wonderful tales of murders, robberies, and
other atrocities, which made our admiring ancestors well acquainted with
the heroes of the Grève and of Montfaucon. It must not be supposed that in
those days the life of a robber who pursued his occupation with any degree
of industry and skill was unattended with danger, for the most harmless
cut-purses were hung without mercy whenever they were caught; the fear,
however, of this fate did not prevent the _Enfants de la Matte_ from
performing wonders.

Brantôme relates that King Charles IX. had the curiosity to wish to "know
how the cut-purses performed their arts with so much skill and dexterity,"
and begged Captain La Chambre to introduce to him, on the occasion of a
banquet and a ball, the cleverest cut-purses, giving them full liberty to
exhibit their skill. The captain went to the Cours des Miracles and
fetched ten of the most expert of these thieves, whom he presented to the
King. Charles, "after the dinner and the ball had taken place, wished to
see all the plunder, and found that they had absolutely earned three
thousand écus, either in money from purses, or in precious stones, pearls,
or other jewels; some of the guests even lost their cloaks, at which the
King thought he should die of laughter." The King allowed them to keep
what they had thus earned at the expense of his guests; but he forbad them
"to continue this sort of life," under penalty of being hung, and he had
them enrolled in the army, in order to recompense them for their clever
feats. We may safely assert that they made but indifferent soldiers.

[Illustration: Fig. 384. - The Exhibitor of strange Animals (Twelfth
Century Manuscript, Royal Library of Brussels).]


Origin of Modern Ceremonial. - Uncertainty of French Ceremonial up to the
End of the Sixteenth Century. - Consecration of the Kings of
France. - Coronation of the Emperors of Germany. - Consecration of the
Doges of Venice. - Marriage of the Doge with the Sea. - State Entries of
Sovereigns. - An Account of the Entry of Isabel of Bavaria into
Paris. - Seats of Justice. - Visits of Ceremony between Persons of
rank. - Mourning. - Social Courtesies. - Popular Demonstrations and
National Commemorations. - New Year's Day. - Local Festivals. - _Vins
d'Honneur._ - Processions of Trades.

Although society during the Middle Ages was, as a whole, closely cemented
together, being animated by the same sentiments and imbued with the same
spirit, it was divided, as we have already stated, into three great
classes, namely, the clergy, the nobility, and the _liers-état._ These
classes, each of which formed a distinct body within the State, carried on
an existence peculiar to itself, and presented in its collective capacity
a separate individuality. Hence there was a distinct ceremonial for each
class. We will not attempt to give in detail the innumerable laws of these
three kinds of ceremonial; our attention will be directed solely to their
most characteristic customs, and to their most remarkable and interesting
aspects taken as a whole. We must altogether lay aside matters relating
specially to ceremonies of a purely religions character, as they are
connected more or less with the traditions and customs of the Church, and
belong to quite a distinct order of things.

"When the Germans, and especially the Franks," says the learned
paleographer Vallet de Viriville, "had succeeded in establishing their
own rule in place of that of the Romans, these almost savage nations, and

Online LibraryPaul LacroixManners, Custom and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period → online text (page 34 of 39)