Fun Fact

One man’s death is another man’s trophy ~ John the Blind’s death at Crécy (1346)

The Prince of Wales’s feathers

The legend would have that the Prince of Wales’s feathers date from the Battle of Crécy. Once the French army had been routed, the Black Prince came across the dead body of John the Blind, King of Bohemia. Froissart do actually state that the Prince of Wales and his father, the King of England, dressed in black to pay their respect to their honourable foe. Yet another tale reports that the Black Prince, to pay tribute to the King of Bohemia, took the feathers from the latter’s helmet for himself then even went on to adopt his motto: ‘Ich Dien.’

This romantic version of the story is counterbalanced by a more ludicrous one. The King of Bohemia being blind, it’s believed that he was told when and where to strike with this sword. ‘To the left, Your Majesty! Now, to the right!’ As the joke goes, Henry the Monk of Basel shouted those words to John the Blind once they broke into the English ranks.

Great scene from Orange is the New Black, season 06 – episode 02, bringing back the Cha-cha slide! From today’s standard, it would be easy to deem John the Blind as mentally unstable as “Crazy Eyes”.

Both knights heroically charged the English at Crécy, on August 26th, 1346. Following the Duke of Alençon, they pierced through the fleeing Genoese crossbowmen, maybe trampling a few. A downpour of arrows rained on them. John the Blind couldn’t see anything but he had been advised of the danger. With no regard for his life nor his safety, he had charged nonetheless. His horse had been tethered to those of his companions to help him steer his steed onto the right direction.

‘To the left, Your Majesty! Now, to the right!’ Basel sounded as if he was instructing John the Blind the basic steps of the cha-cha slide. Yet he was telling him when and where to bash his sword on enemy heads. This alleged quote is supposed to deride John the Blind’s last moments. He died at Crécy while charging head on an enemy he couldn’t see. Sure! From a modern point of view, it makes no sense. Why would anyone do that?

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2643, f. 165v ~ Depiction of the Battle of Crécy in Froissart’s chronicle. As the Genoese crossbowmen get slaughtered by the English longbowmen, we see French knights charging through while the rest of the army already turns back.

The fact is that the modern rules of warfare don’t apply on a medieval battlefield. It was expected from Kings and their commanding officers to step on the frontline and to lead from the very front row. It was up to them to behave the way superheroes do today in movies and honour a long literary tradition of valour, bravery and gallantry. I mean, they had the suit and everything. Who could be more dashing on the battlefield than a knight in shining armour dressed up with the coat of arms of his family? They craved to become the fabric of legend and to get a tenth spot among the the Nine Worthies, alongside Alexander, David and Arthur. We need to remember that back then, written history was barely anything but tales of war. There was no study of the economical impact of the Cistercian order in eastern Europe. Only tales of Teutonic knights slaying pagans in the name of God. Tales to which John the Blind contributed himself, by the way.

Sure, when John the Blind does it it’s stupid. But when Captain America and Black Panther go at it, it’s epic. Double standards much?

John the Blind’s death reminds us that mankind isn’t the most level-headed of species. We do tend to act on impulse rather than reason. However it would be wrong to assume that as he charged at Crécy, John the Blind drowned himself in some ‘collective dream’ fixated on an outdated and nostalgic idea of chivalry.

More on that in my next post!

Disclaimer. Sources and further readings to be found at the end of the John the Blind’s series

Fun Fact

Do werewolves indulge into binge-drinking ? ~ Werewolves of the Baltic Sea

Les loups-garous abusent-ils de la bouteille ?
[Version française en-dessous / Read the story in French below]

You know the song, you know how it goes.

It’s close to midnight
Something evil’s lurking from the dark
Under the moonlight                            
You see a sight that almost stops your heart!

The one and only Michael Jackson.

Now, do the dance!

Don’t fret. I did it too. There should be some video out there to prove it.

Nowadays people dress-up as werewolves for fun on Halloween. However it was at Christmas that werewolves came out and attacked the Forest People of Scandinavia back in the 16th century. I’m not making it up. Olaus Magnus bares witness for it.

“On the feast of Christ’s nativity, towards nightfall in a place already agreed amongst them, there collects a vast horde of men from different areas who have changed into wolves, and later that same night they turn their incredible barbarity upon human beings and harmless animals. […] As it is perfectly well known, they attack the homes of the forest-dwellers with unbelievable savagery, even attempting to break down their doors with the intention of devouring the inmates and all other living things within the building.”
(extract from Olaus Magnus, A Description of the Northern Peoples (1555), book 18, chapter 45, translated by P. G. Foote)

Olaus’ French translator replaced the “as it is perfectly well known” segment with a clause that goes more like “as we experienced it ourselves”. Did it mean that Olaus saw werewolves with his own eyes? It would be amazing. I had to double-check it. Therefore I went as far as to read the Latin original text, which is quite easy to find. Here is what is actually written: “Nam uti compertum habetur.” This phrasing is unfortunately quite impersonal and doesn’t implicate Olaus’ direct experience of the werewolves. Damn it.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 616, f. 96v ~ Contrarily to the werewolf, the common wolf can be easily hunted down.

Yet, Olaus provides us a very good tip as how to distinguish the werewolf from the common wolf. It’s quite simple really. The werewolf is a drunk!

“They enter an alecellar, and there drain several casks of beer or mead, after which they pile up the empty barrels in the middle of the cellar, one on top of the other, a habit in which they behave very differently from ordinary wolves.”

No shit Sherlock! I have a zoological book on wolves, no where can we find that they enjoy any type of alcohol. Believe me I looked.

Now. Main question. Do men and women turn into werewolves only when the Moon is full? I’ll answer to that on my next post on werewolves, very soon. We only started this journey into the darkness! My next posts should also be a bit longer, but only if you really-really like it. Share this story, put down a comment and ask for more.

I’ll admit I’m a drama queen. Now. Be a good reader. Give me some love or I’ll quit!

As if I could ever quit writing…

[The second part of this post series is now published!]

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 616, f. 31v ~ Wolves in their natural habitat.

Toi même tu connais les paroles, ne t’en caches pas.

It’s close to midnight
Something evil’s lurking from the dark
Under the moonlight                            
You see a sight that almost stops your heart!

Allez, danse!

T’inquiète. Je l’ai fait aussi. Il y a certainement une vidéo quelque part pour le prouver.

De nos jours les gens se déguisent en loups-garous pour s’amuser le soir d’Halloween. Toutefois, c’était à Noël que les loups-garous attaquaient le peuple des Forêts de Scandinavie au 16e siècle. Je n’invente rien. Olaus Magnus en est témoin !

« À l’époque de Noel, en effet, une grande troupe de loups qui jadis étaient des hommes se rassemble la nuit en un lieu dont ils ont convenu ; ensuite, pendant une seule et même nuit, ils agressent avec une sauvagerie inouïe les hommes et les autres créatures vivantes qui n’ont pas cette nature furieuse. […] Comme nous en avons fait l’expérience à nos dépens, ils s’attaquent en effet avec une haine incroyable aux maisons des habitants des forêts et tentent même d’en forcer les portes pour y dévorer hommes et animaux qui s’y trouvent. »

La traduction française d’Olaus écrit « comme nous en avons fait l’expérience », toutefois la traduction anglaise donne une tournure plutôt du genre « comme il est parfaitement établi ». Vous comprenez, dès lors, que je devais vérifier par moi-même si Olaus Magnus avait été le témoin direct d’une attaque de loups-garous. La chose eût été trop belle ! Hélas, en latin dans le texte, il écrit : « Nam uti compertum habetur. » Ce qui rejoint plutôt la traduction anglaise impersonnelle. Flûte.

Cependant, Olaus nous donne un précieux conseil pour distinguer les loups-garous des loups ordinaires. La chose est assez simple. Les loups-garous sont des ivrognes !

« Ils pénètrent dans les celliers pour y vider force tonneaux de bière ou d’hydromel, puis il entassent les fûts vides les uns sur les autres au milieu du cellier : ainsi les distingue-t-on des vrais loups. »

Je dirais même plus, mon cher Dupont ! Ayant fouillé l’un de mes ouvrages zoologiques consacré aux loups, j’affirme sur l’honneur n’y avoir absolument rien trouvé sur la consommation d’alcool par ces nobles bêtes.

Une question demeure. Elle est grosse comme une maison. La voici, la voilà : « Ne peut-on se transformer en loup-garou qu’à condition qu’il y ait une pleine Lune dans le ciel ? » Afin de maintenir le suspens, j’y répondrai dans mon prochain billet sur le sujet. Celui-là devrait être un peu plus long, également, mais uniquement si celui-ci vous a vraiment, vraiment plu. Partagez cette histoire, laissez un petit commentaire et demandez-m’en plus !

Je suis une diva, je l’admets. Allez, soyez un bon lecteur. Donnez-moi un peu d’amour où j’abandonne tout.

Genre. Comme si je pouvais m’arrêter d’écrire…

Fun Fact

How Philip the Good wished that his son proved his manhood

Comment Philippe le Bon espéra que son fils prouvât sa valeur
[Version française ci-dessous / Read the story in French below]

Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, had quite a string of bastards, but only one legitimate son, who would later be known as Charles the Bold. The latter’s mother, Isabel of Portugal, cherished him. He was the only son she had who survived beyond infancy.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2644, f. 265r

Charles would later on prove to be a very skilled tactician and fighter. Yet, at the prime age of seventeen, he still pretty much had everything to prove. No surprise there, young noble lads were only supposed to start their proper military training between fourteen and sixteen years old. They usually didn’t launch their chivalrous career before they reached eighteen.

Nevertheless, as Charles was in Brussels with his father and mother, it was decided he would engage in his very first official jousting event. That was well beyond what was expected from someone his age.

One question was on every lips. Who would face the heir apparent to Philip the Good, the mightiest Duke of Christendom? It had to be an honourable knight, for sure. Yes, well, certainly someone of note!

After much deliberation, it was concluded that the young Charles would face Jacques de Lalaing, the most adored knight of the court, but not only that, Jacques was the best knight of his time. His skills were so unparalleled that no-one, in the whole kingdom of France, dared to challenge him when he had called out for people to meet him on knightly venues.

Jacques de Lalaing had had to go all the way to Spain to find worthy opponents!

That day on the Grand’Place of Brussels, which was very different to the one we know today —for the French hadn’t bombarded it yet—, Charles of Burgundy met Jacques of Lalaing on the jousting field.

Paris, BnF, fr. 2644, f. 142r

Jacques of Lalaing was a careful man. On the first charge he didn’t lower his spear, yet the heir of Burgundy shattered his on Jacques’ shield. When he witnessed such a thing, Philip the Good was much displeased. “Don’t spare my son, go at it!” The Duchess Isabel didn’t like such an idea. On one hand she wanted her son to be safe. Jousts were not always the merriest business. On the other hand the Duke wished his son to prove his strength. The noble couple argued. Nevertheless, Jacques of Lalaing fulfilled his Lord’s wishes. The second time he charged the young Charles, he lowered his spears. The heir of Burgundy showed no fear. Both spears shattered on Charles’ and Jacques’ mutual shields. None of them fell from his steed. Philip the Good gloated with pride and everybody applauded at Charles’ prowess, happy to see that their Duke had a strong and healthy successor.

Charles the Bold, depicted by Rogier van der Weyden

Version française

Philippe le Bon, duc de Bourgogne, eut une ribambelle de bâtards. Toutefois, il n’eut qu’un seul fils légitime – que l’on surnomme aujourd’hui Charles le Téméraire. La mère de ce dernier, Isabelle de Portugal, le chérissait particulièrement. Deux de ses fils étaient morts en bas âge, Charles était le seul à avoir survécu.

De son vivant, l’héritier de Philippe le Bon démontra à maintes reprises ses talents de combattant et de tacticien. Néanmoins, au jeune âge de dix-sept ans, il avait encore tout à prouver. Alors qu’il se trouvait à Bruxelles avec son père et sa mère, il fut décidé qu’il se lancerait dans sa première joute officielle. Une question pendit toutefois à toutes les lèvres. Qui aurait l’honneur de l’affronter en premier ? Ce devrait être un preux chevalier, quelqu’un de remarquable. Après moult délibérations, il fut arrangé que le jeune Charles affronterait Jacques de Lalaing en personne, le chevalier le plus adoré de la cour de Bourgogne, un chevalier tel qu’aucun, en France, n’avait osé relever ses défis. Il avait dû se rendre jusqu’en Espagne pour trouver des adversaires dignes de l’affronter. Enfin, donc, Charles de Bourgogne rencontra Jacques de Lalaing sur la Grand’Place de Bruxelles, prêt à en découdre.

Jacques de Lalaing était un homme prudent. Quand il chargea la première fois, il ne baissa pas sa lance, bien que celle du jeune héritier de Bourgogne se rompît sur son écu. Quand il constata la chose, le duc de Bourgogne s’avéra bien mécontent. « N’épargne pas mon fils, va donc ! » La duchesse Isabelle n’appréciait guère une telle idée. Elle eût préféré que son fils restât en parfaite sécurité, mais le son époux désirait que son fils prouvât sa valeur. Le noble couple se disputa. Cependant, au second envol, Jacques de Lalaing respecta les vœux de son suzerain et abaissa sa lance. L’héritier de Bourgogne de montra aucun signe de faiblesse. Les deux lances se rompirent sur les boucliers respectifs de Charles et Jacques. Aucun d’eux ne chut de son destrier. Philippe le Bon exulta de fierté et tout le monde applaudit la prouesse du jeune Charles, bien heureux d’observer que le duc avait pour lui succéder un héritier aussi vaillant qu’en parfaite santé !

Olivier de la Marche, Mémoires. Edited by Henri Beaune & J. d’Arbaumont. Paris: Renouard, 1883-1888. Cf. t. 2, p. 214-215.

Further reading:
Martin de Riquer, “Les chevaleries de Jacques de Lalaing en Espagne”, in Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1991), 135/2, 351-365.

Fun Fact

The Barber and the Wizards

Le Barbier et les Sorciers
[Version française en dessous / Read the story in French below

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2646 ~ Charles VI first show signed of his sickness when he attacked his own guards when riding with his army to Britanny.

Charles VI of France fell to a strange sickness in the early years 1390’s and then proved unable to rule his kingdom. The Dukes of Burgundy and Orleans then fought for power. However, this story is not about those high and mighty lords that shred the Kingdom of France apart.

The Lords and Princes gravitating around the royal court tried everything to cure their King. They didn’t hesitate to solicit the help of wizards. Louis de Sancerre, Marshal of France, and second only to the Constable in the King’s Army, sent for two conjurers from the distant Guyenne to come to Paris. They claimed to be Augustinian friars. Yet they dressed as laymen and carried swords. “The roads are dangerous and we must protect ourselves,” the argued. If sometimes outlaws dressed as monks to deceive their prey, those two friars certainly liked to look like outlaws.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2644, f. 159v.

They were brought to the royal castle and they attended to the King. For a few days, the King felt better. Then he relapsed. He ran around in his castle, agonizing with pain. “In the name of the Lord,” he said to his courtiers, “if any of you is in any way responsible of the pain I endure, I beg you to show mercy and to kill me, now!” Everyone was in tears. So the Lords went back to the wizards, looking for answers. They deflected the problem and blamed the King’s barber, Merlin Joli, of having casted black magic unto the King..

Merlin Joli had a very high idea of his profession and his office. He had many reasons to do so. A barber back in the Late Middle Ages was not only a barber, but also a surgeon, a physician, the most skilled person you could find to fix your bones and save your life if you endured terrible injuries on the battlefield. Merlin Joli maintained that the trade of barber was a very important one. He had always devotedly and faithfully served his King. The two wizards nevertheless made up the rumour that he’d been seen alone at night, lurking around the corpses of hanged men to concoct dangerous spells. He could have been secretly studying anatomy, a bit like Leonardo Da Vinci had to do it himself a century later. Maybe the whole thing was totally made up. Merlin Joli was imprisoned anyway…

The King regained his full consciousness and peace of mind a few days later. He stormed the chancellery and demanded that his former barber be released at once! The Parliament couldn’t deny a direct order from the King. Merlin Joli was freed. He was granted to live as he saw fit, no harm being brought to himself or any of his possessions. However, the faithful barber was never again able to attend his King… because of two self-proclaimed wizards that were most probably nothing but charlatan.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2646, f. 176r ~ Being almost burned alive by his own brother didn’t help Charles VI with his paranoia…

Charles VI de France tomba étrangement malade au début des années 1390, et sa maladie le rendit souvent incapable de gouverner son royaume. Les ducs de Bourgogne et d’Orléans se disputèrent par conséquent le pouvoir, mais cette histoire ne les concerne pas.

Les seigneurs et princes de la cour du Roi tentèrent tout ce qu’ils purent pour le guérir. Ils n’hésitèrent pas même à faire recours à des sorciers. Louis de Sancerre, Maréchal de France, qui ne répondait que du Connétable à défaut du Roi, fit mander deux enchanteurs de la lointaine Guyenne, pour qu’on les amène à Paris. Ceux-ci prétendaient appartenir à l’Ordre de Saint Augustin. Pourtant, ils se revêtaient de façon laïque et portaient l’épée à la ceinture. « Les routes sont dangereuses, nous devons nous protéger ! » répondaient-ils quand on les accusait d’apostat. Si certains bandits portaient l’habit du moine pour leurrer leurs victimes, ces deux frères augustins avaient tous les atours de bandits.

Ils furent conduit au château royal, où ils furent logés tous frais payés, et ils furent conduits près du Roi. Prétendument grâce à leurs remèdes, le Roi se porta mieux pendant quelques jours. Toutefois il rechuta bientôt. Il se mit à courir dans son palais, criant de douleur. « Si un seul d’entre vous est complice du mal qui m’afflige, je vous en prie, par pitié, abrégez mes souffrances et tuez-moi sur le champ ! » adressa-t-il à ses courtisans. Tout el monde était en pleurs. Aussitôt les seigneurs de la cour sont retournés auprès des sorciers, exigeant des réponses. Ceux-ci détournèrent le problème an accusant le barbier du Roi, Merlin Joli, d’avoir pratiqué de la magie noire à l’encontre du roi.

Merlin Joli avait une très haute idée de sa profession et de son poste. Et il avait toutes les bonnes raisons pour cela. Un barbier, en ces temps reculés, servait également de chirurgien. Il était la personne la plus compétente pour vous sauver des pires blessures du champ de bataille. Merlin Joli maintenait que le métier de barbier était de la plus haute importance. Jusqu’alors, il avait toujours loyalement et dévotement servi son Roi. The deux sorciers, néanmoins, fabriquèrent une rumeur selon laquelle Merlin aurait été vu, à la nuit tombée, rôder près des cadavres des pendus pour confectionner ses sortilèges. Peut-être étudiait-il secrètement l’anatomie humaine, à la mode de Léonard de Vinci, avec un siècle d’avance. Sans doute ne s’agissait-il que d’une vaste fumisterie. Merlin Joli fut emprisonné quoi qu’il en soit.

Le Roi retrouva sa clarté d’esprit, quelques jours plus tard. Il tonna à son chancelier de faire libérer son barbier. L’ordre fut porté au Parlement et celui-ci ne put s’y soustraire. Il s’agissait d’un ordre direct. Merlin Joli fut libéré. Ses avoirs et sa personne n’avaient plus rien à craindre. Cependant, il ne put jamais servir son roi de nouveau… tout cela parce que deux soi-disant sorciers n’étaient en vérité rien d’autres que des charlatans.

Chronique du religieux de Saint-Denis. Edited by L. Bellaguet. Paris: Crapelet, 1839-1852. Cf. t. 2, p. 542-547.
Henri Moranvillé, « Le barbier de Charles VI », in Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes (1903), 64, 699-702.

Further reading:
Françoise Autrand, Charles VI. La folie du roi. Paris: Fayard, 1986

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Rouen. Illuminated manuscript.
Fun Fact

The Day Joan of Arc Ran Out Of Sass

Joan of Arc never failed to be breezy and impertinent when faced with her social higher-ups. That is one of her predominant character trait which makes her so charismatic. She was blunt. She was fearless. She bowed to no one but the King. She was fine damn ready to kick some ass and to admonish anyone whom she felt had crossed a line. She certainly was one of a kind.

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Chinon. Vaucouleurs. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc goes to Chinon to meet Charles VII – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 55v

Joan Meets Jean de Metz

“Should I lose my feet I’ll walk on my knees.”

When Jean de Metz first met her back in Vaucouleurs, where her journey started, she was wearing a threadbare red dress. “What are you doing here, darling?” he asked. She answered in a straightforward manner: “I’ve come here to talk with the Lord of Baudricourt, so that he would send me to the King. He won’t hear me, but I’ll get there. Should I lose my feet I’ll walk on my knees. No one in the world, nor any King, nor any Duke, nor any daughter of the King of Scotland, nor anyone else, can take back the realm. The King shall have no succour but mine!” Jean de Metz fell head over heels for Joan. He escorted her himself to Chinon after he had her dressed as a man. He would then follow her for several months [1].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Joan of Arc. Prostituées. Prostitutes.
Joan of Arc chasing prostitutes away from the camp

Joan riles the Duke of Lorraine

However, before they left Vaucouleurs for Chinon, Jean de Metz went with Joan to meet The Duke of Lorraine. The latter had invited the Maid to his court because he thought she could be a healer of some sort. She candidly told the Duke to ditch his mistress and be faithful to his wife. Then she went on to ask if René of Anjou, the Duke’s future son-in-law, could accompany her to Chinon. The ten years old prince belonged to the highest nobility. He was cousin to the King. Joan really got some nerve. Yet her request was unabashedly denied [2].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Charles VII.
Joan of Arc convinces Charles VII to go to Reims despite his advisors – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 61v

Joan Flames A Theologian

“I speak better French than you”

Joan eventually made her way to Chinon and met the King as she promised she would. At that point she was requested to meet theologians to vouch for her visions. Pierre Seguin was amongst those theologians and mighty doctors of the Church. He asked Joan which dialect she spoke. “I speak better French than you”, she replied, for he had a southern accent. He carried on to ask Joan to give a sign that she was indeed sent by God. She came out as sharp as a knife. “I didn’t come here to grant you tokens from God. Send me to Orleans. I’ll show you the sign you’re looking for. [3]

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Troyes. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc and Charles VII are given the keys of the city of Troyes – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 62r

Joan of Arc Mocks Dunois

“I come by God’s own guidance, which is far safer and wiser than yours.”

Joan went on to Orleans. On her way over there, the French army rode up to the East of the city to cross the river Loire. It pissed Joan, for John Talbot and his troops were sitting West of Orleans. If there was ever a fearsome captain, it was John Talbot. I found various occurrence of French armies avoiding him or fleeing upon his arrival to avoid to face him. Yet Joan had wished to meet him head on. She walked right to the man responsible of the coward itinerary, the Bastard of Orleans himself. “Is it on your advice that we cross the river here and not where Talbot and the English are?” The Bastard was rather startled to be addressed in such a fashion. “Yes it was!” he boasted. Joan put him back to his place: “Know, Bastard, that I come by God’s own guidance, which is far safer and wiser than yours. Right at that moment, the winds which had been unfavourable to cross the Loire turned and made the crossing possible. The Bastard couldn’t believe in his own eyes. From that moment onwards he had faith in Joan [4].

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 5054

Nevertheless Joan got captured in Compiegne, after she helped to liberate Orleans. Once captured and faced with her enemies, however, Joan didn’t tune down.

Joan Knows What Awaits Her

“I know very well that the English will have me killed”

Back in the 15th century, the English already used to yell “God damn!” whenever something displeased them. Therefore the French came up with a derisive and derivative nickname for them: they called the English the “Godons”. Joan hated anyone to call out the name of the Lord in vain, but she called the English Godons herself. She did so, although imprisoned in a cell, right in front of the earls of Stafford and Warwick, who ranked amongst the most powerful men of England. “I know very well that the English will have me killed. Yet a hundred thousand Godons couldn’t take the kingdom.” Stafford got so mad he draw his dagger with the clear intent to kill her. Warwick through herself in front of Joan to protect her. He would later protect her too from rape. You see, Warwick was of a sound state of mind. He wanted Joan killed properly: on the pyre like a heretic after a due trial to rob her from her mystical charisma [5].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Joan of Arc. Paris. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc besieges Paris – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 66v

Joan Faces Her Judges

“Should you tear my limbs apart…”

Joan however kept a full grip of herself when she met her judges: an army of theologians from the University of Paris who longed for her death. They tried to catch her off guard with theological traps when asking her if she believed she had received the grace of God. “I don’t know if God granted me his grace. If he has, I pray that he keeps to do so. If he hasn’t, I pray that he extends it to me,” she answered. Then they asked if Saint Michel was naked when he visited her. She thought the idea utterly ludicrous: “Do you think Our Lord doesn’t have clothes for him?” Eventually she was threatened with torture. She feared nothing. “Should you tear my limbs apart or split my soul from my body, I wouldn’t tell you otherwise. Should I tell you otherwise, then I would always argue that you forced me to.” They ruled out torture. They went for entrapment. At the end Joan was burned because she took on her male clothes after she swore she would not put them on again. If there ever was a thin pretext to kill someone, it was that one [6].

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Illuminated Manuscript. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Compiègne.
Joan is being captured by the Burgundians at Compiègne – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 70r
Paris, BnF, latin 9473. St Michael. Devil. Satan.
St Michael Facing the Devil – Paris, BnF, lat. 9473, f. 166r

How Joan Ghosted Her Best Friend…

Joan was around eighteen years old when she went on her quest to rescue the King of France. She was no more than nineteen when she died. She answered to the powerful and the wealthy with nothing but confidence and cheek. Yet, there is one person she didn’t dare to face, Hauviette. The latter said: “I’ve known her since I was a child. We grew up together, you see. We had a fun sleeping next to each other in the same bed when we were kids. Joan was good, pure and sweet. She liked to go church. People often made remarks about it and she felt a bit ashamed… She was like any other girl. She’d tend to her house and to her father’s cattle. She could spin wool too. There was a big tree not far from the village. We called it the tree of the fairies. We’d go there, with some bread and some nuts, and we’d play. We never saw any fairies. There was none.” Then, she added: “When Joan definitely left the village, she told me nothing. I only learned afterwards that she was gone. I cried a lot. She was so good and I loved her so much. She was my friend. [7]

Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Rouen. Illuminated manuscript.
Joan of Arc being burned as a heretic at Rouen – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 71r

More About Joan:

Quotes sources:

[1] Jules Quicherat, Procès de condamnation et de réhabilitation de Jeanne d’Arc. Paris: Jules Renouard, 1861-1869. Cf. t. 2, p. 436.
[2] Ibid., t. 3, 87.
[3] Ibid., t. 3, 204-205.
[4] Ibid., t. 3, 4-5.
[5] Ibid., t. 3, 122.
[6] Pierre Champion, Procès de Condamnation de Jeanne d’Arc. Paris: Honoré Champion, 1921. Cf. t. 2, p. 42, 151, 252-253.
[7] Quicherat (1861-1869), t. 2, 417-419.

Further readings:

Régine Pernoud & Marie-Véronique Clin, Jeanne d’Arc. Paris: Fayard, 1986
Philippe Contamine, Olivier Bouzy & Xavier Hélary, Jeanne d’Arc. Histoire et dictionnaire. Paris: Robert Laffont, 2012 (coll. Bouquins).

Fun Fact

The day when the English Parliament totally lost it back in 1346

Le jour où le Parlement anglais plongea dans l’absurdie, en 1436
[Version française en dessous / Read the story in French below]

“Ordeeer!” yells John Bercow as British MPs behave like children. “Gesticulation and shouting are way beneath your paygrade,” reminds the Speaker of the House to some of his peer when the occasion arise.

Best of John Bercow

As a foreigner, the House of Commons brings to me lots of giggles. It provides a stark contrast to all the dignified British characters we meet in novels or in movies. The Parliament never misses to give a fresh take on how British actually behave: not so much dignified as uppity and childish. They’re just like the rest of us.

Historically too, the British Parliament doesn’t fail to provide great moments of nonsense and utter irony. The following must be my favourite.

Epic brawl in the Ugandan Parliament.

As some of you may know English kings were bound to ask the Parliament for money whenever they wanted to wage their wars once the Magna Carta had been signed, in 1215. Nonetheless the Tudors proved to be very creative and they found ways to finance their projects without asking any help from the Parliament: Henry VIII robbed the monasteries of all their goods when he converted to Protestantism—isn’t that neat?—and Elizabeth Ist found it lucrative to protect any pirate attacking Spanish ships sailing of the New World in exchange of some monetary compensation. This story, however, doesn’t concern the Tudors, but rather focus on that good old Plantagenet who kicked off the Hundred Years War, Edward III.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2643, f. 157v ~ Edward III conquers Caen [Normandy, France].

“When the city of Caen fell to Edward III’s army in the summer of 1346, […] a document was discovered among the spoils, which had been drawn up in 1339 by Philippe VI and the Duke of Normandy, detailing a proposal for a second Conquest of England.” (Bellis, 2016, 60-61)

Needless is to say that when Edward III advertised that document to the British Parliament, the MPs lost all kind of restrain and self-control. They did so especially though because of one piece of information that was totally made up and added to the foresaid document. As the Parliament Rolls record, the document was “an ordinance … made by the great men of France and Normandy, to destroy and ruin the whole English nation and language”. (Ibid., 61)

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2643, f. 174r ~ Edward III’s wife, daughter of a French princess,
leads the English army against the Scots.

The threat on the English language was utterly bogus. Yet it worked like witchcraft! The Parliament immediately granted vast resources to Edward III to carry on with his war in France. However, here comes the punchline: “the allegation that French might eradicate English was made in French […] in a Parlement urged to come to the defence of a vernacular that it was not speaking.” (Ibid., 64)

Childish behaviour from French MP

« Sileeence ! » tonne John Bercow tandis que les parlementaires britanniques se comportent comme des enfants. « Gesticuler et crier est en-dessous de vous, » rappelle le président de la chambre à certains quand l’occasion l’exige.

En tant qu’étranger, la Chambre des Communes me bidonne. Elle offre un contraste saisissant avec la façon très digne dont les Anglais sont traditionnellement dépeints dans les romans ou les films. Le Parlement britannique n’en manque pas une pour nous instruire sur le comportement réel des Anglais : moins digne qu’arrogant et enfantin. En définitive, ils sont comme nous tous.

D’un point de vue historique, le Parlement anglais offre également des moments d’anthologie. Voici mon préféré.

Comme d’aucuns d’entre vous le savent déjà, depuis 1215 et la ratification de la Magna Carta, les rois d’Angleterre étaient contraints de convoquer le Parlement chaque fois qu’ils désiraient lever des fonds pour soutenir leur effort de guerre. Quelques Tudor astucieux ont trouvé le moyen de se passer du Parlement : Henri VIII a spolié les biens de l’Église quand il se convertit au protestantisme et sa fille, Élisabeth Ière, a largement cautionné les actes de piraterie à l’encontre des navires espagnols de retour du Nouveau Monde. Néanmoins, cette histoire ne les concerne pas. Cette histoire s’attache au roi qui débuta la Guerre de Cent Ans, ce bon vieux rejeton de la Maison de Plantagenêt, Édouard III.

« Quand la cité de Caen céda à l’armée d’Édouard III durant l’été 1346, un document fut trouvé, qui avait été rédigé en 1339 par Philippe VI et le duc de Normandie, proposant en détail une nouvelle conquête de l’Angleterre. » (Bellis, 2016, p. 60-61) Inutile de préciser que les parlementaires anglais ont perdu toute mesure quand le document leur fut présenté par Édouard III, surtout quand ils prirent connaissance d’une information factice et ajoutée audit document. Tels qu’ils prirent connaissance du document, il y était stipulé que « les grands hommes de France et de Normandie avaient pour dessein de détruire et de ruiner l’entière nation anglaise et sa langue. » (Ibid, 61)

Il n’y avait rien de plus bidon que cette menace à l’encontre de la langue anglaise. Mais elle fonctionna comme un charme. Le Parlement accorda immédiatement des ressources substantielles à Édouard III pour qu’il continue sa lutte contre les Français – et devenir le roi de ces derniers. Toutefois, ici vient la chute : « L’argument que le français pût éradiquer l’anglais fut prononcé en français auprès d’un “Parlement” appelé à défendre un parler vernaculaire qu’il ne parlait pas ! » (Ibid., p. 64)

Source: Joanna Bellis, The Hundred Years War in Literature. 1337-1600, Woodbridge, D.S. Brewer, 2016.

Fun Fact

One lone wolf against thirty thousand men!

Un loup solitaire contre trente mille hommes !
[Version française en dessous / Read the story in French below]

The following 15th century anecdote is by far one of my favourite. It was narrated by Enguerrand de Monstrelet, a Picard chronicler that most historians of the Hundred Years War know but that few have read on the account that his writing is tedious and boring, especially when compared to Froissart.

A younger version of myself, belly already showing,
as I stand next to a sculpture of Monstrelet in Cambrai [France]
~ © Stephane Bloch

The duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, had the plan to besiege Calais and take back the city from England’s grip. As we know however the city remained firmly under English control up until 1558. When I had the chance to visit Calais a few years ago I was baffled to notice the total lack, in the walls and the buildings, of any remembrance from this former British rule. Yet back in 1436, Philip the Good’s project was doomed to fail. The chroniclers give various interpretation nonetheless as to why the duke couldn’t meet his military ambitions. Monstrelet, more subtle than one could think, blames the Flemish. He does so gradually by picturing them the worst way possible. I wrote an article on the subject and I invite you to read it, but for this fun fact I’d rather like to focus on one particular moment.

How the people of Gent agreed to besiege Calais
at the call of Philip the Good ~ Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2679, f. 181r

As the Flemish gathered near Gravelines to display their military might to the duke of Burgundy, they had built an encampment that was most wonderful. Monstrelet says that from afar it looked like a real-sized properly settled city. Thirty thousand men had assembled. They talked a big deal and were assured that the people from Calais would give up their city without any fight, for they were the mighty people of Flanders and nothing could stand on their path. History proved them wrong. However, as Monstrelet also says, one lone wolf was suddenly spotted amongst the “Brugse zotten”. Panic ensued. All the Flemish militia took up arms, then fled to the other side of the river Aa. Rained started to pour, wind blew, and the Flemish were unable to rebuild their tents. They had to sleep as such on the muddy ground… because of one lone wolf. Go figure!

This anecdote is only told by Monstrelet. None of the other 15th century chroniclers who wrote about that day remember that moment. We know Monstrelet to be very trustworthy. However in this very instance, he may have exaggerated the facts. Nonetheless, it really set the mood for his reader ahead of the Calais debacle that unfolds a few pages later.

How the people of Gent started a revolt in 1437
when they came back from Calais ~ Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2679, f. 209r

L’anecdote suivante, qui date du 15e siècle, est de loin l’une de mes préférées. Elle est relatée par Enguerrand de Mosntrelet, un chroniqueur picard que la plupart des historiens médiévistes connaissent, mais que peu en vérité ont lu. De fait, l’écriture de Monstrelet est lourde et ampoulée, elle manque d’envol et de style, surtout quand on la compare à celle de Froissart.

Le duc de Bourgogne, Philippe le Bon, avait en tête d’assiéger la ville de Calais et de la reprendre aux Anglais. Comme on le sait toutefois, la ville demeura une enclave britannique jusqu’en 1558. Quand j’ai eu l’occasion de visiter Calais il y a quelques années, j’ai d’ailleurs été surpris qu’il ne restât dans les murs et les édifices de la ville aucune mémoire de cette réalité passée. Quoi qu’il en soit, en 1436, le projet de Philippe le Bon était voué à l’échec. Les chroniqueurs de l’époque ont expliqué de plusieurs façons pourquoi le duc n’a pu concrétiser ses ambitions militaires. Monstrelet, tout en subtilité, impute la faute aux Flamands. Il le fait par couches successives tout en décrivant les Flamands de la pire façon possible. J’ai écrit tout un article sur le sujet et je vous invite certes à le lire, mais j’aimerais m’attarder présentement sur un moment fort singulier.

Les Flamands se sont rassemblés près de Gravelines afin d’attester leur puissance militaire au duc de Bourgogne. Ce faisant, ils ont bâti un campement militaire qui mérite tous les compliments de Monstrelet. De loin, dit-il, on aurait dit une belle et grande ville. Trente mille hommes se sont ainsi réunis. De grandes gueules cela dit, ils fanfaronnaient à tout va que les gens de Calais se rendraient sans coup férir en les voyant arriver. Ils étaient les redoutables miliciens de Flandres, et rien ne se tiendrait sur leur passage. L’histoire leur prouva le contraire. Toutefois, comme le dit également Monstrelet, un loup solitaire fut aperçu parmi les Brugeois. Une panique généralisée s’ensuivit. Tous les Flamands s’armèrent puis s’enfuirent en sûreté sur l’autre rive de l’Aa. La pluie se mit à tomber. Le vent balaya la côte. Les Flamands furent dans l’incapacité de remonter leurs tentes et ils durent dormir ainsi sur le sol boueux… tout cela à cause d’un seul loup !

L’anecdote est exclusivement relayée par Monstrelet. Aucun des autres chroniqueurs du 15e siècle ayant écrit à propos de cette journée ne se souviennent de ce moment. Nous savons pourtant que Monstrelet est un historien très fiable. Cependant, pour le coup, il est bien possible qu’il ait tout à fait exagéré les faits. En tout cas, cela prépare mentalement son lecteur pour la débâcle de Calais qui l’on peut lire quelques pages plus loin.

Source: Enguerrand de Monstrelet, Chronicle, ed. Louis Douët-d’Arcq, vol. 5, p. 240-241.

Fun Fact

A most casual death for one of the most badass lord of the 14th century

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 616, f. 113v

Gaston Phebus, count of Foix-Béarn, was certainly one of the most fearsome lords the Pyrenees have ever known. He dealt with kings on an equal footing. Fierce on the battlefield, he spared not even his relatives. As Froissart tells the tale, he imprisoned then killed his own son after he uncovered a secret plan the latter had concocted to have him assassinated.

Happy family.

You’d expect the most glorious death from a man that held ground with 25 armed men against a mob of 6000 according to the Poet’s disciple*. You’d expect a gory end to the man who wrote the hunting manual of the Middle Ages and had an army of 1500 hounds. Yet…

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 616, f. 73v

Gaston Phebus had reached the honourable age of sixty when I saw fit, one morning, to go down the way to Pamplona and hunt a bear. You read it right. A bear. Don’t fret, though. He slayed the beast then turned around. On his way back to his castle he stopped in a cosy little inn. It was the summer and there was no air conditioning of course back then, therefore the main hall had been covered with freshly cut green branches to cool down the room. Fairies would have settled there. Gaston talked hounds with his most loyal friend and servant, they remembered how valiant the dogs had been earlier that day as the bear was hunted, then two men brought a basin of water to the count of Foix so that he could wash his hands before the food be served.

Gaston Phebus washed his hands. He felt strange. “I’m dying!” he said. Less than thirty minutes later… he passed away from a sudden apoplexy (probably a stroke). It was later proved that the water had not been poisoned. The two men who’d brought the basin had to wash their own hands in it several times. However, whenever someone asks me to wash my hands I ask the following: “Do you want to see me dead?” But no one ever gets the reference.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 616, f. 103r

Source: Froissart, Chronicle, ed. Académie royale de Belgique, vol. XI, p. 94-100; vol. XIV, p. 325-339

*The “Poet’s disciple” is no other than Eustache Deschamps, who granted his master, Guillaume Machaut, the title of “Poet”, ranking him as the equal of Virgil and Ovid.

Fun Fact

Bringing snowball fights to a whole new level in a 16th century fashion

Snowball fights are nowadays held in legitimate sporting tournaments in Japan (and all around the world). It is called Yukigassen and it is quite amazing. Two teams face each other and try to capture the other team’s flag. What’s funny though is that Nordic countries have adopted the sport whilst they have forgotten their own snowball fight traditions. Back then, players were not hiding behind tiny walls. No. They used to build real sized castles and walls!

Olaus’ illustration of his chapter on snowball fights

“Every winter, while the snow lasts, the young fellows, urged on by their elders, assemble in bands at some elevated spot, all working alike to fetch huge masses of snow. […] By their care and enthusiasm the forts are made so strong that they could stand up not only to light blows tut to brazen balls and even, if necessary, to the shock of tortoise formations. […] Under these, desiring not money but only praise, they embark on their enjoyable combat; neither party employs any other weapons except snowballs, thrown by hand from each side at the other.” (extract from Olaus Magnus, A Description of the Northern Peoples (1555), volume I, chapter 23, translated by P. G. Foote)

Wonderful ice castle built at the 2019 Hagin ice festival in China [link to source]

Olaus tells us more about this amazing forgotten tradition. Those fights were experienced like real life battles. There was a public. Quitters were severely punished and cheaters even more so. The first had snow shoved down their backs and were publicly insulted, the latter were plunged naked into icy water if they had hidden any stone or solid ice in their snowballs. Those fights were no joke. Sapping the walls was a legitimate strategy. The main goal however was already to capture a flag, or banner, from the team defending the castle.

Now that is something that I would pay to watch on TV. What about you? For a quick overview on Olaus teachings about Finland in the 16th century: follow that link!

Fun Fact

Shocking! “Hänsel und Gretel” is based on a true story.

The Grimm brothers are often praised for their imagination. We tend to forget how erudite they were. Who knows how many medieval chronicles they have read first hand?

Hansel & Gretel: witch hunters (2013). Promotion picture

Somewhere in 1438, bandits wandered around the city of Abbeville. As they sneaked in the middle of the night inside a house where a single woman lived in order to commit some crime, they fell upon children limbs that had been cut and salted. As they reported the crime, the woman was taken, put on trial and later on burned to death.

This anecdote is related by Enguerrand de Monstrelet, most known for his chivalric stories. I couldn’t find out if the Grimm brothers ever read his chronicle, but someone should certainly update the Wikipedia entry on child cannibalism! Eating children is not a Far East practice only. It happened in Europe too.