Of all the medieval motifs to choose from, why is the Fleur-de-lys so popular? Why don’t we see Papal staffs or English lions on fence posts, organisation logos and flags everywhere?
Side question: Where does it actually come from? It’s often listed as the coronation of Clovis in the 6th century, but some sources (not very trustworthy ones mind you) claim that the symbol dates back older than that.
Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?
In order to get to the bottom of this mystery, we need to consider a few things.
Why the well would I bring up such pointless trivia?
The fact is that the whole Clovis legend you mention is mentioned in Raoul de Presles’ translation of Augustine’s City of Godand that is because medieval translators didn’t only translated what they read, they also augmented their translations with new prologues, running commentaries and full-on exegeses. Don’t ask me why they did it, we’d be here for another hour at least. The fact is that they indulged themselves with such fancy rhetoric.
Raoul de Prelses translated the City of God for Charles V of France, therefore he wrote the latter a letter justifying his scholarly work and placed it at the beginning of it. Raoul de Prelses went on to talk about many things but first he had to remind how great, wise and noble Charles V of France actually was. Therefore he reminded the legend tying Clovis to the fleur-de-lys. Do you remember how Constantine converted to Christianism? Hold on to your seat because we’ve got some major flashback incoming.
According to the legend, Clovis was about to face a Saracen king who cut his way through Germany (not Spain) and was now threatening France. It was on this very battle that the battle-cries of “Monjoye” and “Saint-Denis” were shouted for the first time—just like La Hire would then shout them at Montargis, in 1427.
On the eve of battle, Clovis had a dream.He dreamt of three fleur-de-lys. The next day, he wiped what was then his emblem, three crescents (this version of the legend makes Clovis a Saracen himself!—in other versions of the tale, his emblem was made of three toads*), and replaced it with three fleur-de-lys. He then marched on to victory.
Raoul de Presles exposed as an obvious evidence that the legend was true that the Abbey of “Joie-en-Val”, which was allegedly founded after the battle—and is better known as the Abbey of Saint-Denis—still carried three fleur-de-lys on its escutcheon by his own lifetime. Let’s reckon that Raoul de Presles was very creative with archeological and heraldic materials but that he didn’t just made up the legend either. Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis, French official and chronicler, first came up with the idea in the 12th century. It was strongly passed on through the 13th century with the production of stained glasses and sculptures. Raoul de Presles merely revived the legend when he translated Augustine’s City of God, by the early 1370s, because around those very years, Charles V of France was changing the royal French coat of arms from “Azure semy-de-lys or” to “Azure, three fleurs-de-lys or”. As such, Charles V of France wished to symbolically tighten the knot between the French monarchy and the Holy Trinity, placing the kingdom of France under the direct protection of God—and himself, the king, as His direct representative on Earth.
* Michel Pastoureau (“Une fleur pour le roi. Jalons pour une histoire médiévale de la fleur de lis”, in Une histoire symbolique du Moyen Âge occidental. Paris: Seuil, 2004, p.110-124) quotes the manuscript Paris, BnF, fr. 22912, f. 3v and writes “crapaulx” (toads) instead of “croissans” (crescents) but this is a paleographic mistake. However, I didn’t have the time to cross-reference this finding with the latest edition of the BnF, fr. 22912 (Olivier Bertrand (ed.), La Cité de Dieu de saint Augustin traduite par Raoul de Presle (1371-1375), livres I à III, édition du manuscrit BnF fr. 22912. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013).
** The semy-de-lys didn’t vanish, though. However, only the “three fleur-de-lys” came to symbolise the French king as a person and individual once Charles V of France was done with it, whereas the “semy-de-lys” became more of a general emblem related to the royalty.
2. When and How Did It All Start?
If it didn’t start with Clovis? When did the big fashion for fleur-de-lys emblems actually begin? Was it with Charlemagne? Was it with Hugues Capet? None of the above! The first died in 814 and the second in 996. As stated before—we live and die by our mantra, each and every one of us—coat of arms only came into fashion by the 12th century. It is only then that fleur-de-lys emblems started to sprout all over Europe.
The fleur-de-lys had many thing going for it to promote its success. First, its abstract representation was pretty. It matters. Second, it was a flower named in the Holy Bible. In the Song of Songs no less! “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. | As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” (Song 2:1-2) Those verses were picked up in the Middle Age to further the devotion to the Virgin Mary. The lily became Mary’s flower. She was depicted either surrounded by lilies or holding a lily into her hand on several French coins and ecclesiastic seals during the 12th century.
When the time came for the kings of France to choose their own symbol, they liked the idea of placing their realm under the protection of the Virgin Mary. Since the lily was her flower, they would be crowned while carrying great blue coats covered with golden lilies (instead of stars, that other regal figures fancied). That way, as a symbolic gesture, they placed themselves under the protection of the queen of Heaven, the mother of God, Mary. The symbolism was quite long in the making*. It took a few kings to be properly picked up but by 1211, a royal French figure is for the first time depicted on a seal with a shield that displays a “semy-de-lys”.
By then, however, the fleur-de-lys was a proper heraldic emblem, only second in popularity to the lion, the eagle, or a few geometric figures. It was often encountered in various places such as the northern Low Countries, the Rhine valley, the duchy of Brabant, the county of Artois, the duchy of Tuscany, many regions in France, etc. On seals, it ranks among the most used symbols in Normandy, Flanders, Zeeland and Switzerland. It was imprinted on the emblem of peasant families, urban communities (such as guilds) and cities. The city of Lille, in France, bears the lily on its coat of arms because it makes up for a great pun. In Latin, the lily is called lilium, it resembled “Lille” enough to draw a visual parallel.
* Though it was long in the making, the symbolism also lasted very long. In the basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, which is a 19th century construction, we find a gorgeous mosaic of Louis XIII begging Mary to give him a son and secure the future of his realm. The prayer was heard and a son was born. He grew up to become Louis XIV. The Virgin Mary so appears, on several mosaics of the basilica, to have granted her special protection to the kingdom of France through the ages. Isn’t it amazing? How long symbols can survive?
3. The Fleur-de-Lys, Joan of Arc and the Medici
By the 15th century, the king of France started to share his emblematic fleur-de-lys to people, families and communities that supported him through hard times. I’ve already touched on it in my post about Joan of Arc’s origins but I don’t mind to cover the topic again. It’ll give me the opportunity to pile a few more details on the stack for you insatiable history geeks.
Some people have believed, because Joan of Arc was granted the right to carry a fleur-de-lys on her own coat of arms, that Charles VII secretly acknowledged her as his secret royal sister. What a prank! By the 15th century, French kings had already begun a long-lasting political strategy that we could tag as the hostile public takeover of power symbols. Just like they claimed that only them and no other could have inherited their aristocratic title “by the Grace of God”, they wished to monopolize the fleur-de-lys as their own symbol. The fleur-de-lys, despite its wide and ancient popularity, belonged to them, represented them, and was for them to “offer” to their most precious allies.
French kings would grant people the right to bear the fleur-de-lys on their coat of arms as a symbolic gesture of binding friendship.Joan of Arc wasn’t the only one to “receive” the fleur-de-lys from Charles VII. John Stewart of Darnley, Constable of the Scottish Army in France, was also granted the fleur-de-lys on his personal coat of arms, back in 1426, three years prior to Joan’s epic. Two cities at least, Tournay (1426-1427) and Saint-Maixant (1440) were also awarded fleur-de-lys for their valiant resistance against the “English”. Louis XI, who succeeded Charles VII, might have hated his father, but he understood the political finesse behind gifting the fleur-de-lys. He awarded it himself to the Medici family in 1465 for their precious aid.
The fact that two daughters of the Medici family later became queen of France certainly furthered the popularity of the fleur-de-lys. If you happen to visit the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, you will end up in a room which walls are covered with fleur-de-lys.
Conclusion: Charles VI, the Winged Deer and the Fleur-de-Lys
I started with the mystery of Charles VI’s winged deer. I haven’t forgotten about it. Truth is that the deer, just like the fleur-de-lys, carried a religious meaning. The deer had been interpreted by scholars and theologians as a “red beast” (meaning, a good beast) and as a symbol of Christ—for various reasons that would be too long to enumerate here. The lion, too, was a symbol of Christ, though it is a predator. On the contrary, wolves, bears or boars had become devilish avatars.
To conclude on that note, the popularity of the fleur-de-lys was boosted by its perception as a religious and then regal emblem. It quickly became a popular emblem on coat of arms from the very start, but its political (and spiritual) appropriation by the kings of France only made it more visible, meaningful and desirable.
What did you have to do to get tortured in the medieval days?
Would they do it to any criminal or did they only use torture for more serious crimes? Would they often torture innocent people for entertainment as well?
Ça alors! I was just reading my notes on that very topic earlier today. I hope you don’t mind if I share and translate them 😉
The Introduction of Torture in the 13th century
Torture came into fashion in the 13th century for very specific reasons. Namely, the (re)discovery of Roman law and its implementation by the Church. The 1215 Latran council recognised that trials by ordeals were a thing from the past and that since they were rational and modern beings, it was time to move on.
I was brave enough to conclude that “hard evidence is hard” in a former contribution but what is–you may ask–a proper piece of evidence?
When trials by ordeals where the norm, you were deemed innocent if you won a duel or if you had forty men to swear on a bible that you didn’t do what you had been accused of doing. Things like that. Depending on the case and the local customs.
Roman law, however, doesn’t work that way. You don’t have to prove your innocence. You’re innocent until proven guilty. The law doesn’t wait on someone to blame you for something. State officials have to record a crime to start an investigation. It is their job to find all the evidence that work for you or against you. In that regard, the Common law is a hybrid system.
Since you’re not guilty from the get-go according to the principles of Roman law, how do anyone prove you’re guilty of anything? What could be considered as a proper piece of evidence?
Case number one: you’ve been caught doing the crime you’re being charged with by sworn officials. Your crime is notorious and known to everybody. You head straight to sentencing.
Case number two: state officials find witnesses that can testify you did what you’re being charged with. There needs to be two of them and they must be male adults. This is sometimes quite difficult to find… Therefore medieval legists came with a work-around. A single male adult witness can be replaced by two women or two minors–because women are litterally viewed as minors in regard to the law and they will remain as such in most Western countries until… the 20th century.
Case number three: you CONFESS!
Confession, according to Roman law, is the queen of all evidence.However, what can you do when someone refuses to confess? That’s when torture comes into play. Back then, it was called “to put someone to the question.” The first mention of such practices date back from the 13th century. We’re not talking here about sentencing people to a horrible fate, but well about intimidating people with threats of pain or actual suffering in order to get confessions.
In the 16th century, Joos de Damhouder wrote a book about criminal practices (which quickly became a best-seller) and defined the use of torture. Some people couldn’t be put to the question: doctors (of laws, not physicians), knights, officials, children under the age of 14, pregnant women and old people (with exceptions in cases of regicide or witchcraft). Torture had to be done on people who were heavily suspected to be guilty of the crime they were being charged with and common gossip don’t make up for such practices. You must have at least half a proof that the person as commited the crime (which translate into one male adult witness or two minor witnesses).
Many people had to attend the act of torture for it to be valid too, among whom a physician.
It is not to say that some didn’t play fast and loose with torture or that some tortured souls didn’t enjoyed it. There must have been some cases. However, torture was a heavily codified judicial procedure and the judges who ordered it were well-educated men who dreaded the concept of appeal more than they cared for human lives. Especially by the 16th century, torture to be applied had to be approved by superior courts largely made of intellectuals who didn’t care much for brutality and violence.
Torture was ultimately challenged in the 18th century and deemed as an uneffective procedure. Voltaire led the charge during the “Affaire Calas”. The judicial authorities were already questioning the usefulness of torture. Only 5% of tortured people confessed in France, 30% in the Low Countries and, well, 50% in the Holy Roman Empire. It mostly depended on the legal conditions of torture. In France, by the mid-17th century, someone could only be put to the question two times for an hour and then the torture had to stop. In the Low Countries, someone could be put to the question up to seven times for a total time of 30 hours! In general, protestant countries were more prone to torture than catholic countries. Witchhunts in the protestant principalities of the Holy Roman Empire killed far more people than the infamous Spanish Inquisition.
Furthermore, I will note that the numbers I gave do include two types of torture. Someone can be put to the question to make him confess, that is one thing, but once he’s recognised as guilty, he can be put back again to the question! On that second “torture run”–which was generally far more brutal–he’d be asked to denounce his associates. This was, of course, the perfect occasion to blame someone you wanted to bring with you to the grave and it sometimes led to entire villages being accused of witchcraft and heresy when torture was implemented too quickly and neighbours didn’t like each others.
The 6 Most “Promising” Ways of Torture People in the Middle Ages
#1. The Strappado
Hanging someone by his arms as he is bound behind his back. Weights can also be attached to his feet for good measure.
#2. The Bench
Burning someone’s flesh with the help of ropes.
#3. The Waterboarding
Did you even think we only came up with it? Water was sometimes replaced with oil or vinager.
#4. The Waffle Iron
This was not a Belgian delicacy (for Belgian didn’t exist yet that torture had already been banned in the Low Countries), it involved pincers.
#5. The Spanish Boot
(Widely used in France.) You strap wooden planks tightly to someone’s leg then you hammer wooden wedges between the planks and the leg.
#6. The Collar
(Quite “popular” in Brabant and in the principality of Liege.) Someone stands up with his neck strapped in a piked collar. The pikes, of course, are facing inward. The collard is held up by ropes attached to walls. If you fall asleep… your neck will pay the price.
One Random Fun Fact
People who were put to torture often tried to assuage the pain that was inflicted to them. My “favourite” drug they used was–you can believe me or not, I’ve actually tracked down the source a long time ago (but it took me several days so I won’t do it again)–Marseille soap.
I was so shocked when I heard it from my university professor’s mouth that I stopped everything and said, out loud: “Did they farted soap bubbles?” He looked at me. His face was blank. I honestly don’t remember what he answered–I think he said yes (!?)–but he carried on like a pro.
One Solid Reference
Henry Ansgar Kelly, “Judicial Torture in Canon Law and Church Tribunals: From Gratian to Galileo”, in Catholic Historical Review. 2015, Vol. 101, Issue 4, p. 754-793.
On this day, today, 591 years ago, La Hire and Poton de Xaintrailles took a decisive victory at Patay over the “English”.
Orléans had been freed from the English siege at the beginning of May. The French army, for once, acted quickly and pressed its luck further. Jargeau, Meung and Beaugency were liberated from Lancastrian rule between the 11th and the 16th June. The lock on the Loire valley broke and the French could push further north.
Three most able captains were still holding the line on the English side. John Falstolf, John Talbot and Thomas Scales were regrouping and waiting for reinforcements at Patay. They still could turn the tide back to their advantage if the French proved slow enough to react, as they’d been several times in the past.
However, the actual leader of the French army had return from exile. In defiance of his many enemies at court and direct orders from the king, he wished to take back his rightful place at the top of the military hierarchy. The connétable of Richemont had learned from his many past mistakes and he knew better than not to trust the skilful captains that were serving under him despite their obscure origins. Now that he was there to lead them, they could finally circumvent the etiquette disputes that had plagued the French military strategy in the past. Now that Richemont was among them, there was no need to sit and wait for this or that duke to show up late and try to claim the spoils of victory for himself. They could charge head on and act upon every tactic advantage they mustered.
A few months ago, La Hire and his brothers-in-arms had encountered an English convoy but the duke of Bourbon had sent them orders not to attack until he’d reunited with them. It left all the time in the world for the English to reinforce their position and turn their carts into improvised fortification walls. Never a defeat had been more bitter-tasting to La Hire and his friends. However, as Richemont, their official military leader, was backing them, they could move swiftly around the Loire valley, track down the English and fall upon them as thunder on a mountain pass. Which they did!
Talbot and Scales were captured. Falstolf managed to flee. Since Agincourt (1415), the backbone of the English army had been made of longbowmen. Most of them were slaughtered and the loss of those many veterans proved to be an invaluable loss for the English army. The Loire valley was definitely secured and Orléans, once and for all, out of reach from Lancastrian grasp. Charles VII of Valois, despite the quibbling of his advisors, had won a decisive victory. He could attempt to retake Paris or chose to march onto Reims.
What about Joan of Arc, you may ask? While La Hire was pushing the vanguard forward as he’d done so splendidly in the past, she remained with the main corps of the army, besides the connétable of Richemont and the duke of Alençon. Louis de Coutes, her personal page, recounted many years later how she felt frustrated to be kept away from the action. She’d been kept in the dark at Orléans and it had driven her mad. She was to repeat the experience. The English were already routed when she arrived upon the battlefield. Falstolf attempted to take refuge at Janville but the city kept its gates shut. The English lord had to push even farther up north, to Étampes, then Corbeil. He’d been cheated from a chivalrous death to insure the retreat of his troops and Talbot, who ended up captured and put to ransom, never forgave him. As a result of the feud, Falstolf lost his status has knight of the Garter for several years, pending investigation, before he was reinstated.
How Age of Empires 2 Plays It Out
Following the siege of Orléans, the battle of Patay is the next installment of the Age of Empires 2 Joan of Arc campaign. If Orléans made you sweat, expect to end up out of breath at the end of this scenario. It isn’t a single castle that you need to destroy this time, but three of them! Moreover, the enemy is more vicious and obnoxious than ever. Building your economy while fighting off endless raids on your base will prove quite the challenge. It is time to wake up the micro-nerd within you, adapt and overcome your adversaries. You can do it! I believe in you!
General Tips to Triumph on your Own
Mind the fact that you actually begin with a large army. Take advantage of it! Time runs against you. The more time you grant the AI, the stronger it will get. Be like La Hire, especially since La Hire is actually among your troops during this scenario: cross the river, scout the enemy, find a weak spot and storm in as soon as possible!
Once you’ve inflicted a decisive starting blow to your enemy, secure as many resources as possible. Fall back on your classic Fast Castle build order, move up to the Castle Age and build town centers and castles near as many gold and stone mines as possible.
Beware not to over-extend though. You must secure your footing and push back against enemy raids. Don’t neglect your military production. The first strike may have drained your troops and you’ll need to replenish them. This may actually delay your Castle time but you can also build walls to help you in securing your base.
Once your economy is running properly, move on to the next enemy. You can either take down castles directly or attack another adversary player that didn’t feel like hiding behind walls to take him down. Once you attack castles though, you should expect a fierce comeback.
You can’t go beyond Castle Age. Trebuchets are not an option! You’ll need to come up with battering rams. Take advantage of the Frank unique units to counter your enemy’s army compositions. There were no throwing axemen anymore by the time Joan of Arc revived the French cause against the English, but who cares as long as it’s fun?
The Players on the Map
You are now getting into the more detailed part of my guide. Make sure to stop reading and come back later if you don’t want to get spoiled and make it on your own like the true connétable that you are!
You start the game South of the Loire with a substantial starting army made of two hero units (Joan of Arc and La Hire), several knights, pikemen and crossbows. You also have at your disposal three villagers, two transport ships, two demo ships and a scout.
There are very few resources and space South of the Loire (no gold nor stone!), you’ll have to cross the river to establish your base.
North of the Loire, however, you’ll find three enemy players: the English, the Burgundians, and Lord Fastolf (an independant English settlement).
The English have three fortified military bases (with castles) spread all accross the map and one fortified eco base (that also has a castle) at the top corner of the map. You have to destroy three of their castles to win the game.
The Burgundians have an open settlement West and Falstolf also has an open settlement North-East. Those settlements are very vulnerable at the start of the game but they’re quickly infested with defensive guard towers which makes them a nightmare to besiege on the long run.
The English and their allies will hit you with a great variety of military units: knights, longbowmen, battering rams, long swordsmen, onagers, cavaliers… If you remain too long on the defensive, the cost of countering all those units effectively will impede on your progress. Therefore you must act quickly and decisively to win the game.
John Talbot became the most feared of the English captains. La Hire himself would run away.
I wasn’t aware of this. I always imagined that the Poitiers-level casualties was the reason the Battle of Castillon doomed the English war effort, but did the death of Talbot play a significant part too?
In Short: Who’s John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury?
John Talbot was a relentless captain. So relentless in fact that he would find reasons to fight even in times of peace. Once, he came back to England for a few years and he started a judicial quarrel that almost led to an open conflict. The Duke of Bedford was wise enough to summon him in France, on the frontline, where he brought havoc to his enemies. Talbot was very gifted in starting and managing feuds.
This man was to the French people, a very scorge and a daily terror, […] in so much that women in Fraunce to feare their yonge children would cry ‘The Talbot Cometh! The Talbot Cometh!’
Talbot learned the art of war in Ireland where the chivalric code didn’t exist. He grew very attached to it later on–though he had a very technical, heartless and cold take on it–but he first learned his ways through skirmish and guerilla warfare. He was an utmost expert at night attacks, raids and decisive “coups de force”. He was very cruel too: he burnt down churches with people in it, he executed men-at-arms when they didn’t respect a surrender treaty and gave up the fortress too late, he basically scorched the earth in Normandy when the peasants revolted in 1435-1436. I personnally found several occurences of French or Burgundians troop litteraly TURNING BACK when they learned it was John Talbot they were going to face. He was that fearsome.
John Talbot became the most feared of the English captains. He was cruel, crafty and relentless. A terror to the French. Edward Hall wrote an epitaph that Grimgor Ironhide would envy: “This man was to the French people, a very scorge and a daily terror, in so much that his person was fearful and terrible to his adversaries present, so his name and frame was spiteful and dreadful to the common people absent, in so much that women in Fraunce to feare their yonge children would cry ‘The Talbot Cometh! The Talbot Cometh!’”
Yet Shakespeare depicted him as a most chivalrous knight in Henry V.
At the time of the battle of Castillon (1453), Charles VII had already recovered most of France from the English. Normandy had been taken back. The Burgundians had fallen back in line. Several military campaigns in southern France meant the English were basically holding onto pretty much nothing concrete. Only Calais would remain the unpenetrable English fortress on French soil for the centuries to come (it still belonged to the British crown when Henry VIII was king!). The Duke of Bedford had passed away. Henry VI of England never grew up to have the military charisma nor the natural authority his father wielded. This sweet and pious king aspired to peace and he married a French princess after all, whilst a English princess was married to the Duke of Burgundy. John Talbot, really, was the last living and kicking remnant of the Hundred Years’ War. Most of his foes were dead or had retired. He was facing a younger generation now.
No one can state as fact that John Talbot’s death led to the end of the Hundred Years’ War. It was only diplomatically ended in 1475! However, no one had the energy nor the shoulders to pick up his mantle and continue the old fight. His death, really, is symptomatic of how times changed. It was certainly a symbolic victory for the French who had to dread no longer the “English Achilles”.
One Story To Remember Him By
Forced to retreat at Orléans, Talbot was met unexpectedly by La Hire and his friends at Patay (1430). Talbot’s troops had covered as much as 100 miles in two days to defend the Loire valley. La Hire and company fell upon the English army before they could organize a defensive line. Talbot was ultimately captured by the archers of Poton de Xaintrailles–La Hire’s best friend and brother-in-arms.
Talbot was put to ransom, but to a ridiculously high amount. Talbot, in fact, came very close to bankruptcy while he was held prisonner from 1429 to 1433. Charles VII of France even acquired Talbot’s as a prisoner of note, exercising his regal priviledges. It was customary that the king could demand any famed knight who was put to ransom by a vassal of his in exchange of a fixed fee. As it turns out, Charles VII later exchanged Talbot for Poton de Xaintrailles! The latter had indeed been captured by Talbot’s father-in-law, the powerful earl of Warwick.
Once released, Talbot couldn’t let it stand. He took it to the Order of the Garter and blamed John Fastolf of cowardice. At Patay, the latter reportedly fled the battlefield and brought great dishonor to his knightly title. Talbot argued so passionately that Falstolf was stripped of his Garter until the early 1440’s. Facing financial ruin rendered him especially callous and mercy wouldn’t be his strongsuit in later installments of the Hundred Years’ War…
Click on this link to read one more story about Talbot. Or this one, if you want to know the role he played at Orléans.
More about Talbot:
A.J. Pollard, John Talbot and the War in France: 1427-1453. London & New Jersey: RHS and Humanities Press Inc., 1983.
Fun Fact About Downton Abbey
Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode), who marries Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) by the end of the unforgettable Downton Abbey TV series, is a descendant of John Talbot, 1st earl of Shrewsbury!
Needless is to say, when I heard he was a Talbot, I geeked out. Moreover, just the thought that Michelle Dockery portrayed a Talbot lady makes me squeak like a teenage girl. I mean… look at those eyes if they don’t breathe fire!!! Mary Josephine Talbot. What a nice ring to it!
Can’t wait to see her in a spin-off series stretching from the 40s to the 60s.
Since I watched a Knight’s Tale, I was curious about the Black Prince, I learnt that he was never king, so why is he famous? I know he’s called the Black Prince because of his black armour. Is he famous because he was a skilled knight or what?
Joke aside, the answer is really quite simple. The Black Prince achieved great military deeds and dazzled many people with his lavish court in southern France–he was prince of Aquitaine. At age 16 he “won his spurs” leading the English vanguard at the Battle of Crécy (1346). Ten years later he vanquished the French at Poitiers and even managed to capture their king, John the Good! He would still insure a great military victory at Najera (1367) against a Franco-Trastamaran coalition. The man was a military prodigy.
Being prince of Wales, duke of Cornwall and earl of Cheshire, he introduced the welsh longbowmen into the English army. The havoc they brought to their enemies at Crécy, Poitiers and Najera was unheard of at the time. Moreover, the Black Prince showed all the expected virtues of a great knight. He contributed to found the Order of the Garter with his father, which is to this day the oldest knightly order in existence–quite a feat!
It is also worth reminding that he married for love!
Most of all, however, the Black Prince was a great hero in Froissart’s chronicles and he’s pictured as a legendary ancestor to Henry V in Shakespeare’s plays.
Look back into your mighty ancestors: Go, my dread lord, to your great-grandsire’s tomb, From whom you claim; invoke his warlike spirit, And your great-uncle’s, Edward the Black Prince, Who on the French ground play’d a tragedy, Making defeat on the full power of France, While his most mighty father on a hill Stood smiling to behold his lion’s whelp Forage in blood of French nobility.
[Henry V, I, ii]
Charles VI piles on the trope a bit later in the same play, warning his men about Henry V:
He is bred out of that bloody strain That haunted us in our familiar paths: Witness our too much memorable shame When Cressy battle fatally was struck, And all our princes captiv’d by the hand Of that black name, Edward, Black Prince of Wales; While that his mountain sire, on mountain standing, Up in the air, crown’d with the golden sun, Saw his heroical seed, and smiled to see him, Mangle the work of nature and deface The patterns that by God and by French fathers Had twenty years been made.
[Henry V, II, iv]
The French* didn’t have the Black Prince at heart, though. Louis of Anjou commissionned a set of Apocalpse tapestries in 1373 which depicts Edward of Woodstock as a follower of his demonic father. Neat.
Most of what we see on TV or in videogames today is heavily drawn from historical fictions or historical plays: Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas… I doubt screenwriters in general spend much time reading actual history books. By any standard, the Black Prince should be remembered for his great victories at least. It is the kind of historical trivia that sticks to the collective memory. However, he also became a mysterious and legendary figure in Shakespeare’s plays and that was passed on to later novelists and screenwriters, which magnified his standing as a chivalric icon.
* The French, here, are the people who belonged to the Valois party during the Hundred Years’ War. Edward of Woodstock spoke French and was, by any contemporary standard, a French aristocrat himself.
One Story To Remember Him By
The battle of Poitiers (1356) saw the Black Prince and his 6,000 men (3,000 men-at-arms, 2,000 archers and 1,000 mounted infantry) oppose a French army 10,000 men strong, led by King John II himself, his heir, who would later become Charles V of France, and the full force of the royal army: the Constable and both Marshals* were there.
The French army charged the Black Prince’s troops on three occasions. Each wave was defeated when a fourth almost brought Edward of Woodstock to his knees. His men were exhausted from the battle, his archers almost out of arrows and, this time, King John himself was leading the charge with his elite reserve and many rallied soldiers. In a desperate counterattack, the Black Prince moved forward and pushed towards the French, leaving his defensive position. He sent the Captal de Buch to circle around toward the French rear with 160 mounted men, hoping to break the French’s formation. He won his risky gamble. The French were routed out of the battlefield and King John was captured!
The same night, Edward of Woodstock waited on King John’s table himself. Sensing there might be tension, he kneeled in front of the king and handed him his rosary. He told King John his father, Edward III of England, would treat him right and be his friend, for they had much in common. This show of humility moved the many ransomed French knights who witnessed the scene and it gave much credit to the Black Prince.
* The Constable was the highest ranking officier of the French army. Two Marshals were appointed to be his lieutenants. Those positions were given to highly skilled military captains instead of close relatives to the king.
More on Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince:
Barber, Richard W., Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine: A Biography of the Black Prince. London: Allen Lane, 1978.
Green, David, Edward the Black Prince: Power in Medieval Europe. Harlow, U.K. and New York: Longman, 2007.
I’m your average medieval citizen. My city is under siege; they’re starving us out over months but we’re fine for now. What is my daily life like? Is my coin still worth something? Do people trade or is the guard distributing rations? Do we still have fun to pass the time?
Just trying to get an idea for life during the long months of a siege.
Obviously once food starts getting low and people start getting desperate things change, but to start with, is life relatively normal?
The following answer mostly applies for 14th and 15th century western warfare 😉
The Medieval Town
It must first be understood that medieval cities were not “whole”. The total control of a medieval town required a lot of conniving and plot. The bigger the city, the more factions it had. A “standard” town would have at least two seats of power: the bishopric and the city hall. A representative of the king, like the ‘bailly’ in France could be another player. Whoever wished to take Paris had to get the university on their side, too.
I observed that when Amiens was taken back by the Burgundians in 1435 (read Monstrelet’s Chronicle), the ‘city’ (where the bishop ruled) was left untouched. Rebels from the ‘town’ (under the jurisdiction of the city hall and the guilds) actually tried to take refuge with the bishop but he simply sent them on their way and the new bailly took over unchallenged.
Those types of situations gave way to funny happenstances. A medieval town could be taken and re-taken in a very short amount of time if leaders of opposing factions were living in the same city. Funnier were the cases of city defenders having lost their town but kept the control of one or two towers among the city walls.
When the crusaders took Antioch during the first crusade they found themselves in a very difficult situation. They had gained control of the city but not of the fortress. However, a new army was coming to reinforce the defending army. The crusaders were therefore besieged within the city they had just taken yet didn’t totally control. We can find many examples of the like in later centuries.
>>> When you say the bishop turned people away, how much of the city did he control? Was he refusing to open the doors of the cathedral? The gates of a walled compound? A large section of the city which just happened to be walled and under his control? Are there any good maps to illustrate how cities were divided in this period?
When I said a bishop turned away people, I made a mistake. The details of the story got fuzzy in my memory and I oversimplified. As it so happened during the 1435 Amiens revolt, the good people of Amiens had gathered behind a captain of their choosing, Honoré Coquin. The city belonged to the royal demesne since 1185 and the king of France was count of Amiens. However, because of the 1435 treaty of Arras, Charles VII gave control of the city to the Duke of Burgundy as part of their pact of alliance. Philip the Good refused to lower the taxes and the townpeople were pretty upset about it. They’d been taxed for many years because of the war and they wished for it to stop. The Duke of Burgundy was no one to be trifled with though. He sent his new appointed bailly to deal with the situation. Honoré Coquin pleaded to the Burgundians military leaders but to no effect. They entered the city and took control of the market square. That’s when one of the leaders of the revolt flead to a nearby church in which a priest was actually officing the mass. Nevertheless he was caught and done for. What amazes me in that story is that a mass was celebrated when a skirmish was about to happen on the market square! I studied the city history a few years back, I checked my notes and I found it very interesting that the town (ruled by the king and the city council) passed on different deals with enemy military companies than the city (ruled by the bishop and the religious congregations). As a matter of fact, the people ruled by the bishop were exempt from the tax that the other townpeople had to pay. It’s as if you had two towns in a single city and everybody knew about it and behaved, even on a military standpoint, accordingly.
Medieval City Maps
Amiens is an old medieval town and I was lucky to find a pretty good enough map about its medieval layout (see below). It shows city walls from the 12th and the 14-15th centuries. Within the old 12th century walls, we find both seats of power of the town and the city: the beffroi (number 8) and the episcopal palace (number 4). Next to the beffroi is a place called the “Malemaison”. It was traditionnaly the place were the mayor and the town council would gather. The market place is marked by a black triangle. The church in which the fleeing rebel leader tried to find refuge is marked by the number 11 on the map. The town and the city seems to fit into two opposing neighbourhoods within the old city walls but the positioning of this church and the central location of the market place shows that it was more mixed up than what we can think firsthand.
The city of Laon had a more clearcut layout. Look at the following map from the 17th century. Laon hasn’t changed much through time and this layout, because of how high the hills are, is still what we find today (careful, the North is upside down!). Instead of mills at the eastern end of the city, we find a large clinic centre there nowadays but the cathedral hasn’t moved one bit. When I visited the city with my former research centre, we observed how the streets near the cathedral still showed how they were inhabited by clerics for how straight and square they were. It really looked like an easily fortified neighbourhood. Right behind the cathedral was the citadel: seat of power to the king. The other side of town shows a less organized pattern. It was known as the ‘bourg’. Funnily enough the city and the ‘bourg’ or town would each have streets dedicated to a specific professional association before it was all more or less centralized and the whole town became a one and single urbanistic unit.
Brussels today still has streets that bear the name of former guilds and corporations: rue des bouchers, rue des teinturiers, rue des frippiers… Craftmen didn’t spread out. They united and lived by the same rules according to a royal granted chart. They fixed the prices and sticked together. It showed in the urban pattern. However, there were not always clearcut boundaries from one neighbourhood to another which part of the city obeyed to the king’s justice, the bishop’s, or else. You had to live there and know it. It was pretty much on a case to case basis.
Who’s Who In A Medieval City?
>>> I was wondering more specifically about the thing you mentioned with Paris. What were the factions in Paris at this time period, why was the university so important, and how did the university work as a “political player” so to speak at this juncture?
A Short Class On Urban Social Stratification
Everyone had a place to be in a medieval town. Nevertheless people of all background were scattered all over the place more often than not. Medieval cities didn’t follow rationalized patterns. They were not built like ancient greek colonies.
There were other ways to differenciate the people within a town though. Mostly through clothing. Nevermind that, the urban social stratification started to form around the 11th century with the communal movement. Townpeople made more money and were taxed accordingly. In response they fought back to get priviledges. Those very first priviledges created the ‘bourgeoisie’ which was nothing like what it grew to become by the 18th century. Being a bourgeois only meant you had judicial priviledges from being a city-dweller. They could assemble and vote for a mayor who’d represent them to the lord. Craftmen who moved in city walls eventually got their own mayors but they were mostly suppressed in the 14th century in favor of guild associations defined by charts. The lord of a city, either the king or someone else, often had a representative of his own: a prevot, a bailly or a senechal in France. Such a man was in charge of military and police matters. He’d often have a lieutenant too.
A city could also be home to various religious congregations, especially once the mendicant orders were formed. Those congregations didn’t always answer to the bishop. Sometimes they only answered to the pope if they got their priviledges right like the Templars or the Teutonic Knights. They could also answer to their monastic order. Some religious congregations were more like laymen guilds, united under a holy patron. The bishop himself presided a chapter of canons who elected him. Also the bishop had lands of his own and though he was a spiritual lord, he also had temporal power. He couldn’t exercice his temporal power by himself most of the time though, that’s why he had a representative to do so, like a vidame.
Everyone had a specific status within a medieval town, from lord to beggar. There were priviledges and duties for each member of the society. The townwatch was split between the bourgeois and the craftmen. The former would have sitting watch duties, the latter walking watch duties. Boulevards and city walls were built, cared by and watched over by city-dwellers who could gather as militia in times of need under the lawful authority of the prevot, the bailly or the senechal. When the city had a proper fortress it would more likely be guarded by proper men-at-arms or knights under the command of a noble lord.
Political Players Within A City
Governing a medieval city was not an easy task. There were so many centres of power and money that political players only multiplied until the Early Modern Era when the centralization state building process really hit western societes. It was an administrative nightmare too in order to know who you could tax and what?
Which brings us to the university of Paris. The word ‘universitas’ used to design a guild or professional association of people sharing the same priviledges. As a matter of facts, students and teachers at the university of Paris benefited from the same rights. They were equals in the eye of the law and could only be judged by the bishop of Paris. Also, they benefited from several tax exemptions. From the 12th to the 14th century, the university was not properly installed in any buildings. Lectures were given wherever it could. It meant that if university members were unhappy with the way they were treated they could simply scatter through the winds for a few months. Now, since they made up for a lot of the economical vitality of the French capital, the authorities prefered to treat them right. Then Charles VI rose to power and his council saw it a good idea to rationalize the royal treasure and the taxation system. The duke of Orléans was all in on those new reforms when he managed the realm for his brother once Charles VI fell into dementia. Hell! The university and the good people of Paris were not happy. They felt their priviledges were undermined and threatened. That’s when the duke of Burgundy showed up and insured he would protect ans safeguard them. The university heavily turned to John the Fearless for guidance and support. In exchange, the best intellectual of the realm provided the intellectual backbone to legitimize the assassination of the duke of Orléans, who died in Paris in 1407 at the hand of Burgundians hired thugs. What a messy affair…
Locking all the seats of power in a medieval city was a much arduous endeavour. When cities got nearly as big as Paris it was practically impossible to achieve. The merchants, the craftmen, the noblemen, the clergymen, everybody fought for their own tiny bit of power.
To Siege Or Not To Siege
Besieging a city was a very expensive and risky venture. Elite knights and men-at-arms were few. Most battles were fought among a few hundreds of “soldiers”. How can you take over a city where several thousands can show up to defend the walls? You needed to rally the ‘communes’ or the ‘common people’ so to speak to manage an effective siege. Then you’d get along the tens of thousands of men on the battlefield. Commoners lacked the knightly culture though and they were quite unpredictable. That’s why most cities were taken by surprise thanks to some commando type of missions.
Since medieval towns had rivaling political players within their walls, a big part of taking a city over was to seduce those party leaders and grant them satisfaction. Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, who managed to take Paris not only once, but twice, first in 1418 then back in 1436, only achieved it because he was good friend with the butcher guild and the university. When Joan of Arc attacked the city in September 1429, there was no friends within the walls to help take over the capital.
Another problem was that towns were very difficult to surround properly. Even when he arrived with something like twenty thousand flemish militia to attack Calais in 1436, Philip the Good couldn’t strangle the city completely. The people of Calais were still going out with their cattle, for example, which gave way to epic or ridiculours skirmishes. It is very rare that we find a siege like the one of Melun, in 1420, when the French starved so close to death that they had to kill and eat their own horses.
The Siege of Rouen, 1418-1419
>>> What are some of the more extreme cases of a city being starved of?
The best example that comes to mind is the 1418-1419 siege of Rouen by Henry V of England. He was not messing around. He had an impressive army of 7,000 men (mostly war professionals, the English didn’t rely on the commoners too much and that really helped them win the war until the Siege of Orléans, where most of their veteran troops were slaughtered at Patay). Rouen had a population of about 20,000 people with 4,000 garrisoned soldiers*. Henry couldn’t take the city by force but he had the authority and the means to starve it to death. His plan followed the three following steps.
Step 1: Surround The City
Rouen ranked among the largest city of France by the beginning of the 15th century. It’s position on the Seine made it a most valuable link between Paris and the English Channel. Nevertheless Henry V had his army build fortified places all over the town (I’ll put a picture on my blog later on when I publish my answers over there). Not only that, he also chained the river to make sure no food would come to relieve the city during the siege AND he sent his guerilla-minded Irish soldiers in the nearby smaller towns to gather all the food there was and keep the population in check.
The French tried to gather some troops to help Rouen but they were much too busy fighting each other. Paris had just been taken by the Burgundians (see above, when Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam took it back in 1418 with the help of the butcher guild). It led to a proper massacre and it overthrew the Armagnac government. The Dauphin, who would later on be known as Charles VII, barely made it with his life and had to exile the Parliament to Poitiers. He couldn’t make peace with the Duke of Burgundy and the latter couldn’t also come in terms with the Duke of Britanny. It was an overall mess and Henry just had to wait. And see.
Step 2: Do Not Bombard The City
Rouen was heavily fortified. It would have taken a lot of artillery power to take it down. It would have been a useless expense however since Henry V hoped to take the city whole and make it his own fortress. He wanted it intact! Had he read Sun Tzu’s art of war? Maybe not. But he was surely following his principles.
Step 3: Wait It Out And Show Mercy
When it became sure the French couldn’t send reinforcement nor food to the besieged city, the townpeople of Rouen received a message from the Duke of Burgundy to deal with Henry V. Eventually, they asked for the women, the children, the priests, the poor and the elderly to be granted a safe passage. Henry sure complied and even more, he gave food to the escapees! They actually started to sing his praise and cursed their French allies who had abandonned them.
Monstrelet writes in his chronicle that most of the food was sold overpiced on the black market around Christmas. Henry V had started to besiege the city in July 1418. The city surrendered completely by January 1419. From that point onward he could easily take Pontoise and threaten Paris which not only survived a massacre but also a good old plague epidemic the same year. In the meantime, the French were no where close to conclude their own civil unrest and Henry V remained unchallenged.
This is really a classic case of siege by starvation. It led to an utter victory but it can’t be taken out of context. Henry V played it very smart in a context in which his enemies were paralysed and militarily powerless to face him.
* According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010).
>>> Didn’t Henry refuse to let the people leave the city, leaving them to starve in a ditch between the city walls and his siege lines?
A Short Study Of Historical Method
Could you be able to source that information? I wrote this short answer after The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology.
What I gather from Monstrelet is that after the townpeople of Rouen learned they had to deal with the king of England themselves, he had a first surrender treaty rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury. To which the townpeople came up with the plan to run for their lives by breaching their own walls and give it a last desperate go. Monstrelet’s narrative may be incomplete though.
In Gerald Harris, Shaping the Nation. England 1360-1461. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005 (The New Oxford History of England), p. 548, I find the following statement though: “The siege, prolonged by the intense cold of mid-winter, became a test of endurance for the English. But the defenders were in a worse plight: as the influx of refugees reduced the inhabitants to starbation, it was decided to expel the non-combatants, wome, childrend, and the old being forced into the town ditches between the walls and the English lines. Refused food by the English, they perished in large numbers.”
The Oxford Encyclopedia states only that food was given to the expelled townpeople by Henry V at Christmas: “At Chrismas, Henry had food brought to them in the ditches. They, according to Page, responded with a hymn of praise for Henry ‘who has more compassion than has our own nation’.”
The encyclopedia entry is written by Anne Curry, who’s a recognized expert of the period. I’d conclude therefore that indeed the expelled townpeople were denied food but were still given some at Christmas by Henry V. Nuance is everything in this case. We could go further and question Page’s account of the event but I don’t have the time (nor the energy) to go that far 🙂
>>> So they had around 6 months worth of food. Was this typical for a city of its size? Was food storage mostly by household or centralized under one or more powers?
This question requires a kind of research that I haven’t conducted. Nor do I know if it has been. Maybe? I couldn’t say without diving deep into my bibliographies. I read recently that it took 10 months for the Normans to take Palermo through a siege of starvation, in the years 1071-1072. The city also resigned in the early winter.
Refugees would flock to the city by the hundreds when a siege of that magnitude was a-coming. On the long run it would not help with the stocks. However, conducting a statistic analysis of such events would prove very, very difficult. We don’t have enough data to define any normalcy in those matters, I’d say.
As for the second part of your follow-up question, chronicles clearly show that the food was not centralized. It was sold on markets and speculation in times of war ran wild. It meant that the poor would starve first if they couldn’t find a patron or didn’t belong to some kind of association (like a guild, a university or the clerical members of a congregation). I hope it gives some kind of answer to your follow-up question 🙂 I’m sorry I can’t give a more conclusive answer at the moment.
Medieval Siege Engines
>>> Were actual battles to take the castle common or do continuous flinging of trebuchet or catapults common?
Is The Trebuchet The Superior Siege Engine?
To give an idea, a single trebuchet required around 60-100 specialized and trained personel to keep it firing 1 to 2 projectiles a hour*. That’s people that you need to feed, pay wages, and everything. Artilery was very expensive and it was especially difficult to move around from one town to the other from siege to siege.
Contrarily to what the trebuchet subreddit advertises, the projectiles weighed around 140 kg (306.7 pounds) and had a range of 220 meters (240.6 yards)*. It was specifically designed to hit weak spots within a city wall in order to open a breach. The solution was to reinforce the weak spot with palissades and earth behind it to absorb the hit. However, the single sight of a trebuchet could incite a fortified place to just give up and surrender directly.
* Renaud Beffeyte, L’art de la guerre au Moyen Age. Rennes: Ouest France, 2010. With a preface by Philippe Contamine, p. 80-81.
“Come In Like A Wreeecking Ball!”
Orléans was bombarded quite continuously by the English in 1428-1429 but it had little meaningful results, especially since the city could bombard back! Jean de Lorraine was the French artillary specialist. More than once he pretended to be dead, was carried back to Orléans, only to return to the battlefield and handle his cannons against the English to their outmost dread and distate. Firing a canon was an art but not everybody mastered it. More often than not it resulted in accidental results. The Earl of Salisbury, who was leading the siege for the English at Orléans, died only a few days after a canonball crashed in the window he was looking through. Similarly, the Earl of Arundel, hit by a canonball (in the leg, I think) at the battle of Gerberoy in 1435, also died but only a few days after the battle from his injury. The uneffectiveness of such canonballs may be explained by the fact that many of them were made out of stone instead of metal.
Canons didn’t have the firepower that they would have later on. And pretty much like trebuchets, they required a lot of trained personel. The people who made church bells were those who forged canons. It is reported that one bombard canon required no less than 20 horses to be dragged across the countryside during the 14th century*. Fire artilery became lighter and more effective during the 15th century, but it couldn’t guarantee a victory yet. Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, learned it the hard way when he died at the battle of Nancy (1467). As a conclusion, artilery fire was certainly used for very strategic or psychological purposes, but it couldn’t make up for armed men climbing ladders and siege towers to conquer city walls the “old fashion way”.
* Valérie Toureille (ed.), Guerre et Société. 1270-1480. Paris: Atlante, 2013, p. 161.
>>> How did the besieger Earl of Salisbury die? How does an accident cause a canonball to boomerang back to allied lines 😛
Haha! I love the idea but the reality is more prosaic.
A Shot In The Dark
The canonball was shot from Orléans. No one really knows where from. At that moment, Salisbury was looking through a window from the Tourelles fortress, at the end of the southern bridge linking Orléans to the western bench of the river Loire. Bad luck made it that the canonball hit the window Salisbury was looking through. He didn’t die on the impact but he passed away a few days later from his injuries.
Since he was the master-mind behind the overall English strategy since Agincourt and had pushed himself to besiege Orléans when the Duke of Bedford thought that it was a bad idea, there was little morale left in the English camp after his death. Many men actually thought themselves freed from their military duties since they belonged to Salisbury’s retinue and they left the siege. Once the Burgundians left too, the English were scattered really thin around Orléans and that’s when Joan of Arc arrived with heavy reinforcements from Blois (though most of the French army turned back to Blois… and left the people of Orléans on their own with Joan and about the craftiest captains who were serving Charles VII at the time).
Philip the Good also almost got hit by a canonball when he besieged Calais. As he rode down on the beach with a small party of men, a canonball hit the ground not too far from him. Such events are easily recorded when they concern distinguished aristocrats. The Duke of Burgundy and the Earl of Salisbury were not “nobodies”. However there is a good chance that collateral casualties from such artilary fire were more common than we think. The lack of narrative on the matter only probably relates to the social status of the people casted in the Chronicles of the time. To be counted as a casualty, you had to have a “name”.
>>> When you say that how do you mean? Am I supposed to imagine a handful of knights crossing the mote in the cover of dark, to open the Door for the rest? Or was it more like smuggling a diplomat into the walls to get him to the [faction] and promise them [something worth promising].
The covert and sneaky operations that led to the taking of a castle, a town or any fortress were very imaginative!
A Timeless Classic: Bertrand Du Guesclin Desguised As A Lumberjack (1340)
The English were holding the castle of Fougeray, near Rennes (France). Robert Pembrough, a renowned captain, was commanding the troops. Bertrand Du Guesclin wished to take it back. He was not yet the mighty connétable, supreme leader of the French army, second only to the king, but this little aventure made him quite a name for himself.
A man of his came up with the crazy idea to dress as lumberjacks and approach the castle under that desguise. They were to pretend that they were coming to work for the castle with a cart full of lumber and wood fagot. Du Guesclin selected a few daring souls to accompany him and risked himself in this crazy venture. The chronicles give quite a vivid sdepiction of the story and the battle that followed.
Du Guesclin made it to the castle. His cart blocked the drawbridge. The men in desguised were close to flee for their lives. They had weapons under their funny clothes but no armour to defend themselves and they risked being made any minute. However, that’s when Du Guesclin called it. He started the fight and called the rest of his men, a whole lot of 60 men-at-arms at most, to join him in the fight.
The battle was nasty and bloody. However, Du Guesclin took the place and his trick became so famous that castles would build TWO drawbridges to protect their entry: one that only a single man could walk through, to check up the upcoming carts, and a second, for the said carts.
It is said that some of the soldiers accompanying Du Guesclin in disguise pushed it as far as to dress as “lumberjills”.
La Hire: Who Takes One, Loses One
La Hire was quite familiar with “commando operations”. That’s how he took Louviers (located between Paris and Rouen, on the river Seine) when Joan of Arc was busy attacking Paris. Under the cover of night, approaching the fortified city with a boat, he took it by climbing a ladder thrown over the city walls. Yet he had a limp! As soon as the English heard the bad news, they sent troops to retake the city. La Hire defended it until he tried to make it out of the town to go fetch reinforcements himself (as mentioned elsewhere in this thread). Meanwhile, Charles VII did grant new privileges to the townpeople to gain their loyalty. La Hire knew! He’d been betrayed by the good people of Château-Thierry, in Picardy, a decade earlier.
Also, having an inside man is often key in taking or losing a city. That’s how he chanced to take back Rouen, in 1436. He had a few friends within the city walls but the English caught them and then came down running at La Hire and his companions to chase them away from Normandy. It was a debacle so funny that Monstrelet tells it three separate times in his Chronicles.
The taking of Marchenoir, in 1427, on the other hand, was a real “coup de maître” orchestrated by La Hire’s proud pupil: Jean de Bueil. The latter came up with a crazy idea. See? A very large pile of manure was abutted the city walls. Jean de Bueil thought that a few men could hide in that pile of manure overnight. Then, during the day, a small group of men-at-arms would ride by the city and lure the garrison outside the city walls. It worked! As soon as it happened, the men-at-arms hidden in the manure got out of it, stormed the gates and helped to take over the city. The lured garrison met its end when the luring party rejoined the bulk of the military company. Because who would hide in a pile of manure? Seriously?! Nothing but highly motivated men.
John Talbot: A Crafty Devil
John Talbot became the most feared of the English captains. La Hire himself would run away whenever learning Talbot was coming after him if he hadn’t had the time to properly fortify his positions. Tablot was cruel, crafty and relentless. As the mightily fortified city of Pontoise was kept by an old friend and former ally of his, Jean de Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, he chose to take it back. The Burgundians had recently decided to leave the Lancastrian alliance and fight again alongside Charles VII of Valois. Only a few months ago were Talbot and L’Isle-Adam fighting next to each other! Now they were enemies.
The moat of Pontoise had frozen with the winter and no one had thought to break the ice. I mentioned this case in my main answer. Talbot took an opportunity where he found one. A few number of men crawled under the cover of night and beneath a white blanket (!!!) to reach the fortress of Pontoise. No one saw them coming. They were camouflaged as snow! They threw ladders or ropes over the walls, climbed them and took the fortress in the dead of the night. L’Isle-Adam barely had the time to flee and his noble name was certainly ternished by the venture.
A Charming Bastard: Villars’ Shame And The Loss Of Montargis
Villars, who was put in charge with defending Montargis, had a barber. His barber was taking care of a young woman who was neither his wife nor his daughter. At the same time, Villars was himself married. His brother-in-law was an enemy of his, the Bastard of Jardes. Indeed, the Bastard of Jardes was serving under the command of L’Aragonais, a faithful captain of the English party despite his Spanish nickname. This makes up for quite a complicated story but as Berry tells the tale, the Bastard of Jardes seduced the barber’s ward. He promised to marry her if she would help him take over the city. As part of the ruse, she seduced the barber who was taking care of her, beguiling him with a large promise of reward by the English.
Sex and money make up for an ugly combo… The barber and his ward helped the Bastard of Jardes to climb over the city walls. He could come and go within the city as he pleased him since his sister was the governor’s wife. Getting his men inside was another matter. It happened that a house from the suburbs was abutted to the walls (more often than not those houses were destroyed when a city was besieged). From the top of that house, the Bastard climbed over the walls with his men thanks to the barber and his ward. From then on he took over the city, chased away his brother-in-law and didn’t respect any of the promises he made towards the young woman or the barber.
I hope you like this little set of anecdotes? Really, it shows that taking a city through a “commando operation” required a lot of imagination and dedication. It was not as simple as moving under the cover of the night. Men-at-arms had to be creative. However, luring an enemy garrison outside of their walls with a small party only to surprise them with an ambush and take the city gates at the meantime was quite a common tactic. So was getting inside help. I even read a story of maids distracting men-at-arms with pastry! It’s much more entertaining than anything found in fantasy novels in my opinion.
The City And Its Countryside
The question arises: why take a city when you can plunder the countryside? Well, for one, there might be castles and garisoned troops all over the place to prevent such acts of aggression. Jean de Luxembourg, lord of Beaurevoir, had such a system in place to defend the Eastern part of Picardy. However he was a well-respected, renowned and mostly feared overlord with close connections to the Burgundian court. Once the political chessboard was overturned, though, even the Duke of Burgundy thought twice and eventually didn’t risk to mount an army against him. The king did, but that’s another story. (Jean de Luxembourg died before the king’s army reached his lands and his heir and nephew settled the matter by acknowledging the king’s authority.)
Most of the territory wasn’t safeguarded by some Jean de Luxembourg, though. It was quite easy to tear the countryside apart. The English did it several times during the first half of the Hundred Years’ War. They would do it to provoke the French into an open-field battle. Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) were the results of such provocations. Charles V said no more and chose for a war of attrition: no more open-field battles, only skirmishes and surprise city take-overs. It really changed the face of the war.
Pillaging and plundering a countryside was nevertheless a fine way to bring a city to its knees. Medieval cities were directly co-dependant from their neighbouring countryside. If an army were to threaten it then a city would easily pay up in order to safeguard it. Sure, the city was well-defended enough that it couldn’t be taken. But could the citizens chase away a company of men-at-arms without a proper company of their own sent over by their lord? They couldn’t.
Rural Communities Sticking Together
>>> Would it be common to ask the bishop of your church to petition the new lord for repayment for a house burnt by his men. Or a stonemason asking his guild-master to try and find his daughter taken by mercenaries during a sacking of the town. Etc. It’s just hard to imagine that people would be willing to accept that you had no way to protect yourself and your family from roaming armies that survived by “living off the land”. Or were peasant rebellions more common against such occurrences?
Is Charity The Best Insurance Policy?
I’ve read a few medieval accounting records. They are just fascinating because they’re full of little anecdotes! Each expense or income is justified by a short story. Some of them are quite dry. A few of them are full of details! As it happens, you sometimes have the story of people who received compensation money for services given. Like a man climbed a ladder to extinguish the fire which started a-top a Burgundian palace and he was granted a few francs for his bravery. A knight came in, only had to show up and received much more money. I don’t remember the numbers nor exactly where I read it, it was years ago in class, you’ll have to forgive me.
Money as well as judicial pardons were also given to people who suffered in the service of a lord. Now say your house was destroyed because of an enemy military company. Who could help you out? What could you do? You could at first rely on your community. Are you part of a guild? Of a religious congregation? Did you have an extensive family? Joan of Arc had countless godfathers and godmothers. The social ties were really strongs within medieval communites. You could rely on your “people” to help you out, get you some resources, help you rebuild your house, etc. Though private properties were a real thing, communal areas were also very common. Enclosure was not a thing yet. Especially in the countryside, the forest–depending a few strict regulations–was a free source of wood, pasture, hunt and resources for everybody. You could get a fine if your pigs roamed through it too wildly though.
Someone could ask pitty money to a lay or ecclesiastic lord, too. They could expect to get it freely by waiting outside a church on big Christian celebration days, but they mostly ever got anything if they could legitimize it if they officially asked for it. Then it mostly depended on the will of the lord. Some saw charity as a great mean to control the population (like the Duke of Burgundy, from Philip the Bold to Philip the Good). Others rather indulged into extortion and saw their lordship as a mean to get as rich as possible as fast as possible (like the Duke of Berry, John the Magnificent). There was no instituted way for anyone to recover from a war related destruction of property. You had to play creative, rely on your social network and hope for the best.
Law And Order: Medieval Edition
It was the social expected duty of rulers to put pressure on bandits, unruly rogue military companies, and make safeguard the peace in the realm. It was difficult to insure when the centralized power showed weakness. When Charles VI descended into madness and the high princes of the land started a civil war, inviting the English to fight as mercenaries (around 1410-1412) it quickly led to devasted countrysides. It got so bad that countrymen took refuge into the woods and created military companies of their own. Those bandits really posed a threat to the moving of troops on the military chess. They would keep on fighting from 1411 to 1418!
Self-defence often became a necessity to rural communities. During the Écorcherie crisis of 1438-1439 a city closed its door to a military company that was actually charged with chasing down a rogue military company. They eventually let the men-at-arms go through in very little numbers because they mistrusted them so much. The Écorcheurs, or skinners, allegedly commited some of the worst war crimes of the Hundred Years’ War. They destroyed things for fun or so it seems. Their numbers grew exponentially because their ranks swelled with newcomers who wished to avoid plunder and to join in on the loot. Military companies were very exotic things back then: men-at-arms had armed and non-armed servants. Even old women could be part of a company and could serve as support or spy. It saved the French captains trapped at Gerberoy in 1435 to know more about the enemy surrounding them! It would take the 1445 military reform to really define who could or couldn’t join the army or be part of a military company.
The most famous peasant who took up arms to defend his people was certainly Grand Ferré, who fought in the year 1359. He supposedly killed 60 Englishmen by himself with an axe when they attacked his company of two hundred patriots at the Longueil-Sainte-Marie manor, near Compiègne (France). He even resisted an assassination attempt but eventually died from his injuries. His venture had been authorized by proper political leaders! When the “Great Companies” stormed all over France in the year 1360’s and brought havoc with their rogue military depredation, however, such peasant heroes would act more autonomously. Their ventures would more often than not be shortlived.
The real hope for rural population against rogue military companies were to get their ‘bailly’ or any military representative of the king or their lord to muster his troops and chase them down. Sometimes a lord could also call his people to arms and lead them to a cleansing expedition of epic disproportions. Again, however, nothing was systematic and it mostly depended on the people in charge. Who were they? How did they conceive their role? Could they perform their duties effectively? Etc. Peasants rebellions were quite common in the end and often bound to happen in such circumstances.
The Daily Duties Of A City-Dweller
Though city-dwellers were “free men and women” they still had to accomplish many tasks. One of them was the town-watch. It was up to city-dwellers to make the rounds on the walls, to break the ice of the moat around the city (to make sure no one would cross it and make their way to the walls too easily–which happened!), etc. They had to provide material support in times of war, women too, by bringing water, boiling oil, and many other things to the “frontline”.
The roads were guarded by “boulevards”, or road-block fortifications, and they prevented enemy troops to get too close from a city. Besieging a city therefore often began miles away from the city walls. It guaranteed the safekeeping of pastures, agricultural fields and suburbs around the town. Such boulevards had to be built by city-dwellers themselves. Even besieged, a city could keep some kind of normal life unless the situation became too dire. Since a city was not often properly surrounded, exterior communication was not so difficult and food could easily be brought in.
Some people speculated and made a fortune during times of war by raising the price on crops, for example. It was a criminal offense but many got away with it… Money often became an issue for besieged populations and they hoped to rely on the church or their lord to get by. Having a rich protector, serving in a mighty house, was certainly a way to stay on safe side of things. Anyway, it took quite some time for the situation to be really desperate unless the enemy army was actually overwhelming.
When Boulevards Were Medieval Fortifications
>>> About boulevards: how did it help? If we’re talking about a siege done by hundreds or many thousands of armed people, why would something on a road stop enemy so far from the city? I realise it’s not that easy but… why not walk around something that isn’t a single piece of wall?
Is This A Tower? Is This A Fortress? It’s A Boulevard!
When fire artillery started to spread by the end of the 14th century, most fortifications were not ready to endure a copious bombarding. Putting bombards or cannons a-top of city walls was also very difficult to do. The rare case of Beauvais providing its walls with ramps to help push the canons at the top of them, by the first half of the 15th century, shows that it was a very expensive type of construction to undertake.
The ‘boulevard’ was made up in the Burgundian Low Countries to answer the need to protect old fortifications against bombard showers and to provide the town with actual counter-canons. Boulevard were originally made out of wood and filled-in with earth to absorb the shock of canonballs. They looked like hillside slopes that stopped on a sharp cliff and they were put in front of fortification weak spots such as city gates or others. Eventually they were built out of stone and gained massive dimensions! They could spread as wide as 15 to 45 meters (16.4 to 42.2 yards) on each of their sides, pretty much like squares, and be elevated up to 10 meters high (10.9 yards)*! It was quite a bad place to find yourself on if you had the fear of heights. As to how many people it could hold, I’d say as much as they could depending on their dimensions. You needed personel to fire the canons but also a few men-at-arms and archers to defend the place.
*A. Salamagne, Les villes fortes au Moyen Âge. Paris: Jean-Paul Gisserot, 2002.
“Up And Down The Boulevard”
I would invite you to look at the following maps of Orléans during the 1428-1429 siege 😉
As you can see, the walled city is surrounded by a large suburb area. Everywhere you see the letter ‘B’ (first map) also means there was a barrier or fortification of some kind. Getting close to the city implied a prolonged guerilla type of warfare. Neighbourhoods were to be taken one by one.
Then, if you spot the number 37 on the bridge (first map), the “Boulevart de la belle Croix”, you’ll see that there isn’t getting around that specific boulevard unless you dive down for a swim (look at map 2 for a detailed plan of the area).
Roads and paths around a city were not as wide or clear as one might think. Paris in particular had two lines of moat in addition to its fortified walls surrounding the city. When Joan attacked it, one was dry but the other was still filled in with water. The only way to go around a boulevard defending the entrance of a city door was to somehow fill in the moat with wood fagot in order to cross it eventually.
Indeed–I wasn’t clear and I’m sorry–boulevards were mostly built in front of city doors to prevent enemies to knock it down. The boulevards were moreover protected by the higher city walls behind it. Also they were firing canonballs so it proved quite difficult to get close to it safely.
The Art Of Surrounding A City
>>> “Since a city was not often properly surrounded, exterior communication was not so difficult and food could easily be brought in.” Couldn’t that be solved by making a few bands of “raiders” out of soldiers?
When Henry V of England besieged Rouen in 1418-1419 (see my addition somewhere else on the thread on that matter), he made sure to dig trenches all around the city to connect his network of fortified places. His band of Irish soldier policing the neighbouring towns and chaining the river Seine were not enough.
At Orléans, where the English attempted a remake of the siege of Rouen, they didn’t dig trenches and they didn’t chain the river Loire. As a matter of fact, Joan of Arc got around them by crossing the river East and just passing near the Bastille of St Loup (that you can also see on the map). A little band of soldier made it out of Orléans as a distraction and she reached the eastern gate with reinforcement and food for the city without too much problems.
Therefore raiding was not enough to insure the total paralysis of a besieged city. When he was defending Louviers in 1431, La Hire tried to make it out of the city by himself in order to get reinforcements at La Ferté-Bernard. He’s spotted by Burgundians soldiers and captured. The sole fact that he tried though, as experienced as he was, meant that there he had a chance!
About Boiling Oil
>>> Do you have a source for this? I thought that boiling oil was a bit of a common misconception given the cost of pouring boiling oil on attackers was much much more expensive than just pouring boiling wateron them
I wrote about the boiling oils by following the subsequent passage from the Journal of Orléans*, which praise how townwomen came to the rescue by providing those who defended a boulevard with many useful things:
“Pareillement y feirent grant secours les femmes d’Orléans ; car elles ne cessoient de porter très diligemment à ceulx qui deffendoient le boulevert, plusieurs choses nécessaires, comme eaues,huilles, gresses bouillans*, chaux, cendres et chaussetrape.*”
Technically, it doesn’t say boiling oil but boiling grease (and oils are mentioned) which is pretty much the same I’d say? I perused my copy of The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology and I couldn’t find anything about boiling oil as a myth. It deserves more research certainly.
*Paul Charpentier & Charles Cuissard (ed.), Journal du Siège d’Orléans, 1428-1429. Orléans: Herluison, 1896, p. 7
A Short Reading List
>>> May I have your sources you used for the section “The Daily Duties Of A City-Dweller” ?
Here’s a short list of references (almost exclusively in French, sorry…) that talk about townwatch and other duties expected from city-dwellers:
Primary source (a total must read!): Janet Shirley (ed.), A Parisian Journal. 1405-1449. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968 (read especially the narrative of the year 1418).
A.-M. Hayez, “Travaux à l’enceinte d’Avignon sous les pontificats d’Urbain V et de Grégoire IX”, La Guerre et la paix au Moyen Âge. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1978, p. 119-223.
R. Cazelle, Paris, de Philippe Auguste à Charles V. Paris: Hachette, 1994.
N. Savy, Les villes du Quercy en guerre : la défense des villes et des bourges du Haut-Quercy pendant la guerre de Cent Ans. Pradines: Savy A.E., 2009.
There must be articles or monographs in English dealing with such a topic but I can’t find them right off the bat without going into a university library or diving too far in additional research.
From Skirmishes To Victory Or Surrender
If a city was besieged and couldn’t be taken over “Rambo style” with a clever, daring an deceitful tactic, it would first open on several weeks of skirmishes around the boulevards and the countryside. Nearby smaller towns would also serve as battlefields. People often found refuge in stone built churches: they were torn apart or put on fire.
Delay was the key words for the defenders. The name of the game was to hold as long as possible for ally troops to find their way to the siege and help. Montargis waited and waited until La Hire arrived and saved the day, in 1427. It is an interesting case, however, because La Hire and his friends wouldn’t help Montargis unless they got paid. Indeed, if besieging a city was a most expensive affair, so was defending it!
Larger cities would hold much longer. They often had pastures and fields within their walls that belonged to this or that abbey. You’d have cattle within the city walls too: cow, pigs, sheep… Not enough to feed the entire population for a prolonged time, but just enough to help the city hold against the enemy.
Renowned knights would then square things off in many skirmishes until one or the other party gathered enough money to push the siege forward or to break it off. Journals and chronicles of the time often mention who fought bravely during the first hours/days/weeks of a siege.
The surrender would always come into the form of a peace treaty between the military leaders of both parties. Often the defender would ask for his people to get a safe-passage accross the enemy territory to get back to an allied city. The military leader of a city was not always taking the city-dwellers into consideration, or just couldn’t protect them, and more often than not he allowed his enemy to pillage and plunder the taken city. That’s why, among so many other reasons, city-dwellers didn’t have men-at-arms to heart and often mistrusted them. There are cases of city-dwellers that actually denied entry to supposedly allied men-at-arms when the countryside was torn apart by roaming rogue companies. Hell, the Duke of Burgundy found himself trapped inside the city of Brugge and had to fight his way out!
DidJoan of Arc actually fight and lead an army in the battle of Orleans, or was she propped up as a figurehead?
So I’ve always wondered this since I learned about Joan of Arc in grade school. IIRC, she was an illiterate girl whose only real education was in Catholicism. After apparently hearing the voice of God telling her that she’s destined to lead France to victory, she convinced then-prince Charles to give her an army to take back Orleans, and that she would install him as king. And of course, she succeeded in both endeavors.
Here’s my question: in lieu her limited education and experience, did she actually fight in and lead an army/devise tactics for the battle to retake Orleans? Or was she simply “given credit” for political, troop morale, and enemy intimidation purposes?
The idea of Joan fighting is not debated. Many written sources relayed the fact that she was properly armed on the battlefield and participated in the war effort. She got hit by arrows twice, at Orléans (in the shoulder) and at Paris (in the leg). She was fighting alright!
Now, what about her commanding the troops? Kelly DeVries wrote a biography on Joan of Arc to argue that she was in fact “A Military Leader” (1999). However he gives Joan too much credit in my opinion. He states that Joan’s rashness inspired other military leaders of her time when I actually observed in the 15th century chronicles that everything Joan “did”, the other captains serving Charles VII were already doing it long before she came to the scene (attacking the enemy by surprise, being relentless, etc.). What mostly held them back was the politics behind the war.
Many written sources relayed the fact that she was properly armed on the battlefield and participated in the war effort. She got hit by arrows twice, at Orléans (in the shoulder) and at Paris (in the leg).
Philippe Contamine, the most expert French historian about the 15th century, already observed that the English were poorly organized at Orléans. Their forces were too widely spread around the town. It was “easy” to take down one fort after the other. When Joan arrived, the most skilled of Charles VII’s captains were already at Orléans: La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, the Chabanne brothers, the bastard of Orléans… Those people knew how to fight and they had no duke nor prince to overrule them. They could “play ugly” and they didn’t care for the glory or the etiquette. The battle of Patay is an obvious example of that. La Hire and Xaintrailles rushed the enemy as soon as they spotted them, taking them by surprise and routing them out. A few months ago, at the battle of the Herrings, they’d been asked to wait for the arrival of the duke of Bourbon, who wished to claim the glory of the battle. It led to a gory defeat as the English mustered the time to organize their defending position and make themselves impervious to swift and heavy cavalry charges (a French specialty).
Nevertheless, Joan certainly wished to act as a commander. She was quite bossy, and sassy too. She was never given any proper command title, but she certainly became a leading figure in the French army. Though she mostly became some kind of celebrity–people loved and/or hated her, she was on every lips—she also acted as a proper commander. At Compiègne, when she was captured, she was actually insuring the retreat of “her” troops by staying behind. According to the chivalric art of war, a leader was always supposed to be on the front line, the closest to the enemy. Joan of Arc was also the most relentless “leader” at the siege of Paris. She was determined to take the city (which was defended by Burgundian soldiers—she hated the Burgundians). The duke of Alençon actually had to go and fetch her to take her away from the battle when everybody knew the day was lost.
There was a glass-ceiling that she never could break. She never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader.
The school of war was done on the battlefield at the beginning of the 15th century. We suspect some of Charles VII’s captains of not being able to write or read. Yet they could certainly fight and come up with crazy and daring tactics. Many of Charles VII’s captains were actually “self-taught” (meaning they were schooled by masters on the battlefield through practice and didn’t go to an academy of any kind) and were appointed/elected to their position by their peers since the military institutions of that time fell into total anarchy between 1418 and 1441. Some of them even had pretty obscure origins, pretty much like Joan of Arc.
In conclusion there was a glass-ceiling that she never could break. She never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader. She didn’t have any military company of her own (any proper “captain” had his own band of brothers-in-arms). She always tagged along or she was placed, here and there, as a mascot–which infuriated her. La Hire, Xaintrailles and others actually tried to replace her once she was dead with a random shepherd they found on some field or something. It led to an utter disaster of a battle that, to my knowledge, was only recorded by a Burgundian chronicler (but a reliable one). The endeavor was never repeated. However, Joan of Arc showed promises and at that time women could lead armies. Princesses, Queens or Duchesses actually commanded their troops in some cases when their husbands were away (or dead). Little is known about them actually fighting, though, but they certainly knew how to rule and strategize. The key at that time for any ruler was to surround themselves with shrewd and capable advisors and to listen to them, then only to take decisions and boss people around—well, that’s what I believe at least—but also what people at that time thought of good government!
La Hire, Xaintrailles and others actually tried to replace her once she was dead with a random shepherd they found on some field or something.
For further readings, don’t hesitate to ask, but most of the scholarly work on Joan of Arc was written in French. A good place to start though is the forever great Pernoud, Régine & Clin, Marie-Véronique. Joan of Arc: Her Story. trans. Jeremy Duquesnay Adams. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.
Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?
People took Joan of Arc seriously because they believed in magic and miracles. She was only human though, but that’s what makes her story even more fascinating.
Joan of Arc Hero-General in Age of Empires 2
In a former post I briefly discussed about how Age of Empires 2 wrongly gave Joan of Arc the title of “Commander of the Army of France”. That function actually lied with the “Connétable” (which was the proper title of such a high office) who was chosen for life by the king—once he’d obtained his title, it couldn’t be taken away from him. Back in 1429, the French Connétable was Arthur de Richemont, who has an entry on my blog regarding his background.
First, I would like to pinpoint where that historical mistake came from. Then I would like to say a few more words about Richemont’s relationship with Joan of Arc as the actual commander-in-chief or the French army.
Joe Staten, creative director for Microsoft who helped to design the first Age of Empires game stated that his “real passion was history. [He] read a lot of historical fiction and so when Age came around […] it was this perfect melding of the kinds of games that [he] liked to play: real-time strategy games with this history that [he] loved.”
There we have it: the Age of Empires series doesn’t draw from history books but from historical novels. Building on that fact it becomes quite easy to find out the novel that inspired the Joan of Arc campaign in Age of Empires 2. We just have to look at the most influential of them all: the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, first published in 1896. As a matter of fact, that very novel contains a chapter titled “She Is Made General-In-Chief.” It isn’t too long so I’ll simply paste it here for you to read.
Mark Twain Creates Joan of Arc General
It was indeed a great day, and a stirring thing to see.
She had won! It was a mistake of Tremouille and her other ill-wishers to let her hold court those nights.
The commission of priests sent to Lorraine ostensibly to inquire into Joan’s character—in fact to weary her with delays and wear out her purpose and make her give it up—arrived back and reported her character perfect. Our affairs were in full career now, you see.
Dead France woke suddenly to life, wherever the great news travelled. Whereas before, the spiritless and cowed people hung their heads and slunk away if one mentioned war to them, now they came clamoring to be enlisted under the banner of the Maid of Vaucouleurs, and the roaring of war-songs and the thundering of the drums filled all the air.
The verdict made a prodigious stir. Dead France woke suddenly to life, wherever the great news travelled. Whereas before, the spiritless and cowed people hung their heads and slunk away if one mentioned war to them, now they came clamoring to be enlisted under the banner of the Maid of Vaucouleurs, and the roaring of war-songs and the thundering of the drums filled all the air. I remembered now what she had said, that time there in our village when I proved by facts and statistics that France’s case was hopeless, and nothing could ever rouse the people from their lethargy:
“They will hear the drums—and they will answer, they will march!”
It has been said that misfortunes never come one at a time, but in a body. In our case it was the same with good luck. Having got a start, it came flooding in, tide after tide. Our next wave of it was of this sort. There had been grave doubts among the priests as to whether the Church ought to permit a female soldier to dress like a man. But now came a verdict on that head. Two of the greatest scholars and theologians of the time—one of whom had been Chancellor of the University of Paris—rendered it. They decided that since Joan “must do the work of a man and a soldier, it is just and legitimate that her apparel should conform to the situation.”
Two of the greatest scholars and theologians of the time—one of whom had been Chancellor of the University of Paris—rendered it. They decided that since Joan “must do the work of a man and a soldier, it is just and legitimate that her apparel should conform to the situation.”
It was a great point gained, the Church’s authority to dress as a man. Oh, yes, wave on wave the good luck came sweeping in. Never mind about the smaller waves, let us come to the largest one of all, the wave that swept us small fry quite off our feet and almost drowned us with joy. The day of the great verdict, couriers had been despatched to the King with it, and the next morning bright and early the clear notes of a bugle came floating to us on the crisp air, and we pricked up our ears and began to count them. One—two—three; pause; one—two; pause; one—two—three, again—and out we skipped and went flying; for that formula was used only when the King’s herald-at-arms would deliver a proclamation to the people. As we hurried along, people came racing out of every street and house and alley, men, women, and children, all flushed, excited, and throwing lacking articles of clothing on as they ran; still those clear notes pealed out, and still the rush of people increased till the whole town was abroad and streaming along the principal street. At last we reached the square, which was now packed with citizens, and there, high on the pedestal of the great cross, we saw the herald in his brilliant costume, with his servitors about him. The next moment he began his delivery in the powerful voice proper to his office:
“Know all men, and take heed therefore, that the most high, the most illustrious Charles, by the grace of God King of France, hath been pleased to confer upon his well-beloved servant Joan of Arc, called the Maid, the title, emoluments, authorities, and dignity of General-in-Chief of the Armies of France—”
“The most illustrious Charles, by the grace of God King of France, hath been pleased to confer upon his well-beloved servant Joan of Arc, called the Maid, the title, emoluments, authorities, and dignity of General-in-Chief of the Armies of France.”
Here a thousand caps flew in the air, and the multitude burst into a hurricane of cheers that raged and raged till it seemed as if it would never come to an end; but at last it did; then the herald went on and finished:
—“and hath appointed to be her lieutenant and chief of staff a prince of his royal house, his grace the Duke of Alençon!”
That was the end, and the hurricane began again, and was split up into innumerable strips by the blowers of it and wafted through all the lanes and streets of the town.
General of the Armies of France, with a prince of the blood for subordinate! Yesterday she was nothing—to-day she was this. Yesterday she was not even a sergeant, not even a corporal, not even a private—to-day, with one step, she was at the top. Yesterday she was less than nobody to the newest recruit—to-day her command was law to La Hire, Saintrailles, the Bastard of Orleans, and all those others, veterans of old renown, illustrious masters of the trade of war. These were the thoughts I was thinking; I was trying to realize this strange and wonderful thing that had happened, you see.
Yesterday she was not even a sergeant, not even a corporal, not even a private—to-day, with one step, she was at the top. Yesterday she was less than nobody to the newest recruit—to-day her command was law to La Hire.
My mind went travelling back, and presently lighted upon a picture—a picture which was still so new and fresh in my memory that it seemed a matter of only yesterday—and indeed its date was no further back than the first days of January. This is what it was. A peasant-girl in a far-off village, her seventeenth year not yet quite completed, and herself and her village as unknown as if they had been on the other side of the globe. She had picked up a friendless wanderer somewhere and brought it home—a small gray kitten in a forlorn and starving condition—and had fed it and comforted it and got its confidence and made it believe in her, and now it was curled up in her lap asleep, and she was knitting a coarse stocking and thinking—dreaming—about what, one may never know. And now—the kitten had hardly had time to become a cat, and yet already the girl is General of the Armies of France, with a prince of the blood to give orders to, and out of her village obscurity her name has climbed up like the sun and is visible from all corners of the land! It made me dizzy to think of these things, they were so out of the common order, and seemed so impossible.
3 Historical Mistakes In Twain’s Narrative
Unfortunately Mark Twain wasn’t writing a history book but a historical novel. To be good or great novels abide to a set of dramatic rules. Everything seems “bigger than life” though at the same time “oddly probable” in a novel.
In order to make his novel more enticing or catchy, Mark Twain tweaked a few facts here and there. Nothing much… but just enough to mix the historical truth with pure fiction and sell a few lies as facts.
There Were No Statistics in the Middle Ages
Twain really wants to make us understand how crazy Joan’s mission was. How impossible it was deemed to achieve. How incredible it was when it was. That’s what makes her story worthy of being told. Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. That’s the pitch.
Therefore Joan is not only confronted to a fixed social order but also to cold hard reason. It’s being shown in the novel through the anachronistic use of statistics. There were to statistics in the Middle Age. The mathematical optimisation of the public order was not yet a thing. The mathematical language in itself had not even been constructed yet! However, “numbers don’t lie”. We live today with the deluded notion that numbers reflect the truth and reality itself (as if the production of those statistical numbers wasn’t a problem in and of itself).
Twain uses that familiarity he expects from the reader with the everyday use of statistics to make Joan’s tale “bigger than life” and even more incredible than it actually is. The anachronism of that literary stratagem doesn’t even pose a problem.
Joan of Arc Never Was General in Chief
Remember the pitch. Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. We already have the “bigger than life” element sorted out: her quest defeated all the statistics that could be thrown at her. Now comes the “oddly probable” moment.
How come that she led the French army to victory? Simple. She was made General in Chief. Twain is starting to pile up lies here. He’s building a proper house of cards. But here comes the wind.
Short story short, the duke of Alençon had been captured into battle a few months prior to the siege of Orléans. He’d been invited by the duke of Burgundy to join the English alliance but he refused. His grandfather had died at Crécy and his father, most heroically, at Agincourt. His lands had been taken away from him by the English. He was left penniless with nothing to go on but his good name and sense of honour. Therefore if politely but firmly declined the offer.
First order of business: Joan was never created General in Chief. Not only did that title not existed at the time, but also Joan wasn’t given any official commanding title of any kind. It was merely agreed that she could accompany the army. Nothing more, although she quickly rose as a moral and religious exemplary figure and natural leader. She made the French army ring the Te Deum on their departure from Blois to Orléans.
What’s funny is that Twain resorts again to anachronism here, by referencing to modern military grades and titles of command. He talks of “privates” when there was no such thing back then. It could be construed as a literary adaptation, a way to make the subject clearer to the reader. However, it mostly induces a fake sense of the medieval reality…
Moreover, any basic knowledge of medieval armies at the time makes this “oddly probable” moment another “bigger than life” ingredient of narration. So big, this one, in fact, that we need to resort to a suspension of disbelief to make the rest of the novel any enjoyable. We clearly left the realm of facts for the country of fictions.
The Duke of Alençon Never Was Joan’s Lieutenant
Since Twain started to pile lies up, why not top it with a cherry and make it a nice cake with frosting and everything? The duke of Alençon is made Joan’s lieutenant. She has a really bloody prince under her command! What’s up with that?
Short story short, the duke of Alençon had been captured into battle a few months prior to the siege of Orléans. He’d been invited by the duke of Burgundy to join the English alliance but he refused. His grandfather had died at Crécy and his father, most heroically, at Agincourt. His lands had been taken away from him by the English. He was left penniless with nothing to go on but his good name and sense of honour. Therefore if politely but firmly declined the offer.
At that point he was released and could rejoin his wife who, to make things less complicated, was the step-sister of the king of England. You know. Family’s a bitch. Nevertheless he couldn’t fight the English nor the Burgundians anymore as long as he hadn’t settle his ransom. It was not yet the case when Joan left for Orléans. That’s why he didn’t contributed to the city being liberated. He couldn’t have. He was bond by the code of chivalry. The man of the hour at Orléans was the Bastard of Orléans. And he certainly took no order from Joan! He kept her in the dark regarding most of the strategic decisions and meetings which drove her mad.
Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. That’s the pitch.
You’d understand though that for a novelist trying to sell a narrative pitch, those kind of facts would be deemed negligible and wouldn’t make out for a “great story”. They had to be tweaked if not properly erased and presented differently.
The Proof that Age of Empires 2 Was Based on Twain’s Novel
We have already stated that Joe Staten, creative director for the Age of Empires series, got his inspiration from historical novels. Mark Twain wrote a historical novel about Joan of Arc. We only have to connect the dots now.
As a matter of fact there is no mention of any statistics in Age of Empires 2 within Joan of Arc’s narrative. We can therefore rule that lumpy anachronism out. There is no connection there.
The most obvious evidence that AoE2 told the story of Joan of Arc after Twain’s novel lies with the duke of Alençon. Indeed, he greets the player as he/she starts the second scenario: The Maid of Orléans. Not only is it a historical inacurracy. It’s the very embellishment that Twain drew out to make Joan’s story “bigger than life”.
This is hard evidence if there is any. The fact that AoE2 also gives Joan the title of general could contribute to build our case here but there is much more to say regading the Twain-AoE2 romance about the portrayal of La Hire [blogpost on that topic underway].
The Real “General” of the French Army: Arthur de Richemont
Richemont appears in Age of Empires 2 when the players reaches the last scenario in Joan’s story. He’s to lead the French army at the battle of Castillon alongside other heroes among which La Hire who either survived his own death or crawled out of his grave. La Hire dies in 1443 and the battle of Castillon takes place in 1453. I let you work the numbers out. Remember! “Numbers don’t lie.”
The Medieval French Army … In Theory
The French Army went under a lot of development during the Hundred Years’ War. It took quite a bit of time for it but waging war became the business of professionals, a small group of people who devoted their whole life to the art of war. Noblemen were slowly being pushed out of the business for their religious worship of proper etiquette led to utter military disasters. The feudal pyramid of old was crumbling from within. Noblemen were more and more focused on administrative matters and less and less prone to the actual exercice of war. This tendency does NOT constitute an absolute however. The Burgundian alliance was renowned for its traditionnalism. The duke of Burgundy found many capable military leaders within his nobility. Just as the French army grew out of the Feudal System, the Burgundian army maintained everything it could from it: the titles of old, the etiquette, the chivalrous ranking system, etc.
The French army had a constable at its head and two marshalls (maréchaux) to fill in for him. They represented the king himself and anyone challenging their authority was also challenging the king. Once appointed they couldn’t be replaced until their death.
The shift for the French army started with Charles V (1338-1380). This king properly turned the tables on the English and his son would have put an end to the Hundred Years’ War if he hadn’t gone mad. The French army was put under the ‘managment’ of its constable (connétable): Bertrand Du Guesclin. It followed strict rules: no open engagement on any battlefield, a war of attrition, sneak and surgical attacks, a solid regulation of the men-at-arms roaming the country. The great dukes and princes were pushed out of the leadership of the war but the king feared no real opposition for he heavily relied upon his brothers (the duke of Berry and the duke of Burgundy) and they followed his leadership closely, going as far as copying the royal administration within their own estates to manage it.
At this point the French army had a constable at its head and two marshalls (maréchaux) to fill in for him. They represented the king himself and anyone challenging their authority was also challenging the king. Once appointed they couldn’t be replaced until their death. Now what happened is that Charles VI couldn’t maintain this neat system intact. He delved into demencia, his uncles took control of the government and the dukes and princes started to fight each other for power. The royal army was dried out of money and the king’s authority came to naught. When Charles VII eventually took over his father, the French army was in a state of utter anarchy. The soldiers were not being paid and resorted to plunder and unregulated attacks on the king’s enemy to make a living. They were often high in debt and roamed the country in search of lucrative ventures. Captains were appointed by their own men and the military military mistruted the mighty dukes and princes for they usually knew better how to take or to defend a city.
Charles VII had a weak character and was easily manipulated. He favoured close friends a bit too much and he let the people he liked rule in his stead. First there was Pierre de Giac, then there was Camus de Beaulieu. Richemont had both of them killed.
Richemont Falls Into Disgrace
Richemont was a highborn son of the House of Britanny. Though he was not the firstborn son of his father, he eventually became Duke of Britanny at the end of his life. Since his mother married Henry IV of England, he also had close ties to the House of Lancaster. However, he was raised by the duke of Burgundy and had even closer ties to the Burgundian nobility. He even became himself a Burgundian lord when he married a Burgundian princess. Nevertheless he refused to enter the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and reached for Charles VII through the Queen of Sicily, Yolande of Aragon. She made him constable and from 1425 onwards he became the official “General in Chief” of the French army.
Charles VII had a weak character and was easily manipulated. He favoured close friends a bit too much and he let the people he liked rule in his stead. First there was Pierre de Giac, then there was Camus de Beaulieu. Richemont had both of them killed then he appointed Georges de La Trémoille to watch over the king and gain his favours. However, La Trémoille was far richer than Giac or Beaulieu and, most of all, shrewd as hell. His ambition led him to challenge his former patron and create a faction within Charles VII’s council against Richemont.
Despite a few splendid military successes, like the liberation of Montargis (1427), Richemont had to go into exile and avoid the king’s court altogether. His brother, Duke of Britanny, had joined again the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and Richemont’s name was utterly ternished by such a diplomatic failure. The English could push forward against a disorganized French army and they eventually reached Orléans. La Trémoille reigned supreme and unchallenged. That’s when Joan of Arc showed up at Chinon.
La Trémoille was far richer than Giac or Beaulieu and, most of all, shrewd as hell. His ambition led him to challenge his former patron and create a faction within Charles VII’s council against Richemont.
As Joan convinced the king to take action, Richemont was still in exile. He was even formerly forbidden by the king to join with the French army on the battlefield. However, the captains that were defending Orléans were kind of his good men. The Bastard of Orléans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, such leaders had formerly found a strong political ally in Richemont when it came to liberate Montargis back in 1427. Richemont had even took out of his own pocket to insure their military services. Moreover they had no love for the high and mighty lords that haunted the king’s court.
They had had their reservation against Richemont, of course. He was a high born himself and they knew through experience that such people used to look down on them. At Montargis they had bluntly told him to stay behind and leave them deal with the enemy (which they did most successfully! routing John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, himself!). Nevertheless Richemont had recognized their proper value when no one else had and it sure meant something.
Joan of Arc Meets Arthur de Richemont
Let’s rewind this story for a minute.
To make complicated matters quite simple, Arthur’s mother married Henry IV of England when Arthur’s dad, who had been duke of Britanny, died. Do you remember? However, as Henry V rose to the throne, Arthur’s mother was deemed… a nuisance. Therefore she was put on trial for sorcery. She never had to fear for her life though, this trial was more of a way to put her aside politically and make room for the new king. Nevertheless, I think we need to keep that piece of background history in mind when we come to the moment Arthur de Richemont met Joan of Arc.
Now, let’s jump to this blogpost conclusion.
Orléans was free! The Maid had achieved her miracle. However, the Loire still had to be cleansed from English rule. At that very moment, the duke of Alençon had finally paid the last chunk of his ransom and could ride back into battle to honour the memory of his ancestors. The king appointed him as his “lieutenant-général”, meaning he was now put in charge of the French army. Jargeau, Meung, Beaugency: those powerful cities were to fall back under French rule!
Jargeau fell. Then Meung. Joan the Maid, the duke of Alençon and La Hire were heading towards Beaugency but the English were gathering more troops to fight them off. The troops were tired. A victory seemed uncertain at this point. Were the French heading to a new Vae Victis?
Sensing a change in the winds, Richemont decided to turn up with his personal army. La Trémoille got enraged. The French army led by Alençon was under a great commotion. Joan had been convinced that Richemont had to be defeated. She turned to the captains of the army, the Bastard of Orléans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles. Their reaction was as rash as it can be: “If you go against the constable, you’ll find someone to talk to! We’d rather serve under the command of Richemont and fight alongside his men than to fight alongside all the maids of the realm!” Joan wisened up fast and convinced Alençon that fighting Richemont was a bad idea. La Trémoille could enrage all he wanted, Richemont reached the French army and both parties met in the most joyfull manner.
Richemont eventually met the Maid of Lorraine and spoke with her. His words were recorded for the posterity. He said: “Joan, I’m being told you want to fight against me… I don’t know if you are sent by the devil or by God. If you’re sent by God, I don’t fear you. If you’re sent by the devil, I fear you even less.” Then he asked Joan to plead for him to the king to reinstate him in his charge before they went on and took back Beugeancy together whilst Richemont’s reinforcements helped to defend Meung that was under a heavy counterattack.
I’ll surely write more on those historical events when I ever write my walkthrough + historical commentary of Joan’s third scenario in Age of Empires 2: “The Cleansing of the Loire”.
I’ve been meaning to write this blog-post for a looong time. Actually, it is where it all started for me and my online Asinus persona. However, the more I delved into the topic, the more I discovered that the sum of my knowledge was close to nothing… I had to watch more videos and read more. All in all I spent several hundred hours on that very particular subject. I hope you will appreciate my findings. Please, let me know if I’ve forgotten anything! I will update my post accordingly. Thank you for reading and see you soon on my next blog posts.
This blog post is dedicated to _LilTrouble, the kindest of all Age of Empires 2 streamers, who makes her streams feel like you’re in a lounge having a good time with friends.
The first time I restarted Age of Empires 2 for an online game with my father and his colleagues, I just did nonsense. I sent my scout straight to my allies. I scouted my base with my villagers. I found three turkeys and didn’t look for the fourth one (though you always find cattle in even numbers). I just didn’t what a build order was!
I got my ass served to me a few times by my father’s colleagues and I decided that I couldn’t suck at some twenty years old game anymore. My pride was tickled and it had to be answered. I started to learn what a build order was.Matthieu Macret puts it best:
“A build order defines the sequence in which buildings are constructed, units are produced and technologies are researched. Build orders target a specific strategy, such as rushing or timing attacks.“
Age of Empires 2 is a Real Time Strategy game that works on a very simple principle: the more ressources you have, the more military you can produce.
Once I acquired that little piece of knowledge, I went on to learn that boars, that I had always ignored, were to be hunted and their food collected. Hunting wild boars is however a dangerous activity in Age of Empires 2. That’s why I had always avoided it altogether in the past. Was it really necessary, though, to change my habits to improve my gameplay?
Sorry to be blunt but first I thought I should serve you with a long ass demonstration. Eventually I decided against it. Age of Empires 2 is a Real Time Strategy game that works on a very simple principle: the more ressources you have, the more military you can produce. There is an element of sheer strategy to the game, but on the long run the player that has the best economy usually wins.
You just can’t ignore the free food boars represent. You need it.
How to get it, however, is another matter… for which I’m fully prepared to go on for a bit and boar you with details.
Tournaments followed the chivalric code of war! Indeed, jousts and tournaments were nothing like modern sporting events. They were true exercises of warfare during peace times more than anything else. It was a way to make war without declaring it.
Welcome to our class of Heraldry 101, young Padawan. I’m glad you made it on time. Today, we’ll discuss why the kings of France preferred a flower over, say, some powerful predator like the lion or the bear. I mean, isn’t it weird? And even weirded when you think that Charles VI chose winged deer as his emblem instead of… I don’t know… winged wolves, or dragons?
Torture came into fashion in the 13th century for very specific reasons. Namely, the (re)discovery of Roman law and its implementation by the Church. The 1215 Latran council recognised that trials by ordeals were a thing from the past and that since they were rational and modern beings, it was time to move on.
How to Hunt Wild Boars in Age of Empires 2?
Toying with Danger
Hunting a wild boar is a dangerous business! You can help out your villagers by researching loom and grant them extra hit points and armor. However, loom costs 50 gold and researching it could slow your build order down if you aim for very early aggression. Also, sometimes you just don’t have the time to have it researched before you have to lure boars. It can happen on a Nomad map, for example.
Just watch the following clip from T90 Official YouTube channel and witness how Lierrey turns a bad start around with two successful very early boar lures.
Lierrey is a pro-player and he makes it look very easy though he comes close to lose a villager. However, many a player have lost many a villager in unsuccessful boar luring attempts.
A few weeks back, a new meme was born to mock William McNabb who went on Twitter and asked the following in the wake of two more U.S.A. mass shootings and argued in favor of assault weapons: “Legit question for rural Americans – How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?“
I’m not making this up. I found the original tweet back for you.
It became an instant internet success (click on the link to read Joey Cosco’s very entertaining account of this viral moment). Of course, since Age of Empires 2 players have to face the danger of wild boars every early game, they just had to join in on the fun and they came up with some memes of their own.
Not to hit you too hard and too soon with some concrete historical knowledge, but it was actually well-known in the Middle Ages that wild boar hunting was a dangerous business. The sole encounter of a sus scrofa (to call the wild boar by its latin scientific name) could lead to an ineluctable death. I just happen to know of a few stories about muredrous medieval piggies.
Should I briefly narrate two of those stories to you?
The Pigs that Killed Kings
October 13, 1131. Paris.
The City of Light was still haloed in darkness but the sun was high and bright on that fine and long-forgotten Tuesday. Prince Philip was only fifteen years old but he rode his horse as proud as a peacock.
Soon the name “Philip” was just as common as “Eudes” or “Raoul”.
He had many followers behind him. Not only was he a Prince, you see, he was actually a King. He’d been introduced to the fine art of ruling the realm at the ripe age of three years old. Six years later, he’d been coronated and anointed along his father at Reims. The rolls of chancery called him rex designatus or rex junior. His kingly title was therefore the most official thing.
Prince Philip was born on a windy day. His father was fat and his mother ugly. His Greek name was yet quite uncommon for his time, though he’d been called after his grand-father, Philip I.
Philip I had had a Byzantine princess for mother. Some unverifiable sources state that she descended from Macedonian Kings of old. That’s why, maybe, she gave her son the name of Alexander the Great’s father. It quickly caught up, however, and soon the name “Philip” was just as common as “Eudes” or “Raoul”.
Since he’d been anointed at Reims, Prince Philip was believed to have curing powers that he could channel through his hands. It was a gift that all the Kings of France shared and it made him a holy man despite his youth.
Never a death was deemed more unjust than this one. It was describe with the all the darkest words known to the Latin language: misera, miserabilis, horrenda, horribilis, atrox, turpis, ignominiosa, invidiosa, sordida, infamis, immunda.
Until the age of seven, Prince Philip remained in the company of ladies, that fed and cared for him. From then on he had the task to educate himself and to become a man. Such a noble achievement could only come through the arts of horse riding and weapon-wielding. It comes as no surprise then that Prince Philip, aged fifteen, ventured outside Paris on a hunting party.
Or maybe did he just escaped the city for a ride in the countryside with his friends? We do not know. Meanwhile, his father remains very busy in the capital, mustering his troops to face a few rebellious lords.
As evening lights dawned on Paris and the sun descended below the horizon, Prince Philip came back from his ride in the countryside and passed through a suburb. That is when the accident happened.
It all flashed in a minute and there was nothing anybody could have done.
A pig ran into the legs of Prince Philip’s steed. The horse panicked. The young King lost balance and fell from his horse. His head hurt a rock. The steed then trampled Prince Philip, fell and crushed him.
Philip’s fat father and ugly mother also decided to conceive a new child and to name him after their first born.
The fifteen-years-old King was somehow still alive and was brought to the nearest house but he was certainly doomed. His father was informed of the accident, rushed to his bedside and cursed the devil-sent pig.Prince Philip died overnight. The pope, who was en route to Reims, changed his travel plans to attend Prince Philip’s funerals in Paris.
Never a death was deemed more unjust than this one. It was describe with the all the darkest words known to the Latin language: misera, miserabilis, horrenda, horribilis, atrox, turpis, ignominiosa, invidiosa, sordida, infamis, immunda. It left a stain on the new regal dynasty that was difficult to overcome. However, the Capets managed to get over the dishonor Prince Philip’s death caused. He was buried within the next twelve days and his little brother, Louis, was anointed at Reims by the pope himself, shortly after that.
Philip’s fat father and ugly mother also decided to conceive a new child and to name him after their first born. This second Prince Philip, who never became King, received powerful ecclesiastical charges. Nonetheless he gave up the bishopric of Paris to Pierre Lombard. But that, my friends, is a story for another time.
Do you want to know more about the pig that killed a king? I would advise you to read Michel Pastoureau’s monograph: Le roi tué par un cochon (Paris: Seuil, 2015).
The next story, for now, will tell you how Philip the Fair died, two centuries after Prince Philip, in 1314. It was more epic, however, since this time it happened during an actual hunting party, in a deep dark forest and not in the suburbs or Paris. It also enflammed the rich imagination of several great contemporary novelists of ours, as you shall see.
November 4, 1314. As the cold winds of winter closed in on the kingdom of France, its king chose to lead a hunting party in the cursed forest of Halatte. That is where Louis V met an untimely end in 987. The forest of Halatte had already taken one king. It could take another. Philip the Fair, however, didn’t let it scare him away. He plunged into the forest and hunted a wild boar with the vigor of a young man. He found a beast. He injured it. The beast threw itself under the feet of the king’s steed. Then, just like Prince Philip in 1131, Philip the Fair failed to maintain his balance and fell over. He broke his leg and the wild boar charged him. The beast was slain but King Philip IV proved to be badly injured. He was carried out of the forest and brought to Fontainebleau. He wished to stay alive until the day that a specific holy saint was celebrated. However, he died from his injuries a few days before the date. Many clerics saw that as a form of divine punishment. Philip the Fair hadn’t been very protective of the Church. He’d minted counterfeit money and robbed the Templars of all their belongings after he destroyed their order.
The untimely death of Philip the Fair and his harsh political choices actually gave birth to the legend that he’d been cursed by the Grand Master of the Knights Templar when the latter was burned at the stakes by order of the king. That curse then supposedly ran through many generations and it ultimately led to the Hundred Years’ War.
Well! This is all fine and dandy, but let’s get down to business and talk about wild boar hunting in Age of Empires 2.The best way to collect their food is to lure them.
Legit question for Dark Age villagers: “What’s that all about?”
The Overall Concept
Let’s say you’re new to Age of Empires 2.
How do you hunt a wild boar? Do you send all your villagers right next to it, shoot it down, and transport the food back to your town center like a fresh newbie? Or better yet, do you build a mill next to the boar to facilitate the food gathering?
In AoE2: Definitive Edition; a villager must only shoot a boar once to get it to chase him/her; a military unit, however, attempting to lame a wild boar, must hit it twice “to make it personal”
I know the wild boar is dangerous. I know kings have died because of it. I know very well that a single AoE2 villager stands no chance against such a beast. Yet, it is a villager alone that you have to send towards the wild boarfrom which you wish to collect food in order to create more villagers or early militia units.
goes, your villager. Look at him. Look at her! Your villager walks towards the
wild boar with a bow in its hand. What do you
If you want to lure a wild boar to your town center so that its food can be directly collected there, you villager will have to shoot the beast twice. Not once. Twice. If your villager injures a wild boar with only one arrow, the boar will not follow him or her. You need to tickle the beast for good. However, as soon as the boar has been shot twice, your villager must go back to your town center.
[Edit: This is no longer the case in AoE2: Definitive Edition; a villager must only shoot a boar once to get it to chase him/her; a military unit, however, attempting to lame a wild boar, must hit it twice “to make it personal”]
your villager is stupid because it is, indeed, a fact. Your villager will keep
firing at the wild boar until he or she dies unless instructed otherwise. So
don’t forget your boar hunting villager as you build a lumber camp, send
another sheep to slaughter, or scout the enemy base. It will cost you food and
Assume that your villager is stupid because it is, indeed, a fact. Your villager will keep firing at the wild boar until he or she dies unless instructed otherwise.
Once nearing your town center, your injured
boar hunting villager (for he or she will take a few hits!) can jump into it and your villagers butchering sheep right on that very
same spot can now draw their attention to the beastly wild animal and kill it.
The job, finally, is done. However, so many things can go wrong… So here are a few more tricks to add your skillset if you want to become a top AoE2 player.
As I’ve stated before, boar hunting is some seriously dangerous business in Age of Empires 2. Many things can go wrong and any little mistake can slow you down by messing up your precious build order. You need to be careful, however, you can’t be solely focussed on your boar hunting business as you’re boar hunting.
I know. It can be confusing but pro-players call it APM. Actions per minute. How many actions can you achieve under one single minute? In RTS games, the more, the better.
While you’re boar hunting, you still have to manage the rest of your economy, keep an eye out for your enemy, build, scout, collect other ressources. The Dark Age isn’t as easy-peasy as it seems, nor as quiet. The five first minutes of a game can sometimes definitevely show if you’ll win or lose twenty to forty minutes later!
The Farm Trick
As far as I’m
concerned, Age of Empires 2 is an
exploration game as much as a strategy game. I remember spending hours, as a
kid, exploring every single corner of the map with my scout. I was pretty
devoted to the task. I wouldn’t multitask. I would only scout. I was also super
focused on the technologies that widen your line of sight like town
watch or town patrol.
Because who needs horse collar
and double-bit axe?
If you ever
play against me online, be sure I’ll outpost rush you before I ever tower rush
you. I know. I’m lethal.
The fog of war is really what separates the wannabe pros to the real pros.
rather surprised to meet people online who hated the fog of war with their
guts. They only wanted to play on all-explored or all-visible maps. And it had
to go fast, too.
bully my slow villagers. I don’t even pay them any wages. Fifty food is all they
get to last the thousand-year span from the Dark Age to the Imperial Age…
the fog of war is really what separates the wannabe pros to the real pros. I
mean, look at The Viper. Not only is he, like, super cute—Debbie, beware. He’s so
cool behind his glasses that he’s like a blond Sakamoto.
The Viper, also, is obsessed with his boars. So much, in fact, that he slaughters them all mindlessly and yet still wonders where they all are every once in a while.
also, is obsessed with his boars. So much, in fact, that he slaughters them all
mindlessly and yet still wonders where they all are every once in a while. Location,
location, location. The Viper is always very concerned with finding his wild
boars. Now, if you happen to have
scouted your entire starting base and you can’t find them, maybe that’s
because they’re hidden in a little fog of war pocket. And if that ever happens,
The Viper has a trick up his sleeve that
can be useful to you: just build a farm over the fog of war to spot your
missing wild boar.
This is a
very neat trick and one does not need witchcraft to conjure it. In order to lift the fog of war by placing
a farm foundation, you need to place it on at least one tile of explored map
area. That’s all folks!
wonder. Why put a villager in danger if you can send your scout to lure a wild
boar to your town center? Poke it twice, turn back and gallop towards your town
center: job done! But, is it? The problem with the scout is that he’s too fast
for the boar. Meaning a wild boar pursuing a scout will quickly lose sight of
it and, at that point, drop the chase to return to its starting position.
The problem is, as T-West the Wise teaches us, that a regular AoE2 wild boar has a three tile line of sight. If you venture out of that three tile radius, the boar stops pursuing you.
interesting thing is this.
A wild boar shares the line of sight of every Gaia unit on the map. This includes deer, wolves, birds, and even holy relics! Therefore, once you hit a boar with a scout, as long as that scout remains into the line of sight of any Gaia unit, the boar will continue to chase you.
It can be
quite tricky to master the skill of getting a wild boar to chase you beyond its
own line of sight. The following clip shows the pro-player MbL failing at the
attempt. And yet, MbL is usually so successful in AoE2 boar hunting that he got nicknamed ‘the Boar Whisperer’ and
the ‘Master Boar Lamer’.
wrong for him here is that his scout, which tries to lure a second boar to the
town center, didn’t enter the three tile line of sight of the first boar that
was being lured by a villager. He left the three tile radius of the boar it was
supposed to lure and failed to remain into Gaia’s line of sight. Therefore, the
second boar returned to its starting position.
The scout may be too fast for a boar to pursue, but the boar has no problem to chase down a villager and rip it into pieces. Nevertheless, you feel confident enough to send out a villager to lure a boar. You know you won’t forget that villager and make it turn back on time to save his or her life. But, will you? There are many sounds in Age of Empires 2 that can rattle you and distract you from your wild boar lure. I guess you know them all by now.
sending a villager to lure your second boar, the most probable sound that will
distract you is the population limit alert. You’re being housed. Deal with it
urgently or fear that your town center will remain idle a second to long.
build a house? Nice.
you hear this…
Because of your bad APM, you couldn’t save your villager on time. He or she’s been killed by the boar. What a disaster, loss of time and resource. You should just call the GG right now and forget about this whole mess.
else could have distracted you. If you’ve send a villager to build a forward
barrack, you have a 100% chance that this villager is going to be attacked by a
By the time
you go and deal with it, again, your boar luring villager will be dead.
13. Sure! Blame
it on your ISP.
all. If you’re playing a team game, or a diplomacy game, maybe another player
is trying to show you something on the map, and you hear that sound.
You check it out, you’re APM is still shit because you’re below the 1.5k ELO despite the fact that you’ve played AoE2 non-stop for six months, bim, you’re boar luring villager is… yet again… dead. Do you feel the rage building up?
More seriously, what do you do? Please, follow The Viper’s advice and save your villager’s life with the neat and amazing ‘house trick’. Basically, what you have to do is to place the foundations of a house over a boar to stop it in its course. It is, however, very difficult to achieve properly. Your execution must be on point.
What does a diligent scout do? He scouts, he attac, but most importantly, he circles bac!
task your scout different missions at the beginning of a game. Scouting your
base should be your first priority to find out your starting cattle (sheep, or
turkeys, or cows, or whatever), your main and secondary golds, your main and
secondary stones, several wood lines to chop wood from and, of course, last but
not least, your boars. There should always be two (or more, depending on the
map) not too far away from your town center.
elementary scouting is out of the way, here are a few things your scout can do.
can go on and locate the enemy base. An early scouting of your enemy can also
inform you of his/her strategy depending of his/her build order. Do you see a
barrack already up? Beware of the drush.
You’ll soon have militia units heading your way to disturb your economy. Do you
spot villagers mining stone in Dark Age? Beware of the trush! You’ll soon see enemy villagers going forward to build
towers in order to deny you the access to your own resources. Therefore it is
useful to send your scout towards your enemy and see what’s what.
your scout can do more.
your enemy base, he can hit one of your enemy’s wild boar and try to bring it
back to your own base. It is tricky, though, because you’ll have to cross the
entire map. More on that and the laming of boars in the next section of this
blog post, though.
your scout can also play the good stay-at-home scout and ‘push deer’ towards
your town center. It is very tricky to do. Maybe I’ll develop on it in another
another use of a stay-at-home scout is to save your villagers from boar
attacks. If you manage to place your
scout between your boar luring villager and the wild boar chasing him or her,
you can slow the boar down and save your villager’s life.
point, the boar has been located, successfully lured and brought back to your
town center. There is only one thing
left to master: how to look like a total pro. You can weaken the wild boar you
lure with town center fire to prevent your villagers to loose hit points and
keep a full health. It is especially practical if you expect early
aggression from your opponent and fear that he will ‘snipe’ your weak villagers.
traditional build order will have you to assign your six first villagers on
sheep and the following four on wood. That’s when you’re supposed to go lure
your second boar. I don’t wait that long myself: I send my seventh villager
straight to the nearest boar I found. I don’t know if it really matters, I’m
not a pro-player. However, as you lure your first boar to your town center, you
can garrison your six butcher villagers in your town center and weaken the boar
by firing it twice. Be careful, though,
if you kill the wild boar with the town center its food will be lost! I
leave Spirit of the Law give you the full detail of it.
In 1440, the queen of Hungary and one of her ladies-in-waiting stole the Hungarian crown—the actual, physical crown—to save the throne for her son. Helene Kottanner broke into the vault, snatched the crown, and escaped across the frozen Danube with a sled. Let’s talk about ROYALTY!
I proudly answered the call of duty and found it as another occasion to talk about my favourite non-Disney princess: Joan of Arc.
My Personal Contribution
late. Yet again, it’s still Tuesday somewhere!
Buckle up, girls and boys. We’re about to dive into counterfeit history. When
historians don’t find authentic documents to prove their hypotheses, what do
they do? The honest ones acknowledge their ignorance. There’s nothing glamour
about it. That’s why the others fabricate the documents they need to prove
their point—when they even bother to fabricate them…
The Truth about Joan. Was Joan of Arc a Royal Bastard Princess?
think that conspiracy theories would be limited to our contemporary era, did
how to square the circle: the Earth is flat, climate change is a lie, vaccines
don’t work and the illuminati rule the world. If you go back and forth from one
to another long enough, it all starts to make sense, but that’s only when you
start to seriously question your mental sanity.
is that conspiracy theorists are also trying to colonize the past with the most
heretic holy trinity: the holocaust never happened, medieval Europe only had
white people and Michael Jackson never died. He’s chilling on some Pacific Island
with his buddy Elvis. Someone could swear his sister saw a picture or
something, you know, tangible proof.
Among the many conspiracy theories about history the one I’ll tackle down here states that Joan of Arc was actually Charles VII’s sister.
Charles VII of France, an Alleged Bastard Himself?
Contamine, who knows more than anyone about the 15th century,
medieval France, briefly addressed the rumors according to which Charles VII
of France was a bastard himself, in his latest biography of the French king
(published in 2017; not to brag, but I own a dedicated copy).
about your wife, my liege? Isn’t she also born from the mad king?”
He was still sane of mind when he conceived her.”
As a matter
of fact, Catherine of France, Henry V of England’s wife, was born on October
27, 1401, a year and a half before Charles VII, and Charles VI (it is
heavily documented) lost his mind in the year 1392 during a military
expedition where he attacked his own men. Meaning, according to Henry V’s
logic, that his dear wife was also an illegitimate child, but hell with the
inspection, accusing the queen of adultery served no real political purpose to
the Anglo-Burgundian alliance since she was on their side and that her signature is what made the Treaty of Troyes (1420) valid because of
the dementia of her husband. The Treaty
of Troyes acknowledged Henry V of England as sole heir to Charles VI
of France. Fun fact, Henry V died of dysentery a few months ahead of Charles VI.
He never was crowned king of France and he only left behind him a one-year-old
child and a wife who quickly consoled herself with a handsome knight.
question remains: who would have been Charles VII’s father, if it weren’t
Charles VI? Well, who else but Louis of Orléans, Charles VI’s
brother! After all, the duke of Orléans almost killed the king by burning him
alive with a torch, then he attempted to rape the duchess of Burgundy—which
explains why John the Fearless hated his guts*.
thought Game of Thrones was full of
latter allegation is solely reported by Thomas Basin (d. 1491) in his biography
of Charles VII.
Who really was Joan of Arc’s Father? A Shakespearian Tale
pseudo-historian, Pierre Cazet, bragged that he discovered the truth behind
Joan’s true social status. How come a young maid from the countryside was ever
received by the king? Saint Louis himself, the holiest French king of all, met
his subjects regularly in the open air to render justice, according to Jean of
Joinville (d. 1317). Therefore it should be totally inconceivable that Charles VII
would ever meet an intriguing would-be prophetess that had such a notoriety
duke of Lorraine personally invited her over and that the
bastard of Orléans, while she was in Gien, sent people to meet and inquire
about her and her journey to Chinon.
She had to be a secret Disney princess!
it all comes from a play written by Shakespeare. I mean, this could only be the
stuff of great literature. How could a poor and deficient mind come up with
such a brilliant twist? Henry VI,
act 5, scene 4. A shepherd, Joan’s father, comes up to her as she’s
tied at the stake. Since she left, he’s been searching for her everywhere.
Ah, Joan! this kills thy father’s heart outright.
Have I sought every country far an near,
And, now it is my chance to find thee out,
Must I behold thy timeless cruel death?
Ah, Joan! sweet daughter Joan, I’ll die with thee.
however, doesn’t break into tears. She gets all riled up!
Descrepit miser! base ignoble wretch!
I am descended of a gentler blood:
Thou art no father nor no friend of mine.
Then she turns
to the men who’ve put her at the stakes.
Let me tell you whom you have condemn’d:
Not me begotten of a shepherd swain,
But issu’d from the progeny of kings;
Virtuous and holy; chosen from above,
By inspiration of celestial grace,
To work exceeding miracles on earth.
brilliant literary idea of a royal Joan (I mean, what a twist!*) then inseminated the rotten minds
of ill-informed money-grabbing pseudo-historians, who pandered ‘sensational’
books only to fill their purse. Hence Joan was Charles VII’s secret
sister. However, who was her father then do you ask? No other than Louis ‘the
Legend’ of Orléans.
at her trial that she was nineteen, meaning she was born in 1412. How could
that be a problem? On November 23, 1407, Louis of Orléans was assassinated in
the streets of Paris by John the Fearless (GoT
quality, I tell you!). Therefore, Joan lied. She must have been twenty-four and
was actually born in 1407.
Oh. And by
the way, her mother was Queen Isabeau herself. Why not? It’s not like she gave
birth to a child on November 10, 1407. Wait? Is my math right? Do I remember anything from my biology class? It must be right. Right?
audacious conspiracy theorists, whom websites I won’t link here to deny them
the pride of free views to their counter, have now passed the idea that Joan
was Queen Isabeau’s daughter. They see as a better fit than her actual mother,
Isabelle Romée, was the descendant of Charlemagne. Also, they don’t need any
document to prove it to you. You should trust them on their words for it. Jacques
d’Arc, who, according to them, is not even Joan’s biological father, is also of
noble birth too. Cherry. On. Top.
This is all
a bunch of undocumented nonsense.
was depicting Joan of Arc as an utterly crazy woman. This was not a twist but a foregone conclusion.
Upon meeting death, she shows her true ugly colors.
Joan’s Coat of Arms: the Ultimate Evidence?
battle of Patay and right after the liberation of Orléans, Charles VII
granted a coat of arms to Joan of Arc. On a blue background stands a sword
under a crown, flanked by two heraldic lilies. Joan’s judge at her trial at
Rouen blamed her for arrogance. Who was she to dare display the ‘fleur-de-lis’,
the official emblem of the French crown?
to our dear conspiracy theorists, Joan’s coat of arms was a clever acknowledgment
of her true origin. An acknowledgment so clever, in fact, that Charles VII
publicly recognized Joan as his sister but in a way that no one could uncover
it. A secret hiding in plain sight!
I … can’t …
seems only obscure to us because we don’t understand its language. We look at
coat of arms the same way Napoleon looked at the pyramid. He knew they meant
something. He knew they were the stuff of legends. But he had yet no solid archeological
knowledge of their history and meaning.
happened that Charles VII granted to other people the right to display the
fleur-de-lis on their coat of arms. He especially granted it to the city of
Tournai, which so far up north, deep into Burgundian territory, remained
unyieldingly loyal to his cause. The fleur-de-lis was a royal honor, a symbolic
and powerful mark of recognition for exceptional services and also a way to tie
people to the royal house.
the crown? Well, what about it? Joan kept saying she was only serving one lord,
the Lord. That crown is probably
God’s own crown, for Christ’s sake (that is my personal hypothesis). All in
all, the coat of arms translates into: “I fight under God’s command for the
good of France.” How could that ever be conceived as a secret acknowledgement
of common parenthood?
Joan of Arc was not Charles VII’s
secret sister (and he was not Louis of Orléans’s bastard) but her story is only more beautiful
because of it. I understand that some limited minds would only grant great
deeds to people of noble breed, I do, but they’re utterly wrong. She was a
commoner from the country side with nothing to her name but her faith, her sass
and her cold-blooded bravery.
I know Joan
of Arc didn’t actually change the course of history. The victory of Orléans was
almost a given when we take everything into account beyond her legend. Plus, it
took more than a decade to finally boot the English out of France after she
passed. However, she stood high and tall on a crucial turning crossroad in
medieval history. It all looked gloom then she suddenly shined bright in the
middle of the dark. She shocked her contemporaries like a comet burning the
I find it very comforting that any young woman could achieve such a thing.
However, fair warning, anyone tries to imprison and sentence Greta Thunberg to
death, I might personally lead the commando to rescue her.
How were the Holy Roman Empire and Middle Ages
France different in term of political structure? What led to those differences?
I always hear about HRE being a loose confederation of minor
kingdoms (for lack of a better word). But wasn’t middle age France much the
same? Strong dukes often controlling the king? How did the HRE and medieval France
differ and how where they same? Why did the HRE becomes a looser confederation
of minor kingdoms than France?
political structure of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) and the Kingdom of France
both derive from the political structure of the Carolingian Empire. So let’s
have a quick look at that first 😉
A Very Short History of
contemporary society recognizes three forms of power: the executive, the
legislative and the judicial. The Carolingian Empire only had two: the temporal and the spiritual (the executive, legislative and judicial powers were all
bundled up together). The emperor ruled over both. Charlemagne and his son,
Louis the Pious, had a total control over the lords and the Church. They could
grant lands, titles, bishoprics or revoke them as they see fit.
On the one
hand, Charlemagne only had one heir: Louis the Pious. On the other hand, Louis
had to split his Empire, according to the Frankish customs, between his three
sons. He also didn’t have the charismatic aura of his father, who went from
conquest to conquest, and he was left with an Empire practically impossible to
rule. It all concluded in Louis’ three sons (Charles, Lothair and Louis/Ludwig)
splitting the Empire into three parts. Lothair’s share was ultimately absorbed
into his brother’s realms and from that point onward, West Francia and East
Francia evolved into very different countries.
In the meantime, the Church which had greatly benefited from the leadership and protection of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and their predecessors gradually became an independent political body. The Church had obeyed and served the Carolingian emperors, but it had grown so much that it was now able to confront their heirs and come up with its own political agenda. The spiritual power was free from the temporal power by the end of the 9th century and the pope became a major political player by the end of the 10th century.
The Implementation of the
Feudal System in West Francia
It is often written that Charles the Bald, who inherited and ruled West Francia, gave birth to the Feudal System with the Capitulary of Coulaines (available online on the marvelous MGH website). Though the direct effects of the capitulary were not as dramatic as historians used to say, it nonetheless recognized that lands given by the King to his vassals could be inherited by their progeny. It meant that not before long every region of the realm had its own local blue-blood dynasty. Therefore the Capitulary of Coulaines was a substantial stepping stone for the implementation of the Feudal System (reminder: the word ‘feudal’ comes from the Latin word ‘feudum’ which is a type of ‘beneficium’ (a gift from a king or prince to a faithful ally) that implies the gifting of a piece of land). By the 10th century, it became obvious that the aristocrats held the real power over most of the land, ensuring it by the building of motte-and-bailey castles and by getting the Church on their side through charity. Founding and donating to monasteries became a regular political play for powerful laymen although it greatly benefited to the rise of the Benedictine Order and the network of the Cluny monasteries more than anything. Nevertheless, anyone inheriting a fief still had to pay a ‘homage’ (Latin, homagium; German, huld) to the king and formally recognize his temporal authority. It was a very significant ceremony that reminded everyone their role and the proper hierarchy within the structure of society.
The Capet Dynasty
The progressive loss of a central and strong seat of power rendered the Carolingian dynasty of West Francia unable to enforce the peace in the realm and to properly protect the northern coasts from new invaders: the infamous Vikings. It became clear to the magnates that they were better off without a king. However, they had to maintain some kind of puppet on the throne to prevent the Carolingian kings of East Francia to march on Paris and conquer the kingdom whole. Several attempts had already been made in the past to reunite the West and the East Francia. While invoking the old Frankish principle of elective monarchy, the great vassals of the realm put a new dynasty on the throne: the powerless House of Capet.
The Capet, however, followed a clever strategy. They would always make sure that two kings were simultaneously elected and anointed, the rex coronatus and the rex designates, so that matters of succession were always settled from the start and there was never any leeway for another dynasty to rise on the throne. Moreover, the Capet gradually extended their personal demesne so that they could eventually compete with their vassals and enforce their law. At the very start of the 14th century, Philip IV the Fair even instituted the ‘États Généraux’, a general assembly of the people gathering representatives of the three orders, to counter the meddling of the pope over the spiritual matters in their realm. It also served him to kill the Order of the Knights Templar and confiscate all their possessions. The kings of France therefore became strong political figures, capable of handling both the temporal and the spiritual power of their realm. They were feared and respected by their vassals and treated on an equal footing by the emperor of the HRE and the pope.
The Plantagenet Problem…
and the Valois Solution
however, were far from all powerful. Remember those Vikings I mentioned above?
They had carved a duchy for themselves, the duchy of Normandy, and no one dared
to oppose the duke of Normandy. The guy minted his own money. He was so
powerful and relentless, in fact, that he conquered a kingdom. I’m talking of
William the Conqueror and the 1066 conquest of England, of course. Eventually,
all his possessions were inherited by the Plantagenet dynasty, who also
inherited the duchy of Aquitaine through clever matrimonial alliances. At some
point, the Plantagenet ‘empire’ included half the kingdom of France! And the
Capet kings were totally powerless against such a mighty force, until King John
of England rose to the throne, faced revolts at home, bad luck abroad, was
dragged into signing the Magna Carta (1215)
and saw most of his French possessions confiscated and redistributed by the
the king of France retained a vassal who was a king and everywhere he went he
was faced with fierce resistance from the great dukes of the realm. The royal
demesne was slowly expanding but the Parliament (the highest court of Justice
in the land) had to relentlessly keep on fighting against its dismemberment by
the king himself, who often wished to grant a land or two to any of his
courtier or captain who provided him a great service. Eventually, after many
political intrigues, the king of England said, “Enough!” and claimed the throne
for himself when the Valois succeeded to the Capet.
really interesting is that at that point, the idea of electing a new king
crossed no one’s mind. The quarrel was a quarrel of succession. The realm was
an inheritance. It was traditionally passed down from one generation to the
other. Since the straight line of male successors was extinct, the only
question to answer was to know if a woman could inherit and pass down a kingdom
or not. The long game Capet strategy had worked like magic!
the Valois stood strong on the principle that the kingdom itself could only
pass through male hands and could never be inherited or transmitted by a woman.
The Hundred Years’ War came close to an end when Charles VI and Richard II
became best buddies, but their terrible fate precipitated the start of new
conflicts. Henry VI of England legally and effectively became the king of France
but he had a strong opponent, who held on and kept the fight alive mostly
despite himself, Charles VII. The latter ultimately passed on heavy taxation
reforms and instituted the first permanent non-feudal but professional royal
army. He won the war. His son, Louis XI, killed the dreams and ambitions of the
great vassals with that very army. No one could contest the king’s authority
anymore, but his own Parliament.
The Holy Roman Elective Empire
Capet managed to turn the kingdom of France into a hereditary monarchy, which
would become the most powerful centralized state of Europe, Germany remained a
conglomerate of semi-autonomous states. Maybe it is worth being reminded that
Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor, only took on the title to challenge the
authority of the emperor of Constantinople, especially on spiritual matters.
First and foremost, Charlemagne was and stayed the king of the Franks. He never
had the centralized administration capable of holding an empire together. He
only became a powerful imperial figure through his military charisma but the
institutions of the old Roman Empire had since long collapsed and what was left
of them couldn’t carry the political weight needed for an actual empire
German, Charlemagne’s grandson and Charles the Bald’s brother was not able to
keep the dream alive. His dynasty was very short-lived and the imperial title
quickly fell out of use. The political crises of the 9th and 10th
centuries, the expansion of Christianity and the Magyar and Viking violent
immigration waves prompted a ‘strong man’ to take charge and restore the
imperial charge around the same time that the Capet were elected on the throne
of France. This man was Otto I ‘the Great’ and he was the actual founder of the
‘Holy Roman Empire’. However, unlike the Capet, the Ottonian didn’t implement a
hereditary system of succession. Too many people were fighting for the honor to
wear the imperial crown. Otto III, Otto I’s grandson, was already faced with an
‘anti-king’, elected by his political rivals! The Staufer tried to make the
imperial title a hereditary one. Frederick I ‘Barbarossa’ had his son elected
to the imperial throne at the same time as him, which made him his uncontested
father’s successor but it remained an absolute exception and the general rule
was that stuck through the centuries was that the emperor was elected. It was
also interpreted as a direct intervention of God in political matters and it
helped to keep unworthy heirs away from the throne.
emperors had little to go with, however, when their authority was challenged.
They didn’t have access to an “imperial army” or to an “imperial administration”
to help them out. The very idea that the HRE could ever become a centralized
state actually scared all its neighbors and many attempts were made to prevent
it from happening, though Germans hated foreign political meddling more than
cities were placed under the direct rule of the emperor, but it was more of a
way for those cities to manage themselves. Therefore the emperor could only
rely on his personal demesne and diplomatic wits to assert his authority. However,
contrarily to the French situation, it was not like an Imperial demesne could
grow like the French royal demesne since a new dynasty could be put on the
imperial throne every time an emperor would die. That’s why emperors ended up
mostly benefiting of their title to boost up their personal demesne, instead of
sacrificing their own resources to pass on any imperial reforms.
The Cezaropapism Crisis
power of the Holy Roman emperors was very limited and the feudal system was
slowly implemented in Germany, although it developed its own specificities. In
1037, Conrad passed the Constitutio de
feudis and extended the benefit of hereditary possessions of fief to the
lesser lords. The 11th century also saw the emergence of the ministeriales, a group of unfree knights
and vassals promoted by the imperial clergy that had no matching concordance in
France, where all vassals were free men with hereditary rights and claims.
Bishops and abbots selected able men of unfree status and enfeoffed them with resources to enable them to serve as knights or administrators. The Salians also began employing ministeriales to administer royal domains and garrison the new castles built in the 1060s. The ministeriales gradually acquired other privileges, embraced an aristocratic ethos, and eventually converted their relationship based on servitude into one of more conventional vassalage to fuse with other lesser nobles as knights and barons by about 1300.
It would be wrong to interpret the ministeriales as the potential staff required to create a centralized monarchy. They were indeed used to verse more intensive management of royal domains, notably in Saxony.
Source: Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe: A History of the Roman Empire (2016).
the pope had become a real political player. The rise of the Benedictine and
various religious orders resulted in many reforms within the papacy. The pope
was no longer elected by the most powerful Roman families, for a start. Monks
also got elected as pope, and popes that were formerly monks loved to live by strict
rules. The papal chancery also became a proper administrative center of power:
every king or prince soon flocked towards the pope or sent emissaries at least to
see their privileges and titles granted and renewed. It is with a papal banner
that William the Conqueror battled at Hastings.
It had to
happen that the emperor, faced against rebellious vassals, turned to the pope
for help and that the pope asked for something in return. In particular, the
pope didn’t like that the emperor could still appoint bishops personally and it
was interpreted as a violation of the Church. Henry IV (HRE) and Gregory VII
(papacy) couldn’t see eye to eye on that matter. This led to the Investiture
Dispute that the emperors ultimately lost. What was left of his temporal and
spiritual power? Not much…
The Rise of the Hapsburg
electoral college remained undefined until the 13th century.
Eventually, three ecclesiastical electors came on top of the others: the
archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne. As for the secular electors, they were
settled by Emperor Rudolf who chose his four sons-in-law: the count Palatine,
the margrave of Brandenburg, the duke of Saxony and the king of Bohemia. In
1356, Charles IV, from the Luxemburg dynasty, who had a great personal relationship
with the papacy, fixed those electoral votes with the Golden Bull.
Thanks to a
very thorough matrimonial strategy, the Hapsburg dynasty managed to lock on to
several of the electoral secular fiefs. It also gave birth to some of the most
inbred rulers of Europe, but by the election of Maximilian I to the throne in
1486, the Hapsburg maintained a firm grasp over the imperial title.
they were never able to create a centralized state like the Capet and the
Valois did and the HRE never had a regular and professional army of its own.
Charles V himself, who owned the kingdom of Spain, the former Burgundian
dominions and all of the Hapsburg lands, proved unable to face the rise of the
Protestant Reform whereas it was murderously quashed in France.
I hope this
short overview has helped to figure out how different the HRE and the kingdom
of France were in regards of their political structure. The principle of a
hereditary monarchy helped the French kings a great deal to progressively implement
a centralized state. Meanwhile, the elective imperial title and lack of proper
imperial institutions made the German emperors often powerless to shape Germany
into according to their political views. That is why the HRE is often described
as a ‘loose confederation of minor kingdoms’ that share a same common Germanic culture,
whereas medieval France is a properly united kingdom despite the impulse of
autonomy expressed by the great dukes of the realm.