La Hire. Peter Strauss. Joan of Arc. 1999
Fun Fact

How Joan of Arc Died

AskHistorians: Tuesday Trivia!

The AskHistorians Subreddit invited me to pitch in on their latest Tuesday Trivia event. This week theme was FIRE.

Fire in the hole! …and in the house, castle courtyard, barn loft, cave, wiping out entire cities. What are some of the major flame-related disasters in your era? How did people fight fires?

I could just not pass on such an honor and I did my best to come up with a good story to share.

My Personal Contribution

If you know me you guess by then what I decided to talk about. Again. Joan of Arc.

This is the story of how she died and how she burned.

The Relapse

Illuminated Manuscript. Dante. Divine Comedy. Forest of Suicide. Bodleian Library. Holkham Misc. 48.
Oxford, Bodleian Library, Holkham Misc. MS 48, f. 19r – Dante visits the Forest of Suicide.

Joan’s judges had found her guilty on twelve accounts. Chief among them was the charge that her visions were nothing but superstitious delusions that proceeded from evil and diabolical spirits. Joan was also found guilty of attempted suicide because she jumped from the tower of the Beaurevoir castle when she tried to escape from her Burgundian ward, Jean de Luxembourg (a tale that I already briefly mentioned in a former post).

I will be lazy for a minute and briefly remind that suicide was deemed as a very serious crime in the 15th century, France. If you committed suicide, your belongings were confiscated—meaning you could leave no inheritance to your relatives—and your body would have to suffer a degrading sentence. We have actually found pardon letters addressed to people who committed suicide, blaming their death on insanity or something else, meaning they were eventually not responsible of their own demise.

Neat.

On a less judicial and more spiritual level, let me quote Benjamin Zweig on that one (and be a doll, check out his thesis on the Images of Suicide in Medieval Art):

As the German nun and mystic Hildegard of Bingen tells us, suicide is unforgivable because it is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But, then, what makes suicide blasphemous? Because, she and other medieval theologians might respond, suicide denies the possibility of God’s forgiveness. By flinging one’s own body into death, one doubts God’s mercy. When one denies God’s grace, one repudiates God’s very essence—that is, the Holy Spirit. To kill oneself is to proclaim one’s disbelief in God. But unlike blasphemous words, for which one can plead mercy, suicide cannot be undone. One cannot repent after death.

I’ll just conclude in reminding that in his touring of the circles of Hell, Dante visits the Forest of Suicide. It should serve as a final proof that attempted suicide was a good reason to find anyone guilty of something immoral. Of course, Joan tried to escape, and ultimately to live, but it didn’t bother her judges. She jumped and it was constructed as a guilty charge against her.

The fact that Joan sided against the Burgundians also played against her. It was seen as a transgression against God’s commandment to “love thy neighbor”. No one bothered to mention her quarrel against the English, which indicates the political ties of her judges and who might have really been pissed at her. She’d sent a letter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. I bet that letter was very ill received. She also met him, and Monstrelet records it. He reports that he was there himself, but that he forgot what the Duke said to the Maid. How convenient… Let’s not forget that he later offered his chronicles to Philip the Good.

Last, but not least, Joan’s unwillingness to answer her judges on certain matters—like her personal exchanges with Charles VII—were constructed as a rebellion against the church. She was therefore charged as schismatic.

On May 24, 1431, Joan was put in front of a stake and her charges were read to her. Everything was ready for her to burn alive and be done with like Jean Hus and many others before her. However, before the end of the sentencing, Joan finally cracked under the pressure, pleaded guilty and asked for a pardon, which was granted to her. She was brought back to her cell and probably raped by her English wards.

Among the twelve charges, Joan had also been found guilty of wearing men’s clothes. It was deemed as blasphemous. Therefore when she was seen wearing them again after her “confession”, maybe as a way to repel her wards, she was deemed relapse. It meant that the church couldn’t do anything for her anymore. Her soul was beyond saving. She had to burn at the stake…

Burning at the Stake

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

It was a Wednesday. Joan was brought out of her cell for the very last time on May 30, 1431, at the sweet age of nineteen.

We think indeed that she was born in 1412, which is why her biography and dictionary written by Philippe Contamine, Xavier Hélary and Olivier Bouzy was published in 2012, six hundred years after she was born.

Martin Ladvenu, who heard Joan’s last confession and escorted her to the stake, reported that until the bitter end, she maintained that her visions were sent to her by God and that she didn’t believe that she’d been fooled by any evil spirit.

By ten o’clock in the morning, Joan was already where she would die, on a scaffold where everyone could see her. The good people of Rouen didn’t dare to move to help her. They were still under the shock of the 1418-1419 siege that cost them so many lives. However, we can guess that they didn’t really like what they saw. One very sarcastic Norman chronicler, Pierre Cochon—not to be mistaken with Pierre Cauchon, Joan’s chief judge—stopped his chronicle at the very moment Joan entered Rouen. He never mentioned her in his work. Yet he was a close friend to several of the clerks who attended her trials and who, for the most part, pleaded heavily in favor of Joan on her second trial.

Silence, in some case, is more meaningful than any formulated opinion…

Clément de Fauquembergue, clerks for the Parliament in Paris, wrote that Joan wore a miter which displayed four words: “Heretic. Relapse. Apostate. Idolatrous.” There was also a board that described Joan as the wickedest witch of the West.

The executioner put the stake on fire and Joan burned alive. However, the fire was extinguished halfway to show that under her men’s clothes she was indeed a woman. Eventually, her ashes were spilled in the Seine to make sure no one could turn any of her remnant into a relic.

How She Was Replaced

La Hire. Peter Strauss. Joan of Arc. 1999
La Hire (Peter Strauss) cries as he arrives to late to save Joan of Arc. | Joan of Arc (TV Mini-Series), 1999

The 1999 telefilm that cast Neil Patrick Harris as Charles VII shows how La Hire and Jean de Metz arrived too late to save Joan at Rouen. They see the flames from beyond the city walls. They know she is dead… However, historically, the French captains and the French court remained quite indifferent to Joan’s passing.

La Hire was otherwise busy at the time. Earlier that year he’d taken the city of Louviers in a successful commando mission that freed the most skilled and wisest French captain of the time, a man so dangerous that the English had always refused to discuss any ransom and kept his location secret, Arnaud-Guilhem de Barbazan, the man who singlehandedly defended Melun nine months in 1420 against Henry V and all of his army.

The English were in the business to retake Louviers and La Hire swooped back in the city in April to manage its defense. As he sneaked out of town to fetch for reinforcements at La Ferté he was captured, taken to Dourdan and released in exchange for several hostages. He still had yet to pay for his ransom and La Hire therefore went to Chinon to ask the king for help. Charles VII, who couldn’t pull out money the way his grandfather did to help out Du Guesclin, allowed La Hire to write to the good cities of France to raise money for his ransom. We know that La Hire wrote at least to Lyon and Tours.

In the end, he was nowhere near Rouen when Joan died and not the least concerned with her passing. Jean de Metz? We don’t know where he was at the time…

On August 12, 1431, La Hire had forgotten Joan of Arc altogether. According to the chronicler Jean Lefèvre de Saint-Rémy, La Hire and several captains put a young shepherd at the front of their army to lead them to victory but the poor boy didn’t have Joan’s nerves. He was captured, brought back to Rouen and probably thrown in the Seine to drown. No one bothered with a “proper trial” on that one.

More about Joan:

Q&A

Medieval Economics 101. How to make a profit out of a ransomed knight?

Wild Reddit Question Appeared!

“If I were a medieval knight and I captured another highborn warrior in battle, a tournament or in single combat, how specifically would I go about ransoming him to make sure I got the money before releasing him?”

[A question by u/fattubaplayer1 on r/AskHistorians: link to the original post]

“And on the other side of the coin, how would I make sure my relative is safely released for the funds I am handing over. Was there a common method of exchange in these situations ?”

My Answer

You may wonder… How did the Lords of Coucy raise the money to build the most impressive castle of whole Christendom in the 13th century? The answer may shock you…

You can go at it ‘Coucy style’ and hang your prisonner by his genitals as an incentive for a higher ransom. Not kidding. Thomas de Marles, Lord of Coucy (d. 1130), reportedly did so.

Now, on a more serious note.

Derived from the concept of Roman law, the custom of ransoming captives taken in battle developed alongside notions of knighthood and chivalry in early Capetian France. […] Though originally a purely personal obligation between captor and captive, by the fourteenth century prisoners’ ransoms were generally recognized as a form of heritable property. As such, the ransoms could be sold to third parties, and the trade in ransoms could be a profitable business for those with the right international connections. […] To a great extent the system relied on trust. It was common to allow a prisonner to go free on parole so that he could organize payment of his ransom, though he would usually be required to provide pledges as a safeguard against bad faith. […] The more effective sanction was the dishonor and notoriety that accrued to defaulters. […] The effectiveness of honor as a constraint is best demonstrated by John II of France. Released on parole in 1360, he returned to England in person four years later when one of his replacement hostages absconded and it had become clear that he could not pay the next installment of his ransom.

Cf. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010), vol. 3, ‘Prisonners and ransoms’.


In order to illustrate this general statement, I’d like to present three cases of ransom, counting one that had already been discussed on this sub 😀 [or previously on my blog]

Bertrand Du Guesclin, Count of Longueville

Captured at the Battle of Auray (1364)

London, British Library, Royal MS 14 E IV, f. 47v ~ Death of Bertrand Du Guesclin

When he was captured at the Battle of Auray, Bertrand Du Guesclin was ransomed alongside Girard Chabot for an astronomical amount: 100,000 golden francs. The King of France was able to pay some of it upfront, yet there was still a lot to cover. Therefore Bertrand Du Guesclin was freed so that he could gather some of the money from his war benefits and other means. In a letter from the 18th January 1365, Du Guesclin acknowledge his debt in the most official fashion, having it written down that he personnaly swore on the Bible. That letter was sealed by the chancelor of the ‘prince of Aquitaine’, meaning Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, who was heir to the kingdom of England. Du Guesclin and Chabot swore that they would pay up 20,000 francs by the next year’s Pentecost or willingly return to captivity. As we saw with the example of John II, that kind of pledges were actually trustworthy.

So here you have your first mean to insure a payment: release the knight against a formal written insurance that he will eventually pay up, otherwise expect him to come back to your custody from his own free will. If he doesn’t come back to you or come short financially, infamy will do its dirty job and tarnish his good name, making it very difficult for him to pursue his military career. It seems counter-intuitive but it is yet effective.

Arthur of Britanny, Count of Richemont

Captured at the Battle of Agincourt (1415)

Paris, BnF, fr. 20360, f. 316v ~ Depiction of the Battle of Agincourt in a 16th century manuscript

This story is one of the most fascinating in my opinion. Hang on to your family tree though! Arthur of Britanny was the third son of Jean IV of Britanny and brother to Jean V. His mother, Joan of Navarre, had remarried Henry IV of England: therefore Arthur was Henry V’s brother-in-law. This is quite remarkable because Henry V of England is the one who won the Battle of Agincourt, in 1415! Yet, for more than five years, the King of England refused to further any negociation regarding the release of his brother-in-law. In this case, political interests got in the way of economical profit. It is also worth of note that Henry V imprisoned in mother-in-law under the suspicion of witchcraft after the passing of his father.

Arthur (and his mother) being held hostage meant that the Duke of Britanny had to think twice before siding with the Valois. In a curious turn of events, though, the Duke of Britanny and his other brother, Richard, were captured by local political rivals, in 1420. The Duchess of Britanny, Joan of France, then sent a letter to Henry V, asking him to release Arthur or to ‘lend’ him so that he could lead the troops that would rescue his captive brothers. Henry V denied the request yet sent some troops of his own to help out.

A few months later, Henry V would marry Katherine of France, Joan’s sister, and sign the Treaty of Troyes, making him heir to the throne of France as per the ‘authority’ of Charles VI, who was known to be crazy since the 1390’s. John V and his brother Richard were eventually freed, yet the Duchess of Britanny decided to hide this information for a few days to help speed up Arthur’s release. Henry V caught up with the events from John V’s personal envoys, who stated that the Duke of Britanny would come and visit him himself, and only then did Henry V agree to release Arthur for two years. There was no talk of any ransom, still, so Arthur would only be ‘on parole’ according to certain terms until september 1422.

Brought from the Tower of London to France in October 1420, Arthur was lead to Henry V in Corbeil where he met his childhood friend, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. From then on, Arthur was put under the custody of the earl of Suffold and followed him a bit everywhere. When lords from Britanny went to meet him in Pontorson and found themselves more numerous than the English, they offered Arthur to help him escape. Arthur refused their help. Suffolk valued Arthur’s sense of honour and allowed him to meet his brother, the Duke of Britanny. From then on it looked like Arthur embraced the party of Henry V and he even received the county of Ivry from the latter. It was even agreed that as long as he respected the terms of his parole he would be freed without ransom. Arthur turned out to become the perfect prisonner: the managed to convince his brother, John V, to join Henry V against the Valois! The Duchy of Britanny, just as the Duchy of Burgundy, was now siding with England in the Hundred Years War…

The sudden passing of Henry V in 1422 didn’t change anything for the Anglo-Brito-Burgundian alliance. However, Arthur took it as granted that he didn’t have to return to London according to the terms of his parole. And he neved did so. He was even granted the Duchy of Tourraine. In 1423, Arthur married a Burgundian princess and he proved eager to serve under the Duke of Bedford, who had been appointed Regent of France on behalf of Henry VI.

Yet, Bedford would only frustrate Arthur’s ambitions, still treat him as a prisonner of war, which suddenly led Arthur to switch sides! He rallied the Valois party and very shortly obtained the highest military title of the Royal French Army, in 1425. He was given the rank of Constable, that Du Guesclin had held a few generations before him. From then on, Arthur was instrumental in the eventual French victory over the English and the definitive closing of the Hundred Years War. Shrewd as he was, he insured that his brother rallied Charles VII very quickly and then he reconciled the Valois party with the Burgundians, in 1435.

This story illustrates very well that a ransom was not always what you could hope from a prisonner. Having a prisonner could also serve political interests. Now, however, you had to beware of your prisonner! Arthur was the perfect hostage up until the point where he felt free from any further obligation to the English crown. Then he quickly turned his jacket and even turned the tables…

John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsburry

Captured at the Battle of Patay (1429)

Almost ruined by the ransom put on him, Talbot still managed to offer a lavish manuscript
to Margaret of Anjou, on her betrothal to Henry VI, in 1445 ~ London, British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 2r.

After the death of Thomas Montaigu, earl of Salisbury, John Talbot became one of the most important leader of the English army. Yet, he couldn’t hold on the siege at Orléans and was captured at Patay. His ransom was set at an absurd amount. Paying it on his own would have utterly ruined him. A ‘public subscription’ was even organized in England and the King paid an advance on the ransom (the same way Charles V had helped Du Guesclin). Yet Talbot would not be released until Poton de Xaintrailles got himself captured by the earl of Warwick, who was Talbot’s father-in-law. Then a prisonner exchange was negociated which allowed Talbot to be released on parole, in 1433. John V, Duke of Britanny, gave Talbot 2,000 mewes of salt to help pay his ransom, in 1432: Talbot would still be selling that salt in 1439!

This last story also expose that it was sometimes more profitable to release your prisonner so that he could gather money to pay his ransom. In Talbot’s case, the capture of Poton de Xaintrailles certainly helped to speed up his parole.

Depiction of Saint George, patron of the Order of the Garter, to which John Talbot belonged ~ London, British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 439r.

I also found out that it that it could be customary to forbid a knight to engage is certain fights or to join this or that allegieance while on parole. Most men-at-arms and knights would respect such pledges.

In conclusion, it was customary to release a prisonner of war even before his ransom had been totally absolved. Moreover, money was not the only thing you could get from a prisonner of war. Political and strictly military interests also weighted in the balance and could tip the scale in favour of an early release, if not quite the opposite. Henry V had instructed his brothers never to free Charles of Orléans. Captured at the Battle of Agincourt like Arthur of Britanny, he was only released in 1443 through the intermediary of Philip the Good.

I hope that I helped you to better understand the complexity of the ransom system in the Late Middle Ages 🙂 Don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions.

Further readings:
~ Letters, Orders and Musters of Bertrand Du Guesclin, 1357-1380. Edited by Michael Jones. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2004, p. 36-37
~ Eugène Cosneau, Le Connétable de Richemont. Paris: Hachette, 1886, p. 45-76.
~ A. J. Pollard, John Talbot and the war in France, 1427-1453. London: Royal Historical Society, 1983, p. 112-115.

Varia

I’m an ass. As advertized!

Follow up on “What 100,000 francs”: why writing history requires attention to details and constant self-criticism

This article will tell you why I deserve a good old fashion spanking (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2644, f. 142r)

Most recently I answered a question on the AskHistorian subreddit. You can read it here.

The question was about Bertrand du Guesclin’s ransom after the battle of Najéra (1367), elevated at 100,000 castilian doblas, which was an insane amount of money for only a captain of the French army. Now the thing is that I was not the only one who had answered. Darwinfish86 also honoured us with a well-constructed answer that awoke my jealousy, not only because it was well written but because he answered first and got more likes because of it. I’ll admit can be very vain that way.

Out of sheer wicked pettiness, I went through his post and saw that he stated that du Guesclin had been ransomed in 1364 ransom for 100,000 francs. My brains went like… “Wait a minute buddy!” I clicked on a link he had put in and boom I landed on the Wikipedia page of the battle of Array, where it is also stated that Bertrand du Guesclin had been ransomed for 100,000 francs.

The devil within me laughed maniacally.

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

See, I had seen in a book that du Guesclin had only been ransomed for 40,000 florins at the battle of Array. If his source was only Wikipedia, my source trumped his and I could humiliate him. But nicely. Because I’m a kind well-educated too-gentle-for-his-own-good I-never-got-into-a-real-fight person.

So here’s what I wrote:

Brief fact-checking. When Du Guesclin was captured by John Chandos at the battle of Auray (1364) he ‘only’ owed him 40,000 florins. The infamous ‘100,000 francs’ that were in fact 100,000 castilian doubloons were only due by Du Guesclin when he was captured in 1367 at Najera by the Black Prince. Trusting Wikipedia on that one was a little mistake.
The first 40,000 florins ransom was almost entirely paid by Charles V. He requested or obtained his brother help though for the 100,000 doubloons ransom (the King’s brother being the Duke of Anjou).
Cf. Valérie Toureille (ed.), Guerre et société. 1270-1480. Paris: Atlante, 2013, p. 346-347.”

I was beaming with pride. Glowing, literally. I felt like a grammar nazi who had corrected his first “your/you’re” confusion.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2644, f. 256r

But then my enemy wrote:

“I actually got the 100,000 francs from Ambuhl.” He meant this book: Ambuhl, Remy. Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years’ War: Ransom Culture in the Late Middle Ages, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013.

Then my brain went like “Oh shit!” Because any historian worthy of the grade knows deep in his bones that nothing trumps a Cambridge book but an Oxford book. And the book I was relying on, well, it was travesty. I had spotted mistakes in it in the past. It had been rushed to publication and was crippled with flat out errors. I didn’t hesitate for a second. I shamelessly threw it under the bus. I showed no courage. I even went as far as to insult the French—because after all I’m Belgian.

“Could it be that Tourneille & co mixed up their numbers? I wouldn’t be too surprised about that. […] As always, apart from Contamine, never trust any French historian…”

When I blow low, I blow low. Under-the-belt-on-your-kneecaps low. With a crowbar. Then I run away because I’m a skittish little squirrel. Or a cat. Cats do run away when they’ve been mischievous.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2643, f. 18r

So, what happened? Who was right and what are the real numbers for du Guesclin’s ransom from the battle of Najéra?

As it happens, in Toureille’s book we can read that du Guesclin had been ransomed for 40,000 florins, but that is wrong. Bertrand du Guesclin acknowledged himself in a very official fashion that he owed 100,000 francs to the man who captured him at Najéra, aka John Chandos; see: Letters, Orders and Musters of Bertrand Du Guesclin, 1357-1380. Edited by Michael Jones. Woodbrdge: The Boydell Press, 2004, p. 36-37. However, Kenneth Fowler who never came across that piece of evidence though it had been published twice in the 19th century, wrote in a 1987 article (see page 245, note 8) that du Guesclin “was liberated on September 30th, 1365. We ignore at what price. Chandos received an account of 40,000 florins from Charles V.”

Sweet mother of Jesus, here we find the infamous 40,000 florins that put me my good name to shame. In Toureille’s book, the authors had read that article by Fowler and they had slavishly copied the information without fact-checking it! Oh. My. God.

So we have a historian who doesn’t do his homework back in 1984 and makes a mistake that is unhesitatingly copied in a 2013 publication, and then I pass for a fool!

Never trust your own books.

At Auray (1364), Wikipedia is right on that one, Bertrand du Guesclin was ransomed for 100,000 francs, and Charles V advanced 40,000 florins to help his captain in obtaining an anticipated liberation. Then at Najéra (1367), that same captain not yet constable was ransomed for 100,000 castilian doblas, and according to my calculation (based on a book that I certainly think is more trustworthy than the other), it was worth around 118,404 francs. Du Guesclin value had inflated in three years. We need to point out though that he helped to make it happen by telling everyone how priceless he was.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2643, f. 18r
Q&A

What could 100,000 francs get you in the 14th century?

A franc dating from Charles V’s reign, that you can buy on Numiscorner!

A famous medieval knight called Bertrand du Guesclin was ransomed for 100,000 Francs. What could you buy in 14th-century France for 100,000 francs? And was it considered to be a large ransom or quite the opposite?

[Question by u/TheyTukMyJub on r/AskHistorians: link to the original post.]

“I’m reading the chronicles by Froissart and there’s this bit about a ransom that confuses me. It’s not immediately clear for me whether or not the ransom was high or rather too low but politically inopportune. Because both the Prince of Wales as well as his counsel regret the decision to ransom the knight for 100,000 Francs (or rather, regret ransoming him at all – since he would raise 2000 men at arms). Also, it took Bertrand a month to raise the money from the King of France and the Duke of Anjou. Would this be a long period or were they amazed at how fast his ransom was paid?
The text is kind of ambiguous.
So, what could you buy in 14th-century France for 100,000 francs, the ransom of Betrand du Guesclin? Was it considered large for a ransom? If so, how did the French during the Hundred Years’ War pay a large ransom like that?”

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2609, f. 354v ~ Bertrand Du Guesclin fights in Normandy, wielding his hammer.

My answer

This ransom was quite high. Du Guesclin had made quite a name for himself and the more he was captured the higher his ransoms became. Those 100,000 doubloons (not francs!) weighted around 460kg of gold (roughly 1,014 pounds), which was a massive fortune.

We also need to keep in mind that on one hand a substantial amount of gold and silver mines were discovered in the 16th century, meaning that the value of those precious metals went down after that point in time. More gold is needed today than it was in the 13th and 14th century to buy—let’s say—a horse or a cow, because gold was much scarcer. Therefore it is almost impossible to really evaluate the value of 100 000 doubloons only by its gold value.

On another hand the 14th century saw several monetary crisis because of the Hundred Years War. From 1337 to 1360, the value of gold sunk compared to the value of silver. It is a fact that there was a shortage of silver in France. This shortage resulted in hoarding. Therefore we observe a drastic slowdown in monetary circulation which didn’t help the situation. The Kingdom of France yet regained some economical health during the next period (1360-1385) under the rule of Charles V. However, the value of coins had still a lot diminished compared to what it was in 1330. Nonetheless we can still state that a franc in 1364 weighted 3.885g at 24K. In conclusion, Du Guesclin ransom was worth 118,404 francs.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 6465, f. 434v ~ Bertrand Du Guesclin is appointed Constable by Charles V, making him the highest ranked officer of the Royal French Army.

Now, we can find a precise account on JStor (links below) of how much Charles V invested in renovating the Louvre between 1364-1368—let’s not forget that Du Guesclin was captured at the battle of Najera, in 1367. To give a very rough idea of how elevated Du Guesclin’s ransom was, Charles V paid the binding of a single book 20 ‘sous parisis’. That was barely more than a franc, yet that was already a lot of money since it was for a very precious book! Also, as one of the construction worker died during the renovations of the Louvre, he’d left behind him a poor widow with paralysed limbs. She received only 6 francs as compensation. 6 francs were also the price for 5 sculptures that were put in a new staircase.

On a side note, we know that Charles V had amassed around 400 000 francs by 1368. It took him a lot of time to hoard it but most of it would be spent by the end of the next year. In that time frame, in a single year, 248,630 francs were used to finance the war and defend the kingdom. Therefore, yes indeed, Du Guesclin’s ransom was astronomic. He was only lucky that his king had quite a fortune precisely when he was captured.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 6465, f. 456r ~ Death of Bertrand Du Guesclin.

Sources:
~ Valérie Toureille (ed.), Guerre et société. 1270-1480. Paris: Atlante, 2013, p. 347.
~ Raymond Cazelles, “Les Trésors de Charles V”, in Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1980), 124/1, p. 214-226; in particular p. 218; online.
~ E. Fournial, Histoire monétaire de l’occident médiéval. Paris: Nathan, 1970, p. 8, 103, 113-114, 117-119.
~ Marc Bompaire, “Compter au XIIIe siècle avec la diversité des monnaies : livres, sous et deniers”, in Comptabilité(S) (2015), 7, online.
~ M. Le Roux de Lincy, “Comptes des dépenses faites par Charles V dans le Château du Louvre, des années 1364 à 1368”, in Revue archéologique (1851-1852), 8/2, p. 670-691, 770-772; in particular p. 690, §57; p. 766, §113, §115; online link 1, link 2.