From Miniatures of French History, by Hilaire Belloc, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1926; pp. 201-246.
Miniatures of French History
IN Paris never was such confusion of mind, such exhaustion of argument! It had gone on for twenty years, for twenty-one years — and you would have said that no man knew where he stood. For who was king? And where stood Burgundy? And what had come to what had been the Armagnacs? Never was such a generation of conflict since the city had been founded!
There are two currents in such turmoils: the young men, and the fathers. Now the young men, from those of thirty who could just remember the news of Agincourt, and who, in their teens, had seen the great massacres when the Burgundians had retaken the city from the Armagnacs, had lived all their lives under a king — the grandson of a king of France, the son of a daughter of France — but a king also of England, and himself a child whom they hardly saw. Still, that was their king. Their priests, their notables, their magistrates — all the world about them, took such a king for granted, and Burgundy, that great 202 house which the populace of Paris had always loved to follow, still swore by such a king. The old men would some of them remember this child-king as a usurper, but some of them as a restoration of good things; for was not this new Plantagenet kingship the work of Burgundy and the end of the hateful Armagnac? Was it not a true Parisian thing?
All the great story of Joan, those intense two years, had not passed unheeded. The loud echoes of it had sounded through Paris on that memorable day when the armoured girl had fallen wounded in the fruitless assault upon the St. Honoré Gate. But not even that great sweep of reconquest could wholly shake the city. All the country round fell away from the Plantagenet to the Valois, but Paris was still Plantagenet. For nearly half a lifetime one state of things had endured, and after so many miseries it seemed well enough.
But latterly there had come a change. For the people, and especially the young men, were telling each other that Burgundy was no longer friends with their boyish, weak, and distant King; and at the same time had come a petty but significant alteration in the air of the city, something that the men of the time hardly noticed — something 203 of profound significance for posterity was at work. The forces within the city were no longer of one kind. Even of the nobles, some were wholly foreign. The English tongue had arisen, and Willoughby, in command of the garrison, was of that tongue. The conqueror of Agincourt had spoken, thought, and lived in French. It was as a man indistinguishable from their own nobles that he had ridden all the way down the narrow St. Martin’s street, kissing the relics at the church doors when he made his entry into Paris, all those years before. But even by his time the tide had turned in England. The Black Death had done its work before he was born. Henry V. himself could use the English tongue, and to all the lesser men about him it was native. Many nobles even could then speak no other. Now, after the working of a full seventeen years, the estrangement was more pronounced still; and the populace of Paris knew not, when a patrol passed by at night, whether its few men would chance to be men of like speech with themselves or of alien tongue.
And there was yet another matter, perhaps decisive of the issue that came — in part because a reliance upon Burgundy had made the populace seem secure for the young Plantagenet king, in 204 part because the heavy drain of men in the losing campaign all around left few to spare for Paris: the garrison in arms under Willoughby was too small — hardly more than a battalion (as we say to-day) and a couple of squadrons.
Already by the spring of the year the regency of England and of France was troubled, and a month before Easter the citizens had been summoned to take oath, individually, in support of that treaty of Troyes by which the young king reigned. For his mother, a princess of the blood royal of France, was dead. Very few refused to swear. All the great notables swore. The Bishop and the Abbots and the Prior of St. Martin, and the chiefs of all the Courts of Justice and of the Exchequer, and all the Bar, and all the City Companies, and every priest and monk. It seemed a unanimity; though some few had taken advantage of the liberty to leave the town, if their allegiance was to him, the Valois, who called himself King of France outside the walls.
Beneath that official surface the quarrel between the government at Westminster and Burgundy had changed the Parisian mind. Already, secretly, letters were passing between a little group of the livery-men of the city and Charles of Valois, the king who was reconquering his 205 kingdom. They treated for amnesty; they assured Charles (with too much assurance) that he had the support of the populace in the streets.
So passed Easter. Arthur of Brittany, Count of Richemont and Constable of France, received those letters and made his plan. No very great force accompanied him as he marched up northwards towards Paris through the night, but from within the city there was nothing strong enough to meet him. There is a curious air of ease, simplicity, and silence about that last revolution which suddenly slipped the great capital away from the hands of the Lancastrian Plantagenets, kings of England.
They had marched, I say, through the night. Richemont the Constable, and Dunois with him: Dunois, who had been through all those battles with Joan, and was now to see their last fruit fall ripe into his hands.
It was the morning of Friday, the Friday after Easter, the 13th of April, 1436, just at dawn. The two flanking towers of St. Michael’s Gate, the southern gate of the city, stood clear in the new light, just before the rising of the sun. The grey of their old stones, and of their old slate, pointed, conical roofs (for the new wall covered only the north of the city, and in the south the 206 old wall remained), was marked in every detail, and against the sky stood one man mounting guard upon the parapet.
Henry of Villebranche, a gentleman of Brittany, bore the white lilies, the banner of the Valois, by the Constable’s side. Him did Richemont send forward to challenge the guard, and to him that lonely man upon the parapet gave the simple answer: “Not this gate, the next.” Such was the mood of the garrison. The commanders rode round, certain that none would challenge. They came to St. James’s Gate, little more than a bowshot away to the east; the postern was opened to him. He sent through a handful of his men; the men of the guard looked on, neither aiding nor resisting. The newcomers broke the links of the drawbridge chain and the heavy gangway came down with a clang, bridging the ditch. Across it rode at once the Constable and Dunois, then Philip of Ternaut, the fourth a plain knight, Simon of Lallain, and behind them the little force of men-at-arms and grooms, hardly two thousand all told, filed under the dark ogive archway and on into the city street, which pointed with its old Roman straightness right down the hill to the island. As they so rode L’Isle-Adam, the Marshal, climbed up the winding stair behind the 207 guardroom to the top of the gate, carrying with him the flag of the lilies, the flag of the Valois. He ran it up in the growing morning light, and cried out, “Ville gagnée!” Never was there an odder capture of any walled strong city, famous throughout the world.
That troop of horse went on down the hill and through the streets in turn to the island, to the cathedral, to the town hall, to the market. The townsmen were just astir; few took heed. The Constable, he and his men, rode back to the cathedral again — Notre-Dame — and, leaving the horses outside, four to a groom, they dismounted in their full armour and heard the early morning Mass all together; and the canons who had so recently sworn for the rival king received them. But as the priests offered food, after the Mass, the Constable answered, “I hold the custom of fasting on a Friday, and I shall eat nothing.” As they came out from the great church the alarm was already raised. The little garrison was afoot, and Willoughby, at the head of it, raised the official part of the city. All was still in doubt.
It was the populace, not the two opposing troops, which took the shock. It rose in a sudden tide, turned by we know not what preparatory 208 workings of the last few weeks, or perhaps by a gusty mood. A group of unarmed men, running up to the northern gate, seized the cannon there, four or five small pieces, turned them down the street, and just as they did so saw Willoughby coming up with his little column of horse and foot. A volley of round shot pulled up Willoughby with some loss an turned him back.
The official world failed to raise a force. The leaders of the merchants, the greater lawyers coming into the street and shouting for King Henry, the bishops themselves, two of whom had begun to harangue, all failed; and the mob, growing greater street by street, shut off the issues with chains and ran back to attack Willoughby’s men-at-arms with anything that came to hand. That soldier kept his small troop well together, and through the increasing flood made eastward down St. Anthony’s Street to the Bastille. He had hardly twelve hundred men with him, counting both the French and the English-speaking sort, all told. He shut himself up in the Bastille, having saved his command. There he awaited terms.
The Constable at once organized the city: put garrisons to all the gates, had convoys of 209 wheat brought in, and a market opened at once; put men of his own at the town hall and over the city companies, strongly holding all that merchant class which was the foundation of the Plantagenet power; he proclaimed the decree of his master, the French king, Charles — a decree of general amnesty — and all the Saturday organized the city and brought it to order. On Sunday, the 15th, he prepared to establish his lines round the Bastille with troops whom he had sent for from the neighbouring garrisons outside the town. Willoughby asked for terms, and generous terms were granted. The council round the Constable demanded that the Bastille be handed over to Ternaut; as for Willoughby himself and his men and his civilian notables, they should be convoyed safely, not through the hostile streets, but round by the north, outside the new city wall.
As they passed, the men from the wall insulted them, and particularly that Bishop of Therouenne, who had been chancellor for the late government, to whom they called out, “Ah, the fox! The fox!” But he grumbled, not at the insult but at the loss of his jewels, and no man heeded him. Just behind the Louvre, where the city wall ended 210 at the water, and where the footbridge runs to-day across the river, they embarked that little force to go down the Seine to Rouen, honourably enough. And so ended the rule of the Plantagenets in Paris.
LOUIS XI AND CHARLES THE BOLD
IN a small room, the large grey stones of whose walls were partly hidden under tapestries, there sat at evening a man too wizened to show his full age. He was in the fifties. He might have been fifteen years younger or fifteen years older — he would have looked the same. He was simply dressed — it was winter — in warm grey clothes, and though a great fire of logs burnt in the huge open hearth of the small room, he had a thick cloak over his shoulders. He was cold, and thrust forward to the flames long, thin and somewhat grasping hands. His keen, narrow eyes, closely set together and very bright, shone in the firelight. On a large oak table to his left stood carefully ranged a mass of papers, and one great parchment which he had been consulting. But for the moment he read nothing. He muttered to himself.
One solider was in the room, standing silent by the curtain which hid the door. Without could be heard from time to time the metallic clinking of arms and the steps of men coming and returning. 211 At long intervals there came from distant roofs of the castle the cry of the sentry. For the rest there was no sound in that room save the crackling of the fire and the continued muttering of this man.
It was the king — Louis XI.
To his hand there upon the table, and docketed and filed minutely, stood his immediate affairs; accurately, in shelves which lined the larger rooms of the castle, and served by a great staff of clerks, was further stored the whole business of the realm.
In his childhood that realm was ruined. As a frail child of five he had seen Joan passing through his father’s palace at Bourges. In his boyhood had come the difficult reconquest; his manhood had been filled with exiles, with quarrels against his father, the reigning king, and with a long apprenticeship in intrigue.
It was his business to rebuild the realm. And for now nearly sixteen years he had plunged into that business as private men of the same sort will plunge into the accumulation of a fortune, It had absorbed him altogether, and his soul, never sane, had suffered from that absorption, much as suffer the souls of men who devote themselves in the same fashion to gold.213
But his zeal was for the re-establishment of the realm. This, the unceasing pressure of a spirit which for centuries had urged and spurred the Capetian line, which had made them — some quite unconsciously, none quite consciously — the agents of a great purpose, had urged Louis continually. His task was nearly done. Only one great rival still loomed to the east of him. It was Burgundy.
All that Rhineland, all that great street from south to north, from the Alps to the Low countries, all that belt of true French soil, and of its extension into the Germanies, was under a man — Charles the Bold — — ten years younger than himself, who, building on his father’s power, had dared to conceive independence. He would make a new State, breaking the vassalage with the King of France. He would leave France halved.
This man, Charles, stood against that older man, Louis, in a contrast more complete than any two rivals you can name: Louis frail, cunning, tenacious, garrulous, delighting in a millioned web of detail, patient, cruel, diseased: Charles, short but strong in the saddle, square-shouldered, violent in action, somewhat silent, his mass of thick black hair ponderous upon his enormous head, living in the midst of charges, 214 and thinking that the world could be carried at a charge.
The last issue between these two men had come. The one was sitting here in his narrow room, in the heart of France, holding the threads which stretched to the ends of Europe. The other, in camp, pursued the siege of Nancy, and was in the act of taking that capital, destroying Lorraine: confirming his power.
* * * * *
As King Louis sat there, his hands and feet toward the flame, muttering to himself, and his bright, narrow eyes seeing scheme after scheme conjointly in the dancing of the fire, his mood suddenly changed and, as though he were alone, careless of the attendant, he suddenly threw himself upon his knees at the chair where he had been sitting, and raised his mutterings somewhat into prayers. He groped in his breast for an amulet and kissed it fervently, and continued in a litany name after name of those who should protect him and his race, and all his land. But the name which occurred most often in that confused torrent of intense mumbling was the name of St. Martin of Tours, his neighbour, his protector, he to whom Louis the King had shown such 215 generosity; he upon whom Louis the King had showered so much wealth, and before whom he continued to bow.
* * * * *
In the first light of a very cold morning the king rode out with half a dozen familiars. He was helped with difficulty not on to a horse but on to a mule. His long, thin, somewhat deformed legs with difficulty held the saddle, and he stooped forward gracelessly as he rode. No one could have told him from a chance traveller of the poorer sort. He was in grey, as always — a think coarse cloth — and on his head a rough, pointed hat, with a leaden medal stuck in the band of it, and on the medal, stamped, an image of Our Lady.
He rode out over the drawbridge toward Tours, in the bitterly cold mist as the day broadened. One hundred yards and more behind came the archers and the drivers of the wagons; for he had begun a journey.
The king and his little group of attendants halted for twenty minutes in the town for Mass. As he came out of Mass, he turned to the first poor inn of the market square, and ate the first short meal of the day, while the innkeeper and 216 the serving-maid watched him in terror, and he passers-by in the streets huddled in corners, catching glimpses of him through the thick, small panes of the window.
And all during that meal he talked, and talked incessantly, to his companions, upon every point of his policy: upon the place they should visit, upon the chances of meeting the messenger whom he expected — upon all things.
They took the road again like a little company of poor pilgrims; they followed up the Loire.
They came at last to a place where the road, damp with melting snow but now lit by a pale morning sun, passed through a deep wood along the river bank, and there stood a hut which the foresters used. It was the appointed spot. The king halted, dismounted, and entered with but one companion. The rest stood without.
They had not long to wait. Another small group approached from the west, but these were splashed with mud, broken with fatigue, their fine horses hardly carrying them, and stumbling as they went. One of them was half in armour, and seemed to be their chief. He scrambled down stiffly from his beast, almost falling as he did so, entered the hut, and knelt before the king.
The king raised him, but before he could tell 217 his great news Louis deluged him with yet another river of talk. How were the ways? What had he met? Had he passed through Bar, or had he come round north through Argonne? Had he heard what the common people were saying in either place?
Twice the newcomer attempted to tell his news, and twice he was swamped again by that ceaseless flood of clipped, tumbling words. At last he had his moment, and he took it to tell in three phrases the enormous thing which he had carried in silence through that night and through four desperate marches before.
Charles the Bold was dead. Nancy was relieved. Lorraine was master of his own again. The imagined new State was in ruins. Louis took up the ceaseless chatter again, patting the hand of his messenger as he did so, and smiling a thin but contented smile.
His work was accomplished. His great scheme was fulfilled, and yet such a moment led him to nothing more solemn than an endless cataract of words — save for one moment, when he fell again upon his knees on the earth floor of that hut and prayed as fervently as though he had been alone. He rose again to question and re-question. 218 and to make his comments. He was exhausted before he was silent.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, far off in Lorraine, the battle had been brought to its conclusion, and the great Duke was dead.
It was upon Sunday, the 5th of January, 1477, that René of Lorraine, coming out from his Mass in the Abbey Church of St. Nicholas, had ordered his armies — some few of the lords of the Barrois, some few more from the Charolais, some from the Jura were there; but the great mass of his rank and file were a hubbub of German talk from the Alsatian towns and from the Swiss mountains — ten thousand of them.
They had not far to go. Nancy was but a short two hours’ march away, and there, before his capital, starving and on the edge of surrender, Lorraine knew that the way was barred by the army of Charles.
It had been bitter cold, but there was half a thaw. The ice on the Meurthe (to the right of the road as the long column went northward up the bank) was still continuous, but thin and slushy. The great masses of snow round about were melting. It was somewhat before noon 219 that they saw, drawn up in rank upon slightly rising ground before them, the host of Charles, and in the distance behind it, two miles away, the spires of Nancy.
From a wood upon his right to the west, down to the river Meurthe upon the east, Charles had drawn his line, with his guns commanding the road whereby the columns of Lorraine should advance. Fine snow began to fall, and under the veil of that cloud Lorraine detached a mass of the Swiss to follow round secretly by the hollow lane along the woodside. So they came up, unperceived, upon the flank of the Burgundians.
But those Burgundians, Charles’s men, stood in rank awaiting the shock upon their front, ignorant of the turning column. They were but five thousand all told, and against them were two men to their one. They knew not that half their enemies had thus been detached secretly to the west. Still they waited, confident in the strength of their position: waiting for the heavy armed knights of Lorraine to charge.
Even as they so stood, the Burgundians heard something which no troops will stand — the sound of attack behind their line.
It was the custom of the Swiss to sound their horns three times just before they struck, and 220 that loud, unexpected challenge came where none thought soldiers to be — far off and behind them to their right, from the woodside.
It was in vain that Charles attempted to convert his line to the right, to face that sudden danger; it was in vain that he called for the guns to be dragged round and faced westward to the wood and the Swiss. All came too late; for all was in confusion, and already his line was dissolving. Upon such a beginning of chaos Lorraine, from the front, charged; and with that the Burgundian troops became a mob, and the action, hardly begun, turned at once into a slaughter.
Charles’s cavalry, upon the left, near the river, cut itself out across the water, losing heavily, the horses stamping through the thin ice, and a remnant escaping by that ford.
Round the great Duke himself a devoted centre rallied, half of them of his nobility, but it could not stand — it was forced back in the general flood, and all the two miles of ground that afternoon (the snow had ceased, and the sun shone upon the carnage) was filled with a confused mass of massacre and of flight. The Swiss and the Germans and the French lords of the Barrois 221 pressed on into the midst of the broken herd, right up to the walls of the town.
A mile from the city gate there ran a brook, the brook of St. John. There, in the hurly-burly, Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, parried right and left desperately, his lords about him, and in their midst were the enemy, ahorse and afoot, the long halberds of the Swiss, thrusting pikes, and the swing of swords.
None knew the great Duke Charles in such a confusion. They saw his rich armour, but they had no other sign; for the golden lion of Burgundy upon his helm had fallen even before the battle, an he himself, as he saw the crest tumble on his saddle bow, all those hours before, had muttered: “An omen — signum dei!”
So that man, unknown to the enemy, fought hard with his visor down. A thrust took him in the left thigh, another in the back. As he reeled he cried “Bourgoyne!” but one Claude, the Lord of Bauzemont, who was fighting there for Lorraine, hearing that cry, thrust a lance at him, not knowing whom he struck. The helm and its visor shattered. The face of the great Duke was gashed from ear to chin, and he went down. None knew who had so fallen, for all the nobles about 222 him also were destroyed. And that was the end of Charles the Bold.
* * * * *
The press of the conquerors rushed up to the city gate, the Gate of St. Nicholas. The starving people ran to cheer, the garrison let down the bridge beyond the town, the last remnants of Charles’s force were massacred at the bridge of Bouxières.
The wintry sun was setting. The force had its hold again upon all the fields. The Duke of Lorraine held festival that night — back in his own city, and all his people eating again and drinking, and rejoicing in victory.
But one thing checked his triumph: whither had Charles gone? Was he in Metz, or fled perhaps into the Germanies, or got home among his own people in the Low Countries?
All the next day, Twelfth Day, the Feast of the Kings, they searched the battlefield, heaps of naked bodies stripped by the spoilers, but none could say that they had found the great Duke. But that evening, as Lorraine rode back into Nancy, despondent and fearful, a captain brought to him a young page, one of the Colonnas of 223 Rome, and said to him: “This lad knew the great Duke.”
So next morning, the Tuesday, the 7th of January, very early, they went out among the bodies in the snow, and the Italian boy would say first of one, then of another: “It is not he . . . it is not he.” And with him also went one who had been a maid in the service of Charles. Then, at last, they came to the strong body, lying all wounds, with its dreadful gashed face, and the mass of thick black hair against the snow, and the Italian page cried, “That is the Duke,” and the servant knelt down crying and sobbing, and they heard her say, “Ha! Burgundy, my Lord! my Lord!”
René of Lorraine had that famous body lifted with reverence, and wrapped in a linen shroud, and carried with pomp into Nancy.
* * * * *
Thenceforward, with whatever vicissitude of come and go, the Rhine was recovered for the Gauls.
TWO scenes, half a lifetime apart, small, detailed, vivid, mark the enormous storm of the Reformation in the Gauls — that vast battle which was never wholly won or lost, no, not to this day; for France is the arena of Europe. Each of these little scenes was an origin: the one of the force that half-reconquered Europe for the Church, the Jesuits; the other of the force that, taking arms for Calvinism, all but conquered the crown — the force of the great nobles in rebellion, of the gentry, of the merchants in their towns, and of the peasants in the central hills, the Huguenots.
* * * * *
In the morning of Saturday, August the 15th, in the year 1534, the Feast of the Assumption, six men of various age came to the little room on the hill of the university, where lived, determined, eager, somewhat silent, a dark, square-headed Basque, whose military temper was to half change the world. An intense devotion, a burning 225 life within, an absorption in divine things and in the fate of the soul, made this man single from all of his fellows. None met him but went away with an impression as of flame. It was Ignatius of Loyal in his forty-fourth year.
The six who thus came together up the stone stairs to that little room, with its crucifix, its narrow bed, its bare table, its empty walls, were all men who had come under that profound influence; men of the university, like himself — men already filled with the conception of a mission. There, leading them, was yet another Basque; called from his mothers name Xavier, six years younger than the chief. There was young Salman of Toledo, a boy of nineteen; there was Laynez the Castilian, just of age; Alphonso of Vallodolid; Rodriguez of Portugal; and (the only Gaul among them) a peasant from the hills of Savoy, long plunged into the study of the academies, not yet thirty; Faber, from the hamlet, and the Alpine huts of Villaret. He alone was a priest.
When they were thus assembled they set out about their purpose.
They went down the university hill by that straight and narrow Roman street which crosses Paris from south to north, and is here the 226 Street of St. James, there of St. Martin. They traversed the twin bridges of the island, they went the full mile to the city wall, passed through St. Martin’s Gate, and, outside, were in the fields. The hill of Montmartre stood before them, its gypsum quarries, its crazy windmills, and on the summit a little old church — poor, for it had few parishioners. It was called Our Lady of the Martyrs, and thither were they bound upon this, Her feast day.
They climbed the hill. They went down by the little stair near the porch, which leads into the crypt of that strange place, and where the stones go back to the temple of the pagan days. Faber vested and began the Mass.
When he came to the Communion, the six laymen rose and knelt at the altar rails. Then, one by one in order each, before receiving the Host, took in a loud voice the vow of their companionship, and Faber himself, the last, pronounced those words. The Ablutions were received. The post-Communions read, the last Gospel recited. The Society of Jesus was founded.
* * * * *
The winter was not over in Blois — the winter 227 of 1560. The old king, who had so sternly maintained the national religion, was dead; a boy of fifteen reigned — frail, incompetent, diseased — the son of that Medicean woman whom an enemy has called “the worm from the tomb of Italy.”
The child was married to a child-wife, the daughter of the King of Scotland, Mary Stuart. It was she, in part, already masterful, that had called to that Court her mother’s brothers, the sons of Lorraine, the Guises; grandsons of that same man who had entered his capital of Nancy on the death of Charles the Bold.
And they were hated. They were not of the national nobility; they had enriched themselves scandalously. If they were to be the protectors of the Church, it was but another weakness for the Church. One of their group, a child of fourteen, had been made Archbishop of Reims, and loaded with the wealth of such great names as Cluny — St. Bernard’s glorious house; as Marmoutier — St. Martin’s immemorial foundation. Scandal! Scandal!
Against these men, against the new, feeble, immature king, rose muttering throughout the commonwealth all forms of opposition, linked under the bond (here loose, there strict) of the Reform, of the Gospellers, of them that would 228 be rid of their fathers, and who were clamped to the iron of Calvin. He, far off in Geneva, commanded. Already, some few months since, the Reformers had organized everywhere. They had held their first synod, making them one thing throughout the territory of France, and, by hundreds, the armed gentry were rallying, though secretly, to that standard. Men from all countries leaked in to take service in the coming war as mercenaries. Many from the Germanies, many from Switzerland. They were sworn in secrecy by the German freebooters’ oath: “To follow the dumb captain.” And of the native people crowds were ready, when the signal should be given, to join the nobles who were moving. By little groups, and as single men, they came filtering through towards the Loire.
What could the Guises bring against that? There were no armies in those days, save such guards as the king could pay, or such gentry as would still obey his summons.
The plot was laid to seize the crowned boy while the Court thus still sat in Blois, for the town was open and without walls. A mob could carry it. The leaders still professed that to this boy they wished no harm. It was his counsellors they would be rid of, and all their hatred was 229 for the Guises — especially for the duke, their head, the real ruler.
But before the appointed day the young king, restless, must be moving down river. He would hunt, and he was tired of the woods to the west and to the south. The Court set out. It was through this chance whim that the rising was postponed and lost its vigour. It was through this chance whim that the threatened Court found itself safe in the little stronghold of Amboise.
As it there sat it felt in the air a menace all around. They had summoned and held hostage in the castle one or two of the greatest among those whom they knew to be their secret enemies. But the populace was also astir. Not all looks were kind, and there were strange men on market days.
Some order misunderstood, some rashness, provoked a misfire. A crowd of men made for the castle, not all of them unarmed, professing that they must see the king. They were rejected; contemptuously enough young Francis II. even scattered coins among them, as being of the poor and common people. That was only the grumbling of something distant.
It was on Saturday, the 16th of March, that 230 the storm broke; but even then, ill-led. Men came swarming out from the woods on the south of the town. It was an armed attack. It has been called “The Tumult of Amboise.” The leaders were few, ill-chosen and worse followed. Not enough of the gentry were there. Horsemen and armour were lacking. It could but fail. The gates were shut in time, the ramparts armed, the wave of attack broke against impregnable walls; it was shot down under the trained aim of the archers; it was pursued, dispersed, driven to its woods again, and, on the way, whole dozens were rounded up and bound, and beaten, and thrust back into the castle as prisoners. For days the hanging of them went on, from the gibbet of the town itself, from the beams of the main gateway of the castle, from the iron crooks on its walls.
The thing was over, and it had seemed small. The young queen laughed at it. But it was the beginning of that tremendous business which was to fill all France with death and the destruction of lovely stone; to sow a permanent division, to leave, much later, the Bourbons supreme, and not even to end when the thirteenth Louis should have ridden out to strike the last blow at La Rochelle — how many years to come!
RICHELIEU, the Cardinal, was growing old, his work was nearly accomplished. It was the recovery of the frontiers, and on the south those limits were the Pyrenees.
The long process of the hotch-potch of popular movement and feeling over fifteen hundred years had blurred the outline of Gaul. It was his business to restore an exact shape and a true wall to the inheritance of the kings — “The Square Field.”
To the east the thing had never been possible, and perhaps never will be. The Rhine stood clearly before all eyes. The Rhine could be reached, but never made a final decision. Reached, it must be crossed; but reached at one point it could not be reached in all. There would ever be a struggle in those march lands. It is a struggle woefully present to us to-day. Elsewhere the sea, the Alps, made definite boundaries. There remained the Pyrenees.
But until this time the Pyrenees had not been attained. The tide of Gallic power had overflowed 232 them, and again had ebbed; and those confused and noble valleys held races which overspread the crest, and none of which had felt themselves at heart to be either of the northern or of the southern land; neither of the pastures and the rivers and the woods of Gascony, nor of the hard and burnt Iberian rock and dust. Richelieu desired that crest and those limits, and that long mountain boundary against the sky.
Where that singular straight line of division, the most unbroken wall in Europe, reaches the Mediterranean, the Catalonian people and their language held all the passes and spread to the north and to the south, one nation — or at least one race. These, so early as Charlemagne, had been the march of the Ebro, and Barcelona, the great port, had remained the capital of one countryside. But in the darkness after the death of Charlemagne, no man could tell you whether its fate would fall to the north or to the south. It acquired an independence which at first was feudal, and might later well have been national, as that of Portugal became, as that which little Andorra still holds in its fantastic isolated cup. Through the Middle Ages the thing had swung now to the French, now to the Spaniards, but still was Catalan: one thing. The genius of Richelieu, to the 233 disadvantage of that entity, to the advantage of his sovereign, was to divide it by the crest of the Pyrenees, and to push the writ of Paris up to that sombre line where the peaks go gown in lessening but rugged summits, and lose themselves in the salt — diminishing to mere rocks at last. For Richelieu had determined, not that all the Catalonian land, but only this province — this northern province of it, the Roussilon, hither of the Pyrenees — should be French; the rest he would leave to Spain.
He played for the furtherance of this end upon a spirit which he flattered and nourished, but did not fulfil — the spirit of Catalan independence.
The great Spanish monarchy, almost the masters of the world, had, in the century before, firmly established itself over the whole Peninsula, suppressing local liberties, centralizing, despotic. Against that awful monarchy, against its symbol, the angry Catalans had risen; and, supporting that rising in the enormous duel between the house of Spain and the house of France, Richelieu had permitted the rebels to elect his master their Count.
On January 23, 1641, following upon treaties of alliance between the Catalan rebels and the French Crown, Louis XIII. was admitted Count 234 of Barcelona, monarch of all that country on either side of the hills. But the game which Richelieu played had not Barcelona for its stakes; he was gambling for the Rousillon only, and for Perpignan.
All the strength of Castille, all the men Spain could spare from the universal war, were poured into the defence of Perpignan, and La Rena was sent as governor to hold that northern bastion, and prevent the French advance to the Pyrenees.
The town lies sloping downwards westward from its citadel. It stands in a sheet of vineyards; a plain having to the east, solemnly dominating it, all the huge mass of the Canigou. La Rena held it strongly. He would quarter his soldiers upon the townsmen. They resisted. He turned his guns from the citadel upon the burghers, and they surrendered, but not before nearly six hundred of their houses had been ruined by the fire. They had attempted a truce; the bishop had gone up to the citadel with the Sacrament in a procession. They obtained no truce; goods were looted, gallows were raised in the marketplace, and Olivares, the great minister of the Spanish king, was supreme.
So Perpignan was held in that summer of 1641 for Spain.235
The plain around was flooded with the French. South, north, east, west of the city their eight thousand infantry, their two regiments of cavalry, garrisoned the villages and towns, until at last, by the end of the year, Perpignan itself was blockaded, and before any siege lines were formed a famine had begun. In that winter, in the January of 1642, the struggle opened between the two powers. Brézé, coming to Catalonia as the Viceroy of Louis XIII., sat down before Perpignan; but he could not quite cut off relief — some wheat got in before the end of the moth. From Castille no further troops could come in relief. Still the French flooded on, La Meilleraye at their head; and with him, second in command, a name that was to be more than famous — Turenne.
By April the last of the small desperate Spanish garrisons in the neighbourhood of Collioure had surrendered, but Perpignan still held.
All France seemed to be pressing on to that one point. The Cardinal himself took the long journey, fell ill, and stopped at Narbonne. His master, the king, Louis XIII., went forward, and on the 23rd May took up his station in the farm which used to be called the Mas of John Pauques, 236 which it still known to-day as the King’s Farm; near St. Stevens, looking upon the city.
By this time all Europe looked on.
The cavalry of the guard was there: Enghien, Polignac, Cinq-Mars, Schomberg — all the great names; and the musketeers of the Cardinal were there as well. Nearly thirty thousand men stood thus before the walls, which had become the test of whether the government of Paris should or should not come up to the Pyrenees.
Behind those walls, unsuccoured, the last veterans of the Thirty Years’ War — not three thousand of them, and of these but a nucleus Castillian — still held. They were the men whom all Europe had learnt to regard as masters, but the odds were too great. They could stand one to ten, even famished, behind a formidable trench and wall, but as they stood they died of the fever and of the famine.
As the heat grew, and as the grapes began to show their first clusters in the great sweep of vineyards under that mound which watched the drama from the west, the two captains, Avila and Cavabro, refused to treat. The citizens had been made their slaves. The citadel was their vantage ground, and from it a ceaseless pillage ruined the town. If ever the moral force of 237 civilians counts in war, it was here accumulated against the fierce and terrible captains of Castille, as strong as iron in pride, but now doomed.
Every animal in the place was eaten. The citizens were thrown back upon the rooks and the rats; the wounded in the hospital ate the straw of their beds, and men were seen in the streets of the city gathering the weeds of the wayside.
The captains of Philip IV. still held.
He made a desperate effort at relief. He drove the French from Barcelona; but he could not find more men, harassed as he was all over Europe, for that one essential point of Perpignan. A little body came up under Torrecusa; La Mothe-Houdancourt held it off beyond the hills.
It was the height of summer, and under the burning sun the ill fortune of the Spanish star saw to it that, as a last resort, a fleet attempting a diversion by the coast should have a tempest raised against it and should fly to the Balearics.
Then it was at last that Avila despaired. But even then he could not sign a capitulation. He signed only a document by which he pledged himself to surrender if no help should come before a date which was discussed by the starving men and fixed at last upon the 9th of September. The 9th of September came; no succour had 238 arrived. The gates were opened, the keys delivered, and the play was done.
The Castillians had demanded and obtained the honours of war. The French in two ranks saw passing between them the haggard remnant of all this heroism, still attempting some severity of demeanour. A generous instinct had moved the French command to see that none of the Catalans, none of the town folk in their hatred of the Spanish garrison, should be seen. It was the northern soldiers of Louis XIII. who held them back as the tiny garrison marched out, concealing its weakness under a mask of order and of discipline.
Their officers saluted the French flag, and at their head Avila rode one of the last horses. The ceremony was over; the Castillians, not prisoners, were outside the lines.
Avila dismounted, knelt upon the ground, looked south towards Spain and to the arms of Spain upon the gate. His eyes were full of tears. As he knelt he raised his right hand towards the town, and made a great sign of the Cross against the sky, so bidding it farewell for ever.
It was by the Canet Gate that these few heroes went forth after the last effort for their king. It was by the Gate of Elne that there marched in at 239 the same moment the fresh, the well-fed, strong-bodied northern Frenchmen, six thousand strong, and behind them an immense train of wagons, filled with wheat, barley, oats, bread ready-baked, bacon and fresh meat — food for a year.
In the Cathedral of St. John the Archbishop of Narbonne and the Bishops of Nîmes and Albi, crowded around by the enthusiastic men of the Catalans, sang the Te Deum. But far off in the Escorial, Olivares, having heard the news, leant for the moment against the stone wall, and the palm of his left hand pressed upon it, and then moved towards the little room where the king was still reading and signing his papers.
He fell upon his knees and wept, and said that it was time that he, Olivares, should, by his own wish, die; and even so, he dared not say the words that would give the reason of his despair. He waited until his master spoke and asked him what so moved him.
“Sire,” said that strong man, sobbing, and still upon his knees, “you have lost Perpignan.”
Then Philip answered in a low voice, but gravely: “We must submit to the will of God.”
THERE are many squares of soil where the histories of nations touch and the fate of the one is intermixed with the fate of the other upon a few roods of land.
There are the battlefields, of course — but that is obvious. There are the conference rooms: the rooms in which treaties were signed; though most treaties do not mean very much to history, some are of prodigious effect — witness the Treaty of the Pyrenees. There are the universally sacred sites — like the pavement of St. Peter’s, old and new. There are the sites of Decisions, like the quays of Calais; like the palaces of Vienna — where the agents of Governments have met and have doubtfully decided, for a little time, the inferior interests of men — the mechanical interests of men.
But there are also less known places where the fates of nations met oddly, sharply, sometimes fruitfully, sometimes unfruitfully.
For instance, just outside Montreuil, two coaches passed each other in the night — the one 241 going north, the other going south. The one going south was that of the British envoy prepared for war with the French Republic in 1793; the one going north was that bearing the French envoy with orders to prevent war if possibly that could be done.
Of those squares of land, one is not as famous as it should be. It is the land upon which stands the seventeenth-century palace of St. Germains, with the terrace just outside overlooking the plain of the Seine and the low grey line of Paris far beyond, and the distant, diminished towers of St. Denis.
Had the Stuarts returned to the throne of England, that place would be famous enough. It would be counted as the point of their departure, as the rallying place of their cause, as the seed of a new time. It would be a place of national pilgrimage and sacred in English eyes; for there it was that James II., the rightful English king, came as an exile to meet his cousin of France. But the Stuarts did not return; and, therefore, the incident has been pushed away into the lumber-room. There is thought to be something futile about St. Germains. Even Culloden is more famous.
Yet St. Germains has good material for a 242 shrine. It remains just what it was. The past lives there. It is what it is, although success did not follow on the meeting it saw. It is precisely what it would have been had success followed that meeting. It is still itself. I could wish that the tragedy of that palace were better known.
Mary of Modena had come over hurriedly with the child, the heir to the English throne. She had been housed in this palace by the gratitude, the courtesy, and the high policy of Louis XIV., King of France. She was the Queen of England, and the usurpers were (officially) of no account to Versailles. The fatigue of the journey, of the alarms, of the perils, had oppressed the young woman; she had taken to her bed. In a fine cradle, worthy of royalty, swinging in the same room, lay that little baby who was later to be James III., and never to reign.
Louis XIV. had returned to visit this lady; he had come to her bedside again, making obeisance and reverence, as king to queen. They awaited James himself, for they knew that if he could escape the plots of his enemies he would reach them. The news had come of his landing. He had reached port in the dead of the Christmas dark, at three in the morning. He had travelled down from the sea-coast with haste. He came in 243 no very great state to the doors of that palace, late upon this December (for the French this January) day. The weather was stormy; he had had no relief from travel; his great boots were splashed with mud, and the tails of his long coat also; and his odd, energetic, somewhat pinched face showed his fatigue. Yet he was the King of England, and kingship was the high political note of the time. He was the son of Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles I. No one had a moment’s right against himself — least of all his disappointed, soured, usurping daughter; his alien, vicious, usurping son-in-law.
The man who had had, in varying proportions, ill-fortune to oppress him, ill-judgment to urge him on (but much more ill-fortune than ill-judgment), this courageous, intelligent, tenacious, but now defeated man, stepped down unaided, but awkwardly, from the coach. He was cramped by his journey.
Notice had been given to Louis XIV., sitting there by the beside in the room above; and that great king, holding the highest throne in Europe, came down at once, almost eagerly, almost forgetting the ritual of his position, to honour such an occasion and such an exile.244
The rain still fell slantwise in the open courtyard of that palace of brick and cornered stone. Louis XIV., in plumed hat, and cloak, and sword, and buckled shoes, walked through the weather, indifferent, his gentlemen about him — walked, I say, even eagerly, with some forgetfulness of what he owed to his own royalty, so sharply did he feel the strength of the occasion.
They met under the arch of the portcullis where the guard were mounted, on the house side of the drawbridge, and in that meeting there was something consonant to the ideas of their time, grotesque to those of ours. For you must know that the men of that time bowed low to their superiors — lower and lower in proportion, not to their own inferiority, but the greatness of him whom they saluted. Now, here were two equals — the King of England and the King of France — meeting to salute the one the other; so each bowed lower and lower as they approached, each sweeping his hat in his hand before him, and modulating his steps exactly as the ritual of that time demanded: the left foot advanced, then the right at right angles to it, in something more like a dance than a walk.
With all this they must give each other the 245 the accolade: they were equals; they must embrace as equals. So the arms of the one man, bowed down and obeisant with his head (a large wig upon it), were spread out, inviting, upon either side of his body, the right hand holding the large plumed hat, the left making gestures with its fingers in the air.
At last, in such a progress, the two bodies must meet; and so they did. The reception of the one to the other was what we, to-day, mocking such things, might compare to the beginning of a wrestling match. But the onlookers had no such profanity in their minds. For them (and they were right) this strange ceremony was a high symbol. The Great King was treating the ruined Exile as an equal, and some future might be built upon such a foundation. The Stuarts might yet return. For that meeting — to us, as we call up its physical details, grotesque; to them, sublime — might well have been the beginning of a true Restoration, and of an England happier and better than she has been — perhaps less wealthy.
It was not so to be. The ceremony was sterile. It bred no issue. There was to come the Boyne, the ’Fifteen, the ’Forty-five — and nothingness; at last a grave in Rome, and that small, noble memorial in St. Peter’s, which I, for my part, 246 never pass without a movement of the heart. The Stuarts were not to return.
* * * * *
Next day the great king came back to his exiles at St. Germaines, and later in the week he came once more. Each time he visited them with an increasing sincerity and fervour of support. He leaned long over the cradle and gazed down at the little Heir of England, with more feeling than he had been known to show in looking at any of his own children.
But, high above men, the fates had decided and the stars were set. For business of this sort works out very slowly; and not within the lives of two or three men that meet, but in many generations, are the ultimate purposes accomplished; and though the Stuarts did not return, perhaps they are to watch their revenge.
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