By 1400 the royal domain of France’s King Charles VI (r. 1380-1422) included only Paris and the Ile-de-France, Champagne, Picardy, and Normandy. The dukes of Orléans, Berry, Bourbon, and Burgundy ruled other areas. In 1400 Burgundy’s share of the revenues exceeded 500,000 francs. Charles continued to have incapacitating periods of mental illness, and at the other times he often took the advice of those around him. His brother, Duke Louis of Orléans, loaned money to Emperor Wenceslas and signed an alliance with him on March 31, 1398. Louis wanted Charles to support Pope Benedict XIII in Avignon, but Duke Philippe the Bold of Burgundy, most of the French clergy and the University of Paris persuaded the King to reject both the rival popes on July 27.
Ruprecht (Rupert) was elected emperor in 1400, and in June 1401 he sent ambassadors to Paris to negotiate an alliance with France’s Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, the dukes of Berry and Burgundy, and the counts of Savoy and Armagnac against Louis of Orléans and his father-in-law, Gian Galeazzo Visconti of Milan. However, on July 7 King Charles ceded the county of Dreux to the Duke of Orléans and put him in command of Toul, which had rebelled against Ruprecht and appealed to France. Philippe of Burgundy came back to Paris with troops in December, but Queen Isabeau, Louis of Anjou who ruled Sicily, and the dukes of Berry and Bourbon arbitrated the dispute in January 1402 by promising to oppose any duke who brought troops into the royal domain.
In March 1402 Charles VI made Louis of Orléans the guardian of Pope Benedict, but he made the Duke of Berry the guardian of Avignon and the cardinals who had left the Pope’s palace. The King and his Council forbade the two dukes to fight each other, again ordering them to submit their quarrels to him or the Queen. On July 1 he confirmed Queen Isabeau’s authority to resolve disputes in his absence with the help of the councilors she chose. A royal ordinance issued on April 26, 1403 clarified that the decision should be made by a majority of the councilors consulted. All the prelates, nobles, and burgesses swore to obey the King or his commissioners, and after his death they were to recognize his son, Duke Louis of Guyenne, or his oldest living son as the next king. A regency was to be replaced by the Queen.
Philippe (the Bold) of Burgundy died on April 27, 1404, and on June 5 Charles VI had his 14-year-old daughter Isabelle, widow of England’s Richard II, married to 9-year-old Charles, the oldest son of Orléans. Louis of Orléans was granted Soissons and more lands and income. On August 31 the Dauphin, Duke Louis of Guyenne, married Margaret, daughter of Duke Jean (the Fearless) of Burgundy. In one year King Charles granted Louis of Orléans and his family 400,000 francs, and the same year a second tax was levied. Jean of Burgundy opposed the new tax and gained favor while Louis was resented. Queen Isabeau was also criticized for sending six horses loaded with bags of money to Bavaria.
The Hundred Years War with England begun in 1337 continued. In 1404 the Count of Saint-Pol raided the Isle of Wight but was not able to collect tribute. An attempt to take back Calais from the English failed. In July Charles VI recognized Owain Glyndwr as the Prince of Wales and formed an alliance with him; but the French force of 1,500 men was stopped by bad weather. Welsh troops did help the French navy set fire to Dartmouth and raid the coast of Devon.
On March 31, 1405 Jean of Burgundy inherited Flanders from his mother Margaret, and he supported Sluis which was attacked by the English navy. He asked France for men and supplies to besiege Calais; but Charles was ill, and Louis of Orléans persuaded the Council to refuse the request. On July 6 Louis was appointed captain-general in Picardy and Normandy, and he formed an alliance with Duke Louis of Guelders, enemy of Jean’s brother, Duke Antoine of Limbourg. An Augustinian friar accused the Queen and Orléans of appropriating 800,000 écus in taxes.
While Jean of Burgundy was on his way to Paris with an army of 1,700 men and his brother Antoine with 1,000 men, Louis of Orléans and the Queen left Paris on August 17, saying they were going hunting. When some nobles took the royal children from Paris, Jean went after them and brought them back with their consent, though it was illegal. The Duke of Berry was named the captain of Paris on August 21, the day Jean presented his plan to reform the government. In September Louis of Orléans agreed to disband his army, and Jean, who refused to do so, lost support among scared Parisians. On October 12 Queen Isabeau announced that Burgundy and Orléans were forbidden to fight each other, and she ordered them to discharge their armies. Four days later they both swore to live in peace. On November 7 Notre Dame’s Chancellor Jean Gerson delivered his speech based on ideas from Thomas Aquinas that portrayed the king with less power. Burgundy formed a coalition to support his reforms, but on December 1 the Queen and the dukes of Berry and Orléans formed an alliance against him.
On January 27, 1406 Charles VI appointed Jean of Burgundy to replace his late father on the royal Council, and he issued a secret ordinance making Jean a royal tutor if Charles died. On April 13 the King made Jean captain-general of Picardy and West Flanders while Louis of Orléans became captain-general of Guyenne. That summer Jean and Louis were given joint sovereignty over Pisa, and they did homage to Charles. Louis began besieging Bourg in Guyenne on October 31. He asked the Parlement for 100,000 francs to support this in December; but Charles refused, and Louis lifted the siege on January 14, 1407.
Meanwhile Jean of Burgundy had signed a treaty with the English on behalf of Flanders on November 30, and he submitted it to Charles for approval. Jean petitioned for funds, and on April 15, 1407 Charles granted him 347,591 francs. On April 28 the King approved the reduction of royal officials, and the Council went from 51 to 26 members. Louis of Orléans made Clignet de Brabant admiral, and in late October he attacked English ships off Flanders, irritating Jean, who also believed that Louis had delayed his funds. On November 23 Jean of Burgundy had Louis of Orléans murdered. Two days later at the royal Council Jean confessed privately to the Duke of Berry and Louis of Anjou that he had ordered the assassination. On December 10 the widow of Orléans, Valentina Visconti, asked the King to prosecute the murderers, but dukes wanted to negotiate with Jean to avoid civil war. Jean Petit of the University of Paris defended the assassination.
Duke Jean of Burgundy came back to Paris on February 18, 1408 with more than 800 men, and he was cheered. King Charles VI issued a letter of pardon, and Queen Isabeau took the royal children to Melun. The Dauphin, Duke Louis of Guyenne, announced that Louis of Orléans had been vindicated and that justice would be done. Pardoned Jean agreed to move his troops north to Flanders. In a ceremony at Chartres on March 9, 1409 the King made them all swear friendship and promise to maintain peace. Burgundy’s army was disbanded, and Jean had financial difficulties. Jean de Nielles had represented Burgundy in peace talks, and he was appointed chancellor of the Queen and the Duke of Guyenne. Jean of Montaigu was arrested and executed in October. This action and his reforms made Burgundy popular in Paris. He became the Dauphin’s guardian in 1410, and Pierre de Fontenay was already in charge of reform and finances for the royal family.
On April 15, 1410 Jean of Berry, Jean of Brittany, young Charles of Orléans, and the counts of Alençon, Armagnac, and Clermont formed an alliance at Gien. On July 15 King Charles prohibited his subjects from taking up arms, but he gave Jean of Burgundy 120,000 francs to pay his troops. At the age of eleven in 1406 Charles of Orléans had married his cousin Isabelle who was the widow of Richard II of England, but she died in childbirth in 1409. In August 1410 at age 15 he married Bonne, the daughter of Count Bernard of Armagnac.
On March 31, 1411 King Charles sent Count Philippe of Vertus to Valois. Burgundy ordered his vassals to meet at Cateau-Cambrésis on April 29, but the King made him cancel the call. Charles of Orléans continued his military preparations. Jean of Burgundy sent the King a letter professing his loyalty on June 8, and the next month Orléans garrisoned the castle of Ham in Picardy. On July 14 Charles of Orléans and his brothers Philippe and Jean sent a letter to the King declaring their loyalty, and they accused Jean of Burgundy of violating the peace agreement by executing Jean de Montaigu. Charles VI revoked his ban against fighting Jean of Burgundy, who got the support of butchers in Paris. Troops of the Duke of Orléans took over the royal town of Roye in Picardy and garrisoned castles. While the King was mentally ill, the Duke of Guyenne and the royal Council sent a summons to Burgundy. He was ordered to defend the kingdom, and on September 11 the goods of those backing Orléans were ordered confiscated. Burgundy’s troops captured Ham, Nesle, and Roye.
Supporters of Charles of Orléans were led by Count Bernard of Armagnac and were called Armagnacs, and they took over Saint-Denis. They believed they were not rebels because Jean of Burgundy was preventing justice. On November 7 the old Duke of Berry announced that the King, Queen, and the Duke of Guyenne were imprisoned in the Louvre. Two days later Jean of Burgundy recaptured the bridge of Saint-Cloud in a surprise attack. His chamberlain Jean de Norrent recaptured Saint-Denis and the Queen’s treasures there. King Charles dined with Burgundy and promised some money to his brother, Duke Antoine of Brabant. Duke Louis of Guyenne led the royal army and was joined by Jean of Burgundy, and they took Etampes.
In 1412 the English were negotiating with the dukes of Orléans, Berry, and Bourbon and also with the Duke of Burgundy. On February 13 Charles VI announced a war tax of 600,000 francs. On May 18 England’s Henry IV formed an alliance with the dukes of Orléans, Berry, and Bourbon and sent 1,000 armed men and 3,000 bowmen in exchange for homage and the cession of Aquitane. King Charles led his army which besieged Bourges for a month. The King became ill during negotiations, and the dukes of Orléans and Berry accepted a treaty at Bourges on July 15. The Armagnacs promised to support King Charles against the English, and in the peace treaty signed at Auxerre on August 22 the Dauphin Louis acting for the King returned all the confiscated properties to the princes of Orléans and their vassals. People hoped the civil war in France was over.
In August 1412 Duke Thomas of Clarence, Henry IV’s second son, led an English invasion that landed in Cotentin and marched toward Blois. When he learned that none of the French were supporting the English because Burgundy’s troops had defeated the Armagnacs, Clarence crossed the Loire and accepted 210,000 gold écus from the French princes. The Duke of York and John Cornwall also accepted money. Clarence’s army spent the winter in Bordeaux. On November 23 his council empowered Charles of Orléans to raise 40,000 livres in taxes on his own lands to ransom his brother Jean, who was not freed until 1445.
In February 1413 delegates from the University of Paris recommended reforming the government and dismissing all the governors of finance. A commission of twelve was appointed to propose reforms, and Simon Caboche was a member. Louis of Guyenne dismissed his chancellor Jean de Nielles in early March. The butchers and flayers called the Cobochiens after their leader Caboche besieged the Bastille on April 28 and began rioting. They broke into the house of the Duke of Guyenne and imprisoned his favorites. He tried to calm them down by asking for names of offenders. Jean de Troyes had a list of fifty, and the Cobochiens went after them and slaughtered Armagnacs.
On May 26 the dukes of Guyenne, Berry, and Burgundy and many others including delegates from the University of Paris met with Charles VI in the Parlement where 258 articles of the Ordonnance Cabochienne submitted by a commission were read and accepted. Most of the reforms reduced the number of officials and made rules to prevent embezzlement and other corruption. The Armagnacs met with King Charles on July 10 and demanded a conference to free the King, Queen, and the Dauphin. At Pontoise the dukes of Berry and Burgundy met with the dukes of Orléans and Bourbon and others. The Cabochiens tried to block the Pontoise peace agreement, but the Parlement approved it on August 4. Royal princes were to stop fighting and levying troops. That month the Duke of Guyenne retaliated against the Cabochiens, and Jean of Burgundy, who had supported them, failed in an attempt to abduct the King and fled to Flanders.
On September 2, 1413 the Armagnac princes swore to obey the Peace of Pontoise, and three days later Charles VI cancelled the Ordonnance Cabochienne in the Parlement. The next month he revoked the ordinances against the Duke of Orléans and his allies. Charles d’Albret had been Constable 1402-11, and the Armagnacs got him appointed again. In December the Duke of Guyenne sent letters ordering Duke Jean of Burgundy to come to Paris. The Armagnacs discovered a plot to riot against them, and on January 9, 1414 at a secret meeting in the Louvre they persuaded Queen Isabeau to dismiss the conspirators in the Duke of Guyenne’s household. Three days later King Charles signed a letter ordering Burgundy to stop raising troops and not come to Paris. The Armagnacs and the Queen convinced the Dauphin to cancel his letter and to make the same request.
Jean of Burgundy wrote he was coming anyway, and on January 26 the Queen issued a call to arms. Anyone serving Jean could be arrested, and he was declared a rebel. Jean arrived in Paris on February 10 with his army. The King was against him, and Jean departed. He was banished, and his goods were confiscated. Jean issued a call to arms in Cambrai, and on April 20 Charles VI proclaimed that anyone helping Jean would be considered a rebel. The King raised a force of 10,000 men-at-arms and 4,500 archers to attack the Duke of Burgundy, and a tax of 300,000 écus was levied to pay the troops. Jean’s brother Antoine and their mother, the Countess of Hainault, came and pleaded for the King to forgive Jean. Charles said Jean himself would have to be contrite. The royal army began a siege of Arras on July 28, and during its month an epidemic spread in the royal camp. At Ypres on August 7 the Duke of Burgundy signed an agreement with the ambassadors of Henry V to help the English conquer Guyenne and Poitou. On September 4 the Duke of Guyenne published the preliminary Peace of Arras that took Arras and other towns from Jean and gave them to the King’s government.
On September 22, 1414 Charles VI gave his son Louis of Guyenne control over the royal finances and the nomination of officials. Notre Dame’s Chancellor Jean Gerson and the University of Paris condemned Jean of Burgundy, and the King confirmed them on December 27. Charles announced the final form of the treaty on February 2, 1415 and Burgundy’s ambassadors ratified it on March 13 amid celebrations in Paris.
Also on March 13, 1415 King Charles VI announced that England’s Henry V was preparing for war, and they would have to raise taxes. On March 28 Dauphin Louis cancelled the reforms of the Armagnacs and discharged their commissioners. On April 11 he declared in a letter that he would govern for the King and preserve his natural rights, and on April 26 Charles made his son his lieutenant and captain-general of France. To gain the support of Jean of Burgundy the Dauphin indicated he would pardon the 500 men excepted from the general pardon.
On August 14, 1415 the English army landed on the French coast without opposition. Prince Louis asked Jean of Burgundy to send 500 armed men and 300 bowmen to join the royal army. Harfleur waited for the royal army but had to surrender to the English on September 22. King Henry V left a garrison of 1,200 men at Harfleur where he had lost 2,000 men to disease and sent back to England 5,000 who were too ill to fight. The English army went forward with only 900 armed men and 5,000 archers. On October 25 they attacked Agincourt, and the English longbows devastated the French cavalry. The lord of Saint-Remy estimated that 10,000 Frenchmen were killed that day including 433 noblemen. About 1,600 French nobles and knights were held as prisoners for ransom. The English marched to Calais and were well received on October 29. Dauphin Louis of Guyenne became ill and died on December 18. Jean of Burgundy tried to negotiate with the government in Paris; but his men were denied food, and they withdrew.
Charles of Orléans and Jean of Bourbon were being held prisoners in England, and the Duke of Berry died in June 1416. The Dauphin Louis was succeeded by his 17-year-old brother Jean, but he died of illness too on April 4, 1417, making his 14-year-old brother Charles heir to the throne. On May 17 Charles VI gave his only remaining son the duchy of Berry and the county of Poitou. On May 28 the King gave the supporters of Burgundy fifteen days to show their loyalty to the crown. Young Charles became the King’s lieutenant-general, and on June 14 he was given the authority to run the government in his father’s absence.
Henry V and the English invaded Normandy in August and marched toward Caen. Henry sent a letter urging Charles to abdicate his crown. The English captured Bayeux, and in September they sacked Caen and killed at least 2,000 people. They marched south, taking Argentan and Alençon in October.
Jean the Fearless took over Vernon, Mantes, Poissy, Pontoise, Senlis, Provins, and other towns in September. After he was joined by Queen Isabeau, the King on November 6 revoked her privileges to act in his place and confirmed his son. Calling herself Queen Ysabel of France, on January 10, 1418 she gave Duke Jean of Burgundy authority to rule the kingdom, appoint officials, and supervise the defense of the realm. She sent Louis of Chalon and others to abolish all taxes except the salt tax in towns that submitted to their rule. On February 16 she abolished the Parlement, the Chambre des Comptes, the Trésor, and other bureaus in Paris while forming new ones in Troyes. Ten days later the Dauphin Charles held a council in the Parlement of Paris. In May the people in Paris defeated the hated Armagnacs and killed their leader, Constable Bernard of Armagnac. Jean of Burgundy arrived a few days later and formed an alliance with Queen Isabeau. They were welcomed by the King on July 14, two days after Parisians had murdered all the Armagnac prisoners. The followers of young Charles were also killed, and he withdrew south of the Loire to his duchy of Berry. On July 15 Charles VI revoked all the government appointments and grants made by the Queen and himself, thus replacing Armagnac officials.
The English led by Henry V besieged Rouen on July 29, 1418. By the end of the year the people had eaten the horses, cats, dogs, rats, and mice. About 12,000 old people, women, and children were driven out of the city, and they were stopped by the English and starved in a ditch during the winter. Finally on January 19 Rouen agreed to surrender and pay 300,000 gold crowns. The garrison was allowed to leave without their arms by promising not to fight the English for a year. Citizens swearing an oath of allegiance were allowed to keep their houses and goods. The English did not have many people to colonize their new territory in France; but 10,000 settled in Harfleur, and Caen and Honfleur had smaller settlements. France had lost their ports in Normandy and the royal docks of Rouen, ending their navy. Henry invaded Vexin and took Pontoise, overcoming a Burgundian garrison.
A treaty was made at Saint-Maur-des-Fossés which Charles VI confirmed on September 16, but the Dauphin rejected the treaty. Both sides accused each other, but they agreed to a three-month truce in May 1419. On July 8 Jean of Burgundy met with Prince Charles. They made a treaty three days later, and Charles VI confirmed it on July 19. Jean and young Charles met again on September 10, and the Dauphin’s men killed Jean of Burgundy with a sword. The Dauphin claimed self-defense and called himself regent even though he had never been given that authority; but on September 20 the Queen revealed the facts of the murder. She also claimed that young Charles was not the son of Charles VI but a bastard.
Jean of Burgundy was succeeded by his 23-year-old son Philippe, who had married Charles VI’s daughter Michelle in 1409. Charles rejected Philippe’s request to be lieutenant-general of France, but on November 7 he authorized him to make a truce between France and England. Philippe did so and also formed an alliance with Henry on December 25; the truce was to last until March 1, 1420. Young Charles still controlled territory in the south, and he was helped by Scottish knights. While Paris was occupied, he created the Parlement of Toulouse.
On January 8 Charles VI kept his prerogatives but allowed Henry V to be regent. On January 17 King Charles condemned his son Charles for having Jean killed and claiming to be regent, and he was no longer to be called prince nor have any territory. On May 21 while King Charles was ill, Queen Isabeau and Duke Philippe met King Henry in the cathedral of Troyes to seal the perpetual treaty which made Henry heir to the throne of France, which was always to be separate from England. Charles VI’s daughter Catherine married Henry V on June 2. Instead of a tournament, Henry led his knights in a siege of Sens where the Armagnacs were easily defeated. The siege of Melun was more difficulty; but after their provisions failed, the garrison surrendered. Henry put to death all the Scots, several citizens, and two monks. The Burgundians in Paris gave up the fortresses of Vincennes, the Bastille, the Louvre, and the Tour de Nesle. Henry rode into the city with Charles VI and Philippe of Burgundy, and on December 6 the assembled estates recognized Henry as the regent of France. The absent young Charles was condemned, banished, and stripped of his right to the crown on January 3, 1421.
Henry V and his bride left France that month, and Catherine was crowned queen in Westminster Abbey on February 13. The Duke of Clarence and John Talbot, Earl of Salisbury, led an army south from Paris to the Loire and west to Anjou. They plundered, but on Easter Sunday they fought a French and Scottish army led by John Stewart, Earl of Buchan, and Sieur de Lafayette. Clarence led a force of 1,500 but was defeated and killed by 5,000 French and Scots. At the same time Philippe of Burgundy was subduing Picardy and capturing the Dauphin’s partisans, Saintrailles and Gamaches. Henry returned to Calais in June with 4,000 troops and marched toward Paris, which was being threatened by the Armagnacs. He captured their castle at Rougemont and hanged the entire garrison. On October 6 began the eight-month siege of Meaux where the English army suffered from dysentery. Henry caught the disease that eventually killed him at Vincennes near Paris on August 31, 1422. Charles VI died on October 22. In the south at Mehun-sur-Yevre in Berry some knights hailed Charles VII as king of France, and he accepted it on October 30. His authority was recognized in Touraine, Orléans, Berry, Bourbon, Auvergne, Languedoc, Dauphiné, and Lyons.
At Henry V’s death his son Henry VI was only nine months old. Yet he was proclaimed king of England and of France, being accepted in Paris by aristocrats, the Parlement, and the University. Henry V’s brother John of Monmouth, Duke of Bedford, was elected regent in France, and the brother Humphrey of Gloucester became Lord Protector. Henry V had told John to hang on to Normandy, offer Philippe the regency, hold Paris, and fight the Dauphin. Burgundy controlled eastern and northern France but declined to be regent under England’s Henry VI. The English tried to maintain their control over Normandy, the Ile of France around Paris, Champagne, and Picardy as well as Calais and Guyenne. The French loyal to Charles VII fought guerrilla warfare against the occupiers while English freebooters called écorcheurs came over to rob and murder. The English had great difficulty in collecting taxes in Normandy, and revenues fell drastically. The Parisians remembered the terror caused by the Armagnacs and feared the return of the Dauphin as did the towns under the English or Burgundy.
The war was also dividing the Church as France, Scotland, Castile, and Aragon followed Pope Benedict XIII (1394-1423) who left Avignon in 1403 while the English, Germans, and Italians were loyal to Pope Gregory XII (1406-15) and Pope Martin V (1417-31) at Rome.
In April 1423 the dukes of Bedford, Burgundy, and Brittany met at Amiens and signed a treaty of alliance to defeat the Dauphin. Regent Bedford married Philippe’s sister Anne of Burgundy in May. The Dauphinists recruited so many Scots that Constable John Steward was put in command of their forces. They besieged the town of Cravant on the Yonne River, and by July the people were starving. The Earl of Salisbury and a Burgundian contingent marched to relieve them with about 4,000 troops. The bloody battle of Cravant was fought on July 31. The Scots had about 3,000 killed and more than 2,000 captured including John Stewart, who lost an eye, and the French Dauphinists had 6,000 killed and left behind many prisoners.
In 1424 Bedford gathered 10,000 men at Rouen and with the Earl of Suffolk sent ahead they recaptured Ivry from the Dauphinists. The Earl of Douglas led about 6,000 Scots who marched on the English town of Verneuil on August 14. Bedford sent 3,000 Burgundians back to the siege at Nesle and faced about 15,000 French and Scots with about 10,000 English troops. In the battle at Verneuil on August 17 the English lost a thousand men while the French and Scots had about 8,000 killed. The Scots were trapped, and very few survived as prisoners or escaped. Charles VII still reigned in Bourges where he set up a Parlement, Chambre de Comptes, and other state offices. The revenues he got from the estates of Languedoc were about five times what the English gained in Rouen. On March 7, 1425 Charles at Chinon made Earl Arthur Richemont of Brittany the constable of France, and he was welcomed in Bourges by Queen Yolande of Aragon and Chancellor Martin Gouge, Bishop of Clermont. Some Armagnacs took Charles VII to Poitiers and challenged the Constable, but in July the Armagnacs were finally overcome.
Duke Philippe of Burgundy took over most of Champagne. His cousin had married Countess Jacqueline of Holland and Hainault, but she left the sickly man in April 1421 and went to England, where she proposed marriage to Duke Humphrey of Gloucester. She got a dispensation from Benedict XIII at Avignon so she could marry Humphrey in February 1423, making him Count of Hainault, Holland, and Zeeland. In October 1424 he landed at Calais and crossed Artois with an army of 5,000 to occupy Hainault. That autumn Philippe of Burgundy visited Paris and insulted Bedford by saying he had formed a defensive alliance with Charles VII, and he offended the Earl of Salisbury by making sexual advances on the 19-year-old Countess of Salisbury. Bedford returned to England in December to mediate a conflict between his brother Humphrey and Chancellor Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. Johann of Bavaria died in January 1425, leaving Holland and Zeeland to Philippe of Burgundy, who marched into the territory, causing Humphrey to flee to England.
Regent Bedford came back to France in March 1427 with only 300 armed men and 900 archers but with new artillery. Duke Jean of Brittany had signed a treaty with the Dauphin at Saumur in 1426; but after Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, took over Pontorson on May 8, 1427, Jean rejoined the English in September, restoring the Triple Alliance with Bedford and Burgundy. That month the bastard Jean of Orléans (later called Dunois) and Etienne de Vignolles, who was called “La Hire” for his temper, reinforced Montargis with 1,600 men who defeated Warwick’s army of one thousand that fled in panic. At the same time Sir John Fastolf was defeated at Ambrieres in Maine, which revolted.
Meanwhile Salisbury was back in England raising £24,000 from the Council and his own resources. He sailed back in June 1428 with 450 men-at-arms and 2,250 bowmen with miners, masons, carpenters, and new artillery. The Earl began taking towns in August and besieged Orléans on October 12. This key stronghold had 2,400 soldiers and 3,000 militia led by Sieur de Gaucourt and 71 cannons. The English force had dwindled to 4,000, and Salisbury had paid Burgundy for 150 soldiers, but they were joined by 1,500 Burgundian men-at-arms. They bombarded Tourelles. After three days the garrison withdrew on October 23, and the English occupied Tourelles. The next day the Earl of Salisbury was seriously wounded, and he died on October 27. William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, took command and moved his men into winter quarters in November. This enabled Jean of Orléans, who had arrived on October 25, to reinforce the city and take command of the garrison.
On February 8, 1429 reinforcements led by William d’Albret arrived with 1,000 Scots led by John Stewart of Darnley. Fastolf had 500 English archers and 1,000 militia from Paris, and they were attacked on February 12 by a Dauphinist army of 4,000 men led by the Count of Clermont. Constable Stewart led the Scots in an attack, but the English bowmen killed him and 500 while losing only four men in the Battle of the Herrings, named for the fish in the provision train attacked. The Dauphinists ceded Orléans to Burgundy because Charles of Orléans was still being held prisoner in England. Bedford blocked this and said he was not fighting for Burgundy, who then withdrew his contingent.
Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) was born in Domremy of Lorraine on January 6, 1412 in a peasant family, and she was christened in the church of St. Rémy. As a girl she prayed very much and began to hear angelic voices. On May 13, 1428 she went to Vaucouleurs and spoke to Captain Robert de Baudricourt to offer herself to help France’s Dauphin Charles before the next Lent, but Robert told her to go home. Anthony of Vergy, Burgundy’s governor of Champagne, raided Vaucouleurs in July and forced peasants to flee. Jeanne’s family took refuge with others in Neufchateau.
Jeanne met with Robert again in January 1429 and said she would even walk to be with the King during Lent because her Lord told her to do so. Asked who her Lord was, she answered, “God.” This time Robert promised to lead her to the King, and she chose to wear men’s clothes for the long journey through enemy territory. They left Vaucouleurs on February 22 and traveled mostly at night, avoiding the English and Burgundian bands. They arrived on March 4, and she stayed in a hostel. The Dauphin Charles VII saw her two days later, and she identified him out of a crowd. She declared that first she had to raise the siege of Orléans, and then she would lead Charles to Reims to be crowned king. She also met with the Duke of Alençon, who had promised not to fight until he paid his ransom to the English.
Charles sent her to Poitiers, where she was examined by Church authorities for three weeks. She was calling herself “the Virgin,” and women determined that this was true. She prophesied that the English would be driven away from Orléans, that Charles would be crowned at Reims, that Paris would support him, and that the Duke of Orléans would return from England. On March 22, 1429 Jeanne wrote a letter to the King of England, the Duke of Bedford who claimed to be the regent of France, and his lieutenants, telling them to surrender to the maid who was sent from God. She was ready for peace if they would give up France and pay for having occupied her, or else as commander of the armies she would chase them all out of France.
After returning to Chinon, Jeanne went to join the Dauphin Charles at Tours, and he ordered a fitted suit of armor for her. She joined the royal army at Blois and prepared them spiritually by urging them to confess, by driving away the prostitutes, and by forbidding pillaging, swearing, and blasphemy. She entered Orléans through the Burgundy Gate on April 29. After reconnoitering on horseback the English bastides (fortified towns), she led an attack that took their bastide at Saint-Loup on May 4. The next day was Ascension Day, and she did not fight; but she sent a letter offering the English some of the prisoners they took for a captured French herald. On May 6 she and La Hire led the charge that captured the bastide of the Augustinians. The next day she predicted that she would be wounded, and she received a minor wound. After it was treated with oil and pig fat, she returned to the assault.
Tourelles was taken the next day, and on Sunday May 8 the English abandoned the siege of Orléans. Jeanne followed the old chivalrous code of not fighting on Sundays or holidays. She left Orléans the next day and met with Charles on May 13 at Tours. She urged him not to hold a long council meeting but to go quickly to Reims to be crowned. On May 23 Jeanne met with the Duke of Alençon, who had paid his large ransom and now was permitted to fight. She returned to Orléans on June 13, and six days later she won her greatest victory in the battle at Patay, where the English suffered two thousand casualties while only three Frenchmen were killed. This victory changed the momentum of the war that had favored the English since the battle of Agincourt in 1415.
Jeanne assembled her army of 12,000 men at Gien, and the Dauphin agreed to go to Reims which had been in English territory. French forces reached Saint-Phal on July 4, and both Charles and Jeanne offered amnesty to the inhabitants. According to her prediction, Troyes agreed to accept Charles, and he entered the city with Jeanne on July 10. On Sunday July 17 Jeanne was present with her banner in the cathedral of Reims as the Dauphin was anointed and crowned King Charles VII. That day she wrote a letter to Duke Philippe of Burgundy, urging him to make peace and support the King of France. On July 31 Charles granted the people of Domremy and Greux exemption from taxes to please Jeanne.
The English army moved toward Senlis, and Bedford made Philippe of Burgundy governor of Paris. Charles VII tried diplomacy and made a fifteen-day truce with the Duke of Burgundy which Jeanne reluctantly honored. Jean de Luxembourg led a Burgundian embassy that signed another truce for four months on August 21. The English made Philippe lieutenant general of France on October 13. At Bruges he married Isabelle of Portugal on January 8, 1430, and on January 12 the English gave him Champagne and Brie. During the long truce Burgundy kept postponing peace talks.
Jeanne left for Saint-Pierre-le-Moultier in October 1429, and after a difficult siege it fell on November 4. The siege of La Charité lasted a month but failed and had to be lifted in December. Jeanne joined Charles VII at Sully-sur-Loire in early March 1430. While the Duke of Burgundy was attacking Champagne, popular uprisings drove the Burgundian garrison from Saint-Denis and English troops from Mehun. In Paris more than 150 people were arrested for conspiracy, and six were executed on April 8. Some were thrown into the Seine, and others paid ransoms.
Jeanne prophesied in April that she would be a prisoner of the English before St. John’s Day (June 24). In May she was waiting for reinforcements from Charles VII. On May 23 she was trapped outside a closed gate of Compiegne and was taken by Lionel the Bastard of Wandomme, who gave her to Jean de Luxembourg. Three days later the University of Paris sent a letter to Philippe of Burgundy urging that she be turned over to Jean Graverent, the Inquisitor of France. Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais led the University delegation on June 22 that demanded she be delivered to their jurisdiction. On July 10 Jeanne was transferred 37 miles to Luxembourg’s castle of Beaurevoir, and she was kept there until the end of November. Cauchon worked on arranging her purchase by the English. Jeanne wrote that she would rather die than be captured by the English, and she tried to escape, though her voices opposed that.
On December 6 the English obtained Jeanne by paying a ransom of 10,000 gold crowns to Jean de Luxembourg. Compiegne was in Beauvais, which had surrendered to the French. Bedford decided to put Jeanne on trial at Rouen with Cauchon as judge, but he had to get authorities to grant a commission of territory which was enacted on December 28.
Jeanne d’Arc’s trial began at Rouen on January 9, 1431. She was kept in chains and leg irons which at night were attached to her bed. On January 13 another matron determined that she was still a virgin. She was treated as a prisoner of war and was guarded by soldiers. Jeanne was interrogated for several hours daily except on Sundays, but no one knew what charges were being brought against her. She refused to swear an oath and declared that she would not tell them some things. She told her revelations from God only to King Charles because she knew from her visions that she should keep them secret. A notary and other witnesses were allowed to listen secretly to her confessions made to the priest Nicolas Loiseleur. She was more afraid of disobeying her voices than of displeasing the authorities. More than anything else she wished to be in and remain in the grace of God. She identified her voices as Saint Catherine (probably of Alexandria), Saint Margaret (probably of Antioch), and Saint Michael. She sent someone to fetch a sword she perceived to be buried by an altar in a church, and it was cleaned up for her use; but she much preferred the standard she carried and said she never killed anyone. She prophesied to her judges that after seven years the English would suffer major defeats and would “lose everything in France.” She said she would rather die than be put in the hands of the English.
Starting on March 10 the interrogations of Jeanne were held in the prison for one week. She testified that she saw angels that were unseen by the Christian groups they attended. Finally she was charged with failing to submit to the Church Militant (the Church on Earth) and with wearing men’s clothes. The following week they met in the residence of the Bishop of Beauvais. A formal trial began on March 26, and the next day seventy articles were read to her. In the first week of April the assessors drafted twelve articles. On April 16 Jeanne complained that she was poisoned from eating a carp fish given to her by the Bishop of Beauvais. Two days later she was given a charitable admonition in her cell. On May 2 she was publicly admonished, and a week later she was threatened with torture. On May 13 after a dinner party hosted by Earl Richard Beauchamp of Warwick, he and his guests, the Bishop of Beauvais, Louis of Luxembourg, Earl Humphrey of Stafford, and others, visited Jeanne in her cell. Jean of Luxembourg claimed he was going to ransom her, but she did not believe he would or could. She told him that she believed the English wanted her killed so that they could have the kingdom of France; but she declared that even if one hundred thousand of them came, they would never have France.
On May 23 the canon Pierre Maurice explained the charges to her, and the next day after a public sermon Jeanne abjured and was led back to the secular prison where she put on women’s clothes. Four days later she went back to wearing men’s clothes, explaining that she was not given what she had been promised, going to mass and being released from the chains. She believed that God through the saints told her that her abjuration was treason to save her life. She was charged as a relapsed heretic, and the next day the doctors and other masters deliberated. She told the Bishop of Beauvais that she was dying because of him. Jeanne was burned at the stake in the old marketplace of Rouen on May 30. Before she died, she praised God and the saints and called out, “Jesus” several times before her body died.
On June 7, 1431 the Bishop of Beauvais convened assessors, and they agreed that Jeanne had denied her voices. The next day King Henry VI of England sent a letter to the Emperor, kings, dukes, and other leaders claiming that she had abjured her errors and confessed that she had been deceived by the spirits she heard. He issued another letter on June 28 to prelates, dukes, counts, and nobles in France urging them to tell the truth that Jeanne the Maid had recognized that her voices had mocked her. The University of Paris sent a similar letter to the Pope and the College of Cardinals.
In 1435 the city of Orléans staged a mystery play called The Mystery of the Siege of Orleans, showing Jeanne’s military victories. On February 15, 1450 Charles VII established a commission to investigate Jeanne’s trial and execution by the English because of suspected falsehoods and abuses. Jeanne had been originally treated as a prisoner of war and a political prisoner, but she was later charged with heresy and condemned to death for that. The investigation began at Rouen in May 1452, and the questioning of witnesses related to the twelve articles of which she was condemned in her first trial. After five witnesses testified, they revised the process of interrogation to twenty-seven articles charging the English with mistreating her with each article ending with the words “And so it was, and that is the truth,” which each witness was asked to confirm or deny. These referred to the hatred of the English toward her, restrictions on the freedom of the judges and notaries, lack of an advocate for Jeanne, conditions of her imprisonment, her feelings toward the Pope and the Church, discrepancies between the Latin and French transcripts, the judges’ competence, irregularities in her execution, her attitude just before her death, and the English attempts to discredit Charles the VII and the French cause.
After Guillaume of Estouteville became archbishop of Rouen in 1453, Jean Bréhal wanted to resume the nullification trial. Calixtus III became Pope on April 8, 1455, and he authorized a new trial with Jeanne’s family as plaintiffs. He appointed three bishops who favored Charles VII as commissioners. The trial began at Rouen in November, and 115 witnesses gave depositions. Finally on July 7, 1456 Jeanne’s first trial was annulled. Jeanne had been vindicated, and the Catholic Church finally proclaimed her a saint in 1920. In Briançon 110 women and 57 men were executed for witchcraft in a twenty-year period ending in 1447.
Meanwhile Paris had been suffering from hunger even though Bedford brought seven barges of food in January 1431. Soon after Jeanne’s execution the English besieged Louviers, which surrendered on October 28. Charles VII’s brother-in-law René of Anjou was captured by the English in the battle of Bulgnéville on July 2, 1431. René was paroled the following April when his sons Jean and Louis became hostages. Regnault of Chartres tried to rally the French behind Guillaume, the Shepherd of the Gévaudan, but the Earl of Warwick took him prisoner. Bedford brought the nine-year-old Henry VI to be crowned King Henri II of France by Cardinal Beaufort on December 16 at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Without the traditional pardoning of prisoners or abolishing of taxes, Henry left the angry Parisians on December 26.
On February 3, 1432 about 120 supporters of Charles VII captured the citadel of Rouen, and in March on Palm Sunday they took over Chartres. Regent Bedford had the English besiege Lagny in May. The Dauphinists arrived on August 9 and fought a bloody battle the next day. Bedford lost 300 men and raised the siege on August 13. He was ill, and his wife, Anne of Burgundy, died on November 14. When Bedford married Jacquetta of Luxembourg in April 1433, his alliance with Duke Philippe of Burgundy was strained. Philippe in June sent envoys to the English to consider a peace settlement that was being promoted by Cardinal Niccolo Albergati since 1430. Regent Bedford went back to England that month to answer concerns. England had spent £57,000 on the war, bringing the debt to £64,000, nearly three times the annual revenue. Calais had cost them nearly £17,000 and needed 1,150 soldiers during the war.
George de la Trémoille was a favorite of King Charles; but he was resented, and in June 1433 four young lords at sword-point forced him to resign. This promoted Constable Arthur de Richemont of Brittany. Charles made the successful merchant Jacques Coeur director of the mint at Paris and began taking his financial advice.
In 1434 the English won victories in Anjou and Maine, and Earl John Talbot of Shrewsbury and Waterford took over Gisors, Joigny, Beaumont, Creil, Clermont, and Saint-Valery. However, the garrison at Mont-Saint-Michel withstood a siege by the lords Scales and Willoughby. Bedford returned to defend Paris in July. After Richard Venables massacred the village of Vicques, the Norman peasants revolted against English taxes. The Regent captured and hanged Venables and his second-in-command Waterhouse; but another massacre by an English band in August provoked the peasants again, and they turned against the English the weapons Bedford had given them for defense. The Regent asked the Estates of Normandy for money, and they appropriated 344,000 livres, but their garrisons were costing 250,000 a year. Philippe of Burgundy made a truce with the French in September, and the English leaders withdrew from Paris to Rouen.
The war was costing France £170,000 a year which was nearly six times the royal revenues. Peace negotiations began between French and Burgundian delegates at Nevers on January 16, 1435. Philippe sent a letter to Bedford in March indicating he was negotiating a peace. He arrived at Arras on July 30 escorted by three hundred archers in his livery. He negotiated with the Duke of Bourbon and Constable Richemont. Charles VII had offered him the Sommes towns in Picardy. The English refused to renounce Henry’s claims to France and withdrew on September 1. Regent Bedford died on September 14, and his body was buried in Rouen cathedral. Philippe of Burgundy signed the Treaty of Arras on September 21, and it was sealed at Tours on October 28 and ratified by Charles VII on December 10, ending the civil war in France.
Charles VII denied any part in the murder of Philippe’s father at Montereau and promised to punish the murderers. Burgundy retained what he had gained as an ally of the English except for Champagne and Brie. Charles could redeem his titles to those lands for 400,000 gold écus. Queen Isabeau died at Paris on September 24. Charles summoned the states-general at Tours to celebrate the alliance he hoped would bring peace. He abolished the Armagnac party and decreed that anyone caught using the names Burgundian or Armagnac was to have his tongue pierced with red-hot iron. Burgundy retained fifteen seats in the Paris Parlement, but they were gradually eliminated.
After taking Meulan and Pontoise, Constable Richemont began blockading Paris with 5,000 men in February 1436, and on April 6 he led the French in a victory over the English on the plain of Saint-Denis; the French entered Paris on April 17. The English garrison was allowed to withdraw from the Bastille. A popular revolt against the tailles and gabelles taxes broke out at Lyons in early April and lasted until June 6 when the assembly forgave all offenses. At the age of 13 on June 24 Dauphin Louis met 11-year-old Margaret of Scotland for the first time and wed her the next day. The marriage was unhappy, and she died in 1445.
Philippe of Burgundy besieged his former allies at Calais in July 1436, but the English led by Humphrey of Gloucester, who arrived on August 2 with a relief force, defeated the Flemings and chased them back to Burgundy, burning Poperinge and Bailleul. The Flemings revolted and fought against Philippe until 1438.
In 1437 some malcontents led by Charles of Bourbon, Duke Jean II of Alençon, Jean V of Brittany (Richemont’s brother), and King René (Charles of Maine’s brother) conspired with mercenaries provided by Rodrigo de Villandrano to overthrow the King’s favorites, Richemont and Maine’s Count Charles of Anjou. Dunois was angry that the King had not freed his half-brother, Charles of Orléans, and even the 16-year-old Dauphin Louis wanted to replace his father. Their revolt was called “Praguerie” after the Bohemians and began in February. Bourbon and the Dauphin took refuge in Auvergne, which was quickly subjugated by the royal army. The conspirators submitted and were pardoned in July. Charles VII entered Paris in November 1437 and after three weeks withdrew to the Loire. Charles paid little attention to Philippe as he was advised mostly by his beautiful mistress, Agnes Sorel, and the financier Jacques Coeur.
Charles summoned a national assembly on the Church at Orléans on May 1, 1438, and they moved to Bourges June 5. The King’s confessor, Bishop Gérard Machet of Castres, led 25 bishops and others who adopted decrees from the Council of Basle with some amendments as the Pragmatic Sanction on July 7 that asserted the liberties of the Gallican clergy to be elected in France without interference from Rome, forbidding appeals to the Pope, and allying the Church in France with the King.
Also in 1438 the French invaded Guyenne, which had been held by the English since 1154, but the next year the English led by the Earl of Huntingdon recaptured the territory. In 1439 Philippe made a truce with England that included commercial agreements that lasted many years. A peace conference at Gravelines in July failed because Beaufort would not renounce Henry’s sovereignty in France.
On November 2 Charles VII decreed that he alone would nominate captains and that the officers and soldiers would be subject to royal justice for any abuses committed. Only the King was allowed to levy troops, and companies of one hundred men were established. On December 22 Talbot defeated Richemont’s forces, who fled to Brittany. In 1440 Duke Charles of Orléans was ransomed for £40,000 after 24 years in prison, and he promised to work for peace. Philippe of Burgundy raised 200,000 écus for the ransom and arranged for his cousin, Marie de Cleves, to marry Orléans. Talbot besieged Harfleur in August with a thousand men and took it over in December. That month Philippe formed an alliance with Jean of Brittany and Charles of Orléans, and they were joined by Alençon and Bourbon.
In 1441 the municipality founded Bordeaux University with support from the English. That year Charles VII drove the English out of the Ile-de-France. He captured Creil and Conflans, and he besieged Pontoise in June. Duke Richard of York and Talbot marched 3,000 men and relieved Pontoise; but after Talbot left, French cannons breached the wall and captured it on October 25. The garrison commander Clinton was ransomed, but 500 of his men were put to death. In February 1442 Philippe and his allies met at Nevers and demanded an Estates General. King Charles managed to buy off Alençon and Dunois, and the attempt faded. That summer Charles invaded Guyenne again, capturing towns but not taking Bayonne or Bordeaux. In April 1443 Beaufort’s incompetent nephew, Earl John of Somerset, landed at Cherbourg with 7,000 troops and marched through Maine to Brittany.
On August 14 the 20-year-old Dauphin Louis led 1,500 men with the Count of Dunois to relieve the Norman town of Dieppe. They killed 300 English and took the rest prisoners, hanging the French who had supported the English. A year later Louis gathered Écorcheurs (raiders) at Langres, and his father sent him to assist Emperor Friedrich III against the Swiss. He was advised by Jean de Bueil who led an army of 15,000 toward Basel in Switzerland while Louis led a smaller army. They destroyed a rampaging Swiss army, but about 4,000 Écorcheurs were killed. A truce was declared on September 20, and on October 28 Louis ratified a treaty of friendship and commerce with the Swiss. Louis had been wounded, and his father Charles VII recalled him to court; but the Dauphin retreated to Dauphiné in 1446. Also in 1443 the Parlement of Toulouse was reorganized as a court of appeal for the southwest.
After a peace conference at Tours in April 1444 the English retained only Aquitane, Calais, Lower Normandy, and Maine. William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, secretly gave up Maine for a two-year truce. France granted amnesty to all who had committed crimes if they voluntarily renounced arms. On May 28 Henry VI was betrothed to princess Margaret, the 16-year-old daughter of René of Anjou. The wedding took place at Nancy the following April, and her coronation at Westminster was on May 28, 1445. Henry promised to give up Maine in April 1446, and the truce was extended for one year after that. English commissioners finally surrendered the fortresses at Le Mans and Maine on March 16, 1448 as the truce was extended to April 1450.
The war had driven the English Crown’s debts to £400,000. Each year Charles VII fixed the rate of tailles (land tax) decided by his council with letters patent. He spent the revenues raising a national army, creating fifteen companies of 100 lances in 1445. An ordonnance in April 1448 raised 8,000 archers from every parish. François had become duke of Brittany in 1442 and did homage and was fighting for France. Normandy appealed to the French, and on July 17, 1449 an assembly near Chinon decided to free Normandy. Two weeks later Charles sent 30,000 troops. On October 9 he and the Count of Dunois camped on the Seine above Rouen. One week later Dunois led an assault that was beat off by Talbot’s men. The people of Rouen rioted and opened the gates on October 19 as the English garrison retreated to the citadel. Charles besieged it, and Talbot surrendered. The feared warrior paid an indemnity and promised not to wear armor or wield a weapon against the French any more. In the winter the French used the artillery supervised by Jean Bureau to capture Harfleur, Honfleur, and Fresnoy. The English archers were no match for the improved guns.
Charles VII sent Jacques Coeur to Italy in 1446 to negotiate for the possession of Genoa which was suffering civil strife. Coeur had a private flotilla of seven ships. The next year the King sent him to Rome, and Coeur successfully mediated between Pope Felix V and Nicholas V. Coeur had 32 estates in Berry and neighboring provinces, and in 1449 he loaned Charles 200,000 écus (crowns). Long after Agnes Sorel died in childbirth on February 9, 1450, Count Chabannes of Dammartin accused Coeur of poisoning her. He was arrested on July 31, 1451, and his goods were seized. Two informers revealed that the charge was false; but Coeur was accused of malversation and selling arms to infidels, and Dammartin led the commission that tried him. Dammartin and Madame de Villequier, who had replaced Agnes as royal mistress, took over Coeur’s estates and honors. After 22 months in prison he was convicted on May 29, 1453. Charles offered to spare his life if he would pay a fine of 300,000 crowns and 100,000 in restitution to the King. After three years in prison Coeur escaped and later led a squadron for the Pope against the Turks until he died at Chios in 1456. Remorseful Charles granted his remaining estates to his children.
Thomas Kyriell landed at Cherbourg with about 2,500 men on March 15, 1450, and Somerset sent more men so that 4,000 marched to Bayeux. In the battle at Formigny on April 15 the English had 3,774 killed, the worst loss the English had since Bannockburn in 1314. The French besieged Caen in June, and Somerset surrendered and was allowed to go to Calais. Cherbourg gave up on August 12. Dunois invaded Guyenne in April 1451 with Bureau’s artillery, taking Bordeaux on June 30. Bureau had served in the French government since 1434, and Charles made him Treasurer in 1443. The powder mill had been invented about 1429 so that gunpowder no longer had to be mixed in the field.
Talbot landed with about 4,000 troops at Medoc on October 17, 1452, and five days later the people of Bordeaux revolted and opened the gates for them. The following spring Charles invaded Guyenne once more, this time with three armies totaling 9,000 troops. Talbot, unarmed, led an army of 10,000 that included men from Guyenne. After marching twenty miles he left his infantry behind and retained only 500 men-at-arms and 800 mounted archers. In the battle of Castillon on July 17, 1453 Talbot was killed, and the English army was destroyed. Bordeaux finally surrendered on October 19, ending the Hundred Years War that had begun in 1337. On the continent the English retained only the port of Calais.
Jean de Gerson was born on December 14, 1363 at Gerson-les-Barby. As the oldest son of an educated craftsman he got a scholarship to the College of Navarre in the University of Paris in 1377. The next year the Great Schism in the Western Church began. In 1381 Gerson earned his licentiate in arts and began studying the Bible for four years and then The Sentences of Peter Lombard for two more years. Rector Pierre d’Ailly was his teacher, and in 1388 he led a delegation that included Gerson to the papal court at Avignon that opposed the Dominican Juan de Monzon who declared that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception without sin was heretical. D’Ailly became chancellor of the University in 1389, and the next year Gerson attained his bachelor degree in theology. He gained his licentiate in theology in 1392 and began writing about the Schism. He argued that the only way to end the Schism was to stop the war between England and France. After giving a sermon before Duke Philippe III of Burgundy in 1393 he was appointed the Duke’s chaplain with an annual pension of 200 livres. Gerson completed his doctorate in theology in 1394. He diagnosed greed as the main cause of the division in the Church.
King Charles VI refused to let the University discuss the Schism, but the First Synod of Paris in February 1395 recommended that both popes resign. The new Pope Benedict XIII appointed d’Ailly bishop of Puy on April 2. He recommended Gerson to succeed himself as chancellor of the Paris University, and eleven days later Benedict appointed Gerson. A delegation from Paris in May failed to persuade Benedict to resign to end the schism. Gerson wrote De substractione schismatis, suggesting that both popes could be disregarded while a new election was held; but he warned prophetically that the result could be three popes. He wrote a treatise that prisoners condemned to death should be allowed to confess to a priest, and he argued that a king denying this right could go to hell. He concluded that a law contrary to the truth is unjust and is not to be followed. He also wrote that if a pope blocked the unity of the Church, he could be deposed. In the summer of 1396 the Second Council of Paris accepted the principle of withdrawing obedience from the Pope of Avignon, though they did not do it yet.
At the close of the 14th century Gerson spent time in Bruges where he was a dean because he disliked as Chancellor having to entertain people who were politically or socially important for the University. His mother died in 1401, and as the oldest of twelve children Jean felt responsible for his unmarried sisters and encouraged them to follow a spiritual life. For them and other women and lay people he wrote in French his first major work, The Mountain of Contemplation. He found that knowledge alone is useless, but learning must provide the basis for ethical considerations. Then one must convey knowledge and insights to others by teaching or preaching.
In 1402 Gerson argued against a general council to end the Schism. That year he criticized the famous Roman de la Rose (Romance of the Rose) for corrupting the youth by encouraging carnal sins. He imagined a high court of Christianity in which Chastity accuses the Fool of Love with seven charges. He also preached against the privileges of the mendicants. Opus Tripartitum was his well known guide to Christian living, and it consisted of Mirror of the Soul (on the commandments), Examination of Conscience (on confession and the seven deadly sins), and La science de bien mourir (on the science of dying well). He began preaching on mystical theology, writing in Latin his Speculative Mystical Theology and completing it in 1407 with his Practical Mystical Theology. In that book he discussed synderesis or the power of God that moves the rational will toward the good. He found that meditation can lead to contemplation but that prayer perfects the rational mind more than contemplation. Humble penitence is the first step and leads to prayer and perseverance. In 1404 Gerson began supervising a hospital, a poor house, and the Notre Dame choir school. That year on August 19 he spoke to the Senate after a student protest had been brutally suppressed and led to a strike at the University. He demanded restitution and prosecution of the guilty, and three days later Charles de Savoisy was removed from office.
On November 7, 1405 at court Gerson gave the long sermon Vive le roy on political reform. He urged calling the Estates General and advocated a law to limit consumption. He argued that when the truth cannot be absolutely determined, one should consider what the consequences will be on those affected. He preached on the unity of the Church and warned that the Schism could go on for generations. When Pope Innocent VII died in November 1406, Gerson wrote that the cardinals in Rome should choose Benedict as Pope to end the Schism, or the Church could require Benedict to resign. Duke Louis of Orléans was assassinated on November 23, 1407 by Duke Jean of Burgundy’s men. Although Burgundy had been his patron, Gerson opposed the justification for the “tyrannicide” written by Jean Petit. Gerson in the Art of Hearing Confessions recommended gaining friendship with young people so that they would confide in him. In 1409 he advocated peace and union with the Eastern Orthodox Church. He asserted that Christ, not the Pope, is the leader of the Church and argued that a general council acting as the Church could remove a pope. He tried to define in what circumstances this could occur, but he rejected the ideas of Wyclif and the Hussites.
Gerson wrote the tractate On Leading the Young toward Christ in which he explained why Jesus wanted his disciples to let the children come to him, giving his philosophy of Christian education. In the fourth argument he discussed the most important skill of guiding souls while noting that often the blind are leading the blind. He wrote,
But where there is no love, what good is instruction,
as one neither likes to listen to it
nor properly believes in the words heard,
nor follows the commandments.
Therefore it is best to forego all false dignity
and to become a child among children.
Yet, all sins have to be avoided,
and all signs of impure love have to be held at bay….
Our nature prefers guidance to love.1
Gerson left Paris in February 1415 to attend the Council at Constance, but he never came back because of the English occupation. He argued successfully that a general council has the right to depose a pope and elect a successor. He spent most of his energy on the issue of opposing the defense of tyrannicide; his view was accepted as an opinion but did not become doctrine. Yet he was influential in determining how John XXIII was to submit. The Schism was ended when Pope Martin V was elected; but he refused to recognize the power of the Council that elected him. On May 10 Martin prohibited appeals to future councils. Gerson left Constance a week later, and he continued to act as Chancellor of the University of Paris in exile at the abbey of Melk and then in Vienna. In October he wrote against simony, the selling of Church offices. Influenced by Boethius, he wrote his Consolation of Theology. After Duke Jean of Burgundy died in 1419, Gerson returned to France and lived south of the Loire. On May 14, 1429 he wrote On the Maid of Orléans, accepting that Jeanne d’Arc was divinely inspired. Gerson died on July 12 and was later called the consoling doctor and the most Christian doctor.
Poets and others met with Duke Philippe II of Burgundy to found La Cour Amoureuse as an association to honor women and encourage poetry, and on Valentine’s Day in 1401 they published their charter on the Love Court. They had their own offices like a royal court with Pierre de Hauteville as prince including 121 Church officials and great lords, 87 knights, and 201 squires of love. The sovereign conservators were Charles VII, Philippe, and Duke Louis of Bourbon. Love cases were submitted in writing, and literary productions were judged on their moral integrity.
Alain Chartier satirized the Love Court in his Belle dame sans merci in 1424 with a heroine who refuses to give in to love or to do homage to love. She notes that no one actually dies of unrequited love, but the narrator argues that he does die as a consequence. He concludes by asking women not to be so cruel. Chartier was accused before the Court of Love because he portrayed a beautiful woman with no mercy; but in his poem L’excusacion envers les dames, he answered that Love is only warning ladies not to show pity too readily.
Chartier followed the exiled Dauphin through Berry and Touraine starting in 1418. He wrote Quadrilogue Invectif in 1422, criticizing the French at the low point in their war against the English invaders. He recounts a dream in which disheveled Lady France lectures the men for failing to defend their homeland, accusing them of waging war from inside with greed and evil ambitions. Knights and nobles cry to arms but run to money. The clergy and advisors speak with two faces. The people, clergy, and nobles respond, but each group blames the other two.
In 1425 Chartier served Charles VII as an ambassador to the court of Emperor Sigismund in Hungary and to the Venetian Senate to gain allies against the English. In 1428 he went to James I in Scotland and helped arranged the marriage of his daughter Margaret to the Dauphin Louis. That year Chartier began writing his Livre de l’esperance ou Le livre des trois vertus, but the work was left unfinished. He chases away Melancholy, Indignation, Mistrust, and Despair, and then Faith and Hope help Understanding recover from being suicidal. In July 1429 he sent a letter to Sigismund informing him how Jeanne d’Arc aided the consecration of Charles VII in Reims. Chartier died about 1430.
Christine de Pizan was born in Venice about 1364, a short time before her father became the court astrologer for France’s Charles V. In 1368 his family moved to Paris, and Christine was well educated by her father despite her mother’s objections. Because of his position she had access to the royal library, one of the best in Europe. Her father arranged Christine’s marriage to the court notary, Etienne de Castel, about 1379; but it was also a marriage of love, and she bore three children by 1385. Charles V died in 1380, and her father and her husband had their salaries cut. After her father’s death her husband died from an epidemic while the court was visiting Beauvais in the fall of 1390. Christine had to support her three children, her mother, and a niece, but she managed to make increasing money by writing. Some consider her the first woman to be a professional writer. She was involved in at least four lawsuits trying to collect fees owed to her husband.
In 1392 Eustache Deschamps, the leading poet in France, wrote The Art of Versifying and of Composing Songs, Ballades, Virelays, and Rondeaux as a guide for writers. Christine was also influenced by Machaut, who had written 207 ballads in honor of ladies, and by a current group of courtiers who wrote ballads debating whether a lover should be faithful to one woman or have many lovers. Christine wrote to distract herself from her troubles. She was influenced by Latin and knew Italian but wrote in French.
Christine wrote One Hundred Ballads before 1402 and other poetry on love and widowhood. On May 1, 1399 her God of Love’s Letter established her reputation as a professional writer. In the poetic letter Cupid responds to complaints that some courtly lovers deceive women, and he accuses clerks of defaming women. In this work she criticizes Ovid's Art of Love and the famous Romance of the Rose (Roman de la Rose) because they taught men to deceive women. In her Letter from Othea she creates a goddess of wisdom who writes to Hector of Troy with advice for a prince. She gave manuscripts of this with special illustrations for each to King Charles VI and the dukes of Orléans, Berry, and Burgundy. She has poems about mythological figures and then comments in glosses before explaining the allegories.
In May 1400 Jean de Montreuil sent his treatise praising the Romance of the Rose to Gontier Col and to Christine. He also sent it to Bishop Pierre d’Ailly of Cambrai with a Latin letter. His friend, Jean Gerson, preached a sermon on August 25 criticizing Montreuil’s views and the seductive work for its ill treatment of women and obscene expressions. Christine also criticized the famous novel in her letters to Montreuil and to Gontier Col. In early 1402 Christine sent a letter to Queen Isabeau, asking for her support in defending women against the learned men who belittle them. In February she wrote The Tale of the Rose dedicated to Duke Louis of Orléans. In this work the goddess of Loyalty tells her about the Order of the Rose. Gerson released his treatise against The Romance of the Rose on May 18. Gontier’s brother Pierre Col, a canon at Notre Dame, sent a letter to Christine arguing against her and Gerson. She replied on October 2 and reproved him for disrespecting Gerson.
The Path of the Long Study is written in the first person. Christine described a dream on October 5, 1402 when France is suffering from war. She is still mourning her late husband, and after reading The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius again she dreams she is guided by the sybil Amethea of Cumae, who previously led Aeneas through hell and into Italy. The sybil takes her to a fountain of wisdom, and they visit Constantinople, the places where Jesus had lived, Cairo, Babylon, Cathay, and the four rivers of the Earthly Paradise. From there they ascend to the heavens where they observe the planets, the stars, the constellations, and the galaxy. In 1403 she wrote The Tale of the Shepherdess about a young woman who is in love with a man others consider unsuitable because he is above her station. That year her longest and most important work in verse, Le Livre de la Mutacion de Fortune, recounted the adversity of Fortune from Genesis and the ancient kingdoms of the Jews, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome (based on Orosius), and then contemporary Europe. She praised Charles V for his chivalry, common sense, diligence, and strength. He was also interested in science and promoted the copying of manuscripts.
Philippe the Bold of Burgundy asked Christine to write a biography of his brother Charles V, and she did so as a guide to good government for the Dauphin, Duke Louis of Guyenne. This book accurately depicted his worthy reign as a guide for princes and helped establish her literary reputation. Her next books were The City of Ladies and its sequel, The Book of the Three Virtues, which are described below.
Christine de Pizan was disappointed that Louis of Orléans had not given her son a position, and her patron Philippe of Burgundy had died in 1404. The autobiographical Christine’s Vision was written in prose in 1405 and was her last allegorical work. The virtues Truth, Justice, and Chivalry are in prison while Voluptuousness, Fraud, and Avarice have taken over their positions at court. Most dangerous of all, Ambition is about to ruin the country. The Crowned Lady asks Christine to keep working on her behalf despite her lack of rewards. The second part is set at the University of Paris which the author calls a “second Athens.” There from a shadowy figure comes the voice of Dame Opinion, daughter of Ignorance, who creates the thirst for knowledge. She acknowledges that knowledge is not respected then, but in the future Christine will be read and understood. In the third part of the Vision Christine drinks from the Fountain of Wisdom, and Dame Philosophy consoles her, much as she did Boethius for his misfortunes. Christine comes to understand that her suffering has helped her learn about herself, the world, and France. She sent a copy to Duke Jean of Burgundy, and he paid her 100 écus on February 20, 1406. His father owed her for her book on Charles V, and she also received payments in 1407, 1408, and 1412.
Christine de Pizan wrote The Book of the City of Ladies (Le Livre de la Cité des Dames) in 1405 and The Treasure of the City of Ladies or the Book of the Three Virtues later the same year. The Book of the City of Ladies describes the good attributes of many women, and The Treasure of the City of Ladies is about the three virtues personified as Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. Boccaccio had written De mulieribus claris in Latin, and three quarters of Christine’s ladies are also found in his earlier book; but she added famous Christian women. Her book was the first major work on women in a secular language. She concentrated on women’s positive qualities because men often found fault with women and treated them as inferior.
Christine began The Book of the City of Ladies by explaining she wrote it as a response to the negative portrayals of women by male authors such as Mathéolus who showed them filled with every vice. She observed the natural behavior and character of women and found those negative views to be false. She sees three crowned ladies standing before her and relates what they speak to her. The first lady notes that anyone who speaks evil of women usually only hurts oneself rather than women. The three ladies are going to construct a city so that they can improve men and women who go astray. All the women in this city will be famous and worthy of praise for its walls are closed to those who lack virtue. The lady prophesies that this city will never be destroyed and will always prosper. The first lady identifies herself as Reason. The second lady, Rectitude, says she resides more in Heaven than on Earth, but she comes to exhort people to fulfill their capacity and to defend the rights of the poor and innocent. The third lady is Justice, a daughter of God, who lives in Heaven, Earth, and Hell where every person gets what they deserve. Her only duty is to judge each individual. She is in God, and God is in her.
Christine finds her unhappiness taken away, and she begins with a prayer to the three ladies. Reason tells her to get up and go with them to the fertile Field of Letters. Reason answers her questions and tells her that God created the souls equally good and noble in feminine and masculine bodies. Although humans were banished because of Eve, they have gained more through Mary by being joined to the Godhead. Infants naturally love the tenderness and gentleness of their mothers.
She describes Empress Nicaula of Ethiopia, Queen Fredegund of old France, Queen Blanche the mother of Saint Louis and also the Blanche who was married to King Jean, Queen Jeanne the wife of Charles IV, Queen Semiramis of Babylon, and the Amazons Lampheto, Marpasia, Thamiris, Orithyia, Menalippe, Hippolyta, and Penthesilea. The first part also covers Queen Zenobia of Palmyra, Queen Artemisia of Caria, Lilia the mother of Theodoric, Camilla of the Volscians, Queen Berenice of Cappadocia, and the Roman Cloelia. Learned women include Cornificia, Proba, Sappho, and Manto. She even praises the magical abilities of Medea and Circe. She admires the skills of the goddesses Minerva and Ceres, Egyptian Isis, Arachne, Pamphile, Thamaris, Irene, Marcia, Sempronia, Queen Gaia Cirilla, Queen Dido of Carthage, Queen Ops of Crete, and Queen Lavinia of the Laurentines.
In the second part Rectitude begins by naming ten sibyls and describing the Greek Erythrea and the Roman Amalthea. Other prophets are Nicostrata, Cassandra, and Queen Basine. Antonia helped Justinian become emperor. Christine asks Rectitude why men have negative attitudes about having daughters, and she explains that they are afraid that daughters will cost them more money. Yet sons often get involved in brawls or become dissolute and cause their parents problems. She tells of daughters who loved their parents such as Drypetina, Hypsipyle, and Claudine. Rectitude also tells how wives often suffer cruelty, insults, humiliation, and outrages from their husbands. Yet good wives take care of their husbands, healthy or sick, with great loyalty. Examples are Queen Hypsicratea, Empress Triaria, Artemisia, Argia, Marcus Agrippa’s daughter Agrippina, Julius Caesar’s daughter Julia, Scipio’s wife Aemilia, Socrates’ wife Xanthippe, Seneca’s wife Pompeia Paulina, Sulpitia, and several women who saved their husbands from death. To the charge that women are indiscreet, Rectitude cites Brutus’ wife Portia and Curia.
Men can be fools for not believing their wives, and she tells of men who benefited from believing their wives. Other noble ladies are Judith, Queen Esther, Sabines, Veturia, and Clotilda. Christine argues that the evil of some women is small compared to the good that educated women have done. Rectitude answers the accusation that women are not chaste and virtuous by telling of Susanna, Sarah, Rebecca, Ruth, Penelope, Mariannes, and Antonia the wife of Drusus Tiberius. Some say that women want to be raped, but Rectitude refutes this and argues that women protest against this villainy. She points to Lucretia and others. She explains that men are usually much more inconstant than women and mentions Roman emperors. Griselda was very virtuous as was Florence. Women have excelled in many virtues, and Rectitude says it is wrong to say that most women are not good. She tells how Dido loved Aeneas and Medea her husband Jason. Thisbe loved Pyramus, and Hero loved Leander. Boccaccio in his Decameron told the stories of Ghismonda and Lisabetta. Juno was queen of the gods. Rectitude notes that many women are loved for their virtues more than for their beauty. Queen Blanche was the mother of Louis IX. Busa was rich and generous, and Rectitude mentions several French ladies.
In the third part Lady Justice speaks and begins by hailing Mary, the Queen of Heaven. She tells of many saints such as Mary Magdalene, Catherine of Alexandria, Margaret, Lucy, Martina, Justine, Theodosina, Barbara, Dorothy, Christine, Marina, Euphrosyna, Anastasia, Theodata, Natalia, the prostitute Afra who reformed, and others. Finally Christine addresses the ladies of the city and urges them to be subject to their husbands, humble, patient, pure, simple, serene, well-informed, and careful to defend their honor against enemies.
Christine de Pizan engaged in a dialog with the three personified virtues of Reason, Rectitude, and Justice in The Treasure of the City of Ladies. The charitable love of the three daughters of God motivates them to work for the spiritual development, honor, and prosperity of all women by instructing them in wisdom. Worldly riches must be given up in death if not before, and virtues enhance a person’s well-being much more. They begin by recommending the love of God for the infinite goodness and great blessings they receive from God. A high-born princess may be tempted, but these can be resisted by divine inspiration.
Reason, Rectitude, and Justice begin by warning against the primal vice of pride. If one assembles much wealth to use for pleasure, God may send adversity or affliction. Loving God helps one to develop holy reason and knowledge. The holy life may be contemplative or active, but Jesus considered the spiritual life of prayer and contemplation the better part. The active person serves by charitable giving and helping others. Discretion is considered the mother of virtues because she guides the others. Rank, power, or wealth do not cause damnation, but not knowing how to use them wisely may. The virtue of humility helps one to be patient when undergoing adversity. Good women are compassionate toward all people, and they feel the pain when wrong-doing causes suffering. Ladies especially should avoid war and work for peace because men are more hot-headed and have more desire to avenge themselves. The good princess is not ashamed to visit hospitals and the poor.
The three Virtues describe wise self-discipline and prudent living which lead to good manners and behavior. A woman should be sober in drinking and eating, and sobriety also prevents avarice and extravagant spending. Prudence limits luxuries, and the charitable give money to the poor. The sober woman loves the truth and does not lie. She does not scold her servants or speak basely. She may gently correct faults and give courteous warnings. The discreet woman listens to the best advice of her counselors. The seven main teachings of prudence are 1) loving her husband and living at peace with him, 2) loving and honoring her husband’s relatives, 3) bringing up their children diligently and making sure they can read and write, 4) being friendly even to those who do not like you, 5) being on good terms with clergy, the middle class, and the poor, 6) taking good care of one’s servants and companions, and 7) carefully handling revenues and expenditures. The wise princess practices suitable generosity by distributing gifts with discretion. Ladies in difficult financial circumstances are excused from this.
A widow may seclude herself for a time, but then she will take up a new way of living. A young widow should consult her friends about remarrying. A newly married princess should acquire good servants. A wise lady who is a chaperon for a young princess should guide her to maintain her good reputation and advise her against plunging into a foolish love affair. If the young woman ignores her advice, she should with good will withdraw from the situation. Then she may write her a letter to review the warnings she gave her.
In the second part the three Virtues speak to ladies and maidens. They recommend that ladies, maidens, and women serving great ladies love their mistresses with all their hearts. If they find their employer is bad, they should leave. The women should not flatter the lady or say or do anything against their conscience of what is right. There is never any excuse for doing wrong. Flattery would be giving advice that strengthens or upholds a sin. The women should preserve their honor by not having too many friendships with various men. The women should also avoid envy for position, honor, or possessions. Envy is a treacherous vice that provides no joy and agitates the heart and mind. The second thing to avoid is committing any slander. The three causes of slander are hatred, opinion, and envy. Slander only increases enmity. Those who bear a grudge and speak against others find that it rebounds on them. Ladies should especially avoid speaking evil of their mistress as well as of each other.
Ladies are instructed on how to manage their households and estates when their husbands are away at war or for some other purpose. They should avoid being extravagant in their clothes because of their pride. For ladies in religious orders the three Virtues advise obedience, humility, sobriety, patience, solicitude, chastity, and concord and benevolence. Women should obey the commandments of God, the laws of their order, and their sovereign.
Reason, Rectitude, and Justice also describe how various classes of women should behave. They advise women to dress in a way that is appropriate to their husbands’ rank or position in society. Garments should not be too tight nor with a neckline too low. Women should speak softly but always protect their rights. Toward their elders women should be reverent, obedient, respectful, helpful, and grateful. Women who have children should make sure that they are well educated so that they will know how to serve God.
Christine de Pizan wrote a Letter to the Queen for Isabeau on October 5, 1405 to try to prevent a civil war, and three days later Queen Isabeau moved to Vincennes to begin peace negotiations. In 1407 Christine wrote the Livre du corps de policie (Book of the Body Politic) on the ideal prince for the Dauphin Louis of Guyenne, and it was completed before the Duke of Orléans was assassinated by Burgundy on November 23. She discussed the prince as the head, the knights and nobles as the arms, and the common people as the stomach, legs, and feet. She advised knights to perfect their skills, be brave in battle, encourage each other to do their best, be truthful and keep their word, cherish honor, and be wise and wary in military actions. She also wrote about the importance of learning and the University of Paris. She urged the bourgeois to keep the lower classes from rebelling by their advice and advocacy. After the merchants and craftsmen the farm workers are the third estate of the people. She wrote in behalf of the poor who suffered from heavy taxes in France while the rich and powerful were often exempt, and she criticized dishonest tax collectors.
Christine returned to writing about love in her One Hundred Ballads of a Lover and a Lady in which they exchange ballads. In Feats of Arms and of Chivalry she advised knights and discussed the legal issues affecting military leaders and their men and the relationships between nations at war.
France was divided by conflict in 1410 when Duke Charles of Orléans formed the league of Gien for the Armagnacs with the dukes of Berry, Bourbon, and Brittany and several counts. They opposed the ambitious Duke Jean of Burgundy and his followers. In response to this crisis on August 25, 1410 Christine wrote Lamentacion sur les maux de guerre civile, an open letter to the Duke of Berry warning against the evils of civil war. She warned them to consider the results of their taking up arms against each other that may ruin cities, destroy towns and castles, pillage goods, cause famine, and foment rebellions against the devastation and increased taxes.
In 1412 and 1413 she wrote The Book of Peace also as a manual for Louis of Guyenne. He died in 1415, and in 1417 Christine sent her Epistre de la prison de vie humaine to Duchess Marie de Berry of Bourbon for all the women who suffered losses in wars. The next year she found refuge from the war by going into a convent at Poissy where her daughter was already a nun. There she wrote Heures de contemplation de Notre Dame, perhaps in 1425 when her son died. In July 1429 Christine wrote the Hymn to Jeanne d’Arc (Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc), the first known tribute in celebration of the young woman who helped the French win victories and crown Charles VII at Reims.
On September 1, 1412, nine days after the Treaty of Auxerre, Christine de Pizan began writing her Book of Peace. In the first part she exhorts Louis of Guyenne to preserve the peace, and she emphasizes the virtue of prudence in princely government. She finished this part in two months but put the book aside because the war had resumed. She begins by praising God for the current peace and Guyenne for his efforts in mediating that peace. She urges him to preserve the peace by applying prudence. She wrote that prudence is the main virtue and from its root spring the other six virtues she will describe, namely justice, magnanimity, courage, clemency, liberality, and truth.
Only prudence can make a prince “great, powerful, rich, renowned, feared, and loved.”2 Prudence comes from God’s daughter, Reason. From knowledge and understanding comes the discretion that guides all virtues by choosing the good and rejecting the bad in any situation. She warns against using cruelty or vengeance as if they were justice, or mistaking prodigality for largesse or disguising clemency and benevolence as stupidity or excusing cowardice as clemency. Those errors show a lack of discretion. Prudence aids our spiritual welfare as well as practical concerns. To accomplish great things one must have the power to achieve it; capable help; knowledge of objections, resistance, and impediments; and a vision of the final outcome. It also helps to understand what happened in the past in similar cases, how to provide for the future, and how to make good use of present circumstances.
Christine cites the grandfather of Louis, France’s King Charles V, as an outstanding example for him to follow. One must not only have knowledge but must act wisely. Aristotle warned against calling on young men to guide princes because they have not had time to learn and may be rash. He advised consulting those who have learned from their experience. Solomon knew that wisdom was more valuable than strength. Yet not all old men are wise. Christine recommends experienced knights and squires. Soldiers should be well paid so that they will not oppress the country. Well paid soldiers can be disciplined for violations. She also suggested that he use financial counselors from the fourth estate who are good at handling money. Bad counselors can do great harm, and the prince should avoid those with private interests to promote. From Saint Peter she learned that the five qualities of a good officer are “love, loyalty, good speech, diligence, and good nature.”3
In the spring of 1413 the Cabochien revolt led by the butcher Simeon de Caboche broke out and was backed by the Duke of Burgundy. King Louis of Anjou and Sicily and the dukes Charles of Orléans and Jean of Bourbon and the counts of Alençon and Eu made overtures to the dukes of Guyenne, Berry, and Bourgogne, and this led to the Pontoise peace proclaimed at Paris on August 8. After the new peace treaty was ratified, Christine began writing the second part of her Book of Peace on September 3. In this part she urges Guyenne to secure other princes with love, and she emphasizes the virtues of justice, magnanimity, and courage. She again praises Louis of Guyenne for accomplishing the peace and warns him to avoid civil war. Cicero advised that one cannot have too many friends or too few enemies. Charles V kept the people’s love with gifts and good deeds. Like Seneca, she warns against cruelty which comes from hate, envy, vengeance, and greed. She describes the four parts of justice as punishing evildoers, protecting the innocent from wrongdoing by giving them justice, preventing evils by forestalling harm, and rewarding good deeds. She especially warned against greed which blinds the eye of conscience. Great calamities occur when greedy magistrates receiving gifts make wrong right and right wrong. Solomon advised that a judge should have the will and desire to benefit all and not harm anyone, and Cicero agreed that to remove the bad from the good is a benefit. Christine gives examples from ancient Rome.
Seneca described the virtue of magnanimity as making people “peaceful, gracious, agreeable, settled, mild, and composed.”4 The ignorant may mistake pride, presumption, and arrogance as magnanimity, but they are ugly vices. In speech one should be wise, kind, courteous, and friendly. The magnanimous person hates greed and avarice and only wants to possess things in order to “give generously to those who are deserving.”5 A prince should not be too isolated, and again she cites Charles V. He displayed courage and perseverance in winning back many of the territories that France had lost to the English invaders.
The third part of the Book of Peace is on good government and discusses the virtues of clemency, liberality, and truthfulness. Clemency makes one kind, gracious, compassionate, and courteous, wanting the good for everyone. Without peace it is difficult to live according to virtue. She noted that when France is united and at peace, it is strong. To show that her book does not trample on subject peoples, Christine notes that bad men in positions of authority can do terrible evils to many people. Under the “colors of justice” much money can be found, but the results of tyranny may be cruelty and pillage. In her time the common people were not educated and were considered foolish and not to be trusted. She warned that they should not be given authority or offices, for nothing is so calamitous than such a government. When the common people rise up, they want revolutions and exalt the wicked. If they are armed, they may not be held in check. Therefore she recommended that the nobles remain skilled in the use of arms and advised requiring them to be so. Great tournaments with prizes may be held so they can practice combat. France recently suffered civil war, and she wanted to guard against it happening again. The prince can avoid rebellion by treating the common people well.
She described the clemency of Charles V and how it enabled him to regain lands and friends. He turned enemies into friends by making them swear to be loyal to him, and he honored them in his court. He also honored scholars and promoted learning, especially at the University of Paris. He had many books of scriptures and ancient writings translated. A good prince will be slow to punish and quick to reward. Scriptures and history tell us how cruel princes have been punished. Cruelty comes from pride, which is hated by God.
Christine believed that liberality is fitting for a prince. Liberality comes from charity, and a prince should consider no person a stranger. Liberality is not just sharing money, lands, jewels, and other possessions but also one’s power, body, word, efforts, and hospitality. Giving away too much money is prodigal and lacks prudence. Greed is the most dangerous vice of a powerful person who has the power to take things by force. The wise know what good is and only want more in order to do more good. She recalled how Charles V gave generously to the four mendicant orders, converts, scholars, widows, orphans, and other poor people. He honored foreigners to gain their friendship.
Truthfulness means not only speaking the true words but also keeping one’s promises with deeds. The good prince is honest and fulfills his intentions. A liar is not believed and cannot be trusted. This virtue is very important in the keeping of peace agreements and alliances. Christine also discusses eloquence and the art of rhetoric. A good prince does not act out of anger. Tyrants are often angry and do much harm. Gentle words can restrain anger. A prince should avoid excessive indulgence in the pleasures of the flesh, and she praised marriage as the proper place for sensuality. She completed The Book of Peace on the first day of 1414. A copy of this book was sent to the court of Burgundy, and eventually another went to the dauphin who became Louis XI.
After the English invasion of France in 1415, Christine wrote the Letter on the Prison of Human Life to Mary de Berry, Duchess of Bourbon, on January 20, 1418 to console her and other widows with the idea that the body and the Earth are a prison from which souls will be released at death. She drew upon the writings of Augustine and Dante. That year Christine left Paris, and she never came back. Christine had also written Moral Proverbs and Moral Teachings for her son Jean de Castel, who served in useful positions at court before his death about 1425. This tragedy may have led to her writing Hours of Contemplation on Our Lord’s Passion. Her last writing was The Tale of Jeanne d’Arc which was written two weeks after Charles VII was crowned at Reims on July 17, 1429. Christine had been in a nunnery for the past eleven years. She believed that her defense of women had been vindicated and rewarded by Jeanne’s victories. Nothing more is heard of Christine after this until she was referred to in the past tense in 1434.
Christine de Pizan’s writing was influential in the court of Burgundy in the middle of the century and in Paris in the second half of the fifteenth century. A few of her books were translated into English in the sixteenth century, and extracts of her writings were published in France in 1787. Her work was discovered by Raimond Thomassy in 1838, and an important biography was published in 1927. In recent years the life and writings of Christine de Pizan have been flourishing, and she is now considered one of the most important founders of feminism.
1. On Leading Children to Christ in Three Thousand Years of Education Wisdom ed. Robert Ulich, p. 182.
2. The Book of Peace by Christine de Pizan tr. Karen Green et al, p. 66.
3. Ibid., p. 88.
4. Ibid., p. 111.
5. Ibid., p. 112.