Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

Seven Years of Misery (1356-1363)

Once before, in the days of Louis IX, a French king had fallen into the hands of the enemy, but in those days France was well governed and the king paid his own ransom. Now, while King John was a captive, a large part of the country had been laid waste, the people were in sore straits, and the Dauphin Charles, who had fled from the field of battle, was too young and inexperienced to steer the ship of state well.

While each of the nobles released on parole hastened home to wring out of his dependents money enough to pay his ransom, the Dauphin went on to Paris, where he hurriedly called the States-General. But, when this body met, it declared firmly that it would help the Dauphin only on condition that he should promise to dismiss his father's ministers,—who had proved unwise,—to follow the advice of the States-General, and to release Charles the Bad from prison.

These conditions seemed too exacting to Prince Charles, who set out on a journey, leaving things unsettled,—a state of affairs which proved galling in the extreme to the peasants. They were generally called Jacques Bonhomme,—just as Confederate soldiers in the American Civil War were called Johnnies. Having been robbed of everything to pay the ransoms of the nobles taken at Poitiers, they were now goaded to rebel. Armed with scythes and pitchforks, they banded together, attacked the castles, and plundered and burned them, after torturing and slaying the women and children left alone in many cases to guard them.

This revolt of the peasants, known as the Jacquerie, lasted about six weeks, and added greatly to the horrors and suffering of that time. But finally the nobles joined forces, vigorously attacked the peasant mob, and after butchering about seven thousand of the rebels, so frightened the remainder that they ceased to fight.

Meanwhile the States-General met again. Their leaders were Marcel, provost of the Paris merchants, and the Bishop of Laon,—two men who were well-known patriots, and by their wise conduct had won immense popularity. This time the Dauphin, duly awed, granted the States-General all they asked, giving them, among other privileges, the right to assemble whenever they pleased, without being called by the king. But although lavish of promises, he proved so slow in executing them, that members of the States-General resorted to violence. The King of Navarre was rescued from prison by his friends, and Marcel, at the head of a deputation, actually forced his way into the palace, and there, in the Dauphin's presence, slew two of the objectionable ministers.

The young prince, terrified by this violence, again promised all the people wished, donned a red and blue cap,—the badge of the Paris burghers,—and allowed himself to be taken to the city hall and exhibited in this guise to the excited mob. It is because Marcel thus defended the people's rights, that his equestrian statue now graces one of the courts of the new city hall (Hotel de Ville), erected on the site of the one to which he conducted the Dauphin on this occasion.

Shortly after this, having again joined the nobles,—who were jealous of Marcel and of the burgher class which he headed,—the Dauphin threatened to besiege Paris and put Marcel to death. Thus hard pressed, Marcel offered to surrender the city to Charles the Bad, by unlocking one of the city gates for him one night. He was, however, surprised, keys in hand, by another city magistrate, who, raising his ax, felled him to the ground.

The Parisians, who were very loyal as a rule, and who kept a wax taper burning night and day in Notre Dame until John's return, were awed by the danger they had just escaped. They now invited the Dauphin to return to the city, and loyally helped him fight the King of Navarre, who, at the head of hosts of disbanded soldiers, swept over the surrounding country, laying everything waste.

These stray soldiers were known as the Great Companies, and the country people were so afraid of them that they actually built underground refuges, where they remained in hiding with their families and cattle as long as any of these robbers were in sight. The Dauphin, pitying the sufferings of the people, was about to lead an army against the King of Navarre and these Great Companies, when the women of both families again interfered, and the two princes patched up another peace (1359)

The following year, weary of exile, John signed a treaty with Edward, promising him the western half of France and four million gold crowns (coins) as his ransom. But, as France refused to ratify this humiliating document, the English king again invaded the unhappy country, plundering and burning everywhere.

This terrible state of affairs was ended by the treaty of Bretigny (1360), whereby Edward gave up all claim to the crown of France, receiving instead the southwest quarter of France and a ransom of three million gold crowns. But it is said that the first installment of this ransom had to be raised by selling a little princess—the king's daughter—to the Visconti family in Milan, who supplied the necessary sum in exchange for the honor of being connected by marriage with the royal family.

All these matters having been satisfactorily arranged, John left two of his sons as hostages in the hands of the English, and came home. But the people on the lands he had ceded to England were very unhappy, many of them insisting that the king had no right whatever to dispose of them, and that they were and would always remain Frenchmen. In fact, the mayor of La Rochelle only expressed the general sentiment when he said, "We shall submit to the English with our lips, but never with our hearts!"

Their sorrow and the general misery were now increased by a reappearance of the plague, which for the next three years again swept all over the French provinces. Even princes fell victims to it this time, and the whole ducal family of Burgundy having been carried away by it, this vast province unexpectedly reverted to the crown. King John, mindful of the bravery his son Philip the Bold had shown at the battle of Poitiers, now bestowed Burgundy upon him, and he thus became head of the second ducal family of Burgundy, just as Robert's brother had been founder of the first. But this disposal of Burgundy greatly angered Charles of Navarre, who claimed that province in his mother's name.

[Illustration] from The Story of Old France by Helene Guerber