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time:2023-11-30 12:57:34 source:three people network author:year read:527次

When he was no more than thirteen, his father had him affianced to Isabella, virgin-widow of our Richard II. and daughter of his uncle Charles VI.; and, two years after (June 29, 1406), the cousins were married at Compiegne, he fifteen, she seventeen years of age. It was in every way a most desirable match. The bride brought five hundred thousand francs of dowry. The ceremony was of the utmost magnificence, Louis of Orleans figuring in crimson velvet, adorned with no less than seven hundred and ninety-five pearls, gathered together expressly for this occasion. And no doubt it must have been very gratifying for a young gentleman of fifteen, to play the chief part in a pageant so gaily put upon the stage. Only, the bridegroom might have been a little older; and, as ill-luck would have it, the bride herself was of this way of thinking, and would not be consoled for the loss of her title as queen, or the contemptible age of her new husband. PLEUROIT FORT LADITE ISABEAU; the said Isabella wept copiously. (1) It is fairly debatable whether Charles was much to be pitied when, three years later (September 1409), this odd marriage was dissolved by death. Short as it was, however, this connection left a lasting stamp upon his mind; and we find that, in the last decade of his life, and after he had remarried for perhaps the second time, he had not yet forgotten or forgiven the violent death of Richard II. "Ce mauvais cas" - that ugly business, he writes, has yet to be avenged.

The marriage festivity was on the threshold of evil days. The great rivalry between Louis of Orleans and John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, had been forsworn with the most reverend solemnities. But the feud was only in abeyance, and John of Burgundy still conspired in secret. On November 23, 1407 - in that black winter when the frost lasted six-and- sixty days on end - a summons from the king reached Louis of Orleans at the Hotel Barbette, where he had been supping with Queen Isabel. It was seven or eight in the evening, and the inhabitants of the quarter were abed. He set forth in haste, accompanied by two squires riding on one horse, a page, and a few varlets running with torches. As he rode, he hummed to himself and trifled with his glove. And so riding, he was beset by the bravoes of his enemy and slain. My lord of Burgundy set an ill precedent in this deed, as he found some years after on the bridge of Montereau; and even in the meantime he did not profit quietly by his rival's death. The horror of the other princes seems to have perturbed himself; he avowed his guilt in the council, tried to brazen it out, finally lost heart and fled at full gallop, cutting bridges behind him, towards Bapaume and Lille. And so there we have the head of one faction, who had just made himself the most formidable man in France, engaged in a remarkably hurried journey, with black care on the pillion. And meantime, on the other side, the widowed duchess came to Paris in appropriate mourning, to demand justice for her husband's death. Charles VI., who was then in a lucid interval, did probably all that he could, when he raised up the kneeling suppliant with kisses and smooth words. Things were at a dead-lock. The criminal might be in the sorriest fright, but he was still the greatest of vassals. Justice was easy to ask and not difficult to promise; how it was to be executed was another question. No one in France was strong enough to punish John of Burgundy; and perhaps no one, except the widow, very sincere in wishing to punish him.

She, indeed, was eaten up of zeal; but the intensity of her eagerness wore her out; and she died about a year after the murder, of grief and indignation, unrequited love and unsatisfied resentment. It was during the last months of her life that this fiery and generous woman, seeing the soft hearts of her own children, looked with envy on a certain natural son of her husband's destined to become famous in the sequel as the Bastard of Orleans, or the brave Dunois. "YOU WERE STOLEN FROM ME," she said; "it is you who are fit to avenge your father." These are not the words of ordinary mourning, or of an ordinary woman. It is a saying, over which Balzac would have rubbed his episcopal hands. That the child who was to avenge her husband had not been born out of her body, was a thing intolerable to Valentina of Milan; and the expression of this singular and tragic jealousy is preserved to us by a rare chance, in such straightforward and vivid words as we are accustomed to hear only on the stress of actual life, or in the theatre. In history - where we see things as in a glass darkly, and the fashion of former times is brought before us, deplorably adulterated and defaced, fitted to very vague and pompous words, and strained through many men's minds of everything personal or precise - this speech of the widowed duchess startles a reader, somewhat as the footprint startled Robinson Crusoe. A human voice breaks in upon the silence of the study, and the student is aware of a fellow-creature in his world of documents. With such a clue in hand, one may imagine how this wounded lioness would spur and exasperate the resentment of her children, and what would be the last words of counsel and command she left behind her.

With these instancies of his dying mother - almost a voice from the tomb - still tingling in his ears, the position of young Charles of Orleans, when he was left at the head of that great house, was curiously similar to that of Shakspeare's Hamlet. The times were out of joint; here was a murdered father to avenge on a powerful murderer; and here, in both cases, a lad of inactive disposition born to set these matters right. Valentina's commendation of Dunois involved a judgment on Charles, and that judgment was exactly correct. Whoever might be, Charles was not the man to avenge his father. Like Hamlet, this son of a dear father murdered was sincerely grieved at heart. Like Hamlet, too, he could unpack his heart with words, and wrote a most eloquent letter to the king, complaining that what was denied to him would not be denied "to the lowest born and poorest man on earth." Even in his private hours he strove to preserve a lively recollection of his injury, and keep up the native hue of resolution. He had gems engraved with appropriate legends, hortatory or threatening: "DIEU LE SCET," God knows it; or "SOUVENEZ-VOUS DE - " Remember! (1) It is only towards the end that the two stories begin to differ; and in some points the historical version is the more tragic. Hamlet only stabbed a silly old councillor behind the arras; Charles of Orleans trampled France for five years under the hoofs of his banditti. The miscarriage of Hamlet's vengeance was confined, at widest, to the palace; the ruin wrought by Charles of Orleans was as broad as France.

(1) Michelet, iv. App. 179, p. 337.

Yet the first act of the young duke is worthy of honourable mention. Prodigal Louis had made enormous debts; and there is a story extant, to illustrate how lightly he himself regarded these commercial obligations. It appears that Louis, after a narrow escape he made in a thunder-storm, had a smart access of penitence, and announced he would pay his debts on the following Sunday. More than eight hundred creditors presented themselves, but by that time the devil was well again, and they were shown the door with more gaiety than politeness. A time when such cynical dishonesty was possible for a man of culture is not, it will be granted, a fortunate epoch for creditors. When the original debtor was so lax, we may imagine how an heir would deal with the incumbrances of his inheritance. On the death of Philip the Forward, father of that John the Fearless whom we have seen at work, the widow went through the ceremony of a public renunciation of goods; taking off her purse and girdle, she left them on the grave, and thus, by one notable act, cancelled her husband's debts and defamed his honour. The conduct of young Charles of Orleans was very different. To meet the joint liabilities of his father and mother (for Valentina also was lavish), he had to sell or pledge a quantity of jewels; and yet he would not take advantage of a pretext, even legally valid, to diminish the amount. Thus, one Godefroi Lefevre, having disbursed many odd sums for the late duke, and received or kept no vouchers, Charles ordered that he should be believed upon his oath. (1) To a modern mind this seems as honourable to his father's memory as if John the Fearless had been hanged as high as Haman. And as things fell out, except a recantation from the University of Paris, which had justified the murder out of party feeling, and various other purely paper reparations, this was about the outside of what Charles was to effect in that direction. He lived five years, and grew up from sixteen to twenty-one, in the midst of the most horrible civil war, or series of civil wars, that ever devastated France; and from first to last his wars were ill-starred, or else his victories useless. Two years after the murder (March 1409), John the Fearless having the upper hand for the moment, a shameful and useless reconciliation took place, by the king's command, in the church of Our Lady at Chartres. The advocate of the Duke of Burgundy stated that Louis of Orleans had been killed "for the good of the king's person and realm." Charles and his brothers, with tears of shame, under protest, POUR NE PAS DESOBEIR AU ROI, forgave their father's murderer and swore peace upon the missal. It was, as I say, a shameful and useless ceremony; the very greffier, entering it in his register, wrote in the margin, "PAX, PAX, INQUIT PROPHETA, ET NON EST PAX." (2) Charles was soon after allied with the abominable Bernard d'Armagnac, even betrothed or married to a daughter of his, called by a name that sounds like a contradiction in terms, Bonne d'Armagnac. From that time forth, throughout all this monstrous period - a very nightmare in the history of France - he is no more than a stalking-horse for the ambitious Gascon. Sometimes the smoke lifts, and you can see him for the twinkling of an eye, a very pale figure; at one moment there is a rumour he will be crowned king; at another, when the uproar has subsided, he will be heard still crying out for justice; and the next (1412), he is showing himself to the applauding populace on the same horse with John of Burgundy. But these are exceptional seasons, and, for the most part, he merely rides at the Gascon's bridle over devastated France. His very party go, not by the name of Orleans, but by the name of Armagnac, Paris is in the hands of the butchers: the peasants have taken to the woods. Alliances are made and broken as if in a country dance; the English called in, now by this one, now by the other. Poor people sing in church, with white faces and lamentable music: "DOMINE JESU, PARCE POPULO TUO, DIRIGE IN VIAM PACIS PRINCIPES." And the end and upshot of the whole affair for Charles of Orleans is another peace with John the Fearless. France is once more tranquil, with the tranquillity of ruin; he may ride home again to Blois, and look, with what countenance he may, on those gems he had got engraved in the early days of his resentment, "SOUVENEZ-VOUS DE - " Remember! He has killed Polonius, to be sure; but the king is never a penny the worse.

(1) Champollion-Figeac, pp. 279-82. (2) Michelet, iv. pp. 123-4.

From the battle of Agincourt (Oct. 1415) dates the second period of Charles's life. The English reader will remember the name of Orleans in the play of HENRY V.; and it is at least odd that we can trace a resemblance between the puppet and the original. The interjection, "I have heard a sonnet begin so to one's mistress" (Act iii. scene 7), may very well indicate one who was already an expert in that sort of trifle; and the game of proverbs he plays with the Constable in the same scene, would be quite in character for a man who spent many years of his life capping verses with his courtiers. Certainly, Charles was in the great battle with five hundred lances (say, three thousand men), and there he was made prisoner as he led the van. According to one story, some ragged English archer shot him down; and some diligent English Pistol, hunting ransoms on the field of battle, extracted him from under a heap of bodies and retailed him to our King Henry. He was the most important capture of the day, and used with all consideration. On the way to Calais, Henry sent him a present of bread and wine (and bread, you will remember, was an article of luxury in the English camp), but Charles would neither eat nor drink. Thereupon, Henry came to visit him in his quarters. "Noble cousin," said he, "how are you?" Charles replied that he was well. "Why, then, do you neither eat nor drink?" And then with some asperity, as I imagine, the young duke told him that "truly he had no inclination for food." And our Henry improved the occasion with something of a snuffle, assuring his prisoner that God had fought against the French on account of their manifold sins and transgressions. Upon this there supervened the agonies of a rough sea passage; and many French lords, Charles, certainly, among the number, declared they would rather endure such another defeat than such another sore trial on shipboard. Charles, indeed, never forgot his sufferings. Long afterwards, he declared his hatred to a seafaring life, and willingly yielded to England the empire of the seas, "because there is danger and loss of life, and God knows what pity when it storms; and sea-sickness is for many people hard to bear; and the rough life that must be led is little suitable for the nobility:" (1) which, of all babyish utterances that ever fell from any public man, may surely bear the bell. Scarcely disembarked, he followed his victor, with such wry face as we may fancy, through the streets of holiday London. And then the doors closed upon his last day of garish life for more than a quarter of a century. After a boyhood passed in the dissipations of a luxurious court or in the camp of war, his ears still stunned and his cheeks still burning from his enemies' jubilations; out of all this ringing of English bells and singing of English anthems, from among all these shouting citizens in scarlet cloaks, and beautiful virgins attired in white, he passed into the silence and solitude of a political prison. (2)


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