Besides the belfry and the archway of the clock, there was a public fountain set on this same spot ever since Charles VII. turned out the English. The oldest of these fountains in Rouen, drawn from the famous spring of Gaalor, had been in the Priory of St. Lo. The next was that set up by the Franciscans on the site of Rollo's castle, and for two centuries the pipe of this "Fontaine des Cordeliers" passed close by the belfry, before it struck the Town Council that it might be well to provide water supply for citizens near the Vieux Marche, both in case of fire, and for other obvious reasons. So by 1458, the Cordeliers having been duly "approached" on the subject, the "Fontaine de Massacre" was established at the foot of the belfry, and is drawn by Lelieur as a Gothic pyramid with five sides, as tall as the arcade. It showed signs of extreme dilapidation by the eighteenth century, and the wags wrote squibs about the broken statues of the Virgin and bishops by Pol Mansellement (or Mosselmen, see Chap. X.), in elegiacs as imperfect as their subject. So the Duke of Montmorency-Luxemburg, the Governor of Rouen and Normandy in 1728, magnanimously offered for the restoration of the fountains all those three thousand livres which the echevins had presented to him in a purse of cloth of gold. The affair progressed thenceforward with due solemnity. M. de Boze, "Intendant des devises et Inscriptions des edifices royaux," wrote from Paris that the authorities of Rouen were to decorate their new fountain with the loves of Alpheus and Arethusa, because, said he, "the Seine (which is Alpheus) comes from Burgundy and Champagne to your fountain in Rouen (which is Arethusa), to bear their mingled waters to the sea, by which is typified your fidelity to the King to whom the monument is to be dedicated." So the name of "Ludovicus XV." duly appears with that of "Franciscus Fredericus Montmorencius"; and mention is made of the allegory of Arethusa and Alpheus as aforesaid: "Quorum fluctus amor dat esse perennes." The first sketch was made by the King's painter, and being much approved of by the worthy Mayor Coquerel, was executed in stone by Jean Pierre de France, "architect, sculpteur et entrepreneur," for the sum of 5700 livres, as agreed upon in August 1733. In 1794 the whole was considerably mutilated; but in 1846 M. Cheruel put all in order as you see it to this day, and completed the strange harmonious mixture of buildings dating from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century.
As I have already noted, the first "Hotel Commune de la Ville" was set near the Porte Massacre, close by the Town Belfry, with the vanished church of Notre Dame de la Ronde as its first municipal chapel. It probably stood just where the Hotel du Nord is now, when Henry Plantagenet granted the citizens of Rouen their earliest charter of municipal independence. The second "Town-hall" was that fief of the Count of Leicester on the opposite side of the street, which Philip Augustus gave to the burgesses in 1220 at an annual rental of forty livres, and it remained in a state of primitive simplicity for more than two centuries.
[Footnote 32: Though little could be done during the English occupation, it must have been enlarged in 1440, for we find in the archives of that century that reference is made at various times to (1) "la salle du conseil du manoir de la ville," (2) "galleries du manoir," (3) "une salle de parmi ou etaient les livres de ladite ville," (4) "une cellier," (5) "une chapelle particuliere," (6) "un jardin carre," (7) "une cour carree devant la grande salle," and (8) "un puits."]
In 1525 Jacques Lelieur, tracing the course of the spring Gaalor shows three large buildings on the old fief of Leicester, bigger than anything near them, with a Rez de chaussee, two stories above, and a third in the roof, the ground floor being arranged for open shops, with the principal entrance at one side. Lelieur himself is shown (as may be seen in his small view of Rouen which I have reproduced) offering his manuscript to four municipal officers seated round their council-table, with a clerk at a side-desk. The walls at the right and at the back are panelled, and decorated on the left with fleurs de lys.
The third Hotel de Ville was built when the old shops of the Rue de la Grosse Horloge began to tumble down. In June 1607 the first stone was laid according to the plans of Jacques Gabriel. By 1658 Gomboust's map of Rouen shows that the facade on the street was finished. It was in the Italian style with "rusticated" blocks of stone, and had round arcades on the ground floor for shops. The building originally formed a square, and the retreating angle may still be seen northwards from the Rue de la Grosse Horloge. In the centre of the courtyard was a statue of Louis XIV.; a chapel stood at the north-east with a pyramidal steeple of wood covered with lead. A fountain was placed at the east end (no doubt supplied by the old "puits"). In 1705 the entry upon the Grosse Horloge was opened by Jacques Monthieu, just where the Passage de l'Hotel de Ville is to-day. In 1796 the whole building was sold to various proprietors for 72,000 livres.
Though it is very degraded in its present state, you can still see the Doric and Ionic pilasters in couples, and the heavy circular tops alternating with triangles above the windows; and though all those parts of the decoration which jutted out have been destroyed, there is still a massive dignity about the building that would have thoroughly justified its better preservation. In any case the municipal authorities might have had some memory of the traditions of the old centre of their civic life, before they moved to the commonplace erections on the north side of the Abbey Church of St. Ouen.
So, though little but the foundations remain of the original Hotel de Ville in the Rue de la Grosse Horloge, yet the stones of its successor are still there, and the belfry that rang out its messages is much more than a name; so I have thought it convenient to attach to them a few memories of the people of Rouen as they lived in the days before the great changes of the sixteenth century. In my next two chapters I shall have to pause for a moment over the English siege, and the death of Jeanne d'Arc, but the tenth chapter will deal with a few of the numberless churches of the town, and the eleventh with that Palais de Justice which is the triumphant signal that the sixteenth century had begun. If I am to give you, then, a glimpse, however short, of the people themselves in earlier years before they are overshadowed by the great names of prelates and of princes, this will be my last opportunity.
If any Norman were asked what was the most valuable of the privileges which he possessed by right of citizenship in the earliest times, I suppose he would answer without hesitation that it was the Charte aux Normands, that confirmation, granted by Louis X. in 1315, of the old "Custom of Normandy" ascribed by tradition to Rollo and traced by record to William the Conqueror. It was also called the "clameur de haro," and affectionate antiquarians derive the word from the "Ha Rou!" with which a suppliant cried to the first pirate duke that "wrong was being done." It is no mere artifice of fiction that this same consecrated phrase might have been heard among the Englishmen of the Channel Islands early in the nineteenth century, and even to this hour, that cry of "Haro! Haro! a l'aide mon prince, on me fait tort!" preserves the custom of Normandy, and of Rollo the Dane, in Jersey, so that the sound of it "makes the workman drop his tools, the woman her knitting, the militiaman his musket, the fisherman his net, the schoolmaster his birch, and the ecrivain his babble, to await the judgment of the Royal Court."
[Footnote 33: See Mr Gilbert Parker's novel, "The Battle of the Strong," in which Jersey is carefully described, on p. 189, "A Norman dead a thousand years cries Haro! Haro! if you tread upon his grave," and p. 360.]
It was soon after this confirmation of their ancient rights of justice, that the citizens lost for a time the privileges of their mayoralty owing to a financial dispute in 1320, which necessitated the intervention of the King. The second epoch in the history of the commune began, and penalties were adjudged for all cases of misdemeanour or of shirking office. The equal, in Court-precedence, to a Count, the Mayor of Rouen was not merely the head of the Town Council, but sovereign-judge in matters of goods or of inheritance, with his own court and guards and prisons. On Christmas Day, to the sound of "Rouvel's" welcome, he marched in state to the Hotel de Ville, surrounded by his peers and counsellors and sergeants, all in livery with wands of office. But the Mayor was not allowed to collect his rates from the citizens unfairly, and the dispute which followed Thomas du Bosc's attempt to levy the Gabelle, or tax upon salt, led once more to Royal intervention—the King "put the communes under his hand" as the phrase went, until the quarrel had been settled. The importance of the salt trade in Rouen has been already noticed, and the little salt-porter carved upon the Church of St. Vincent, and now looking out from the south-east angle over the Rue Jeanne d'Arc, is a sign that the same trade lasted for some centuries later in the development of Rouen's commerce.
It was not merely in peaceful ways that the expansion of the civic power may be traced at this time. For the long-drawn misery of the Hundred Years' War began in 1337, and nine years afterwards the King had to hurry to Rouen to oppose the advance of Edward III., who was already at Caen and threatened the capital of Normandy. All the woods of Bihorel, says the chronicler sadly, had to be cut down to make "hedges and palisades" around the menaced city. After the defeat of Cressy, the men of Rouen had a still sharper taste of the realities of war, for the militia of the town, who had been hurried forward to reinforce the broken army of the King, while their comrades at home were strengthening the defences of Rouen, came up with an English regiment near Abbeville, and contributed a heavy share to that loss of "six thousand men of the communes" which Froissart chronicles.
That the town stood in grave need of all these warlike preparations, as well against internal disorders as against enemies from without, may be imagined from the disquieting scenes of 1356, when King John came to the castle with a hundred men-at-arms, and arrested with his own hands Charles le Mauvais, King of Navarre, and four of his suite who were falsely accused of treason. The Count of Harcourt, the Sire de Graville, Maubue de Mainnemare, and Colinet Doublet, were all beheaded on the Champ du Pardon that night in April, while the King looked on. The resistance of the citizens to this high-handed act of injustice was only quelled by the spreading of the news of the King's presence. But Philip, the brother of the King of Navarre (who had been sent to prison near Cambrai), took instant vengeance by ravaging the suburbs of Rouen, and calling in the Duke of Lancaster's English troops. It was in resisting this allied attack that the French King was beaten and taken prisoner at Poitiers. As soon as Charles le Mauvais got his freedom, two years later, he returned to rehabilitate the memory of his friends in Rouen. The body of the Count of Harcourt had been secretly removed from the public gibbet by his family. The three other corpses were taken down and borne to the Cathedral with great ceremony, where their innocence of treason was solemnly proclaimed. Excited by this open defiance of authority, the populace of the town rose against the Dauphin's men, seized the castle, and destroyed the Priory of St. Gervais with which they had a private quarrel of their own on the burning question of taxes. The commune only secured amnesty for its offences, and reconciliation with the Regent, by paying 3000 florins as a fine.
No doubt the revolt had had some obscure connection with the horrible excesses of the Jacquerie which at the same moment had been desolating Paris. The disorderly bands of ruffians who had been discharged from the French army were, at any rate, a direct source of annoyance to Rouen later on, as indeed they were to almost every town in France in that unhappy time, and Bertrand du Guesclin himself had to come to Rouen in 1364 to organise the army that finally crushed these licentious freebooters, and their ally, the King of Navarre, at Cocherel.
Ever since the middle of the thirteenth century, frequent references occur in the records of the town to the various trades that, in spite of every drawback, continued slowly to progress towards riches and consolidation. Though the early commerce with England now died down, home industries flourished, and of them all, the making of woollen draperies soon became the pre-eminent commerce of the town, which in 1362 signalised the fact by placing the lamb or sheep upon its civic seal, which henceforth appears upon the arms of the town, and is also placed so prominently on the archway of the Grosse Horloge. Rabelais will tell you of the prosperous merchants who bought flocks of sheep from farmers like Dindenault, to make the "bons fins draps de Rouen," for Pantagruel and Panurge journeyed with Epistemon, Eusthenes, and Carpalim to Rouen from Paris, on their way to take ship at Honnefleur, and they will explain to you (for I cannot) why the towns that grow so thickly round the capital become more sparsely scattered towards the sea, and in their excellent company you may appreciate the gallantry of Eusthenes towards the Norman ladies, and even savour faintly, as from afar, the bouquet of that Vin blanc d'Anjou which Pantagruel bought in some old hostelry beside the Eau de Robec. "Mouton de Rouen," says the old proverb, "qui a toujours la patte levee," and her sons were ever ready from the earliest years to go their ways, "gaaignant," through all the trade-routes of Europe, where French and Spanish wines were to be bought and sold. And beyond them too; for in 1364 they had joined the mariners of Dieppe in an expedition to the far Canaries, and even helped towards a little settlement upon the coast of Africa, from which the good ship "Notre Dame de Bon Voyage" brought home a cargo of pepper, ivory, and gold-dust that caused much speculation on the quays of Rouen. In 1380 a few actual forts were set upon the Guinea Coast, under the command of that brave Norman admiral, Jean de Bethencourt, the chamberlain of Charles VI., who styled himself the King of the Canaries (most fascinating of titles!) before he died in 1425.
But even commercial enterprise could not save the city from the ravages of the Black Death. In 1379 it swept over the town, and carried off an enormous number of the bread-winners, for the extent of Rouen had now almost widened to the lines of the modern boulevards, and its population had steadily increased from the 50,000 of a century before. The plague had left a famine in its tracks, and as a "rich city," Rouen had been severely taxed for the necessities of war, so that when the regents of the young King ground down the citizens with more oppression and ill-considered taxes, there is small wonder that their patience came suddenly to an end, and they burst into open revolt in February 1381. These exactions came upon the citizens with a double sting. For not only were they exhausted by previous misery, but the good King Charles had upon his death-bed remitted these excessive imports, and left his heart to the Cathedral in token of his eternal goodwill to the town of Rouen, where he had so often sojourned. So the explosion of popular indignation was instantaneous and terrible. While "Rouvel" clanged wildly from the belfry of the town, the citizens attacked the tax-gatherers, upset their offices, tore in pieces their tax-rolls, and then closed the city-gates and put up the chains across the end of every street.
In a tumultuous and cheering crowd, the citizens poured towards the centre of their civic life, in the Rue de la Grosse Horloge; Robert Deschamps, the Mayor, was put to instant flight for daring to give halting counsels, and his private prisons were broken open. "No King can make the people," cried the mob, "but we are going to make a King," and forthwith they seized on poor honest Jehan le Gras, a quiet, seemly draper; they robed him in a cloak that had just served its turn in the last Mystery Play, and they bore him in raucous triumph to the open square before St. Ouen. "I forthwith abolish the taxes!" stuttered the royal phantom in high dismay, while his subjects cheered vociferously, and every market-place roared approbation. "I deliver up the tax-gatherers to justice!" and in a trice every tax-gatherer, and Jew, and usurer, and fiscal agent was haled towards the bridge and there beheaded, till the Seine ran red beneath. "I deliver up your cruel Mayors to justice!" went on the quavering monarch, and forthwith five miserable men who had once been mayors of Rouen, fled from the Rue du Grand Pont, from the Rue Damiette, and from the Rue aux Gantiers, and took shelter in the nearest cemeteries, while their burning houses lighted up the town. "I deliver up the proud monks of St. Ouen to justice!" continued poor Jehan le Gras, seeing that the mob had already begun to batter in the monastery gates, and in a moment more the archives and the ancient charters of the privileges of St. Ouen were in tatters on the ground, or burning among the desecrated walls they had protected for so many centuries. In his death-agony the trembling abbot signed the renunciation of his powers, while the crowd screamed at him till he was borne back to die.
[Footnote 34: It had always been a bitter grievance that St. Ouen held a monopoly of the public mills for their bakers, and the grotesque procession of the "oison bride," in which two monks carried a goose by a rope every year to the Town Mill in the Rue Coquerel, had not sufficed to win their pardon from the lower classes.]
And now the mob was parted here and there by a procession of strong men who bore something with great pride and mystery, and held it, enveloped from all harm, above their heads. A whisper went round that grew at last into a shout of welcome and drowned all other sounds. "The Charter of the Normans! Hats off to the Charter! God bless the good King Louis! God save the Charter!" From the inmost shrine of the Cathedral, where it was kept beside the relics of St. Romain, the famous charter had been brought by four burgesses, bareheaded, upon a stand with golden feet. For seven and sixty years it had remained in holy keeping, with the great green seal of Louis X. hanging from its yellow parchment, and now the dean followed it into the streets with all his trembling canons behind him. There was business to be done with them too, and they knew it only too well. "The Chapter will forthwith renounce," says Jehan le Gras, "that rent of 300 livres on the market-halls of Rouen; you will sign the deed or take the consequences." So they signed, and the crowd passed on breathlessly to the next entertainment; for on a scaffold hastily erected, there stood the King's Bailli, Thomas Poignant, reading (much against his will) the provisions of the sacred charter, while the crowd waited with pickaxes and hammers ready to rush and pull down his house at the least sign of hesitation.
So in a silence that was filled with possibilities, and broken only by the sound of the indefatigable "Rouvel," who continued tolling feverishly night and day, the sentences of the charter of Normandy echoed over the square before St. Ouen, and when it was ended all the company swore upon the sacred cross to keep it faithfully, the royal draper first, then what few remnants of civic magistracy were present, then the canons and the whole clergy of the town, then the men of law, and lastly every citizen in sight. Before night ended all the bloody doings of the day, the gibbet of St. Ouen (called the "fourches Patibulaires") had been torn down and burnt at Bihorel, and a solemn oath of amnesty for all acts of violence was exacted from every one who had suffered from the outrages of the mob, and at last poor Jehan le Gras was allowed to go home to his shop, without the faintest notion of what all the uproar had been about, and very thankful to give up his royalty and be an ordinary draper as before.
Unfortunately the crowd, drunk with success, did not cease their riot with the deposition of their King. The next morning they attacked the castle Philip Augustus had set up in the Place Bouvreuil. But the garrison repulsed them; Jean de Vienne, High Admiral of France, brought troops into the town; the King's Commissioners were sent down in haste with reinforcements, and heads began to fall with startling rapidity on the scaffold in the Vieux Marche, for the town prisons were choked with the rebels who had been arrested. To all demands for pardon, the quieter sort of the inhabitants were ruthlessly told, "Go to your own King, Jehan le Gras, and let him save you." But the worthy draper had taken care to fly from Rouen as soon as he could get out of his house, for he found the pains of royalty far outweighed its privileges. At last when Easter Eve dawned on a most unhappy town, news came that the young King with his uncles the Regents was waiting at Pont de l'Arche and would only enter armed and by a breach, into the town which had rebelled against him.
So they battered down the walls by the Porte Martainville, and the wives and mothers and sisters of the men condemned to death in prison helped the work, weeping at their task; and as they wrought, it was sure some woman's heart that had the sweet imagination to deck the town with joyous emblems, that so, by the mercy of God this young monarch of only thirteen years might perchance be moved to compassion, and bethink him of their former loyalty. So when the King came in, his eyes lighted only upon banners, and tapestries, and evergreens; and flowers fell upon him from the windows, and the leaves of the forest strewed the roads beneath him, and from every corner came the cry of "Noel, Noel, long live the King!" The welcome had at first been the desperate cry of people in sore straits; but at the sight of the boy himself, it turned into a genuine shout of admiration, for, says the chronicle, "he was of sovereign beauty both in face and body, and full of loving-kindness, and sweet charity, insomuch that all men who saw him were in great joy and love of him."
But the Duke of Anjou would not allow the young King's feelings to be moved; and it was the Duke who as they passed the belfry bade "Rouvel" to be taken down, because he had rung out the signal for revolt. Yet the cries of "Noel, Noel!" continued every step of the progress through the town, until they gave way to a silence that had an even greater effect upon the impressionable boy. For he was welcomed at the great western gate of the Cathedral by the Archbishop Guillaume de Lestrange, and by him was led before the sepulchre in which the heart of Charles V. lay buried, bearing testimony for ever to his love for Rouen. Then the King remembered how his father, each holy week, had signed many pardons, in memory of the God who had pardoned in those days the sins of the whole world. So he spoke the words of deliverance to Lestrange beside him, while the population crowded, still terror-stricken and uncertain of their fate, into the Cathedral, and filled its aisles with anxious faces, and climbed upon the pillars to try and get some view of the little King near the altar, upon whose will so many lives depended. Then at last appeared the Archbishop, standing high where all might see him, and as he read the words of pardon which had just received the royal signature, you may imagine how the roof rang with a greater "Noel," a louder "Vive le Roi" than ever had sounded in the Cathedral before.
From every prison and jail in the city the prisoners were hurried to the Mother-church; with their fetters still upon them they fell on their knees and thanked God and the King for their deliverance, while their families hung round their necks and sobbed for joy to see them again alive. It was that moment on the eve of the great festival when all the bells of Rouen began to herald the coming of Easter. The great paschal candle had been lit in the Cathedral, and as the Archbishop turned from the joyful throng before him to the King still standing by the altar-steps, he welcomed the beginning of a reign that was blessed by the giving of such happiness. And as the people crowded noisily out into the Parvis, and each wife took her husband home again, few thought of the misery, and the madness worse than death, that was coming upon the young King who had set the prisoners free.
There is one more tale, a very different one, that I must tell of this same life of the people round the belfry of the Grosse Horloge, if only to give you the contrast of the dealings of Louis XI. with the good citizens of Rouen, and to emphasise the moral of their sturdy independence. For though the commune was practically suppressed, in spite of the King's pardon, and though the results of this famous "Revoke de la Harelle" were felt until the society in which it had occurred had almost ceased to be, yet the character of the burgesses remained the same under whatever laws they lived, and their freedom of opinion continued under every rule. So that when every door in the Rue de la Grosse Horloge flew open on a morning in 1490, when every shop was filled with gossips eager for the news, and even "Rouvel" himself was tingling faintly with suppressed excitement, you might be sure that another royal attempt was being made upon the liberty of these touchy subjects. And indeed a most astonishing thing had happened. For a horseman of the King had suddenly spurred hot-foot through the town, and alighted at the shop of Maitre Jehan le Tellier, with the stupefying request for the hand of his only daughter Alice in marriage, by virtue of the King's command signed and sealed in his pocket. The belfry-fountain was humming like a swarm of bees as all the chambermaids and goodwives in the street rushed up to fill their pitchers at the very moment when Le Tellier's housemaid happened to be filling hers.
But the loudest in outcry of them all was a young merchant whose shop happened to be opposite, and whose complaints against these outrages on civic independence and unwarrantable extensions of the royal prerogative would have warmed the heart of the most crabbed constitutional lawyer. His appeals to the sacred charter of Normandy were far louder than the rest, his invocations of the sanctity of the paternal tie far shriller. "What right," he cried, "had this Louis XI. to reward the ruffians of his Court with pretty girls and dowries when his royal purse was empty? What had made him choose Rouen, of all towns, for so unjustifiable a caprice?" As a matter of fact, it was about the worst choice he could have made, and Madame Estiennotte about the most unlikely mother he could have picked out for the prosperity of his experiment. She began by putting off the horseman until her husband should come back from market, and the moment his back was turned, she flew down the street to the Hotel de Ville, with half her neighbours at her heels, and laid the King's letter before the Town Councillors. Many of them were at once appalled by the royal seals and sign-manual. But fortunately, one, Roger Gouel, spoke up for the ancient privileges of the charter, loudly proclaimed that the business was not one of the public weal, but of private concern to Dame Estiennotte alone, and avowed himself her champion. It was perhaps lucky for Councillor Gouel that Tristan l'Hermite was out of the way, but the citizens were soon ready with their plan.
Desile was bidden to Le Tellier's house, and met there, somewhat to his embarrassment, the entire regiment of the worthy merchant's relatives, including the girl's great uncle, Abbe Viote, one of the Cathedral dignitaries, who eyed him with a sanctimonious calm that gave him his first tremor of uncertainty. Demoiselle Alice was formally summoned into the family gathering, and announced her intention of remaining single with all the innocent and unaffected purity of a novice at a convent. After which, Madame presented the disappointed suitor with a letter for the King, wherein was duly set forth how that "she had received the royal letter asking for the hand of her daughter in marriage for the King's squire; that as for herself and her family, both themselves and their goods were at the service of His Majesty; that unfortunately her husband had not yet returned from market, and therefore other answer was as yet impossible save that her daughter in presence of the family had declared her unwillingness to marry; that she prayed God to bless His Majesty with long and happy life, and was his humble and obedient servant, Estiennotte, wife of Jehan le Tellier."
The wrath of King Louis, the sarcasms of Tristan l'Hermite, the laughter of Olivier le Daim; these things you must imagine for yourself, when that letter was read before His Majesty. But the fact remains that other and more pressing business called Desile away to foreign wars, and Demoiselle Alice consoled herself for her royally appointed suitor by giving distinct encouragement to the merchant opposite who had laid such stress upon the inviolable privileges of the "Charte aux Normands." The story went the round of Rouen, from the Rue du Hallage to the Hotellerie des Bons Enfants and back again, and you can almost hear its echoes still in that old Rouen
"des vieux pignons aigus comme des epines dorsales Bombant les angles contigues Sur les solives tranversales.— Les logis causent de tout pres, Et l'ombre leur est coutumiere, On jurerait qu'ils font expres De manquer d'air et lumiere."
And you will pardon me that for a moment I have listened to that muttered gossip, to the scandal that one old roof-tree whispered to another whilst it leant across the narrow street, as some old woman mumbles secrets to her neighbour with bleared eyes winking beneath her shaggy brows. There was far more talking in the streets then than there is now, especially in such crowded little passage-ways as this old Rue du Hallage, a corruption from the Maison du Haulage where taxes on the corporations and on goods sold in the market-halls were levied. For in the fourteenth century for the 228,000 inhabitants of Paris there were only twenty-four "hotels" and eighty-six "taverns," and the similar disproportion in Rouen was only made up for, in the case of the "genuine traveller," by the unstinted hospitality of such monasteries and hospitals as those at St. Catherine, St. Vivien, or St. Martin.
But the taverns or wine-shops did a roaring trade. On their benches the burgesses sat every afternoon discussing business matters with their lawyers over the light "vin du pays," or bought a few bottles of the "vin de choix," which was the recognised offering to preachers, judges, councillors, and kings alike. It was, in fact, no bad thing to be the advocate in a case when a rich monastery was concerned, for the Abbey of St. Gervais records about this time that it gave its judges and lawyers in one very critical lawsuit, a dinner at their favourite hotel, comprising fish and pears and meat and hypocras (no less!) and ginger and sugar and a hundred oysters. Not in that order let us hope, though the bowels of men of law are traditionally tough, and the hospitality of the intention is undoubted.
[Footnote 35: The Town Accounts are filled with such cheerful business entries as the following: "Avec Mons. Jehan Delammarre qui fu clerc de la ville, a l'Escu de France aupres la Madeleine le darrenier jour de septembre, 28."
"Pour boire au matin avec les advocas chiez Jehan le Bucher, 4s. 6d."
"Pour boire avec le lieutenant du Maire," and so forth. The fifteen taverns mentioned in the accounts of the jovial town clerk from 1377 to 1381 are all to be found going very strong in the sixteenth century. M. de Beaurepaire has preserved their fascinating names:—L'Asne Roye, Les Petits souliers, Le Fleur de Lys pres St. Maclou, Le Cygne devant St. Martin, Le Singe pres de la Madeleine, and many more.]
Till the end of the fifteenth century mine host was called the "Seigneur" of his sign, as the "Seigneur de l'Ours, Seigneur de la Fleur de Lys;" and though by the close of the sixteenth century we still find a "Dame de la Croix Rouge" for the hostess, her husband had become (I quote from the accounts in the Archeveche) "maitre du Pilier vert," or "maitre de l'Ecrevisse." But even earlier than the fifteenth century it was already possible to get good lodging for the night at an hotel in Rouen, for a contract of 1395 has been preserved, made between Guillaume Blanc-baston and Guillaume Marc to furnish forth a hostelry, much as we may imagine the Hotel des Bons Enfants was furnished in its youth. "Four casks of good wine at ten livres," says this document; "twelve good beds with twenty-four pairs of sheets; eight cups and a goblet with a silver foot; a dozen 'hanaps' of pewter," with pots and pans and pewter dishes innumerable.
[Footnote 36: No. 41 Rue des Bons Enfants is a capital example of the Fifteenth Century Timbered inn. To the right of the inner yard a gallery juts out on crooked pillars, the "avant-soliers" so common in mediaeval streets, and shown in Lelieur's drawings. Queer gables rise into the air at odd corners, and if you are sufficiently hardened to mediaeval atmospheres you may discover other stables than the big shed at the entrance, and you will understand the reason for the Notice "On ne repond pas des accidents qui peuvent arriver aux chevaux." Through a dark narrow slit the phantom of a cobwebbed stable-boy will lead you into the blackened aged stables, and the spire of the abandoned church of St. Croix des Pelletiers rises above them. Lunch here upon omelettes and sound wine; but sleep were possibly unwise, though "Room Number Ten" is almost too fascinating an apartment to resist.]
In such an old courtyard as this of the "Bons Enfants," with its overhanging balcony, and queerly managed stables, or in other old inns like No. 19 Rue des Matelas, or No. 4 Rue Etoupee with its charming "signboard," men sat and talked of their various trades, the cobbler, for instance, who is carved on the Cathedral stalls, with the clog-maker, and the wool-comber, and the carpenter, all met and gossiped of their latest piece of profitable business, while the lawyers discussed the never-ending question of the Privilege de St. Romain with some learned clerk over their "vin blanc d'Anjou." By the fourteenth century the list of the prisoners released by the Cathedral Chapter begins to be very full and detailed, and we can quite imagine what was talked about in every tavern of the town as Ascension-tide drew near.
In 1360, for example, the King's Mint was already established in the Rue St. Eloi, and you may still see it at No. 30 in that street as you go up on the right hand from the river to the Place St. Eloi. The "Hotel des Monnaies" has been all whitewashed over, but there is a strong and ancient look about the windows on the street facade that warns you to go through the little passage-way, to find the soldiers of the Douane lounging about the courtyard inside. On the back of the houses that look out upon the street you will see the arms and cipher of Francois Premier, which show that in his days the Mint still remained in a house that was far older. And in 1360 the "Officer of the Mint of the parish of St. Eloi," who quarrelled about the price of his chicken in the Parvis, "voulait avoir de la poulaille a son pris." He must have done his bargaining in very strong language, for one of the three brothers Sautel who kept the shop, smote him that he died, and it was to these brothers that the privilege of raising the Fierte St. Romain with pardon for this crime, was in that year granted.
Only three years afterwards, Blanche, Dowager-Queen of France, had laid her hand by way of justice upon Jehan le Bourgeois of Neufchatel in spite of the fact that his murder had been pardoned by the canons' Privilege de St. Romain; and from this case, and the following one in 1391, it appears that the pardon given to a prisoner involved that (apart from "civil" restitutions) he was released from any "criminal" fine that might have been laid on him, and was of right to be restored to all offices and goods held by him previous to his arrest. More than this, the Bailli of Rouen was not allowed to condemn any prisoner at all during the month that intervened between the "insinuation of the privilege" and the actual ceremony of the pardon; the "insinuation" being the technical word for the annual formality by which the legal authorities were informed that the Chapter would inquire into the various prisons of the town, and proceed to make their choice before Ascension. In one case a prisoner condemned to death (Robert Auberbosc in 1299) was only just saved (though he was not finally chosen for the Fierte) at the last moment from the gallows, whither he had been taken during this sacred period, contrary to the rights of the chapter; and again in 1361 the Bailli had actually executed a man in the same interval before the canons knew, or could prevent it; and he was then and there solemnly excommunicated until full amendment had been made, for that he had been so wicked as to "violer le previlege et libertes de l'eglise de Rouen, en vitupere de la dicte eglise et de Monsieur St. Romain."
The first woman to whom the famous privilege was accorded was Guillemette Gomont in 1380, of whom nothing is recorded; but in the next year strangely enough another woman carried the Fierte, by name Jehanne Helart, the wife of Robert Cariel, who had slain Jehan Vengier; and in 1388 Estiennotte de Naples, who had been brought from Louvier to marry Guillaume Luart, of the parish of St. Vincent in Rouen, was pardoned by the Chapter in spite of having murdered her husband. In this example, as in many others, to our modern eyes, the motives which persuaded the canons to pardon the criminal they chose are scarcely intelligible, and I can only imagine that the key to the tragedy has been lost in most of such cases. But it is the women who are at the bottom of nearly all recorded crime in the long story of the Fierte, and when they are themselves chosen it is often at the end of a drama that surpasses in interest all the tales of mere masculine malefactors in the most interesting criminal record I have ever seen. I shall have occasion to speak of them later. For the present I can only take note of the cases that have been most prominent before the time of the English siege.
The ceremony of the "Levee de la Fierte" did not invariably meet with the approval of the people, as may be seen from the last case I have room to quote from this period. In 1394 Jehan Maignart, of the parish of St. Maclou, murdered Rogier le Veautre, with the assistance of two accomplices, Pierre Robert and Jehan Marie. After the procession of the public pardon on Ascension Day was over, the members of the Confrerie of St. Romain were leading Maignart in triumph through the streets of Rouen, with a wreath of roses on his head, when suddenly a poor woman appeared at the corner of the Rue de l'Ecole, and screamed to the prisoner that he was a disloyal traitor; praying St. Romain that for his next crime he would not escape the hanging that was his due, for that now he was only screening the true criminals from punishment. The indignant Chapterhouse were only prevailed upon to overlook the crime of insulting their released prisoner by the full repentance of this woman. But "the Law" had heard her too, and it laid its hand promptly on the two accomplices. The canons instantly objected, and a valuable precedent was created by the decision of the King, before whom the final appeal of the case was laid. By the royal charter, signed in February 1395, the full privileges of the canons were upheld. The proces-verbal still exists upon a roll of parchment fairly written, nine feet in length, with the evidence of eighty-seven witnesses. The canons laid down (1) their right to the pardon; (2) its origin in the miracle of St. Romain, who "prinst et mist en subjection un grant serpent ou draglon qui estoit environ Rouen"; (3) the sacredness with which this commemoration should be preserved; (4, 5, 6, 7, 8) the various details of the formality to be observed from the "insinuation," the suspension of all capital punishment till Ascension, the visiting of the prisons, and the choice of the criminal, to the public procession; (9, and most important) the prisoner is pardoned for every crime he confesses to the canons, not only the one for which he is then in prison, but all previous ones; he is restored to his heritage and his good fame; and all his accomplices in sin are to enjoy the same full pardon (with its consequences) as himself.
[Footnote 37: Her exact words were carefully recorded by the horrified confrerie: "Ha! faux traitre, meurdrier, tu as pris le fait sus toy, pour delivrer autruy; tu t'en repentiras. Je pri a dieu et a Monseigneur Saint Romain que tu faches encore le fait de quoy tu saies trainne et pendu."]
It had been recognised as early as 1269 that all previous crimes were pardoned, for the act of pardon granted by the bailli to Nicole Lecordier in that year speaks of him as "delivre franc et quite de tous forfes ... quielz qil soient, del tens en arriere jusques au jor dui." And by 1446 the charter of Charles VII., which is still preserved in the archives of the Cathedral, announces in May of that year that the prisoner who raises the Fierte "est absolz du cas pour le quel il l'a levee et de tous crismes precedents." So that we reach the astonishing proposition that the Chapterhouse of Rouen enjoyed a far greater power than even the royal prerogative of mercy, which only pardoned a specified crime; whereas the Chapterhouse by a kind of baptism and regeneration from sin, started their prisoner afresh on a new life without any reference to his past misdeeds. What this involved I shall show when opportunity arises; but the release of the accomplices as well as the prisoner was an even more extraordinary extension of powers. It had already taken place before this test case, in a tavern brawl in 1370, in the crime of two drapers in 1356, and in a very important example when Guillaume Yon with another man of Pavilly were released after the slaying of a butcher; and the Seigneur d'Esneval gave sworn testimony that when a friend of the dead butcher publicly called the accomplice in the crime "a murderer," that accomplice would have been delivered up to justice if the principal had not carried the Fierte. The retrospective action of the pardon on the principal also extended to his accomplices, who began life afresh just as he did. And this extension was solemnly confirmed at the inquiry, from which I have just quoted. There is no doubt, however, that so excessive a "prolongation" of the powers of pardon cannot have been allowed throughout the whole history of the Fierte; for public opinion could scarcely have permitted a gang of ruffians every year to return to the full privileges enjoyed by their more honest comrades. So at the end of the fifteenth, and again at the end of the sixteenth century, we find it laid down that only those crimes named by the prisoner should be pardoned, if the Chapter thought fit, and that only those accomplices who appeared with him in the procession should share in his pardon.
It was only in April 1407 that this long appeal was finally decided in favour of the two accomplices of Maignart, who bore the Fierte thirteen years before. But the Chapterhouse took good care that so much tedious and costly legal work should not be thrown away, and the strength of the precedents and charters they secured at this time was never entirely lost while the "Privilege" existed in Rouen at all.
There is only one other matter much concerning the life of the people at this period for which I have space left, and that is their Mystery Plays. Two celebrated instances occur in these years before the invasions of the English and the siege of Rouen. In November 1365 the King gave two hundred crowns of gold to a troupe of "dancers and musicians" who had played before him at the castle in the Place Bouvreuil. In 1374 the Confrerie de la Passion was instituted at the Church of St. Patrice, and on Holy Thursday held a procession in which all the instruments of the Passion of Christ were carried through the streets by children in the garb of angels. The Mystery that followed was given by the direct sanction of the Church in presence of the King, and in 1476 these representations became a regular annual performance, and the Confrerie had developed by 1543 into a strong rival of that more famous Confrerie de la Conception, or Puy des Palinods, of which I have already traced the beginning (see p. 69), in the verses of Robert Wace.
The first of these old Mystery Plays had been merely copies of those Fetes de l'Eglise, of which I have spoken in suggesting the origin of the ceremonial at the Levee de la Fierte St. Romain, and were in fact "tableaux vivants" of the religious office. Then dialogues were added, and the "Drame Liturgique" appeared within the churches themselves. But the inevitable element of caricature and buffoonery soon necessitated an "outside show." The traces of this transition may be seen in the Chapterhouse Records of Rouen. In 1451, for example, the Christmas mystery is performed "cessantibus tamen stulticiis et insolenciis," and in 1457 "ordinaverunt quod misterium pastorum fiat isto festo nativitatis decenter in cappis." The "jeux de Fous" had been forbidden by the Town Council in 1445 to be held in the churches, and so was the "Procession de l'Ane" (from which the anthem "Orientis partibus adventavit asinus" has been so often quoted) with its prophets and sibyls, and the poet Virgil.
But in 1374 the Confrerie de la Passion led their procession in all solemnity on the fete day of St. Patrice from his church to the parish of their warden, and all the poor school children went before, and the last twelve wardens followed after, each leading a beggar man by the hand, whose feet they washed during the performance of their Mystery. And this continued until 1636. The last written "Mystere du Lavement des Pieds" that exists was by one Nicolle Mauger, who laboured under the disadvantage of living in the same century with Corneille.
The Siege of Rouen by Henry V.
"War's ragged pupils; many a wavering line Torn from the dear fat soil of champaigns hopefully tilled, Torn from the motherly bowl, the homely spoon, To jest at famine.... Over an empty platter affect the merrily filled; Die, if the multiple hazards around said die."
The Mystery Plays which I have just mentioned in the last chapter were undertakings at once so solemn and so popular that I can give no better idea of coming trouble than is contained in the fact of the postponement of the Mystery arranged by the Confrerie de la Passion for 1410. On the 28th of March that year the sheriffs decided that, owing to the heavy obligations pressing on the town by reason of the quarrel with the Duke of Burgundy, and of the severe war-taxes depleting both private purses and public revenue, these entertainments must be given up. We find that this Confrerie was not to be put off in 1415, and even repeated its play at Pentecost thirty years later; but in 1410 their disappointment was only one of many signs of that disorder and poverty which finally laid Rouen open and defenceless before the English army.
Already, in 1383, commerce and industry had suffered cruelly from the municipal anarchy which followed the suppression of the commune, and from the heavy fines for its rebellion imposed by the King. It was not for more than three centuries that the famous mayor reappeared; and this is no solitary instance of such an obliteration in the country, for though French Communes actually began before the Free Boroughs of England, they had not any of the qualities of permanence they showed in the nation where antiquity is more traceable in institutions than in such buildings as are still scattered in profusion over France. Another quaint little episode that shows the uneasiness of the town occurred in 1405, and is to be found in the deliberations of the Hotel de Ville for the 27th of September. Before Guillaume de Bellengues, Captain of Rouen, and his council, the question was discussed of the arrival of a certain Spanish captain, Pedro Nino, Count of Buelna, from Harfleur. Seventeen days afterwards he came, and it is interesting to observe that, in spite of relations with Spain which had begun long previously, lasted until after Corneille's day, and are still recorded in the name of the Rue des Espagnols, the good citizens of Rouen were very much upon their guard when Pedro Nino sailed up the Seine, and only allowed him to stay in their port and revictual on very hard conditions, one of which was the entire surrender of all offensive and defensive weapons. They also insisted on mooring his three galleys in a certain spot, keeping a strict guard over them, and not allowing any of his men in Rouen during the night.
It happens that the personality of Don Pedro is not unknown to us, from other sources, and the bombastic account written by his faithful squire, Gutierre de Gamez, has so many interesting points in it about Rouen at this date that I must refer to it, if only to bring out of its obscurity a book that is hardly known, and almost deserves to rank near the more famous and extended chronicle of the "Loyal Servitor" of Bayard. Without going at any length into a life which does not concern us, I may say briefly that after his education at the Court of Castile, which he is said to have owed to his descent from the royal house of France, Don Pedro was commissioned at twenty-five years of age to attack the Barbary Corsairs in the Western Mediterranean. Ever since Du Guesclin had deposed Pedro the Cruel, and placed Henry of Trastamare upon the throne of Castille, the alliance between that power and France remained a political tradition; and at about this time Charles VI. being at war with England, asked for help, with which Don Pedro was sent. He actually took a town in Cornwall, laid Portland under contribution, and burnt the town of Poole. Returning to Harfleur, he was prevented by contrary winds from again crossing the Channel, and therefore decided to sail up the Seine and winter at Rouen. The luxury of the French nobles was only one of the many reasons of the weakness and disaster of the nation, and Don Pedro's voyage up the river seems to have been made pleasant to him by every chatelaine upon its banks, until he reached the Clos des Galees (which is rightly described in the "Victorial"), and met the somewhat gruff demands of the authorities of Rouen.
[Footnote 38: The "Cronica" begins as follows:—"Este libro ha nombre el Victorial, e fabla en el de los quatros Principes que fueron mayores en el mundo...." It was published in Madrid in 1880, 236 pp. 4to, and was translated from the original Spanish by MM. Circourt and Puymaigre. (Paris, Victor Palme, 1867, 590 pp. 8vo).]
They must have very soon changed their opinions, however; indeed, from the fact that in July of that same year the welcome and the gifts offered to Louis, Duke of Orleans, by the sheriffs were entirely contrary to the wishes of the population, who had just rebelled against his taxes, we may infer that a friend of that Duke, as Don Pedro showed himself to be on visiting Paris a little later, was not likely to have long been treated with hostility or even indifference by the civic officials.
It is, therefore, hardly surprising that we soon hear of a love-affair in Rouen, and that too with the daughter of M. de Bellengues, the captain of the town himself. This lady had but just become a widow, after her marriage with Renaud de Trie, Admiral of France, which took place from the Hotel du Bec, before a large assembly of her father's friends in their parish church of St. Lo, with sixteen "Farceurs" dancing before the procession to amuse the people. "She is too good-looking," said the Captain, "for me to prevent anyone from seeing her;" and by this brilliant ceremony he gave a decisive check to the prevailing custom of secret weddings in a private chapel. The description of the Chateau of Serifontaine, near Rouen, where the gallant Don first met the old and sickly admiral and his pretty wife, is as complete as almost any other I have seen, as a picture of a great French nobleman's house at the beginning of the fifteenth century.
[Footnote 39: M. de Bellengues lived in Michel Leconte's house, called the Manoir de la Fontaine, which was disputed by the parishes of St. Lo and St. Herbland. In it was a little chapel very fashionable for private weddings, and a mysterious apartment which could be hired for honeymoons. The Manor was bought in 1429, for the convenience of monks visiting Rouen, by the Abbaye du Bec, from which the street took its name.]
I have no space to quote the "Victorial" unfortunately, and from its pages I can only hint at the abundance you may gather of the ordered beauty and quiet of the place; of the chapel with its band of wind-instruments and minstrels; of the gracious orchards and gardens by the stream; of the lake that could be drained at will, to choose the best fishes for the Admiral's table; of the five and forty sporting dogs and the men who cleaned the kennels; of the long rows of stalls, each with its horse, in the spacious stables; of the falcons and their perches and their keepers; of the separate lodgings of my lady, joined to the main building by a drawbridge, and filled with dainty furniture. There, too, may be read how Madame went forth so soon as she had risen from her bed, with her ten maids-in-waiting, to a shrubbery where each sat in silence, with her rosary and her Book of Hours; how they then set to picking flowers till it was time for Mass; how breakfast followed, with chickens and roasted game upon a silver dish, and wine; how they all rode out together of an early afternoon, taking what gentlemen were there, and singing blithely till the fields echoed as with the songs of Paradise. Into this delightful abode the old Admiral had invited the sea-captain, who was a guest of Rouen. The Spaniard was welcomed with a banquet on his arrival, at which his host, too feeble now to ride or hunt, did the honours of his house right courteously, providing sweet music during all the dinner, and a ball afterwards, at which his wife danced for an hour with the gay Don Pedro. After a ride round the castle grounds the visitor went off to Paris, and can hardly have been surprised, when he returned to Rouen and found the Admiral had died, to receive a message from the pretty widow to come up and hear the news.
But the lovers were unlucky, for she might not wed again so soon after her widowhood, and he was under orders for the war, and had no permission for such dalliance from his master, the King of Castille. So he sailed away towards Harfleur, after many protestations of affection on each side, during an eclipse of the sun which came on as he left Rouen harbour, and much terrified his sailors. And the end of his little story is that he married Dona Beatrix of Portugal, and died in 1453; while Jeanne de Bellengues espoused as her second husband Louis Mallet de Graville, Sieur de Montagu, Grand-Master of the Arbaletriers of France, and died still in her youth, in 1419. She was buried in the chapel of the Trinity in Rouen Cathedral, and all her husband's lands were confiscated by the English King. The intimate connection that existed at this time with Spain is exemplified again by the marriage of Robert de Bracquemont, who surrendered Pont de l'Arche to King Henry during the English advance on Rouen, with Inez de Mendoza, daughter of a high functionary at the Court of Castille, where he had been the French ambassador, and owned estates in Fuentesol and Pennarenda.
I have mentioned the irritation of the populace when Louis d'Orleans was received so well by the sheriffs. But their disgust at "the six barrels of wine, and the bales of royal scarlet" then presented may not have been merely political; for many must have remembered how in 1390 the Hotel de Ville had actually been seized for debt owing to the extravagant gifts of silver plate presented to Isabeau of Bavaria. The family of Mustel in fact had "fait mettre en criees et subhastations le manoir de la ville." And in times of such distress the citizens may well have objected to any useless ostentation on the part of their officials.
Disturbances continued rife in Rouen through these terrible years of the weakness of the King. Chains had to be fastened permanently across many squares and streets in the town, which had become absolutely depopulated owing to the misery of such riots as that of 1411, or the still more serious outbreak of 1417, when the perpetual quarrels of the Armagnac and Burgundian parties were reflected in the factions of the town. The burgesses declared for them of Burgundy, who posed as the "Progressives," or defenders of the people's rights, and therefore objected to the Bailli and the Chateau, as being the representatives of the Conservative and aristocratic Armagnacs, the gatherers of those hateful taxes, which had been doubled that year, and had thus made still more difficult a commerce already crippled by constant changes in the currency. Perpetual imposts and extraordinary war-subventions had drained the town of its resources for some time. Every religious community had been forced to forego all privileges and contribute like the rest. And after Bernard, Count of Armagnac, had assumed official direction of the Government, his excessive exactions made it easy to add the loss of Harfleur and the defeat of Agincourt, to the many sins of his party. The brigandage and violence of an Armagnac, Jean Raoulet, all along the Seine, brought home to the people of Rouen with an even more startling clearness the necessity for trying what the other side could do for them.
So John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, had an easy part to play as the champion of the downtrodden people. On the 24th of April he sent a political manifesto into the town (very much of the kind to which modern France has become accustomed) promising relief from taxation. Before swallowing the bait entirely the burgesses submitted the seals to examination in Paris, but the drapers of Rouen scarcely waited for confirmation before they attacked the royal tax-gatherers with cries of "Long live Burgundy!" Thereupon d'Armagnac sent three commissioners with a troop of Bretons and Genoese cross-bowmen from Paris. But the townsfolk would not let the mercenaries enter, seizing the keys of the town from the officials and mounting their own guard at every gate. The three commissioners, powerless without their escort, took refuge in the Chateau. The King's bailli, Raoul de Gancourt, refused to leave his post. He seems to have been a man brave enough to make his mark upon the stricken field of Agincourt, and intellectual enough to win a local reputation as a poet, a nature in fact somewhat akin to Charles d'Orleans. But though he could make no head against the rioters he would not leave his honour behind him in the Rue Beauvoisine, and gathered round his hospitable hearth a few of the choice spirits of the town who joined him in deploring the excesses of the populace.
Outside in the market-place Burgundian orators were rousing the passions of the mob, and chief among the leaders of the people were Alain Blanchart and De Livet, a canon of the Cathedral, then in charge of the diocese during the absence of Louis d'Harcourt, who much preferred the amusements of a courtier to the pious seclusion of an archbishop. As soon as the news of all this reached Paris, the Dauphin himself, with a brilliant suite, set out for Rouen, and encamped in the fortress on St. Catherine's Hill, to the south-east of the town, between the Aubette and the Seine. A message sent him by De Gancourt, intercepted by the citizens, put the finishing touch to their resentment. Three men were picked out to rid them of the bailli. One of them was Guillot Leclerc (afterwards beheaded for his crime), but Alain Blanchart had no share in the assassination, whatever you may imagine to be the meaning of Monstrelet's remarks. At midnight on the 23rd of July (the day of the Dauphin's arrival on St. Catherine) some masked men went to De Gancourt's door, begging him to receive a malefactor they had arrested. The moment the bailli appeared they fell upon him and left him dead in the gutter. Directly afterwards they rushed on to the house of his lieutenant-general, Jean Legier, seized him and his nephew, and threw them into the Seine, together with other prominent members of the Armagnac faction.
The only result was a short blockade of the town by the Dauphin's troops and a military demonstration from the Chateau, which could be reinforced from outside through a postern to the west of the Porte Bouvreuil. The citizens then surrendered, the Sire de Gamaches was made bailli, and Jean d'Harcourt (a relation of the absentee archbishop) was made captain of the town, with command of the castle; but the Dauphin's party was not strong enough to punish as they wished, and Rouen was left in a state of ill-suppressed disloyalty. This broke out once more into rebellion at the beginning of the new year. Robert de Bracquemont, made Admiral of France in April 1417 (whose Spanish alliances I have mentioned on p. 174), was sent down with troops as lieutenant-general of the King in Rouen, Gisors, Caux, and Honfleur. But he could not get into the town, and had to wait in the fortress of St. Catherine. During his short tenure of office the negotiations (preserved in the archives of Dieppe) which he was obliged to attempt, in order to secure some sort of coalition between the hostile factions against the English army, are a lamentable revelation of the dissensions of the time. When the supremacy of the Burgundians became inevitable, he went away, as we have seen, to Spain, leaving his opponent, Guy le Bouteiller, to take command of the castle of Rouen, and bring back with him Alain Blanchart with other democratic exiles; and these two are prominent names in the siege that is to come, for Blanchart was made captain of the picked burgess-troop of the Arbaletriers of Rouen, Guillaume d'Hondetot was made bailli, and Laghen, the Bastard of Arly, was made lieutenant. The Royalist Armagnacs were definitely abandoned, but, as we shall see, the unhappy town gained little in the crisis of her fate from her Burgundian sympathies.
[Footnote 40: For the whole of this chapter see Map B.]
[Footnote 41: During the same changes, Pierre Poolin was given the office of Procureur-General of Rouen, and Jean Segneult exercised the functions of the Mayoralty, though without the actual name.]
During all these days of civic anarchy the English troops were steadily advancing to their goal. Though no predetermined plan is proved to have existed in the mind of Henry V., the movements of his army resulted in a very definite and successful campaign. Landing on the elbow of the coast of Normandy, where no one expected him, he cut the strength of her resistance in two by a rapid march from north to south, paralysing the warlike nobles of Cotentin, and forcing the hostile Angevins and the uncertain Bretons to remain neutral. Then, after sending out detachments to east and west, he concentrated on the Seine, crossed it above Rouen, and seized Pont de l'Arche so as to cut off her best communication with Paris, crush her between his fleet, his army, and his garrison at Honfleur, and ensure the conquest of Normandy beneath her walls.
While the toils were thus closing in upon her, while she was being slowly cut off from crippled France, from Paris, where the citizens had nothing better to do than massacre the Armagnacs, Rouen sent hurriedly for help to the Duke of Burgundy. They only got brave words from his son, the Count of Charolais, who used all the taxes of the northern towns to fight against—not the English, but the Armagnacs. Paris showed a greater sympathy by instantly sending 300 archers and 300 of their own militia. At last the Duke of Burgundy gave to a selfish policy what he had refused to patriotism, and realising that when his own party was in power the English were more enemies than allies, he sent 4000 men-at-arms to help the beleaguered city. In January Guy le Bouteiller had brought 1500 more with him into the castle. The town itself could provide 15,000 militia, 100 arbaletriers, 2000 artillerymen, and 2000 troops from the rest of Normandy, who had fled to Rouen when their own towns were destroyed, giving a total of 25,200 fighting men.
Taught by the bitter experience of Caen, the burghers began their preparations by devastating the buildings in St. Sever on the south side of the bridge, and before the invaders were close up, they practically levelled to the ground nearly every house in the faubourgs outside the fortifications. With the stone thus sacrificed, they repaired the breaches in their walls, and strengthened every tower, sowing "chausse-trappes," or sharp three-pronged irons in the fields all round the city. Besides the cannon on the walls, each tower had three large guns pointing in different directions, and eight smaller pieces for fast firing. Antiquated weapons were pressed into the service as well, the balista, the three-mouthed trebuchet (the tappgete, or tryppgette of the English), and the sling for hurling heavy darts and arrows set up on the Porte Martainville. Besides this, they sank every boat on the Seine, above or below the town, and even burnt their two royal galleys when the progress of the siege compelled them to prevent the English from the advantage of their capture. Further taxes were raised and cheerfully paid by layman, ecclesiastic, and soldier alike, and orders were issued, by the sound of a trumpet in every public square, that every householder should get in provisions for ten months, an almost impossible feat considering the scarcity of all food in Normandy at the time. Finally, some thousands of the poorer classes were banished out of the town, and a few drifted as far as Beauvais and Paris, but the majority were swept back again into Rouen by the constantly increasing tide of fugitives driven into the city by the English, to make the task of feeding so many useless mouths more difficult. The results were hideous when the famine came.
On the English side, the King's own men numbered 16,400 of all arms, the contingents of his various captains and barons amounted to 20,306, including knights, light cavalry, and archers on foot. In addition, 1000 carpenters and workmen followed the army, with some 6000 engineers, sappers, and miners including the men who served the artillery. This was the force that left England, and any diminutions in it, by lapse of time and service, were more than made up by the reinforcements of the Earl of March, of the Duke of Exeter, of Sir John Talbot, and the Prior of Kilmaine. So that the total of the army that besieged Rouen was, at least, 45,000 men. This large force was brought across the Seine, partly by the old bridge of Pont de l'Arche, partly by a light and ingenious pontoon bridge made of planks supported on watertight leather boats, which could be packed up and carried with the army on the march.
The first appearance of the enemy was when the Duke of Beaufort (who had been Earl of Dorset in 1415), appeared before the walls to summon Rouen to surrender on terms. The citizens answered him with an attack of cavalry. On Friday the 29th of July, Henry V. set out from Pont de l'Arche by the right bank of the river, with a cloud of scouts before his army, savage half-clad Irishmen, armed with light shields, short javelins, and long knives, who plundered all the countryside, and rode into camp at night astride of the cattle they had stolen. That same evening, "the Friday before Lammas day," the King reached Rouen and placed his troops all round the town under cover of the darkness. The citizens awoke next morning to find Rouen girdled with English steel. The die was irrevocably cast. Abandoned by their king, by both the factions into which the rest of France was torn, the hardy burgesses resolved to stand firm for the honour of a nation which had left them to their fate. And, at first sight, the mighty walls, and moats, and towers must have made even the English hesitate before attacking a town that had prepared so stubborn a defence.
The account of the siege has very fortunately been preserved by two eye-witnesses, and we are able to check any French sympathies that may have crept into the accounts of Monstrelet, or of the Monk of St. Denys, of Juvenal des Ursins, or of the "Journal d'un Bourgeois de Paris," by comparing them not merely with the worthless "Chronique de Normandie," or with Pierre Cochon's "Chronique Normande," but with two far more important and more authoritative descriptions, one preserved in Paris, the other in the British Museum. Both were written by men in the army of Henry V., whose names are unknown. The first is called the "Chronicon Henrici Quinti," which was brought to France by Pierre Pithou, and is now in the Bibliotheque Nationale (MS. 6239). The second is a poem in contemporary English called the "Sege of Roan," of which 954 verses were published by Mr Conybeare in "Archaeologia Britannica" (vol. xxi.), and 676 verses by Sir Frederick Madden (Ib. vol. xxii.). Of English contemporary authorities, Otterbourne and Stow have something to say, but Walsingham is useless. Rymer's "Foedera" has some important documents (vol. IV. iv.) and there are finally, of course, the archives of the town itself, which emphasise in many details the heroic patriotism and constancy of the citizens amidst the sufferings, as terrible as can be imagined, which preceded the fall of the town and the consequent subjugation of Normandy to England for thirty years.
There is not much that you can still see of the city that was so splendidly defended, but I can at least point you to the very spot where King Henry the Fifth had his headquarters. By going eastwards out of the city, along the Rue d'Amiens, which starts from the Place des Ponts de Robec, you reach the boulevard Gambetta, north of the streams of Aubette (along which runs the road to Nid de Chiens, the Norman dukes' sporting kennel) and south of that branch of Robec which passes by the Tour du Colombier. Though that part of Rouen's fortifications has disappeared, you may still see at the south-east angle of the old walls, a remnant of that Couvent des Celestins founded by the Duke of Bedford during the English occupation. A little further northwards you pass the end of the Rue Eau de Robec, "ignoble petite Venise" as Flaubert called it, with its queer bridges and overhanging gables, and finally in the Place St. Hilaire you will find the Route de Darnetal. Walk eastwards straight along it, until a small suburban road turns out of it upon your right hand, called the Rue de la Petite Chartreuse. This soon leads you to a large expanse of enclosed ground on the left of the road, surrounded by a fine bit of fifteenth-century wall; the entrance-gate is marked with the number 4. Within are several ruined buildings dotted about a quiet abbey close whose strange religious atmosphere has never changed in more than four and a half centuries. Close to the gate, there rises an ivy-covered column of dilapidated ancient masonry, which holds a much more modern seventeenth-century shrine, still commemorating "Notre Dame des Roses," as the laundresses call her.
Far behind your right shoulder rise the spires of Rouen; away to the left is the church tower of Darnetal; in the opposite horizon the great slope of St. Catherine rises to the sky. Within this quiet square Archbishop Guillaume de l'Estrange built the Chartreuse de Notre Dame de la Rose, in 1386, rather more than a mile from the Porte St. Hilaire, in that cool valley between St. Catherine and Darnetal, which is shut in by the interlacing arms of Robec and Aubette. Some fifty yards beyond the shrine I have just mentioned, you will see a half-ruined mediaeval building, which must have been the great hall of the convent. Traces of fourteenth and fifteenth century work have been found in it by the eye of faith, though the lower floor is now a kind of granary, and the upper storey is used as a big drying-ground by the laundry girls who live close by in the pretty old house that used to form a set of lodgings for the monks. Above its walls in 1418 floated the royal flag of England, and within them the last act in the tragedy of the siege of Rouen was played out. It is my good fortune that the drawing of this historic spot, made for me by Miss James, happens to be yet another picture in this little volume of a scene that has never, to the best of my belief, been given to English readers before. The King's headquarters, though close to Mont St. Catherine were beyond the range of the cannon of those days, and between him and the fortress Lord Salisbury's men were placed, with Lieutenant Philip Leech on the south side, and Sir John Gray to the west. Opposite the Porte Martainville was the Earl of Warwick's camp; and Edmund Beaufort, Count of Mortain, who became Duke of Somerset when he was made governor of Normandy, held the north side of the Aubette and completed the investment of St. Catherine's.
North of the King's camp, Sir William Porter had at first held the ground before the Porte St. Hilaire, but the Duke of Gloucester was given the position as soon as he came up from Cherbourg, placing his two lieutenants on each side of the stream, the Earl of Suffolk to the south, the Marquis of Abergavenny northwards.
Leaving the side on which the King's camp was so well guarded, if you passed west and northwards round the battlements of Rouen, you would have seen Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, guarding the Porte Beauvoisine, having as his lieutenants Lord Willoughby de Eresby and the Lord Chamberlain, Henry Fitz-Hugh, to the east, and John Lord Ross westwards. The Castle of Rouen and the Porte Bouvreuil were besieged by Lord John Mowbray, second son of the Duke of Norfolk, whose lieutenants were first Sir William Hanington, and later on Sir Gilbert Talbot, the father of the famous Earl of Shrewsbury. The last gate, the Porte Cauchoise at the lowest western angle of the town, was beleaguered by Thomas Plantagenet the Duke of Clarence whose camp was in the ruined abbey of St. Gervais; above him was the Earl of Cornwall; and James Butler, Earl of Ormond, closed the investing lines towards the river. A glance at map B will make all this clear.
Across the Seine, the whole of the ruined faubourg of St. Sever was under the command of John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon, whose business it was to guard the barbacan, or fortress at the south end of the bridge, and to keep up the English communications with the south of Normandy. To do this he had a numerous staff of lieutenants, Sir Gilbert d'Umfreville, Lord John Nevill, eldest son of the Earl of Westmoreland, Sir Richard Arundel, and Lord Edmund Ferrers. Finally, Thomas, Lord Carew, was given a roving commission to scout and forage with his light Irish troops and a body of hardy Welshmen under Jenico of Artois who is mentioned both by the English anonymous poet and by Holinshed.
Within the walls of Rouen the roll of the defenders has but very modest names to contrast to the flower of English chivalry opposed to them. Of Guy le Bouteiller, captain of the castle at the Porte Bouvreuil, I have already spoken. One of his lieutenants, Jean Noblet, held St. Catherine, and the other, Laghen, the Bastard of Arly, kept the Porte Cauchoise with the goodwill of all the citizens who firmly trusted him. One of his subordinates is called "Mowne-sir de Termagowne" by the English poet. The names of all those who kept the walls are chronicled either by this authority or by Monstrelet. But the most famous of them were Alain Blanchart, captain of the Arbaletriers, who seems to have taken command of the whole militia and was the life and soul of the town's resistance, and Canon Robert de Livet whose devotion and ardour inspired every non-combatant to assist the soldiers in their weary task and to bear their sufferings with a fortitude he was himself the first to show. I have mentioned 2000 refugee-warriors from other places. They seem to have been led by the men of Caen under a Lombard condottiere called Le Grand Jacques, or as the English poem has it:—
"Guaunte Jakys a werryour wyse."
The real operations of the siege began with a desperate sortie of the citizens from every gate at once, which was repulsed with slaughter. The following days were filled with spirited attacks on every English captain who had not had time to fortify his post, attacks which only ceased when a huge ditch had been dug all round the town, with regular posts and covered ways, the whole under the guidance of Sir Robert Bapthorp, who was afterwards rewarded with the "Maison a l'enseigne de l'Ours" in the Rue de la Vicomte. Meanwhile the English continued to make sure of their communications with Harfleur down the Seine, and to cut off the same route to the French. The Portuguese fleet helped them to blockade the mouth of the river, and even advanced upstream as far as Quilleboeuf. Most important of all, they built the Bridge of St. George of solid timbers sunk into the stream between Lescure and Sotteville, four miles higher up than Rouen, and guarded it thoroughly from all attack. Finally, Jean Noblet, cut off from all provisions in St. Catherine, had to surrender on the thirtieth of August, and a few days afterwards, Caudebec, the last hope of the city down the stream was forced to swear complete neutrality and to abide by the same terms which were eventually won by Rouen, an instance of heroic partisanship which proves the solidarity of Normandy and the loyalty of every outlying town to the capital.
The results of all this were very soon visible, for the Seine was now completely in the power of the English, and the only problem that remained for the King to solve was to get his war-galleys high enough up the Seine to protect St. George's Bridge. He could not think of sailing past the town itself. He finally determined to drag the vessels across the narrow neck of land that lies at the southern angles of the great curve on which Rouen herself is set. The space at this point between the villages of Moulineaux and Orival is scarcely five miles, as may be seen on map A. The galleys were hauled across under full sail with a favouring wind on huge greased rollers, and then indeed the men of Rouen were face to face with the reality of a blockade which held them fast by land and water; so they burnt their own last warships and set fire to the famous Clos des Galees.
Henry V. had before this written to London for provisions, in a letter to the Lord Mayor which is still preserved in the archives of the City, and took nine days to get to him. "And pray you effectuelly," writes the King, "that in al the haste that ye may, ye wille do arme as manie smale vessels as ye may goodly with vitaille and namly with drinke for to come Harfleu and fro thennes, as fer as they may, up ye river of Seyne to Roan ward, vith the said vitaille for the refresching of us and our said hoost." The royal request was cheerfully welcomed, and the city of London hasted to send "Tritty botes of swete wyne, ten of Tyre, ten of Romency, ten of Malvesey, and a thousand pipes of ale and bere, with three thousand and five hundred coppes for your hoost to drinke"—a "bote" being about 126 gallons. At the very moment when all this good cheer reached the thirsty Englishmen, the first pinch of hunger came upon the men of Rouen, as, one by one, their last communications were cut off. Their attacks upon the enemy became more frequent and more desperate every day. With artillery, with every weapon they could scrape together, obsolete or not, they kept a continual hail of missiles on the English camp, especially harassing the quarters of the Duke of Gloucester, absolutely preventing the King's soldiers from ever approaching near enough to mine their walls, and giving not an hour of rest to the English army.
But Henry V. was too wise to waste a man. After he had cut off every avenue of help or hope, he sat quite still and waited, for he knew that death and disease were on his side, and that against inevitable starvation no city in the world could stand for long. The horror of this long-drawn agony was now and then relieved by such single combats between the lines as that when Laghen beat the Englishman who had challenged him before the gate of Caux, or by the hanging of a new French prisoner in the English lines and the retaliation of an execution on the walls of Rouen. But rations were growing pitifully small now, and another effort was made to get help from the King and the Duke of Burgundy. A messenger got through the lines and brought the stern warning of the citizens to those who had abandoned them. For Rouen cried "Haro!" before the throne, and gave notice to the princes that if she was compelled to surrender to the English, there would be no bitterer enemy of the Crown than the capital of Normandy. They got the usual promises, and every bell in Rouen (save the captive "Rouvel") rang to welcome the good tidings of the messenger on his return. But nothing happened, and both at Alencon and at Pont de l'Arche the English King was easily able to put off the negotiations which were the only sign of help that Rouen got from Paris.
And now famine itself began to grip the citizens by the throat. The Register of the Cathedral Chapterhouse shows signs of scarcity of food only three weeks after the siege began, for fines are then imposed in loaves of bread. Then the bread usually distributed was given up, and money substituted. The last entry stops short in the middle of a pathetic sentence ... "parce que, dans le necessite du present siege, le pain ..." and it was not until the gates were opened that a clerk was found strong enough to go on writing. By the end of September all the meat had disappeared, every horse and every donkey had been eaten, and wheaten bread was sold at a sovereign a loaf. The horrors of starvation need not any further be revealed; but by the first days of December they had a peculiarly terrible result. To save their own lives, and keep enough miserable fodder for the soldiers to stand upright behind the walls, the burgesses of Rouen had to turn out of the town all the refugees who had fled for safety to her walls from other cities taken by the English. Some fifteen thousand of them, men, women and children, tottered out of the gates and made feebly for the English lines. The chronicler himself was moved to pity: "Have ye pitee hem upone" he cries to the English King, "and yeve hem leve thens to gone"; but when they tried to pass through they found a row of pikes as pitiless as the shut gates of Rouen behind. Beneath the chill December sky these famishing spectres had to take refuge in the open ditch below the ramparts of the town. Without any shelter, ragged, defenceless, and feeding only on roots and bitter grass, grubbed from the war-scarred ground, they perished in hundreds every night, they died by the chance missiles of one side or the other, they went mad and hurled themselves into the watch-fires of the English. From the walls above, a priest sometimes would lean down with a blessing, or draw up an infant newly born into all this misery, baptise it, and lower it again to die; but never a crumb of bread came out of starving Rouen. The Canon de Livet, whose stout heart no horror of the siege could break, was almost overcome at this last infamy of fate; and standing high upon the ramparts he cursed the English army, and pronounced the anathema of excommunication against its king.
The citizens made one more attempt to break through that inflexible ring of death. Ten thousand of the strongest men who could still carry arms were picked out from the garrison, and every atom of eatable substance in the town was swept and scraped together to give them such a pittance as was grimly supposed to sustain them for two days. Two thousand of them dashed out of the Porte St. Hilaire and feverishly made for the headquarters of the King. Their very desperation sent them momentary victory, but their movement was only intended as a blind to the main attack arranged from the castle gate, behind which eight thousand undaunted skeletons rattled in their armour and prepared to deliver their last blow for freedom. Their front ranks were already past the moat, and the weight of their main column was upon the bridge, when suddenly the massive timbers groaned beneath them, and some thousand men-at-arms fell down into the ditch beneath. Cut off from their own men, those who had already passed were shot down at leisure by the English, while the ditch was filled with maimed and dead. Those who had not had time to cross were obliged to make a circuit and try to give assistance to their isolated friends outside by way of the Porte Bouvreuil further to the north and east. The miserable heroes who had attacked the royal camp were only got back into the town with fearful loss. To the discouragement of the failure was added the bitter suspicion of treason, for the great beams of the bridge were found to have been half sawn through. Their despair was accentuated by the death of the brave Laghen, who had at last succumbed to the fatigues of fighting without proper food.
At the imminent peril of their lives, but preferring death in the open to the starvation of rats in a hole, four nobles and four burgesses got through the English lines once more, with a last appeal to the Duke of Burgundy and the King, roundly denying all allegiance to them if no attempt to help were made. The Duke himself was base enough to answer that on the fourth day after Christmas help would come, and this though he must have known that there was no real chance of succour. But with a pitiable confidence in their leaders the envoys dragged themselves back to Rouen and bade the garrison hold out only for another fifteen days, and then they should be rescued. To men already starving we can scarce imagine what the delay of another fortnight meant. It was drawing near to Christmas. From the English camp two priests were seen advancing towards those phantoms of still visible humanity that stretched their fleshless arms to heaven from the city moat. The King was sending food and drink to them for the love of Him whose birth was celebrated on the morrow. The miserable creatures ate and drank with hideous cries that brought the starving garrison to the walls to watch them; but they only gained the strength to suffer pain a little longer, for the next day the English lines closed up again and no more food was to be had.
One more bitter disappointment the citizens were destined to suffer before the end came. From the right bank of the Seine two Norman nobles, Jacques d'Harcourt and the Sire de Moreuil attempted to draw the English into an ambuscade. They had only two thousand men, but they might well have created sufficient diversion to render a victorious sally possible from the city, for the English imagined it was the royal army of rescue come at last. But the eager watchers from the walls of Rouen had the mortification of seeing their compatriots put to flight by a far smaller body of the enemy, and their last hope faded like dew before the sun. Then the fateful twenty-ninth of December came, and went, without a sign of royal or Burgundian help. For two more miserable days the citizens waited in vain, and not till fifty thousand persons had died of famine did they think of surrender. Their walls were still intact, their hearts as stout as ever, but starvation began to make irreparable breaches where the enemy's artillery had been of no avail. So on the eve of New Year's Day, the envoys chosen by the meeting in the Hotel de Ville, went out to parley with the English.
They wandered in vain from one camp to another, until they were obliged to cross over to St. Sever, and there they found Sir Gilbert d'Umfreville, whose Norman lineage perhaps made him kinder than the rest. He was at last prevailed upon to take them on the second day of the year, a Monday, into the presence of the King. Though every hour meant a prolonging of their torture, the ambassadors fought foot by foot the conditions of surrender and calmly argued every sentence of the treaty with that Norman love of litigation which now rose to its highest and most impassioned point. In the great hall of the Chartreuse de la Rose, they saw the cold, impassive, handsome countenance of the young English King, with that touch of sadness on it that foretold his early death, and the detached nobility of manner which fitted a King who had exhausted every pleasure before he took, and worthily wielded, the responsibilities of power.
[Footnote 42: The prophetic word "Jamais" was in the device upon the tapestry above him.]
The first request of the ambassadors was for the succour of the poor outcasts in the moat all round the town. But Henry only announced his firm resolve to take Rouen and all its citizens and to make those who had opposed his will "remember me until the Day of Judgment." At last an armistice of two or three days was granted, and on the third of January a solemn meeting of the picked ambassadors of either side took place between the Chartreuse and the Porte St. Hilaire, where all the splendour of the English noblemen's caparisons and furniture was displayed, and the starving commissioners from Rouen made the bravest show they could beneath the Fleurs de Lys of France. Close to all this magnificence was the yet living horror of the moat, which was now almost filled up with dead. From time to time the heap of rags and withered anatomies heaved slowly, and the little spectre of a child crawled out, imploring food. And all day long the solemn arguments went on beneath the sumptuous pavilions of the English, until, after three days of discussion, the ambassadors of Rouen went back, unsatisfied, into their city.
"We askid mykille," says the poet, "they proferid smal, That is yuelle to accorde with alle. Tho thay tretid an xiiij nyzt And zit accorde they ne myzt."