Before he left the city, he could have seen the exquisite little shrine of St. Maclou in all the fresh untainted delicacy of its first achievement. "The eldest daughter of the Archbishop of Rouen," this marvellous church was the result of one perfect and harmonious plan, and inasmuch as the design of its originator has been faithfully completed, it is far more of an architectural unity than its larger rivals, the Cathedral or St. Ouen. Of these three either one would make the reputation of an English town alone, and the jewelled chiselling and admirable proportions of the smallest of them make a fitting complement to the heavy splendour of the Cathedral on the one hand, and to the dizzy altitudes of the Abbey on the other.
The first Maclou, as may be imagined, was a Scotchman. He fled to Brittany, became Bishop of Aleth, and died in the Saintonge in 561. Ever since the tenth century a shrine had been erected to his memory outside the earliest walls of Rouen, in that morass which gives its name to the Rue Malpalu in front of the present church. Twice burnt and twice rebuilt, it became a parish church within the walls by 1250. A larger building was soon necessary; even during the miseries of the English Occupation it was determined to make the new church worthy of the town that already held the Cathedral and part of St. Ouen; and before 1500 indulgences had been granted by Hugues, the Archbishop, by Cardinal d'Estouteville, and by twenty Cardinals of Rome, to raise sufficient sums of money. In 1437 Pierre Robin, one of the royal architects from Paris, was paid 43 livres 10 sols for a plan and work that must have been begun some eighteen months previously with stone quarried in Val des Leux and Vernon. In 1470 Ambroise Harel was "Maitre de l'oeuvre," and in 1480 the same Jacques le Roux finished it who worked in the Cathedral. Of individual bequests that of Jean de Grenouville, who was buried in the Chapelle de la St. Vierge in 1466, gave most help. From 1432, when the irreparable ruin of the old church was first recognised, until 1514, the accounts for only seven years have been preserved. In 1520 the spire of wood and lead above Gringoire's lantern was placed on Martin Duperrois' platform, to which a man might ascend without the help of any ladder. In 1735 this was removed, and in 1795 the lead was melted into bullets, and the six bells of 1529 were recast into cannon. In 1868 M. Barthelemy erected the stone Pyramid 83 metres high to hold the fine new bells.
[Footnote 58: M. de Beaurepaire has collected a few other names connected with the building. It was first dedicated when Arthur Fillon was the vicar, who was a friend of Cardinal d'Amboise and afterwards Bishop of Senlis. After the disappearance of Pierre Robin, the first architect mentioned, another stranger called Oudin de Mantes is given control, with lodgings provided for him in the Rue du Bac. In 1446 Simon Lenoir of Rouen (who took Berneval's place under the English) worked at this church.]
The famous carved doors have been attributed to Jean Goujon, though there is only one figure (the "Caritas" on the left panel of the central porch) that I can believe to be his own workmanship. In all the idea of plan is much the same. There are two divisions, of which the lower contains the "practicable entrance," and is guarded by a caryatid on each side supporting two male figures. Along the lintel runs a line of brackets alternating with cherubs' heads supporting seven figures, four males in high relief with three females in low relief behind them. These figures in turn carry a square panel, carved in high relief above them, representing different scenes on each door, chiefly suggested by the story of the Good Shepherd which is so appropriate to the staple industry of the town. They were begun by 1527 and finished before 1560. Jean Goujon was born in 1520, and was killed during the Massacre of St. Bartholomew while carving on the Louvre. In 1540 he is known to have been at Rouen, and in the next year he worked both here and in the Cathedral. So that he may well have given the design for what he did not personally execute, though no documents exist to prove either.
But if the doors are a trifle disappointing, though only so because of their great reputation, they certainly did not deserve to be mutilated by the Huguenots in 1562; and in 1793 when a barrelmaker's child was slashing the heads of the statues with an axe, the crowd could think of no better comment than "Celui-la sera un fameux patriote!" Of the facade they were intended to adorn, which was probably the work of Ambroise Harel, I have already spoken in describing the exactly reverse plan of the original west front of St. Ouen. It is one of the most delightful tours de force I know in architecture, and when Miss James was drawing for me the frontispiece which adorns this volume, she pointed out that the idea of the curve had been deliberately emphasised to the spectator's eye by building the side porches narrower, and crowning them with lower crests than is the case in the central entrance. The central tympanum represents the Last Judgment, with the Pelican above it that typifies the Resurrection. You may appreciate at once the delicate tracery of lacework in stone which covers this exterior and also the affection felt for its beauties by their guardians, if you will examine the model laboriously built up in wood and paper by an old vicar in the sixteenth century. His ten years of loving toil have been preserved in the Musee des Antiquites, and few better proofs exist of contemporary appreciation of the fine arts.
The interior is scarcely less interesting, though it has suffered very much from modern religiosity. Only forty-seven and a half metres long, by scarcely twenty-five in width, its height is nearly twenty-three metres in the three bays of the nave, rising to thirty-nine at the lantern. Its greatest treasure now is the exquisite Escalier des Orgues, from which the staircase to the organ loft at Ely was imitated. This was built in 1519 for two hundred and five livres by Pierre Gringoire, "Maistre Machon de Rouen." In examining more closely that fragment of it, of which a plaster cast has been made for the Musee du Trocadero in Paris, I could not help being struck with the general resemblance of its plan to the more famous staircase which adorns the exterior of the wing of Francis I. at the great chateau of Blois in Touraine, which was built almost at the same time, from the designs (as I have attempted to prove elsewhere) of Leonardo da Vinci, and was decorated later on with statues by Jean Goujon. This sculptor was only born the year after St. Maclou's staircase was finished, but the main lines of the structure are so suggestive of the earlier work that I cannot but imagine this fine piece of French Renaissance to be a deliberate copy, by a master strong enough to retain his own originality of treatment, of the main design that appears in the courtyard of Blois.
Not all the churches of which Rouen is so full can boast even that measure of preservation which storm and time and the more devastating hands of man have spared to the three noblest of her religious monuments. Of St. Andre, for instance, only the tower remains, that stands alone above the Rue Jeanne d'Arc, like the Tour St. Jacques in Paris, as an admirable specimen of the later Gothic architecture. A still finer relic of an older past is that old church of St. Pierre du Chastel, which is now turned into a stable and coach-house at No. 41 Rue Nationale. Unless you look for it, you will miss altogether the great statue of David and his harp, which is the one massive decoration of its strong and simple tower, and the carvings which may still be traced through the neglect and mutilation of centuries upon its western door. More degraded still, to even baser uses, is the Church of St. Cande le Jeune, which has become some kind of an electric manufactory, and may now be chiefly traced by the huge chimney which obstructs the sky as you look up the Impasse Petit Salut towards the Tour de Beurre of the Cathedral. Just opposite the entrance to the public library is another instance of barbarous neglect: the Church of St. Laurent. Once used as a magazine of shops of every kind, sometimes a lost home for decrepit carriages, sometimes a drying-house for laundry-women, these exquisite ruins of Renaissance architecture have at last been rescued by the civic authorities, if not from evident decay, at any rate from further mutilation. The tower alone—but one among so many in Rouen—would be the proudest possession of many a larger English town. The balustrade is decorated by a pattern of letters, which pathetically express their hope of better treatment in the battered legend: "Post Tenebras Spero Lucem."
Close to these eloquent ruins is a church that has had a somewhat better fate, for if St. Godard has been rather roughly treated, the beauty of its stained-glass windows has saved it from absolute destruction. In the chapel of St. Peter, due east at the end of the north aisle, is the great window that was made in 1555 to represent St. Romain, who is shown at the top, on the left hand, dragging the Gargouille of Rouen to destruction with his sacred stole (see p. 39). Lower down, on the right, you must look at the King seated in his royal chair, and the hounds at play before him on the carpet. In the south aisle the corresponding window to the east has a tree of Jesse in its upper part, and beneath is one of the finest examples of sixteenth century painting in Rouen, work that reminds you of the work of Rembrandt. Of these five figures of old men, the last two on the right are especially worthy of attentive study. They were done in 1535. To the right of this window in the same chapel, looking southwards, is another fine window of about the same date, said to be copied from a design by Raphael and his school, of the life and genealogy of the Blessed Virgin; but it is not so strong or original in treatment as the last. Beneath it are two kneeling figures carved upon the tomb of the family of Bec de Lievre.
In the Rue Jeanne d'Arc is another church, St. Vincent, that must be visited. I have spoken already of the little labourer in tunic and breeches, with a sack of salt upon his back, who stands upon the outside of the buttress to the south of the choir, and looks towards the river. It commemorates the fact that, by letters patent delivered by Charles VI. in 1409, the church (which was then much nearer to the river) was allowed to take toll of every cargo of salt which came into the port, a privilege which was exchanged in 1649 for an annual payment of 140 livres. Begun in 1511—or, as some say, 1480—after the plans of Guillaume Touchet, St. Vincent certainly comes after St. Maclou in order of merit. Its choir alone is a magnificent specimen of the architectural possibilities of the smaller churches, and must have been finished before 1530, when Touchet's supervision ended. The splendid flamboyant western porch is not shown in Lelieur's plan of 1525, and was probably a later addition. The name of Ambroise Harel has also been connected with the work, but I have been unable to satisfy myself of the exact portions for which he may have been responsible.
It is chiefly admired, and wrongly so to my mind, for the treasures of its interior. These consist not merely in the wonderful series of sixteenth century tapestries, of which M. Paul Lafond has published a detailed description, but in the stained-glass windows, of which the most celebrated represents the ass of St. Anthony of Padua kneeling before the Holy Sacrament. The design is taken, it is said, from a drawing of Duerer, to whom also is ascribed the original suggestion for the window at the west end of the first aisle, of the Virgin and Apostles. North of the choir is an interesting glass-painting of the buildings of Rouen.
But slightly west of the northern end of the same street you will find windows in the Church of St. Patrice which I think infinitely preferable, of their kind, to those which are the especial pride of St. Vincent. They are very justly placed in the first class of the "monuments historiques" de France. As you enter the transept, turn due south, and the first window on your right is the "Woman taken in Adultery," which was moved here from the old church of St. Godard. The inscription on it is "Honorable homme maitre Nicole Leroux licentie es loix advocant et Marie Bunel sa feme ont donne ceste vitreau moys de may lan de grace 1549 priez dieu pour eulx." In the right hand corner you may see the good William praying with his son behind him, and his wife in black is further off to the left with her six daughters behind her, two of them in "cramoisy taffetas, trimmed with northern peltry." In the Chapel of the Virgin in the north transept, the left hand window of the three over the altar depicts the life of St. Fiacre and St. Firmin, and was put up in 1540 in the days when Pierre Deforestier was in office, and Francois Baudoin was prevot. Of the three you see when looking due north, the farthest to the right in the transept was placed there in 1583, "a l'honneur du grand roy des roys de St. Louis roy de France;" the middle window shows St. Eustace suffering martyrdom in the brazen bull which is being heated red hot, while above St. Hubert meets his miraculous stag. The farthest window to the left is dated 1538; it is the best, and Jean Cousin has been suggested as its designer. The donor prays in the right hand corner, and his wife with a daughter behind her is in the left. A well-drawn figure of an angel announces his message to the Blessed Virgin who is reading, and in the middle of the composition, near the bottom, lies a corpse in a winding-sheet.
The large window at the extreme end of the north aisle is also very fine. At the top is a woman in a car triumphing. Below, on the left, are Adam and Eve. Next to them is the Devil, and Death, whose swarthy skin is wrapped in a winding-sheet that seems to belly in the blasts of Hell. The story of Job that is painted in the first window on the left in the north aisle, also came from old St. Godard. And all this wealth of stained glass is shown off wonderfully well in a church that is not too large to lose its full effect, and is planned with only a few light columns in the interior to impede the view of all of them from the centre of the nave.
To three other of the many ecclesiastical buildings of Rouen can I direct you before closing this Chapter of Churches with the Cathedral that is mother of them all: St. Eloi, St. Vivien, and the Abbaye de St. Amand. As you walk northwards from the river into the town up the Rue St. Eloi, the church from which it takes its name shows a fine south door that closes the perspective of the street. The design of the west entrance is bold and good, but the queerly mathematical plan of the Rose window above it, with its three triangles crossing in the circle, has not a very happy effect. The church now is little but the ruins of what was once a magnificent building and is used as the "Protestant Temple." The whole of the Place St. Eloi is worthy of a closer inspection than can be gained by merely walking through it, which you will be tempted to do at much too fast a pace on learning that the Rue du Panneret at its north-east angle leads directly to the Maison Bourgtheroulde in the Place de la Pucelle. Another characteristic little square is the Place St. Vivien which cuts the Rue Eau de Robec in two portions. If you are lucky enough to be there on a twenty-ninth of August you will see the famous Fete St. Vivien in full blast, with booths and merry-go-rounds, and travelling theatres, even a "Theatre Garric a 8 heures, Nouveau Spectacle!" But do not go on into the further recesses of the Eau de Robec without looking at the church, and give your keenest glances to the fine square tower with its octagonal spire that is classed among the Monuments Historiques. Of the ancient Abbaye de St. Amand there is perhaps less left than of any of the ecclesiastical buildings in this chapter. Its origin has been described already (see p. 71), and the gable with its buttressed wall that you can see best in the Rue St. Amand from the Place des Carmes are almost the only stones remaining of an institution that once took a very prominent part in the ecclesiastical ceremonies of Rouen.
For when an Archbishop died, the Abbess of St. Amand took from his dead finger, as the funeral procession passed her gates, the ring that she had placed upon it at his installation. On the 19th of July 1493, that ring still shone upon the hand of Robert de Croixmare, whose corpse had just been brought into the Cathedral choir, arrayed in state, with mitre on head, and crosier in hand, with all his robes of office on him. That night the bier rested in the Abbey of St. Ouen, and as it passed the Abbey of St. Amand on its way back to burial, the Abbess must have wondered, as she claimed her ring, on whom she would bestow it next. The canons of the Cathedral were even more hasty in their eagerness to settle the important question, and the body of their late superior had been scarcely laid in state within their choir before they were deliberating in the Chapterhouse about his probable successor. As a mere matter of form—and we know how tenacious were these canons of their rights and usages—they had sent word to the King that the election of the next Archbishop was proceeding; and their dismayed astonishment may be imagined when a message came from Charles VIII. that he "neither admitted nor denied their privilege to re-elect."
The King was not long in enlightening his faithful subjects as to his wishes in the matter. Georges d'Amboise, Archbishop of Narbonne, and lieutenant to his friend Louis of Orleans in the Governorship of Normandy, was clearly pointed out as the royal candidate, without any room for misunderstanding. The Duke of Orleans himself joined in the "request" that savoured far too much of a command for ecclesiastical independence. As if this were not enough, messengers from the Court arrived post-haste; Baudricourt, a Marshal of France, no less; Jean du Vergier, a financial officer of the town; and M. de Clerieu, the royal chamberlain; all these actually arrived to "negotiate" (presumptuous word!) with the free and independent Chapterhouse. In great perplexity were both the canons and the town officials, upon whom commands, no less imperative, had also been laid; for the Chapterhouse would naturally not hear one single word from the civic officials on the subject of their election, and even to the royal messengers they would only reply that, at the election-day, some three weeks hence, "His Majesty should have no just cause for complaint."
Three weeks, however, gave them time for profitable reflections. When next the royal messengers appeared in the Chapterhouse, in the persons of the President of the Parliament of Paris, and the Grand Seneschal de Breze, their reception was not so chilling as before. Every preacher in the town had exhorted his congregation to pray that God would direct their proper choice. The revered shrine of St. Romain, that Fierte which represented the proudest token of ecclesiastical liberty, had been borne in solemn procession round the town. Public sentiment had been intensely agitated by the unwonted course events had taken. On the fateful 21st of August the Cathedral was packed with hundreds of the faithful, eager to be first to hear the decision of the canons. By three o'clock the ten bells of the Cathedral had summoned the canons to the matins which preceded the election that was to release the Church from widowhood, and give to Rouen a new archbishop. At last the Chapter assembled, the doors were shut, and every avenue to the Chapterhouse was strictly guarded. At the last moment an aged canon, rising from his death-bed to exercise his most cherished privilege, tottered into the assembly to select a friend to vote for him, and went back to die.
Suddenly the door of the Chapterhouse opened again, and Etienne Tuvache the Chancellor uttered in a loud voice his last summons to all those who had the right to vote that they should forthwith enter. When it had closed again—for there was no reply—the solemn oath was administered to every canon that he would rightly and reverently choose the candidate he honestly thought best. Any excommunicated person was warned to retire, and Masselin the Dean began his exhortation on the importance of their choice. When he had finished, all save the electors themselves withdrew, and on the flagged floor of the Chapterhouse the canons knelt to the singing of the "Veni Creator," and prayed for inspiration. Suddenly all leapt to their feet at once with one united shout of "Georges d'Amboise shall be Archbishop!"
At once the great bells rang out to the town that the election had been made, while within the Cathedral every wall re-echoed with the shouts of "Noel, Noel!" as the people heard that Georges d'Amboise had been elected. A few days afterwards a still larger throng assembled in the Parvis to watch the great ecclesiastic of their choice advance on bare feet from the Church of St. Herbland and receive the episcopal ring from the Abbess of St. Amand, with the words, "Messire, je le donne a vous vivant, vous me le rendrez mort." As he came nearer to the western gates, Masselin, the "Grand Doyen," formally presented to him the Cathedral, and received his promise of loyalty and honest government, sworn on the books of the evangelists, and not till then did Georges d'Amboise mount his episcopal chair and give his first blessing to the people of Rouen as their Archbishop.
How well he fulfilled his vow, there are many things in Rouen to this day to tell, and the blessing that he gave his congregation was not limited to things spiritual and unseen. His splendid public benefactions in regulating the water-supply of the town have been already noticed, and may be better realised in Lelieur's careful drawings. His Cathedral remembers him by her western facade, by the rich balustrades around the choir, now vanished, by numerous costly shrines and jewels in the Tresor, by that Tour de Beurre which held "Georges d'Amboise" the greatest bell outside of Russia, that every outlying parish could hear, by the magnificent building which future archbishops justly called their palace. And the Province of which he became governor when Louis d'Orleans rose to be Louis XII., "avec le titre effrayant de reformateur-general," owed him the blessings of peace from brigandage and prosperity in commerce; owed him, better than all, the firm and permanent establishment of the Courts of Justice. By all these, and more, he worthily has won the right to be considered by far the strongest and ablest Archbishop Rouen ever had. After his election, his nephew, the second Georges d'Amboise, was the only other primate the Chapterhouse was ever permitted to elect. The tomb of both is in the Chapelle de la Vierge of the Cathedral.
[Footnote 59: The name is said to have arisen from the fact that it was chiefly built by the fines paid by those of the faithful who ate butter during Lent.]
I have but too short space or time wherein to tell you more of the interior of that great edifice, whose building I described when Philip Augustus made Normandy a part of France. But out of the multitude of interests that will stay your every step beneath its arches, there are a few things I must point out now, and leave the most famous of its tombs till later.
As you enter by the western door, turn southwards into the Chapelle St. Etienne beneath the Tour de Beurre. The second monumental stone on the right is in memory of Nicole Gibouin, and it is one of the most exquisitely drawn faces that you will see in all Rouen. This face and both hands are incised in white marble, the rest of the body and dress is indicated by red lines cut lightly in the stone. At his feet lies a dog holding a bone. After this, there is scarcely a monument worth looking at that can elude your notice; but as my business is to omit the obvious and point out the beauties which might escape unwarned attention, I shall direct you straightway to the choir, and more particularly to the carved oak stalls. The seats, as is usually the case, turn up to form an additional rest for priests who had to stand through long and numerous services, and upon these under surfaces (called misericordes) is an extraordinary series of carvings which you must look at, every one.
They were made between the years of 1457 and 1469, and are in part owing to the munificence of Cardinal Guillaume d'Estouteville. The stalls as a whole are much deteriorated from their originally perfect beauty. The work at Amiens will suggest how much of the stalls of Rouen has been lost or wantonly mutilated. Without the Archbishop's throne, which has been replaced by a heavy modern structure, the whole eighty-eight, of which two have disappeared, cost 6961 livres to make, and the greater part of the figures were done by Pol Mosselmen (whose Flemish name was a terrible puzzle to mediaeval scribes) and Francois Trubert. Two other Flemish carvers, Laurens Hisbre and Gillet Duchastel, occur in the complete list of eleven sculptors who were paid by the piece as recorded in the Chapterhouse accounts. The designs were made by Philippot Viart, "maistre huchier" de Rouen, who received 5 sous 10 deniers a day for his work, and employed workmen so nearly his equals in skill that they got from 4s. 6d. to 5s. for their time. The names of the sixteen "carpenters" he had with him are all preserved with the weekly account of their payments; and though most of the work of the Flemish "sculptors" on the larger statues has entirely disappeared, the more modest position of the little carvings beneath the seats has probably saved them; and these are the work, as I believe to be most probable, of the Rouen "carpenters" whom Philippot Viart collected.
Their names are very ordinary ones; such as Eustache, Baudichon, Lefevre, Fontaine, Lemarie, and the like; and their work is nearly all dedicated to perpetuating either those arts and crafts of Rouen with which they would be most familiar, or subjects similar to the medallions on the north and south portals which I have already shown to be the stock-in-trade of the mediaeval workman. Many of the misericordes indeed are no doubt taken from the stone-work outside. As you turn one seat after another to the light, the life and habits and costume of four hundred years ago stand clear before you. There are the musicians with their cymbals, drums, and stringed instruments; the wool-combers with their teasels; the sheep-shearers and cloth-makers; the cobblers and leather-sellers and patten-makers; the barbers and surgeons; the schoolmaster with his pupils; the carver at work upon a stall; the mason chiselling a Gothic arch or modelling a statue; the blacksmith, the carpenter, the shepherd, the fisherman, the gardener in his vineyard, the midwife, the chemist at work among his test-tubes and alembics, the chambermaid cleaning up her rooms.
Besides these records of the different trades, in one of the confreries of which every workman on these stalls must have been a member, there are many subjects more fanciful or grotesque which urged the sculptor's chisel to its work. Harpies and sirens and lions with human faces; Melusina's gracious body ending in a serpent's tail; all the characters of the famous "Fete des Fous" to the very "Abbe des Cornards" himself; all the strange beasts of travellers' tales, and many a dream from vanishing mythologies. Ever since pagan times, the custom of disguising the dancing worshipper in a more or less hideous mask, had steadily persisted in certain of the more licentious festivals, and the riotous horseplay of the Middle Ages was the direct descendant of the Saturnalia of Rome. Too often, as I have pointed out before, the churches themselves were the scene of these abuses, which took the form not merely of bestial travesties, but of diabolical disguises in which Satan and his imps were represented with all the vigour of an intensely imaginative age. These were some of the sources of the grotesque carvings. For they were not symbolical. When they did not represent a concrete fact seen by the sculptor, they essayed to represent a composite thought by clapping together two forms suggesting opposite qualities, and leaving the gap in their union to be supplied by the spectator. That gap in continuity is very noticeable in every real "grotesque."
[Footnote 60: For the beginning of these confreries, see chapter v. p. 85.]
The "Lai d'Aristote," which occurred in the exterior carvings, is repeated here on the misericorde which is the ninth of the top row on the southern side. The gay young lady seated upon Aristotle's back wears the high two-horned headdress of the fifteenth century, and a long closely-fitting gown, with the open bodice that was the mark of the oldest profession in the world. She is controlling the philosopher with a bridle and a most murderous-looking bit between his teeth. I have already explained that Socrates and Xantippe are by no means intended here, and that the tale is represented of the downfall of Aristotle in his attempts to prove to Alexander the Great how easily the charms of woman might be resisted. The subject seems to have tickled the Middle Ages immensely, and was especially likely to be popular in Normandy, where Henry d'Andelys, the author of the poem called "Lai d'Aristote," was born. A very similar tale of the gallant adventures of the poet Virgil occupied one of the lost stalls of this Cathedral, and in St. Pierre de Caen both were represented among the carvings of the church.
There is one more tomb that you must see—among the things that may most easily be omitted—before you end a visit to the Cathedral, that is meant to remind you of what is usually forgotten. It is the small monument in the Chapelle de la Vierge, opposite the great tomb of the d'Amboises, and next to the magnificent sepulchre on which Diane de Poitiers mourns for her lost husband. It is generally passed over because its neighbour's grandeur overshadows it, and it has very little left to show its value except the beautifully sculptured canopy and the exquisite carvings and initials on the columns at the side. This is the tomb of Pierre de Breze, Seneschal of Normandy, who married Jeanne de Bec Crespin, with a dowry of 90,000 crowns; and it is he who entered Rouen with the King of France in November 1449, when the English occupation ceased. He was a brave soldier and a bold adventurer, both then and afterwards. In 1457, filibustering on the English coast, he captured Sandwich and took a heavy ransom for the port. Six years afterwards Louis XI. sent him across the channel again to fight on the side of Margaret of Anjou. In the war of the League of Public Weal, he stayed loyal to his master, and was killed by the rebels at Montlhery in 1465. "Pierre de Breze tomba au premier rang," writes Commines, "de la mort des braves. Le premier homme qui y mourut ce fut luy." The friend of Dunois and Xaintrailles could have had no better end. But it is more with the official than the man that I have here to do.
The Seneschal of Normandy is an official who is found already at the Court of the Norman dukes when the province was independent. In the matter of justice and finance, he held supreme power next to his sovereign, and is called "La Justice de Normandie" by Wace. He also presided at meetings of the Echiquier de Normandie in both his capacities, and it is known that such men as Odo of Bayeux and William Fitzosbern held this honourable office. With the arrival of Philip Augustus in Normandy, the office falls into abeyance until the English appeared in the fifteenth century with the Burgundian motto of freedom for the people, and restoration of the ancient liberties of government. The English officials were determined to carry out their projects thoroughly, and when once they were fixed firmly in Rouen they began to look through the old charters of Normandy to see what ancient liberties they could restore. The Grand Seneschal of the Norman dukes (who had also been English kings) was soon discovered, and his office was promptly revived, and given in turn to Richard Wideville, William Oldhall, and Thomas, Lord Scales. The title these men had held as soldiers, with no idea of using it in its legal or financial sense, Charles VII. continued, on his return to power, as a suitable recompense for the services such favourites as de Breze had rendered him in his campaigns, and the sounding name of Grand Seneschal of Normandy henceforth entirely eclipsed the humbler title of Captain of the Garrison of Rouen.
In 1457 de Breze was exercising the original functions of the office in the Echiquier. Six years before, as the commissary of the King in place of Dunois, he had brought before the Assembly of the Province the vital questions of the confirmation of the Charte aux Normands, of the installation of a special financial machinery for the Province, and other measures necessary at the resumption of authority by the French. Though he fell temporarily into disfavour with Louis XI., and was obliged to consent to the marriage of his son Jacques with Charlotte, daughter of Charles VII. and Agnes Sorel, he resumed his post of Grand Seneschal on returning from his wars in England, and died in office.
His son Jacques de Breze, Comte de Maulevrier, inherited the same distinction; but having killed his wife, whose birth had shown its unfortunate effects too soon in flagrant infidelity, he was in turn disgraced and fined, but in turn was also reinstated. His son Louis de Breze was given the apparently imperishable family heirloom of the office of Grand Seneschal in August 1490, and the great seal of the Senechaussee of Normandy was henceforth his coat of arms. More of a soldier and a courtier than a man of law or of finance, this de Breze left the duties of his office to a numerous staff, whose names have been preserved in the registers of Rouen. He married first Catherine de Dreux, "dame d'Esneval," and left his brother-in-law in charge of the duties of his office, when he left it. During this period it was that Cardinal d'Amboise organised the Supreme Court of the Echiquier de Normandie (of which Antoine Bohier, Abbe of St. Ouen, was a member), in the last years of Charles VIII., which, when the Duc d'Orleans became Louis XII., was to blossom into the Perpetual Echiquier in the new "Palais de Justice."
The organisation of this court did away with any practical necessity for a Grand Seneschal, but Louis de Breze was still allowed to keep the honour of the title, and even to take a seat in the court, which was soon to be called the "Parlement de Normandie" by Francois Premier. Louis de Breze's second wife was the famous Diane de Poitiers, who called herself "La Grande Seneschale" until she died, and who put up the magnificent tomb in alabaster and black marble which has preserved her husband's memory ever since his death in 1531, long after the "Palais de Justice" had been built to carry on for ever those legal functions which had once been a portion of the duties of his office.
'Or ca'—nous dit Grippeminaud, au milieu de ses Chats-fourrez—'par Stix, puisqu' autre chose ne veux dire, or ca, je te monstreray, or ca, que meilleur te seroit estre tombe entre les pattes de Lucifer, or ca, et de tous les Diables, or ca, qu'entre nos gryphes, or ca; les vois-tu bien? Or ca, malautru, nous allegues tu innocence, or ca, comme chose digne d'eschapper nos tortures? Or ca, nos Loix sont comme toile d'araignes; le grand Diable vous y chantera Messe, or ca'.
To appreciate what was involved by the building of the famous "Palais de Justice," which is perhaps the greatest pride of Rouen, I must needs bring before you a little more of the social life which made a court of law and justice necessary; and I can make no better beginning than by quoting again, from the Record of the Fierte St. Romain, those instances after 1448 which throw the greatest light upon the manners and customs of the years when the Echiquier de Rouen first became a permanent assembly in its own House.
In 1453 occurs an entry which suggests that the modern idiot who plays with a loaded revolver and shoots his friend "by accident" has been in existence ever since deadly weapons were invented. A carpenter named Guillaume le Bouvier drew his bow at a bird which was sitting on a tree-top. The arrow glanced off a bough, rebounded from a stone, and killed the son of the Sieur de Savary. Twenty-two years before, a woman had been killed by a bolt from a crossbow in almost the same way, and in 1457 a boy was shot by his brother in an exactly similar manner. In 1474 Bardin Lavalloys provided another particularly unfortunate example during a game which was in great favour at Christmas time, and consisted in throwing sticks at a goose which was tied by the leg to a tall pole. Jehan Baqueler missed his shot, and hit poor Lavalloys on the temple. A more serious weapon, the "couleuvrine," a long thin cannon, was responsible for an accidental death in 1476. Guillaume Bezet had made a bet that he could shoot at a gate better than his friends. His aim missed, and he killed a man sitting by a hedge not far off. A case that is still more instructive of the manners of the time occurred in 1475. Guillaume Morin, who was apparently making the best of his last chance of a good meal before Lent, had gone to feast with some neighbours on Shrove Tuesday, and when they had finished the beef, he threw the bone out of the window. It happened to be an especially large and heavy bone, and unluckily his little daughter of seven was just that moment returning from the tavern with more wine for the company. It fell upon her head from some distance and killed her. Another curious sidelight is thrown on fifteenth century society by the record of the next year. During a wedding-breakfast in Rouen Pierre Rogart upset the mustard-pot over M. Gossent's clothes. They quarrelled, the other guests took sides, swords were drawn, and the prime offender's nephew ran a man through; a crime for which the canons pardoned him.
But these are rather of the nature of the modern "manslaughter." The "crime passionel" and the downright murder of malice aforethought, are even more frequent. In 1466 Catherine Leseigneur was scolded and even threatened with a beating while in bed by her mother-in-law. In a sudden passion she snatched up a large stone and killed the other woman with it. How a stone large and heavy enough for the purpose happened to be in a bedroom we are not told, but it is quite easily explained in the case of Jehan Vauquelin, who was annoyed while working in the fields by Lucas le Febure in 1471, and killed him with the weapon that is as old as the first murder in recorded history, and seems to have been rather favoured in the fifteenth century. The year 1473 is only notable because Etienne Bandribosc was delivered by the Chapter contrary to the expressed wish of Louis XI., after he had killed a man who had insulted him. But in 1483 the element of romance appears again. A priest called Robert Clerot, with a sword beneath his cloak, was accustomed to pester with his attentions a pretty seamstress in the parish of St. Eloi. Her legitimate lover interfered, and, when the priest drew his sword, called in help and killed him with his dagger. Twice more in this period is a "couturiere" the heroine of the Fierte. In the very next year Denise de Gouy, whose previous history is not pleasant reading, took service with a citizen of Rouen, and by means of false keys provided by her lover, robbed her employer of a considerable quantity of linen, using her special knowledge to pick and choose the best. She only escaped being hanged with her paramour by being about to give birth to a child, and was finally pardoned by the Chapterhouse. In 1492 a dressmaker was far less fortunate. She was unable to satisfy a lady as to the fit of her stays, and this angry customer, whose name was Marie Mansel, gave her so shrewd a blow with her fist that the poor little dressmaker died in a week. The canons apparently so sympathised with the annoyances of a badly fitting corset, that they gave Marie Mansel her freedom. But the episode has its value in showing that the modern muscular female is not so new an apparition as she fancies. Tradesmen did not always get the worst of it, however, in such disputes as these; for in 1525 a butcher complained bitterly that his hair had been cut too short, in a barber's shop near St. Ouen. The mistake so preyed upon his mind that when he met the barber next day he smote him on the head and ran away into the cemetery of St. Ouen. But Nicolas Courtil pursued him valiantly, armed only with the instruments of his calling, and finally killed the butcher by stabbing him in the neck with a pair of scissors.
Priests are almost as interesting as the ladies in this extraordinary record. In 1520 a curate from Marcilly hired Germain Rou for two sovereigns to hide a baby in a chalk-pit, and then fled to Rome. The cries of the child were heard two days afterwards by some travellers, and Germain Rou, condemned to have his hand cut off and then be hanged, was pardoned. In 1535 an even more flagrant crime is registered against an ecclesiastic. Louis de Houdetot, a subdeacon, had been so successful in his courtship of Madame Tilleren, that the lady's husband sent her out of the town to her father's house. But this did not stop the priest from continuing to visit her, and while M. Tilleren was in Rouen news was brought him that Houdetot had actually beaten M. de Catheville's servants in trying to get into the house. This was too much; so Tilleren "took a corselet of beaten iron (hallecrest) and a crossbow with a long bolt, and took a companion, named Justin, armed with a helmet and a long-handled axe, with five or six others." The gang, who evidently meant to make sure of their man, met Houdetot in a street in Rouen; Tilleren fired his crossbow on sight and shot him through the body; a piece of summary justice which evidently appealed to the Canons of the Cathedral, in spite of the fact that the sufferer was an ecclesiastic.
But in 1501 a gallant priest intervened in the most creditable manner, and without any bloodshed, in a love-affair that should set all our promising young historical novelists by the ears to tell it afresh. There was a certain Jean de Boissey who was much in love with Marie de Martainville. Her mother was not averse to a wedding, but the father refused entirely. Luckily for Jean he was on excellent terms with the lady's cousins, Philippe and Thomas de Martainville; so the three friends with Pierre de Garsalle and other youthful sympathisers betook them to the Abbey of St. Pierre-sur-Dives to talk it over. Jean found an ally he could have hardly expected within the Abbey walls, for Nicolle de Garsalle, a relation of one of his comrades and a brother of the House, asked them all to stay to supper with him, and before the porter let them out again he had arranged a plan for carrying off the lady. The young men were delighted with this jovial monk's suggestions, and the next morning the whole company met again with seven or eight more ardent blades, and entered straightway into the Manor where the lovely Marie dwelt. Cousin Philippe stayed outside and kept watch at the drawbridge. In a short time—after adventures which are discreetly concealed—Jean and his friends came out with the lady, and the whole party made off to Caulde, where the betrothal was solemnised. The next day they rode to Cambremer, and the happy pair were married, "le sieur de Boissey," says the manuscript, "espousa sa fiancee sans bans," and no doubt Brother Nicolle de Garsalle helped to tie the knot. No less than sixteen persons being implicated in the capital charge of abduction which followed, you may imagine how lively the Procession of the Fierte was that year, and the cheers of the populace as Jean de Boissey (begarlanded with roses, as all the prisoners were) moved along, no doubt with Marie on his arm, and the sturdy monk walked behind him from the Place de la Basse Vieille Tour to the Cathedral. The de Martainvilles gave the Chapter a large Turquoise set in gold, in token of their gratitude, and the gem was at once placed upon the shrine to whose sanctity they owed deliverance.
Few stories have either so romantic a beginning or so fortunate an end, in this record of the Fierte; but the large number of prisoners then released has its parallel, is even surpassed indeed, on two occasions soon afterwards; for in 1522 the whole parish of the village of Etrepagny received the Fierte as accomplices of a young ruffian called de Maistreville; though considering that his victim was one of their own women, their ardent support of the man against all the officers of justice is somewhat inexplicable. In 1560, when another whole village was pardoned, their sympathy with a fellow-labourer who killed a servant of the Overlord is more easily intelligible. But nearly all of the most prominent cases have a woman at the bottom of them. One that is especially instructive as to the morals and the manners of the public occurred in 1524.
Antoine de la Morissiere, Sieur de la Carbonnet, had, it seems, insulted Mademoiselle d'Ailly, and beaten her so badly that she died a short time afterwards with five of her ribs broken. So Etienne le Monnier, her relation, resolved to avenge her, and took out a warrant against the ruffian who had killed her. Desiring to make quite sure that justice should not miscarry, he took some fifty gentlemen, all armed, and accompanied the police-sergeant to the man's house. They found de la Morissiere in a somewhat compromising position, and he did not reply to their request for admittance. Le Monnier, determined to get him out, set fire to the roof in four places. The fellow then cried out that he would surrender, and trusting to the presence of an officer of the law he came down. Le Monnier at once wounded him in the chest with a long pike, and two other relations of Mademoiselle d'Ailly hit him over the head with clubs, "so that he fell to the ground as one dead." But le Monnier, seeing that he still showed signs of life, drove his dagger into his throat and finished him off. Two accomplices were actually hanged for this crime, but de Monnier, after paying 1200 livres to the dead man's family, and being unsuccessful in securing the royal pardon, was given the Fierte with the rest of his friends by the Chapterhouse of Rouen.
[Footnote 61: In the words of the manuscript the man "estoit couche avec une femme mariee, autre que la sienne."]
Of the morality of those days you must imagine something from these instances. There are many more with which I have neither space nor inclination to shock susceptibilities more delicate than were those of a Cathedral Chapterhouse in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The tale of Jehanne Dantot, for instance, in 1489, is one of the most astonishing stories of the lengths to which desperation and wickedness can drive a woman that I have ever read. A queer glimpse of the economy of certain households is provided by the record of 1534. Pierre Letellier married the daughter of Maitre Houeel, and by a clause in the marriage-settlement it was arranged that the father-in-law should board and lodge the young couple for three years. They had not lived in the house long before they were scandalised by the immoral behaviour of the old man, and Pierre naturally quarrelled with him about it. The ill-feeling between the two men came to a climax one night when young Letellier had been supping in the town, and coming back late found that his father-in-law had bolted the door. At length his wife heard his knocks, and as soon as she had let him in he roundly abused the servants for keeping him so long upon the doorstep. The old man at once appeared on the scene, without much in the way of clothing, it would appear, but waving a stout club called a "marcus." With this he beat Pierre about the head and shoulders until the young man lost patience and killed his father-in-law with his dagger or "sang de dey."
The taverns were of course as frequent a source of crime then as they are now. But the fashion of wearing swords has made a drunken brawl less fatal. The records of the Fierte might very well be used as a dictionary of offensive weapons from the number of swords, daggers, maces, rapiers, clubs, and pikes their pages contain from year to year. It was at the double game of rapier and dagger that Marquet Dubosc wiped off old scores after a quarrel at the Sign of the Cauldron, near the Church of St. Michel, in 1502. He had been playing dice with a man named Chouquet, and in the quarrel that followed about payment, Chouquet had too many friends to be attacked safely. So Dubosc waited till the next day, gathered a few companions of his own, and killed his man in the woods near Croisset.
In 1511 the Chapterhouse records a tavern brawl that was settled on the spot. There had been some dispute about a woman between Le Monnier, a king's officer, and Jehan Canu, a lacquey. This man deliberately chose out a few others to help him in the business, and then went to drink at the "Barge," in the Rue Eau de Robec, on a night when he knew Le Monnier would come there to supper. The officer actually took the next table, and in a few moments swords were drawn, and Le Monnier was killed. Why Canu and his nine accomplices were pardoned is one of the mysteries of the Fierte which I suppose no one will ever be able to unravel.
If this somewhat dismal catalogue of crimes has not yet fully acquainted you with the state of society with which the "Palais de Justice" was first built to deal, the shortest glance at some of the sentences inflicted upon criminals who were not fortunate enough to bear the Fierte will be sufficient to show that the judges were almost as far behind our modern notions of propriety as were their prisoners. And it must be remembered that the criminals I have just mentioned are far from being the worst of those brought up before the Courts of Rouen; they are indeed those persons picked out by the assembled body of trained ecclesiastics in the Cathedral Chapterhouse as worthy to escape from the horrors which a sentence in the fifteenth or sixteenth century involved.
What these sentences were may be gathered from such examples as the following. In 1506 a man surprised picking pockets in the Court-room was taken into the great open space before the entrance and soundly flogged upon the spot. Few men escaped so fortunately. Assassins nearly always suffered the loss of a limb before the final mercy of hanging. In the same year several women, convicted of false testimony and spreading scandals, were stripped naked and beaten with rods in all the squares of Rouen. A thief suffered the same punishment; his ear was then cut off, and he was banished from France with a rope round his neck. On the 19th of March a miserable prisoner was drowned in boiling water by a sentence of the Bailly confirmed in the higher courts. In 1507 a murderer was hanged in front of his victim's house. In 1513 a highway robber had his right arm cut off and placed on a column by the roadside near the scene of his theft, his head was then placed opposite to it, and the mutilated body hung upon a gibbet close by. Forgers had a fleur de lys branded on their foreheads. Sacrilege was punished by burning the criminal in chains over a slow fire. Some burglars, in the same year, had their hands cut off, their arms pulled out with red-hot pincers, and were finally beheaded and cut in pieces. The next year some wretched coiners were boiled alive. Infanticides were burnt. Other crimes were punished by searing the tongue with red-hot iron, or by breaking the prisoner alive upon the wheel, and leaving him to die without food or water. A parricide was condemned to this, with still more hideous tortures added, in 1557. In 1524 a criminal nearly escaped his sentence altogether because his jailor's daughter fell in love with him, and asked the Court to be allowed to marry him. The question of sanctuary came up very often, as may be imagined, and only by very slow degrees were the privileges of the holy places taken from them.
Though many of these punishments hardly seem to recognise the humanity of the victim, the privilege of confession to a priest had been allowed to prisoners condemned to death ever since 1397, at the instance of a famous preacher named Jean Houard, in years when even more barbarous tortures were still practised, though the strength of sanctuaries was, as some compensation, at its height. Judicial ideas, however, took a long time to become civilised; for in 1408 a pig was solemnly hanged for having killed a little child. The invention of printing no doubt did some good in this direction, and by 1490 the first printer in Rouen, Martin Morin, was established in the Rue St. Lo, close by the spot where the lawcourts soon appeared. Lest you should think that the Palais de Justice of sixteenth century Rouen was even worse than the terrible chapters in Rabelais would lead his readers to imagine, I must tell you here the story of an advocate of Rouen that may in part make up for the gruesome pages which precede it.
[Footnote 62: Mr Gosse records in his "Modern English Literature" that it was a citizen of Rouen (Andrew Miller by name) who introduced printing into Scotland in 1507.]
The Parliament of Normandy, as the Echiquier was called in 1558, had assembled in the Palais de Justice on the morning of the 26th of August, to discuss a case which involved the interpretation, if not the actual integrity, of the famous code known as the "Grand Coutumier de Normandie"; and representatives of every court had been summoned to the hearing. A certain burgess of Rouen, Guillaume Laurent by name, convicted of murder, had had his hand cut off before the west facade of the Cathedral, and was then beheaded in the Vieux Marche. His goods and property had, as a matter of course, been confiscated by the State. His destitute orphans went to live with their grandfather, who soon died of grief. The terrible spectacle then followed of this old man's daughter trying to drive the children out of the house, because they could inherit nothing from a murderer. "Aulcun" ran the law, "qui soit engendre de sang damne ne peut avoir, comme hoir, aulcune succession d'heritage." Against this clear decree the magistrates were powerless to help the orphans, indignant as they were at the inhumanity of their aunt. But the children appealed to the Higher Court. A brilliant advocate, Bretignieres by name, had decided to oppose the "Coutumier" on their behalf, and the mass of people who had thronged the Parvis to see the father punished now crowded the Palais de Justice to see the children saved.
The Court assembled more slowly to hear his arguments, with the President St. Anthot at their head, a strong, wise, and enlightened man, after Bretignieres' own heart. The advocate waited for the supporter of the law to open his case. The precedents went back to Ogier the Dane, to Ragnar, to Rollo the founder of the town itself, who strove to put down the crime of murder by extending the punishment beyond the criminal himself to his descendants, and thus appealing to the paternal instincts of the rough warriors they had to rule.
Bretignieres rose suddenly from his seat, crying that in Normandy alone was this inhuman decree allowed, that Rome herself had never dared to stain the statute book with such a penalty. The extension of the punishment to the children, far from proving a deterrent, actually encouraged these hopeless and destitute orphans to exist by crime, since every avenue of honest livelihood was barred to them. Deprived of all their father had possessed, they saw their relations in the enjoyment of an increased inheritance. Ruined by punishment for a crime in which they had had no share, they saw the prosperity of others increased by the operations of an unjust law, a law that might have served the turn of a more barbarous people, but which was now far more the relic of an ancient ignorance than a symbol of modern enlightenment. In an age when the judicial combat of the old code had been abolished with the trial by fire, the changing customs and growing ideas of the people in the rest of Normandy were not likely to preserve a custom so inhuman as that which the Court of Rouen alone still exercised.
Amid a scene of intense excitement, as Bretignieres ceased, all the king's officers in every other court in Normandy stood up, and in answer to the President, asserted that the law had never been carried out under their jurisdiction. It remained only for the President St. Anthot to withdraw with his judges, and, as the Sovereign Senate of the Province, not merely to interpret law, but to make it. There was a long pause before they returned into the great hall, this time all dressed in their red robes bound with ermine. In the solemn silence that ensued, St. Anthot declared the law null and void from disusage, restored the children to the inheritance of Guillaume Laurent, and reinstated them in the house from which their aunt had driven them.
The people rushed into the courtyard carrying the orphans with them, and while the barristers were congratulating Bretignieres, his little clients were borne on the shoulders of a cheering mob through the streets of Rouen to their home; and from that day ceased the cruel law known as the "Arret du Sang Damne."
It was in the hope, no doubt, that benefits of this nature would be conferred upon the Province, that the great Cardinal d'Amboise and Louis XII. made the Echiquier de Normandie perpetual, and gave it the great Palais de Justice in Rouen for its home. During the English occupation the damage done to the Chateau de Bouvreuil had necessitated moving the Easter sessions of the Echiquier to the archbishop's lodgings in 1423, and on five subsequent occasions the Court (composed half of English and half of Frenchmen) had to hold its sittings in that part of the halls (on the Place de la Vieille Tour), where the weavers usually carried on their commerce. By the time of Louis XII. the Chateau de Bouvreuil was in better repair, but it was evident that worthier quarters were needed the moment Cardinal d'Amboise had obtained the immense advantage of making the courts perpetual. Its new home was soon decided upon. Already on part of the Clos des Juifs a large common hall had been erected, in which the merchants gathered to discuss their business instead of using the nave of the Cathedral; and in 1499 this hall was made into the west wing of the new palace, and called first the Salle des Procureurs, and now the Salle des Pas Perdus; it is the great building on the left of the courtyard as you enter from the Rue aux Juifs. Its roof is like the upturned hull of some great ocean-galley, and all round the timbers, where the upper line of walls meets the vault above, a company of queer grotesques are carved which Rabelais himself might have suggested. You will notice especially the twisted spire upon the outward turret that overhangs the Rue aux Juifs, the broad sweep of the entrance stairway, and the admirable proportions of the arch above it. At the south end used to be the beautiful little chapel in which the Messe Rouge was sung for the "Rentree de la St. Martin," and in which St. Romain's chosen prisoner knelt before he went out to the procession of the Fierte. Beneath are the prisons and dungeons of the High Court of Rouen. This is the building that Louis XII. ordered to be set up, and into which he transferred the Echiquier from the Chateau de Rouen on the 11th of March, 1511; the first "Messe Rouge" was sung here to celebrate that opening, and the custom is preserved to this day.
In 1508 Louis XII. established in his new palace the jurisdiction known as that of the "Table de Marbre," because the Cathedral Chapterhouse sold for the use of this new Admiralty Court an old marble tomb, round which the members sat in the great hall. Corneille and his father were both officers of this jurisdiction later on. In the same year was begun the "Grand Chambre" in which the President held his High Court, called now the Cour d'Assises, and decorated with a magnificently carved ceiling in panels of polished wood. It is just behind that octagonal turret which juts from the centre of the main building exactly opposite the entrance from the Rue aux Juifs. Within this turret is the lovely little circular chamber which was reserved for the King's own use. Its beautiful proportions break the symmetry of the long front wall, yet are clasped to the building by the cornice whence the line of gargoyles spring; and in the same way the long and steep rise of the roof is broken up by the crests above each window that rise into the air in a pinnacled tracery of fretwork filled with carved arabesques and statues. Among them are the arms of France, supported by two stags, a memorial of the badge used by Charles VI. according to the story told by de la Mer. It is this central block of buildings that contains most of the original work of Roger Ango and Rouland Leroux. The wing on the right of the entrance from the Rue aux Juifs is modern, and though that part of the left wing which faces the courtyard is old, the facade upon the Rue Jeanne d'Arc at the Place Verdrel was rebuilt in 1842. The courtyard was originally enclosed by a fine crenulated wall like that round the Hotel de Cluny in Paris. This has been replaced by a badly designed iron railing. But as a civic building, in spite of its railing and its new Cour d' Appel, the Palais de Justice remains the finest of its kind in Europe, and is superior to the Hotel de Ville both of Brussels and of Louvain.
Of many famous ceremonies were these great Halls the scene after Louis XII. had built them. In the next reign Francis I. held a solemn "Lit de Justice" here, in order to do at Rouen as he had done at Paris, and ask the Parliament of Normandy to register the Concordat which Duprat, Boisy, and others in his suite had helped to frame. His entry into the city had been especially brilliant, not only because the King himself desired to impress the occasion on his faithful subjects, but because in the first prosperous years of a reign that seemed so full of promise, the citizens of Rouen were even readier than usual to give the loyal reception to their sovereign for which the town was famous. The officers and councillors of the city were clad in velvet, and the burgesses in camlet and satin, and all were very anxious indeed to see the King, and get what was possible out of the visit. The Italian victories, brilliant as they were, had not been without their expense to Rouen as to every other town in France, not in money merely but in the caring for hundreds of disbanded soldiers. Besides this the especial privileges of the city had to be upheld and confirmed, and particularly those appeals from the maritime courts which were settled by the jurisdiction of the "Table de Marbre."
Those who were inclined to pessimism were reminded that at Lyons, at Amboise, at Paris, and at Compiegne, Francis had already favourably received the representations of the town, and had even told them: "Si vous avez este bien traictez par mes predecesseurs, j'entens et veux vous traicter encore mieux." So that when the King had reached the Priory of Grandmont, the deputies sent out to meet him were in excellent spirits. They were de Breze, Captain of the Town and Grand Seneschal; the Bailli, Jean de la Barre; the President of the Financial Court, Jean Auber; and the President of Parliament, Jean de Brinon. By three o'clock these gentlemen joined the royal cortege and advanced towards Rouen itself, being met at the bridge by the Town Councillors bearing above the King's head a great and spacious canopy of cloth of gold, the highest mark of honour that the town could render.
Before His Majesty rode the "Grand Ecuyer," Galeas de Severin, bearing the sword of state on a great white horse. On his right was Cardinal de Boisy, brother of Admiral Bonivet, and on his left Cardinal Antoine Bohier, the nephew of Chancellor Duprat. Next to the King was Monsieur d'Alencon, whose powers as Lieutenant-Governor of Normandy were wielded by d'Amboise during his absence at the Italian wars. Behind him came Charles de Bourbon the Constable, who was to die as a rebel in Rome two years later. With them were John Stuart, Duke of Albany, nephew of James III. of Scotland; the Comte de St. Pol; Louis de la Tremouille, the most brilliant knight of his time; Maximilian Sforza, the eldest son of that Il Moro who had been imprisoned in the dungeons of Loches; Jacques de Chabannes; Anne de Montmorency, who had been one of the King's playfellows and grew up into the sternest Constable France ever had; Guillaume, Sieur de St. Vallier, the father of Diane de Poitiers, who also learnt the horrors of Loches for his share in Bourbon's wild conspiracy; the second Georges d'Amboise, himself Archbishop of Rouen, with their Lordships of Lisieux, Avranches, Evreux, and Paris; Antoine Duprat, the Chancellor; and Florimond Robertet, the King's Treasurer, whose house is still at Blois.
Men were thinking little of the future of this brilliant company as they passed through Rouen in the summer sunshine, and even on the south side of the river the welcoming pageantry began. For at the first "theatre" the King beheld a great Fleur de Lys, which opened and slowly displayed three damsels representing the virtues of His Majesty, of the Queen, and of Madame la Regente. The stream itself, on each side of the bridge, was gay with the flags and sails of every craft along the quays. Beyond it was a group of Titans, thunderstruck by Jupiter amid the stupor of the other gods in a dismayed Olympus. The next stage showed Theseus welcomed by Thalia, Euphrosyne and Aglaia, who led the hero to Pallas to receive from her the shield of Prudence, and take his place among the starry divinities. Need it be added that both Jupiter and Theseus were the King? Within the cemetery of St. Ouen three martial monks were storming the semblance of a guarded tower. At the Ponts de Robec appeared a wondrous similitude of the sky upheld by Hercules and Atlas, in the midst whereof disported a bellicose and most lively salamander, slaying a bull and a bear, in graceful reference to the victory of the Marignano, with this astonishing quatrain:—
"La Salamandre en vertu singuliere Lors estaignit l'horrible feu de Mars Quant au grant ours emporta la baniere Et du thoreau rompit cornes et dardz."
At the Parvis Notre Dame appeared the image of a marvellous great horse, rearing up his forefeet into the air, on which sat the effigy of the King, of so natural a mould that breath alone was wanting to its life, an ostentatious decoration which was done, say the Town Accounts with some pride, "pour ancunement ensuyvir et emuler le triumphe des Romains." All the streets were hung with gaily-coloured cloths, and tapestries fell gracefully in glowing folds from every window. All the church-doors, opened to the widest, displayed their ornaments and shrines in bewildering profusion. All the church bells, which had their signal from "Georges d'Amboise" and "Marie d'Estouteville" in the Cathedral, were ringing lustily. And at last, his official reception over, Francois I. was able to go to the lodgings prepared for him in the palace of the Archbishop. Neither he nor any of his suite were allowed to forget the welcome of the Town; for, after the Chapterhouse had presented their traditional and proper loaves of bread and wine, His Majesty was offered a great golden salamander ("assise sur une terrasse," whatever that may mean) by the Town, who must have wished that they had got off as easily as the canons; for, in addition to this, the councillors gave to the Queen a golden cup, to Louise de Savoie a pair of silver-gilt goblets, to Princess Marguerite a silver-gilt image of St. Francis, to M. de Boisy two great ewers and basins, to Chancellor Du Prat six silver "hanaps" and five great dishes, all richly gilt. And no doubt both gifts and recipients had been carefully chosen with a view to securing an impartial consideration for the claims made by the Town.
On the next afternoon, from the Priory of Bonne Nouvelle, rode in Queen Claude, dressed in a white robe of cloth of silver, on a white hackney, with Louise de Savoie, her mother-in-law, on one side, and Marguerite d'Alencon (afterwards Queen of Navarre) upon the other. And for the Queen was prepared at the Portail des Libraires a special "theatre," wherein was represented a garden, and the Virgin Mary clad all in white damask, with a lamb beside her, feeding upon grapes and rosebuds, at which the clever Princess Marguerite must have laughed almost as much as at the clumsy quatrains. Every prisoner in the dungeon of the new "Palais de Justice" and in every prison of the town was set free, except three especially "bad cases," who were hurried to Louviers before Francis reached Rouen, and brought back to Rouen when he had got to Louviers. As a contrast to this unfortunate greediness of the law, it is recorded that many persons hastened to confess their crimes, got imprisoned just before he arrived, and were joyfully delivered at his entry, all of which satisfied justice in 1517 very thoroughly indeed.
Some substantial results soon began to reward the Town and the Chapterhouse for all their loyalty, in the subscription of 10,000 livres from His Majesty (in yearly instalments) to the Cathedral Fund for restoring the central spire which had just been burnt. Most of what the Town Councillors desired was also granted. So that everybody was thoroughly well satisfied with the royal visit, and some little choir-boys were so fascinated with the royal escort that when the King went to Louviers and Gaillon, these little runaways marched off with Lautrec's troops, and I regret to relate that the priests caught them at the next halt, and not only soundly flogged the truants, but took away all their holidays as well.
But it must not be thought that the King had come to Rouen merely to delight his subjects with the sun of his presence and the favours of his consent. He had certain business of his own to transact, of a financial nature; and for raising the various sums he needed, both for personal and patriotic reasons, there was already in existence certain financial machinery which was housed in very fair quarters in Rouen. Two of the most beautiful of the sixteenth century buildings have to do with finance. One of them is the "Bureau des Finances" (as its latest title ran), opposite the Cathedral at the corner of the Rue Ampere; the other is the "Cour des Comptes," whose Eastern facade and courtyard has just been opened to the Rue des Carmes, north-west of the Tour St. Romain.
With the first of these the same King had to do who built the "Palais de Justice." It was during his visit in 1508 that Louis XII., shocked with the narrow crowded streets all round the Parvis, destroyed the various money-changers' hovels, and ordered the building of a "Hotel des Generaux de Finance" on the spot where these had stood. The Church of St. Herbland was only just finished at the corner of the Rue de la Grosse Horloge, and in 1510, Thomas Bohier asked the canons to allow a hut to be built in the Parvis for the convenience of his masons, just as the Church had done. In 1512 the neighbouring citizens petitioned the Chapterhouse that this hut should be removed. It was between these dates, therefore, that Rouland le Roux, whose work on the Cathedral facade you will remember (p. 130), began the building of this exquisite house. It was certainly completed by 1541, and was probably used some time before that date.
Mutilated and degraded to base uses as this fine piece of French Renaissance has now become, it is still possible to realise what Le Roux first built; and in his heavy cornice I cannot help imagining a suggestion of Italian feeling made by that same King whose wars in Italy had given him a sense of proportion and of beauty that may be seen again in his desire to clear the surroundings of the Cathedral, an idea quite contrary to French mediaeval notions, and in his spacious plans for the great Palace of the Law. Be that as it may, nothing could well be more appropriate than the whole decoration of this corner house. Before shops had invaded its ground-floor, and advertisements had defaced the exquisite line of carvings just above, the Rez de chaussee had seven low arcades whose pilasters and windows were carved with medallions, candelabra, and "grotesques" in low relief. Over the vaulted entrance was the shield of France, borne by the Porcupines of Louis XII. Above this is an "entresol" of tiny circular windows alternating with medallions of crowns held up by genii. The next storey has seven windows with beautifully carved pilasters. It is far better preserved than the rest, but the two niches have lost their statues, and a corbelled tower was destroyed in 1827, when shops were first put in.
The first General des Finances for Normandy was Thomas Bohier, whose fortunes I have traced at his Chateau of Chenonceaux in Touraine. He was as unfortunate as every other great financier of these centuries, and though his end was less ignominious than the disgracefully unjust punishment which Louise de Savoie inflicted on his relation, Jacques de Beaune Semblancay, his life was scarcely less troubled; and after leaving his bones in Italy with so many of the best of Francois' courtiers, he bequeathed little but embarrassment to his son, and Diane de Poitiers took his chateau. His office in Rouen he held from 1494, in the town where his brother Antoine had done so much for St. Ouen. Indeed every one of these "Surintendants," even to Fouquet of more modern memory, is associated either personally or indirectly with so much of the beautiful in architecture and art that posterity has almost forgiven them mistakes which were due more to the regime they lived under than to their own shortcomings.
After 1587 the prisons of the Hotel des Generaux were changed from the ordinary criminal cells to separate dungeons in the Rue du Petit Salut, where I have fancied I could still trace them in the gloomy cells at the back of No. 13 Rue Ampere, which tradition assigns to the "Filles Repenties" of the eighteenth century. In 1554 the Hotel des Generaux was called Cour des Aides, and by the changes of 1705 it was joined to the Cour des Comptes in the Rue des Carmes, and the new Bureau des Finances took the house in the Parvis I have just described, which still preserves its name. In the general destruction of 1796 the house was sold to a private owner.
The second Financial building you must see is the Cour des Comptes, whose courtyard opens on the Rue des Carmes, with another entrance on the Rue des Quatre Vents. This was originally the property of M. Rome, Sieur de Fresquiennes and Baron du Bec Crespin, who received there the Duc de Joyeuse, Governor of Normandy. The large square which originally composed it was built about 1525, and its beauty may be imagined from the eastern facade and the southern wing (containing the Chapel) which still remain. On this eastern front, the two stages above the ground-floor are of equal height, each with six windows, separated by pilasters of several different orders, decorated with capitals and candelabras and groups of mythological subjects, such as Mars, Venus, the Muses, and various instruments. The south wing is built in four round-arched arcades with flat Corinthian pilasters, three of which are in the nave of the Chapel, and two in its Sanctuary. The second floor has square windows.
[Footnote 63: This clearance was effected in August 1897, and Miss James took advantage of it to make her drawing from a point of view which has been invisible for centuries and may soon be lost again.]
What Rouen had asked from Charles VII. a century before she only obtained when Francis I. gave her a Cour des Comptes separate from the Financial Committee in Paris; but the boon was scarcely appreciated when it was discovered that the King not only levied taxes on local merchandise to pay his new judges, but also made quite a good thing out of selling the offices to the highest bidder. In 1580 the need of this Court began to be felt again, in a town which possessed its own High Court of Justice, suitably housed, and also its Financial Bureau in the Parvis. But all receivers of taxes had to go to Paris to settle their accounts, so had all proprietors of fiefs, all men who wished to register their letters of naturalisation, nobility, exemption, or enfranchisement, and many others. So in December of that year the Sieur de Bourdemy, then President of Parliament, established a separate Cour des Comptes at Rouen, modelled upon the Court in Paris, and held its first meetings in the Priory of St. Lo. In 1589 the house just described in the Rue des Carmes was bought by Tanneguy le Veneur for eight thousand crowns, and the arcaded wing was consecrated as a chapel in 1593. In 1790 it was swept away like every similar organisation in France, and to the fact that it was probably forgotten and built over, we owe the preservation even of what little still remains.
Before you leave the atmosphere of Finance and Justice, which in this chapter I have striven to realise for you round those monuments that alone recall the spirit of the age which built them, there is one more tale of Justice in Rouen which may perhaps leave a more charitable impression of the Palais de Justice and its officials. It has been told before by Etienne Pasquier, but it will bear translation (and even shortening) for an English audience. In the days when Laurent Bigot de Thibermesnil was first King's Advocate in the Parliament of Normandy, one of those brilliant intellects of which the sixteenth century was so full, it chanced that a merchant of Lucca, who had lived long and prosperously in England, desired to come home and die in Italy. So he wrote to his relations to prepare a house for him in six months' time, and started from England with his servant, carrying his money and bonds with him. On his way to Paris he was known to have stopped at Rouen, but he was never heard of again.
His servant, however, appeared in Paris, cashed his master's papers, and returned. Meanwhile the family at Lucca waited for a whole year and heard nothing. At last they sent a messenger for news to London, who was told that the merchant was known to have started for Rouen, and traces of the man were also found at the hotel in Rouen, where he had lodged before setting out for Paris. Then all searches and inquiries proved useless; the merchant seemed to have vanished into thin air; and in despair the messenger applied for help to the High Court in the Palais de Justice of Rouen. An officer was at once appointed to conduct investigations in the town, while Laurent Bigot searched for evidence outside. The first thing the officer found out was that a new shop had been started in Rouen soon after Zambelli the Italian had disappeared. He at once determined to examine its owner, who was a stranger in the town, named Francois; and with this object he had him arrested on a trumped-up charge and put in custody. On his way to prison the man denied the charge, but asked, "Is there anything else you have against me?" The officer at once went a little further, and taking the prisoner apart he roundly charged him with having robbed and murdered Zambelli, but intimated at the same time that "the matter might be arranged quietly."
Francois evidently imagined this to be a hint that a bribe might not be unsuccessful, and admitted that his crime must have been discovered, but by what miracle he could not understand, for he had been alone at the time. However, when he was asked to swear to this, he withdrew hastily, recognising his mistake. The officer then remanded him, and searched for further evidence. Bigot meanwhile had been making inquiries all along the road from Rouen to Paris, until at Argenteuil he found a Bailly who had held an inquest over a dead body found among the vineyards. While Bigot was taking a copy of the minutes of this inquest, a blind man came up to the hotel where he was lodged asking for alms, and, as he listened to their conversation, asserted that he had heard a man crying out on the slopes above Argenteuil, and that when he had tried to find out what was happening, a second voice had told him it was a sick man in pain, and he had therefore gone on his way thinking no more about it.
Bigot took him back to Rouen forthwith, and made him give the same story on oath before a justice, with the addition that he would certainly be able to recognise the second of the two voices he had heard. The new shopkeeper, Francois, was then brought into Court, and after twenty other men had spoken, the blind man picked out his voice among them all, as that which had spoken to him on the slopes above Argenteuil. The test was repeated again and again, and invariably the blind man picked out the same voice. Francois, who had weakened visibly as each test proved successful, at last fell on his knees and confessed that he had murdered his master and taken the papers to Paris; and the Court immediately condemned him to be broken on the wheel.
I have been able to suggest but a very few of the thoughts which the Palais de Justice of Rouen should arouse in you; and of many points in its history I have no space to tell; as of the "Clercs de l'Echiquier" called the "Basoche," a merry company established in 1430, and enlivening the records of the law for many centuries afterwards, as you will see at the visit of Henri II. But after all, the main impression is a very sombre one. The bitter sarcasms of Rabelais are but too well founded. Mediaeval justice was almost as terrible as mediaeval crime, and both were followed only too frequently by death. For these old judges let no money go, however prodigal they were of life and suffering; they scarcely ever let a prisoner go who had once got into the grim machinery of their courts; and any miserable victim who was once cast into one of their many dungeons must have welcomed his release from lingering agony in death.
Sedentes in tenebris et in umbra mortis, vinctos in mendicitate.
... Comme sur un drap noir Sur la tristesse immense et sombre Le blanc squelette se fait voir.... ... Des cercueils leve le couvercle Avec ses bras aux os pointus, Dessine ses cotes en cercle Et rit de son large rictus.
The artist who first truly understood the rendering of light is also the workman whose shadows are the deepest in every scene he drew. If I were to leave you with an impression of the sixteenth century either in Rouen or elsewhere—that was composed of gorgeous ceremonial, of exquisite architecture, of superabundant energy and life, and of these only, you would neither appreciate the many influences which wrought upon the men and women of those days, nor estimate at their true worth the changing events, on which we now look back in the large perspective of so many generations. And in that strange century the sorrow and the pain of a world in travail are as evident as its joy. The feverish excitement with which it grasped at life and pleasure is counterbalanced, and explained by the ever-present horror of death in its most ghastly forms.
When a fact of this eternal and natural significance is once frankly recognised and bravely faced, men do not think much about it afterwards, and say less. In the ages when the greatest of the cathedrals were built the personification of death is practically unknown. Archaeologists may imagine they discover it; but I shall never believe that a single carving of it existed before the close of the fifteenth century. Life they knew, not only in all its varied forms, but as the soul. Sin they knew, and carved not merely in the full shame of the act but in the person of the father of sin, the devil, bat-winged and taloned, hovering over his prey on earth, or driving his victims after death into gaping Hellmouth where his torturers awaited them. But it was only when printing excited men's imaginations, when the first discovery of the ancient classics roused their emulation and stimulated their unrest, when the Renaissance in art increased their eagerness to express their thoughts and multiplied their methods of expression, when the Reformation turned their conscience to the latter end and to the unseen world—only at such a time of speculation and disquiet did Death himself appear, personified and hideously exultant. The waters were troubled and the slime beneath them came up to the surface. Instead of the bold imaginations of God or man or beast which the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries knew, you find a crowd of tiny imps and monkeys, like the verminous throng upon the Portail des Marmousets at St. Ouen; the higher forms of creation disappeared before the presence of the Arch-Enemy.
There arose not only a great contempt for the value of human life, but a gross familiarity with death. The poor man, dying in his unregarded thousands, clutched to his starved heart the one consolation that the rich could not escape contagion. To the judge upon his bench, to the queen in her palace, to the cardinal in his state, to the king at his high festival, to the very Pope himself, death came as unerringly as to the ploughman sweating in his furrow. And the rich made haste to enjoy the little time they had. The best of that old life which remains to us is its buildings. From them and from the carvings on them we can imagine the fruitful, busy, breeding existence of that hurrying sixteenth century. Painters and sculptors worked as in a frenzy, covering canvas by the acre and striking whole armies of statues into serried ranks of stone. Men fought with swords that weaker generations can with difficulty flourish in the air; they wore armour that would make a cart-horse stagger. Quarrels, duels, riots, rapes, drinking-bouts, gallantries, and murders followed one another in a hot succession that takes away the breath of modern strait-laced commentators. Life that came easily into the world was spent as recklessly, and blood flowed as plentifully as wine. Rough horseplay and rude practical joking were of the essence of humorous courtliness. Immense processions filled with life and colour, jesting at everything sacred or profane, crowded with symbols decent and indecent, made up the sum of public happiness. Close at men's elbow lay the heavy hand of a merciless and blood-stained law. Once beneath the power of "Justice" the miserable prisoner had little hope of escaping before the legal Juggernaut had crushed him, and he was lucky who died quickest at the executioner's hands. The very criminals themselves sinned in a more stupendous fashion than they have had the courage to do since.
If I have not wearied you with quotations from the record of the Fierte St. Romain, I will pick out but two more instances in this century to show you that I do not speak without book at Rouen. In 1516, Nicolas de la Rue, whose sister had been married in Guernsey, discovered her in an intrigue with the commandant's son, and slew them both with one stroke of his sword. Thereon the commandant of the island called out 120 foot-soldiers, but De la Rue armed the crew of his vessel, drove them off, killed two with his own hand and sailed away to Normandy. There he fell desperately in love with a lady near Surville-sur-Mer, and taking his men with him carried her off from the Chateau de Commare. After keeping her with him for some time under promise of marriage, he captured an English vessel on the high seas after peace had been declared on both sides of the Channel, and was condemned to two years' banishment. At the end of this time he returned to Harfleur to recover some twenty thousand livres (the produce of former piracies in the English Channel) which he had left in the keeping of Mademoiselle de Commare.
But the lady had returned to her own family and carried off his money with her. When he followed to her house, she offered him only ten crowns, so he stayed in the village near by until he could devise a plan to get back his treasure. The lady called her friends and relations, and they tried to arrest De la Rue one morning in the market, with the result that several of them were badly wounded. At last a larger force managed to secure him, and threw him into a prison at Rouen on the capital charge of abduction. While there it was proved that he had stabbed a man to death in Harfleur in a quarrel about a woman; that at Janval, near Arques, he had punished a fellow called Bonnetot for insulting a comrade, by running him through with a rapier, from which Bonnetot died; and that in a quarrel about another woman he had dangerously wounded a naval officer with his dagger; and in these little escapades no mention is made of the countless acts of piracy on the high seas, which can seldom have been accomplished without considerable loss of life.