Wednesday, 27 November 2013

100 Years War - Bluebeard[i]

The Child
Dore's depiction of Bluebeard and his wife
There is no contemporary portrait of the man who became a monster and was immortalised in the fairy tale of Bluebeard by Charles Perrault. His peers did their best to write him out of their shared history. The closest we can get is an imaginary romanticised picture painted in the mid 1830’s.
Gilles de Rais[ii] was born as the result of an inheritance dispute. His parents married to avoid the cost of a lengthy court case. Guy de Laval had been due to inherit the fortune of one Jeanne Chabot. At her request he changed his name to de Rais in September 1402. Madam Chabot then changed her mind and left her monies to a distant female relative, married into the Craon family. Eventually, both parties being loathe to let the fortune out of the family, a marriage was arranged between Guy de Rais and Marie de Craon who married on 5th February 1404.

Gilles, born in September 1405, was the heir to a large fortune, with lands in Brittany, Thouars, Alençon, and Anjou; most of the properties were in the Loire region. Like all progeny of the wealthy, Gilles was put out to a wet nurse Guillemette la Drappière. Throughout his life Gilles was to look out for his wet-nurse and his ‘frères de lait’. In 1407 Gilles’ brother René was born; the two were to be rivals throughout their lives and René was to make many attempts to take control of the de Rais property.
Gilles was handed over to his tutors at an early age to prepare him for his destiny. As a landed noble he would need to be able to fulfil his feudal duties. He was instructed in the military arts as well as Latin,

‘Showing a marked ability in any activity he chose to interest himself in.’[iii]
The Inheritance

At the age of ten Gilles came into his inheritance; Guy de Rais was gored by a boar while out hunting. His long death[iv] gave Guy time to make a will, leaving his sons to the care of an old friend. Jean de Craon was excluded from looking after his grandchildren.
But within months Jean de Craon had obtained custody of Gilles;

‘Gilles, a minor in years, remained in the guardianship of the aforesaid Jehan de Craon, his maternal grandfather who was old, ancient and of very great age.’[v]
Jean de Craon’s son and heir Amaury was killed at the battle of Agincourt on October 25th, leaving Gilles in line to inherit not only his parents’ fortune, but his grandfather’s as well. By the end of the year de Craon had Gilles in his care.

Within months de Craon was looking for an heiress to marry his grandson to. His first attempt to obtain the daughter of the deceased Foulques de Hambuic was stymied by the crown, who gave her guardianship to her aunt. De Craon then attempted a match with Beatrice de Rohan, who was a niece of the Duke of Brittany, whom de Craon was cultivating.
Vannes city walls
The marriage contract was signed at Vannes on 28th November 1418, but the marriage never took place for unknown reasons.
Feud in Brittany
It is believed that Gilles was involved in the fighting that took place in a feud between the Duke of Brittany and the Dauphin. Brittany had repeatedly promised to send aid to the Dauphin in his fight against the English, but the troops had never arrived. Charles organised for the Duke to be kidnapped and flung into prison. His wife rallied support for her husband and de Craon and Gilles were involved in some way. Gilles and de Craon had sworn an oath of allegiance to the Montfort cause and the Duke stated after the event that he was grateful;

‘For the good and loyal services of his cousins de la Suze[vi] and de Rais.’[vii]
The fighting was spread over a period of time and the de Rais lands were ravaged by their former allies, the Penthièvre family, who supported the Dauphin. When the Duke had been rescued he confirmed the grant of lands to Jean de Craon made by his wife on July 10th at Oudon[viii].

‘All the lands that the malefactors and accomplices of Olivier de Blois, formerly Count of Penthièvre, and Charles, his brother, had possessed.’[ix]
This grant was revoked and de Craon was awarded monies in its place. Jean de Craon and his grandson retired to Gilles’ estate of Champtocé[x], and held court there. Gilles was allowed to satisfy his every whim and indulge in excessive eating and drinking. It was de Craon who was the brains behind the scenes; Gilles never developed any real political savoir-faire.

The Marriage
De Craon was now once again on the hunt for a rich bride for his grandson. This time he chose the daughter of neighbours, Catherine de Thouars. Catherine’s father was away and his squire left the family domain to attend his master, dying in Brabant. In de Thouars’ absence de Craon kidnapped the girl on 22nd November 1420. Ten days later she and Gilles were married in a remote chapel, by an obscure monk.

The reason for the secrecy was that Catherine and Gilles were cousins to the eighth degree, and therefore needed dispensation from the Pope, which de Craon, relying on stealth to obtain this heiress for his grandson, had not applied for.
The Bishop of Angers, Hardouin de Bueil[xi] declared the marriage null and void. De Caron sent an emissary to Rome to plead the young lovers’ case. For Gilles love did not enter the equation, he was not interested in women. Catherine is unlikely to have been in love either. No doubt de Craon’s emissary gave the Vatican a donation for their trouble.

Catherine’s mother had her husband’s former squire negotiate a marriage settlement with de Craon. It was agreed that if the papal dispensation was granted then Catherine would receive one third of the de Thouars estates. The papal dispensation was granted 24th April 1422, nearly eighteen months after the marriage.
Four weeks later on the 22nd June the Bishop of Angers remarried the couple at his castle at Chalonnes,

‘In the presence of the vicar of Champtocé, two canons from Blaizon and a large and distinguished congregation.’[xii]
The bishop was another recipient of de Craon largesse.

The Family Dispute
During the negotiation period de Craon’s wife died and he remarried. His new wife was Catherine’s grandmother Anne de Sillé; her niece was married to René, Gilles’ brother, no doubt an attempt to obtain the remainder of the de Thouars lands. Dering the same period Catherine’s mother also remarried to her husband’s former squire Jacques Meschin.

The marriage was not acceptable to de Craon, who arranged with the captain of the guard at Tiffauges[xiii] to carry off Beatrice de Montjean and her sister, allegedly being told to
‘Start moving or I’ll truss you up like an old bundle and sling you across my horse.’[xiv].

Chateau de Tiffauges showing Gilles' coat of arms
Beatrice was taken to Champtocé, where she was ordered by de Craon to sign over the castles of Tiffauges[xv] and Poussanges[xvi]. She refused and Meschin sent emissaries demanding the return of his wife. The emissaries were thrown into the dungeons, but Beatrice was returned to her husband, after intervention by Anne de Sillé.
The Parlement at Poitiers ordered that Meschin and his wife choose one of the two castles and Gilles would keep the other. They chose Poussanges, but Gilles refused to return it. A royal messenger sent to ensure the handover was badly beaten; but royal authority was much diminished with the English in charge of large swathes of France.

De Craon was unable to pass on to Gilles his sense of political astuteness and at the age of twenty Gilles now decided to take the control of his enormous fortune[xvii] into his own hands. Much to his grandfather’s horror Gilles started spending money like water. His expenditure soon outstripped his income.
‘Gilles, when he reached twenty or thereabouts, at the instigation of his servants and others who wished to enrich themselves upon his goods, took upon himself the administration of all his lands and estates and used them as he wished, taking no advice from his grandfather.’[xviii]
De Craon was still needed by Gilles for his introduction to the French court, but the relationship between him and his grandfather was to diminish over the next eight years, with the end result that de Craon left his sword and breastplate to René, a symbol of his rejection of the man he had done so much to create.

The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005

The Real Bluebeard – Jean Benedetti – Sutton Publishing 2003
The Reign of King Henry VI – RA Griffiths, Alan Sutton 1998

Joan of Arc – Edward Lucie-Smith, Penguin 2000

[i] It is possible that Gilles’ nickname came from a misunderstanding, the male barbe bleu means a Barbary horse, which Gilles was known to ride; the feminine form barbe bleue means blue beard.
[ii] A great nephew of Bertrand du Guesclin
[iii] The Real Bluebeard - Benedetti
[iv] There is no record of Marie de Craon’s death and there is no mention of her in the historical record, apart from a reference to her marrying a Charles d’Estouville after Guy’s death.
[v] The Real Bluebeard - Benedetti
[vi] Du Craon
[vii] The Real Bluebeard - Benedetti
[viii] This grant was rescinded by the Brittany parliament and replaced with an annual subsidy
[ix] The Real Bluebeard - Benedetti
[x] Where he had been born
[xi] A relative of Catherine’s mother
[xii] The Real Bluebeard - Benedetti
[xiii] Catherine’s former home
[xiv] The Real Bluebeard - Benedetti
[xv] In the Vendée
[xvi] In Limousin
[xvii] He was worth more than the King of France by this time
[xviii] The Real Bluebeard - Benedetti

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Female Soldier - Mother Ross V

Life without Richard

Prince of Orange
Christian was lost without Richard and would not look after herself; the Prince of Orange, whose tent was pitched close to Christian’s, had his servants take her meals that she refused to eat. Eventually Colonel Hamilton’s wife took Christian in hand and after six weeks Christian started her return to a new normal.

‘I had neglected everything, and left my tent in the care of a drummer and his wife, who were so good as to consume my whole substance by sinking the produce of my effects, and their generosity to such as came to sponge under the pretence of visits of condolence.’[i]

Christian’s horses were looked after by one Hugh Jones, whose interest in Christian was more than kindly. He provided the horses with forage and offered their mistress his heart. Hugh’s pursuit of Christian had started well before Richard’s death. He and Christian were married eleven weeks after Richard’s death[ii]. Hugh had promised not to have sex with his new wife until they were in winter quarters in Ghent; a promise he kept.

The 1710 Campaigning Season
Earl Stanhope
In Spain the 1710 campaigning season did not go well for the Allies, with an army under General James Stanhope[iii] reaching Madrid, but which was then forced to capitulate at the battle of Brihuega, to an army led by the Duc de Vendôme. This was the last time the Allies would campaign in Spain.
Marshal d'Artagnan
In the Low Countries Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough took to the offensive on 20th April, seizing the bridge at Vendin and the upper grounds at Courieres. The French quitted their lines throughout Walloon-Flanders; allowing the Duke of Württemberg and Lieutenant General Cadogan to seize them without unsheathing their swords. For the French; Marshal d’Artagnan[iv], with his forty battalions and thirty squadrons, abandoned the river and four defensive towers, withdrawing to the protection of Arras.
Marshal Villars
There then followed the siege of Douai[v]. In an attempt to raise the siege Marshal Villars let it be known that he was going to march to the town’s rescue. This offer raised the hopes of the defenders, who fought bravely but nonetheless surrendered on 25th June.
De Vauban
On the 6th July the Allies invested Bèthune which was commanded by de Vauban[vi]. The town, which had strong defences, was protected on one side by water. But the Allied engineers were able to drain off the ditches, leaving that side of the town vulnerable. Accordingly the town surrendered and the garrison marched out on 30th and was conducted to Arras.
During the siege Christian and other foragers were cut off from the main army by French troops assigned by Marshall Villars to attack the besiegers from behind. The foragers were rescued by Allied pickets. But Christian’s foraging was more than successful;
‘I got out of a barn a large bolster full of wheat, two pots of butter, and a great quantity of apples, all of which I carried safe to my tent. The wheat I got ground at a mill the enemy had deserted, and made pies, which I sold in the camp: of the bran I made starch.’[vii]
End of A Short Marriage
Prince d'Anhault-Dessau
On 4th September the Prince of Orange invested St Venant[viii] on the same day as the Prince d’Anhault-Dessau invested Aire-sur-la-Lys[ix]. St Venant was attacked on 28th September and Hugh Jones was one of the wounded. The wound was originally judged slight, but on a second consultation, finding the bone in question broken, the surgeon adjudged the wound as mortal. Hugh was carried with the other wounded to Aire.
The garrison at Aire fought for every inch of ground and it was not until the 8th November that the governor beat the chamade. On the 11th the garrison marched out of the town. The army was now ordered into winter quarters and the wounded were taken to the hospital at Lille.
‘Where my husband grew daily worse, had his wound often laid open; but at length it turned into a mortification, and in ten week’s time after he received it, carried him off.’[x]
After less than a year Christian was a widow again; she was not as devastated as she had been by Richard’s death. Christian received protection from a Brigadier Preston, whom she claimed she had nursed after the battle of Ramillies[xi]. Preston paid her a crown a week[xii] and a dinner every Tuesday. For assisting the cook when Preston entertained Christian was allowed to carry off sufficient food to keep her for three or four days afterwards.

Marlborough’s Last Campaign
Robert Harley
Marlborough’s political enemies were now in favour at home; Robert Harley and Henry St John were engaged in secret talks with the French throughout 1711[xiii]. The 1710 general election had seen the Tories replace the Whigs as the party of government. To gain public support for their policies the skills of the satirist Jonathan Swift were utilised. Marlborough’s powers as commander in chief had been severely restricted by his political enemies.
Joseph I
In April 1711 Emperor Joseph was stricken with the smallpox; there was an epidemic cutting a swathe through Europe and it did not spare the powerful. In France Louis, the Grand Dauphin, died leaving his son the Duke of Burgundy as his grandfather’s heir[xiv]. Joseph was succeeded as Holy Roman Emperor by his brother Charles. The Prince of Orange drowned in a canal on a visit home in July.
Duke of Burgundy
The new campaigning season gave Christian the opportunity to obtain a new horse, one abandoned by a French soldier, following an attack by the Allies on a French fortified position near Arleux[xv]. In August Marlborough and the army crossed the Sensée River, allowing the army to besiege Bouchain, which fell on 12th September

Earl of Stair
During the siege Christian was employed as a servant in the kitchen of Lord Stair[xvi]. On one occasion a Colonel K attempted to kiss her and Christian defended herself with a knife. The attempt on her virtue was interrupted by Lord Forrester[xvii]. Lord Forrester gave Christian a piece of gold. A few days later Colonel K was wounded and Christian took him some fowl and in return he gave her some three barrels of beer. 
A Peace Treaty
It was decided that a fresh commander for the army was necessary to ensure that the deal with the French went ahead. Swift’s deadly journalism was used to tarnish Marlborough’s reputation at home; his pamphlet ‘The Conduct of the Allies and of the Late Ministry in Beginning and Carrying on the Present War’ sold over 11,000 copies in under three months.

‘The ruin of the public interest, and the advancement of a Private, increase the Wealth and Grandeur of a particular family, to enrich Usurers and Stock-jobbers, cultivate the pernicious Designs of a Faction, by destroying the Landed-Interest.’[xviii]
Earl of Orrery
Marlborough’s plans to overwinter the armies in the captured French fortresses were dismissed. Dissident officers in the army such as the Earl of Orrery[xix] were in correspondence with Harley and undermining Marlborough’s authority from within. Marlborough considered the terms of the treaty Harley was making with the French disastrous; he was dismissed on 31st December 1711, to be replaced by the Duke of Ormonde.
Duke of Ormonde

The 1712 campaigning season was overshadowed by the loss of the Allies’ most brilliant general. The Duke of Ormonde was reluctant to commit his troops to fight and the Duc de Villars was able to recover much lost ground, increasing Louis’ bargaining position. Throughout March and April 1713 the belligerents of the war signed the Treaty of Utrecht[xx].

Life After the Army
Christian was given a pass back to England by the Duke of Ormonde and ten shillings[xxi] to defray her costs. Arriving in London Christian, now pregnant, took a lodging in Charing Cross and paid a visit on the Duke of Marlborough. As he was bereft of influence at court Christian then turned to the Duke of Argyle. Argyle suggested that Christian raise a petition and take it to the Duke of Hamilton, promising that the petition would have his backing.  

Duke of Hamilton
Argyle presented Christian to the Queen and was granted the sun of fifty pounds[xxii] towards her lying in. Christian was also granted a pension of one shilling per day[xxiii]. Sometime after the birth of a daughter, when walking in Hyde Park, Christian stumbled across a duel[xxiv] between the Duke of Hamilton and Baron Mohun and saw both men killed.
Lord Mohun
Not long after this Christian returned to Dublin to find that her eldest child had died at the age of 18; and the younger child was in the workhouse. The nurse having run out of money had placed the child in the workhouse. Christian’s public house had been taken over by one Bennet as, in her absence, there had been no-one able to contest his claim.
Christian decided to open another pub and she fared well until she fell in with her third husband an ex-soldier named Davies. When Davies re-enrolled in the army and was sent to assist in the putting down of the Pretender’s rebellion against George I[xxv] in 1715, Christian followed. Her allowance of one shilling a day had been reduced to five pence per day and Christian now had her full allowance reinstated by the new king.
George I
Christian returned to Ireland for a time, but returned to live with at the Royal Hospital Chelsea; her husband was also given a home there.
‘She was long before her death afflicted with a complication of distempers, as dropsy[xxvi], scurvy &c., at length her husband being taken ill, she would sit up with him at nights, by which she contracted a cold that threw her into a continual fever, which carried her off in four days.’[xxvii]
Christian died on 7th July 1739. She was buried, with full military honours, with her fellow military pensioners at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Mother Ross – Daniel Defoe, Oakpast Ltd 2011

Queen Anne – Edward Gregg, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1980
The Marlboroughs – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2002

Marlborough – Richard Holmes, Harper Perennial 2009
Marlborough – JR Jones, Cambridge University Press 1993

[i] Mother Ross- Defoe
[ii] While Christian could more than hold her own as a man, as a woman she was disadvantaged by being on her own and her best chances of survival as a ‘camp follower’ was to have a man of he own again
[iii] He was made a prisoner of war
[iv] Made a Marshal of France for his conduct during the Battle of Malplaquet the previous year
[v] Captured by the French in 1667, Douai had been regularly fortified by Louis XIV since
[vi] Early 18th century Europe’s foremost military engineer
[vii] Mother Ross - Defoe
[viii] A town in the Pas-de-Calais region of France
[ix] 10 miles south-east of St Omer
[x] Mother Ross - Defoe
[xi] Given that she spent ten weeks recovering from her own head wound after the battle of Ramillies this seems a little surprising
[xii] In 2011 worth £26.80 (£1393.60 pa) using the retail price index or £492.00 (£25,584 pa) using average earnings
[xiii] Harley and St John accepted the necessity of retaining Louis’ grandson as King of Spain
[xiv] Louis, le Petit Dauphin, died the following year and it was his son Louis, the Duc d’Anjou who succeeded his great-grandfather in 1715
[xv] In the Pas de Calais region, where the Sensée River joins the Canal du Nord
[xvi] The Earl of Stair , a Lieutenant General and later ambassador
[xvii] George Forrester, 5th Lord Forrester (1688–1727)
[xviii] Marlborough - Jones
[xix] The orrery, a mechanical method of showing the relationship between the planets and the sun, was named after him
[xx] With the exception of Austria who continued hostilities with France until the following year
[xxi] In 2011 worth £61.40 using the retail price index or £945.00 using average earnings
[xxii] In 2011 worth £6,110.00 using the retail price index or £94,200.00 using average earnings
[xxiii] In 2011 worth £2,220.00 using the retail price index or £34,100.00 using average earnings
[xxiv] Over a disputed inheritance
[xxv] Anne died on 1st August 1714, a few months after George’s mother Sophia
[xxvi] Accumulation of fluid under the skin or in cavities in the body; known as oedema
[xxvii] Mother Ross - Defoe