Monday, 2 October 2017

The Bastard of Orléans

Louis d'Orleans (C)
The Making of a Hero

On 23rd November 1402 Jean, the future French hero of the Hundred Years War, was born at the chateau at Beauté-sur-Marne[i]. He was the illegitimate son of Louis[ii] Duke of Orléans and his mistress Mariette d’Enghein[iii]. Jean was adopted by the duke’s wife, Valentina Visconti[iv], daughter of the Duke of Milan.

Jean’s half-brother Charles, eight years Jean’s senior, was the heir to the Orléans dukedom. His other half-brothers were Philippe, Count of Vertus born in 1396 and John, Count of Angoulême, born in 1399 his half-sister Margaret was born in 1406. Other children born to the duke and duchess did not survive childhood.

Valentina was a cultured lady with some renown as a poetess, her son Charles was to inherit her talent for poesy. It may be assumed that Jean received the education fit for the grandson of a king; his flowery and florid signature betrayed his noble upbringing. His governess was Jeanne de Mesnil.

Louis had been vying with his cousin John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, for control lands in the northwest of France. In 1402 Louis, funded by the French treasury, purchased Luxembourg along with other lands in the region the Duke of Burgundy thought his own.

Louis was also in conflict with his cousin for control of his brother Charles VI, King of France, whose descent into madness was first made apparent in the summer of 1392 when he attacked his companions, including his brother Louis, in the Fôret de Le Mans, killing one of his knights and injuring others. Charles’ psychotic periods lasted for months at a time.

Funeral of Louis d'Orleans
Charles’ wife Isabeau was placed at the head of the Regency council that was the stage for the rivalry between Louis d’Orléans and John the Fearless. On the day of Jean’s fifth birthday in 1407 Louis d’Orléans was murdered by order of. John the Fearless[v]

‘[Louis d’Orléans] accompanied, modestly enough for someone of his rank, by three mounted men and two on foot, with one or two torches…was struck down and killed by eight or nine men who had been hidden in a [neighbouring] house….they cleaved his skull in two with a halberd.’[vi]

John the Fearless promptly took control of the kingdom. Louis’ three sons were at Château-Thierry when they learned of their father’s death. Allegedly when the three boys were asked by Valentina which of the three of them would avenge the crime it was Jean who offered to do so At some point before his death Louis made Jean a knight of the Order of the Porcupine, set up by Louis in 1394.

Civil War

Marriage of Charles d'Orleans and Bonne d'Armagnac
Valentina, Duchess of Orléans outlived her husband by just a year, dying in December 1408. In August 1410 Charles of Orléans married his second wife Bonne, daughter of Bernard of Armagnac, Constable of France. At the wedding festivities in Gien Charles’ father-in-law took control of what became known as the Armagnac faction during the Burgundian-Armagnac civil war that arose out of Louis of Orléans’ assassination. Both sides started bidding for assistance from Henry IV of England.

Bernard recruited bands of armed men who became known as écorcheurs, Bernard ravaged the countryside around Paris and even entered the suburbs. A treaty between the two sides was signed in November 1410 suspended hostilities.

In the summer of 1411 the three legitimate sons of Louis d’Orléans issued a manifesto listing the crimes of the Duke of Burgundy and demanding justice for their father. Addressed to John directly the three brothers proclaimed;

‘We cause you to know that from this time on we shall harm you with all our power and in all the ways we can, and we appeal to God and all the prudhommes[vii] in the world, to come to our aid against you and your disloyal treason.’’[viii]

John the Fearless sent a mocking reply and emphasised the powerlessness of the Orléans faction when he entered Paris in October 1411 with an army and defeated the écorcheurs ensconced there. The Orléans brothers fled to Bourges, followed by John and his men who laid siege to the town.

John was now in the driving seat and controlled the French court. In 1412 John the Fearless made it clear that he was no longer interested in an alliance with the English by declaring that the king had made him responsible for clearing the English out of Aquitaine. The Armagnac counter offer was to help the English retain the county.

Cabochien revolt
Charles of Orléans and his brother John of Angoulême promised to pay homage to Henry for some of their lands. and handed over the County of Guyenne and recognised Henry V’s suzerainty over Poitou, Angoulême and Périgord. in return for their support. In return Henry IV was to provide protection against John the Fearless and provide 1,000 lances and 3,000 archers. John of Angoulême was taken hostage by the English that same year.

The following year John the Fearless supported the Cabochien Revolt wherein John’s supporters killed many Armagnacs and innocent bystanders. By the end of the summer of August 1413 Paris was back under control of the dauphin. John the Fearless, having been outmanoeuvred by the dauphin[ix], had fled to back to Flanders with the Cabochiens’ leader[x].


On 20th March 1414 Henry IV died and his heir was the bellicose Henry V who immediately declared his intentions of renewing the Hundred Years War which had been in abeyance since 1389[xi]. Henry wanted to take advantage of the strife riving his traditional enemies and collected an army to invade. In August 1415 laid siege to Harfleur. The capture of the town took longer than Henry anticipated and it was mid-autumn before his troops were back on the march.

His troops met with the French army at Azincourt; during the battle Charles was taken prisoner[xii]. Following his victory Henry was able to dictate terms to the French and the Treaty of Troyes, signed in May 1420, was the result of his victories over the demoralised French army. Isabeau signed away her son’s right to the French throne and gave one of her daughters to the invading king.

Jean fought with the Armagnacs, during the civil war that ensued after the death of Louis d’Orléans and he was captured by the Burgundians in 1418 and held prisoner at the old Chateau de St-Germain en Laye. At the end of May 1418 Paris was delivered back into the hands of John the Fearless and his captain Jean de Villiers de l’Isle Adam.

‘Knights, servants and officers of the duke of Burgundy, accompanied by some 200 men-at-arms, entered the city of Paris through the Porte St-Germain-de-Prés, which had been secretly opened for the Lord of l’Isle Adam by a group of nine or ten common people.’[xiii]

Bernard of Armagnac and 2,500 of his supporters were massacred when the Burgundian faction took back Paris, leaving the Armagnacs leaderless.

Assassination of John the Fearless
John was once again master of Paris and he too took to negotiating with the English and agreeing to their claims to the kingdom. At the same time he began negotiations with the Dauphin which is how he ended up at the bridge at Montereau the following year.

The assassination of John the Fearless[xiv] on 10th September 1419 in the presence of the Dauphin only served to heighten the rivalry between the Burgundians and that Armagnac faction. It decreased the ability of the French state to oppose the English who continued to steamroller through France. John’s son Philip now allied with the English, something John had hesitated to commit himself to.

Jean was released from Burgundian captivity in 1420 following the intercession of his half-brother Philippe. Jean entered the service of the Dauphin Charles. The sudden death of Philippe in September 1420 left Jean the only male representative of the house of Orléans at liberty and he was henceforth to manage Charles’ inheritance on his behalf.


The Hundred Years War – Alfred Burne, Folio Society 2005

The Real Falstaff – Stephen Cooper, Pen and Sword Military 2010

The Reign of Henry VI – RA Griffiths, Sutton Publishing Ltd 1998

Europe: Hierarchy and Revolt 1320-1450 – George Holmes, Fontana 1984

The Fifteenth Century – EF Jacob, Oxford University Press 1997

John the Fearless – Richard Vaughan, Longmans 1996

Philip the Good – Richard Vaughan, Boydell Press 2014


[i] Throughout his adult life Jean was known as the Bastard of Orléans or by his title of Count of Dunois.
[ii] Son of Charles V of France, Louis’ amours were legendary and he was even believed to have made Queen Isabeau his mistress
[iii] Wife of the lord of Cany who was Chamberlain to King Charles VI of France. Louis had apparently wanted to marry Mariette but his father had forbidden the union on political grounds.
[iv] A granddaughter of King Jean II of France
[v] The situation was acerbated by Louis’ attempt to seduce and then take by force John’s wife Margaret
[vi] John the Fearless - Vaughan
[vii] Those holding to knightly ideals of chivalry
[viii] John the Fearless - Vaughan
[ix] The king temporarily regained his sanity during the summer and he was all in favour of peace, supporting his son in his efforts
[x] Simon Le Coustellier known as Simon Caboche
[xi] Despite provocations on both sides. Henry IV had felt constrained by a lack of money to prosecute a war; his son refused to take this into consideration
[xiii] John the Fearless - Vaughan

1 comment:

  1. the vagaries of the French would be easier to follow if 50% of them weren't called Jean and most of the rest Louis, Charles or Philippe. The odd Etienne or Gautier or Odie or Geoffroi would be helpful, they were all common names at the time.