Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Bourgeois of Paris and his Journal

Part of Paris Mid 15th Century

In the latter half of the Hundred Years War a citizen of Paris called the Bourgeois of Paris wrote a Journal of things that he considered to be of interest to him. He apparently wrote out, a few times a year, in his journal such things as current events, the price of various foodstuffs, and what he thought were interesting local happenings. The journal covers the years 1405 – 1449 C.E.1

The writer who is called the Bourgeois simply because he was a resident of Paris, tells us virtually nothing about himself and in fact only speaks in the first person a few times in the Journal.2 So sadly he remains anonymous. There have been various attempts to identify him but the most that can be said is that he was likely associated with the University of Paris and probably in lower clerical orders, perhaps a Deacon. Also from his descriptions of his times and the cost of goods and food, he was probably middle class and most of the time was able to get by. It is also likely that he owned his own house.3 Aside from the above there is little that we can say about him in respect to his position and / or name. About his personality that is a different matter.

France at the time was being torn about by the scourge of internal discord, climaxing in civil war and foreign invasion by the English in the latter part of the Hundred Years War, (1337 – 1453 C.E.). This journal is a record of what it was like to live as a more or less “ordinary” citizen in what was one of the epicentres of violence and discord during the latter part of the Hundred Years War.4

In 1380 C.E. Charles VI had become King of France at a time when the tide had turned against England in the Hundred Years War and a more or less uneasy peace broken by bouts of fighting had settled between England and France. In 1377 the young Richard II had become King of England, the reign of two young kings at the same time had fed the need for peace.5

Unfortunately in 1399 C.E. Richard II was overthrown and later murdered by Henry IV, and he was from the party interested in restarting the war. But in France far worst developments happened. Charles VI started going mad intermittently. This not only created instability in the center it also created two antagonistic parties.6

The parties were the Orleanists (later Armagnacs) party and the Burgundians. The Orleanists were led at first by Louis Duke of Orleans and later by the Count of Armagnac. The Burgundians were led by the various Dukes. First Jean sans Peur (the fearless) and then Philippe le Bon (the good), of Burgundy. At first it was mere intriguing for position / power; during the periods that Charles VI was sane Louis would dominate and during the period Charles VI was insane Burgundy would dominate. It however escalated. In 1407 C.E., Jean Duke of Burgundy had Louis assassinated. Jean was able to get a royal pardon but things got worst with tit for tat massacres by each party of members of the other party including some horrible ones in Paris.7

Jean sans Peur Duke of Burgundy

Soon France was divided and fighting broke out and the English took advantage of the opportunity to invade and angle for a payoff in return for supporting one side or the other. In 1415 C.E., occurred the battle of Agincourt and Henry V of England’s great victory. The various French factions continued fighting until the fall of 1419 when Henry V had succeeded in conquering most of Normandy and was not to far from Paris. Finally an attempt was made to patch up the quarrel and present a united front. A meeting was arranged at the bridge of Montereau between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians with the Dauphin Charles (the heir to the French throne) and Jean Duke of Burgundy. Seeking to avenge the murder of Louis Duke of Orleans the Armagnac party assassinated Jean. Very quickly Philip, Jean’s son, the new Duke of Burgundy allied himself with the English and brought all the towns controlled by the Burgundians, (which included Paris) to accept English rule and to accept as Charles VI's heir Henry V of England. The Dauphin Charles and his supporters who included the Armagnac party refused to accept this and continued fighting.8 Such is the background to the Journal.

It is important to remember that the writer of the Journal was a convinced Burgundian and that this out look colours much that he writes. Still his Journal is an invaluable source.

It is of interest that certain passages of the journal are lost forever. This includes a rather fragmentary beginning which indicates that some material was lost and certain sections in main body of the Journal. The most important section lost is the section describing the murder of Jean Duke of Burgundy in 1419. It is suspected that the author may have expressed himself a little too freely about what he thought about the Dauphin Charles’ involvement in the murder and later decided for the sake of his own life to remove the passage.9

But perhaps the flavour of the book can be understood by quoting a few passages from the book.

For example in the year 1436 C.E. our author records regarding the price of cherries:

Cherries were very plentiful this year, so much so that they were selling at a pound for one penny tournais, or even six pounds for one fourpenny blanc parisis. They lasted till mid August Lady day.10

Regarding the weather there are reports like the following:

The heat at this time, towards the end of August, was tremendous, both day and night. Neither man nor women could get to sleep at night; also many people died of plague and of epidemic, young people and children especially.11

About important events our author as something to say. As I said our Author was a convinced Burgundian but even so he records the hideous massacres of Armagnac supporters that occurred in Paris when the Burgundians occupied the city ion 1418.12
Our author writes:
Then the goddess of Discord arose in the castle of Ill Counsel; she woke Anger the lunatic, Greed, Madness, and Revenge; they armed themselves and contemptuously cast Reason, Justice, Remembrance of God, and Moderation out from among them.

Then insane Madness, Murder and Slaughter slew, murdered, slaughtered, and killed everyone they could find in the prisons without mercy, justly or unjustly, with cause or without.

…the corpses were so cut and stabbed about the face that no one could tell who they were, except the Constable and the Chancellor; they were identified by the beds they were killed in.13

Regarding the Battle of Agincourt (1415 C.E.) our author says:

Never since God was born did anyone, Saracen or any others, do such destruction in France.14

Being a convinced Burgundian our author says this about Jeanne D’ Arc:

Such and worst were my lady Jeanne’s false errors. They were all declared to her in front of the people, who were horrified when they heard these great errors against our faith which she held and still did hold. For however clearly her great crimes and errors were shown to her, she never faltered or was ashamed, but replied boldly to All the articles like one wholly given over to Satan.15

Jeanne D'Arc

About Jeanne D’Arcs death our author says:

There were many people there and in other places who said that she was martyred and for her true lord. Others that she was not, and that he who had supported her so long had done wrong. Such things people said, but whatever good or whatever evil she did, she was burned that day.16

It is interesting to note that in our authors description of Charles VII’s coronation campaign, (in 1429 C.E.), although there is a description of the taking of towns and the assault on Paris in September of that year, there is no mention of Charles VII coronation at Rheims in July 1429.17 It can be speculated that the event was so shocking to his belief in the justice of his cause that he could not bear to record it.

Latter, 1440 C.E., a certain imposture named Claude des Armoises claimed to be Jeanne D’Arc our author records:

When she was near Paris this great mistake of believing her to be the Maid sprang up again, so that the University and the Parlement had her brought to Paris whether she liked it or not and shown to the people at the Palais on the marble slab in the great courtyard. There a sermon was preached about her and all her life and estate set forth. She was not a maid, he said, but had been married to a knight and borne him two sons.18
The change of fortune of his side along with the fact that our Author was never very enamoured or impressed with the English helped bring about a change of loyalties for the Author. Although he never talks about it explicitly the change seems to have been difficult for him.

Our Author’s description of the coronation of Henry VI of England as King of France in 1431 is as follows:

On the day after Christmas, St. Stephen’s day, the King left Paris without granting any of the benefits expected of him – release of prisoners, abolition of such evil taxes as imposts, salt taxes, fourths, and similar bad customs that are contrary to law and right. Not a soul, at home or abroad, was heard to speak a word in his praise – yet Paris had done more honour to him than to any king both when he arrived and at his consecration, considering, of course, how few people there were, how little money anyone could earn, that it was the very heart of winter, and all provisions desperately dear, especially wood.19

Another contrast is between his rather brief and laconic description of the death of Henry V of England,20 (In 1422 C.E.) and his description of the death of Charles VI of France.21

On the last day of August, a Sunday, Henry, King of England, and at the time Regent of France, died at Bois des Vincennes.

His [Charles VI] people and his servants were there; they mourned and lamented their loss, and so especially did the common people of Paris, calling out as he was carried through the streets, ‘Ah, dear prince, we shall never see you again, we shall never have one another so good! Accursed death! We shall never have peace now that you have left us. You go to your rest; we are left in all suffering and sorrow! The way we are going we shall soon be as wretched as the children of Israel when they were lead away into Babylon.’ Such were the things the people said, with said sighs and groans and lamentations.22

A contrast to the English view of Henry V.

In 1436 after the Burgundians changed sides Paris was retaken by the French. And much to the joy and frank disbelief of our Author the retaking of Paris was accompanied by surprisingly little mayhem or destruction or loss of life.

…but nobody, whatever his rank or his native language or whatever crimes he had committed against the King [Charles VII], nobody was killed for it.23

The English do not come off well in the Journal:

The people could not earn a farthing at any kind of work, for indeed, the English ruled Paris for a very long time, but I do honestly think that never anyone of them had any corn or oats sown or so much as a fireplace built in a house – except the Regent, the Duke of Bedford. [died September 1435] He was always building, wherever he was; his nature was quite un-English, for he never wanted to make war on anybody, whereas the English, essentially, are always wanting to make war on their neighbours without cause. That is why they all die an evil death; more than seventy-six thousand of them had by now died in France.24

John Duke of Bedford

Our Author complains about the heavy tax burden caused by the war:

First of all they levied a heavy tax on the clergy, then on the richer merchants, men and women. They paid four thousand francs, three thousand francs or two thousand francs, eight hundred or six hundred, each according to their estate. After that the less wealthy paid a hundred or sixty, fifty or forty; the very least paid between ten and twenty francs, none more than twenty and none less than ten. Others poorer still paid not more than hundred shillings parisis and not less than forty.25

The Author condemns the war throughout saying:

At that time the English would sometimes take one fortress from the Armagnacs in the morning and lose two in the evening. So this war, accursed of God continued.26

Through out the Journal our Author maintains a strong sympathy for the plight of the common man caught between armies and a distinct aversion to the nobility who our Author feels are not living up to their responsibilities.

After a brief description of the Taking Rouen [1449 C.E.] from the English and the celebrations in Paris of that event, the Journal ends. Whether the Author simply got tired of doing it or died is not known. Neither can we be sure if any pages have not been lost covering subsequent years. After all given the freedom with which the Author expresses himself for the time period it is perhaps remarkable that the Journal survived.

Whoever the Author was he left a remarkable and important document for future generations to read.

Map of Paris Mid 15th Century

1. Anonymous, A Parisian Journal: 1405 - 1449, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1968.

2. IBID. pp. 3-45.

3. IBID. pp. 12-24.

4. For the Hundred Years War see Starks, Michael, The Hundred Years War in France, Windrush Press, London, 2002, Burne, Alfred H., The Hundred Years War: A Military History, Penguin Books, London, 2002, Allmand, Christopher, The Hundred Years War, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989, Seward, Desmond, The Hundred Years War, Atheneum, New York, 1978, Perroy, Edouard, The Hundred Years War, Capricorn Books, New York, 1965.

5. See Seward, pp. 127-142, Perroy, pp. 178- 206, Allmand, p. 24-26.

6. IBID. and Seward, pp. 143-152, Perroy 219-234.

7. Anonymous, pp. 116-119, Perroy p. 241.

8. Perroy, 243-265, Seward, 181-188, Stark, pp. 135-139.

9. Anonymous, pp. 41, The gap is on p. 142.

10. IBID. p. 311.

11. IBID. p. 128.

12. IBID. pp. 111-119.

13. IBID. pp 116-117.

14. IBID. p. 96.

15. IBID. p. 263.

16. IBID. p. 264. For more information on Jeanne D’Arc see Warner, Marina, Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, Penguin Books, London, 1981, Lucie-Smith, Edward, Joan of Arc, Penguin Books, London, 1976, Pernoud, Regine, & Clin, Marie – Veronique, Joan of Arc: Her Story, St. Martin Griffen, London, 1999.

17. Anonymous, pp. 238-243.

18. IBID. pp. 337. For more about Claude des Armoises see Pernoud et al, pp. 233-235, Warner, pp 191, 267-268.

19. IBID. p. 273.

20. IBID. p. 178. For a demolition of the idea of a “Romantic” Henry V and for why many Frenchmen may not be quite so impressed by him see Seward, Desmond, Henry V as Warlord, Penguin Books, London, 1987.

21. Anonymous, pp. 178-183.

22. IBID. p. 178, 180.

23. IBID. p. 306, Paris being retaken is pp. 300-307.

24. IBID. p. 307.

25. IBID. p. 317.

26. IBID. p. 191.

Pierre Cloutier

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