Part I: Écu, Brute?
The year is 1424, at the very end of January.
We begin our story in Saint-Pierre-de-Vauvray, now in the Eure department in Normandy. That’s about all I have to say about Saint-Pierre-de-Vauvray. It’s about 40km southeast of Rouen, or 110km northwest of Paris. The town got something of a second wind in the 19th century when the rail line from Paris to Rouen passed through it. But we’re not in the age of steam and steel. Let’s get back to the fifteenth century.
The laborer Thomas Duval is about 30 years old and has come to Raoulin Boscuérart’s for supper, along with his wife.
Did I mention I pretend to draw comics? Pretending is operative here. Feel free to make all the comments you’d like about my drawings, they’re not the point of the blog. I’ve spent many weeks in quarantine doing “drawing parties” with my kid and have run out of My Little Ponies and Teen Titans to draw. Those are pretty decent, I feel compelled to say in my own defense. Step-by-step tutorials are my friend. Why no one’s put out a step-by-step tutorial for drawing scenes from obscure letters of remission, I have no idea. Clearly there’s a market.
Back to Thomas. What’s he doing there at the door?
As per custom, he leaves his iron spear outside. It would be rude to take a weapon with him into another’s home. The spear was typically eight or nine feet long and was the common weapon for light infantry at the time.
What’s a simple laborer doing with a weapon like this? The year is 1424. The place, Normandy. Lancastrian Normandy, in fact. The Hundred Years War has been going on for a while now. The English have gained control of Normandy. The region has been generally pacified by this point, the main fighting happening between 1415 and 1422. Thomas probably had fought as infantry in a battle or two. Why’s he taking the weapon with him on a visit to his friend’s house? Most likely he carried it due to the general unrest that existed at the time. There were roving bands of English soldiers, bored and looking for an easy score. Same with mercenaries who, after the conflict-ridden part of the occupation, stayed in the region to kick their heels about as bandits and marauders. There were French loyalists and divisions of the French army who continued to fight against the English occupation. The iron spear was necessary protection.
Thomas was good friends with the local sergeant, Raoulin. It’s part of what makes this story all the more tragic.
What? You don’t know what all this is about? Well, someone’s going to die and then beg the king for a pardon, what with murder being a hanging offense. What follows is the story that the guilty party told as part of his plea for forgiveness.
Together with several others, Thomas supped…
…and made good cheer.
After supper, Thomas took out a gold écu from his purse and put it on the table.
The écu d’or was first minted in 1266 during the reign of King Louis IX (later known as St. Louis). The term écu means shield and the coin got its name because it bore the coat of arms of the king. Here I’ve shown you Louis’s original écu d’or. Probably Thomas had a coin of more recent vintage, such as Charles VI’s écu à la couronne or even Philip VI’s écu a la chaise. Still, he called it an écu d’or, so I’m going with the original.
Raoulin took the coin and did what he would with it.
What will Thomas do? Will Raoulin give the coin back? And when is this story going to be about gambling?
Tune in next time to find out! (oye, my ’80s childhood cartoon-watching is showing.)