Part I: Drink is a Mocker
Sometime in late Autumn, 1428, we find ourselves in the home of one Gregoire Abris. I don’t know what the interior of the home looked like, who Gregoire was, or who all was there apart from the principals. But I’m going to assume that there was some drink flowing, because Robin le Peletier said some very foolish things.
For those accustomed to getting news via social media, what Robin says may not seem that shocking.
But Robin is actually in the midst of committing a felony. This is worse than violating Facebook’s or Twitter’s terms of service. A lifetime ban means a very different thing in the 15th century.
So what’s going on?
Let’s start with who the Duke of Bedford was.
John of Lancaster was the first Duke of Bedford and a younger son of King Henry IV of England (for those who know their Shakespeare and the Henry plays, he’s Henry Bolingbroke). Why’s he important enough for Robin to be insulting him over in Bricquebec, Normandy?
First, let’s be clear, he is important. Just look at him!
But more than that, he is the regent of the realm in 1428. The king of England, Henry VI, is still working on figuring out the potty. Far too young to rule the realm, especially one caught up in the midst of a multi-generational war with France, the Duke of Bedford became regent for his nephew. This meant, among other things, that the Duke of Bedford commanded England’s armies during the war. That included those armies responsible for occupying Normandy, where our story takes place.
In short, the Duke of Bedford is:
- Acting as the king for all intents and purposes.
- Really, really powerful (see #1).
- Did I mention he’s effectively the king?
And yet here we have Robin, blithely insulting the may-as-well-be king.
I have no idea if Robin had anyone telling him to stuff it. But I’m fairly confident that someone would have told him to knock it off, even if they’d agreed with the sentiment.
Why do I say that?
Because Robin is treading dangerously close to treason. A very specific kind of treason, in fact: lèse-majesté (or, lese majesty in English — that helped a lot, I expect). This label could cover a broad range of crimes. Its fundamental nature, however, is insult to majesty, dating all the way back to ancient times. While “insult” initially meant an action (such as defacing an emperor’s statue), over time the words and intent started to become enough.
And Robin is definitely insulting the Duke of Bedford here.
Insult wasn’t taken lightly to begin with in the later Middle Ages, but insulting the king could come with hefty penalties, up to losing one’s life if the circumstances were right (or, from the insulter’s point of view, wrong).
So we have Robin’s (entirely made-up) friends clearly worried about what he’s saying, because if anyone overheard, they might get in trouble as well. And you know, maybe they care about their friend Robin. Who knows? Hedgehogs are a friendly bunch, right?
Right? I mean, it’s only a story in which someone went off the deep end, so I’m sure it’s about a fun pool party. Gotta be.
Find out next time!