Recap of Part I
Part II: The Problem with the Duke
Robin’s complaints against the Duke of Bedford don’t come out of nowhere. Let’s take them one by one.
1. The Drinking. Actually, I don’t know whether the Duke of Bedford was a notorious drunkard or not. It’s probably not an unreasonable thing for Robin to come up with, though, and after all, he did say it.
2. Levying Taxes. After Normandy had been successfully occupied, both soldiers and brigands operated with little check on their criminality — criminality like holding travelers for ransom. The Duke of Bedford blamed a lack of wages for the lawlessness of his soldiers. So what’d he do? He imposed a special tax (the appâtis) on the local Norman population to cover the soldiers’ back-pay. I’m sure you can guess how big a hit that was. Robin was definitely not the only one grumbling and essentially accusing the English of theft by way of the tax.
3. Eating the People. No, Bedford was not a cannibal, nor is Robin accusing him of such. What he’s saying is that Bedford has been quartering soldiers in locals’ homes. These soldiers would of course literally eat the poor peasants’ food. Coming on top of years of war and deprivation, at the hands of those same soldiers, you can see why Robin would not be very happy with Bedford.
Those depredations contributed to a period of extremity for many Normans, though the actual period of famine was still over five years away. But no matter the severity or scope of the hunger in Normandy, rest assured the Duke of Bedford was eating well.
Bandits and Armagnacs. Most of the banditry terrorizing Normandy was carried out at the hands of soldiers and mercenaries who, once the fighting part of occupying Normandy had ended, were left bored and kicking their heels. Not to mention the issue of a lack of wages, mentioned above. In fact, we get the word “brigand” from these soldiers. “Brigaunt” or “brigand” in Old French (14th c.) referred to a lightly armed foot-soldier (the term in Italian is “brigante” derived from “brigare” meaning to brawl or fight). The lack of distinction between soldiers and mercenaries and armed criminals, especially during a time of war, easily created a slippage in meaning from “soldier” to “one who lives by pillaging.” This is doubly true when you consider that much of how armies were paid at the time was through looting. It was expected, even necessary, given the economics of the day.
As for the Armagnacs, this referred to the political faction supporting Charles, Duke of Orléans, after the murder of Louis of Orléans (his father) on the orders of the Duke of Burgundy (hence, the other faction is the Burgundians). The murder took place in November 1407 and launched a civil war in France, in the midst of the turmoil that was the Hundred Years War.
However, Robin isn’t saying he’s a Burgundian. Far from it.
In 1419, the Burgundians allied with the English in the war. From that point on, the Armagnacs became linked to the cause of Charles VII, the dauphin, son of the late King Charles VI of France, who claimed that he, and not baby Henry VI, should wear the crown.
So when Robin speaks of the Armagnacs, he’s speaking of the French forces fighting against the English.
If he’s insulting the Duke of Bedford, wouldn’t he be in favour of the French?!
On the other hand, Robin is living in a war zone. He’s been living in a war zone his entire life. Robin comes from a neighboring town, Valognes. Back in the 14th century at the start of the war, King Edward III of England took Valognes without resistance, spent one night there, then pillaged it and burnt it to the ground. Valognes remained in English hands ever since. But that didn’t mean a peaceful or easy life for Robin. My guess, he had no love for either claimant to the throne.
Hold up, though, didn’t someone ask him to stop? Will he? How prickly can a drunk hedgehog get? Only time (or my next blog post!) will tell.