I don’t think Wautier had his back turned at all when Robin dismounted and drew his sword.
I think it was all part of the story.
But, let’s get back to the story as Wautier would end up telling it.
Understandably, whether he was watching Robin draw his sword or not, Wautier was not happy about this turn of events. So he pulled out “a big knife” and told Robin to sheath his sword.
Now, I don’t know how big this knife was, but I’m imagining it had to be in the Crocodile Dundee territory, because otherwise what happens next just doesn’t make sense.
(Also, I think Wautier’s lying. But that’s me, and I study French history, so clearly I’m an Armagnac who sings songs about the English having devil tails, so don’t mind me.)
(Yes, French songs about English soldiers having devil tales were totally a thing during the Hundred Years War. I’ve seen ’em, but I can’t sing ’em.)
Yup, pretty sure Robin also grew up with Crocodile Dundee. No other explanation.
You starting to see why I think Wautier’s a liar?
Robin, apparently, thinks November’s an excellent time for a swim, because he doesn’t take Wautier’s hand.
Frustrated, Wautier throws a stone in the pond. Because why not?
Also, why this detail? I’ve been puzzling over this. Wautier’s angling for a pardon from the Duke of Bedford, so he and his supporters are doing everything they can to make him look good. Why have him throw a stone?
I don’t have a definite answer, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s to show Wautier’s frustration, but more probably because it was trying to explain away something he’d done.
You see, I don’t think Robin jumped into a fishpond in November to get away from a knife, however big, when he had a sword and a horse. I mean, sure, don’t fight Wautier, but Dude! You have a horse!
I think Wautier pushed him into the fishpond. And I think he threw stones at him once he was there, whether out of anger or in order to actually ensure Robin drowned.
But that’s a bad look for getting a pardon, so you find another way to account for anyone happening to have seen you throwing a rock or two at a guy in the water.
Good to his word, Robin died that way.
Wautier, fearing the rigour of justice ( = being hanged for murder), left the region.
Soon caught, he was imprisoned. At which point, we get his family and friends supplicating the regent on his behalf.
The remission, in the end, was granted in Chartres, first day of February 1428.
This interpretation, at last ended, was given in Kitchener, last day of June 2020.
Some time later, on 8 November, Wautier came upon Robin riding through town. Remembering him, and who knows, maybe feeling ashamed over not confronting him before, Wautier came up and grabbed the bridle of Robin’s horse.
No, the real Wautier did not stand on a pig. I’m not sure whether or not he was riding a horse or not, but context seems to indicate not.
As for the pig in town.. First, I made the mistake of drawing the horse too big. Not wanting to redraw it, I needed to give Wautier a boost so he could reach the bridle.
Second, pigs absolutely wandered through town, unfettered, unfenced. It was a whole thing in the Middle Ages. Sometimes, they even ate babies. Maybe I’ll do a post about one of those murderous pigs sometime.
Wautier led Robin to the nearby fishpond of Glatigny.
Why did Robin go with him? Probably status.
We don’t know Robin’s actual status, but it’s a fair bet that he was lower on the social ladder than Wautier, for a couple reasons.
First and foremost, Wautier serves one of the top commanders of the English army and wears the household badge for that same Count of Suffolk.
Second, Wautier is himself an Englishman and, in an occupied territory, that had a rank all its own. The fact that the register doesn’t tell us Robin’s own status is enough to let us know he wasn’t important. We can safely assume he was some kind of labourer, though how he had a horse is anyone’s guess.
Whatever the reason, once the two were at the fishpond, Wautier asked if Robin stood by what he’d said.
Robin, of course, says he does, because otherwise there’d be no story, as I’m sure Robin was thinking at the time.
In the record of this case, Robin is reported to persevere “in his evil and damnable will.” In other words, the Duke of Bedford (using the voice of the king, fwiw), is none too happy with what Robin allegedly said and even less impressed that Robin insists on maintaining those horrible slurs against himself and the Count of Suffolk.
Willing to prove it with his body, Robin got off his horse and threw to the ground his long coat (known as a tabar), hood, and hat.
Yeah, I wasn’t going to try to draw a hedgehog wearing those. Sorry.
In any case, that done, he drew his sword (or, here, quill).
He did all this while Wautier had his back turned.
Why did Wautier have his back turned?!
Caught unawares, what will Wautier do? Has he come prepared to fight? Is his master’s honour worth his life?
Asked to leave off talking about the Duke of Bedford, Robin obliges.
Once Robin had seemingly exhausted himself of insults for the Duke of Bedford, he turned his attention to the Count of Suffolk, William de la Pole.
The Count (later, in 1448, to become Duke) of Suffolk was a commander in the English army. Later in the war he’d come to play a very large — and very unlucky — role, but at this point in the history he’s serving in the various campaigns headed first by King Henry V, then by the Duke of Bedford.
Right as Robin’s busy insulting him, the Count is one of the commanders at the Siege of Orléans, famous for the French force’s stunning victory over the English and the participation of Joan of Arc (when it finally ends, months from this moment).
Why’s Robin so mad at this random military commander?
Because the Count of Suffolk had had high command on the marches of Normandy at the end of the fighting-phase of the occupation (1421-1422).
More than that, in 1424, he had fought at the Battle of Verneuil in Normandy. This was an exceptionally bloody battle, sometimes known as the second Agincourt.
How bloody? And if like Agincourt, was it a lopsided victory?
Well, somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 French troops died, with more taken prisoner. One chronicler claimed that the English had lost only 1,600 men, but the Duke of Bedford disagreed. He claimed that only two men-at-arms and “a very few archers” died.
Either way, lopsided.
Oh, and it also has a whole archery thing that’s part of it. So, you know, Agincourt 2.
It was the Battle of Verneuil that truly enabled the English to consolidate their power in Normandy, turning it into Lancastrian Normandy, the occupied territory.
Ah, the badge! I’ll leave off talking about badges generally for another post. For now, let’s talk about this badge.
The badge Wautier is wearing marks him as part of the Count of Suffolk’s household. This doesn’t mean he’s family; it means he serves the Count in some capacity.
The badge is also not the same as heraldry. The Count’s arms were on an azure field with a gold fess dividing three leopard faces, two above, one below.
The badge as you can see from my drawing is much simpler. It’s what was known as “an ape’s clog,” that is a wood block for chaining a monkey to so it wouldn’t escape. It was also known as a “jackanapes.” The term comes from “Jack of Naples,” slang for a monkey.
The Count of Suffolk’s nickname, unsurprisingly, became Jackanapes. He was the one who gave this term the meaning you might already know: an impertinent, conceited person. Why? For one, the Count of Suffolk was one of the nouveau riche: his great-grandfather had been a wool merchant (which means he was wealthy, but not noble).
Want to know another fun fact about Suffolk? Of course you do!
He married Alice Chaucer, the granddaughter of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer! For both his rise and hers, we can thank the Black Death. Not the only thing worth thanking, but those fleas definitely had a role to play.
There’s so much more to say about Suffolk and the way he messed up the war effort for England and was murdered for his troubles. But this isn’t his story.
Let’s get back to Robin and Wautier.
Okay, I admit, I didn’t quite know what to do here. Wautier has just heard Robin insulting the lord regent and his own master the Count of Suffolk, and he does…nothing. So, I made him leave. Maybe he didn’t. What we know from the register is that he’d heard Robin making these insults, but at the time did nothing about it.
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.
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.