Off the Deep End: Conclusion

After letting off some steam, someone needs to cool off with a swim.

Starring:

recap of Parts I, II, III, and IV:

Part V: In Too Deep

Can I let you in on a secret?

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.

“That’s not a knife…That’s a knife.”
I hope you’ve all enjoyed this piece of my childhood.

(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.

The Credits

I give all credit for inspiration and design of the hedgehogs in this story to 20 Ways to Draw Everything by Lisa Congdon, Julia Kuo, and Eloise Renouf.

I take all blame for totally stuffing up their amazing work.

Off the Deep End: Part IV

After letting off some steam, someone needs to cool off with a swim.

Starring:

Recap of Parts I, II, and III:

Part IV: Them’s Fightin’ Words!

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?

Can just any hedgehog quill become a sword?

The mystery deepens!

Next time… the stunning conclusion!

Off the Deep End: Part III

After letting off some steam, someone needs to cool off with a swim.

Starring:

Recap of Parts I and II:

Part III: Jackanapes

Asked to leave off talking about the Duke of Bedford, Robin obliges.

Sort of.

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.

So, is that it?

Is this the end of the story?

What a let down…

Oh? What’s that? There’s more to come? Hurray!

Off the Deep End: Part II

After letting off some steam, someone needs to cool off with a swim.

Starring:

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.

But wait!

If he’s insulting the Duke of Bedford, wouldn’t he be in favour of the French?!

Maybe.

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.

Off the Deep End: I

After letting off some steam, someone needs to cool off with a swim.

Part I: Drink is a Mocker

Starring:

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:

  1. Acting as the king for all intents and purposes.
  2. Really, really powerful (see #1).
  3. 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!

A Dice Game to Die For: Conclusion

Pardon for a murderer who, after a rough game of dice, struck another in the chest with a spear.

Part IV: Snake Eyes

Starring:

Recap of Parts I, II, and III:

Thomas struggles

After being thoroughly pummeled, and with a knife pulled on him, Thomas got up…somehow. I made up how.

Thomas gets free
Thomas escapes

He left the house and ran out into the night…

Thomas sees his spear

…taking the spear he had brought with him.

(My mother, when she got to this panel, wanted me to know that I’d accidentally drawn two heads on Thomas in this image. My 4-year-old daughter was very excited to explain to grandma that the two heads don’t mean Thomas actually has, well, two heads, but that he’s looking one way, then suddenly looking in the other direction.)

Thomas challenges Raoulin

Thomas was very upset and angered that Raoulin had hit him and taken his gold écu, not to mention that Raoulin had pulled a knife on him. Let’s also not forget the insult to Thomas done by smacking his wife.

Raoulin hears the challenge
Raoulin accepts the challenge

Raoulin came out, taking with him a large spear. Why didn’t he take the knife? Did he know that Thomas had a spear? It’s a fair guess that he did. Better to fight with roughly equal weapons, with similar reach.

The fight is stopped

In the midst of this discord, their neighbor, the squire Simon de Daubeuf, convinced them to leave off.

Raoulin goes back inside

Simon took Raoulin back inside and closed the door. Thomas stayed outside.

Raoulin sneaking out

Suddenly, Raoulin, persevering in his evil intent, ran out via the door of the stable.

I’m a big fan of this line, specifically the phrase “persevering in his evil intent.” It’s incredibly rich. We get the idea that Raoulin is consumed by evil, and therefore anything Thomas does is a rational and needful response. On top of that, the evil is intentional, purposeful. Raoulin has not left hold of his senses; he has chosen to act maliciously. That compounds his villainy. Finally, we get the idea of perseverance. Already dissuaded once, Raoulin remains obstinate in his evil. He will not be put off. He refuses to be stopped.

Thomas, in short, has been painted into a corner. This is always what you want when you’re looking for mercy.

Raoulin attacks Thomas

Raoulin came right at Thomas, his spear lifted to strike him, kill and murder him! (Yup, Raoulin’s hand position is off, as is Thomas’s, thanks for noticing!)

So exciting! Reading the petition, the story crescendos here. We’ve reached the climax of the story. Thomas must make a decision. Whatever he chooses, there can be no turning back to how things were before. These letters for pardon were very intentionally crafted to elicit sympathy for the criminal seeking mercy by heightening the drama. There was an art to it. Whole books have been written on this subject. I can’t recommend highly enough Natalie Zemon Davis’s Fiction in the Archives. I’d also recommend my own article on the set of letters from Lancastrian Normandy, from which I drew this story. The article’s all about the language of evil and persistence and intent. Oh, and the Devil. There’s lots about the Devil in there.

Thomas on the run

Thomas put his spear in front of himself, wanting to stop Raoulin from “improperly greeting his person” (wow!). When Raoulin approached, Thomas pointed the spear at Raoulin’s chest or armpit — he couldn’t be sure which, it was around 11 at night after all.

Suddenly, Raoulin fell to the ground and died.

Thomas, afraid of the rigour of justice, left his house and the company of his wife and children.

What is Thomas so afraid of? There’s the murder charge, for one. The English weren’t known to be particularly fond of people who killed their sergeants. It was the king of England, , whom Thomas had to petition. England controlled northern France, including Paris. More than that, in 1420 King Charles VI of France had disinherited his own son (Charles VII) in favour of Henry V of England. However, Henry died before Charles VI, making his son Henry VI the successor to the throne of France. But, Henry was just a babe when his father died in August 1422, less than a year old.

Why does this all matter? Thomas killed an English sergeant. Not good.

Thomas killed an English sergeant in the midst of a war, in occupied territory. Very not good.

Thomas killed an English sergeant in the midst of a war, in occupied territory, when the current king of England is barely two years old, a regent rules in his name, and the king’s uncle Charles roams around southern France looking to get his birthright back. Yowzah!

No wonder Thomas feared for his life and took to his heels.

But, captured in the end, he sought mercy. In fact, it was his relatives and close friends who submitted the plea (known as a letter of remission) on his behalf. Following the tried-and-true formula for these kinds of documents, they situated Thomas as a humble family man with mouths to feed (“Thomas Duval, age 30 or so, labourer with a wife and children”). Then, they moved into the story, beginning with the exposition (“at around the hour of supper in the hôtel of the late Raoulin Boscquérart”). Next comes the conflict (“Raoulin took the gold écu”; “Raoulin, filled with hot anger, got up and walked over to Thomas’s wife and struck her very inhumanely”). Throughout all of this, right up to the end, Thomas is essentially passive. He does not get angry, he does not strike at Raoulin. When he can, he runs away. Okay, he also calls Raoulin out to a fight, but that’s after we’ve seen just how aggrieved his honour was. When we get to the climax, we’re convinced that Raoulin will not stop until he’s killed Thomas (remember “persevering in his evil intent”?). Thomas’s killing of Raoulin is clearly self-defense, says the petition.

The court agreed.

Thomas’s sentence was commuted to paying 10 livres parisis (in value, a bit less than 10 écu d’or). Guess it was good he’d won that dice game, eh?

The sentence handed down in Paris, March 1424.

My interpretation handed down in Kitchener, May 2020.

A Dice Game to Die For: III

Pardon for a murderer who, after a rough game of dice, struck another in the chest with a spear.

Part III: What He Did About It

Starring:

Recap of Parts I and II:

Thomas rebukes Raoulin

I know, rough language, but I’m taking it from the original. Actually, Thomas doesn’t say anything directly about Raoulin’s hitting his wife; he just responds to the attack by calling it an evil thing.

If Thomas thought that would solve the issue, he was sorely mistaken.

Raoulin, full of felonious courage, came up to Thomas.

Raoulin punches Thomas

He struck Thomas two or three times with his fist…

Raoulin pushes Thomas

…and threw him to the floor, beneath the stool on which Thomas had been sitting. Yes, that stool detail is in the original. I think it’s there to say that Thomas had never left his seat during all of this, which means he wasn’t threatening or challenging Raoulin to a fight. Keep in mind, this is from someone who’s begging forgiveness, so he’s trying to shine the best possible light on the situation (so I bet you can guess by now who’s petitioning the king for a pardon).

And yes, I didn’t draw Thomas sitting. My drawing skills are still pretty rudimentary if I don’t have a reference image.

Raoulin strangling Thomas

Raoulin took Thomas by the throat and strangled him so hard that Thomas struggled to speak.

Raoulin reaches

Raoulin reached…

Knife

…and grabbed a knife, which Thomas hadn’t seen before. Even more specifically, Raoulin grabbed a knife with a black handle. Honestly, I don’t know what import that’s meant to have. Perhaps it indicated the value of the weapon, which would factor into the severity of the situation and the relevant penalties. But that’s a guess. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

And wouldn’t you love to hear what happens next? Come back for the final, exciting conclusion of a Dice Game to Die For!

A Dice Game to Die For: II

Pardon for a murderer who, after a rough game of dice, struck another in the chest with a spear.

Part II: The Die is Cast

Starring:

Recap of Part I:

An écu — whether dating from Louis IX’s reign, Philip VI’s (1328-1350), or Charles VI’s (r. 1380-1422) — was an extremely valuable coin, especially for a labourer like Thomas. It’s hard to compare wages then and now, but to give you a sense of things, it was probably equivalent to half a year’s wages for a labourer. As an infantryman, he might have made 6 pence a day, though that’s probably on the very high end, but we’ll be generous to Thomas. That écu would represent about 40 days wages for a well-paid infantryman.

All of this math is really rough.

Thomas is mad

Rough math or not, you can imagine Thomas was none to pleased when Raoulin pocketed his écu.

Thomas, though, was a simple labourer, and Raoulin was the local sergeant. Friends they may have been, but that did not obviate status and the hierarchy of power.

Let's play dice

I took a bit of liberty here. After Raoulin took the écu, the record tells us that they played dice together. I don’t know that Thomas suggested it. Perhaps Raoulin did, and Thomas hoped to win back his écu. Maybe one of the other people in the group thought a game of dice would be a good way to diffuse the situation. One way or another, dice were played.

Which is to say that they gambled. There are a variety of dice games from the Middle Ages — probably a lot more than we actually know about. One of the most common was called passe-dix. It involved 3 six-sided dice (d6s for all my fellow gamers). The aim, in short, was to roll a 10 or more.

Dice rolling

I decided to display Hazard, a game played on two d6s. The player casting the dice selects a number from 5 to 9 before rolling. Depending on the roll, the player has won or lost. After three losses, it’s a new player’s turn. There’s a lot more to this than what I’ve described here. If you’re interested, I’d recommend this blog post.

I chose Hazard for two reasons.

1) The name of the game derives from Arabic, where it literally means dice;

2) Chaucer mentions it in the Pardoner’s Tale:

Hazard is the very mother of lies and deceit, and false swearing, and blasphemy, and waste of cattle and of time. It is the contrary of honour for to be held a common hazardour; and ever the higher he is of estate, the more he is holden desolate if that a prince useth hazardry;

3) I only felt like drawing two dice.

Hmm…that’s three reasons… Like I said, rough math.

Thomas wins

After playing at dice, Thomas parted Raoulin from all his money. Raoulin did not take this well.

No wonder the ambassador in the Pardoner’s Tale left Corinth forthwith when he discovered that all the great men of that land played hazard, saying:

Send some other wise ambassadors; for on my word, I would rather die than ally with hazardours.

Raoulin loses money

Raoulin, full of hot anger, got up from the table…

If only Thomas had heeded Chaucer’s advice!

Raoulin slaps Thomas's wife

Raoulin walked over to Thomas’s wife and struck her very cruelly. If you want to be literal about it, very inhumanely.

So this is rather interesting, isn’t it? The wife has been entirely absent from the story up to this point. In fact, we have to assume that she had come with Thomas to dine at Raoulin’s for that’s not stated explicitly. She just shows up in order to be slapped.

Yes, there’s a lot we can unpack here.

Let’s just go with the fact that Raoulin, though socially superior to Thomas, does not directly engage with him over the lost money. Instead, he strikes Thomas’s wife. In the 15th century, there’s none who’d doubt that Raoulin had in fact attacked Thomas by doing this. Raoulin is demonstrating his power in this moment, not a fear of Thomas (as we might be inclined to view it if it happened today).

To be sure, this narrative of events that we have leaves out a lot of details. What had Thomas’s wife been doing? I’ve assumed she was speaking with another woman during all this time, but maybe she was watching the dice game? Perhaps she cheered a little too much for Thomas, seemed to revel too much in Raoulin’s loss? We just don’t know and never will.

What we do know is that Raoulin, by slapping Thomas’s wife, struck a blow at Thomas.

What’s Thomas going to do about it? Find out in Part III.

A Dice Game to Die For: I

Pardon for a murderer who, after a rough game of dice, struck another in the chest with a spear.

Part I: Écu, Brute?

Starring:

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.

Warm greetings all around

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.

Eating and chatting

Together with several others, Thomas supped…

Cheers!

…and made good cheer.

Thomas pulls out a coin

After supper, Thomas took out a gold écu from his purse and put it on the table.

Ecu d'or of Louis IX

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 takes the coin

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.)