When Temptation Strikes: IV

Starring:

Recap of Parts I, II, and III:

Our medieval crime story up to now: In 1424, two Englishmen who had been staying at Robin Ingier’s began to pillage his house and attack his wife. Women of the neighborhood responded to her cries for help and though they could not free her, did their best to protect her and the most valuable items in the household. Meanwhile, Robin Ingier heard the commotion and ran to his friends for help, using the good character of his wife to convince them to help save her.

Part IV: The Fight for the Golden Rule

After Robin Ingier had described what he had seen, Jehan and Laurent agreed to come to the house and see for themselves what was going on.

Robin Ingier opens the door to his home to see his wife and goods trussed up

When Robin Ingier opened the door, all three men could see that the robbers were coming to the end of their pillaging. The goods had all been bundled up and Oudine sat trussed up, ready to be carted off as part of the spoils. As for the neighborhood women, it was clear that the strangers had beaten them, but they did not appear to be in imminent danger of kidnapping.

It is at this point that Robin Ingier assumes that the Englishmen had raped his wife.

Maybe.

The text remains unclear on this point. That in itself is interesting, as I noted in Part I, because at the end of this scene (spoiler!) Robin Ingier will kill the Englishmen. The original French reads “sadicte femme eust esté prise par force,” which translates to “his aforesaid wife had been taken by force.”

Why is this ambiguous?

The usual term for rape in French records from the time is “rapt,” occasionally “violer.” More often, though, “rapt.” But even if we had “rapt,” in this context it could be unclear. That’s because “rapt” was also the term for kidnapping and applied to both men and women. It even could be used to describe an elopement (especially if the bride’s family was not keen on the union).

In not using “rapt” here, the petitioners may be trying to avoid ambiguity. The wife has been taken by force, against her will. In other words, as I talked about last time, her honour is intact and she’s not complicit. Except that rape could be dishonouring. So is the taking meant to mean being trussed up or something far more violent? And the comment that she has been so taken, for whatever meaning, is preceded by the phrase “Ingier presumed.”

What’s he presuming? That she didn’t want to be tied up or that she didn’t want to be raped?

I think that the petitioners are being deliberately slippery. First, this isn’t Robin Ingier’s petition, it’s that of Laurent and Jehan. They might not actually ever have known the truth of what happened to Oudine.

Second, the presumption (whether accurate or not) of her violation is necessary to help justify the killing that follows. It’s therefore immaterial to their case whether she actually had been raped. They had enough evidence to assume it had occurred, and would occur again if they did not intervene.

Third, though not themselves married to Oudine, Jehan and Laurent may well have wanted to help preserve the honour of their friend Robin Ingier (and thus of his wife, whose virtue reflected upon him).

Whatever the truth of the matter, the three men drew conclusions in the moment.

Robin Ingier turns to his friends, saying “My friends, avenge me on these thieves who rob me and beat my wife!”

At the sight of Oudine tied up and helpless, Robin Ingier said:

“My friends, avenge me on these thieves, who rob me and beat my wife!”

At Robin Ingier’s heartfelt request, the petition gives us a reprise of what the neighbourhood women went through when they heard Oudine’s cries. Laurent and Jehan reflect on how they would want others to respond if their wives were in a similar situation. Once more the petition gives us a glimpse at how an un-policed society regulated itself, built on mutual good will and aid. And a very matter-of-fact application of the golden rule.

Due unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That is to say:

Rescue your friends wives as you would have them rescue your wife.

Of course, I’m sure the pillaging Englishmen were more fond of this version of the rule:

Wizard of Id Comic: Remember the Golden Rule! What's that? Whoever has the gold makes the rules!

But they were probably weren’t fond of what happened next.

Jellyfish-Englishmen and Robin Ingier, Jehan, and Laurent (octopuses) fight each other.

Laurent and Jehan rushed the Englishmen.

Jehan the octopus looks down at a fallen Englishman-jellyfish, saying “He’s dead.” Off panel, someone else says that the other one is also dead.

In the heat and fury of the moment, the Englishmen were killed. Yes, that passive voice is in the original. Sneaky sneaky.

This could get bad. After all, those strangers (whether Englishmen or otherwise) were probably quartering in Robin Ingier’s house, which means they were probably soldiers. I can’t say this for sure, as the letter of remission never makes it explicit. But Normandy is occupied territory, the town is on the frontier, making it a hot-spot for conflicts with the French (increasing the likelihood of an English presence even after hostilities ceased inside Normandy), and the strangers spoke a language the others didn’t know. Of course it’s not impossible to rent a room when you don’t know the local language (as any tourist pre-Internet knows), so my assumptions are just that. But as Robin le Peletier helpfully points out, the English are “eaters,” lodging in the homes of the local population and doing nothing but consuming what isn’t theirs — without paying, without asking, and certainly without saying thank you.

However justified the three men may have felt, they knew they were in trouble. Next time, we’ll look at how they tried to get out of that trouble, only to make the situation a whole lot worse.

When Temptation Strikes: III

Starring:

Recap of Parts I and II:

Recap of the first two parts of this letter of remission (petition for pardon) from Lancastrian Normandy in the 15th century. So far, we have the crime of robbery and (attempted) assault. That assault may or may not have been a successful rape on Robin Ingier’s wife, whom we’re calling Oudine. The neighbourhood women heard Oudine’s cries for help and rushed to the rescue. Meanwhile, Robin Ingier also heard cries coming from his house, saw what was going on, and ran the other way.

Part III: Kick-Ass Women aren’t Passive

Robin Ingier, realizing that he needed help, ran off to find his friends and neighbors, Laurent and Jehan.

Robin Ingier asks his two octopus friends for help

Robin Ingier lays out the situation for them. Two strangers, the presumed Englishmen, had been plundering his home. When the women of the neighborhood arrived, they had tried to stop them.

A line of octopus-women try to protect Robin Ingier's goods

There’s a lot going on in the petition concerning these neighbor women.

They’re the first to arrive on the scene when the hue and cry goes up.

Willingly and out of a sense of duty, it seems, they rush in to try to help. (Note that Robin Ingier doesn’t rush in all at once, but reconnoiters and goes to get backup)

Once inside, these women set about trying to protect Robin Ingier’s goods. No mention of their trying to protect Oudine or help her escape. Maybe they weren’t able to get to her before the Englishmen caught them saving the stuff, for they were soon being struck and beaten.

Englishmen (jellyfish) put the women (octopuses) in a corner to guard them
Ocotpus women continue to try to hide valuables from the Englishmen-jellyfish
An Englishman-jellyfish strikes one of the women

Robin Ingier had apparently poked his head in the window at this point. In telling Laurent and Jehan what was going on and why he needed their help, he says that not only were the women beaten and oppressed, but the Englishmen had continued to pack up their loot and had bound up Oudine “ready to be transported.”

So what’s going on with these women? Why so much attention being paid to them when Robin Ingier’s trying to get some help? Is it just to give his neighbors a sense of what they’ll find inside?

I don’t think so.

I think the neighborhood women are being used on two fronts.

One is to add justification for the violence that’s about to come. See! There were so many women who’d been beaten and oppressed, not just the wife! How could we not try to stop what these villainous strangers were doing?!

That seems straightforward enough, as well as being in-line with the probable fact that the neighborhood women had in fact been there, and so needed to be accounted for in the petition.

But another line is added. Robin Ingier apparently told the two brothers that his wife “was not bellicose.”

Hmm.

Okay, it comes at the start of a description of Oudine, which continues as follows:

His wife, who was not bellicose, but had lived in good and honest conversation, without reproach, and that without reasonable cause she would not cry for appeal for aid.

The comment on bellicosity comes immediately after the description of what the neighborhood women are up to. Is the petition disparaging the women? Is it trying to suggest that they’re too aggressive, and so may have deserved some of the beatings they got? Whereas Oudine was entirely passive, and therefore without reproach?

Oudine the octopus looking pious

I’m honestly not sure. On the one hand, it’s entirely possible that the description of Oudine is meant entirely to back up the next sentence:

Ingier, presuming that his wife had been taken by force, said to Laurent and Jehan Drujon:

“My friends, avenge me on these thieves, who rob me and beat my wife.”

Probably that’s what it was meant to do.

Yet I still can’t shake that Oudine’s passivity is being placed in juxtaposition to the more active neighbors.

Is this why the Duke of Bedford took a moment to explain why the neighborhood women had responded so actively? To soften the criticism implicitly lodged against them?

It could also have been a more simple statement of contrasts, that Oudine was trussed up and about to be kidnapped, unlike the other, more active, women, and therefore it was Robin Ingier’s honour that was most in danger, justifying his (and Laurent and Jehan’s) next moves.

What were those next moves? Find out next time! (I need to work on better cliff-hanger transitions..)

When Temptation Strikes: II

Starring:

Recap of Part I:

Part II: Help Thy Neighbour

We continue on with a case of burglary and violent assault in medieval Lancastrian Normandy. Let’s see what happens next to our medieval criminals!

When we last left Oudine, she was running away from her assailants. Had she successfully escaped their assault? It’s hard to say. As we’ll see later in the story, preserving her virtue becomes an important plot point. That said, probably she had not been raped, as a successful attack on the wife would have been understood as an assault upon the husband, thereby further justifying any response he took. We can’t be certain, however, because Robin Ingier may have felt the loss of honour and status from his wife’s rape was too great to acknowledge. Come to that, this isn’t even Robin Ingier’s petition. We haven’t met the brothers who are actually presently pleading for a reprieve. And while they would have been involved in crafting their exculpatory tale, their friends and families would also have been part of the process.

All the voices I’ve been privileging here are male. What about Oudine? None other than Oudine and her attackers were present when the assault took place. Would she have told her husband if it was successful? Not necessarily. People then as now can be real nincompoops when it comes to responding to another person’s sexual trauma. And in the society of early 15th-century France, her worth as a woman and wife was tied to her perceived purity and uprightness, which was itself tied to ideas about sexual purity. She very well may have preferred not to admit what had happened to her.

In short, there are a lot of competing interests at play that may account for why the attack on Oudine is glossed as unsuccessful. We can be skeptical, but as I’ve no reason to say she was raped, let’s give the grrl props for getting away.

At least for the moment.

Outside of a house. Someone inside is yelling for help. Several people (drawn as octopuses) hear the cry.

Whatever the reality happening inside the house, outside the neighborhood women heard Oudine raising the hue and cry (ie yelling for help).

Every one of them, we’re told, assembled to help, wanting to do for her what they would want done for themselves in a similar case. This is a rather neat encapsulation of the medieval social contract, and as I write this feels pretty darn timely in terms of what community solutions to violence in an un-policed society can look like.

Also, these kick-ass medieval women are putting the lie to the whole “damsels in distress” motif.

I want to pause from looking at the story to looking at the petition itself.

This is a pretty neat part in the record, one we don’t see very often. The Duke of Bedford* (or at least, a court scribe writing in his voice) interjects to explain something.

Typically, the petitioner is able to get on with it, the official court voice only appearing at the beginning and end to set up the case and render the judgment (with occasional adjustments such as saying “our enemies” in reference to the French).

But here, when our petitioners speak of Oudine’s raising of the hue and cry, Bedford feels he needs to comment (I’m going to keep up the text’s fiction that it’s Bedford himself speaking). He interjects:

At this cry the female neighbors assembled and, wanting to resist the evil enterprise of the Englishmen or others, fearing that if they did not help or aid their neighbor in her need, she would not help them another time in a similar case, they made together a great hue and cry, requiring our help, such that our men and subjects were accustomed to do in such a case in our country of Normandy when one does them wrong, and they could not resist the furor of those who violently stole from them and took by undue force, against the custom of our country; our subjects are bound to come to such a cry, that is those who can hear it, in order to accomplish good justice.

It’s an odd interjection, since the idea of the hue and cry certainly existed in England, yet Bedford takes quite a few lines explaining what this is. Maybe it’s a rewriting of what the petitioners wrote, rendered in the duke’s voice, though I don’t quite know why this would be. If any one more expert than I on English criminal custom would like to share their thoughts in the comments, I’d be much obliged!

The octopus-women enter the house to find Oudine captured and two angry jellyfish-strangers.

Upon hearing Oudine’s calls for help, the women respond, just as the Duke of Bedford explained. Entering the home, they found Oudine trapped by the strangers and many of Robin Ingier’s goods stuffed into sacks.

While the neighborhood women are trying to help Oudine and adding their cries to hers, Robin Ingier passes near his home and hears the cries.

Robin Ingier, drawn as an octopus, hears cries for help coming from his house.

Looking inside, he quickly assesses the situation.

Robin Ingier looks through a window.

Assessment: I’m f*cked.

No, he didn’t actually say that. He was far more restrained, at least in the petition.

Considering that against the evil enterprise of the Englishmen he couldn’t resist without ehlp, he allied with Laurent and Jehan Drujon.

Who are Laurent and Jehan Drujon? Stick around! We’ll meet them next time!

.

Quick Refresher: Duke of Bedford is currently the regent of England while the king’s working out how to use a potty as opposed to mess himself. That means the Duke also is the ruler of Lancastrian Normandy, the English-occupied territory of… Normandy! Petitions for pardon thus go to him (or his judicial staff) at this juncture. For more on the situation in Normandy at this time, see A Dice Game to Die For: Part I. For Bedford, see Part I and Part II of Off the Deep End. Return to post.

When Temptation Strikes: I

Part I: Speaking in Tongues

Starring:

The wife of Robin Ingier expected the night to be full of sweet perfume. It was after all the time of Pentecost, the miracle of the Holy Spirit’s descent upon Jesus’s followers after his crucifixion. A Spring holiday, falling this particular year on 11 May, the air should have carried the aroma of flowers and fresh herbs.

Instead, it smelled of jellyfish.

Two men, drawn as jellyfish, rummage through a room. One says “Check the other room.”

No, wait. Sorry. That’s just my drawing.

These two jellyfish are maybe Englishmen. Or maybe not. Strangers, certainly, whose language none of the people later pleading for mercy before the Lancastrian court understood. The testimony’s very upfront about that.

English was a good guess, though. This was Lancastrian Normandy in 1421, with the territory not yet fully subdued and brought under the English heel.

Seems rather fitting that there should be people speaking in strange, incomprehensible tongues wandering about at Pentecost. Of course, the spirit that moved them was far from holy.

A jellyfish enters a room on which a woman (drawn as an octopus) is sitting. He says. “In here! It’s the wife!”

Not content to simply pillage the goods of Robin Ingier, in whose house these strangers had lodged, they turned their attention to his wife. She managed to fight off their attempts to rape and injure her.

The wife runs away, yelling for help, while at the edge of the image jellyfish tentacles reach out and someone says “Get her!” and “Get back here!”

First, let’s give her a solid, “You go, grrl!”

Second, let’s acknowledge that this description is coming from a petition for pardon, which means that the story is almost certainly embellished and crafted to put things in the most favorable light possible. Sadly, feminism is not the light we’re talking about.

The inclusion of the wife’s fighting off—

Hang on. I’m sorry. She needs a name. I’m going to get very tired of saying “the wife of Robin Ingier” over and over. And since we don’t know her name, let’s give her an awesome one. How about Oudine? This is after all a blog heavily inspired by comics (even if you can’t tell by my drawings), and Oudine is an actual name from the time, the feminine form of Oudin, which was in turn the French form of…well, actually, I don’t know. But I want the answer to be Odin. Because if there’s a female Thor, there should be a female Odin. Just sayin’.

She just needs an eye-patch and they’re practically the same, right?

Anyway, back to where we were.

The inclusion of Oudine’s fighting off the attackers is not there to show that she’s kick-ass, or that women don’t have to be victims, or anything that we in the 21st century might want to read into it.

It’s there to give justification for what’s going to happen later. This is a petition for pardon, and that means its explicitly about crafting a narrative of excuse. Pardon letters weren’t to say that you didn’t do the crime for which you’d been convicted. They were meant to present all the (supposedly) extenuating circumstances that actually made you (the murderer, thief, arsonist, what have you) into the victim — and crucially, almost always made your victim into the reprobate who deserved his fate.

Does that mean Oudine actually successfully escaped those tentacular grasps?

Far Too Dignified Announcer Voice: Will Oudine escape their grasp? Will anyone hear her cries for help? Find out next time in Part II of When Temptation Strikes!

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.