Kingdom of France
At one o’clock in the afternoon on the twentieth day of March, three faculty members of the University of Paris and two students climbed up one of the towers of Notre Dame to view a minor astrological wonder – the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the fortieth degree of Aquarius.
Each of the professors was thinking about something different as they staggered and puffed their way round and round, up the closely-spaced and uneven stone steps, four hundred and eleven of them, up and up to the top of the cathedral. Johannes de Muris, accomplished mathematician and astronomer that he was, frequently observed the stars and planets from the roof of Notre Dame, and his only concern was whether or not they would be able to see the line of planets clearly in the middle of the day. Jean de Venette, the Carmelite Superior, was writing a chronicle, and he naturally wondered if he would see anything significant to relate to posterity. Angus the Scot, however, was a Franciscan, and he reflected upon the folly of humanity. For nearly two hundred years, men had toiled to raise this massive edifice. Only the steeple remained incomplete, enclosed within precarious scaffolding.
“Come along!” Johannes de Muris barked, calling down to the two students, who were following after their teachers with trepidation, their limbs trembling.
“What if we fall?” asked Nicholas d’Orleans, one of Angus’s own students.
“Then you’ll die,” Angus replied in his usual matter-of-fact way. He sighed, for Nicholas had an excellent theoretical grasp of medicine, but was horribly squeamish.
At the top of the tower, the students stared in awe at the enormous bells, and they all stepped out onto the roof to better see the aligned planets.
“Well – they appear quite clearly,” Johannes de Muris remarked. “First the red planet, Mars... then Jupiter, and finally Saturn. That’s the order.”
“And just think,” Jean de Venette added, “they all revolve around us – all the planets and stars in their various spheres.”
“How do we know that?” The question was asked by Renart d’Artois, who was studying canon law with Jean de Venette.
“Scripture says so,” his instructor explained, “and the ancients agree – Aristotle, Ptolemy – you will look in vain for any serious contradiction of the Earth-centric model.” Having said this, Jean de Venette added, “Note how the stars and planets move throughout the day, but always return to the same location?”
Angus accorded the distant planets only a passing glance. He instead admired the view of the city, divided in two by the Seine, with the Île de Cité lying in the middle of the river, connected to both banks by wooden bridges. He gazed toward the citadel of the Louvre, lying on the right bank, at the western edge of Paris, and closer at hand the Palais du Roi, which occupied the other end of the island.
“I am amazed, always,” he muttered to Nicholas d’Orleans. “Why is it that bridge doesn’t collapse altogether, with all those houses perched on top of it?”
* * *
Two months later, the Dauphin of Viennois, Humbert, presented himself at the Papal court in the city of Avignon, which occupied a special ecclesiastical enclave in the south of France. The weather was delightful – sunny skies and just pleasantly warm. The dry heat of a southern summer, the very heat that brought splendour to the vineyards, had not yet arrived.
“May I commend you on this fine palace, Your Holiness,” Humbert said when he at last was brought before the Pope, who had taken the regnal name Clement, the sixth Vicar of Christ to take the name since Peter’s papacy.
“It was built by my predecessors,” Clement replied, “but, alas, they did not know how to live in it.” He laughed – a pleasant, good-natured laugh.
Humbert noticed that the throne-room had been painted with scenes of hunting and feasting – more like a temporal lord’s hall than an ecclesiastical one.
“To what end do you appear before us yourself?” Clement asked.
“I wish to take the cross and lead my knights to Spain to aid King Alfonso against the Moors of Granada. I have bankrupted myself with preparations, however, and require the aid of the Holy See, apart from the Church’s aid obtaining passage for my forces.”
“No,” said the Pope, “this we cannot allow.” Humbert was shocked, but soon relaxed when Clement continued: “There is more need of pilgrim-warriors at Smyrna. You must recall that three years ago, upon being elected Pope, I called for volunteers to aid the Greeks.”
“Yes, I remember,” Humbert nodded, “but Smyrna was taken.”
“The Saracen Turks continue to hold the upper fortress, while we hold the harbour and the walled town below. After more than a year of constant fighting, the knights who answered the first call are exhausted, and they need to be withdrawn and replaced. Will you go to Smyrna, my lord Dauphin, and drive the Saracens from the castle?”
Humbert agreed, and set sail for the East only a few weeks later, transporting his men to Genoa, along the coast, before marching across Italy to Venice. The soldiers who joined Humbert de Viennois sallied forth with the usual offer of a pardon for any sin they might confess prior to taking the cross. After granting this dispensation, Clement joked with his ecclesiastical advisors that the knights were advised to wait and make their confessions after they had sampled the tempting fleshpots of Venice.
* * *
As the hot summer months passed, the Pope received a steady stream of petitions sent to his chancery from all over Latin Christendom. Kings and queens asked that their confessors be allowed to grant them absolution on their deathbeds; queens, in particular, requested benefices for their clerks, or that some young man, fresh out of the cathedral school, by honoured with a Church stipend even though he was still a boy. And, of course, there were the ambassadors.
“John de Carleton, Holy Father – emissary of His Majesty, Edward, King of England, Scotland, Ireland, and France.”
Clement received John de Carleton warmly, although his warmth was of a calculated, diplomatic nature.
“Holy Father, your servant, my king, sends greetings to you, and asks once more that you prevail upon Philippe of Valois to relinquish his illegal claim to the French throne.” Carleton spoke these words easily, for this was not the first time he had presented Edward’s case. “As you know, my lord Edward is the proper royal heir through his mother, Queen Isabella, and the former Queen Jeanne, having failed to produce a male heir....”
The French emissary always insinuated himself into the court whenever Carleton had an audience with the Pope, and hearing the Englishman’s words, he said, “Holiness, the inheritance of the French throne is governed by Salic Law, under which only the male line is recognized.”
“The male line died out,” Carleton countered. “The situation was unprecedented – you say that never before did France fall to a woman, or to any man through the female line, but likewise there is no precedent for an inheritance by the brother.”
“It is the wish of Holy Mother Church that our two good and valiant servants, Edward and Philippe, resolve their differences in a spirit of amity, as brothers in Christ, and renouncing the concerns of the world, look instead to the condition of their souls and the fate of their subjects.”
“Your Holiness, for the last six years, the English have been invading France.” Philippe’s emissary was truly exasperated. “They have stirred up rebellion in Flanders and Brittany. Even now, they are preparing a fleet to bring yet another army against us, and this quite apart from the cruel manner in which they have trampled the independence of our beloved allies, the Scots.”
Pope Clement considered the problem once more. Indeed, this struggle between Edward and Philippe was much on his mind. He did not wish to remind the French emissary that Robert the Bruce had murdered a man on the very altar of a church, arousing even the clergy of Scotland to war, and requiring the convent lands to send soldiers to swell his army.... He dismissed the two ambassadors and summoned his council.
“You could excommunicate them both, Holiness,” one of the Papal advisors suggested.
“My predecessor, Pope John, excommunicated the German Emperor Louis. As you know, that merely increased the Emperor’s popularity. What did Louis do? He marched on Rome, crowned an anti-pope, and offered refuge in his lands to all manner of heretics. King Edward is young, by all accounts just, and a popular lord. We cannot excommunicate him without alienating the English people, and the Papacy draws considerable revenues from England, which is a wealthy kingdom, and politically stable. Likewise, we are beholden to France, and though Philippe is not as popular with his people as Edward is, as you know the Holy See is at the mercy of the French. Avignon is surrounded by France. Should there by any division between me and Philippe, the Italian princes and the Germans will crown another anti-pope in Rome before you can blink your eyes. No wonder the Greeks refuse our offers to reunite Christendom. This argument over the Salic Law is not a conflict the Church can resolve, except by praying that the lords temporal of England and France come to their senses.”
* * *
In all of France, there was no knight more skilled in fighting than Geoffroi de Charnay, but he was weary as he made his way home to the manor of Pierre-Perthuis, on the headwaters of the Seine. He had sent a messenger ahead to bring word of his return to his wife, Jeanne. She was of the House of Vergy, a woman descended from those who had taken the cross with King Louis, and he hoped she would understand. Still, they had been married only a short time before he had joined the Papal fleet bound for Smyrna.
Jeanne greeted her husband properly as he dismounted from his horse, and the assembled tenants and serfs cheered him as they entered the ancient, stone-walled manse.
“It is good that you have returned,” Jeanne said, noting the exhaustion on Geoffroi’s face as he removed his hat and received, with thanks, a flagon of wine.
“The Dauphin arrived,” Geoffroi said, at last, allowing himself a long, satisfying draught of wine. “I stayed long enough to see what Humbert would do. Long enough to satisfy myself that he is a strutting fool. Oh, to be sure, he has the zeal for the pilgrimage, but he knows nothing about war. He led us out against the Turks, and the infidels made minced meat of us.”
Jeanne sighed, crossing herself piously. “Can nothing be done?”
“While we fight the Saracens, the Greeks fight each other, and the Genoese sneak about, hoping to snap up an island here or there, in all the confusion. All they want are more trading posts. As for the Venetians, they’re no better. The Genoese and the Venetians would rather fight each other, too. They’d both rather trade with the Turks than kill them.”
Geoffroi groaned, running a hand through his unkempt hair as he walked toward the open window, followed by his lady. Taking up the cross, he now realized, was more than just physical peril: it was a trial of the will and the spirit, for no form of warfare could be more tedious for a man-of-action than crusading, in which there were so many complications due to the rivalry among allies, and at the end of the pilgrim road a crafty and tenacious foe no less inspired by pride and faith than the knights of Latin Christendom.
“Pierre-Perthuis has prospered in my absence,” he remarked, admiring the fields beyond the farmyard wall.
“And the other estates as well,” Jeanne smiled. “Lirey, Montfort, Savoisy... they are all in good order.”
“Excellent,” Geoffroi replied, turning to look at his lady. “I am afraid I have bad news. I hoped we might pass some time in ease and comfort, well-deserved, but that is not to be. A messenger from the King intercepted me on my way up from Marseille. He is raising an army to fight the English, and I am called to the standard.”
* * *
King Edward’s fleet set sail on July 11, 1346, and the next day reached the coast of Normandy. As soon as the troops were landed – some fifteen thousand of them – they marched from Saint Vaast toward Caen, burning Carentan, Saint-Lô, and Torteval. News of the fate of the garrison at Caen was brought to King Philippe as he sat in the audience chamber of the Palais du Roi in Paris, beside his Queen, Jeanne the Lame. Neither one of them were young. They were both fifty-three years old that summer.
“Your Majesty,” the messenger said, kneeling before them, “I regret to inform you that Caen has fallen to the English.”
“That’s impossible,” Philippe replied, leaning forward slightly. “I sent Raoul de Brienne, Count of Eu and Constable of France, to hold the city, and he had five thousand men. He should have been able to hold Caen until Doomsday.”
“The Count of Eu has been captured, Your Majesty.”
Philippe heard as much about the English triumph at Caen as he could stand. Having no siege engines – for these had been left behind in England – Edward had decided to take the city by assault immediately. The Count of Eu, at the last moment, withdrew his men from two fortified abbeys that protected the town, having been persuaded by the wealthy merchants of the place to defend the commercial district instead. The English archers, however, rushed impetuously over the bridges, and as it was summer, the river had been low enough to enable their men-at-arms to wade across and attack various weak points in the old, crumbling walls.
“Most of the nobles rode away, while they still could, but the Count of Eu surrendered to the Earl of Kent.”
Philippe turned to Jeanne, his consort, who said, “If Edward has no siege engines, he does not intend to attack Paris directly. His aim is to bleed us by ravaging the country. He will march for the Seine and endeavour to cross. We must prevent that, if possible.”
Philippe donned his armour. He knew his weaknesses. His wife had the brains – the garden of France would be well-tended by her in his absence. He had always been thick-headed and stubborn, but he took up his shield and lance with relief. The battlefield was something he understood.
But Edward is thirty-four years old... he’s still young, and he was practically raised among soldiers, Philippe thought, staring into the padded interior of his helmet as contemplatively as a simple man could.
The French army marched from Paris to Amiens, where knights flocked to join the scarlet-and-gold blazing-sun banner, the ancient battle-standard of the kings of France, the Oriflamme, sacred to Saint Denis. On the first day of August, Edward’s army began its march along the left bank of the Seine, toward Paris, but the French slowed the pace of their advance by burning the crops and villages along their intended route. The English then crossed the river at the ford of Poissy, building a bridge across floating pontoons. Several skirmishes were fought between advanced parties of the English and French armies, and slowly – with remarkable subtlety, he thought – Philippe trapped Edward’s outnumbered, exhausted, half-starved force between the Seine and the Somme rivers. Hearing that the English were camped at Crécy, along the Somme, Philippe marched out with twenty-five thousand men, determined to end Edward’s claim to the French throne once and for all.
The English were sitting on the ground, resting, but not caught off guard. They had arrayed themselves on high ground, in three formations, the knights dismounted and positioned alongside the men-at-arms, the flanks covered by companies of archers... and something else, something unusual. Philippe’s troops approached Crécy via two roads, the Genoese crossbow men marching in the van.
Rudolf, the Duke of Lorraine, was possibly the most experienced of the French ruler’s advisors that day, having fought the Moors in Spain. He rode beside Philippe, pointing to the high ground.
“Sire, the English have anchored their line on the two villages, and they have dug traps for cavalry. Edward’s standard marks his position – next to the windmill, on top of the hill. The Genoese should lead the attack, but they don’t have their shields. They’re in the rear, with the baggage. We should halt and wait until the men are properly equipped.”
“Nonsense – the English won’t stand!” the Count of Alençon declared. “Send the Genoese straight in. If any of them get killed, then that’s fewer mercenaries we have to pay.”
Proudly, the Italian soldiers-of-fortune formed lines and moved toward the English line, raising a loud cheer at intervals to unnerve the enemy. Suddenly, however, the English and Welsh archers all took one step forward and let loose a hail of arrows – thousands upon thousands of them. The crossbow men shot their bolts, but while it took a few minutes to reload their complicated weapons, the English archers could lay another arrow upon their longbows, aim, and shoot every twelve seconds. The Genoese archers cut the strings of their crossbows, calling out to the English to have mercy, but the arrows continued to fall. The Genoese broke and began to retreat, whereupon Philippe ordered the French knights to charge through them.
The English watched as the French cavalry thundered into the retreating Genoese lines, knocking them down and trampling them. With laughter and good spirit, they began to pelt the on-coming knights with arrows, and then they revealed their surprise. Fire and smoke belched forth from Edward’s battle-line, and hammered iron balls flying faster than sight ripped through the French lords, smashing armour and shredding flesh, man and beast alike. Stubbornly, parties of French knights galloped into the dust and smoke, but none of them reached the English line. Those who survived turned their mounts and fled.
The bodies of the slain littered the plain, and among the nobles found upon the field by the English archers as they swarmed among the fallen, looting the dead and cutting the throats of the wounded, they found the Count of Alençon, the Count of Flanders, the Count of Blois, and the Duke of Lorraine. So many ranking noblemen had been slaughtered that Philippe had no choice but to retreat, horrified.
* * *
There was no point marching on Paris after the Battle of Crécy, not without siege engines and supplies. Edward had not intended to do more than ravage Upper Normandy and the Seine valley, demonstrating his military prowess. He was gratified to hear that there had been panic at Philippe’s court, but elsewhere the English and their local allies had attacked Philippe’s garrisons only to be beaten back. Edward retreated northward from the Somme to the Channel, surrounding the port of Calais. If he could capture the town, it would be easy to bring reinforcements and supplies across from England, which was only thirty miles away, the white cliffs of its coast visible on a clear day.
The burghers of Calais, however, confident that Philippe would relieve them, defended the walls of their city bravely. The defences of Calais, moreover, were not old and crumbling like those of Caen. The siege commenced in September, but not until their siege engines, cannon, and ladders arrived in November could Edward’s men make any proper attacks. All of these, however, were defeated. Winter came, and with it cold rain, sleet, even snow. In their muddy trenches the English waited.
To Edward’s delight, Queen Philippa joined him in his royal camp among the sand hills outside Calais, as did Princess Joan, his eldest daughter. Young Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, was with the army already, having fought at Crécy, and the English nobles made the best of their situation, bringing their ladies, servants, and even hunting dogs across the Channel, refusing to allow war to interfere with their pleasures. As usual, a horde of mistresses and prostitutes also followed the army, eager to relieve the bowmen and men-at-arms of their pay. Every night, they feasted, hoping that the people of Calais were starving, and in the evening Sir John Chandos entertained them all with his troubadour songs. There was dancing as well, and exceptionally fine music. Edward toured the lines, cheering on his soldiers every day, but in the evening he held court as if he had been at Windsor, or London, or at his family’s seat of Woodstock.
“Your Majesty,” the herald called out one evening, “the Papal Nuncio, Raymond Pelegrini!”
“I trust our Holy Father is well?” Edward inquired as the Nuncio presented himself.
“He is, and sends you his blessings,” the Nuncio replied, bowing his head slightly. “He also hopes you will mend your differences with King Philippe, and put an end to this war that has claimed so many lives already.”
“First of all, Philippe is not King of France. I am. He is the Count of Valois, and if he would go back to being merely the Count of Valois, and let me proceed to Notre Dame, to be crowned, we could end this war tomorrow.”
The Nuncio once more expressed the Pope’s desire for peace, but did not press the matter, for Edward was eager to receive another visitor, Sir John Copeland, who had arrived from the Scottish border with a royal prisoner, young David Bruce, captured after his army had been defeated. Edward and Queen Philippa eyed David and his wife, Joan of the Tower. He was twenty-two years old, but he was not full of rage and fire, as Edward might have expected – he was not like Robert Bruce at all. As for his queen, she seemed shy and cowed.
“What am I going to do with you two?” Edward asked, watching David bow and Joan curtsey. “Rebelling against your lawful king is bad enough, but making an alliance with your king’s enemy? You should not have done that. Do your evil counsellors really believe an alliance between Scotland and Philippe will help you? I am sovereign of both Scotland and France. That is a fact, and as God is my witness, I will make it so in truth.”
“However,” Philippa said, smiling at them, “the sport of kings is expensive. We believe Scotland, as part of our dominion, should play its part in the conquest of France. You send no men to fight alongside us, but your people will send money, for we will set a price on your heads. They may have you back when the price is paid.”
“And in the meantime,” Edward finished, “you, David Bruce, will be our guest at the Tower of London. Your lady, meanwhile, will be accommodated at Woodstock.”
* * *
In February, Edward called an end to the direct attacks on Calais, preferring instead to starve the town into submission. The decision was practical. In another month the weather would improve, and Philippe’s army would take the field again, no doubt marching to the relief of the city. Edward therefore set his men to raising fortifications around their camp, relying as much as possible on the natural barrier formed by the low, marshy ground that separated the coastal sand hills from the interior. Only a few causeways crossed this morass, and Edward was certain that Philippe’s troops would not be able to break through. The French appeared, as expected, but after a few probing movements and some skirmishing, Philippe withdrew his headquarters to Saint Omer.
To Edward’s dismay, a convoy of French ships managed to bring reinforcements and provisions to Calais, breaking through the blockading English fleet. Aimery de Pavia, the Lombard commander of the English ships, made his obsequious excuses, and Edward accepted them as gracefully as he could. After all, the maritime arts were not as well-developed in England as they were in Italy. All the best shipbuilders and navigators were Italians, and one had no choice but to rely on them. One had to admire the near-sorcery of their art, taking vessels out upon the open, empty sea, finding some far-off port using little more than an astrolabe, a piece of string, and arcane, almost secret knowledge concerning the sun, moon, and stars.
“It will not happen again,” Aimery de Pavia promised.
“It had better not,” Edward said. “You know, de Pavia, the thing about foreign hirelings is this: they can be replaced.”
Aimery de Pavia, however, was as good as his word: the fleet prevented any more convoys from reaching Calais, while on land Philippe’s army failed to dislodge the English from their entrenchments – not that they really tried.
“They say the garrison of Calais is eating rats and dogs,” said white-haired Robert d’Ufford, the Earl of Suffolk. “Meanwhile, the flower of the French nobility sits on their arses in Saint-Omer, guzzling wine, shagging their mistresses, and jousting with each other. I hear they made that strutting buffoon, Geoffroi de Charnay, Keeper of the Oriflamme.”
“What’s the Oriflamme?” asked young Prince Edward.
“That’s the battle-standard of France,” explained the Earl of Warwick, Thomas de Beauchamp, Marshall of England, who had been appointed by King Edward to teach his son the art of war.
“I have heard that Geoffroi de Charnay is the best swordsman and lancer the French have,” King Edward noted. “One does not entrust the Oriflamme to just any knight.” Turning to his son, the English ruler added, “Whoever carries the Oriflamme is a marked man – on the field of battle, everyone will be trying to kill or capture him.”
In July, the situation in Calais became so desperate that the city gates were opened, and five hundred elderly men and women were expelled, along with the city’s unwanted children. When he heard what was happening, Edward hurried to the front-line trenches to see the spectacle for himself.
“Should we let them pass, Your Majesty?” asked Warwick.
“And send a detailed description of our defences to everyone else in France?” Edward was furious. “They shall not be allowed to cross our lines – d’you understand?”
A few of the refugees, less timid than the others, approached the English trenches, only to be told to go back by the bowmen.
“We cannot!” cried an old man. “There is no food left in the city, and the burghers refuse to give us rations because we cannot fight or work.”
Bowing to his king, Suffolk said, “The exiles are shunned by their own people – they have gone a-begging to the gates of Calais, but the archers shot arrows at them. So, now they lie in the sun, between the two armies, starving and dying of thirst.”
“That is not my fault,” King Edward replied.
“My lord,” Queen Philippa said, laying a hand on her husband’s, tenderly. “Would it not be wise to show mercy? Philippe has raised the people against us by telling them we are barbarians, bent on ruining their country. Let these poor people pass, I beg of you – show them that their true king is just and compassionate.”
Edward considered the problem, but not for long. He could see that his Queen was right. It was cruel and unchivalrous to let innocent people starve and die of thirst.
“Very well – call them forward, and bring them here. We shall distribute alms and send them off with our blessing.”
However, Edward was still furious, and when the people of Calais lit bonfires on the night of August 1, 1347, signalling that they wished to surrender, he summoned Warwick and Suffolk, saying, “Fine – the city shall not be plundered, but you tell them that the burghers, who have behaved with despicable wickedness, have forfeit their lives. They are to be tried and executed for treason.”
Once more, the Queen urged her husband to be merciful, to the great relief of Warwick and Suffolk. However, Prince Edward, observing these proceedings, was confused. Walking from the royal pavilion with Warwick, he asked his mentor, “Lord-Marshall, why did my father agree with my mother’s suggestion to spare the rebel burghers?”
Taking the prince aside, Warwick lowered his voice and said, after a thoughtful pause, “Your Highness, when two kings contest a single throne, that makes everyone a traitor. It is bad enough that we are all sinners. Your father has known only treachery all his life: he has learned to deal roughly with his enemies. Your mother, however, takes a longer view. It is one thing to claim France, but without the people’s love all this bloodshed is for nought. And your father, my Prince, has the good sense to heed your mother’s advice.”
And so the people of Calais opened the gates, and Edward’s army marched into the city.
* * *
Geoffroi de Charnay visited the English camp in September, accompanied by Charles de Montmorency, the Marshall of France. They were conducted into King Edward’s presence, having ridden to the English outposts under a flag of truce.
“Why does your master, Philippe de Valois, wish to end the war?” the English king asked. “Is it because he has run out of money?”
“Italians are expensive, Your Majesty,” said Charles de Montmorency.
“More expensive for you than for us,” King Edward smirked. “Our main export is wool, which the merchants of Genoa and Florence buy. No doubt you have had a good look at our camp, my lords. Did you see any companies of Italian mercenaries here?”
“No, Your Majesty.”
“Now, when we took the city of Caen, we found in Raoul de Brienne’s possession certain letters from Philippe de Valois – instructions for him, orders to send pirates across the Channel to ravage the coast of England.” King Edward thrust one of the offending documents under Geoffroi de Charnay’s nose, but the French knight steadfastly refused to look at it. Seething, the English king snapped, “You tell me, Monsieur, why in the hell should I give your master any respite! Go – we will give you your answer shortly.”
Edward conferred with his commanders, in private, paying close attention to the advice of John Chandos, who had devised the strategy for the Crécy campaign. Chandos urged the King to agree to Philippe’s request for a truce: this would give the English time to strengthen the defences of Calais and raise more men, amass supplies, and levy new taxes. Edward would have a chance to return to England, attend to pressing affairs of state, and meet with Parliament.
Geoffroi de Charnay returned to Paris, where he was joined by his wife, Jeanne. He had been appointed to the King’s council. Moreover, Philippe had summoned the Estates-General, the French parliament. From every part of France they came, lords spiritual and temporal, and also the representatives of the burghers of the market towns. King Philippe requested more money with which to carry on the war. Geoffroi sensed that his subjects were not unwilling, but they were angry with the course events had taken. They stood, one by one, criticizing the King, as was their right. Philippe heard them out, despondently, but there was a hard, mean look in Queen Jeanne’s eyes, and several times she seemed about to rise and storm out of the audience hall. However, she knew that this was the ancient tradition of the realm – the king had to ask his vassals for new taxes, but in return he was required to listen to their opinions and demands.
Life at court returned to normal, for the most part, although disquieting rumours circulated round the tables during royal banquets.
“They say fat Louis, the German Emperor, had a heart-attack while trying to kill a boar with a spear,” laughed one of Prince Jean’s followers, Carlos de la Cerda.
“Good riddance,” muttered the Prince’s wife, Jutta of Luxembourg.
“The strange Eastern plague that has ravaged the Crimea and Byzantium has reached Marseille,” Geoffroi de Charnay noted. “They say it has killed thousands.”
“No one knows what it is – the physicians are helpless,” Jeanne de Charnay added.
Jutta shook her head, sadly, and said, “Let us pray, then, that the pestilence does not reach Avignon, or – God forbid – Paris.”
* * *
Pope Clement summoned his physician, Guy de Chauliac, to his private apartment at the Papal Palace in Avignon. He said, “I trust you have heard the awful news: several cases of the plague have been reported in the town.”
“So I hear, Holy Father,” Guy de Chauliac replied, bowing his head. “They say the pestilence has killed tens of thousands, young and old, in all the seaports and fishing villages from Marseilles to Barcelona – that Sicily, too, has reported an almost unbelievable loss of life. They say that in some places, out of ten, only three now are left.”
“What is it?” Clement asked.
“I would have to see for myself,” Guy de Chauliac said, taking a deep breath. “I have heard only the same rumours everyone else has heard.”
“It is the judgment of God against us, surely,” the Pope sighed. “Cardinal Aubert tells me that everyone who contracts this plague dies, that it is more hideous than anything anyone has ever seen, and more terrifying.”
All the physicians fled from Avignon, for they had heard what had happened in Toulon and Marseille, how those doctors who tended the sick soon fell ill themselves. A physician could only accept a fee if he cured his patient, but this... this scourge left no survivors. There was no point, they said, trying to help those who were doomed – the risk was too great. And so the doctors disappeared from the Papal enclave, but Guy de Chauliac remained at his post, alongside Pope Clement. After all, if the Holy See, which was supposed to set an example for all Christians, fled for fear of death, what sort of message would this send to the world?
Mustering his courage, and fortifying himself by means of confession and prayer, Guy de Chauliac began to visit the sick as, one by one, the city watch marked the houses stricken by the plague. These were identified by means of a large black cross, painted on the door.
“It came on so quickly,” mumbled Nöel, the buckle-maker, lying in his narrow wooden crib of a bed. He was feverish, grey of pallor, with a strange purplish swelling under the flesh of his armpits, and between his thighs.
In the next house, Guy de Chauliac sat down at the side of a woman named Milessent, a linen-carder, who exhibited rather different symptoms. In her case, cold sores disfigured her lips, and fluid could be heard rasping in her lungs. She was nauseous, retching and vomiting continuously. Her children looked on, terrified, from the shadows.
“My husband died last year,” she wheezed. “There’s no one to take care of the little ones. For God’s sake, sir, help us....”
Holding a handkerchief to his nose, Guy de Chauliac continued his rounds, day by day, taking notes regarding every person he examined. Margot, the glove-maker – swelling buboes under the arms and in the groin.... Maillart, the painter, who decorated the Pope’s hall, fluid in the lungs, profuse vomiting.... Olivier, the salt-fish seller, buboes as usual.... Osenne, the lady’s hair-dresser, buboes, but especially black and oozing pus in prodigious quantities when lanced.
Nöel the buckle-maker died. Milessent the linen-carder died. Margot, Maillart, Olivier, Osenne – they all died within a week. So did Heymon le Breton, his tailor, who was cracking jokes after mass on Sunday and dead by Tuesday afternoon. So did Gilète, who was chambermaid to a Cardinal’s mistresse, and even Gerrart le Roy, the apothecary who provided him with his herbs. Bells tolled throughout Avignon continually as the dead were carted to the cemeteries to be interred. At first, there were a few every day, more than usual, then dozens, and finally nearly a hundred every day, and this in a city with only twenty thousand inhabitants.
“Your Holiness,” the Papal physician said, presenting himself to Clement, “you must close yourself away. Do not receive visitors for any reason. Light fires, and sit close by them. The air you breathe must be as pure as possible. On no account let anyone touch you. At least until the crisis is past. Eat wholesome food, and pray for a miracle.”
“Very well,” Clement nodded. “Are you sure?”
“I am, Your Holiness,” Guy de Chauliac said, bowing his head. “The only way to be certain of escaping is complete isolation.”
After a long pause, the Pope closed his eyes and groaned audibly. He then said, opening them again, “The office of the Church is to comfort the afflicted in times like this. Let it be known that by the power invested by our Lord, Jesus Christ, in Peter and all his successors, including myself, I hereby absolve of all their sins every Christian person who may happen to die in this calamity.”
Pope Clement bowed his head and made the sign of the cross, blessing the world as the doors of his chamber were closed and barred. The guards at the gate were doubled, and given orders to let no one inside – no one at all.
It was more than Guy de Chauliac could bear. He felt dizzy, suddenly, and thought it must be exhaustion, but only a few hours later, suffering from a painful ache – feverish and confused – he stumbled into his apartment in the Papal Palace and, pulling his doublet off, saw the swellings beginning to crow under his arms. Frantically, he untied his hose and, sliding the woollen garment down his legs, examined himself, dreading what he would find.
I have the pestilence, he thought, pulling his hose back to his waist. He called Jaquelot, his maid, who almost screamed when she saw how pale he was, and noticed the red buboes swelling quickly under his arms.
“Sir – you have the mark of death on you!” she wailed.
“Lock the door of my chamber, Jaquelot. Bring me food and drink, but just set it inside. Do not come near me. Stay out of the room, no matter what happens. D’you understand?”
She nodded, instantly doing as she was told.
Guy de Chauliac remained in his room for six weeks, lancing his own boils and draining the pus. He took care of himself as best he could, trying to ignore the stench of his own rotting flesh, the putrefaction rising from the cemetery, and the clouds of incense that billowed everywhere in the Papal Palace. Jaquelot brought him food and drink, but one day he heard a different voice.
“It’s Murienne, sir,” a young woman said. “The other girl was taken by the sickness. Cardinal Aubert said I was to bring you food and drink, but not to come inside.”
Guy de Chauliac mumbled, “Thank you,” and rolled onto his side. It was important to remember not to lie on your back, he thought.
He remembered his days as a young student in Paris, studying medicine in the shadow of the great cathedral of Notre Dame. He remembered his apprenticeship, learning surgery and anatomy with Nicola Bertuccio. Dissection was outlawed by the Church, but like surgeons everywhere, Bertuccio knew men of flexible morals who knew men who had none at all, and it was possible to acquire a pauper’s corpse, from time to time, for the purpose of study. The difficult part was getting rid of the body, later.... He remembered how free and easy life was in Bologna, despite the looming towers of the noblemen’s mansions, for the city-state had freed all its serfs from bondage. He remembered strolling in the piazza, and the bewitching eyes of the Italian women, and one lady, in particular, Carlotta, who had been very expensive but worth every penny, especially when she did things to him that could have landed them both in prison for three years.
And suddenly he woke up. It was morning, and he felt oddly at ease. For a moment, he wondered if he was dead, but if so, why was he lying in his chamber? Or was he a ghost, now? He sat up, astonished because he could breathe again with ease. The swelling had abated considerably, and he was no longer feverish. He hardly knew what to think, but at last yielded up a tremendous sigh of relief and cried out, “Thanks be to God!”
* * *
The plague did not advance toward Paris until the weather grew warmer, in April. However, as soon as the frosts disappeared spring rains made the countryside green and verdant, and the pestilence moved on, swiftly, from one village to the next. Everywhere it appeared there was horror, bewilderment, despair, and eventually panic. It was not like a long, wasting disease. People were accustomed to these. What terrified the villagers most was how swiftly this new disease carried away men and women and children who had been hale and hearty just a few days before, sporting with their friends or working in the fields, immersed in the cares of the world one day and lying at death’s door the next. Caring for those who lingered on the verge of death was exhausting, and their death might be seen as a blessing and a relief to those who survived. But this plague rushed through villages with such speed and virulence that it did not seem natural. It transformed beauty into ugliness and vigour into weakness. It stripped its victims of hope, dignity, and sense. There was something almost palpably evil about this pestilence. It was more like wanton murder than illness.
In Paris, however, the court carried on its routine of pomp, pageantry, pleasure, and sport, seemingly oblivious to the impending calamity. Philippe and Queen Jeanne summoned Geoffroi de Charnay to the audience chamber of the Palais du Roi at the end of June, however, to inquire about the urgent matter of taxation.
“The States-General agreed to raise money for the defence of the realm, in return for which I listened to as much insolence as any anointed king should ever have to hear,” Philippe said, watching carefully as his champion knight knelt respectfully at the foot of the throne. “How is the tax-collection proceeding?”
“Sire,” Geoffroi de Charnay said, choosing his words carefully as he glanced up at the king’s lined face, which seemed to be aging rapidly. “Because of the pestilence, everything in the countryside is in disarray. Unlike past plagues, which seemed primarily to strike down the poor, this new calamity is no respecter of persons. Tax-collectors are dying as well as tax-payers. Peasants are dying off by the thousands before they can pay in their rents or perform their contracted labour. On many of estates, the lords’ agents have succumbed to the plague, or else have fled. Under these conditions....”
While Philippe learned that he would not fill his coffers this season, after all, Prince Jean’s wife, Jutta of Luxembourg, whiled away her time listening to her musician and poet, Guillaume de Machaut. He had served her family faithfully for years, and knew that his mistress wanted to hear romantic allegories, which she then could discuss at length with her visitors.
“So, what is worse, then, Guillaume, to be a cuckold or to lose one’s love to death?”
“To be cheated on, Your Highness,” the poet smiled. “True love is not necessarily extinguished by death, but we must pity most those who love but are rejected.”
Jeanne de Charnay, who was visiting Jutta, shook her head and replied. “I do not wish to think about death. They say the plague is awful – they say over ten thousand have died in Avignon already, which is half the population, and still more are dying. I fear for our estates, and I lie awake wondering if the pestilence has reached them.”
“When the money stops coming in, then you’ll know the plague has overtaken them, and exactly to what extent,” Jutta remarked, rather coldly. “It seems odd, to me, that this calamity should happen right now. What say you, Guillaume?”
“I have heard it is the work of the Jews,” Guillaume de Machaut answered. “In Toulon, they slaughtered all the Jews.”
“Why would the Jews do such a thing?” Jeanne de Charnay asked.
“They are wicked and unfaithful people,” Jutta said. “They cheat everyone they have dealings with, it’s well known that they practice sorcery, that they desecrate the Sacrament, and that they generally hate us because we are Christian.”
“They are wicked and unfaithful people,” Jutta said. “They cheat everyone they have dealings with, it’s well known that they practice sorcery, that they desecrate the Sacrament, and that they generally hate us because we are Christian.”
“But they labour under many disabilities,” Jeanne de Charnay replied, astonished to hear the Princess’s mind give way to so many common absurdities. “Jews are not permitted to own land or practice crafts; they are forbidden to loan money at interest; they are required to live only in certain places, and they must wear the yellow circle on their habits – the same mark worn by harlots, Moors, and gypsies. How many times have they been attacked? How many hundreds have been killed, by mobs, out of sheer ignorance? How many times have they been expelled from France, only to be asked to return because every city they abandon falls into ruins?”
“My lady, can you think of a crime more heinous than murdering Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour?” Guillaume retorted.
“Now, now, Lady de Charnay, one could almost mistake you for a Templar.”
Jeanne de Charnay fell silent, for in truth not a day passed that she did not think about the passion and death of Christ. She could not help it. Both she and her husband were devout, but they were by no means fanatical in their faith. Even so, both she and Geoffroi were descended from diehard knights who had taken the cross. Geoffroi’s uncle, in fact, had been one of the last of the Knights Templar, and was arrested and burned at the stake alongside Jacques de Molay, charged with treason, idolatry, and heresy. However, this was nothing compared with Jeanne’s great secret, one she shared with her husband.
She had inherited – and they now held in their possession, carefully folded away in a cedar-wood chest, lined with lead – the burial shroud of Jesus, bearing imprinted upon its ancient fibres like a stain the very image of the Saviour’s face and body.
* * *
The Great Famine that had occurred thirty-three years earlier had not disrupted the routines and traditions of the University of Paris. Most of the young scholars had patrons or else were children of the nobility and landowning classes. The colleges were well-funded by the Church, by the crown, by all manner of bequests and benefices, and the masters and doctors drew stipends that gave them both status and independence. They could keep up the ancient tradition, first established by Robert de Sorbone, the University’s founder, that any young man could study in Paris without charge. Being from a poor family himself, Sorbone knew well enough that one did not have to be rich, or from an ancient noble family, to love learning. Indeed, in the summer of 1348, most of the masters and doctors at the various colleges of the University were men of humble origin.
The cathedral school of Notre Dame was the foundation upon which the University had been raised. Students arrived in Paris from all over Europe, usually at the age of thirteen or fourteen. They first studied the Arts, which were divided into what the scholars called the Trivium – grammar, rhetoric, and logic. In their grammar classes, the young students learned how to read, write, and speak Latin. In rhetoric courses they studied literature and public speaking. Finally, the logicians taught them how to demonstrate the validity of propositions, and also introduced them to the next stage of their education – the Quadrivium. At this level, fast growing into young men, the scholars tackled arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. They read Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and the compendiums of Cassidorus, Martianus Capella, and Isidore of Seville. At this stage, many of them were ready to be musicians, clerks, or estate agents. Many of students dispersed into the world to take up ecclesiastical or temporal posts, and only a select handful went on directly to the next level of study, seeking to become masters of medicine, law, or theology. Masters were licensed to teach by the Diocese of Paris, and they were expected to offer courses.
The University had expanded over the course of three generations as the cathedral school of Notre Dame was augmented by the founding of new colleges intended to train scholars for the various monastic orders of the Church. The Abbey de Saint-Victor, the Convent and College of the Bernardins, the Franciscan college in the Cordeliers neighbourhood next to the poultry market, and the College de Carmes, the most recent of them all, founded and supported by the former Queen, Jeanne d’Evreaux. The Benedictines, Augustinians, Carmelites, Cistercians, and Franciscans were all represented in the University, but the students were further divided into four “nations” based on their region of origin and mother tongues.
Young men who studied at Paris joined other students from their homelands – there were the French, the Normans, the boys from Picardy, and, until recently, the English. The English nation at the University had always been a catch-all, including the Scots, Irish, Germans, Danes, Norwegians, Poles, and Hungarians. Anyone who did not speak French, Italian, or Occitan was assigned to the English nation, although now – thanks to the war between Philippe and Edward – it was no longer called that. Indeed, most of the English scholars, once quite numerous, had been forced to flee. Now, people referred to the German and Scottish nation instead. Fortunately, however, this change did not disrupt hallowed tradition. The English students had been famed for their drinking and their ability to start and finish a barroom brawl, an honour the Germans and Scots carried on without too much difficulty. The French students were known for being well-dressed and haughty, but also slightly effeminate. The Normans were swift to take offense, proud, arrogant, and crafty, while the boys from Picardy assiduously maintained their nation’s reputation for hot-headed violence, intrigue, and treachery.
The area around the Cistercian convent and college, on the Left Bank opposite Notre Dame, extending from the Saint-Victor Gate to the Petit Pont, was the so-called Latin Quarter, inhabited by scholars and students from every quarter of Europe, all conversing in Latin, the common language of the learned. Following Robert de Sorbon’s rules, they wore academic robes, and their heads were tonsured – a proud symbol that they were professors and students under the protection of the Church. The secular authorities had no jurisdiction over the University or its denizens.
The students lived in dormitories in the various monastic houses to which they belonged; they took their meals at the convent refectories and attended lectures from six o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock at night. At the College of the Bernardines there were proper classrooms, with long pew-like benches and tables for writing. Many of the masters, however, had to rent rooms all over Paris for the Bachelor of Arts courses. Students thus scurried in their robes from one classroom to another, stopping to purchase food from a vendor, to buy wine or beer at one of the taverns, or relax in the many haunts that the students claimed as their own, such as the Pre-aux-Clercs garden, where instructors often met informally with their students to discuss philosophy.
In the summer of 1348, the doctors of theology at the University had been debating Pope Clement’s latest directives concerning the fate of the dead, which had reversed the position taken by John XXII. First, the new Pope had issued a circular defending the Church’s sale of indulgences, which was very carefully defined as the remission of temporal punishment for sin. Second, whereas Pope John had believed that the dead remained unconscious, awaiting the Last Judgment, Clement argued that those who were to be saved would experience the presence of God and the splendours of Heaven immediately.
“One might well ask: why is this important?” Jean de Venette paced in front of his classroom, addressing his students as they eagerly scribbled notes on their parchments. “After all, in death we pass beyond the limits of time. One might say that since time means nothing to the dead, then waiting for the Last Judgment can mean nothing. But behold, if the spirits of the dead merely sleep in the grave, then that means – reducto ad absurdam – that there are no saints. There is no one to intercede on our behalf before God.” Seeing the awe-struck, confused, and even frantic expressions on his students’ faces, Jean chuckled to himself, adding, “It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? If Pope John is correct, then how many of us are guilty of idolatry? And are not all the saint’s chapels in Europe, all the holy relics, then, so many pagan shrines?”
He led his students to vespers, after the lecture, and then stepped outside to find a crowd standing in the street, staring into the sky. Jean de Venette also looked up into the hazy summer atmosphere, for there was a light hanging low, unmoving. A strange excitement mounted, hour by hour, as the star – or whatever it was – remained stationery in the heavens, to the west of the city. At sunset, the light grew larger, blazing with a fierce intensity as night came on, and then – in the darkness, as the scholars gathered on the towers of Notre Dame to watch – the star or comet appeared to explode. It vanished, becoming dozens of rays of light that shot across the sky, disappearing into the east.
Before the comet appeared, there had been a few cases of plague reported within the walls of Paris, but nothing the nuns at the Hotel Dieu could not manage. However, after the flight of the comet, the pestilence fell upon the city in earnest, and everything changed.
* * *
Reckoning that Philippe was closely-allied with the ruling family of Navarre – who also controlled parts of Normandy – King Edward decided to give his eldest daughter, Princess Joan, in marriage to Prince Pedro of Castile, the son of King Alfonso. After all, if Philippe brought Navarre into the war, Bordeaux would be threatened, but this problem could be neutralized by an alliance with Castile. “Checkmate, my friend,” Edward smiled, rubbing his hands together. Queen Philippa, who had been only one year older than Joan when she had married Edward, took her daughter aside and counselled her.
“Prince Pedro is only one year older than you, and he has sent a minstrel, Gracias de Gyvill, to entertain you on the voyage, and teach you the Castilian language.”
Joan was shown a locket containing Prince Pedro’s portrait – a tall, handsome young man with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was of the House of Burgundy, her mother explained, although his father was King of Castile and his mother a daughter of the King of Portugal. “You will like Spain – they say it’s sunny almost all year round.”
When she was alone with King Edward, the Queen said, “I do not wish to send our daughter away, but I know it must be done.”
“Have you explained everything to her?” Edward asked.
“As much as I thought proper,” Philippa admitted, blushing. “There are some things ladies-in-waiting are better able to explain than I, but never fear, I have asked them to do the needful. We want Prince Pedro to be happy, after all.”
“Well, we must send Joan off with a fitting trousseau and retinue. I want to make a good impression. King Alfonso must understand that England is a major power, just like Castile.”
Four large ships sailed from Portsmouth, carrying Princess Joan and her household over the sea and the horizon, standing away toward the south. There were twenty-five men-at-arms aboard each vessel, mostly veterans of Crècy and the Siege of Calais. Robert Bourchier, King Edward’s former chancellor, had charge of the Princess’s retinue and served as her advisor. Andrew Ullford accompanied him as his expert in diplomatic law. A priest named Gerald de Podio, recommended by the Pope himself, had been appointed to be Joan’s confessor, and by Papal dispensation she had been granted the use of a portable altar decorated with dragons and serpents. And, of course, she was attended by her ladies-in-waiting and the Castilian minstrel, Gracias de Gyvill, who delighted her with the romantic songs of his homeland, serenading her at the command of his master, young Prince Pedro.
During the voyage across the Bay of Biscay, with its high rolling waves, Princess Joan was seasick, as were most of her ladies, and they were pleased beyond measure when the royal convoy sailed into the mouth of the Gironde River, toward the walls of the English-occupied city of Bordeaux. The governor of the town, Raymond de Bisqual, at once placed the Plantagenet castle at the disposal of the Princess and her people, but said, “Your Highness, I fear there is plague in the city.”
“Sick people?” she answered. “Well, we have no intention of rubbing shoulders with the burghers, so let them be sick.” She giggled, and attended by her ladies-in-waiting ran away toward the apartments that had been appointed for them.
Closing his eyes, Raymond de Bisqual sighed, and turned to Robert Bourchier, to whom he said, “Forgive me, my lord, but she is just a girl....”
“Who happens to be a Princess,” Robert Bourchier replied. “How bad is the pestilence in the town?”
“Have you not heard the news, then, in England?”
“Strange rumours only – tales so fantastic, that, to be frank, no one believes them.”
“They should, because this is real, and it’s here, in Bordeaux, now.”
After several days aboard their crowded, smelly ship, the Princess and her ladies availed themselves of the opportunity to enjoy a hot bath – one of the many unaccustomed luxuries offered by the Bordeaux castle. With a great deal of laughter, the young ladies tried to give Joan some idea what she could expect on her wedding night, and each offered advice as to how she should behave. First, they told her what the Church allowed.
“The priests say the man is always supposed to be on top,” one of the ladies snorted, “but seeing as so many priests prefer to lie with other men, how they determine that is anyone’s guess.”
“D’you suppose Father Gerald likes boys or girls?”
“He’s supposed to be celibate,” Princess Joan pointed out.
“And the Pope is supposed to be the Vicar of Christ, but he lives like a lord in Avignon. No, here’s the thing: they say the woman is never supposed to be on top – never mind that men like that – and they say that if a man takes a woman from behind it’s unnatural, and their children might be born like beasts, covered with hair, and horns growing out of their heads!”
“No!” Princess Joan laughed, splashing hot water at her attendants. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Would the Pope lie?”
“Lie with whom? I hear all the Cardinals in Avignon have mistresses.”
They laughed and laughed, and indeed they were as wrinkled as prunes when they finally retired to the Princess’s room to sleep, unconcerned about the panic spreading through the city beyond the castle walls. In the morning, however, they awoke to screaming, for Robert Bourchier had been found shivering with fever in his bed, covered from head to toe with purple welts. Kneeling at the dying man’s side, Gerald de Podio made the sign of the cross, and said, “Say your confession, while you still can.”
“Father,” Robert Bourchier gasped, “the plague was on board the ships – it must have been. I don’t know how.... We’re all doomed. Get the Princess out of here – send her and the other ladies to the country. It will be safer there.”
* * *
Church bells were ringing all over Paris. In the streets, people scurried along covering their faces with handkerchiefs, trying to ignore the doors painted with black crosses by the Provost’s men. The steady trickle of diseased individuals delivered to the Hotel Dieu became a torrent, and all day long litters bearing feverish people were carried across the two bridges and through the lanes of the Île de la Cité. The nuns received them as graciously as they could, trying to find some place for them all. When the beds were filled, the stricken were laid on the floor, and when the wards were full, they were placed in the halls, on the portico, and eventually even in the courtyard. And still they kept coming.
Renier, the shepherd, was found dead in the Culture de Saint-Gervais, surrounded by his bleating flock. Fabien, the dressmaker, finished a new gown for the Queen, but later that evening became dizzy and fainted as he sat down to his dinner, spilling his wine. Selle, who had sold Fabien the wine, was waiting anxiously in his house near the Halles, having sent for the priest at Saint Catherine’s, for he feared he might not survive the night. The priest, however, did not hear the message, for he was comforting the widow of Davy, the fur-trader, who had just died. The next day, he visited Selle to offer him the last rites, but upon returning to his chambers was doubled-over with pain and fell, vomiting, next to his bed. Germainne, his chamberière, discovered him there, stone cold dead and staring into space, covered with red welts, the next day. She hurried home, terrified, only to find her husband, Maillet the charcoal-seller, sitting in the shadows with his eyes closed, complaining of aching limbs and fever. Angus the Scot, meanwhile, sending his manservant out to purchase some fried fish for his dinner, was told that Phelipot, the young woman who hawked fried fish on the corner, had been found dead on the steps of Saint-Julien church, her face disfigured by purple buboes. And as if that was not bad enough, Jean de Venette appeared to inform Angus that his friend, Remont le Chaucier, a gifted artist, was confined to his room, ill with the plague. Even more alarming, Poncet the bookseller had closed his shop. Almost every day bodies floated down the Seine, under the city’s bridges.
At first, the city’s twenty-two casket-makers had made a valiant effort to keep up with the soaring demand for their macabre products, but after only a few days, several of the casket-makers were themselves dead, and those who remained refused to measure the dead. In any event, no more lumber was reaching the market, no more nails were being made, and there were simply too many dead. Even litters would not answer. Instead, they began to pile the corpses behind the Hotel Dieu and cart them away in the evening and early in the morning.
At the cemeteries, meanwhile, men wearing scarves around their mouths dug frantically, day and night. Paris was an old city, continuously inhabited for nearly fourteen centuries. The graveyards had been filled up and cleaned out several times, the miscellaneous and scattered bones of those long dead cemented into the tunnels of the catacombs beneath the city. Now, however, a desperate situation called for desperate measures. Trenches were dug – huge pits – into which the bodies were laid as neatly as possible. Once a row of bodies was finished, a thin layer of earth was shovelled over the corpses, and another layer was laid in the ground... but eventually, as the gravediggers themselves died, those who remained simply backed the carts up to the edges of the pits and dumped the flopping, rag-doll remains into the trenches where they fell, tangled together in a thousand oddly comical and sometimes slightly obscene postures, stripped of every shred of dignity, many of them half-naked, for the gravediggers, giving way to a certain bestial logic, paused only to rifle their clothing, seizing upon anything that might be of value.
As soon as the first case of plague was reported among the servants at the Palais du Roi, the royal family moved out of the city, a short distance to the northwest, to the Abbaye de Maubisson, where they were received by the abbess, Marguerite de Moncy. They had not been at Maubisson more than a few days, however, before Queen Jeanne fell ill. Displaying a sense of duty that surprised everyone, Jutta sat with her mother-in-law, patiently nursing her, helping her turn from one side to another, for the physicians advised her not to lie on her back. Philippe came to see her, once, but recoiled in disgust at the sight of the huge, bulging, pus-filled bubbles that covered her face and neck. However, when she died, he tersely instructed the priests to take her to the tomb of the French monarchy, at Saint-Denis.
A few days later, Jutta fell ill, and the buboes appeared. When Prince Jean came to see her, she tried to seize his arm, but he drew away, frightened.
“You would not shrink from a fight with the English, my lord, but you are afraid to touch your own wife,” she whispered.
“I don’t... I... I don’t know what to do,” Jean replied, appalled by what was happening to her, by himself, by everything.
“Damn you,” she muttered. “You’ve always been a useless fool, like your father, who is the King of Idiots, surely. Go away. The world is being destroyed. It is what we deserve. None of us will see the face of God. Hell itself is too good for us. Food for worms is all we are.”
“You mustn’t say such things – you don’t know what you’re saying,” Prince Jean retorted, angrily, but he saw that she was staring at him, strangely, and that her confessor was making the sign of the cross over her, and mumbling in Latin.
* * *
The plague attacked the people of Paris relentlessly, day after day, for a month and a half before autumn brought cooler weather, abating the pestilence. Even so, more than twenty thousand people died within the city walls, and King Philippe wanted answers – how and why had this scourge, worse than any war, come to fall upon France? At the Palais du Roi, sitting among blazing fires, attended only by a handful of trusted advisors, the French monarch considered the latest rumours.
“In Geneva they have been torturing the Jews,” said Geoffroi de Charnay. “They have extracted confessions – many of the accused have admitted to obtaining pouches of a poisonous powder, from the Jews of Venice, which they are throwing into the wells in order to kill Christians.”
“This is what my deceased wife’s minstrel, Guillaume, says,” replied Prince Jean.
“Do you believe this, Sir Geoffroi?” Philippe asked.
“No,” said Geoffroi de Charnay. “With all my heart, I believe these rumours to be false. The Pope himself has condemned the attacks on the Jews. Indeed, he has called upon the servants of the Church to protect the Hebrews.”
“An order the new German Emperor, Charles, ignores,” Prince Jean remarked. “The Jews are wealthy. If they die intestate, and with no heirs, their money is forfeit to the crown.”
Philippe glared at his son and said, “I will not make the same mistake my predecessors made. Are you mad, Jean? The Jews bring prosperity to every town they live in, and when they leave, that town becomes a shadow.”
“The English expelled all the Jews from their lands some sixty years ago, and it does not seem to have hurt them,” Jean answered.
“We have ten times as many Jews in France as there were in England,” Philippe countered. “And if the Pope tells me I must protect them, then I will offer them protection.”
The king announced that he wanted to empanel a consilium, consisting of forty-nine medical faculty of the University of Paris, to examine the pestilence and report on its most likely causes. He then informed his son that he should consider remarrying, as soon as possible.
“I hear the plague has killed three of Edward’s children, including his daughter, Joan. It could kill me – it could kill you. If anything happens to us, Edward could end up with the throne of France by default. I do not intend to let him have my crown so easily. I have in mind a match. I have made enquiries, and they are well-received – Blanche of Navarre.” He raised his eyebrows, glancing at Jean, who merely clutched his head in his hands, hearing this. “Oh, come on. Jutta was just a woman. She produced an heir, thank God, but no spares. I want you to take Blanche of Navarre to your bed, swive her silly – which most of the men in France would be happy to do – and produce another heir! D’you understand? If we’re going to make our claim on the basis of the Salic Law, you need to marry, but even more importantly, you need to get your future wife with child, preferably a male child who doesn’t resemble the damned page-boy, music-master, stable-keeper, or – God forbid – the lady’s confessor.”
* * *
Andrew Ullford, the diplomatic lawyer, carried the sad news of the death of Princess Joan and many of the members of her entourage back to England. King Edward wept, openly, embracing his Queen, whose loud sobs filled the audience hall of Windsor Castle. They had retreated to their country seat, for the plague was raging in London, and thousands already had succumbed. Advisors were summoned, in due course, and Edward said, “We must send our condolences and apologies to King Alfonso and Prince Pedro.”
The King of England waited for his scribe to dip his quill and then spoke, opening his heart:
"We are sure Your Magnificence knows how, after complicated negotiation about the intended marriage of the renowned Prince Pedro, your eldest son, and our most beloved daughter Joan, designed to nurture perpetual peace and create an indissoluble union between our Royal Houses, we sent our daughter to Bordeaux, en route for your territories in Spain. But see with what intense bitterness of heart we must tell you this: Death, seizing young and old alike, sparing no one and reducing rich and poor to the same level, has lamentably snatched from both of us our dearest daughter, whom we loved best of all, as her virtues demanded"
The king paused, closing his eyes and sighing deeply. The scribe carefully dipped his pen and waited.
"No fellow human could be surprised if we were inwardly desolated by the sting of this bitter grief, for we are humans too. But we, who have placed our trust in God and our life between His hands, where He has held it closely through many great dangers, we give thanks to Him that one of our own family, free of all stain, whom we have loved with our life, has been sent ahead to Heaven to reign among the choirs of virgins, where she can gladly intercede for our offenses before God Himself.”
When he had finished dictating this latter, and after the scribes had been despatched, the Earl of Warwick craved admittance, and Edward reluctantly gestured to him to approach the throne.
“Sire, there is something you must be aware of. One of Philippe’s knights – this tournament champion, Geoffroi de Charnay – has offered Aimery de Pavia twenty thousand écus if he will betray the fortress of Calais.”
Edward did not respond immediately. He was preoccupied, gazing into the distance. However, when he finally acknowledged Warwick, he said, “For disturbing my mourning, I will see Geoffroi de Charnay’s pride beaten into dust. The Lombard, Aimery, must understand we have him in our eye: let them proceed with their bargain, and let Calais be a trap, not a prize. The French shall learn, to their loss, that I am in no mood to be toyed with.”
On the last day of the year, King Edward and his son slipped over to France aboard a supply ship, disguised as ordinary knights. As plotted, a French force hurried quietly across the causeway, through the marshes, assembling before the gates of Calais, which opened to allow them to march inside. Geoffroi de Charnay advanced, with his guards, leading the packhorses laden with the agreed-upon price of the fort. However, as soon as Sir Geoffroi had entered the fort, the gates were closed behind him, and English men-at-arms rushed upon him from all sides.
To the Frenchman’s credit, he cried out, “We are betrayed!” He then drew his sword and fought, valiantly, with all the skill for which he was renowned, but Sir John de Potenhale, flying at de Charnay from behind, landed a mighty blow upon the French warrior’s helmet which dented the iron and gave its wearer such a concussion that he fell, unconscious, while his men were slaughtered or routed outside the walls.
The next day, after Geoffroi de Charnay regained consciousness, he and the other French knights who had been captured were taken to King Edward’s headquarters, where their enemy insisted on serving them at the dinner table himself. Pouring wine into a goblet for Geoffroi, the King of England regarded him with a wry expression and said:
“Monsieur de Charnay, you tried to steal away, in the middle of the night – and for a mere twenty thousand écus – something that cost me a great deal of time, effort, and money to acquire. I am not amused. You are my prisoner now, and twelve thousand écus is your ransom. And now we shall see how well your master, Philippe, takes care of his own.” Leaning very close to Sir Geoffroi, King Edward whispered: “Is it in keeping with a knight’s honour to sneak into another man’s house in the middle of the night? I have founded a new order of chivalry. It’s called the Knights of the Order of the Garter. Their motto is ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense.’ I trust you know what that means? And you – Frenchman – you claim to be the very font of chivalry to all the gallants of Christendom.”
Geoffroi de Charnay made no reply. In truth, he was more ashamed than he had ever been in his entire life. The motto of Prince Edward’s new order of knighthood was: Evil to Him Who Thinks Evil.
* * *
When Blanche of Navarre appeared at the French court in Paris, Jean was unmoved by her beauty. She was everything they had been led to expect. Indeed, although forty years younger than Philippe, she stirred his blood. He found himself eyeing her with a heart full of lust, and seeing that his son was still distressed by the recent death of Jutta, the king set to wooing Blanche himself. With the keen senses of an older man, he saw clearly that the young woman was of an amorous disposition, and at the first opportunity, he made it clear to his son that he should yield to his father.
“I want Blanche for myself,” Philippe said, bluntly. “I’ll find you a suitable girl – a widow, with male children. Then we’ll know she’s a breeder. It will be better that way.”
And so it was that the court passed a carefree, pleasant winter season, celebrating Christmas and all the other holidays, the revellers within the walls of the palace oblivious to the plague raging in the narrow lanes of the city around them.
In Avignon, meanwhile, the Pope listened with dismay as letters from Germany were read to him by one of the clerks of the Papal chancery.
“In Basel, hundreds of Jews were locked in a wooden shed on an island in the river and burned to death. In Strasbourg, a month later, thousands of Jews were tied to stakes on the banks of the Rhine and burned. They say that people rushed forward to pluck the screaming children from the pyres, baptizing them on the spot and taking them away.... At Erfurt, also, the Jews were massacred in large numbers, and also at Freiburg.”
“Who is behind this?” Clement asked. “I sent out not just one, but two bulls, declaring that anyone who attacked the Jews had been seduced by Satan, and threatening their assailants with excommunication!”
“The Emperor Charles has permitted the confiscation of Jewish property,” the clerk explained. “And then there are the Flagellants – the so-called Brothers of the Cross.”
“They have appeared all over Germany, and some are even crossing over into France, Flanders, Holland.... They travel in gangs, hundreds of them together, visiting a new city, each day, where they gather a crowd and beat themselves. Each man shrieks and cries out his sins, publicly, while their leaders preach to those who assemble to watch them....”
“Preach what, exactly?”
“The need for repentance, the cupidity of the Jews, the fallen state of man... the end of the world – the end of all hope.” With a horrified expression, the clerk said, “They also claim they can absolve sinners.”
“That’s heresy,” Pope Clement scoffed. “Only the Church, under my direction, has the power of absolution.”
And if we let just any German lunatic imagine he can absolve sin, and if the weak-minded believe it... there goes our market for indulgences, Clement thought, irritably.
The clerk frowned. “Holiness, I do not think the Emperor Charles wants to stop them. He will drag his heels until every last Jew in Germany is either dead or run off to Poland – or France – any country that will still have them.”
“And what of France? What news have we from Paris?”
“King Philippe has wed Blanche of Navarre.”
“What!” The Pope was dumbfounded, considering this report. “I thought she was intended for Prince Jean?”
“Prince Jean is to marry the Countess of Auvergne – she is a widow, but young, only nineteen. And as part of the settlement, Humbert has sold Viennois to Philippe: he will enter a monastery, as a lay brother, and the title of Dauphin will be given to Charles, the eldest son of the late Jutta of Luxembourg.”
Pope Clement dismissed the clerk and asked for his physician, Guy de Chauliac.
“Have the scholars of Paris published their opinions regarding the plague?”
“Yes, they have, Holiness,” Guy de Chauliac replied. “They say they do not know what it is, or what causes it. They note that a number of ominous signs have presaged the pestilence – an earthquake in Italy, the comet that appeared in August last year. However, they concur with your opinion that the Jews, Moors, and gypsies have nothing to do with this calamity. It is caused by foul emanations from the earth – sulphur and other volcanic miasmas, and the stench that emanated from refuse middens and over-crowded cemeteries.”
* * *
Very little grain was harvested in the autumn of 1348, and after another bought of lung-clogging illness in the winter there was a brief respite until April, when the plague reared its grim skeletal head again, cutting down thousands more in every district in the land. The previous year, people had tried to cope. Now, they did not even try. Teachers abandoned their classrooms, students stayed home, and clerics deserted their posts. Rarely was a priest to be found willing to hear someone’s confession. The ministers of the Church hid themselves, estate agents fled, guards deserted, and many people – whole families, even – died in their beds, where they were left to rot, unshriven and even unburied.
By the beginning of summer, cottages, manor houses, town-houses, whole villages stood empty, abandoned. In the cities, defying the law – which had broken down – the common people crowded into the half-plundered mansions of the rich, feasting and drinking in their halls as if none of them would live to see tomorrow. All over the countryside, farm animals wandered aimlessly, untended. Dairy cows died by the thousands for want of hands to milk them. Nor were the peasants’ livestock immune from the plague. Travellers reported seeing hundreds of sheep and cattle lying dead in their pastures, or along the sides of the roads. The world swarmed with flies and maggots, and a sickening stench of decay hung in the air.
Retiring to Reims, where his brother served the Church, the poet Guillaume de Machaut locked himself in his chamber, drinking heavily and writing macabre songs.
For many, truly, have
Heard it commonly said
How in one thousand three hundred and forty-nine
Out of one hundred there remained but nine.
Thus it happened that for lack of people
Many a splendid farm was left untilled,
No one ploughed the fields
Bound the sheaths and took in the grapes,
Some gave triple salary
But not for one denier was twenty enough
Since so many were dead....
In these troubled times, lords and ladies fled the now semi-deserted cities, seeking isolation in the countryside. But on their estates, the nobles and lords found a different world than the one they had known during their previous visits.
“The tenants have their own money, now, Madame – and quite a lot of it, all of a sudden,” said Chaillot, the agent who administered the Lirey estate. Jeanne de Charnay had come out from Paris to collect rents – money she hoped to use to ransom her husband, held captive at King Edward’s court in England. She listened, as patiently as she could, while the estate manager explained that the tenants had inherited all the belongings of those who had died in their families during the first wave of the plague.
“What exactly are you trying to say, Chaillot?” Jeanne de Charnay asked. “Why should it matter if they have more money?”
“They wish to buy their land outright, my lady,” Chaillot said. “They are willing to offer several years’ rent, up front, in return for a title to their farms.”
“But this estate has been in our family for generations,” Jeanne de Charnay replied. She found herself seething with anger. “Everything is untended, unkempt – what is happening here?”
“The tenants refuse to perform the labour that was part of their obligation to the manor. They demand wages. And... and so do the serfs.”
“They say there is still the same amount of work to be done, but only half as many of them, so they ought to receive more,” Chaillot explained. “I told them that’s impossible – I told them there’s no one left in the cities to sell our grain to, but they said that wasn’t their problem.”
“They said it was not their problem?”
“And there are some who say they simply won’t work, because what’s the point? Everyone is dying – it’s the end of the world.” Chaillot shook his head. “Half the farms on the estate are vacant, now, my lady. Gone to weeds and brambles already, the lot of them.”
That autumn, as prudent men had foretold – although no one was willing to listen – there was not enough food in the markets even for the much-reduced population, and starvation was joined to the miseries already inflicted by the plague. In England, King Edward already had called an emergency meeting of Parliament, and there the nobles had voted to fix both wages and prices at their pre-plague levels, but this had been nearly impossible to enforce, and everywhere the common people were infuriated. In France, King Philippe also imposed wage and price controls, although he acted far too late – the situation was already far beyond any such artificial remedy.
Servants absconded from the great manors, or looted them when their masters and mistresses died. Serfs escaped, making their way to the cities, and tenants began to pay to be allowed to break their leases and move to other estates, where they could find better land on more reasonable terms. Indeed, before long the lords who remained were in keen competition for the remaining tenants, cutting rents as much as they possibly could. For the common people, although the plague continued to cut them down by the thousands every summer, winter, and spring, there was a sense of liberation, opportunity, and joy. They had money in their pockets, even if prices were rising, and the landlords no longer held all the power: men and women could bargain for a better life, they could vote with their feet, and they could defy an aristocracy that was stretched to the breaking point. And it was not just that they agitated for better pay and rent: they also started to dress in better clothing, even breaking the sumptuary laws that reserved the right to wear certain kinds of fabrics only for lords and ladies.
“We’re all equals, now,” Jeanne de Charnay muttered to herself, sitting alone in her room at the estate of Pierre-Perthuis. “Death has made us all equals.”
Equality. It was a thought so appalling – so contrary to nature – that Jeanne de Charnay felt herself sickened. How could this up-turning of everything possibly be what God wanted for the world? Surely this pestilence was the doing of Satan. Who else but the Prince of Lies would want all men and women to be the same?
* * *
In August of the next year, 1350, King Philip of France died, but not from the plague. In the streets, of course – and even in the shadows at court – it was whispered that the old goat had died from fulfilling his matrimonial obligations too frequently, and with too much vigour for a man his age. Indeed, the ladies-in-waiting wondered how Queen Blanche managed to stand up to such persistent attention. However, they did not snicker for long, for Prince Jean became King Jean, and his new wife became Queen Jeanne.
Everything was changed at the French court. Philippe’s insistence that he remarry so soon after Jutta’s death had appalled Jean, and he had become even more alienated when the old man had seized upon Blanche of Navarre for himself. He rather liked Jeanne, his new wife – having lost their spouses, they could understand each other’s grief – but Jean felt that a change was in order. Carlos de la Cerda, who had always been his sworn man, was elevated to the post of Constable of France. With great cunning, he even persuaded the King of Castile to ally himself with France, for now that Princess Joan was dead the Anglo-Castilian alliance was defunct.
“Take the war to the enemy, Carlos,” King Jean commanded. “Make Edward’s kingdom bleed, as he has bled us.”
Forty Castilian ships sailed for England, carrying a large force of Spanish and French knights and men-at-arms, but the English were apprised of their coming, and Edward had assembled a fleet of his own to meet them. A battle was fought in the Channel, off Winchelsea, which resulted in the destruction or surrender of so many of the Castilian vessels that King Jean was forced to abandon his dream of attacking England itself.
King Jean realized that he was surrounded by corrupt counsellors who only told him what he wanted to hear. He made peace with the English once more, and – to send a firm message to his court – arrested Raoul of Brienne when he was released by the English to return to France and raise his own ransom. Charged with treason for yielding Caen to the English four years before, Raoul was beheaded in Paris, before a howling mob. King Jean then called Jeanne de Charnay to court.
“Your husband’s uncle was burned as a traitor and a heretic only a short distance from here,” the king said. “It is true that Sir Geoffroi failed at Calais, but at least he showed some initiative. I need a man like that at my side. Therefore, I will myself pay his ransom of twelve thousand écus, for I hear you are having some difficulty raising such a sum from your estates.”
And so it was that Geoffroi de Charnay returned home in July of 1351, and – at least for a short time – he enjoyed peace and quiet on his half-ruined estates with his loving wife and their two children. He also edited and published a book on chivalry that he had written during his exile, in England. King Edward, he said, had given him much to think about regarding honour. But even so Sir Geoffroi could not bring himself to forgive Aimery de Pavia. As soon as he returned to the front-line headquarters of the French army at Saint-Omer, he organized a raiding force and attacked the outpost at Calais commanded by Sir Aimery. The surprise was so complete that the Lombard was dragged naked from his bed, where he had been dallying with his mistress, but to demonstrate that this was a personal matter, and not part of the war – and thus a violation of the King’s truce – Geoffroi’s men did not occupy the castle. Instead, they dragged Sir Aimery back to Saint-Omer, where he was cut open from belly to chin and then chopped into four pieces, which were hoisted on pikes over the gates of the town as a warning to traitors.
In this story there are only a few minor fictional characters, such as Angus the Scot, although he and the others are based on types of people who were present at the time. The vignettes of plague victims are fictitious, but founded on accounts of the plague. Their names and occupations are taken from a Parisian census roll dating from the 1290s. Most of the events described in this story also are historical, and although Jeanne de Charnay’s conversation with the manager of her estate is fictional, it is indicative of the kind of thing that was happening all over Western Europe at that time. We also know that although they had noble pedigrees, the de Charnay family was not wealthy, and that Jeanne de Charnay did not readily have the means to ransom her husband without the King’s aid.
My intention in this story is to provide students with a panoramic view of medieval life in the 14th century, introducing such important features as the Papal court and its Avignon “captivity”; the rise of Italian city-states like Genoa and Venice in connection with the end of the Crusades; the scholasticism of the University of Paris; the political and military context of the Hundred Years’ War; and – of course – the Black Death, which eventually occasioned outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence and a socio-economic revolution that would change Europe forever.
Several historical accounts of the period, both primary and secondary, were consulted in the writing of this story. The original idea for the tale came from Jean de Venette’s description of the plague’s impact on Paris. However, the story was expanded by drawing on other parts of de Venette’s chronicle, and on the history of the Hundred Years War written by Froissart, who includes many intriguing details about such events as the capture of Geoffroi de Charnay and the seizure of Aimery de Pavia. The letter that King Edward dictates to King Alfonso of Castile also is historical, although the original was written in Latin. Finally, the “feel” of day-to-day business at the Papal court was derived from translations of original documents concerning requests sent to Clement VI by various people in England. Surprisingly, the Pope agreed to almost every request that was made, and one suspects that Clement was a man of rather flexible disposition who tried, whenever possible, to avoid or minimize conflict.
As indicated in the story, the Black Death moved across Europe in seasonal waves, abating in 1351, although it remained endemic until the early 18th century. There were two strains of plague, as Guy de Chauliac observed in his notes, one being Bubonic (i.e., characterized by buboes or pustules), and the other being a pneumonia-like lung disease. Recent scholarship has confirmed that many plague victims indeed died from a flea-borne Bubonic illness, which has now been specifically identified as an ancestor of the modern Bubonic plague. However, exactly why the medieval plague was so much more lethal than modern outbreaks is not yet known. A second strain of the plague, transmitted like the common cold, probably was even more lethal than the Bubonic plague. The seasonality of the plague, meanwhile, reflects the fact that fleas thrive in warmth, while people tend to become sick in the winter. Thus the plague surged every spring, dying down in October, only to surge again in November.
Exactly how many people died during the Black Death is unknown, as we have no accurate population statistics. In the Islamic World and Europe, between one-third and one-half of the population died, with losses being heavier in certain hard-hit towns. According to some scholars, as many as 20 million Europeans may have died from the plague in the mid-14th century. To put this number in perspective, this means that on average, for a period of four years, Europe lost over 13,000 people to the epidemic every day.
1. How do the events in this story indicate the decline of the old crusading ideal of feudal, Christian knighthood?
2. Who do you think is the most morally reprehensible person in this story, and why?
3. According to this story, what were some of the limitations of the Papacy in the 14th century?
4. How was life at the University of Paris similar to modern university life? How was it different?
5. According to this story, what role do aristocratic women play in medieval European politics?
6. What are some of the interpretations of the plague offered by different characters in this story?
7. How did the medieval Church help Europeans cope with the impact of the Black Death?
8. How did people at the time take advantage of the plague to gain temporary or long-term advantages?
 Notre Dame, the cathedral church of Paris, was finished just prior to the arrival of the plague. It was a massive structure, one of the first to incorporate flying buttresses to prevent its walls from collapsing under their own weight. The two towers at the western end of the church were 226 feet high, and the spire above the altar 300 feet high. In accordance with Church tradition, altars always faced eastward.
 The cosmology of both the Christian and Muslim worlds agreed, at the time, that the Earth was the centre of the universe, mainly because the sun, moon, and stars appeared to revolve around the planet. Moreover, based on the Old Testament, the Catholic Church at the time held the view that the Earth was flat and covered by an atmospheric dome. Due to their limited perspective, medieval astronomers in general tended to attribute more regularity to the movement of stars and planets than is actually the case.
 The terms “Crusade” and "Crusader" were not used in the 14th century. In the Middle Ages, crusading was perceived as an armed, warrior’s pilgrimage, and those who undertook crusades were said to have “taken the cross” – a reference both to their expected suffering and to the white overcoat and scarlet cross worn by crusading knights.
 Smyrna is modern-day Izmir, on the coast of what is now Turkey.
 Medieval texts from Europe almost never refer to “Muslims.” Although some knights who served in the Middle East for long periods acquired an in-depth understanding of Islam, to most Europeans the Muslims were simply a collection of pagan races – Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Tatars (Mongols). The term “Saracen” was a catch-all term used to describe Muslims, although in Spain the word “Moor” was used.
 Dauphin was the traditional title of the lords of Viennois.
 England had been conquered by Norman knights – vassals of France – in 1066. While the Normans expanded their control throughout the British Isles, they retained some of their lands in France - property threatened by the unification efforts of the House of Valois. Indeed, right down to the time of the Hundred Years War, begun in 1337, most English rulers of the Norman lines spent most of their time in France rather than England.
 Salic Law was the ancient law of the French aristocracy, and one of its primary purposes was to regulate the inheritance of estates among noble families.
 Here, the French emissary refers to the rebellion of the Scottish lords, under Robert the Bruce, which most Americans will be familiar with from the rather unhistorical movie, Braveheart.
 When the French crown kidnapped the Papacy and exiled it to Avignon in 1309, the problem of Anti-Popes arose, for the Italian nobles and Holy Roman Emperor, jealous of French control over the Pope, frequently tried to raise up a rival Papacy. Needless to say, having two Popes at the same time was confusing for Christians, who literally had no idea which set of “authorities” to obey.
 At this time, the Roman and Eastern Church were still technically joined, although governed separately, the Latin Church following the Papacy and the Greek Church of the East following the Patriarch of Constantinople in Byzantium.
 The Constable of France was similar to a Commander-in-Chief of the army. Kings still led their own armies in the 14th century, but this was not always possible, and therefore a separate commander sometimes was needed. Raoul de Brienne has inherited the task of Constable from his father, who had been killed in a joust only two years before.
 The statistics given in medieval European texts are often completely unreliable. It has been noted, in fact, that the medieval mind seemed to be incapable of grasping large numbers. I have in general used the most conservative numbers in this story.
 At the time of the Hundred Years War, England and France were making a transition from feudal armies to paid armies composed of hired mercenaries and paid retainers – a new system sometimes referred to as “bastard feudalism.” The English bowmen of the Hundred Years War often were yeomen, or well-to-do peasants, who were beginning to acquire some of the attributes of a rural middle class.
 This was one of the first field battles in which artillery was used, although it is unclear just how decisive cannon were in this and other battles of the Hundred Years War.
 David was the eldest son of Robert the Bruce, the former King of Scotland. He was just a boy when he inherited his father’s throne, and to prevent his falling into the hands of the English, he was sent to France with his child bride. David remained under Philippe VI’s protection for eleven years – until his majority – and then returned to Scotland to raise a Scots army to attack England from the north.
 David and Joan of Scotland remained in captivity for eleven years, eventually being ransomed by the Scottish parliament for 100,000 marks.
 Lombardy was an important principality in north-western Italy, famous for its mercenaries. Being one of the first European populations to embrace Renaissance culture, the Lombards were renowned for their advanced technical skills and scientific knowledge.
 This is the Prince Edward known today as “The Black Knight,” a reference to the colour of his armour and shield. However, in contemporary records he is never referred to in this way.
 There are two different accounts of this incident. According to French sources, a stubborn Edward III forces the people expelled from Calais to die in the no man’s land between the two armies. According to the English account, he lets them go.
 By this time, the King of England was bound by the Magna Carta, one of the defining early documents of English parliamentary government. Kings were not permitted to raise the enormous sums of money needed to fight protracted wars without obtaining the consent of Parliament, which represented both the primary secular taxpayers of the kingdom and the bishops of the Church.
 Parliaments were called only intermittently in the Middle Ages, and participants usually used them as opportunities to exact concessions from their rulers. Kings would concede rights in return for financial assistance.
 That is, the Holy Roman Emperor. I use the term “German Emperor” to emphasize the fact that the Empire now was primarily a Germanic confederacy sprawling across Central Europe.
 Jutta – known as Bonne of Bohemia in French texts – was the daughter of the King of Bohemia and Luxembourg, who was the eldest son of a former Holy Roman Emperor. Thus, through her the French court was entangled in the complex politics of the Empire, which included most of the German states and northern Italy.
 Many clerical writers during the plague years wrote about whole populations being destroyed, but often they were exaggerating. Even so, studies have demonstrated that thousands of villages disappeared across Europe as the population readjusted. Many of these villages were not necessarily wiped out. Instead, they probably became too small to remain viable, or else were situated on marginal land that no longer had to be occupied after the mass die-off of the population.
 It is estimated that eventually two-thirds of Avignon’s population died. If only one-third was killed by the first wave of the plague, it is plausible that one hundred people were dying daily during the most intense phase of the epidemic.
 The doctrines of the present-day Roman Catholic Church were not yet fully established in the 14th century. While the Church had defined almost every human activity as being sinful, or potentially sinful, the Church also maintained a monopoly over absolution. However, theologians disagreed about the extent of the Church’s power to absolve people of their sins, or just how widely the Pope could delegate his authority. In general, the policies of Pope Clement VI tended to favour the concept of forgiveness, most likely as a way of helping people cope with the plague.
 Cardinal Aubert was to become the next Pope after Clement’s death.
 Just prior to Guy de Chauliac’s arrival in Bologna, the city-state had endured a turbulent period of civil war, during which the leading families had constructed fortified mansions. Eventually, more than one hundred and eighty lofty towers were raised, giving the city a distinctive skyline.
 In the Middle Ages, people were subjected to both ecclesiastical and secular law. The Church concerned itself with a whole range of sexual offences, which included the use of any unorthodox sexual positions and any sexual activities unconnected with procreation.
 Guillaume de Machaut is one of the first medieval composers for whom we have enough information to enable us to reconstruct the sound of his music. The 14th century was a time of innovation and change in music, although the pre-plague themes of courtly love gave way to darker, more melancholy themes during and after the plague.
 Medieval people believed that the world was made and controlled by God – and vexed by Satan as well – and thus nothing happened by chance.
 Approximately forty Jews were killed in the attacks at Toulon, but it is unclear whether this was the entire Jewish community of the city or not.
 Here, Jutta expresses fairly common stereotypes of the period, in particular the idea that Jews often tried to steal consecrated hosts in order to defile them, later, in secret anti-Christian ceremonies.
 While we do not know Jeanne de Charnay’s true feelings about the Jews, I have decided to have her present the more tolerant position because her family had a historical connection with Palestine, and through closer contact with Jews might have gained a more accurate understanding of their religion and culture.
 Medieval Christians frequently accused Jews of killing Christ. The idea that Christ was himself Jewish, and the fact that his death was necessary for the world's salvation in Catholic theology, rarely seems to have occurred to people of the period.
 The Knights Templar had been defeated and driven from their last footholds in Palestine by the early 1290s. However, the Order had become well-organized, owning a huge and diversified portfolio of properties and businesses all over Europe that helped support the Templar forces. After the failure of the Crusades, the kings of France viewed the Templars as a dangerous state-within-a-state, loyal primarily to themselves. In France, they were accused of having become secret Muslims.
 Jeanne de Charnay and her husband were the earliest recorded owners of the Christian relic now called the Shroud of Turin, which is an object of some controversy. It is thought that one of Jeanne’s ancestors acquired the shroud in Athens, and that it formed part of her wedding trousseau when she married de Charnay. However, because the Templars had been accused of worshipping a strange face – possibly the Shroud of Turin or one of the other shrouds similar to it – Geoffroi de Charnay did not permit his wife to display the shroud publicly until after his death.
 The modern institution known as the Sorbonne, one of the premiere universities of France, is named after Robert de Sorbone.
 The description of the comet’s passage is taken from Jean de Venette, who merely says that it appeared in August of 1348. However, by drawing upon Japanese and Chinese sources we have been able to establish that the comet became visible at the end of July and remained in the sky throughout August, although it may not have been visible to individual observers during that entire time. The comet probably appeared over Paris at the end of the month.
 The Pope had in fact issued two bulls, or commands, threatening to excommunicate those who attacked Jews during the plague. However, most of the anti-Jewish riots occurred in areas over which the Avignon Papacy had little or no direct authority.
 Prince Jean here refers to the Expulsion of 1290, when England’s entire Jewish population – between 4,000 and 16,000 people – were required to leave the country. The prohibition against Jews living in England was not lifted until 1655, although some Jews returned, earlier, during the 15th century. In France, in the 14th century, Jews probably made up only about one percent of the entire population, but because they were required to live only in large towns and cities, they made up some twelve percent of the urban population, and possibly more in certain cities.
 The early history of the Order of the Garter is confused, with some authorities arguing that it was created in 1344, others preferring an origin in the year 1348. According to legend, the Garter referred to an incident during one of the dances held in the English camp at Calais, when a lady’s garter fell off while she was dancing. King Edward III is said to have picked it up and returned it to the lady, and – hearing his court snickering – said, “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” or, “Evil to him who thinks evil.” This is now the motto on the royal crest of the House of Windsor, and has been the motto of the rulers of England since the 14th century.
 The Flagellants were not social outcasts. In fact, when men joined the Brotherhood, they had to agree to pay for their own food and support themselves. Lower-class men were not permitted to join the movement, at least at first. Just how organized the Flagellants were is not well known. Their marches tended to last thirty-three and a half days, each day corresponding to one year of Christ’s life.
 Charles was to become King of France after his father, Jean, was captured at the Battle of Poitiers. From this period on, all heirs to the French throne took the title of Dauphin, which became the French equivalent of “Prince of Wales.”
 A denier was the medieval French equivalent of a penny, which was the coin used for most day-to-day transactions.
 In the Age of Chivalry, knights often were released “on parole” to raise their own ransoms. They would not be allowed to return to combat, honourably, until they had paid their captors. Geoffroi de Charnay had endured a period of captivity in England in the late 1330s, but had been released in order to raise his own ransom.
 Geoffroi de Charnay became one of the leading military figures in France under the reign of King Jean II, but was killed at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, trying to stave off another English offensive led by Prince Edward. In this battle, King Jean II was captured by the English, resulting in the coronation of Jean’s eldest son, Charles. After Sir Geoffroi’s death, in fulfilment of a vow he had made, his wife Jeanne asked for and received permission from the Church to publicly display what is now called the Shroud of Turin.
Copyright, William Lailey, 2012.
Copyright, William Lailey, 2012.