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Reign of Henry IV page 10

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In 1406 there were great efforts made on the part of the French court to seize the tempting opportunity to gain possession of all Henry's continental territories. The two most powerful nobles of the realm were commissioned to execute this great enterprise. The Duke of Orleans, the king's brother, was to lead the forces against Guienne, whilst the Duke of Burgundy, called "John Sans-peur," or the Fearless, was to expel the English from Calais. Both of these schemes were absolute failures. The Duke of Orleans, who, though the king's brother, lived in shameless adultery with the queen, had secured the king's daughter, Isabella, the late Queen of England, for his eldest son, the Count of Angouleme, and the betrothment was now celebrating with great fetes and rejoicings. The poor young queen, who had known nothing but trouble in her English marriage, now was about to be introduced into a fresh series of calamities, from which, however, she was freed by an early death. She wept bitterly at pledging her hand to her new husband, which the French, attributed to her losing, by this act, the title of the Queen of England; but her own attendants, to the fact of her retaining an unshaken and affectionate memory of King Richard. She might have wept in prophetic sorrow, for though her husband, much younger than herself, was extremely attached to her, the whole circumstances of the family were such as were not only disgraceful at the present moment, but speedily produced murder and civil distraction.

At present, however, all went "merry as a marriage bell," and not only the Duke of Orleans, the commander- in-chief of the expedition against Guienne, but the other royal officers, the Counts of Clermont and Alencon, left the army, and were deeply engaged in the matrimonial gaieties of Paris.

When they were over, these exemplary generals set out for their camps; but the season was then past for action, and, therefore, instead of fighting, Orleans and his princely and aristocratic officers endeavoured to amuse themselves during the miserably wet and stormy weather by gambling, while their troops were suffering all the extremities of famine and cold, destitute of food or proper tents. Having spent all the money provided for the campaign, they rode back to Paris, followed by the curses of the soldiers, and received by the murmurs of the people.

John the Fearless of Burgundy had shown the same wonderful generalship against the town of Calais, so desirable as it was to recover it from the English. He cut down a whole forest to construct machines which should batter down the walls, and burst in the gates of that strongly-fortified town, and reduce the houses to heaps of ruins by flinging in whole rocks. He was provided with two hundred pieces of cannon, and the most complete success was anticipated from his efforts. They resulted in nothing, and, like the Duke of Orleans, he returned to Paris complaining of not having been supplied with sufficient funds, and demanding not only the costs of his useless machinery, but immense sums which he asserted had been due to his father. These he was not very likely to obtain, for France, Paris, and the court were in the most wretched condition of anarchy and exhaustion imaginable. The malady of the king, recurring fits of insanity, had left the Government in the hands of the contending princes, especially of Orleans and Burgundy. The queen and Orleans, united in a guilty alliance, managed to keep the main power in their hands. The king was a cipher, and the country a ruin. At this time the royal household had not even food, except such as it took by force from the bakers, butchers, and dealers, in which they were imitated by the great nobles.

To this unhappy condition of things was now added the fierce disputes and recriminations of the rival dukes; but Orleans, supported by the queen's interest, maintained his stand, and Burgundy, in high dudgeon and disgust, retired to his own dominions, vowing vengeance against his great opponent.

The Duke of Berri, uncle to both the contending princes, exerted himself to effect a reconciliation between them, and prevent the menaced civil strife, in addition to the already crushing calamities of France. In this he at length appeared successful; but the success was only apparent, the result was really tragical. Burgundy returned to Paris, visited the Duke of Orleans, who was somewhat indisposed, and there appeared the most cordial reconciliation. The Duke of Berri, enchanted with the happy effect of his good offices, on the 30th of November, 1407, accompanied his two nephews to the Church of the Augustines to hear mass, and there these seemingly amicable relatives took the sacrament together in token of their perfectly reconciled minds. In three days after, Orleans was murdered in the Rue Barbette, by eighteen assassins in the pay of his dear friend, the newly-reconciled and forgiving Burgundy. What was worse, it came out that both these thoroughly depraved princes had entertained the same design of dispatching his rival, and that Burgundy had only got the start with his assassins. Burgundy absented himself from Paris for a short time, when he returned again, and boldly justified his deed. The king, who was at the moment in one of his more lucid intervals, wept over the fate of his brother, and vowed to avenge it; but the power of Burgundy was beyond that of the feeble monarch.

The Orleans family was vehement for vengeance. Isabella, the former Queen of England, now joined her mother-in-law the duchess dowager in this demand of justice from her father. She came with the widowed duchess in a chariot covered with black cloth, and followed by a long train of mourning carriages filled with their domestics. The two ladies sat in front of their chariot weeping, and thus they arrived at the gates of Paris. There they were met by most of the princes of the blood, and this mournful procession passed through the streets of the capital to the gates of the Hotel de St. Pol, where Isabella threw herself at the feet of her wretched father Charles VI, crying for justice on the murder of her uncle. She cried in vain, the poor king was fast sinking again into his delirium, and twelve months afterwards Isabella again joined the Dowager Duchess of Orleans in a similar procession, to seek the same justice from her brother, the dauphin Louis, who was acting as ^gent, but with equal want of success; and the old duchess sank and died in despair of punishment on her enemy. The marriage of Isabella to Charles, now Duke of Orleans, took place soon after these events, and, as already related, she died in 1410, in giving birth to an infant daughter.

The Orleans family, finding that no justice was to be obtained from the feeble and corrupt government, but, on the contrary, that the people of Paris hailed John of Burgundy as a second Brutus, who had freed his country of a tyrant aiming at the crown, and that the very lawyers and clergy justified the murder on the same pleas, declaring that Orleans had produced the king's Insanity through sorcery and drugs, determined to take arms and enforce it for themselves.

Burgundy, to strengthen himself with the Parisians, promised to reduce the monstrous weight of taxation under which they groaned, and they applauded him as their saviour. Revolt amongst Burgundy's subjects in Flanders withdrew him for a time from Paris, during which the queen, in the name of her son, the dauphin, declared Burgundy an enemy of the state, and threw all her energies into the interests of the Orleanists. But Burgundy returned victorious from his contest with his subjects, and in November entered Paris at the head of 6,000 men.

Once more, in the following March, the farce of a reconciliation took place between Burgundy and the young Duke of Orleans, at Chartres, where the children of Orleans embraced their father's murderer. But this base and unnatural union was as hollow as the former one; all the old animosity burst forth anew; and the young Duke of Orleans, who had lost the amiable Isabella, and married a daughter of the Count of Armagnac, was supported by that able and energetic nobleman in his opposition to Burgundy. From this day the whole of France was divided into the great hostile factions - the Orleanists and the Armagnacs - so called from the Count of Armagnac assuming the lead in his son-in-law's quarrel by his superior vigour and experience. The Dukes of Berri and Brittany, and the Count d'Alencon, embraced the cause of Orleans, and Burgundy was compelled to retire from Paris.

Henry IV., relieved from his own domestic foes, had watched this contest from the commencement with the deepest interest. His calculating soul saw that now the time was coming for him to take vengeance on France for its insults and injuries during the whole period of his struggles with his rebellious nobles. Into Henry's mind no feeling of commiseration for the sufferings of the French people was likely to enter; his very intellectual constitution was policy; his feelings led him only towards self-advancement. He foresaw that the first failing combatant would turn to him for aid, and he determined that it should be granted, because it would damage France. "What he knew must come came now; and it was the more agreeable, because it enabled him to pay to the son of Orleans the debt of hate which he owed to the father for his haughty defiance and his taunts of murder.

Burgundy solicited his aid, and it was immediately granted in the shape of 1,000 archers and 800 men-at-arms. Perhaps there might be a secret fellow-feeling, which made Henry "thus wondrously kind;" for it was one murderer succouring another. Burgundy, with this force, formidable though small - for the fame of the English bowmen in France was not forgotten - drove the Orleanists from Paris, and took their place in October of 1411, amid the acclamations of the people. Burgundy had now secured the persons of the king and the dauphin, and with this semblance of being the royal party, he marched against the Orleanists, and besieged them in Bourges. In their retreat from Paris they had plundered the Abbey of St. Denis, and carried off a treasure of the queen deposited there, which naturally alienated the mind of that lady.

In their distress the Orleanists now in their turn sought aid from Henry of England, and it was granted with equal alacrity. Henry had satisfied his resentment against the Orleans family by punishing and humbling them; and he was rendered placable by still more powerful motives. The Orleanists offered very tempting terms. They offered to acknowledge him as the rightful Duke of Aquitaine, and to assist him to recover all the ancient rights and lands of that duchy. They agreed to hold of him, as their feudal lord, whatever they possessed there, to restore to him twenty towns which had been severed from it; and to give security that, on the deaths of the present lords, the counties of Angouleme and Ponthieu should return to him and his successors. Henry, on his part, agreed to assist them as his faithful vassals in all their just quarrels; to enter into no treaty with the Duke of Burgundy or his family without their consent; and to send at once to their assistance 3,000 archers and 1,000 men-at-arms, to serve for three months at the proper wages, which are stated to be, men-at-arms one shilling and sixpence, and archers ninepence per day.

The news of this convention altered greatly the position of the contending parties. The Armagnacs received the Duke of Burgundy with an unusual display of spirit. The Duke of Berri threw himself, with 800 men-at-arms, into Bourges, and threatened to defend it while a man was left. But there was a large party in Prance who beheld with alarm and sorrow their common country thus torn by her own children, and the English, who had aforetime perpetrated such horrors there, thus introduced by them. Their utmost exertions were used to reconcile the hostile factions; and happily they succeeded. Burgundy met his uncle, the Duke of Berri, at an appointed place outside the walls of Bourges, where an accommodation was agreed upon; and as a means of making the peace permanent, the Duke of Burgundy agreed to give one of his daughters to a younger brother of Orleans. The two leaders took a very extraordinary mode of convincing the people of the sincerity of their alliance. They rode into the city both mounted on one horse; and the spectators, transported with joy at the sight, shouted with all their might, and sang, "Gloria in excelsis,"

In the midst of this exultation, the news arrived that Thomas Duke of Clarence, the second son of King Henry, had landed in Normandy, with 4,000 men, and was joined by the Counts of Alencon and Richmont, A deputation was immediately dispatched to inform the English leader of the peace, and to beg him to retire, as his aid was no longer needed. But Clarence naturally demanded the payment of the expenses of the expedition; and as they were not forthcoming, he advanced through Normandy into Maine, laying waste the country as he proceeded; while another body of English from Calais occupied great part of Artois. Six hundred men-at-arms hastened to the standard of the duke, who overran and plundered Maine and Anjou. Attempts were made, by promises of payment, to gain time for the assembling of troops; but Clarence was deaf to any such decoys. He had a very simple course laid down for him by his deeply calculating father: to do all the mischief he could prepayment of the various descents of the French on the English coasts, and their destruction of the English merchant ships; and by this very mischief to compel the Government to liberal terms for his withdrawal.

As there was no money in the national exchequer, there was a loud cry to arms, but it was very feebly responded to. Meantime, Clarence having overrun Maine and Anjou, prepared to invade the duchy of Orleans; this had the effect of bringing the young duke to the English camp with all the money he could muster, and having arranged with the invader for the payment of the whole cost of the expedition, 209,000 crowns, he left his brother, the Duke of Angouleme, as hostage in Clarence's hands for its payment.

On this, the Duke of Clarence did not quit the country, as was hoped, but marched on into Guienne, forbidding his troops to commit further devastations by the way, but allowing them to inform the inhabitants as they went along that they should not be long before they came again in the name of their own King Henry to carry on the war; words which were afterwards fulfilled to a terrible extent.

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