THE GREAT DUKES
Philip, Duke of Burgundy, French, and Henry Beaufort, Duke of Bedford, English, were the leading actors in this perplexed drama involving the destinies of France, at the moment when Jeanne d'Arc was preparing to break the siege of Orleans. Together with Isabella, consort of the mad and incapable Charles VI, they had some years before made the shameful treaty of Troyes, by the terms of which France was to pass under the power of England and the son of Harry the Fifth was to succeed to the throne of St. Louis. This incredible treaty followed the great victory of the English at Agincourt, which had almost wiped out the French chivalry; it proposed, de rigueur, to secure to the victor the spoils.
From this pact so disastrous to his country, to his race, and his family—for Philip was, like Charles VII, of the Valois blood—the Duke of Burgundy derived some solid advantages for himself, but not a tithe of what he aimed at in his ambition, regulated as it was by profound cunning and prudence. In the full vigor of life, unweariable in toils or pleasures, with a great aptitude for business and authority and a natural power of influencing and controlling men,
Philip of Burgundy stood forth as a born leader to whom fortune itself seemed to defer. So the English were glad to make alliance with Philip, who was on the way to becoming the most powerful prince in Europe. It was, besides, a politic arrangement, the union of Burgundians and English mitigating to some extent, in French eyes, the reproach of foreign domination.
Bedford and Philip from allies passed almost to the intimacy of brothers—that is, they were lavish of mutual compliments while heartily distrusting each other. However, Philip gave Bedford his sister in marriage, which connection availed to keep things in fairly good order until her death. But neither oaths nor pacts nor family ties might keep Philip from plotting, or, as he understood it, diplomacy. In truth, he was more skilful than Bedford and no less void of scruple, while superior to him in the incalculable element of fortune. Philip the Lucky would have been a more fitting title than that which his contemporaries gave him.
At this time Philip, with his great principality of Flanders and Burgundy, rich and prosperous countries as they were, might well look with scornful pity on his cousin, the poor young "King of Bourges," enslaved to the wallet of La Tremoille. Charles, too, was of feeble health—less feeble, though, than he appeared; weak, irresolute, too much given to sensual pleasures; above all, of a seeming want of mental fixity and balance that pointed significantly to his royal father's fate. In the realm of chance, Philip already
ready knew himself for a favorite; what great wonder if it should reserve for him the throne of France? With a view to this escheat Philip shaped his political course during many years, playing for his own hand always; being a useful friend to the English, but not letting them get away with too much, and exacting a great price for his friendship and service. A man of his age truly, neither better nor worse than his coevals, the brilliancy of his fortune dazzled both friends and foes; nay, for a long time deceived history.
Mighty opportunist that he was changing foot in time to have his black and giant treasons annulled, and to be received in highest honor by the nation which he had so long betrayed!
He was called Philip the Good, but it doth not appear why in his legend. Good men in exalted position were far to seek in that iron age, not a whit the softer that it chanced to be of one religious faith. It is by men's hearts that the world is tried and not by any professed religion. Philip was extraordinarily good to himself and consumed a great deal of incense in his own glorification, but with "goodness" rightly understood he had little to do, and of it he had small understanding.
It is true that religion was ever in his mouth and that he talked much of getting up a new crusade; but he was interested in places nearer than Palestine, and on this point the wits and lampooners did not fail to score against him. He was a bon viveur, of robustious animal spirits, a man of plural marriages
and connections of the left hand—no great reproach, to be sure, in the moral estimation of his time. (The public tongue credited him with eighteen bastards, besides his legitimate progeny. Evidently the founder of the Golden Fleece had nothing to learn about the fleece of women.)
Let us not forget, as a set-off, that Philip devised the order of la Toison d'Or (the Golden Fleece), the object of which was to honor the chivalric virtues and all noble disinterestedness. He was invested with the collar of the same by his cousin the Bastard John of Luxembourg, who sold Jeanne d'Arc to the English, unquestionably upon the mandate of the "good" Philip, whose lieutenant he was. This fact says more for his chivalry than the institution of the Golden Fleece! After the capture of the Maid at Compiegne, Philip went to feast his bold eyes upon the heroic peasant girl who had dared to send him letters in her name, recalling him to his duty and allegiance. No doubt they had touched his noble pride and awakened his resentment, pledge-fellow as he was with the foreign invader. A picture of this memorable meeting may be seen at the Hotel de Ville in Orleans. Jeanne and Philip are the principal figures depicted therein, the latter wearing his collar of the Golden Fleece. It should have blushed for him that day, on his first and only recorded encounter with the liberatrice of France. He addressed her, and she said to him some words that have been prudently omitted from the Burgundian account of the incident. They were, no doubt, his passport to such infamy as he has wrought for himself in history.
The pretense of religion, noted above, the using of it as a cloak and a subterfuge, was perhaps the most hateful and detestable thing in the medieval character, as exemplified in this candid narrative. Not that we optimistically regard the vice as having altogether died out in the progress of Christianity—would that it might be so! But we may be glad at least that such flagrant types of it, both lay and clerical, as appear in our story have more and more fallen off since the epoch of Jeanne d'Arc. There is reason to believe that the production, cultivation, and persistence of this kind of meanness were about that time rather strongly discountenanced. At any rate, we are sure that never since has it made so bold a figure in the world. Also, one may believe that only a truly divine religion could have survived such exemplifiers of the same as we are obliged to deal with in these pages. Even so, the effort required to throw them off produced convulsions which have scarcely yet subsided.
The Duke of Bedford, who ruled the parts of France subjugated by the English, in the name of Henry VI, was less brilliant and versatile than his beau-frere, of solid parts, a cold and settled temperament, without tendency to extremes of thought or action. The higher walks of English society are filled with such men to-day; we call them "decent Englishmen." But such a character in the fifteenth century, tried as Bedford was and carrying his great burden in a foreign country only in part subdued, would act
in the spirit of his age. Bedford acted in a way to earn for himself the execration of posterity. He is the principal, the protagonist in the horrible plot devised with such cunning to destroy the Maid.
Bedford's piety was of a sterner cast than that of his brother-in-law, as we should expect of an Englishman, but it was not the less calculated for his material profit and advantage; where these were threatened he was apt to show temper and break out into ungentle speech. Thus, on the English defeat at Orleans, he wrote to the young King Henry VI :
Everything has prospered for you until the time of the siege of Orleans, undertaken God knows by whose counsel.
Some days after [the death of Salisbury] there befell, by the hand of God, as it seems, a great mischief upon our people who were there in large numbers.( English soldiers. The force seems not to have been in excess of seven thousand men. It was not a time of large armies.) Which proceeded in great part, I think, from false beliefs and wild fears which they have had from a disciple and hound of the devil, called la Pucelle, who has used false enchantments and sorceries. (La Pucelle (French) the Maid; from the Latin paella, young girl.) Which mischief and discomfiture not only have diminished by great part the number of our people, but have also removed the courage of the rest in marvelous fashion and have suddenly roused your enemies to assemble in great force.
The restrained language here used by the Duke of Bedford is of similar tenor to that put forth by the honorable William Shakespeare more than a hundred and seventy years later—and still we hear of the Bard's originality!
On becoming not long afterward the jailer of this disciple and hound of the devil, through the loyal complaisance of Burgundy—who probably found the nut too hard to crack himself—Bedford let loose in her favor those feelings of Christian love, mercy, and charity with which his noble bosom was filled. He ordered her confinement and the conditions thereof, as we have seen, the heaviest that flesh could bear and all but intolerable to the spirit. He would not be satisfied with her bodily death but insisted that she be damned to perdition by the priests, only too eager as they were to do his bidding; he also spied upon her modesty, like the base cad he was!
Is there need to add that this pink of English chivalry and mirror of mediaeval piety cherished a special devotion to St. George and is depicted in a well-known portrait kneeling before him, but without the least humiliation? (The Duke's features are well enough, save the nose, which is of a distinct cockney order.) Is it necessary to repeat that he founded, with his own money, a monastery, favored a convent of Carmelites, and had himself inscribed among the members of the cathedral chapter of Rouen, while he solicited the privilege of wearing the canonical habit? It almost brings the tears to read that he had the honor to receive it from the hallowed hands of Pierre Cauchon! This was on the eve of Jeanne's transference to Rouen from her Burgundian captors —a matter negotiated by Cauchon himself, under authority of Bedford. And the affecting ceremony above referred to was almost by way of celebrating
that happy event. For Bedford must prime the priests in order to secure from them the fullest condemnation of La Pucelle. Another favorable augury: one of her judges-to-be preaches the sermon at this rite in honor of Bedford. How close the lines are drawn here! How admirably hell is served!
And those priests—how ready and adaptable they are in the service of power! How obvious is this solemn farce played in the name of religion; this reverencing and curtseying of noble and priestly apes intent upon their own selfish aims, or like Bedford and Cauchon, seeking a warrant for murder! It was by God's will that Joan of Arc was burnt at Rouen, which cleared neither Bedford nor Bishop Cauchon—Robert Louis Stevenson.) The record of Jeanne's trial certifies that we here utter no libel upon the cathedral chapter of Rouen. But it was a grand time for priests when Power sought to borrow their uniform!
Bedford did not wear his very long: he died about four years after Jeanne, in the same chateau of Bouvreuil where he had variously tortured her; in bitter despair for himself and without hope for the future of English rule in the land.