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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE BABY-KING OF FRANCE

[194] SOON after the battle of Agincourt the dauphin died; then the king's second son, John, also died—of poison, people whispered. Prince John had been a friend of the Duke of Burgundy, and that alone was enough to make people mutter that the prince had been poisoned by the Armagnacs. They would certainly see to it that no friend of the Burgundian should rule over France.

Charles, the king's youngest son, a boy of fourteen, now became Dauphin. He was an Armagnac, and as this party was the most powerful at the time, all was well with him. The Count of Armagnac took the title of Constable, and ruled France for the young prince.

One of the count's first acts was to imprison Queen Isabelle, who by her wicked conduct did much harm to the kingdom. In 1417, however, she escaped by the help of John, Duke of Burgundy, and from that day she used all her influence on the side of the Burgundians.

The constable ruled Paris better than it had been ruled for years, yet his hand was an iron hand, and before long the citizens grew angry because the count was so stern and showed so little pity. Fickle as ever, they began to think that perhaps after all Queen Isabelle and the Burgundians might prove more gentle rulers.

So in 1418 the citizens opened the gates of Paris to the Burgundians, who poured into the city and slew the Armagnacs, sparing neither women nor little children. The constable was brutally torn to pieces by the angry [194] mob, and Charles the Dauphin barely escaped with his life.

The Duke of Burgundy had not been with his followers when they entered Paris. As soon as he heard of their violence and the fury of the citizens, he hastened to the capital, but too late to do much good, even had he tried.

Henry V. meanwhile had again come to France with an army, and was besieging the town of Rouen.

John, Duke of Burgundy, who was now ruler of Paris if not of France, sent an army to relieve the city, but after three months it fell into the hands of the English. Henry at once hastened towards the capital. Then at length the Duke of Burgundy, for the sake of his country, put aside his feud with the Armagnacs. He determined to join them and the dauphin, that together they might save France from falling into the hands of the English and being ruled by an English king.

The dauphin was but a boy, and when he heard that the Duke of Burgundy wished to make peace with him he did as his courtiers advised. He asked John the Fearless to meet him, that they might discuss their plans together at the bridge of Montereau, which crossed the river Seine.

Duke John agreed to go to Montereau. Accordingly a wooden enclosure was built on the middle of the bridge in which the dauphin and the duke might meet.

Usually a barrier was placed within such an enclosure lest by any chance a quarrel should arise and swords should thoughtlessly be drawn. At Montereau, alas, no barrier was erected.

A sense of foreboding was heavy upon the followers of the duke. They entreated him not to meet the dauphin they warned him that the Armagnacs were not to be trusted' Suppose he was taken prisoner, suppose they should attempt to take his life?

But the duke laughed at their fears, or pretended to do so,

[196] "It is my duty,"he told his followers, "to risk my person in order to get so great a blessing as peace. Peace being made, I will take the men of my lord the dauphin to go and fight the English."

In July 1419 the meeting at length took place. The dauphin, it was easy to see, had been encouraged by his advisers to be angry. Almost at once when he saw the duke, Charles began to reproach him for not coming earlier to Montereau. He accused him of allowing the English to reach Paris, and many other complaints he made against the man who had risked his life that his country might be saved.

"You have been wanting in your duty," said the dauphin.

"My lord," answered the duke, "I have done only what it was my duty to do."

But still Charles continued to upbraid him, when suddenly one of the Armagnacs who was with the dauphin raised his battle-axe and struck the duke to the ground.

All was at once in confusion. The dauphin hastily withdrew, but the Armagnacs who had been waiting at one side of the bridge now rushed across to the other side where the Burgundians were expecting their master, and soon put them to flight.

Thus after many years the cruel murder of Louis, Duke of Orleans, was avenged upon the noble Duke John the Fearless, who, whatever his faults, had at least loved his country enough to risk his life for her sake.

Philip, the son of John the Fearless, now became Duke of Burgundy. He determined to avenge his father's death, and at once began to fight against the Armagnacs. He also, along with Queen Isabelle, allied himself with the English.

The people of Paris were as eager as the new Duke of Burgundy to have nothing to do with the dauphin or his chosen friends the Armagnacs. The crime they had committed made the citizens wish rather to have Henry, King [197] of England, to rule over them than the Dauphin and his evil counsellors.

Henry was not slow to seize the favourable moment to enter into a treaty with the citizens of Paris.

So the important Treaty of Troyeswas signed on May 21, 1420. It declared that on the death of the poor mad king Charles VI., Henry V. of England should become King of France. It also said among other things that Henry should at once marry Catherine, the daughter of Charles VI.

On June 2, 1420, Henry V. therefore entered Paris, and was married to Catherine.

For two years the king and queen held their court in the capital, and during these years Henry ruled justly and well, and restored order to the city, and in part at least to France.

But in August 1422 Henry V. died, leaving behind him a little son, nine months old, who was also named Henry.

Less than two months later, Charles VI., the poor mad King of France, also died.

While his body lay in state many of his subjects went to lament over him. Their love for Charles had never failed.

"Ah, dear prince," they cried, "never shall we have any so good as thou wert; never shall we see thee more. Since thou dost leave us, we shall never have aught but wars and troubles. As for thee, thou goest to thy rest; as for us, we remain in tribulation and sorrow."

When the service at the tomb of Charles VI. was ended, English heralds proclaimed the tiny baby boy, son of Henry V., King of France and England.

But as the little king. Henry VI., would not be able to rule for many a long year to come, his uncle, the Duke of Bedford, became regent, and ruled France for his little nephew.

Six days after his father's death, Charles the Dauphin also took the title of King, going to the chapel of Mehun, [197] that he might begin to reign as Charles VII.with the blessing of the priests.

There were now two kings in France: Henry VI., the baby-king of Paris, and Charles VII., the King of Bourges, as the French called him in scorn of his claim to be King of France.

The north of the country was in the hands of the English and the Burgundians, but south of the river Loire the country was loyal to the dauphin.

In the next chapters I will tell you the strange way by which Charles the Dauphin did, at length, actually become King, not only of Bourges, but of the whole kingdom of France.


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