The Age of Chivalry

A restless night resulted in a change of travel plans this morning. Rather than pursuing Jeanne d’Arc in Orleans, we took Metro Line 1 to Chateau Vincennes and a step back in time to the Age of Chivalry. Chivalry, as I learned when reading about the history of Vincennes, had its downside — at least for John Le Bon.

Vincennes was created as a hunting lodge on the outskirts of Paris by the Capetian monarchs, e.g., St. Louis et al. At the start of the Hundred Years War (a series of wars between royalty in France and England for the French throne) in 1350, John Le Bon started work on a keep at Vincennes. John Le Bon adhered to the tenets of chivalry which caused him to make some rather stupid mistakes. He had Edward, Prince of Wales, pinned down at the Battle of Poitiers and all he had to do to win was wait. Wait and starve the English army. But waiting was not a chivalrous act so he didn’t, charging ahead to be captured and held for ransom by the “Black Prince.”

John then sent his 18-year-old son and heir, Charles, his second son, Louis, and two marshals to Paris to raise the ransom money. The mayor of Paris, Etienne Marcel, was not a practitioner of chivalry. He was a much more pragmatic man who certainly understood the mood of the citizens of Paris. The marshals of Champagne and Normandy whom John had sent with his young son were despised throughout France because they were believed to be corrupt. So, Mayor Marcel told the young dauphin he would happily lend the king money if the dauphin turned over the two marshals. Charles refused and took refuge in the Louvre.

Unrest mounted in the city and Charles’ entourage sought to flee Paris, but were captured by the Mayor who once again asked the dauphin to turn the marshals over. He refused and the Mayor ordered his men to kill the marshals on the spot — which they did. Miraculously, Charles and his brother managed to escape. Ultimately, the ransom (250 million francs) was made, but Charles was scarred by his experience. He hated Parisians and, as King, finished the keep his father had started at Vincennes around 1370, making it an impregnable fortress from which he ruled his kingdom. Unlike his father, Charles wasn’t a big practitioner of chivalry — he didn’t go into battle with his armies, preferring to stay safely in his fortress and lead from afar,


The donjon at Chateau Vincennes

He initiated work on a chapel, modelled on Louis’ Sainte-Chapelle, in 1379, but it wasn’t completed until the mid-1500s under Henry II.

French monarchs continued to take refuge at the keep during troubled periods in the 16th and 17th centuries. Louis XIV added his buildings before deciding to hang out permanently at Versailles which he built, by the way, because he didn’t particularly care for Parisians either. Those damned Parisians! I mean, why couldn’t they just pay their taxes, eat cake and be happy?

With kings and emperors residing in more opulent abodes, the Chateau Vincennes was used as a prison. The Marquis du Sade was a prisoner here as was the priest who heard Napoleon’s confession. Guess the little man thought he’d told the monseigneur too much so he threw the priest into prison. The monseigneur passed the time by creating art on the walls of his cell which you can still see.


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