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The Scot Abroad
Chapter 1 - The Ancient League with France - Part 2


There are two sides in the history of an alliance as in that of a war. Of the history of the ancient League, however, the first chapter belongs almost entirely to France. Some Scotsmen went thither and influenced the political condition of the country long before France impressed the policy of Scotland. It will clear the way for what follows, to take a glance at the social condition of the land to which the Scots refugees flocked, after their country had established itself in hostile independence of the Plantagenet kings. In later times people have been accustomed to seek the politics of France in Paris, giving little heed to the provinces; but at the accession of the house of Valois, the contrast between the eminence of the one and the insignificance of the other was still greater.

Paris was at that time, indeed, as much beyond any other European capital in extent, in noble buildings, and in luxurious living, as it is now beyond the secondary towns of France. The fruitfulness of the reigning family provided it with a little mob of native royalties, who made it so attractive that not only did all the great feudatories of the crown flock thither, but even independent monarchs preferred playing the courtier there to reigning in their own dingy capitals. One finds the kings of Navarre, of Sicily, and of Bohemia perpetually in the way, and turning up upon the surface of history when anything notable occurs in the French Court; they could not tear themselves from the attractions of the place.

The populousness and luxurious living of Paris are attested in a not pleasant or dignified fashion by the large number of butchers necessary to supply the city. They formed, when combined, a sort of small army; large enough, however, to be estimated by the thousand. They were often used as a powerful but a dangerous political engine. By bullying bravado and violence they held a sort of corporate power when almost everything else of the kind had been annihilated. This power they used according to their nature. It was they who did the professional part of the business when the prisons were broken open by the Burgundiall party, and the throats of the prisoners cut, making a scene in the year 1418 which was exactly repeated in the year 1792.

The allusion to these brutes brings one naturally from the concentration of luxury, wealth, and rank in Paris, to the horrible abyss by which it was all surrounded. It is difficult to conceive the wretchedness and degradation of France at that time—still more difficult, when it is fully realised, to understand by what steps the great nation of Henry IV. and Louis XIV.—the still greater nation of later times—arose to such a height of lustre and triumph. Whatever other elements were at work in the long eventful regeneration, it may surely be permitted to our national pride to count that the infusion of Scottish blood into the veins, as it were, of the country, must have had some share in the change.

There was at that time throughout the land neither sturdy independence nor affectionate, trusting dependence. Everything was thoroughly wrong. The great showed their superiority only in acts of injustice, insult, and cruelty; the poor were servile and abject in subjection, and brutal, treacherous, and ungrateful when the iron rule was for a moment evaded. A sort of mortifying process was killing all the elements of independent constitutional action one by one, and approaching the heart. The jurisdictions and privileges which the municipalities had inherited from the Roman Empire were crushed out. The lower feudatories were absorbed one by one, and the higher followed. By a curious fatality it fell to the family of Valois to unite the characteristic defects of a centralised despotism with those of an oligarchy. The great provinces came gradually one by one into the hands of the King; but instead of being united to the crown so as to make a compact and symmetrical empire, they were given to the princes of the blood and their descendants.

Hence arose a class of nobles or territorial aristocracy, who formed a separate caste, looking down upon and bearing enmity to all owners of territory who were not of the blood-royal. Such were the lords of Burgundy, Orleans, Anjou, Bourbon, Bern, La Marche, and a crowd of others. The tendency of things was towards not only a divine right in the crown to govern, but a divine right in the blood-royal to possess all things. The law was gradually withdrawing its protection from those who were not either themselves of the royal stock, or protected in a sort of clientage by one of the princes of the blood. Men in the highest places who did not belong to the sacred race might be pitched from their chairs of state to the dungeon or the scaffold, with that reckless celerity which characterises the loss of influence in Eastern despotisms.

One of the few men in that disastrous period who was enabled to afford to France some of the services of a real statesman was the Sieur de Montagu. He had been raised to influence under Charles V., and became comptroller of Finances under his mad successor, Charles VI. He was a little, smooth-spoken, inoffensive man, who had the art of making friends; and few positions would have appeared in any tolerably well-governed state more firm and unassailable than his. He had two brothers invested with rich bishoprics, one of them also holding civil office, and rising to be Chancellor of France; while his daughters were married into the first families among the nobles of France below the rank of royalty.

Of course he had not neglected the opportunity which a supervisance of the wretched and ruined finances of the nation afforded him for enlarging and consolidating his own fortunes. He had enormous wealth to fall back upon should he ever be driven from office. In too fatal a reliance on the security of his position, he made an imprudent display of his worldly goods, on the occasion of the advancement of one of his brothers from the shabbyish bishopric of Poitiers to the brilliant see of Paris. Montagu resolved to give an entertainment, and to do the thing in style. The company who were invited and who attended proved at once his greatness and his popularity. The list of distinguished guests would dazzle the eyes of the most fashionable penny-a-liner of the ‘Morning Post.’ It included the King and Queen of France, the King of Navarre, and the royal dukes in a bundle. They were feasted from a service of gold and silver such as, it was significantly remarked, none of their own palaces could produce.

The magnificence of an entertainment is not always so exceedingly satisfactory to the entertained as the confiding landlord expects it to be. On this occasion one of the guests—John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy—took offence at the profuse magnificence which surrounded him, and argued himself into the conclusion that it would more aptly become his own palace than the hotel of the parvenu.

A few days afterwards, when Montagu was decorously walking to morning mass with one of his bishop brothers, Pierre des Essarts the Prevôt of Paris crossed his path and laid a hand on his shoulder. The great statesman, highly indignant at such a familiarity, cried out, "Ribaud, es-tu si hardi que de me toucher?" but Essarts had a warrant, and in fact the affair was serious. Montagu was arrested and thrown into a dungeon in the Petit Chatelet. The next step was to get up a feasible accusation against him. Doubtless his methods of amassing money, like those of every other statesman of the day, would not stand a very severe scrutiny; but proceedings in this direction would be slow, petty, and inconclusive; and as any chance might turn the tables in the victim’s favour, it was necessary to get up something more astounding, odious, and conclusive. He was therefore charged with sorcery and magic; and, to bring the accusation to a definite and practical conclusion, it was alleged that by these illegal arts he had produced the King’s insanity. He was put to the torture, and, after giving his tormentors hard work, he confessed whatever they pleased. The instruments being removed, he retracted, and appealed to his dislocated wrists and wrenches of the body, ending in hernia, as the real causes of his confession. But he was in hands where his wealth, not the punishment of a guilty man, was wanted.

The affair had to be got over before the King should have a lucid interval; so the tortured mangled body was relieved of its miseries by the headsman’s axe. The King, when the lucid interval came, was indignant at the usage his faithful servant had received: but there was no remedy. John the Fearless was not the man to loose his grip on what he had touched, and, unless the head could also have been restored to its old owner, how was restoration to be made of the estates?

It is one of the most significant marks of a Providence overruling the affairs of man, that such acts are calculated, in some shape or other, to retaliate on their doers. When the princes of the blood established practices of cruelty and perfidy, they were unable absolutely to exempt themselves, and establish as an unfailing rule that the consequent calamities should be restricted entirely to inferior persons. The Dukes of Burgundy and of Orleans, the King’s nearest relations, were rivals for that supreme power which somebody or other must wield in the name of the madman. The former took a short way of settling the question. Orleans was murdered in the streets of Paris by the direction of Burgundy. The clergy and the savans of the day were called upon to applaud the deed as a wholesome act of tyrannicide. The opportunity was a good one for propitiating clerical influences. It was the time when rival popes were bidding for support, and stretching points with each other; so, what the one scrupled at, the other was delighted to oblige with. The sinuosities of the discussion on the slaughter of Orleans, influenced as they were by the duplex action of the Popedom and the oscillations of the two contending civil parties, would make an amusing history of ups and downs. To-day a consistory applauds the act as a service to God and the King— next a synod brings the consistory to task for maintaining a doctrine so revolting; and, anon, a higher authority justifies the consistory and rebukes the synod.

This affair caused great uneasiness throughout the whole privileged class of royal scions. Attacking and killing one of their own number in the open street was treating him no better than a common seigneur, or even a roturier. The Duke of Burgundy should not have acted so by one of themselves. It was an ungentlemanly thing. Upon the other hand, were he to be subjected to legal responsibility for what he had done, this would involve the admission that the royal class could be liable to the jurisdiction of the ordinary tribunals—an alternative too horrible and preposterous to be indulged in for a moment. Altogether the question was indeed in a fix.

The end illustrated the spirit expressed in the Psalms, "Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." The death of their leader did not immediately ruin the Orleanists, who continued the struggle under his relation the Count of Armagnac. Year after year went on the ceaseless contest, each up and down alternately, while their wild struggle crushed and ruined every surrounding object they came in contact with. Nor when Henry V. was thundering at the gate could they hear the warning voice of conquest over the horrid din of their own quarrels, or relax their hold of each other to turn an arm against the invader.

To be sure, they met and tried to come to an understanding. One meeting was held on an island in a small lake with a barrier across it, so that but few could be assembled on either side, and these few could not touch each other. The results of this meeting were not very satisfactory, but the next was more conclusive. It was held on the long bridge of Montereau, where the Yonne meets the Seine. A complex barrier was erected to obviate treachery. The Orleanists, however, had the last handling of it, and the Duke of Burgundy, with the small body of attendants admitted on the bridge, found themselves somehow face to face with the Orleanists, while a bar clicked behind them and cut off their communication. John the Fearless made the best of things, clapped his greatest enemy, Tanguy du Chatel, on the shoulder, and called him a good guarantee for his safety. As he knelt to the young Dauphin, the hilt of his sword incommoded him, and he touched it to move it aside. Those who surrounded him, waiting the first good opportunity for their work, pretended that they believed he was drawing his sword, and immediately hacked him to pieces. Comines drew from this incident the moral that rival kings and great heads of parties should not attempt to hold personal interviews. The temptation on such occasions to settle all old scores by a single coup, he counted too great for ordinary flesh and blood.

While such was the nature of things at the top of the social tree, to convey an impression of the wretchedness and degradation at its other extremity is beyond the power of general terms. The details themselves make the reader at last callous with their weary monotony of torture, starvation, and slaughter. The stories told to inflame the sans-culottes of the Revolution—how that a feudal lord coming home from the chase would rip up the ventres of a couple of serfs, and warm his feet in their reeking vitals—such things were no exaggeration of the reality, and, indeed, no imagination could exaggerate it. From the frequency with which whole districts are rendered pestilential by the thousands of dead, starved, or slaughtered, one wonders how the land kept up its population, and how the scanty remnant of inhabitants had heart to renew the race, and bring into the world fresh victims of such honors. ‘When Henry V. came over to make his conquest, his captains excited curiosity at first, until they knew better the habits of the country, by abstaining from an established practice both of Orleanists and Burgundians, which required that when any peasant had been caught, and compelled to act as guide, to bury the dead, or perform any enforced services, he should, when no longer of use, be stripped of any clothing worth removing, and then be hung up by the heels before a fire, where, whether with the refinement of basting or not, he was roasted until he gave the clue to any hoard of silver pieces he might have saved, or until he died, if he could or would give no such clue.

The English victories in the hundred years’ war, which seem so astounding, are but natural results to those who are in the habit of contemplating, through contemporary documents, the abjectness of the French peasantry or villainage of the period. The great masses brought into the field were so far from being trained to war, either as soldiers of the crown or followers of their seigneurs, that they were denied the use of arms, unless when marshalled in an army. The English bow and bill men were, on the other hand, sturdy knaves, well fed, free within certain limits, and expert at handling their weapons. In fact, between them and their Norman masters, after the lapse of centuries, a sort of surly compact had been formed as between those who knew each other to be sterling stuff, for they were kindred in character, and had both sprung from the same hardy Scandinavian stock. The English bow and bill men were nearly as good as mailed men-at-arms; and one of these fully equipped and mounted was among a crowd of serfs like a ship of war in a fleet of fishing boats—he could go about unharmed, slaughtering all he could come at, until he became tired. So little of common cause was there between them, that the French men-at-arms on some provocation would set to slaughtering among their starving crowd of followers, or would let the enemy do so without taking umbrage. The Captal of Buch gained great honour by a bloody attack on a large body of the Jacques, who were doing no creditable work, certainly, yet it was on his own side. In their great battles with the English invaders, the French men-at-arms were nearly as much occupied in chastising their own serfs as in fighting with the enemy; and at Agincourt the leaders would not condescend to act at the head of their men, but formed themselves into a separate battel, apart from the great mass, who became consequently a chaotic crowd, not only useless but detrimental. According to a very offensive practice of those chivalrous times, the chances of safety to a vanquished foe depended on what he was likely to fetch in ransom; in some instances a rich or royal captive was in danger from a contest among his captors for the monopoly of his capture and the corresponding ransom-money. Alas for the poor French serf! there was little chance of making anything of him; nor in the distracted state of the country, was he worth preserving as a slave. He was put to the most valuable use when his carcass manured the ground on which he fell.

So much for the social condition of the French people during the early part of the hundred years’ war with the English kings. To the political condition of France as a nation, and one of the European community, perhaps the best key may be found in the remark of Sismondi, that the contest was not in its origin a national one between France and England. It was a question of disputed succession, in which the competitors for the crown were the only persons ostensibly interested. The nobles took their side according to their calculations, founded on interest or connection, as the smaller European princes have done in the great wars of later times. As to the serfage, if they thought at all, the tendency of their thoughts would probably be that they could not be more miserable than they were, whoever was their king; and we may be pretty sure that they did not attempt to solve the question about the prevalence of the old Salic code within the soil of France. In fact, the invaders, accustomed to treat their neighbours at home as fellow-beings, were, as we have seen, kinder to the poor peasantry than their armed countrymen. But a conquering class or race will ever become insolent and exasperating; and, after a time, the oppression and insolence of the invaders sent the healthy blood of patriotism to the heart of the people, where it aroused that cohesive natural energy which swept the enemy from the land, and made France the great empire it became.

With the Scots, on the other hand, the war, though waged on French soil, was national from the beginning. It was thus the fortune of their allies to secure a body of men-at-arms who were not only brave men and thoroughly-trained soldiers, but who brought with them still higher qualities in that steadfast faith which had been hardened on the anvil of a war for national freedom. Nominally entering the French service as mercenary troops, there never were soldiers less amenable to the reproachful application of that term. Of all the various elements which a French army then contained—among the Italian and German hirelings—among native men-at-arms who had been fighting but the other day against their existing leader and cause, and might in a few days do so again—among the wretched serfage who were driven into the field and did not even know what side they were on—among all these, the Scots alone had a cause at heart. France was the field on which they could meet and strike the Norman invaders who had dealt so much oppression on their paternal soil, and had run up so long an account of injuries and cruelties ere they were driven forth. The feeling, no doubt, was an unamiable one, according to modern ethics. It came to nothing that can be expressed in gentler language than the Scot’s undying hatred of his neighbour to the south of the Tweed. The many terrible incidents in the long war of Scottish independence testify the sincerity of this hatred. But as motives went in those days, it was among the most sterling and honest going, and served to provide the French kings with a body of men hardy and resolute, steady and true; and possessing so specially these qualities, that even Louis XI.—perhaps of all monarchs whose character is well known to the world the most unconfiding and most sceptical of anything like simple faith and honesty— was content, amid all his shifting slippery policy and his suspicions and precautions, to rely implicitly on the faith of his Scots Guard.

The English army had been twelve years in occupation. Agincourt had been fought, the infant heir of the house of Lancaster had been proclaimed at Paris with the quiet decorum that attends the doings of a strong government, when Scotland resolved to act. In 1424, John Stewart, Earl of Buchan, arrived in France with a small army of his fellow-countrymen. Accounts of the numbers under his command vary from 5000 to 7000. This seems but a small affair in the history of invasions, but, looking at the conditions under which it was accomplished, it will turn out to be a rather marvellous achievement. It is only necessary to look at the map of Europe to see that from whichever side of our island the Scots attempted to approach France, they must pass through the narrow seas in which England even then professed to have a naval superiority. A steamer now plies from Leith to Dunkirk for the benefit of those who prefer economy and a sea voyage to a railway journey; but from the union of the crowns down to the establishment of that vessel a year or two ago, the idea of going from Scotland to France otherwise than through England would have been scouted. The method of transferring troops, too, in that period, was by galleys, rowed by galley-slaves, little better than mere rafts for sea-going purposes, and ever requiring in foul weather to hug the shore. Scotland could not have afforded vessels to transport this force; it was taken in hand by France, Castile and Aragon offering, as we are told, to assist with forty vessels.

Henry V. of England, then ruling in France, naturally felt the seriousness of an infusion of such fresh blood into the distracted and ruined country; and he instructed his brother, the Duke of Bedford, acting as viceroy, to put on the screw at all the English seaports, and do whatever the old traditional prerogatives of the crown, in purveying vessels and seamen, was capable of doing, in order that a force might be raised to intercept the Scots expedition. Bedford lost the opportunity, however. The Scots troops debarked at La Rochelle, and, passing towards the valley of the Loire, encamped at Chatillon.

These rough northern foreigners were not received by the natives without invidious criticism. Two or three instances occur in which the simple parsimony of the commissariat of the Scots camp has astonished the people of more luxurious countries. But it became a second nature with the wandering man-at-arms to bear enforced starvation at one time, and compensate it by superfluous indulgence at another. The Scots probably took their opportunity in a country which, desolated though it was by warfare, was a Garden of Eden after their own desolate bogs, and they earned for themselves the designation of sacs à vin et mangeurs de moutons.

But an opportunity occurred for wiping off such a reproach. The Scots and some French, all under the command of Buchan, approached the old town of Baugé, in Anjou, on one side of the stream of the Cauanon, while Clarence and the great English host were encamped on the other. The Scots, just in time to save themselves, discovered their danger. The English were crossing the river by a narrow bridge when Buchan came up and fought the portion of the army which had crossed over. As M. Michel remarks, it was the same tactic that enabled Wallace to defeat Surrey and Cressingham at Stirling—it might also be described as a seizing of the opportunity that was afterwards so signally missed at Flodden. Then took place one of those hand-to-hand conflicts, in which the highest-spirited and best-mounted knights of the age encountered in a mingled turmoil of general battle and single combat. The great host meanwhile struggled over, and was attacked in detail. It was a victory attended, from its peculiar conditions, with more than the avenge slaughter of the conquered. In the words of Monstrelet, "The Duke of Clarence, the Earl of Kyme (I), the Lord Boos, Marshal of England, and, in general, the flower of the chivalry and esquiredom, were left dead on the field, with two or three thousand fighting men."

Henry V. was naturally provoked by a defeat that so strongly resembled those he had been accustomed to inflict; and his anger, sharpened by grief for the death of his brother, tempted him into one of those unworthy acts which great conquerors sometimes commit when thwarted by defeat. He had then in his possession the young King of the Scots, James I. With his consent, or in his name, an instruction was issued to the Scots army no longer to fight in the cause of France against England. Buchan protested that the orders of a monarch not at freedom were of no avail. Henry then thought fit to treat the Scots as rebels, not entitled to the courtesies of war. To make the case more clear, he took his captive to France. James was in the English camp when Melun was taken, and therefore Henry hanged twenty Scotsmen found among the garrison. On the surrendering of Meaux, too, there were especially excluded from the conditions of the capitulation all the Welsh, Irish, and Scotch—as if all these were alike rebels.

It is generally said that Buchan got the baton of High Constable of France as a reward for the victory of Baugé, though Monstrelet speaks of him as Constable when he fought it. At all events, he held this high office—an office so very high that his poor countrymen at home cannot have easily seen to the top of it. We are told that, in court precedence, it ranked next after the blood-royal; that an insult to the holder of it, being equivalent to one on royalty itself was similarly punished; and that he was the highest military authority in the kingdom, having at his disposal all its warlike resources—the commander-in-chief, in short. Moreri, who tells us this, also, to be sure, tells us that when a king of England dies, the lord mayor of London acts as interim king until another is fairly settled on the throne; but it is to be presumed that Moreri had a better knowledge of the practices on the banks of the Seine than of those on the banks of the Thames. In this country we are familiar with the title chiefly through the great names coupled with it—the Constable de Luxemburg, the Constable Montmorenci, Du Guesclin, and the terrible Bourbon. Among such names, to stumble on the Constable Buchan sounds quite homely, as we say in Scotland. The constabulary was considered too formidable an office to be always full, and seems to have been reserved for emergencies, like the Roman dictatorship; and that hour of emergency and of destitution of native spirit must have been dark indeed, when its highest dignity, and also the custody of the honour of the nation, were together conferred upon a stranger. The dignity was balanced by princely domains and castles stretching over the territory between Avranches and Chartres. These the new - comer seems to have almost taken into his own hand, for the French authorities speak of his putting himself in possession of the castle at Chartres after the battle of Baugé.

After that battle Buchan was joined by his father-in-law, Archibald Earl of Douglas, who brought with him a reinforcement of four or five thousand Scots. Douglas, among other honours and substantial rewards, was invested with the great dukedom of Touraine. There was almost a rivalry in the royal munificence to the two leaders, and their followers were not forgotten, as we shall afterwards see; but they left on bloody battle-fields a record that their honours and emoluments were well paid for, and but briefly enjoyed. Though Baugé had taught the wholesome doctrine to the French that their enemies were not unconquerable, and had put the house of Valois in sufficient heart to renew the struggle, it was yet uphill work. In the battle of Crevant in 1424 the Scots were the chief sufferers. In one brief sentence Monstrelet testifies to their devotedness, and narrates their fate: "The English and Burgundians won the day and the field; the greater part of the Scots, amounting to three thousand, who were in the front ranks, were either killed or taken."

The remnant of the Scots auxiliaries, though thus thinned and weakened, bore the chief weight of the bloody battle of Verneuil a year afterwards. This is one of the many battles in which defeat has been attributed to misunderstandings and mistakes among allies, for there were there men of three nations on one side—French, Lombards, and Scots. Wherever the blame lay, the penalty was paid by the Scots, of whom all but a few lay dead where they fought. It has been said that their fate was of their own seeking, for on meeting face to face with their mortal enemies of England, they sent Bedford a message that they would neither spare nor be spared—neither give nor take quarter. Buchan, the High Constable, and Douglas, the Duke of Touraine, were found among the dead. They had not given their lives an utterly vain sacrifice to the cause of their adoption. Though Verneuil is counted among the English victories, it had no resemblance to the sweeping triumphs of Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt. It was so tough an affair, and was so near to the defeat of Bedford and Salisbury, that they became really alarmed about the stability of the supremacy of the house of Lancaster in France.


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