miércoles, 22 de marzo de 2017

La armada rusa de Ivan el Terrible

Russian Army of Ivan the Terrible

A policy change introduced at this time was of major importance in the evolution of the relationship between the Tsar, the landowning class and the armed forces. For most of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries the main fighting force had been composed of cavalry, largely based on the princely appanages with little centralized organization. By the mid-sixteenth century these princely private armies were to be found only, if at all, in the appanages of Lithuanian origin, such as those of the Bel’skys and Mstislavskys, and in the retinues of the Russian ‘service’ princes of the Upper Oka, such as the Odoevskys and the Vorotynskys.

The development of a Russian army dependent on the grand prince alone began in the reign of Ivan III, who had already extended the grand prince’s control over the armed forces where he had been successful in absorbing a principality and destroying its separate identity. Princes and boyars, when not acting as governors and local commandants, were usually absorbed as commanders and senior officers in grand princely regiments, in accordance with the ranking laid down by the code of precedence, or mestnichestvo. The general run of service gentry, originally of mixed social origins, was gradually sorted out into those who served the grand prince directly, as members of his dvor, received estates in service tenure (pomest’ia), and were merged into the dvoriane or future service gentry, and those who had served local princes and boyars and who continued to carry out their service as pomeshchiki on a provincial basis. Lower-ranking cavalry officers were thus attached to provincial towns, resided on their estates and were summoned when required by the grand prince, bringing their servants with them. Both these groups received lands on a service tenure which in the early days of the system could not be sold or pledged, but could be passed on the death of the holder to a son or son-in-law fit to perform service. The service to be given was strictly calculated in terms of the amount and quality of land.
The system of pomest’ia was devised to enable cavalrymen to serve when called upon, and was to remain the basic way of paying for the cavalry army until the reign of Peter the Great. The Pomestnyi Prikaz, or Estates Office which administered the recruitment and the provision of land to the mounted cavalry, was founded in 1475. Further distribution of lands as pomest’ia took place under Vasily III and Ivan IV from a variety of sources. The estate was not regarded as the private property of the pomeshchik; it provided a fixed income for his maintenance and his equipment, and he was not expected to concern himself with its exploitation. He was not therefore a landowner in the Western sense of the word, but a land user entitled to a certain income from the land. It was thus quite distinct from the votchina or the patrimonial estate which formed the basis of the wealth of the aristocracy and the service gentry, which many pomeshchiki owned in addition to the land granted by the government.
The first major initiative in the remodelling of the armed forces taken in Ivan IV’s reign occurred in 1550. The Tsar’s dvor numbered some three thousand all told, and a specific group of one thousand cavalrymen, divided into three categories, was now provided with pomest’ia in the central provinces to enable them to lodge in Moscow and provide all their supplies from lands relatively near to the capital. They were to be available for immediate service as required, serving on a rota. The estates they were allotted were provided mainly from the Tsar’s own lands or from lands of free peasants around Moscow.46 Aleksei Adashev was one of these cavalrymen.
A corps of infantry equipped with firearms was also formed by Ivan, pishchal’niki, or ‘harquebuzzers’, as Jerome Horsey, a later English visitor, called them, who had already been used in 1480 in the nonexistent battle of the Ugra and who were replaced in 1550 by musketeers or strel’tsy, also on foot. These, together with Ivan’s chosen one thousand cavalry corps, formed his personal guard, ‘the forerunners of Peter I’ s guards regiments’, presumably to protect him against the sort of rioting which had so frightened him in 1547. The strel’tsy were to be part of the military scene until the reign of Peter the Great. Their function was not to fight with cold steel or pikes in hand-to-hand combat, but to use firepower. Their numbers fluctuated and probably reached some twenty thousand by the end of the sixteenth century. They were, unlike the cavalry levy, a permanent uniformed corps. Unlike the Ottoman janissaries they were free men; they received salaries in money and goods according to rank, but also maintained themselves and their families partly by artisan production and small-scale trading activities. Their officers belonged to the gentry and were allotted pomest’ia as well as salaries. The whole corps came under the authority of a new Streletskii Prikaz.

Artillery was also extensively and effectively used in Russia, and Ivan may have taken a personal interest in the manufacture of guns – from Russian-produced iron ore – and their utilization by his army. Each regiment was allocated a certain number of guns in the 1550s. Ivan took 150 heavy and medium pieces of artillery to Kazan’ with him in 1552, and in this respect Russia was not inferior to her Western enemies, though supplies of gunpowder and lead had to be imported and could therefore be subject to enemy blockade on land.
The origin of the idea of this corps of strel’tsy has been much debated in Russia. Clearly Russia needed more modern weaponry, namely firearms and heavy artillery, for her wars against Poland, Sweden and in Livonia, rather than cavalry armed with bows and arrows. Contemporaries and many military specialists have speculated on whether the new formations were borrowed from the Ottomans through the writings of a certain Ivan Semonovich Peresvetov, which may perhaps have been known to Ivan IV. For a long time Peresvetov’s very existence was in doubt and he was thought to be an assumed name or a collective personality. Not until the beginning of the twentieth century was his existence actually established. In the 1950s he was unfortunately treated as one of the powerful humanist thinkers of sixteenth-century Europe, comparable to Machiavelli or Bodin. A revision of his human and intellectual qualities has not yet been undertaken, nor is it certain that all his alleged writings can be attributed to him; thus his influence still needs to be questioned.
Born and bred in Lithuania, conditioned by life in this borderland, divided between Polish Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy, offering his sword as a Polish cavalryman now to the Hungarian Jan Zapolya, a vassal of the Ottomans, now to the Habsburg King of Bohemia, now to the voevoda Peter IV Raresh of Moldavia, Peresvetov was a fairly senior officer serving with six or seven horses and the corresponding number of grooms and servants. Evidently resentful at his failure to make good in service, and distrusting boyars and their ilk, he attempted to enter Russian service in 1538, during the regency of Elena. He may have been attracted to Russian service by his connexion with Peter of Moldavia, whose wife was Elena’s cousin by marriage. He tried to interest the Russian court in a model shield ‘in the Macedonian manner’ which he had invented, and was taken up by the boyar M. Iu’rev Zakhar’in, the uncle of the future Tsaritsa Anastasia, and provided with a workshop and a pomest’ie. Unfortunately for Peresvetov, Zakhar’in died, he lost his patron, and all interest in his patent shield evaporated.
Peresvetov continued in increasingly impoverished circumstances for some ten years, after which all traces of him vanish. This was not surprising since he had no connexions in Russia with any of the boyar clans, or even with the gentry, who tended also to be united by fairly close local associations. Reduced in his own eyes to poverty, in 1549, at the time of the gathering of the so-called ‘assembly of reconciliation’, he personally submitted a petition, together with a number of other written works, to Tsar Ivan, accusing the ‘great’ of having despoiled him of his land, leaving him naked and destitute, without even a horse. Peresvetov’s not unjustified hope of achieving more in Russia, where a simple horseman could now count on some support as a pomeshchik, was not to be fulfilled, and as a man he disappears from sight. But the various writings attributed to him survived in a number of manuscript copies of the early seventeenth century and have led to a belated acceptance of his existence as a man and his importance as a ‘spokesman’ of the gentry or the holders of pomest’ia, as against the rich and powerful, in the sixteenth century.
It is this interpretation of the ‘class’ role of Peresvetov, considered to have been insufficiently appreciated by pre-revolutionary historians, which has contributed to his great importance in Soviet historiography. The relevant texts attributed to Peresvetov are ‘On the conquest of Tsar’grad by the godless Tsar Magmet Amuratov, son of the Turkish Tsar’, ‘The Tale of Magmet Saltan’, and ‘The Great Petition’, which contains Peresvetov’s account of the five months he spent in the service of Peter IV Raresh, his only Orthodox patron. Mehmet II’s victory over the last Paleologus emperor, Constantine, was in great part attributed by Peresvetov to the selfishness, cowardice and incapacity of the ‘great’ men surrounding the Emperor and his failure to support the more lowly men-at-arms. (‘The rich never think of fighting, they think of peacefulness and gentleness and rest.’) He argued in favour of a centrally recruited, controlled and paid army, like the Turkish janissaries, but he also argued that free men fight better than slaves, and the Russian cavalry was free, while the janissaries were slaves as were all the civil employees of the Ottoman court. In Russia the kholopy or bondsmen of various kinds in the armed forces were at this time mainly employed either in the transport of food, fodder and munitions, or in labouring on engineering projects.
Another great virtue of the Ottoman system in Peresvetov’s eyes was its concentration on pravda rather than vera – truth or justice, rather than faith. This makes one wonder whether the long years in foreign parts, before he came to Russia, had somewhat dented the purity of Peresvetov’s Orthodox faith. The sense of the Russian word ‘pravda’ is impossible to convey in English, where in dictionaries the emphasis is almost always on the notion of truth, whereas in Russian the notion of justice or righteousness is fundamental. The most articulate expression of Peresvetov’s ideas (if they were his ideas) comes in his version of the tale of Prince Peter IV of Moldavia, where the Prince praises Mehmet the Conqueror for having restored justice to Constantinople, and explains that ‘God does not love faith, but pravda or justice’. Through his Son he left us the gospel of truth (pravda), loving the Christian faith above all other faiths, and showed us the path to heaven. But the Greeks, though they honoured the gospel, listened to others and did not carry out the will of the Lord and fell into heresy (i.e. the decision to unite with Rome, taken at the Council of Ferrara/Florence).
But Peresvetov was primarily concerned with the practical problems of governing a warlike society. He favoured the institution of a professional army (like the Ottoman janissaries), but free, government by state employees, and the bridling of the high nobility. It is difficult to see in him the spokesman of the gentry, he seems rather to place his faith in a state ruling by ‘groza’, terror or awe. Mehmed was again quoted as an example, for when he discovered that his judges were being dishonest he had them flayed alive, saying:
if their flesh grows back again their crime will be forgiven. And he ordered their skins to be stretched out and ordered them to be stuffed with cotton and ordered them to be affixed with an iron nail in places of judgment and ordered it to be written on the skins: without such terrors, justice and sovereignty cannot be introduced.
Mehmed was also praised for being dread, or terrible, in fact ‘grozen’: ‘If a tsar is mild and peace-loving in his realm, his realm will become impoverished and his glory will diminish. If a tsar is dread and wise, his realm will expand and his name will be famous in all lands.’ ‘A kingdom without terror [groza] is like a horse without a bridle.’ Peresvetov’s admiration for the efficiency of Ottoman rule is by no means unique at that time, when it was very much a lieu commun in that part of Europe which had had dealings with the Porte.
To be ‘dread’ Ivan did not need any advice from Peresvetov, and there is not in fact any evidence that Ivan IV ever read anything written by Peresvetov; and if the idea of creating the corps of musketeers came from outside Russia, a more convincing source is in fact Moldavia, where voevoda Peter Raresh had introduced a corps of musketeers who were not slaves like the janissaries, but free like the strel’tsy, and with which of course Peresvetov would have been familiar. It seems, therefore, unlikely that Peresvetov exercised any influence on Ivan’s policy in the 1550s as a spokesman for the gentry.

Una boda medieval en Francia

A Medieval French Wedding

During medieval times in France, there were no standardized religious rites practiced by the church. Each region maintained their own traditions. Fortunately we have a manuscript from the cathedral of Bordeaux which narrates the ritual of the archdiocese in 1460.

The priest presiding over the ceremony would dress in his vestments and accompanied by his attendant, meet the couple at the door of the church. In a mixture of Latin and the local French dialect, he would bless the bride and groom with holy water and then unite them on the spot. The foremost portion of this ceremony was the blessing of the thirteen coins which denoted the dowry and of the ring which the groom gave the bride.
After the blessing of the ring, the groom would place it on the bride’s thumb and say “In nomine Patris” (In the name of the father), then on the index finger “et filii” (the Son) and then on the middle finger saying “et Spiritus Sancti” (and the Holy Spirit). The groom would then put the ring on her wedding ring finger saying in his local dialect “Io te esposy, molher” (I marry you, wife). The priest would lead the couple by the hands into the church, up to the high altar where mass would be celebrated. At some point during the service, a veil would be held over the couple and the priest would bless them again. The use of this veil was customary throughout medieval France and the use of it only began to fade during the seventeenth century.
If nobility were celebrating the marriage, the ceremony would be followed by sumptuous celebrations that might last for several days. There would be banquets and dances. Sometimes jousts would be performed going into the late fourteenth century and during the fifteenth century. Surviving household accounts from many royal and ducal houses reveal many details of the expenses for these events. While the ceremony itself was simple, no expense was spared for the celebrations afterwards.

viernes, 10 de marzo de 2017

Cuadernos de Ayala, Nº. 68

La interesante editorial es acerca de la grave situación que atraviesa la Orden de Malta. En el enlace de abajo se puede descargar la revista completa.

lunes, 6 de marzo de 2017

Un misterio en Toledo de Anne Perry

Un misterio en Toledo de Anne Perry

La apasionante nueva novela de Perry protagonizada por Charlotte y Thomas Pitt nos invita a regresar al Londres victoriano, donde la codicia y la ambición nunca duermen y las pasiones a veces se desbocan.

El siglo XIX llega a su fin y casi toda Europa se encuentra sumida en una profunda crisis política. Las amenazas terroristas proliferan y asuelan el continente. En este contexto, Sofía Delacruz arriba a Londres procedente de España para predicar un evangelio revolucionario de amor y perdón que muchos consideran blasfemo. Thomas Pitt recibe el encargo de proteger a Sofía… y también al gobierno de Su Majestad de cualquier situación bochornosa que esa mujer –tan bella como carismática– pudiera causar.

Cuando de pronto Sofía desaparece y dos de sus seguidoras son brutalmente asesinadas, Pitt se enfrenta a su mayor desafío. ¿Acaso Barton Hall, el rico primo banquero de Sofía, está involucrado de algún modo? Y ¿por qué Dalton Trague, la estrella del críquet, se ha deslizado dentro de la investigación de Pitt? Temeroso de que estos hechos puedan desencadenar un incidente internacional, Pitt acepta la ayuda de tres aliados: su inteligente esposa Charlotte, su tía abuela lady Vespasia y su amigo Victor Narraway.

Desde las estrechas calles de Toledo y un solitario monasterio en tierra española, hasta los muelles londinenses, Pitt y sus amigos libran una carrera contra el tiempo en un intento desesperado de atrapar a un asesino.

Cónclave de Robert Harris


La nueva novela de intriga de Robert Harris. Un thriller con un ritmo y un suspense perfectamente ensamblados, sobre la celebración del cónclave en el que se elegirá al próximo Sumo Pontífice de la Iglesia Católica. Siendo conocedor de la Santa Sede encuentro esta novela verdaderamente recomendable.

El Papa ha muerto. En la Capilla Sixtina, a puerta cerrada, ciento dieciocho cardenales procedentes de todos los rincones del globo emitirán su voto en la elección más secreta del mundo. Son hombres de fe. Pero tienen ambiciones. Y rivales. En las próximas setenta y dos horas uno de ellos se convertirá en el líder espiritual con más poder de la tierra. 

Cónclave ha sido elegido uno de los mejores libros de 2016 por The Sunday Times y Observer.
«Apasionante, la versión eclesiástica de House of Cards.»
The Times
«No importa si crees en Dios, en la Iglesia o en nada,Cónclavete resultará enormemente entretenida.»
The Washington Post
«El Papa ha muerto y los cardenales se reúnen para elegir a su sucesor. El escenario está preparado para un enfrentamiento en este espléndido retrato del poder, la corrupción y el engaño.»

lunes, 20 de febrero de 2017

Todo esto te daré de Dolores Redondo

Recomiendo esta espléndida novela de Dolores Redondo, Premio Planeta, que destacó con su trilogía del Baztán. Empezó a estudiar la carrera de Derecho en la Universidad de Deusto, aunque no lo acabó. Estudió Restauración en San Sebastián y trabajó en varios restaurantes y tuvo uno propio, antes de dedicarse profesionalmente a la literatura. Reside en la localidad de la Ribera Navarra de Cintruénigo desde el año 2006. Comenzó en la literatura escribiendo relatos cortos y cuentos infantiles. En 2009 publicó su primera novela, Los privilegios del ángel y en enero de 2013 publicó El guardián invisible, primer volumen de la Trilogía del Baztán, seguido en noviembre del mismo año por la segunda parte titulada "Legado en los huesos", y terminada en noviembre de 2014 con "Ofrenda a la tormenta". La trilogía ha conseguido vender más de 700.000 copias y ha sido traducida a más de 15 idiomas.
El productor alemán Peter Nadermann, responsable de la películas de la Saga Millennium de Stieg Larsson, adquirió los derechos para su adaptación al cine casi inmediatamente después de publicarse la primera novela y en 2017, se estrenará la película El guardián invisible, basada en la primera de las novelas de la trilogía, dirigida por Fernando González Molina. Es ganadora del Premio Planeta 2016 por el manuscrito de Todo esto te daré, presentado a concurso bajo el seudónimo de Jim Hawkins bajo el título falso de Sol de Tebas.

Sinopsis de Todo esto te daré:
En el escenario majestuoso de la Ribeira Sacra, Álvaro sufre un accidente que acabará con su vida. Cuando Manuel, su marido, llega a Galicia para reconocer el cadáver, descubre que la investigación sobre el caso se ha cerrado con demasiada rapidez. El rechazo de su poderosa familia política, los Muñiz de Dávila, le impulsa a huir pero le retiene el alegato contra la impunidad que Nogueira, un guardia civil jubilado, esgrime contra la familia de Álvaro, nobles mecidos en sus privilegios, y la sospecha de que ésa no es la primera muerte de su entorno que se ha enmascarado como accidental. Lucas, un sacerdote amigo de la infancia de Álvaro, se une a Manuel y a Nogueira en la reconstrucción de la vida secreta de quien creían conocer bien.

La inesperada amistad de estos tres hombres sin ninguna afinidad aparente ayuda a Manuel a navegar entre el amor por quien fue su marido y el tormento de haber vivido de espaldas a la realidad, blindado tras la quimera de su mundo de escritor. Empezará así la búsqueda de la verdad, en un lugar de fuertes creencias y arraigadas costumbres en el que la lógica nunca termina de atar todos los cabos.

viernes, 10 de febrero de 2017

Agnes Sorel, la amante favorita de Carlos VII, rey de Francia

Agnes Sorel, Mistress of the French King Charles VII 

Agnes Sorel has the dubious distinction of being the first officially recognized French royal mistress. Agnes would exert a great deal of influence over King Charles VII and his government at the expense of his Queen, Marie of Anjou, cultivating many allies and making a great deal of enemies along the way before dying a mysterious death. There is little factual information about Agnes but we can gain some intriguing insight into her life from what we do know.
Based on recent evidence, the best guess for the year of Agnes’ birth is 1422. Her father was Jean Soreau or Sorel and her mother was Catherine de Maignelais, both of whom were part of the provincial nobility. Jean was a squire of Charles of Bourgon, an ally of the Duke of Anjou. Little is known of Agnes’ upbringing. It was probably the connection with the Duke of Anjou that led to Agnes’ first recorded position as a lady-in-waiting to Isabelle of Lorraine, the wife of René of Anjou.
While it is possible the relationship between Agnes and Charles began in 1435 when she was a teenager, the most likely date of the first meeting was 1443. The King had captured Toulouse and René of Anjou and his wife set out to greet the king. It was the first meeting for King Charles and Isabelle and Agnes was probably part of her entourage. Records show Agnes was paid wages of ten livres, indicating she was of lower rank than some of the other ladies. The king was probably dazzled by Agnes’ beauty.
She must have had a magnificent presence as many commented on her exceptional beauty, cementing her reputation as the most beautiful woman of the fifteenth century. She had blond hair, blue eyes, was pale and thin, and had a narrow waist and high round breasts. She was the epitome of the contemporary ideal of beauty.
It is hard to determine when Agnes’ relationship with King Charles started as they were initially very discreet. One chronicler mentions that Charles never touched her below the chin in public. We know for certain Agnes was with the King on April 8, 1443. On that date, Charles made it public knowledge he had abandoned his wife Queen Marie who was pregnant with her twelfth child to follow Agnes. Charles gave her the chateau of Beauté, a place once inhabited by Charles’ Valois ancestors. The chateau was the most beautiful in the Ile de France. Agnes was officially appointed to the position of lady-in-waiting to the Queen, thus making her part of the court and giving Charles easy access to her.
Prior to Agnes, the position of king’s mistress yielded a small pension but did not include a role at court or allow for any great impact on French history. In the case of Agnes, her elevation made her more important and more secure but didn’t necessarily include any enduring financial benefits. After the birth of her first child, Charles would create the position of official mistress or maîtresse en titre for her at the court of Nancy in 1444. Official favorite was a new role for women and a new practice for French kings. This gave Agnes more prominence than previous mistresses and a quasi-official status. This position was uniquely French.
Agnes reveled in cultivating luxury and engaging in conspicuous consumption, appearing in sumptuous clothing and exquisite golden necklaces. She enjoyed wearing dresses that exposed her perfectly rounded breasts. She favored wearing long veils hanging down to the ground. She purchased large quantities of silk and cloth woven with gold. The trains on her dresses were so long they were remarked upon. She had the best bedcovers, tapestries, jewels and dishes. She lived in the Queen’s apartments where her accommodations were better appointed. The estimated worth of her jewels was 20,650 ecus, an extraordinary sum.
Queen Marie managed to remain on good terms with Agnes, despite the fact that she had to endure Agnes’ every day presence in her household. Marie had to manage Agnes’ household in addition to her own. Agnes appeared at court with the lords and nobility, dressed more magnificently than the queen and with better jewelry. Agnes always dined at a better table than the Queen too.
Agnes was pious and engaged in charitable activities, giving many gifts to the poor. Pope Nicholas V granted her the special privilege of having her own portable altar so she could hear mass anywhere she pleased. The Pope also gave her papal absolution to be used at the hour of her death. She donated a statue of Mary Magdalene to an abbey.
With the birth of each child, Charles would give Agnes more properties. Agnes was bold, young, sparkling and cheerful. She surrounded Charles with high spirited young people and fostered the careers of young men at court. Charles in turn showered them with gifts and honors and always sought their company. Her place was always at the king’s side. She resided in the royal chateau of Loches and appeared at court frequently and traveled with the king. Charles’ love certainly granted her unusual access and unprecedented power.
Agnes created an entirely new role on a different model. She wasn’t just a fleeting sexual fling but became a central player at court from the time of her elevation as chief mistress until her death. She didn’t just challenge the king’s marriage, she outright replaced Queen Marie in her principal duties, leaving the queen to a mostly maternal role. Her approach was innovative, defining for the French monarchy a new status of official mistress. From this point on, other women would exploit this new function with the mistresses of King Henri IV, King Louis XIV and Louis XV taking it to new heights.
Charles was not an appealing or handsome man and appears to have been ruled by one powerful woman after another. Important women in his life included his mother Isabeau of Bavaria, his mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon, Joan of Arc and later Agnes. After Agnes’ elevation, Charles became a most proficient and capable king. The powerful barons acknowledged his authority. Peace with England was finally signed, ending the Hundred Years War and the French crown regained lost territory.
Charles became effective in carrying out significant administrative accomplishments. He reinvigorated the court justice system, reformed the state’s finances and reorganized the entire administration of his government. Because of this, by the end of his reign, he left a larger and more powerful France to his heir. All of this indicates Agnes had considerable influence in transforming Charles’ character and politics and in initiating and advancing this new tradition of politically significant French royal mistresses.
Agnes aligned herself with the Norman lord Pierre de Brezé who was now the king’s first minister and may have originally introduced Agnes to Charles. Brezé made an attempt to take over the King’s government. In an effort to get the king’s eldest son the Dauphin Louis’ endorsement for the change in authority, the king promised Louis a campaign in Italy. The Dauphin sought Agnes’ help in this and gave her a magnificent set of tapestries which he had appropriated from the castle of the Count of Armagnac. Despite this generous overture, Agnes always viewed Louis as an enemy. Louis never did get his command or campaign.
When de Brezé went on trial for treason and financial malfeasance, Agnes appeared at the trial signaling her explicit endorsement and the king’s expectation for a favorable outcome. Brezé avoided being found guilty of treason, perhaps due to her support.
Agnes was highly criticized by her contemporaries. She was blamed for societal and economic disruption and for appropriating positions traditionally occupied by men. Increases in her influence provoked hostility and intrigue. All this eventually led to a confrontation between King Charles and Louis. Louis was highly resentful of Agnes’ displacement of his long-suffering mother in her role at court. One chronicler reported that Louis confronted Agnes and berated her. He then drew his sword and chased her into his father’s bed. Another chronicler reports that one day in 1444, Louis ran into Agnes and exclaimed “By our Lord’s passion, this woman is the cause of all our misfortunes”. He then reportedly punched her in the face.
Eventually, Charles drove Louis into exile. Although this banishment may have been caused in part by his resentment of Agnes in the short term, Louis did feud with his father long after Agnes’ death. By 1449, Agnes was at the height of her powers. She had been official mistress for five years, given birth to three daughters, she was at the top of the social hierarchy and her influence was overtly unmistakable.
Also in 1449, the peace between England and France had been broken when England allied with Brittany against France. Charles prepared to besiege the English possession of the city of Rouen in Normandy. Agnes went to visit Charles there in an advanced stage of pregnancy with her fourth daughter. There are conflicting reasons for this visit but whatever the motive, Charles was not happy to see her. He installed her at the abbey of Jumièges which was close to his military headquarters. Agnes was weary from her trip and went into labor at the abbey. A few days later, she began to complain of stomach pains which became increasingly severe. She died on February 9, 1450.
She bequeathed all her worldly goods to the Collégialle Saint-Ours of Loches in return for masses for her soul. After her death, Charles elevated her to the title of Duchess so she could have a splendid ducal funeral. Charles ordered a monument be built at Jumièges. Her heart was stored at the abbey and her body was buried in the abbey church along with her newborn daughter.
In 1777, the canons of Loches moved her tomb to a side chapel, perhaps out of embarrassment. In 1793, French revolutionary troops destroyed her tomb. Each time her tomb was disturbed, some of her remains were removed. Pieces of her bones and hair are currently on display in a reliquary in the Museum of Chinon. In 1809, her mausoleum was restored and then transferred to the turret of the king’s lodgings at Loches.
It was assumed she died from complications of childbirth and rumors of poisoning, as was the case with any early, unexpected death, have circulated down through the centuries. Her skeletal remains were unearthed in 2005 and examined. Forensic tests confirmed enormous amounts of mercury were in her body at the time of her death. Evidence also suggested Agnes suffered from roundworms and mercury was a common treatment for this problem. Additionally, mercury was used to treat women in labor in the case of a difficult delivery. But the evidence of a massive dose hints at foul play. She could also have contracted dysentery. Was her death deliberate or accidental? If it was deliberate, who poisoned her remains a question which cannot be answered six hundred years later.
After her death, the Queen once again reigned over a lively court at Chinon and cultivated a major role in supporting the arts. Charles replaced Agnes with her cousin Antoinette de Maignelais as his mistress. Antoinette also served as procuress of beautiful young women for the king. She was eventually married off to a compliant and handsomely rewarded husband.
There is an interesting postscript to Agnes’ story. One of Charles’ chief ministers was a man named Jacques Coeur. He was a member of the king’s council, a diplomat, Keeper of the Royal Purse as well as a highly successful merchant. He was rich beyond belief and many at court borrowed money from him with his primary debtor being the king. Coeur was also one of the Dauphin’s foremost supporters. Five months after the death of Agnes, the king had Jacques thrown in prison for poisoning Agnes. In May of 1453, Coeur was found guilty of lèse-majesté, fined 400,000 crowns, deprived of all his possessions and remitted indefinitely to prison. A year later he escaped and made his way to Rome where he was welcomed by the Pope. He would die fighting the Turks on November 25, 1456.