CHARLES THE VICTORIOUS.*
DECO:ID NOTICE.—TIIE KING OF BOURGES.]
Ur to the date of his accession to the throne of France, under, perhaps, the most extraordinary circumstances recorded in any history, Charles VII. deserves, according to M. de Beaucourt, to hold a different place in the estimation of mankind from that which has been generally assigned to him. The present his- torian disproves by documentary evidence, one by one, the accusations which have been too readily accepted against the prince whom Alain Chartier describes as "alienated by rage and sedition from the royal house, combated by his enemies, assailed with sword and speech by his own subjects, doubt- fully obeyed by the most of his people, forsaken by the chief of those in whom he had to trust, destitute of a treasury, and surrounded by rebel fortresses." He shows us Charles refusing to accept his cause as a lost one, in the face of deser- tion and discouragement, and steadfastly resisting his enemies on every side Four years of struggle, combat, and perpetual effort had revived the zeal of his partisans, and inspired confidence oven in those who condemned him 'as a sick man judged to be dying, and abandoned without remedy.' He succeeded in making his power over a good part of the kingdom sure, and he won more than one adversary over to his cause. He did' not love war for its own sake, but ho never shrank from it when the right had to be fought for. We have before us ample evidence of his activity, good-sense, and intelligence in affairs. The people were prepossessed in his favour by his per- sonal advantages, for he was ' moult bel prince, bian parleur a tontes personnes, et pitenx envers povres gene.' At this period, neither his piety nor his generosity can be disputed. Ho loved science and letters, pleasure and horses, and was deeply interested in everything relating to artillery."
This description gives us Charles at his best. He had begun to slacken in his activity, and to be too easily accessible to influ- ence and given to favouritism, during the year before his accession.
The family and personal relations of Royal houses and indi- viduals present many strange pictures to the imagination, even in our own time, one in which Royalty is invested with but little romance ; and as we retrace the course of history, those rela- tions offer very striking points of consideration, whether we think of England or of France. A glance at the position of the young King of France in 1422 shows us a son repudiated and denounced by his father and mother (the former merely a
puppet), the object of unnatural hatred, his rights set aside in favour of the English conqueror, Henry V., who had married Charles's sister, Katherine of France ; while the Duke of Burgundy, who was in alliance with his mother and the English usurper, was also his brother-in-law. Such was the personal position of Charles, when he had to fight for his crown against the power of England and Burgundy. The actual state of the kingdom when the death of Henry V. seemed to be the only thing in the Dauphin's favour, is the subject of a very interesting chapter, which opens the second volume, and brings the reader in contact with all the great historical personages of the time, relates the history of the English alliance with Burgundy, tells the grand and shameful story of Joan of Arc, and ends with the Congress of Arras. The whole of the second volume is but an amplification of this first chapter, and the author treats every portion of his subject with the fullest detail. His description of the territorial divisions, the desperate strife of the factions, the firm hold of England on France, the apparently hopeless condition of the young King's affairs, the success of the foreign arms and the encourage- ment given by the English to the civil war that was rending the country in pieces, the diversion caused by the strife between the Duke of Gloucester contending for the rights of his wife, Jacqueline of Holland, with Philip of Burgundy in Hainault, and the adhesion of the Comte de Foix to the King's cause, the campaign of the Duke of Bedford in Anjou, the arrival of the Earl of Salisbury with a fresh army, and his march on Orleans, brings the reader to the central point of interest in the history of Charles,—the appearance on the scene of the heroic " Maid." M. de Beau- court asserts that the intervention of Joan of Arc saved France, and although it is true that the King's arms met with heavy reverses after she was gone, and the general proposition may • Kisteirs ds Charles VII. Par G. da Frame de Beaaoourt. Tome II ,1488. 1435. Paris ; Beelike Bibliokaraplaque.
therefore be denied, we think the historian proves his case; for the moral effect of the wonderful episode of the Maid of Orleans was nothing short of salvation and a new life. It may be thought that M. de Beaucourt treats this nnsurpassably inter- esting portion of his subject rather tamely, that he -might have given it more picturesque effect, although his description of the recognition of Charles by the Maid at Chinon is very fine; but we can perfectly understand that the pain which must attend the treatment of the subject—pain vivid after all the ages that have intervened between the unpardonable crime of the French and English alike—has compelled him to maintain an equable and unimpassioned tone. A French writer treats of Joan of Arc under the shadow of a double shame,—the remem- brance of Charles who betrayed, and Voltaire who slandered her. An English writer may touch the subject with less restraint ; he has only to admit the crime that Englishmen committed against a noble enemy, and to plead the reverence for her that has been felt and expressed ever since. M. de Beaucourt applies himself with great earnestness and conviction to the endeavour to excuse Charles for his abandonment of Joan of Arc, when she fell into the hands of the English in 1430, during the siege of Compiegne; he brings a mass of testimony to bear upon his argument that the King was powerless to save his saviour. He entirely fails to convince us, and the very words which he quotes from M. L'Averdy (a magistrate in the eighteenth century who wrote a history of the condemnation and rehabilitation of the Maid of Orleans) seem to us to be a giving-up of the case. Having arrived at the conclusion " that it was abso- lutely out of the power of Charles VII. to ransom Jeanne, and that everything combined to oppose an insurmountable barrier to the desire which the King had to do so, and could not fail to have," he adds,—" The silence of historians upon the steps, at least of form, which Charles VII. might have taken to rescue Jeanne, leaves us free to presume that he may have hazarded some unsuccessful efforts to that effect." A more damnatory sentence has never been written, and M. de Beanconrt ought to have felt that it is so. He makes Charles VII. a very different person in many respects from our idea of him ; but nothing can ever wash that deadly stain from his memory; he must remain to all time a monument of Royal ingratitude, a leading exemplar of the wisdom of that great prince and cynic who counselled mankind against putting faith in princes. The attempt to extenuate his guilt in this respect does but weaken the effect of other rectifications, and is as vain as the efforts of some writers to excuse Charles I. of England for his abandonment of Straf- ford, which was, after all, only a venial sin, in comparison. M. de Beaucourt succeeds somewhat better in his attempt to prove that the charge of indifference and delay about the rehabilita- tion of the Maid of Orleans, also brought against Charles VII., was unfounded, although she was executed in 1431, and the prods did not begin until 1450. It is true that three conditions were indispensable to the success of the undertaking,—the posses- sion of Paris, the seat of the University which had furnished the assessors of the case ; the possession of Rouen, the scene of the trial and the execution ; finally, the assent of the Holy See. How all three conditions were attained the historian tells us in his chapters of detail. We do not care to deny, and it is not much to admit, that " without the Royal initiative, without the persevering energy displayed by Charles VII. during many years, the end would not have been obtained."
M. do Beauconrt gives us some curious glimpses of the private life of the young King, who was not, according to him, the heedless, pleasure-loving profligate he has been represented, even when he was out of sight and off the field of history ; when, to quote the author's own words, " he shut himself np within retreats impenetrable alike to his subjects and to history?' That he indulged in reckless personal expenditure while his wife and his son were in circumstances as near to penury as royalty ever approaches—an experience which probably de- veloped the avarice for which Louis XI. was after- wards conspicuous—we learn from accumulated facts and -figures in these volumes, and that he allowed the most worthless of his favourites to plunder the people, who flocked to his cause with enthusiasm and devotion that are in- comprehensible to the reader of his history after the lapse of ages, are still nnassailed facts. An exceedingly interesting chapter deals with the period during which La Tremoille was in the ascendant, and reveals to ns more strikingly than any other in the book what was the value and energy of that national vitality which survived every trial, and saved France in an epoch of continuous and various dangers. Bad govern- ment by bad men could not kill it; foreign invaders and in- trigues could not kill it; its unfailing aliment was patriotism and sound sense, and amid all the convulsions of the time, the heart cf the nation was sound and steadfast. What was it that ailed the King ? This is the question the reader con- stantly asks, as the historian puts before him one contradictory trait after another, asking his assent to views of Charles's con- duct that have no coherence. Was he never quite sane ? Affable,. generous, impulsive, mean, suspicious, timid, ungrateful, dar- ing, energetic, pions, indolent, apathetic, sensual, false to his wife, a breaker of the Commandments, obstinate, weak, pitiful, but capable of consenting to crime and cruelty, able, and far-- sighted, but the puppet of his favourites, a mass of contradic- tions, at once mean and romantic, Charles VII., as revealed by his latest and most sympathetic historian, does not convey to us the notion of a sane mind. M. de Beaucourt admits the obscurity of the intervals during which the King is lost sight of,.
and which were particularly remarkable while La Tremoille "reigned," but he claims for him the conduct of a skilful and difficult diplomacy throughout the long and troubled period: which led up to and ended in the famous Congress of Arras, whereat the reconciliation between France and Burgundy was effected. Of the Congress, M. de Beaucourt gives a very re- markable and noble description; in this chapter of his work„ we are taken back to the old times which we strive to recon- struct when the buildings and the portraits of that far past are: before our eyes, and the pomp and splendour of the middle- ages, with their solemn and gorgeous religions aspects, are suffered to illumine the usually sober and strictly ordered pages of the historian. The passage in which the great act of recon- ciliation is described is, perhaps, the finest piece of writing in. the two volumes, and it is impossible to read it without a stir- of emotion, without a vision of the great basilica of St. Vaast re-echoing to the shouts of the multitude who hailed the termi- nation of the blood-feud and its meaning to the Kingdom of France with cries of "Noel ! Noel!" of such vehemence that, says an eye-witness, " on n'enst pas ouy Dieu." Amid the splendid: throng who surrounded Philip the Good on that clay, so auspi- cious for France, on which the axe was laid to the root of the English power, and amende honorable, for the murder of the Bridge of Moutereau, was made with unrivalled solemnity, there was a little child, hardly observed, perhaps, by the spectators,- but who was also destined to play a great part in history. This was the baby Count of Charolais, then less than two years old. afterwards Charles the Bold. M. de Beaucourt concludes this memorable chapter with the following remarks : —
" Snell was the termination of the prolonged quarrel which had endangered the very existence of France, and had produced san- guinary results during a period of fifteen years. The Duke of Burgundy had a right to be content; he had obtained full satisfac- tion. As for Charles VII., he resigned himself, for the love of his people, to every sacrifice. It was no fault of his that the pacification. which his subjects so greatly desired had not long since been effected. To establish this fact, we need only recall the various phases through which the interminable negotiations had passed (and which the author explains in fall detail), and to refer to the offers that from the moment of his accession to the crown the Bing had caused to be made to the Duke of Burgundy, and which bad been renewed by his Ambassadors at every conference. We do not hesitate to say that the chief credit remained on the side of the King, and that if Philip, derived the profit, the honours of this great result must be assigned. to Charles VII."
M. de Beaacourt has done well to bring his second volume to a. close at so striking an epoch in the history of which he treats, and with so vivid, picturesque, and imposing an episode. The prince who was called in derision "the King of Bourges " is left before the mind's eye of the reader in a position of dignity,. success, and honour. The fortunes of his kingdom are on the turn ; the historian has succeeded in investing his subject with vital interest; the reader awaits with expectation the further narrative of the ensuing years of the King of France, Charles the Victorious.