Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The history of the count de Foix

On their way to Foix, Sir Espaign du Lyon tells Froissart about the count and his ancestors.

Book III, ch. 8 (Johnes, v. 2, p. 90-94).   On the morrow, after mass, having mounted our horses and left Tarbes, we came to Jorre, a town which has always gallantly defended itself against the garrison of Lourde. We passed by it, and entered Béarn, when the knight stopped in the plain, and said, "We are now in Béarn." There were two roads that crossed each other, and we knew not which to take, whether that to Morlens or to Pau: at last, we followed that to Morlens.

In riding over the heaths of Béarn, which are tolerably level, I asked, in order to renew our conversation, "Is the town of Pau near us?"

"Yes," said he, "I will show you the steeple; but it is much farther off than it appears, and the roads are very bad to travel on account of the deep clays, and it would be folly for any one to attempt going through them that is not well acquainted with the country. Below are seated the town and castle of Lourde."

"And who is governor of it now?" "John de Béarn, brother to sir Peter de Béarn that was murdered, and he styles himself séneschal of Bigorre for the king of England."

"Indeed!" said I, "and does this John ever visit the count de Foix?"

"Never since the death of his brother; but his other companions, such as Peter d'Anchin, Ernauton de Restin, Ernauton de Sainte Colombe, and others, go thither, whenever they have occasion."

"Has the count do Foix made any amends for the murder of the knight? or has he ever again been in such passions?"

"Yes, very often," replied the knight; "but as for amends, he has never made any, except indeed by secret penances, masses, and prayers: he has with him the son of John de Béarn, a young and courteous squire, whom he greatly loves."

"Holy Mary!" exclaimed I, "since the, duke of Anjou was so desirous to gain Lourde, he ought to be well pleased with the count de Foix, who could murder a knight and his cousin, to accomplish the duke's wishes"

"By my faith, he was so; for soon after the event of his nephew coming to the crown of France, he sent sir Roger d'Espaign and a president of the parliament of Paris, with fair letters patent engrossed and sealed, of the king's declaration that he gave him the county of Bigorre during his life, but that it was necessary he should become liege man and hold it of the crown of France. The count de Foix was very thankful to the king for this mark of his affection, and for the gift of Bigorre, which was unsolicited on his part; but, for anything sir Roger d'Espaign could say or do, he would never accept it. He only retained the castle of Malvoisin, because it was free land, and the castle and its dependencies held of none but God, and formerly had been part of his patrimony. The king of France, to please the duke of Anjou, gave it to the count de Foix; but the count swore he would only hold it on condition never to admit into it any one ill inclined to France; and in truth he had it well guarded. The garrison of Malvoisin would have been as much afraid of the English as any other French or Gascon garrison, but they dared not invade the territories of Foix."

I was much pleased with this history of sir Espaign du Lyon, which I have well remembered; for as soon as we dismounted at our inns, I wrote all down, whether it was late or early, that posterity might have the advantage of it, for there is nothing like writing for the preservation of events.

We rode this morning to Morlens; but, before we arrived, I again began the conversation by saying, "My lord, I have forgotten to ask you, when you were telling me the history of Foix and Armagnac, how the count de Foix was able to dissemble with the duke of Berry, who had married a daughter and sister to the counts d'Armagnac? and if the duke of Berry made war on him, how he behaved?"

"I will tell you: in former times, the duke hated him mortally; but at this moment, by means which you will hear, when at Orthès, they are very good friends."

"My lord, was there any reason for the duke's hatred ?"

"Father of God! no," replied the knight: "I will tell you the cause of it. When Charles king of France, father to the present king, died, the kingdom was divided into two parties respecting its government. My lord of Anjou, who was impatient to go to Italy, and indeed this he afterwards did, took possession of it, and set aside his two brothers the dukes of Berry and Burgundy. The duke of Berry had the government of those parts within the Langue d'Oc, and the duke of Burgundy of the Langue d'Ouy and all Picardy.

"When the inhabitants of Languedoc heard that my lord of Berry was to govern them they were much alarmed, especially those of Toulouse and its dependencies; for they knew the duke to he a spendthrift, who would get money any way he could, without caring how he oppressed the people. Some Bretons still remained in the Toulousain, Carcassonnois and Rouergue, whom the duke of Anjou had left, and they pillaged the whole country: it was reported the duke of Berry supported them, in order to be master of the principal towns. The duke himself was not at the time I am speaking of in Languedoc, but attending the king in the wars in Flanders.

"The citizens of Toulouse, who are a powerful body, perceiving how young the king was and how much occupied with the affairs of his uncle the duke of Burgundy in Flanders, and that they were perpetually plundered by Bretons and other pillagers, so that they knew not how to prevent it, sent to the count de Foix offers of paying him a certain sum monthly, if he would undertake the government and defence .of their city and the other neighbouring towns. They entreated him very earnestly comply with their request, because they knew him to be an upright man, a great lover of justice, fortunate in his affairs, and much feared by his enemies. The inhabitants of Toulouse have always borne him great affection, for he has ever been a good neighbour to them.

"He undertook the charge of their government, and swore to hold and defend the country in its right against all who were ill inclined, with the reservation of the rights of the king of France. He instantly ordered considerable detachments of men at arms on the different Toads The pillagers used to take; and one day he had hanged or drowned upwards of four hundred of them at Robesten in the Toulousain, which gained him so much the love of those of Toulouse, Carcassonne, Beziers, Montpelier and the other towns, that it was reported Languedoc had revolted and chosen for its lord the count de Foix.

"The duke of Berry, who had the government of it, was ill pleased at this intelligence, and conceived a great hatred to the count de Foix, for interfering so much in the affairs of France, and for his supporting the people of Toulouse in their revolt. He ordered men at arms into that country, but they were severely repulsed by the partisans of the count de Foix, and were forced to retreat, or they would have suffered for it. This angered the duke still more: he said the count do Foix was the proudest and most presumptuous man in the world; and he would not suffer his name to be mentioned with praise in his presence; but he did not make war against him, for the count had all his towns and castles so well garrisoned, none dared to invade his territories.

"When the duke of Berry entered Languedoc, the count resigned the government, and would not any way meddle, in prejudice to the duke; but his dislike still continued as great as ever. I will now say a word of the means that established peace between them.

"About ten years ago, Eleanor de Comminges (at present countess of Boulogne, a near relation to the count do Foix, and lawful heiress to the county of Comminges, notwithstanding the count d'Armagnac was in possession) came to the count de Foix at Orthès, bringing with her a young girl, three years old. The count entertained her handsomely, inquired her business, whence she came, and whither going?

"'My lord,' said she, ' I am going to my uncle and aunt-in-law, the count and countess de Durgueil, in Arragon, there to remain; for I have much displeasure in living with my husband, sir John de Boulogne, son of the count de Boulogne. I expected he would have recovered for me mine inheritance of Comminges from the count d'Armagnac, who not only keeps it, but has confined my sister in prison; but my husband is too soft a knight, whose sole delight is eating and drinking, and enjoying Isis pleasures; and the moment his father dies, he will sell the greater part of his estates to multiply his luxuries: it is for these reasons I cannot live with him.

"'I have also brought my daughter with me, whom I deliver up to your charge, and appoint you her guardian, to instruct and defend her; for I well know that, from our relationship, you will not disappoint me; and I have the greatest confidence in the care you will take of my daughter Joan. It was with much difficulty I could get her from her father's hands, and out of the country; but as I know the Armagnacs, your adversaries as well as mine, are capable of carrying her off, being the true heiress of Comminges, I deliver her to you; therefore do not fail me in this business, I entreat of you; for I firmly believe, that when my husband shall know I left her under your care, he will be pleased, having frequently said, that this girl would give hint much trouble.'

"The count de Foix was delighted to hear his cousin, the lady Eleanor, thus talk, and thought in his own mind (for he has a very fertile imagination), that this girl was brought to him very opportunely, as by her means he could make a stable peace with his enemies, or marry her so nobly they would fear him.

"He answered,' Madam and cousin, I will most cheerfully comply with your request: I am bounden to it by our relationship.  With regard to your daughter, I will defend, and be as careful of her as if she were my own child.'

"'A thousand thanks, my lord,' said the lady. Thus did the young lady of Boulogne remain with the count at his house in Orthès, which she has never since quitted, and the lady her mother pursued her journey to Arragon. She has returned to see her two or three times, but has never asked to have her back; for the count acquits himself towards her as if she were indeed his own child. But I must tell you the means by which, if formerly he was in the ill graces of the duke de Berry, he is now on good terms. The duke at this moment is very desirous to marry her; and from what I heard at Avignon from the pope, who spoke to me on the subject, and who is cousin-german to her father, the duke will employ him to ask for him, as he is determined to make her his wife."

"By holy Mary," said I to the knight, "your history has given me much pleasure and done me service: you shall not lose a word you have said, for they shall all be chronicled with every thing I say and do, if God grant me health to return again to Valenciennes, of which place I am a native; but I am very angry at one thing."

" What is that ?" said the knight.

"On my faith, it is, that so noble and valiant a prince as the count do Foix should not have any legal heirs by his wife."

"Please God he had," replied the knight; "for if his child were now alive, he would be the happiest lord in the world, and his vassals be equally rejoiced."

"What!" said I, "will his estates be without an heir?"

"Oh, no: the viscount de Châteaubon, his cousin-german, is his heir." "Is he a valiant man at arms?"

"God help him! no; and for that reason the count do Foix cannot bear him. He will make his two bastard-sons, who are young and handsome knights, his heirs, and intends to connect them very highly by marriage; for he has money enough, which will find them wives to uphold and assist them."

"Sir," said I, "all this is very well; but I do not think it just nor decent that bastards should inherit lands."

"Why not?" added he, " if proper heirs be wanting. Do not you see how the Spaniards crowned for king the bastard don Henry? and the Portuguese have done the same thing. It has frequently happened that bastards have gained possession of several kingdoms by force. Was not William the Conqueror bastard-son of a duke of Normandy! He won all England, as well as the king's daughter who then governed, and was himself king, and from him all the kings of England are descended."

Well, sir," said I, "all this may be well, for there is nothing but what may happen. Surely those of the Armagnac party are too strong and this country must always be at war. Tell me, my dear sir, the first origin of the wars between Foix and Armagnac, and which had the fairest cause."

"That I will, by my faith," answered the knight :" It has, however, been a wonderful war, for each thinks he has justice on his side. You must know, that formerly, I imagine about one hundred years from this time, there was a lord of Béarn called Gaston, a most gallant man at arms: he was buried with great solemnity in the church of the Frères Mineurs, at Orthès, where you will find him and may see of what a size he was in body and limbs, for during his lifetime he had a handsome resemblance made of him, in brass. This Gaston had two daughters; the eldest of whom he married to the count d'Armagnac of that period, and the youngest to the count de Foix, nephew to the king of Arragon. The counts de Foix still bear those arms (for they are descended from the kings of Arragon), which are paly or and gules; and this, I believe, you know. It happened that the lord of Béarn had a severe and long war with the king of Castille of that time, who, marching through Biscay with a numerous army, entered Béarn. Sir Gaston de Béarn, having intelligence of his march, collected people from all quarters, and had written to his two sons-in-law, the counts d'Armagnac and de Foix, to come with all quickness with their forces, to assist him in the defence and preservation of his inheritance.

"On the arrival of these letters, the count de Foix assembled his vassals as speedily as possible, and sent for assistance to all his friends. He exerted himself so effectually that he collected five hundred knights and squires and two thousand footmen armed with javelins, darts and shields: accompanied by these, he marched into Béarn to assist the lord his father, who was much delighted therewith. This army crossed the river Bane by the bridge of Orthès, and took up their quarters between Sauveterre and l'Hôpital. The king of Castille, with full twenty thousand men, was encamped not far from them. Sir Gaston de Béarn and the count de Foix, expecting the count d'Armagnac, waited for him three days: on the fourth a herald arrived from the count d'Armagnac with letters to sir Gaston, to say he could not come, and that it was not agreeable to him to arm in behalf of the country of Béarn, for at present he had not any interest in it.

"Sir Gaston, perceiving he was not to have any assistance from the count d'Armagnac, was much astonished, and asked the count de Foix and the barons of Béarn, how he should act:

"'My lord,' replied the count de Foix, since we are assembled, we will offer battle to your enemies.' This advice was followed, and instantly they all armed: they might be about twelve hundred men with helmets, and six thousand on foot.

"The count de Foix, with the van division, charged the king of Castille and his army in their quarters. The battle was very severe and bloody: upwards of two thousand Castillians were slain. The count de Foix made prisoners the son and brother of the king of Castille, whom he sent to sir Gaston de Béarn, who commanded the rear division. The Castillians were completely defeated. The count de Foix pursued them as far as the gates of Saint Andero in Biscay, where the king took refuge in an abbey, and put on a monk's frock, otherwise he would have been taken: those saved themselves who could, on board of vessels. The count de Foix, on his return to sir Gaston de Béarn, was received by him with much joy, as indeed he had reason, for he had saved his honour and secured the country, which otherwise would have been lost. This battle and defeat of the Castillians, and the capture of the son and brother of the king, induced him to accede to a peace with the lord de Béarn on such terms as he dictated.

" Sir Gaston de Béarn, on his return to Orthès, in the presence of all the knights of Béarn and Foix, took the count de Foix by the hand and said: Fair son, you are indeed my son, my loyal son, and have secured for ever my honour and the honour of my country. The count d'Armagnac, who married my eldest daughter, has excused himself from assisting in the defence of my inheritance, in which he was so much interested. I therefore declare that he has forfeited and shall lose whatever share he may have expected from it in behalf of my daughter. You, count de Foix, shall inherit the whole of my territory of Béarn after my decease, you and your heirs for ever. I entreat and command all my subjects to agree with me, and to seal this gift, which I present to you, my fair son of Foix.'

"All present answered 'My lord, we will most cheerfully do so.'

"Thus did the former counts de Foix become lords of Béarn: they bear the arms and the name, and have the war-cry and profit. However, the Armagnacs have not the less urged their claims to those rights they say they are entitled to; and this is the cause of the quarrel and war between Armagnac, Foix and Béarn."

By my faith," said I to the knight, " you have perfectly well explained the matter. I never before heard any thing of it, but, since I now do, I will perpetuate it, if God grant that I return to my own country. But there is one thing more I could wish to know: what caused the death of the son of the count de Foix ?"

The knight became pensive, and said "It is too melancholy a subject: I therefore wish not to speak of it; but when you are at Orthès, if you ask, you will find many there who will tell you the whole history." I was obliged to content myself with this answer; so we continued our journey until we arrived at Morlens.

The journey to Foix ends at last.

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