1483: Fernando II, Duke of Braganza

Add comment June 20th, 2019 Headsman

Fernando II, Duke of Braganza, was beheaded as a traitor on this date in 1483.

This lord (English Wikipedia entry | Portuguese) represented perhaps the mightiest noble house in Portugal. Fernando’s grandfather, Duke Afonso I, had made himself the power behind the throne of the young King Afonso V; Fernando’s father, Duke Fernando I, had sat as regent in Portugal while the king went off to war in Morocco.

Fernando II likewise luxuriated in the honors of royal proximity … while Afonso V kept the throne.

In the early 1480s, the ailing Afonso abdicated in favor of his son. The young King John II was an aspiring absolutist who keenly grasped the danger posed to him by overmighty aristocrats, and systematically set about reducing their privileges.

As Portugal’s largest landholder, nobody had more to lose from this project than Braganza, and he boldly appealed in secret correspondence to Queen Isabella* of neighboring Castile — a realm against which the Portuguese state, and Fernando personally, had been at war just a couple of years before.

As one will suppose from Fernando’s presence on this here blog, John caught wind of the conspiring.

This bad behavior got the Braganzas proscribed, briefly, but the house was soon restored to its station and has written an illustrious history. Indeed, the Braganzas came to the Portuguese throne in 1640 and their Bragantine lasted as long as the institution of monarchy did in that country. There’s still a Duke of Braganza to this day.

* Of Christopher Columbus-sponsoring, Isabella-and-Ferdinand fame.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Portugal,Treason

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1356: Four friends of Charles the Bad

Add comment April 5th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1356, the French King John II — John the Good, to history — avenged himself on his cousin and rival, Charles the Bad.

This affair embroils us in the French dynastic turmoil that spawned the Hundred Years’ War: five months after the nastiness in this post, King John was an English prisoner following the catastrophic Battle of Poitiers. It’s a good job he got his revenge in when he had the chance.

The fight — in its largest sense — was all about the throne of France, the poisonous fruit of the dynasty-wrecking Tour de Nesle affair of royal adultery decades before. That affair destroyed two princesses who could have become queens, and with it the potential of legitimate heirs for their husbands. With the family tree’s next generation barren, succession passed from brother to brother until the last brother died.

So now who’s big man in France?

Awkwardly, the last king’s nearest male relative also happened to be the king of France’s rival — his nephew, Edward III of England.

France barred Edward with a quickness, on the grounds that Edward was related via a female line. That put the patrimony in the hands of John the Good’s father, a previously un-royal cousin known as Philip the Fortunate. Less fortunately, this succession also conferred upon the new Valois line Edward’s rival claim and the associated interminable violent conflict.

Besides these two, there was yet another cousin who aspired to the French scepter: our guy Charles the Bad, King of the Pyrenees-hugging realm of Navarre. This guy’s mother had her legitimacy cast in doubt by the whole Tour de Nesle adultery thing years ago, and her woman bits had ruled her out of ruling France — but not Navarre. (No Salic Law in Navarre: a digression beyond this post.)

So Charles, her son and heir in Navarre, was at least as close to the Capetian dynasty as were his cousins — and maybe closer. He was also “one of the most complex characters of the 14th century,” in the judgment of Barbara Tuchman (A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century). “A small, slight youth with glistening eyes and a voluble flow of words, he was volatile, intelligent, charming, violent, cunning as a fox, ambitious as Lucifer, and more truly than Byron ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know.’

“His only constant was hate.”

And Charles sure hated King John. Was it the political rivalry? The daughter John had foisted on him as a bride? The territory John nicked from Navarre to confer on John’s favorite as Constable of France?* Yes.

Charles had subtlety in his bag of clubs, and brutal directness too. In 1354, he revenged at least one slight by having his brother murder the aforementioned Constable — also a favorite and childhood friend** of King John — in a tavern ambush.

(There’s an audio introduction to Charles the Bad complete with hammy re-enactment of the homicide in episode 110 of the History of England podcast. What follows below leads off episode 111.)

Too weak politically at that moment to repay Charles in his own coin, John had to sullenly consent to a putative reconciliation … but he was only biding his time. Charles compounded the enmity by his scheming on-again, off-again negotiations with the English, hoping to leverage the war between those powers to his own advantage.

He was a constant thorn in King John’s side, and the latter had problem enough with the English invasions and the struggle he had to gin up tax revenue to oppose them. The apparent last straw: Charles buddied up to John’s son the Dauphin and tried to engineer a coup d’etat against John. John settled on a vengeful stroke to put both the King of Navarre and the crown prince in their places, a party-fouling scene to beggar Game of Thrones in Froissart’s description:

The king of France, on Tuesday the 5th of April, which was the Tuesday after midlent Sunday, set out early, completely armed, from Mainville, attended by about one hundred lances. There were with him his son the earl of Anjou, his brother the duke of Orleans, the lord John d’Artois, earl of Eu, the lord Charles his brother, cousins-german to the king, the earl of Tancarville, sir Arnold d’Andreghen, marshal of France, and many other barons and knights. They rode straight for the castle of Rouen, by a back way, without passing through the town, and on entering found, in the hall of the castle, Charles, duke of Normandy, Charles king of Navarre, John earl of Harcourt, the lords de Preaux, de Clerc, de Graville, and some others seated at dinner. The king immediately ordered them all, except the dauphin, to be arrested, as also sir William and sir Louis de Harcourt, brothers to the earl, the lord Fricquet de Friquart, the lord de Tournebeu, the lord Maubué de Mamesnars, two squires called Oliver Doublet and John de Vaubatu, and many others. He had them shut up in different rooms in the castle; and his reason for so doing was, that, since the reconciliation made on occasion of the death of the constable of France, the king of Navarre had conspired and done many things contrary to the honour of the king, and the good of his realm: the earl of Harcourt had also used many injurious expressions in the castle of Vaudreuil, when an assembly was holden there to grant a subsidy to the king of France against the said king, in order to prevent, as much as lay in his power, the subsidy from being agreed to. The king, after this, sat down to dinner, and afterwards, mounting his horse, rode, attended by all his company, to a field behind the castle, called the Field of Pardon.

The king then ordered the earl of Harcourt, the lord of Graville, the lord Maubué and Oliver Doublet to be brought thither in two carts: their heads were cut off,† and their bodies dragged to the gibbet at Rouen, where they were hung, and their heads placed upon the gibbet. In the course of that day and the morrow, the king set at liberty all the other prisoners, except three: Charles king of Navarre, who was conducted to prison in the Louvre at Paris, and afterwards to the Châtelet: some of the king’s council were appointed as a guard over him. Fricquet and Vaubatu were also confined in the Châtelet. Philip of Navarre, however, kept possession of several castles which the king his brother had in Normandy, and, when the king of France sent him orders to surrender them, refused to obey, but in conjunction with the lord Godfrey de Harcourt and other enemies of France, raised forces in the country of Coutantin, which they defended against the king’s troops.

* The post was vacant because the previous Constable had been executed.

** And distant kin, but who isn’t?

† By a convenient prisoner dragooned into the duty, who required many more hacks at the bone than there were heads to sever.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Gibbeted,History,Murder,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Notable Participants,Power,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1346: Simon Pouillet

1 comment July 1st, 2010 Headsman

From the Grandes Chroniques de France:

En celuy an, le samedi premier jour de juillet, fu fait à Paris une horrible justice, — né onques mais n’avoit esté faite semblable au royaume de France. Combien que nous lisons que l’empereur Henri en fist une autèle, et en Angleterre aussi, une autre fois en avint une autre semblable, toutes voies à Paris onques mais n’avoit esté telle , — d’un bourgois de Compiègne appellé Symon Pouilliet, assez riche, qui fu jugié à mort et mené aux halles de Paris; et fu estendu et lié sur un estal de bois, ainsi comme la char en la boucherie, et fu ylec copé et desmembré, premièrement les bras, puis les cuisses et après le chief ; et après pendu au gibet commun où l’en pent les larrons. Et tout pour ce qu’il avoit dit, si comme l’en luy imposoit, que le droit du royaume de France appartenoit mieux à Edouart, roy d’Angleterre, que à Phelippe de Valois. De laquelle mort tout honteuse, France pot bien dire la parole de Jhésucrist qui disoit : « Ci sont les commencemens des douleurs, » si comme il sera monstré par après.

The gist of the bolded bit:

a wealthy Compiègne bourgeois called Simon Pouilliet was broken and dismembered in Paris, and gibbeted on the common gallows. And all for saying that the right of the kingdom of France belonged more to Edward, king of England, that to Philippe of Valois.*

Come and see the violence inherent in the system!

There was cause, however, for the House of Valois to be oversensitive to Pouillet’s treasonable take on royal genealogy: it was at least plausibly true.

Edward’s interest in actualizing his nominal claim to the French throne had by this point precipitated the opening dynastic skirmishes of what would eventually (a hundred-plus years later) become remembered as the Hundred Years’ War.

And as the chronicle concludes on a note of melancholy, Simon Pouillet’s horrific butchery would be an omen of his realm’s coming sorrows.

Eight weeks later, the English sowed the battlefield of Crecy with the flower of French chivalry and established a foothold at Calais that would help sustain generations of bloodily inconclusive combat.

Then, from 1348, the Black Death ravaged Europe, bringing for its survivors the economic shock of a labor shortage, weird social movements like the flagellants, and a pervasive sense of fatalism that ate at humanity’s social bonds.

A few years after that, the French king, Philip’s successor John the Good, was actually captured by the English at the Battle of Poitiers, and ransomed as a hostage for a ruinous sum.

There’s no record whether the wind whistling through the remains of Simon Pouillet dangling on Montfaucon whispered “I told you so.”

* Pouillet had not acted on this notion — he’d merely been popping off, possibly while sauced. The absence of any actual intent on the speaker’s part, however, did not lessen the treason, as explained in The Law of Treason and Treason Trials in Later Medieval France:

The general royal position on treason by words was summed up in 1432 by Jean Barbin, king’s proctor in the Parlement of Poitiers, in the prosecution of the Fleming Hennequin Bize. ‘By word and by deed’, he began, ‘one commits the crime of lese-majesty: by deed when one makes an attempt on the person of the princeps; and by word when one speaks sinisterly of him or his acts.’ Barbin asserted furthermore that it was worse ‘to disparage by word than to injure by deed’, but he neglected to explain why.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Dismembered,Execution,France,Gibbeted,Gruesome Methods,History,Power,Public Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

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