Posts Tagged ‘medieval history’

Children have been hearing about the Pied Piper for 725 years, but who was he and where did the children go? Historians agree that some event did happen in Hamelin, Germany in 1284 that involved the disappearance of the town’s children. What is not clear is what actually happened.

The typical story states that a man dressed in colorful clothing showed up in the rat infested town of Hamelin and offered to rid the town of rats for a fee. The town was desperate and hired him. The man played a flute and the vermin followed him out of Hamelin into the Weser River where they drowned. The story would have ended there if the townsmen had just paid him; however, they backed out and in retaliation the Pied Piper again played his flute and the children followed him doing strange jerky movements out of town. There was a deaf child and a crippled child left behind.

A nanny followed the group and stated that one half went into the woods and the other to the right into a cave in the Weser Mountains. The townspeople went to investigate and found body parts hung from the trees in the forest. There was no sign of the children in the cave, which did not have an exit.

The earliest known reference to the story was a stained glass window in the local Market church depicting the Pied Piper that was created in 1300 and was destroyed by fire in 1600. The original tale did not mention rats, but was added in the sixteenth century. So what really occurred in Hamelin, Germany in 1284?

The Pied Piper’s name suggests two theories. One he was poor and wore patched clothes or he was a King’s representative dressed in official garb. In either case he could have been recruiting for either a crusade or trying to convince people to settle Eastern Europe. The term, “children” could refer to people in general and not just minors. Some believe that people from Hamelin settled in Romania and may be the origin of the gypsy (Roma) clans. Others think if the Piper was gathering children for a crusade to the Holy Land the children did not make it back home. This is quite possible as crusades took years and cost many lives before ever arriving in the Holy Land.

One of the disturbing aspects of the tale is the strange, jerky movements the children did as they walked out of town. Disease or nervous disorders have been suggested, but how could all the children experience it at once?  Did they display such odd behavior before the Piper showed up? Or did the sound of the flute actually trigger that response? Few details of the incident actually survive, so any ideas are pure speculation. It could be that the Piper taught the children a dance of sorts prior to leading them out of town, but to what end?

Another suggestion is that a pedophile kidnapped the children and murdered them in the woods, dismembering them and decorating the trees with body parts. More than likely there were serial killers in medieval Germany, so that cannot be ruled out on the face of it. If that is true, then who lead the other group to the cave? If the music kept the children hypnotized, then why did the cave group not wake up and run back to town? Does this indicate the Piper had a partner?

Throughout history there are stories of caves or openings in mountains that seal up once people enter, such as in the French Pyrenees. The Nazis had many hidden bases in mountains that have not been discovered like the money train in Poland recently revealed. It makes no sense that children could enter a cave and just disappear. There must have been a secret exit in existence at that time that the townspeople did not find.

Or the nanny was not telling the truth about a second group climbing up to the cave. What reason did she have to lie? Could she have known the Piper before he arrived in Hamelin or become acquainted with him while he was there? A young woman with a bleak future might well be infatuated with an intriguing stranger spinning who knows what yarns to impress the locals. She might have been talked into doing anything, including kidnapping and murder.

If the Pied Piper were a King’s messenger recruiting volunteers to settle Eastern Europe, then there is no big mystery to the story. Some villagers simply decided to pick up and immigrate to Romania or Hungry for a better life or more land. Family members remaining behind may have started the story describing the smooth talk of the man who lured loved ones away. The same could be said for a Children’s Crusade.

Two issues remain: the strange jerky movements of the children as they followed the man playing a flute. Such a detail is not likely to be invented, but something actually witnessed. One theory suggests that the townspeople paid the man to get rid of diseased and disabled children, which is plausible with the plague and other contagious diseases running rampant. The colorful clothes the Piper wore might have been patches because he was poverty stricken and desperate to make money however necessary. He might have had some disability of his own as medieval minstrels often were blind or crippled and had no other way to earn a living aPied_piperside from music. The jerky movements could have been the way the Piper moved and the children simply copied him.

The second issue is the body parts hung from the trees. If this really occurred then the Piper may well have been a sadistic serial killer that preyed on unwanted or orphaned children. There are not many other explanations for this situation, if true.

The picture depicts a painting copied from the Market Church stained glass window  before its destruction in 1600 AD.  Clearly, both the forest and cave are illustrated. The stained glass window was created just sixteen years after the incident and thus should be based on memory. The story of the Pied Piper is a fascinating one that mostly likely will never be fully explained unless some hidden diary comes to light.

Was Joan of Arc a Peasant Girl? The Evidence Says No!

Questioning the tale of the Maid of Lorraine.

The story of a passionate, religiously devout nineteen year old woman saving France has long been a favorite of school girls (myself included), but how realistic is it?

As the story goes, Joan was born in 1412 in Domremy, France to Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romee who also had a number of other children. At age 13 she began to have visions of angels while tending the animals in the fields. These visions were of the saints, Michael, Marguerite and Catherine. They told her that she was the maid who would save France. These conversations went on for several years. The young girl spent a great deal of time in church talking with the priest and praying. When she heard church bells ringing Joan would drop to her knees where ever she happened to be. She told the voices, her “counselors” that she was just a girl and could not do as they demanded. She did not even know how to go about saving France.
In her late teens the voices rather aggressively insisted that Joan do as commanded, it was God’s wish. This was no easy task, but turned out to be much easier than it should have been for an illiterate peasant girl. She began by talking her cousin into escorting her to see Robert Baudricourt, captain of Vaulcoulers. At first Baudricourt blew Joan off and sent her back home insisting that she needed a good spanking. He finally relented after some months and took her to see the dauphin (prince) Charles. Placing Charles on the throne was the vehicle required by the voices for saving France.
The first clue that things were not quite as they seemed was the fact that Charles, instead of just officially meeting the girl, hid among his courtiers to see if she would recognize him. Recognize him? How would a peasant’s daughter know someone she had not seen or had any interest in before? This has been viewed as a miracle, proof that God guided her as Joan went right to him. It does not seem to have occurred to anyone that perhaps Charles already knew Joan and her parentage and feared the consequences of the meeting. He also did not trust her until she told him a secret in private, which was probably what he wanted to hear-that Charles VI was his father. It must ever have occurred to him that maybe Isabeau was not his mother, even though they had formed no bond whatsoever.
Charles was eventually convinced of her mission with much influence from his guardian, Yolande of Aragon who was married to Louis II of Anjou, her father- in-law was Charles V of France and her son, Rene d’Anjou, who would ride with Joan throughout her military career. Joan was eventually given an army by the dauphin Charles and the opportunity to oust the English, so that he might be crowned.
Joan displayed an extraordinary ability to led men and an uncanny knowledge of artillery, not to mention that she could ride as well as any of the combat veterans. She often had her own methods of accomplishing military objectives as her voices disagreed with the strategies of the commanders. They were victorious and the dauphin Charles was crowned, but not in Paris as Joan had hoped. That great city was still held by the English.
This is the point where things begin to go wrong for the passionate young woman. Charles no longer wished to keep up military campaigns as they were expensive (and he was a bit of a sniveling wimp) and he was now King of France, Charles VII. Joan was becoming an inconvenience. If Joan had just gone back home she probably would have lived out her life uneventfully, but she truly believed in a united France and could not see that diplomacy would accomplish that goal. She continued the fight.
Joan was captured at Compiegne on May 30, 1430 when the town folk closed the draw bridge and would not let it down for fear of losing the city to the English. She was held prisoner and moved several times until her Condemnation trial. Joan’s ransom could have been paid by Charles VII, but instead she was sold to the English. The Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, went to great efforts to be appointed her judge even though the case was out of his jurisdiction. She was found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake May 31, 1431.  Or perhaps it truly was Claude des Armois, the impostor who burned instead?
It was with Cauchon that the mother of Charles VII, Isabeau of Bavaria, drew up the Treaty of Troyes, which knocked him out of the line of succession, thus requiring the intervention of Joan of Arc in the first place. Her grandson, Henry VI of England would rule when old enough and until then his father, Henry V would rule as regent. The problem with this arrangement was that both Charles VI and Henry V died within a few months of each other leaving the infant Henry and Charles de Ponthieu to vie for the French throne.
Is it really such a mystery why Isabeau of Bavaria would team up with the Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, in the Treaty of Troyes to side step the dauphin Charles when it became clear that he was not king material, and make her grandson, Henry VI the next heir to the French throne? Isabeau’s daughter was Catherine de Valois, queen of England. The power would have stayed in the family with young Henry on the throne. Isabeau has been painted in a very bad light thoughout history, perhaps without just cause.
There had always been rumors about the parentage of Charles VII; most gossip consisted of Charles being the illegitimate son of Isabeau of Bavaria and Louis II, his uncle. He was very self conscious and defensive of such ideas and the talk continued well after the Maid of Lorraine burned at the stake.
Twenty-five years after Joan’s death a Rehabilitation Trial was ordered by Charles VII, which determined that the first trial was unfair and the reputation of Joan the Maid was restored. There was a great effort made to establish her roots in Lorraine as the daughter of the two lower class residents of Domremy, Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romee.
This is a very condensed version of the life of Joan of Arc, but will allow us to examine a few of the alleged “facts” of the case.
When I first began writing my novel, Rennes le Chateau: The Road to Sion, I didn’t really believe that Joan was illegitimate aristocracy or that she could have escaped the stake, however, I began to look at her story like the law student that  I was then and asked what I considered obvious questions. I also found surprising, but entirely logical answers.
In villages like Domremy it was unlikely that a family would have lived so exposed with marauding, unemployed knights running about raping, pillaging and setting people on fire. As the story goes, the inhabitants of Domremy would run to the fortified town of Greux for safety. Such a scenario is not very reasonable. There simply would have not been enough time or warning for entire families, which would have included the elderly and infants, to even run the short distance to Greux. Villages like Domremy were most likely occupied by healthy male farm laborers who could have defended themselves. Families lived in more secure walled towns.
There are other problems with the Joan growing up in Domremy story. The first being, which town called Domremy was it? In the fifteenth century there were four other villages on the Meuse River called Domremy and others called Greux. If it were indeed the village now in the department of the Vosges, there is a question about the house reputed to have belonged to her parents, Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romee. The house now shown to tourists was built in 1481, long after she allegedly died in 1431, by the son of Charles VII, Louis XI.
Even the identity of Jacques is questionable as I point out in the book,
“The man who was supposed to be Joan’s father had several names throughout the time period; Jacques Tart, Jakes Delarch and Jacques d’Arc, so his identity is questionable. There was a man named Arc who was the tax collector for the Duke of Lorraine, but he did not live in Domremy.”
The fact that people attacked Isabelle Romee at the beginning of the Rehabilitation Trial is perhaps a good sign that people knew that she was not Joan’s mother. The Rehabilitation Trial is amazing for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is used to declare that the life of Joan of Arc is the most well documented of all medieval historical figures.
Indeed, there were a great many witnesses claiming to know her and at first this is impressive, until you consider that we are talking about fifteenth century France when a person was considered old at age 40 and lucky to see age 50. Twenty-five years later, we have nearly everyone who knew Joan as a girl still alive and their memories crystal clear. Not just clear, they also tell the exact same stories with the same details and this should catch the attention of any first year law student.
So who was Joan of Arc really? In a nutshell, since it took an entire book to develop this theory, she was the legitimate daughter of Charles VI and Isabeau of Bavaria. Charles was indeed the illegitimate one and he knew it. Why would the king and queen of France wish to switch babies? The first motive would the most obvious in that they wanted a male heir. The Salic Laws prevented females from inheriting titles, thus putting France at the mercy of whomever Joan married.

When Joan began hearing voices and dropping to her knees at the sound of church bells, her parents would have thought their fears justified  that Joan had inherited the same mental illness as her father, Charles VI. The political risk of Joan being queen of France would have been enormous since  Isabeau had to often take the reins of the kingdom when the king would gallop down the palace halls howling like dog. The political landscape of fifteenth century France was volatile and fractured at best. France could not afford another weak ruler.
A thorough reading of the Condemnation Trial transcript sheds a different light on the questions asked of Joan and her responses when you consider that she was royalty. It would also explain why a nineteen year old woman (though she was probably closer to age 24) would speak to men as equals or inferiors and order nobility around without a second thought. A royal upbringing would also explain why Joan seemed to know so much about military strategy, particularly artillery, and her excellent horsemanship skills. If Joan were really the true queen of France, it would explain the hatred displayed by some of the English and the obsessive need of Charles VII to use the whole Maid of Lorraine story to convince people she was a disillusioned nobody.
The real truth of the Joan of Arc story will probably never be known, but it is not the set in stone tale that historians declare it to be. There are far too many unanswered questions and more than enough reasonable doubt that Joan was not an ignorant peasant girl.
D.A. Chadwick

Copyright 2009 by D.A. Chadwick