Jacques Coeur was the son of a furrier who lived at the time of the 100 years' war between the French and the English, who became the right hand man of Charles the Victorious (Charles VII) son of Charles the Mad (Charles VI) when in middle aged he was made Master of the Royal Mint, maître des monnaies.
Françoise belongs to the Cercle des Amies de Marion. Marion being long gone, I never met her, but I see some of the others once a month or so, and it was Françoise's turn to talk about something that had caught her interest this week. She told us about a novel she'd been reading, entitled Le Grand Coeur. It's by Jean-Christophe Rufin of the Académie Française and was published last year to great acclaim. It tells the life story of Jacques Coeur, born in Bourges, who as a child meets men from the Crusades and Santiago de Compostela pilgrims and wishes he could travel likewise. In his late teens he also observes the devastation of the French army at the Battle of Agincourt, attacked famously by Henry V and his British troops.
There were four women from France in our group this week, and it fascinated me to hear them talking about that period in history. To them the English are the baddies, no doubt about it, laying waste to France until Jeanne d'Arc finally saves the country from that plague of raping and pillaging. The Battle of Agincourt (Azincourt) is lost because the French nobility are too chivalrous. In England the story is told from quite a different angle.
In Rufin's story Jacques rises to power by means of a love affair. He feels humiliated, enragé, by the way the Chevaliers have treated his father with scorn, but through his marriage to the daughter of an argentier the nobles eventually pay him some respect. He travels across France with his father-in-law and teams up with a coiner who works for the King. Their success in this trade is ensured by the fact that they make more coins than the King has ordered, keeping some aside for themselves! Jacques ends up in prison when the trickery's found out, but not for long. He becomes a reformed character and sets out for the Levant, by ship to Crete and Alexandria, then taking the road to Damascus. In this city is a richesse inouï of gardens and fountains, spiced foods, caravans of 2000 camels passing through it, and he is tempted to continue on his travels towards China, but then he remembers his wife and children. He is robbed on the way and returns home "sans un sou"!
Once again he starts up his business with childhood friends whom he trusts and by trading with the Orient he becomes a rich and successful merchant, meeting the King and building modern (i.e. Renaissance style) châteaux. I lost my concentration at this point and didn't catch how or why he comes to be tortured and has to flee the court. I must read the book to find out. It is something to do with his close connection with Agnès Sorel, who dies a suspicious death. Anyhow, Jacques is exiled, but manages to travel again via Marseilles to Rome, is granted a fleet, writes his memoirs and in 1456 is tracked down by his enemies and assassinated (at least that's how the novel tells it, apparently) on the island of Chios, on his way to fight the Turks.
I never knew about any of this before, which makes me wonder, as often, how much else I don't know.
When it's my turn to give a talk to the Amies de Marion this year, they want me to tell them about Australia and my Australian son's occupation, pulsar astronomy––in French of course. Mon Dieu! That will take some preparation.