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vorrago in melkam

La France Libre English Translation - Part V - First Section: Philippe le Bel to Francois the First

[As you can see, I'm having to split this one up because of length limits. It's still pretty rocky in parts so I'll be coming back to it. Also -- I had lots of fun with the middle French dictionary! I'm really not sure how to translate French monetary terms from the 1300s, but hopefully the gist of it sort of comes through....

And, I thought I should mention, the original LFL has footnotes. I haven't been including them thus far as the version I've been using doesn't have them. However, I do intend to go back and add them in.]

On Kings:

In 1709, the monarchy and the republican state were represented in London by a brand new dance. We first saw a king who, after a start, gave a big kick to the backside of his prime minister, the latter gave one to a second, the second a third, and finally the one who received the last blow included, in his big behind, the nation, avenging itself on anyone. The Republican government was represented by a round dance where each gave and received equally.

In such a grave matter, it is not the opera of London or essays for or against philosophes that should decide; it is the facts. There is a sequence of facts against which it is impossible to argue. The chain of events will be as strong here as a geometric proof.
It through is the history of France by hand that M. de Mirabeau thwarts, through indisputable facts, the empty words of those who argue that monarchical government is not only the most excellent of all, but the only one good for the French, that we are privileged to be governed by a single, incomparable family, that not one, for so many centuries, has not been mild, moderate, and certainly not a tyrant, not a despot. As I do not wish to write a book, or to give new ideas, but to reiterate truths useful to my fellow citizens, and to not allow the sacred fire of patriotism to be extinguished, so happily rekindled by the torch of philosophy, I cannot do better than copy faithful portraits of our kings based upon fact. We will not be able to leave this gallery without all uttering this phrase, which children knew how to say in Sparta: I will not be enslaved.

We need only open our annals, even though they are written by monks or historiographers, to see that, despite these eulogists, no history has presented a longer sequence of poor kings. The whole list would be too tiring. Let us return only as far back as Philip le Bel.

Philippe le Bel. Forger, counterfeiter, insatiable for money and power, tyrant; he imprisoned, despite the faith given, the Count of Flanders and his son; he altered the coinage; he arrogates himself to fight exclusively; the first, he dares to create peers; he rewards those Templars that confessed themselves guilty of a thousand deaths, and he made perish in flames those who persisted to declare themselves innocent and ask him for proof of their crimes. There was never a burning more abominable. His avarice dishonors the nobility, by making it venal.  He offended the bankers and merchants in a million ways. No middle ground for the rich: he corrupted the nobility, or he sent them to prison; they would either be nobles or villains. He continued to squeeze his people, and amounted four thousand marks in tax revenues, which would, under Philip Augustus, be three thousand six hundred.

Louis le Hutin, Philippe le Long and Charles le Bel, his three sons, succeeded him on his throne and proved themselves heirs to his greed. They continued to corrupt the nobility and the judiciary, succeeding in completely removing from all lords the right to coin money, the right to create taxes on their own authority, and consolidated their best despotism. It's hard to say, with these three princes unworthy of attention of posterity, which was most self-serving, the most mediocre, and did the least good in France. Their famous cuckoldry did not avenge the Nation, only made it laugh, and the death of the wife of Louis Hutin, strangled with a shroud, the terrible torture of Philippe Gauthier and Launoi, the trial of Mahaut d'Artois, proved that the injustice and cruelty in these despots were accompanied by avarice. One feature portrays these reigns. In the instructions sent to commissioners in the provinces, there was not a word for the public good. It spoke only of how they should go about trapping money.

Philippe de Valois. Without ado, he murdered, through the executioner, fourteen Breton noblemen. He had invited them to the wedding party of his son. That is the tyrant; and here is the counterfeiter: “We will,” he said to the officers of the Mint, in his order of 1350, “attach, by merchants and money changers, bulk alloy to two deniers, six karats by law, so that they do not notice the value, and prohibit tax collectors from revealing this fact. Keep it secret and swear on the Holy Gospel.” An individual, for such a deed, would go to the Greve, signed on the back with the word: swindler. But we cannot dishonor les lys and the royal mantle with such an epigraph. Our historians are content to say that Philip VI was ungrateful, violent, and an insatiable publican.

Jean. Everyone knows the word of King Jean: "If faith were banished from the earth, it should be found again in the mouth of a king of France.” Take in this faith. There never was such a mutation in the currencies. "Let us craft the royal coins, he said, so they are engraved with old iron. So the reduction is not noticed, tell them that they are the equivalent of sixty two of the aforesaid coins.” Such is his vaunted faith! And this prince saw the favorable side. Having wrought a thousand evils under all these reigns, and been taken to the brink of ruin by the inexperience and majority of King Jean, France sees possible salvation in Charles V. This patient regains a little strength. Temporary convalescence! The reign of Charles VI, one of the most disastrous, was nothing but a long agony for her. It was not Charles the Beloved who endeared the monarchy. At his side Isabelle of Bavaria, unnatural mother, took it upon herself to render the throne odious.

The wounds that this foreigner made ​​to the State, two Frenchmen, Agnes and la Pucelle, helped to heal. But the wounds inflicted on liberty continued to grow. Charles VII used the necessities of royalty to put in place taxation without the consent of the Etats Generaux: "And to this”, says Comines, “they consented, with some thought,” these gentlemen who insist today to request a veto on the grounds they are incorruptible. It was Charles VII who carried the mortal blow to liberty, creating perpetual and regular armies, and France, then exhausted by war and anarchy, could not escape him, and fell under the iron scepter of despotism.

Louis XI, the companion of the executioner. As the helot women were shown to the Spartans,  to turn them away from drinking, it takes only one look at this prince to have a horror of monarchy. You could only see, says his apologist Duclos, the gallows around his castle. In these awful scars, you recognized the places inhabited by the king. It pleased him to build iron cages, and they were called the little girls of the king, like an object of his most tender affections. Enormous chains he made. That made to torture the accused was hidden behind a blind, mistrustful of the mercy of judges, and even of Tristan. Often without trial, he destroyed more than four thousand people by torture, many before his own eyes, as relished their martyrdom. He did try, without assistance of his peers, his first cousin, the Duke of Nemours, blamed for judging with indulgence, who had been made to come out of his cage for interrogation, and wished that he be given torture, and when he was decapitated, that his two sons be placed on the scaffold, so they would be watered with the blood of their father. We search in the annals of Busiris for such a sophistication of cruelty! This execrable king then locked the young princes in cells pointed towards the ground, so they would not be able to rest. They were taken twice a week to be flogged, and every three months to yank out a tooth or two. The eldest went mad; the youngest son was fortunate enough to be delivered by the tyrant's death, and it is from his suit, presented in 1483, that we learn the details of all these facts, which couldn’t be believed or even imagined without such constant proof. Let us at least exercise to our kings the posthumous justice of the Egyptians. This Desrues, devoted to public execration, what is he, when compared with Louis XI?  Interest made ​​him a villain; what interest had Tiberius to defile himself with so many barbarities? As the purest virtue is to do good freely, then the most detestable monster is he who does evil freely, as did so many of our kings.

Charles VIII, no vices and no virtues. (See the picture made by Mirabeau, Lettres de Cachet, chap. XII, from where I draw most of these traits.)

Louis XII, father of the people. I shall have occasion to speak of this good king in the next paragraph.

Francois the First. He used France like property that he owned. Iniquitous prince, he infamously lost the trial to the Constable of Bourbon. Simoniac, he traded priesthood with Léon X. Barbaric and hypocritical, he commanded the horrible torture of six Lutherans. Despot, he enchained freedom of the press; he destroyed the liberties of the Gallican Church. Insolent and haughty, he threatened the pontiffs of law that resisted his inventions with making them wear the hood to Landrecy. He made this law the venality of the Judiciary; which is equivalent to someone on a ship being made pilot or sailor for his money. He insulted the nation by giving it to the highest bidder; and, like Caligula, he made a horse a consul, with the difference that he was only an honorary consul, rather than an acting magistrate. He accorded death to Semblencay, innocent, and demanded it of Louise de Savoie, and the life of Saint-Vallier, guilty of the prostitution of his daughter. He put France to the edge of the precipice by his incompetence, he ruined it by his prodigality, he corrupted it by his scandals. I would be a scholar in chronology, if poets had engraved in my memory all the eras as laconically as this epitaph on his death:

King Francis died in Rambouillet,
Of the v ..... that he had,
The year one thousand five-hundred forty-seven.


Well, now I really want to go and read more about them - I'm guessing that wasn't dear Camille's aim though. I wonder what Isabelle of Bavaria got up to, and a degree of irony in the frequent references to the executioner! He really was well versed in more than ancient history. Thank you so much for all this work.
Btw, Les Rois Maudits is a rollicking good read all about Philippe le Bel and his sons The Accursed Kings in English translation.
Me too! I had to wikipedia some of it. I'm rather disappointed he skipped over Charles the VI and Isabelle so quickly, as Charles sounds like one of the most genuinely messed up of the lot -- apparently a paranoid schizophrenic who seems to have had a propensity for randomly "going mad" and trying to kill everyone in the vicinity. Fun!
Thanks for the suggestion! I know absolutely nothing about French history pre-French Revolution -- I'll have to check it out.
I'm reading a book set in sixteenth century France, Camille's reflections on Francois, Charles et al are very illuminating ~ time of the Huguenots :)