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Castles and Chateaux of Old Navarre and the Basque Provinces
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| CHAPTER II
FEUDAL FRANCE-ITS PEOPLE AND ITS CHÂTEAUX
IT was not the Revolution alone that brought about a division of landed property in France. The Crusades, particularly that of Saint Bernard, accomplished the same thing, though perhaps to a lesser extent. The seigneurs were impoverished already by excesses of all kinds, and they sold parts of their lands to any who would buy, and on almost any terms. Sometimes it was to a neighbouring, less powerful, seigneur; sometimes to a rich bourgeois — literally a town-dweller, not simply one vulgarly rich — or even to an ecclesiastic; and sometimes to that vague entity known as "le peuple." The peasant proprietor was a factor in land control before the Revolution; the mere recollection of the fact that Louis-le-Hutin enfranchised the serfs demonstrates this.
The serfdom of the middle ages, in some respects, did not differ from ancient slavery, and in the most stringent of feudal times there were numerous serfs, servants and labourers attached to the seigneur's service. These he sold, gave away, exchanged, or bequeathed, and in these sales, children were often separated from their parents. The principal cause of enfranchisement was the necessity for help which sprang from the increase in the value of land. A sort of chivalric swindle under the name of "the right of taking" was carried on among the lords, who endeavoured to get men away from one another and thus flight became the great resort of the dissatisfied peasant.
In order to get those belonging to others, and to keep his own, the proprietor, when enfranchising the serfs, benevolently gave them land. Thus grew up the peasant landowner, the seigneur keeping only more or less limited rights, but those onerous enough when he chose to put on the screw.
In this way much of the land belonging to the nobles and clergy became the patrimony of the plebeians, and remained so, for they were at first forbidden to sell their lands to noblemen or clergy. Then came other kinds of intermediary leases, something between the distribution of the land under the feudal system and its temporary occupancy of today through the payment of rent. Such were the "domains" in Brittany, Anjou and elsewhere, held under the emphyteusis (long lease), which was really the right of sale, where the land, let out for an indefinite time and at a fixed rent, could be taken back by the landlord only on certain expensive terms. This was practically the death knell of feudal land tenure. Afterward came leases of fifty years, for life, or for "three lifetimes," by which time the rights of the original noble owners had practically expired.
Finally, all landowners found these systems disadvantageous. The landlord's share in the product of the soil (as a form of rent) continually increased, while the condition of the farmer grew worse and worse.
Since the Revolution, the modern method of cultivation of land on a large scale constitutes an advance over anything previously conceived, just as the distribution of the land under the feudal régime constituted an advance over the system in vogue in earlier times.
Times have changed in France since the days when the education of the masses was unthought of. Then the curé or a monkish brother would get a few children together at indeterminate periods and teach them the catechism, a paternoster or a credo, and that was about all. Writing, arithmetic — much less the teaching of grammar — were deemed entirely unnecessary to the growing youth. Then (and the writer has seen the same thing during his last dozen years of French travel) it was a common sight to see the sign "Ecrivain Publique" hanging over, or beside, many a doorway in a large town.
The Renaissance overflow from Italy left a great impress on the art and literature of France, and all its bright array of independent principalities. The troubadours and minstrels of still earlier days had given way to the efforts and industry of royalty itself. François Premier, and, for aught we know, all his followers, penned verses, painted pictures, and patronized authors and artists, until the very soil itself breathed an art atmosphere.
Marguerite de Valois (1492-1549), the sister of François Premier, was called the tenth muse even before she became Queen of Navarre, and when she produced her Boccoccio-like stories, afterwards known as the "Heptameron of the Queen of Navarre," enthusiasm for letters among the noblesse knew no bounds.
The spirit of romance which went out from the soft southland was tinged with a certain license and liberty which was wanting in the "Romaunt of the Rose" of Guillaume de Lorris, and like works, but it served to strike a passionate fire in the hearts of men which at least was bred of a noble sentiment.
What the Renaissance actually did for a French national architecture is a matter of doubt. But for its coming, France might have achieved a national scheme of building as an outgrowth of the Greek, Roman, and Saracen structures which had already been planted between the Alps and the Pyrenees. The Gothic architecture of France comes nearer to being a national achievement than any other, but its application in its first form to a great extent was to ecclesiastical building. In domestic and civil architecture, and in walls and ramparts, there exists very good Gothic indeed in France, but of a heavier, less flowery style than that of its highest development in churchly edifices.
The Romanesque, and even the pointed-arch architecture (which, be it remembered, need not necessarily be Gothic) of southern and mid-France, with the Moorish and Saracenic interpolations found in the Pyrenees, was the typical civic, military and domestic manner of building before the era of the imitation of the debased Lombardia which came in the days of Charles VIII and François Premier. This variety spread swiftly all over France — and down the Rhine, and into England for that matter — and crowded out the sloping roof, the dainty colonnette and ribbed vaulting in favour of a heavier, but still ornate, barrel-vaulted and pillared, low-set edifice with most of the faults of the earlier Romanesque, and none of its excellences.
The parts that architects and architecture played in the development of France were tremendous. Voltaire first promulgated this view, and his aphorisms are many; "My fancy is to be an architect." "Mansard was one of the greatest architects known to France." "Architects were the ruin of Louis XIV." "The Cathedral builders were sublime barbarians." Montesquieu was more sentimental when he said: "Love is an architect who builds palaces on ruins if he pleases."
The greatest architectural expression of a people has ever been in its Christian monuments, but references to the cathedrals, churches and chapels of the Pyrenean states have for the most part been regretfully omitted from these pages, giving place to fortresses, châteaux, great bridges, towers, donjons, and such public monuments as have a special purport in keeping with the preconceived limits of a volume which deals largely with the romance of feudal times.
Generally speaking, the architectural monuments of these parts are little known by the mass of travellers, except perhaps Henri Quatre's ancestral château at Pau, the famous walls of Carcassonne, and perhaps Bayonne's bridges or the Eglise St. Saturnin and the bizarre cathedral of St. Etienne at Toulouse. All of these are excellent of their kind; indeed perhaps they are superlative in their class; but when one mentions Perpignan's Castillet, the Château de Puylaurens, the arcaded Gothic houses of Agde, Béziers' fortress-cathedral, the fortress-church of St. Bertrand de Comminges or a score of other tributary monumental relics, something hitherto unthought of is generally disclosed.
Almost the whole range of architectural display is seen here between the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Gascony, and any rambling itinerary laid out between the two seas will discover as many structural and decorative novelties as will be found in any similar length of roadway in France.
WATCH-TOWER IN THE VAL D'ANDORRE
Leaving the purely ecclesiastical edifices — cathedrals and great churches-out of the question, the entire Midi of France, and the French slopes and valleys of the Pyrenees in particular, abounds in architectural curiosities which are marvels to the student and lover of art.
There are châteaux, chastels and chastillons, one differing from another by subtle distinctions which only the expert can note. Then there are such feudal accessories as watchtowers, donjons and clochers, and great fortifying walls and gates and barbicans, and even entire fortified towns like Carcassonne and La Bastide. Surely the feudality, or rather its relics, cannot be better studied than here, — "where the people held the longest aloof from the Crown."
The watch-towers which flank many of the valleys of the Pyrenees are a great curiosity and quandary to archæologists and historians. Formerly they flashed the news of wars or invasions from one outpost to another, much as does wireless telegraphy of to-day. Of these watch-towers, or tours télégraphiques, as the modern French historians call them, that of Castel-Biel, near Luchon, is the most famous. It rises on the peak of a tiny mountain in the valley of the Pique and is a square structure of perhaps a dozen or fifteen feet on each side. Sixteen feet or so from the ground, on the northwest façade, is an opening leading to the first floor. This tower is typical of its class, and is the most accessible to the hurried traveller.
The feudal history of France is most interesting to recall in this late day when every man is for himself. Not all was oppression by any means, and the peasant landowner — as distinct from the vilain and serf — was a real person, and not a supposition, even before the Revolution; though Thomas Carlyle on his furzy Scotch moor didn't know it.
Feudal France consisted of seventy thousand fiefs or rere-fiefs, of which three thousand gave their names to their seigneurs. All seigneurs who possessed three châtellenies and a walled hamlet (ville close) had the right of administering justice without reference to a higher court. There were something more than seven thousand of these villes closes, within which, or on the lands belonging to the seigneurs thereof, were one million eight hundred and seventy-two thousand monuments, — churches, monasteries, abbeys, châteaux, castles, and royal or episcopal palaces. It was thus that religious, civic and military architecture grew side by side and, when new styles and modifications came in, certain interpolations were forthwith incorporated in the more ancient fabrics, giving that mélange of picturesque walls and roofs which makes France the best of all lands in which to study the architecture of mediævalism. Among these medieval relics were interspersed others more ancient, — Roman and Greek basilicas, temples, baths, arenas, amphitheatres and aqueducts in great profusion, whose remains to-day are considerably more than mere fragments.
The hereditary aristocracy of France, the rulers and the noblesse of the smaller kingdoms, dukedoms and countships, were great builders, as befitted their state, and, being mostly great travellers and persons of wealth, they really surrounded themselves with many exotic forms of luxury which a more isolated or exclusive race would never have acquired. There is no possible doubt whatever but that it is the very mixture of styles and types that make the architecture of France so profoundly interesting even though one decries the fact that it is not national.
One well recognized fact concerning France can hardly fail to be reiterated by any who write of the manners and customs and the arts of mediæval times, and that is that the figures of population of those days bear quite similar resemblances to those of to-day. Historians of a hundred years back, even, estimated the total population of France in the fifteenth century as being very nearly the same as at the Revolution, — perhaps thirty millions. To-day eight or perhaps ten millions more may be counted, but the increase is invariably in the great cities, Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Rouen, etc. Oloron and Orthez in Béarn, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in Navarre, or Agde or Elne in Roussillon, remain at the same figure at which they have stood for centuries, unless, as is more often the case, they have actually fallen off in numbers. And still France is abnormally prosperous, collectively and individually, so far as old-world nations go.
Originally the nobility in France was of four degrees: the noblesse of the blood royal, the haute-noblesse, the noblesse ordinaire and the noblesse who were made noble by patent of the ruling prince. All of these distinctions were hereditary, save, in some instances, the noblesse ordinaire.
In the height of feudal glory there were accredited over four thousand families belonging to the ancienne noblesse, and ninety thousand familles nobles (descendant branches of the above houses) who could furnish a hundred thousand knightly combatants for any "little war" that might be promulgated.
Sometimes the family name was noble and could be handed down, and sometimes not. Sometimes, too, inheritance was through the mother, not the father; this was known as the noblesse du ventre. A foreign noble naturalized in France remained noble, and retained his highest title of right.
The French nobles most often took their titles from their fiefs, and these, with the exception of baronies and marquisats, were usually of Roman origin. The chief titles below the noblesse du sang royal were ducs, barons, marquis, comtes, vicomtes, vidames, and chevaliers and each had their special armorial distinctions, some exceedingly simple, and some so elaborate with quarterings and blazonings as to be indefinable by any but a heraldic expert.
The coats of arms of feudal France, or armoiries, as the French call them (a much better form of expression by the way), are a most interesting subject of study. Some of these armoiries are really beautiful, some quaint and some enigmatic, as for instance those of the King of Navarre.
The Revolutionary Assembly abolished such things in France, but Napoleon restored them all again, and created a new noblesse as well:
"Aussitôt maint esprit fécond en reveries,
"Inventa le blason avec les armoiries."
sang the poet Boileau.
Primarily armoiries were royal bequests, but in these days a pork-packer, an iron-founder or a cheese-maker concocts a trade-mark on heraldic lines and the thing has fallen flat. Fancy a pig sitting on a barrel top and flanked by two ears of corn, or a pyramid of cheeses overtopped by the motto "A full stomach maketh good health." Why it's almost as ridiculous as a crossed pick-axe, a shovel and a crow-bar would be for a navvy on a railway line! In the old days it was not often thus, though a similar ridiculous thing, which no one seemed to take the trouble to suppress, was found in the "Armoiries des gueux." One of these showed two twists of tobacco en croix, with the following motto: "Dieu vous bénisse!"
At the head of the list of French armoiries were those of domain or souveraineté.
Then followed several other distinct classes. "Armoiries de Pretention," where the patronal rights over a city or a province were given the holders, even though the province was under the chief domination of a more powerful noble.
"Armoiries de Concession," given for services by a sovereign prince — such as the armoiries belonging to Jeanne d'Arc.
"Armoiries de Patronage," in reality quarterings added to an armoirie already existing. These were frequently additions to the blazon-ings of families or cities. Paris took on the arms of the King of France, the insistent Louis, by this right.
"Armoiries de Dignité," showing the distinction or dignities with which a person was endowed, and which were added to existing family arms.
"Armoiries de Famille," as their name indicates, distinguishing one noble family from another. This class was further divided into three others, "Substituées," "Succession," or "Alliance," terms which explain themselves.
"Armoiries de Communauté," distinctions given to noble chapters of military bodies, corporations, societies and the like.
Finally there was a class which belonged to warriors alone.
At all times illustrious soldiers adopted a devise, or symbol, which they caused to be painted on their shields. These were only considered as armoiries when they were inherited by one who had followed in the footsteps of his ancestors. This usage dates from the end of the ninth century, and it is from this period that armoiries, properly called, came into being.
Feudal Flags and Banners
The banners of the feudal sovereigns were, many of them, very splendid affairs, often bearing all their arms and quarterings. They were borne wherever their owners went, — in war, to the capital, and at their country houses. At all ceremonious functions the banners were ever near the persons of their sovereigns as a sign of suzerainty. The owner of a banner would often have it cut out of metal and placed on the gables of his house as a weather-vane, a custom which, in its adapted form, has endured through the ages to this day. In tournaments, the nobles had their banners attached to their lances, and made therewith always the sign of the cross before commencing their passes. Also their banners or banderoles were hung from the trumpets of the heralds of their house.
Another variety of feudal standard, differing from either the bannière or the pennon, was the gonfanon. This was borne only by bacheliers, vassals of an overlord.
"N'i a riche hom ni baron
"Qui n'ait ait lui son gonfanon."
The feudal banner, the house flag of the feudal seigneurs, and borne by them in battle, was less splendid than the bannière royale, which was hung from a window balcony to mark a kingly lodging-place. It was in fact only a small square of stuff hanging from a transversal baton. This distinguished, in France, a certain grade of knights known as chevaliers-bannerets. These chevaliers had the privilege of exercising certain rights that other knights did not possess.
To be created chevalier-banneret one had to be twenty-one years of age. If a chevalier was already a bachelier, a grade inferior to that of a banneret, to become a full blown chevalier he had only to cut the points from his standard — a pennon — when it and he became a banneret; that is to say, he had the right to carry a banner, or to possess a fief de bannière.
There were three classes of fiefs in feudal France. First; the fief de bannière, which could furnish twenty-five combatants under a banner or flag of their own. Second; the fief de haubert, which could furnish a well-mounted horseman fully armed, accompanied by two or three varlets or valets. Third; the fief de simple écuyer, whose sole offering was a single vassal, lightly armed.
There was, too, a class of nobles without estates. They were known as seigneurs of a fief en l'air, or a fief volant, much like many courtesy titles so freely handed around to-day in some monarchies.
A vassal was a dweller in a fief under the control of the seigneur. The word comes from the ancient Frankish gessell.
The chevaliers, not the highest of noble ranks, but a fine title of distinction nevertheless, bore one of four prefixes, don, sire, messire, or monseigneur. They could eat at the same table with the monarch, and they alone had the right to bear a banner-lance in warfare, or wear a double coat of mail.
In 1481, Louis XI began to abolish the bow and the lance in France, in so far as they applied to effective warfare. The first firearms had already appeared a century before, and though the coulevrines and canons à main were hardly efficient weapons, when compared with those of to-day, they were far more effective than the bow and arrow at a distance, or the javelin, the pike and the lance near at hand. Then developed the arquebuse, literally a hand-cannon, clumsy and none too sure of aim, but a fearful death-dealer if it happened to hit.
The feudal lords, the seigneurs and other nobles, had the right of levying taxes upon their followers. These taxes, or impôts, took varying forms; such as the obligation to grind their corn at the mills of the seigneur, paying a heavy proportion of the product therefor; to press their grapes at his wine-press, and bake their bread in his ovens. At Montauban, in the Garonne, one of these old seigneurial flour mills may still be seen. The seigneurs were not ostensibly "in trade," but their control of the little affairs of the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker virtually made them so.
More definite taxes — demanded in cash when the peasants could pay, otherwise in kind — were the seigneurial taxes on fires; on the right of trade (the sale of wine, bread or meat); the vingtaine, whereby the peasant gave up a twentieth of his produce to the seigneur; and such oddities as a tax on the first kiss of the newly married; bardage, a sort of turnpike road duty for the privilege of singing certain songs; and on all manner of foolish fancies.
After the taxation by the seigneurs there came that by the clerics, who claimed their "ecclesiastical tenth," a tax which was levied in France just previous to the Revolution with more severity, even, than in Italy.
Finally the people rose, and the French peasants delivered themselves all over the land to a riot of evil, as much an unlicensed tyranny as was the oppression of their feudal lords. One may thus realize the means which planted feudal France with great fortresses, châteaux and country houses, and the motives which caused their destruction to so large an extent.
It was the tyranny of the master and the cruelty of the servant that finally culminated in the Revolution. Not only the petty seigneurs had been the oppressors, but the Crown, represented by the figurehead of the Bourbon king in his capital, put the pressure on the peasant folk still harder by releasing it on the nobles. The tax on the people, that great, vague, non-moving mass of the population, has ever produced the greatest revenue in France, as, presumably, it has elsewhere. In the days before the Revolution it was le peuple who paid, and it was the people who paid the enormous Franco-German war indemnity in 1871.
The feudality in France, in its oppressive sense, died long years before the Revolution, but the aristocracy still lives in spite of the efforts of the Assembly to crush it — the Assembly and the mob who sang:
"Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira,
Les aristocrates à la lanterne
Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira,
Les aristocrates on les pendra!"
And the French noblesse of to-day, the proud old French aristocracy, is not, on the whole, as bad as it has frequently been painted. They may, in the majority, be royalists, may be even Bonapartists, or Orléanists, instead of republicans, but surely there's no harm in that in these days when certain political parties look upon socialists as anarchists and free-traders as communists.
The honour, power and profit derived by the noblesse in France all stopped with the Revolution. The National Assembly, however, refused to abolish titles. To do that body justice they saw full well that they could not take away that which did not exist as a tangible entity, and it is to their credit that they did not establish the new order of Knights of the Plough as they were petitioned to do. This would have been as fatal a step as can possibly be conceived, though for that matter a plough might just as well be a symbol of knighthood as a thistle, a jaratelle, a gold stick or a black rod.
In France a whole seigneurie was slave to the seigneur. Under feudal rule the clergy (not the humble abbés and curés, but the bishops and archbishops) were frequently themselves overlords. They, at any rate, enjoyed as high privileges as any in the land, and if the Revolution benefited the lower clergy it robbed the higher churchmen.
Just previous to the Revolution, the clergy had a revenue of one hundred and thirty million livres of which only forty-two million five hundred thousand livres accrued to the curés. The difference represents the loss to the "Seigneurs of the Church."
With the Revolution the whole kingdom was in a blaze; famished mobs clamoured, if not always for bread, at least for an anticipated vengeance, and when they didn't actually kill they robbed and burned. This accounts for the comparative infrequency of the feudal châteaux in France in anything but a ruined state. Sometimes it is but a square of wall that remains, sometimes a mere gateway, sometimes a donjon, and sometimes only a solitary tower. All these evidences are frequent enough in the provinces of the Pyrenees, from the more or less complete Châteaux of Foix and of Pau, to the ruins of Lourdes and Lourdat, and the more fragmentary remains of tltrera, Ruscino and Coarraze.
The mediæval country house was a château; when it was protected by walls and moats it became a castle or château-fort; a distinction to be remarked.
The château of the middle ages was not only the successor of the Roman stronghold, but it was a villa or place of residence as well; when it was fortified it was a chastel.
A castle might be habitable, and a château might be a species of stronghold, and thus the mediæval country house might be either one thing or the other, but still the distinction will always be apparent if one will only go deeply enough into the history of any particular structure.
Light and air, which implies frequent windows, have always been desirable in all habitations of man, and only when the château bore the aspects of a fortification were window openings omitted. If it was an island castle, a moat-surrounded château, — as it frequently was in later Renaissance times, — windows and doors existed in profusion; but if it were a feudal fortress, such as one most frequently sees in the Pyrenees, openings at, or near, the ground-level were few and far between. Such windows as existed were mere narrow slits, like loop-holes, and the entrance doorway was really a fortified gate or port, frequently with a portcullis and sometimes with a pont-levis.
The origin of the word château (castrum, castellum, castle) often served arbitrarily to designate a fortified habitation of a seigneur, or a citadel which protected a town. One must know something of their individual histories in order to place them correctly. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, châteaux in France multiplied almost to infinity, and became habitations in fact.
In reality the middle ages saw two classes of great châteaux go up almost side by side, the feudal château of the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, and the frankly residential country houses of the Renaissance period which came after.
For the real, true history of the feudal châteaux of France, one cannot do better than follow the hundred and fifty odd pages which Viollet-le-Duc devoted to the subject in his monumental "Dictionnaire Raisonée d'Architecture."
In the Midi, all the way from the Italian to the Spanish frontiers, are found the best examples of the feudal châteaux, mere rains though they be in many cases. In the extreme north of Normandy, at Les Andelys, Arques and Falaise, at Pierrefonds and Coney, these military châteaux stand prominent too, but mid-France, in the valley of the Loire, in Touraine. especially, is the home o( the great Renaissance country house.
The royal châteaux, the city dwellings and the country houses of the kings have perhaps the most interest for the traveller. Of this class are Chenonceaux and Amboise, Fontaine-bleau and St. Germain, and, within the scope of this book, the paternal château of Henri Quatre at Pau.
It is not alone, however, these royal residences that have the power to hold one's attention. There are others as great, as beautiful and as replete with historic events. In this class are the châteaux at Foix, at Carcassonne, at Lourdes, at Coarraze and a dozen other points in the Pyrenees, whose architectural splendours are often neglected for the routine sightseeing sanctioned and demanded by the conventional tourists.
There are no vestiges of rural habitations in France erected by the kings of either of the first two races, though it is known that Chilperic and Clotaire II had residences at Chelles, Compiègne, Nogent, Villers-Cotterets, and Creil, north of Paris.
The pre-eminent builder of the great fortress châteaux of other days was Foulques Nerra, and his influence went wide and far. These establishments were useful and necessary, but they were hardly more than prison-like strongholds, quite bare of the luxuries which a later generation came to regard as necessities.
The refinements came in with Louis IX. The artisans and craftsmen became more and more ingenious and artistic, and the fine tastes and instincts of the French with respect to architecture soon came to find their equal expression in furnishings and fitments. Hard, high seats and beds, which looked as though they had been brought from Rome in Cæsar's time, gave way to more comfortable chairs and canopied beds, carpets were laid down where rushes were strewn before, and walls were hung with cloths and draperies where grim stone and plaster had previously sent a chill down the backs of lords and ladies. Thus developed the life in French châteaux from one of simple security and defence, to one of luxurious ease and appointments.
The sole medium of communication between many of the French provinces, at least so far as the masses were concerned, was the local patois. All who did not speak it were foreigners, just as are English, Americans or Germans of to-day. The peoples of the Romance tongue stood in closer relation, perhaps, than other of the provincials of old, and the men of the Midi, whether they were Gascons from the valley of the Garonne, or Provençaux from the Bouches-du-Rhône were against the king and government as a common enemy.
The feudal lords were a gallant race on the whole; they didn't spend all their time making war; they played boules and the jeu-de-paume, and held court at their château, where minstrels sang, and knights made verses for their lady loves, and men and women amused themselves much as country-house folk do to-day.
following, extracted from the book of accounts of one of the minor
noblesse of Béarn in the sixteenth century, is intimate and
interesting. The master of this feudal household
system of bookkeeping which modern chatelaine might adopt with
advantage. The items are curiously disposed.
Evidently "la mulette" was a very necessary adjunct and required quite as much as its master.