In the heart of Paris, rue Etienne Marcel, stands one of the last remaining vestiges of medieval Paris, the Jean sans Peu towerr. Ostentatious mark of the Burgundian presence in the troubled Paris of the early 15th century, it is a must for anyone passionate about medieval history, in particular the Hundred Years War.
The kingdom of France and the appetite of the dukes
The context is turbulent to say the least, and we must therefore come back to it. On the death of Charles V in 1380 he was succeeded by his son Charles VI. His father was nicknamed "the Sage", but Charles VI will show signs of weakness caused by fits of madness. He is young at the beginning of his reign, and can not do much against the rivalries which increase within the great families of France, in a France shaken by many revolts. The regency was entrusted to Louis I of Anjou, but he quickly became greedy and claimed custody of the Dauphin and his brother, the future Louis of Orleans, which angered Jean de Berry and Philippe le Bold, duke of Burgundy. The Duke of Anjou then had to withdraw and decided to turn to the Anjou possessions of the Mediterranean, which mainly benefited Philippe le Bold. The latter dismisses the king's advisers and places his pawns.
The king comes to power when he comes of age, but he is in fact surrounded by the men of the Duke of Burgundy. Yet, at the age of 20, he decided to break free from this cumbersome tutelage and that of his uncle Jean de Berry, in favor of the Marmousets, a team of influential advisers. But in 1392 Charles VI experienced his first fit of madness: the Marmousets were dismissed, the dukes regained control.
It was Philippe the Bold who took advantage of the situation first, effectively ruling during the periods when the king was immobilized by his crises. His influence was contested by the king's brother, Louis of Orleans, but it was not until 1404 and the death of the Duke of Burgundy that the tension increased by several notches and the war took shape around the throne. The son of Philippe le Bold, Jean sans Peur, intends to claim the succession of his father, to the detriment of the brother of Charles VI; in fact, the situation was hardly positive for the Duchy of Burgundy at the time. Jean sans Peur did not hesitate to use violence to solve the problem: he had Louis of Orleans assassinated in 1407! War then begins between Armagnacs and Burgundians, with not far away a very interested King of England. Entrenched in his hotel in Paris, Jean sans Peur exerted his influence on the king for several years; but he was assassinated in his turn in 1419. France, attacked by England in 1415 (Azincourt), was then on the brink ...
The construction of the Jean sans Peur tower
The hotel of the Dukes of Burgundy, of which stands the tower, is in fact the old hotel of the house of Artois, obtained by the nephew of Saint Louis, Robert, in 1270. Thanks to the union of the families of Artois and Burgundy, the hotel became the property of the latter in 1369. The place was then enlarged, but especially fortified from 1409: the tower was the main point of this fortification, while the hotel was located against the pregnant of Philippe Auguste. Jean sans Peur fears reprisals following his order to have Louis of Orleans assassinated. The fortification of this type of residence has been necessary since we know, with the events of Etienne Marcel in 1358, that the people of Paris can rise up. The Duke of Burgundy therefore spent a good part of his time there, protected by a close guard, while exerting all his influence on the increasingly weakened King of France. This does not prevent Jean sans Feur from being assassinated in his turn, far from the tower, in Montereau, under the eyes of the future Charles VII.
The visit of the Jean sans Peur tower
Of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, only this famous tower remains today. But it is one of the best-preserved medieval remains in Paris, an ostentatious mark of Burgundy's presence in the capital during the Hundred Years War and the troubled reign of Charles VI. The tower is therefore one of the must-see places on any visit to medieval Paris.
The tour consists of following numbered banners that clearly explain not only the construction of the tower, but also the context of the time, the life of people in the late Middle Ages, and in particular in this type of property. We thus climb the steps of the magnificent spiral staircase to visit each room where children can have fun looking for traces left by architects like signatures. A staircase which is overlooked by a splendid vault, unique in France, with plant motifs such as oak, hawthorn and hops, symbols of the Duchy of Burgundy and of the members of the Jean sans Peur family.
The tower also offers temporary exhibitions, such as the very successful "The Middle Ages in Comics" (until November 14, 2010). Guided tours are offered, in the tower but also in medieval Paris.
Little known, this "unique intact testimony of civil and fortified architecture of the Middle Ages in Paris" should therefore be discovered by those interested in medieval Paris, as well as by those who wish a pleasant and informative visit without the hustle and bustle of the city. Louvre very close.
For more information, see the site of the Jean sans Peur tower.
To read :
- R. Rivière, A. Lavoye, The Fearless John Tower, Association of Friends of the Jean sans Peur Tower, 2007.