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Many believe that the meaning of life is in the memory one leaves about oneself; that it is somehow related to the imprint people leave on their children, friends, and humanity, in general.
The trick has always been in measuring that impact, but now google makes it easy.
“William Shakespeare” lands 87m results, but “Kim Kardashian” comes ahead with 203m. While common sense dictates the playwriter has had a bigger impact on humanity than a good-for-nothing TV celebrity, google does reflect the true state of affairs as it is now. The only consolation, perhaps, can be found in the future. Kim Kardashian will dissipate into nothingness, but google will keep adding some more Shakespeare links each year, and in a hundred years, Ms Kardashian will stay put at, say, 300m results, but Shakespeare will be celebrating a couple billion. It is also possible that given the state of affairs as it is now, Shakespeare will fade away, getting replaced by Kim Kardashian.
I understand the number of google hits may not be an accurate judge of historical memory, especially Google.co.uk when it comes to all matters French, but it is the only measurement available to me right now. I will tell you what happened to the characters of my story after Agnes died, and google will assist me in measuring their historical worth. I am colouring Agnes’ friends in blue, and her enemies in green. Neutrals stay black.
Agnes Sorel, 568,000 results Upon her death, her heart was buried at one place, and the rest of her remains at another. The abbey in which her heart was interred is now a romantic ruin.
Jumièges Abbey, where Agnes’ heart was buried
The tomb made for her heartless body is one of the best sculptural examples of the budding French Renaissance. Her middle daughter Charlotte married Jacques de Breze, the son of Pierre de Breze (310K google hits), the man who introduced Agnes to the royal court and made a spectacular career out of it. This marriage was based on need rather than love.
Pierre de Breze’s influence with Charles VII waned after Agnes’ death, and he lost everything when Charles’ son, Louis, ascended to the throne: they were almost mortal enemies. So, Pierre arranged the marriage to win back royal favours, for Louis, as strange as it may sound, and as bizarre as it really was, loved his bastard sisters.
The irony here is that Pierre de Breze did win the royal favours with this marriage only to get himself killed in a battle a few years later.
The drama of the story is that this marriage without love backfired big time.
Charlotte bore Jacques five children. She was 31 when her husband discovered she was having an affair with his chief huntsman. Tipped off by “a friend”, he stormed into her bedroom when the two lovers were enjoying the company of each other. First, he killed the huntsman, and then his own wife. He was put on trial, of course, and had to do serious time before King Charles VIII (the grandson of Charles VII who was Charlotte’s father) pardoned him.
But wait, that’s not the end of it.
Their son, Louis, married Diane de Poitiers as his second wife (she was 16 at the time, and her husband was 39 years her older). Diane de Poitiers (400K+ google hits), in turn, became a famous royal mistress (being 20 years older than her royal lover, by the way – whoever said men don’t love brains was wrong at least once). At one point, Diane’s husband discovered a plot against the king, being unaware that his father-in-law was involved in it. The king spared the life of Diane’s dad when his head was already placed on the block, waiting for the axe to fall.
I don’t know if karma keeps working postmortem, but isn’t it too much of a punishment for the sin of being a king’s mistress?
Jacques Coeur, 1,360,000 google results
You already know that poisoning charges were meant only to have him arrested and allow the conspirators to unravel his business schemes and expose a little fraud here and there. The king, convinced Jacques stole from him, sentenced him to death which was replaced by a confiscation of assets, a huge fine, and public penance.
Afterwards, he was exiled to a monastery, from which he escaped to Rome where the Pope offered him friendship, asylum, and a change of clothes. The Pope then sent him on a crusading mission as a fleet commander, but he died on one of the islands on his way to military glory before the said glory could be achieved.
Never lend money to kings or tyrants who may feel obliged to pay it back, especially if you stole some of the money from them in the first place. This obvious truth is still very much valid. I am sure some Russian oligarchs might benefit from reading the story of Jacques Coeur.
I also feel the French predilection for robbing their successful and rich whenever the State needs cash might be rooted in their history, and thus, is incurable. Knight Templars, Jacques Coeur, Nicolas Fouquet, and the recent 75% tax on high incomes: the list goes on and on.
Antoinette de Maignelais, 5,560 google results
She became both a mistress and provider of young girls for the king, effectively running the royal brothel until the time when Charles descended into madness. She had a bigger political sway than Agnes Sorel. Not because she was loved more, or cleverer than her cousin: she simply was focused on her personal gain more than on anything else.
Fearful of the very probable dauphin’s retribution after Charles’ death, she volunteered to become Louis’ informant, sending him letters in which she described everything that was happening at Charles’ court. Louis arranged for one of these letters to fall into the hands of a loyal attendant of his father. Antoine de Chabannes was mentioned in it as a participant of a plot against the king. Louis wanted de Chabannes, who busted Louis’s own plot some fifteen years earlier, out of his way, but Charles VII was quite capable of seeing through his son’s tricks. Antoine de Chabannes’ remained the king’s most trusted man. There’s more on him further on.
Her stunt as the dauphin’s secret agent worked well, though, perhaps, not as Antoinette originally intended. I am sure she thought she could become Louis’ lover (who, just like his father, was infatuated with her cousin), but Louis could not afford to keep the She-Pimp of his father at the palace after he became king. A few years before his father died, he arranged a “transfer” of the 27-year-old Antoinette to the court of the Duke of Brittany, making her… the Duke’s mistress. She bore the Duke four children, before dying soon after her 40th anniversary.
Oh, remember the estate her father won from a powerful neighbour in exchange for her becoming the king’s new mistress? Well, after the king’s death, the neighbour won it back.
Google seems to have forgotten her, even though her partner in the fake marriage, André de Villequier, scores a healthy dose of 155,000 google hits.
Etienne Chevalier, 663,000 google results
This exemplary knight, man, and king’s servant was promoted to the Treasurer of France the year the Melun diptych was completed, in 1452. His friend Jacques Coeur was still in prison on ridiculous poisoning charges. As the Treasurer, Etienne was responsible for collecting income from, and managing royal properties. He kept this position when Charles VII died, and his son Louis became the king.
Yet, it was not his prominent court position that made him famous enough to show up in 663,000 links on google. It was his investment in art, among which the Melun Diptych fades in importance to his Book of Hours (a personalised prayer book) that was illuminated by the same artist who did most of the paintings that illustrated this story, Jean Fouquet. You can enjoy some of the illustrations here.
Jean Fouquet. 595,000 google results
Louis XI made him his court painter, which seems to be quite logical as he was obviously the best French painter at the time. The concept of Spaniards becoming the best French painters was yet to be invented some four hundred years later. It is somewhat unfair that Jean Fouquet gets fewer links in google today than Etienne Chevalier, who got famous because of Fouquet.
Robert Pointevin (google hits are meaningless, as there are too many robert pointevins around nowadays)
He remained the personal doctor of Charles VII and then his son Louis XI, maintaining his position of the top medical scientist in France.
Guillaume Gouffier, 49,100 google results
The guy could be Exhibit No.1 in the gallery of “Plotters that got caught up in their plotting”.
He dispatched Agnes, eliminated Jacques Coeur, and began his rise to wealth and power. He got lands from the estates of Agnes Sorel, received a share of Coeur’s assets, and was promoted to the king’s inner council. After seven years of this ballistic rise he crashed with a loud bang. He was accused of practicing sympathetic magic on his Lord and Master (falsely) and was tortured into confession.
Sympathetic magic has nothing to do with sympathy or love potions. It uses the principle of similarity between objects to link them up in magical ways. While a voodoo doll would be a popular practical example, the principle more often is manifested in folk medicine beliefs such as the one about walnuts being good for the brain because the nut resembles it. If you believe red juices are good for blood circulation or phallic-shaped vegies improve potency, you are a practitioner.
The funny thing about Gouffier’s trial was not that it ended in a confiscation of assets, but that he got a restriction order. He was not to get closer than 30 leagues to the king. It’s more than 160 kilometres, or 100 miles. Many an estranged wife would welcome such a radius today.
Antoine de Chabannes, 190,000 google results
Antoine de Chabannes: Upright and attractive royal servant
His was fine until the demise of Charles VII. The moment the dauphin became king, de Chabannes lost his properties, his title, and was banished to Rhodes. Someone who busted the dauphin’s plot against his father should expect something like that, don’t you think? Except, perhaps, the beautiful island of Rhodes as the place of banishment.
But, being an honest fighter, he was restless. He escaped the sunny beaches of the Greek paradise to join a league of nobles who were fighting Louis XI’s attempts at absolutising his power. After some years of fighting, he made peace with the king, who had a grudging respect for honesty, and was right to believe that a scheming spider like himself would be safer among upright former enemies than deceitful friends.
De Chabannes was re-appointed Grand Master of France (the top manager of the royal household) and recovered his estates. When Louis established the Order of St.Michael, de Chabannes became one of the first knights in it. Interestingly, this Knightly Order links up de Chabannes with Jean de Dinteville, the Ambassador on Holbein’s famous double portrait. They both wear the chain and the medallion of the order in their portraits.
P.S. If my series on Agnes Sorel has lit a spark of interest in you about her or French art history, you might be tempted to look for more serious writings on this topic. I was surprised to discover that there seems to be a surge of interest in the topic, and related activity lately.
Last year, French television produced a documentary on Agnes Sorel (in French), which can be found here:
It is not very informative, but it shows all the castles and beautiful views she might have enjoyed during her lifetime. I also learned that Agnes, like all women at the time who cared about their looks, had to pinch hair off her forehead up to the crown of her head. You can see it in her portraits. Yuck, that must have been painful.
I have also come across a book on Agnes (Agnes Sorel, Mistress of Beauty) published a few months ago. It is written by Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent. After wondering for some time what kind of writers need to put their royal title first, and their husband’s name second, I read two pages into it. Now I know the answer: it is the kind of writers that won’t ever be published unless they had a royal title to put first. Stay away from it.