1902 Encyclopedia > Paris > History - Mediaeval Paris

(Part 20)

History - Mediaeval Paris

Numerous calamities befell Paris from 586, when a terrible conflagration took place, to the close of the Merovingian dynasty. During a severe famine Bishop Landry sold the church plate to alleviate the distress of the people, and it was probably who, in company with St Eloi (eligius), founded the Hotel-Dieu. The kings in the long run almost abandoned the town, especially when the Austrasian influence under the mayors of the palace tended to shift the center of the Frankish power towards the Rhine.

Though the Merovingian period was for art a time of the deepest decadence, Paris was nevertheless adorned and enriched by pious foundation. Mention has already been made of the abbey of St Peter, which became after the death of Clovis the abbey of St Genevieve. On the same side of the river, but in the valley, Childebert, with the assistance of Bishop St Germain, founded St Vincent, known a little later as St Germain-des-Pres, which was the necropolis of the Frank kings before St Denis. On the right bank the same king built St Vincent le Rond (afterwards St Germain l’Auxerrois), and in La Cite, beside the cathedral of St Etienne, the basilica of Notre Dame, which excited the admiration of his contemporaries and in he 12th century obtained the title of cathedral. Various monasteries were erected on both sides of the river, and served to group in thickly-peopled suburbs the population, which had grown too large for the island.

The first Carlovingian, Pippin the Short occasionally lived at Paris, sometimes in the palace of Julian, sometimes in the old palace of the Roman governors of the town, at the lower end of the island; the latter ultimately became the usual residence. Under Charlemagne Paris ceased to be capital; and when feudal France was constituted under Charles the Bald it was liberally bestowed, like any ordinary place, on mere counts or dukes. But the dangers of the Norman invasion attracted general attention to the town, and showed that its political importance, could no longer be neglected. When the suburbs were pillaged and burned by the pirates, and the city regularly besieged in 885, Paris was heroically defended by its "lords," and the emperor Charles the fat felt bound to hasten from Germany to its relief. The pusillanimity which he showed in purchasing the retreat of the Norman was the main cause of his deposition in 887, while the courage displayed by Count Eudes procured him the crown of France. Robert, Eudes’s brother, succeeded him; and, although Robert’s son Hugh the Great was only duke of France and count of Paris, his power counterbalanced that of the last of the Carlovingians, shut up in Laon as their capital.

With Hugh Capet in 987 the capital of the duchy of France definitively became the capital of the kingdom, and in spite of the frequent absence of the kings, several of whom preferred to reside at Orleans, the town continued to increase in size and population, and saw the development of those institutions which were destined to secure its greatness. Henry I. founded the abbey of St Martin-des-Champs, Louis the Stout that of St. Victor, the mother-house of an order, and a nursery of literature and theology. Under Louis VII. the royal domain was the scene of one of the greatest artistic revolutions recorded in history: the Roman style of architecture was exchanged for the Pointed or Gothic, of which Suger, in his reconstruction of the basilica of St Denis, exhibited the earliest type. The capital could not remain aloof from this movement; several sumptuous buildings were erected; the Roman choir of St Germain-des-Pres was thrown down to give place to another more spacious and elegant; and when, in 1163, Pope Alexander had solemnly consecrated it, he was invited by Bishop Maurice de Sully to lay the first stone of Notre Dame de Paris, a cathedral on a grander scale than any previously undertaken. Paris still possesses the Roman nave of St Germain-des-Pres, preserved when the building was rebuilt in the 12th century; the Pointed choir, consecrated in 1163; and the entire cathedral of Notre Dame, which, completed sixty years later, underwent various modifications down to the beginning of the 14th century. The sacristy is modern; the site previous to 1831 was occupied by the Episcopal palace, also built by Maurice de Sully, who by a new street had opened up this part of the island.

Philip Augustus may be considered the second founder of Paris. He seldom quitted it save for his military expeditions, and he there built for himself, near St Germain l’Auxerrois, the Louvre, the royal dwelling par excellence, whose keep was the official center of feudalism. He created or organized a regular system of administration with its headquarters at Paris; and under his patronage the public lectures delivered at Pre-aux Clercs were regulated and grouped under the title of a university in 1200.

This university, the most famous and flourishing in Christendom, considerably augmented the local population, and formed as it were a new town on the left side of the river, where the important abbeys of St Genevieve, St Germain-des-Pres, and St Victor, and a vast Carthusian monastery already stood. Colleges were erected to receive the students of the different countries, and became the great meeting-place of the studious youth of all Europe. Returning to their native lands, where rank and honors awaited them, the pupils of the Paris university spread abroad the name and prestige of France; and sometimes they took home with them, or afterwards sent for, French artists, to whose wanderings must be ascribed the astonishing propagation in other countries of Pointed architecture.

The right side of the river, where commerce and industry had taken up their abode, and where the Louvre, the abbey of St Martin, and a large number of secondary religious establishments were already erected, became a center of activity at least as important as that on the left. The old suburbs, too, were now incorporated with the town and enclosed in the new line of fortifications constructed by Philip Augustus, which, however, did not take in the great abbeys on the left side of the river, and thus obliged them to build defensive works of their own.

Philip Augustus issued from the Louvre a celebrated order that the streets of the town should be paved. Not far from his palace, on the site of the present Halles Centrales, he laid out an extensive cemetery and a market-place, which both took their name from the Church of the Innocents, a building of the same reign, destroyed at the revolution. Fountains were placed in all the quarters. As for the lighting of the town, till the close of the 16th century the only lamps were those in front of the madonnas at the street corners. But the first "illumination" of Paris occurred under Philip Augustus: on his return from a victorious expedition to Flanders in 1214 he was welcomed by the Parisians as a conqueror; and the public rejoicings lasted for seven days, "interrupted by no night," says the chronicler, alluding to the torches and lamps with which the citizens lighted up the fronts of their houses. Ferrand, count of Flanders, the traitor vassal, was dragged behind the king to the dungeons of the Louvre, whose doors closed on him for ever.

In 1226 there was held at Paris a council which, by excommunicating Raymond VII., count of Toulouse, helped to prepare the way for the most important treaty which had as yet been signed in the capital. By this treaty (12th April 1229) Blanche of Castile obtained from Raymond VII. a great part of his possession, while the remainder was secured to the house of Capet through the marriage of Alphonse of Poitiers, brother of St Louis, with Jeanne, the last natural heiress of Languedoc.

In affection for his capital St. Louis equaled or even surpassed his grandfather Philip, and Paris reciprocated his goodwill. The head of the administration was at that time the provost of Paris, a judiciary magistrate and police functionary whose extensive powers had given rise to the most flagrant abuses. Louis IX. reformed this office and filled it with the judge of greatest integrity to be found in his kingdom. This was the famous Etienne Boileau, who showed such vigilance and uprightness that the capital was completely purged of evil-doers; the sense of security thus produced attracted a certain number of new inhabitants, and, to the advantage of the public revenue, increased the value of the trade. It was Etienne Boileau who, by the king’s express command, drew up those statutes of the commercial and industrial guilds of Paris which, modified by the necessities of new times and the caprice of princes, remained in force till the Revolution.

St Louis caused a partial restoration of St Germain l’Auxerrois, his parish church (completed in the 15th century, and deplorably altered under Louis XV.); and, besides preferring the palace of La Cite to the Louvre, he entirely rebuilt it, and rendered it one of the most comfortable residences of his time. of this edifice there still remain, among the buildings of the present Palais de Justice, the great guard-room, the kitchens with their four enormous, chimneys, three round towers on the quay, and, one of the marvels of the Middle Ages, the Sainte Chapelle, erected in 1248 to receive the crown of thorns sent from Constantinople. This church, often imitated during the 13th and 14th centuries, is like an immense shrine in open work; its large windows contain admirable stained glass of its own date, and the basements are adorned inside with pictures recently restored. It has a lower story ingeniously arranged, which served as a chapel for the palace servants. The Sainte Chapelle was designed by Pierre de Montereau, one of the most celebrated architects of his time, to whom is attributed another marvel still extant, the refectory of the abbey of St Martin, now occupied by the library of the Conservatoire des Arts et des Metiers. This incomparable artist was buried in the abbey of St Germain-des-Pres, where, too, he had raised magnificent buildings now no longer existing. Under St Louis, Robert de Sorbon, a common priest, founded in 1253 an unpretending theological college which afterwards became the celebrated faculty of the Sorbonne, whose decisions were well-nigh as authoritative as those of Rome.

The capital of France had but a feeble share in the communal movement which in the north characterizes the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Placed directly under the central power, it was never strong enough to force concession; and truth it did not claim them, satisfied with the advantages of all kinds secured for it by its political position and its university. And, besides, the privileges which it did enjoy, while they could be revoked at the king’s pleasure, were of considerable extent. Its inhabitants were not subjected to forced labor or arbitrary imposts, and the liberty of the citizens and their commerce and industry were protected by wise regulations. The university and all those closely connected with it possessed the fullest rights and liberties. There was a municipal or bourgeois militia, which rendered the greatest service to Philip Augustus and St Louis, but afterwards became an instrument of revolt. The communal administration devolved on echvins or jures, who, in conjunction with the notables, chose a nominal mayor called provost of the merchants (prevot des marchands). The powers of this official had been grievously curtained in favor of the provost of Paris, and his lieutenants named by the sovereign. His main duties were to regulate the price of provisions and to control the incidence of taxation on merchandise. He was the chief inspector of bridges and public wells, superintendent of the river police, and commander of the guard of the city walls, which it was also his duty to keep in repair. And, finally, he had jurisdiction in commercial affairs until the creation of the consular tribunals by L’Hopital (Lalanne, Dict. Historique de la France). The violent attempts made by Etienne Marcel in the 14th century, and those of the communes of 1793 and 1871, showed what reason royalty had to fear too great an expansion of the municipal power at Paris.

The town council met in the 13th and 14th centuries in an unpretending house on Ste Genevieve, near the city walls on the left side of the river. The municipal assemblies were afterwards held near the Place de Greve, on the right side of the river, in the :Maison aux Piliers," which Francis I. allowed to be replaced by an imposing hotel de ville.

The last of the direct descendants of Capet, and the first two Valois did little for their capital. Philip the Fair, however, increased its political importance by making it the seat of the highest court in the kingdom, the parlement, which he organized between 1302 and 1304, and to which he surrendered a part of his Cite palace. Under the three sons of Philip the Fair, the Tour de Nesle, which stood opposite, on the site now occupied by the buildings of the Institute, was the scene of occupied by the buildings of the Institute, was the scene of frightful orgies, equally celebrated in history and romance. One of the queens who, if the chronicles are to be trusted, took part in these expiated her crimes in Chateau-Gaillard, where she was strangled in 1315 by order of her husband, Louis X. During the first part of the war of the Hundred Years, Paris escaped being taken by the English, but felt the effects of the national misfortunes. Whilst destitution excited in the country the revolt of the Jacquerie, in the city the miseries of the time were attributed to the vices of the feudal system, and the citizens seemed ready for insurrection. The provost of the merchants, Etienne Marcel, equally endowed with courage and intellect, sought to turn this double movement to account in the interest of the municipal liberties of Paris and of constitutional guarantees. The cause which he supported was lost through the violence of his own acts. Not content with having massacred two minister under the very eyes of the dauphin Charles, who was regent whilst his father John lay captive in London, he joined the Jacquerie, and was not afraid to call into Paris the kind of Navarre, Charles the Bad, a notorious firebrand who at that time was making common cause with the English. Public sentiment, at first favorable to Marcel’s schemes, shrank from open treason. A watch was set on him, and, at the moment when, having, the keys of the town in his possession in virtue of his office, he was preparing to open one of the gates, he was assassinated by order of Jean Maillard, one of the heads of the malice, on the night of July 31, 1358. Marcel had enlarged Philip Augustus’s line of fortification on the right side of the river, and had commenced a new one.

When he became king in 1364, Charles V. forgot the outrages he had suffered at the hands of the Parisians during his regency. He robbed the Louvre to some extent of its military equipment, in order to make it a convenient and sumptuous residence; his open-work staircases and his galleries are mentioned in terms of the highest praise by writers of the time. this did not, however, remain always his favorite palace; having built or rebuilt in the St. Antoine quarter the mansion of St Paul or St Pol, he was particularlt fond of living in it during the latter part of his life, and it was there that he died in 1380. it was Charles V. who, in conjunction with the provost of the merchants, Hugues Aubriot, erected the famous Bastille to protect the St Antoine gate. A library which he founded- a rich one for the times-became the nucleus of the national library. With the exception of someof the upper portions of the Sainte Chapelle, which were altered or reconstructed by this prince or his son Charles VI., there are no remains of the buildings of Charles V.

The reign of Charles VI. Was as disastrous for the city as that of his father had been prosperous. From the very accession of the new king, the citizens, who had for some time been relieved by a great reduction of the taxes, and had received a promise of further alleviation, found themselves subjected to he most odious fiscal exactions on the part of the king’s uncle, who was not satisfied with the well-stored treasury of Charles V., which he had unscrupulously pillaged. Aubriot, having ventured to remonstrate, was thrown into prison as a heretic, and in 1382 a riot took place for the purpose of delivering the provost and seizing the fiscal agents. Preoccupied with his expedition against the Flemings, Charles VI. Delayed putting down the revolt, and for the moment remitted the new taxes. On his victorious return on 10th January 1383, the Parisians in alarm drew up their forces in front of the town gates under the pretext of showing their sovereign what aid he might derive from them, but really in order to intimidate him. They were ordered to retire within the walls and to lay down their arms, and they obeyed. The king and his uncles, having destroyed the gates, made their way into Paris as into a besieged city; and with the decapitation of Desmarets, one of the most faithful servants of the crown, who perished at the age of seventy, began a series of bloody executions. Ostensibly through the intercession of the regents an end was put to that species of severities, a heavy fine being substituted, much larger in amount than the annual value of the abolished taxes. The municipal administration was suspended for several years, and its functions bestowed on the provost of Paris, a magistrate nominated by the crown.

The calamities which followed were due to the weakness and incapacity of the Government, given over because of the madness of Cahrles VI. To the intrigues of a wicked queen and of princes who brought the most bloodthirsty passions to the service of their boundless ambition. First came the rivalry between the dukes of Orleans and Burgundy, brought to an end in 1407 by the assassination of the former in Rue des Francs-Bourgeois. Next followed the relentless struggle for supremacy between two hostile parties, the Armagnacs on one side, commanded by Court Bernard of Armangnac (who for a brief period had the title of constable), and supported by the nobles and burgesses, and on the other side the Burgundians, depending on the common people, and recognizing the duke of Burgundy (John the Bold) as their head. The mob was headed by a skinner at the Hotel-Dieu called Jean Caboche, and hence the name Cabochians given to the Burgundian party. They became masters of Paris in 1412 and 1413; but so violent were their excesses that the most timid rose in revolt, and the decimated borgeoisie managed by a bold stroke to recover possession of the town. The Armagnacs again entered Paris, but their intrigues with England and their tyranny rendered them odious in their turn; the Burgundians were recalled in 1418, and returned with Jean Caboche and a formidable band of pillagers and assassins. Perrinet Leclerc, son of a bourgeois guard, secretly opened the gates to them one night in May. The king resided in the Hotel St Paul, an unconscious spectator of those savage scenes which the princes Louis and John,successively dauphins, were helpless to prevent.
The third dauphin, Charles, afterwards Charles VII., managed to put an end to the civil war, but it was by a crime as base as it was impolitic – the assassination of John the bold on the bridge of Montereau (1419). Next year a treaty, from the ignominy of which Paris happily escaped, gave a daughter of Charles VI. To Henry V. of England, and along with her, in spite of the Salic law, the crown of France. The king of England made his entry into Paris in December 1420, and was there received with a solemnity which ill concealed the misery and real consternation of the poor people crushed by fifteen years of murders, pillage, and famine. Charles VI. Remained almost abandoned at the Hotel St Paul, where he died in 1422, whilst his son-in-law went to hold a brilliant court at the Louvre and Vincennes. Henry V. of England also died in 1422. His son Henry VI., then one year old, came to Paris nine years later to be crowned at Notre Dame, and the city continued under the government of the duke of Bedford till his death in 1435.

The English rule was a mild one, but it was not signalized by the execution of any of those works of utility or ornament so characteristic of the kings of France. The choir of St. Severin, however, shows a style of architecture peculiarly English, and Sauval relates that the duke of Bedford erected in the Louvre a fine gallery decorated with paintings. Without assuming the mission of delivering Paris, Joan at Arc, remaining with Charles VII. after his coronation at Theims, led him towards the capital; but the badly conducted and abortive enterprise almost proved fatal to the Maid of Orleans, who was severely wounded at the assault of the gate of St Honore on the 8th September 1429. The siege having been raised, Charles awaited the invitation of the Parisians themselves upon the defection of the Burgundians and the surrender of St Denis. The St Jacques gate was opened by the citizens of the guard to the constable Arthur of Richemont on April 13, 1436; but the solemn entry of the kind did not take place till November 12 of the following year; subsequently occupied by his various expeditions or attracted by his residences in Berry or Touraine, he spent but little time in Paris, where he retired either to the Hotel St Paul or to a neighboring palace, Les Tournelles, which had been acquired by his father.

Louis XI. made equal use of St Paul and Les Tournelles, but towards the close of his life he immured himself at Plessis-les-Tours. It was in his reign, in 1469, that the first French printing press was set up in the Sorbonne. Charles VIII. scarcely left Plessis-les-Tours and Amboise except to go to Italy; Louis XII. alternated between the castle at Blois and the palace of Les Tournelles, where he died January 1, 1515.

Francis I. lived at Chambord, at Fontainebleau, at St Germain, and at Villers-Cotterets; but he proposed to form at Paris a residence in keeping with the taste of the Renaissance. Paris had remained for more than thirty years almost a stranger to the artistic movement begun between 1498 and 1500, after the Italian expedition. Previous to 1533, the date of the commencement of the Hotel de Ville and the church of St Eustache, Paris did not possess, apart from the "Court of Accounts," any important building in the new style. Between 1527 and 1540 Francis I. demolished the old Louvre, and in 1541 Pierre Lescot began a new palace four times as large, which was not finished till the reign of Louis XIV. The buildings were not sufficiently advanced under Henry II. to allow of his leaving Les Tournelles, where in 1559 he died from a wound received at a tournament. His widow, Catherine de’ Medici, immediately caused this palace to be demolished, and sent her three sons-Francisc II., Charles IX., and Henry III. – to the unfinished Louvre. Outside the line of the fortifications she laid the foundations of the Chateau des Tuileries as a residence for herself.

Of the three brothers, it was Charles IX., who resided most at the Louvre; it was there that in 1572 he signed the order for the massacre of St Barthrolomew. Henry III. remained for the most part at Blois, and hardly came to Paris except to be witness of the power of his enemies the Guises.

Taking advantage of the absence of the kings, the league had made Paris a center of opposition. The municipal militia were restored and reorganized; each of the sixteen quarters or arrondissements had to elect a deputy for the central council, which became the council or rather faction of The Sixteen, and for four years, from 1587 to 1591, held the city under a yoke of iron. Henry III., having come to the louver in 1588, unwillingly received there the duke of Guise, and while endeavoring to take measures for his own protection provoked a riot known as the Day of the barricades. It was with difficulty that he escaped from his palace, which at that time had no communication with the country, and which Henry IV. afterwards proposed to unite with the Tuileries in order to provide a sure means of escape in case of need.

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