Short Reads

A most casual death for one of the most badass lord of the 14th century

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 616, f. 113v

Gaston Phebus, count of Foix-Béarn, was certainly one of the most fearsome lords the Pyrenees have ever known. He dealt with kings on an equal footing. Fierce on the battlefield, he spared not even his relatives. As Froissart tells the tale, he imprisoned then killed his own son after he uncovered a secret plan the latter had concocted to have him assassinated.

Happy family.

You’d expect the most glorious death from a man that held ground with 25 armed men against a mob of 6000 according to the Poet’s disciple*. You’d expect a gory end to the man who wrote the hunting manual of the Middle Ages and had an army of 1500 hounds. Yet…

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 616, f. 73v

Gaston Phebus had reached the honourable age of sixty when I saw fit, one morning, to go down the way to Pamplona and hunt a bear. You read it right. A bear. Don’t fret, though. He slayed the beast then turned around. On his way back to his castle he stopped in a cosy little inn. It was the summer and there was no air conditioning of course back then, therefore the main hall had been covered with freshly cut green branches to cool down the room. Fairies would have settled there. Gaston talked hounds with his most loyal friend and servant, they remembered how valiant the dogs had been earlier that day as the bear was hunted, then two men brought a basin of water to the count of Foix so that he could wash his hands before the food be served.

Gaston Phebus washed his hands. He felt strange. “I’m dying!” he said. Less than thirty minutes later… he passed away from a sudden apoplexy (probably a stroke). It was later proved that the water had not been poisoned. The two men who’d brought the basin had to wash their own hands in it several times. However, whenever someone asks me to wash my hands I ask the following: “Do you want to see me dead?” But no one ever gets the reference.

Paris, BnF, MS fr. 616, f. 103r

Source: Froissart, Chronicle, ed. Académie royale de Belgique, vol. XI, p. 94-100; vol. XIV, p. 325-339

*The “Poet’s disciple” is no other than Eustache Deschamps, who granted his master, Guillaume Machaut, the title of “Poet”, ranking him as the equal of Virgil and Ovid.

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