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Dawn Wheeler of Missouri Valley College

Story by Dawn Wheeler

MVC course: Humanities I 

Dawn Wheeler of Missouri Valley College

(My name is Dawn Wheeler.  My life is a balancing act of being a wife, mother of two, work, and school. Mary Slater assigned this Imagination Paper in her Humanities I class.  I took the class online as part of my core requirements.  Humanities I was not my first choice as a Fine Arts class, but it was what worked with my schedule. It turned out to be my favorite class yet.)

It was an unusually damp, cold, spring morning. Little bits of frost glistened on the grass, and I could see my breath as I made my way through the budding gardens to the chapel on the north side of the manor grounds.

Today is, May 21, 1420 and my father,  Sir William Bourchier, Comte d’Eu, and his companions are arguing nonstop in the great hall.  His companions had burst into the great hall just as we returned from Mass.  They were showing no signs of leaving soon. My father and his friends are discussing the rumors that the “Mad King” is going to denounce his son as rightful heir to the French crown. Then the “Mad King” plans to name Henry V, the King of England, as his rightful successor to the French crown, with the hopes that the war between France and England will come to an end.  The King is also convinced his only son is a result of the Queen’s illicit affair. If indeed that is true, then Henry V might just be the next in line. I need to stop calling Charles VI the “Mad King” even if he is indeed insane. He is, after all, my king. Personally, I think King Charles is correct in his assumption of illicit affairs. I’ve heard the gossip, but nobody really cares what I think. My hatred runs deep for the English and I would rather see the king’s bastard on the throne than Henry.

The overpowering odors of the great hall, cooking, smoke, unwashed bodies and the loud, angry voices of my father and his friends are giving me a headache. I’ve decided to retire to the solar, away from all the noise and bustle of the manor. The solar is reserved for family, and is much smaller and more intimate than the great hall. Even though I’ve been married and widowed, I now live under my father’s roof. It is expected that I’m to do as he instructs. As a woman without means, I’m little more than his property. When I was seven, I was betrothed to a distant cousin in England. He died when I was 13, just two months before our wedding. At 17, I was coming to the realization I was probably going to spend the rest of my life in a convent if I wasn’t married within a couple of years. To tell the truth, it didn’t really matter. Like most girls of my rank in society, I had been sent to a monastery to be educated in the duties that went along with my station in life. I have been taught to read and write Latin, to sew, and to sing.

Just before my 18th birthday, I met the Duke of Gylpin, Pierre de Lussan d’ Gylpin. The Duke had come to spend a long weekend with my father hunting and hawking on our grounds. Perrier had married when he was 24 and had lost his wife some 20 years later. Pierre had sons older than me, but it didn’t matter. I was smitten.

We had so much in common; for one, the love of literature. We would read the poetry of the British commoner Geoffrey Chaucer, or his most famous work, The Canterbury Tales. Pierre would compose prose for me in Latin. We agreed on the beliefs of Christine de Pizan.  When Pierre ask my father for permission to marry me, I was so happy. Pierre promised me, after the wedding, he would introduce me to de Pizan; she was a distant cousin of his. I knew how lucky I was to be marrying a man I loved.  My sisters didn’t meet the men they were to marry until just before their wedding ceremonies.

As soon as father and Pierre started drawing up a marriage contract, agreed on a dowry, and posted the notice on the church door, my mother and I started planning a marriage ceremony.  Of course, the French king and queen would be invited. As would all the local nobles. My sisters wouldn’t be able to attend my wedding. They were married and lived in Scotland.  We had lived here in Troyes, for generations. Troyes is about 95 miles southeast of Paris, and nowhere near my sister’s in Edinburgh. I would probably never see my sisters because of the distance.  We had grown up here in Troyes, France, but because of the English, France was now allies with Scotland. The wretched English, who went against the breeding and bloodlines of the French nobility, in support of the lower classes, had caused factions of feudal warfare to erupt all over France and Flanders. It had something to do with the wine and mead that was being made in Flanders; I really never paid attention to the exact details. Because of England’s ridiculous attempts to gain a strong hold on French soil, we always have to do without some necessity, such as wine and mead, or spices and cloth from the Near East whose importation was hindered by the fighting. My mother, as Comtesse d’Eu, was in charge of castle’s daily routine. When she needed money for household expenditures, she went to my father’s steward who oversaw all of my father’s property and finances. My mother was the driving force who made sure that the chambermaids kept the manor clean and laundresses kept all the clothing of the entire population of the manor clean. My mother was in charge of the kitchens; she would plan the menus and kept the kitchen accounts.  This included keeping the buttery and all of the spices under lock and key.  Our peasants would rob us blind if we let them. As the “Lady” of the manor, my mother also oversaw the spinners, weavers, the stitchery and embroiderers, most of whom were men. It was my mother’s duty to keep everyone on the manor’s grounds clothed.  The Comtesse would also oversee the making of my houppelande wedding dress and Pierre’s wedding costume.

My houppelande was deep blue silk brocade, with gold thread woven through it; the silk brocade came from the East. (At least the English hadn’t kept the silk from being imported with their senseless wars.)  As with most dresses, my houppelande had sleeves that reached the floor getting wider as they fell in graceful folds from my arms.  The shimmering lining of the sleeves, which peeked from inside the folds, was of the palest shell pink also woven with threads of gold that glittered when the light bounced off of them. The edges of my long elegant sleeves were gently scalloped as was the hem.  The bust was fitted, with a gold band underneath the bust, high above the waist. The skirt fell lose from the belt in gentle folds with the front gathered up so the pink silk underdress could be admired.  The neck line, of my houppelande, was delicately embroidered with tiny pink and gold intricate flowers. Usually, only cloth for the church was embroidered.  I persisted until I wore my mother down, and she finally let me get my way. It wasn’t hard; she wanted my houppelande embroidered almost as much as I did. Pierre’s houppelande was golden brocade silk, also imported from the Ottoman Empire. A deep blue silk chaperon hat was worn as a cowl shape draping around his neck. He was as concerned about his clothing as most nobles were. That pleased me; I was excited about having coordinating costumes made for us as soon as I took over the household at his manor.

October 15, the year of our lord 1415, was my wedding day.  On my wedding day, I wore fragrant orange blossoms, woven in a crown, around my head. My long dark hair flowed loosely down my back.  I had plucked my hairline to make it higher on my scalp as did most of the women of nobility, including my sisters and mother. My perfume was the oil of crushed flowers combined with exotic spices from the Far East. It didn’t matter that civil wars were being fought all over France. It didn’t matter that the English King Henry V was waging war against France. Men fighting in battles seemed far away. I was in love.

Ten days later, I was widowed. My husband had been one of the many men who died at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He died before he was able to make provisions for me.  I was left with nothing. My hate for the English and their king deepened; England and her king it seemed had taken everything from me. Pierre’s son was the new Duke of Gylpin and his wife, the new Duchess. He and his household moved to manor. Perrier’s son and wife had no intention of including me in their life. I was sent packing back to my father.

I was roused from my past memories as my father burst into the solar, his steward following close behind. “That idiot of a king has signed a treaty with those English……!” the rest of what he was saying was not pretty.  The Comte’ was shouting orders on what to pack to his steward as he was giving my mother information.  My father would be traveling to pledge his allegiance to Henry V, in hopes that my family would not be ousted from our lands. With father and his steward gone, the responsibility of the manor house, the lands, and the peasants would fall to my mother. This war had interrupted and laid ruin to every aspect of my life since I was born. I had never known life without wars. I prayed to my God, that this was indeed a treaty of peace, no more loved ones dying, and that my station in life was not in jeopardy.

It has been five long years since the day my father left to pledge allegiance to Henry. The treaty didn’t last, my father kept his lands, and yes, I ended up in a convent. No more silks and satins caressing my body, no more succulent feasts on my table. But here is where I found Peace, as I slowly let my hatred of the English and their King evaporate. As most residents of monasteries and convents, I dedicate my life to the care of the sick and destitute. I lost everything, and yet, I’ve found happiness. I’ve realize my life before was self-centered and without purpose. Here I’m needed, and loved.  I’m in charge of the children who find their way to us.  A woman who never wanted children now can’t stand to be away from the children in her life. Yet here I am, leaving them.

It’s been years since the Black Death swept through the continent leaving nothing but dead bodies in its wake. We’ve heard rumors of small, isolated outbreaks.  I can hear the nuns whispering among themselves, “The Black Death is here again!”  Now the Black Death is here, rumor no more, and it has hit me hard with a high fever, pain, and delirium. Twice now Pierre has come to talk to me. I know the end is coming; the nuns have called in a priest to perform my last rites. I understand that my mother won’t make it here before I’m gone and that saddens me. Pierre is here again, he wants to go on a picnic, and maybe take the falcons and go hawking. A picnic and hawking sounds wonderful. I think I will change into a fresh houppelande, brush my hair and go with him.

 

Works Cited

“CARON Collection Features.” The CARON Collection – Online Magazine and Needlework Resources. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://www.caron-net.com/featurefiles/featjan.html>.

“Genealogy – Geni – Private Profile – Genealogy.” Geni. Web. 12 Apr. 2012. <http://www.geni.com/people/William-Bourchier-II-Count-of-Eu>.

“Historical Events for Year 1420.” Today in History, Birthdays & History Articles. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.historyorb.com/events/date/1420>.

“The Hundred Years’ War, 1336-1453.” WWW-VL. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <http://www.vlib.us/medieval/lectures/hundred_years_war.html>.

“Medieval Hunting History.” Medieval History: Medieval Architecture, Knightly Life, and Medieval Society. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <http://www.medieval-spell.com/Medieval-Hunting-History.html>.

“Medieval Life.” Castles Life. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <http://www.castlesandmanorhouses.com/life.htm>.

“Owen Tudor and Katherine of Valois.” TudorHistory.org. Web. 15 Apr. 2012. <http://tudorhistory.org/topics/owen.html>.

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COMMENTS

    • byRuth Cott
    • onMay 23, 2012

    Wonderful story Dawn! Your story makes the historical facts of that time “come alive!” You have a gift……

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