Chapter 19

The Lure of Italy

The lure of a foothold in Italy exerted the same pull on the French as a foothold in France exerted on the English. From the time the Duc d’Anjou crossed the Alps in 1382, the Angevin claim to the Kingdom of Naples drew France southward, creating a habit of intervention that was to persist on and off for 500 years. Its pattern was laid at the start, when Anjou’s expedition encountered misfortune almost at once and sent repeatedly throughout the year 1383 for reinforcement under the Sire de Coucy.

Angevins had ruled the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily since Charles of Anjou, younger brother of St. Louis, had been placed on the throne by papal influence in 1266. Sicily was absorbed by Aragon at the end of the century, but the Angevin dynasty retained the mainland portion, covering the entire lower half of Italy south of Rome, the largest domain on the peninsula.* Flourishing in commerce and culture, it enjoyed the civilized reign of King Robert, the “new Solomon” whose literary approval Petrarch came to seek. Boccaccio followed because he preferred residence in the “happy, peaceful, generous, and magnificent Naples with its one monarch” to his native republican Florence “devoured by innumerable cares.” Robert built his palace, Castel Nuovo, on the water’s edge facing Naples’ incomparable bay, where ships of Genoa, Spain, and Provence came to trade. Nobles and merchants added their palazzos alongside, bringing down Tuscan artists to fill them with frescoes and sculpture. Under just laws and a stable currency, with security of roads, hostels for traveling merchants, festivities, tournaments, music, and poetry, Robert’s reign, which ended in 1343, was said to be “something like Paradise.” Citizens could journey unarmed through Calabria and Apulia “except fora wooden club to defend themselves against dogs.”

The blight of the 14th century descended after the good King’s death. Robert’s talents petered out in his granddaughter and successor, Joanna, whose four ill-fated efforts to bolster the female succession by marriage brought turmoil culminating in the schism. The conflict of popes made Naples a battlefield. When Joanna opted for Clement and, at his instigation, named Anjou her heir, the furious Urban declared her deposed as a heretic and schismatic and crowned another Angevin descendant, Charles, Duke of Durazzo, as rightful King of Naples. Elevated from an obscure Albanian principality to a great Mediterranean kingdom, this prince took the throne as Charles III.

A small, fair-haired man said to resemble Robert in courage and geniality as well as love of learning, Charles of Durazzo did not let his good nature inhibit his struggle against Joanna. Within two months he had defeated her forces, established himself in the Castel Nuovo, and imprisoned the Queen in the hope of coercing her to appoint him her heir and thus legitimize his conquest. To put on the garment of legitimacy is the first aim of every coup. When Joanna refused to acknowledge him and Anjou entered Italy on his way to her aid, Charles did not hesitate. He had the Queen strangled in prison and her corpse exposed in the cathedral for six days before burial so that no doubt should be left of her death.

Anjou came by way of Avignon, where he, in turn, was crowned King of Naples, Sicily, and Jerusalem, including Provence, by Pope Clement, and his rival, Charles of Durazzo, was simultaneously excommunicated. Despite his persuasive arts, Anjou had been unable during the insurrections in France to collect enough funds to take him all the way to Naples and had tried in vain to persuade the Royal Council to finance his venture as a national war. Now, as sovereign of Provence, he minted huge quantities of coin and enriched his troops by allowing them freedom to loot his new subjects on the pretext of punishment for their recent rebelliousness. He collected additional money and forces from Pope Clement and was joined in his enterprise by that energetic nobleman, Amadeo, the Green Count of Savoy, who contributed 1,100 lances at a cost to Anjou of 20,000 ducats a month.

Replenished and leading an army of 15,000 “gorged with booty,” Anjou crossed into Lombardy followed by 300 pack mules and unnumbered baggage wagons. The Green Count’s equipment included an enormous green pavilion ornamented with twelve shields bearing the arms of Savoy in red and white, an emerald silk surcoat embroidered with the red-and-white device, twelve saddle-and-bridle sets all in green, and four others ornamented with “Hungarian ribbon knots” for his immediate retinue, and green shoes, hoods, and tunics for his pages. When, before leaving, certain of his barons objected to the venture on various grounds, he silenced them, saying with unhappy clairvoyance, “I will fulfill what I have promised even if it means my death.” Many notable lords joined under his banner “for love of the prowess and largesse they admired in him.”

In Milan, Visconti wealth supplied the largest portion of Anjou’s funds just as it had a very large portion of his father’s ransom, in exchange for the same kind of goods. Anjou’s seven-year-old son, Louis, was offered in betrothal to Bernabò’s daughter Lucia. For the prospect of a daughter as future Queen of Naples, Bernabò paid 50,000 florins—roughly equivalent to the annual income of about 100 bourgeois families*—plus an additional sum from Gian Galeazzo. Anjou was using every means to collect resources adequate for the fitting display of a king en route to his kingdom.

In plumed helmets and sumptuous pomp, loaded with gifts and honors, he and Amadeo and their knights left Milan, followed by such numbers of men and wagons as “seemed like an army of Xerxes.” They headed east for the difficult route down the Adriatic coast, because Florence, which opposed both Anjou and Durazzo, did not want the embarrassment—nor the pillaging—of their passage and had raised 6,000 men to block the road through Tuscany. According to the Monk of St. Denis—who, like his fellow monk Walsingham, took a sour view of marauding dukes—Anjou and his nobles flattered themselves that through them the Lilies of France would spread afar “the sweet perfume of glory.” As they rode, they celebrated their enterprise in song and verse and “fabulous recitals” of French valor.

Although Anjou had proclaimed his intention to “promote the fate of the Church by the force of chivalry”—that is, by force of arms—he failed to exert that force against Urban. Leaving the coast at Ancona to cross the Apennines early in September, he bypassed the road to Rome, although a bold effort might have taken the city at this time. Agents had brought word that Hawkwood’s White Company, promised for Urban’s defense, had been held back by Florence for her own protection. Instead, against the advice of Amadeo of Savoy, Anjou took the lower road for Naples, and as the army passed through defiles and across gorges, between peaks “that touched the sky,” calamity overtook them. Highland brigands, pulled by strings from Naples, attacked the baggage train and the rear guard escorting the treasure, with the result that Anjou arrived at Caserta, within a day’s march of Naples, very much poorer than when he set out. Reconnoitering terrain in advance was not part of medieval warfare because it was not part of tournaments. The clash was everything.

By this time it was November. On entering Neapolitan territory, Anjou had stopped for a week at Aquila to partake in welcoming ceremonies offered by partisans of his cause. The delays in his progress allowed time for Hawkwood, released by Florence, to come to his opponent’s aid. Now in need of a quick decision, Anjou sent the traditional challenge to Durazzo demanding a time and place of battle. Charles III proved elusive. Fortified in Castel Nuovo, he counted on outlasting Anjou and exhausting his resources until he could be easily beaten and any territory he had meanwhile taken, regained. Professing himself overjoyed to accept Anjou’s challenges, Charles kept him on the move, forcing him into the expense and fatigue of marches toward a combat that vanished at every approach.

In deepening anxiety by Christmastime, Anjou made a will and Amadeo, giving up hope of victory, proposed a negotiated peace. In return for Anjou relinquishing his claim to Naples, Charles of Durazzo was to relinquish his claim to Provence and give Anjou safe passage to the coast for return to France. Charles III rejected the terms. An arranged battle of ten champions on either side was then agreed upon and, as usual when the stakes were important, did not take place.

In February of 1383 an epidemic spread among the army in the mountains above Naples, carrying off large numbers, among them Amadeo of Savoy, at the age of 49. On March 1, a dreary year away from the snows of Savoy, the splendid green career came to an end. Hurriedly summoned, Anjou wept helpless tears at the deathbed.

Foiled and hungry, the Angevin forces retreated to the heel of Italy. All that remained of the kingly treasure was used to buy provisions. Anjou’s gold and silver plate brought little money and even his nuptial crown, which he had brought to serve at his coronation, had to be sold. The resplendent hauberk embroidered in gold, worn over his armor, went too, and he wore in its place a simple cloth with fleur-delys painted in yellow. In place of the delicate meats and pastries he was accustomed to, he ate rabbit stew and barley bread. As the months went by, starving pack animals could not move and war-horses, “instead of pawing the ground and whinnying with pride, languished with lowered heads like common beasts.”

Ever since he had left Paris, Anjou had been bombarding the Council by letter and messenger to fulfill its promise to finance a supplementary campaign against Naples under the command of Enguerrand de Coucy. While still in Avignon, he had urged his agent in Paris, Pierre Gérard, to make every effort to engage Coucy. No money was to be paid to him until he had committed himself in writing to join Anjou, but Gérard was instructed “always to proceed with this seigneur as graciously as possible.” Pope Clement urgently supported Anjou’s pleas to the crown, reporting “superb” offers from various parts of Italy and every promise of success, and expressing his deep chagrin at the refusal of the French Council to aid an enterprise on which the health of the Church depended. Nevertheless, Anjou was left dangling through the year of Roosebeke. Not until after the suppression of Paris, when the Treasury had been replenished by fines, was the crown ready to fulfill its promise. By this time Amadeo was dead and the “army of Xerxes” huddled in misery at Bari.

Coucy was ready and eager to go to Anjou’s aid. He was in constant consultation in Paris with Anjou’s chancellor, Bishop Jean le Fèvre, and repeatedly asked to know if Le Fèvre had obtained a positive reply from the King. At last, in April 1383, the Council agreed to give Anjou 190,000 francs, of which 80,000 represented aids levied on his own possessions. Just at that moment, England in a last infirmity of war hunger, launched yet another invasion. All energies were turned to meet it, and all men-at-arms, by order of the Duke of Burgundy, were prohibited from leaving the kingdom. Coucy’s expedition was frustrated. An army was indeed organized, not for Italy but once again for Flanders where the English had seized Dunkirk.

Led by Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, the English raid was the fruition of Urban’s effort for a “crusade” against schismatic France. It began in scandal and was to end in fiasco. The moral harm done to papal obedience in England by the methods of financing the “crusade” outweighed anything the papacy could have gained, even with success. Friars as papal agents were endowed with “wonderful indulgences” and extra powers to sell or, worse, to refuse absolution “unless the people gave according to their ability and estate.” Even the sacrament was at times withheld from parishioners who refused an offering to the crusade. Gold, silver, jewels, and money were collected, especially, according to Knighton, “from ladies and other women.… Thus the secret treasure of the realm, which was in the hands of women, was drawn out.” Protest was re-invigorated and evoked one of Wyclif’s last tracts, “Against Clerical Wars.” Lollard preachers denounced “these worldly prelates … chief captains and arrayers of Satan’s battles to exile good life and charity.” Because of the false nature of the absolutions, they said, “No tongue may tell how many souls go to hell by these cursed captains and Anti-Christs’ jurisdictions and censures.”

Norwich was a prelate not merely martial but actively bellicose. Though a bishop, he was described by Walsingham as “young, unbridled and insolent … endowed neither with learning nor discretion, experienced neither in preserving nor bestowing friendship.” By the time he had gathered sufficient funds and a force of about 5,000, his intended allies in Ghent were sadly subdued. He succeeded, however, after landing at Calais, in quickly taking Gravelines, Dunkirk, and Bourbourg on the Flemish coast. After laying siege to Ypres without success, he turned his attentions to Picardy, then defended by Coucy as Captain-General. Norwich withdrew without a fight when half his force under the veteran Sir Hugh Calveley refused to follow him farther. A greatly superior French army having now taken the field, Norwich hurriedly shut himself up in Bourbourg while Calveley made for Calais. “By my faith,” said that veteran captain in disgust, “we have made a most shameful campaign; none so poor or so disgraceful ever issued out of England.” Such was the result, he said, of believing “this Bishop of Norwich who wished to fly before he had wings.”

A huge French army settled down in August to the siege of Bourbourg, entertaining each other and visiting foreign knights in jousts and festivities of competitive splendor and valorous exploits designed “to raise the fame of their antique nobility.” In these activities Coucy made an impressive showing, especially for his equestrian style. Mounted on a beautiful horse and leading several others caparisoned in all the heraldic arms belonging to his house, “he rode from side to side in the most graceful manner to the delight of all who saw him, and all praised and honored him for his great air and fine presence.” Four months passed pleasurably before Bourbourg in very different mood from the fight against the commoners of the year before. The French exhibited no ardor for assault and, at the approach of winter, allowed the affair to be brought to an end through some tricky mediation by the Duke of Brittany. Norwich was bought off and went home to deficit and disgrace. England’s military repute, already declining for a decade, sank further, supplying moralists with a text against the injustices and oppressions of men of the sword. “God’s hand is against them,” said Thomas Brinton, Bishop of Rochester, “because their hand is against God.”

Although the belligerents could not know it, the Norwich invasion was destined to be the last of the century, though not of the war. Combat faded without bringing settlement between England and France any closer. Parleys began as usual after the siege of Bourbourg, but could agree on nothing better than a nine months’ truce signed in January 1384. Coucy was not this time one of the negotiators because he was engaged in a private war on behalf of his future relative, the Duc de Bar, his daughter’s prospective father-in-law, who very promptly paid him 2,000 francs to cover his expenses. Marie’s marriage to Henri de Bar was afterward celebrated in November.

All this time the Duchesse d’Anjou and her husband’s chancellor, Jean le Fèvre, were imploring the Council to deliver the promised aid. Anjou’s situation now was needier than ever because he had been robbed by one of his own nobles of 80,000 to 100,000 francs collected for him by his wife (or, according to other versions, borrowed from the Visconti). The robber, who ten years later was to commit another crime of historic consequence, was Pierre de Craon, a knight of noble birth and large estates who had accompanied the Duke to Italy. Sent by Anjou to fetch the money, Craon returned via Venice where he dissipated most of it in extravagant parties, gambling, and debauchery, supposedly from a desire to display himself in a style suitable to the sovereign he represented. He kept what was left and did not rejoin the Duke.

Such casual criminality against his lord seems close to incredible unless someone interested in Anjou’s failure and powerful enough to protect Craon from prosecution had put him up to it. That person could only have been the Duke of Burgundy, but that he would go so far as to ruin his brother seems far-fetched. When Craon returned to France, however, he did escape punishment through the protection of Burgundy to whose wife he was related.

The honor of France, in the eyes of the King and Council, could not allow Anjou to languish in failure nor give that much comfort to Pope Urban. In the spring of 1384, after truce was concluded with England, and after Burgundy, on the death of his father-in-law, entered into possession of Flanders, Coucy’s campaign of rescue was launched at last. It was already late to save Anjou, but Coucy was not a captain to fly before he had wings. In the duel of arms and wits he was about to wage in the heart of Italy, he showed himself adroit, responsible, and gifted with that magic faculty of emerging invincible from surrounding disaster.

In May before leaving, he founded, as he had before the Swiss campaign, a perpetual daily mass for himself and his successors, this time at the Abbey of St. Médard near Soissons, assuring him double coverage. Toward the cost of his expedition, the crown supplied 78,000 francs, of which 8,000 were to be repaid by the Pope. Another 4,000 was given to Coucy in compensation for the non-payment of aids promised him in the preceding year. He assembled an army estimated at 1,500 lances, amounting with foot soldiers and archers to a total of about 9,000 men. Miles de Dormans, the former Chancellor, who had been eager to go for the past year, joined with 200 lances. The bulk of the force was evidently made up by mercenaries, partly recruited in Avignon, where Coucy went first for consultations with Clement.

In July he crossed the Alps by way of Mont Cenis bearing powers to conclude the marriage by proxy of Anjou’s son and Bernabò’s daughter. A message from Bernabò invited him to enter Milan with 200 of his highest-ranking companions, which Coucy, whether from pomp or caution, enlarged to 600. Welcomed “with much joy” by Bernabò outside the gates, they entered the city together, “but such was the great number of men that they broke the bridge.” This seems to have been Coucy’s only faux-pas and did not detract from opulent ceremonies and a daily parade of gifts during a visit that lasted two weeks.

Two weeks was not too long to chart a course through the labyrinthine rivalries of Italy. The interrelationships of Venice, Genoa, Milan, Piedmont, Florence, and assorted despots and communes of northern Italy were constantly shifting. As soon as one power joined another against a third for that season’s advantage, all alliances and feuds changed partners as if in a trecento square dance. Venice feuded with Genoa, Milan played off one against the other and feuded with Florence and the several principalities of Piedmont, Florence feuded with its neighbors, Siena, Pisa, and Lucca, and formed various leagues against Milan; papal politics kept the whole mass quivering.

Coucy’s first hazard lay underfoot in the mutual jealousy between Bernabò and his melancholy nephew Gian Galeazzo, who now ruled in Pavia since the death of his father in 1378. Subtle, secretive, and deceptively mild, Gian Galeazzo cultivated a public repute for timidity and a hidden will as strong and unprincipled as Bernabò’s. In later years when he was better known, Francesco Carrara of Padua said of him, “I know Gian Galeazzo. Neither honor nor pity nor sworn faith ever yet inclined him to do a disinterested deed. If he ever seeks what is good, it is because his interest requires it, for he is without moral sense. Goodness, like hate or anger, is for him a matter of calculation.” As an opponent, Carrara’s opinion was naturally inimical but not necessarily invalid; the character it ascribed to Gian Galeazzo anticipated by more than a century Machiavelli’s Prince.

Gian Galeazzo resented and feared Bernabò’s intrusion on his own prior relationship with the French royal family. “Bernabò is making fresh alliances with France,” warned his mother. “If he becomes related, he will seize upon your sovereignty.” With his one remaining child against Bernabò’s well-filled stable, Gian Galeazzo could not match his uncle in alliances. If he could not match him, he could remove him, a cold alternative that from this moment—as was later recognized—began to take shape in his mind.

Meanwhile, he quietly paid his share of the subsidy for Anjou and prepared to welcome Coucy to Pavia. It was ten years since their encounter at Montichiari which had so confirmed Gian Galeazzo’s distaste for battle that he had never again taken the field. But Coucy did not appear in Pavia to renew the acquaintance, probably because Bernabò did not wish his nephew and the French envoy to meet.

Agitation in northern Italy was intense at news of Coucy’s advent. Siena sent envoys secretly to Milan to bargain for support against Florence. Florence sent envoys to divert him from Tuscany by gracious words and protestations of friendship. Florentine diplomacy was conducted by the permanent chancellor, Coluccio Salutati, a cultivated scholar who could frame his foreign correspondence in elegant Latin rhetoric that reflected credit on the republic. The continuity of his office, which was equivalent to that of a chief administrator, gave him great influence, and the fact that his appointment was regularly renewed over a period of thirty years is evidence—given the turbulence of Florentine politics—of a man of remarkable political ability, not to say equanimity. His heart was in literature and the new humanism, but in the conduct of affairs he was efficient, diligent, learned, and genial, admired for his integrity and style. According to Gian Galeazzo, a state paper by Salutati carried in the political scales the weight of a thousand horsemen. This was Coucy’s opponent.

In response to the Florentine greetings, Coucy was surpassingly gracious. “We met,” states the report probably written by Salutati, “with joyful embraces and greetings and he spoke reassuringly and peacefully to us. He called us not friends and brothers but his very fathers and masters.… Not only did he promise to abstain from hostility toward us, but he pledged to support us with his army in our own affairs.” Coucy had clearly learned the Italian manner. He assured the Florentines their fears were fanciful and promised to confine his passage to a strictly limited route. They accepted his assurances, perhaps less because they trusted them than because, with Hawkwood absent in Naples, they did not have an armed force capable of barring his way. Neutral but suspicious, they raised a company of 4,000 peasants and commoners to guard the route.

Starting in August, Coucy crossed the Apennines and entered the land of the “Tuscan miracle” on the west. Cypress stood out against the rich blue sky, vineyards and silver olive trees clung to the slopes. Between hills topped by castle or village, slow white oxen moved through a landscape hand-tended for 2,000 years. The French army penetrated harshly in a progress that was not the peaceful one Coucy had promised. To their stupor et dolor (shock and grief), as the Florentines afterward complained bitterly to the King of France, they learned “he was not the same toward us in his heart as he outwardly feigned.” Partly as a form of intimidation to remind Florence to stay neutral, partly to pay and provision his mercenaries, Coucy exacted tribute from towns, looted villages, even seized castles. Florence sent more envoys crying, “Peace! Peace!” and offering rich gifts and further assurance of neutrality if he would bypass Florentine territory. Coucy continued to answer soothingly, but force once employed quickly became rapine, difficult to restrain.

“They not only stole geese and hens, robbed the dovecotes and made off with sheep, rams, and cattle,” according to the Florentine complaint, “they actually stormed our unarmed walls and undefended homes as if they were at war with us. They took people captive and tortured them and forced them to pay ransom. They killed men and women in cruel ways and set fire to their empty houses.”

As Coucy advanced, Florence learned with dismay that he was in communication with the exiled lords of Arezzo, an ancient and important hill town forty miles to the southeast which the Florentines had long coveted and were preparing to annex. Its history dated back to the Etruscans, its famous red glazed pottery to the Romans; from its cluster of towers with belvederes and balconies, St. Francis in Giotto’s painting exorcised flying demons. In the strife of Guelfs and Ghibellines, its ruling family, the Tarlati, lords of Pietramala, had been overthrown in 1380, and the winning side, too weak to maintain control, had called in the help of Charles of Durazzo. He or his agents treated Arezzo as a conquered city subject to the usual sack and fines of inhabitants, who in consequence looked more favorably on Florence. After complex bargaining, the Florentines had all but concluded an arrangement to buy the city from Durazzo when Coucy’s intervention threatened to wreck all their hopes. They learned that the exiled lords of Pietramala had offered to assist him in capturing the city and that he had concluded a treaty with them to that effect. Coucy’s object was to gain a foothold for the Angevin cause and a position from which he could exert pressure on Florence for supplies. If he drew against himself Hawkwood’s company from Naples, the forces opposing Anjou would thereby be weakened.

Between Coucy and Florence a duel now began. Approaching his goal, Coucy made heavier demands and gave fewer reassurances. In reply to a renewed Florentine protest against pillaging by his soldiers, he blamed it on the resistance of the inhabitants, and with cool arrogance demanded a tribute of 25,000 florins from Florence and 20,000 from Siena. The Signoria met in anxiety; some argued for paying, some for refusing, some for a token payment to maintain the façade of friendship and prevent assault by Coucy’s men-at-arms. While sending forward envoys with various proposals, Florence warned Jacopo Carraciolo, the governor of Arezzo who was now in their pay, to fortify his walls, prepare to provision Florentine reinforcements when they should appear, and expect attack on September 18. With generous sums contributed by the bourgeois magnates, they began assembling an armed force.

For a week, while waiting the outcome of his demands, Coucy remained in the vicinity without advancing. Siena paid him 7,000 florins; Florence, without making refusal explicit, paid nothing. As if satisfied, Coucy resumed his march, but, instead of making for Arezzo, took the road southward toward Cortona. This diversion proved to be a ruse to relax the vigilance of Carraciolo. On the night of September 28–29, Coucy turned back toward Arezzo and, on reaching the city, divided his force in two groups. He sent one to assault the walls with great clamor and shouts, while he led the stronger section with his best knights silently around to the San Clemente gate on the other side. Crashing down the doors, the French poured through, crying, “Long live King Louis and the Sire de Coucy! Death to Guelfs and the Duke of Durazzo!” As Carraciolo’s men-at-arms rushed to meet them, battle cries and clang of blows filled the city, combat surged through every street and around the old Roman amphitheater until the defenders gave way before superior numbers and retreated to the citadel. The lords of Pietramala regained their homes in triumph, and while Arezzo again suffered rape and pillage, Coucy claimed the city in the name of King Louis of Naples, Sicily, and Jerusalem.

At that moment Louis of Anjou had been dead for nine days. For a year and a half he had rusted in the heel of Italy, with no kingship but the title, while his army wasted and dwindled and some who could afford it took ship for home. With control of Bari and other coast towns on the Adriatic, he could be provisioned by sea and may not have been as entirely destitute as pictured by the monastic chroniclers who liked to enlarge on the theme of vainglory’s fall. But he was immobilized for lack of funds. His impoverished knights rode on donkeys or marched on foot “to hasten the day of combat” but could find nothing more than occasional skirmishes. In September 1384, Anjou caught a severe chill after overexerting himself against looters in his army. Fever developed, and recognizing death’s presence, the Duke, like his brother Charles V, completed his will on his last day. The dying seemed always to know when their hour was at hand, doubtless because cures were not expected and the onset of certain symptoms was recognized as fatal. How it happened that they were so often in condition at the end to dictate last wills or codicils is harder to explain, unless it was because dying was an organized ritual with many attendants to assist the process.

With passion for conquest undiminished, Anjou called in his will on Pope Clement to ensure that his son, Louis II, should succeed to the Kingdom of Naples, and on Charles VI to “brandish the sword of his incomparable power” to avenge Queen Joanna. He appointed Coucy as his viceroy to carry on the campaign, with a provision that he could not be removed except by order of the Duchesse d’Anjou confirmed by the King, Burgundy, and Berry. He died on September 20 in the castle of Bari in a room overlooking the sea. While his body in a lead coffin was shipped back to France for burial, and his forces disintegrated, Charles of Durazzo held funeral services suitable to his late rival’s rank, and clothed his court in mourning.

Anjou’s death was not yet known on the Arno when Florence was stunned to learn of Coucy’s capture of Arezzo. The Balia or Council of Ten, appointed in times of crisis, hastily assembled. Letters and ambassadors were dispatched to Genoa, Bologna, Padua, Perugia, Verona, Naples, even to Milan, urging all to join Florence in a league against the invader whose presence was said to endanger all Italy. Hawkwood’s company was summoned from Naples and Pope Urban was asked to levy a special tithe on the clergy for funds to drive the “schismatics” out of Italy and thwart the triumph of the Anti-Pope. In the midst of the furor, news arrived by way of Venice that the French claimant to Naples was dead. Florence rejoiced and redoubled her preparations to surround Coucy in Arezzo.

Unaware both of the storm rising around him and of Anjou’s death, Coucy took pleasure in informing the Signoria of his capture of Arezzo, not doubting, he wrote smoothly, that they would be delighted by an event so happy for the partisans of King Louis. With even greater pleasure, the Signoria wrote back to the “illustrious lord and dearest friend” to inform him with “a great sting of grief” that Anjou had died and that several of his chief companions had already appeared in Venice on their way home. Coucy naturally did not believe it, suspecting a Florentine trick intended to discourage him.

To impress the inhabitants, he established himself in splendid style and set himself to win adherents for the Angevin claimant by keeping open table and receiving with largesse all comers who declared themselves partisans of his cause. But while besieging the citadel, he shortly became aware that he was being enveloped if not actually besieged himself by a Florentine force on the north and his former companion-in-arms, Sir John Hawkwood, on the south. At this juncture the purpose of his campaign collapsed when evidence reached him confirming the fact of Anjou’s death.

Coucy discovered himself isolated in the center of Italy with no expectation of relief and no point in holding out. Rather, his problem was getting out. To have clung to Arezzo for the sake of pursuing the Angevin cause in obedience to Anjou’s will would have been correct but doomed. Messages from a remainder of Anjou’s followers urged him to enter the kingdom of Naples and be its Governor, but Coucy was not the knightly type of heroic fool either to march unthinking toward disaster or to accept it with brainless valor when it came. He meant to use his hold of Arezzo to extract himself without loss of prestige to the Angevin cause—and recover the cost of the campaign as well.

Siena, which had refused to join the Florentine league, was his lever. He offered to sell Arezzo to Siena for 20,000 florins, knowing that rivalry would force Florence to offer a better price including a safe-conduct through Tuscany. Florence had not recruited any very firm support for her league, owing to the fears of other states that she would use it for her own aggrandizement. Bernabò, in the interests of his French alliance, had advised regaining Arezzo by money rather than force and warned Florence that the King of France and his uncles might take harsh reprisals against Florentine merchants and bankers if Coucy were attacked.

Florence, too, knew when to put discretion before valor. Through Coucy, her prospect of acquiring Arezzo was now suddenly restored. Overtures were made for the surrender of Carraciolo, the city’s governor, including an offer to pay the back wages of his men-at-arms. Given the prospect of pay which they had thought lost, Carraciolo’s men let it be known to their chief that they were ready to abandon a useless resistance. Accordingly, he agreed to surrender on condition that Florence recompense him for damages suffered in defending the city. No combat without money was standard for the age of chivalry.

Because Florence had prepared to use armed force against Coucy, contrary to her promise of neutrality, she was concerned about possible reprisals by France. To forestall these, the Signoria addressed to Charles VI a voluminous recital of Coucy’s wrongdoings: the pillaging and injuries, the demands for tribute, the dealing with rebels (the Pietramala) in Florentine territory. In sorrow, the letter told how, after feigning peaceful intentions, Coucy had acted in hostility like an enemy, how “we, even though unaccustomed to deceitful words, saw through his plans” and were saddened that “such a noble and high-minded man, especially of Gallic blood, whose proper and natural virtue is magnanimity, could allow himself to invent lies and set traps”; how, in the belief that he could not truly represent the King of France by such conduct, “we prepared an army to repel force by force”; how, finally, “we write this with grief and bitterness so that you may know that our actions are justified.”

Having put that on the record, the republic reached amicable arrangements with Coucy in two skillfully drafted separate treaties of November 5. In the first, Enguerrand de Coucy, desirous of recognizing and recompensing the affection, devotion, and respect always shown by the Republic of Florence to the royal house of France, ceded Arezzo, its walls, fortresses, houses, furnishings, inhabitants, rights, and privileges to Florence in perpetuity. No mention of a consideration was made, in order that the treaty might appear purely as an act of policy by Coucy in the Angevin interest against Durazzo. He made it a condition that the Pietramala were to be restored to their properties, that Florence was to remain neutral with regard to Naples, that French envoys and messengers to Naples would be afforded free passage with the right to buy provisions, and that he and his men should enjoy the same conditions on returning to France.

The sum agreed on in the second treaty was twice what he had asked from Siena. Considering the great cost to the Sire de Coucy of taking the city of Arezzo, and considering that he had traversed Florentine territory “without causing damage” (Florence was flexible in these matters) and intended to depart in the same manner, the republic agreed to pay him 40,000 gold florins, of which three fourths were to be paid at once before cession of the city, and the remaining 10,000 either at Bologna, Pisa, or Florence according to his wish, within two weeks after his evacuation of Arezzo. In generous disposal of the citizens’ property, the French were permitted to take away with them whatever they could carry on the day of departure.

For preserving appearances while gaining desired ends, the settlement was a diplomatic masterpiece. The losers were Durazzo, who was forced to accept an accomplished fact; the Pietramala, who, having expected to regain power, were enraged; and the people of Arezzo, whom nobody recompensed. In revenge, on the day of departure the Pietramala ambushed a French foraging party and lured others “into their homes by offers of food and afterward killed them.” Coucy at once demanded punitive action by Florence to prove that such hostilities “are gravely displeasing to you and the friendship between us stands firm.” Florence offered fulsome regrets and, in lieu of action, an artistic denunciation of the “detestable” Pietramala. Their family name, Tarlati, it was said, derived from a word meaning “rotten wood that has been gnawed by insect borers,” while the name Pietramala, deriving from pietra meaning stone, suited them equally “for they are hard and unyielding in their crimes.” With these colorful if not helpful remarks the duel between Florence and Coucy came to an end.

Mutual obligations were carried out. Florence paid 30,000 florins on November 15 and 17, Carraciolo surrendered on the 18th, Coucy evacuated Arezzo on the 20th. Avoiding the hostile populace he would have encountered by returning the way he had come, he crossed the mountains and returned along the eastern slope to Bologna, posting rear-guard units on the way to present the appearance of a victor’s return. At Bologna on Christmas Day he received the final payment in full. He re-entered Avignon in January 1385, adding a passage over the Alps in midwinter to a remarkably scatheless record.

Coucy’s gift, unusual for his time, was recognition of realities, as seen in the contrast between his conduct of an expeditionary force and Anjou’s. The quest for the crown of Naples—however harshly judged by critics after the fact—was not necessarily destined for catastrophe. Anjou had as good a chance as and a better claim than his opponent. What defeated him was a late start, poor generalship, and a waste of time and resources on the ceremonial display of kingship before the thing itself was in hand. If he had led a rapid and spartan advance with all energies and resources applied to the objective, the outcome could well have been different. But the “if” asks for a modern attitude in a medieval age.

The social damage was not in the failure but in the undertaking, which was expensive. The cost of war was the poison running through the 14th century. The funds contributed by the crown and by Anjou himself, not to mention the sum stolen by Pierre de Craon, were squeezed from the people of France for a cause which could in no way, present or future, benefit them. This did not escape notice, nor soothe the popular mood. On hearing of Anjou’s death, a tailor of Orléans named Guillaume le Jupponnier, when “overcome with wine,” burst into a tirade in which can be heard the rarely recorded voice of his class. “What did he go there for, this Duke of Anjou, down there where he went? He has pillaged and robbed and carried off money to Italy in order to conquer another land. He is dead and damned, and the King St. Louis too, like the others. Filth, filth of a King and a King! We have no King but God. Do you think they got honestly what they have? They tax me and re-tax me and it hurts them that they can’t have everything we own. Why should they take from me what I earn with my needle? I would rather the King and all kings were dead than that my son should be hurt in his little finger.”

The record of the tailor’s case states that his words expressed “what others dared not say.” After arrest and imprisonment, he was pardoned by the Governor of Orléans.

Anjou’s widow, born Marie of Brittany, a daughter of the saintly if ruthless Charles of Blois and his unyielding wife, pursued the crown of Naples on behalf of her son Louis II with the same strenuous pertinacity as her parents had pursued the dukedom of Brittany, and with no better results. In a life-long contest against Charles of Durazzo and his son, Louis II was no more successful than his father had been. While Naples passed to the rule of Aragon and then to the Spanish Bourbons, the Angevins persevered in their claim for two centuries with all the undismayed persistence of royalty in pursuit of a crown denied.

The other French aim in Italy—imposing Clement by force-though never attempted by Anjou, was not abandoned. Rather it became an increasing obsession. In the meantime, madness shadowed Pope Urban as he quarreled fatally with Charles of Durazzo and was driven from Naples. Employing mercenaries, he rampaged through Italy in ceaseless disputes, besieged and besieging, captive and rescued, sputtering anathemas and excommunications, dragging behind him the six captive cardinals whom he accused of conspiracy to put him under restraint. When the horse of one of them went lame, Urban had the unfortunate prelate put to death and his corpse left unburied by the roadside. Afterward he executed four of the remaining five. He did not grace the Church of Rome.

Pierre de Craon returned to France after Anjou’s death, disposing of obvious riches. While many of his recent companions, remnants of Anjou’s army, begged their way on foot out of Italy, he appeared at court with a magnificent retinue, exciting indignation. “Ha! False traitor,” cried the Duc de Berry on seeing him enter the Council, “wicked and disloyal, you deserve death! It is you who caused my brother’s death. Seize him, and let justice be done!” No one dared carry out the command in fear of Craon’s Burgundy connection. Craon continued to ornament the court of Charles VI and to escape for a long time a relentless lawsuit by the Duchesse d’Anjou and her son, although ultimately he was ordered to pay back 100,000 francs.

Ironically, after escaping harm in Italy, Coucy suffered a fall from his horse in Avignon with serious injury to his leg. Possibly a compound fracture, it was severe enough to keep him confined to bed for nearly four months. As Anjou’s viceroy, he took responsibility for the ragged veterans returning from Bari, distributing funds and mediating disputes. On the arrival of Anjou’s widow to establish her son’s claims in Provence, he visited her several times (presumably in a litter), advised her in the matter of Pierre de Craon, and “comforted her as best he could.” During these visits he may well have met and talked with the author of one of the great commentaries of the 14th century.

Honoré Bonet, Benedictine Prior of Salon in Provence, was attached in some capacity to the Anjou household and living in Avignon during the years 1382–86 while writing his observations on the kind of experience in which Coucy was an actor. The Tree of Battles was an examination of the laws and customs of war and, inevitably, of its moral and social effects. His purpose in writing the book, Bonet stated, was to find an answer to the “great commotions and very fierce misdeeds” of his own time. His conclusion was blunt. Stated in the form of a question—“Whether this world can by nature be without conflict and at peace?”—his answer was, “No, it can by no means be so.”

“I make a Tree of Mourning at the beginning of my book,” he wrote, on which could be seen three things: the “tribulation such as never was before” of the schism; the “great dissension” among Christian princes and kings; and the “great grief and discord” among communities. Bonet examined many practical and moral questions—whether, if a man is captured while under safe-conduct, the guarantor is bound to ransom him at his own cost; whether a man should prefer death to flight from battle; what were a knight’s rights to wages, including sick pay and pay while on leave; what were the rules of spoil. Through every discussion his governing idea was that war should not harm those who do not make war, while every example of his own time showed that it did. He is “heart-stricken to see and hear of the misery inflicted on poor laborers … through whom, under God, the Pope and all the kings and lords in the world have their meat and all their drink and clothing.” In answer to the question whether it is permissible to take prisoner the “merchants, tillers of the soil, and shepherds” of the enemy, his answer was no: “All husbandmen and plowmen with their oxen when they are carrying on their business” and any ass, mule, or horse harnessed to a plow should have immunity “by reason of the work they do.” The reason was fundamental: security of the laborer and his beasts benefits all because they work for all.

Bonet reflected the growing dismay at the “great grief and discord” caused by daily violation of this principle. Monks like himself and poets like Deschamps deplored openly the conduct of war not because they were necessarily more sensitive than other men but because they were articulate and accustomed to commit ideas to writing. With no illusions about chivalry, Bonet wrote that some knights were made bold by desire for glory, others by fear, others by “greed to gain riches and for no other reason.” When The Tree of Battles, dedicated to Charles VI, appeared in 1387, he did not suffer for its truths. On the contrary, he was invited to court and appointed to pensions and positions. Like other prophets, his fate was to be honored—and ignored.

* The name Sicily remained attached to the Kingdom of Naples, causing confusion which should be resolutely ignored.

* In 1388 Giovanni de Mussi of Piacenza stated that a household of nine with two horses required a minimum income of 300 florins a year. In 1415 a wealthy Italian citizen spent 574 florins on his marriage celebration. A well-paid artisan at about this time earned approximately eighteen florins a year.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!