Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The death of the count de Foix's son

Froissart has been living at the count de Foix's court and interviewing many about noteworthy events.

Book III, ch. 9 (Johnes, v. 2, pp. 95-99).  I was very anxious to know, seeing the hôtel of the count so spacious and so amply supplied, what was become of his son Gaston, and by what accident he had died, for sir Espaign du Lyon would never satisfy my curiosity. I made so many inquiries, that at last an old and intelligent squire informed me. He thus began his tale: --

"It is well known that the count and countess de Foix are not on good terms with each other, nor have they been so for a long time. This dissension arose from the king of Navarre, who is the lady's brother. The king of Navarre had offered to pledge himself for the lord d'Albreth, whom the count de Foix held in prison, in the sum of fifty thousand francs.

"The count de Foix, knowing the king of Navarre to be crafty and faithless, would not accept his security, which piqued the countess, and raised her indignation against her husband: she said,' My lord, you show but little confidence in the honour of my brother, the king of Navarre, when you will not trust him for fifty thousand francs: if you never gain more from the Armagnacs and Labrissiens than you have done, you ought to be contented: you know that you are to assign over my dower, which amounts to fifty thousand francs, into the hands of my brother: therefore you cannot run any risk for the repayment.'

"'Lady, you say truly,' replied the count; ' but, if I thought the king of Navarre would stop the payment for that cause, the lord d'Albreth should never leave Orthès until he had paid me the utmost farthing. Since, however, you entreat it, it shall be done, not out of love to you, but out of affection to my son.' Upon this, and from the assurance of the king of Navarre, who acknowledged himself debtor to the count de Foix, the lord d'Albreth recovered his liberty: He turned to the French interest, and married the sister of the duke of Bourbon. He paid, at his convenience, to the king of Navarre the sum of fifty thousand francs, according to his obligation; but that king never repaid them to the count de Foix.

"The count on this said to his wife, 'Lady, you must go to your brother in Navarre, and tell him that I am very ill satisfied with him for withholding from me the sum he has received on my account.'

"The lady replied, she would cheerfully go thither, and set out from Orthès with her attendants. On her arrival at Pampeluna, her brother the king of Navarre received her with much joy. The lady punctually delivered her message, which when the king had heard, he replied, 'My fair sister, the money is yours, as your dower from the count de Foix; and, since I have
possession of it, it shall never go out of the kingdom of Navarre.'

"'Ah, my lord,' replied the lady, 'you will by this create a great hatred between the count de Foix and me; and, if you persist in this resolution, I shall never dare return, for my lord will put me to death for having deceived
him.'

"' I cannot say,' answered the king, who was unwilling to let such a sum go out of his hands, 'how you should act, whether to remain or return; but as I have possession of the money, and it is my right to keep it for you, it shall never leave Navarre.'

"The countess de Foix, not being able to obtain any other answer, remained in Navarre, not daring to return home. The count do Foix, perceiving the malice of the king of Navarre, began to detest his wife, though she was no way to blame, for not returning after she had delivered his message. In truth, she was afraid; for she knew her husband to be cruel when displeased with any one. Thins things remained. Gaston, the son of my lord, grew up, and became a fine young gentleman. He was married to  the daughter of the count d'Armagnac, sister to the present count and to sir Bernard d'Armagnac; and by this union peace was insured between Foix and Armagnac. The youths might be about fifteen or sixteen years old: he was a very handsome
figure, and the exact resemblance to his father in his whole form.

"He took it into his head to make a journey into Navarre, to visit his mother and uncle; but it was an unfortunate journey for him and for this country. On his arrival in Navarre, he was splendidly entertained : and he staid some time with his mother. On taking leave, he could not prevail on her, notwithstanding his remonstrances and entreaties, to accompany him back; for, the lady having asked if the count de Foix his father had ordered him to bring her back, he replied, that when he set out, no such orders had been given, which caused her to fear trusting herself with him.

"She therefore remained, and the heir of Foix went to Pampeluna to take leave of his uncle. The king entertained him well, and detained him upwards of ten days: on his departure, he made him handsome presents, and did the same by his attendants. The last gift the king gave him was the cause of his death, and I will tell you how it happened.

"As the youth was on the point of setting out, the king took him privately into his chamber, and gave him a bag full of powder, which was of such pernicious quality as would cause the death of any one that ate of it. 'Gaston, my fair nephew,' said the king, 'will you do what I am about to tell you? You see how unjustly the count de Foix hates your mother, who being my sister, it displeases me as much as it should you. If you wish to reconcile your father to your mother, you must take a small pinch of this
powder, and when you see a proper opportunity, strew it over the meat destined for your father's table; but, take care no one sees you. The instant he shall have tasted it, he will be impatient for his wife, your mother, to return to hun, and they will love each other henceforward so strongly they will never again be separated. You ought to be anxious to see this accomplished. Do not tell it to any one: for, if you do, it will lose its effect.'

The youth, who believed everything his uncle the king of Navarre had told him, replied, he would cheerfully do as lie had said; and on this he departed from Pampeluna, on his return to Orthès. His father the count de Foix received him with pleasure, and asked what was the news in Navarre, and what presents and jewels had been given him; he replied, 'Very handsome ones,' and showed them all, except the bag which contained the powder.

"It was customary, in the hotel de Foix, for Gaston and his bastard brother Evan to sleep in the same chamber: they mutually loved each other and were dressed alike, for they were nearly of the same size and age. It fell out, that their clothes were once mixed together; and, the coat of Gaston being on the bed, Evan, who was malicious enough, noticing the powder in the bag, said to Gaston, 'What is this that you wear every day on your breast?'

"Gaston was not pleased at the question, and replied, 'Give me back my coat, Evan: you have nothing to do with it.' Evan
flung him his coat, which Gaston put on, but was very pensive the whole day. Three days after, as if God was desirous of saving the life of the count de Foix, Gaston quarrelled with Evan at tennis, and gave him a box on the ear. The boy was vexed at this, and ran crying to the apartment of the count, who had just heard mass. The count, on seeing him in tears, asked what was thin matter.

"'In God's name, my lord,' replied Evan, 'Gaston has beaten me, but he deserves beating much more than I do.'

"'For what reason?' said the count, who began to have some suspicions.

"'On my faith,' said Evan, 'ever since his return from Navarre, he wears on his breast a bag of powder: I know not what use it can be of, nor what he intends to do with it; except that he has once or twice told me, his mother would soon return hither, and be more in your good graces than ever she was.'

"'Ho,' said the count, 'hold thy tongue, and be sure thou do not mention what thou hast just told me to any man breathing.'

"'My lord,' replied the youth, 'I will obey you.'

"The count de Foix was very thoughtful on this subject, and remained alone until dinner-time,  when he rose up, and seated himself as usual at his table in the hall. His son Gaston always placed the dishes before him, and tasted the meats. As soon
as he had served the first dish, and done what was usual, the count cast his eyes on him, having formed his plan, and saw the strings of the bag hanging from his pourpoint. This sight made his blood boil, and he said, 'Gaston, come hither: I want to whisper you something.'

"The youth advanced to the table, when the count, opening his bosom, undid his pourpoint, and with his knife cut away the bag. The young man was thunderstruck and said not a word, but turned pale with fear, and began to tremble exceedingly, for he was conscious he had done wrong. The count opened the bag, took some of the powder, which he strewed over a slice of bread, and, calling a dog to him, gave it him to eat. The instant the dog had eaten a morsel his eyes rolled round in his head, and he died.

The count on this was very wroth, and indeed had reason: rising from table, he would have struck his son with a knife; but the knights and squires rushed in between them, saying, 'For God's sake, my lord, do not be too hasty, but make further inquiries before you do any ill to your son.'

"The first words the count uttered were in Gascon; 'Ho, Gaston, thou traitor! for thee, and to increase thy inheritance which would have come to thee, have I made war, and incurred the hatred of the kings of France, England, Spain, Navarre, and Arragon, and have borne myself gallantly against them, and thou wishest to murder me! Thy disposition must be infamously bad: know therefore thou shalt die with this blow.' And leaping over the table with a knife in his hand, he would have slain him: hut the knights and squires again interfered, and on their knees said to him with tears, 'Ah, ah! my lord, for Heaven's sake, do not kill Gaston: you have no other child. Let him be confined and inquire further into the business. Perhaps he was ignorant what was in the bag, and may therefore be blameless.'

"'Well,' replied the count, 'let him be confined in the dungeon, but so safely guarded that he may be forthcoming.'

"The youth was therefore confined in this tower. The count had many of those who served his son arrested, but not all; for several escaped out of the country: in particular, the bishop of Lescar, who was much suspected, as were several others. He put to death not less than fifteen, after they had suffered the torture; and the reason he gave was, that it was impossible but they must have been acquainted with the secrets of his son, and they ought to have informed him by saying, 'My lord, Gaston wears constantly on his breast a bag of such and such a form.' This they did not do, and suffered a terrible death for it; which was a pity, for there were not in all Gascony such handsome or well-appointed squires. The household of the count de Foix was always splendidly established.

"This business went to the heart of the count, as he plainly showed; for he assembled at Orthès all the nobles and prelates of Foix and Béarn, and others the principal persons of the country. When they were met, he informed them of the cause of his calling them together, and told them how culpable he had found Gaston; insomuch that it was his intention he should be put to death, as he thought him deserving of it.

"They unanimously replied to this speech,' My lord, saving your grace's favour, we will not that Gaston be put to death: he is your heir and you have none other.' When the count thus heard his subjects declare their sentiments in favour of his son, he hesitated, and thought he might sufficiently chastise him by two or three months' confinement, when he would send him on his travels for a few years until his ill conduct should be forgotten, and he feel grateful for the lenity of his punishment. He therefore dissolved the meeting; but those of Foix would not quit Orthès until the count had assured them Gaston should not be put to death, so great was their affection to him. He complied with their request, but said he would keep him some time in prison. On this promise, those who had been assembled departed, and Gaston remained a prisoner in Orthès.

"News of this was spread far and near, and reached pope Gregory XI. who resided at Avignon: he sent instantly the cardinal of Amiens, as his legate, to Béarn, to accommodate this affair; but he had scarcely travelled as far as Beziers, when he heard he had no need to continue his journey, for that Gaston the son of the count de Foix was dead.

"I will tell you the cause of his death, since I have said so much on the subject. The count de Foix had caused him to be confined in a room of the dungeon where was little light: there lie remained for ten days. He scarcely ate or drank anything of the food which was regularly brought to him, but threw it aside. It is said, that after his deaths, all the meat was found untouched, so that it is marvellous how he could have lived so long. The count would not permit any one to remain in the chamber to advise or comfort him: he therefore never put off the clothes he had on when he entered his prison. This made him melancholy and vexed him, for he did not expect so much harshness: he therefore cursed the hour he was born, and lamented that he should come to such an end.

"On the day of his death, those who brought him food said, 'Gaston, here is meat for you.' He paid not any attention to it, but said, 'Put it down.' The person who served him, looking about, saw all the meat untouched that he had brought thither the last days: then, shutting the door, he went to the count and said, 'My lord, for God's sake, look to your son: he is starving himself in his prison. I do not believe he has eaten anything since his confinement; for I see all that I have carried to him lying on one side untouched.'

On hearing this, the count was enraged, and, without saying a word, left his apartment and went to the prison of his son. In an evil hour, he had in his hand a knife, with which he  had been paring and cleaning his nails, he held it by the blade so closely that scarcely the thickness of a groat appeared of the point, when, pushing aside the tapestry that covered the entrance of the prison, through ill luck, he hit his son on a vein of his throat, as he uttered,  'Ha, traitor, why dost not thou eat?' and instantly left the room, without saying or doing anything more. The youth was much frightened at his father's arrival, and withal exceedingly weak from fasting. The point of the knife, small as it was, cut a vein, which as soon as he felt he turned himself on one side and died.

"The count had barely got back again to his apartment when the attendants of his son came and said, 'My lord, Gaston is dead.'

"'Dead!' cried the count.

"'Yes, God help me! indeed he is, my lord.' The count would not believe it, and sent one of his knights to see. The knight, on his return, confirmed the news.

The count was now bitterly affected, and cried out, 'Ha, ha, Gaston! what a sorry business has this turned out for thee and me! In an evil hour didst thou go to visit thy mother in Navarre. Never shall I again enjoy the happiness I had formerly.'

He then ordered his barber to be sent for, and was shaven quite bare: he clothed himself, as well as his whole household, in black. The body of the youth was borne, with tears and lamentations, to the church of the Augustin friars at Orthès, where it was buried. Thus have I related to you the death of Gaston de Foix: his father killed him indeed, but the king of Navarre was the cause of this sad event."

My heart was much affected at this recital of the squire of Béarn relative to the deaths of Gaston; and I was truly sorry for the count his father, whom I found a magnificent, generous, -nd courteous lord, and also for the country that was discontented for want of an heir. I then took leave of the squire, after having thanked him for the pleasure his narration had given me.

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