THE KINGS IN THE MARAIS, A fantastic book by Bruno Rémy about Le Marais History 

by Bruno Remy

The medieval Marais was not only the site of churches, convents and monasteries, but also of splendid palaces steeped in history. These palaces were once the residences of Charles d’Anjou, King of Sicily, from circa 1265 to his death by at Foggia (Apulia, Italy) in 1285, and of his descendants, the Valois kings, from 1361 to 1559, when Henri II was killed in a tragic joust on the rue Saint-Antoine, next to the rue du Petit-Musc.

Whereas one can still see some of the medieval churches, like Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais, or monasteries, like Saint-Martin des Champs (Saint-Martin in the Fields), there are no traces of the hôtels du Roi de Sicile, Saint-Pol and des Tournelles. There are just street names to remind one of their existence, namely the rues du Roi de Sicile, Saint-Paul and des Tournelles. It’s the history of these lost palaces, together with their occupants, which is told in this book

For example, one of the bloodiest and most thorough massacres in French history comes to mind when recalling the hôtel du Roi de Sicile. This massacre, the Sicilian Vespers, brought to an end the Angevin presence in insular Sicily called Trinacria – meaning three sides. (This tragedy was only surpassed by the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572). It’s from that time onwards that France became involved in Italian affairs, adding misery to that country until the Treaty of Madrid (1526) when François Ier (king Francis the First) renounced his dynastic rights in Italy, including the kingdom of Naples, and brought the Italian Renaissance (including Leonardo da Vinci) to France.

Linked to the history of the hôtel Saint-Pol was Charles VI, le Fol, (the mad king) and the Hundred Years’ War which wreaked havoc in France. Following the assassination in 1407, on rue Vieille du Temple, of his brother, Louis d’Orléans, by his cousin, the duke of Burgundy, Jean sans Peur (John the Fearless), civil war broke out between the supporters of Louis d’Orléans, the Armagnacs, and Burgundians, the backers of Jean sans Peur. The ensuing political instability in France brought the English, led by Henry V, into the conflict. Eager to reconquer the territories lost under Charles V, the victor of Agincourt (1415) had arranged a secret treaty with Jean le Bon (John the Good), duke of Burgundy, who was intent on taking revenge for the assassination of his father, Jean sans Peur, in 1419. (One year later the treaty of Troyes was signed by Charles VI, his wife Isabeau the Bavière and Jean le Bon, which recognized Henri V as the mad king’s successor – but he was not to succeed him until his death).

It was during the occupation of Paris by the English led by the regent of France, John, duke of Bedford, brother of Henry V (who died of dysentery at Vincennes in 1422, before Charles VI, the same year), that Henry’s son was crowned king of France and England at Notre Dame de Paris in 1431. (Henry VI, whose mother, Catherine de Valois, was the daughter of Charles VI, le Fol, went mad himself). That long conflict, which was caused by Charles VI’s dementia, ended after the death of the duke of Bedford in 1435, and the signing, during the same year, of the treaty of Arras, which put an end to the conflict between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians.

The hôtel Saint Pol was abandoned in 1436 after the death of Isabeau de Bavière, the wife of the mad king, Charles VI. His successor, Charles VII moved into the hôtel des Tournelles, the Parisian residence of the duke of Bedford (who created beautiful gardens), after it was made vacant following the departure of the English in 1436. The last king to reside in the hôtel des Tournelles was Henri II, whose atrocious death in 1559 led his wife, Catherine de Médicis, to abandon the cursed palace and to take up residence some time later in the newly constructed palais des Tuileries. (A horse market was set up on the gardens of the hôtel des Tournelles, which became the scene of spectacular duels).

The book also brings to light the religious confrontations between the Protestants and the Catholics which started in 1534, under the reign of François Ier, one century after the end of the civil war, in 1434. The religious wars were to last until the assassination, ordered by Henri III, of the fiercely Catholic duc de Guise in 1588. The duke aspired to replace Henri III on the French throne. A year later, in 1589, the king himself was stabbed to death, while sitting on his commode by Jacques Clément, a fanatical monk. On his death bed, the last Valois king, Henri III, named his cousin, Henri IV, as his successor. Peace in the land was not achieved, however, until Henri IV, the first Bourbon king, had abjured Protestantism in 1593 and the Édit de Nantes (Edict of Nantes) was enacted in 1598, bringing to an end the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685.

The reason why the Marais was at the forefront of these bloody religious events was because it was the seat of the Ligue (Catholic League), led by the duc de Guise whose mansion was located on the site of the hôtel de Soubise, rue des Francs Bourgeois. It was in the hôtel de Guise, with the full backing of Catherine de Médicis, anxious to eliminate admiral Coligny, leader of the Protestants, who had a strong hold over her son, Charles IX, that the plan to assassinate him was concocted. The botched plot (Coligny was only wounded) was followed by his dreadful killing shortly thereafter and the persecution of some 30,000 Protestants in Paris and throughout France during the massacre of St Bartholomew in 1572.

The end of the Valois dynasty spelled the end of the Middle Ages and ushered France in a new era, the Age of Enlightenment, during which the Marais, rightly called a “quartier musée” (historic district), played an important role thanks to the presence in its midst of the aristocracy. Members of the nobility found ample and luxurious accommodations in the place Royale (place des Vosges), which was created on the site of the gardens of the hôtel des Tournelles, and in the great number of hôtels particuliers (townhouses), which had been constructed on the site of the hôtel Saint-Pol and the coutures or cultures maraîchères (marsh land devoted to intensive vegetable cultivation) which once dotted much of the Marais.

Extract from THE KINGS IN THE MARAIS by Bruno Rémy
A book not miss to discover the real story of the French Kings in the Marais.

Bruno Rémy is The specialist of medieval Paris.
He wrote several remarquable books about Le Marais.

In French :

Le Vieux Paris, la Fondation et l’Evolution du Marais Medieval

In English :

Old paris – Origin and overview of medieval Marais

Medieval Paris – Churches and Orders of mendicant monks in the Marais

Medieval Paris – Contemplative monks and Knights Templar in The Marais

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