Fourth-floor Walkup, With View

photo: jean's bedroom

'Fearless' Jean's bedroom, without bed. Toilet to the left, fireplace on the right.

'Fearless' Jean Slept Here

Paris:- Wednesday, 2. February 2000:- While walking around Paris, the name of Jean Sans Peur - Fearless Jean - pops up in a couple of places. It does this because Fearless Jean put out a 'contract' on his cousin, Louis d'Orléans.

This was carried out, investigators think, in the Impasse des Arbalétriers on Monday, 23. November 1407. The location of the assassination still exists, but it is a bit hard to find because it is not on any street map.

The alley where the deed took place was a second entrance to the Hôtel Barbette - which no longer exists - and this is a shame, because it would be great to see any place named 'Barbette' today.

This townhouse was the residence of Charles VI's wife, Isabeau of Bavaria, who was a scheming lady at the beginning of the 15th century.

It would also be great to see the Hôtel d'Artois, or the Hôtel de Bourgogne as it was called later. Itphoto: jean's tower was built by Robert II d'Artois in 1270, right up against the outside of the Philippe-Auguste wall, 20 metres north and parallel to today's Rue Etienne-Marcel.

In 1318, this townhouse was taken over by the family of the Duc de Bourgogne, and in 1402 was officially considered their residence in Paris. There's no need to remember these dates - I only include them to indicate we are dealing with some 'old times' here.

'Fearless' Jean's fortified tower, as seen from the Rue Etienne-Marcel.

Anyway, Jean, the Duke of Burgundy who was known as 'fearless' on account of some Turkish business, moved into the hôtel in 1404. He was 33 years old. Philippe-Auguste's wall had been replaced by one further away - so the family's Parus residence was expanded along this old wall.

Back to the murder: Louis d'Orléans was Charles VI's brother, but he was no saint. His killing - a few blocks away was merely an episode in a long uncivil war between the Armagnacs, Burgundies and everybody else - which ended up being called 'The 100 Years War.' The Orléans family were allied to the Armagnacs.

Although loony, Charles VI lived a long time - until 1422. Two years before he died, he simply gave France away to the Brits.

If famine and plague didn't bump off the peasants, then so-called 'noblemen' cut off their heads - sometimes for sport. The times were probably the worst France ever had. The country was run by dozens of mafias, who were not restrained by any authority, because there was none.

Charles VI - 'The Mad' - went nuts in 1392 following a party in the countryside, and then followed bad advice on top of it - which handed the whole caboodle of France to the Brits after theirphoto: upper stairway longbows produced a victory for them at Agincourt in 1415, mainly against the Amangnacs. The Brits never let the French forget this little slip-up.

In fact, the Brits were too poor to have snazzy Genoese-model crossbows. So they relied on their home-made stuff - which had longer range and three times the rate of fire. But at long-range, British arrows did not necessarily pierce French armor.

The twisty, narrow top part of the stairs, between the third and fourth floors.

The basic idea was to bump off the poorly armed - with the slow-loading Genoese-model crossbows - and lightly armored footmen with a hail of arrows. When this was more or less complete, it was easy to tip over the big hats because they all packed 60 kilos of armor.

Then, once upended like turtles, they could be captured and held for ransom because they were the head guys. This was a common practice and it helped finance these little wars they had.

But Agincourt was different. The Brits annihilated the French big hats; sparing only the Bourbon duke and - another - Charles d'Orléans. Then, the historian writes, a 'lamentable period' followed - which followed a recent past - slightly less 'lamentable' but not by much.

Actually, Fearless Jean seems to have done Parisians a favor but getting rid of Louis l'Orléans. Louis was seductive - I'm not sure this was meant as a compliment - ostentatious and depraved. He was mainly 'depraved,' but this was a fairly common trait at the time.

Isabeau, his sister-in-law, was not highly regarded either - also being characterized as 'seductive,' so maybe it wasn't an uncommon trait after all. Because she was a rich lady she wasn't called 'depraved' too - but this is exactly what she was.

Turning murder into the good deed of 'getting rid of a corrupt tyrant,' Fearless Jean was pardoned andphoto: thick wall, window allowed to return to Paris not long after the rubbing out of Louis l'Orléans who seems to have been thoroughly unlamented.

From Thursday, 9. February 1409 until Wednesday, 15. May 1411, Fearless Jean was boss of Paris. It was during this period that he had the fortified tower called 'Jean Sans Peur' built. This was within the walled and fortified grounds of the family's hôtel, the Hôtel de Bourgogne.

One of the smaller windows lights up the staircase.

All the same, he was no brilliant guy either, and the Parisians sent him packing again in 1413. Finally, on Friday, 10. September 1419, Jean Sans Peur was bumped off by the Armagnacs on the Pont de Montereau - under the eyes of the future Charles VII.

Some time after this the Orléans and Bourgogne families made peace, and visited each others' hôtels for dinner parties. For a shortcut, they used the top of the Philippe-Auguste wall.

This is probably pretty boring, but it sets the stage for my visit today to Fearless Jean's house, or tower - because the Hôtel de Bourgogne itself is gone.

The Armagnacs wanted revenge and Fearless Jean wanted a safe place to sleep. So he had this 27-metre high fortified tower built next to his house; attached to it and the old Philippe-Auguste wall.

Fearless Jean slept on the most heavily-fortified fourth floor, which was one floor higher than the heavily-fortified third floor, where his guards hung out. The floors below had thick walls too plus ways to barricade the stairs. Why he wasn't called 'Prudent' Jean is difficult to understand.

The staircase up the first two floors is fairly wide. For the rest of the way, it is a narrow corkscrew. Probably, Fearless Jean did not actually live in the tower, but if any Armagnacs were in the neighborhood, he could pop into it pretty fast.

He could pop out fast too. Each floor has a door leading into the hôtel - now blocked up - and therephoto: info banner were other accesses to the old wall. Thus could Fearless Jean slink around Paris without going out his front door.

The whole '100 Years War' thing takes about 116 years to tell, so I'm just going to skip most of it here. The point merely is, if you are walking around Paris and you get the urge to see the inside of the place where Fearless Jean slept 587 years ago, you can do this.

About 30 of these banners explain the tower and mediaeval life.

For being able to do this we must thank Bernadin de Mendoça - Philippe II's ambassador to Henri III - who bought a piece of a Françoiser subdivision at the end of the 16th century and opted to keep the old tower.

After paying the 30 francs entry fee, you can climb the same 140 steps Fearless Jean took to get up to his bedroom. On the way you can look out the tiny windows in the thick walls.

Somewhere - I think between the second and third floor - there is a super, vaulted ceiling decoration, of oak branches intertwined with vines - probably representing Burgundy, and Fearless Jean's 'power.' The only other decoration like this is in the 'Hôtel des Ambassadeurs d'Angleterre' in Dijon.

Then, in what Fearless Jean may have used as a bedroom in doubtful times, you can look at his fireplace. The room's toilet is behind this, designed to be heated by it - and you can look at this too. It has a window, so reading in it would be no problem. There is no room for a bathtub.

The only thing unoriginal about the whole tower is the roof. Since therephoto: burdundy decor is no image available of the original, today's roof is a copy of one shown in 18th century drawings, added to the possibly battlemented roof of the tower in 1750 as an extra lodging area.

The ceiling decor between the lower staircase and the upper is extremely rare.

The tower was classified as a historical monument in 1884 and restoration on it started in 1992. It opened to the public last October and is operated by a non-profit association.

The interior is without furniture but is decorated with about 30 mediaeval hanging banners, printed with descriptions of architectural details, notes about Fearless Jean's life and times, and other comments about various other things in mediaeval times.

As far as is known, this fortified tower is the only example in Paris. All other buildings of about the same age are either townhouses - 'hôtels' - of the wealthy, or ordinary houses; and there isn't a lot of either.

If you are in Paris and if you go up to the fourth floor of Fearless Jean's tower, you can tell friends you were in his bedroom. One he last stayed in, in 1413. There's a lot of sillier things you can do with 30 francs.

Tour Jean Sans Peur
20. Rue Etienne Marcel, Paris 2. Métro: Etienne-Marcel
Open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, from 13:30 to 18:00.

During school holidays, the tower is open daily except Mondays. Guided tours are available by reservation. The tower can also be rented for meetings and other purposes, such as 'mediaeval evenings.' Contact the director, Rémi Rivière, for information. Info. Tel.: 01 40 26 20 28.

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