Our story begins in 1405 as the Black Plague, the Hundred Years War and roving bands of mercenaries were all working together to make life pretty much unbearable for anyone unlucky enough to have made it through childhood. King Charles V has turned the tide of the ongoing, never ending series of conflicts that make up the Hundred Years War. Under Charles V, The French Army became the first permanent army, paid with regular wages, which began to liberate the French populace from these mercenaries who would turn to plunder and pillage whenever there was a lull in the fighting. By the time of Charles V’s death, the French treasury was full, and all territories lost to the English were regained. Then everything went south. His eldest, Charles VI, was seriously mentally ill, but still married Princess Isabeau of Bavaria and became king. Charles V’s youngest son, Louis, was a huge womanizer who “whinnied like a stallion after all the beautiful woman” and was known to indulge in adultery, incest and other lewd acts. Charles the V’s brother, Phillip the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy acted as Regent to his mentally ill nephew, but gradually Louis’ influence over Queen Isabeau grew and Phillip began to lose his power and influence in the court. Over time, Louis consolidated his power, removed every Burgundian on the Council and began to share the Queen’s bed and is the likely father of King Charles VII, and although this has never been proven, it is a rumor that has lasted 600 years. Phillip the Bold’s son, John the Fearless, found himself with no real connection to the Queen, a shrinking royal dowry and lots of animosity from Louis. He took advantage of rising discontent among taxpayers and merchants by promising a limited monarchy and marched on Paris in 1405, which unfortunately did nothing to restore his power in court. So, he paid off fifteen thugs to stab Louis to death on a bridge as he was leaving the Queen’s residence the day after she gave birth to her twelfth child. Phillip did not deny his involvement and instead justified the murder as an act of “tryannicide”. This assassination signaled the start of this conflict known as the Armagnac-Burgundian Civil War that lasted almost 30 years, which occurred during a pause in the larger Hundred Years War.
Louis’ son, Charles of Orleans, sought to avenge his father and backed any and all enemies of The House of Burgundy. Phillip created an alliance with the English and Louis joined forced with the French. For almost a decade, the fighting raged on with armed bands of écorcheurs devastating the population of Paris. The Burgundians had control of Paris by spring of 1419, where they massacred the Count of Armagnac and 1,000’s of his followers but had no finances left to fight the war. The young Dauphin King Charles VII (son of either Louis or Charles VI) first great act as a 14-year-old king was to broker an advantageous peace with the Burgundians. This was not meant to be, as Phillip the Bold was murdered himself on a bridge while awaiting a meeting with Charles VII. The murder made any type of appeasement impossible and the fighting continued. The English and Burgundian armies continued to rack up victories and take more land. As the conflict raged on, John the Fearless died and his son, Phillip the Good, became the new Duke of Burgundy and signed an alliance with the English called the Treaty of Troyes, which completely disinherited Charles VII and named Henry V of England, as heir and regent of France. The House of Burgundy and the English were now controlling the Low Lands, and almost all of France and the once amazing French Army was a shadow of its former self. Total victory was at hand for Phillip the Good and the Kingdom of Burgundy.
That is until a little peasant girl started having visions of the Archangel Michael instructing her to support Charles VII to get rid of the English. This little girl from a small farming hamlet was named Joan of Arc and her involvement with Charles VII completely turned the tide of the war. After years of one humiliating defeat after another, both the military and civil leadership of France were demoralized and discredited. When the Dauphin Charles granted Joan’s urgent request to placed in amour and ride for war at the head of his army, his decision must have been based on the knowledge that every orthodox, every rational option had been tried and had failed. I can only imagine the desperation Charles must have been feeling to pay any heed to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that the voice of God was instructing her to take charge of her country’s army and lead it to victory. The crazy thing is that Joan seemed to possess other worldly powers as she revitalized the French Army and started to put the fear of the Lord into those she attacked. She racked up victory after victory against the House of Burgundy, culminating with Charles VII’s 1429 coronation at the Reims Cathedral, in Champagne. Visons or not, in 1430, Phillip the Good succeeded in capturing Joan of Arc and sold her off to the English. She was put on trial for heresy conducted by clerics loyal to The House of Burgundy that convicted her and was she was summarily burnt at the stake. Less than five years later, Phillip broke with the English and signed the Treaty of Arras which recognized Charles VII as King of France. The long-term implication of this act was to eventually destroy the House of Burgundy and lay the ground work for modern day France, but in the short term it provided stability and economic gains that helped rebuild the countryside.
Under Phillip the Good, Burgundy was at its apex of its prosperity and prestige; its Court can only be described as extravagant and was regarded as the most splendid in Europe. Phillip himself had 23 different mistresses who bore him 18 illegitimate children, his favorites wore the court title of Grand bâtard de Bourgogne (The Great Bastard of Burgundy). The region became the leader in taste and fashion and its luxury products were the most sought all over Europe. Phillip was also a huge patron of the Arts and Literature commissioning some of the best works of Jan Van Eyck among others. His chapel became the musical epicenter of Europe.
Even though The Hundred Year War was officially over, the roving bands of écorcheurs were still plaguing the countryside, not to mention the Black Plague of which there was a massive outbreak in Burgundy about this time. Philip and his Chancellor Nicolas Rolin founded the Hospices of Beaune in 1443, as a refuge for all the destitute in Burgundy, which appears to be about everyone who was not in Philips court. The Hospice is considered to be one of the greatest examples of Flamboyant Gothic 15th century French architecture with the signature glazed tile roofs that have come to symbolize Burgundy. The Hospices de Beaune received its first patient on 1 January 1452. Since then the elderly, disabled, orphans, sick people, women about to give birth and the destitute have all been uninterruptedly welcomed for treatment and refuge from the Middle Ages until today. Although now the nuns have been replaced with doctors and the treatment is offered in a state of the art hospital located in Beaune. The Hospices own over 60 hectares of vines in Côte de Beaune, Côtes de Nuits and Pouilly-Fuissé, that have been gifted to them over the centuries and hosts one of the most famous wine auctions in the world each year on the third Sunday in November. The history, artistic heights and spiritual longing and centuries old wine making traditions of Burgundy all exist in this building.
Tonight, we begin with a complete rarity, a small vineyard somehow grandfathered in that can grow Pinot Blanc and label its wines as Savigny-les-Beaune. It is a 70% Pinot Blanc with 30% Chardonnay that is just stellar with the scallop and cauliflower puree that we pair with it tonight. Then we move onto a warm winter salad of homemade sausages, curly endive, potatoes and mustard to pair with a premier cru vineyard in Maranges, called “Les Clos Roussots”. To finish off our tour we will be pairing a chicken roulade of ham, gruyere and spinach with one of my favorite unknown regions called Pernand-Vegelesses. This premier cru vineyard called “Les Vergelesses” made by Mongeard-Mugneret sits in a region that has been positively affected by climate change and has over a week longer hang time than it did 20 years ago. Wrapping up the night is a simple crème puff filled with a honey cream and candied walnuts. Thank you so much for joining us on this snowy Sunday night as we continue our tour of Europe. Cheers!