10 September – On this day
John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, was assassinated on the bridge at Montereau on this day in 1419 during a parley with the French dauphin (the future Charles VII of France), by Tanneguy du Chastel and Jean Louvet, the dauphin’s close counsellors.
The assassination took place during the Hundred Years War as two rival factions, the Armagnacs and the Burgundians, vied for power within France. The duke of Orléans and leader of the Armagnacs, Louis I of Orléans, was gaining the upper hand in this struggle, and John the Fearless, sensing that he was losing power, had Louis of Orléans assassinated in Paris in 1407. This event led to a civil war between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians. When the English invaded Normandy, John the Fearless manoeuvred to deal with them carefully, because the Low Countries, which belonged to him, were dependent on the supply of English wool for the production of draperies. Therefore, he only sent a few troops to fight them. He profited from the war by taking power in Paris, supported by the academics and artisans. However, since the English crushed the French knights at Agincourt in 1415, putting an end to the civil war was urgent.
John the Fearless and the dauphin Charles (later Charles VII of France) met several times in an attempt to settle the civil conflict. After some delays they agreed to seal their alliance on the bridge across the Seine at Montereau on September 10, 1419.
There are several reasons put forward for the assassination: that the Armagnacs couldn’t tolerate a settlement between the dauphin and the Burgundians, which would diminish their influence; that this was revenge for the assassination of Louis of Orléans (1407), their former leader; or that since Louis of Orléans was rumoured to be the father of Charles the dauphin, it is not impossible that the latter himself was behind the assassination. Of these theories the most likely is that the Armagnac plot aimed to foil an alliance with the Burgundians.
On September 10, 1419, the dauphin and John the Fearless, with their men-at-arms, arrived on the two banks of the Seine, on either side of the bridge of Montereau. In the middle of the bridge, carpenters had put up two barriers with a door on each side, creating an enclosure for the meeting. It had been agreed that the two rivals would enter the enclosure, each with an escort of ten people, and that the doors would be closed during the meeting.
The atmosphere was tense. The Duke knelt with respect before the Dauphin, who feigned indifference. Rising, John looked for support by putting his hand on the hilt of his épée. “You put your hand on your épée in the presence of His Highness the Dauphin?” one of the Dauphin’s companions, Lord Robert of Loire, asked him. Tanneguy du Chastel didn’t wait for this pretext to deliver an axe blow to the Duke’s face, crying “Kill, kill!” There was then a scramble, according to a narrative given afterwards by John Séguinat, men-at-arms rushed into the enclosure through the door on the Dauphin’s side, which had been kept open. The Duke was stabbed repeatedly, while the Dauphin, at a distance, remained impassive.
According to some accounts, the corpse of the Duke of Burgundy had the right hand cut off as the Duke himself had done several years earlier to his cousin, Louis I of Orléans (1407). The Dauphin was blamed as the principal instigator of the assassination of the Duke of Burgundy, and despite his refutations and excuses, he could never clear himself.