Fact of the day: 31st July

On this day in 1451 Jacques Cœur was arrested by order of Charles VII of France.

In February 1450 Agnès Sorel, the King’s mistress, suddenly died. Eighteen months later it was rumoured that she had been poisoned, and a lady of the court who owed money to Jacques Cœur, Jeanne de Vendôme, wife of François de Montberon, and an Italian, Jacques Colonna, formally accused him of having poisoned her.

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There was no pretext for such a charge, but for this and other alleged crimes the King, on 31 July 1451, gave orders for his arrest and for the seizure of his goods, reserving for himself a large sum of money for the war in Guienne.

Commissioners extraordinary, the merchant’s declared enemies, were chosen to conduct the trial and an inquiry began, the judges in which were either the prisoner’s debtors or the holders of his forfeited estates.

He was accused of having paid French gold and ingots to the infidels, of coining light money, of kidnapping oarsmen for his galleys, of sending back a Christian slave who had taken sanctuary on board one of his ships, and of committing frauds and exactions in Languedoc to the King’s prejudice. He defended himself with all the energy of his nature.

His innocence was manifest but a conviction was necessary, and in spite of strenuous efforts on the part of his friends, after twenty-two months of confinement in five prisons, he was condemned to do public penance for his fault, to pay the King a sum equal to about 1,000,000 at today’s value, and to remain a prisoner till full satisfaction had been obtained. His sentence also included confiscation of all his property, and exile during His Majesty’s pleasure.

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On 5 June 1453 the sentence took effect. At Poitiers, the shame of making honourable amends was accomplished and for nearly three years nothing is known of him. It is probable that he remained in prison. It is certain that his vast possessions were distributed among the intimates of Charles.

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