Monday, 25 June 2018

Jeanne Hachette, the heroine of Beauvais

Close to the centre of the city of Beauvais, 50 miles north of Paris, is a bronze statue of a young woman who holds a captured standard in one hand and a vicious-looking hatchet in the other. This is “Jeanne Hachette”, who lived in the 15th century and is credited with saving the city from being overrun by a besieging army.

Her actual name was Jeanne Laisné, the daughter of a local butcher. She lived in the walled city of Beauvais at a time of conflict between King Louis XI and Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who were fighting over the control of France.

In the spring of 1472 the Duke’s troops were advancing on Beauvais. They had already taken the smaller city of Nesle, to the north-east, which had made the mistake of surrendering to the Burgundians. This had not stopped the Duke’s men from bursting in and killing all the people they could find, many of whom had fled to the church as a place of refuge.

The citizens of Beauvais were therefore determined to put up the strongest resistance they could. On 27th June the Duke’s men lay siege to the city walls, erecting siege ladders so that they could swarm over the top.

Nobody fought as fiercely as Jeanne Laisn√©, who armed herself with a hatchet from her father’s butcher’s shop. Her most prominent victim was the Duke’s standard-bearer – seizing the standard was a moral victory that gave heart to all her fellow defenders, who no doubt saw Jeanne as a reincarnated Joan of Arc.

Duke Charles failed in his aim of capturing Beauvais and was forced to withdraw after 25 days. Beauvais had its eternal heroine.

© John Welford

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The duel fought between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr

On 11th July 1804 Alexander Hamilton was fatally wounded in a duel fought against Aaron Burr, who was then Vice-President of the United States of America. 

Hamilton was one of the founding fathers of the United States, but unlike George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, he never became President.

Hamilton was a strong believer in a centralised United States, with the emphasis on ‘United’, but Aaron Burr, a fellow New York politician, was more interested in the ‘States’, preferring a looser confederation. This difference of opinion led to considerable friction between the two men.

Trouble flared in 1800 when there was much confusion over who should be President and who should be Vice-President. As the Constitution was at the time, it was up to Congress to make the decision, and Burr became convinced that Hamilton had thrown his weight behind Jefferson.

In 1804 Burr had further cause for grievance when Hamilton thwarted his attempt to become governor of New York.

Many cross words were said on both sides, with Hamilton accusing Burr of dishonourable behaviour. This led Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel. 

Duelling was forbidden in New York, so the opponents and their seconds crossed over to New Jersey. The duel was fought at the same place where Hamilton’s son Philip had been killed in a duel three years earlier. 

The tradition of pistol duelling between gentlemen held that honour would be satisfied if both parties aimed to miss. Hamilton appears to have followed this tradition, but Aaron Burr did not. Hamilton was hit in the abdomen and died 28 hours later, despite the efforts of New York’s best surgeons to save him.

The affair did not end well for Aaron Burr either. He served out his term as Vice-President but held no further political office. History remembers Alexander Hamilton with much greater appreciation than is given to Aaron Burr.

© John Welford