10 September 1419
John the Fearless is lured into a fatal trap
In one of the key incidents of the Hundred Years’ War, John the Fearless is struck down with an axe on a bridge in Montereau, central France. The assassination solidified divisions within France, strengthening the hand of England’s Henry V
In the early 15th century, France was not a happy place. Under Charles VI, who was experiencing bouts of psychosis, the bitter rivalry between two branches of the royal family, the Armagnacs and the Burgundians, had spilled over into war. In 1418 the Burgundian leader, John the Fearless, had captured Paris, though not before the teenage dauphin, another Charles, had managed to escape.
In the autumn of 1419, John and the young Charles decided to resolve their differences and form an alliance against English aggressors. They agreed to meet at the bridge over the Seine at Montereau on 10 September 1419 to seal the deal.
John was a bold, reckless man – hence his nickname. So when he heard rumours that Charles’s men were planning something, he was not unduly discouraged. He arrived with plenty of bodyguards, as was only sensible. But it never occurred to him not to turn up at all.
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When John strode onto the bridge, he found that carpenters had built a special wooden enclosure, midway across, for the meeting. He and Charles were allowed to bring 10 men each, who would step through a gate into the space. Every man had to swear an oath that he would not raise his hands in anger.
The meeting began, the two sides glaring at one another with undisguised suspicion. As was expected, John knelt before the dauphin. But Charles barely looked at him. Something was wrong. John’s hand went to his sword hilt. “You put your hand on your sword in the presence of His Highness the Dauphin?” one of Charles’s men said. And at that moment, the first axe-blow came crashing down.
As John buckled under the impact of the attack, his men were almost too stunned to intervene. Meanwhile Charles’s men were pouring through the gate, armed to the teeth, screaming “Kill! Kill!” More blows rained down. Blood poured from stab wounds in John’s chest. He never stood a chance.
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