There are quite a few streets in Paris, that on first glance seem completely ordinary, and we cross them without even noticing, on our way to more interesting places. However, these street are sometimes the ones that hold the most interesting stories. One of them is Rue Barbette, in the heart of the 3rd Arrondissement (the Marais).
Here used to stand a mansion that was built in the late 13th century by Etienne Barbette, head of the Paris Merchant guild. Barbette is known not only for constructing the first dock in Paris (Augustin dock, in the 6th Arrondissement of the city), but mainly for the law bearing his name, which obligates both landlord and tenant of an apartment to notify the other party 3 months in advance when clearing out of the apartment (a law that exists to this day). Despite his public activities, Barbette wasn’t a very loved person, due to his collaboration with King Philip “the fair” (don’t let his nickname deceive you), and the mansion was burned by an angry Parisian mob in 1306. In 1390, the mansion was rebuilt by the French Minister of Treasury, Jean de Montague, who was also not so loved, himself (like most Ministers of Treasury, really). In 1409, by the way, Montague was charged with embezzlement and was executed (his corpse remained hanging for 3 years, until, in a retrial, he was found innocent).
The murderer of the Duke of Orléans lets the English to Paris by the back door
The ownership of mansion was transferred to the Queen of France, Isabeau of Bavaria, and she moved into it after her husband, King Charles VI, lost his sanity. During her stay there, the queen started having a love affair with the king’s young and handsome brother, Louis of Orléans. This caused Jean “the fearless”, Duke of Burgundy and the King’s cousin (who was also in love with the queen) to get jealous. Since Louis of Orléans was tall and handsome, and Duke of Burgundy was short and ugly, it was pretty clear that Jean “the fearless” would have to do better than to sing a couple of chansons and prepare a romantic dinner to win the queen’s heart.
And so, worth of his name, Duke of Burgundy decided to act. On November 23rd, 1407, the Duke of Orléans went to visit the queen in Barbette mansion, when a courier notified him that the kind was interested to talk with him, and that he must come at once to Saint Paul palace, located in the southern part of the Marais (which is today the 4th Arrondissement). When the duke arrived at Impasse des Arbalétriers (the crossbow alley), he was ambushed by 18 mercenaries armed with hammers and axes. Louis managed to yell “I am the Duke of Orléans”, since he believed the murderers thought him to be someone else, but in response, they yelled back, “you’re exactly the one we were looking for”. The duke and his companions never had a chance, and his hacked corpse was found on the next morning and received a grand funeral, during which the Duke of Burgundy said, “never before had such a low and treacherous murder been committed in France”.
The duke’s words didn’t convince anyone, and he had to escape Paris, only in order to get back there with his army. That was the beginning of a bloody civil war, between the supporters of Burgundy and those of the Duke of Orléans, who were nicknamed “the Armagnacs”, after Bernard VII, Count of Armagnac, who commanded them. Jean “the fearless” paid for his deeds in 1419, when he was murdered by supporters of Count of Armagnac, but before his death he managed to open the gates of Paris to let the English in.
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The mansion of the French kings mistress
About 150 years after those bloody events, the Barbette mansion was bought by Louis de Brézé, one of the most prominent noblemen in France, who married a 13 years old girl named Diane de Poitiers. When King François I passed by, he noticed the beautiful girl, and decided to bring her to the king’s court. However, the royal lover, duchess d’Étampes, immediately suspected his intentions, and never let the affair evolve. Diane de Poitiers, on her part, did not despair, and instead of trying to win the king’s heart, she turned her efforts toward winning his son (you can read about their incredible love story in another post). After the death of Diane de Poitiers, the mansion was sold by her daughter, and over the years it was destroyed, and on its ruins were built the streets Barbette and Elzevier. Today, this street contains nothing interesting that is worth a visit, but as you go from Musée Cognacq-Jay to Hôtel de Soubise, pass through this street, and recall the drama that took place there, about 600 years ago.