Jacqueline of Holland, the Girl of the Land of Fogs
Count William of Hainault, of Zealand and Friesland, Duke of Bavaria and Sovereign Lord of Holland, held his court in the great, straggling castle which he called his "hunting lodge," near to the German Ocean, and since known by the name of "The Hague."
Count William was a gallant and courtly knight, learned in all the ways of chivalry, the model of the younger cavaliers, handsome in person, noble in bearing, the surest lance in the tilting-yard, and the stoutest arm in the foray.
Like "Jephtha, Judge of Israel," of whom the mock-mad Hamlet sang to Polonius, Count William had
and, truth to tell, this fair young Jacqueline, the little "Lady of Holland," as men called her,—but whom Count William, because of her fearless antics and boyish ways, called "Dame Jacob," —loved her knightly father with equal fervor.
As she sat, that day, in the great Hall of the Knights in the massive castle at The Hague, she could see, among all the knights and nobles who came from far and near to join in the festivities at Count William's court, not one that approached her father in nobility of bearing or manly strength—not even her husband.
Her husband? Yes. For this little maid of thirteen had been for eight years the wife of the Dauphin of France, the young Prince John of Touraine, to whom she had been married when she was scarce five years old and he barely nine. Surrounded by all the pomp of an age of glitter and display, these royal children lived in their beautiful castle of Quesnoy, in Flanders, when they were not, as at the time of our story, residents at the court of the powerful Count William of Holland.
Other young people were there, too,—nobles and pages and little ladies-in-waiting; and there was much of the stately ceremonial and flowery talk that in those days of knighthood clothed alike the fears of cowards and the desires of heroes. For there have always been heroes and cowards in the world.
And so, between all these young folk, there was much boastful talk and much harmless gossip how the little Lady of Courtrai had used the wrong corner of the towel yesterday; how the fat Duchess of Enkhuysen had violated the laws of all etiquette by placing the wrong number of finger-bowls upon her table on St. Jacob's Day; and how the stout young Hubert of Malsen had scattered the rascal merchants of Dort at their Shrovetide fair.
Then uprose the young Lord of Arkell.
"Hold, there!" he cried hotly. "This Hubert of Malsen is but a craven, sirs, if he doth say the merchants of Dort are rascal cowards. Had they been fairly mated, he had no more dared to put his nose within the gates of Dort than dare one of you here to go down yonder amid Count William's lions!"
"Have a care, friend Otto," said the little Lady of Holland, with warning finger; "there is one here, at least, who dareth to go amid the lions—my father, sir."
"I said nothing of him, madam," replied Count Otto. "I did mean these young red hats here, who do no more dare to bait your father's lions than to face the Cods of Dort in fair and equal fight."
At this bold speech there was instant commotion. For the nobles and merchants of Holland, four centuries and a half ago, were at open strife with one another. The nobles saw in the increasing prosperity of the merchants the end of their own feudal power and tyranny. The merchants recognized in the arrogant nobles the only bar to the growth of Holland's commercial enterprise. So each faction had its leaders, its partisans, its badges, and its followers. Many and bloody were the feuds and fights that raged through all those low-lying lands of Holland, as the nobles, or "Hooks," as they were called—distinguishable by their big red hats,—and the merchants, or "Cods," with their slouch hats of quiet gray, struggled for the lead in the state. And how they did hate one another!
Certain of the younger nobles, however, who were opposed to the reigning house of Holland, of which Count William, young Jacqueline's father, was the head, had espoused the cause of the merchants, seeing in their success greater prosperity and wealth for Holland. Among these had been the young Lord of Arkell, now a sort of half prisoner at Count William's court because of certain bold attempts to favor the Cods in his own castle of Arkell. His defiant words therefore raised a storm of protests.
"Nay, then, Lord of Arkell," said the Dauphin John, "you, who prate so loudly, would better prove your words by some sign of your own valor. You may have dared fight your lady mother, who so roundly punished you therefor, but a lion hath not the tender ways of a woman. Face you the lions, lord count, and I will warrant me they will not prove as forbearing as did she."
It was common talk at Count William's court that the brave Lady of Arkell, mother of the Count Otto, had made her way, disguised, into we castle of her son, had herself lowered the drawbridge, admitted her armed retainers, overpowered and driven out her rebellious son; and that then, relenting, she had appealed to Count William to pardon the lad and to receive him at court as hostage for his own fealty. So this fling of the Dauphin's cut deep.
But before the young Otto could return an angry answer, Jacqueline had interfered.
"Nay, nay, my lord," she said to her husband, the Dauphin; " 't is not a knightly act thus to impeach the honor of a noble guest."
But now the Lord of Arkell had found his tongue.
"My lord prince," he said, bowing low with stately courtesy, "if, as my lady mother and good Count William would force me, I am to be loyal vassal to you, my lieges here, I should but follow where you dare to lead. Go YOU into the lions' den, lord prince, and I will follow you, though it were into old Hercules' very teeth."
It was a shrewd reply, and covered as good a "double-dare" as ever one boy made to another. Some of the manlier of the young courtiers indeed even dared to applaud. But the Dauphin John was stronger in tongue than in heart.
"Peste!" he cried contemptuously. "'T is a fool's answer and a fool's will. And well shall we see now how you will sneak out of it all. See, Lord of Arkell, you who can prate so loudly of Cods and lions: here before all, I dare you to face Count William's lions yourself!"
The young Lord of Arkell was in his rich court suit—a tight-fitting, great-sleeved silk jacket, rich, violet chausses, or tights, and pointed shoes. But without a word, with scarce a look toward his challenger, he turned to his nearest neighbor, a brave Zealand lad, afterward noted in Dutch history—Francis von Borselen.
"Lend me your gabardine, friend Franz, will you not?" he said.
The young von Borselen took from the back of the settle, over which it was flung, his gabardine—the long, loose gray cloak that was a sort of overcoat in those days of queer costume.
"It is here, my Otto," he said.
The Lord of Arkell drew the loose gray cloak over his rich silk suit, and turned toward the door.
"Otto von Arkell lets no one call him fool or coward, lord prince," he said. "What I have dared you all to do, I dare do, if you do not. See, now: I will face Count William's lions!"
The Princess Jacqueline sprang up in protest.
"No, no; you shall not!" she cried. "My lord prince did but jest, as did we all. John," she said, turning appealingly to her young husband, who sat sullen and unmoved, "tell him you meant no such murderous test. My father!" she cried, turning now toward Count William, whose attention had been drawn to the dispute, the Lord of Arkell is pledged to face your lions!"
Count William of Holland dearly loved pluck and nerve.
"Well, daughter mine," he said, "then will he keep his pledge. Friend Otto is a brave young gallant, else had he never dared raised spear and banner, as he did, against his rightful liege."
"But, my father," persisted the gentle-hearted girl, "spear and banner are not lions' jaws. And surely you may not in honor permit the wilful murder of a hostage."
"Nay, madam, have no fear," the Lord of Arkell said, bending in courteous recognition of her interest; "that which I do of mine own free will is no murder, even should it fail."
And he hastened from the hall.
A raised gallery looked down into the spacious inclosure in which Count William kept the living specimens of his own princely badge of the lion. And here the company gathered to see the sport.
With the gray gabardine drawn but loosely over his silken suit, so that he might, if need be, easily slip from it, Otto von Arkell boldly entered the inclosure.
"Soho, Juno! up, Hercules; hollo, up, Ajax!" cried Count William, from the balcony. "Here cometh a right royal playfellow—up, up, my beauties!" and the great brutes, roused by the voice of their master, pulled themselves up, shook themselves awake, and stared at the intruder.
Boldly and without hesitation, while all the watchers had eyes but for him alone, the young Lord of Arkell walked straight up to Hercules, the largest of the three, and laid his hand caressingly upon the shaggy mane. Close to his side pressed Juno, the lioness, and, so says the record of the old Dutch chronicler, von Hildegaersberch, "the lions did him no harm; he played with them as if they had been dogs."
But Ajax, fiercest of the three, took no notice of the lad. Straight across his comrades he looked to where, scarce a rod behind the daring lad, came another figure, a light and graceful form in clinging robes of blue and undergown of cloth of gold—the Princess Jacqueline herself!
The watchers in the gallery followed the lion's stare, and saw, with horror, the advancing figure of this fair young girl. A cry of terror broke from every lip. The Dauphin John turned pale with fright, and Count William of Holland, calling out, "Down, Ajax! back, girl, back!" sprang to his feet as if he would have vaulted over the gallery rail.
But before he could act, Ajax himself had acted. With a bound he cleared the intervening space and crouched at the feet of the fair young Princess Jacqueline!
The lions must have been in remarkably good humor on that day, for, as the records tell us, they did no harm to their visitors. Ajax slowly rose and looked up into the girl's calm face. Then the voice of Jacqueline rang out fresh and clear as, standing with her hand buried in the lion's tawny mane, she raised her face to the startled galleries.
"You who could dare and yet dared not to do!" she cried, "it shall not be said that in all Count William's court none save the rebel Lord of Arkell dared to face Count William's lions!"
The Lord of Arkell sprang to his comrade's side. With a hurried word of praise he flung the gabardine about her, grasped her arm, and bade her keep her eyes firmly fixed upon the lions; then, step by step, those two foolhardy young persons backed slowly out of the danger into which they had so thoughtlessly and unnecessarily forced themselves.
The lions' gate closed behind them with a clang; the shouts of approval and of welcome sounded from the thronging gallery, and over all they heard the voice of the Lord of Holland mingling commendation and praise with censure for the rashness of their action.
And it was a rash and foolish act. But we must remember that those were days when such feats were esteemed as brave and valorous. For the Princess Jaqueline of Holland was reared in the school of so-called chivalry and romance, which in her time was fast approaching its end. She was, indeed, as one historian declares, the last heroine of knighthood. Her very titles suggest the days of chivalry. She was Daughter of Holland, Countess of Ponthieu, Duchess of Berry, Lady of Crevecoeur, of Montague and Arloeux. Brought up in the midst of tilts and tournaments, of banquets and feasting, and all the lavish display of the rich Bavarian court, she was, as we learn from her chroniclers, the leader of adoring knights and vassals, the idol of her parents, the ruler of her soft-hearted boy husband, an expert falconer, a daring horsewoman, and a fearless descendant of those woman warriors of her race, Margaret the Empress, and Philippa the Queen, and of a house that traced its descent through the warlike Hohenstaufens back to Charlemagne himself.
All girls admire bravery, even though not themselves personally courageous. It is not, therefore, surprising that this intrepid and romance-reared young princess, the wife of a lad for whom she never especially cared, and whose society had for political reasons been forced upon her, should have placed as the hero of her admiration, next to her own fearless father, not the Dauphin John of France, but this brave young rebel lad, Otto, the Lord of Arkell.
But the joyous days of fete and pleasure at Quesnoy, at Paris, and The Hague were fast drawing to a close. On the fourth of April, 1417, the Dauphin John died by poisoning, in his father's castle at Compiègne—the victim of those terrible and relentless feuds that were then disgracing and endangering the feeble throne of France.
The dream of future power and greatness as Queen of France, in which the girl wife of the Dauphin had often indulged, was thus rudely dispelled, and Jacqueline returned to her father's court in Holland, no longer crown princess and heiress to a throne, but simply "Lady of Holland."
But in Holland, too, sorrow was in store for her. Swiftly following the loss of her husband, the Dauphin, came the still heavier blow of her father's death. On the thirtieth of May, 1417, Count William died in his castle of Bouchain, in Hainault, and his sorrowing daughter Jacqueline, now a beautiful girl of sixteen, succeeded to his titles and lordship as Countess and Lady Supreme of Hainault, of Holland, and of Zealand.
For years, however, there had been throughout the Low Countries a strong objection to the rule of a woman. The death of Count William showed the Cods a way toward greater liberty. Rebellion followed rebellion, and the rule of the Countess Jacqueline was by no means a restful one.
And chief among the rebellious spirits, as leader and counsellor among the Cods, appeared the brave lad who had once been the companion of the princess in danger, the young Lord of Arkell.
It was he who lifted the standard of revolt against her regency. Placing the welfare of Holland above personal friendship, and sinking, in his desire for glory, even the chivalry of that day, which should have prompted him to aid rather than annoy this beautiful girl, he raised a considerable army among the knights of the Cods, or liberal party, and the warlike merchants of the cities, took possession of many strong positions in Holland, and occupied, among other places, the important town of Gorkum on the Maas. The stout citadel of the town, was, however, garrisoned with loyal troops. This the Lord of Arkell beseiged, and, demanding its surrender, sent also a haughty challenge to the young countess, who was hastening to the relief of her beleaguered town.
Jacqueline's answer was swift and unmistakable. With three hundred ships and six thousand knights and men-at-arms, she sailed from the old harbor of Rotterdam, and the lion-flag of her house soon floated above the loyal citadel of Gorkum.
Her doughty Dutch general, von Brederode, counselled immediate attack, but the girl countess, though full of enthusiasm and determination, hesitated.
From her station in the citadel she looked over the scene before her. Here, along the low bank of the river Maas, stretched the camp of her own followers, and the little gayly colored boats that had brought her army up the river from the red roofs of Rotterdam. There, stretching out into the flat country beyond the straggling streets of Gorkum, lay the tents of the rebels. And yet they were all her countrymen—rebels and retainers alike. Hollanders all, they were ever ready to combine for the defence of their homeland when threatened by foreign foes or by the destroying ocean floods.
Jacqueline's eye caught the flutter of the broad banner of the house of Arkell that waved over the rebel camp.
Again she saw the brave lad who alone of all her father's court, save she, had dared to face Count William's lions; again the remembrance of how his daring had made him one of her heroes, filled her heart, and a dream of what might be possessed her. Her boy husband, the French Dauphin, was dead, and she was pledged by her dying father's command to marry her cousin, whom she detested, Duke John of Brabant. But how much better, so she reasoned, that the name and might of her house as rulers of Holland should be upheld by a brave and fearless knight. On the impulse of this thought she summoned a loyal and trusted vassal to her aid.
"Von Leyenburg," she said, "go you in haste and in secret to the Lord of Arkell, and bear from me this message for his ear alone. Thus says the Lady of Holland: 'Were it not better, Otto of Arkell, that we join hands in marriage before the altar, than that we spill the blood of faithful followers and vassals in a cruel fight?'"
It was a singular, and perhaps, to our modern ears, a most unladylike proposal; but it shows how, even in the heart of a sovereign countess and a girl general, warlike desires may give place to gentler thoughts.
To the Lord Arkell, however, this unexpected proposition came as an indication of weakness.
"My lady countess fears to face my determined followers," he thought. "Let me but force this fight and the victory is mine. In that is greater glory and more of power than being husband to the Lady of Holland."
And so he returned a most ungracious answer:
"Tell the Countess Jacqueline," he said to the knight of Leyenburg, "that the honor of her hand I cannot accept. I am her foe, and would rather die than marry her."
All the hot blood of her ancestors flamed in wrath as young Jacqueline heard this reply of the rebel lord.
"Crush we these rebel curs, von Brederode," she cried, pointing to the banner of Arkell; "for by my father's memory, they shall have neither mercy nor life from me."
Fast upon the curt refusal of the Lord of Arkell came his message of defiance.
"Hear ye, Countess of Holland," rang out the challenge of the herald of Arkell, as his trumpet-blast sounded before the gate of the citadel, "the free Lord of Arkell here giveth you word and warning that he will fight against you on the morrow!"
And from the citadel came back this ringing reply, as the knight of Leyenburg made answer for his sovereign lady:
"Hear ye, sir Herald, and answer thus to the rebel Lord of Arkell: 'For the purpose of fighting him came we here, and fight him we will, until he and his rebels are beaten and dead.' Long live our Sovereign Lady of Holland!"
On the morrow, a murky December day, in the year 1417, the battle was joined, as announced. On the low plain beyond the city, knights and men-at-arms, archers and spearmen, closed in the shock of battle, and a stubborn and bloody fight it was.
Seven times did the knights of Jacqueline, glittering in their steel armor, clash into the rebel ranks; seven times were they driven back, until, at last, the Lord of Arkell, with a fiery charge, forced them against the very gates of the citadel. The brave von Brederode fell pierced with wounds, and the day seemed lost, indeed, to the Lady of Holland.
Then Jacqueline the Countess, seeing her cause in danger—like another Joan of Arc, though she was indeed a younger and much more beautiful girl general,—seized the lion-banner of her house, and, at the head of her reserve troops, charged through the open gate straight into the ranks of her victorious foes. There was neither mercy nor gentleness in her heart then. As when she had cowed with a look Ajax, the lion, so now, with defiance and wrath in her face, she dashed straight at the foe.
Her disheartened knights rallied around her, and, following the impetuous girl, they wielded axe and lance for the final struggle. The result came quickly. The ponderous battle-axe of the knight of Leyenburg crashed through the helmet of the Lord of Arkell, and as the brave young leader fell to the ground, his panic-stricken followers turned and fled. The troops of Jacqueline pursued them through the streets of Gorkum and out into the open country, and the vengeance of the countess was sharp and merciless.
But in the flush of victory wrath gave way to pity again, and the young conqueror is reported to have said, sadly and in tears:
"Ah! I have won, and yet how have I lost!"
But the knights and nobles who followed her banner loudly praised her valor and her fearlessness, and their highest and most knightly vow thereafter was to swear "By the courage of our Princess."
The brilliant victory of this girl of sixteen was not, however, to accomplish her desires. Peace never came to her. Harassed by rebellion at home, and persecuted by her relentless and perfidious uncles, Count John of Bavaria, rightly called "the Pitiless," and Duke Philip of Burgundy, falsely called "the Good," she, who had once been Crown Princess of France and Lady of Holland, died at the early age of thirty-six, stripped of all her titles and estates. It is, however, pleasant to think that she was happy in the love of her husband, the baron of the forests of the Duke of Burgundy, a plain Dutch gentleman, Francis von Borselen, the lad who, years before, had furnished the gray gabardine that had shielded Count William's daughter from her father's lions.
The story of Jacqueline of Holland is one of the most romantic that has come down to us from those romantic days of the knights. Happy only in her earliest and latest years, she is, nevertheless, a bright and attractive figure against the dark background of feudal tyranny and crime. The story of her womanhood should indeed be told, if we would study her life as a whole; but for us, who can in this paper deal only with her romantic girlhood, her young life is to be taken as a type of the stirring and extravagant days of chivalry.
And we cannot but think with sadness upon the power for good that she might have been in her land of fogs and floods if, instead of being made the tool of party hate and the ambitions of men, her frank and fearless girl nature had been trained to gentle ways and charitable deeds.
To be "the most picturesque figure in the history of Holland," as she has been called, is distinction indeed; but higher still must surely be that gentleness of character and nobility of soul that, in these days of ours, may be acquired by every girl and boy who reads this romantic story of the Countess Jacqueline, the fair young Lady of Holland.