List Of Contents | Contents of Joan of Naples, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

torn out with red-hot pincers, and flung upon brazen chafing-dishes.
No cry of pain was heard from the grand seneschal, he never stirred
once in his frightful agony; yet the torturers put such fury into
their work that the poor wretch was dead before the goal was reached.

In the centre of the square of Saint Eligius an immense stake was set
up: there the prisoners were taken, and what was left of their
mutilated bodies was thrown into the flames.  The Count of Terlizzi
and the grand seneschal's widow were still alive, and two tears of
blood ran down the cheeks of the miserable mother as she saw her
son's corpse and the palpitating remains of her two daughters cast
upon the fire--they by their stifled cries showed that they had not
ceased to suffer.  But suddenly a fearful noise overpowered the
groans of the victims; the enclosure was broken and overturned by
the mob.  Like madmen, they rushed at the burning pile,--armed with
sabres, axes, and knives, and snatching the bodies dead or alive from
the flames, tore them to pieces, carrying off the bones to make
whistles or handles for their daggers as a souvenir of this horrible


The spectacle of this frightful punishment did not satisfy the
revenge of Charles of Durazzo.  Seconded by the chief-justice, he
daily brought about fresh executions, till Andre's death came to be
no more than a pretext for the legal murder of all who opposed his
projects.  But Louis of Tarentum, who had won Joan's heart, and was
eagerly trying to get the necessary dispensation for legalising the
marriage, from this time forward took as a personal insult every act
of the high court of justice which was performed against his will and
against the queen's prerogative: he armed all his adherents,
increasing their number by all the adventurers he could get together,
and so put on foot a strong enough force to support his own party and
resist his cousin.  Naples was thus split up into hostile camps,
ready to come to blows on the smallest pretext, whose daily
skirmishes, moreover, were always followed by some scene of pillage
or death.

But Louis had need of money both to pay his mercenaries and to hold
his own against the Duke of Durazzo and his own brother Robert, and
one day he discovered that the queen's coffers were empty.  Joan was
wretched and desperate, and her lover, though generous and brave and
anxious to reassure her so far as he could, did not very clearly see
how to extricate himself from such a difficult situation.  But his
mother Catherine, whose ambition was satisfied in seeing one of her
sons, no matter which, attain to the throne of Naples, came
unexpectedly to their aid, promising solemnly that it would only take
her a few days to be able to lay at her niece's feet a treasure
richer than anything she had ever dreamed of, queen as she was.

The empress then took half her son's troops, made for Saint Agatha,
and besieged the fortress where Charles and Bertrand of Artois had
taken refuge when they fled from justice.  The old count, astonished
at the sight of this woman, who had been the very soul of the
conspiracy, and not in the least understanding her arrival as an
enemy, sent out to ask the intention of this display of military
force.  To which Catherine replied in words which we translate

"My friends, tell Charles, our faithful friend, that we desire to
speak with him privately and alone concerning a matter equally
interesting to us both, and he is not to be alarmed at our arriving
in the guise of an enemy, for this we have done designedly, as we
shall explain in the course of our interview.  We know he is confined
to bed by the gout, and therefore feel no surprise at his not coming
out to meet us.  Have the goodness to salute him on our part and
reassure him, telling him that we desire to come in, if such is his
good pleasure, with our intimate counsellor, Nicholas Acciajuoli, and
ten soldiers only, to speak with him concerning an important matter
that cannot be entrusted to go-betweens."

Entirely reassured by these frank, friendly explanations, Charles of
Artois sent out his son Bertrand to the empress to receive her with
the respect due to her rank and high position at the court of Naples.
Catherine went promptly to the castle with many signs of joy, and
inquiring after the count's health and expressing her affection, as
soon as they were alone, she mysteriously lowered her voice and
explained that the object of her visit was to consult a man of tried
experience on the affairs of Naples, and to beg his active
cooperation in the queen's favour.  As, however, she was not pressed
for time, she could wait at Saint Agatha for the count's recovery to
hear his views and tell him of the march of events since he left the
court.  She succeeded so well in gaining the old man's confidence and
banishing his suspicions, that he begged her to honour them with her
presence as long as she was able, and little by little received all
her men within the walls.  This was what Catherine was waiting for:
on the very day when her army was installed at Saint Agatha, she
suddenly entered the count's room, followed by four soldiers, and
seizing the old man by the throat, exclaimed wrathfully--

"Miserable traitor, you will not escape from our hands before you
have received the punishment you deserve.  In the meanwhile, show me
where your treasure is hidden, if you would not have me throw your
body out to feed the crows that are swooping around these dungeons."

The count, half choking, the dagger at his breast, did not even
attempt to call for help; he fell on his knees, begging the empress
to save at least the life of his son, who was not yet well from the
terrible attack of melancholia that had shaken his reason ever since
the catastrophe.  Then he painfully dragged himself to the place
where he had hidden his treasure, and pointing with his finger,

"Take all; take my life; but spare my son."

Catherine could not contain herself for joy when she saw spread out
at her feet exquisite and incredibly valuable cups, caskets of
pearls, diamonds and rubies of marvellous value, coffers full of gold
ingots, and all the wonders of Asia that surpass the wildest
imagination.  But when the old man, trembling, begged for the liberty
of his son as the price of his fortune and his own life, the empress
resumed her cold, pitiless manner, and harshly replied--

"I have already given orders for your son to be brought here; but
prepare for an eternal farewell, for he is to be taken to the
fortress of Melfi, and you in all probability will end your days
beneath the castle of Saint Agatha."

The grief of the poor count at this violent separation was so great,
that a few days later he was found dead in his dungeon, his lips
covered with a bloody froth, his hands gnawed in despair.  Bertrand
did not long survive him.  He actually lost his reason when he heard
of his father's death, and hanged himself on the prison grating.
Thus did the murderers of Andre destroy one another, like venomous
animals shut up in the same cage.

Catherine of Tarentum, carrying off the treasure she had so gained,
arrived at the court of Naples, proud of her triumph and
contemplating vast schemes.  But new troubles had come about in her
absence.  Charles of Durazzo, for the last time desiring the queen to
give him the duchy of Calabria, a title which had always belonged to
the heir presumptive, and angered by her refusal, had written to
Louis of Hungary, inviting him to take possession of the kingdom, and
promising to help in the enterprise with all his own forces, and to
give up the principal authors of his brother's death, who till now
had escaped justice.

The King of Hungary eagerly accepted these offers, and got ready an
army to avenge Andre's death and proceed to the conquest of Naples.
The tears of his mother Elizabeth and the advice of Friar Robert, the
old minister, who had fled to Buda, confirmed him in his projects of
vengeance.  He had already lodged a bitter complaint at the court of
Avignon that, while the inferior assassins had been punished, she who
was above all others guilty had been shamefully let off scot free,
and though still stained with her husband's blood, continued to live
a life of debauchery and adultery.  The pope replied soothingly that,
so far as it depended upon him, he would not be found slow to give
satisfaction to a lawful grievance; but the accusation ought to be
properly formulated and supported by proof; that no doubt Joan's
conduct during and after her husband's death was blamable; but His
Majesty must consider that the Church of Rome, which before all
things seeks truth and justice, always proceeds with the utmost
circumspection, and in so grave a matter more especially must not
judge by appearances only.

Joan, frightened by the preparations for war, sent ambassadors to the
Florentine Republic, to assert her innocence of the crime imputed to
her by public opinion, and did not hesitate to send excuses even to
the Hungarian court; but Andre's brother replied in a letter laconic
and threatening:--

"Your former disorderly life, the arrogation to yourself of exclusive
power, your neglect to punish your husband's murderers, your marriage
to another husband, moreover your own excuses, are all sufficient
proofs that you were an accomplice in the murder."

Catherine would not be put out of heart by the King of Hungary's
threats, and looking at the position of the queen and her son with a
coolness that was never deceived, she was convinced that there was no
other means of safety except a reconciliation with Charles, their
mortal foe, which could only be brought about by giving him all he
wanted.  It was one of two things: either he would help them to
repulse the King of Hungary, and later on they would pay the cost
when the dangers were less pressing, or he would be beaten himself,
and thus they would at least have the pleasure of drawing him down
with them in their own destruction.

The agreement was made in the gardens of Castel Nuovo, whither

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: