A Successful Highwayman in the Middle Ages
THAT which is commonplace to one age becomes picturesque to the next. The time was in England when the exploits of Robin Hood had as little romance in them as have the triumphs of a train robber to-day in the West. In France, two centuries later, there flourished another great brigand, who made his deeds a proverb among the people, though he had for rivals in his profession some of the most energetic men in the kingdom. The skill of a distinguished French historian and the industry of a respectable Spanish scholar have been devoted to the life of this forgotten hero, the most successful highway robber and the most celebrated bandit of his day. Guided by the labors of these two gentlemen and helped by the many chroniclers of the fifteenth century, we can trace the likeness of the great brigand, — very disagreeably commonplace to his contemporaries, no doubt, but to us decidedly picturesque.
Rodrigo de Villandrando was born in Castile about the year 1378. The chroniclers of the fifteenth century were quite as ready to ascribe to their heroes a lineage illustrious, and even royal, as are the chroniclers of to-day to dwell upon the early poverty and the hardships of the self-made men whose final success they celebrate. According to his biographers, Rodrigo was descended from the sovereign Counts of Biscaya; in truth, his grandfather, a respectable burgher of Valladolid, esteemed himself fortunate when he married the sister of a French adventurer, who had entered Spain with Du Guesclin, and had received for his services the Spanish county of Ribadeo.
Of Rodrigo’s early life very little is known, but that little considerably discredits the legend of his noble birth. " In his youth he despised the lazy life of a village, and, as he knew well the idle spirit of the Castilian grandees, whom he regarded as worthless men, he joined himself to a merchant who had been robbed by pirates, for the sake of voyaging to strange countries, and in order to assist the merchant in recovering his fortune.” Rodrigo’s character already showed itself. Throughout his life we shall find combined in him the most reckless love of adventure and the keenest eye for gain, the ferocious brigand and the shrewd trader rolled into one. As he served the merchant, he fell in with certain ships richly laden, which he attacked and captured out of hand. His biographer informs us that they were “pirate barks,” but so complete a reversal of the ordinary course of nature excites a suspicion which Rodrigo’s later exploits hardly tend to allay.
At about this time Rodrigo’s greatuncle, the old Count of Ribadeo, grew tired of his life in Spain. Fortunately for him, his Spanish estates were not entailed upon the family, and so he was able to exchange them for the socalled kingdom of Yvetot, in Normandy, famous in legend, where probably
And dawdled half his days abed;
And every night, as night came round,
By Jenny with a night-cap crowned
Slept very sound,”
as Béranger says. Before his departure, however, he seems to have fired Rodrigo’s imagination with tales of the glorious life he had led when he served under Du Guesclin. Froissart tells us that Aimerigot Marcel, once a companion of the old count, thus bewailed the pleasures he had been persuaded to exchange for a peaceful life. “ He was very sad and thoughtful,” says the chronicler, “when he considered his diminished condition ; for he wished not to lessen his store of money, and whereas he had been wont daily to commit fresh acts of pillage and robbery, now he saw that this source of gain was closed to him. Therefore he made up his mind that he had repented of his good deeds too soon, inasmuch as the habit of pillage and robbery which he had formerly practiced was, all things considered, an excellent way of life. Whereat he said to his companions: ‘There is no delight or glory in this world like the life of men at arms as we used to live it. How rejoiced were we, when we rode forth into the country and by chance fell in with a rich abbot, or with a caravan of mules belonging to Montpellier or Toulouse, laden with cloth from Brussels or furs from the fair at Lendit, with spices from Bruges or silks from Damascus or Alexandria ! Upon everything we levied such toll as we would, and every day we gained fresh sums of money. The peasants of Auvergne and Limousin provided for our needs, and brought into our castle corn and flour and bread all baked, fodder and straw for our horses, good wine, cattle, fat sheep, poultry, and game. We were appareled like kings, and when we rode forth the whole country trembled before us. All was ours, both coining and going. How we took Carlac, I and the bastard of Compane, and Caluset, I and Perrot of Béarn ! How we scaled the strong castle of Mercœur, you and I, without other help! I kept it but five days, yet on the table before me five thousand francs were counted down, though I remitted a thousand for love of the count’s children. By my faith, that was a good and fair life, and I repent me from the bottom of my heart that I have given it up.’ ”
When Rodrigo heard of a life like this, he naturally wearied of the sea; accordingly, he sold out his share of the venture, and crossed the Pyrenees in search of a fortune. His natural sagacity made him choose France for his field of operations, as that kingdom was torn in pieces by the feud which then raged between the partisans of the dukes of Burgundy and Orleans. In the midst of the turmoil Henry V. of England invaded the country, and as Burgundians and Orleanists were agreed in nothing but in accusing their opponents of betraying France to the English, and in their own perfect willingness to treat with the invaders, it is not surprising that the English arms gained ground rapidly.
In the first years of the fifteenth century, regular military service was almost impossible except among free companions and the like. Two or three centuries before, one feudal noble was as good a soldier as another, the practice of arms being almost universal. But in Rodrigo’s time the soldier by profession was separated from his neighbors, while the peaceful portion of the community was not yet strong enough to keep him within bounds. This condition of affairs was a most fruitful cause of brigandage.
On entering France, Rodrigo joined himself to the Lord of L’Isle Adam, a little town on the Oise, to the north of Paris. This lord was an Orleanist captain, but, when the Duke of Burgundy approached the place, he readily sold himself, his fortress, and his company to the duke, having changed sides, indeed, more than once within a few years. As a reward for his treachery he was appointed by the Duke of Burgundy captain of the important town of Pontoise, and from this place be marched secretly upon Paris. Being admitted into the city by the partisans of Burgundy, he drove out the Orleanists, or Armagnacs, as they were called, and seized the person of the crazy king. The mob of Paris has always been ferocious, and the story of its exploits in the fifteenth century reads like a prophecy of the days of September. It was thoroughly Burgundian in its sympathies, and wreaked its fury upon every one suspected of being an Armagnac. It massacred men, women, and children, dragged their dead bodies about the streets with savage glee, and cut the Burgundian cross of St. Andrew into the skin and flesh of the corpses. L’Isle Adam was an old soldier and hardened to all ordinary bloodshed, but he was aghast at the cruelty of the Parisians, and tried to check them. In a moment his own life was in danger. " Cursed be he who has more pity on a false traitor Armagnac than he would have on a dog! They have made sacks wherein to drown us with our wives and our children. Say no more to us, for, by the devil, we will do as we please, for all you can say, by God’s blood.” “ My friends, do what you will,” answered the terrified captain. “ And they would not,”says a chronicler, “ have received to ransom a single man for all the treasure in the world, of such nature are the common people when they are aroused. Truly, they love the death of a man better than anything that can be given them. In this school Rodrigo learnt the pleasing art of war.
For several years he served with credit in the company of L’Isle Adam. He proved his prowess in many a single combat, and gained rapid promotion. Naturally, his companions grew jealous of his success, and by taking advantage of some misfortune, perhaps, they persuaded their commander to drive Rodrigo from the band. Probably he was not very sorry for his expulsion ; indeed, one of his biographers ascribes it to an interposition of divine Providence in his favor. He was now of mature age, had served his apprenticeship in brigandage, and knew himself fit to command. Wandering about the country, he met first one ruffian, then another, and with them set up as a highway robber, at first in a small way.
The beginnings of a life of brigandage were by no means free from danger.
Two of Rodrigo’s followers one night stabled their horses in a shed, and lay down beside them to sleep. The owner of the adjoining cottage, " thinking on the frightful ills and countless wrongs they had done,” crept secretly out of his house after dark, and visited the cottages of two of his neighbors. With them he sought the church of the village, which was fortified, like many churches in the open country, so as to afford refuge to the peasants against these same brigands. Most of the country folk were gathered there. With two of them the three new-comers took counsel, and then, armed with stout sticks and a sickle, the best weapons they could find, they stole softly into the shed where the robbers were sleeping, seized them before they were awake, and bound them securely. So fearful of vengeance were the captors that they dared not make known their exploit even to their neighbors assembled in the church, but started into a neighboring wood with the prisoners and their horses. Coming to a lonely spot in the heart of the forest at about midnight, they stripped the bandits half naked, and then ordered them to confess their sins to each other. The elder made a last desperate effort to escape, whereupon one of the peasants who held him cut his throat with his own sword. The younger brigand was then dispatched with his own knife, and the murderers stole away to sell the horses and divide the booty. Rodrigo was brave, shifty, and very shrewd, and thus he managed to avoid mishaps like these.
At first he lived absolutely as a free lance, professing no regard for either English or French, Burgundians or Armagnacs. If he showed any partiality, it was toward his late employers, but before long he discovered his mistake. Very considerable license was allowed to the Burgundian and English captains, who now usually acted together, and their methods of warfare would not altogether commend themselves to a modern general. Compared, however, with the Armagnac chieftains, they were orderly and humane. In the so-called army of Charles VII., who had now succeeded his father, hardly any attempt was made to restrain freebooting. Rodrigo, therefore, declared himself a partisan of Charles, and, in his fashion, remained faithful to the king during his whole career in France. Occasionally, he served against the English ; oftener, he seized one of his fellow-soldiers, and compelled the king to pay him a good ransom; oftener still, he engaged in perfectly indiscriminate destruction and pillage. “When he saw that others of our captains kept the fields in diverse parts of our kingdom, and there wrought all kinds of harm and damage, he also took to the fields like the rest, and allowed his men to commit pillage, robbery, murder, rape, and sacrilege, to ransom men and cattle, and to live off the country as men at arms are wont to do.”So spoke the king, thus mildly deprecating the excessive zeal of his followers. In short, Rodrigo conducted himself with so much energy and discretion that he soon earned an excellent reputation, and was able to surround himself with devoted followers.
Then as now, Lyons was one of the largest cities in France. It was entirely faithful to Charles, and so was especially open to Rodrigo’s approach. Making common cause with two other captains, Rodrigo encamped near the city, pillaged the country round about, and demanded a ransom of four hundred crowns. The council of the city assembled. There was much difference of opinion among its members, and some of them argued that to buy off one bandit was the surest way of encouraging others, but the majority voted to pay the four hundred crowns. But Rodrigo’s price had risen ; he now demanded eight hundred crowns in addition to the booty he had already collected, accompanying the demand with some very significant threats. This was more than even a town council could brook. The eight hundred crowns were promptly voted, and with them the bailiff was requested at once to hire five or six score men at arms who should drive Rodrigo from the country. On Tuesday, the very next day, however, the party of economy got the upper hand, and the council voted to give the bailiff a hundred crowns if he would drive out the brigands with the militia of the neighborhood. This commission the bailiff very naturally declined. On Friday a very full meeting of the council was held ; all the laymen and one clergyman were for fighting, while the rest of the clergy talked much about the shedding of blood and favored a compromise. For the moment the warlike party had its way, but on Sunday, “ after dinner, the larger and wiser part of the assembly concluded that the bailiff should get rid of the men at arms now in the country on the best terms he could make.”
Naturally, the men of Lyons were not eager to part with their crowns, but it is clear that they did not consider Rodrigo’s conduct specially reprehensible in the abstract. When a captain of free companions was established in business on a large scale, no one considered him a thief, any more than people nowadays confound a financial wrecker of railroads with a pickpocket. Rodrigo used to keep some of his money on deposit in the city, and the citizens sent him presents of candles and sweetmeats from time to time. In fact, his energy and skill recommended him so highly to this same bailiff of Lyons, and to the other officers of the king in the neighborhood, that his services were soon sought in a matter of the highest importance. The Prince of Orange, a partisan of the Duke of Burgundy, thought the opportunity a good one for invading Dauphiny. With his usual imbecility, Charles VII. refused aid to Raoul de Gaucourt, governor of the province. Fortunately, Gaucourt was a man of resolution. He borrowed a large sum of money on the credit of the province, took the bailiff with him, and started for Rodrigo’s camp, which was not far off. Rodrigo never procrastinated. He crossed the Rhone by night, surprised one of the prince’s castles, and took the outworks by storm. Within two days the donjon surrendered.
A fortnight afterwards, the prince approached at the head of his army. Rodrigo begged to command the advance guard of the royal troops, and this honor was granted him, although the bailiff stood upon his dignity and demanded the post for himself. The brigand chief placed his men in ambush, fell suddenly upon the prince’s flank, drove in his pickets, routed his main body, and hurled the disordered mass of fugitives into the Rhone. His skill was not confined to the battlefield. " A man full of malicious devices,” says a chronicler, " he bore himself right bravely in battle, without forgetting the profit to be made therefrom.” Very many prisoners were left in the hands of the victors, and, while the other captains were reposing after their labors, Rodrigo promised liberty to one of his own captives if he would reveal the quality of all those who had been taken with him. Acting upon this information, the wily brigand was enabled to buy his prisoners in a cheap market, while he afterwards ransomed them in a dear one. It was a very dear market indeed. From one of these unfortunates, who had lost his nose in the battle, Rodrigo extorted in the shape of ransom everything that the poor man possessed, beside eight thousand florins paid down by his mother. So great became the poverty of the wretched gentleman that when an escort was sent to conduct his daughter to the residence of her grandmother, the party was compelled to return with its errand unaccomplished, “ because the young girl was found destitute of clothing and almost naked.”
Rodrigo’s success in the war with the Prince of Orange established on a firm basis his reputation as a skillful captain, a man whose support kings might seek, while great nobles were glad to ally themselves with him. One of these, George de la Trémoille, was then the absolute master of the wretched king. A short time before, Rodrigo had been employed to pillage his estates, and the brigand’s thoroughness in executing his commission, though distressing at the moment, commended him to La Trémoille as a man decidedly worth buying. The favorite himself was a miserable traitor, who sought only his own advancement. To secure this, he was entirely willing to treat secretly with the English, or to spend the resources of the kingdom in private war with other nobles who were anxious to supplant him in the king’s favor. Rodrigo was a man altogether after La Trémoille’s own heart, ready to fight the English, the Burgundians, the Constable of France, the king’s brother-inlaw, or the king himself, if handsomely paid for the job. Accordingly, the favorite secured Rodrigo’s services, and, in addition to a castle in Dauphiny, conferred on him the title of squire of the royal stables.
We must not suppose that this accession of wealth and dignity in any way changed the tenor of Rodrigo’s life. He still looked after the pence which could be extorted from the poor peasant, with the full assurance concerning the pounds guaranteed by the proverb, and he differed in opinion from certain modern thieves who hold the smaller kinds of theft unworthy of men who can steal upon a large scale. Indeed, as the poor could be robbed most safely, be seems to have preferred that part of his business ; though, to do him justice, he lacked neither the courage nor the enterprise needed for more considerable undertakings. Of course he respected nothing, sacred or profane. A wild legend concerning him lasted for centuries in Velay. It told how the freebooter rode his horse into the church of Aurec, and fastened him to a statue of St. Peter which stood on the altar. The horse reared and plunged so furiously that Rodrigo was forced to remount. He could not control the frightened animal, which dashed out of the church, and plunged into the Loire, drowning its rider, whose body was recovered further down the river. The horse escaped, and the boss which ornamented his bit was preserved in the church as a reminder of the miracle. Unfortunately for the men of Velay, there is no truth in the legend so far as the drowning is concerned; the sacrilege is probable enough, as we shall see.
In occasional service against the English, in frequent attacks upon noblemen obnoxious to La Trémoille, and in incessant pillage of the common people, Rodrigo passed the next years of his life. He was loaded with riches and honors, presented with fine castles, appointed royal chamberlain and a member of the king’s council. His reputation extended to all parts of western Europe, and his name became a proverb in his profession for energy, rapacity, and cruelty. His services were sought both by Aragon and Castile, and, in the latter country, the old estates of his greatuncle, bartered for the Norman kingdom of Yvetot, were conferred again upon the nephew. He maintained the most exact discipline in his troop, divided the booty with strict justice, provided carefully for the needs of his men, and caused his safe-conducts to be respected. It is, perhaps, unnecessary to add that he never respected those granted by any one else.
Even the life of a bandit had its gentler side. Rodrigo went to court in great state, and, combining business with pleasure, then and there collected the debts owed him by other courtiers, and reinvested the proceeds to advantage. It is true that only a few months had passed since he was carrying on war against the king’s lieutenant in Languedoc, while, shortly afterwards, Charles paid around sum to a certain captain for defending his castle against the freebooter. These were mere trifles ; as the court chronicler said, in a moment of frankness. “ He who could plunder and rob poor men the most was the most dreaded, and could obtain what he wanted from the king of France sooner than any other man.”
Private entertainments, also, were given to the brigands. Occasionally the noblemen of the country, hoping to soften the hearts of the robbers, invited them to their country-seats. Once on a time several most distinguished bandits thus visited the Lord of Chastellux. Their host pointed out to them the beauties of the scenery, and, in particular, took them to a neighboring Hilltop, whence there was a fine view of the country round about. Afterwards " they played games in the meadow by the castle with the said Lady of Chastellux and with the young girls staying there, and then returned whither they pleased.”To influences like these Rodrigo yielded now and then. He was a man in middle life, and he desired to perpetuate his distinguished name. Having had many dealings with the house of Bourbon, he sought and won the hand of Margaret, natural daughter of John, Duke of Bourbon, one of the great princes of the blood. The irregularity of the lady’s birth was of little disadvantage to her. Illegitimate children of royal and princely families were proud of their lineage, and, like the great Dunois, repudiated with scorn the legitimate descent from humbler parents which was sometimes assigned to them. Margaret of Bourbon was richly dowered, and the Count of Clermont, the head of the family in the absence of his father, welcomed Rodrigo as a brother-in-law. The latter enrolled in his troop two “ Bastards of Bourbon,” one of whom relinquished a canonry to enter a profession more congenial, and probably more lucrative as well.
Within a few weeks of Rodrigo’s marriage, his patron and employer was driven from power, and this event changed entirely the course of the freebooter’s later career. La Trémoille, as he slept in a chamber of the royal castle of Chinon, was dragged from his bed by a party of his enemies. The king was powerless to protect him, and it was by rare good fortune that the captors allowed him to depart with his life. The feeble Charles now fell into the hands of the Constable, Arthur de Richemont, a man by no means immaculate, but blessed with a genuine and enduring hatred of brigands. The work of exterminating them was a long one, however, and for many years to come Rodrigo was to work his sweet will in central and southern France.
In the practice of his profession he had never been hampered by religious scruples. This thorough devotion to the interest of his patrons seems to have commended him to the “holy and sacred general Council, lawfully gathered in the Holy Ghost at Basle, and representing the Catholic Church.” “ To Rodrigo de Villandrando, the beloved son of the Church,” the reverend fathers at this time sent “ greeting and the blessing of Almighty God.” “ You have written to us,” say they, “ of the full and sincere affection which you bear to the Church, and have offered yourself and yours to this sacred Council, whereat we rejoice, commending your true devotion to the Lord, and being ever ready to do that which is pleasing to you. Now, as we have heard with sorrow that the venerable Peter, Cardinal of Foix, to the prejudice of the Council, has assailed the city of Avignon, and as we fear lest this attack shall scandalize the Church, we therefore exhort and beg you, in whose army is our greatest hope, to succor the said city as quickly as possible. Again and again we beg you to do this, inasmuch as by so doing you will put under a lasting obligation both God and the Catholic Church which we represent, and you will find us ever mindful of your interests.”
Whether Rodrigo was chiefly moved by the obligation thus to be conferred on Almighty God, or by certain advantages more immediate and tangible, we can only guess. It is certain, at any rate, that he set himself in his most approved manner to ravage the country in the neighborhood of Avignon. The “ venerable Peter,” however, would not turn aside from the siege of the city, and Avignon surrendered at last. Rodrigo withdrew with what plunder he had collected, and it is not impossible that the Church was somewhat scandalized in the end.
Very naturally, other work was soon found for a son of the Church so beloved as Rodrigo de Villandrando. Two priests were fighting for the archbishopric of Albi. On this occasion Rodrigo took arms against the candidate of the Council, having been offered very favorable terms. His success was complete, and so, we may hope, all scandal to the Church was avoided. Having laid waste the country about Albi until the wearied citizens opened their gates, he entered the place, rode to the door of the cathedral, dismounted, walked the length of the church, spurred, helmeted, and fully armed as he was, and sat himself down on the archbishop’s throne, thus taking possession of the see in the name of his candidate. The story of his sacrilege at Aurec was not so far from the truth, after all.
Having exhausted, for the moment, the resources of southern France, Rodrigo marched northward again to try his luck in Berry and Touraine. At first all went well, but the times had changed.
An attack upon some of the king’s servants, just, the sort of exploit which had gained him honors and castles when La Trémoille was in power, now enraged the king, or rather the Constable, who was the king’s master. An army was gathered; the protection of Rodrigo’s brother-in-law, now Duke of Bourbon, availed him nothing, and he was forced to flee for his life. Across the country he raced, seeking to get out of France. By the speed of his horses and by his knowledge of the roads he succeeded in evading the royal troops, and he passed the Saône by a ford he had often used before. Though he was safe at last, his retreat had cost him dear. The countryside rose upon him ; in every gloomy pass, on every dark night, the peasants hung upon his tracks, ready for vengeance. Some of his men were seized, and hanged after a trial at law, while others met with a worse fate. Two wandering freebooters were captured by wretches from whom they once had taken everything. Spared for the moment, the robbers were delivered up to the seneschal of the nearest castle; “ and finally the said seneschal put them in a deep hole, where they remained fourteen or fifteen days, as is reported, in the custody of the said seneschal, without the said seneschal’s giving them either to eat or to drink : wherefore, as is reported, they died of hunger in the said prison.” “ And I certify,” says a chronicler, “ that the Saône and the Doubs were so full of these robbers that ofttimes the fishermen, instead of fish, would draw out their bodies, two by two or three by three, tied fast together with ropes.”
The miserable peasants had good cause for any vengeance, however cruel. When the country grew more peaceful, inquest was made into their condition, and the tale of their sufferings is horrible to read. The brigands first stripped the country of everything worth carrying away, and then, in sheer wantonness, burnt what was left. The rest of the story is darker still. One poor widow “makes very light” of her other losses, “ for the loss of her husband is her greatest loss. He was led as far as Cheminet, and there his throat was cut, wherefore she cries for vengeance to Almighty God.”Another peasent “ said and swore that the brigands carried away his boy, being about ten years old, whom he never saw afterwards, nor could get any news of him, and he would be right glad to see him again for forty florins.” When we know that little children were starved in cages until a heavy ransom was paid, or until they died of hunger, we can realize the meaning of this peasant’s words. Sometimes the stories were so terrible that the scribe refused to write them down.
In France, however, a brigand’s occupation was almost gone, and none understood this better than did Rodrigo. For a year or two longer, with varying success, he plied his trade in Languedoc and Guienne, but he knew that he must leave the country before his reputation should suffer too seriously. In 1439 came his opportunity. Alvaro de Luna, Constable of Castile, who ruled the feeble John II., called the great freebooter to his help. In executing the commissions entrusted to him, Rodrigo was promptness itself. He crossed the Pyrenees with a strong force, and defeated a detachment sent against him by the nobles allied to overthrow De Luna. In spite of this success both king and Constable lost heart. Rodrigo, indeed, was treated with great respect and was loaded with favors, but De Luna was driven from court, and even Rodrigo was required to send his men back into France.
His conduct in this emergency shows very plainly the foresight and sound judgment which always distinguished him among men of his profession. Like Froissart’s hero, Rodrigo too must have pined for the glorious life he had led during more than a quarter of a century, but he sternly put all vain regrets behind him. His neck was far too precious to risk in a losing game ; and, besides, he was now sixty years old, and had lost a part of his old appetite for hair-breadth escapes. Full of wealth and honors, he remained in Spain, while Salazar, his ablest lieutenant, led the brigand army back into Languedoc. For the use of Rodrigo’s name, for the good will of the business, so to speak, Salazar agreed to pay his old captain a large share of the profits.
At first these profits were considerable, though uncertain ; then they ceased altogether. The Constable Richemont, having gained sufficient power, notified all the brigands in France that they must quit the country at once, or else enter the royal service on an ample but fixed salary, with no perquisites whatever. Salazar chose the latter course. Though his habits of plunder still clung to him, and several times brought him into disgrace, he finally achieved distinction as a regular soldier, and died much respected. His son was the last French prelate to appear fully armed on the field of battle. A different fate befell Rodrigo’s brother-in-law, the Bastard of Bourbon. He went into Champagne, long a happy hunting-ground for men of his profession. At last, however,
The Constable among them,
Who very soon the knaves dispatched;
To wit, he drowned and hung them,”
as a contemporary writer of doggerel happily observes. The Bastard gave himself up, trusting in Charles’s weakness. This was, indeed, so great that at one time the king was induced to publish an ordinance forbidding himself to pardon anybody, and ordering every one to disregard the pardon if granted. But the Bastard had now to deal with the Constable, a very different man from the king. He was tried, found guilty, sewn up in a sack, and drowned in the Aube. The only concession which the ex-canon could obtain was the permission to have his dead body fished out of the river and buried in consecrated ground.
The peace in Spain soon came to an end. Alvaro de Luna and the great Spanish nobles again fell out; the latter took to arms, and tried to seize the person of the king. He was approaching Toledo with a few gentlemen, one of whom was Rodrigo himself. Suddenly the rebels appeared in force. Resistance to them seemed impossible, but the great brigand had been in peril too often to lose his presence of mind. The royal party was near the church and infirmary of St. Lazarus. Familiar with fortified churches as he was, he drew the king and his retinue into the building, closed and barricaded the doors, skillfully posted the small force at his disposal, and held out until reinforcements came up. For this deed John II. conferred upon him a privilege of the sort dearest to the Spanish heart. Every year, upon the feast of the Epiphany, the Day of the Kings, as the feast is called in Spain, Rodrigo and his descendants were allowed to dine in person with the king, and to take away, after the ceremony, the clothes which the king should wear. At the beginning of this century the enjoyment of the privilege was interrupted by the troubles in Spain, but in 1841, on the four hundredth anniversary of Rodrigo’s exploit, the privilege was recognized by Queen Isabella as vested in the family of Sarmiento, Dukes of Hijar, descended from Rodrigo de Villandrando in the female line.
Very rich, and loaded with honors, Rodrigo now lived the life of a Spanish grandee. He was no rude soldier of fortune, but a clerkly man, specimens of whose handwriting have come down to us, and very good handwriting it is. He was fully versed, also, in courtly ways, and, if occasion called, he could still ruffle it with the bravest young gallant in Spain. Soon after his action in the king’s defense he was taken captive by the charms of Doña Teresa de Zuñiga, the daughter of the Count of Monterey. Rodrigo was now past sixty, and his wife was living, though he had left her in France. Nevertheless, he appeared at a court ball wearing a cap such as bridegrooms then wore, with this device: —
May kindlier fate for me unbind,
And tighter draw the band now loosely twined.”
As the obstacles to a second marriage appeared insurmountable, " the Count of Ribadeo carried a brazier full of dead coals ” at the next ball, with this despairing motto: —
On this hope set his thought:
As hottest fires to ashes turn,
May his hope come to naught.”
Fate, however, was always kind to Rodrigo. Margaret of Bourbon died soon afterwards, and “ the band now loosely twined ” was drawn to a satisfactory tightness.
Rodrigo spent the last years of his life with his young wife and with the children she bore him, respected and honored throughout Castile. Once or twice he again undertook military service, but the service was always safe and entirely legitimate. There is some slight indication that the Count of Ribadeo was occasionally henpecked by his second wife, but he does not seem to have resented this. In his will, indeed, he made elaborate provisions for her burial beside himself in the church of Our Lady of Mercy in Valladolid, and so he must have trusted that she would not avail herself of his impending death to marry again. Probably he considered constancy purely a feminine virtue ; at any rate, his confidence appears to have been justified.
When he reached threescore and ten, his stout constitution gave way, tried by half a century of peril and adventure. As the time of his death drew near, he betook himself to the consolations of religion as naturally and as sincerely as a man puts on a diving suit when going to the bottom of the sea. He was more than a month in dying ; and in his will he provided masses for his own soul, for that of his widow, when she too should die, and even for that of the obliging Margaret of Bourbon. Following a habit of his age, he left five thousand maravedis, a trifling sum, to ransom Christian captives from the Moors. When we consider that the most of his enormous fortune had been obtained by extorting ransom from Christian captives, the legacy has in it a delicious touch of irony. Two hundred thousand maravedis were to be paid for his tomb and for a chapel to contain it.
Naturally, Rodrigo’s wealth and his final success had washed his memory clean of every stain left by the questionable means he had sometimes employed. Eulogy after eulogy was pronounced upon him by his contemporaries, with scarce a suggestion that his life offered anything but a shining example. One carping Frenchman, indeed, wrote that “ the Spaniards make a great fuss over the exploits, or rather the lucky depredations, of their Rodrigo de Ribadeo, that partisan whom the last generation saw carrying fire and sword throughout almost all Aquitaine ; but is it not clear that such examples bring dishonor rather than glory upon those who set them ? ” Against this petty exhibition of national envy we may set the words of the veracious Hernando del Pulgar, who thus describes the last moments of his hero : —
“ And at the last, God, who neither permits men to escape without punishment nor denies them his mercy, gave him time wherein to amend his ways and repent, seeing that he was now old, and infirm through suffering from which he could not escape. Verily it was a thing right marvelous and an example for mortal men to follow, both his great contrition, and his penitence for the sins he had committed, and the great flood of tears which he poured out continually for many days before he died ; praying to God with all his heart, and beseeching Him that He would pardon his sins and have mercy upon his soul. In such penitent fashion did he complete his days, being seventy years old; and, for the pious end which he made, I have reckoned him in the number of illustrious men.”
Francis C. Lowell.