The Great Hall

Precisely three hundred and forty-eight years six months and nineteen days ago1

Paris was awakened by the sound of the pealing of all the bells within the triple enclosing walls of the city, the Univeristy, and the town.

Yet the 6th of January, 1482, was not a day of which history has preserved the record. There was nothing of peculiar note in the event which set all the bells and the good people of Paris thus in motion from early dawn. It was neither an assault by Picards or Burgundians, nor a holy image carried in procession, nor a riot of the students in the vineyard of Laas, nor the entry into the city of “our most dread Lord the King,” nor even a fine stringing up of thieves, male and female, at the Justice of Paris. Neither was it the unexpected arrival, so frequent in the fifteenth century, of some foreign ambassador with his beplumed and gold-laced retinue. Scarce two days had elapsed since the last cavalcade of this description, that of the Flemish envoys charged with the mission to conclude the marriage between the Dauphin and Margaret of Flanders, had made its entry into Paris, to the great annoyance of Monsieur the Cardinal of Bourbon, who, to please the King, had been obliged to extend a gracious reception to this boorish company of Flemish burgomasters, and entertain them in his Hôtel de Bourbon with a “most pleasant morality play, drollery, and farce,” while a torrent of rain drenched the splendid tapestries at his door.

The 6th of January, which “set the whole population of Paris in a stir,” as Jehan de Troyes relates, was the date of the double festival—united since time immemorial—of the Three Kings, and the Feast of Fools.

On this day there was invariably a bonfire on the Place de Gréve, a may-pole in front of the Chapelle de Braque, and a mystery-play at the Palais de Justice, as had been proclaimed with blare of trumpets on the preceding day in all the streets by Monsieur the Provost’s men, arrayed in tabards of violet camlet with great white crosses on the breast.

The stream of people accordingly made their way in the morning from all parts of the town, their shops and houses being closed, to one or other of these points named. Each one had chosen his share of the entertainments—some the bonfire, some the may-pole, others the Mystery. To the credit of the traditional good sense of the Paris “cit” be it said that the majority of the spectators directed their steps towards the bonfire, which was entirely seasonable, or the Mystery, which was to be performed under roof and cover in the great Hall of the Palais de Justice, and were unanimous in leaving the poor scantily decked may-pole to shiver alone under the January sky in the cemetery of the Chapelle de Braque.

The crowd flocked thickest in the approaches to the Palais, as it was known that the Flemish envoys intended to be present at the performance of the Mystery, and the election of the Pope of Fools, which was likewise to take place in the great Hall.

It was no easy matter that day to penetrate into the great Hall, then reputed the largest roofed-in space in the world. (It is true that, at that time, Sauval had not yet measured the great hall of the Castle of Montargis.) To the gazers from the windows, the square in front of the Palais, packed as it was with people, presented the aspect of a lake into which five or six streets, like so many river mouths, were each moment pouring fresh floods of heads. The ever-swelling waves of this multitude broke against the angles of the houses, which projected here and there, like promontories, into the irregular basin of the Place.

In the centre of the high Gothic2

façde of the Palais was the great flight of steps, incessantly occupied by a double stream ascending and descending, which, after being broken by the intermediate landing, spread in broad waves over the two lateral flights.

Down this great stair-case the crowd poured continuously into the Place like a cascade into a lake, the shouts, the laughter, the trampling of thousands of feet making a mighty clamour and tumult. From time to time the uproar redoubled, the current which bore the crowd towards the grand stairs was choked, thrown back, and formed into eddies, when some archer thrust back the crowd, or the horse of one of

  By PanEris using Melati.

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