09 November, 2006

Charles le Temeraire and Jeanne Hachette

A friend reading my review of Temeraire observed that the name for him always conjures up images of a contemporary naval thriller, The Deep Silence by Douglas Reeman, which features a nuclear submarine called HMS Temeraire.

This led me to wonder about the origin of the name Temeraire. In the novel Temeraire, Laurence names the newly-hatched dragon Temeraire after a ship that was captured from the French and taken into the British Royal Navy. Sure enough, the name does indeed have a long and distinguished tradition in the Royal Navy, perhaps most famously immortalised in Turner’s painting The Fighting Temeraire. Presumably Reeman was drawing on this naval tradition for the name of his fictional submarine.

The French, you will remember, got there first with the name, since the original HMS Temeraire was a captured French ship. French naval history takes the name back to at least 1671.

Temeraire means ‘bold’ or ‘daring’ in French, an auspicious meaning for a fighting ship. It’s derived from the same Latin root as the English word ‘temerity’, which the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines as ‘rashness’ (from Latin temere, rashly). Not, perhaps, quite so auspicious.

This meaning takes us back another two centuries, to Charles le Temeraire, fourth and last Duke of Burgundy (1433-1477). His nickname can be translated as either Charles the Bold or Charles the Reckless, both of which seem to have suited him. Wikipedia gives a summary of his career, with more information in the French-language version, if you read French.

Charles le Temeraire was married to Margaret of York, sister of Richard III and Edward IV of England, which is where I first heard of him. He gave his two brothers-in-law shelter in his territory when Warwick the Kingmaker temporarily threw them out of England in 1470 during the Wars of the Roses, and then lent them ships and men to sail back in 1471 and turn the tables. Without Charles le Temeraire, English history might have worked out rather differently. (Those of you who have read Sharon Penman’s novel of Richard III, The Sunne in Splendour, may remember that Charles gets a walk-on part in it about a third of the way through). Charles was killed in 1477 fighting the Swiss and the Duke of Lorraine, and his only daughter Marie of Burgundy was one of the great heiresses of her generation. She married Maximilian I of the Hapsburg dynasty, which is how the Hapsburgs came into possession of the Low Countries and fought over them for the next couple of centuries. Charles’ widow Margaret, as Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, made life as awkward as possible for Henry VII after he defeated and killed Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, by funding assorted Yorkist rebellions, including those of Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck.

A lesser-known fact about Charles le Temeraire, and one that he might not care to have remembered, is that he shares with England the dubious honour of having his troops soundly defeated in battle by a young Frenchwoman of humble origins called Joan. Charles’ Joan was Jeanne Laisne of Beauvais, nicknamed Jeanne Hachette. I first came across her story in a French cafe, reading an advert for a commemorative beer, ‘Rebelle’, made in her honour by the local brewery.

Charles was always trying to conquer bits of northern France to connect his territories in Burgundy with his territories in the Low Countries, and in 1472 his soldiers assaulted the town of Beauvais. The assault was going well, and a Burgundian soldier had gained the town walls and planted the Burgundian flag there. Jeanne, aged about 16 at the time, is reputed to have seized an axe, thrown the luckless soldier and his flag off the walls, and led the men of the town’s garrison in a charge that repelled the attack. Yes, ‘hachette’ means what you think it does, and it’s an even more graphic image when you reflect that ‘steak hachee’ means, approximately, mincemeat. Which is presumably what Jeanne and the rest of the rebels made of Charles’ soldiers. Apparently Jeanne’s reward was to be married to the husband of her choosing. I should imagine he was careful to behave himself.

From a fictional dragon and a fictional nuclear submarine, through the British and French navies, to a 15th-century reckless duke and a local heroine called Joan the Hatchet. How’s that for a meander down historical byways?

13 comments:

Bernita said...

How is it?
It's a lovely meander, Carla.
Thank you.
Have always loved many of the names the British Navy gave their ships, btw. They resound.

Anonymous said...

A fascinating one!

Anonymous said...

In German, he goes by Karl der Kühne which not only makes for a nice alliteration, but also means the Brave rather than the Reckless. :)

Carla said...

Susan, Bernita - thank you. Bernita, don't forget the French deserve the credit for Temeraire, not the British. I have a feeling that ship names might bring out the romantic in many cultures.

Gabriele - he would probably have preferred that. He seems to have had quite a collection of nicknames, The Terrible, The Valiant, etc. Evidently the sort of man who made his mark. What would 'Reckless' be in German, out of interest?

Anonymous said...

Reckless = rücksichtslos. Maybe 'daring' would be a better translation than 'brave' for Karl der Kühne. And it gives us another nickname for Charles. ;)

Anonymous said...

Or maybe Gabriele has a better translation for 'reckless'? I should probably leave the German questions to her...! ;)

Anonymous said...

How fascinating! I didn't even think to wonder where the name mmight have come from!

Anonymous said...

Well, my dictionary gives several words for reckless, among them 'verwegen' which would be daring, and 'leichtsinning' (foolish, thoughtless) which I don't think fits well. A lot about languages and translations has to do with gut feeling about what word works best. :)

Carla said...

Marg - glad you found it interesting.

Alianore, Gabriele - isn't it interesting how words have all sorts of subtle shades of meaning? 'Foolish, thoughtless' is at one end of the spread of meanings I associate with 'reckless' but it doesn't carry the meanings at the other end around 'brave' or 'daring'. I suppose this is why the thesarus was invented :-) I have immense respect for translators, who must have a very difficult task.

Constance said...

Wow, I consider myself informed, Carla. Great ramble! I also understand why I like writing fantasy.. it's easier to make up than the truth is. :)

Carla said...

Glad you found it interesting, Constance! I often feel that way about fantasy too - history really is stranger than fiction :-) Though it can be a great source of ideas for plot and incident; Ingeld's Daughter originated partly in the story of Empress Maud and King Stephen, though there were real incidents in the history that I didn't dare nick because they sounded too incredible.

Gabriele C. said...

Some of the anonymous posts are by me - for some reason blogger has messed up and changed posts under my name into anonymous days later. Argh.

Carla said...

Gabriele - I changed to Blogger Beta yesterday, so I suppose it lost some of the comment names doing the switch. It's also lost Alianore's name, and Marg's and Susan Higginbotham's off this comments set, so it's not just you! Don't worry about it, it seems to know who you are now.