Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
To the Credit of My Lord of Burgundy
By John Foster Kirk (18241904)
[Born in Fredericton, N. B., 1824. Died in Philadelphia, Penn., 1904. History of Charles the Bold. 186368.]
ACCOUNTS of the battle of Grandson fill but a small space in the Swiss chronicles and documents; but descriptions of the booty are given with a harrowing minuteness which we do not propose to imitate. Tents, wagons, stores, cannon, richly-painted banners,whatever the routed army might have been expected to leave,were captured in extraordinary profusion. But all these formed the least valuable portion of the spoil. Intending to hold his court in Savoy and to dazzle the Italian powers with his magnificence, the duke had brought with him the paraphernalia of his chapel and table, habiliments and regalia used on occasions of state. The precious articles which Philip the Good had passed his life in accumulating, and which the art of Flanders had been employed in fashioning or embellishing, had become the property of the poorest and rudest of all races. Among the costliest prizes were an immense reliquary of sculptured gold inlaid with large gems, embracing many pieces of statuary, and containing more than eighty distinct objects pertaining to the history of Christ; the sword of state, its hilt so thickly studded with diamonds, rubies, and pearls, all of great size, that there was scarcely space for a hair to be laid between them; the velvet cap from the front of which flashed the largest diamond then in Europe, set in gold, with pendent pearls; two other diamonds little inferior in value, with a great number of smaller ones, and various other jewels and precious stones; the great seal, of solid gold, weighing a pound; between three and four hundredweight of silver and silver-gilt goblets and cups; gorgeous tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, dresses of silk, satin, and cloth of gold, and wagon-loads of silver coin.
It has been often related and readily believed that the Swiss, all unused to luxury and splendor, tossed, tore, and trampled upon this treasure with the ignorance of savages; that they mistook diamonds for glass and gold for copper, cut up tapestries and embroidered robes to patch their homespun doublets and hose, threw away priceless jewels as worthless baubles, or parted with them to foreigners for trifling sums. It is true they were ignorant in such matters; but their ignorance was of a kind which led them to put not an under but an over estimate on the value. Gilt articles were supposed at first to be of solid gold. Jewels which it was wished to dispose of were rated at prices far beyond what the world could be induced to give. No private appropriation of the smallest object was permitted in the camp; and if any took place,as was indeed strongly suspected and as it is natural to suppose,it could only have been done with the greatest secrecy, and with little opportunity for selling or bartering. The keenest search was instituted: every soldier was put upon his oath; the authorities continued for a long time afterwards to prosecute close inquiries. Inventories were drawn up; skilled appraisers were collected; the distribution was the work of years, gave rise to civil commotions, and was attended with punctilious forms, in some cases with solemn ceremonies.
Nor has the history of that great spoil been suffered to fall into oblivion. Books have been written on the subject. The art of the painter and engraver has commemorated the workmanship of the jeweller and embroiderer. The three great diamonds have been traced in their passage through successive hands from court to court. One now glitters in the papal tiara; another is deposited in the treasury of Vienna; the third, after returning to India, where it is supposed to have belonged originally to the Great Mogul, has been recently brought back to Europe, and now, we believe, awaits a purchaser. Switzerland has preserved many of the bulkier but not less interesting objects. In its churches, arsenals, and other public buildings, the Burgundian tapestries, banners, cannon, and suits of armor, still attract the attention of visitors and the study of antiquarians.
For our own part, while looking at these trophies or turning over the leaves of the time-stained lists in which they are enumerated, we have been reminded of other relics and another inventory. The little ivory comb, the pair of brides gloves, the agnus enchased with silver, the necklace with ten little paternosters of amber, picked up among the ashes of Dinant and duly entered to the credit of my lord of Burgundywas there no connection between those memorials of humble joy, of modest love, of ruined homes, and these remains of fallen pride and grandeur? Yes, without doubt! though it be one which history, that tracks the diamond from hand to hand, is incapable of tracing.