Bastard of Orleans – Blog #021 of the 156 “Pretty Faces” book cover challenge and book review.
This is book #025 on the list of 156 books that Gardner Francis Fox wrote between 1953 to 1986. This is the twenty-ninth book I scratched out a cover for.
Genre: Historical fiction/romance
An empire turned on his raging blade!
The original back cover description:
Jean, the bastard cousin of the future king of France, fought his way across the battlefields of 15th Century Europe. His was the world that burned Joan of Arc at the stake, where morals were forgotten and rape one of the spoils of victory.
Handsome, fearless Jean le Bâtard held a lovely, scornful temptress in his heart and a bloody sword in his hand to wreak vengeance on the murderers of his father and the hated English conquerors.
Mr. Fox wrote The Bastard of Orleans in 1960.
Who was the Bastard of Orleans?
The first time all of us would have been introduced to the bastard would have been in Luc Besson’s 1999 blockbuster movie; The Messenger. The French-Turkish actor Tchéky Karyo played Jean de Dunois.
This scene is where Joan of Arc rallies the French troops to fight on and thus begins the defeat of the English. Jean de Dunois is the one leading the French troops. He is in armor so it’s hard to distinguish him from the other knights. Here’s a better photo of the actor playing The Bastard, Tchéky Karyo.
Tchéky also played in the Luc Besson movie La Femme Nikita, which I will be talking about and referring to more when I’m reviewing Mr. Fox’s The Lady from L.U.S.T. series.
So with all of this being said, I would love to see a movie about The Bastard of Orleans. Tchéky Karyo is too old to play him again since if the movie was to use Mr. Fox’s book as a leaping point, the majority of the story takes place in Dunois’s youth.
By the telling of Mr. Fox’s version of Jean du Dunois’s life, he was a bastard and made a few of them himself along the way. The first chapter has Jean climbing into the room of the man, Raoul D’Anquetonville, that had his father assassinated, only to run into Raoul’s wife. So instead of killing her, he gives her a child, knowing the whole world knows the old Raoul is too old to sire a child, their reputation would be dragged into the dirt. Not a bad way to seek revenge and start a story.
Here’s the opener of the first chapter to Bastard of Orleans.
THE MAN WENT UP the rope hand over hand, swaying sideways with kicking feet, framed against the night sky. Below him, the cold waters of the moat reflected the stars and crescent moon; above him loomed the dark battlements of the Château Neussy. Against the stone walls of the turret, where he climbed, a yellow rectangle of candlelight gleamed. Somewhere along the wall walks a viol scratched out an evensong.
The man smiled grimly. There would be a different sort of serenata sung in the tower apartment before the night was done. He went up the rope at a slightly faster pace. His breath labored in his throat, and his shoulders felt the weight of his body again and again. Then his hand edged over the stone coping of the inset window, and he rested.
He pulled himself onto the ledge, panting harshly.
As his eyes raked the moat and the lifted bridge, the portcullis chains and the twin turrets of the barbican, his hand closed over the horn haft of the hunting knife at his belt. His fingers tightened until the skin over the knuckles turned white. Hate burned in him with a slow, steady flame. He swung about and stared into the candlelit solar.
His breath caught in his throat.
Where he had expected a man, a woman stood. She was in the early years of her maturity, of middle stature, with a rounded perfection of limb and body that made the man purse his lips thoughtfully. She wore only a shift of sendal, a material so thin he could see the shapeliness of her white legs from the sloping hips to the red leather poulaines on her feet. When she turned slightly, he saw her profile and knew her for the Lady Alix of Bar, wife to Raoul d’Anquetonville, Lord of Neussy and Valclare.
It was D’Anquetonville he had thought to surprise in the tower solar, for whom the knife was intended, who was to die so that he, The Bastard, might have his vengeance. A growl of anger at this trickery of fate rose in his throat; as suddenly, it was gone. Where a scowl of fury had darkened his features, now a smile transfigured them. Revenge might be more than murder was done to repay murder. A life for a life could have more than one interpretation.
He moved forward, and now the yellow radiance of the many candles revealed his face to be that of a young man in his early twenties, agile and strong as one of the great panthers on display at Arles. His hair was close-cropped and tawny above a face that possessed the handsome features of the Valois family. In leather jerkin and cavalier boots, he looked more the soldier down on his luck than the nobleman.
Patience was a voice inside him, counseling prudence. The hour was long past complin, which was the hour of bedtime.
Already the Château was half asleep. There was no footfall of guardsman or serving woman in the tower room, only the Lady Alix in her camisa before her wall mirror of Venetian glass, brushing the long brown hair which fell below her waist. At every stroke of the brush, her firm breasts trembled, loose under the thin sendal bodice. The young man crouching in the window niche became aware of an increased excitement in his breathing. It had been a long time since he’d looked upon a woman preparing for bed.
Placing the brush on a large chest that stood against the wall below the mirror, the Lady Alix moved with swaying body across the room toward the garderobe. When she was out of sight behind a standing screen, the man slid off the windowsill into the room and went silently to the big oaken door. His hand slipped the thick iron bolt through its hoops and blessed the provost’s clerk for greasing it.
A silver flagon of chilled wine caught his eye. He poured the rich red Bordeaux claret into a matching goblet and sipped, relishing the tart flavor. He was still sipping as Lady Alix came striding from the garderobe to pause in amazement at sight of him. Her chin lifted imperiously.
“Who are you? What are you doing in my bedchamber?”
Realizing how exposed her body must be in the thin stuff of her camisa, she looked about for her wrapper. Cheeks flushed, she reached for it only to find the handsome young invader a step before her, lifting the peliçon and holding it up between them. His smile was lazy, confident.
“Come, let me be your servant in the absence of your husband.”
“Who are you?” she whispered. Her eyes studied him more closely now, noting the handsome face and powerful body, the warm blue eyes that roved so shamelessly between the low neck of her shift and its hem. She asked hesitantly, “Louis? But the Duke of Orleans has been dead so many years! And yet—”
“Jean, Lady Alix. His son—The Bastard.”
“Ohhh!” Her hand went to her mouth, and her eyes grew wide. She had heard tales of this young hothead, of his duels with the Burgundian nobles he ran to earth between Bretagne and Calais, of the various ways in which he took his vengeance on those who had stabbed his father on the cobbles of the Rue Vielle du Temple in Paris. He wore a long hunting knife at his belt. Alix of Bar was not a stupid woman. Only the chance that had taken her husband to Rouen had prevented this firebrand from achieving his vengeance this night.
She said softly, “If you go now, I promise I’ll not give the alarm. It will be our secret.” The mistress of Château Neussy could be persuasive when she desired. She was very attractive and was ranked as one of the leading beauties of France.
Jean shook his tawny head, smiling faintly. “I didn’t come to deal in secrets. I came to avenge myself on D’Anquetonville.”
“My husband has gone to Rouen. It will be a disappointment, but you must forego your vengeance until another time.” Triumph glistened in her eyes as a deep breath lifted the magnificent bosom under its sheer sendal covering.
The Bastard laughed and turned again to the wine pitcher. As the red Bordeaux flowed, he said casually, “I find vengeance to be a two-edged sword, milady. A man need not necessarily kill to take revenge.”
The sharp glance that roved over her body made the Lady Alix take a backward step. She was older than this stripling who was sampling her claret-not so much older, however, that she might not prove attractive to him, she thought wildly. Yet she was certainly old enough to remember seeing his father Louis, Duke of Orleans and brother to King Charles VI of France, as a little girl. She could recall how handsome Duke Louis had been, how courtly of manner. This young cockatrice before her was just as fine a figure of a man.
“You talk in riddles,” she snapped, anger making her flush.
“A riddle you understand only too well, madame. Your eyes betray your thoughts.” He smiled down at her over the lowered goblet. “Your husband led the fatal attack on my father. Until this night I’ve never been able to get close enough to lay my mark on him—or on any of his possessions.”
Her glance touched the great oaken door leading to the outer hall and its spiral staircase. She wondered if she might reach it and throwback the bolt before Jean could stop her. Uneasily, she realized she could not. With that knowledge came a stir of mounting excitement.
“Do you intend to kill me?” she whispered.
“For shame,” he chided her, laughing softly. “I said before that vengeance has two sides. On one is the black swan of death, on the other the white egg of life.”
He moved across the rush-strewn floor toward the massive ambry that held her gowns and kirtles. On a rack beside it stood a number of headdresses, conical hennins standing side by side with twin-horned escoffions and the more delicate atours. He lifted one of the escoffions. “Horns of the devil, these are named. It’s the wife who flaunts them publicly, but it should be the husband who wears them, morals being what they are these days.”
Lady Alix shook her head. “I’ve been a faithful wife.”
“Until tonight,” he added and lifted the headdress. “How would your Raoul look wearing horns, madame?”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Wouldn’t I? I’ve come this far to kill him. I can stay a little longer to give his wife a child. Face it, madame. Raoul D’Anquetonville is too old to sire further children. You’re his third wife. I may be your only hope to”
She whirled to run, but he was beside her before she had taken half a dozen steps on wobbling legs. An arm banded her back, held her soft body tight against his own. Then his mouth was warm on her lips, and his strength was such that she found herself welcoming his hard young body, his hungry mouth. She wanted desperately to struggle free, but a lethargy, on which a tide of desire began to rise, was in her flesh.
He kissed her soft white throat, her closed eyelids.
“We must not. Oh, I beg—” she breathed.
I will repeat this many times that Mr. Fox has quite the talent for writing historical fiction. He wrote this story in the late 50s and would have read everything in the way of reference materials to learn the life of Jean du Dunois. Some of the leading facts about the Bastard Mr. Fox would have come across would have been:
- Jean d’Orléans, comte de Dunois, byname the Bastard of Orleans, French Le Bâtard d’Orléans, (born 1403, Paris, France—died November 24, 1468, L’Haÿ-les-Roses),
- French military commander and diplomat, important in France’s final victory over England in the Hundred Years’ War.
- He participated in military campaigns with Joan of Arc.
- Jean was the natural son of Louis, duc d’Orléans, by his liaison with Mariette d’Enghien.
- In 1407, Jean’s father, Louis I, Duke of Orléans was assassinated.
- Eight years later, his half-brother, Charles, Duke of Orléans was captured at the Battle of Agincourt and remained a prisoner of the English for twenty-five years.
- This left Jean the only adult male to represent the house of Orléans.
- Jean entered the service of his cousin the dauphin, the future Charles VII, in 1420 and became his trusted adviser.
- His first notable success was the defeat of the English at Montargis (1427), and during 1427–28 he defended Orléans until Joan of Arc arrived.
- For years, vague prophecies had been circulating in France concerning an armored maiden who would rescue France. Many of these prophecies foretold that the armored maiden would come from the borders of Lorraine, where Domrémy, Joan’s birthplace, is located.
- As a result, when word reached the besieged citizens of Orléans concerning Joan’s journey to see the King, expectations and hopes were high.
- Joan of Arc finally met the Dauphin Charles, although it would be a few days more before she had a private meeting where the Dauphin was finally convinced of her “powers” (or at least, her usefulness). Nonetheless, he insisted she first proceed to Poitiers to be examined by church authorities. With the clerical verdict that she posed no harm and could be safely taken on, Dauphin Charles finally accepted her services.
- Joan’s first mission was to join a convoy assembling at Blois, under the command of Marshal Jean de La Brosse, Lord of Boussac bringing supplies to Orléans. It was from Blois that Joan dispatched her famous missives to the English siege commanders, calling herself “the Maiden” (La Pucelle), and ordering them, in the name of God, to “Begone, or I will make you go”.
Taking these historical points, Mr. Fox went ahead and imagined Jean de Dunois as a modern movie swashbuckler. This is where Mr. Fox truly shines. He weaves a telling tale of a young man making his way in the world. His world is of the aristocracy during the Hundred Years War with the English and he must climb as high as he can in order to survive.
Mr. Fox Jean de Dunois as a real bastard. He has many affairs and sets bloody siege after bloody siege to win his way to a high standing in the court of his cousin, Charles VII.
BUT! Mr. Fox also writes Jean de Dunois as a love-sick schoolboy for his first wife, Marie Louvet. The wife in Mr. Fox’s story was probably a mashup of both Marie Louvet and his second wife Marie of Harcourt, since Louvet died in 1426, making the timeline impossible since it stretches out beyond the death of Joan of Arc and the end of the Hundred Year War with England in 1453.
Either way, Mr. Fox wrote this same scenario into Queen of Sheba and we will probably run into it a few more times since it creates a great sense of tension between lovers in a historical fiction novel.
Originally published in 1960 by Avon Books
The Cover Artist: Uncredited illustrator
I digitally transcribed this book with Douglas Vaughan in 2019.
I used this photo reference of Joan of Arc by Alfred Cheney Johnston (1920s).
Although Joan of Arc is only in a small portion of the bastard’s story I felt it was fitting to use as the cover image. Alfred Cheney Johnston’s black and white photograph was enough to inspire me to scratch out the cover. His black and white photography of women is stunning and you can find a collection of these photos on Pinterest.
Joan of Arc, referred to as Jeanne d’Arc in the story, doesn’t appear predominantly as one would think. I used her as a cover motif to call to the times and the popularity of the character has in popular culture.
If I were to illustrate The Bastard of Orleans I would start with his original 15th-century portrait of Jean. I love the unibrow.
In the end, Jean du Dunois, The Bastard of Orleans was a real person who has been fictionized into a raging action-adventure story to be read and enjoyed. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Mr. Fox’s other historical fiction works like Borgia Blade and One Sword for Love.
I create the cover illustrations to size. I work on 6 x 6 black Ampersand Scratchboard. The book covers are 6 x 9, which leaves 3 inches for text. I want a clean “Penguin Books” look and feel to the covers. I’m using the “Pretty Faces” motif to keep a unified look and feel to the whole library. The back cover has an image of the original cover design, the date it was originally printed, and the original story description.
Here’s a short video I put together of me working on the scratchboard process.
I have had many positive comments about the new “Pretty Faces” covers. I feel pretty confident I will be able to accomplish all 156 book covers, that I’ve challenged myself to do, as well as transcribe and review for The Library.
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References used from these sites:
Thank you for stopping by and finding out more about what I’m doing. You can also see all of the books that have been transcribed so far by visiting The Gardner Francis Fox Library’s official website.
I am a huge fan of all things retro! I love reading the old pulps and paperbacks. I also love to re-create art from this era of old. My website www.kurtbrugel.com is packed full of my art and books please stop by and check my work out.