Jacques Cœur, There is no contemporary image of him. This image is a modern rendition based upon an engraving by Grignon, which appeared in a book two hundred years after Jacque's death, but believed to have been reproduced from an authentic original.

In 1440, Jacques Cœur was enobled. His armorial bearings were a heart (coeur), a reproduction of his own name; and the escallop, an allusion to his patron saint Jacques [James].
His motto was:
'To Vallant Hearts Nothing Is Impossible'

Jacques Cœur
(c.1395-1456)

Jacques Cœur (c.1395-1456) was the famous treasurer of Charles VII. Jacques' father acquired a great fortune in supplying furs to the court and to the great lords of France. Jacques married the daughter of the mayor of Bourges in 1421, and was elected representative of Berry. He formed one of the partnership-societies, called 'companies' at the time. Venturing further out on his own, he acquired a fortune in trading with Italy and the Levant. The chronicler Georges Chastelain attests to the fact that Jacques 'showed the flag', namely the fleur-de-lys, of the Valois. Jacques possessed seven galleasses, bearing the flag of the 'Holy Virgin'. Rose, Madeleine, Notre-Dame-St. Michel, Notre-Dame-St. Jacques, Notre-Dame-St. Denis, were some of the ships' names.
        Jacques Cœur became the richest man in the realm. His wealth allowed him to win favor among the high nobility of France, and in particular with the House of Anjou. His special relationship with the royal sourt appears to have been ensured by his enabling the sumptuous living of Agnès Sorel, the mistress of Charles VII. Jacques Cœur reorganized the royal finances, established a gold standard, and stabilized the French currency. He had hundreds of factories in his employ, and owned houses of business in all the chief cities of France. He had many lavish private homes, the most famous being at Bourges, where much of its exceptional magnificence remains as a monument. However, Jacques Cœur's most significant accomplishment was providing the financial basis that allowed the creation of Charles VII's military reforms that took place during the 1440s. He supplied the 'sinews of that war' which had ousted the English from Normandy and began the recovery of Guyienne.
        By 1450, Jacques Cœur was at his greatest glory. He had represented France in foreign embassies and had accompanied the royal train that entered Rouen upon the deliverance of Normandy. He saw his brother Nicholas made bishop of Luçon, his sister married to the king's secretary, his daughter married in to a noble family of Bourges, and his son, Jean, become the archbishop of Bourges. However, Cœur's wealth was largely based upon a gigantic monopoly of French commerce. He dominated trade, farming, manufacture, and money lending, Merchants complained of 'that Jacquet' which strangled their own opportunities. Further, there developed a back lash to his profuse lending of money to needy courtiers, to members of the royal family, and to the king himself. These influential debtors resented Jacques Cœur's wealth, and were eager for an opportunity to cause his overthrow. This opportunity was sparked by the death of Agnès Sorel in 1450. Along with some others, Jacques was appointed by Agnès as executor of her last will and testament. In a perverse way, Jacques' debtors and enemies used his close association with Agnès in devising a scheme to free themselves of their obligations and even to share in the spoils of his losses.

        Late in 1450 and early 1451 rumors were spread that Agnès Sorel had been poisoned. Some of the instigators of the rumors were courtiers who either owed money to Jacques Cœur or were seeking to replace Jacques in some of his royal offices. Historians agree that there was never any substantiated evidence and that charge was blatantly false. However, for this and other alleged crimes Charles VII gave orders at the end of July 1451 for Jacques Cœur's arrest and the seizure of his goods. This latter act allowed the king to acquire a considerable amount of money to continue military operations in Guienne. A trial was held, where the judges were among known merchant enemies of Jacques as well as various 'royal commissioners' who had been granted 'temporary' possession of Jacques' forfeited estates. While the ridiculous poisoning charge was discredited [the originators, themselves, convicted for false witness in separate trials], many other offenses were injected: providing armor to the Saracens, coining fake money, kidnaping oarsmen for his galleys, sending back a Christian slave who had taken sanctuary on board one of his ships, committing extortions and exactions in Languedoc, and many more. Jacques remained in various prisons during the long trial. In early June of 1453, he was declared guilty and sentenced. He was compelled to perform an amende honorable before the Lord Chancellor at Poitiers on 5 June 1453. Still, he remained in prison for the next three years as his possessions were distributed among the intimates of the French king. While some historians can make excuses for Charles VII's failure to save Jeanne d'Arc after her capture, this treatment of Jacques Cœur remains the most inexcusable act of the French king.
        In 1455, Jacques Cœur, managed to escape into Provence. He reached Tarascon, then Marseilles, from where he sailed to Nice and then to Pisa. He finally reached Rome, where he was honorably and appreciatively received by pope Nicholas V. The pope was preparing an expedition against the Turks. The pope's successor, Calixtus III, continued with the enterprise and named Jacques Cœur captain of a fleet of sixteen galleys sent to the relief of Rhodes. En route, Jacques died on the island of Chios, 25 November 1456. Some authors state that he died of an illness, while others suggest that Jacques may have died from battle wounds received during a naval battle associated with the expedition.

Brief Chronology

1418
Jacques married Macée de Léodepart, daughter of Lambert de Léodepart, an influential citizen, provost of Bourges, and a former valet of John, duke of Berry.
c.1429
Jacques formed a commercial partnership with two brothers named Godard. He is alsoassociated with the mint at Bourges which was under Ravant Ladenois. It is only speculative, but the Bourges mint had to have played a part in financing the relief of Orleans in that year.
1432
Jacques is reported bartering, and transporting the wares at Damascus. He imported his merchandise from the east into Narbonne, and managed his trade business from Montpellier. In a few years he placed France in a position to contend with the great trading republics of Italy, and acquired wealth sufficient to provide material assistance to the knights of Rhodes and to Venice.
1436
Charles VII summoned Jacques Cœur to Paris and made him Master of the Mint, where Jacques launched the reforms of the country's finances called for by the French king.
1438
Jacques Cœur was made steward of the royal expenditure. He assumed the title of 'Argentier', and office specifically created for him, and gave him authority over the royal treasury.
1441
Jacques Cœur and his family were ennobled.
1445
Cœur negotiated a treaty between the sultan of Egypt and the knights of Rhodes. This was followed by his nephew's mission to Egypt and greatly improved advantages of the French consuls in the Levant.
1448
Cœur represented the French king at the court of pope Nicholas V, where he was able to arrange an agreement between Nicholas and Amadeus that contributed to ending the 'papal schism'.
Pope Nicholas treated Jacques Cœur with special license to traffic with the 'infidels' -- non Christians.
Jacques began advancing large loans to Charles VII in support of the war against the English Lancasterians
1449
Jacques Cœur accompanied Charles VII during the latter's successful campaign in Normandy, entering the city or Rouen as a member of the royal entourage.
1450 (August)
Agnes Sorel, the king’s mistress, suddenly died. Eighteen months later it was rumoured that she had been poisoned by Jacques Cœur.
1451
Charles VII ordered the arrest of Jacques Cœur, and the seizure of his goods.
1455
Jacques Cœur, escaped from prison into Provence.
He reached Rome and was honourably received by pope Nicholas V.
1456
Jacques Cœur, as he was participating in a Papal-sponsored expedition against the Turks, died at Chios.

There are not many websites that explore the life and accomplishments of Jacques Cœur. However, his city of Bourges, France, certainly remembers him:

Bourge, le Palais Jacques Cœur

Célébrations nationales 2000 -- Jacques Cœur.

Books

Kerr, Albert Boardman. Jacques Cœur, Merchant Prince of the Middle Ages, Freeport and NY, 1927, reprint 1971.

Clément, Pierre. Jacques Cœur et Charles VII (Paris, 1866) is suggested by Kerr as "the base upon which all subsequent monuments to his memory are reared."


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This page was created 15 June 2002; last updated 17 June 2002.
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