jan shirley french translator and childrens author

A Parisian Journal 1405-1449
Translated from French by Jan Shirley

Covers local events in the first half of the fifteenth century - civil war, prices and food, weather, illness, songs, Joan of Arc (not a saint, a witch), first European mention of gypsies, English bad manners and poor cooking, etc. The author changes sides from pro-Burgundian and therefore pro-English to being pro-'French' without apparently ever noticing.


His name is not known, as the oldest ms has lost its first and last pages. Probably not a priest, as he comments during one plague on the number of priests you would see about Paris, hurrying to take the sacrament to the dying. But must have been a figure of some authority, as the gypsies he went to see behaved discreetly when he was around. Interested in food supplies, shortages, prices - perhaps did the catering for some college or hospice? Internal evidence suggests a link with the Rue St Martin and possibly with the church of St Merry. Compassionate, interested, outspoken - parts of his biting remarks here and there have been scraped away, no doubt for safety's sake.


Tuetey says he studied the main manuscript of the Journal in the Vatican library, but can't have done so. No photocopies in his day, and he must have depended on a copyist, as he has many footnotes saying that such and such a word is missing from the manuscript, when there it is plain as plain. He also leaves out whole phrases, and does not always report prices correctly. Readers seriously interested in the violent economic fluctuations of the period should use this English version to correct Tuetey's.

Prices, Food

Page 156 1420
'Corn was now so dear that a setier of good corn cost 32 francs or more; a setier of barley, 27 or 28 francs; a 16-ounce loaf, made with the chaff, 8 blancs. As for peas and beans, no poor person ate any unless he were given some. A quart of ordinary household wine cost at least 16 pence parisis, the kind one used to get just as good or better for twopence.'

Page 158 1421
'In April when milder weather came and people had used up all the winter drinks they had made with apples or plums, they threw the fruit out into the street for the St Antoine pigs to eat. But the pigs were not quick enough; as soon as the stuff was thrown out, it was picked up by poor people, by women and children who were glad to get it, poor wretches, each for himself, eating what the pigs refused.'


Page 157 1421
'This was indeed the longest winter anyone could remember for more than forty years; all through the Easter holidays it snowed, froze, and was unbearably cold. Some of the good inhabitants of the good town of Paris, seeing this extreme poverty and suffering, arranged to buy three or four houses and turn them into hospitals for the poor children who were dying of starvation all over Paris. Here they had food, good fires and good beds.'

Songs, illness

Page 84 1414
'There was a song at this time that little children used very often to sing as they went to fetch wine or mustard in the evening; it ran: 'What a cough you've caught in the cunt, old girl, What a cough, what a cough in the cunt!' And it pleased God that a foul corrupt air should fall upon the world, an air which reduced more than a hundred thousand people in Paris to such a state that they could neither eat, drink nor sleep. They had very sharp attacks of fever two or three times each day, especially whenever they ate anything. Everything seemed very bitter to them, very rotten and stinking, and all the time, wherever they were, they shook and trembled. Even worse, they lost all bodily strength so that no one who had this disease could bear to touch any part of his body, so wretchedly ill did he feel. ... People who had not caught it or who had got better would say by way of a joke, 'Have you got it? You've been singing "What a cough you've caught in the cunt", that's what it is!' The reason being that as well as all the misery described above, people had with it such a fearful cough, catarrh and hoarseness that nothing like a high mass could be sung anywhere in Paris.'

Joan of Arc

Page 263 1431
'She was soon dead and her clothes all burned. Then the fire was raked back and her naked body shown to all the people and all the secrets that could or should belong to a woman, to take away any doubts from people's minds. When they had stared long enough at her dead body bound to the stake, the executioner got a big fire going again round her poor carcass, which was soon burned up, both flesh and bone reduced to ashes. There were many people there and in other places who said that she was martyred, and for her true lord. Others said that she was not, and that he who had supported her so long had done wrong. Such things people said, but whatever good or whatever evil she did, she was burned that day.'


This is the first known mention of gypsies in European literature

Pages 216-219 1427
'On the Sunday after mid-August day, August 17th 1427, twelve penitents as they called themselves came to Paris - one duke, one count and ten other men, all on horseback. They said that they were good Christians; that they came from Lower Egypt. Also they said that they had been Christians formerly ... [but that later] the Saracens made war upon them. As they were but weak in our faith, they, for very little cause, enduring but a brief attack ... became Saracens again and denied Our Lord. [In punishment of this, the emperor of Germany and the king of Poland sent them to Rome]. There they all went, old and young, and a hard journey it was for the children. ... The Pope imposed on them this penance: that for seven years they should go to and fro about the world without ever sleeping in a bed. He also ordered, it was said, that so as to provide some means for them every bishop and every abbot who bore a crosier should give them, once, ten pounds tournois.'

The 'penitents' were lodged outside Paris, some hundred or so, and 'people went from Paris, from St Denis and from all around the city. And indeed their children were very very clever, both the girls and the boys. Most of them - almost all of them - had their ears pierced and wore a silver ring in each ear, or two rings in each. This, they said, was a mark of good birth in their country. The men were very dark, with curly hair; the women were the ugliest you ever saw and the darkest, all with scarred faces and hair as black as a horse's tail. They had no dresses but an old coarse piece of blanket tied on the shoulder with a bit of cloth or string; under this all their covering was a wretched smock or shift. In short, they were the poorest creatures that anyone had ever seen come into France. But in spite of their poverty they had sorceresses among them who looked at people's hands and told them what had happened to them or what would happen. They brought trouble into many marriages, for they would say to the husband, 'Your wife has cuckolded you', or to the wife, 'Your husband has deceived you'. What was worse, it was said that when they talked to people they contrived - either by magic arts or by other means or by the devil's help or by their own skill and cunning - to make money flow out of other people's purses into their own. I must say I went there three or four times to talk to them and could never see that I lost a penny, nor did I see them looking into anyone's hands, but everyone said they did.'