All of the contemporary chroniclers agree: never was a more abominable massacre ever seen. Never had there been more blood, brains and innards scattered throughout a city’s streets. It happened on 25 May 1479. On this day, at six o’clock in the morning, the inhabitants of Dole, who had already been under siege for three months by the royal troops, suddenly heard “great fracas and great rumblings”: a group of Alsatians had just penetrated their city “by ruse and felony”.
Immediately, the portcullis was raised by these traitors, the drawbridge lowered and the favourite residence of the Dukes of Bourgogne (Burgundy) delivered to the soldiers of Louis XI.
Trembling with fear inside their houses, the Dolois heard horses’ hooves and clicking of armour; then a terrifying, inhuman voice roaring : “Kill them all!”
Terrified, most of them went to hide in their cellars. A few, however, wanted to see the face of this man who was condemning them to death. Going to the windows, they could see, through the slits in their shutters, a cavalier “with glittering eyes” who, standing in his stirrups, was inciting his men to carnage.
This is how the Dolois saw for the first time this diabolic Prince, known throughout the kingdom for his taste for blood, this great favourite of Louis XI, this human beast whose name made whole provinces tremble with fear : Charles d’Amboise.
Travelling through the streets on his black horse, screaming his calls for death, he soon arrived before the Notre-Dame Church where some Dolois Companies of Archers and Arquebusiers were attempting to defend themselves. Then, with a great laugh, he roared:
“Kill them all!. Let not one remain!… I want to see the blood of the Comtois flow like a river in the streets of Dole… Go on! Kill them! Kill them all!…”
The French immediately rushed on the houses, breaking down doors and windows, and the Prince gave the signal for the massacre by slicing off a woman’s head with a blow from an axe.
Immediately, the attack began. Never had such butchery ever been seen before. For four hours, they killed, they raped, they eviscerated, they exploded heads with blows from hammers. Entire families died by the sword, others were burnt alive in the cellars – one of which would be called Cellar of Hell… There were cadavers everywhere. The soldiers were trampling around in blood, in bowels and the debris of brains…
Around ten o’clock, the most ferocious of them, the cruellest, began to tire of killing. But Charles d’Amboise, Charles the Satanical, whose armour was red with blood, urged them on. His eyes protruding from their sockets, foaming at the mouth, he was screeching : “Kill, kill!…”
And the butchery continued. When they had no more swords, they slit throats, stabbed, crushed heads, strangled. Soon, there was no-one left to exterminate.
Then Charles d’Amboise attacked the cadavers. As there was no-one alive, he cut off the heads of the dead; and this appalling work amused him. He roared with laughter, crying out: “Look at them, these earthworms!”
While he was busy with his twentieth decapitated body, a soldier came to inform him that a group of Dolois had taken refuge inside a house. He straightened up, an ugly expression on his face, and was about to rush over there when he changed his mind:
“Leave them there to breed! They’ll give us some little ones that we’ll take pleasure in coming to kill in ten or fifteen years!…”
On the following day and those that followed, Charles d’Amboise, obsessed with murder (his contemporaries would say “possessed by the Angel of Evil”), would continue to burn villages, rape and kill the unfortunate Comtois by hundreds. Throughout the whole Spring of 1479, and throughout the whole Summer and throughout the whole Autumn, untiringly he would kill “with a wolf’s smile”.
Winter brought him back to the side of Louis XI who would make him his Counsellor and the Governor of Bourgogne. But, as soon as the good weather returned in 1480, he left again, sword in hand, hungry for cadavers and thirsty for blood.
Seeing him pass with his green eyes too shiny, his triangular face and his long, slim hands, the people say: “It’s the Devil!…”
At the end of the year, he decides to go to his castle of Chaumont-sur-Loire to organize a feast there. But at Tours, he is suddenly struck down by illness. Transported to a nearby manor, he retires to bed, a fetid perspiration flowing from him, and soon begins to let out horrible cries… The doctors hurry to his side and want to examine him. He swears at them and continues to roar with pain. He jumps and leaps on his bed. A witness tells us that
“He twists as if he were the prey of flames.”
Finally, he enters into agony. An agony so strange, so unnatural, that the people who approach him do not stop making the sign of the cross. However, these gestures seem, not only to terrify him, but to make him suffer. He emits appalling, inhuman cries which remind them sometimes of horses, sometimes of the cries of a pig being slaughtered.
After which, he roars blasphemous words, insults God, swears at the saints, says outrageous things about the Virgin and curses the Pope, to the consternation of those present. It is then seriously thought that he is possessed by a demon. Monks come to exorcise him. He rudely pushes them away, spits in their faces and pronounces so many sacrilegious words that the unfortunate monks flee, appalled…
Finally, on 14 February 1481, after an attack of convulsions which almost throw him from his bed, Charles d’Amboise dies. He has on his face an expression so revolting that no-one accepts to stay with his cadaver.
Three days later, they go to bury him. For this considerably important person who is the King’s intimate Counsellor, Governor General of Ile-de-France, Champagne and Bourgogne, that is to say one of the highest dignitaries in the kingdom, a solemn funeral is held in the Church of the Cordeliers d’Amboise. There are present, under a dais, the Bishop d’Albi, the dead man’s brother, princes, mitred abbots and penitents in hoods.
At the altar, a Cordelier says the Mass for the Dead.
But suddenly, at the moment of consecration, this monk begins to gesticulate. Those present, astounded, see him wave his arms as if he is pushing away something or someone invisible. Several times, he descends and climbs the steps, stumbling. Then he stops, with his back to the tabernacle, looking terrified. At this moment – he would later say – a voice that he is the only one to hear clamours in his ear:
“Stop, Priest, stop! Your mass is useless! It has no meaning! Laughable!… This damned man is already with me, body and soul… Why bother blessing an empty coffin!… For this coffin is empty!… Empty!”
The poor Cordelier, just for an instant, believes that he can see before him a grimacing person. Trembling, livid, he makes the sign of the cross, descends the altar steps, walks towards the catafalque and cries out: “Open this coffin!…”
The Bishop d’Albi rises and asks for an explanation. The Cordelier repeats:
“Open this coffin! I will only continue to say this Mass after being certain that the body of Lord d’Amboise is really there…”
Then, the guards remove the mortuary sheet and open the coffin.
Those present let out a cry: it is empty!
Immediately, princes, bishops, mitred priests, monks, penitents and ordinary people, panicked, run towards the door and flee.
And never was the body of Charles d’Amboise ever found…
This story can be found in many works, and notably in a book by the Prince de Broglie, La Tragique Histoire du chateau de Chaumont. The Prince de Broglie was the last inhabitant of the Chateau de Chaumont. That is to say the descendant – a distant one, but a descendant anyway – of Charles d’Amboise…
There has never been any explanation. His body was never found.
The first idea which springs to mind, is that someone removed it. But who?… And why?… Louis XI?… Upon learning of it, he had an attack of apoplexy. And then, he was too superstitious to commit this sort of action. Having people hanged and profaning a coffin are two different things… No, it could not have been Louis XI. So who? A member of the Amboise Family?… For what reason? There remains – and this is the opinion of a few Historians – the hypothesis of the body being kidnapped by Charles d’Amboise’s enemies, whether they were parents of the unfortunate inhabitants of Dole, or of lords despoiled by Louis XI’s Counsellor.
This could have been done so that Charles d’Amboise would be damned by preventing him from benefiting from: (1) the religious ceremony called absolution; (2) a burial in holy ground…
The thing that remains inexplicable is that the Cordelier asked that the coffin be opened, for it is very certain that, if the body had been removed by Charles d’Amboise’s enemies, these people did not go to the monk to tell him about it… even in Confession!… But there is another hypothesis. It could be supposed that someone, who had had knowledge of the kidnapper’s secret, hid behind the altar and spoke to the Cordelier monk. Who, troubled and appalled, thought to have had a vision… But this is only an hypothesis…
So, the conclusion is an enormous question mark…