V is for Étienne de Vignolles

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 22 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

I’m delving deep into history this week to bring you the French military commander Étienne de Vignolles who you will know better as the Jack of Hearts.

The squabble between the French and English over the throne of France called The Hundred Years War had rumbled on and off since 1337 but came to a head in 1415 when Henry V invaded Normandy.

De Vignolles had been born in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in 1390 and although he wasn’t a noble, he joined the forces of Charles VII and quickly made a name for himself as an extremely capable military leader. In 1421 he fought at the Battle of Baugé and after leading skirmishing raids across northern France, he played a major role in relieving the siege of Montargis.

He earned himself the nickname of ‘La Hire’ and there are varying explanations of its meaning. Wikipedia says that it may have come from the English ‘Hire-God’ which in turn stems from the Latin ‘Ira Dei’ meaning the Wrath of God. A more likely derivation is that it came from the French for ‘hedgehog’ because de Vignolles was renowned for his bad-tempered and prickly disposition. (I’m assuming this must be old French since ‘hedgehog’ is now both ‘hérisson‘ and masculine)

Be that as it may, De Vignolles was one of only a few military men who believed in Joan of Arc and he fought alongside her at Orleans and Potay, and it was probably her influence that led him to pray before battle, albeit in his own bellicose way. On the way to battle, a priest gave him absolution for his sins and he then fell to his knees and prayed:

God, I pray Thee that today Thou wilt do for La Hire that which Thou wouldst have La Hire do for Thee, if he were God and Thou wert La Hire.

His military career spanned more than twenty years. In 1430, he captured the English held fortification of Chateau-Gaillard and was made Captain General of Normandy in 1438. His last two major battles came in 1440 at Pontoise and in 1442 in capturing La Reole. De Vignolles died at Montauban of an unknown illness in January 1443.

As already mentioned, de Vignolles became a byword for a bad-tempered disposition so it seems odd that he should be the inspiration for the Jack of Hearts in French playing cards. Perhaps it commemorates his faith in Joan of Arc.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

4 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 6th June 2018

    Yes, the narratives in some people’s lives are not at all tidy, are they?

  • ABC Wednesday 6th June 2018

    Ahhh there the historie of that card is… I never knew that

    Have a splendid, ♥-warming ABC-Wednes-day / -week
    ♫ M e l ☺ d y ♪ (ABC-W-team)

  • Margy 6th June 2018

    Interesting bit of history as it relates to playing cards we use all the time but don’t really think about the origins. – Margy

  • elmuromx 6th June 2018

    Roger Green, thanks so much for the post.Much thanks again. Really Cool.


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