Controlling keys and controlling chests: matters of trust and sovereignty Controlling chests and their keys was associated with controlling government
Nobody saw it, but everybody could feel its strength. The prince relied on it to challenge the power of other nobles: ‘let them come and get it. Several strong men would be able lift such a weight, but mechanisms existed to fix chests to the ground are known to have existed. Despite having iron handles, indicating it could be moved, the chest held in Noyon Museum, mentioned earlier, has four holes in its base through which heavy bolts could be passed, and a nut fastened and sealed to the ground. The lesson could be addressed to the court but also to the common people, who were sometimes worried about the state of the prince’s coffers, particularly after the payment of taxes.
to know what had become of the great deniers and treasures raised recently in the kingdom.’72 If need be, such valuables could be used to intimidate opponents and rebels. Georges Chastelain portrays Philip the Good’s response, during a chapter meeting of the Order of Golden Fleece in The Hague in 1456, to the Frisians and the people of Utrecht who asserted that ‘the duke did not have enough money to wage war against those of Utrecht.’ He crushed them beneath a deluge of luxury: He even had displayed in a great room next to the hall at least 30,000 marks in silver plate . . . thus letting it be known that while had he no silver money, he had largely the wherewithal to obtain it thanks to his chattels. Further still, a thing unheard of, he had brought with him from Lille two chests containing two hundred thousand lions [gold coins], and had these chests put in a chamber open to the public, where everybody came to try lift them, tiring themselves in vain.73 Once again, it was impossible to lift them. The 200,000 lions of 1454 alone would have amounted to 838 kilos of gold, while the 30,000 marks weighed in at 7.32 tonnes of silver.
The Grandes Chroniques tell how Charles IV ‘saw his treasure virtually empty’ and had ‘various torments’ exacted on his treasurer, who died in the very fortress where the treasure under his guard was held
Holding the key was eminently symbolic in the Middle Ages. Saint Peter is a fine example of this, but far from the only one. Juno, wearing her crown, in an image of queenly authority, held the key to the chests of riches, and hence of liberality.74 This real and Dog dating only reviews symbolic issue was a matter of base rivalry and brutal conflict between courtiers, but the prince had no intention of relinquishing control. He wanted to know and control in order to act, in short to retain control over the chests. Chastelain describes a visit by Philip the Good to the castle of Lille in 1461: ‘In this town of Lille, the duke resided for about eight days, and visited his chests and treasures which were in the castle. . . . As he was one of those men who keeps an eye on more than one thing, he thought a lot about his said chests,’ for ‘he was very curious about them.’ Deciding to keep them for a vast project, he ‘seemed to want to keep them for some very high and very timely purpose, known only to God and himself.’75 Examining the contents of the chests provided a way of judging on tangible evidence, rather than written accounts, and of correcting subordinates’ mistakes, of ‘reforming,’ in contemporary parlance. 76 At times princes oversaw large transfers in person. Philip the Good oversaw the transfer of 200,000 crowns paid by the king to buy back the towns of the Somme ‘and finally, under heavy escort, the duke had it brought to Hesdin and placed it