On the Tuesday before Candlemas Day... the Queen [Isabella of Bavaria] gave a masquerade to celebrate the wedding of a favorite lady-in-waiting who, twice-widowed, was now being married for the third time. A woman's remarriage, according to certain traditions, was considered an occasion for mockery and often celebrated by a charivari for the newlyweds with all sorts of license, disguises, disorders and loud blaring of discordant music and clanging of cymbals outside the bridal chamber. Although this was a usage contrary to all decency, says the censorious Monk of St. Denis, King Charles [VI] let himself be persuaded by dissolute friends to join in such a charade.
Six young men including the King and Yvain, bastard son of the Count of Foix, disguised themselves as wood savages in costumes of linen cloth sewn onto their bodies and soaked in resinous wax or pitch to hold a covering of frazzled hemp, so that they appeared shaggy and hairy from head to foot. Face masks entirely concealed their identity. Aware of the risk they ran in torch-filled halls, they forbade anyone carrying a torch to enter during the dance. Plainly, an element of Russian Roulette was involved, the tempting of death that has repeatedly been the excitement of highborn and decadent youth. Certain ways of behavior vary little across the centuries. Plainly, too, there was an element of cruelty in involving as one of the actors a man thinly separated from madness.
The deviser of the affair, cruelest and most insolent of men, was one Huguet de Guisay, favored in the royal circle for his outrageous schemes. He was a man of wicked life who corrupted and schooled youth in debaucheries, and held commoners and the poor in hatred and contempt. He called them dogs, and with blows of sword and whip took pleasure in forcing them to imitate barking. If a servant displeased him, he would force the man to lie on the ground and, standing n his back, would kick him with his spurs, crying, Bark, dog! in response to his cries of pain.
In their Dance of the Savages, the masqueraders capered before the revelers, imitating the howls of wolves and making obscene gestures while the guests tried to discover their identity. Charles was teasing and gesticulating before the fifteen-year-old Duchesse de Berry when Louis d'Orleans and Philippe de Bar, arriving from dissipations elsewhere, entered the hall accompanied by torches despite the ban. Whether to discover who the dancers were, or deliberately courting danger (accounts of the episode differ), Louis held up a torch over one of the capering monsters. A spark fell, a flame flickered up a leg, first one dancer was afire, then another. The Queen, who alone knew that Charles was among the group, shrieked and fainted. The Duchesse de Berry... threw her skirt over [the King] to protect him from the sparks, thus saving his life. The room filled with the guests' sobs and cries of horror and the tortured screams of the burning men. Guests who tried to stifle the flames and tear the costumes from the writhing victims were badly burned. Except for the King, only the Sire de Nantouillet, who flung himself into a large wine-cooler filled with water, escaped. The Count de Joigny was burned to death on the spot, Yvain de Foix and Aimery Poitiers died after two days of painful suffering. Huguet de Guisay lived for three days in agony, cursing and insulting his fellow dancers, the dead and the living, until his last hour. When his coffin was carried through the strets, the common people greeted it with cries of Bark, dog!.
This ghastly affair, coming so soon after the King's madness, was like an exclamation point to the malign succession of events that has tormented the century. Charles's narrow escape threw Paris into a great commotion, and anger swept the citizens at the appalling frivolity which had so casually endangered the life and honor of the King. Had he died, they said, the people would have massacred the uncles and the court; not one of them would have escaped death, nor any knight found in Paris. Alarmed at these dangerous sentiments with their echo of the Maillotins' rebellion barely ten years past, the uncles prevailed on the King to ride in solemn procession to Notre Dame to appease the people. Behind Charles on horseback, his uncles and brother followed barefoot as penitents. As the involuntary agent of the tragedy, Louis was widely reproached for his dissolute habits. In expiation he built a chapel for the Célestins with marvelous stained glass and rich altar furnishings and an endowment for perpetual prayers.