It has been embellished so much that the story could begin with "once upon a time an oriental prince in love with a beautiful dauphinoise"
But it is a historic fact which was played out in the Royans at the end of the Middle Ages with the castle of Rochechinard for backdrop.
Djem (known as Zizim), son of the sultan Mehmet II, beaten by his brother Bayezid (Bajazet II) in the fight for the throne of Constantinople, came to Rhodes to ask the help of the Knights Hospitallers.
He wished to ensure their help in winning the Balkans where he had supporters.
The grand master entrusted the prince to the custody of three knights incuding Charles Allemand de Rochechinard, then commander of Poët-Laval.
Their mission was to escort Djem to France with the pretext (among others) of having him meet the King.
The real purpose was in fact to keep him prisoner and use him as a hostage to guard against attacks on Rhodes by Bayezid.
On disembarking at Villefranches-sur-Mer, Djem was initially taken, via Italy, to the Savoyard commandership of the Echelles.
The knights then had him embark on the Isère at Saint Quentin and thus reach the Rhône Valley and fromthere, the commandership of Poët-Laval.
At the end of summer 1483, when news of the death of Louis XI reached Charles Allemand de Rochechinard, the knights dropped their cover and disarmed the prince's esort.
In mid-winter 1483-1484, the commander of Poët-Laval took Djem "to a fort on a rock called Rosinul"(Rochechinard in a Turkish chronicle).
The prince would stay a few months in the no doubt newly renovated fortress of the Allemand family. We know mention is made of a "Turk's room" in descriptions from the XVIIth century.
In the spring of 1484, the prince is housed in the castle of the Bâtie in Royans.The latter which has now disappeared was situated in what is today the commune of Saint Laurent en Royans.
It belonged to the Sassenage family, traditional allies of the Allemand family. "The Lady of the place had most amiable daughter.
A reciprocal love bloomed between her and Djem."
Thus the Turkish chronic of the Vaki- at i sultan Cem summarises in a single line the romance between "Zizim"and Philippe-Hélène of Sassenage.
After a stay of four or five months in the Royans, the princ ewas taken to Bourganeuf (Creuse) where he remained until 1488, at which point he was handed over to the Pope in Rome.
In 1495 Charles VIII, setting off to conquer the Kingdom of Naples, asked Alexandre VI Borgia for custody of the Precious hostage. Djem died before reaching Naples in suspicious circumstances (poison?).
And she who bore the nickname Hélène as a tribute to her beauty, never again saw her "Arabian nights" prince.
Josselin Derbier :
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