Orderic Vitalis, Battle of Bremule (1119)

The Battle of Bremule was fought in 1119 between Henry I of England against Louis VI (the Fat) of France.  Orderic Vitalis provides the most extensive account of this battle, noting how few people were killed during the fight.

Meanwhile King Louis paid a quick visit to France and suddenly returned to Normandy from Etampes, bringing many warlike knights with him. On 20 August King Henry heard Mass at Noyon-sur-Andelle and set out on a campaign against the enemy with his chief magnates, not knowing that the king of France had then come to Andely. The king of Albion advanced with a noble column of men-at-arms, had the crops round Etrepagny cut by his rapacious foragers, and ordered the great sheaves to be taken to the castle of Lyons on the backs of their horses. Four knights whom he had stationed above Verclives were keeping a look-out to prevent any outsider from hindering them in any way. These men, seeing helmeted troops with standards moving towards Noyon, immediately informed their king. On the same day King Louis left Andely with the French columns, repeatedly complaining to his men that they could never contrive to meet the king of England in the open field. Not knowing how near the king was, he hurried towards Noyon with the flower of his chivalry, because he hoped to take the castle that same day by treason which had been planned. But matters turned out very differently, for victory in battle was withheld from the proud peers eager for war, and triumph eluded the boastful, who were to become defeated fugitives. Burchard of Montmorency and other cautious men urged Louis not to fight in Normandy, but the turbulent knights of Chaumont incited him to make an attack. William the Chamberlain also tried to restrain Henry from a conflict, but William of Warenne and Roger of Bienfaite urged him on with spirit. Then, as messengers ran to and fro and rumour-mongers spread reports everywhere, it became openly known that both kings had advanced with their forces and could join battle immediately if they so wished.

The French had now approached Noyon, and burnt a barn of the monks of Buscheron (Noyon); the English had taken their bearings from the rising smoke.  Near to the hill named Verclives is an open field and a wide plain called Bremule by the local people. Henry, king of England, came down into it with five hundred knights, armed himself for battle as a warlike lord, and wisely disposed the mailed ranks of warriors. Two of his sons, Robert and Richard, both distinguished knights, were there; and three earls, Henry of Eu, William of Warenne, and Walter Giffard.  Besides these Roger son of Richard and his kinsman, Walter of Auffay, William of Tancarville and William of Roumare, Nigel of Aubigny, and many more thronged about the king; all these might be compared with the Roman censors, the Scipios or Marii or Catos, for they were conspicuous both for their statesmanship and for their knightly prowess, as the outcome proved. Edward of Salisbury, a brave champion renowned for his proven valour, who remained steadfast until his death, carried the standard there.

When King Louis saw the opportunity he had desired so long, he summoned four hundred knights who were ready for immediate action and commanded them to go into battle courageously for the honour of knighthood and the freedom of the kingdom, so that the glory of the French might not be dimmed by their cowardice. William Clito, son of Robert duke of Normandy, armed himself there so that he might free his father from his long imprisonment and recover his ancestral inheritance. Matthew, count of Beaumont, and Guy of Clermont, Otmund of Chaumont, William of Garlande, commander of the French army, Peter of Maulell and Philip de Montbrayl and Burchard of Montmorency were there, ready for the fray.  In addition, Baudry of Bray and William Crispin and several other Normans had joined the French. All these assembled proudly at Bremule and prepared to fight valiantly against the Normans.  Certainly the French launched the first fierce attack but, charging in disorder, they were beaten off and, quickly tiring, turned tail. Richard the king’s son and a hundred knights were sitting on their horses ready for battle; the rest fought on foot in the field with the king. In the forefront William Crispin and eighty knights charged the Normans, but their horses were quickly killed, and they were all surrounded and cut off. Godfrey of Serrans and other knights of the Vexin then fought back valiantly, and made the whole line fall back somewhat. But the seasoned warriors re–covered their courage and strength and captured Burchard and Otmund and Aubrey of Mareil and many other French knights, who had been unhorsed. When the French saw this, they said to the king, “Eighty of our knights who were in the first charge have been lost, the enemy is superior to us in numbers and strength. Now Burchard and Otmund and other notable champions have been captured; our ranks are broken and greatly diminished.  Therefore, sire, withdraw, we beg you, to avoid irreparable loss.”  Louis agreed to these proposals and galloped off with Baudry of Bois. The victors captured a hundred and forty knights and chased the rest to the gates of Andely. The men who had set out proudly along a single road fled in disorder along many devious ways. William Crispin, however, who had been surrounded with his men as I have described, caught sight of the king. Tearing through the ranks towards the man he hated above all others, he struck a fierce blow at his head with his sword, but the collar of the noble prince’s hauberk protected his head from injury. Roger the son of Richard at once struck down the rash assailant, took him prisoner as he lay prostrate, and, flinging himself over his body, prevented the friends who were standing round from killing him on the spot to avenge the king. Many indeed sought his life and Roger had great difficulty in saving him. What a rash crime he attempted when, brandishing a sword in his right hand, he raised it above the head that had been anointed with holy chrism by the hands of bishops and crowned with the royal diadem, while the people rejoiced and chanted grateful praise to God!

I have been told that in the battle of the two kings, in which about nine hundred knights were engaged, only three were killed.  They were all clad in mail and spared each other on both sides, out of fear of God and fellowship in arms; they were more concerned to capture than to kill the fugitives. As Christian soldiers they did not thirst for the blood of their brothers, but rejoiced in a just victory given by God, for the good of holy Church and the peace of the faithful. There the brave Guy arid Otmtmd, Burchard and William Crispin, and many others were captured, as I have related, and were taken back to Noyon by the army returning there that day. Noyon is only three leagues away from Andely, and in those days the whole region was depopulated by the raging wars. It was half-way between the two places that the battle of the princes took place without warning; loud battle-cries sounded out, the boisterous clash of arms raged, and the fall of noble barons caused terror and alarm.

The king of France in his flight lost his way alone in a wood, but by chance a peasant, who did not recognize him, met him. The king urgently asked the man, promising on oath to give him great rewards, either to point out the most convenient road to Andely or to accompany him there for a handsome recompense. Confident of rich payment he agreed, and escorted the trembling prince to Andely, while Louis was as much afraid of being betrayed by the man who went before him as of being captured by the enemies who were pursuing him. When the peasant saw the royal attendants hurrying out at Andely to wait on the king, he felt that whatever reward he received was of little worth and ruefully blamed his own stupidity, realizing what great profit he had forfeited by failing to recognize the man.

King Henry purchased the standard of King Louis for twenty marks of silver from the knight who had captured it, and kept it as a memorial of the victory which God had given him. He sent back the king’s horse to him next day, with the saddle and bridle and all the trappings that become a king. Prince William too returned to his cousin, William Clito, the palfrey he had lost in the battle on the previous day, and sent gifts of other necessary things to the exile at the suggestion of his provident father. The king then divided the captives among the different castles; he freely pardoned Burchard and Hervey of Gisors and some others because they were vassals of both kings, released them from imprisonment, and allowed them to depart.  The renowned Guy of Clermont fell ill at Rouen and, to the sorrow of the king who was keeping this famous warrior safely in prison, he died.  The wicked old man Otmund was sent to Arques, and there he was kept as he deserved in iron fetters and shackles until peace was made between the kings. Stories of his infamy were told as far away as Illyria, because he used to give protection to thieves and robbers, heaping evil on evil.  He used to plunder pilgrims and poor men, widows and helpless monks and clerks, whom he molested in many ways without scruple.

Peter of Maule and some of the other fugitives threw away their cognizances to avoid recognition and, cunningly mixing with the pursuers, shouted out the war cry of the victors, proclaiming the greatness of King Henry and his men with feigned praises.  Robert of Courcy the younger pursued the French right into the town, where he was captured by the men riding with him, whom he had taken for his fellow soldiers.  He alone of the Normans was taken prisoner and thrust into a dungeon, not because he had shown cowardice but because he was alone in an enemy town surrounded by many foes.

News of the disaster which the French had suffered in Normandy was spread far and wide and told in all the countries north of the Alps with sighs or smiles. The proud blushed with shame; the warlike who had fought in the battle thought of all kinds of excuses to answer their accusers, and different men told different lies to explain away their disgrace.

The previous section is from: The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, edited and translated by Marjorie Chibnall, Volume VI, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978). This item is under copyright of Oxford University Press (OUP), 1978, and is used here only by permission of Oxford University Press. The OUP Material may be downloaded and printed out in single copies for individual use only.  Making multiple copies of any OUP Material without permission is prohibited. If you are interested in reading more of this work, or others from the Oxford Medieval Text series, please visit the Oxford University Press website at http://www.oup.com

For another passage from The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, go to this site in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.

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