The Battles of Saint Aubin (1053) and Mortemer (1054)


William of JumiegesBefore the conquest of England in 1066 William, duke of Normandy, spent most of his reign embroiled in disputes with his vassals and with Henry I, king of France. William of Jumieges provides accounts of two battles fought between the Normans and the French. The first engagement came about after Henry tried to assist William of Arques, count of Talou, who had rebelled against the duke. The second section deals with an invasion by the French king the following year, where he was defeated a second time.

Haughty because of his noble birth William [of Arques] built the stronghold of Arques on top of that hill, and assuming arbitrary power, and secure in royal support, he dared to instigate a rebellion against the duke. The duke sought to turn him from his madness and summon him, by way of messengers, to come in order to show his allegiance. In great confidence, however, having scorned the embassy, he fortified himself ready for rebellion. The duke then gathered his troops of Normans and instantly set off to tame his arrogance. At the foot of the hill he erected mounds for a siege-castle, which a strong force of warriors turned into an impregnable stronghold. He himself then withdrew after he had left behind sufficient food. At once King Henry, who was not aware of these events, summoned his army and did not hesitate to come over and fortify the stronghold high on the hill. He ordered his troops to set up their camp at Saint-Aubin. When the duke’s soldiers heard of the king’s arrival they sent out some of their number in attempt to draw away from the royal army some of the enemy, whom they, while lying in ambush, would capture by surprise. When the enemy arrived, the Normans succeeded in drawing away a considerable part of the army and, as if in flight, they led the French into the trap. For suddenly the Normans who seemed to be fleeing, turned around and began violently to cut down the French, so that during that encounter Count Enguerrand of Abbeville among many others was stabbed to death and Hugh Bardulf with many others was taken prisoner. When the king learned this he sent food into the fortification for which he had come, and full of grief for his lost soldiers he shamefully retreated. Not long afterwards William and his men, who were weakened by starvation, freely yielded the stronghold and he left his native land as an exile.

Ever since the Normans had begun to cultivate the lands of Neustria, the French had made it their custom to envy them; they incited their kings to turn against them and asserted that the Normans had taken away by force from their ancestors the lands now in Norman hands. King Henry, roused by malicious and envious suggestions of some men at his court, and provoked by the duke’s taunt, launched a double attack on Normandy, which he entered with two armies; one consisting of chosen and valiant noblemen under the command of his brother Odo he sent to subdue the Pays-de-Caux, he himself led the other one with Count Geoffrey of Anjou to overthrow the county of Evreux. As soon as the duke saw to what extent he and his people were under attack, he, moved by deep and noble grief, at once chose soldiers whom he quickly sent out to curb the pillagers of the Pays de Caux. Escorted by some of his men he himself set out for the king with the intention of inflicting punishment upon him if only he could draw away one of the royal retainers from the king’s force. Meanwhile the other Normans found the French at Mortemer totally preoccupied with arson and rape of women. There at dawn battle was instantly joined and continued on both sides with bloodshed until noon.

Finally the defeated French took to flight including their standard-bearer Odo, the king’s brother. In this battle the greater part of the French nobility was slain; the remainder were kept in custody throughout various Norman villages. When the king learned about their misfortune, he was full of grief about their deaths and withdrawing from the Norman troubles he rapidly withdrew.

The previous sections are from: The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumieges, Orderic Vitalis, and Robert of Torigni, edited and translated by Elisabeth M.C. Van Houts (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)

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