Warfare in Suger’s Life of Louis VI (the Fat)

Louis VI (Louis the Fat), 1081–1137, king of France (1108–37), succeeded his father, Philip I, with whom he was associated in government from c. 1100. He continued his father’s policy of opposing the English in Normandy and was almost continuously at war with King Henry I (1109–13, 1116–20, 1123–35); he often met with defeat, but his resistance checked a greater English advance. In 1124 he called up forces from far-flung regions of France; with strong support from the nobles he resisted the invasion of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, who had come to the aid of Henry I. Suger, 1081–1151, French cleric and statesman, abbot of Saint-Denis from 1122, minister of kings Louis VI and Louis VII, wrote this account of Louis VI.

Some selections from Historia Ludovici VII are presented here:

For the full text of this work, see:

Suger, Abbot of Saint Denis, The Deeds of Louis the Fat. Translated with introduction and notes by Richard Cusimano and John Moorhead. Washington, DC : Catholic University of America Press, 1992.

Seal of Louis VI

Chapter XI: Concerning the capture of castle of Gournay 

Count Guy of Rochefort, whose daughter’s marriage with the Lord Louis had been blocked by the machinations of his rivals on grounds of consanguinity, then ended by divorce in the presence of the pope, felt deeply resentful, ‘and fanned this small spark into moving fires.’ (Lucan, Pharsalia V, 525). The Lord Louis’ fondness for him was in no way diminished until suddenly the Garlandes interfered to destroy the friendship, dissolve the alliance and enflame the bitterness. Then an occasion for fighting arose: Hugh of Pomponne, a valiant knight, castellan of Gournay, a castle on the banks of the Marne, opportunistically seized the horses of some merchants on the royal highway and took them to Gournay. Beside himself with fury at this outrageous presumption, the Lord Louis collected an army, began an unexpected siege of the castle and very quickly surrounded it to deprive the inmates of a large stock of food.

Around the castle there is an attractive island, rich in meadows, excellent for horses and flocks, wide enough but longer than it is wide, and very useful to the garrison, because it offers to those walking there a beautiful spectacle of clear and moving water, a sight made more charming by green grass and flowers; besides, the surrounding river provides security. So the Lord Louis prepared a fleet to attack the island. He ordered some of the knights and many of the foot-soldiers to take off their clothes so that they could enter the river faster and, if things went badly, get out faster. Then some swimming, other riding rather dangerously across the deep waters, he entered the water and commanded them to occupy the island. But the garrison resisted strongly, threw down stones from the higher bank of the river on to those in the boats and the river, and drove them back with lances and spears. But the attackers recovered their courage and determined to repel those who had repelled them, so they forced the slingers and the archers to stop, fighting hand to hand when it was possible, while the armoured and helmeted men in the fleet went into action with extreme bravery like pirates, threw back the resistance, and as courage will which refuses to submit to dishonour, they occupied the island by force, and drove its defenders within the castle.

A tight siege was enforced for some time without bringing about a surrender. Impatient of delay, the Lord Louis, consumed one day by energy, summoned the army, and approached that castle which was brilliantly defended by an deep and steep ditch topped by a wall, and below by a rushing stream whose depth made it virtually impregnable. The Lord Louis crossed the stream, scaled the earthwork with its barrier, came up to the wall, gave the order for battle while fighting himself, an led an attack on the enemy as violent as it was bitter. On the other side, the defenders, preferring courage to life, pressed swiftly to their cause without sparing their lord; they took up arms, attacked their enemies, regained the upper part of the stronghold and even the lower by throwing their opponents into the stream. So they brought glory on themselves while Louis’ army, despite its efforts, sustained a defeat.

Then siege engines were prepared to destroy the castle; a very tall machine of three stories was erected towering over the soldiers, which dominated the castle and prevented the slingers and archers of the first line from moving about the fort or showing themselves. Under incessant pressure day and night from the machines and unable to man their defences, they sensibly made dugouts for themselves, and sniping with their archers, they put those dominating them from above in peril of death. Attached to the tall machine there was a wooden bridge which could be drawn out quite high and lowered gradually on to the wall to offer an easy entrance to the attackers. But the defenders, conversant with this manoeuvre, erected at intervals vertical wooden piles, so that when both the bridge and those who crossed it fell together into deep pits full of pointed stakes covered with straw to escape detection, the assailants should face danger and death.

Meanwhile Count Guy, adroit and valiant man as he was, roused his relations and friends, begged that aid of lords and rushed to the assistance of the besieged. He therefore negotiated with Thibauld, Count Palatine, a most distinguished young man skilled in all the arts of chivalry, that on a fixed day he should bring aid to the besieged, now lacking in food, and raise the siege by force of arms. Meanwhile Guy did what he could by rapine and fire to induce the besiegers to depart.

On the day appointed for Count Thibauld to bring up his reinforcements and end the siege by force, the Lord Louis collected what men he could from close at hand and, mindful of the royal dignity, full of valour, he left his tents defended and set forth joyfully. He sent ahead a scout to tell him where the enemy was and whether it intended to engage in battle. Then he commanded his barons himself, he drew up the lines of knights and foot-soldiers and gave dispositions to the archers and spearmen. So that they should be seen, the trumpets sounded, the pugnacity of the knights and horses was roused, the engagement began. The French, drawing on long experience of war, fell on the men of Brie made soft by long peace, cut them to pieces with their lances and swords, determined on victory, and both knights and foot-soldiers went on attacking them ferociously until they turned tail and fled. As for the count, preferring to escape capture by being first rather than last in flight, he left his army behind him and rushed home.

In this engagement some were killed, many wounded and many more captured, and the news of this famous victory spread throughout the land. Having won such a great and timely victory, the Lord Louis returned to his tents, ejected those within the castle who had been boyed up by false hopes, and keeping the castle for himself, he handed it over to the Garlandes to guard.

Chapter XIX: How he captured Hugh and ruined the castle of Le Puiset 

As the pleasant fruit of a prolific tree recovers its sweet-smelling savour either by the transplantation of a twig or by the grafting of a branch, so the sucker of iniquity and wickedness which ought to be rooted out passes by many wicked men to twine itself round one man, in the same way as a snake among the eels torments men with its native poison as bitter as absinthe. Like these was Hugh de Puiset, a wicked man rich only in his own and his ancestors’ tyranny, when he succeeded his uncle Guy in the honour of Le Puiset, his own father having with astonishing conceit taken arms in the first Jerusalem journey. His father’s son, Hugh took after him in all wickedness, but ‘those whom his father chastised with whips, he chastised with scorpions.’ (II Chronicles, 10, v.11).

Swollen with pride because he had oppressed most cruelly the poor, the churches and the monasteries and yet been unpunished, he reached the point where ‘the evil-doers have fallen; they have been driven forth and cannot stand.’ (Psalm XXV,13 ). Since he could not prevail against the King of kings, nor against the king of the French, he attacked the countess of Chartres and her son Thibaud, a handsome young man and skilled in arms. He ravaged their land as far as Chartres, pillaging and burning it. The noble countess and her son sometimes attempted revenge as best they could, though belatedly and inadequately; but they never or almost never got within eight or ten miles of Le Puiset. Such was Hugh’s insolence, such the force of his imperious pride that many served him although few loved him. But if many defended him, more hoped for his destruction; for he was more feared than loved.

When count Thibaud realised that he was achieving little against Hugh on his own, but might achieve much with the king, he hastened to Louis with his most noble mother, who had always served the king faithfully, to try to move him with their prayers, claiming that they had deserved his assistance through many services, and recounting the crimes of Hugh, his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather. ‘O king, remember, as royal majesty should, the shameful affront Hugh inflicted upon your father Philip when, in breach of his homage, he wickedly repulsed him from Le Puiset while Philip was attempting to punish his many crimes. Proud of his wicked relations, by criminal conspiracy he drove the king’s army back to Orleans, captured the count of Nevers, Lancelin of Beaugency and about a hundred knights, and even in an unprecedented move dishonoured several bishops by keeping them in chains.’

Thibaud then added a lengthy explanation of how and why the castle had come to be built fairly recently by the venerable queen Constance in the middle of land dedicated to the saints, to protect it, and how afterwards Hugh’s family had seized it all and left the king with nothing but injuries. But now, since the sizeable armies of Chartres, Blois and Chateaudun on which he customarily relied not only would not help him but even would fight against him, it would be easy for the king, if he wished, to ruin the castle, disinherit Hugh and avenge his father’s injuries. If he did not wish to punish Hugh, either for his own or for his faithful servants’ injuries, he ought either to accept the gift for the oppression of churches and the depredations of the poor, the widows and the orphans which Hugh inflicted on the land of the saints and its inhabitants, or he ought to prevent them from occurring. The king was so moved by these and similar complaints that he named a day to take counsel on the affair. I went to Melun, along with many archbishops, bishops, clerks and monks, whose lands had been ravaged by Hugh, more rapacious than a wolf. They cried out and fell at Louis’ still unwilling feet, begging him to put an end to the brigand Hugh’s limitless rapacity; to seize back from the dragon’s maw their prebends established by the munificence of kings in the fertile lands of Beauce for the support of God’s servants; to attempt to liberate the lands of the priests which even under the cruel domination of the Pharaohs had been unique in their freedom; they begged that as God’s vicar, bearing in his person God’s life-giving image, the king should restore the church’s goods to liberty.

He received their petition with good grace and in no way took it lightly. Then the prelates, the archbishop of Sens, the bishop of Orleans, and the venerable Ivo, bishop of Chartres, who had been imprisoned by force and held captive for many days in that castle, went home; and the king, with the consent of my predecessor abbot Adam of blessed memory, sent me to Toury, a rich and well-provisioned though unfortified vill in Beauce, belonging to St. Denis, of which I was in charge. He ordered that, while he summoned Hugh to answer these charges, I should provision the town, then attempt to gather as large a force as possible from his men and ours to prevent Hugh from burning it; then the king would fortify it and, like his father, attack the castle from there.

With God’s help I was able to fill it quite quickly with a force of knights and foot-soldiers. After Hugh had absented himself from the trial and been condemned by default, the king came to me at Toury with a great army to claim from Hugh the castle he had forfeited. When Hugh refused to leave it, the king without delay hastened to attack the castle, using both his knights and his footsoldiers. You might have seen a host of catapults, bows, shields and swords; it was war. And you might have admired the rain of arrows from one side then the other; the sparks which shot out from the helmets under pressure of repeated blows; the amazing suddenness with which shields were broken or holed. As the enemy were pushed through the castle gate, from the inside, high up on the ramparts, a remarkable shower fell on our men, terrifying and almost intolerable to the bravest of men. Hugh’s forces began the counter-attack by pulling down beams and throwing stakes, but they could not complete it. The royal soldiers on the other hand fought with the greatest bravery and strength of body and mind; even when their shields were broken they took cover behind planks, doors or any wooden objects they could find, as they pressed against the gate. I organised carts piled high with dry wood mixed with grease, a very inflammable mixture; for the enemy were excommunicated and all given over to the devil. Our men dragged the carts to the gate both to light an inextinguishable fire and to protect themselves behind the piles of wood.

While they were dangerously attempting some of them to light the fire, others to extinguish it, Count Thibaud at the head of a large army of knights and foot-soldiers assaulted the castle on the other side, that is the side near Chartres. Remembering his injuries he hastened to penetrate it and encouraged his men to climb up the steep slope of the rampart, but he then grieved to see them coming, or rather falling, down even faster; those whom he had forced to creep upwards cautiously and on their stomachs he saw being thrown over on their backs and pushed down carelessly, as he tried to find out whether they had died under the weight of stones thrown after them. The knights who were riding round the keep on their swiftest horses came inopportunely on those who had crawled up the palisade on their hands, struck them, cut off their heads and flung them down from the top of the ditch.

With broken hands and paralysed knees they had almost halted the assault, when the strong, rather the omnipotent, hand of God intervened to ensure that this great and just vengeance should all be ascribed to him. Since the parish militias of the country were there, God excited the courage of a certain bald priest and made it possible for him, contrary to human opinion, to achieve what the armed count and his men had found impossible. Covering himself with the cheapest of planks and bareheaded, he climbed rapidly upward, came to the palisade and, hiding under the overhang which was well suited to it, he gradually pulled the palisade apart. Pleased that he was working undisturbed, he made a signal to the hesitant and those standing idle in the fields that they should help him. Seeing an unarmed priest bravely throwing down the palisade, the armed men rushed in, applied to it their axes and any iron implements they could find, cut it down and completely broke it. Then, as a miraculous sign of divine judgement, as if they had brought down the walls of a second Jericho, as soon as they had broken down the barriers, the armies of the king and the count entered. Thus a good many of the enemy, unable to avoid hostile attacks on either side, were captured as they rushed hither and thither, and were seriously wounded.

The rest, including Hugh himself, seeing that the interior of the castle and its surrounding wall could not offer safety, withdrew into the wooden tower that crowned the motte. Almost immediately, terrified by the menacing spears of the pursuing army, Hugh surrendered and was imprisoned in his own home with his men and, wretched in his chains, he recognised how much pride goes before a fall. When the victorious king had led off the noble captives as fit booty for the royal majesty, he ordered that all the castle’s furniture and its riches should be publicly sold and the castle itself consumed by fire. The burning of the keep was delayed for several days because count Thibaud, forgetful of the great good fortune which he could never have achieved on his own, was plotting to extend his boundaries by erecting a castle at a place called Allaines within the lordship of Le Puiset which had been held in fief of the king. When the king formally refused to allow this, the count offered to provide proof by his procurator in that part, Andrew of Baudement; the king said he had never agreed to anything of the sort, but offered reason and judicial combat in the person of his steward Anselm, wherever the champions thought safe. Since they were both valiant men they often asked that a court be convened for this battle; but they never obtained one.

When the castle had been ruined and Hugh shut up in the keep of Chateau-Landon, Count Thibaud, strengthened by the assistance of his uncle Henry the English king, started a war against King Louis with his allies, disturbed the land, seduced the king’s barons with promises and gifts, and detestably plotted what evil he could against the state. But the king, an excellent knight, took frequent revenge on him and harassed his lands supported by many other barons, especially his uncle Robert, count of Flanders, a remarkable man, famous among Christians and Saracens for his skill in arms since the first Jerusalem journey.

One day, as the king was leading an expedition against the count, he saw him in the city of Meaux. In fury Louis attacked him and his men, fearlessly he followed the fugitive across the bridge and with count Robert and the other great men of the kingdom he threw them at sword point into the waves. When they themselves fell in you would have seen this unencumbered hero moving his arms like Hector’s, launching gigantic attacks on the trembling bridge, pressing forward to the perilous entrance in order to occupy the city despite its numerous defenders; and not even the great river Marne would have prevented him from doing so, if the gate across the river had not been locked.

He enhanced his reputation for valour with an equally brilliant exploit when, leading his army out of Lagny, he met Thibaud’s troops in the beautiful plain of meadows beside Pomponne; he attacked them and put them to flight at once under the pressure of his repeated blows. Fearing the narrow entrance of a nearby bridge, some of them, thinking only to save their lives, were not afraid to throw themselves into the water at grave risk of death; others, treading each other under foot in their efforts to get to the bridge, threw off their arms and, more hostile to each other than were their enemies, all tried to go across at once, though only one man at a time could make the journey. And while their tumultuous push plunged them in confusion, the more they hurried the more they were held up, and so it came about that ‘the first was last and the last became first.’ But as the approach to the bridge was surrounded by a ditch, it offered them some shelter, because the king’s knights could only follow them one by one, and even that could not be achieved without great loss since, although many pressed in, only a few could reach the bridge. Whichever way they entered, they were as often as not upset by the milling crowd of both armies, fell on their knees in spite of themselves, and as they hastily got up, pushed others down. The king in hot pursuit with his own men, brought about great carnage; those he struck he demolished he flung into the river Marne, either by sword blow or by a push from his powerful horse. Those who had no arms floated on account of their lightness; but those who were mailed were instantly dragged down by their own weight. Before their third immersion they were saved by their own companions, though after the shame of rebaptism, if one can talk like this.

By these and other injuries the king exhausted the count; he devastated all his lands, both in Brie and in Chartres, making no distinction between the times when the count was present and those when he was absent. Because the count was apprehensive over the fewness and lack of energy of his men, he tried to draw the king’s men away from him, bribing them with gifts and promises and holding out the hope that, before he made peace with Louis, he would obtain satisfaction on their behalf for various grievances.

Among those he attached to himself were Lancelin of Bulles, lord of Dammartin, and Pagan of Montjay, whose lands, situated at a fork in the road, offered a secure access for the harassment of Paris. For the same reason he seduced Raoul of Beaugency, whose wife, the daughter of Hugh the Great, was the king’s first cousin. Preferring expediency to honour and tormented by great anxiety, – need makes the old wife trot, as the proverb runs – Thibaud joined his noble sister in incestuous marriage with Milo de Montlhéry, to whom the king returned the castle as we have previously said.

This done, he interrupted the lines of communication and restored in the very heart of France the old endless sequence of storms and wars. With Milo he gained his relation Hugh of Crécy, lord of Chateaufort, and Guy of Rochefort, thus exposing the country of Paris and Etampes to the ravages of war, had the knights not prevented it. While access across the Seine to Paris and Senlis lay open to count Thibaud with the men of Brie and to his uncle Hugh with the men of Troyes, Milo had access from this side of the river; thus the inhabitants lost the chance of helping each other. The same was true for the men of Orleans, whom those of Chartres, Chateaudun and Brie kept at a distance with the help of Raoul of Beaugency and with no opposition. The king nevertheless often put them on their backs, although the wealth of England and Normandy was poured forth unsparingly against him. For the famous King Henry attacked Louis’ lands with all his strength and all his effort. But he was no more beaten down than if ‘all the rivers together threatened to take their waters from the sea,’ (Lucan, Pharsalia, V, 366-337.)


Chapter XXI:  Of the attack on Toury and the restoration of Le Puiset

Very soon Hugh treated his still recent oath as a trifle, a fluid thing without shape. Exasperated by his long captivity, like a dog too long chained up who, once released, lets loose the fury conceived but contained during the long period of its imprisonment and, freed from chains, bits and tears everything to pieces, so Hugh liquified his long frozen malice, stirred it up, put it to work, and pushed it towards deception. In alliance with the enemies of the realm, Thibaud, the count palatine, and Henry, the great king of the English, when he had heard the king Louis had set out for Flanders on affairs of state, he collected together as many knights and foot-soldiers as he could, determined to take back his castle of Le Puiset, and hastened either to destroy or to subdue the country around about.

One Saturday, as he was passing the ruins of his castle on which the king had given permission for a public market, he undertook on oath – a singular deception – and in a very loud voice to guarantee it security; at the same time he suddenly threw into prison those among them whom he had learned to be the richest. Then gnashing his teeth like a wild beast and cutting to bits anything that came in his way, he hastened with count Thibaud to destroy totally Toury, a fortified vill belonging to St. Denis. The day before he had met me, and with his adroitness in trickery and evil had begged and obtained from me a promise that I would go that very day to intercede with the king on his behalf. He calculated that in my absence he could enter the vill with ease, or should it resist him, destroy it utterly.

But the tenants of God and of St. Denis entered the fortification and, protected by divine help and by the strength of the defences, resisted with strength and courage. Meanwhile I came to Corbeil, where I met the king, who had already learned the truth from Normandy; he quickly asked me who I had come, laughed at my simplicity, with great indignation explained Hugh’s deception, and sent me back at once to help the vill.

While he collected an army on the road to Étampes, I went back by the straightest and shortest road to Toury, with my eyes fixed on the place from a distance, looking for the one indication that the place had not yet been captured, the three-storied tower of the fort which dominated the whole plain; for if it had been captured the enemy would at once have set fire to the tower. But because the enemy was occupying the neighbourhood, ravaging and devastating everywhere, I could not, either by gifts or by promises, persuade anyone I met to come with me.

But the fewer in number the safer. As the sun was setting the enemy, wearied by having attacked our men unsuccessfully all day, relaxed a little. Seeing our opportunity, we pretended to be of their number and in great danger we rushed through the middle of the vill; we gave a signal to our men on the ramparts, they opened the gate, and with God’s help we rushed in at top speed. Rejoicing in my presence they mocked the enemy’s rest, wounded them with scornful insults and, despite my reluctance – indeed my prohibition – called them back to a second assault. But the divine hand protected the defenders and the defence as well in my presence as it had done in my absence. Of our small army only a few perished of wounds, while many of their large numbers shared that fate; many of these were taken away in litters, but others were buried under a very thin covering of earth where they made meals for wolves the next day and the day after.

The enemy had not yet got back to Le Puiset after their expulsion when William of Garlande and some of the most resolute and best armed of the king’s household hastened to help the vill, hoping to find the enemy in that neighbourhood so that they could demonstrate the courage of the king’s militia. The lord king at once joined them at dawn. When he heard that they had received hospitality in the burg, he prepared to take revenge on his enemies with joy and happiness, because it had fallen to him to avenge by sudden slaughter and unexpected punishment the injury which had been unexpectedly inflicted. But the enemy, hearing of his advance, were astonished that he had discovered a plot so well hidden, had put off his journey to Flanders and had not so much come as flown to help. Not daring to do more, they pressed on with the restoration of the castle. But the king collected what army he could from the neighbourhood, for he was much strained by war in many places. Then on Tuesday morning he led forth his troops, planned the battle lines, nominated the chiefs, set the archers and slingers in their places and, step by step, approached the unfinished castle. Because he had heard Count Thibaud boasting that he would fight the king in the plain, with his customary bravery he got off his horse, ordered that the horses be removed and, as one armed man among many others, he inspired to courage those who had dismounted with him, calling on them not to flinch, but to fight with the greatest fortitude. Seeing him coming so bravely, the enemy were frightened, and became too nervous to leave the castle outworks. They chose timidly but cautiously to arrange their troops behind the ancient ditch of the destroyed castle and there they waited, calculating that when the king’s army tried to go down into the ditch and resist from there, the well-organised battle lines would lose their order and in confusion they would waver – which is very largely what happened.   In the first charge of the battle, the king’s knights drove the enemy as if defeated from the ditch with great elan and slaughter, then broke their lines and pursued them pell-mell. Meanwhile Raoul of Beaugency, a man of great wisdom and valour, fearing in advance that this would happen, had hidden his troops in a part of the castle where they were concealed by the shelter of a tall church and some houses nearby. When he was his allies fleeing through the gate, he unleashed his fresh troops on the weary royal knights and did much damage. They fled in a bunch on foot, impeded by the weight of their mail and armour, hardly able to resist the well-organised line of mounted warriors. After innumerable blows and much fighting on either side, they got back with the king on foot over the ditch they had seized, and belatedly realised the superiority of wisdom over rashness; for if they had awaited their enemies in due order in the plain, they would totally have subdued them to their will.

But bewildered by the confusion of their lines, they could not find their own horses nor decide what to do. The king mounted a borrowed horse and, resisting stoutly, loudly called his men back to him, appealing to the bolder ones by name not to flee. Penned in by the enemy’s wings on either side, he wielded his sword, protected those he could, pursued the fugitives and, an outstanding knight he fought brilliantly in a knight’s, not a king’s, capacity, although it was not entirely fitting to the royal majesty. But he could not alone, with a tired horse, prevent the collapse of his army, until his squire appeared with his own charger. Swiftly mounting it and carrying his standard before him, he charged the enemy with a few men, with marvellous courage he rescued many of his own men from captivity, caught some of the enemy in the violence of his charge and, to prevent further damage to his army, he put the enemy to flight as if the sea of Cadiz had dashed itself against the pillar of Hercules, or as if they had been kept at their distance by the great Ocean itself.

Before they got back to Le Puiset, they met an army of five hundred or more Norman knights who, had they had earlier while our army was in trouble, would have been to inflict graver losses on us. The king’s army dispersed all around, some to Orleans, some to Étampes, some to Pithiviers; the king, exhausted, betook himself to Toury. ‘The bull, chased from the herd in his first fight, sharpens his horns on the tree-trunks,’ (Lucan, Pharsalia, II, 601, 603) and, collecting his strength in his might chest, ‘Heedless of his great wound, he goes forth’ (ibid, I, 212) against the enemy across the iron barriers. So the king rallied his army, stiffened its courage, revived its boldness, argued that its defeat had been owed to folly not imprudence, pointed out that any army inevitably meets with such setbacks on occasion, and tried both by flattery and by threats to make them fight even more ferociously and boldly, should opportunity present itself, in order to avenge their injury. Meanwhile both Normans and French devoted themselves to repairing the castle; there were with count Thibaud and the Normans Milo de Montlhéry, Hugh de Crecy and his brother Guy, count of Rochefort, in all thirteen thousand men, who threatened Toury with a siege. But the king fearlessly attempted to harass them night and day, preventing them from going any distance to seek food.

After a week of continuous labour the castle was rebuilt, and some of the Normans then left, but Count Thibaud remained with a large army. The king gathered his forces, ordered the siege engines to be moved, and came back to Le Puiset in strength. When he met the enemy he ground them to powder. Taking his revenge by fighting them up to the gate, he shut them into the castle and posted soldiers to prevent them for escaping. A stone’s throw away there was an abandoned motte which had belonged to his ancestors; this he occupied and erected another castle on it with much labour and pain. For although the prefabricated frame of beams offered some defence, our men had to put up with the dangerous onslaughts of the slingers, the catapulters and the archers; all the worse because those who tormented them, safe behind their castle walls, threw their weapons out without any fear of reprisal for the misery they were inflicting. In their thirst for victory a dangerous conflict blew up between those within and those without. Those of the king’s knights who had been wounded, remembering their injuries, strove to to inflict similar suffering, and would not hold back from this until they had fortified the castle almost built by magic with a large garrison and many weapons, convinced as they were that, as soon as the king had gone, they would have to defend themselves with the utmost courage against the assaults of their neighbours or perish wretchedly by the cruel swords of their enemies.

So the king returned to Toury and rallied his forces; then, boldly risking danger, he brought food to provision the army on the motte across the enemy lines, sometimes secretly with just a few men, sometimes openly with a force. Then the men of Le Puiset, who were so near that they could put intolerable pressure on the garrison, threatened a siege. So the king raised camp, occupied Janville about a mile from Le Puiset, and surrounded the central square with a stockade of stakes and osiers. While his army established their tents outside, Count Palatine Thibaud at the head of any army of the best men he could find from his on and the Norman troops, rushed to attack them, hoping to catch them unawares and not yet defended, then to repel and prostrate them.

The king went forth to meet them in his armour; each side fought with equal violence, heedless of lances and swords, caring more for victory than for survival, more about triumph than about death. There you would have seen an admirable feat of valour: the count’s army, about three times larger than the king’s, forced the king’s soldiers into the vill; then the king with a few men, Raoul, the most noble count of Vermandois, his cousin, Dreu de Mouchy and one or two others, scorning to retreat timidly and remembering his customary valour, chose to withstand the heaviest charges of the armed enemy and their countless blows rather than be compelled to return into the vill, thus insulting his own courage and the royal majesty.

Count Thibaud, thinking himself already the victor, was rashly attempting to pull down the count of Vermandois’ tents when, with great speed, that count rushed up, declared that up till now the men of Brie had never dared to act with such presumption against those of Vermandois, charged him and with great effort repaid him for the injury he had suffered by repulsing him very vigorously. The king’s knights, inspired by his valour and his cries, fell on them; thirsting for their blood they attacked them, cut them down, put them to shame and pushed them back by force to through the gate of Le Puiset, even if it sullied their dignity. Many were captured, more slain. The outcome of battle is always doubtful. Those who had earlier thought themselves the victors were filled with filled with shame at their defeat, grieved for the captives, and lamented their dead.

While the king in his turn prevailed against them, the count slipped downwards from the top of fortune’s wheel and lost strength. For he and his men had suffered long trials and intolerable, exhausting depression, while each day the king’s strength and that of his supporters increased as the kingdom’s barons grew indignant against the count and came to help. So Thibaud used an old would as an excuse to retire from the fray, and sent messengers and intermediaries to the king to beg humbly that he would allow him to retreat in safety to Chartres. In his kindness and more than human mercy, the king agreed to this request, although many counselled that he should not let his enemy, trapped by lack of provisions, go free, nor risk further repetition of his injuries. Both Hugh and the castle of Le Puiset were left to the king’s discretion. Then the count withdrew to Chartres, deprived of his vain hope, and brought to a wretched conclusion the enterprise he had begun so happily. The king not only disinherited Hugh du Puiset, but also ordered that the walls of his castle be pulled down, its ditches filled in and the whole place flattened as if accursed.

Chapter XXVI: Of the resumption of war with Henry of England

Unbridled arrogance is worse than pride; for if pride will not break a superior, arrogance will not brook and equal. As the poet said, ‘Caesar could not bear to be second, Pompey to be equal first,’ (Lucan, Pharsalia, I, 125-6). And because ‘all power is intolerant of sharing’ (ibid, I, 93-4), Louis, king of the French, who enjoyed preeminence over Henry, king of intolerant of Normandy, always treated him as if he were his vassal. But the nobility of his kingdom and his great wealth made his inferiority unbearable to the king of the English. So he relied on his nephew Thibaud, Count Palatine, and on many of Louis rivals to disturb the kingdom and harem the king, in order to detract from his lordship.

So mutual malice revived the evil wars of earlier times. Because Normandy was Chartres lay side by side, the king of England and Count Thibaud united in attacking the nearest frontier of the kingdom, while they sent Stephen, count of Mortain, Thibaud’s brother and Henry’s nephew, to Brie with an army, to prevent the king from suddenly occupying that land in the count’s absence. Louis spared neither the Normans nor the men of Chartres nor those of Brie. Encircled as he was by his enemies and forced by the spread of his lands to turn his attention first against one, then against the other, he nevertheless in his frequent skirmishes demonstrated all the vigour of royal majesty.

But through the noble foresight of the English kings and the dukes of Normandy, the Norman frontier had an exceptional line of defence made up of newly built castles and of unfordable rivers. When Louis, who knew this well, decided to penetrate Normandy, he approached the frontier with a handful of troops, intending to proceed very secretly. He cautiously sent ahead spies clad as travellers, wearing mail under their cloaks and with their swords at their sides, who went down the public road to the ancient town called Gasny, which could offer the French free and easy access to Normandy. The river Epte flowed around it, making it safe in the middle, but preventing a crossing for a great distance either above or below. Suddenly the spies flung off their cloaks and drew their swords. The inhabitants saw them, rushed to arms and fought them fiercely; but the spies resisted and with the utmost courage repelled them. Then, as they were beginning to tire, the king suddenly rushed dangerously down the mountain side, provided him men with most opportune help and, not without loss to himself, occupied the town’s central square and the church with its fortified tower.

When he discovered that the English king was close by with a large army, as his wont, Louis summoned his barons and called on them to follow him. There hastened to him the young, elegant and aimiable count of Flanders Baldwin, a true knight, Fulk, count of Anjou, and many other magnates of the kingdom. They broke the Norman defence line and then, while some fortified the town, others pillaged and burned the land enriched by a long peace, devastating and reducing to confusion the area roundabout, an almost unprecedented occurrence when the English king was there.

Meanwhile Henry very hastily set about building, encouraged the workmen, and erected a castle on the hill closest to that in which the French king had left a garrison before he departed. Henry intended that, from his new castle, with his large force of knights and using his crossbowmen and archers, he would cut off his enemy’s food supplies, distress them through their want of necessities, and bar them from his land. But the king of France played tit for tat, and returned the blow at once, like a dice player. He collected an army and suddenly came back at dawn to attack vigorously the new castle which men called Malassis. With great effort, after many heavy blows had been given and received – for in this kind of market, it is that kind of tax one pays – he forced its surrender, tore it to pieces and utterly destroyed it, and to the glory of the kingdom and the shame of its enemies he valiantly put an end to all machinations against him.

But Fortune in her power never spares anyone. As it is said, ‘If fortune wills, from rhetor you become consul; if she wills, from consul you become rhetor, ‘(Juvenal, Satires, VII, 197-8). The English king, after a lengthy and admirable succession of most pleasing prosperity, began to decline from the high point on the wheel of fortune and was tormented by a changing and unhappy set of events. From this side the king of France, from Ponthieu, bordering on Flanders, the count of Flanders and from Maine Count Fulk of Anjou employed all their powers in causing him great trouble and attacking him will all their strength. And he was subjected to the injuries of war, not only from foreigners but also from his own men, from Hugh de Gournay, from the count of Eu and the count of Aumale, as well as many others.

As the crowning evil, he suffered from internal malice. Fearful of the secret factions among his chamberlains and serving-men, he often changed his bed and increased the number of armed guards who kept watch over him for his nightly alarms. He ordered that his shield and sword should always be laid beside him as he slept. There was a certain close friend of the king, H. by name, who had been enriched by the royal liberality, and was well-known for his power, was but to be better known for his treason. When he was caught plotting, he was condemned to lose his eyes and genitals, a merciful punishment, for he deserved to be hanged. Through these and other plots the king enjoyed no security and, renowned though he was for magnanimity and courage, he became prudent in small matters. Even in his house he wore his sword and forbade his more faithful servants to leave their houses without their swords, on pain of a fine like a forfeit at play.

At this time a man called Enguerrand de Chaumont, by nature vigorous and prudent, advanced boldly with a small number of troops and seized the castle of Andelys, after having secretly put his own men in among the garrison on the walls. Trusting in the king’s help, he fortified it with great audacity and subjected totally all the land as far as the river Andelle, from the river Andelle, from the river Epte to Pont-Saint-Pierre. Confident of the support of many knights superior to him in rank, he met King Henry in the open countryside, irreverently pursued him as he retreated, and within the limits mentioned treated the king’s land as if it were his own. As for Maine, when King Henry, after a long delay, decided to cooperate with Count Thibaud in relieving the men besieged in the castle of Alencon, he was repulsed by Count Fulk, and in this inglorious affair he lost many of his men, the castle and the keep.

Deeply troubled over a long period by these and other ills, he had reached the trough of misfortune when divine pity, having harshly whipped and chastised him for some time, (for although he was a liberal benefactor of churches and a rich almsgiver, he was dissolute) decided to spare him and raise him up from his pit of dejection. Unexpectedly he was raised from adversity and inferiority to the top of the wheel of fortune while, rather through the divine hand than his own, those who troubled him, once higher, were brought down to the bottom or completely ceased to exist. Thus God normally mercifully extends his hand of pity to those near despair and bereft of human help.

Count Baldwin of Flanders, whose violent attacks frequent incursions into Normandy had so troubled the king, was struck in the face by a sudden but quite light blow from a lance, while he was engaged in attacking with unbridled energy the castle of Eu and its adjacent seacoast. He scorned to look after so small a wound; but Death could. By Baldwin’s decease it chose to spare the English king and all his allies.

Enguerrand de Chaumont, the boldest of men and a presumptuous aggressor against Henry, was stricken by a very dangerous disease because he had not shrunk from destroying some land belonging to the Virgin Mary in the archbishopric of Rheims. After long suffering and much well-merited bodily wretchedness, he learned belatedly what was due to the queen of heaven and died. Count Fulk of Anjou, although he was bound to Louis by ties of homage, by oaths and by many hostages, put avarice before fidelity and, without consulting the king, and with a treachery that made him infamous, he gave his daughter in marriage to William, son of King Henry and, allied with him by this bond of friendship, unjustifiably abandoned the enmity he had promised on oath to preserve.

Once King Louis had forced Normandy to be silent in his presence, he ravaged it as relentlessly with small forces as he had with large. He had become used to vexing the king and his men for so long that he despised them as so many men of straw. Then suddenly one day King Henry, having discovered the French king’s improvident audacity, collected a large army and secretly approached him with his battle lines drawn. he lit fires to shock Louis, had his armed knights dismount in order that they might fight more bravely as foot-soldiers, and endeavoured prudently to take all sensible precautions for war.

Louis and his men did not deign to make any preparations for battle. He simply flew at the enemy with great courage but little sense. The men of the Vexin were in the van under Bouchard of Montmorency and Guy of Clermont, and they very energetically cut the first Norman line to pieces, made them flee the battle-field, and bravely repulsed the first line of horsemen, sending them reeling back against the armed foot-soldiers. But the French who were meant to follow them were in confusion, and pressing against extremely well organised and regulated lines, as happens in such circumstances, they could not make their charge effective, and yielded. The king, amazed at his army’s failure, behaved as was usual in adversity; using only his constancy to defend himself and his own men, he retired as honourably as he could to Andelys, though with great loss to his scattered army. For some time he was cut to the quick by the unfortunate outcome of his own thoughtlessness. Then, to prevent his enemies from alleging insultingly that he no longer dared to go into Normandy, and rendered more than usually courageous by adversity, and more steadfast, as is the way with men like him, he recalled his army, summoned the absent, invited the barons of his kingdom, and informed King Henry that on a certain day he would invade his land and fight a famous battle with him. He hastened to carry out his promise, as if performing a vow made under oath. So he flung himself into Normandy at the head of a marvellous army, and ravaged it, taking by assault after a sharp skirmish the well-fortified castle of Ivry, which he burned down, and then went on to Breteuil. Although he remained for some time in that country, he did not see the English king or meet with anyone on whom he could take sufficient revenge for the injury he had suffered. So he returned to Chartres to fall on Count Thibaud, and began a savage attack on the city with the intention of burning it down; but he was interrupted by a delegation of clergy and citizens, bearing before them the shift of the blessed Virgin, who begged him very devotedly, as the principal defender of their church, to spare it through love of her, and not to avenge on his own people a wrong which had been inflicted by others. In the face of their supplications the king bowed his royal majesty, and to prevent the destruction by fire of the city and the noble church of Notre Dame, he ordered Charles, count of Flanders, to recall the army and to spare the city out of love and fear for the church. When they returned to their own land they continued to repay their momentary misfortune with a long, continuous and very harsh revenge.

Chapter XXX: How he avenged the murder of Charles, count of Flanders

I intend to relate his finest exploit, the most noble deed he performed from his youth to his life’s end; although it ought to be expatiated on, I shall recount it briefly, concentrating on what he did rather than how he did it, in order to avoid boring my readers.

The famous and very powerful count Charles, son of the king of Denmark and King Louis’s aunt, succeeded by hereditary right the brave count Baldwin, son of Robert of Jerusalem, and ruled the very populous land of Flanders both vigorously and diligently, proving himself an illustrious defender of God’s church, a lavish almsgiver and a notable protector of justice. Discharging the duty of his honour, he sought several times and legitimately to bring to the judgement of his court certain powerful men of low birth who had risen through their wealth, and who were arrogantly trying to extricate their family from his lordship although they were of servile origin. They were the provost of Bruges and his relations, notorious criminals puffed up with pride, who trapped the count most cruelly.

One day Charles came to Bruges and went early in the morning into God’s church; he was kneeling on the floor in prayer, holding a prayer book in his hands, when suddenly a certain Burchard, the provost’s nephew, a savage fellow, arrived with other members of that wickedest of families and other accomplices in his detestable crime. As Charles was praying and talking with God, Burchard quietly slipped behind him , unsheathed his sword and gently touched the neck of the prostrate count, so that when the count raised it a little he would make a better target for the unexpected sword, then with one blow he impiously killed the pious man, and thus the serf decapitated his lord.

His accomplices in this horrifying murder who were standing around thirsting for his blood, like dogs feasting on abandoned corpses, took pleasure in hacking the innocent man to pieces, particularly rejoicing that they had been able to accomplish the evil deed they had conceived and the wickedness to which they had given birth. As if blinded by their own malice, they heaped iniquity, and massacred all the men of the castle and nobler barons of the count they could find, either in the church or outside in the castle, putting them to the sword in the most wretched way when they were unprepared and unshriven.

The assassins buried the count in the church itself, fearing that if he were brought out for mourning and burial, the people who were devoted to him both for his glorious life and for him more glorious death would be aroused to seek vengeance. Then they turned the church into a brigands’ cave, fortified both it and the count’s house which was next to it, procured whatever food they could and decided with the utmost arrogance to protect themselves there and thus to take over the land.

The Flemish barons who had not consented to this were shocked by so great and wicked a crime. They wept as they attended the count’s obsequies in order to avoid being branded as traitors, and reported it to the lord king Louis, and indeed to everyone, for the news swept across the world. Love of justice and affection for his cousin inspired war from the English king or Count Thibaud. So he crossed courageously into Flanders, intent on using all his resources to punish the wickedest of men most cruelly. He established as count of Flanders William of Normandy, son of Duke Robert of Jerusalem, who had a claim through ties of blood. Without fear either for the barbarity of the land or for the loathsome family which had engaged in treason, he went down to Bruges, and blockaded the traitors tightly in the church and the tower, preventing them from obtaining any food other than what they had, which by divine assistance now disgusted them because it was unfit for use. For a while he wore them down by hunger, disease and the sword; then they abandoned the church the church and kept only the tower, which also guarded them.

Now they despaired of life, and their lyre was turned to mourning and their organ into the voice of them that weep (Job XXX, 31); the most wicked Bourchard left with the agreement of his companions, hoping to flee the land but found himself unable to do so, though only his own iniquity prevented him. On his return to the castle of one of his intimate friends he was seized by the king’s command and suffered exquisite torture in death. Tied to the upper part of a high wheel, exposed naked to the rapacity of crows and other birds of prey, his eyes torn out and his whole face lacerated, pierced by a thousand blows from arrows, lances and spears, he perished miserably and his body was thrown into a sewer.

Bertold, the brains behind the plot, also decided to flee; but when he found he was able to wander around without restriction, he returned through sheer pride; for he asked himself, ‘Who am I and what have I done?’ So he was captured by his own men, handed over to the king’s judgement and condemned to a well-merited and wretched death. They hanged him from a gibbet with a dog and as the dog was struck it took its anger out on Bertold, chewed his whole face and, horrible to relate, covered him with excrement; so, more miserable than the most miserable of men, he ended his wretched life in perpetual death.

The men the king had besieged in the tower were forced by many hardships to surrender. In front of their relations Louis had them thrown our one by one from the top of the tower to crush their skulls. One of them called Isaac had been tonsured in a monastery to avoid death; Louis ordered him to be defrocked and hanged on a gibbet. Thus victorious at Bruges, the king rapidly led his army to Ypres, an excellent castle, to take vengeance on William the Bastard, who had fomented the treason. He sent messengers to the people of Bruges and brought them around to his side by threats and flattery. Then as William barred his way with three hundred knights, half the royal army rushed against him and the other half went off at an angle and boldly occupied the castle by way of its other gate. The king kept it, William lost all claim to Flanders, and was banished. Because he had aspired to gain Flanders through treachery, it was right that he should gain nothing whatever in Flanders.

Flanders was washed clean and almost rebaptized by these various forms of revenge and the great outpouring of blood. So having installed William the Norman as count, the king returned to France, victorious by God’s help.

This translation © Jean Dunbabin, St. Anne’s College, Oxford OX2 6HS, England, from whom all necessary permissions to reproduce must be sought.

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