Warfare between Henry I and Robert Curthose, according to Wace’s The Roman de Rou

13th-century depiction of HenryTranslated by Glyn S. Burgess

Published by Société Jersiaise

Following the death of William Rufus in 1100, his younger brother Henry took the English crown, spurning the claim of his elder brother, Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy. This led to tensions between the two brothers and several times England and Normandy almost went to war. But no major outbreak of violence took place until 1105, when Henry I invaded Normandy. In the following year Henry was able to defeat and capture his brother at the Battle of Tinchebrai (or Tinchebray), which took place on September 28, 1106. One of the medieval accounts about this war comes from The Roman de Rou, by Wace. The author was a prebend and scholar from Normandy, who was commissioned by Henry II in the 1160s to write a chronicle in verse of the dukes of Normandy. The account is not finished, cutting off just after the battle of Tinchebrai, perhaps because Wace had fallen out of favour of the English king. The portion translated below from this chronicle seems is one of the most detailed accounts of the fighting that took place, and may have been based on some local sources. The bracketed numbers indicated the lines of the verse chronicle.

So there suddenly began the war which could not be ended peacefully until the duke was captured and the king had won a complete victory. Through traitors and slanderers, flatterers and deceivers — may they take a dreadful tumble! — the king’s and the duke’s anger increased. There was a great deal of coming and going and they spoke ill of each other, not caring about any losses, providing each of them did what he liked. The king put his trust in money, which he had in abundance; he crossed over to Normandy and, having a large quantity of money, took a large number of men with him. The lords of the Cotentin received him and were delighted by his arrival. With great barrels and carts he had the money carried with him; to chastelains and barons, who had towers and fortified dwellings, and to good warriors and marquises, he gave so much and promised so much that they abandoned Duke Robert and waged war on the king’s side. Even those who held lands from the duke and owed him fealty left the duke in favour of the king, abandoning their true lord. Suddenly the land was in great fear and people were very much afraid. The war was great and they were dismayed. They took everything to the cemeteries, leaving nothing in their houses for robbers and thieves. The king had a large amount of sterlings and he summoned the men from Le Mans and Anjou and the Bretons who were supporting him, and they came willingly at the prospect of gain. However many mercenaries came, there were not too many to prevent the king from retaining them all; no one who maintained his period of service failed to be rewarded with provisions. (10839-82)

The duke had scarcely any money, for he was spending it freely. His revenues were soon completely exhausted and his feudal aid used up; with all this spending and giving there was no chance of their flourishing. He had his castles rebuilt, the walls repaired and strengthened, brattices and battlements constructed and trenches made in front of castles. At Caen he built a trench which can still be pointed out, stretching from Rue d’Esmeisine to Porte Milet; part of the Orne flows there, where the tide comes in and out. When the duke had mercenaries, he paid them well when he could, and when he could not pay them and did not dare anger them, for they were quick to go over to the king’s side and fight with the king, he had his burgesses brought and handed them over to the mercenaries in due form, this one for twenty pounds, that one for a hundred, this one for thirty, that one for forty, this one for fifty or sixty. The burgesses did not dare serve him and he was hated by many of them. They diverted their possessions and property to abbeys and they themselves fled there, not daring to wait for him in the burgs; for this reason many men failed the duke. When news of this came to him, he said at once:

‘Let us forget this! We cannot fight everyone. Let them come, let them go! We cannot retain everyone.’ He was not very prudent and indeed was very negligent; people had considered him to be negligent since his return from the Holy Land. Negligence seems like cowardice and many people admonished him for it, but in spite of being thoroughly admonished he showed no improvement. When the duke had nothing to give, being either unable to give or not wanting to do so, he evaded any difficulty with promises; he promised much and gave little. Gonthier, who is said to be from Aunay, was on the duke’s side against the king; he was a knight of great nobility and supported the duke in good faith. Gonthier was in charge of the large number of troops and performed many great acts of chivalry. He distributed provisions and it was through him that the duke gave gifts; he was warden of Caen and Bayeux and often went from the one to the other. (10883-944)

In front of Bayeux, at Saint-Joire — as the man who knows the story states — there took place at that time an encounter between knights from the region, who were staying in Bayeux, and the king’s men who were waiting there. The town was in a state of great agitation; the king’s men had attacked it and there were many good knights there, with infantrymen and archers above the ditches. Neither side showed any pity for the other and many inhabitants left the city. The king had a mercenary by the name of Brun, a recently dubbed knight who had come from a far-off land to acquire fame and perform acts of chivalry. He possessed the very finest equipment and his weapons were of superb quality. There was not a single man at court whose accoutrements matched those of Brun; on his horse he sat nobly and very richly attired. He was attached to his saddle with tight bindings round his thighs; he could not have received a blow powerful enough to dislodge him from the saddle. He raised his lance, took his shield, spurred his horse and entered the battlefield; his horse galloped along and Brun was quite clearly seeking a joust. Robert of Argences had arrived; he had come from Bayeux and was sitting on his horse, well armed and well prepared to joust. He saw Brun on the other side, intent on jousting; with his lance raised he took his shield, very desirous of a joust. The knights, who were on the field and had caught sight of the two vassals who had taken the field in order to joust and were clearly seeking a joust, cleared the area so that they could joust; they issued orders to the archers and the infantrymen not to do any harm and remain at peace, in spite of anything they may witness. The area was cleared and no one did any harm there. (10945-96)


When the area was cleared and the joust arranged, the knights who were to joust came to a standstill, at the far end of the battlefield. On their swiftly-moving horses they soon launched themselves at each other; one rode towards the other, spurring his horse and letting go his reins. They held their shields in front of their chests and came together with lances raised, attacking each other with such great violence that they could be seen from all sides. Lord Brun struck Robert so forcibly that he deprived him of his shield, dislodging it from around his neck and knocking him to one side. But Robert stayed firm in his stirrups, raised himself upright with a great show of strength and hit Brun with such power on his saddle-bows, in front of his shield, that he split them in two and transfixed him on the saddle-bows behind; he could not be knocked down on to the ground, for he was hanging by his thighs. Brun fainted on his horse, but turned his head downwards. People came running from all sides and took hold of Brun, who was hanging down; they detached him from the saddle and laid him down on the ground. His soul departed; it could no longer remain. You would have heard a great deal of weeping and grieving. Those from the towns and the burgs came running up from all sides, lamenting greatly and weeping profusely, mourning Brun’s beauty. Some grieved and wept for him profusely; others, who had never before seen him or known anything about him, mourned him. Men-at-arms, whose duty it was to serve him and who were from his country, cried out and grieved a great deal, saying around the body:

‘O Brun, Lord Brun, noble baron Brun! We have very good reason to weep for you! We will never return to our own country, since we cannot take you back. Who would dare tell your friends that you have been killed? We ought to die for you, but you cannot be saved by us.’ They grieved and lamented greatly, then took the body away from there. Because of Brun’s death, they departed and abandoned the field on both sides; no further harm was done that day and there was no more jousting or shooting of arrows. The king conceived a hatred for Robert, as if he had intended to kill him, and he did not dare remain in Normandy. But when the war was over, he returned to Apulia with his equipment, to acquaintances he had there. (10997-11060)

For a long time the inhabitants of Bayeux defended themselves very stoutly, not wanting to surrender to the king; he could not take them by force. Gonthier, who was their constable, a brave and valiant knight, rode throughout the region, bringing prisoners and booty which greatly assisted the town. He spent lavishly and gave away a large amount of money, getting and giving a great deal of credit and borrowing and disbursing a great deal. Robert, who is said to have been the son of Haimo — he was regarded as a noble baron — and who held the honour of Torigny with extensive lands around Creully, had quarrelled with his lord the duke and gone over to King Henry. He was seized one morning in Secqueville-en-Bessin when in the process of capturing the Bessin and taking the entire country. The duke’s household knights heard this and forced their way into Secqueville; the men from Caen came up swiftly and those from Bayeux were very soon there. Robert entered the church, climbing up as far as the bell-tower, but he could not stay up there long; whether he liked it or not, he had to come down, for fire was brought there which set the church alight. So, because of the fire, he came down and surrendered to those from Bayeux. Robert was captured, well guarded and taken to Bayeux. The knaves who were taking him could scarcely be prevented from threatening and striking him; they frequently called out: ‘The rope, the rope for the traitor who has abandoned his rightful lord!’ (11061-102)

The king, who was very displeased, saw that Bayeux was holding out for so long; because of Bayeux he was losing Caen and all the advantage gained from the Bessin, for a large number of troops, who were an obstacle to them, were in Bayeux. From Le Mans he summoned Count Helias, who brought many barons and was very keen to serve the king; he came with great eagerness. The king and the count assembled and went to Bayeux together, where they set light to the burg. Then you would have seen flames leaping high, chapels and churches burning, houses and food-stores toppling, as well as the episcopal church, in which there were many wealthy clergy; the church was entirely destroyed and its precious possessions taken outside. Count Helias gained great fame from this and performed many acts of chivalry there. The men from Le Mans, who were with him, took away whatever they found; many things were carried away and the king gave them a large part of them. In this way the king had possession of the city and power over the area; he left nothing as far as Caen and the war grew and became more violent. The duke could not recover anything or return to Bayeux. No one could remain between Bayeux and Caen; the peasants did not dare till the land, join their oxen together or plough the fields and the merchants did not dare go about the town or transport their merchandise. There was war throughout the land, each one wanting to overcome the other. The king was strong and the duke was strong. The war lasted for six years or more before peace could be had there; they were men of great power. I do not wish to relate the adventures, often good and often harsh, which befell the king, the duke and the households they ruled as long as the war lasted. One man lost who later won. This happens in warfare; one man loses today who wins tomorrow. You are well aware that fortune is not always equal for all men; a man who was down can come up again. Things are not the same for all or constant for all. Because of the gifts he gave, the king had most of the knights and the best of the barons with him; they abandoned the duke for the king. (11103-62)

The king had in his prison a knight by the name of Thierry. His family was from Caen and he was born in Caen, the son of Ralph FitzOgier. His relatives had loved him very dearly. He was a knight of great courage with many wounds on his face; he was bold, as was evident from the great injuries he had received. This Thierry and many more men, the finest in Caen, had been captured by Robert the Old of Saint-Rémy at Cagny in the Hiémois. They were travelling from Argences to Caen with the intention of going to Caen, but this Robert, who was cunning, was lying in wait for them and brought them to a halt. He had assembled his friends and knights from his region and was pretending to go hunting in order to lie in wait for the men from Caen. When he saw the opportunity, he lay in wait for them and captured them all; none of them escaped. It was easy to capture them; they could not defend themselves as they had insufficient knights and were not riding their warhorses. Thierry fought stoutly and defended himself for a long time, but because of the wounds to his face he was knocked down and captured. When Robert of Saint-Rémy had taken his booty as he pleased, he prepared his prisoners and bound them over by oath not to escape. He took them all to Torigny, not wanting to go to Saint-Rémy. He sold and handed over his prisoners to Robert FitzHaimo, who at that time was of great renown; he bought them very willingly. By way of agreement, in this first instance, he gave him the whole of Charbonière and granted him other lands and fiefs in a number of places. Robert FitzHaimo thought that, if he could, he would promote his own cause thanks to the prisoners. He sent a messenger at once to Domfront, informing the king, who was there, that he should come to him without delay, for he thought he could advance his cause greatly. (11163-214).

The king mounted his horse at once, as soon as he heard the summons, and found Robert at Yvrandes, the place to which he had summoned him. Yvrande is in a hermitage, surrounded by a great wood called the Lande Pourrie; the church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Robert met the king, spoke to him in secret and told him what had happened. The king was pleased and greatly cheered by the prisoners Robert had bought; they were powerful men, born in Caen, whom the lord of Saint-Rémy had captured and placed under his protection. Through these men he could have Caen, if he conducted himself sensibly. The king then granted Robert FitzHaimo the wardenship of Caen as a fief, for himself for all time and for his heir, as soon as he could get possession of it; he also gave him other revenues which Robert had asked of him. The king cherished Robert greatly and Robert served him well; he had abandoned the duke in favour of him, as a result of which he had a very bad reputation. (11215-42)

Why should I tell you any more about this, or dwell on it any longer? Discussion continued, but it was kept between them, until a conclusion was reached concerning an agreement about the king and the prisoners, that the king would hand over the prisoners, declare them entirely free and make them rich men, giving them lands and possessions; the prisoners would hand over Caen and receive the king within it. In order to conceal this discussion, so that no one could create an obstacle for them in this matter, the prisoners provided hostages, sons and nephews from their lineage, in order to pay off their ransoms, for he had made them swear this. Through ruse and cunning, and the enemies’ machinations, the ransoms were fixed, established and guaranteed by hostages. In order to deceive the common people, so that nothing would be known about all this, they pretended to obtain what was necessary and pay their ransoms; for if the poor people had known that things were going to turn out this way, the king would never have had Caen without a great struggle. But through Thierry and Ralph, through Nicholas and Aiulf and through their rich families, which had many members, and through their near neighbours, who were captured over towards Argences, this plan was hatched and concealed from the poor. Many men, whose names I cannot tell you, and I do not wish to write down lies, were involved in this affair and consented to what happened. Covetousness is an evil thing and many evil things stem from it; it is the root of sin and all evils are begun because of it. Through the promises made by the king, who promised lands to many men, and in order to free their friends, whom they could not redeem, and because they repeatedly saw that the barons were abandoning the duke, the inhabitants of Caen let the duke down and went over to King Henry. (11243-96)

At that time there was a garden in Caen, near the church of Saint Martin, between the church and the wall next to Porte Arthur; there the gathering took place and the decision was agreed upon to withdraw support from Duke Robert. You can now hear what is clearly a miracle! For never since this meeting — I can say this in truth — has the garden borne fruit; it has produced neither apples nor any other fruit. The duke realised and saw quickly, and was quickly advised and told, how the occupants of Caen were withdrawing their support from him and would surrender Caen to the king. He was advised to depart before worse harm came to him, for the king’s men, who were on their way to the Bessin, were close by. The duke was very much afraid of the burgesses and made his way to the Hiémois; he went though Porte Milet with the numerous household knights he was leading. A gate-keeper, by the name of Taisson — I do not know if he had any other name — encountered a chamberlain and robbed him of a bag; the duke moved forward, not wanting to go back for such matters. I do not know whether he later returned it to him, but I do know he took it from him. The rascals who saw what Taisson had done did the same and robbed the squires, knocking them down and manhandling them. The crowd kept going and did not look back; the duke kept going, never to return there. (11297-336)

The war was great and the anger great — but I cannot relate or tell everything — between King Henry and his brother, born of one father and one mother. The king possessed very great power and he had more men and more money from England, which he ruled in peace; thus he did as he pleased. Why should I go on with this tale? The king continued fighting, taking castles and towns by force and providing gifts from his wealth, until he besieged Tinchebray and set up his siege around it in opposition to the Count of Mortain, who was not far from there. The count and the duke came together and summoned all their good neighbours; they wanted to help the castle and rescue all the equipment inside, but at their time of need they let the duke down and left him on bad terms, because of the promises made and the fiefs granted to a large number of men. The duke put his trust in what was rightfully his and in the men he expected to have on his side; with all the men he brought with him he thought he could get the siege lifted. The battle was soon joined, but it did not last long. Those who came attacked well and the besiegers held out well; scarcely any men were killed. The duke was soon laid low and captured, and with him the Count of Mortain; they were both captured in the battle. The duke was captured and the count was captured; neither of them was rescued by their own men. Many men who held fiefs from them and who should have been with them, abandoned their lord at this time of need; as a result of their shameful actions, they received rewards from the king, for which they were severely reproached. (11337-80)

The king had the duke and the count in his power, whoever might be honoured or shamed thereby. He acts very shamefully, no one could do worse, who betrays his liege lord. No man, for any reason, should fail his earthly lord; he should protect his life and limb and uphold his earthly honour. He who abandoned his lord did wrong; the duke was captured and the count with him. The lord of Bellême departed; he received no blow and gave no blow. He left with his troops, with neither loss nor gain. The king had his prisoners, the duke and the count, sent across the Channel; no one could bring about a reconciliation with him and they could not escape. Throughout Normandy he commanded that nothing should be removed or taken away; they should go in peace and come in peace and, as they had held lands, so they should continue to do so. Let him whose felony has been proved be destroyed and dismembered. The prisoners, who were transported across the Channel, were well looked after. Robert, Count of Gloucester, who was the bastard son of the king, held the duke in Cardiff in Wales, as long as he lived; he died in Cardiff in Wales, in the prison where he lay for a long time. From Cardiff his body was carried to Gloucester and buried. The Count of Mortain lived in King Henry’s prison until the death of King Henry, who reigned for thirty-seven years. (11381-418)

Taken, with the permission of the translator, Glyn S. Burgess, and of Roger Long, Chairman of the Publications Committee, Société Jersiaise, from Wace, The Roman de Rou, Translated by Glyn S. Burgess with the Text of Anthony J. Holden and Notes by Glyn S. Burgess and Elisabeth van Houts, Société Jersiaise, 2002, ISBN 0 901897 33 7 (Special Edition), 0 901897 34 5 (Standard Edition).

For those interested in this text, please go to the the website of Société Jersiaise

This entry was posted in Primary Sources and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.