Thursday, 2 April 2009

Chapter 1: concluded

It was commonly said that this proud and impetuous king sought the French throne, because the famous prince was his father’s only son by his most noble wife, the sister[1] of Robert count of Flanders. The king also had two sons, Philip[2] and Florus, by his second wife Bertrada, countess of Anjou.[3] But they were not regarded as successors, had some misfortune brought about the death of the only heir. But because it is neither right nor natural[4] that the French should be subject to the English, but rather the English to the French, events played against this abhorrent hope. This foolish idea tormented King William and his men for three years or more but he lost heart when he understood that he could not win even though the English and the French were bound to him by ties of homage.[5] He sailed back to England[6], where he gave himself up to lust and the desires of his heart. One day, when he was hunting in the New Forest, he was suddenly hit by a misaimed arrow and died.[7]

It was thought that he had been struck by divine revenge because he had been an intolerable oppressor of the poor, a cruel depredator of churches and, on the deaths of bishops or prelates, an irreverent waster and keeper of their goods.[8] Some accused the noblest man Walter Tirel[9] of having shot the arrow. But I have often heard this Tirel, unconstrained by either hope or fear, swear and assert on oath that, on that day he neither entered the part of the wood where the king was, nor saw him at all in the forest.[10] So it is clear that when such a great folly and such a great person suddenly disappears into ashes, it must be divine power that brings it about for he who so deeply troubled others should be much more greatly tried, and he who coveted everything should be deprived of all. For God, who ‘unbelts the swordbelts of kings’[11] subjects kingdoms and the law of kingdoms to himself. His younger brother[12] succeeded William with great haste, since the elder, Robert was on the great expedition to the Holy Land. Henry was a most prudent man, whose worthy and exemplary strength of body and mind offer most pleasing material for a writer. But this is not my purpose. I shall only touch on such matters incidentally, just as I shall say something briefly of the kingdom of Lotharingia because I have set out to write a history of the deeds of the Franks, not of the English. 


[1] In 1070-1071, Philip intervened in the war of succession in Flanders, an action closely linked to his hostility of Normandy. He initially backed the widow and son of Baldwin VI, who were defeated at the battle of Cassel and had to accept the victorious Robert the Frisian as count. However, he married Robert’s step-daughter Bertha securing his alliance against Normandy. Bertha was the daughter of Count Florence of Holland and Gertrude of Saxony. After Florence’s death, Gertrude married Count Robert I ‘the Frisian’ of Flanders (1071-1093), the father of Count Robert II ‘the Jerusalamite’ (1093-1111). Bertha was Robert II’s uterine sister.

[2] Philip, Count of Mantes was born about 1093 in France and died after 1123 in Loire-Atlantique, Pays de la Loire. Fleury was born about 1095 in France and died after 1118. He was married to the heiress of Nangis in Champagne. Suger does not mention their daughter Cecile who married Tancred of Antioch.

[3] In 1092, after he repudiated Bertha, Philip I eloped with Bertrada of Montfort, wife of Fulk le Rechin IV, count of Anjou. Though almost all the French bishops supported his proposed marriage to her, an influential group of ecclesiastics especially Ivo of Chartres thought the marriage was incestuous and opposed it. Despite this, the marriage took place. Philip was excommunicated by Pope Urban II at the council of Clermont in 1095 but neither this nor the initial actions of his successor Pope Paschal II had much effect. Many lay contemporaries had few problems with Philip’s action that were seen as a sensible move to produce more heirs and so safeguard the succession. Reconciliation occurred between Philip and the Church after 1100 and at the council of Beaugency in 1104 he agreed to repudiate Bertrada. Despite this, he continued to live with her openly until his death in 1108. The problems arising from Philip’s conduct are discussed in Duby, Georges, Medieval Marriage: Two Models from Twelfth-Century France, Baltimore, 1978, pp. 29-45 and The Knight, the Lady and the Priest, Harmondsworth, 1983, pp. 3-21.

[4] Suger is here expressing more the views of the 1140s than of the 1090s. He observed that it was contrary of natural law for the French to be subject to the English and vice versa and that inevitably William’s ambition was thwarted. Ibid, Barlow, Frank, William Rufus, p. 378 commented, ‘William would not have cared for that denial of his French nationality.’

[5] Suger is writing with the advantage of hindsight. William had proved a very effective military leader in 1098-1099 in Maine and the Vexin and it would have been an optimist who, in 1100 would have seen war with William at an end.

[6] William returned to England from Normandy in September 1099. As ibid, Barlow, Frank, William Rufus, p. 408 says ‘[He] had not returned to England…to die, but to rest and plan new schemes, new conquests.’

[7] William died on Thursday 2nd August 1100. Ibid, Barlow, Frank, William Rufus, pp. 419-432 considers the evidence for and against conspiracy but hunting accidents were not uncommon and an accident is the most likely, if mundane explanation. Hollister, C. Warren, ‘The Strange Death of William Rufus’, Speculum, vol. lxviii, (1973), pp. 637-53, reprinted in his Monarchy, Magnates and Institutions in the Anglo-Norman World, London, 1986, pp. 59-76 examines the cases for witchcraft and conspiracy before plumping for an accident. Mason, Emma, ‘William Rufus and the Historians’, Medieval History, vol. i, (1991), pp. 6-22 has suggested, though with little support that Tirel was acting as a ‘double agent’ for Philip I and his associate Louis though the actual murder could have been done by a companion of Tirel.

[8] Suger here reflected contemporary attitudes and was expressing a personal viewpoint. However, William’s reputation has always been higher than the strictly historical record suggests. It is the collection of his sayings that brings William out most distinctly, words that were recorded by ecclesiastical chroniclers often against their better judgement. They show a blunt, rough commander but shrewd and often generous monarch, always capable of emotion and always a gentleman. William might have liked to die a hero’s death amid the deadly hail of battle. To be deprived of this was the most terrible punishment that God could inflict. William was struck down when defenceless, impenitent, unshriven and irredeemable. The Church was not to be cheated.

[9] Walter Tirel was castellan of Poix and Pontoise where he retired after William’s death but without loosing any of his lands. He witnessed several of Louis’ charters: ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, no 9, 42 and 168. He died in 1123 on the way to the Holy Land.

[10] Like Suger, John of Salisbury in his revision of Eadmer’s Life of St Anselm in the 1160s was uncertain about the identification of Tirel as William’s killer.

[11] Book of Job xii, 18

[12] William was buried on Friday 3rd August in the Old Minster, Winchester. Henry acted quickly securing the royal treasure at Winchester and gained sufficient support from the barons who happened to be present. He then moved quickly to London where he was crowned king at Westminster on Sunday 5th August. On the problems of the succession see Green, Judith, Henry I, (Cambridge University Press), 2006, pp. 42-59 and Garnett, George, Conquered England: Kingship, Succession and Tenure 1066-1166, (Oxford University Press), 2007, especially pp. 115-119.

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