Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Chapter 11

Concerning the capture of castle of Gournay


Count Guy of Rochefort, whose daughter’s marriage with the Lord Louis had been blocked by the intrigue of his rivals on grounds of consanguinity, then ended by divorce in the presence of the pope[1], felt deeply resentful, ‘and fanned this small spark into moving fires.’[2] 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.[3] Hugh of Pomponne, a valiant knight, castellan of Gournay, a castle on the banks of the Marne, seized the horses of some merchants on the royal highway[4] and took them to Gournay[5]. Furious 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 those living 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, with some swimming and 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 on 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 ordered 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 surrender. Impatient of delay, the Lord Louis, consumed one day by energy, summoned the army, and approached that castle which was brilliantly defended by a deep and steep ditch topped by a wall and below by a rushing stream whose depth made it virtually unassailable. 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, and 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, and 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 was defeated.

Then siege engines were prepared to destroy the castle. A very tall machine of three storeys was built that dominated the castle towering over the soldiers and preventing the slingers and archers from moving about the stronghold 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, familiar with this tactic, erected vertical wooden piles at intervals, so that the assailants would face danger and death when both the bridge and those who crossed it fell together into deep pits full of pointed stakes covered with straw to escape detection.

Meanwhile Count Guy, skilful and valiant man as he was, roused his relations and friends, begged aid of his men and rushed to the assistance of the besieged. He therefore negotiated with Theobald, Count Palatine[6], 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 encourage the besiegers to quit.

On the day appointed for Count Theobald 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 and 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[7].

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 buoyed up by false hopes, and keeping the castle for himself, he handed it over to the Garlandes to guard.[8]

[1] At the council of Troyes, on 23rd May 1107, Guy was angered because of the ways in which he felt his family had been treated by the Crown: see ‘Chronique of Clarius’ in Duru, L.M., Bibliothèque historique de l'Yonne, Auxerre, 1850, vol. ii, p. 516 and ibid, La Chronique de Saint-Pierre-le-Vif de Sens, p. 147. Louis VI married Adélaïde de Maurienne, daughter of count Humbert II of Savoy before 3rd August 1115 possibly in 1114: ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de sa vie et de son règne, n° 192.

[2] Lucan, De bello civili V, 525

[3] This took place after the dissolution of Louis’ betrothal to Lucienne de Rochefort and the death of Philip I the following year, probably in the autumn of 1107.

[4] Hugh’s activities posed a double problem for Louis. First, they were an attack on merchants and a threat to their trade of which Louis was a supporter: see chapters 21, 31 and 33. Secondly, they posed a threat to royal authority as individuals were unable to travel safely on the royal highway.

[5] Hugh de Pomponne was another name for Hugh de Crécy, the son of Guy de Rochefort: ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 51. Guy de Rochefort had founded a priory at Gournay. Gournay and Pomponne are both on the Marne, about ten and fifteen miles east of Paris respectively.

[6] Theobald IV, count of Blois and Chartres succeeded his uncle Hugh as count of Champagne in 1125 under the name Theobald II. The title of Count Palatine was honorific and was held by the counts of Flanders, of Blois-Champagne and of Toulouse. It represented the last vestige of powers exercise at the Merovingian court by the ‘mayors of the palace’: see Viollet, P.M., Histoire des institutions politiques et administratives de la France, 1898, Paris, vol. ii, p. 105. He was Louis’ chief enemy among the aristocracy.

[7] According to Orderic Vitalis, the fight took place near stream at Torcy, between Torcy and Gouverne and the men of Brie were pursued as far as the gates of Lagny. Count Theobald flees just as he abandons his allies in chapter 21. Suger takes considerable delight in suggesting that he was a coward.

[8] The handing over the Gournay to the Garlandes indicates their rise to favour. The siege occurred in 1107 and Guy de Rochefort died the following year.

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