Saturday, 2 May 2009

Chapter 12

Concerning the capture of the castle of Sainte-Severe

While idleness and inactivity depresses men, making the noble ignoble, the glorious inglorious, valour enhanced by bodily exercise inspires them, making the noble nobler, the glorious more glorious. It repays men who have it by providing them with heroic deeds in all parts of the earth, which their valour can feed on with pleasure.

Men came to the Lord Louis to beg him with the utmost entreaties and with offers of great and rewarding service to go to Berry, to the borders of the Limousin, to the castle of Sainte-Sévère[1], a most noble place, famous for its tradition of chivalry and rich in foot soldiers. They urged that its lord Humbaud[2], a most noble man should either be forced to deliver justice or be justly punished for the injuries he had inflicted and to have the castle confiscated according to Salic law.[3]

At their request Louis went there[4], accompanied not by an army but by a troop of his household knights[5]. He was approaching the castle when he was met by the castellan with a large body of knights, for Humbaud was naturally generous, very liberal and far-sighted. Establishing himself behind a stream defended by bars and stakes, for there was no other route Humbaud resisted the French troops. As the two parties faced each other across the stream[6], the Lord Louis was irritated to see one of the enemy, bolder than the others, leave the defences; so he urged on his horse, and with courage greater than that of other men, rode at him, struck him with his lance, and with one blow flattened not only him but also another man behind him. Then, rather unsuitably for a king, he made them take a bath in the river up to their helms. Without delay he capitalised on his success, pushed in the narrow space through which his adversary had come and without hesitation made the enemy recoil by his brave action. The French, marvellously encouraged by the sight broke the barrier, crossed the stream and, pursuing the enemy killed many of them forcing the rest back to the castle.

The news spread, frightening the garrison and the whole neighbourhood, that the Lord Louis and his men, as befitted very powerful knights, would not retire until they had totally destroyed the castle and either hanged or blinded the more important men within. Therefore it was wisely decided that the lord of the castle should submit at once to the royal majesty and give up his castle and land to Louis’ jurisdiction. On his return, the Lord Louis took the castellan as booty, left him at Étampes, and after his swift triumph went back to Paris happy in his success.[7]


[1] This is the modern Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre, about fifty miles south-west of Bourges in south-central France.

[2] Humbaud seems to be bishop Humbaud, elected at Limoges in 1087 by a ‘popular’ faction, and who, in 1095 was deposed by pope Urban II at a council held in Limoges. Finally driven out in 1098, he retired to Sainte-Sévère where he lived a long time: see Chénon, E., Histoire de Sainte-Sévère en Berry, 1888, reissued, Paris, 1997 pp. 27 -28. He was of the Mohun family.

[3] The Salic law was the rule of succession in certain royal and noble families of Europe, forbidding females and those descended in the female line to succeed to the titles or offices in the family. It is called the Salic law on the mistaken supposition that it was part of the Lex Salica; provisions of that code banned female succession to property but were not concerned with titles or offices. However, here it merely has the sense of old law.

[4] Ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 55 argued that the expedition took place in June or July 1108 though ibid, Molinier, Auguste, (ed.), Vie de Louis le Gros par Suger, p. 37, no 2 dated the expedition to Bourbonnais a year earlier. .

[5] Louis was supported by some members of his household, presumably unmarried knights keen for battle. Suger refers to household knights on several occasions.

[6] This is probably the River Indre that passes by Sainte- Sévère, but it is rather more than a stream.

[7] Humbaud returned to Sainte-Sévère at least by 1113.

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