Saturday, 16 May 2009

Chapter 16

Of the interview between King Louis and Henry, king of the English at Neaufles

At that time[1] Henry, king of the English, happened to arrive in Normandy. He was a very courageous man, excellent in peace and war, whose great reputation had spread almost throughout the world. That marvellous if rustic prophet, the visionary and reporter of England’s eternal destinies, Merlin, loudly vaunted Henry’s excellence with elegance and truth.[2] In the course of his praise, he suddenly burst forth, as prophets do[3]: ‘There shall come forth a lion of justice, at whose roar French towers and island dragons shall tremble. In his days, gold will be extracted from the lily and the nettle and silver shall trickle from the hooves of those who bellow. The acknowledged one shall be clothed with various cloaks and the outer habit shall signify his inner character. The feet of dogs shall be shortened, the wild animals shall have peace and humanity will suffer in torment. The means of exchange will be split; half will be round[4]. The rapacity of the kite shall perish and the teeth of wolves grow blunt. Lion cubs shall be transformed into fish of the sea and an eagle will build her nest on Snowdon’.[5]

All the sayings of this great and ancient prophet apply so exactly to the king's courage both of his person and of his administration of the realm, that not one word seems out of place. What is said at the end about the lion cubs clearly relates to his son and daughter, who were shipwrecked[6] and devoured by the fish of the sea. Their physical transformation proves the truth of the prophecy.

So King Henry, succeeding by good fortune his brother William, organised the kingdom of England, on the advice of skilled and trustworthy men, in accordance with the law of ancient kings and in order to attract popularity he confirmed by oath the ancient customs of the realm.[7] Then he sailed into harbour in the duchy of Normandy and, relying on the help of the French king[8] he settled the land, revised the laws, imposed peace by force and threatened to tear out the eyes of thieves or to hang them. These and like threats, rapidly put into effect, made a deep impression, for ‘anyone can be rich in promises’[9] but ‘the land fell silent in his presence’.[10] The Normans, fierce descendants of the Danes and devoid of desire for peace, reluctantly kept the peace, so proving the correctness of the rustic prophet’s words: ‘The rapacity of the kite shall perish and the teeth of wolves grow blunt.’ Neither nobles nor common people dared presumptuously to pillage or steal. As for what Merlin said, ‘At the roar of the lion of justice the French towers and the island dragons shall tremble.’ This was fulfilled because Henry ordered almost all the towers and fortified places of Normandy, which is a part of France, to be pulled down, or he put his own men into them and paid for them himself or, if they were already ruined, he subjected them to his will. ‘The island dragons trembled’ since none of the English barons even dared to murmur during the whole of his reign. 

‘In his days gold shall be extracted from the lily’, that is, from the religious in good odour; ‘and from the nettle’, from stinging secular people. He extracted it so that all should serve him because he profited them all. For it is safer that one man should take something from all men when he defends all of them, than that all should perish because one man has nothing. ‘Silver shall trickle from the hooves of those who bellow’ because security in the countryside means full granaries, and full granaries mean plenty of silver in full coffers.

On this occasion, he managed to wrest the castle of Gisors from Pagan of Gisors[11] as much by flattery as by threats. This very well-fortified castle is advantageously situated on the frontier between France and Normandy, on a river rich in fish called the Epte. By an old agreement and a geometrical measurement made with measuring ropes[12], it marked out the lands of the French from those of the Danes. The castle offered the Normans an easy point of access for their raids on France, but kept the French out.[13] Had he had the chance of acquiring it, the king of France, no less than the king of England, would have tried to obtain it through the law of the land, because of its site and the protection it afforded. So Henry’s annexation of this castle fomented a sudden hatred between the two kings. The king of France asked Henry either to give up the castle or to destroy it but his request failed. And so, accusing him of having broken the treaty, he fixed a day and place for negotiations on the matter.[14]

Meanwhile, as usually happens in such affairs, the hatreds of the kings were fanned by the malicious words of their rivals, rather than damped down while it was still possible. In order to present themselves at the talks looking confident and intimidating, they increased their military muscle. Louis collected together the greater number of the French barons: Count Robert of Flanders with about four thousand men, the Palatine Count Theobald, the count of Nevers[15], the duke of Burgundy[16] and a great many others, along with many archbishops and bishops. Then he marched through the land of the count of Meulan[17], ravaging and burning it because the count supported the king of England. By such benefits he paved the way favourably for the future talks.

When each side had collected a huge army, they came to the place commonly called Les-Planches-de-Neaufles, by the ill-omened castle where the ancient tradition of the inhabitants holds that negotiations there never or hardly ever succeed. Then the armies settled down on either bank of a river[18] that prevented passage. But after reflection, a chosen group of the noblest and wisest French crossed it by a shaky bridge so aged that it seemed likely to pitch them suddenly into the river and approached the English king.

Then the skilled orator among them who had been charged with the negotiations, without greeting the king, spoke in the name of his companions: ‘When through the generous bounty of the king of France you received the duchy of Normandy as your own fief[19], held by his generous right hand, among and before other conditions, you promised on oath in relation to Gisors and Bray[20] that, by whatever means one or other of you obtained these places, neither should keep them. Rather within forty days of their acquisition the possessor should, in compliance with the treaty totally destroy these castles to their foundations. Because you have not done this, the king orders that you should do so forthwith; or, if you refuse, make due legal amends. For it is shameful for a king to break the law, since both king and law derive their authority from the same source.[21] If your men have either forgotten the promise or pretended to forget because they did not want to declare it, we are ready to prove its truth by the clear testimony of two or three barons, according to the law of duel.’

After this speech they returned to the French king; but they did not arrive in his presence before some Normans who had followed them entered, shamelessly denying anything that could compromise their stand and asking that the case should be heard in due judicial order. Their one aim was to hold up the negotiations by some kind of delay, so as to prevent the truth from being revealed to so many great men of the realm. So even nobler men were sent back with the first envoys, who boldly offered to reveal the truth through that peerless champion Robert of Jerusalem, count of Flanders, to refute all verbal exaggeration by the law of duel, and demonstrate by force of arms on which side justice lay.[22]

The Normans neither accepted nor refused the proposition plainly. Then the magnanimous king Louis, as great of heart as of body, swiftly sent messengers to Henry requiring him to choose between destroying the castle and fighting in person against the king of France on account of his breach of faith. ‘Come’, he said, ‘let the pain of this encounter be his to whom also the glory of truth and victory belongs.’ As to the place for the duel, he decided most suitably; ‘Their host should retire from the bank of the river to allow us to cross, so that the safer place may give each greater security; or, if he would prefer, let each take the noblest men of the other army as hostages to guarantee the single combat, provided that I am permitted to cross after my army has retired. Otherwise it is not possible to go across the river.’ But some people cried out in a ridiculous jest that the king ought to fight on the shaky bridge which would instantly break; and King Louis, as light-hearted as he was bold, wanted this. 

But the English king said, ‘The matter is too unimportant for me to lose a famous and most useful castle on details like this.’ And parrying this and other suggestions, he said ‘When I see my lord the king where I can defend myself, I shall not avoid him’; for he did not want to fight in a hostile place.

Angered by this preposterous reply, the French ‘as if the luck of place gives rise to wars’[23] rushed to arms, as did the Normans. And while each army hurried towards the river, only the impossibility of crossing prevented the great disaster of an immense massacre. Therefore they spent the day in negotiations and that night the Normans went back to Gisors, our army to Chaumont[24]. But ‘as soon as the first rays of dawn chased the stars from the sky’[25] the French, remembering the previous day’s injuries, their martial ardour at morning high pitch, set off on their fastest horses and near Gisors rushed into battle, deploying wonderful fierceness and marvellous courage. They pushed the tired Normans through the gate, and strove to demonstrate the great superiority of those long used to war over those softened by long peace.[26]

These and similar incidents were the beginnings of a war that lasted for almost two years[27], and which harmed the king of England more because, at great expense he surrounded all the frontiers of Normandy as far as the duchy extended with great garrisons for the defence of the land.[28] The king of France relied on ancient fortifications and natural defences and the valiant assistance, given freely, of the Flemish and the men of Ponthieu, the Vexin and other frontier regions. Thus he ceaselessly attacked Normandy, pillaging and burning it. When William, the English king’s son, performed homage[29] to King Louis, by a particular act of grace Louis added that castle to his fief and restored him to his former favour on that occasion.  But before this happened, this particular conflict led to much loss of life, which was punished with reprisals.


[1] Henry’s visit to Normandy may have been connected with the accession of Louis the previous year. Ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 72 dated Henry’s arrival in Normandy as February or early March 1109.

[2] The prophecies attributed to the poet and seer Merlin were known through the fourth book of Historia Britannum of Geoffrey of Monmouth recently written while Suger was writing his life of Louis VI. Orderic Vitalis 4: 490 reproduces the passage which he applied to Henry I but Geoffrey of Monmouth is generally regarded as its author. The original version was written not long before Henry’s death in 1135.

[3] Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae, vii, 3 

[4] Suger is here alluding to the half-penny that had recently become an important coin in circulation.

[5] It is highly probable that Suger’s ‘montem Aravium’ is Snowdon. In Welsh it is called ‘Mynydd Eryri’ of the mountain of the eagles. The correct Latin form would be ‘mons Ararium’.

[6] The wreck of the White Ship on 25th November 1120 robbed Henry of his only legitimate heir William Adelin married to Matilda of Anjou, Richard and Mathilda, countess of Mortagne

[7] This is a reference to Henry I’s coronation oath: the text can be found in Douglas, D.C. and Greenaway, G.W., (eds.), English Historical Documents, vol. ii, 2nd ed., London 1981, pp. 432-434. For the administrative reforms introduced in England by Henry I, see Green, Judith, The Government of England under Henry I, (Cambridge University Press), 1986.

[8] With the agreement of Prince Louis, but not of King Philip who recognised unlike his son that this would cause future problems. The conquest of Normandy was the result of the battle of Tinchebrai fought between Henry and his brother Robert Curthose on 28th September 1106.

[9] Ovid, De Arte Amandi, I, 444

[10] Maccabees I, chapter i, 3

[11] At the age of around fifty, in 1123, Pagan with the agreement of King Louis made a futile attempt to retake his castle. Henry I stripped him of all his goods and Pagan took holy orders at the abbey of Saint-Martin de Pontoise.

[12] This is an allusion to the ropes that usually served to mark the boundaries between pieces of land. The river Epte had formed the border between the French and Norman Vexin since the tenth century. It flows into the Seine midway between Paris and Rouen. Gisors is located on the Norman side in a small bulge in of the river towards the east, about forty miles north-west of Paris.

[13] The dates of this war between Henry I and Louis VI are unclear. Suger argues that it lasted two years from 1109 to 1111 and ended when Louis gave the castle of Gisors to William Adelin. Henry of Huntingdon says the war began soon after Philip’s death in 1108 when Henry I tried to embarrass the new king by making him surrender part of the French Vexin: Henry of Huntingdon The History of the English People 1000-1154, edited by Diana Greenway, (Oxford University Press), 2002, p. 53. Only Suger mentions the conference at Neaufles-Saint-Martin which he dated to 1109. Ibid, La Chronique de Saint-Pierre-le-Vif de Sens, pp. 148-149 supports the view that the war between England and France was especially over the castle at Gisors and Henry’s failure to do homage for Normandy. In fact, the conference did result in a truce and for the next two years Henry I and Louis VI contented themselves with attending to their own affairs: in 1110-1111 Henry feared rebellion in England and banished a number of his English and Norman vassals and made an unsuccessful effort to arrest William Clito; and Louis was concerned with dealing with rebellious vassals of his own. War only resumed in 1111 and ended with the peace of Gisors in 1113.

[14] For relations between Henry and Louis, see Hollister, C. Warren ‘War and Diplomacy in the Anglo-Norman World: The Reign of Henry I’, in Brown, R. Allen, (ed.), Anglo-Norman Studies VI: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, 1983, Suffolk, 1983, pp. 72-78, reprinted in Hollister, C. Warren, Monarchy, Magnates and Institutions in the Anglo-Norman World, London, 1986, pp. 273-290.

[15] William II, count of Nevers and Auxerre from 1100 to 1148.

[16] Hugh II, duke of Burgundy ‘the Peaceful’ was born in c.1085 and died in 1143. He succeeded his father Eudes I ‘the Red’ in March 1102. He married Matilda or Maud of Turenne or Mayenne.

[17] Robert I, count of Meulan, son of Robert ‘the Beard’ castellan of Beaumont-le-Roger, had inherited the county of Meulan from his maternal uncle Hugh III in 1092. He died on 5th June 1118. He was a veteran of the Norman Conquest of England and had fought at Hastings in 1066. He had twin sons. Robert succeeded to his English properties and the earldom of Leicester. Waleran inherited Meulan and the Norman and French estates: see Crouch, D., The Beaumont Twins, (Cambridge University Press), 1986, 2008. Henry of Huntingdon in his Historia Anglorum v 7-8 said of Robert of Meulan that ‘At his will French and English kings would at one time be peacefully allied and at another violently embattled’, in ibid, Henry of Huntingdon The History of the English People 1000-1154, p. 118.

[18] The River Epte runs a kilometre south of Les-Planches-de-Neaufles.

[19] Louis clearly regarded Normandy as a fief but homage was not done for it until 1120.

[20] Bray-et-Lu is seventeen kilometres downstream from Les-Planches-de-Neaufles and on the left bank of the River Epte.

[21] This is an important statement respecting the theory of imperial power which represented human government as an emanation from the divine. It reinforces what Suger wrote about Louis’ coronation in chapter 14: ‘After a mass of thanksgiving, the archbishop took off his sword of secular chivalry and replaced it with the church’s sword for the punishment of evil-doers, crowned him most willingly with the royal diadem, and with great devotion bestowed on him the sceptre and rod as a sign that he must defend the church and the poor…’

[22] On trial by battle see Bartlett, Robert, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval judicial ordeal, (Oxford University Press), 1986, pp. 103-126.

[23] Lucan, De bello civili, IV, 661-2.

[24] Chaumont-en-Vexin is about five miles east of Gisors.

[25] Suger is here imitating Vergil Aenied, v, 42.

[26] The most notable part of Louis’ offensive was the siege of Meulan. He successfully took the castle and laid waste to the surrounding area. Ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 103 placed these events at the end of 1110 or beginning of 1111.

[27] Suger is misleading here. Following the interview with Louis, Henry spent the next two years in England: see Hollister, C. Warren, ‘Normandy, France and the Anglo-Norman Regnum’, Speculum, vol. 11, (1976) pp. 202-242, reprinted in ibid, Monarchy, Magnates and Institutions in the Anglo-Norman World, pp. 17-57. A truce was concluded in May 1113 but peace was not finally made until 1120.

[28] Suger is certainly exaggerating here. Henry had done well in the war and had won over Anjou by betrothing his son William Adelin to the daughter of the Angevin count. The peace terms of 1113 were also highly favourable and Louis is not reported to have raised the vexed question of Henry’s homage. Indeed, Louis conceded to Henry the right to receive homage from the count of Anjou (for Maine) and the count of Brittany. However, Henry’s position in Normandy was far from secure. William Clito had a persuasive legal claim to the duchy and remained free. As a viable pretender to Normandy and England, Clito was an obvious focus for French, Flemish, Angevin and domestic opposition to Henry I. The 1113 truce avoided any mention of the feudal bond between Louis and Henry and did not commit Louis to future support of Henry’s rule or William Adelin’s succession. Louis was therefore free to give his support to Clito whenever he chose. Re-establishing the feudal relationship with France therefore became a means for Henry to limit the actions of Clito for Louis would be morally bound to support him against all opposition or at the very least not give active support to Clito. It took four years of war for Henry to achieve this objective.

[29] This too is rather misleading. The events in this chapter began in 1109 and Suger describes the war that developed immediately out of the incident at Planches-de-Neaufles as having lasted for nearly two years whereas in fact it occurred between 1111 and 1113. He then locates William’s homage immediately after. However, in 1115, Henry I invested his son William with the duchy of Normandy and it seems likely that Louis VI only ceded Gisors to the young prince in return for an act of homage and a money payment between 30th May and 29th September 1120: Achille Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, Paris, 1890, n° 298. William’s homage is mentioned by William of Malmesbury but not by Orderic Vitalis and constituted a major breakthrough for Louis VI as William I, William II and Henry I had all apparently not rendered homage for the duchy. Henry I consciously did not use the ducal title at all and simply ruled as ‘rex Anglorum’, a practice followed with one exception by his own chancery. Even in 1120, Henry managed to win the full benefit of Louis’ lordship while escaping the responsibility and embarrassment of personal vassalage and homage done by the heir to the English throne. This was a precedent that was followed by king Stephen’s son Eustace to Louis VI in 1137 and to Louis VII in 1140.

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