Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Chapter 24

How the king destroyed Thomas of Marle's castles

The hand of kings is very powerful because of the right attached to their office. They repress the impudence of tyrants each time they see them provoking wars or taking infinite pleasure in pillage, in harming the poor or in destroying the churches. Thus licence is bridled which, if it remained for every unchecked, would enflamed men to yet greater madness, like those malign spirits who prefer to slay those whom they fear to lose, relentlessly caress those whom they hope to keep and throw oil on the flames to make them burn yet more cruelly.

Thomas de Marle, the most abandoned of men, ravaged the country of Laon, Reims and Amiens while King Louis was occupied with the wars described above and many others. The devil prospered his enterprises because the prosperity of fools usually leads them to perdition. So he devastated and devoured like a furious wolf, massacring and destroying everything. He did not spare the clergy out of fear of excommunication or the people out of any humanity. He even seized from the nunnery of St. John de Laon[1] two excellent estates, and fortified with fine ramparts and high towers the two well-defended castles of Crécy-sur-Serre and Nouvion-Catillon[2], as if they were his own, transforming them into a dragon’s lair and a robbers’ cave in order to expose almost the whole of that land cold-heartedly to rapine and arson. 

Worn out by his intolerable vexations, the French church held a general synod at Beauvais, to promulgate there a preliminary sentence and condemnation against the enemies of Christ’s true bride.[3] But Conan[4], bishop of Palestrina, venerable legate of the holy Roman church, deeply grieved by the innumerable complaints of the churches and the vexation of the poor and orphans, struck at Thomas’ tyranny with the sword of St. Peter, cut him down with a general anathema, deprived him in his absence of his belt of knighthood, and in conformity with the judgement of all stripped him of all honours as an infamous criminal and enemy to the name of Christian. Yielding to the prayers and plaints of this great council, the king immediately gathered an army against Thomas. Accompanied by his clergy to whom he was always most humbly attached, he turned towards the very heavily fortified castle of Crécy, and unexpectedly seized it by the great strength of his armed forces or rather through divine help. Then he assaulted the strong keep as if it were a peasant’s hovel, confounded the criminals, piously massacred the impious and mercilessly beheaded those who had showed no mercy. You could have seen the castle consumed as if by hell fire and would have understood the meaning of the words: ‘The whole world shall fight with him against men who have no feelings.’[5]

The victorious king was promptly following up his success by marching on the castle of Nouvions, when a messenger reported thus to him: ‘Be it known to your serenity, my lord king, that in that wicked castle there live the wickedest of men; only hell is fit for them. I speak of those who, when you ordered the commune to be suppressed, burned not only the city of Laon but also the noble church of the Virgin with many other churches, martyred almost all the nobles of the city to punish them for having faithfully supported and assisted their lord the bishop, and most cruelly slew bishop Gaudry[6] himself, the venerable defender of the church, not fearing to set their hands against the lord’s anointed. They then exposed him naked to the birds and beasts in the square, having cut off the finger that bore the episcopal ring. Finally, under the influence of that most wicked Thomas, they attempted to occupy your keep to disinherit you.’

Doubly furious, the king then set out against that wicked castle and broke down those sacrilegious places worthy of all the pains of hell. In pardoning the innocent and severely punishing the guilty, this one man avenged the wrongs of many. Thirsting for justice, he condemned all the detestable murderers he found to be hanged on the gibbet and then their bodies exposed to the rapacity of kites, crows and vultures, a demonstration of the just deserts of those who did not fear to set their hands against the anointed of the lord. 

When the unlawful castles[7] had been destroyed and the estates returned to the nuns of St. John, he returned to Amiens[8] and besieged the keep of a certain tyrant Adam of that city, who had destroyed churches and the whole neighbourhood[9]. After a tight siege lasting nearly two years, he forced the defenders to surrender, took it by assault and totally destroyed it; and by razing it he re-established a most welcome peace in the country, fulfilling his duty as king, who ‘beareth not the sword in vain’.[10] Then he abolished in perpetuity the lordship of that infamous Thomas and his heirs over that city.[11]


[1] The nunnery was founded in the seventh century. In 1130, the misconduct of the nuns led to them being replaced by monks.

[2] Crécy-sur-Serre is some eight miles north of Laon and about ninety miles north-east of Paris. Nouvion-Catillon is a few miles down the Serre from Crecy. This expedition takes Louis some distance from home.

[3] The Beauvais synod occurred in November and December 1114: ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 183. Thomas de Marle was excommunicated in 1114 because he protected the commune of Laon and the murderers of bishop Gaudry.

[4] Conan was Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina and among the most famous representatives of the Gregorian tradition. As papal legate he held four councils in France during 1114 and 1115 at Beauvais, Soissons, Reims and Châlons-sur-Marne and he would later be involved in the Council of Soissons in 1121.

[5] Wisdom of Solomon, V, 21

[6] Guibert de Nogent described in his Histoire de sa vie, edited G. Bourgin, pp. 167-168 the turbulent events in Laon. In 1110, a conspiracy organised by Gaudry, bishop of Laon since 1106 murdered crusader and convent-protector Gérard of Quierzy while he was praying in church. Believing Gaudry was guilty, King Louis VI ordered the bishop’s palace despoiled. Despite Guibert’s advice Bishop Gaudry excommunicated those who had taken goods from the fled murderers, but public pressure compelled the bishop eventually to excommunicate the murderers themselves. Guibert wrote that the word ‘commune’ was ‘a new and evil name,’ but people organised it as a way to replace all servile taxes with one lump sum paid annually. The bishop agreed to respect the rights of the commune according to the charters of Noyon and Saint-Quentin and the people bribed the king to agree to it. Bishop Gaudry next had a bailiff of the peasants, named Gérard, blinded. On Maundy Thursday in 1112, Bishop Gaudry persuaded some burghers to bribe King Louis to dissolve the commune. An angry mob protested and shouted ‘Commune’. Thiégaud dragged the bishop from his palace and killed him. In the chaos that followed other nobles were killed and many were tortured to death. Thomas of Marle defended the commune of Laon, but the next year they were suppressed by the forces of King Louis. Thiégaud was captured and hanged by Enguerrand de Boves’ knights two years after the bishop’s murder. After the destruction at Laon the people, burghers and bishop of Amiens formed a commune by ‘bribing’ (Guibert’s term) King Louis. Guibert gives a different slant on events than Suger.

[7] ‘Adulterina castella’ designated an unlawful because the castle had been built without proper authority.

[8] He was there on 11th April 1115. As a result, it was during Lent that he attacked Thomas de Marle

[9] The siege of the castle, called Castillon began on 12th April 1115 and did not finish for about two years. Adam as castellan of Amiens moreover was a direct vassal of the king having swore homage to him and had represented the count of Amiens who since 1085 was Enguerrand de Boves or de Courcy, Thomas de Marle’s father. Enguerrand died at the end of 1116 or the beginning of 1117. Thomas only held the title of count of Amiens for a very short time.

[10] Romans 13, 4

[11] Louis restored the lordship of Amiens to Adela de Vermandois who was the legitimate heir.

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