Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Chapter 28

With what valour he repelled the Emperor Henry's attempted invasion of the kingdom

But let us return to our aim, which is to write a history of the king. The Emperor Henry long nourished a grievance against King Louis because it was in his kingdom, at the council of Reims[1] that Pope Calixtus had excommunicated him. So before Pope Calixtus’s death, he collected together an army from wherever he could of Lotharingians, Germans, Bavarians, Swabians, and even Saxons although he was facing attacks from them, and pretended to send them in the other direction. But with the counsel of King Henry of England, whose daughter was his queen[2], and who had already taken the offensive against Louis, he planned to launch an unexpected coup against Reims and destroy it as the lord pope had done to him at the session of the council.[3]

When the plan was revealed to King Louis by his intimate friends, bravely and boldly he summoned a levy for which he did not wait and then he called up his nobles and explained to them the state of affairs[4]. Since he recognised, both because he had often been told and because he had experienced it, that St. Denis was the special patron and after God the singular protector of the kingdom, he hastened to his church to implore him from the bottom of his heart, with prayers and gifts, that he would defend the kingdom, safeguard his person and repel the enemy in his customary fashion. Then since the French have the special privilege that, when their kingdom is invaded from without, they may place the saint’s and defender's relics, with those of his companions, on the altar to defend them, this was done in the king’s presence with solemnity and devotion. Then the king[5] took from the altar the banner belonging to the county of the Vexin, which he held in fief of the church, and in accordance with his vow received it as if from his lord[6]. At the head of a handful of men to protect him, he flew off against the enemy, calling on the whole of France to follow him in strength. The unusual courage of the enemy stirred up righteous anger and inspired in the French their usual bravery; moving everywhere it called out knightly levies, and produced men and forces mindful of their past courage and their past victories.

From all sides we met together in strength at Reims. So large a force of knights and foot-soldiers turned up that they seemed to cover the surface of the earth like locusts, engulfing not only the river banks but also the mountains and the plains. The king waited for a whole week for the German incursion, and after the magnates had debated the affair, this was proposed: ‘Let us boldly cross to them, in case they should return unpunished from their proud act of audacity against France, the mistress of the lands. Their defiance should meet with its deserts not in our land but in theirs, which belongs to the French. Thus we would publicly return to them the evil that they plotted to inflict secretly on us.’

But others, with the gravity born of experience, persuaded them to wait longer for the enemy. When they had crossed the frontier, they could be intercepted, cut off from flight, thrown down, vanquished and slain without mercy like Saracens, their barbarous bodies left unburied, exposed to their eternal shame for the wolves and crows; such slaughter and cruelty would be justified by the need to defend the country.

Inside the palace the magnates of the realm were organising the battle lines in the king’s presence and deciding which forces should be joined together to help which. They made one corps from the men of Reims and Chalons, comprising more than sixty thousand knights and foot-soldiers; the men of Laon and Soisson, equally numerous, formed a second; those of Orleans, Étampes and Paris, with the large force from St-Denis, devoted to the crown, formed the third[7]. In hope of help from his protector, the king joined this one, explaining: ‘I shall fight both safely and bravely in this corps because, in addition to the help of our saintly lords, these are my fellow countrymen among whom I grew up well known to them; as long as I live they will help me, and if I die they will keep my body and carry it home.’

Although he was engaged with his uncle the English king in making was on Louis, the count palatine Theobald with his noble uncle Hugh, count of Troyes, answered the call of France and made up a forth corps[8], while the fifth, composed of the duke of Burgundy and the count of Nevers, took the vanguard. Raoul, noble count of Vermandois, the king’s cousin, outstanding both in his birth and in his chivalry, was sent to hold the right wing, with a large force from St. Quentin and the whole neighbourhood, helmeted and armed with mail[9]. The king approved the decision that the men of Ponthieu, Amiens and Beauvais should hold the left wing[10]. The most noble count of Flanders[11] with ten thousand men eager for battle, he would have tripled his army had he known earlier, was selected as the rearguard. These barons all came from lands bordering on the king’s. But William, duke of Aquitaine[12], the noble count of Brittany[13], and the bellicose count Fulk of Anjou rivalled them in zeal to punish harshly the insult against France.[14]

It was also decided that, wherever the army engaged in battle, provided the ground was suitable, wagons and carts carrying water and wine for the weary or wounded should be placed in a circle, like a castle, so that those whose wounds obliged them to withdraw from the battle could recover their strength by drinking and by applying bandages, that they might return to the fray with renewed force. 

The emperor heard the news of the preparations for this great and terrifying expedition and of the service of so great an army of strong men.[15] Using ruse and dissimulation to hide the real reason for it, he fled secretly, and stole off in the other direction, preferring to put up with the ignominy of retreat rather than expose his empire and his person, already in danger of ruin, to the harshest reprisals of the French.[16] When the French heard this, only the prayer of the archbishops and religious could with difficulty prevent them from devastating his kingdom and oppressing its poor inhabitants. 

Having gained such a great and famous victory, as great as or greater than if they had triumphed in the field, the French went home. The joyful and grateful king came most humbly to his protectors, the saintly martyrs, and gave great thanks to them after God, and restored to them with devotion his father’s crown which he had unjustly retained[17], for by right all crowns of dead kings belong to them. He most willingly returned the external Lendit fair held in the square, the one within the burg already belonged to the saints[18] and solemnly granted, confirmed by royal precept, the whole vicaria[19] between the limits marked by the crosses and the marble columns that were set up to resist the enemy like the pillars of Hercules[20]. During the whole time in which the army was called up for war, the sacred and venerable silver caskets in which lay the relics of the saints remained on the main altar. Night and day the brothers celebrated a continuous office in their honour, and crowds of devout people and pious women came to pray for assistance for the army. The king in person carried on his own shoulders his lords and patrons, and in tears like a dutiful some he put them back in their usual place. Then he rewarded them for the assistance he had received on this and other occasions, with gifts of land and other comforts.

But the German emperor was humbled by this episode and lost strength from day to day, then died[21] before the year was out, thus proving the truth of the ancient adage[22]: anyone, either noble or commoner, who disturbs the peace of the kingdom or the church, and causes by his claims the relics to be placed on the altar, will not survive more than a year but die without delay or before the year is out. 

The English king had been an accomplice of the German, making war against Louis with Count Theobald, and conspiring to ravage or to occupy the frontier bordering his lands while the king was absent.[23] But he was repelled by one single baron, Amaury de Montfort a man with an unfaltering appetite for war, supported by the army of the Vexin. So having gained little or nothing, Henry withdrew, his hopes frustrated. 

Neither in this modern age or in antiquity has France ever accomplished a more heroic act or more gloriously demonstrated its power than when, joining all the forces of its members together, at one and the same moment she triumphed over the German emperor and, in Louis’s absence, the English king. After this, the pride of his enemies was snuffed out, ‘the land was silent in his sight’[24], and those of his opponents whom he could reach returned to their homes in grace, having given him their hands in friendship. ‘Who denies his just demands yields everything to the man with his arms held at the ready.’[25]


[1] The council at Reims took place in October 1119.

[2] Henry V married Henry’s daughter Matilda in January 1114. After his death, she married Geoffrey Plantagenet, count of Anjou.

[3] Ekkehard d’Aura, a German chronicler wrote that the aim of the expedition was to support Henry I in his war for control of Normandy.

[4] Henry V was in Worms on 25th July 1124. On the subject of Louis’ meeting with his knights, the compiler of Manuscript F provides several important details: ‘Some argued that they should wait for the enemy, saying that it was easier to get the better of them in the heart of the kingdom while others maintained that they should fortify the estates and garrison the walled places. But the king, fearing the violence of the Germans, afraid that damage could not be repaired if the way into the kingdom was left unprotected and recognising that there was no time to put in place defences for the cities and towns said: ‘It is not enough that I must proceed. I must call without delay a levee of knights and place them on the frontier of the kingdom, like an unshakeable wall to await the enemy’.’

[5] This took place around 3rd August 1124. The ceremony is related in a diploma of Louis VI that fails to mention the presence of Suger. This standard was originally the banner of the counts of Vexin, vassals of the abbey of St-Denis but was increasingly conflated with the oriflamme of Charlemagne. Spiegel, Gabrielle M., ‘The Cult of Saint Denis’, Journal of Medieval History, vol. i, (1975), printed in her The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, London, 1997, p. 154 argues that ‘..the Oriflamme had the quality of a corporate image. In handing it over to Louis VI, Suger gave the monarchy a symbol of collective unity hithero lacking, but one which retained its distinctive association with the cult of St Denis. As the special ensign of St Denis, the Oriflamme represented his spiritual leadership, as Suger declared over ‘all France’.’ Only Manuscript F calls it the ‘auriflamma’.

[6] Louis had been made count of the Vexin in 1092: ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 4. Suger asserts that in 1124, in a full chapter of St-Denis, Louis had stated that he held the county as a fief of St-Denis and that if he had not been king he would have performed homage. According to Manuscript F, Louis declared that he would be required to make an act of homage to the church had not his royal office prevented him. These statements are stronger than the wording of the passage in Suger’s Vita but do not contradict it. It has been said that Suger forged a charter shortly after 1124 according to which Charlemagne gave all France to St-Denis: Barroux, Robert, ‘L’abbé Suger at la vassalité du Vexin en 1124’, Le moyen age, vol. lxiv, (1958), pp. 1-26 but the evidence for this position is not strong. By contrast, Van de Kieft, C., ‘Deux Diplômes faux de Charlemagne pour Saint-Denis au XIIe siecles’, Le Moyen Age, vol. xiii, (1958), p. 432 believes that it could not have been written before 1156 and sees Suger’s successor Odo de Deuil as the major force in its fabrication. Ibid, Spiegel. Gabrielle M., ‘The Cult of Saint Denis’, printed in her The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, pp. 155-157 examines the importance of this forged charter or ‘Donation’ of Charlemagne in which he decreed that all kings, archbishops and bishops should venerate the monastery as the ‘caput omnium ecclesiarum regni’ (head of all the churches of the realm) and its abbot as Primate of France. In addition, Charlemagne declared that he himself held France in fief from God and the holy martyr and that henceforth the kings of France should be crowned at St-Denis and leave the insignia of their office at the abbey. The Donation asserted that St-Denis had a territorial right to France, a right to consecrate the French kings as against the claims of Reims, the position as treasurer of the royal insignia (ultimately achieved) and primacy over the French church. The language used in the charter is feudal in character and closely resembles Suger’s account of Louis VI’s assumption of the Oriflamme in 1124 when Louis also declared himself as a vassal of the saint calling the abbey the ‘caput regni nostri’.

[7] The compiler of Manuscript F gives the precise figures: ‘Ten thousand men’.

[8] Manuscript F says ‘with eight thousand’.

[9] Manuscript F says ‘with seven thousand’. The duke of Burgundy was Hugh II Borel (1102-1142) and the count of Nevers was William II (1100-1148).

[10] Manuscript F says ‘with similar numbers’.

[11] Charles the Good had been count of Flanders since 1119.

[12] William ‘the Young’ (1086-1126) was seventh count of Poitou and ninth duke of Aquitaine.

[13] Conan III (1112-1148) was called ‘the Fat’.

[14] Moreover, Fulk V was clearly reconciled with Henry I in May 1119 and Brittany was increasing within the English sphere of influence.

[15] The compiler of Manuscript F added here an interesting detail: ‘Already, with the king, they had marched to the frontiers of the kingdom and when the Germans approached in disorderly groups, they killed nearly ten thousand.’

[16] The retreat began on 14th August and according to Manuscript F it was preceded by French attacks on his position. Ekkehard d’Aura gave two reasons for this: ‘The emperor only had a few of his troops with him because the Germans did not willingly attack foreign countries. Also, the people of Worms, with the help of Duke Frederick and contrary to the wishes of the emperor, had restored their bishop to his see and had fortified it in anticipation of a revolt within the walls of their town.’ Otto of Friesing stated that Henry went as far as Metz but retired when he learned that the people of Worms were already in revolt.

[17] This is an error. Louis did give the crown of his father to the abbey of St-Denis but the charter was in 1120, before 3rd August in the presence of Conan the papal legate. The error was perhaps partly motivated by Suger wishing this event occurred in his abbacy rather than his predecessor Adam.

[18] Levillain, L., ‘Essai sur les origins du Lendit’, in Revue historique, vol. clv, (1927), pp. 241-267 argues that the fair belonging to the monks that was held inside the burg, had its origins in the feast held on 8th June 1048 in honour of the relics received by the abbey in the previous year. The external fair, perhaps a result of the growth of the other was probably created by Louis VI between 1110 and 1112. It was held on plain of Saint-Denis, to the east of the Roman road on land by then royal. The two fairs became confused after 1213 with the profit of the Lendit of the plain. Lombard-Jourdan, Anne, ‘Les foires de Saint-Denis’, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. xclv, (1987), pp. 273-338 deals with Louis’ renunciation of the fair.

[19] The ‘vicariam omnimodan’ was a right of justice that Louis VI had already given to Saint-Denis in 1120. In 1124, he only confirmed this gift making clear its limitations. This error can be linked with the erroneous dating of the return of Philip’s crown. In both cases, there appears to be a manipulation of the evidence to highlight Louis’ grateful feelings towards St-Denis on his successful return from Reims.

[20] This is a further error. It was when Louis VI took the oriflamme before he left for Reims that Saint-Denis profited from his generosity. The king fixed the limits of the justice of the abbey from one side of the River Seine ‘from the mill vulgarly called ‘Baiard’’ to the other side ‘to the top of the town called Aubervilliers’, land encompassing the two parishes of Saint-Denis and La Courneuve. The marble columns are noted in several medieval acta and nearly all existed in the seventeenth century.

[21] Henry V died at Utrecht on 23rd May 1125.

[22] The origin of this is unknown.

[23] Orderic Vitalis wrote that Henry I’s campaign preceded the German invasion by several months. On 26th March 1124, near Bourghthéroulde he captured by surprise Galeran, count of Meulan and his two brothers-in-law who supported William Clito. As for Amaury de Montfort he took Rougemoutier in April or May 1124 and made peace abandoning the cause of William Clito.

[24] Maccabees I, 1, 3. This was a formula familiar to Suger.

[25] Lucan, De bello civili, I, 348-349

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