Saturday, 27 June 2009

Chapter 29

How he restrained the count of Auvergne from attacking the bishop of Clermont

At about the same time, the bishop of Clermont in the Auvergne[1], a man of upright character and a distinguished defender of his church, was struck down and battered by the pride of the Auvergnats, both a modern and an ancient phenomenon, for it was said of them, ‘The men of Auvergne dare to claim themselves as brothers to the Latins.’[2] He fled to the king and explained the lamentable plight of his church, that the count of Auvergne[3] had occupied the city and, with the complicity of the dean, had tyrannically fortified the cathedral of Notre Dame. He threw himself at the king’s feet, thought the king tried to prevent him, and entreated him with supplications to free the enslaved church and to restrain this furious tyranny with the sword of the king’s majesty. 

Accustomed as he was to giving very prompt assistance to churches, Louis willingly took up the cause of God, despite the great expense involved. Because he could not reform the tyrant by words or letters under the royal seal, he hastened to do it by deed, collected his military forces and led a large French army against recalcitrant Auvergne.[4] On his arrival at Bourges[5] he met various great men of the kingdom, all owing service to the crown[6], and intent on inflicting vengeance on the Auvergnats for the injury done to the church and the King: Fulk, the bellicose count of Anjou, Conan, the very powerful count of Brittany, the noble count of Nevers and many others, making up a substantial force.[7] They ravaged the enemy territory and, as they approached the city of Clermont, the Auvergnats abandoned their castles perched high on the mountain tops and came into the city for protection, because it was very well fortified. 

The French mocked their naivety, and on reflection decided to postpone their march to the city, and thus forced them either to abandon Clermont for fear of losing their castles, or to stay there and consume their provisions. The French diverted to an excellent castle at Le Pont on the river Allier.[8] They pitched their tents round about, ravaged both the plain and the mountain sides, and as they seized the excellently fortified summits of the mountains, seeming in their boldness like giants reaching for the sky, they acquired booty in superfluity, not only of flocks but also of shepherds. They brought up siege engines to the keep of the castle, and by the force of millstones and a rain of arrows compelled them to surrender after much slaughter. When the news reached those who were holding the city, they were struck by fear, and in the expectation that a similar or worse fate would happen to them, they prepared to take flight, came out of the city and left it to the king’s pleasure. The king, victorious in everything, restored the church to God, the towers to the clergy and the city to the bishop, then made peace between them and the count, guaranteeing the treaty with oaths and many hostages.[9]

But less than five years later, the peace was broken by the light-hearted treachery of the counts of Auvergne. Further disaster struck the bishop and his church, the bishop again made his complaint to the king.[10] Scorning to plead exhaustion from his previous futile mission, Louis collected an army even larger than the last one and went back into Auvergne. His body was already heavy, weighed down by a mass of flesh.[11] Any other man be he never so poor, subjected to such a dangerous corpulence, neither would not have ridden. But despite his many friends’ objections, he was filled with marvellous courage and cheerfully bore the summer heats of June and August, which even young men hate, laughing at those who could not bear them. But when crossing the marshes on narrow paths, he often had to let himself be carried on the strong arms of his soldiers. On this expedition there were present Charles, the very powerful count of Flanders, Fulk, count of Anjou, the count of Brittany, an army from Normandy in tribute from the English king Henry[12], and enough barons and magnates of the kingdom to have conquered even Spain.

Crossing by the dangerous entry into Auvergne for there were castles that barred the way, he came to Clermont. When he turned his army against the weak castle of Montferrand[13] opposite the town, the knights who were charged with its defence were so frightened by the splendid French army so unlike their own, and so astonished at the splendour of their hauberks and helmets gleaming in the sun, that they stopped short at the mere sight, abandoned the outer defences and fled, just in time for them, into the keep and its outer bastion[14]. But when the houses in the abandoned area had been set on fire, the flames reduced to cinders everything except the keep and its defence. That day the great heat from the sudden destruction of the town obliged us to pitch our tents outside; but the next day, as the flames died down, we took them inside. 

Early that morning the king had achieved something which filled us with delight though it saddened our enemies. Because our tents were pitched very close to one side of the tower, throughout the whole night they endlessly harassed us with many attacks and a constant stream of arrows and spears so bad that, despite the protection afforded by armed men posted between us and them, we had to shelter under our shields. The king ordered the excellent knight and outstanding baron Amaury de Montfort to set men in ambush at an angle to the bastion, so that they could not return to it unharmed. Skilled in such matters, Amaury and his men armed themselves in their tents and then, with all the speed of their horses they charged at an angle against the enemy, while our men pinned them down, and took some of them by surprise; these they at once sent to the king. When they pleaded to be allowed to ransom themselves at high sums, the king ordered that each should lose a hand and that thus mutilated they should be sent back to their allies within, each carrying his fist in his other fist.

After this, terrified by this treatment, the others left us in peace. While the siege machines and engines which had been built remained in place, the whole of Auvergne lay at the will and discretion of the army. Then Duke William of Aquitaine[15] arrived at the head of a large force of Aquitanians. From the mountains where he had pitched camp he saw the French forces gleaming on the plain, was amazed by the great size of the army, in his impotence he regretted his intention to fight it, and sent messengers of peace to the king. Then he came himself, to talk with Louis as his lord. His oration ran thus: ‘Your duke of Aquitaine, my lord king, salutes you many times and wishes you all honour. Royal majesty in its eminence ought not to disdain to receive the duke of Aquitaine’s service, not to preserve his rights; for if justice requires the service of vassals, it also requires that lords be just. Because the count of Auvergne holds Auvergne from me, as I hold it from you, if he commits a crime I have the duty of making him appear at your court on your command. I have never prevented him from doing this. Indeed now I offer to make him appear, and humbly beg you to accept the offer. To remove from your highness any cause to doubt me, I can give many suitable hostages. If the barons of the kingdom judge thus, so let it be; if they judge otherwise, let it be as they judge.’[16] When the king had deliberated with the barons, at the dictate of justice he accepted fidelity, the oath and a sufficiency of hostages, and restored peace to the countryside and to the churches. Then he named a day to settle the affair at Orleans in the presence of the duke of Aquitaine, a condition they had thus far refused and collecting together his army with honour, he returned as victor to France. 


[1] Aimeri was bishop of Clermont from 1111 to 1150. He had been abbot of La Chaise-Dieu.

[2] Lucan, De bello civili, I, 427

[3] William VI, count of Auvergne 1096-1136. He was born c.1069 and married Emma de Hauteville, daughter of Roger I, count of Sicily.

[4] This expedition against William VI of the Auvergne is treated out of chronological order as it occurred in 1122: ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 318. It took Louis far from Paris, about 230 miles south to Clermont-Ferrand.

[5] He arrived at Bourges a little before 3rd August 1122: ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 317.

[6] Actually ‘debtors of the king’.

[7] The expedition into the Auvergne included three counts: Fulk of Anjou, Conan of Brittany (count since 1112 and mentioned for the first time as helping Louis) and William of Nevers. All three were to join the host at Reims in 1124. Suger uses the expression ‘regni debitores’ for them and other members of the force implying some sort of feudal obligation.

[8] Pont-du-Chateau, Puy-de-Dome is eight miles east of Clermont-Ferrand and is the southernmost point that Suger describes Louis as having gone.

[9] The expedition to the south in 1122 came after the unsatisfactory conclusion of his most recent problems with Henry I (chapter 26). Louis had some justification to be pleased with this result and a document in 1122 refers to him in Paris with his magnates triumphant over his enemies and in possession of a glorious peace.

[10] The second expedition probably occurred in the summer of 1126 and certainly before 2nd March 1127 when the count of Flanders who accompanied Louis was killed. If the word ‘lustrum’ is used in its precise sense of a period of five years (though it can also have the sense of ‘four years’), dating the expedition to 1126 accords well with that of 1122 for Louis’ first expedition to the south.

[11] This is the first clear reference to Louis’ weight: see chapters 31 and 33 for additional ones.

[12] This was the first and only time that Henry I sent troops to serve on a French royal campaign and relations between the two monarchs was more amicable than it had been for years. The main reason for this was that Henry I had to make his mind up about the succession, something he had delayed doing since the death of William Adelin in the White Ship in late 1120. Louis VI had long been William Clito’s most powerful supporter and, as William was a possible successor Louis did not want to make any moves against the Anglo-Norman state while the issue remained unresolved. The news that Henry had decided in favour of his daughter Matilda and that oaths were sworn to her in 1st January 1127 led to an immediate reaction from Louis. By the end of January, Louis had married his wife’s half-sister to Clito and given him a lordship in the French Vexin. This is discussed fully in Hollister, C. Warren, ‘The Anglo-Norman Succession Debate of 1126: Prelude to Stephen’s Anarchy’, Journal of Medieval History, vol. i, (1975), pp. 19-36, reprinted in ibid, Monarchy, Magnates and Institutions in the Anglo-Norman World, pp. 145-170.

[13] The castle of Montferrand is today in the north-east of the town of Clermond-Ferrand. It was built at the end of the tenth century and dominated the area.

[14] In French, the outer bastion is called ‘la chemise du donjon’.

[15] William X, duke of Aquitaine (1126-1137) and VIII count of Poitou was the son of William IX (22nd October 1071-10th February 1126) and Audearde of Burgundy (1050-1104) who she married in 1068. He was born in 1099 and died at Saint-Jacques de Compostelle, in Spain on 9th April 1137. He married Eleanor of Chatellerault in 1121. His only son, William died young. His elder daughter, Eleanor (1122-1204) married Louis VI’s son Louis in 1137. We know little of his second daughter Petronille other than she died in April 1153.

[16] The duke’s words, as reported by Suger, stated an important principle: the count of the Auverge is a vassal of the duke of Aquitaine but because the duke himself is a vassal of the king, the count is ultimately answerable to the king. The concept is important in the recovery of royal power by the Capetians in the twelfth century and such a clear acceptance of it by a major vassal so distance from Paris is significant. This statement demonstrates the existence, at the beginning of the twelfth century that genuine feudal duties limited the relationship between the regional lords and the Crown.

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