Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Chapter 34

With what piety he faced death

However he gasped his way back a little towards good health and was able to go in the best carriage he could to Melun, on the Seine. On the road, crowds of devoted people for whom he had kept the peace came to meet him, pouring out of the castles and towns and abandoning their ploughs to commend him to God. He got out of the cart and on horseback arrived very swiftly at the shrine of the holy martyrs, which he wanted to visit out of love for them, to give them his thanks. He was most solemnly and devotedly received by the brothers and almost the whole countryside as the most pious father of the church and its noble defender. He prostrated himself very humbly before the most holy martyrs. In tears, he fulfilled his vow to give thanks devotedly for benefits received, and very humbly begged them to continue to look after him. 

When he came to the castle of Bethizy[1], he was at once followed[2] by messengers of William, duke of Aquitaine[3], who told him of the duke’s death on his pilgrimage to St. James, and reported that before he went away to die on his journey, he had decided to place in Louis’ hands for the purpose of marriage[4] his most noble daughter Eleanor, and all his land to be safeguarded. After holding counsel with his close advisers, Louis accepted gladly and with his customary magnanimity the offer made to him, and promised to wed Eleanor to his dearest son Louis.[5] Without delay he organised a noble cortege to send there, and collected an army of five hundred or more of the best knights in the kingdom, the noblest of men, commanded by Theobald, the count palatine, and his cousin the excellent count of Vermandois, Raoul. He added to the escort his close advisers, including me, and whomever else he could find of good judgement.[6] As his son was leaving, he bade farewell like this: ‘May the omnipotent God through whom kings reign protect you and yours with his arm, my dearest son! For if by some misfortune I lose you and your escort, I shall care nothing either for myself or for my kingdom.’

Then he handed over much wealth and a sufficiency of treasure, and forbade them on the authority of his royal majesty to steal anything in the whole duchy of Aquitaine, to harm the land or the poor, or to turn friends into enemies; he did not hesitate to order that they should give a suitable daily wage to the army from his own treasure.[7]

We crossed the Limousin and came down to Bordelais, where we pitched our tents opposite the city but across the great river Garonne. There we waited for the boats to take us to the city. Then the following Sunday[8], in the presence of the magnates of Gascony, Saintes and Poitou, the prince crowned Eleanor with the crown of the kingdom and married her. We went back through Saintes ready to deal with any enemies there might be and arrived in Poitiers to the great joy of the whole country[9]

At that time the heat of the summer was even more oppressive than usual and for a while I was wearied, wasted and broken by it. The unbearable fatigue it produced exhausted King Louis who was in Paris, and brought on a very serious attack of dysentery with diarrhoea that wore him out. Always well prepared for occasions like this, he summoned Stephen[10], the venerable bishop of Paris and Guildin, abbot of St. Victor[11], by whom he was confessed the more intimately because he had built that monastery from its foundations; he repeated his profession of faith, and with the greatest devotion set about fortifying himself for his departure with the viaticum of the Lord’s body. But when he ordered that he should be carried to the church of the holy martyrs, to fulfil in deep humility the vow he had so often made, he was prevented by the sufferings of his condition, and so he accomplished with his heart, soul and will what he could not achieve in fact. He ordered that a cloth should be placed on the ground, and the sign of the cross marked on it in ashes, then he was laid on it by his men, and fortifying his body with the sign of the cross, he died on the kalends of August[12], after thirty years of his rule, when he was around sixty years old. 

At once they covered his body in a precious cloth and brought it to the church of the holy martyrs for burial. As some men were arranging the burial place, something happened which ought not to be passed over in silence. The king had sometimes, indeed often, touched on the royal tombs in conversation with me, and had asserted that the man was blessed who was first to be buried between the altars of the Holy Trinity and of the holy martyrs, for he would obtain pardon for his sins from the assistance of the saints and from the prayers of those who visited them. Thus he implicitly expressed his own wishes.

Earlier, before I had left with his son, I had proposed in conjunction with Hervey, the venerable prior of the church that Louis should be buried in between in front of the altar of the Holy Trinity opposite the tomb of the emperor Charles.[13] But the place was occupied by Carloman[14], king of the Franks, and since neither law nor custom permits that kings should be exhumed, what I had proposed could not be done. However in the place which he himself, with a kind of premonition, had chosen, the gravediggers found a piece of ground of exactly the right length and breadth for his body, as if it had been reserved for him; and this was quite unexpected, for everyone thought the place already filled. So he was buried there according to royal custom, with a great concert of prayers and hymns, and with a very solemn and devoted funeral service. There he awaits his participation in the future resurrection, even closer in spirit to the host of saintly spirits than he is in body to the holy martyrs, next to whom he lies buried to benefit from their help. ‘Blessed is he who can foreknow where he will be when ruin shakes the world.’[15]

May the Redeemer, at the intercession of the holy martyrs to whom he was so devoted, revive his soul, and may he be made worthy of the company of saints through Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for the salvation of the world; he who lives and reigns king of kings and lord of lords throughout all ages. Amen.


[1] Bethizy is about forty miles north-east of Paris.

[2] Ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 580 dated this to the early days of June 1137.

[3] William X, duke of Aquitaine and William VIII of Poitou had left in the preceding March for the shrine at St James at Compostella where he died on 9th April. The messengers did not arrive at Bethizy until the beginning of June 1137.

[4] Suger uses the term ‘desponsandam’ (for the purpose of marriage) to describe the dying William entrusting all his land and his daughter Eleanor to Louis. Whether William intended marriage with the younger Louis or merely wardship for Eleanor we do not know but ibid, Mirot, Leon, (ed.), La Chronique de Morigny (1095-1152), p. 67 and Orderic Vitalis 5: 81 both explicitly state that William ordered that his daughter be given in marriage.

[5] Suger is clearly writing before the disastrous rift between Louis VII and Eleanor. Perhaps he would have told the tale differently had he known what was to happen.

[6] The escort left around 15th June, was in Limoges on 1st July and probably in Bordeaux on 11th: see Mirot, Leon, (ed.), La Chronique de Morigny (1095-1152), p. 68, n° 7.

[7] The generous grant of treasure to the host of over five hundred knights was, as Suger implies, a precaution against their helping themselves to what they needed on their journey.

[8] Ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 589 dated this as either 25th July or 1st August 1137.

[9] Their coronation as duke and duchess of Aquitaine took place in Poitier on 8th August 1137 where Louis was almost certainly informed of the death of his father.

[10] Stephen de Senlis had been bishop of Paris since 1124. Brother of the butler Guy III de Senlis, he had been archdeacon of Paris and chancellor of Philip I. He died in 1142.

[11] Guildin was the first abbot of St Victor, a house of regular canons founded in Paris with Louis’ help in 1113. Suger paid no attention to the importace of this house in the spiritual and religious life of the twelfth century in the same way as he ignored Bernard of Clairvaux. St-Denis alone mattered to him.

[12] Louis died on 1st August 1137 and this date is preferred to 4th August in Orderic Vitalis 5: 88.

[13] Charles the Bald was emperor 875-877.

[14] Carloman king of the Franks from 879 to 884 was the son of Louis II ‘the Stammerer’ and grandson of Charles the Bald

[15] Lucan, De bello civili, IV, 393

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