Sunday, 29 March 2009

Chapter 1

How valiant he was in youth, and with what energy he repelled the king of the English, William Rufus, when he attacked Louis’ inherited kingdom

The glorious and famous king of the French Louis was the son of the magnificent king Philip.[1] In the first flower of his youth, barely then twelve or thirteen years old[2], he was elegant and handsome, admirable for his development of moral character and for the growth of a well-made body that had the potential for a swift and honourable expansion of his kingdom in the future and this encouraged great confidence that he would defend the churches and the poor. This noble youth, in accordance with the ancient custom of Charlemagne and other great kings testified by imperial charters, tied himself to the saintly martyrs and their servants at St.-Denis as if from a naturally sweet disposition. His long-standing friendship with their church was formed in his youth and lasted throughout his whole life, displaying great liberality and reverence. So much so that, at the end of his life, he placed his hope in them second only to God, and gave himself up to them, body and soul, with devotion and deliberation, so that, had it been possible, he would have become a monk there.[3]

In his formative years, growing courage matured his spirit with youthful vigour, making him bored with hunting and the boyish games that others of his age used to enjoy and forget the pursuit of arms. And when he was troubled by the attacks of many great men of the kingdom and of the outstanding and magnanimous king of the English William[4], son of the even more magnanimous king William the conqueror of the English, his stout heart soared at the chance to prove himself, his courage smiled at the test, he banished apathy, opened the gates to prudence, put an end to leisure and increased his concern. William king of the English was skilled in military arts, greedy for praise and eager for fame.[5] After his elder brother Robert[6] was disinherited, he was fortunate to succeed his father William. Then, after Robert’s departure for Jerusalem[7], he obtained the duchy of Normandy. There he put so much pressure on the Norman frontiers of the French kingdom[8] that whenever he could he forced the renowned young prince to fight.

While they fought, similarities and differences between them came to light. They were alike in that neither would yield. They were dissimilar in that one was a mature man, the other a youth. William was rich, wasteful with the treasures of England, a brilliant recruiter and paymaster of soldiers. Louis lacked money, sparing in using the treasures of his inherited kingdom, only getting an army together by hard work, yet prepared boldly to oppose.[9] You might have seen this young man dashing across the frontiers into Berry, then into the Auvergne, now into Burgundy, with a handful of men, and returning just as quickly to the Vexin[10], if he judged it necessary to confront with his three or five hundred men King William with his thousand.[11] The vicissitudes of war are uncertain and sometimes he yielded, sometimes he put his enemy to flight.[12]

In these encounters[13] many captives were taken on both sides. The famous youth and his men captured among many others, the count Simon[14], the noble baron William de l’Aigle[15], an equally illustrious figure in England and in Normandy, Pain of Gisors, for whose benefit the castle of Gisors was fortified for the first time; and on the other side, the king of England captured the bold and noble count Matthew of Beaumont[16], the illustrious and renowned baron Simon de Montfort[17], and Lord Pain of Montjay.[18] But while concerns about hiring soldiers[19] ensured the swift release of those from England, the rigours of a very long captivity weakened the French. They could not escape their chains by any means until they made homage to the English king, joined his service and promised on oath to attack and disturb their own king and his kingdom.[20]

[1] Fliche, A., La Règne de Philippe I, roi de France 1060-1108, Paris 1912 is the standard text while Gobry, Yvan, Histoire des Rois de France: Philippe Ier, père de Louis VI Le Gros, Paris, 2003, 2007 is the most recent study.

[2] Historians disagree about when Louis was born and there is a case for either 1077-1078 or 1081-1082: Calmette, Joseph, ‘L’âge de Louis VI’, Orientalia periodica, vol. xiii, (1947), pp. 36-39. Luchaire, Achille, Louis VI le Gros: Annales de son vie et de son règne, Paris, 1890, p. 289 gave excellent reasons in favour of 1081 and ibid, Fliche, A., La Règne de Philippe I, roi de France 1060-1108, p. 39 agreed. Suger’s account of the life of Louis begins in 1093-1094.

[3] Louis VI’s birth is the first occasion where a story about the birth of a Capetian heir has survived. Bertha of Flanders had long been barren when the king, both personally and through others, begged St Arnulf, about of Saint-Médard to intercede with God ‘that He be willing to give him a son as successor for the safeguard of the kingdom and the defence of the Holy Church’. Initially the abbot refused but later agreed telling the queen to care for the poor. Some time later, he told a monk to go to the queen: ‘And you will announce to her the wished-for joy, for she is bearing in her womb a son, whom at the holy font she shall name Louis and who after his father’s death will hold the kingdom of the French.’ The saint spoke from revelation: not until five days after she received the message did the queen feel the child move in her. The tale is found in a saint’s vita that was finished in 1114: Hariulf ‘Vita S, Arnulfi episcopi Suessionensis’, Patrologia Latina, 1399: columns 1405-1406. Before 1114, Louis VI was believed by some not only to have been born heir to the throne but that his birth was accompanied by some miraculous elements. The religious significance of the legend reinforces the support shown before 1088 by the monks of St. Riquet in Ponthieu for the legend of St Valéry’s appearance to Hugh Capet and had changed it so that it was now St Riquet who had promised the throne to Hugh and seven generations of his descendents. The tale spread widely in north-east France and Normandy perhaps because of rivalry between the monks of St Valéry and those of St Riquet on behalf of their respective saints. The legend is based on the premise that the Capetians became rulers of France because God recognised their merits and is antithetical to the formula that based their legitimacy on Carolingian descent: Lewis, Andrew W., Royal Succession in Capetian France, Cambridge, Mass., 1981, pp. 49-50.

[4] William II, generally know as ‘Rufus’ reigned from September 1087 until August 1100. Barlow, Frank, William Rufus, revised edition, (Yale University Press), 2000 is the most accessible study of his life. Suger’s comments about William Rufus were far more positive than most contemporary writers in part the result of his having given land to St-Denis and by emphasising William’s merits he could explain the young Louis’ lack of success against him.

[5] Suger’s attitude to William Rufus is set in its historiographical context by Callaghan, Thomas, ‘The Making of a Monster: Historical Images of William Rufus’, Journal of Medieval History, vol. vii, (1981), pp. 175-185 especially p. 180 and Mason, Emma, ‘William Rufus and the Historians’, Medieval History, vol. I, (1991), pp. 6-22.

[6] Robert Curthose was William the Conqueror’s eldest son and inherited the duchy of Normandy and county of Maine on his father’s death in 1087: David, C.W., Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, Cambridge, Mass., 1920 remains useful but Aird, William M., Robert ‘Curthose’, Duke of Normandy, (Boydall Press), 2008 places a more positive evaluation of his achievements than the majority of medieval sources arguing that this negative image has adversely influenced modern interpretations of his career.

[7] Robert Curthose went on the First Crusade in 1096 and pledged his duchy to William Rufus for a loan of 10,000 marks of silver he needed for the enterprise. When Rufus took possession of the duchy in September 1096, the Conqueror’s inheritance was effectively reconstructed even if he was never duke en titre.

[8] In this sense, Suger use of the term ‘realm’ (‘regnum’) creates problems of definition. In this instance, Suger is referring to the royal principality of largely the Ile-de-France. On the ambiguity of the term and its possible meanings, see Wood, Charles T,. ‘Regnum Francie: A Problem of Capetian Administrative Usage’, Traditio, vol. xxiii, (1967), pp. 117-147.

[9] The idea that England was far richer than France came from the words that Walter Map attributed to Louis VI, words he claimed he heard the king say: ‘The king of England, who lacks nothing, possesses men, horses, gold and soil…We, in France have only got bread, wine and a good mood’: De nugis curialium, in Monumenta Germaniae, Scriptores, vol. xxvii, p. 73.

[10] There is a useful map of the French Vexin in ibid, Barlow, Frank, William Rufus, p. 377. It lies either side of the River Seine from Rouen down towards Paris. There was an alleged grant of the Vexin to duke Robert I of Normandy in 1033 and ducal influence over the area remained strong until 1077 when the last Valois count, Simon of Crépy abdicated in order to become a monk. Philip I then enfeoffed his younger brother, Hugh the Great with Vermandois and Crépy but kept the French Vexin under his own protection because of its strategic importance. The area proved to be one of persistent conflict between successive English and French kings; it was in making a raid on Mantes in the Vexin that William I was fatally wounded in 1087.

[11] In 1092, Louis was invested with the Vexin and the towns of Mantes and Pontoise, Philip I’s acquisitions from the succession to Simon de Crépy: Ibid, Fliche, A., La Règne de Philippe I, roi de France 1060-1108, p. 79. It is his spirited defence of his apanage that is described by Abbot Suger.

[12] Suger’s account of the Vexin wars is generalised and he gives Louis a far more dominating role than Orderic Vitalis. However, it has been suggested by ibid, Luchaire, Achille, Louis VI le Gros: Annales de son vie et de son règne, pp. xv-xxiii that Suger described only the war of 1097-1098 and omitted that of 1098-1099 because Louis had quarrelled with his father and was no longer in command. However, two of the French losses mentioned, Simon de Montfort and Matthew de Beaumont-sur-Oise are more likely to have occurred in the second rather than the first part of the campaign. Louis was knighted by Guy I, count of Ponthieu on 24th May 1098 against the wishes of Philip and the Betrada of Montfort faction and Louis took refuge in Flanders to escape his father’s anger. Suger had every reason to blur the story of the war.

[13] The Vexin wars of 1097-1098 and 1098-1099 are only examined in any detail by Orderic Vitalis, vol. v, 212 ff. They are completely omitted by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and so from all the English histories that relied on the Chronicle. Orderic’s interest in the war may, in part have been motivated by the fact that his abbey of St Evroult had a special interest in the Vexin in which it had two dependent priories: one at Maule south of Meulan and the other north of Parnes, near Chaumont. Suger’s account is, by contrast, brief and lacking in detail.

[14] Simon de St Liz had married the daughter of Earl Waltheof and became count of Huntingdon and Northampton.

[15] William, de l’Aigle was the son of Richer I, lord of Laigle and had several castles in England. He was married to Julienne (born c.1070), a daughter of the Geoffrey II court of Perche (c.1033-1100) in 1091. He should not be confused with William de L’Aigle, his paternal uncle, lord of the manor of Exmes, who was killed in February 1092.

[16] Beaumont-sur-Oise is in Seine-et-Oise and in the canton de L'Isle-Adam. Matthew was the son of count Ivo III, known as ‘the Clerk’ who probably died in 1081. One of his sisters, Agnes was married to Bouchard IV de Montmorency. On the subject of the succession to Ivo ‘the Clerk’, see Depoin, J., ‘Les comtes de Beaumont-sur-Oise et le prieuré de Conflans Sainte-Honorine’, in Les Mémoires de la Société historique ... de Pontoise et du Vexin, vol. xxxiii, (1915), pp. 31-33.

[17] Suger mentions the capture by the English of Simon de Montfort. In his edition, Waquet identifies him with Simon II the Younger but Marjorie Chibnall in her edition of Orderic Vitalis makes him Simon I the Elder. There is some confusion here and it is possible that Suger’s Simon de Montfort is a mistake for Amaury II, his half-brother. Simon II ‘the Young’ was the second son of the third marriage of Simon I. He was succeeded in 1092 by his son Richard but he died without heirs before 1101. See Rhein, A, .La seigneurie de Montfort-en-Iveline, Versailles, 1910, pp. 36-50.

[18] The correct name for Pain was Aubri. He was in the entourage of Philip I and Louis VI from 1090 to 1122: ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 2 and 319. Montjay-la-Tour is about fifteen miles north-east of Paris.

[19] Both sides hired mercenaries for these campaigns and Orderic Vitalis shows that only two of the major leaders in William’s army had significant English interests.

[20] In the winter of 1097-1098, William did little more than reconnoitre and lay the foundations of a castle at Gisor though Orderic Vitalis mentioned skirmishing in this area. In February 1098, William abandoned the Vexin war to deal with problems in Maine, leading to its conquest and war in the Vexin was not restarted until September. In the spring of 1099, William made a truce with the French and returned to England

Saturday, 28 March 2009


To the most reverend Josselin lord bishop of Soissons[1], Suger by the patience of God abbot of the blessed St. Denis[2] the Areopagite[3], servant of God as best he can be, hoping to be united with the bishop of bishops.[4]

We should submit ourselves and our works for the consideration and judgement of those by whom, on the day of judgement the sentence of love or hate will be pronounced according to deserts, when ‘the noble man shall sit in the gates with the senators of this earth.’[5] Therefore, best of men, even had you not occupied the episcopal throne, to which I am wholly devoted as you are yourself. I could say no more of you than that you asked of me. That is why I am sending for your approval and wisdom the deeds of the most serene Louis, King of the French. Thus, because he showed himself the most generous of lords in promoting us and also when we had been promoted, both I in writing and you in correcting may equally praise the man whom we have equally loved and whose death we equally mourn. For friendship, even when it is born of benefits received, puts no barriers in the way of love, since He who ordered us to love our enemies did not prevent us loving our friends. So in payment of a double debt of gratitude and love, unequal but not irreconcilable, let us build him ‘a monument more lasting than bronze.’[6] So with my pen, I describe his devotion to the worship of God by the church and his passion for the good of the kingdom, which ought not fade from men’s memory with the passage of time; nor should the zealous prayers of the interceding church cease from generation to generation, because of the great benefits it received from him.

May your highness occupy happily your episcopal throne among the senators of the sky.

[1] Josselin de Quierzy (or Vierzy) (-1152), surnamed ‘the Red’ was archdeacon of Bourges and then bishop of Soissons. He was elected bishop of Soissons in 1126 and died on 24th October 1152. He was a friend of Suger and owed his advancement to Louis VI. The letters of St Bernard suggest that Josselin and Sugar cooperated in affairs of state and in 1129-30 Josselin was one of the bishops who supported the claims of St-Denis over the house of Argeneuil.

[2] St Denis was bishop of Paris and martyr. Nothing is known of his birth or his early life, other than he came from Italy. His feast is kept on 9th October. He is usually represented with his head in his hands because according to the legend after his execution the corpse rose again and carried the head for some distance. While still very young, he was distinguished for his virtuous life, knowledge of sacred things and firm faith and Pope Fabian (236-250) sent him with some other missionary bishops to Gaul. The Church of Gaul had suffered terribly under the persecution of the Emperor Decius and the bishops were to try to restore it to its former flourishing condition. Denis with his inseparable companions, the priest Rusticus and the deacon Eleutherius, arrived near the present city of Paris and settled on the island in the Seine. The earliest document that gives an account of his labours and of his martyrdom is Passio SS. Dionsyii, Rustici et Eleutherii. It dates from the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century and wrongly attributed to the poet Venantius Fortunatus. It is interwoven with much legend, from which, however, the following facts can be gleaned. On the island in the Seine Denis built a church and provided for a regular solemnisation of the Divine service. His fearless preaching led to countless conversions. This aroused the envy, anger and hatred of the heathen priests. They incited the populace against the strangers and persuaded the governor Fescenninus Sisinnius to put a stop to the new teaching by force. Denis with his two companions were seized and as they maintained their faith were beheaded (about 275) after many tortures. Later accounts give a detailed description of their sufferings. They were scourged, imprisoned, racked, thrown to wild beasts, burnt at the stake, and finally beheaded. Gregory of Tours stated ‘Beatus Dionysius Parisiorum episcopus diversis pro Christi nomine adfectus poenis praesentem vitam gladio immente finivit’ (Historia Francorum I: 30). The bodies of the three holy martyrs were buried through the efforts of a pious matron named Catulla and a small shrine was erected over their graves. This was later on replaced by a basilica. From the reign of King Dagobert I (622-638), the church and the Benedictine monastery attached to it were more and more beautifully decorated. The veneration of St. Denis became by degrees a national devotion, rulers and princes vying with one another to promote it

[3] The abbey of St-Denis owed a great deal of its status to a curious process by which three different people had come to be seen as one person. In Acts 17: 34, St Paul numbered among one of his converts in Athens one St Dionysius (French Denis) the ‘Areopagite’, later bishop of Athens. In the third century, a second Dionysius, who seems to have been bishop of Paris was martyred. Finally, in the early sixth century, an eastern author of texts on themes like the unknowability of God and the hierarchy of angels added the name Dionysius the Areopagite to his work. The identification of St. Denis of Paris with St. Dionysius the Areopagite and with the Pseudo-Dionysius, the composer of the Areopagitic writings persisted throughout the Middle Ages. The combining of these three persons in one occurred as early as the eighth or perhaps the seventh century, but it was only through the Areopagitica written in 836 by Hilduin, Abbot of Saint-Denis, at the request of Louis the Pious, that this serious error took deep root: see Levillain, L., ‘Etudes sur l’abbaye de Saint-Denis a l’epoque merovingienne’, in Bibliotheque a l’Ecole des Chartes, vol. lxxxii, (1902), pp. 31-36. When Suger thought of the patron saint of his abbey, he viewed a particularly impressive figure: an individual who had direct contact with St Paul and the author of important theological works and who had been martyred for the faith. St-Denis had benefited from royal patronage since the Merovingian period and various Merovingian, Carolingian and Capetian monarchs were buried there. By the twelfth century many people felt that the blessed Dionysius was in some ways patron saint of France and that the abbey had special ties with the French monarchy. It is not surprising that when Peter Abelard denied the claims of the monks that their patron was the Areopagite in the 1120s that he was regarded as ‘a traitor to the whole country’. For the linkage between St-Denis and the French monarchy, see: Crosby, S.M., The Royal Abbey of St Denis: From Its Beginnings to the Death of Suger 475-1151, New Haven, 1987 and Spiegel, Gabrielle M,. ‘The Cult of Saint Denis and Capetian Kingship’, Journal of Medieval History, vol. i, (1975), pp. 43-70, reprinted in her ibid, The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, pp. 138-162. Beaune, Colette, Naissance de la nation France, Paris, 1985, pp. 83-90 examines the cult of the blessed Dionysius before Suger.

[4] ‘Bishop of bishops’ refers to Christ: see Thesaurus Linguae Latinae 5/2 678, 72-75 for applications of the term ‘episcopus episcoporum’ to Christ among the Church Fathers.

[5] Proverbs XXXI, 23.

[6] Horace, Odes III, 30, v 1.