From Miniatures of French History, by Hilaire Belloc, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1926; pp. 55-103.
Miniatures of French History
THE NORMAN SIEGE
JUST as the hard winter had closed right in, and the days, growing shorter and shorter, were bitter under the silent cold, and all the trees were bare, there came, rowing through the chill and swollen water, and past the leafless forests of the western hills, up to the very water chain of Paris, such a fleet as had not been seen before. There were seven hundred at least of these broad ships of war, strong enough for the seas, small enough for the rivers, and they had so come slowly up the stream from Rouen, which had fallen that summer to their arms. Everywhere, as they went thus slowly inland week by week into the winter, the banks had flamed with farm fires, and the fields had been ravished and men and women killed, for this great host and fleet were the host and fleet of the pirates.
They were not Christian men. They knew nothing of the rule of Rome. They came for destruction and to loot and to enjoy, and they were barbarous. Before them all the land had bent, and yet they could make nothing — only war.56
Men watching this dreadful thing when day fell upon the 24th of that November in the year of 885 of our salvation missed the glint of light from the water. All the Seine was covered with their ships, and with the more numerous barges of their provisions and their arms, right away from this water entry into Paris to the western hills. And at first it seemed that God Himself could not have saved the city. For the suburbs upon the northern and the southern bank, upon either side of the island whereon Paris stood, were open and undefended, and though all who could pour into that small island were huddled there behind the shelter of its wall, and were armed for the defence of the bridges leading to the Island-City from the north and from the south, there were only two towers or works to support the resistance — that guarding the northern bridge, called the Little Castle, and that to the south, called the Tower of the Little Bridge.
Within the city the monk Abbo watched all, and he has written it down in verse for us. Nor was what he watched a small thing. Here was, with Paris, France and all Christendom in the balance; and this swarm of the empty northern savages about to extinguish the light.
Within, to defend the city, was first of all the 57 Count Eudes, the son of that Robert the Strong, the founder of his line, who had fallen at Brissarthe, and beside him Gozlin, the bishop’s and Gozlin’s nephew Ebles, the abbot of the great Abbey of St. Germans outside the walls, all good bowmen; and under these the Parisians were to make trial which should win — the little fortress of Christendom or the black north.
When the barbarians had moored their vessels and established their camp, and beleaguered the city all about, they made a great charge to enter by the northern bridge, and strongly shook the Little Castle which defended it. But they could do nothing against it, for the defenders threw down fire upon them, and the best of the fighting men were there. Also there were perpetual sallies from within. Count Eudes, the lord of the city, rode out with his spear, and coming back with pagans upon it, said, “I have game upon my spit.” And when the assailants, tortured by the thrown fire, threw themselves into the Seine water, the citizens mocked them from the walls. But the assault was fierce, and Abbo in his tower heard even by night the whistling of the arrows.
Upon the fourth day, when this assault had failed, the northern men withdrew and were content to make a great camp over by the Abbey of 58 St. Germans to the south of the city, and to wait until they had further prepared.
Then it was that you might have heard sawing and hammering all the short days long in this camp, and seen great felled trees brought in by wagons for the fashioning of the engines of war. The night fires also of their feasting glared right into the city, and all the suburb round about was burnt, and the church and the monks also, but the bridges and their defending towers still stood, nor could the host of the pagans yet strike into the Island City itself.
Two months thus passed in the working of the winter wood into engines for the siege, until at length, with the end of January, upon the last day of that month, the assault upon the Little Castle of the northern bridge was taken up again: this time with all the new things — the towers, and the catapults the pagans had fashioned; and in particular they had with them a great ram which they had made. Swinging it with repeated blows, they shook the wall, but still they failed. And on the next day, and the next — that is, upon the eve of the Purification and upon the day of Candle Mass itself — they still thundered at the wall of the Little Castle, but they could not take it. Only once their great ram made a breach, 59 and those packed men within saw the northern men without, all helmeted, and these, seeing the armed men within, stayed and did not charge. In the night that breach was built up again.
Then, the three days’ battle thus lost, the northmen thought, since they had so failed against the northern bridge, to try the southern, where a smaller tower was. For they were like wolves that prowl round a house in winter, nosing to find if any latch has been left undone, or they were like the north wind of winter, buffeting a house and seeking some way in.
It had so happened that in this same week of Candle Mass the melting of the snows up in the Morvan, under a breath of milder wind, had swollen the Seine high, and the flood of it had carried away the piles of the Little Bridge to the south, and had left it in ruins; and so the tower beyond it, which defended it, and the twelve men within, were left alone. These the pagan host, having come round to the southern bank after their defeat upon the north, challenged and summoned, but they would not yield. Then the pirates, seeing that this little band of a dozen were beyond succour, and that none could reinforce them, piled wood all about the tower and set fire to the wood, so that the stones cracked and 60 crumbled, and that the beams within and the roof were aflame. The twelve men within were forced out by the fierce heat, but yet they would not yield. They got them backwards upon the ruined ends of the bridge, and there, drawing their swords, they prepared to meet any that should come against them; though they knew that this was useless, for now there was no defence left to flee to behind them (the bridge being broken down) and many thousands of the pagans before, since the tower had fallen. The pagans therefore summoned them and offered them life, and they, upon promise of their lives, came up on the land; but when they came there the pagans, who were treacherous, killed them in spite of their word. And the Christians upon the walls of the city saw this thing done beyond the river.
There was in Paris a certain man of great birth and wealth, and one of the leaders of the people, who had heard the perpetual cry of the citizens against the Emperor, that nothing was done for their relief, and that they must die unsuccoured. And this man escaped by night and went off eastward to find the emperor Charles where he might be, and to bring him to shame, for if Paris fell the northmen would ravish all Gaul, and Christendom itself might fail. The 61 bishop was dead of the siege; spring had come, and yet there was no message of relief, but still the block of the invaders and a perpetual defence of the bridges. One duke, indeed, whom the Emperor had sent, coming with a column, had fought his way in with food; but there had come no strength to disperse the host and the fleet of the pirates, and once again the city was beginning to starve. Therefore did this man of great birth, and a leader, leave the city to find the Emperor, who should have succoured Christendom; and the man who thus left to shame the Emperor into marching was Eudes himself, the lord of Paris.
He found his Emperor Charles surrounded by his Court at Metz, whither he had marched back from Italy. The Emperor Charles was huge and unwieldy of body, and he was palsied so that his head shook, and he had no will. But Eudes spoke to the Nobles and shamed them into marching, though it was not until July that they tardily agreed to go westward, nor until September, when for now ten months little Paris had stood up against the northmen, that the great army of the Empire was seen marching up from the north and the east, until it lay camped below Montmartre, not an hour from the town. Even here so feeble was Charles that he would not fight 62 when he saw the host of the northmen. He lay there in his camp treating, and one that watched him has written: “He did nothing worthy of the Majesty Royal.” And it was October, and nearly a year since the Normans had come, before his treating was ended.
The chief of the pagans was one Siegfried, who had sailed from Thames, having gather his men about him at Fulham above London, after King Alfred had broken their power. Siegfried it was who had so sailed with his followers out of Thames mouth and up Seine, sacking Rouen and coming at last to Paris itself. And with Siegfried the dull, palsied Emperor bargained, buying him off with silver to seven hundred pounds weight, and shamefully permitting that heathen to go east into the heart of Gaul and to pillage Burgundy.
So was the great siege ended and Paris saved by its valour and by the valour of Eudes: but not avenged, because the blood of Charlemagne had lost its vigour in his descendants, and the Emperors were nothing worth.
But as for Paris and her lord, they now stood out separate from these Emperors who could do nothing for them; and Eudes, the son of Robert, made himself more great, so that when Charles 63 The Emperor died a year later, the great men met together and said to themselves: “As for the Germanies, let them go where they will, but Eudes shall be our king here.” And Eudes was crowned and anointed in Compiègne, not two years after his manliness in the great siege, and being so crowned he rode out eastward to where the northmen were pillaging in Argonne, and finding there the body of the pirates he destroyed them; and to this day it is remembered how powerfully he blew his horn in that fight.
From him and from his brother Robert all the kings of France descend.
THE CROWNING OF THE CAPETIAN
LET any one who would understand the fortunes of the French wander for days in the wooded valley of the Oise. There great forests still clothe the low rounded hills which border the widenings of the slow river, where it saunters through its pasturages and its marsh, with tall, delicate aspens in solemn lines to mark its passage. It is a flat river floor of half a league across and about it the great woods of Compiègne and of Coucy, and all the others that still bear the name of their towns or castles, make a sheet of trees. That sheet of trees may have been a wider thing in the old days, but it remains for any one who will visit it (and it is a countryside that will harbour a man for as long as he will, so broad is it and so deep) the memory of that landscape in which the fortunes of his country changed and re-arose.
But, in particular, the forest of Coucy and the depths of the tall trunks understand how the lords hunted there when the Emperor was still the Emperor, and before France was once again 65 France. See how there still remain in fragments the lines of the Roman roads that led from town to town; all the towns that make up this countryside. Consider Paris, one hard day’s ride away, two or three days’ marches. Remember Laon on its impregnable horse-shoe hill upon the edge of those woods, overlooking the plains to the east and the north, and forming a bulwark and a stronghold for the last of the blood of Charlemagne.
Then, in your mind, see westward and southward the open land, Normandy and Anjou, the Island of France, the gardens of Touraine, Nevers, the high Morvan, the Champagne, crammed with Latinity, and the valleys of the Allier, of the Cher, and of the Vienne, leading upwards and southwards into those dead mountains of the centre which are the frontier against the south. Remember also the good lands that flank Brittany, and that make an approach and a barrier at once for that jealous, silent land. Do all this, and you will understand what happened when the Carolignians fell, and when, in one moment, a new line of kings that stood for Gaul re-arisen was accepted and crowned in the person of its ancestor.
France would be. The Germanies learning the Faith, and informed by the French, were still 66 the Germanies: barbaric, lacking in stone and in letters; lacking in roads. The Latin speech had not followed in them the Latin rule, and the Church which had made them human had hardly welded them into Christendom. It was not possible that Gaul should any longer be confused with these, unless, indeed, they would consent to be ruled from Gaul. That, in their new-found faith and culture, they would not consent to. Yet the imperial line and the old name of Charlemagne, now wasted for nearly two hundred years, pretended to control the issue. But France new itself again — that is, Gaul knew itself again, through the confusion of how many centuries, and a symbol must be found for France. The line of Charlemagne was exhausted. It could present for claimant to universal rule over the Germanies, as over Gaul, as over Italy, nothing that men respected, no one whom soldiers followed.
But in Gaul itself was a family and a man.
That Robert who had died at Brissarthe, and who had come, no man knew whence, but who was so strong, and who was called “The Strong,” had founded lineage. It was a man of his blood who had held Paris against the Normans. Men of his blood had claimed the crown and kingship 67 once, and had been a part of the Empire, and had yet dropped the claim. But their great estate of land had grown and grown. Their command over many soldiers had grown therewith. They spoke in the Latin tongue; they were of us. And of all of those who were of us they were the richest and, what is much more, the most captaining family of them. Of that great line Hugh was now the man. For a hundred years his father and his father’s father and his father before him had been the true masters of those good river valleys, the Loire, and the Seine, and the Oise. If there was to be government, he, Hugh, must come.
Rheims of the Champagne, the town where Clovis, five hundred years before, had accepted the Faith and made a unity for Gaul, had in this moment for its great archbishop one Adalberon, a man very subtle, and more learned than subtle, stronger in will than either in his learning or in his subtlety, and perceiving future things.
In those days were was between men a division. The great were very great. The mass of men were hardly free, and were all very small. The slaves that had worked for Roman lords in generations now half-forgotten, if they were no longer slaves, were still mean men; and the few that could ride by the day through their estates 68 inland were great above all men — the great bishops, the great counts, the men of the palace, and the masters of the countryside.
These, then — the Empire now plainly in default, and wealthy Gaul, as it were, derelict, and the Germanies, in their barbarism, sheering off — counselled what they should do. They met in an assembly, going up the northern road from Paris to Senlis; and here there was great tumult. For each man came with his armed men about him, and confusedly they knew how mighty a thing was toward.
In that tumult it was Adalberon who spoke: “Charles of Lower Lorraine,” he said, “has many to speak for him, and he says that the throne should come to him by right of lineage. But there should not stand at the head of this kingdom any but he who is great. Hugh, the commander of armies, is known to you by his deeds, by his descent, and by the armed men in his troop, who are many. If you will have government, take him.”
In the further tumult that followed Adalberon persuaded, and Hugh, coming from those who had saved Paris, and who had commanded armament in Gaul for now so long, was acclaimed by the great lords as king.69
When the time came for the anointing and the crowning, and for this separation of France again from what was not France, this re-seizing of the nation to itself, Noyon was the town they chose.
Little Noyon, with its vast arcaded church, strong and Roman, amid the woods of the Oise, the altar before which Charlemagne himself had been crowned. To Noyon they came in the midst of those forests of the Oise, by that strict road of the Romans which bridged the river, and which is but one of the many that there meet, as in the centre of a wheel; for the dignity of Noyon, now so forgotten, lay in this — that men could come to it easily, even in those days of difficulty and of old arts forgotten.
In Noyon, then, was Hugh crowned.
He had no name but Hugh. Since, however, men must give names to a family as well as to a man, all the generations after him have remembered what his nickname was. For he had a nickname, this soldier and lord, and from his helmet or his hood he was called Hugh Capet, the man of the head covering — the man of the head or cap. And that is why this family is called Capetian: a little cause for a great thing.
DOWN the mountain side there went in long procession, slipping here and there upon the unbroken frost of the morning, jangling all of them with bells, mules by the hundred — quite three hundred mules.
They that led them were short, lean men with hard, clean-shaven faces, bronzed in colour, and on their heads they wore a loose, flat cap that hung to one side or the other. Each man led his beast, and each beast was heavily laden as it picked its way down the slope; and here and there, sitting sideways upon her mount, was a woman of these hills, holding in her arms a child. The sun had not yet risen behind the red earth of the eastern peaks. The broken road that had once been a passage for the Roman armies over the Pyrenees (and that was now a mere bank, unsurfaced, down which the mules warily shuffled) was touched everywhere with rime. For it was but the opening of summer, and the snow still lay everywhere upon the high mountains around.71
At the head of the valley below, fixed in the narrow valley floor, lay huddled and tangled together such a little mass of dirty brown as looked like a fantastic chaos of rock. As one came closer one could see that it was a cluster of human buildings — a town, but a town so squeezed together, so suspicious of all around, so made for defence, that, seen from the pass above, it was like the shell of some armoured animal.
One street alone led through its houses, very narrow indeed (for up in these mountains nothing goes on wheels) — so narrow that two loaded mules could barely pass. And this narrow street, under the first glory of the morning sky, which made a strip of light above it, was full of the cries of sellers and of grooms, of the stamping of horses’ feet, and of the innumerable little jingles of steel which come from bit and bridle and curb, stirrup and scabbard and halter-chain, and the rings of mail upon a hauberk, wherever men are gathered together to ride out in arms.
For there was in this town an assembly made of farmers and free men and one or two lords as well. They had come for the beginning of the summer season, now that the crops were sown, to ride out south against the Mahommedan, to see what they could see, and take what they could 72 take. It was for this force that the mules were coming over the hills to provision it. A great train did every such expedition need of servitors, and oats, bread twice baked, and salted meat tied tightly round with strings, olives also, and oil and much wine; four men, perhaps, afoot for one that fought on horseback; and many of those afoot were slaves.
Under the low, thick arch, where the track came in through the town wall and became the narrow street of the town, swayed the first of that long procession of mules. To the cries of the sellers and the grooms, and to the jingling of steel links, there was now added the music of little bells. But dominant over all such noises, louder than them all, and a background of sound upon which all this life was woven, was the torrent swollen with the melting snow that ran beyond the houses a few yards to the east, and filled the deep, cool valley with its rumour. The name of this torrent was Aragon.
Near a wide and ancient door of mouldering oak, that hid a deep, dark stable beyond, was a farmer from the Canal Roya upon his horse, and he talked to his lord.
“Those of Jaca, at the beginning of the plain, sent in a man last night to say that we could 73 catch a few of them beyond the Peña, beyond the high hill. They camped on the slope of it, marauding. We should be upon them before the sixth hour. It is not many miles.
But his lord, looking at the Peña where it stood, a grey wall miles away, answered him, —
“Their horses are swifter than ours, and they go very light without armour, God curse them!”
And he spat as he spoke of the Moslem.
Then the farmer said, —
“Two days ago they raided the farm of Peter, the free man, and took his four serfs away on halters, running behind their horses, and they burnt a rick of his, and behind them they left a coin. This coin I bought of Peter.”
He showed it. It was a coin of the mint of Saragossa, and the lord bent over his saddle and peered curiously at the Arabic script stamped upon it. Then he made the sign of the Cross slowly over his broad shoulders.
“These words,” he said, “are in the devil’s language, and with these they summon Mahound.”
“Sir,” said the farmer, “some day some men now mounted here will ride into Huesca and cleanse it of the infidel. There is a monk who lives alone, and is a hermit up on the Peña. The 74 Mahommedans fear him and will not pass his cave, and God gives him knowledge in dreams. This man is very old, and this same Lent he said (when he came down into Jaca for the Adoration of the Cross and the Blessing of the Oils), this very Lent he said (and from the altar, note you, by leave of the bishop), that he had seen St. Lawrence standing glorified in the air, who held a banner, and that Huesca would be ours and Christ’s at last.”
The lord smiled. “These things are lies,” he said.
“Was not Huesca the town of the great St. Lawrence,” answered the farmer doggedly, “whom the Emperor of the Romans, possessed by a devil, roasted upon a gridiron for the Faith? Will he not lead the host into Huesca at last? And then all the plains will be before us, whereon we can call upon St. James, and charge!”
But the lord still shook his head and smiled unpleasantly.
“All these things are lies,” he said. “But whatever great lord shall ride at last into Huesca for Christ, and cleanse it of the infidel, shall not only conquer it for Christ but for himself. Sancho is our great master, whom we serve, but whoever can hold Huesca will be a little king all the same.”75
The farmer looked back up the narrow street to the mountains, and he said, “The lords come riding in from the Major Land, from the broad Christian land that goes up and away northward for ever beyond the hills; they come in greater and greater bands with every season; they are strong men heavily accoutred. With their aid we shall take Huesca.”
“But this season,” laughed the lord again, “we shall not take more than a farm, nor raid more than an orchard, nor carry much home beyond a few apples, and a little wheat perhaps from the first plough lands of the infidels in the plain.”
By this time it was full day. There was a new warmth in the air, and the noise of the torrent seemed louder under the growing light. The torrent, roaring southward, seemed, with its adventure and its plunge, a sort of leader; and these mounted men, now gathering into column for the raid, thought of the south and of the stony path that led along its banks on, away, over the ford to Jaca: and thence to the plains and the battle. The torrent of Aragon is a maker of kingdoms and of soldiers destined to conquer. Though as yet these Christians had but a few bare parishes of land, hardly held by day and by night with arms, and the little town of Jaca only for their bastion, 76 yet in them all, whether doubters or visionaries, there lay smouldering some certitude of future things, and a promise of the reconquest of Spain beyond and of the freeing of all Christian land.
So they rode out, in number about four hundred and fifty mounted men, with many more afoot that made a straggling herd about them and behind them. So they filed out by the southern gate.
The priests and the women watched them as they went by, and so did the children in the crowd. There were shrill cries of prophecy and of warning. To the last of them that rode by a deacon held up the relic of St. Lawrence, which was a piece of cloth from his tunic. The armed man bent over the saddle on the near side and kissed it as he passed.
Their marching raised a cloud of dust that blew softly away to the southward under the summer air, and in a little while the noise of the horses’ hoofs was lost, and the little place was quiet again.
There was a woman, one of those that had ridden in with the mules. She stood now by the fountain filling a leathern gourd with water and crooning a song of the Basques. For she was of the Basque country, to the east, an unconquered 77 tribe. And with her was her little son, four years old, who held her skirts and watched the cool, clear water running into the gourd.
“Mother,” he said, “where do all those tall gentlemen go?”
“They go to fight against the men in white cloaks,” she said, “the men who serve Mahound. They go to catch them in their camps, and to bring us home good things — as it says in the song that we sing on winter evenings,” and she crooned the tune to him.
The little child said, “Mother, what is Mahound?”
“Mahound,” said the woman, “is a great beast that lives in an island of the sea. He has a head like a goat, and great shining eyes.”
The child looked at her, glorying and delighting to hear the story again. “And are not his eyes jewels?” he said.
“Yes, baby,” said the woman, “great jewels from the East, such as there are in kings’ crowns, in the crown of Sancho our king, or in the middle of that cross which the archbishop bore before him in the procession when he came down this lent from Toulouse with the great lords of the north who were riding to help Laon.”
“And mother,” went on the child again, “is 78 there not a fire behind those eyes of Mahound, and has he not great gilded horns, and does he not prophesy from his goat’s mouth?”
He continued to recite all the tale that he knew so well.
“Yes, baby,” said the mother (the gourd was filled, and she was leading him away by the hand), “and this beast is black all over, whence they that worship him, the Moriscos, are dark also, and they grin with white, shining teeth like his. And between him and his followers and our Christ and His Blessed Mother and His Saints there is perpetual war.”
As the child so babbled, and as the woman answered him, there still ran, with its triumphant noise below the houses, the thundering torrent. The little child caught between two walls the glint of its water foaming under the sun.
“Mother,” he said, “what is the name of that water?”
She answered in a more solemn tone, “Its name is Aragon, a famous water; the sick bathe in it and are healed, and from all time it has baptized Christian men.”
* * * * *
When this child was grown a man, though he 79 was a serf’s child he became skilful in the riding and management of a horse and in the handling even of arms, which the young free men lent him for a jest in the village games. So at last he went riding as a companion with one from his village, and was enfranchised. And by the time that he had taken his farm from his father and had himself bred a son, he followed the Cid Campeador. At last he, too, grew old. He came back to his farm to sit by the fire; and his son in turn tilled the land of those few acres in the hills, and rode out every season farther and farther south against the oppressors, cleansing the land. Until there came the rumour of a great marching that was going eastward to the Holy Places for the recovery of Christ’s grave, and this son of his, following that rumour, begged of his old father a little store of gold which he had put by, and went out himself upon Crusade, leaving the old man by the fire in the Pyrenees.
WILLIAM, the Bastard of Falaise and Lord of all Normandy, had ridden into St. Germer four days before the feast, and with him a small retinue very richly dressed.
Upon the day of the feast he stood in the ante-chamber of the presence near the chapel door with but two to serve him, which two stood behind and were humble, the one a clerk, the other a treasury man but a knight. Normandy had on the sword belt and the sheath, but not the sword. For it is not lawful to carry arms in the presence of the crown.
William the Bastard of Falaise, thus standing in the ante-chamber of the presence by the chapel door, was taller than his servitors, yet he looked short, so round and bull-like was his head, with its close-cropped dark hair, and so broad his neck and shoulders. In that close-cropped dark hair one could see already lines of grey like steel, for the man was in his fortieth year.
The two guards that stood before the curtains of the arch moved backwards. An old man, 81 dressed in the long tunic of a civilian, which was embroidered everywhere with thread of gold, pulled back the cloth, and William, striding through, saw beyond, upon a chair that was carved and gilt for a throne, Philip, the boy who was his lord and his king, yet no older than one of his own sons. The boy’s face was heavy and not courageous, but his eyes had in them already that look of patience and of knowledge which had built up the royal line.
William, Duke of Normandy, designing to conquer England, desired from his soul to have all France behind him, and secure peace while he was abroad: therefore had he come to the court of this boy-king of France, his relative, to offer him the shadow of suzerainty over England while he should grasp the substance of power in London. But the boy-king had been warned and was old enough to understand the ruse.
William, the Duke of Normandy, knelt on the second step of the throne and took the boy’s hands between his hands and kissed his finger tips. Then he rose and spoke of his petition. England was his of right, and he would seize it as of right with his companions; but he would not hold it against his lord, he would hold it for his lord. Such things already Philip had seen in 82 the parchment, and he, William, Lord of Normandy, had come to hear the answer from the king’s mouth. The boy shook his gold-circled head very gently, but did not open his lips. Said William the Bastard, Lord of Normandy, “You are my lord and I am your man, but, a little way from here, where there are men that are my men and a land over which, under your allegiance, I am lord, my armies are ready, and from my treasure I shall have hired others from the east and the west, and even from Touraine, and there are strangers from the south that will sail with me; and if God grants me this kingdom, I will not hold it as king — God forbid that I should make myself equal to my lord. Therefore the headship of this island (if God gives me victory) is for you to take, King Philip, as a child may pick up a toy.”
Now when Duke William used these words “as a child,” King Philip smiled with his lips drawn downwards and nourished revenge in his heart; for he knew very well what the great vassal meant, and how he had cast a net to bring in the power of all France in aid of him, and to have peace behind him when he sailed. He knew also, by wit of his own and by councillors, that whoever sat in Westminster beyond the sea could 83 laugh at writs from Paris, and therefore, relaxing that smile of his and looking, though not courageous, stern — almost as though he were already a man grown — Philip refused again.
William, the Bastard of Falaise, Duke of Normandy, rose from his knees and looked angrily about him, at the servitors of the Court and at the guard, as he would look at equals, and even at the king he looked as he would look at an equal, thinking, perhaps, that with others to aid him he might dethrone that boy. But saying nothing more, he bowed as a man should to his lord, and turned and strode out again beyond the curtains; his clerk and his knight of the treasury, that had stood there for witnesses, following him.
Then he got back into his own land, to Rouen upon the broad Seine, where the woods are so deep for hunting all around; but he was for hunting things that do not live in woods, and for a ride into a farther place than the domains of the Caux country. And in those woods for many a month men were felling timber and bringing the green baulks in creaking wagons to the slips of the Channel shore, to Caudebec, and to Quillebœuf, and to Honfleur, and to the river that is below Caen — to all the places where men build ships 84 upon the sea marge of the Normans. And for three months or so he was summoning by writ his men and their men’s men, and by letters with promise of pay and of booty he was getting from off his western March the sad Bretons, and from off his eastern March the pale Picards and the Lowland men. Until at last he had in Dives mouth a very great fleet of vessels large and small, the largest so large that fifty knights with their horses and all their men could cross the sea thereon, and the smallest boats of four fathoms long, not even decked, and stowed to the bulwarks with casks and stores, and the garnered oats of that year’s harvest, and wheat and little mills for grinding.
Men came to him from over the sea telling him how Harold laughed at his claim. William, the Lord of Normandy, watching the sea from the cliffs of the Caux country, found it still angry day after day and week after week, with the cold north-east wind blowing strong upon the land, so that he could not venture, and when he did there was shipwreck; but his mariners lay apart after the mischance, waiting orders, until at last he bade them beat up the coast to the great and wide bay of the Somme, where stood his Port of St. Valery, half sheltered from the gale.85
Now some days before the Feast of St. Michael, in that same year, the strong cold wind from the north that had blown so long died down at last, and the seas heaved only and did not break, and a warmer air came up from the south-west, like a piece of summer again. So that, upon St. Michael’s Eve, Duke William put all that great host on board, his fifty thousand men and his many knights, and his horses and his provisions, and in the afternoon, the tide making outward from the bay, all his hundreds of boats set sail, making a cloud together upon the sea, and all that night, under the lighter breeze, they ran for English land.
When the morning broke, which was St. Michael’s Day, they saw, high and white in the dawn, the great cliff jutting forward, behind which was their harbour; and one hour and another, as the sun rose, those miles of sails drifted forward upon the flood eastward to behind the lee of the head until, in the third hour of the day, the square walls and the bright red roofs of a town stood close before them, and inland beside them a great sheet of water, shoal, but with fairways known to mariners, and a narrow entry from the sea; and this was Pevensey Haven. Then the men, looking out from the baskets on the 86 mastheads of the great ships, called to the helmsmen below to shift the helm by this board and by that, that they might follow the fairway in. The smaller ships were beached within, all along the level sand, until at last, what with the greater vessels lying secure at anchor, and the lesser ones drawn up in rank beyond the high-tide mark, all his fleet was still and his great host made land. This was the way in which William, the Bastard of Falaise, Duke of Normandy, came with so many thousands to the kingdom of England, which he would win.
AT Marmoutier the monks St. Martin had lived now for seven hundred years, the lords of much land. Before their ancient caves in the rocks, which had been their cells and which ran into the low cliff to the north of the river, stood now great buildings of stone. A vast church was there, round arched, enormous, heavy, and a great gateway with its gate-houses, upon the summits of which men had carved two angels, the one blowing a trumpet and the other sheathing a sword. And all around were barns and further buildings, the habitations of the monks, and their cellars, and their kitchens, their great hall, their place of account.
In this last, the place of account, in a smaller chamber apart, whose window without glass took in the full sun of morning, sat three clerks, monks of Marmoutier, two young, one old. Now the old one was the procurator, and his name was Augustine, for he was called after that saint; but the two others were in the service of the accounts, wrote at his bidding, and found for him 88 what was owing and upon what date, and from whom, whether in money or in service, throughout all the wide lands of Marmoutier that were its dower. Of these two young clerks the youngest, who was but a novice, still bore his name in the world, which was Raoul; but the elder, who was already a priest, had now his name in religion, which was Leo.
They were nearly at the end of their business and at the last of the lists, for the morning was far gone, and very soon the bell would toll for the chief meal. Outside the air was filled with the scent of hay, for it was summer and the time of mowing. There was a noise of scythes far off. It mixed with the running of the river.
There was a difficulty and a doubt. The old procurator, Augustine, in the place of accounts that day had a troubled face, desiring to do right by young Walter (Reginald in his father’s name), a keen possessor, loving the land of his mother and his home near the monastery of Marmoutier. For on that farm called Hauterive, in the good pastures behind the dykes of the Loire, there was uncertain custom, and upon the same land service to two lords, the monastery and this same Walter (Reginald in his father’s name). 89 And the procurator would not decide until he had spoken fairly with that lay lord.
For with the wealthy villeins upon this wealthy farm (which was full four furlongs of the river side) all along the Loire it was a custom as old as the woods that they should serve their lords upon Monday and Friday. So much was sure. But there was a division among them, some coming to the castle gate and some to the monastery gate; and in the time of Reginald, who was cunning and not just, some had gone to the castle who should have come to the abbey: which was a wrong. But now that Water the young man, the heir, had possession (his father just dead), they could make a firm pact together, the monks and he, and each have his due of labour, for Walter was mild and equable; and also it was here at Marmoutier that he had learnt as a boy the Seven Arts, and the Psalms as well.
When, therefore, he came in (which he did without retinue) the old man greeted him friendly, and they sat down to the pact.
But still there was issue between them upon these wealthy villeins of Hauterive.
“Brother Raoul,” said Lord Walter, “what now is written own?”
“Give me the parchment,” said Father Augustine, 9 the procurator. Then he said, “My lord, there is but one sentence as yet written here and the beginning of the next, but more cannot be written until we know that you will sign.”
Then the young lord said, “Read me what is written that I may hear.” And the procurator read out, —
“We, the monks of Marmoutier and Walter, Lord, hold in common sundry serfs, men and women, now to be divided between us severalty. Therefore at this present, being the 6th day of June, in the year of the Incarnation, 1087, and Bernard being abbot, we have proceeded to the division of the men children and of the women children of ——”
The old Father Augustine looked up from the parchment and said, “My lord until we have agreed, it can go no further.”
Walter, the young lord, rubbed his shaven chin with his hand, and looked sidelong at Novice Raoul. For Novice Raoul, being the son of one of the villeins adjacent, could bear witness.
Brother Raoul spoke, —
“The farm which my father has in villeinage marches, Father Procurator, with Hauterive farm, and as a boy, before I came to holy service here and to the special following of God, my 91 father and I, on those two work days of the week that are due to the lord, went in company with those of Hauterive, who were more wealthy than we from the goodness of their land; and I can bear witness to custom.”
“Of the elders,” here said the young lord, “there is no question, for I freely allow what Abbot Bernard has written me and Father Procurator here — to wit, that Renaud, whose house is called the ‘Village house,’ is due for the two days’ labour at the monastery gates, and Guascelin, the other villein upon Hauterive land, is due at the castle gates.
The monks nodded, agreeing.
“We have but to agree upon the children, their dues of labour, as they come to that age when the custom of the manor demands it. This must be settled.”
“So we have set it on the parchment,” said Leo, the monk who had not yet spoken. “So we have set it, lest, when they grow older, quarrels, as in the time of your father, should arise.”
Then the Father Procurator spoke again, —
“If Renaud of the Village House chooses to redeem in coin, we shall settle it upon our admitted rule, Lord Walter — two-thirds to the monastery, one-third to the castle.” 92
“That would be but just,” the young man assented.
“He will not redeem!” broke in Novice Raoul quickly.
“Surely,” said his colleague Leo mildly, “he is rich enough! It is the best land on all the river side, and there are one hundred arpents of it, and it has a vineyard too!”
But Raoul laughed, remembering his father’s neighbour.
“Yes, the Serf has money lent out; but for that very reason will not Renaud of the Village House redeem. For he loves the very metal. Also he has other labour of his own cotters on his land. And when his children grow up and pay their dues of labour days, Renaud will be glad to see them go to the monastery gate or to the castle gate, though he lose their arms and hands for that day, for he will say to himself, ‘There they go a-saving of many pence in redemption, and their food also this day they will have from the lord, or from the abbot.’ He will not redeem! He will in now way diminish his hoard!”
“See now,” said Father Augustine, who waited every moment for the bell and was weary of this long business over a small thing — “see now, if we admit this rule of a third the matter is 93 quickly settled, for this Renaud has six children — two sons and four daughters; Guascelin three, or four if you shall count a very young child still in her cradle.”
When he had said these last words they all laughed, thinking of the baby and of what haymaking it could do. Then the young lord, to save them further delays, rose as to agree.
“Read me the list,” said he, “and take you in the one the first four names, in the other the first two. As for the one that is in the cradle, she can wait;” and at that they all laughed again. “It will be many years before we need speak of any labour in our fields from her. Perhaps she will wed out of villeinage, or perhaps with her portion she will farm free land, or perhaps she will be a nun. So engross the matter thus, and we will have secured peace and a settlement between us.”
Then Brother Raoul carefully wrote the square letters with his pen, adding, “We then have received for our lot of the children of Renaud of the Village House one boy, Bartholomew, and three daughters, Hersende, and Milesende, and Letgarde. And of the children of Guascelin one daughter, Aremburge, and one son, Walter. A very young girl child in her cradle is excepted 94 from this allotment. She shall be between us, if she lives, until some settlement shall allot her to one or to the other lordship.” And with that his writing was done.
With these as witnesses, the procurator set the abbey seal, and Walter his seal also and the mark by which he was known, and so was the settlement concluded, just as the bell rang for the prayer and the chief meal.
Outside in the warm air the noise of the scythe ceased to the sound of the bell, and there was nothing heard but the gentle wash of the river running by its bank of reeds — the broad river Loire, low in the summer drought, and showing above its streams of blue water white sand-banks sparkling in the sun.
IT was Friday, the 15th of July, in the year of the Incarnation, 1099, and about noon. A little sun stood right up in the height of heaven, blazing as no sun shines upon our tempered and well-watered lands, for it was the sun of Syria, a burning eye.
The rolling upland was brown and bare, scorched for weeks; the harvest long gathered, and all grass for forage lacking. Across its sweep rose a little town of tents, deplorable with use, torn, patched, and dirty; at long cords stood tethered the lean horses, their heads patiently drooping in the heat, and here and there a gap where one of them had fallen and would not rise again. Beyond the camp a dusty, winding track, very wide, just marked by shallow ruts, led away to the horizon and to the crest against the northern sky, whence could be seen, very far off to the westward, the Levantine Sea. Along that faint, broad line ominous wreckage was studded at intervals too close — carts broken down, glistening white bones, and little heaps of refuse 96 which hid the dead. Of the millions that had marched out from Europe three years before to the rescuing of Christ’s grave, a handful were here, still breaking against the long, low wall of the city. Of twenty that had left the pleasant fields at home, in Picardy or in Touraine, from the Garonne, from the cool flats of Vendée, but one had lived or had persevered to see Jerusalem. And now for all these days the last effort had still been quite unavailing. But it was Friday, the day upon which Christ had died; it was noon, the hour of His Crucifixion.
In the camp, which looked southward towards the low wall of the city, the serfs were now painfully bearing water up from the stagnant pools below, or were attending the fires for the cooking of meat against the hour when, once again, as for so many days, the armed men should come back at evening sullen and once again defeated; from that camp, I say, the serfs could see, all along the wall, the assault proceeding. Beyond, within the city itself, glaring in the intense light, was the low, whitewashed dome, the Sepulchre, and Golgotha was just before.
It was by groups that the desperate attempt was made, as it had been made day after day during that intolerable heat of the Eastern summer. 97 One could see little figures running with the short scaling ladders, bucklers lifted in a tortoise to shield the bearers; the ladders rapidly put against the wall; men swarming up, now one group just getting a foothold, but soon thrust back again; bodies falling, heavy in their armour, to the ground; the ladders here and there along the half-mile of front broken or thrust outward, and whole lines of men that had mounted them crashing again to earth. While underneath the wall, cowering close in the dead ground, free from arrows above, were other groups that fiercely picked the ground with their steel, and that thrust into the gaps faggots to which they would set fire. The smoke rose, blackening the stones, but none crumbled, and there was no breach.
In two spots near either end of the line great beams had been mounted, swung on ropes from tripods, and these, with regular thud, pounded at the lower courses of the huge blocks that built up the rampart; while in one place a tall scaffolding, or tower of wood, having upon its every tier a hundred archers and slingers, poured missiles down upon the defenders of the battlements.
Far off as the camp was, one could hear above the regular pulse of the battering rams a noise 98 like that of the assaulting sea in a storm when it bursts upon the shore and when the shingle screams under the retreating wave. And the high calls upon the God of Islam, which for now so many months and years had rendered a haunting sound in their ears, pierced through the general din. Voices were calling also from the minarets.
Very far away to the south, beyond the whole expanse of the city, could just be seen a squat, strong mass of masonry overtopping the houses. It was the Tower of David. And there these men, who were so fiercely pushing the assault from the north under so intolerable a strain of heat and clamour, knew that the men of Toulouse, the southerners under their Count, were pressing and besieging also. For beyond that Tower of David, higher than it and feathery against the sky, was yet another tall scaffolding of poles lashed together, black with tiny figures of the Christian soldiers, shooting down upon the defence and attempting to master its fire. But of that distant struggle no rumour could be heard; there could only be seen the general movement of men against the sky.
The general tide of this assault upon the northern wall perpetually repulsed, perpetually returning, sounded hour after hour. Noon was 99 past, and the seventh hour and the eighth. The dust of the conflict had already mellowed the light of the sun, which no longer stood in the zenith, but was partly declined. The time was near that ninth hour when Jesus had cried out that God had forsaken Him, and had dropped His head and died.
The men watching the camp, the serfs, listless in their fatigue and broken by the noonday heat now past, thought they heard a new note in the distant noises from the wall. One looked up, and another, and there was almost eagerness in their gestures. Those with keener eyes pointed to a place a little east of the centre of the line, where, as it seemed, a blacker and a denser mass was gathering. It was like a swarm of bees. They saw the little figures racing up to join the edges of the rapidly swelling mound of men. The many ladders there concentrated were hidden beneath this cloak and moving garment of human bodies, and the whole surface of it running upwards in a slope to the very height of the battlements glittered and twinkled, like beaded stuff, with the points of steel, with the steel caps, and with the little bristles of swords ever mounting.
The camp was afoot, every serf was standing and looking. The wounded, such as could still 10 know their names or the place in which they lay, such as could still move, were warned by their servants in the excitement, and crawled to the gaps of the tents. Such labourers as had fallen asleep were roused and stood, in their turn, straining their eyes at the wall, and one or two in their eagerness began to run forward, unarmed as they were, across the brown, burnt earth between the camp and Jerusalem. Was there a breach? There was no sign of it. No crash of boulders, no sudden rising of that cloud which booms up as from an explosion when a wall gives way. The regular thud of the battering rams continued far to the right and far to the left uninterruptedly, but between them this climbing, struggling, increasing mass of men gave forth a louder and a louder note. They were upon the edge of victory.
Then in one critical moment (it was just three o’clock) the desperation of those cries turned into a very different roar of cheers, and it was apparent that the wall was gained. One could see the besiegers spreading along the height of it, to the right and to the left, enfilading its defence, holding a wider and a wider gap, and the swords at either end of the line hacking and sweeping their way forward. And now (so many men 101 having poured up the wall and along it) scraps of the many scaling ladders could be seen, and separate streams of men hurrying up them and reinforcing the lengthening line above that held the battlements. Until at last all the defence was brushed away, from east to west, and for a half-mile in one unbroken series the Crusaders were the masters of the rampart, and already men were hauling the scaling ladders over to descend into the city beyond. The men at the battering rams ran hard for the check-ropes, hanging desperately upon them to stop the swing, and the thuds ceased for the first time in all these hours. From the wooden tower also the attackers were scrambling down and racing towards the wall, and bringing new ladders and climbing it, now undefended. A lamentable confusion, masked by the screen of masonry, made up of scream and clamour, rose from the streets of the city within, as victory pressed on through the houses. Jerusalem had fallen; and already the first man in the race had thrust his palms against the walls of the Sepulchre, and sinking to his knees, collapsing, kissed it.
There is in the hills that shut in the garden of the Cotentin, in the depths of Normandy, a happy town with pastures and with orchards all around. 102 It is called the Silent Valley, Sourdeval. Here had a child been born in the castle of the place to the lord of it, and they had given him the name Robert, after the last great duke who was leader of them all. This child Robert, grown a man, had armed himself and mounted himself, and followed the Crusade, and he it was who sprang first upon the wall of Jerusalem on that great day: Robert of Sourdeval, in the country of Avranches, under the shadow of the shrine which is called “St. Michael in peril of the sea.” But even as he leapt upon the wall, and in the moment of his exaltation, he saw southward, upon the Tower of David, a great banner suddenly catching the sun, and he knew that it was the banner of Toulouse. From the south also the city had been forced, and he cried as he saw that banner, “Ville gagnée!”
* * * * *
Of the men who had followed and endured till the end and had entered Jerusalem, one from the Pyrenees, three years later, came home. A ship had taken him across the seas, pirates had captured it off Cyrene, and had shackled him as a galley slave; in the Balearics he had escaped by night with a Christian fisherman for guide. 103 They had made Narbonne, and so this man had come, darkened by the Eastern sun and lean and broken from the wars, home at last to his farm. There he found all those who had mourned him for dead, and his old father living still by the turf fire, but too forgetful of the world to welcome him. And as he told the old man of the wars, that old man only felt dimly in his fading mind (which was not wholly forgetful of Aragon and of Leon and the Cid Campeador) that all the world was full of fighting against Mahound.
Already five years past Huesca had been forced by Christian arms, and already three years past the Cid was dead.
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