OF HENRY I AND KING LOUIS OF FRANCE

Henry, king of English, defeated Louis the Fat at the battle of Bremule. After the defeat Louis’s counsellors were surprised to find him remarkably cheerful. When asked why the king replied, “Defeats often happen to me. I have become hardened to them. Henry, on the other hand, has had uninterrupted successes. If he was ever defeated he will find it unbearable and the excess of grief will surely drive him mad.” Payne fitz John, his chamberlain and vicegerent of Herefordshire and Shropshire, by custom always drew a pint and a half of wine every night to allay the king’s thirst. It would be asked for but once or twice a year so Payne and the pages took to drinking it themselves. One night it happened that the king, in the small hours, called for his wine, but it had all been drank. The king, no wine being brought to him, went to see what was causing the delay and found Payne and the pages desperately searching for some wine they could send to the king. “What is the meaning of this?” growled Henry. Payne fearfully replied, “Lord, we have drawn the wine faithfully every night but, by reason of you leaving off being thirsty, we took to drinking it after you had gone to bed. Now we beg your forgiveness.” “Did you draw more than the one measure?” “No my lord, just the one.” “Then in future you had better draw two, so that all of us can drink.” Louis VI, also known as Louis the Fat, was big not just in body but also big in acts and thought. In his youth he could not leave Paris further than the third milestone without the bye or leave of the neighbouring barons, so powerful had they become. But he was determined to alter this and, by dint of courage and determination, was successful. Louis the Fat’s heir and first born son was named Philip. Aware that his health was failing, Louis appointed his son joint king, hoping that this would help his son become wise. But the opposite happened. Philip refused to listen to the counsels of his father, instead becoming proud, arrogant and a burden to all. One day he was riding through Paris, along the banks of the Seine surrounded by his courtiers, when a large black pig rushed out of a dunghill and ran under the feet of Philip’s horse. It stumbled and fell and Philip was catapulted over its neck. He never regained consciousness. The pig was later seen to plunge straight into the River Seine. No one could recall seeing it before its sudden appearance and no one ever saw it afterwards. His next son, who became Louis VII, was so saintly that many thought him a simpleton but the events of his life show the contrary. There was a baron who was even more cruel and rapacious than the others, who would confine holy pilgrims in his dungeon until they could find ransom or else starve to death. His wife abhorred his crimes and did everything she could to get the prisoners released. Eventually Louis, angered by all the reports he received of his depredations, led his army against him and captured him, ordering that he should immediately be sent to the gallows. His wife, though great with child, threw herself in front of the king, begging for mercy. The king, greatly moved, granted this mercy but cut off the man’s right ear to mark him out. It was noted that the son, when born, was also missing a right ear. Walerin of Effria was a knight without letters but a pleasant gift of speech. At the time Louis had three principal ministers, Walter of Villeleon, his chamberlain, Bouchard le Vautre (the mastiff) and William de Gournai, provost of Paris. Between the three they mopped up virtually all the profits of France. Louis, in his simplicity, did not see this but Walerin did. So he made up a rhyme: Walter sells and Bouchard grabs/ And William de Gournai lives by theft; / Louis takes whatever’s left. The three men saw that their frauds had been discovered and they armed themselves ready for revenge. A noble lady at court was persuaded to accuse Walerin of making up a ribald song about her and, when he heard of it, the king was greatly annoyed. “I could forgive verses about myself but not ones about my cousin, someone of my own blood.” “Then it is a very sick blood.” replied Walerin. The lady stepped forward. “Lord king, save his punishment for me. I know how clowns should be corrected. I will get three harlots to whip him.” “Then madam, you have little to do because you only need to find two more.” said the knight. Walerin was exiled and sought refuge with the king of England. After a while the two kings were due to meet to discuss a treaty. While the kings were conferring, Walerin, riding a thin black horse and with his clothes ragged, himself unshaven and unwashed and his boots split, came riding towards them. The guards drove him away but not before the French court and Louis had seen him. The kind hearted king, seeing Walerin’s appearance, felt disgust at his own severity. He called Walter, his chamberlain, to his side. “I made you a prince in the hope that you would be a wise and faithful bearer of the burden of the realm. But you have poisoned me against my brother Walerin. For a word he should have been chastened by words, not cudgels. Go and fetch him back.” Walter was forced to do so and the three never regained the king’s favour. Louis was not safe in his kingdom but his nobles were always contending against him. Chief of these was Count Theobald of Champagne, aided by the Holy Roman Emperor. When Theobald was winning the Emperor encouraged the war, when Louis had the upper hand the Emperor demanded peace. This drove Louis to distraction. Once he was heard to mutter under his breath, “Fucking Germans!” which was considered the worst of insults. At one time Theobald had taken Chartres. Louis concealed himself in a wood near the city with a large force of knights, planning to send men out to provoke a sortie and then attack when Theobald was unprepared. While the king’s forces were in hiding, Count Theobald came riding past, unaware that his enemies lurked so close. Louis’s knights urged him to attack and make use of this wonderful opportunity but Louis refused, saying that it came by chance rather than skill so it would be dishonourable to take advantage, but he did send out a messenger to reprove the Count for his carelessness. Another time the king was at Blois with a large force, including siege engines with Theobald trapped inside. News came that Theobald was seriously ill, news that greatly encouraged Louis’s men but Louis insisted on lifting the siege because he did not want to worsen Theobald’s illness. When Theobald heard of the king’s mercy he sent a messenger to him to say these words: “To the Lord Louis, King of France, preserver of his health, Theobald, count of Champagne bids greeting to the lord. At the Feast of the Assumption I will be with you, intending for the future to obey your bidding.” Theobald was thereafter noted for his charity. On one occasion he took care of a leper, once a prosperous man but who now lived alone in a small hut. Theobald took to visiting him and received much good advice from him. One day he found the man deathly ill. On his return he went to the reeve of the nearest village and gave the man a sum of money to pay for the man’s care. Sometime later he again visited the poor man but got no answer when he knocked on the door. He knocked again, crying out, “It is your friend, Theobald. It it’s possible, can you open the door to me?” The door opened and there stood the man, who looked miraculously well, as if cured of the leprosy that had plagued him. Theobald was overjoyed. “Promise me one thing,” said the man. “See that the reeve is well rewarded for the care he took of me.” Theobald went to the reeve and told him what the man had said but the reeve looked confused. “Lord, I was attentive as you bade me while he lived and, on death, I gave him a good funeral.” Theobald rushed back to the hut but when he entered he found it completely empty. Henry V, the aforementioned Holy Roman Emperor, reached that position by beheading his eldest brother with his own hand and banishing his father. Not surprisingly he faced many rebellions. At last the Duke of Bavaria rose up against him. The resulting battle lasted a whole day and too many were killed in it to be buried, so the bodies had to be left to the wolves and crows. Henry, looking at the sight, was revolted. He resolved to feign his own death and retire from the world. With news of an illness affecting the Emperor being spread around, his chamberlain managed to secure a corpse like enough to the king. While it was buried with imperial pomp, Henry slipped quietly away. However rumours of the deception could not be prevented from circulating around Europe and many claimed to have seen him and not a few imposters fooled unwary innkeepers into giving them a free night’s lodging on the strength of their claim. At the abbey of Cluny one such was taken in, the monks having difficulty in working out what he said, so mumbled was his speech. A German prior arrived so the abbot sent him to the man to ascertain if he had ever seen him before. The prior took with him his nephew, who had been long in the emperor’s service. After getting nothing out of the man, the nephew grew tired and turned away. “He is just another deceiver.” he said, at which the strange man stood up and gave the lad a tremendous blow on the side of the head. “You were always a traitor! In one of your treacheries you were discovered but managed to escape, although a guard threw a dirk at you and injured you in the right foot.” When the young man took off his sandal the scar could be seen by everyone. It was also known that the emperor had a particularly long right arm, so that, if he stood at full height, he could cover his right knee with the palm of his hand without bending. Now it was found that it was so with this man. From then on he was treated with great respect in the abbey and word was sent to the Holy Roman court but the man slipped away before anyone came to see him. THE END

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