Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

The Beggars' King
Robert I (the Pious) [996-1031]

Hugh died in 996 and was succeeded by his son, Robert the Pious. He was tall and handsome, with soft eyes and a kindly mouth. As his surname tells us, he was very religious, and spent much of his time in praying. He wrote poetry, too, and played upon the lute. He was so fond of music that often, dressed in his royal robes and with his crown upon his head, he would go into the Cathedral and lead the choir and sing among the monks. A gentle, kindly man with winning ways and generous heart, he was little suited to be a King in those rough times.

But although Robert was so good, and although he gave a great deal of money to the Church, the Pope was angry with him and threatened to excommunicate him. The Pope did this because Robert had married his own cousin, which the Pope said was wicked. Robert loved his wife, and refused to give her up. But at length the people became afraid of the anger of the Pope. They all fled from the King, who was left at last with only two servants. Even they served him in fear, burning everything he had touched, and cleansing by fire the metal cups and plates he used. So at length King Robert yielded to the Pope, and put away his beautiful wife Bertha.

A few years later he married another lady named Constance, the daughter of the Count of Toulouse. She was beautiful and frivolous, with a sharp tongue and proud manners. She brought to her husband's gloomy court a merry train of courtiers and troubadors.

The grave monks who surrounded King Robert were shocked at the gay life these courtiers led, shocked at the strange clothes and bright colors they wore. For they cut their hair short, shaved their beards, and wore ridiculous shoes, curled up at the toes. It seemed to the sober people of Northern France that men who could dress in such a strange manner could not fail to be wicked. And yet, sad to say, some of the people began to copy these frivolous fashions which the Southerners had brought among them. And although the priests told them that they were thus yielding to the wiles of the Evil One, many of them still kept to their wicked ways, shaving their beards, cutting their hair, and wearing ridiculous dresses and shoes.

But while the Queen and her courtiers lived a gay life, spending money carelessly on all sorts of splendor, there was much misery in the land. Many of the people had not enough to eat and the country swarmed with beggars.

Robert was so sorry for the poor and helpless that he gave nearly all he had in charity. Beggars followed him everywhere, even into his palace, and when he had no more money to give he pretended not to notice when some of them stole, and they grew so greedy and so bold that they stole even the ornaments of his dress. This made the haughty Queen very angry, so Robert did his best to hide his deeds of charity from her. Many a time he gave a poor beggar money or food with the warning, "Beware lest the Queen see thee." It is told how one day when he sat at dinner a poor man placed himself at his feet, and was fed by the King under the table by stealth. As the beggar sat crouching beneath the table he saw a beautiful golden ornament hanging from the King's robe; so, taking his knife, he cut it off and then hurried away.

When the company rose from the table the Queen noticed that the precious ornament was gone. She was very angry and cried out sharply, "Oh, my good lord, what enemy has stolen your beautiful golden ornament?"

"Oh," replied the King, "no one has stolen it. Please God, it will be of more use to him who took it than to us." And quite unconcerned the King went away with a smiling face to say his prayers.

But even in church Robert was not free from beggars. One day while he knelt in prayer a robber cut the golden fringe from his robe. He had cut half of it off when the King noticed him.

"That will do, go away now," said he gently. "You have taken enough, perhaps some one else has more need of the rest than you have."

These stories show us into what dreadful poverty the constant wars and terrible misrule had brought many of the people. Indeed, the lives of the poor were so hard and bitter that in many places throughout France they rose in rebellion. In Normandy especially there was great discontent.

"The nobles," said the peasants, "do us nothing but evil. With them we have neither gain nor profit from our labors. Every day they take our cattle for forced service. Then there are old taxes and new taxes, and pleas without end. There are so many bailiffs and sergeants that we have not an hour of peace. Every day they harry us, take our goods, and hunt us from our land. There is no protection for us against the nobles and their servants. No oath binds them.

"Why should we let ourselves be treated thus? Are we not men as they are? It is only courage that we need. Let us bind ourselves together by an oath, and swear to help each other. If they want to fight, have we not thirty or forty peasants for every one of their knights? Have we not peasants who are young and both ready and willing to fight with axe and club, with bow and arrow, and even with stones if they have no other weapons?

"Let us resist the knights. Then we shall be free to cut down trees, hunt game, and fish as we like. Then we shall do as we will in field, and stream, and wood."

In this way the peasants talked in their secret meetings. But these meetings became known to the nobles. One day, when the chief leaders were met together, a large body of armed men burst in upon them. The poor peasants, who were half naked and badly armed, could do nothing against soldiers clad in steel, and armed with sword, and spear, and battle axe.

All the leaders were taken prisoners. Some of them were put to death in cruel fashion, some had their eyes put out, their hands and feet cut off, and were then sent home to their villages that the sight of their dreadful sufferings might strike fear into the hearts of their fellows. After this, seeing the dreadful punishment which had overcome their leaders, the rest of the peasants gave up their plotting, and with despair in their hearts, returned to their ploughs.

Yet we can hardly believe that Robert made the misery of the poor any lighter by allowing them to steal. This was simple weakness rather than goodness, and although he was so lenient to the thieves and beggars who surrounded him, his religion made him very cruel in other ways. In his reign began the persecution of the Jews, which lasted during many centuries.

At this time many people had begun to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The Caliph, the heathen ruler of the land, became angry at this, for he hated all Christians, and he destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. This filled the whole Christian world with anger. They believed in their anger that the Jews, who were to be found in every country in Europe, had written to the Caliph and encouraged him to do the deed. So in punishment the Jews were hunted from their homes, robbed, ill-treated, and killed. Yet hunted and ill-treated though they were, they always returned. They were not allowed to possess land, but they had money and learning. They were the doctors, and the bankers and the chief merchants of the time. Indeed the people could not get on without them.

But although the people were thus obliged to bear with the Jews, they insulted and humiliated them cruelly, and many ceremonies were invented for this purpose alone. On Easter Day, for instance, a Jew was obliged to come to church to receive a blow on the head from a Christian. The person whom the Bishop most wished to skillful was given the right to strike the blow. Once, it is said, a noble hit so hard that he knocked the Jew's brains out, and he fell to the ground dead.

But it was not only Jews who were persecuted. It was now that Christians first began to kill each other for the love of God. In Orleans some one began to teach Christianity not as the priests taught it. This filled King Robert and his monks with horror. Such an evil must be crushed out at once. So the heretics were taken prisoners, tried, and condemned to be burned to death.

Not far from the city a great bonfire was built. As the heretics came out of the church where they had been condemned, the Queen stood in the porch to watch. At the head of the procession marched a priest who had once been her confessor. Seeing him thus among the heretics the haughty Queen was filled with anger, and springing forward she struck him in the face with her staff so that he lost the sight of one eye.

The heretic priest bore this blow calmly. The procession did not pause, and the thirteen men marched slowly on singing hymns, until they reached the place where they were to die. This was the beginning in France of persecutions in the name of religion. In years to come many cruel things were to be done in the same cause.

The last days of Robert the Pious were made bitter by the conduct of his sons. They, encouraged by their willful, haughty mother, rebelled against the weak and kindly King. And Robert saw himself, like so many of the Carolingians, obliged to march to battle against his own sons. But peace was made at length, and very soon after, in 1031, Robert died. When it was known that he was dead the land was filled with sorrow and wailing. A crowd of poor widows and orphans surrounded the palace weeping aloud, beating their breasts, and praying. "O dear God," they cried, "why do you so afflict us? You have taken our father from us, and we are left desolate."