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

How the King of France Fought His Vassal
Louis VI (the Fat) [1108-1137]

Forcing the barons to bow to the will of the King was the great work of Louis's reign. From one end of his kingdom to another he fought them.

"The King has long hands," said one of his advisers. And so the barons found to their cost.

But Louis had another great enemy to fight. This was Henry I, King of England and Duke of Normandy. Louis and Henry had once been friends. But when Henry became King and wrested the Dukedom of Normandy from his brother Robert, Louis found in him a rival. A vassal who wore a crown and who was far more rich and powerful than his sovereign lord was a dangerous vassal.

When Henry seized the Dukedom of Normandy, the Norman lords and barons were not all united in accepting him as their Duke. Many would rather have had Robert or his son William. Louis took the part of these, and so, for twenty years and more, there was almost constant war between lord and vassal.

The battles that were fought were not always very deadly, but the country was wasted and many castles and villages were laid in ruins.

Once when they were fighting for a castle it is said Louis offered to settle the quarrel in single combat with Henry. The two armies lay opposite each other on either side of a river. The only way of crossing was by a wooden bridge which was so frail and rotten that it could hardly bear the weight of one man. Upon this shaking bridge Louis challenged Henry to fight.

"Nay," replied Henry, "my legs are not steady enough for such bravado. I will not risk thus losing a castle which would be of exceeding use to me. When I see my sovereign lord of France in a place where I can defend myself I shall not flee."

One of the chief battles was fought at Bremule. In this about nine hundred knights took part. It was more like a great tournament than a battle. Shouting their war cries the knights dashed at each other, lance in rest. When their lances were shivered, they fought with swords. But it was a courteous, knightly game. The King of England indeed as he fought received a mighty blow on the head which, but for the strength of his helmet, had stretched him lifeless on the plain. But for the most part the knights fought not to slay, but to show their skill and to take prisoners.

The day went ill with the French. Knight after knight was taken prisoner.

"Alas, Sire," cried one of Louis's knights, "eighty of our knights who were in the van of the army are no more to be seen. The enemy overmatches us in strength and numbers. Our best knights are taken, our men give way everywhere. Flee, my lord, ere all is lost."

So Louis turned and fled, and his knights scattered to right and left. The French King lost the battle, his banner, and his horse. Many of his knights were taken prisoners, but only three men were killed.

Yet this almost bloodless battle was a severe defeat for Louis. He burned with wrath against Henry, and did everything in his power to get the better of him, but without success. For another year the war went on. Then at length the two Kings made peace and Henry's son William paid homage to Louis as his liege lord. Then father and son set sail for their own land.

But, alas! for England and for France; the White Ship in which Prince William sailed went down and the prince was drowned. It was a great sorrow for Henry and for England. It was a great misfortune for France. For now the heir to the English throne was Matilda, Henry's daughter, who for her second husband had married Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou. Thus a still greater part of France was added to the crown of England, and the King of England became yet more powerful against his lord the King of France.

Louis was a true soldier King and his sword was seldom at rest. It was during his reign that the oriflamme first came into use. It was the banner of the Abbey of St. Denis and in time became the royal standard. Each time the King went to war he took the banner from its place beside the high altar. Each time he returned in triumph it was hung there again. The oriflamme was a piece of flame-colored silk, the ends being slit into points like a swallow's tail. It was ornamented with green tassels and mounted on a golden lance. The word means golden flame. It was so called because it looked like a flickering tongue of fire as it fluttered in the wind at the head of the army.

Even when Louis became so stout that he could hardly move he still longed to fight. "Ah," he groaned, "what a miserable life is ours. We never have strength and knowledge at one time. Had I known when I was young, if I could now that I am old, I would have conquered empires."

But at length, after his life of war and strife, the soldier King lay dying. Then all his thoughts turned to holy things. He bade his servants stretch sackcloth upon the floor, sprinkle ashes on it in the form of a cross, and lay him upon it. There, clad in the robe of a monk, he folded his hands, and made his peace with God.