THE time of which I have been telling you, from the
death of Charlemagne to the beginning of the reign of
Louis the Fat, is known as the Dark Ages. And you will
scarcely be surprised that these centuries should have
so gloomy a name. For you have read of the wars of the
kings, the rebellions of the nobles. You have heard how
the lords ground down their vassals and trampled on
their slaves, who were sold with the land as carelessly
as a plough or a spade might be sold. You have seen,
too, how the peasants, daring to tell the nobles of
their misery, were punished by having their hands and
feet cut off. It is well that the times when such
things took place should be known as, the Dark Ages.
But from the time of Louis the Fat the darkness began,
little by little, to grow less dense. Louis himself
began to lighten the darkness.
In spite of his great size, which made his people call
him "the Fat," Louis VI. was no sluggard. He was indeed
also called "the Fighter," because his body was so
active; "the Wideawake," because his mind was so quick.
In Philip's listless hands the king's power had grown
less, his dominions fewer. So now, though Louis was
called King of France, he owned only five cities and
the lands belonging to them. His power, too, scarcely
reached beyond these five cities.
From Paris to St. Denis the road was safe, but farther
 even the king could not travel without a strong
bodyguard to protect him.
The barons had built great towers with gloomy dungeons
along the highways, and as travellers passed they with
their men-at-arms would sally forth, and take prisoners
all whom they could. After robbing their captives the
barons threw them into dungeons. Here they were often
tortured until, in order to be set free, they promised
to pay enormous sums of money.
Louis made up his mind that the barons should be
punished, and more than that, that their power should
be taken away.
To help him in this great work he had a friend who was
also his prime minister. This was Suger, Abbot of St.
Denis, with whom Louis had been educated.
The king himself had not many troops for his great
undertaking. There were only his vassals and three
hundred brave youths who had come to Paris, hoping to
win their spurs in the service of their king.
But Suger and many other abbots and priests roused the
peasants and townsfolk, and themselves led these rough
troops to Louis's aid. The clergy were only too glad to
fight against the barons, who had treated them with but
scant courtesy, and had often robbed their monasteries
Thus, aided by the priests, Louis gradually cleared the
highways of the robber bands, and forced the barons to
live quietly in their castles. If they dared to disobey
him he attacked their strongholds.
One of the most powerful of the barons was Hugh the
Fair. He had trampled on the peasants and treated them
worse than his dogs, until they hated him with all the
strength they had.
When at length a priest led a band of these peasants
against Hugh's castle, their anger against the noble
was so terrible that Hugh might well wish himself far
 Strong walls, iron gates, nothing would have kept
the peasants out. But the priest who led them found a
weak spot in the fortress, and through this the
peasants crept within the walls, and Hugh and his
followers were at the mercy of the mob.
King Louis meanwhile was attacking the castle at
another point; and Hugh, fighting desperately, escaped
from the mob, and surrendered himself to the king.
Hugh's castle was plundered and then pulled to pieces,
and he himself rendered harmless. And what befell Hugh
the Fair befell many other barons throughout France.
The people, finding themselves freed from the worst
oppressions of the nobles, were grateful to the king,
and learned to love him well. As for the townsfolk,
many of them were rewarded for their share in the
struggle by being allowed to choose their own
magistrates, to make their own laws, and to carry a
standard or banner of their own choosing before them
into battle. The towns to which Louis granted these
liberties were called Communes.
In 1124, while he was still working for the good of his
kingdom, Louis was threatened with war. Henry I. of
England had made an alliance against France with his
son-in-law the Emperor of Germany. The emperor had set
out meaning to invade the east of France and to attack
Rheims, the city in which the French kings were
Louis, nothing daunted, called together his vassals,
and commanded the barons to come with their troops to
his aid. Many of the barons, having had proof of
Louis's power to compel obedience, obeyed his summons.
Others, who did not dare to refuse, took care to come
too late to be of any use had a battle been fought.
When the soldiers had assembled, Louis went to the
abbey of St. Denis for the Oriflamme, which was the
national banner of France, and carried it to the head
 his army. There it waved, a banner of flame-red
silk, edged with green, fastened to a rod of gold.
As the French word for gold is or, you will now
understand the first part of the big name by which the
banner was called. The other part flamme is our word
But after all these preparations no battle was fought.
For the German emperor, hearing of the great army which
Louis the Fighter had assembled, and disturbed also by
rumours of rebellion in one of his own German towns,
first ordered his army to halt, and then ordered it to
march back to Germany.
Soon after this the German emperor died, and peace was
made with Henry I., King of England. The Oriflamme,
brought with so much solemnity from St. Denis, was then
taken back and laid once more on the altar of the
In 1129 Louis's eldest son, Philip, was crowned king.
Louis hoped that Philip would soon be able to help him
to govern the kingdom. But two years later an accident
shattered his hopes. For Philip, who was now sixteen
years old, was riding in the streets of Paris, which at
that time were both narrow and dirty, when a pig, "a
diabolical pig" Suger calls it, got between the legs of
his horse, and both the prince and the animal fell to
Philip was so badly hurt that he died the same night.
When the king knew that his son was dead his grief was
terrible. He shut himself up alone, and for days
refused to take any interest in his people.
About a fortnight after his brother's death King
Louis's second boy was crowned king. Six years later,
in 1137, Louis died, and his young son came to the throne.
Suger, the Abbot of St. Denis, tells us that when Louis
VI. was ill he was carried on a litter to St. Denis,
where he had hoped to die. "As he went," says the
abbot, "all men ran together from castle and town, or
from the plough-tail in the field, to meet him and show
de-  votion devotion to the king who had protected them
and given them peace."
In the reign of Louis VI. the schools of Paris grew
famous. One of the greatest teachers in these schools
was Abelard, a man of great eloquence and a famous
scholar. Many people journeyed from distant lands to
Paris for the sake of listening to this wonderful teacher.
With the name of Abelard is joined the name of Héloïse,
one of his pupils, whom he dearly loved.
Héloïse, although she loved Abelard, became a nun at
his bidding, but when she died she was laid in the tomb
where her master had been buried. The letters which
they wrote to one another in Latin are so beautiful
that they are still read with delight.
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