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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

KING ROBERT AND THE POPE

[66] THE Merovingian race of kings began with Clovis, and ended with a shadowy figure of a king called Chilperic. The Cariovmgian race began with Pepin and ended with Louis V.

Hugh Capet, Count of Paris, had been the most powerful noble m France for several years before he became king.

In 987 AD., however, he was raised to the throne by the nobles of northern France, and thus he became the founder of the Capetian line of kings.

Hugh's name Capet is said by some to have been given to him because, instead of a crown, he always wore a "cape" "cap" or "hood" dedicated to one of the saints called St Martin. Others tell us that the size of the king's head made his people call him Capet, caput  being the Latin word for head.

Although the nobles had given Hugh the title of King, they still considered themselves, if not quite, yet almost his equal. They could not forget that but lately he had held only the title of Count.

Some of the lords, especially those in the south of France who had had nothing to do with bestowing on Hugh the title of King, refused to do homage to him as their sovereign. Others were outwardly loyal, but in their hearts they resented Hugh Capet's claims.

The king took no pains to soothe the pride of these haughty nobles. Indeed, his treatment made them even more resentful of his authority.

[67] "Who made thee a count?" indignantly demanded Hugh of a noble who behaved in his presence as though the sovereign were still only the Count of Paris.

"Who made thee a king?" quickly retorted the count to which rough answer, as far as we know, the king had nothing to say.

During the nine years that he reigned Hugh was constantly trying to weaken the power of the nobles. As he grew stronger he would punish them, too, for their haughty ways.

But, in spite of all he could do, the nobles remained more powerful than the king wished. To strengthen himself still more against his enemies, Hugh therefore thought it would be well to win the favour of the bishops and priests He had inherited many rich lands and abbeys from his father, Hugh the White, and these he now bestowed upon the Church. He thus gained the goodwill of the clergy and when they called him the "Defender of the Church," the title pleased him well. But what perhaps pleased him still more was that the bishops, who were powerful, and had great influence with the people, took his side against the barons.

After Hugh had been made "Defender of the Church" he would often lay aside his royal robes and appear before his people in the dress of an abbot

His last words to his son Robert, who succeeded him in 996 A.D., were to bid him ever cherish the Church, and protect her treasures.

It was during the reign of Hugh Capet that the difference in language, in dress, and in manners, between the north and the south of France, became clear.

Those who lived in the south laughed at the way the people in the north pronounced their words. It was so much rougher and harsher than their way.

In dress, too, the southern people were more gay, and as we would say, more fashionable, while their manners [68] were more polished and polite than those of the people who lived in the north of France. But in another chapter you will read more about those who lived in the south.

Robert the Pious began to reign when he was twenty years old. He was a gentle, simple prince, who loved music, and often he was to be seen in the church of St. Denis, singing in the choir, side by side with the monks.

"He read his Psalter daily," says an old chronicler, "and was gentle, gracious, polished, and he sincerely loved to do a kindness."

But these were rough days in which Robert the Pious lived, and his people often misunderstood or even despised his goodness, while of his kindness they were not slow to take advantage.

One day King Robert saw a priest, as he left church, steal a silver candlestick from the altar. Instead of reproving the thief, Robert the Pious said to him, "Friend, run for your life to your home," and at the same time he gave him money for the journey.

Meanwhile the candlestick was missed, and the priests began to search for the thief.

The king said nothing until he thought the man was far away. Then he asked the anxious seekers, "Why trouble yourselves so much about a candlestick? God has given it to one of his poor."

When Robert went for a journey, it was not in royal state, but accompanied only by twelve poor men. One of these poor men, knowing the king's gentleness, dared to cut a rich gold ornament from his robe. The king, though he saw what the poor man was doing, left him unrebuked.

The rough barons of France had little sympathy with Robert's ways, and soon they began to laugh at him, because he was not strong as well as kind.

After King Robert had reigned for two or three years, a great gloom slowly began to settle upon the country. [69] Many people believed that a thousand years after the birth of Christ the world would come to an end. And now the time was drawing near.

The nobles were afraid, and wished to atone for all the wrong things they had done. They could think of no better way to do this than to give their lands, houses, slaves to the Church, and to go themselves on a pilgrimage to Palestine, where Jesus had lived and died.

The poorer folk left their fields untilled, unsown, for where was the need to plough and sow when before harvest time they might all have perished? Rich and poor alike crowded into the churches to confess their sins.

The dreaded year 1000 dawned at last, and, to the wonder of every one, the sun still rose day after day, and the world still went on its quiet way. Then, little by little, the people forgot their fears, and went back to their old selfish, thoughtless lives. But the Church had grown richer and more powerful during those last terrible months, and it had now a stronger hold than ever over the people.

King Robert was, as you know, devoted to the Church, yet he drew down her anger on himself and on his people. He had married a lady named Bertha, whom he dearly loved. Queen Bertha was a cousin of the king, and the Pope said that cousins were forbidden to marry one another. The king must therefore send his wife away, or incur the anger of the Church.

But King Robert loved Bertha too well to send her away, so the Pope excommunicated both the king and the queen. This was a terrible punishment, for to be excommunicated meant to be banished from the Church and all her sacraments, and to be shunned and forsaken by every good Catholic.

No sooner had the Pope pronounced his sentence of excommunication, than the king and queen were deserted by their court, and forced to live almost entirely alone. They found it difficult sometimes to get enough to eat, [70] for all their servants had run away, save two poor slaves. Even they would not stay in the room with the king a moment longer than they could help, so great was the power of the Pope's curse.

But I have not yet told you the worst. As the king would not yield, the Pope next put the whole land under an Interdict or Ban.

An Interdict meant that all the churches were closed, that all the bells hung silent in the belfries, that the images of saints were taken down and laid upon beds of ashes and thorns, and that the pictures in the churches were covered up, although, as the churches were shut, there was no one to look at them.

As long as the Interdict lasted, no baptism service, no marriage service, could take place. The dead were buried as was needful, but no prayers were said over the grave.

Thus stricken and sad, the people suffered with their king.

King Robert, for all his gentle ways, defied the Pope for many weary weeks, but at length he could no longer bear to think of the sufferings of his people, and for their sake he sent Queen Bertha to a convent. And in the convent the poor queen often wept, for well she knew that never again would she see King Robert.

The Pope was triumphant. As for the king, he was at once taken back into the favour of the Church, and the Interdict was removed from the land. Then the doors of the churches were thrown wide open, and the bells rang joyful peals. The images, too, were put back in their niches, and the pictures were unveiled.

King Robert knew that he had made his people glad, but he never forgot Queen Bertha, not even when he married a beautiful lady called Constance, who unhappily was as cruel as she was beautiful.

Constance was the daughter of the Count of Toulouse, [71] one of the greatest nobles of southern France. In her father's house she had ruled as a queen, and was both gay and haughty. She and her lords and ladies brought with them to Paris many new customs and new ways of dressing.

"Short hair, shaven chins, ridiculous boots turned up at the toes," such were some of the new fashions; while the strangers" "mode of living, their appearance, their armour, the harness of their horses, are," says an old writer, "all equally whimsical." It seemed too that these people" thought and spoke as strangely as they dressed."

As I told you, Queen Constance was a cruel woman. Through her influence the king too sometimes forgot his kindly ways.

Two priests, one of whom was the queen's own confessor, were charged with not believing all that the Pope said they ought to believe. This crime was called Heresy.

The king, urged by the queen, actually commanded that these two priests should be punished for their heresy by being burned alive.

As the two priests passed Constance on their way to the stake, the queen, it is said, thrust out one of her confessor's eyes with a small iron-tipped staff which she held in her hand.

This was the first time that Christians put other Christians to death for not believing all that the Pope said they ought to believe.

Constance had three sons. She taught these princes no reverence for their father the king, and when they grew up they rebelled, and at length even took up arms against him.

King Robert was strong enough to compel his sons to lay down their arms, but their conduct and his wife's cruelty broke his heart. He died in the year 1031. If his family were not grieved at his death, his subjects wept bitterly, because they had lost the king who had almost always been kind and gentle.

[72] "Widows and orphans did beat their breasts and went to and from his tomb, crying, 'Whilst Robert was king and ordered all, we lived in peace, we had nought to fear. May his soul . . . mount up and dwell for ever with Jesus Christ, the King of kings.' "

Thus, amid the tears and blessings of his people, Robert the Pious was laid to rest.


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