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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

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THE TRUCE OF GOD

[73] QUEEN CONSTANCE'S evil influence did not end when King Robert died.

Her youngest son Robert was her favourite, and she wished to see him on the throne of France. When therefore Henry, her eldest son, became king after his fathers death. Constance was so angry that she did all she could to win the most powerful barons from their allegiance to Henry I. She succeeded so well that civil war broke out.

Henry I. determined to keep the crown that was his by right, and he begged the Duke of Normandy, a descendant of Rollo, to help him put down the rebellion which his mother had provoked.

Robert of Normandy at once came to the help of his king, and fought as his ancestors had fought of old, so valiantly, that ever after he was known as Robert le Diable, which means Robert the Devil.

Constance and her party were vanquished, and seeing that she had now nothing to gain by continuing to fight, the queen-mother made friends with her eldest son.

Henry I. showed that he could be generous, by forgiving his mother, and giving the title of Duke of Burgundy to his brother Robert, while the Duke of Normandy was rewarded for the help he had given to the king by the gift of large tracts of land which lay between the river Seme and the river Oise.

The war was over, but there was still great-distress in the land. For three years the harvests had been growing poorer and poorer. Even the rich had little to eat, while the [74] peasants were forced to satisfy their hunger with roots which they found in the forests. When these failed they devoured human flesh.

After famine came the plague, and so many hundreds of poor folk died, that before they could be buried wolves came out of the forests and feasted upon the bodies.

So great was the distress that the bishops and clergy of France met together to see if they could do anything to help the poor oppressed people. The barons were still grinding them down, and exacting more taxes than were their due from their hungry, plague-stricken vassals.

We do not hear that the bishops and priests were able to give food to those who were starving, but they did what they could when they said that the "Peace of God" was to be held sacred. The "Peace of God" forbade the nobles to take from the poor more taxes than were their due. It also forbade fighting and violence throughout the land

But if at first the "Peace of God" made the nobles curb their angry passions, and behave less harshly toward the peasants, they soon forgot all about it, and slipped back to their usual fierce and cruel ways.

"The lords do us nought but ill," cried the peasants.

Every day is for us a day of suffering, toil and weariness; every day we have our cattle taken from us to work for our lords."

At length the peasants met together to find, if it were possible, a way out of their troubles.

"Why suffer all this evil to be done to us, and not get out of our plight?" they said to one another. "Are we not men even as our lords? Let us learn to resist the knight, and we shall be free to cut down trees, to hunt and fish after our fashion, and we shall work our will in flood and field and wood."

Poor peasants! Their wants were so simple—just to be allowed to fish, to hunt, and to go into the woods to cut firewood.

[75] But when they ventured to send some of their number to the nobles to complain of their sufferings, and to tell their simple needs, listen to what was done.

The nobles were so angry that the peasants had dared to complain, that they cut off the hands and feet of their messengers. Then they sent them away, to go home as they could, and show to those who had sent them what they too might expect if they dared again to complain of the wrongs which they endured.

That such things could be done showed the bishops that the "Peace of God" had failed. They therefore now proclaimed the "Truce of God."

By the "Truce of God" they believed that at least certain days might be kept free from violence. It forbade any one to fight each week from Wednesday evening until Monday morning. Christmas Day, Easter, Lent, and indeed all the great saints' days were also set apart. And this proved of more use than the "Peace of God." The nobles, finding themselves forced to curb then- angry passions on certain days, grew gradually less violent. Many of them laid aside their swords and brought their wealth to the altar, and then set out, either alone or in small companies, on a pilgrimage.

For already, in the year 1082, it had become a custom for those who were sorry for their sins to go to the Holy Land. If they might but touch the sepulchre in which the body of Jesus had lain, or spend a long night on the mount called Calvary, the pilgrims believed that all their sins would be forgiven.

Among the nobles who went to the Holy Land at this time was Robert, Duke of Normandy.

Before he set out the duke assembled the nobles of Normandy, and, lest he should not return, he appointed his little son William, who was then seven years old, to be their lord. This little boy became William the Great, Conqueror of England.

[76] Duke Robert reached Jerusalem in safety, but on his way home he took ill and died.

At first the barons of Normandy refused to acknowledge William as their lord. Yet he was a manly lad, and had already begun to rule his companions. At fifteen years of age he begged to be armed as a knight. When this was done, "it was a sight both pleasant and terrible to see him guiding his horse's career, flashing with his sword, gleaming with his shield, and threatening with his casque and javelin."

William could not subdue the rebellious barons alone, so he asked King Henry to come to his aid.

At first Henry helped the young duke, but afterwards, fearing lest William should grow too powerful, he went over to the side of the barons and fought against him.

But the young duke was brave and strong. His friends, too, were loyal and true. So when the armies of the king and of the duke met. Henry was utterly defeated, and never again ventured into William's lands with an army.

Two years after he had been defeated by William, Henry I. died, having done little for the good of his country.


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