Monday, April 27, 2009

William Longsword or Guillaume,"Longue-Épée"

William Longsword or Guillaume,"Longue-Épée"

There does not seem to be much written about William Longsword's childhood or upbringing. He was given a French name, Guillaume. The Heimskringla sage of Saint Olaf says that he was born in 905 or 906 in Rouen.However Dudo and the Planctus record that he was born overseas or that his mother was from overseas and a Christian. His father separated from his mother,Poppa (referred to variously as Poppa de Senlis, Poppa de Valois) and remarried Gisela, daughter of Charles III 'the Simple. The Historia Norwegie records that after Gisela died, Rollo remarried Poppa. The separation and reunification of his parents was likely a political move on the part of his father. An example he would follow himself in his adult life.

Almost immediately after he succeeded his father, there was a rebellion of his own people because some of them believed he had become too French. Most of William's career was spent in relative obscurity, but in the late 930's he suddenly emerged onto the stage of Frankish royal politics. Two things brought him into the political forefront. His war with Arnulf of Flanders and his support for King Louis IV.

William's father Rollo was still living in 928 but probably died by 933. He had gradually transferred authority to William before his death. And William was recorded as the leader of the Normans, by Flodoard in 933.

William Longsword was involved in a war in the late 930's against Arnolph I, "The Great", Count of Flanders. Some sources state that a peace conference was held in December 942, and that Arnulph I arranged for the murder of William Longsword at that time. Other sources state that Arnolph waged war against William of Normandy, whom he defeated and slew.

William Longsword was the son of Rollo, founder of the Rollonid dynasty that would become the dukes of Normandy and after 1066, kings of England. In William's time, the Rollonid principality was still a vulnerable. The Rollinid Normans' ruled it from Rouen. This is not to say that they did not have influence outside of Normandy.

In 924 Rollo signed a treaty with Ralph (Raoul), King of France. The result being that the Bessin, Hiesmois and the Seois were became an established part of the Rollonid sphere of influence and in 927 the Breton counts of Rennes and Dol were forced to accept Rollo as their sovereign over the Contentin and Avaranchin. They most likely performed homage to Rollo, but certainly gave an oath of on aggression. within his borders.

In 930 the Normans living in the Loire attacked the Saintonge, Angoumois, Perigord and Limousin. They were defeated by the king of France. They were left weakened and the Bretons revolted against them and killed one of their chiefs named Flekan.

William supported Inkon, the leader of the Loire settlements. The Breton counts broke their agreement and joined the revolt. They believed they could take advantage of William's young age and inexperience. William defeated them and then returned to Rouen a little too hastily. The Bretons regrouped and attacked Rollonid territory as far as Bayeaux. William defeated them again and the Breton count of Dol accepted William's sovereignty over Dol and Saint-Brieuc. At the end of 931, Brittany was controlled in the east by the Rollonid Normans and in the west by the Loire Normans.

William's Rollonid Normans occupied the Cotentin, Avranchin and the territories of Dol and Saint-Brieuc. The Contentin already had Viking settlements, but were not immediately ready to accept William as their lord. The Loire Normans were still vulnerable to Breton attach in the area of Nantes. The Avranchin would be an easier area for them to defend, and in order to keep them from moving in and taking it from him, William needed to control it.

In 933 William met with the French king, Ralph (Raoul) and paid homage to him. In return Ralph gave him the land of the Bretons. William had coinage mented during his lifetime that bore the title of Duke of Brittany. By 933 William's Rollonid Normans were given royal authority in all of the area that became Normandy, but that did not guarantee them control of it. It would take them some time to ensure that.

The Scandinavians who lived in the Contentin, Avranchin and in Bessin were still pagan and maintained their independent nature. It was difficult for William to get them to accept him as their ruler and to convert to Christianity, possibly due to the appearance that he only paid lip service to religion himself. Due to areas being un-pacified and especially part of southern Brittany still being undefeated, William found it necessary to build fortifications at Pontorson to protect the Couesnon River crossing. He upgraded the fortification of Avranches, where there was already a castle in existence. He also built a castle at Mortain. As well as fortification, he used settlement as a means of controlling his domain. He encouraged Normans to settle in the eastern part of Brittany and also invited Vikings from colonies in the Contentin, Britain as well as Ireland.

William had begun the process of consolidating Viking and Norman colonies under Rollonid control into what would become a unified Normandy.

If trouble within his own domains was not enough for William to handle, he also had to deal with trouble originating across the English Channel. In 931, Aethelstan, king of Wessex welcomed the exiles from Brittany, Mathedoe and Alan "Red Beard" among them. There were also exiles from the Rollonid Vikings and the Vikings of the Loire in Flanders and France who also wanted to free their land from William. In 936 Aethelstan gave a fleet of ships to Alan to use. He and his followers landed on the coast of Brittany near Dol. They massacred a surprised Norman garrison and move on to the west. The Norman colonists resisted, but he advanced with an ever increasing army toward Nantes and besieged it. On 1st August 939, the joint armies of Alan 'Red Beard', count Berenger and count Hugh II of Maine defeated the colonists at the battle of Trans, ten kilometres south-west of Pontorson. This freed Brittany from Norman occupation and Alan was proclaimed duke.

Alan did not try to retake the Contentin or Avranchin, because there were strong Norman garrisons there. In 942, he did homage to King Louis IV of France, during which he had to promise not to claim these areas in the future. He also had to give up his claim to Mayenne in order to maintain support from Hugh II, count of Main. In 942 Harold "Bluetooth", king of Denmard had temporarily lost his throne. He made an agreement with William to settle in the Contentin, with his 60 ships, until such a time as he was able to regain his throne. This agreement most likely arose out of a sense of Scandinavian solidarity. During the 940's, William also built a chain of castle from Tinchebrai to Teilleul in order to provide protection from Breton attack. At this point, the western border of Normandy was Brittany.

Franco-Norman Relations

Backtracking a bit, we find that in 927 William and his father Rollo met Charles the Simple at St. Quentin. Charles had been deposed in 923 and had been put in prison by Herbert II of Vermandois. Although they had made a previous agreement with King Ralph, who had usurped Charles' throne, they were intending to support Charles against Ralph. But Charles died in 929, making it unnecessary for them to be contentious toward Ralph.

In 931, Hugh the Great, a French Duke, seized land at Braine-sur-Vesle, south east of Soissons. The land belonged to the diocese of Rouen, and was considered a hostile act. They had previously had good relations with Hugh and they had the previously mentioned non aggression pact with King Ralph. In 933 William again met with Ralph and made another non aggression agreement. Ralph confirmed his sovereignty over the Contentin and Avranchin and his protectorate over Brittany.

At some point between 935-939 William married Luitgard, who was Hugh Vermandois' daughter. His successor was Richard who was the product of his Danish marriage with Sprota De Senlis. Due to this being a Danish marriage, some would not view Richard as legitimate.

In 936 King Ralph died and there was contention over who would succeed him. His brother, Hugh the Black chose to succeed him in Burgundy, but not to try to take the French throne. Hugh the Great was the next logical choice, but he also chose not to take the throne. He sent for Charles' son to come back from his exile in England and Louis IV became the next king of France. Hugh apparently intended to influence Louis as might a puppet master.

Louis IV and Hugh the Great went to Burgundy to have Hugh the Black recognize the fifteen year old Louis as the rightful king. Hugh's plans did not work out so well. In 937 Louis IV moved away from Hugh's influence and set up his court at Laon. During the next few years, the political situation in France was constantly changing. The prime players, Louis IV, Herbert II Vermandois, Hugh the Great, Arnulf of Flanders and other nobles, were constantly vying for position, influence and power, forming and dissolving agreements and alliances as it suited them.

In the principality of Lotharingia, the nobility rebelled against Otto I. Louis went to Lotharingia and received homage from these nobles. Otto's response was to launch raids into West Francia. Louis was not able to oppose him and applied to Aethelstan of Wessex for aid. Hugh the Great, Herbert of Vermandois and Arnulf of Flanders, took advantage of the situation and agreed to support Otto against Louis IV. William decided that it was in his interest to unite with the others, in order to curb the power of France.

Louis's leading ally in Lotharingia died and Louis withdrew from Lotharingia. Hugh the Great and Herbert II Vermandois met with Otto I in 941. This time William went instead to meet with Louis. He committed to Louis and in return for this Louis recognized William's rights to the lands given to his father by King Charles the simple in 911. Although it was not direct action against Louis, when Hugh and Herbert attacked Rheims, in order to depose the archbishop that was Louis' chancellor, William joined them. After they captured the town, Herbert had his son reinstated as the archbishop. Herbert and Hugh went to the royal stronghold of Laon and laid siege to it. As per his earlier agreement with Louis, William did not go with them.

Louis IV was able to defend Laon and his enemies abandoned the attack. For a while, Louis would mount expeditions into Otto's territory and Otto would mount attacks on Louis. The success of Louis IV against Otto kept Hugh and Herbert on the sidelines out of the fighting. But Louis was not able to gain a decisive victory. In 941, Hugh, William and Herbert met with Arnulf were still biding their time and not entering the fighting. In 942, Louis IV sent the count of Douai, to Rouen as a royal envoy to negotiate a new peace. Once an agreement had been met, Louis went to Rouen to seal the treaty. During this process William mediated between Louis and Otto. This in effect neutralized Hugh and Herbert by removing their most powerful supporter Otto. As an added bonus to this, the most powerful Norman landowners recognized Richard as William Longsword's heir.

In December 942, Arnulf called a peace conference with William; at this meeting William was murdered. Arnulf was supposedly responsible for his death. A Planctus, or mourning prayer was composed shortly after, in approximately 943. This poem survives only in incomplete versions and attempts to elevate William to saintly status. Despite the bias, it is an important source of Norman history. It is the earliest work written about the Normans and from their point of view.

Normandy's Relationship with Flanders

Normandy and Flanders had maintained an uneasy peace since the 920's. During this time, Arnulf had been expanding his power, by taking control of the counties of Boulogne and Ternois. He also disinherited his nephews. He then made an alliance with Herbert II Vermandois by marrying his sister, Adela in about 934.

In 929 Herbert De Vermandois, aided by Hugh the Great, besieged Mortreuil. Montreuil was in the territory of the count of Ponthieu, Herluin II. During the conflict, Hugh defected to Herluin's side. Three years later, Herluin defeated Herbert. But managed to regain some leverage by capturing the castle of Ham, in St.Quentin. Ten years after the hostilities began, Herbert De Vermandois returned to besiege Montreuil, aided by Arnulf of Flanders and gained control of all of Ponthieu and Vimeu between the rivers Somme and Bresle. Herluin II turned to William Longsword for aid. He sent troops from the Contentin to attack Montreuil and they recaptured it. Most of Arnulf;'s garrison was killed. In return for this military aid, Herluin II had to perform homage to William Longsword.This newly gained area, provided a buffer between Normandy and Flanders.

Hugh the Great, Arnulf, and many other French lords, the Normans still represented an unwelcome intrusion in France that they were determined to rid themselves of. Arnulf sent a message to William saying that he wanted to settle their disagreement over Montreuil. This is the meeting he went to and was assassinated at.

The Planctus of William Longsword

Two manuscripts of the Planctus survive, dating from the early 11th century. They appear to be taken from an earlier version that does not exist any more. Modern copies of Medieval manuscripts frequently don't come from originals, but from later copies. Sometimes, this means that they contain attempts to deliberately alter them or inaccuracies, caused by their translators attempt to make multiple copies agree with each other when they contain differences.

The copies that survive are corrupted, but still preserve the general sense of the original. It has been edited four times by three different scholars, who had to make decisions on how to deal with problem areas. Jules Lair published full sized translations of both manuscripts.

Here is a translation into English by Robert Helmerichs:

The Planctus For William Longsword

Verse 1

Ringing out to the farthest reaches, tearful plectrum of the tongue
echoing, blowing, with a sad heart,
mourn the loss of the great peace, once ours,
now taken away.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 2

This man, born in an overseas city to a father
remaining in the error of the pagans,
but to a mother dedicated to the nourishing faith,
was washed by the sacred water.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 3

With his father dying the infidels,
warlike, rose up against him:
trusting completely in God, he
subjugated them to himself with his strong right hand.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 4

One time he made King Louis
a lord to him, one who would reign,
in order that with him he would surpass his enemy
and rule in the way of kings.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 5

He, taught the unity of the Trinity
by Martin, the trinity of the Unity,
three are one and one is three,
he founded a monastery...
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 6

.which was named in honor of Saint Peter.
After which, we should admit, he would have brought himself there,
where he would have seemed to be devoted to the life of the monks in his fashion.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 7

With so many good things needing to be counted, we hesitate
to announce such a crime, a loss to everyone,
to be recited with sobbing and weeping,
a lamb butchered by a wolf.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 8

There was a certain wealthy man, full of trickery,
and he was called Arnulf the Fleming,
with whom he associated himself by a sworn oath,
that fortunate one to the miserable one.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 9

A meeting was set up for a Saturday,
with no hostage given, at a certain river
that brutal one hurried to the innocent one,
the milder one to be sacrificed.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 10

For gathering together on the following day,
as if friends (merely by behavior and not in heart)
they indicated that they would speak,
concealing their animosity.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 11

With the sun setting in the west,
the innocent one rowing back across,
[gibberish, but the sense seems to be “messengers called him back.”]
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 12

“A secret of [our] master is concealed from you until now,
which will be beneficial to himself and to you.”
Considering it on this side [of the river], dreading the one he was going to meet,
ordering it, he hurried [back across the river].
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 13

They met him as he was disembarking from the alder ship,
hiding [weapons?] in their cowls;
one of them [hit?] his head with a sword
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 14

Seeing this, two avengers*
murdered and plundered the unarmed one;
in such a manner they sent his body to the earth, his spirit to heaven,
him to Christ.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

*A tradition holds that after William defeated a Norman rival, Riulf, he treacherously had Riulf murdered, and that his own murder was an act of vengeance by Riulf’s relatives.

Verse 15

There were two noblemen of the world
O William, called by the same name,
You were one of them, called “of Rouen”;
and the other still shines at Poitou.
Let us pray for them.
All weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 16

O William, bringer and lover of peace,
consoler and defender of the poor,
supporter of widows and orphans,
now joyfully joined to heaven,
all weep for innocent, slain William.

Verse 17

Hail Richard, Rouennais count,
prince and father of the county, hail;
may Christ concede the days of life to you,
so that you may be with him without end. Amen.

The information on the Planctus was found at

William Longsword's Rule of Normandy

The position that William was born to inherit meant that he was sole legislator. He had absolute power. He controlled the church within his principality. There was no law that put him into subjection to anyone, he chose not to subject himself to.

From the beginning it had been the Rollonid Norman modus operandi, to assimilate the customs of the lands they colonized and inhabited. They were not prone to being overly attached to Viking customs. Their subjects may have intended to keep the old pagan ways, but the Rollinid family saw that the way to advance themselves was to abolish the old and establish the new.

It was not their way to establish courts of barons with whom they shared power or depended upon to maintain their own. There was no one to tell him what laws he was allowed to make or enforce. The only contemporary evidence of exceptions to this is the fact that he appointed a mayor of the palace. It would be hard to determine precisely what this position was. It may have been the title given to his chief counselor and a possibility that he served as regent when William was away; as a sort of second in command. Some chroniclers seem to think that it meant something more like a constable, important military commander or maybe his personal bodyguard. It may have entailed all of them.

As part of his administration he produced coinage, which he had a monopoly over. And he established new towns in the Contentin. And although they did not take part in the decision making process of government, he had seargeants, or men who received land in return for service to William. These services were things such as maintaining order, judicial and military service and protecting therie lands, which they held in a sort of feudal obligation to William. This served the joint purpose of delegating duties that he could not possibly carry out by himself as well as keeping his people happy with rewards.

Some of his people must have felt that he was a good ruler in order for the Planctus to have stood the test of time, but good is relative.

The church did not presume to try and enforce ecclesiastical restraint upon him. Rather, they were answerable to him. He appointed the bishops. He disregarded Papal supremacy and Canon law with regard to these appointments.

Despite the temptation to be despotic, William seems to have been a wise, yet firm ruler. In order to be the effective administrator that he was, he had to rely on personal strength and integrity. He was equal to the responsibility that had been placed with him. He was not often seen to be oppressive or unjust.

When it suited his purposes he behave in a deeply pious and Godly manner. Yet, he was not a celibate man. Whether or not his Danish marriage to Sprota was a legitimate and lawful one or not, depends on the opinion of the person asking. But he obviously had no qualms about getting rid of her when he chose to remarry. He did not look to the laws of Christianity to restain his desire.

He was apt to swear an oath and then go back on it later, something condemned by Christianity. Whereas he showered gifts on his soldiers and friends, he did not find it necessary to confer this favor upon the church. Those whom he appointed to religious position were often no better than they had to be and they were encouraged them in their corruption by showing them favor, over the more pious brethren. Hugh the Monk of St. Denis was reputedly a very impious man.

His disrespect for monks is evident in a story recounted in The History of Normandy and of England. The had been a monastery at Jumieges, but it had been destroyed some time since the Vikings had come. It had become so over grown that it was now forest. William decided to hunt there as he had never explored it before. While riding his horse through the wood, he encountered two old men laboring. He demanded to know where they had come from and what they were doing. They had disturbed his hunting and the sight of them made him angry. In an effort to be hospitable and appease him, they offered to share their meager meal of barley bread and water. He was rude and refused them. He went on ahead after his game. He and his dogs were chasing a wild boar. The boar turned about face and charged toward the dogs and William's horse. His javelin missed and the boar charged again and knocked the horse to the ground.

When William regained consciousness, he was met with the faces of the old monks, standing next to a pallet they had lain him on. They had stopped his bleeding and bandaged his bruises, probably saving his life. Their humane treatment and his awareness of just how close he had come to death caused him to be filled with contrition. He regretted his harshness and anger and realized that he needed to do something to repay them and show his thanks.

He had the monastery repaired, a new roof put on the choir, cloisters were built, a refectory and dormitory cells. Having done this he realized that the place needed monks to fill it, but he had none to send from within the area and would need to get them elsewhere. William had his sister apply to Saint Cyprian's monastery and the Suprerior of the house for help. Twelve monks and the Superior named Martin went to Jumieges from Poitiers. Martin became the abbot, and William paid to be commemorated as the founder.

William enjoyed the intelligent and learned conversation of the abbot and travelled there often for his company. The History of Normandy and of England speculates that he may have also went there to rest and for prayer.

William was aware that the political stability and social stability as well, depended on conversion to Christianity.

In summary of his life, William Longsword was a man prone to weaknesses of the flesh and the tendency to have selfish motives, no matter how much he had intentions of being a pious man. He may have had personal reasons for attempting to be a Christian, but it was also polically motivated and partly inspired by ambition.


The History of Normandy and of England
by Francis Palgrave - 1857,_2nd_Duke_of_Normandy_(893-942)

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