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Medieval Sourcebook:
Documents relating to the Military Orders: How William became a monk


Translations and notes permitted or copyright Helen J. Nicholson.
Original translations 1994–98; this edition 2013

Introduction

How knights viewed monasticism in the late twelfth century!

From Les deux rédactions en vers du Moniage Guillaume, chansons de geste du XIIe siècle, ed. W. Cloetta, vol.1 (Paris, 1906), translated and copyright H. J. Nicholson.

This is the second version – written before 1180, but not much before; probably in the 1170s. It was clearly written for a warrior audience (read it and you’ll see how this is clear) and was intended to be recited or sung to a group. The original is in verse. William Shortnose, historically Duke William of Toulouse (755-c. 814), a cousin of Charlemagne, was a very well-known hero; the tales of his exploits were very popular in France in the middle ages, and form a rough equivalent of the modern TV serial. These stories have a distinctive humorous and satirical content. Explanatory comments are in square brackets.

Text

1. Would you like to hear a good song about a proud family? You ought to enjoy it a lot; all storytellers know this one. The story is contained in a roll in [the abbey of] St Denis. It will be a long time until it is forgotten; the one who made it into a song was a worthy man! Today we’ll talk of one of Aimery’s sons – that’s William Shortnose, the marquis – and the great troubles he had in this world.
Lord barons, you’ve often heard how William acted against the pagans, and against Thibaut the rich Moor, and how he took Thibaut’s wife Orable and conquered his great territories by force. And, free and noble knights, you have heard of the sorrow he suffered in [the battle of] Aliscans [AD 793], over his nephew Vivien, who was killed, and Bertram, whom the pagans captured, Guicard the doughty, Gerart and Guielin [his nephews]; how William Shortnose fled and went to Orange, to the noble Guiborc [who had been called Orable] and how he went to Louis [the Pious] in France, for the help that he gave much against his will. You well know how he came back with Rainouart [Guiborc’s brother], whom he loved and cherished and who freed Bertram the paladin. Then William the marquis gave him his lovely-faced niece in marriage, and gave him the land and the country of Poupillart. Matters continued, I don’t know what else to tell you; Guiborc died and the marquis was sad. Today you will hear, if you wish, how William left the world and became a holy and blessed monk. He entered the abbey of Aignienes. Today his troubles begin; there never was a man who bore so much for the love of God Who never lies. And Our Lord rewarded him so well that his soul is above in paradise. This is an excellent song to listen to.

2. Today we must sing of William and the great troubles he endured. When lovely-faced Guiborc was dead, William Shortnose considered that he had killed many Saracens and Slavs, and brought many noblemen to their deaths. Now he wished to put himself right with God. He had lost many of his great family, and he no longer wished to remain in the world. Instead, he decided to become a monk. I don’t know what else I need say: Count William did not wish to hang about: he left his land and all his domains, he left the tower and fortress of Orange, and his great hall Gloriete, and Tortelose and Porpaillart on the sea. He left everything in Rainouart’s hands. One morning before it was day, before it was even light, he prepared his departure. None of the men-at-arms or young warriors knew a thing about it; he told no man alive except Jesus, the King of Majesty. He left Pourpillart alone, on his horse and richly equipped with his mail shirt and helmet and sharp sword. He set out along an old road, and headed straight for Aigniennes [Aniane]. All night he concentrated on spurring his horse, until daybreak when the sky grew light.
His men wept when they did not find him and found that he had left them behind in Pourpillart. “Oh, God!” they said, “where has William gone, the best count born of a mother? Who will now give gold and silver and money, horses and weapons and ermine cloaks to the impoverished young warriors? We have lost him, he has stolen away from us, we will never see him again in our lives! He has gone off sadly because of the death of Guiborc, and because of the death of his lovely-faced niece Alice.” There was great grief expressed in the great hall: they wrung their hands and tore their hair, but their grief wasn’t worth a penny because the marquis was set on spurring his horse onwards.
What can I say? He went on so far, like a man does when he has yielded himself up to God, that he came to Aigniennes which he wanted so much to reach. He entered by the gate, and commended himself to God.
The porter was terrified: “Holy Mary,” he said, “where’s this one from? What devil brought him here?”
The count dismounted from his swift warhorse and headed straight for the abbey church where he called the whole convent [monastic community] before him. Today you’ll hear how William Shortnose became a holy and blessed monk, how he went to get fish from the sea and how the thieves wanted to rob him of his clothes.

3. William has arrived at Aigniennes. He entered the gate disturbed and lost in thought, often calling on the name of the true Father of Jesus. The porter was in a panic: “God, Father in heaven above,” he said, “what demon did this man come from? I’ve never seen a man of such stature, so ill-fashioned, so big, and so stoutly-built. Look at those shoulders, those arms and that body! I believe he's come from the depths of hell or from master Beelzebub. I wish he was in the depths of Montagu! – he would never come in here again. Holy Mary, where was such a man born?”
Count William heard him loud and clear, but remained silent and did not reply a word. The count dismounted at the abbey church. But he had not come in such poverty that he did not have good clothes emblazoned with gold, silken fabrics and cloths of orphrey, and he was carrying a thousand silver marks [£666] or more, his golden helmet and his pointed sword – the sword was Joyous, which used to belong to Charlemagne, with which he had killed many unbelieving pagans. He had tied all these things on to a hairy packhorse.
He sent for the convent [of monks], and they came before him. The abbot came; he was old and white-haired. They saw the count dismount, and when they saw him they were in such a panic, that if anyone welcomed him it would be the worst for them! They stayed no longer but turned and fled; not one remained, neither bald nor hairy. A few remained among the vaults, saying to each other, “We are lost! Antichrist has come among us! We will be destroyed by him.”
When the count saw this happen, and that all the monks fled at the sight of him, “God in Heaven!” said William, “What the devil have these monks seen? In my opinion they have gone out of their senses. May they all be hanged!” And then he realised what he had said, and went on: “God, what have I said? I am deceived! God, I have sinned, I want to be a monk, but my brothers have sent me out of my senses.”

4. Now William was standing before the door of the abbey church; everyone abandoned him and let him wander. Not a monk nor anyone of the cloister was left, prior nor abbot, provost nor cellarer, nor chamberlain nor valet nor usher; everyone had fled, including the steward and the butler; if anyone dared approach him, it would be the worst for them! One said to another, “See there the Enemy [the devil]! A curse on the porter, who let him ride in!” But they acted wrongly and spoke in sin, because the porter was not at all happy about it; he would have much preferred to have been in Montpellier.
Count William began to get angry: “God, Father who will judge the world,” he said, “I thought that I would put myself right with you and acquit myself of my mortal sins, but these people are giving me a lot of trouble. They don’t want to approach me. But, by St Peter, it won’t do them any good! I will be a monk, no matter who gets upset about it; and I will serve and exalt the holy monks, for I have committed so many grievous sins, and brought so many knights and men-at-arms and good Christians to their deaths – those whom I led into great battles where the Saracens hacked them to pieces – that if God does not prevent it, I will be condemned to death.” Then the lord began to weep. “God, Father,” he said, “have pity on me!”
At these words he tied up his warhorse. The fierce-faced marquis entered the abbey church, went and knelt before the cross and prayed to God, Who has everything in His hands, that He would allow him to begin such a work that he might lodge with Him in Heaven, and that He would uphold the warrior Louis [king of France]. Tears flowed from the count’s fair eyes. The abbot was in a vault behind. He saw William crying and the tears falling and greatly humbling his heart. Then he began to call his monks, rang the bell for a chapter meeting, and had them assembled. They came – they did not dare avoid it. They came to the count without more delay. William saw this and rose to his feet before them.
The noble abbot began to speak to him: “Who are you, my lord? Don’t refuse to tell us. You seem to be an important man, as God me help.”
The count replied in a most friendly manner: “For God’s sake, lord abbot, be quiet and listen to me. I will speak my name, and not try to refuse: know for truth that I am William the shortnosed, I will not conceal it; son of Aimery of the fief of Narbonne; and my brothers are the esteemed Aymer of Brubant, Bernard the mighty, Hernaud the red and Bueves the warrior. I wish to leave the world for love of God. Know for truth that I have done so much evil that there is no one on earth who can tell the half of it. I give myself to God and to St Aignien, and I will be a monk, if you will grant this. I have brought a thousand pounds in cash to give to the monks of the church. I will leave here my good double-meshed mail shirt, my helmet and horse and my good steel sword, on condition that, if I need them, I can have my weapons back. The money will be yours, and I will never ask for it again.”
The abbot was joyful and glad when he heard him. “My lord,” he said, “you have spoken well; when we saw you we thought that everything was going to be broken up and we were all terrified. Now we will be willing and happy to receive you.” The convent granted all this to him, because they did not dare to oppose him in anything. They began to talk to each other: “In the name of Our Lady, what will become of this monk? No one ever saw a monk so big under heaven. Anyone who annoys him is a fool; he could crush him with a single blow of the fist.”
Let’s not make a long story out of it: the abbot had the packhorse unloaded, and had the money – which he was very fond of – taken, and the mail shirt and helmet and steel sword. He had the horse taken to the stable. The abbot commanded that it should have enough to eat. He had William’s clothes taken off him, and had him washed and bathed, and then had him shaved and tonsured, and dressed and boots put on him. Then they began to teach him their order [the Rule]. When they had got him ready this far, all the bells rang in the church. His clothes were so big, wide and full that four other monks could have got into them.
At this point they sat down to eat. They were well served with wine and dainties. The count ate – he knew how to look after himself; he ate as much as three other members of the cloister, and drank more than half a sester of wine. All the monks began to stare at him. They said to each other: “Look at that plunderer! By St Richier’s body, he eats more than all of us can manage together.”

5. William remained in the abbey. For God’s sake he had left his wealth and all the land he held. He had taken on the cowl, the gown and the hair shirt, the great boots, the tribous and the shirt. Each night the count went to matins, and called on God, the son of St Mary, to give him eternal life. But the convent resented him, because he ate too much, it seemed to them, and he consumed more than three others in the abbey. When they were given their habit and hair shirt, the hood and soft cowls, one of them used five and a half ells of cloth, but the noble count needed fifteen. When one of the monks had his ration, one monk had no more each day than a morsel and a single gallon of wine with the dregs; but Mr William, as far as I heard, had to have a great sester of wine and five big portions and he ate a peacock and a swan and a side and a half of a large pig. The monks were annoyed and very angry about this, and talked about it between themselves in hushed voices. They said to each other: “Look, for St Mary’s sake, at this devil who is ruining us all! In a little while there won't be a thing left; he will have starved out and destroyed the whole abbey, as God bless me. The hundred devils prolong his life! May it please God, Who has everything in His hands, that he was now in the depths of Sataliz, or in Toivre or the Red Sea!”
Count William took no notice of this; he didn’t give a clove of garlic for it. I can’t describe all of his situation to you, but eventually the abbot and monks all hated him, Jesus curse them! But the servants loved him and held him dear, because he got them expensive food and gave them clothes and underpants and shirts. They served him everywhere and carried out his commands, but all the monks hated and cursed him. Today you will hear how they arranged to destroy and kill him. May God, St Mary’s son, confound them!

6. Today you will hear a good song: it’s about William Shortnose the baron; he left the world to become a holy man, and put on a great pelice [shirt] and gown. He served God very well by night and day, he went to matins and to pray. But I'll tell you one true thing: all his companions hated him, because he ate too much meat and fish, and consumed more than three others did, and he gave away so much everywhere that all the squires and lads had plenty. For the noble man was well experienced in this respect and he had had a great deal to give away.
The monks were very alarmed about him. One day they met without him, in a hidden place. The abbot was there: his name was Henry. The monks said: “Lord, what shall we do about this devil who is among us? If he lives long, we certainly won’t.” The abbot said: “My lords, let’s talk about it! Advise me on what we should do; I don't know how we can be rid of him.” They replied: “We will advise you. The holy season is coming, Lent, Easter and the Resurrection, when we have to seek healing and food from which we may live. Now send him to the sea to get fish. It’s said that there are fifteen thieves on the road, in the great vale of Sigré. They kill people, no one can get through; if they catch him we know that they’ll kill him. So load him up with plenty of cash; it doesn't matter if we lose that, and we'll be rid of him.”
For God’s sake: hear their deadly treachery, and how they are buying great trouble for William! By God and His Name, the person was right who said that it is now very difficult to be a good person. The more good you do, the more problems you get; no one can protect themselves from treachery. Today you will hear a good song, and the great troubles of William the baron.

7. William was truly a monk. Frequently and often he prayed to God to guard him by His commandment. You should know that it happened one day that an important man who had relatives there came to eat there for pleasure. The cellarer gave him poor service. William saw this, and almost burst with rage. He said angrily to the cellarer: “God’s body destroy you! Bring wine, flesh and meat and white wheaten bread, so that there is more than enough! Monks are always too niggardly in what they serve for meals. A curse on monks’ rules, for they repress everyone.”
The cellarer replied angrily: “Shut up, mister, don’t talk like a fool! No one’s going to do anything for you. We’re not all like you; you eat more than five miserable cowherds.”
When William heard him he leapt on him, grabbed the keys, ran to the cellar as quickly as he could and took as much as he wanted. He served the noble man richly. Then he spoke loudly to the cellarer and the whole convent, so that everyone could hear him: “Whore’s son, God give you torment! You talk too insultingly about my eating.  When you talk to me in this way I know that you have no affection for me. But by that God to whom my soul belongs, there is no one so pretty, of such noble family, that I will spare if he says a word about it; whore's son, useless stinking wretch, whoever listens to you is a shamed man.”
When the monks heard him talk so violently there was not one of them who was not afraid. They all fled from him at once. Even the abbot would have liked to have been at Clairvaux, but nevertheless he spoke to the count. “My lord,” he said, “speak more gently. All of us here are truly brothers. Don't get angry and troubled over nothing. We will do all you command. See us all here present before you. We will make amends for what was said, and I myself will do so, if you wish.”
William heard this and repented at once. He replied simply to the abbot: “Master, I give you great thanks. I pardon you freely; if I have done anything which the Order forbids, I wish to do heavy penance for it.” So William was reconciled to the convent. They were very glad and rejoiced and sat down to eat richly.
After this William was in the Order for a long time, and he obeyed most benignly. But the monks, of whom there were nearly a hundred, never loved him or had good will towards him; and yet they did not know what for or why.

8. William remained in the abbey, but the monks could never love him, even though he had given him all his money: more than a thousand pounds in cash. As soon as they had it in their hands they wished that he could be strangled. One day they were assembled in chapel, but they had not called the marquis to join them. They complained about him to the lord abbot: “Lord,” they said, “we are too badly-treated. We don’t dare speak a word because of this devil, because he would immediately smash us with his fists. If only he was beyond the Red Sea! For God’s sake, abbot, get rid of him for us!”
“How,” said he, “for charity’s sake?”
“Lord,” they said, “listen to what we have thought of. We’ll tell you how you’ll do it: send him to get fish from the sea! He’ll go, lord, happily and willingly. He won’t refuse what you want. He never wants to transgress against obedience, when he is commanded to do it in the name of his Order. There are fifteen thieves in the Vale of Sigré who have pillaged the whole land around, so that merchants dare not pass through any more: there is neither man, nor woman, nor monk, nor abbot, whom they don't murder and have killed. He will have to pass through this vale; they will want to rob him of his great quantity of money. He is determined and will not wish to give it to them, and they will immediately kill him, and you will never see him come back.”
He went to William and spoke to him, where he was praying behind a pillar. “Mister,” the abbot said, “listen to me! You must get ready for an act of penance: in the morning you must go straight to the sea to buy fish. You will go through the Vale of Sigré. There are thieves there, plotting great evils. They rob people and have destroyed many.”
When William heard this, he rose to his feet. “Master,” he said, “as you wish. Will I go alone? Don’t conceal it from me!”
“Not at all,” the abbot said, “for the sake of holy charity, you will lead a good packhorse and a servant, but I beg you to watch out for the thieves.”
William said, “Have no fear. Have my weapons brought quickly to me. I want to put my mailshirt on under my gown, and I will carry my good sword of fine steel. If any thief wishes to rob me, I will make his head leave his body.”
“Mister,” the abbot said, “by my head, you will not! This is not the Order of which I have heard you speak. It is not fitting for a monk to be armed.”
When William heard this he was very cross, and replied angrily to the abbot. “What, lord abbot?” said William the baron, “will I allow myself to be shamed and dishonoured, my servant and myself killed and dismembered?”
“Not at all,” said the abbot, “just beg them for mercy.”
“I certainly will,” said William the baron, “and if they don’t want to grant it?”
“Faith,” said the abbot, “I don’t know what else to say to you: you will suffer martyrdom in penance for your sins. You must never fight for any reason, because the holy Order forbids us to do so.”
When William heard that, he almost went out of his mind. “Master,” he said, “you have an Order that is too cruel. May this Order be given to the living devils, and whoever first founded it! I am certainly willing to let them have all my money, if they take it from me, I don’t want to interfere; but by the saints that one seeks in the Black Field, if they strike me, I will not be able to bear it; I will tackle them at once, even if it means destroying the whole Order first.”

9. “Good and gentle master,” said William the proud, “I am your monk, obedient to you, so you must instruct and direct me, and I must do your command willingly. I know that no one here has any affection for me, and so this business has been assigned to me. I am to go and haggle for the fish, and if God pleases I will do it so well that there will be plenty to eat. But I am somewhat anxious about the thieves, when I cannot defend myself with my weapons. What if they want the fish and the packhorse?”
The abbot said: “Let them have it willingly.”
“And if they attack me?” said William the proud, “and want to kill me and cut me to pieces? What if they kill me? Tell me, what then?”
“Faith,” said the abbot, “they will commit a great sin.”
The count replied, “That’s a good reply! If I allow myself to be killed and cut to pieces, then I will share the blame for my death. If they strike me, dare I not avenge myself?”
“Not at all,” said the abbot. “You do not have permission, for the holy Order forbids you, and so do I.”
When William heard this, he was enraged. “Master,” he said, “The rules of your Order are too harsh. Such an Order could come to a bad end; may God burden the person who set it up! The order of knighthood is much more worthwhile: they fight against Turks and pagans, and allow themselves to be martyred for love of God. They are often baptised in their own blood, in order to conquer the Kingdom of Right. Monks only want to drink and eat, read and sing and sleep and snore. They are cooped up like hens, fattening up, daydreaming in their psalters. Good lord and master, now you have rebuked me: if these thieves who fill the vale do me some dishonour, I will not dare to get angry, and if they strike me, I will not dare to avenge myself. I will do nothing but cry for mercy. But by the saints whom the pilgrims seek, if they strike me, I will annoy them, even if it means the whole Order is destroyed first.”

10. “Good and gentle master,” said William to the abbot, “you are seeking great bother and blame for me when I cannot carry my weapons with me – neither mail shirt, helmet, nor my cutting sword. If they harm me, I don’t know what I’ll do. This will be a great dishonour, by God the Spiritual! What will I do if they take my cape? This is the habit which protects all the rest when I wear it in winds and storms; if they take it, I will be harmed.”
“No, you will not, truly!” the abbot replied, “you must never start a battle for that reason. I will give you back four for that one.”
“And if they strike me, what will happen?” William said.
“Whoever wins, there will be less damage done.”
“That is their sin,” the abbot replied.
William said: “Now I have been well repaid! If they kill me, by the body of St Hilary, you will not give a hay button. Such an Order should go to the devil’s name! But by God who put Noah in the ark, if they strike me, and cause bleeding or a wound, I will not hold back for anything from hitting them, whoever criticizes me for it afterwards.”
The abbot heard this, and was extremely dismayed, because he feared that he would seize him. He would have liked to be at Rome or Belcaire when he saw his face grow red. He could not have said a word, not for all Caesar’s treasure. Each of the monks trembled in his hair shirt and went quickly to the vault or the almonry. Mister William addressed the abbot. He carefully made his enquiries of him:

11. “Good lord master,” said William the doughty, “what if they take my other cape?”
“Give them everything, without delay. You should not begin a dispute over that; you will have twenty-two in return for the one.”
“That is a good compensation,” William replied, “I will carry out this command for you.

12. “But now tell me, what if they take my gown, which is blacker than a crow, ugly, hideous, baggy and uncomfortable?”
“You give it to them,” the abbot said, “at once. Never speak a bad word to them over that; I will give you plenty in return for the one.”
“And if they strike me on the body?” William said.
“That will be their great sin,” the abbot said.
William said: “This is small comfort. But by the apostle they call St Paul, if they strike me, a hundred thousand pounds of gold would not stop me striking them a great blow back. It would be painful for me not to do so, despite the rules of your Order.” The abbot heard him, and did not dare say a word.

13. Thus spoke William of the fierce appearance: “Good lord master, for the sake of God who made the world, what shall I do if they take my cowl, which I wear, which is so big and long?”
“You will give it to them; never refuse; I will give you twelve in return for the one.”
“And if they strike me,” William said then, “what shall I do, for all the saints of Rome?”
The abbot said: “I will tell you: you will never show them a murmur of battle, for our holy Order does not speak of it.”
And William said: “May this Order be shamed. An Order which kills its good men is not good. May God confound the person who founded it! But, by the God by Whose mercy we live, you will hear something else from what we speak here. No doughty man can suffer much dishonour; if someone does him wrong, he will get angry.”
The abbot heard this and bowed his head. He did not dare speak a word nor reply to William; he would rather have been at Narbonne first. The story tells that he was so afraid that he would not have wanted to be there for a full ton of gold.

14. Count William with the bold expression humbled himself greatly before the abbot. He spoke pleasantly to him and begged him gently: “Good lord master, for the sake of God, Mary’s son, what shall I do if they take my shirt? It is winter and the north wind is cold; if they take it from me it will be devilish; I would rather lose thirty pounds.”
“Mister,” said the abbot, “don’t refuse them, but give it to them, and the hair shirt after; I will give you fifteen in exchange for the one.”
“Honestly?” he said, “you will make me too rich! When I am dead and my life is finished, then you’ll give me all your authority! If I die there, it will be through your people; your monks have done this, Jesus curse them! – they hate me more than anyone living. Now I shall go to carry out this service; if the thieves attack me or kill me, what will it be, master? Do tell me.”
“It will be penance, good lord,” said the abbot, “you will receive martyrdom for the sake of your holy Order. Whatever happens, don’t fight, for the holy Order of St Benedict begs you, and all the monks order and command you not to harm any person. All must discipline themselves rather than do that.”
William said: “May God bring shame on this Order, and Jesus curse whoever set it up, because he was a bad man and full of cowardice. The order of knighthood is more worthwhile because they fight the Saracen race, take their lands and conquer their towns, and convert the pagans to our law. Monks only want to stay in the abbey, and eat and drink wine to the dregs, and go to sleep when they’ve said compline. But by God Who has all in His hands, if the thieves of whom I’ve heard you speak do any harm, trouble or shame to me, your Order will not stop me killing one of them if I can.”
The abbot heard him and gasped with fear. He could not have said a word for all the gold in Russia; he was so afraid that the count would kill him.

15. Count William spoke to his abbot: “Good lord master, now give me advice. What will I do if they take my boots, which are so big that they flap about on my feet?  At each step I expect them to fall off; I am very afraid that I will lose them in the mud.”
The abbot did not dare not to reply. “You will hand them over without any coarse words; and the socks and the tribous.”
William said, “Mister abbot, you’re driving me mad! It is so cold and the ground is so hard – it’s nothing to you, master, if it harms me; I can’t go barefoot on the ground, like a lame beggar. And if they kill me, by the holy paternoster, what compensation, master, will you give me?”
The abbot said, “The sin is so serious, that we will have the bells rung for your soul. We will have an obituary service for you and pray to God to put you in His glory.”
William said, “These are fine words! This is the only help I'll get from your Order. But by St Peter, the blessed apostle, if they strike me, by the faith I owe St George, I would rather die than not harm them; neither the abbot nor the cross will stop me.” The abbot heard him, and did not dare to reply; and Mister William asked him something else.

16. Count William addressed his abbot, and asked him nicely, without aggression: “Tell me, lord abbot, for the sake of St Nicholas’s body, what shall I do, if they take my underpants? If they take them it will be very unpleasant, because they will be able to see all my business. In truth, I would rather have never been born than suffer such a thing! As well as the shame, I would have such discomfort, because the frost is wicked and sharp.”
The abbot heard him and could not prevent himself from laughing under his wide cape. Then he addressed William, laughing as he spoke: “Lord William, by my father’s soul, I wouldn’t wish it to happen in return for a dappled cow. If they take them from you that would be an ugly matter. One may well grow angry for something like that and you may fight without doing wrong. If you can, you may do them harm, for such a deed is coarse and wicked.”
William said, “Thank you, good master; since I may fight for my underpants, I will be generous towards all and put myself in their power, providing that they do not drag me away by force or try to fight me.”
The abbot said, “Do as you like!”
“I may not, master,” William said, “please bring my mail shirt and my sword!”
The abbot said, “I would grant you that, but the holy Order, good sire, will not allow me.”
Then they parted and the abbot withdrew. But now hear, barons, what business the generous marquis had in mind, to make the thieves uncomfortable. In the town he had some underpants made by a goldworker. He was an expert; King Julius Caesar never had his like. The buckle [on the fastening] was of fine Arabic gold, with precious stones, jagonces and topazes and emeralds and rubies which pleased him. The underpants were of cotton and silk, richly embroidered and decorated, and the laces were of silk from Lucaire, with gold buttons which went down the side. No monk ever put on such underpants! They cost him more than a hundred pounds to have made. The noble and generous count had them made for this reason: if the thieves troubled him on the journey and they wanted him to remove this garment, they would want it, but they would not get anything.

 

*    *   *

And next …

 

Predictably, the thieves attack William and try to take his wonderful pants. He defeats the thieves; one surrenders and the others are hanged. He returns to the abbey, beats up the monks and kills the porter, then departs. After various adventures he becomes a hermit and an abbey is founded on the site of his hermitage. He is now St William of Gellone, and the abbey is St Guilhem du Désert, in the south of France near Montpellier.

Notes


Aniane is in Hérault dépt., in Languedoc-Roussillon, southern France.

. The ‘tribous’ seems to have been a lining which is worn on the foot, inside the boot.

. Presumably this single gallon of wine was less than the modern gallon (8 pints or approx. 4 litres).

The Gulf of Antalya, south of modern Turkey.

. Rome: i.e. St Peter and St Paul.

William is not referring to a religious order but to knights as a social group, fighting against evil.

Again, William is not referring to a religious order of knights but to knights as a social group.

St George: this warrior-saint from Palestine, martyred for his Christian faith in AD 303, was a popular saint in the eastern Mediterranean and especially favoured by warriors.


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© Helen Nicholson

©IHSP-Paul Halsall