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Medieval Sourcebook:
Constance of Brittany and Gerald of Wales on Louis VII of France


Constance of Brittany: Letter to Louis VII of France, 1160

To the venerable and excellent Louis, king of Gaul, Constance, daughter of Alan count of Brittany, greetings and the bond of friendship (amicitiae vinculum). I desire your worthy self to know that I have long held you so in my memory that when very many men offered me many, many gifts for the sake of love, I never accepted any of them. But if it should please your generous self to send to me, who loves you beyond what I can say, some token of love, a ring or anything else, I should value it more highly than the whole world. I thank you for receiving my messenger so honorably. And if there be anything in our parts, which you would like to have, a hawk or dog or horse, I beg you not to delay informing me of it through the bearer of the present letter. You must take it as true that should Fortune refuse to smile full-heartedly upon me, I should prefer to be married to any humble man of yours than to become Queen of Scotland. I shall prove this by action; when my brother, Count Conan, returns from England, I shall travel to pray at St. Denis and to take advantage of your presence (there). Fare thee as well as I fare.

 


THE PRAISEWORTHY CONTINENCE OF LOUIS VII OF FRANCE

To come closer to modern times and neighboring kingdoms, I shall recall some memorable deeds of the most christian king of the Franks, Louis, whose happy reign was in our time and who was father to that king Philip (II, 1180-1223) beneath whom the glory of the Normans in northern France vanished for good. That king Louis (VII, 1137-80) was once attacking a stronghold in Burgundy very dangerous for pilgrims and travellers, named Nonette. After the campaign had dragged on for nearly two months, he had to return to Orleans with so severe an illness that his life was almost despaired of. Doctors, both his own and from all over, came flooding in to investigate the causes of his sickness with all the subtlety at their command. At length all agreed that this inconvenience had happened to him because of his prolonged continence and the deprivation from sex ("defectu coitus"), for this was very early in his marriage to his (second) queen, Alice, from whom he later received king Philip and whom he loved greatly ("non mediocriter"). Once this had been explained to him in the presence of the city's bishop, and an assembly too of many abbots and priors and other religious personages and men bearing the monastic habit, the king at once responded: "Let us therefore send for the queen." But since she happened to be in far-away parts and the disease proved persistent, the common counsel of all was that in the meantime some girl ("puella") should be brought to him, through whom he might find a remedy and, as it were, regain his life. The bishop and other ecclesiastical dignitaries present explained all this to the king, declaring that it was his only chance of a cure, and they all promised that he would not be punished for the sin and that they would stand as his guarantors for this before God. The good man answered: "If there is no other cure than this for the illness, let the Lord do his will on me. I prefer to die chaste ("castus") than to live an adulterer." And so he committed all to God, and by the mercy of Him who does not abandon those who lay their hopes upon Him, he conquered the malice of the sickness and soon recovered with the aid of a divinely granted remedy. Oh how healthy ("sanum", how conducive to salvation ("salutiferum") and how very worthy of memory the words of the prince!

A very similar story was told later [1216-7] of his grandson, a man in whom the laudable nature of so great a grandfather had not degenerated. When Louis, king Philip's son, (the future Louis VIII, 1223-8) had long been engaged upon his English invasion, his knights began to be afraid that the absence of his wife, who remained in France, and the lack of a conjugal bed would exhaust the young man's spirit for a long campaign. Some suggested, whether seriously or in play, that he should comfort his nature in the meantime with the embraces of a noble girl and with this remedy alleviate the hot fervor of his virile youth. He is said to have responded - and strengthened the response with his oath -- that he was in no way willing to violate, even by a single act of adultery, the faith due to his legitimate wife ("sponsae suae legitimae")even to possess the whole of an England completely pacified and in tranquillity. This grandson, who represented in his person, both in express words and deeds and by unmistakeable signs, the generous nature of his grandfather and the martial vigor of his father was no unworthy scion of the line ("degener").

[Gerald of Wales, De Instructione Principis, I. xx (Opera, R. S., vol. VIII, 131-3). Cf. Gerald, The Jewel of the Church, tr. J.J. O'Hagen (Brill: Leiden, 1979), 166.]

 


HTML by Paul Hyams of Cornell University. See his Course Page?. He indicated that the translations are available for educational use. He intends to expand the number of translations, so keep a note of his home page.

This text is listed as part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Paul Halsall April 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu