When Temptation Strikes: IV

Starring:

Recap of Parts I, II, and III:

Our medieval crime story up to now: In 1424, two Englishmen who had been staying at Robin Ingier’s began to pillage his house and attack his wife. Women of the neighborhood responded to her cries for help and though they could not free her, did their best to protect her and the most valuable items in the household. Meanwhile, Robin Ingier heard the commotion and ran to his friends for help, using the good character of his wife to convince them to help save her.

Part IV: The Fight for the Golden Rule

After Robin Ingier had described what he had seen, Jehan and Laurent agreed to come to the house and see for themselves what was going on.

Robin Ingier opens the door to his home to see his wife and goods trussed up

When Robin Ingier opened the door, all three men could see that the robbers were coming to the end of their pillaging. The goods had all been bundled up and Oudine sat trussed up, ready to be carted off as part of the spoils. As for the neighborhood women, it was clear that the strangers had beaten them, but they did not appear to be in imminent danger of kidnapping.

It is at this point that Robin Ingier assumes that the Englishmen had raped his wife.

Maybe.

The text remains unclear on this point. That in itself is interesting, as I noted in Part I, because at the end of this scene (spoiler!) Robin Ingier will kill the Englishmen. The original French reads “sadicte femme eust esté prise par force,” which translates to “his aforesaid wife had been taken by force.”

Why is this ambiguous?

The usual term for rape in French records from the time is “rapt,” occasionally “violer.” More often, though, “rapt.” But even if we had “rapt,” in this context it could be unclear. That’s because “rapt” was also the term for kidnapping and applied to both men and women. It even could be used to describe an elopement (especially if the bride’s family was not keen on the union).

In not using “rapt” here, the petitioners may be trying to avoid ambiguity. The wife has been taken by force, against her will. In other words, as I talked about last time, her honour is intact and she’s not complicit. Except that rape could be dishonouring. So is the taking meant to mean being trussed up or something far more violent? And the comment that she has been so taken, for whatever meaning, is preceded by the phrase “Ingier presumed.”

What’s he presuming? That she didn’t want to be tied up or that she didn’t want to be raped?

I think that the petitioners are being deliberately slippery. First, this isn’t Robin Ingier’s petition, it’s that of Laurent and Jehan. They might not actually ever have known the truth of what happened to Oudine.

Second, the presumption (whether accurate or not) of her violation is necessary to help justify the killing that follows. It’s therefore immaterial to their case whether she actually had been raped. They had enough evidence to assume it had occurred, and would occur again if they did not intervene.

Third, though not themselves married to Oudine, Jehan and Laurent may well have wanted to help preserve the honour of their friend Robin Ingier (and thus of his wife, whose virtue reflected upon him).

Whatever the truth of the matter, the three men drew conclusions in the moment.

Robin Ingier turns to his friends, saying “My friends, avenge me on these thieves who rob me and beat my wife!”

At the sight of Oudine tied up and helpless, Robin Ingier said:

“My friends, avenge me on these thieves, who rob me and beat my wife!”

At Robin Ingier’s heartfelt request, the petition gives us a reprise of what the neighbourhood women went through when they heard Oudine’s cries. Laurent and Jehan reflect on how they would want others to respond if their wives were in a similar situation. Once more the petition gives us a glimpse at how an un-policed society regulated itself, built on mutual good will and aid. And a very matter-of-fact application of the golden rule.

Due unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That is to say:

Rescue your friends wives as you would have them rescue your wife.

Of course, I’m sure the pillaging Englishmen were more fond of this version of the rule:

Wizard of Id Comic: Remember the Golden Rule! What's that? Whoever has the gold makes the rules!

But they were probably weren’t fond of what happened next.

Jellyfish-Englishmen and Robin Ingier, Jehan, and Laurent (octopuses) fight each other.

Laurent and Jehan rushed the Englishmen.

Jehan the octopus looks down at a fallen Englishman-jellyfish, saying “He’s dead.” Off panel, someone else says that the other one is also dead.

In the heat and fury of the moment, the Englishmen were killed. Yes, that passive voice is in the original. Sneaky sneaky.

This could get bad. After all, those strangers (whether Englishmen or otherwise) were probably quartering in Robin Ingier’s house, which means they were probably soldiers. I can’t say this for sure, as the letter of remission never makes it explicit. But Normandy is occupied territory, the town is on the frontier, making it a hot-spot for conflicts with the French (increasing the likelihood of an English presence even after hostilities ceased inside Normandy), and the strangers spoke a language the others didn’t know. Of course it’s not impossible to rent a room when you don’t know the local language (as any tourist pre-Internet knows), so my assumptions are just that. But as Robin le Peletier helpfully points out, the English are “eaters,” lodging in the homes of the local population and doing nothing but consuming what isn’t theirs — without paying, without asking, and certainly without saying thank you.

However justified the three men may have felt, they knew they were in trouble. Next time, we’ll look at how they tried to get out of that trouble, only to make the situation a whole lot worse.

Off the Deep End: I

After letting off some steam, someone needs to cool off with a swim.

Part I: Drink is a Mocker

Starring:

Sometime in late Autumn, 1428, we find ourselves in the home of one Gregoire Abris. I don’t know what the interior of the home looked like, who Gregoire was, or who all was there apart from the principals. But I’m going to assume that there was some drink flowing, because Robin le Peletier said some very foolish things.

For those accustomed to getting news via social media, what Robin says may not seem that shocking.

But Robin is actually in the midst of committing a felony. This is worse than violating Facebook’s or Twitter’s terms of service. A lifetime ban means a very different thing in the 15th century.

So what’s going on?

Let’s start with who the Duke of Bedford was.

John of Lancaster was the first Duke of Bedford and a younger son of King Henry IV of England (for those who know their Shakespeare and the Henry plays, he’s Henry Bolingbroke). Why’s he important enough for Robin to be insulting him over in Bricquebec, Normandy?

First, let’s be clear, he is important. Just look at him!

But more than that, he is the regent of the realm in 1428. The king of England, Henry VI, is still working on figuring out the potty. Far too young to rule the realm, especially one caught up in the midst of a multi-generational war with France, the Duke of Bedford became regent for his nephew. This meant, among other things, that the Duke of Bedford commanded England’s armies during the war. That included those armies responsible for occupying Normandy, where our story takes place.

In short, the Duke of Bedford is:

  1. Acting as the king for all intents and purposes.
  2. Really, really powerful (see #1).
  3. Did I mention he’s effectively the king?

And yet here we have Robin, blithely insulting the may-as-well-be king.

I have no idea if Robin had anyone telling him to stuff it. But I’m fairly confident that someone would have told him to knock it off, even if they’d agreed with the sentiment.

Why do I say that?

Because Robin is treading dangerously close to treason. A very specific kind of treason, in fact: lèse-majesté (or, lese majesty in English — that helped a lot, I expect). This label could cover a broad range of crimes. Its fundamental nature, however, is insult to majesty, dating all the way back to ancient times. While “insult” initially meant an action (such as defacing an emperor’s statue), over time the words and intent started to become enough.

And Robin is definitely insulting the Duke of Bedford here.

Insult wasn’t taken lightly to begin with in the later Middle Ages, but insulting the king could come with hefty penalties, up to losing one’s life if the circumstances were right (or, from the insulter’s point of view, wrong).

So we have Robin’s (entirely made-up) friends clearly worried about what he’s saying, because if anyone overheard, they might get in trouble as well. And you know, maybe they care about their friend Robin. Who knows? Hedgehogs are a friendly bunch, right?

Right? I mean, it’s only a story in which someone went off the deep end, so I’m sure it’s about a fun pool party. Gotta be.

Find out next time!