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.
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.
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.
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:
But they were probably weren’t fond of what happened next.
Laurent and Jehan rushed the Englishmen.
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.