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.

When Temptation Strikes: III

Starring:

Recap of Parts I and II:

Recap of the first two parts of this letter of remission (petition for pardon) from Lancastrian Normandy in the 15th century. So far, we have the crime of robbery and (attempted) assault. That assault may or may not have been a successful rape on Robin Ingier’s wife, whom we’re calling Oudine. The neighbourhood women heard Oudine’s cries for help and rushed to the rescue. Meanwhile, Robin Ingier also heard cries coming from his house, saw what was going on, and ran the other way.

Part III: Kick-Ass Women aren’t Passive

Robin Ingier, realizing that he needed help, ran off to find his friends and neighbors, Laurent and Jehan.

Robin Ingier asks his two octopus friends for help

Robin Ingier lays out the situation for them. Two strangers, the presumed Englishmen, had been plundering his home. When the women of the neighborhood arrived, they had tried to stop them.

A line of octopus-women try to protect Robin Ingier's goods

There’s a lot going on in the petition concerning these neighbor women.

They’re the first to arrive on the scene when the hue and cry goes up.

Willingly and out of a sense of duty, it seems, they rush in to try to help. (Note that Robin Ingier doesn’t rush in all at once, but reconnoiters and goes to get backup)

Once inside, these women set about trying to protect Robin Ingier’s goods. No mention of their trying to protect Oudine or help her escape. Maybe they weren’t able to get to her before the Englishmen caught them saving the stuff, for they were soon being struck and beaten.

Englishmen (jellyfish) put the women (octopuses) in a corner to guard them
Ocotpus women continue to try to hide valuables from the Englishmen-jellyfish
An Englishman-jellyfish strikes one of the women

Robin Ingier had apparently poked his head in the window at this point. In telling Laurent and Jehan what was going on and why he needed their help, he says that not only were the women beaten and oppressed, but the Englishmen had continued to pack up their loot and had bound up Oudine “ready to be transported.”

So what’s going on with these women? Why so much attention being paid to them when Robin Ingier’s trying to get some help? Is it just to give his neighbors a sense of what they’ll find inside?

I don’t think so.

I think the neighborhood women are being used on two fronts.

One is to add justification for the violence that’s about to come. See! There were so many women who’d been beaten and oppressed, not just the wife! How could we not try to stop what these villainous strangers were doing?!

That seems straightforward enough, as well as being in-line with the probable fact that the neighborhood women had in fact been there, and so needed to be accounted for in the petition.

But another line is added. Robin Ingier apparently told the two brothers that his wife “was not bellicose.”

Hmm.

Okay, it comes at the start of a description of Oudine, which continues as follows:

His wife, who was not bellicose, but had lived in good and honest conversation, without reproach, and that without reasonable cause she would not cry for appeal for aid.

The comment on bellicosity comes immediately after the description of what the neighborhood women are up to. Is the petition disparaging the women? Is it trying to suggest that they’re too aggressive, and so may have deserved some of the beatings they got? Whereas Oudine was entirely passive, and therefore without reproach?

Oudine the octopus looking pious

I’m honestly not sure. On the one hand, it’s entirely possible that the description of Oudine is meant entirely to back up the next sentence:

Ingier, presuming that his wife had been taken by force, said to Laurent and Jehan Drujon:

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

Probably that’s what it was meant to do.

Yet I still can’t shake that Oudine’s passivity is being placed in juxtaposition to the more active neighbors.

Is this why the Duke of Bedford took a moment to explain why the neighborhood women had responded so actively? To soften the criticism implicitly lodged against them?

It could also have been a more simple statement of contrasts, that Oudine was trussed up and about to be kidnapped, unlike the other, more active, women, and therefore it was Robin Ingier’s honour that was most in danger, justifying his (and Laurent and Jehan’s) next moves.

What were those next moves? Find out next time! (I need to work on better cliff-hanger transitions..)

When Temptation Strikes: II

Starring:

Recap of Part I:

Part II: Help Thy Neighbour

We continue on with a case of burglary and violent assault in medieval Lancastrian Normandy. Let’s see what happens next to our medieval criminals!

When we last left Oudine, she was running away from her assailants. Had she successfully escaped their assault? It’s hard to say. As we’ll see later in the story, preserving her virtue becomes an important plot point. That said, probably she had not been raped, as a successful attack on the wife would have been understood as an assault upon the husband, thereby further justifying any response he took. We can’t be certain, however, because Robin Ingier may have felt the loss of honour and status from his wife’s rape was too great to acknowledge. Come to that, this isn’t even Robin Ingier’s petition. We haven’t met the brothers who are actually presently pleading for a reprieve. And while they would have been involved in crafting their exculpatory tale, their friends and families would also have been part of the process.

All the voices I’ve been privileging here are male. What about Oudine? None other than Oudine and her attackers were present when the assault took place. Would she have told her husband if it was successful? Not necessarily. People then as now can be real nincompoops when it comes to responding to another person’s sexual trauma. And in the society of early 15th-century France, her worth as a woman and wife was tied to her perceived purity and uprightness, which was itself tied to ideas about sexual purity. She very well may have preferred not to admit what had happened to her.

In short, there are a lot of competing interests at play that may account for why the attack on Oudine is glossed as unsuccessful. We can be skeptical, but as I’ve no reason to say she was raped, let’s give the grrl props for getting away.

At least for the moment.

Outside of a house. Someone inside is yelling for help. Several people (drawn as octopuses) hear the cry.

Whatever the reality happening inside the house, outside the neighborhood women heard Oudine raising the hue and cry (ie yelling for help).

Every one of them, we’re told, assembled to help, wanting to do for her what they would want done for themselves in a similar case. This is a rather neat encapsulation of the medieval social contract, and as I write this feels pretty darn timely in terms of what community solutions to violence in an un-policed society can look like.

Also, these kick-ass medieval women are putting the lie to the whole “damsels in distress” motif.

I want to pause from looking at the story to looking at the petition itself.

This is a pretty neat part in the record, one we don’t see very often. The Duke of Bedford* (or at least, a court scribe writing in his voice) interjects to explain something.

Typically, the petitioner is able to get on with it, the official court voice only appearing at the beginning and end to set up the case and render the judgment (with occasional adjustments such as saying “our enemies” in reference to the French).

But here, when our petitioners speak of Oudine’s raising of the hue and cry, Bedford feels he needs to comment (I’m going to keep up the text’s fiction that it’s Bedford himself speaking). He interjects:

At this cry the female neighbors assembled and, wanting to resist the evil enterprise of the Englishmen or others, fearing that if they did not help or aid their neighbor in her need, she would not help them another time in a similar case, they made together a great hue and cry, requiring our help, such that our men and subjects were accustomed to do in such a case in our country of Normandy when one does them wrong, and they could not resist the furor of those who violently stole from them and took by undue force, against the custom of our country; our subjects are bound to come to such a cry, that is those who can hear it, in order to accomplish good justice.

It’s an odd interjection, since the idea of the hue and cry certainly existed in England, yet Bedford takes quite a few lines explaining what this is. Maybe it’s a rewriting of what the petitioners wrote, rendered in the duke’s voice, though I don’t quite know why this would be. If any one more expert than I on English criminal custom would like to share their thoughts in the comments, I’d be much obliged!

The octopus-women enter the house to find Oudine captured and two angry jellyfish-strangers.

Upon hearing Oudine’s calls for help, the women respond, just as the Duke of Bedford explained. Entering the home, they found Oudine trapped by the strangers and many of Robin Ingier’s goods stuffed into sacks.

While the neighborhood women are trying to help Oudine and adding their cries to hers, Robin Ingier passes near his home and hears the cries.

Robin Ingier, drawn as an octopus, hears cries for help coming from his house.

Looking inside, he quickly assesses the situation.

Robin Ingier looks through a window.

Assessment: I’m f*cked.

No, he didn’t actually say that. He was far more restrained, at least in the petition.

Considering that against the evil enterprise of the Englishmen he couldn’t resist without ehlp, he allied with Laurent and Jehan Drujon.

Who are Laurent and Jehan Drujon? Stick around! We’ll meet them next time!

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Quick Refresher: Duke of Bedford is currently the regent of England while the king’s working out how to use a potty as opposed to mess himself. That means the Duke also is the ruler of Lancastrian Normandy, the English-occupied territory of… Normandy! Petitions for pardon thus go to him (or his judicial staff) at this juncture. For more on the situation in Normandy at this time, see A Dice Game to Die For: Part I. For Bedford, see Part I and Part II of Off the Deep End. Return to post.

When Temptation Strikes: I

Part I: Speaking in Tongues

Starring:

The wife of Robin Ingier expected the night to be full of sweet perfume. It was after all the time of Pentecost, the miracle of the Holy Spirit’s descent upon Jesus’s followers after his crucifixion. A Spring holiday, falling this particular year on 11 May, the air should have carried the aroma of flowers and fresh herbs.

Instead, it smelled of jellyfish.

Two men, drawn as jellyfish, rummage through a room. One says “Check the other room.”

No, wait. Sorry. That’s just my drawing.

These two jellyfish are maybe Englishmen. Or maybe not. Strangers, certainly, whose language none of the people later pleading for mercy before the Lancastrian court understood. The testimony’s very upfront about that.

English was a good guess, though. This was Lancastrian Normandy in 1421, with the territory not yet fully subdued and brought under the English heel.

Seems rather fitting that there should be people speaking in strange, incomprehensible tongues wandering about at Pentecost. Of course, the spirit that moved them was far from holy.

A jellyfish enters a room on which a woman (drawn as an octopus) is sitting. He says. “In here! It’s the wife!”

Not content to simply pillage the goods of Robin Ingier, in whose house these strangers had lodged, they turned their attention to his wife. She managed to fight off their attempts to rape and injure her.

The wife runs away, yelling for help, while at the edge of the image jellyfish tentacles reach out and someone says “Get her!” and “Get back here!”

First, let’s give her a solid, “You go, grrl!”

Second, let’s acknowledge that this description is coming from a petition for pardon, which means that the story is almost certainly embellished and crafted to put things in the most favorable light possible. Sadly, feminism is not the light we’re talking about.

The inclusion of the wife’s fighting off—

Hang on. I’m sorry. She needs a name. I’m going to get very tired of saying “the wife of Robin Ingier” over and over. And since we don’t know her name, let’s give her an awesome one. How about Oudine? This is after all a blog heavily inspired by comics (even if you can’t tell by my drawings), and Oudine is an actual name from the time, the feminine form of Oudin, which was in turn the French form of…well, actually, I don’t know. But I want the answer to be Odin. Because if there’s a female Thor, there should be a female Odin. Just sayin’.

She just needs an eye-patch and they’re practically the same, right?

Anyway, back to where we were.

The inclusion of Oudine’s fighting off the attackers is not there to show that she’s kick-ass, or that women don’t have to be victims, or anything that we in the 21st century might want to read into it.

It’s there to give justification for what’s going to happen later. This is a petition for pardon, and that means its explicitly about crafting a narrative of excuse. Pardon letters weren’t to say that you didn’t do the crime for which you’d been convicted. They were meant to present all the (supposedly) extenuating circumstances that actually made you (the murderer, thief, arsonist, what have you) into the victim — and crucially, almost always made your victim into the reprobate who deserved his fate.

Does that mean Oudine actually successfully escaped those tentacular grasps?

Far Too Dignified Announcer Voice: Will Oudine escape their grasp? Will anyone hear her cries for help? Find out next time in Part II of When Temptation Strikes!