Go back to thy King, and tell him from me that my land was never his, and that I owe him naught of tribute or submission. Let him reign over the Franks; as for me, I reign over the Britons.
Continuing Empire of the Franks Splits and Decays,
our selection from A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times by François P. G. Guizot. published in 1869. The selection is presented in ten easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Empire of the Franks Splits and Decays.
Several insurrections burst out in the empire; the first among the Basques of Aquitaine; the next in Italy, where Bernard, son of Pepin, having, after his father’s death, become king in 812, with the consent of his grandfather Charlemagne, could not quietly see his kingdom pass into the hands of his cousin Lothair at the orders of his uncle Louis. These two attempts were easily repressed, but the third was more serious. It took place in Brittany among those populations of Armorica who were still buried in their woods, and were excessively jealous of their independence. In 818 they took for king one of their principal chieftains, named Morvan; and, not confining themselves to a refusal of all tribute to the King of the Franks, they renewed their ravages upon the Frankish territories bordering on their frontier. Louis was at that time holding a general assembly of his dominions at Aix-la-Chapelle; and Count Lantbert, commandant of the marches of Brittany, came and reported to him what was going on. A Frankish monk, named Ditcar, happened to be at the assembly: he was a man of piety and sense, a friend of peace, and, moreover, with some knowledge of the Breton king Morvan, as his monastery had property in the neighborhood. Him the Emperor commissioned to convey to the King his grievances and his demands. After some days’ journey the monk passed the frontier and arrived at a vast space enclosed on one side by a noble river, and on all the others by forests and swamps, hedges and ditches. In the middle of this space was a large dwelling, which was Morvan’s. Ditcar found it full of warriors, the King having, no doubt, some expedition on hand. The monk announced himself as a messenger from the Emperor of the Franks. The style of announcement caused some confusion at first, to the Briton, who, however, hastened to conceal his emotion under an air of good-will and joyousness, to impose upon his comrades. The latter were got rid of; and the King remained alone with the monk, who explained the object of his mission. He descanted upon the power of the emperor Louis, recounted his complaints, and warned the Briton, kindly and in a private capacity, of the danger of his situation, a danger so much the greater in that he and his people would meet with the less consideration, seeing that they kept up the religion of their pagan forefathers. Morvan gave attentive ear to this sermon, with his eyes fixed on the ground, and his foot tapping it from time to time. Ditcar thought he had succeeded; but an incident supervened. It was the hour when Morvan’s wife was accustomed to come and look for him ere they retired to the nuptial couch. She appeared, eager to know who the stranger was, what he had come for, what he had said, what answer he had received. She preluded her questions with oglings and caresses; she kissed the knees, the hands, the beard, and the face of the King, testifying her desire to be alone with him. “O King and glory of the mighty Britons, dear spouse of mine! what tidings bringeth this stranger? Is it peace, or is it war?”
“This stranger,” answered Morvan, with a smile, “is an envoy of the Franks; but bring he peace or bring he war is the affair of men alone; as for thee, content thee with thy woman’s duties.” Thereupon Ditcar, perceiving that he was countered, said to Morvan: “Sir King, ’tis time that I return; tell me what answer I am to take back to my sovereign.”
“Leave me this night to take thought thereon,” replied the Breton chief, with a wavering air. When the morning came, Ditcar presented himself once more to Morvan, whom he found up, but still half drunk and full of very different sentiments from those of the night before. It required some effort, stupefied and tottering as he was with the effects of wine and the pleasures of the night, to say to Ditcar: “Go back to thy King, and tell him from me that my land was never his, and that I owe him naught of tribute or submission. Let him reign over the Franks; as for me, I reign over the Britons. If he will bring war on me, he will find me ready to pay him back.”
The monk returned to Louis the Debonair and rendered account of his mission. War was resolved upon, and the Emperor collected his troops — Alemannians, Saxons, Thuringians, Burgundians, and Aquitanians, without counting Franks or Gallo-Romans. They began their march, moving upon Vannes; Louis was at their head, and the Empress accompanied him, but he left her, already ill and fatigued, at Angers. The Franks entered the country of the Britons, searched the woods and morasses, found no armed men in the open country, but encountered them in scattered and scanty companies, at the entrance of all the defiles, on the heights commanding pathways, and wherever men could hide themselves and await the moment for appearing unexpectedly. The Franks heard them, from amid the heather and the brushwood, uttering shrill cries, to give warning one to another or to alarm the enemy. The Franks advanced cautiously, and at last arrived at the entrance of the thick wood which surrounded Morvan’s abode. He had not yet set out with the pick of the warriors he had about him; but, at the approach of the Franks, he summoned his wife and his domestics, and said to them: “Defend ye well this house and these woods; as for me, I am going to march forward to collect my people; after which to return, but not without booty and spoils.” He put on his armor, took a javelin in each hand, and mounted his horse. “Thou seest,” said he to his wife, “these javelins I brandish: I will bring them back to thee this very day dyed with the blood of Franks. Farewell.” Setting out he pierced, followed by his men, through the thickness of the forest, and advanced to meet the Franks.
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