The big speech was recited in several languages, a symptom of an empire breaking apart.
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.
The position of the young king Charles appeared for some time a very bad one; but “certain chieftains,” says the historian Nithard, “faithful to his mother and to him, and having nothing more to lose than life or limb, chose rather to die gloriously than to betray their King.” The arrival of Louis the Germanic with his troops helped to swell the forces and increase the confidence of Charles; and it was on the 21st of June, 841, exactly a year after the death of Louis the Debonair, that the two armies, that of Lothair and Pepin on the one side, and that of Charles the Bald and Louis the Germanic on the other, stood face to face in the neighborhood of the village of Fontenailles, six leagues from Auxerre, on the rivulet of Audries. Never, according to such evidence as is forthcoming, since the battle on the plains of Chalons against the Huns, and that of Poitiers against the Saracens, had so great masses of men been engaged. “There would be nothing untruthlike,” says that scrupulous authority, M. Fauriel, “in putting the whole number of combatants at three hundred thousand; and there is nothing to show that either of the two armies was much less numerous than the other.” However that may be, the leaders hesitated for four days to come to blows; and while they were hesitating, the old favorite, not only of Louis the Debonair, but also, according to several chroniclers, of the empress Judith, held himself aloof with his troops in the vicinity, having made equal promise of assistance to both sides, and waiting, to govern his decision, for the prospect afforded by the first conflict. The battle began on the 25th of June, at daybreak, and was at first in favor of Lothair; but the troops of Charles the Bald recovered the advantage which had been lost by those of Louis the Germanic, and the action was soon nothing but a terribly simple scene of carnage between enormous masses of men, charging hand to hand, again and again, with a front extending over a couple of leagues. Before midday the slaughter, the plunder, the spoliation of the dead — all was over; the victory of Charles and Louis was complete; the victors had retired to their camp, and there remained nothing on the field of battle but corpses in thick heaps or a long line, according as they had fallen in the disorder of flight or steadily fighting in their ranks…. “Accursed be this day!” cries Angilbert, one of Lothair’s officers, in rough Latin verse; “be it unnumbered in the return of the year, but wiped out of all remembrance! Be it unlit by the light of the sun! Be it without either dawn or twilight! Accursed, also, be this night, this awful night in which fell the brave, the most expert in battle! Eye ne’er hath seen more fearful slaughter: in streams of blood fell Christian men; the linen vestments of the dead did whiten the champaign even as it is whitened by the birds of autumn!”
In spite of this battle, which appeared a decisive one, Lothair made zealous efforts to continue the struggle; he scoured the countries wherein he hoped to find partisans; to the Saxons he promised the unrestricted reestablishment of their pagan worship, and several of the Saxon tribes responded to his appeal. Louis the Germanic and Charles the Bald, having information of these preliminaries, resolved to solemnly renew their alliance and, seven months after their victory at Fontenailles, in February, 842, they repaired both of them, each with his army, to Argentaria, on the right bank of the Rhine, between Bale and Strasburg, and there, at an open-air meeting, Louis first, addressing the chieftains about him in the German tongue, said:
Ye all know how often, since our father’s death, Lothair hath attacked us, in order to destroy us, this my brother and me. Having never been able, as brothers and Christians, or in any just way, to obtain peace from him, we were constrained to appeal to the judgment of God. Lothair was beaten and retired, whither he could, with his following; for we, restrained by paternal affection and moved with compassion for Christian people, were unwilling to pursue them to extermination. Neither then nor aforetime did we demand aught else save that each of us should be maintained in his rights. But he, rebelling against the judgment of God, ceaseth not to attack us as enemies, this my brother and me; and he destroyeth our peoples with fire and pillage and the sword. That is the cause which hath united us afresh; and, as we trow that ye doubt the soundness of our alliance and our fraternal union, we have resolved to bind ourselves afresh by this oath in your presence, being led thereto by no prompting of wicked covetousness, but only that we may secure our common advantage in case that, by your aid, God should cause us to obtain peace. If, then, I violate — which God forbid — this oath that I am about to take to my brother, I hold you all quit of submission to me and of the faith ye have sworn to me.”
Charles repeated this speech, word for word, to his own troops, in the Romance language, in that idiom derived from a mixture of Latin and of the tongues of ancient Gaul, and spoken, thenceforth, with varieties of dialect and pronunciation, in nearly all parts of Frankish Gaul. After this address, Louis pronounced and Charles repeated after him, each in his own tongue, the oath couched in these terms:
For the love of God, for the Christian people and for our common weal, from this day forth and so long as God shall grant me power and knowledge, I will defend this my brother and will be an aid to him in everything, as one ought to defend his brother, provided that he do likewise unto me; and I will never make with Lothair any covenant which may be, to my knowledge, to the damage of this my brother.”
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