Inconsistent use of diacriticals in French words has been corrected except in Old French quotations.
Some illustrations have been moved so as not to break up the flow of the text.
Characters with macrons are represented with an equal sign between square brackets, e.g., ā.
THE STORY OF ROUEN
THEODORE ANDREA COOK
Illustrated by Helen M. James and Jane E. Cook
London: J.M. Dent & Co. Aldine House, 29 and 30 Bedford Street Covent Garden, W.C. 1899
All rights reserved
[Greek: TEI METRI DIDAKTRA]
"Est enim benignum et plenum ingenui pudoris fateri per quos profeceris."
The story of a town must differ from the history of a nation in that it is concerned not with large issues but with familiar and domestic details. A nation has no individuality. No single phrase can fairly sum up the characteristics of a people. But a town is like one face picked out of a crowd, a face that shows not merely the experience of our human span, but the traces of centuries that go backward into unrecorded time. In all this slow development a character that is individual and inseparable is gradually formed. That character never fades. It is to be found first in the geographical laws of permanent or slowly changed surroundings, and secondly in the outward aspect of the dwellings built by man, for his personal comfort or for the good of the material community, or for his spiritual needs.
To these three kinds of architecture I have attached this story of Rouen, because even in its remotest syllables there are some traces left that are still visible; and these traces increase as the story approaches modern times. While moats and ramparts still sever a city from its surrounding territory, the space within the walls preserves many of those sharply defined characteristics which grow fainter when town and country merge one into the other; the modern suburb gradually destroys the personality both of what it sprang from and of what it meets. Up to the beginning of the sixteenth century I have been more careful to explain the scattered relics of an earlier time than during the years when Rouen was filled with exquisite examples of the builder's art. After that century there is so little of distinction, and so much of average merit, that my story languishes beneath a load of bricks and mortar.
Each chapter in this book which describes an advance in time or a different phase of life and feeling will be found to be connected with the buildings that are either contemporaneous with that phase or most suggestive of it. I have thus been able to mention all the important architectural features of the town without disturbing a fairly even chronological development of the tale, in the hope that this method will appeal not only to the traveller who needs guidance and explanation in the place he visits, but also to the reader who prefers to hear my story by his own fireside. Working, then, with this double audience in my mind, I have used to a very large extent, in my description of the people's life, the documents they have left behind themselves, so that the best expression may be given of the vital fact that a town is built and fashioned and inspired not by a few great men, but by the many persistent citizens who dwell in it, working their will from age to age without shadow of changing.
One such manuscript, the work of many hands and many centuries, I must particularly mention. It is the record kept by the Cathedral Chapterhouse, from 1210 to 1790, of the prisoners pardoned by the Privilege of St. Romain's Shrine. Forbidden, for reasons of health, to investigate these ancient parchments for myself, I have been fortunate enough to find them all printed by the care of M. A. Floquet, to whom the judicial history of Rouen owes so much. To his industry and to that of M. Charles de Beaurepaire I owe all the more astonishing and unknown details which are derived from original authorities scarcely yet appreciated at their full value. Both were scholars in the Ecole des Chartes, the only school of accurate historical instruction in the world; and for any possibility of using fruitfully the mass of details they have brought to light I am indebted to my initiation by M. and Madame James Darmesteter into the same principles of organised research. The list of Authorities in the Appendix will show rather more fully a debt to M. de Beaurepaire which can never be adequately acknowledged.
My stay in Rouen was rendered more profitable and more pleasant by the kindness of yet others of its citizens. To M. Georges Dubosc; to M. le Marquis de Melandri; to M. Lafont who, as is but right in Armand Carrel's birthplace, presides over the oldest and best French provincial newspaper; to M. Edmond Lebel, Director of the Museum; to M. Noel, the librarian, I would here express my heartiest gratitude. To M. Beaurain I am under an especial obligation. Not only did he carefully trace for me the madrigal, set in its modern dress by the kindly skill of Mr Fuller Maitland, which English readers may now hear for the first time since 1550; but he chose out of the vast store at his command the portrait of Corneille by Lasne, and the View of Rouen in 1620 by Merian. These were photographed by M. Lambin of 47 Rue de la Republique, with whom I left a list of those typical carvings in wood and stone of which visitors to Rouen would be likely to desire some accurate and permanent record.
Among those things in this little volume to which I desire special attention, as being unknown in England, and in some cases never reproduced before, I would mention, in addition to the music in Chapter XIII., the plan in Chapter IX. by Jacques Lelieur, who also drew the view of the whole town reproduced in Chapter XIII. This plan is the only instance of which I am aware which enables us to see a French town of 1525 exactly as it was, for by a queer but easily intelligible mixture of plan and elevation, the architect has drawn not merely the course of various streets but the facades of the houses on each side of them. And this leads me to my last, and perhaps my most striking debt, that to my illustrators; not only to my mother, who drew the arms of Rouen, from a design of 1550, for the first chapter, and Coustou's charming bas-relief of Commerce for the last, but more especially to Miss James; of her work I need say nothing; it is quite able to make its own appeal; but for her indefatigable desire to draw exactly what I wanted and to assist the whole scheme of the book I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude. Her drawings of the Crypte St. Gervais, of the Chapelle St. Julien, and of the Eglise St. Paul, will be as new as they are valuable to architectural readers; her picture of the Cour des Comptes, and of the old house in the Rue St. Romain were made under exceptional circumstances which may never recur again; and the view of the Chartreuse de la Rose is the first representation of the headquarters of our Henry V. in France which has ever, to my knowledge, been produced in England.
In conclusion I must express the earnest wish that the pages I have written about the carvings of the Maison Bourgtheroulde, and the illustrations accompanying them, will not have been published in vain. That the only authentic contemporaneous record of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, except the one picture at Hampton Court, should now be mouldering into decay in a French town is hardly creditable to those who can act with authority in valuable questions of historical art. If it be impossible to procure any good reproduction of these carvings for the pleasure and instruction of the public in our own National Galleries, a suggestion might at least be made that would secure their better preservation in the French house which they will soon cease to adorn.
CHAPTER I PAGE Introductory 1
The First City 12
Merovingian Rouen 24
Rouen under her own Dukes 44
The Conquest of England and the Fall of Normandy 72
A French Town 103
La Rue de la Grosse Horloge 134
The Siege of Rouen by Henry V. 169
Jeanne d'Arc and the English Occupation 200
A City of Churches 233
Literature and Commerce 369
A Madrigal of 1550 362
St. Maclou Frontispiece
The Arms of Rouen* 1
The Original Fontaine Croix de Pierre 13
Crypt of St. Gervais 19
Statue of St. Louis 22
Initial Letter from an old Manuscript 24
The Arms of Rouen* 35
Chapelle de la Fierte de St. Romain 37
The Arms of Normandy* 44
Figure from the Border of the Bayeux Tapestry* 56
Figure from the Border of the Bayeux Tapestry* 64
Figure from the Border of the Bayeux Tapestry* 72
Horses for the Army of William the Conqueror crossing the Channel, Bayeux Tapestry* 74
Figure from the Border of the Bayeux Tapestry* 88
Interior of the Chapel of St. Julien 96
Corbel from the old Church of St. Paul 99
Apse of the old Church of St. Paul 101
The Arms of France* 103
A Mason at Work* 118
Portail des Libraires 123
Rouen Cathedral from the North-West 128
The Good Shepherd of the Grosse Horloge 141
The Salt Porter of St. Vincent 147
La Grosse Horloge and the Town Belfry 151
Hotel des Bons Enfants 159
A Cobbler at Work* 161
The Rue du Hallage 165
The Chartreuse de la Rose 181
The Apse of St. Ouen 193
Maison des Celestins 196
Rue St. Romain 206
La Cour d'Albane 218
Central Tower of St. Ouen from the South-East 222
Tour Jeanne d'Arc 230
The Original West Front of St. Ouen 236
Nave of St. Ouen 239
Staircase of St. Maclou 245
Door of St. Maclou 246
Tour St. Andre 247
Eglise St. Laurent 249
Western Porch of St. Vincent 257
Palais de Justice. Tourelle in the Rue St. Lo 267
Courtyard of Palais de Justice 272
Octagon Room of the Palais de Justice 278
Bureau des Finances, from the Parvis 284
Cour des Comptes, from the Rue des Carmes 288
The Dead Body of De Breze, from his Tomb in Rouen Cathedral* 292
Entrance to the Aitre St. Maclou 299
The Cemetery of St. Maclou 304
Tomb of the two Cardinals d'Amboise, from Rouen Cathedral 311
Tomb of Louis de Breze in Rouen Cathedral 313
A Monk praying, from the Tomb of the Cardinals d'Amboise 315
Sir Christopher Lytcot, from the Brass in West Hanney Church* 319
Des Todes Wappenschild, after Holbein* 320
Rouen in 1525, by Jacques Lelieur Facing 321
The Gallery of the Maison Bourgtheroulde 323
The Field of the Cloth of Gold 327
A Window in the Maison Bourgtheroulde 335
Inner Facade of the Maison Bourgtheroulde 339
Maison Caradas 347
Rue de l'Epicerie 353
A Window in the Maison Bourgtheroulde* 361
Rouen in 1620, by Merian Facing 369
Coustou's Bas-relief of Commerce* 369
Pierre Corneille, by Lasne Facing 376
Eau de Robec 381
Courtyard in the Rue Petit Salut 388
The illustrations marked with * are drawn by Jane E. Cook.
A. The Site of Rouen between the Seine and the Hills 3
B. Main Streets and Boulevards, showing the Walls besieged by Henry V. Facing 5
C. The Gallo-Roman Walls, and the oldest Streets in Rouen Facing 71
D. Rouen in the Thirteenth Century Facing 103
E. The Extension of Rouen Eastwards at the end of the Fourteenth Century Facing 169
F. Plan (and elevation of the Houses) of the Vieux-Marche and the Marche-aux-Veaux (now Place de la Pucelle) drawn by Jacques Lelieur for his "Livre des Fontaines" in 1525 Facing 209
Amis, c'est donc Rouen, la ville aux vieilles rues, Aux vieilles tours, debris de races disparues, La ville aux cent clochers carillonant dans l'air, Le Rouen des chateaux, des hotels, des bastilles, Dont le front herisse de fleches et d'aiguilles Dechire incessamment les brumes de la mer.
The three great rivers that flow from the heart of France to her three seas have each a character of their own. The grey and rapid current of the Rhone, swollen with the melting of the glacier-snows, rolls past the imperishable monuments of ancient Empire, and through the oliveyards and vineyards of Provence, falls into the blue waves of the southern sea. The sandy stream of Loire goes westward past the palaces of kings and the walled pleasure-gardens of Touraine, whispering of dead royalty. But the Seine pours out his black and toil-stained waters northward between rugged banks, hurrying from the capital of France to bear her cargoes through the Norman cliffs into the English Channel.
If Paris, Rouen, and Le Havre were but one town, whose central highway was this great river of the north, it would be at the vital spot, the very market-cross, that Rouen has sprung up and flourished through the centuries, at that dividing line where ships must stay that sail in from the sea, and cargo boats set out that ply the upper stream with commerce for the inland folk; and this geographical position has affected every generation of the city's growth and strength.
Rouen that is now "cheflieu du departement de la Seine-Inferieure," was once the Norman stronghold which commanded all the basin of the river from the incoming of the stream of Eure. The Seine and its tributaries have cut vast plateaux some four hundred feet in height, through chalk and debris piled above the Jurassic bedrock that crops out here and there, as it does at Bray. On the right bank of the river, at the summit of a huge curve, the city lies between the valley of Darnetal, that is watered by Robec and his mate Aubette, and the valley of Bapaume. Upon this northern side the town is guarded from east to west by the hills of St. Hilaire, Mont Fortin, Mont aux Malades and Mont Riboudet, and from these the houses grow downwards to the water's edge. Upon the plateau above perch the villages of Mont-Saint-Aignan and of Bois-Guillaume. But between the valley of Darnetal and the Seine, is yet another natural buttress, the promontory on whose summit is Mont Ste. Catherine and the hamlet Bonsecours. From this magnificent height you may take the best view of the natural setting of the town. The western horizon is closed by the plateau of Canteleu and the forest of Roumare. To the south, within that strong bent elbow of the stream, the bridges bind to Rouen her faubourg of St. Sever with its communes of Sotteville and of Petit Quevilly; and the forest of Rouvray spreads its shadow to the meeting of the sky.
The first Rothomagus, like the Rouen of to-day, was neither a hill city, for then it would have stood upon the Mont Ste. Catherine, nor an island city like ancient Paris, for the Ile St. Croix was too small. It was essentially a river city; and you may see at once the extraordinary natural strength of its position on the outside of the river's curve (see Map A), instead of on the inside which may have seemed more probable at first but would have left the town defenceless. Even to-day you can only get into Rouen, as into a town that has been battered and taken by assault, through the breach in her fortified lines. If you enter by the railway from Paris, from Havre, from Dieppe or from Fecamp, it is by subterranean tunnels only that approach is possible, and up a flight of steps that you make your first acquaintance with a "coin perdu" of the town, a corner without character, without size, without the least promise of the beauty that is hidden further off. Of all those great gates through which the mediaeval city welcomed her dukes or sallied out against her enemies, but one is left, the Porte Guillaume Lion close by the quays, at the end of the Rue des Arpents, which is as faded and decrepit as its entrance.
To understand something of the origins of the town, it is far better to come there for the first time by the river, by the highway that has suffered least change since Rouen was a town at all. Yet the river itself is cribbed within far narrower bounds than when the first huts of savage fishermen were stuck upon the reed-beds of the marsh; for the town was first set upon islets that have long ago been absorbed into the mainland, and the waters of the Seine once washed the boatmen's landing stages at a spot that now bounds the Parvis of the Cathedral. Even now the Seine varies in breadth at this point from a hundred and thirty-five to two hundred and fifteen metres, with a depth of five metres on the quays at lowest tide. These tides are felt as far as twenty miles above the town. They vary in height from one metre to as much as three, and a tidal wave is formed that is one of the greatest dangers of the downstream navigation. Coming up from the sea is fairly easy in almost any kind of stout and steady craft, but it is difficult for all but the best steamers to get down without being delayed, and sometimes fairly stopped, by the great tidal wave at Caudebec or Quilleboeuf. Only when the floods reduce their strength are the tides unable to turn the current of the stream; and flood water is not unusual in a country where the rain blows in so often from the Channel.
There is an average of a hundred and fifty rainy days each year, the late autumn being worst, for the clouds are attracted by the river, by the forests, and by the hills that stand round about the city. But the unhealthiness engendered by all this moisture is a thing of the past. An enlightened municipal authority has widened streets, planted broad boulevards, and cleansed the waterworks which Jacques Lelieur first sketched in the early years of the sixteenth century. And much as we may deplore the loss of picturesque surroundings, it was high time that some of the "Fumier du Moyen Age" should be shovelled out of sight. What existence meant in those Middle Ages we shall be better able to realise later on, and it will be possible as we pass through the streets of Rouen to see what little has been left of it; for the vandalism of ignorance has too often accompanied the innocent and hygienic efforts of the restorer, and undue Haussmanism has ruined many an inoffensive beauty past recall.
As you look upon the modern town from the river, it is difficult to realise that the views of 1525, or of 1620, which I have reproduced in this book, can represent the same place. The old walls and battlements have disappeared, and all the ancient keeps save one. But though we cannot tell the towers of ancient Rothomagus, we can mark well her bulwarks, from the Church of St. Pierre du Chastel that stands in the Rue des Cordeliers (see Maps B and C) where was the first Castle of Rollo, to the Halles and the Chapelle de la Fierte St. Romain, where the names of Haute and Basse Vieille Tour recall the citadel of later dukes. Within her earliest walls was the site of the first Cathedral; outside them was built St. Ouen to the north-east, and the monastery of St. Gervais to the north-west where the Conqueror died. Above the town still rises the Tour Jeanne d'Arc, the donjon of the Castle of Bouvreuil, which showed that Normandy was no more an independent Duchy, but a part of the domains of Philip Augustus. This memory of bondage still remains; but of the home of her own dukes Rouen has not preserved one stone; nor of the English palace of King Henry the Fifth near "Mal s'y Frotte" is anything left in the Rue du Vieux Palais near the western quay.
The small compass of the first battlements set on the swamp grew, by the twelfth century, to the lines of the modern boulevards on the north and west, but at the Tour Jeanne d'Arc they turned east and southwards, round the apse of St. Ouen, down the Rue de l'Epee and the Rue du Ruisseau by way of the Rue des Espagnols to the Porte Guillaume Lion and the quay. The walls besieged by the English under Henry V. had expanded almost exactly to the lines of the present boulevards in all directions, for the town had spread up the stream of Robec in broad lines that converged past the Place du Boulingrin above, and the Place Martainville below, upon the Place St. Hilaire to the east (see map B).
From the Place Cauchoise on the north-west of the city of to-day two main streets pierce the town. The Rue Thiers passes the Museum, and comes out at the Place de l'Hotel de Ville, close to St. Ouen. The Rue Cauchoise leads straight into the Place du Vieux Marche where Jeanne d'Arc was burnt. From there begins the Rue de la Grosse Horloge, the central artery of old Rouen, in which is the town's focal point, the belfry with its fountain and its archway. The other end of this street comes out on the open space or Parvis before the west door of the Cathedral. If you will go still further eastward by way of the Rue St. Romain, past the Portail des Libraires, the most characteristic thoroughfare is from the Place des Ponts de Robec, not far south of St. Ouen, along the street called Eau de Robec to the boulevards. These are the main lines of lateral division.
From north to south the town is cut by the Rue Jeanne d'Arc; further eastwards, by the Rue des Carmes, which becomes the Rue Grand Pont; and by the Rue de la Republique, which passes clear from the Musee des Antiquites at the northern angle of the town to the Pont de Pierre Corneille on the river. The quays are crowded with a busy throng of workmen; on the stream are ships from every quarter of the world; great cranes are hoisting merchandise out of their holds and distributing it into the markets of the town, or into the barges for Paris and the Ile-de-France. For this is the limit of the maritime Seine, and here, where the tide of ocean throbs upon her quays, it was but natural that the strength and commerce of Rouen should increase and multiply. "L'agneau de la ville a toujours la patte levee" says the old Norman proverb, and if you look at the lamb upon the arms of Rouen you will see her foot is raised in readiness for the travel that has been always the characteristic of her sons. From the days when northern rovers sailed here, when Guiscard's colonists went out to Sicily, when traders watched the wind for England, the citizens of Rouen have had their interests far afield.
But it is with the story of their home-town that I have now to do. And if it is to be told within the bounds of your patience and my opportunity, that story must be limited, if not by the old walls of the city, then by the shortest circuit of the suburbs round it. Nor need we lose much by this circumscribing of our purpose. The life of Normandy was concentrated in its capital. The slow march of events from the independence as a Duchy to the incorporation as a part of France has left footprints upon all the thoroughfares of the town. The development of mediaeval Rothomagus into modern Rouen has stamped its traces on the stones of the city, as the falling tide leaves its own mark upon the timbers of a seaworn pier. It will be my business to point your steps to these traces of the past, and from the marks of what you see to build up one after another the centuries that have rolled over tide-worn Rouen. Let it be said at once that the "Old Rouen" you will first see is almost completely a French Renaissance city of the sixteenth century. Of older buildings you will find only slight and imperfect remnants, and as you pass monstrosities more modern you will involuntarily close your eyes. But the remnants are there, slight as they are; and they are worth your search for them, as we try together to reconstruct the ancient city of which they formed a part.
Rouen has in its turn been the most southerly city of a Norman Duke's possessions, then the central fortress of an Angevin Empire that stretched from Forth to Pyrenees, then a northern bulwark for the Kings of Paris against the opposing cliffs of England. It has sent out fleets upon the sea, and armies upon land. It has been independent of its neighbours, it has led them against a common foe, and it has undergone with them a national disaster. But no matter who were its rulers, or by what title it was officially described, or how it has been formally divided, eternal bars and doors have been set for its inhabitants by the mountains and the waters, eternal laws have been made for them by the clouds and the stars that cannot be altered. In the natural features that remain the same to-day, in the labourers of the soil, and in the toilers of the city, there has been the least change. For these are the "dim unconsidered populations" upon whom the real brunt of war falls, the units who compose the battalions, the pieces in the game who have little or no share in the stakes; who abide in their land always, blossoming as the trees in summer, enduring as the rocks in snow. Over this deep-rooted heart of humanity sweeps the living hail and thunder of the armies of the earth. These are the warp and first substance of the nations, divided not by dynasties but by climates, strong by unalterable privilege or weak by elemental fault, unchanged as Nature's self.
In the city of to-day, and in such thoroughfares as the Rue de l'Epicerie, you may look for a moment into that humbler and less spacious form of habitation in which the people and the workers lived their days, making up for the poverty of their own surroundings by the magnificence of that great Cathedral which rose above the low horizon of their roofs, and opened its doors to poor and rich alike. The buildings that have so long outlived their inhabitants may be taken as the background—like the permanent stone scenery in a Greek theatre—to the shifting kaleidoscope of many-coloured life in the old city.
In the place itself you will see scarcely a trace of the great personages whose names have glittered in its list of sieges, battles, massacres, pageants, and triumphal entries. The story of a town is not a drum-and-trumpet chronicle of the Kings and Queens. It is the tale of all those domestic and municipal details which from their very unimportance have well-nigh disappeared. To hear it you must follow me from the Crypte St. Gervais to the Cathedral, from the Hotellerie des Bons Enfants to the Maison Bourgtheroulde, and it is to the voices of the people that I shall ask you to listen, and to the life of the people that I shall point you among the streets they lived in. Thus, and thus only, may you possibly realise the spirit of the place, that calls out first to every stranger in the bells that sound through the silence of his first night in a foreign town. These you shall know better soon in Rouen, by name even, "Rouvel" and "Cache-Ribaut," if you be worldly-minded, "Georges d'Amboise" and "Marie d'Estouteville" for your hours of prayer. Before you pass beyond their sound again, their ancient voices shall bring to you something of the centuries that had died when they were young, something of the individuality of the city above which they have been swinging for so long.
"Spirit of Place," writes the most charming of our living essayists:—
"It is for this we travel, to surprise its subtlety; and where it is a strong and dominant angel, that place, seen once, abides entire in the memory with all its own accidents, its habits, its breath, its name. It is recalled all a lifetime, having been perceived a week, and is not scattered but abides, one living body of remembrance. The untravelled spirit of place—not to be pursued, for it never flies, but always to be discovered, never absent, without variation—lurks in the byways and rules over the towers, indestructible, an indescribable unity. It awaits us always in its ancient and eager freshness. It is sweet and nimble within its immemorial boundaries, but it never crosses them. Long white roads outside have mere suggestions of it and prophecies; they give promise, not of its coming, for it abides, but of a new and singular and unforseen goal for our present pilgrimage, and of an intimacy to be made."
How many a traveller moves from place to place, not realising anything beyond the transportation of his body! Yet in every town there is this fresh acquaintance, this lifelong friendship, that shall last while his own memory lasts, that is as fresh for him as for a thousand before him, and for tens of thousands after. When the bells of an unknown city have given me their first greeting, my first acknowledgment of that compelling invitation is to see those buildings in the town that can become alive again beneath their echoes. Of such churches, of such civic buildings, of private houses, of monuments by unknown hands for unknown owners, Rouen is full in almost all her streets.
"La dans le passe tu peux vivre Chaque monument est un livre Chaque pierre un souvenir."
The history of the Middle Ages is written upon magnificent and enduring volumes, and a great responsibility is laid on those who would deface the writing on the wall. Their virtues and vices, their jests and indecencies, their follies and their fears, are all writ large upon the pages of a book that was ever open to every passer-by, and that remains for us to read. It is no rhetorical exaggeration, that "Ceci tuera cela" of Victor Hugo. Our smaller doings are recorded in the perishable print of fading paper, and we have no care to stamp what little we have left of character upon our buildings. No one, at least it may be fervently hoped, will try in the future to reconstruct the ideals or the life of the Victorian Era from its architecture. Yet we are the heirs of all that is noblest in that greatest of all arts; and if you would test that, you need only look at any mediaeval French Cathedral with a seeing eye. You will find no meaningless mass of bricks and mortar, but the speaking record of the age that built them. "The stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it."
The First City
"Latera aquilonis civitas regis magni Deus in domibus eius cognoscetur cum suscipiet eam."
Follow the Rue de la Republique past the Abbey of St. Ouen and up the hill to the Place Sainte Marie. On your left you will find the Musee des Antiquites which contains the earliest traces of the inhabitants of Rouen. There are so few of them that they are easily contained in a few glass cases; and this Museum is itself an excellent place with which to begin your visitation of the town. Few travellers go there, yet it is well worth the while, for here are collected many relics of an age that has left few traces anywhere, and here can be filled up many gaps in that story of Rouen which you can never read completely in what is left of the old town. In the courtyard that faces the Rue de la Republique are several of the ancient gateways that have given way before the press of modern traffic, and a few facades of carved and timbered houses rest like empty masks against the wall, looking forlorn enough, yet better here than lost. One of the best of these empty shells was taken in 1842 from No. 29 Rue Damiette. Dating about 1500, its overhanging storeys are carved with statues of St. John and of St. Romain with his Gargouille. It probably belonged to the Professional (Pellottier or Racquettier) of the Tennis Court near it, the Jeu de Paume St. Jacques. In this same courtyard of the Museum is a row of ancient weather-beaten statues, and, best relic of them all, the exquisite original of the fountain Croix de Pierre which is represented by a more modern imitation on the spot it once adorned.
[Footnote 1: Built in 1515, its name is misleading, for it was made by Cardinal d'Amboise not to hold a cross but to carry a fountain which happened to be placed near the stone cross erected by Archbishop Gauthier in commemoration of the profitable exchanges made when Richard Coeur de Lion built his Chateau Gaillard in 1197 on land belonging to the Cathedral. When the Cross disappeared the Fountain took its name.]
The inner quadrangle, which you reach through the rooms of the Museum, is the best thing it has to show. Remote from the dust and bustle of the highway the little cloistered square is gay with flowers upon the turf, and statues from various churches are set here and there, like pensioners in Chelsea Hospital, after their active service in religious wars has left them mutilated and useless, but not without honour in the days of their old age. From the walls and windows sculptured saints and angels look down with an air of gentle approbation on the scene, and in the very middle a little bishop raises his hand in benediction over pious strangers from the centre of a rosebed.
But it is in the galleries within that we must seek for those records of primitive habitation that we have come to see. Hatchets of silex or of bronze, rude clay vases that were found nine yards beneath the soil, bear witness to the remotest ages of humanity in Rouen. The town grew very slowly, for its name was unknown in any form to Caesar, and it is not till the second century that Ptolemy mentions Rotomagos as the capital of the tribe of Velocasses who have left their name to the Vexin. The unhealthy marshes in the valley between the hills and the river were not likely to be tenanted by the first Roman conquerors who fixed their centre at Julia Bona, and their amphitheatre may still be seen, near the ruins of a Norman castle, in the midst of the manufactories of Lillebonne. But as the importance of Lutetia grew upon the upper waters of the Seine, the value of this elbow of the stream grew greater every year; and by the days of Diocletian, Rotomagus had become the sea-gate of the capital, and the chief town of the province. Already Strabo speaks of its commerce with the English ports, and it appears as the natural point of exchange between southern civilisation and the barbarism of the north, the gate through which goods came from Italy, travelling by Rhone, by Saone, or Seine, to England.
Its first fortifications found a natural southern base upon the river's bend; to east, to west, and north it was protected by hills and by the marshes, and unhealthy as it was, the Roman colonists were compelled, when danger came, to leave the Julia Bona they preferred in peace, and fly for safety to the fine strategical position Nature had marked out at Rouen. Here, too, was the home of the Provincial Governor, and of his military captain; and of the walls they built the eye of faith can still see traces at the Ponts de Robec, at the Abbaye de St. Amand, near the Hotel de France, close to the Priory St. Lo, and in the Place Verdrel in front of the Palais de Justice. I have marked out the limits of this earliest castrum on Map C; and in the Rouen of to-day you may see a strange confirmation of the fact that Roman Rotomagus was a far more watery place than may be realised at first. For if you stand anywhere about the level of the Cathedral foundations and look in the direction of the river, you will notice that all the streets slope upwards. Go nearer still, and at the angle where the Rue du Bac meets the Rue des Tapissiers, the upward slope becomes even more pronounced, for though the river is not so far away, there is even less of it to be seen. A great embankment has been slowly built; and upon what was once marshland and islands and the tidal mud, has grown up nearly all that part of Rouen which lies between the Cathedral and the river.
This gradual consolidation of the land which was reclaimed slowly from the Seine must have gone on from the time when the Roman walls stopped at the Rue aux Ours on one side, and at the Rue Saint Denis on the other. Their northern boundary was very slightly farther than the Rue aux Fosses Louis VIII. The Rue Jeanne d'Arc runs just outside them to the west, and the stream of Robec forms their natural boundary to the east, flowing into the Mala Palus that has left its name in the Rue Malpalu which leads from the west front of St. Maclou towards the Seine. Robec himself is well-nigh hidden now, though once his southern turn formed one of the defences of the town. Now he gropes underground his way into the Seine, and even when his waters can be traced, in the Rue Eau de Robec, their muddy waves were almost better hidden.
There is a striking likeness to all this in the early days of the history of London. Apart from all legends of the Troy Novant, of Lud and Lear and that King Lucius who sanctified Cornhill, legends which have their counterpart in all the old histories of Rouen, there are almost as few relics of the fortified barrack on the Thames, or of the more pretentious "Augusta" which followed, as there are of Roman Rouen. The same mud flats along the river bank remained until, in 982, after the first great fire, Cnut made a canal for his boats round Southwark. Into the marsh fell the Fleet river, just as Robec into Mala Palus; the English stream like the French one, formed the first natural line of defence on that side; and both are now little better than built-in sewers, one flowing into Thames at Blackfriars Bridge, the other through its smaller tunnel into Seine near the Pont de Pierre Corneille.
In the Museum of the Place Sainte Marie are the few Roman tombs that have survived all other relics of their occupants, and some of the money that they brought here, coins of Posthumus, of Tetricus, of Gordian, of Commodus. It is said, too, that when the foundations of vanished St. Herbland were being dug, some rusty iron rings for mooring boats and mouldering ship timbers were discovered, which were supposed to have been traces of the Roman quay. But the word "Port Morant" is probably not derived from Portus Morandi, but from Postis, and refers to the far more modern "avant soliers" or jutting balconies, which were supported on stout beams, and ran round the Parvis when Jacques Lelieur was making his sketches of the town in 1525. With such mere conjectures we must leave all that the Roman occupation has to tell. Their story was a short one; for the town was outside that circle where Roman influence was chiefly felt; and it ended with the Frankish invasions from beneath the Drachenfels. From being the head of a Roman province, Rouen became one of the fourteen cities of the Armorican Confederation, through the influence of the churchmen who now begin to appear in the dim records of the city-chronicles as the defenders of these earliest citizens.
The Romans laid foundations here, as they did in so many places in Europe, and then passed away. But before they disappeared there had been time for the first missionaries of the Christian faith to sow the seeds that were to grow into the Church. The legions left the city, but the faith of Rome stayed on. As early as the second century (and some say earlier still) came St. Nicaise. After him arrived St. Mellon of Cardiff, who is said to have converted the chief Pagan temple into a Christian church. St. Sever was the third "Bishop." In 400, St. Victrice had laid the foundations of the first church on the site of the Cathedral, and tradition puts the beginning of what became St. Ouen as one year earlier. Strangely enough there remains a record of the ecclesiastical architecture of these early days that is of the highest interest, for it is the oldest building of its kind to be found north of the Alps.
To reach it you must pass out of the town to the north-west, going by the Rue Cauchoise where it starts from the Place du Vieux Marche towards the hill of St. Gervais. All Roman burials took place outside their walls, and the tombs generally lined the great roads that led out of the towns. There is no doubt that many such monuments stood on either hand of the road that you must follow now, beyond the Place Cauchoise and into the Rue Saint Gervais. Go straight on up the hill and at the turn into the Rue Chasselievre, upon the left, you will see an uncompromisingly new Norman church standing alone upon some high ground. This is a modern building on the site of the old Priory of St. Gervais, to which William the Conqueror was carried in his last illness, when he could no longer bear the noise and traffic of the town. At the west end, on the outside wall of this third and newest church, is placed a tablet that records his death. Of the second church you can trace the apse, with its Romanesque pillars and carved capitals of birds and leaves, beneath the choir at the east end of the third one.
Look lower still. Beneath the second choir is a still older window that barely rises high enough above the soil to catch the light at all. That is the window of the oldest crypt in France. Down thirty steps from the inner pavement of the new church you can descend with lighted candles to see the first building in which the Church of Rouen met. The only accurate drawing that has ever been published of it was made for these chapters, and it is worth while taxing your patience with rather more detail than usual in describing a subterranean chamber that has no parallel save in the Catacombs of Rome. It was no doubt after his visit to the Holy City in 404 that St. Victrice built this shrine for the safe-keeping of the first relics of his church in a pagan land. The friend of St. Martin of Tours, and of St. Ambrose at Milan, St. Victrice had probably obtained from them the sacred fragments which were to be so carefully preserved for the strengthening of the faith among the infidels. But the little community of Christians at Rouen had its own relics that needed safe disposal too. For in this crypt on the left hand as you enter is the tomb of St. Mellon who died in 311, to whom a church is dedicated that still exists in Monmouthshire, and on the right lies St. Avitien who died in 325. The saint to whose name and memory the crypt was dedicated lies buried beneath the high altar of the Church of St. Ambrose at Milan. The body of St. Victrice, its builder, after lying in this same vault for nearly four centuries after his death, was transferred elsewhere.
The cold and gloomy little pit is eleven metres forty long, by five metres forty broad, and five metres thirty high, and in the recessed arches above the tombs may still be traced the thin red bricks of the Roman builders and their strong cement between. In the circular apse opposite the tiny square-headed entrance is the high window, set in the east, that we saw from the outside, and in the wall on each side are two square recesses in which the sacred vessels were locked up. The altar on its raised platform stands upon two rude upright stones, and is marked with five small crosses incised upon its upper surface. Behind it, on the rounded wall, are faint traces of carving and of fresco. All round the walls, except at the altar and the entrance, runs a low stone seat after the true type of the Christian Catacomb. A flat projecting rib of stone divides the barrel roof of the nave from the circular vault of the apse which slopes upwards to the rounded summit of the tiny window. A few skulls lie in a shadowed hollow near the altar, but the State has fortunately put a stop to any further grubbing in the floor for corpses that should never have been disturbed.
There is an absolute and elemental simplicity in this tiny crypt, with its stone bench and tombs of stone, that appeals far more strongly to the imagination than any bespangled ecclesiasticism above it. This is the true service of God and of His poor. The cold austerity of a faith that stood in no need of external attractiveness lays hold upon the senses as the reticent syllables of that first gospel, spelt out from its original sentences, must have gripped the hearts of those who heard it first. The Latin phrases of a long drawn litany, set to complicated tunes, rolled overhead with an emptiness of barren sound, among the clouds of incense and the glitter of the painted walls and all the service of "the clergyman for his rich."
More beautiful places of worship we shall see in many parts of Rouen. But in all France there is nothing more sincere than the small crypt of St. Gervais.
So the only remnant that is left of "Roman" Rouen is not Roman at all, but a type of that strong, naive, and sincere Christianity which invigorated the Gothic captains who overthrew Rome. It is but fitting that there should be so little left. For the Romans were not so much a nation as an empire. They were not so much a people, as the embodiment of a power. When their work of spreading law and order, of diffusing Greek imagination through the channels of their strength was over, they split asunder at the vigorous touch of the truth that came against them. They left no personal traces in a town so far removed as Rouen from the centres of their civilisation.
It was the same in London, which was still farther off. For if you believe that any "Roman" wall was built round Augusta before 400 A.D., there is little left of it to point to now, save at that south-eastern corner on which the Norman Conqueror built his tower, at the New Post Office buildings in St. Martin's le Grand, and in the churchyard of St. Giles's, Cripplegate. In the British Museum and at Guildhall are some scanty relics of domestic life, some fragments of mosaic, shreds of pavement, and the like.
At Rouen it is the same. The legions left the stamped impression of their armoured feet, impersonal and strong, a hallmark as it were, to guarantee the local strength and value of the first Rothomagus. But it was the Christian worshippers who left the only building that remains of those first centuries, to testify to what some men and women in that early time could really feel and think and do.
It is by another priest that the story of the town is carried on from "Roman" times to the next period of transition. St. Godard appropriately enough, a Frank by descent himself and born of a Roman mother, is the link between this shadowy twilight of early church history and the stronger colouring of the Frankish story that is to come. In 488 he was elected as the fourteenth bishop of Rouen by the unanimous vote of clergy and people together, and eight years afterwards he represented the diocese when Hlodowig or Clovis was baptised at Rheims, from which we may gather that the Frankish power had definitely embraced his town within its grasp some time before. He died about 525 and his body, which was first buried in the crypt of the church which bears his name, was afterwards removed to Soissons. It was at that same Soissons that the Romans were driven out of "France," and Hlodowig with his Franks took possession of the country to the Loire, and then pushed on the boundaries of their kingdom to the Pic du Midi. The profession of Christianity by Hlodowig was not a mere matter of policy. It was another expression of that Frankish quality of sincerity and truth, which has been already noticed, in the Gaul that was shaking off the bonds of Rome. It was perhaps the chief quality of that band of nations north of Tiber which stretched from English hills, across limestone plateaux of Northern France, through German forests, to the vales of the Carpathians. These were the first wave of the "barbarian" invasion after Rome had fallen. Behind them, further to the north and east, drifted a piratical band of roaming warriors, who for the next five centuries press and harry the boundaries of the kingdoms, Visigoths and Ostrogoths, Saxons, Danes, and Scandinavians, of whom we shall hear more later.
The Christian bishops were the shield after Rome fell, between the trembling conquered races and the first wave of conquering barbarian invasion. The strength of their faith we have seen already in the crypt of St. Gervais. This little altar, and the tiny shrine of St. Godard watched infant Rouen from beyond its walls. An edict in 399 had destroyed the rural temples of the old Pagan faith. About 450 a new law recommended the conversion of the old temples within the towns into churches. So in these years we may suppose that the first building had risen on the site of the Cathedral, with St. Herbland's earliest church in front, and upon other eyots in the Seine the shrines of St. Martin de la Roquette, St. Clement, and St. Eloi. When Julia Bona was finally deserted, Rouen became the home of a count, who held, under Clovis, administrative, judicial and military power. By the next century the town must have grown to a considerable size and importance. Yet there is absolutely nothing of Merovingian Rouen left except the few poor ornaments in the glass cases of the Musee des Antiquites. Here you will see some of the characteristically shaped bronze axe-heads of the period; but by far the larger part of what is left is woman's gear. Beside the axes there are a few lance and arrow-heads; but the finger rings (still on the bones that wore them) are numerous; there are necklaces too, and bracelets; nails and buttons, styles for writing, pins, needles, combs, and pottery. By such pitiful trifles that have survived the pride and strength of all their owners, you may be fitly introduced to the next chapter in the pageant of historic Rouen, the tale of Fredegond and Brunhilda.
"Consurgit pater in filium, filius in patrem, frater in fratrem, proximus in propinquum."
Literally not one stone remains in Rouen to which I can point you as a witness of the tragedy in which the names of Fredegond and Brunhilda will always live. Yet the part of their tragedy which was played in Rouen must be told, if you are clearly to fashion for yourself that web of many faded colours which is to be the background for the first figures recognisable as flesh and blood, the northern pirates. It is a story which points as clearly to the downfall of Merovingian society and the coming of a new race, as ever any tale of Rome's decline and fall pointed to the coming of the barbarians.
After the death of King Hlothair, the last man of the blood of the great Hlodowig, or Clovis, whose Frankish warriors had driven the Romans out of Gaul, and who himself became the "eldest son of the Church," his kingdom had been divided among his four sons, of whom the eldest died in possession of the lands of Bordeaux; and left his treasure to be taken by the next brother, Gunthram, and his lands to be divided among all three of the surviving heirs. Mutual suspicion defeated its own ends, and the ridiculous principles on which the division was made were the mainspring of nearly all the quarrelling that followed. Sigebert, the youngest brother, reigned over Austrasia, which stretched eastward from the north of Gaul through Germany towards the Slavs and Saxons. Gunthram had the central land of Orleans and Burgundy. Hilperik reigned north and westward of the Loire in Neustria. But each of the three owned towns and lands in various parts of France without regard to the broad lines of division which have just been indicated. Of them all Hilperik, the King of Neustria, was the most uxorious and effeminate. By his wife, Audowere, he had had three sons, Hlodowig, Theodobert and Merowig, who was held at the font of Rouen Cathedral by the Bishop Pretextatus. Among the royal waiting women was a young and very beautiful Frank called Fredegond, on whom the King had already cast a too-favourable eye; and the opportunity of his absence on an expedition to the North was seized by the girl in a way which showed at once the unscrupulous and subtle treachery which was the keynote of her character. The Queen was brought to bed of her fourth child, a daughter, while the King was still from home. By Fredegond's suggestion, the infant was held at the font by Audowere herself and christened Hildeswinda. Hlodowig at once took advantage of the trap into which the innocent and unsuspecting mother had fallen. As soon as he returned he sent away Audowere and her baby to a monastery at Le Mans, on the pretext that it was illegal for the godmother of his own daughter to be his wife. He then made Fredegond his queen.
The conduct of the younger brother Sigebert was at once more dignified and more politically secure. At Metz in 566 he married Brunhilda, the younger daughter of Athanagild, King of the Goths, whose capital was at Toledo, a woman whose courage, beauty, and resource, have remained a byword in history and song. The splendour and success of this alliance roused Hilperik's jealousy, and he lost no time in sending an embassy to Spain asking the hand of Galeswintha, the elder sister of his brother's wife. After much negotiation, the girl left the palace of Toledo on her long march to the north. Her own presentiment of coming evil was strengthened by the tears of her reluctant mother, who could with difficulty be persuaded to leave the procession that escorted the princess across the Pyrenees. By way of Narbonne, Carcassonne, Poitiers, and Tours, Galeswintha moved slowly across France towards her husband, with all her Goths and Franks behind her, and a train of baggage waggons groaning beneath the treasures of her dowry. She made her entry into Rouen on a towering car, set with plates of glittering silver, and all the Neustrian warriors stood in a great circle round her with drawn swords, crying aloud the oath of their allegiance. Before them all, the King swore constancy and faith to her, and on the morning following he publicly made present to her of the five southern cities that were his wedding gift.
Fredegond had disappeared. In the general proscription of immorality that had followed the embassy to Spain, she was swept away like the rest, and she knew when to yield. Like the viper in the grass she lay hidden, gathering up her venom for a more deadly blow. So harmless did she seem that she was soon allowed to return to her former humble post as one of the waiting women of the palace. It was not long before she struck. The sensual and shallow nature of the King had soon wearied of his new bride, whose chief charm was not, it would appear, her beauty. A moment came when weariness became disgust. The sight of Fredegond recalled his former passion, and the proud princess of the Goths soon had the mortification of seeing the affections of her husband transferred to her waiting woman. But this was not enough. A few days afterwards Queen Galeswintha was found strangled in her bed, in 568. Hilperik was not long in adding the dignity of queen to the position of wife which he had already given to the triumphant Fredegond.
The sad young figure of this Spanish princess, brought up against her will from sunnier courts into the midst of Merovingian brutality in the dark palaces of Neustria, is one that affected many minds with compassion for her fate. The story of the crystal lamp that hung above her tomb in Rouen, which fell upon the marble pavement, yet was neither broken nor extinguished, was but a poetical expression of the universal pity. In the heart of her sister Brunhilda pity flamed rapidly into revenge. Sigebert was enlisted on the side of justice, and Gunthram quickly followed him, with the object of making peace between his brothers. The King of Neustria was condemned to forfeit certain cities as punishment for the murder of his queen.
[Footnote 2: Gregory of Tours, H.F., iv. 28. "Post cuius obitum Deus virtutem magnam ostendit. Lichinus enim ille, qui fune suspensus coram sepulchrum eius ardebat, nullo tangente, disrupto fune, in pavimentum conruit, et fugientem ante eam duriciam pavimenti, tanquam in aliquod molle aelimentum discendit, atque medius est suffusus nec omnino contritus."]
But the blood of Galeswintha still cried out for vengeance from the ground, and the horrible series of murders that filled the century began with Hilperik's unwarranted aggressions on the territory of his brother Sigebert. Long months passed in pillage, in ineffectual attempts at reconciliation, in perpetual reprisals. At last Brunhilda rose and insisted that her husband should make an end with the murderer of her sister. So Sigebert and his army moved forward to a combined attack and chased Hilperik to the walls of Paris. Thither, when Fredegond and her husband had fled to Rouen and then to Tournai, Brunhilda came southwards to meet the conqueror who soon marched north again to be crowned at Vitry, leaving his wife behind to guard the capital in triumph. Now came Fredegond's opportunity. For when Hilperik was besieged by Sigebert in the city of Tournai and sore pressed, Fredegond saw her enemy delivered into her hand. "La femme," say the chronicles of St. Denis (III. 3 and 4) "pensa de la besogne la ou le sens de son seigneur faillait, qui selon la coutume de femme, moult plus est de grand engieng a malfaire que n'est homme." By some diabolical trick of fascination she persuaded a pair of assassins to penetrate into Sigebert's camp, armed with a "scramasax" she had herself provided. They murdered him as he sat at table, and were instantly cut to pieces by the courtiers. Fredegond always managed to get inconvenient witnesses out of the way. Hilperik at once took advantage of the confusion to march on Paris, and the horror of Brunhilda may be imagined as she realised that the murderer of her husband and of her sister was approaching the city in which the widow and her three orphans were defenceless. Her son (afterwards the second Hildebert), was then but five years old, and by the help of Gundobald she was able to contrive his escape, lowering him in a basket through an opening in the city walls.
[Footnote 3: Gregory of Tours, Ib. 51. "Tunc duo pueri cum cultris validis, quos vulgo scramasaxos vocant, infectis veneno, maleficati a Fredegundae Regina, cum aliam causam suggerere simularent, utraque ei latera feriunt."]
Then began another act in this dark drama, which ended very differently to the expectations of Fredegond. For with his father had come young Merowig to Paris, and whether from fascinations that had some deep ulterior design, or whether as is more probable from the natural attraction felt by the young warrior for a lovely princess in distress, Merowig fell hopelessly in love with the fair Brunhilda, who was but twenty-eight and could have been very little older than her second husband. He saw, however, the danger of prematurely confessing his passion, and quietly went off on a foraging expedition to Berri and Touraine at the bidding of his father. But, no doubt, he was aware before starting of Hilperik's intention to send Brunhilda to Rouen; for it was not long before he marched northwards (after a visit to his mother Audowere in her prison at Le Mans), and came to Rouen himself. The meeting cannot have been a surprise to the daughter of the Spanish Goths, and whatever may have been her intentions, she proved so willing to console herself that a very short time elapsed before she was the wife of Merowig. Strangely enough the Bishop of Rouen at the time was the same Pretextatus who had been Merowig's godfather at his baptism. "Proprium mihi," he says (in the history of Gregory of Tours) "esse videbatur, quod filio meo Merovecho erat, quem de lavacro regeneratione excepi." This kindly and somewhat weak prelate, whose natural sympathies seem invariably to have proved too strong for his political prudence, was prevailed upon to perform the ceremony of marrying to Merowig the widow of his father's murdered brother. But it was not merely canonical law, or even certain sentimental precepts, that were offended by a union that was later on to cost its celebrant his life. The suspicions of Hilperik were instantly aroused. Brunhilda's young son had already been accepted as their King by the Austrasian warriors at Metz. Now Brunhilda herself had taken what was evidently the second step in a deep-laid plot to reassert her own superiority and ruin Neustria. It can have scarcely needed the hatred of Fredegond, both for her natural rival and for the son of Audowere, to urge Hilperik to speedy action. He hastened to Rouen with such swiftness that the newly-married pair were entirely taken by surprise in the first few months of their new happiness. They fled for sanctuary to the little wooden church of St. Martin, whose timbers rested on the very ramparts of the town. No entreaties nor cajoleries at first availed to make them leave their refuge. At last, they agreed to come out if the King would swear not to separate them. His oath was a crafty one as it is given by Gregory of Tours: "Si, inquit, voluntas Dei fuerit, ipse has separare non conaretur," and, of course, the "will of God" happened to be the wish of Hilperik, and they were safely separated as soon as possible. For after two or three days of feasting and apparent reconciliation he hurried off with the unwilling bridegroom in his train, and left Brunhilda under a strict guard at Rouen.
[Footnote 4: But "Ipse vero, simulans ad matrem suam ire velle," says Gregory (H.F. V. 2), "Rothomago petiit et ibi Brunechildae reginae conjungitur...."]
The very first incident that followed this unhappy marriage was the siege of Soissons by the men of Neustria, and in this coincidence the King saw further confirmation of the plots of Brunhilda in which she had so nearly secured the assistance of Merowig against Fredegond and his father. He at once ordered his miserable son, whose intellect was incapable of ambitious schemes, and whose only fault had been an unconsidered passion, to be stripped of his arms, and to have the long hair cut from his head that was a mark of royal blood. The later adventures of the wretched Merowig, an exile and an outlaw, hunted through his father's kingdom, are too intricate to follow. After a long imprisonment in the sanctuary of Tours Cathedral, he escaped only to be murdered by the emissaries of the implacable Fredegond in a farmhouse north of Arras. Meanwhile his wife, Brunhilda, had long ago been set free to go from Rouen to Austrasia. She was safer across the border, while the follies of another Merowig might make her dangerous. Her flight, at this unexpected opportunity of freedom, was so rapid that she left the greater part of her baggage and treasure with the Bishop of Rouen, who was once more unwise enough to compromise himself in order to be of service to his godchild's wife. For Pretextatus not only supplied Merowig with money in his various efforts to escape, but was so careless in his demands upon the friendship of the surrounding nobles, and in scattering bribes to gain them over, that his treasonable practices soon came to the ears of Hilperik. That avaricious and perpetually needy ruler was not long in securing the remainder of the treasure of which tidings had so opportunely reached him, and he then immediately summoned Pretextatus to answer before a solemn ecclesiastical council in Paris, as to his relations with Brunhilda, and his disposition of the money she had left with him. The celebrated trial that followed, of which Gregory of Tours was at once the historian and the noblest figure, was ended by the brutal interference of Fredegond, who could not be patient with the law's delays, and forced the Bishop of Rouen to fly for refuge to the island of Jersey where he lived in exile for some years, until the time arrived for Fredegond's full vengeance to be consummated.
That time was marked, as was every crisis in the blood-stained career of Fredegond, by a murder. The weak and effeminate King himself fell a victim, and was slain (in 584) by unknown assassins as he was out hunting. In the confusion and lawlessness that ensued, Pretextatus returned from exile to Rouen, and Fredegond, who had placed herself under the protection of Gunthram, was sent to Rueil, a town in the domain of Rouen, near the meeting of the Eure and Seine. Leaving for awhile in peace the old ecclesiastic who had had the insolence to come back to the dignities from which she had driven him, Fredegond turned at once to plot the destruction of her lifelong enemy, Brunhilda, who was now in a position of far greater security and honour than herself. But her emissary was obliged to return unsuccessful, and had his feet and hands cut off for his pains. A second attempt upon both mother and son failed equally, and then Fredegond, balked of her higher prey, took the victim that was nearest, and went out from Rueil to Rouen. It was not long before the quarrel that she sought was occasioned by the bishop, who seems to have added to his usual unwisdom a courage born of the hardships of seven years of exile. Answering a taunt flung at him by the deposed queen, he bitterly drew the contrast between their present positions, and their former relation to each other, and bade Fredegond look to the salvation of her soul and the education of her son, and leave the wickedness that had stained so many years of her life with blood.
She left him on the instant and without a word, "felle fervens," says Gregory; and indeed it was not long before her vengeance broke out in the usual way. As the bishop knelt in prayer soon afterwards before the altar of the Cathedral, her assassin drove his knife beneath his armpit, and Pretextatus was carried bleeding mortally to his chamber. Thither came the queen to gloat over her latest victim, begging him to say whose hand it was had done the deed, that so due punishment might be at once exacted. But he knew well who was the real murderess. "Quis haec fecit," replied the dying prelate, "nisi qui reges interemit, qui sepius sanguinem innocentium effudit, qui diversa in hoc regno mala commisit?"
The whole town was cast into distress and bitter mourning by this pitiless assassination, and Fredegond had accomplished her will with so much cunning that the crime could with the greatest difficulty be legally traced to its true origin. For she had taken advantage of the ecclesiastical jealousy which unfortunately existed side by side with the popular reverence and love. Melantius, who had for seven years enjoyed the privileges of office and dispensed his favours in the bishopric, had seen himself deposed with very mingled feelings by the exile from Jersey. His own nominees were doubtless not unwilling to emphasise his grievance, and Fredegond found in his disappointed ambition a soil only too ready to receive the poisonous seed she was so anxious to implant. Among the inferior clergy was an archdeacon whose hatred of Pretextatus was as great, and more reckless in its expression. By him a slave was easily discovered ready to commit this or any other crime on the promise of freedom for himself and his family. A guarantee of favours to come was provided in some ready money paid beforehand, and the blow was struck while Pretextatus prayed. Romans and Franks alike were horrified at the dastardly outrage. The former could scarcely act outside the city walls, but the Franks felt more secure in the ancient privileges of their race, and some of their nobles at once gave public expression to the hatred felt by every citizen for the instigator of the crime. Led by one of their own chiefs, a deputation of these Frankish nobles rode up to Fredegond's palace at Rueil. They delivered a message to the effect that justice should be done, and that the murderess must at last put a term to all her crimes. Her reply was even more rapid and fearless than usual. She handed the speaker a cup of honeyed wine, after the custom of his country; he drank the poison, and fell dead upon the spot.
A kind of panic fell upon his comrades, and extended even to the town of Rouen itself. Like some monstrous incarnation of evil, Fredegond seemed to have settled near their city, followed by a trail of death. Her very breath, it was imagined, exhaled the poisons of the sorcery and witchcraft that accompanied and rendered possible her countless assassinations. She seemed beyond the pale of human interference, and invested with some infernal omnipotence that baffled all pursuit or vengeance. Every church in Rouen closed its doors, for the head of their Church lay foully murdered, and his murderer was not yet punished. Leudowald of Bayeux took over the sacred office in the interval of consternation that ensued, before another successor could be appointed, and he insisted that not another Mass should be celebrated throughout the diocese until the criminal had been brought to justice. Night and day he had to pay the penalty for his boldness by being forced to keep careful guard against the hired bravos of his unscrupulous enemy, who was now fairly started in a career of bloodshed, that she would never end until her vengeance was complete. At last she wore out his courage and his strength alike, and the inquiry gradually faded away before the persistent and sinister vindictiveness of the royal witch at Rueil. She soon was strong enough to put her creature Melantius back in his episcopal chair, and he was content to officiate upon the very stones that were still stained with the innocent blood of Pretextatus.
One more proof of the absolute mastery her intrigues had given her was afforded by Fredegond's next action. Its heartless cynicism was but a natural consequence of so much previous guilt. For she deliberately summoned before her the slave whose assassin's knife she had bought, reproached him openly with his hideous crime, and handed him over to the dead bishop's relations. Under torture this miserable wretch confessed the full details of the murder, the names of his accomplices, and the guilt of Fredegond. The nephew of Pretextatus, apparently aware that he would never get satisfaction on the principals, leapt upon the prey that had so contemptuously been flung to him, and cut the slave to pieces with his sword. And this was the sole reparation that was ever given for the murder of the bishop. But the people never forgot the Pretextatus who lived for centuries in their memory as a martyred saint. His terrible fate has more than atoned, in their eyes, for the impolitic events of his earlier life, or his unwise affection for the unfortunate prince he had baptised.
With this last crime that part of the Merovingian tragedy with which Rouen is connected comes to a close. Nor have I space here to follow out the actors to the curtain's fall. In other pages their various fortunes and their dark calamities may be followed to a conclusion. The next chapter in the history of the town is that of the Northmen, and of the founding of that mighty dynasty which was to spread its rule across the Channel, and to gather the towns of England under the same sceptre that swayed the citizens of Rouen. But before the coming of the Northmen, there are a few more slight facts that I must chronicle if only to explain the desert and the ruins that alone were Rouen when the first pirate galley swept up to the quay and anchored close to where the western door of the Cathedral now looks out across the Parvis.
The monk Fridegode relates that it was in 533 that the first stones of what was afterwards to be the famous Abbey of St. Ouen were laid by the first Hlothair. Others say that a church founded nearly two centuries before was restored by the son of Hlotild the holy Queen and dedicated first to the Holy Apostles, and then to St. Peter and St. Paul. Its name was changed to the one it bears now in 686 when the body of St. Ouen was moved there on Ascension Day three years after his death. But not a trace of the original church remains, and most probably it was built almost entirely of wood, like that shrine of St. Martin in which Brunhilda and her young husband fled for sanctuary in about the year 580. In this same century we first hear too of that legendary Kingdom of Yvetot, whose lord was freed from all service to the Royal House of France by the penitence of King Hlothair. Its history is chiefly confined to the airy fantasies of poets, and is completely justified of its existence by Beranger's verses:
"Il etait un roi d'Yvetot Peu connu dans l'histoire Se levant tard se couchant tot Dormant fort bien sans gloire Et couronne par Jeanneton D'un simple bonnet de coton,"
which may very well serve as the epitome and epitaph of a lazy independence that needed no more serious chronicler.
[Footnote 5: "In manu gothica," he says, with a phrase that was to produce a very pretty quarrel later on.]
[Footnote 6: This jovial monarch is mentioned in a legal decree of 1392. He retires into obscurity during the English Occupation, and is restored, curiously enough, by the sombre Louis XI. in 1461, and freed from all taxes and subsidies. At the entry of Charles VIII. in 1485 (see Chap. X.) he makes a very appropriate appearance. In 1543 Francois Premier mentions a "Reine d'Yvetot." In 1610 Martin du Bellay, Sieur de Langey and Lieutenant General of Normandy, was hailed as "Mon petit roi d'Yvetot" by Henri Quatre at the coronation of Marie de Medicis. In 1783 the last "documentary" evidence occurs in the inscription on two boundary-stones: "Franchise de la Principaute d'Yvetot."]
Early in the next century occurs the name of a saint who was destined to be famous in the story of the town from its earliest days of civic life until the chaos of the Revolution, in which the old order fell to pieces and carried so many picturesque and harmless ceremonies into the limbo where it swept away the ancient abuses of despotic monarchy. For with the name of St. Romain, who enlarged St. Mellon's primitive "cathedral" even more than St. Victrice had done, is connected one of the most extraordinary privileges that any ecclesiastical body ever possessed. The Chapter of the Cathedral of Rouen every Ascension Day were allowed by the "Privilege de Saint Romain" to release a prisoner condemned to death, who was then made to carry the holy relics of the saint upon his shoulders in a great procession. The list of the prisoners who bore the "Fierte Saint Romain" extends from 1210 to 1790, the chapel where the ceremony was performed still stands in the Place de la Haute Vieille Tour, and the manuscripts in which the released prisoners' names with their accomplices and crimes are recorded, furnish some of the most interesting and practically unknown details of the intimate life of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I shall have occasion to refer to them so fully later on that I must for the present confine myself merely to abolishing a myth, and laying some slight foundation for the facts that are to follow—facts so astonishing and so authentic that they need no aid from legend or romance.
[Footnote 7: Evidently "feretrum," cf. "La fiertre de Saint Thomas," Froissart, xii. 9.]
Yet the miracle that is related to-day about St. Romain is so persistent and so widely spread, that it must be told, if only to explain the many allusions contained in picture, in carving, and in song, throughout the tale of Rouen, and in the very stones and windows of her most sacred buildings. The story is but another variant of our own St. George, of St. Martha and the Tarasque in Provence, of many others in almost every country. It is but one more personification of that struggle of Good against Evil, Light against Darkness, Truth against Error, Civilisation against Barbarism, which is as old as the book of Genesis and as the history of the world. It has been represented by Apollo and the python, by Anubis and the serpent, by the Grand'gueule of Poitiers, by the dragons of Louvain and of St. Marcel. The general truth was appropriated by each particular locality until every church and town had its peculiar monster slain by its especial saint. Thus at Bordeaux there was St. Martial, thus Metz had St. Clement, Asti and Venice had their guardian saints, Bayeux had St. Vigor, Rouen had St. Romain. The emblem of eternal strife had become a universal allegory acceptable in every place and in all centuries, and so commonly believed, that until some poignant necessity arose for its assertion, it was never—as we shall see—mentioned even by those historians of the life of St. Romain, who might more especially be expected to know the details of his life.
[Footnote 8: He is carved on a facade in the Musee des Antiquites, for instance, and painted in a window of the Church of St. Godard, to take only two examples of his constant occurrence in the civil and religious life of the people.]
For St. Romain, so the fable runs, delivered Rouen from an immense and voracious monster, called the "Gargouille," who dwelt in the morasses and reed-beds of the river, and devoured the inhabitants of the town. The wily saint employed a condemned criminal as a bait, lured the dragon from its den, then made the sign of the cross over it, and dragged it, unresisting, by his holy stole into the town, "ou elle fut arse et bruslez." To commemorate this deliverance in 626, continues the legend, the good King Dagobert (or was it Hlothair?) at the saint's request, allowed the Cathedral to release a prisoner every year upon Ascension Day, as the saint had released the prisoner who had assisted in the destruction of the "Gargouille."
[Footnote 9: Not only did it eat men, women, and children, say the old chronicles, but "ne pardonnait meme pas aux vaisseaux et navires!"]
All this is a very pretty example of a holy hypothesis constructed to explain facts that arose in a very different manner; and though it is no pleasant task to undermine a picturesque belief, yet the chain of events which led to its universal acceptance are too remarkable to be left without a firm historical basis, or at any rate a suggestion more in accordance with the science of dates than that which was related by the Church throughout so many centuries. For there is no disputing that if the "miracle" had in actual fact occurred, some mention would have been made of it after the death of St. Romain in 638, or at any rate after 686, when the historians had the whole life of St. Ouen and his times to describe. Yet neither St. Ouen himself nor Dudo of St. Quentin in the tenth century, nor William of Jumieges, nor Orderic Vital, nor Anselm, Abbot of Bec, in the eleventh, say a word about it; and these are all most respectable and painstaking authorities. In 1108, when an assembly was held by William the Conqueror at Lillebonne, with the express object of regulating privileges, not a word was said by the Archbishop of Rouen there present about the most extraordinary privilege enjoyed by his chapter. It is only at the beginning of the thirteenth century that the inevitable quarrels between the civil and ecclesiastical powers over a criminal claimed by both can first be traced; and it may be safely argued that while the privilege was not questioned it did not exist. It is as late as 1394 that the first mention of the famous "Gargouille" itself occurs in any reputable document. It was not till a twenty-second of May 1425, that Henry, King of France and England, did command the Bishop of Bayeux and Raoul le Sage to inquire into the "usage et coutume d'exercer le privilege de Saint Romain"; for the good reason that in this year the chapter desired to release, by the exercise of their privilege, one Geoffroy Cordeboeuf, who had slain an Englishman. In 1485, one Etienne Tuvache, was summoned to uphold the privilege before the "Lit de Justice" of Charles VIII. on the 27th of April; and in 1512 we find the definite confirmation of the privilege by Louis XII.; and even yet there are only a few confused and vague rumours of the "Gargouille" and its saintly conqueror.
There are, therefore, far more numerous and more authentic traces of the privilege than of the miracle; the effect is undoubted; it remains to conjecture its prime cause; and as I shall show at greater length in its right place, there is every reason to believe that the origin of the privilege was one of the great Mystery Plays of the Ascension, and that it was first exercised between 1135 and 1145. As the custom grew into a privilege, and the privilege crystallised into a right, ecclesiastical advocates were never at a loss to bring divine authority to their aid in their championship of the chapter's powers; the "Gargouille," in fact, was "created" after the "privilege" had become established; and for us the chief merit of the tale lies in the fact that it preserves the national memory of St. Romain's firm stand against the old dragon of idolatry and paganism, whose last remnants were swept out of Normandy by his firm and militant Christianity.
[Footnote 10: He certainly pulled down the Amphitheatre, and destroyed the Temple of Venus, and the loss of both of these was likely to be well remembered for some time by the inhabitants. It is suggested that the Temple of Adonis fell at the bidding of the same bold reformer to make way for the first church of St. Paul beneath the heights of St. Catherine.]
This is an age of great churchmen. While the Roman Empire lasted, the Church had been dependent and submissive to the Emperors. When the Franks arrived her attitude was changed, for to these barbarous and ungodly strangers she stood as a beneficent superior, and a steadfast shield over the Gallo-Roman people. So it was that the bishops became the protectors of towns, the counsellors of kings, the owners of large and rich tracts of land, the sole possessors of knowledge and of letters in an age of darkest brutality and ignorance. With the names of St. Ouen and St. Romain in Normandy at this time are bound up those of St. Philibert, St. Saens, and St. Herbland, under whose protection was one of the oldest parishes of Rouen. His church stood until quite modern years in the Parvis of the Cathedral at the end of the Rue de la Grosse Horloge. On various islands in the stream, for the very soil of Rouen at this time was as uncertain as its chronicles, were built the chapels to St. Clement and St. Eloi, and other saints. The boundaries of the Frankish settlement, described in terms of modern street-geography, were, roughly, along the Rue des Fosses Louis VIII. from Pont de Robec to the Poterne, thence by the Marche Neuf, now Place Verdrel, along the Palais, through the Rue Massacre to the Rue aux Ours. From there the line passed to the Place de la Calende and the Eau de Robec, while the fourth side was marked by the waters of the Robec itself.
This was the Rouen which welcomed Charlemagne in 769, who came to celebrate Easter in the Cathedral he was to benefit so largely, among the canons who had only been organised into a regular chapter, living in one community, about nine years before. The great Emperor not only helped the Cathedral in his lifetime, but left it a legacy in his will, for the town, in gratitude for his benefactions, had furnished twenty-eight "ships" to help him pursue his enemies, out of the fleet which had already begun to exploit the rich commercial possibilities of Britain, and to enter into trading engagements even with the Byzantine emperors. With the second coming of Charlemagne at the dawn of the ninth century, the next period in the history of Rouen closes. At his death the semblance of an empire, into which his mighty personality had welded the warring anarchies of Western Europe, crumbled back into its constituent fragments. His was an empire wholly aristocratic, and wholly German. After Charles Martel had driven out the Saracens from Tours and Poitiers, it absorbed Gaul also in its rule, but Charlemagne was never other than a Teutonic ruler over Franks. He was one of the makers of Europe but not one of the creators of the Kingdom of France. It was not until his empire crumbled at his death that those persistent entities, France and Germany, made their appearance.
But Normandy had much to go through before she became a part of that kingdom which she did so much to make. In 556 a great fire had destroyed most of the city of Rouen. Thirty years later a plague had decimated her inhabitants. The Merovingians had left her ruined and depopulated. Though spasmodic efforts at prosperity and strength appeared during the great Emperor's lifetime, the town had not yet reached anything approaching to a solid basis of civic or commercial power. Its attempts were ruined by the anarchy that followed Charlemagne's decease, and there was little left for the first Danes to plunder when the first galleys of the Northern pirates swept up the Seine in 841.
Rouen under her own Dukes
Normanni, si bono rigidoque dominatu reguntur, strenuissimi sunt et in arduis rebus invicti omnes excellunt et cunctis hostibus fortiores superare contendunt. Alioquin sese vicissim dilaniant atque consumunt. Rebelliones enim cupiunt, seditiones enim appetunt, et ad omne nefas prompti sunt. Rectitudinis ergo forti censura coerceantur et fraeno disciplinae per tramitem justitiae gradiri compellantur.
The unity of Charlemagne's Empire existed in name alone. The agglomeration of essentially different races only served the purpose of emphasising the distinctions of blood and climate which were to be the eternal bars against unnatural union. But the residuum of separate nations was some time in making its appearance. Their various rulers would not accept the inevitable without a struggle; and in that struggle the only power that gained was the Church. France had no sooner thrown off the German yoke than she professed obedience to her great ecclesiastics. In Neustria the only life and strength left after the Empire died was in the Church. For the land was but a waste of untilled soil, sparsely inhabited by serfs, and divided among the overlords, and of these latter the richest were the abbots and the bishops, round whose palaces and monasteries clustered the towns for their defence. But their temporal power was soon destined to decay. The empire of the mind they might regain; their leadership of France was lost the instant that the Northmen's ships appeared upon the Seine.
When the serfs of Neustria first heard the ivory horns of the Vikings echoing along their river's banks, and saw the blood-red banner of the North against the sky, few men realised that the invaders were to weld them into the strongest Duchy of the West, and finally to make France herself arise as an independent nation out of Europe. They fled, these spiritless and defenceless villagers, to the nearest abbey's walls, they hid before the altars which held the relics of their saints, but neither relics nor sanctuary availed to save, as the monks of St. Martin at Tours, of Saint Germain des Pres at Paris could testify. These barbarians used the Christian rites merely to advance their own base purposes. Ever since Harold had won a province for a baptism each pirate chief in turn was the more eager to insist upon such lucrative religion. When they could not make capital out of "conversions" they took gold and provisions as the price of temporary peace. By degrees they gave up going home in winter. The climate of these southern lands was tempting. In various parts of France along the river-mouths, just as they had taken the highway of the Humber into the heart of Britain, they made their scattered settlements, even as far inland as Chartres. But only one was destined to be permanent, and this was made by Rolf, Rollo, or Rou, in Rouen, the kernel of the Northern province. In 841 Ogier the Dane had sailed up the "Route des Cygnes" to burn the shrines of St. Wandrille and Jumieges, to pillage Rouen, even to terrify Paris. After him came Bjorn Ironside and Ragnar Lodbrog. Twice they reached Paris, knocking at the gates to pass through towards the vineyards of Burgundy. In 861 they made a kind of camp upon an island between Oissel and Pont de l'Arche. At last in 876 came Rolf the Ganger, the King of the Sea, and made Rouen his headquarters.