Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Old France by H. A. Guerber
The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber

A Love Story

PHILIP I. was succeeded in 1108 by his son Louis VI, who bore at different times the surnames of "the Fighter," "the Wide-awake," and "the Fat." During his twenty-nine years' reign he made many efforts to suppress the brigand lords intrenched in their castles, gave his protection to the weak against the strong, and greatly encouraged the forming of communes. In fact, he favored the latter so openly that he is often called the "Father of Communes."

Besides fighting his nobles, he also had to make war against Henry I. of England, who made good his claim to Normandy. During one battle in this war (Brenneville, 1119), Louis's horse happened to be seized by an enemy, who cried out in triumph, "The king is taken!" But Louis promptly retorted, "Do you not know enough chess to be aware that a king cannot be taken!" Saying these words, he raised his weapon and felled his would-be captor, thus promptly freeing himself.

This battle is memorable chiefly because of the small number of slain. Although the fighting lasted many hours, it is said that only three knights fell. This is accounted for by the fact that none but noblemen took part in the fray, and that they were all so well protected by their armor that it was almost impossible to kill them. In such battles, horses, too, were covered with heavy armor, and trained to run against the foe with such force that knights were often unhorsed before they had a chance to strike a blow. A knight thrown thus upon his back would seldom rise again without aid, so squires and attendants were always expected to hasten to their master's rescue whenever such an accident befell him.

The King of England, angry because the French tried to take Normandy, now urged the Emperor of Germany to invade France. Louis, hearing of this, called the communes and nobles to his aid, and going to St. Denis, took the oriflamme. These warlike preparations proved enough to frighten the Germans, who gave up all hope of doing anything, and signed a treaty (1124).

It was also during the reign of Louis VI that a young man named Abélard (a-bā-lär') won a great reputation in the Paris schools. His eloquence was such that many students came to listen to him, and his learning so remarkable that he was engaged as private tutor for the beautiful Héloïse (ā-lō-ēz'), niece of one of the church dignitaries.

While teaching this young lady,—who was as talented as he,—Abélard fell in love with her, and persuaded her to elope with him. This caused much scandal, and the young people being soon overtaken, were separated, placed in religious houses, and ordered never to think of each other again.

In spite of these commands, they managed to see each other and to exchange frequent letters, some of which have been preserved, and are considered fine specimens of French literature. After many, many trials, these lovers died, and were finally buried in the same tomb, which can now be seen in a cemetery (Le Père La Chaise) in Paris, and which is often visited by strangers as well as by Frenchmen. There you frequently see fresh flowers strewn over the stone figures of the recumbent lovers, for many people have been touched by the tale of their unhappy love affair.

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