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

Robert's Two Wives

R OBERT I., who came to the throne four years before the new century began, was a gentle and very pious man, who would have made an excellent monk, for he loved to attend service, sing hymns, and compose church music.

Because he felt such respect for the Church, he was greatly troubled when the Pope bade him send away his wife. You must know that a general law of the Church forbids marriages between cousins, and it happened that Robert and his wife Bertha were closely related. Robert, loving his wife dearly, refused at first to obey the Pope's command, so priests were sent to excommunicate him, that is to say, to forbid him to enter any church, and to tell him that he and his wife were accursed, because they were committing what the Church considered a deadly sin.

The priests first read the Pope's message to the royal couple, and then turning over a lighted torch, or taper, which they had brought, they quenched its light, solemnly crying: "May you be accursed, may you be banished with Cain the fratricide, with the traitor Judas, with Dathan and Abiram, who entered hell, and may your joy be extinguished at the aspect of the Holy angels as this light is extinguished before your eyes!"

This curse pronounced, the priests filed slowly out, leaving the king and queen alone with these awful words still ringing in their ears! After this ceremony, all churches were closed wherever the royal couple happened to be, few people consented to obey or serve them, and the very dishes from which they ate had to be purified by fire before any one else would touch them.

Robert tried at first to be brave and not mind this excommunication. But when it became clear that this firmness was bringing misfortune upon the people intrusted to his care, both he and his wife—who was a good woman—perceived that they would have to yield to the Pope's authority. Bertha therefore sadly withdrew to a convent, where she spent the rest of her life as a nun, and the Pope forgave Robert and allowed the churches to be reopened.

Before long, yielding to his people's entreaties, the king married a second time, taking Constance, a haughty young noblewoman, to wife. This queen brought many new fashions to court, and as she was fond of dress, display, and amusement, effected many changes in the pious king's outward life. Instead of monk-like robe, he now wore long mantles trimmed with gold fringe, and his weapons were adorned with sliver trappings. But at heart Robert was quite unchanged. One day, having given away all his money to the poor, he led a beggar into his private room, where, with the latter's aid, he removed the silver ornaments from his lance. Then giving them tot he poor man, he bade him be off, with the warning, "Do not let Constance see you!"

When the French king was at his meals, beggars were always admitted by his order to eat the crumbs which fell from the royal table. A poor man, sitting at the king's feet, only once slyly cut off a piece of gold fringe at the bottom of his garment, whereupon the king bent down and softly whispered: "There, my man, that is enough for thee; leave a little for the next beggar, who may need it even more than thou."

The king was so fond of church music that he often composed hymns, some of which still exist. The new queen, who greatly admired music of a lighter sort, often begged her husband to write songs for her. She was therefore greatly delighted one day when, glancing at some music he had just written, she caught sight of the Latin words, "O Constantia Martyrum." You see, she knew so little of Latin that she fancied she saw her own name, and thought that the song was all about her, whereas it referred to the constancy of the martyrs!

Besides the plagues, famines, and all the woes connected with the dread of the word's end, Robert suffered many troubles from his barons and his family. The Normans helped his wife and son when they once rose up and made war against him. It was also during his reign that some of the Normans, who were always thirsting for adventure, went southward and gained a foothold in Italy.

Poor Robert's troubles ended only with his death (1031), but as he had wisely followed his father's example, and had crowned his son, Henry I, during his lifetime, no serious resistance was made tot his prince's coming to the throne. In fact, the only persons who raised any objection were the new king's mother and younger brother; but Henry satisfied their claims by giving his brother the duchy of Burgandy, which his father had recently acquired.

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