The legend of Auberi le Bourguignon survives in only one version: a 12th century chanson de geste of over 20,000 lines. There is no English translation, and no full edition. A summary of this absurdly long romance follows, based on the description by Paulin Paris, Histoire littéraire de la France, volume XXII:
AUBERI LE BOURGUIGNON
Auberi is the son of Basin of Geneva and Erembor. Basin has received the duchy of Bourgogne from Charles Martel after the death of Girart of Roussillon. Basin has a brother, Henri d’Autun, and a brother-in-law, Eude of Langres. Henri and Eude hate Auberi, desiring his inheritance. After Erembor dies, they ally with Basin’s second wife, Hermesend of Turin to betray Basin, and invite the Lombards to invade Bourgogne. Basin is captured and thrown into a dungeon in Pavia.
Henri becomes young Auberi’s guardian, but the boy murders Henri’s two sons in revenge. He then steals Henri’s best horse and flees to Count Eude, whose two sons he also kills. Auberi next flees to the Ermenal-Ville, fief of Raoul, who has wed a bastard daughter of Basin’s. Raoul dubs Auberi a knight, gives him his son Gascelin as squire, and then sends him on his way, for he cannot protect him from Eude. Auderi and Gascelin take refuge with King Orri of Bavaria. Unfortunately, Queen Guiborc (sister of Charles Martel) and Princess Seneheut both fall in love with Auberi. The princes Congre and Malassis decide to resolve this situation by killing Auberi, but are slain by him for their pains. Auberi and Gascelin flee to Flanders, where the Count is in need of soldiers. This time, the Countess falls in love with Auberi. The author was either from Flanders or knew it very well, and he fills this passage with details about the local cities. Auberi accepts the Countess’ favors, considers killing the Count before Gascelin talks him out of it, and instead saves Flanders from the Frisians. A string of ruses to dupe the Count follow, bearing much resemblance to Renart the Fox’s affair with Hersent the she-wolf. Nonetheless, Auberi grows weary of this life, and returns to Bavaria, where King Orri pardons him everything in order to obtain his help in a war against the Frisians and the Russians. Orri is captured in battle, and paraded in front of the castle, with a demand that the city surrender, or he will be executed. Orri shouts to Guiborc not to abandon the castle, but to let him die. Orri is executed, but nonetheless the Saracens storm the city, imprisoning the Queen and the Princess.
Auberi, meanwhile, has gone home to plan his revenge on his uncles, but when he hears the news from Bavaria, he hurries to rescue the women. Seneheut has by now fallen in love with Gascelin instead, so there is no objection to Queen Guiborc marrying Auberi and crowning him King of Bavaria. Auberi has lost his horse, Blanchart, however, in the rescue attempt, and is not quite sure that the reward is worth it.
One morning, Guiborc gets up early to go to church and pray for King Orri’s soul. Auberi, waking up sometime later, thinks she must have left his bed to have an affair, and goes out to the garden to curse and lament. Guiborc returns, sees the bed empty, and thinks he must be out having an affair. Luckily, they run into each other, and all is explained.
Auberi goes hunting, and chases a wild boar out of his domains, whereupon he is ambushed by Anseis, vassal of Count Eude. An long, long series of battles follows, in the course of which Auberi captures Anseis and is about to hang him, when his son Gauteron offers to die in his father’s stead. Auberi is so touched that he spares both their lives. Auberi also captures Eude, and pardons him. Basin dies in prison, and Gascelin is given the Duchy of Bourgogne in fee. Thus we come to the end of the introduction, by Paris’ reckoning.
Gascelin and Seneheut, though in love, are not yet married, as King Auberi wishes for the squire to prove himself by helping him conquer Bourgogne. Tidings of Princess Seneheut’s beauty reach the ears of Lambert d’Oridon, a bandit chief living in the Forest of Arden. He mounts his good horse Papillon, packs up some of his magnificent treasury, and travels to Auberi’s court, pretending to be his long-lost cousin. He says he is bound for the Holy Land, and wishes to leave his goods in the charge of his “cousin.” Despite Guiborc’s misgivings, Auberi agrees to travel to Oridon to see the castle he will be safeguarding. Lambert entertains him lavishly, and Auberi drifts to sleep as a minstrel sings the song of Floovent. Lambert hustles him into bed and lays a beautiful damsel (his nieces) on either side of him. In the morning, Lambert bursts into Auberi’s room and is shocked, shocked, at what he sees, and threatens most dire threats. Auberi pleads for his life, which Lambert grants on condition that he be given Seneheut’s hand in marriage. Auberi swears to bring Seneheut to a certain abbey for the wedding.
Auberi returns home and announces to Seneheut that Gascelin is waiting to marry her in the abbey. Not until they are nearly there does she learn the truth. Auberi apologizes, but must keep his word. Luckily, the armies of Bavaria and Burgundy arrive with him, Seneheut is rescued from the abbey promptly upon entering it, and she returns home to marry Gascelin.
The army lays siege to Oridon, and after a long war, King Pepin the Short intervenes. Auberi is glad to make peace, Lambert is eager to feign peace, but Gascelin still wishes revenge. Lambert gets wind of this, as the three of them are in Paris with King Pepin. As a sign of reconciliation, Lambert trades mantels with Auberi. Gascelin, ignorant of the transaction, stabs his uncle from behind as he prays at Saint-Denis, mortally wounding him. Auberi dies and is buried in Bourguignon with much pomp and honour.
Paulin Paris claims the poet would have done well to end the story here. He did not, however, and a long, long war follows. At some point during the siege of Oridon (Paris does not specify if it is this siege or the previous one) a necromancer named Roger summons a demon to rescue two of Lambert’s prisoners and bring them back to the Burgundians. At the end of the final siege Lambert flees Oridon, hotly pursued by Gascelin. Lambert passes through Paris, persuades the governor not to let Gascelin into the city, and takes the south road towards Corbeil, seeking King Pepin. Gascelin, furious at being locked out, fords the Seine on his horse, catches up with Lambert, and slays him in single combat, at a place ever after called Pré Lambert. Gascelin becomes king of Bavaria, and begets Naimes, the future counsellor of Charlemagne.
Origin of the Legend
Boson (c. 850 -887), Count of Bourgogne and Pavia, was made King of Arles by Charles the Bald. His second wife was Ermengard, daughter of Emperor Louis II. In the civil wars, Kings Louis and Carloman expelled him from Vienne. Boson had a son named Louis the Blind, and a daughter who was betrothed to Carloman, who died before the marriage could happen. Nothing else in the chanson bears any resemblance to reality.
Oridon is said to be not far from Bouillon, towards the jointure of the Semoie and the Meuse. Paris identifies it with Chateau-Regnaud, in the same region.
If Pré Lambert ever existed, its location is lost.
Auberi of Bourguignon also features in Jean de Flagi’s song of the Lorrainers. Here Auberi is the son of a daughter of Hervis de Metz, takes a part in the Lorrainers’ wars, and at last dies outside Bordeaux, slain by Guilllame de Monclin.
The chanson was probably written in the 1100’s, after Raoul of Cambrai. The death of Auberi in the church bears a resemblance to the death of Bevis of Hampton in the Italian versions of his story.