The Legend of Garin the Lorrainer

The legend of Garin le Loherain, or Garin the Lorrainer is found in the following versions:

Garin le Loherain, an Old French chanson de geste of over 16,000 assonanced decasyllables, attributed to Jean de Flagy. Found in over twenty MSS, almost always alongside Gerbert. There are two major redactions. One found in the majority of the MSS, the other only in INT. The second redaction was made after Hervis de Metz and attempts to tie the two poems more closely together. Since this poem is never found without Gerbert, it is not entirely clear where the one poem begins and the other ends. We follow the modern convention, but some scholars make the divide at the beginning of our Part III of Garin, and others at the first siege of Gironville in Gerbert.

An anonymous prose rendering, Arsenal 3346.

The prose of Philippe de Vigneulles.

David Aubert’s History of Charles Martel.

Book One of Roman der Lorreinen. A Middle Dutch poem, c. 1275. 10,000 verses survive of what appear to have been over 150,000.

[Arlima claims that a version in Alexandrines exists. This is incorrect. The original poem was in decasyllables, but the MSS as we have them all occasionally slip into alexandrines. Some do this much more frequently than others, but they do so only by padding. There is no alexandrine redaction of the poem as a whole.]

The fullest account of the story in English is John Ludlow’s, in Popular Epics of the Middle Ages of the Norse-German and Carlovingian Cycles, Volume 2.

The Manuscripts

The following classification is taken from Anne Iker-Gittleman’s edition (Paris, Champion 1996) and is based largely on how accurately the references to the geography of Lorraine have been preserved. All MSS except INT agree on the indicidents of the story. Cross-contamination between families is frequent, and the exact relations of the families are hazy.

DFGJ: Most likely the closest to the original, though none are without errors. The most accurate geographically. FJ often resemble the Lorraine group in non-geographic readings.

L1: A very corrupt version of the common ancestor of the three following groups.

ABCOR: R changes assonance to rhyme, but otherwise stays as close to the others as it can.

QS: Heavily trims the first part of the poem (the wars of Hervis), besides other changes. The second most accurate geographically, albeit of late origin.

VW: Very accurate geographically; somewhere between DFGJ and the Lorraine group non-geographically.

EMPX: The so-called Lorraine group, ironically the most corrupt of all geographically.

INT: The only group to change the incidents of the story, to tie it in with Hervis de Metz.

DGIW all are missing pages at the beginning. X intentionally, L1 owing to the ravages of time, begin with the death of Begon, at our Part Three. The division into parts is made by Paulin Paris, I know not on what MS authority.


The pagan Vandals are invading France. Charles Martel lays a heavy tax on the Church to fund his army, but it takes a direct order from the Pope to force the monasteries to pay up. Duke Hervis of Lorraine distinguishes himself in Charles’ councils and in warfare, slaying the pagan king Charboncle, who was attacking Paris. Charles raises the siege of Sens and chases the Vandals to Troyes, while Hervis delivers Soissons. Charles, jealous of Hervis’ prowess, attacks the heathens at Troyes without waiting for Hervis’ forces to join his. Hervis arrives in time to save the Franks from defeat, but not in time to prevent Charles from receiving a fatal wound, and Saint Lupus of Troyes from receiving martyrdom. Charles Martel dies of his wound nine day later, and Hervis arranges for his heir, the young Pepin, to be crowned. He makes one Hardré the regent. Hervis then returns home and weds the fair Alice of Cologne, sister of Gaudin. They have two sons, Garin and Begon, and seven daughters, who become the mothers of 1) Hernais of Orleans and Bishop Eudes of Orleans, 2) Auberi le Bourguignon, 3) Ouri the German, 4) Girard of Liege, 5) Hugh of Cambray and Walter of Hainault, 6) Geoffrey of Anjou, 7) Hugh of Mans and Garnier.

(The MSS vary wildly in the genealogy. We follow the most common arrangement. Other MSS include among Garin’s nephews Mauvoisin, later to be his squire; Rigaut de Plessy, who is normally said to be the son of peasants; Salomon of Brittany; and Hoel of Nantes).

The remnants of the infidel army, however, lay siege to Metz. Hervis rides to Laon to demand aid from the twelve-year-old Pepin, but Hardré refuses it. Hervis renounces his vassalship and swears fealty to King Anseis of Cologne. Anseis helps raise the siege, but in the fighting, Hervis is shot with an arrow and killed, and King Pepin annexes his fiefs.

Hervis’ faithful vassal Berengier takes Garin and Begon and confides them to their uncle, Hervis’ brother, Bishop Henri of Châlons. Seven and a half years later, Henri presents them at the court of France. At Hardré’s advice, Pepin swears friendship with them, and gives Begon the duchy of Gascony. He dubs the lads knights, at the same time as their new friends, Hardré’s sons Fromont and Guillaume de Monclin. [Hardré has some six or seven sons.
For reasons known only to himself, has named most of them Fromont and Guillaume. Besides the companions of Garin and Begon, there are Fromont of Bologne, father of Isoré the Grey; Fromont de la tour d’Ardres; Guillaume de Blancafort; and, in some MSS, Guillaume le Poitevin].

At the subsequent feast, a messenger arrives with the news that Richard of Normandy is rebelling. The new knights, led by Begon, subdue Richard, and go on to subdue Gascony, Poitou, and reclaim Lorraine for Garin, with the help of Hardré’s diplomacy. When King Pepin grants Gascony to Begon in fief, he swears to give the next fief that falls vacant to Fromont.

Four Moorish kings out of Spain invade France, and besiege King Thierri of Maurienne in his city of Val Parfonde. Pepin would fain refuse his aid, but the sons of Hervis persuade him to grant it, and the armies of France are gathered in Lyon at Pentecost. Pepin falls ill, and Garin must lead the troops. As they near Val Parfonde, Garin, Begon, and Bernard of Naisil (uncle of Fromont and Guillaume, and a defrocked monk) send out spies. They return and announce that the Saracens vastly outnumber the Christians. Fromont and Guillaume wish to return home, and will not listen to Garin’s pleas. At last he grants them permission to depart, on condition that they lay no claim to any of the booty when he wins. The Bordelais abandon the army with their men, but the Lorrainers press on. Saints Denis, George, and Domin aid them in their battle, and the Saracens are routed, but King Thierry is mortally wounded by an arrow. On his deathbed, he betrothes Garin to his daughter Blanchefleur, who is only eight or nine years old.

Returning to court, Pepin joyfully greets the Lorrainers, and approves of Garin’s betrothal to Blanchefleur. Unfortunately, Thierry is the first vassal of Pepin’s to die without a male heir since Begon received Gascony, and hence Fromont considers himself entitled to Blanchefleur and her fiefs. Pepin objects that a father’s dying wish overrides his oath. Furious, Fromont first insults, then strikes Garin. A melee soon becomes general, with Pepin looking on helplessly.


In the palace brawl, Garin’s nephew Hernais of Orleans distinguishes himself, Hardré is killed, and Fromont flees. Hardré’s fief of Soissons, which he had usurped from the Lorrainers, is siezed by the Lorrainers for Hernais of Orleans. Pepin is reluctant to recognize him as the city’s lord, but yields to Garin’s threat to burn the city to the ground if his family’s claims are not recognized.

Fromont, counselled by Droon of Amiens, marries Helissent of Ponthieu, the sister of Count Baldwin of Flanders. Only after the wedding do the Flemings learn that Fromont is out of favor with Pepin. Baldwin is angry at first, but then realizes he now has an ally against his mortal enemy, Garin’s nephew Huon of Cambrai. The Bordelais, Flemings, and Fromont’s nephew Count Isoré the Grey all lay siege to Cambrai. Huon rebukes Isoré for his actions (They had once been comrades), and persuades him to abandon the war. Huon also sends for aid from his kin. Pepin and Garin make ready for war.

Meanwhile, Bernard of Naisil has learned of his brother Hardré’s death and seeks to avenge it by plundering Lorraine and Burgundy. He at last comes to Dijon and there besieges Auberi le Bourguignon, Garin and Begon’s nephew. Begon chases him away, and wishes to kill Huedon of Grantcey, who has betrayed his lord Auberi during the invasion and helped Bernard. Huedon’s wife, however, is Auberi’s niece, and Begon spares him at her intercession.

Meanwhile, Fromont has abandoned his siege of Cambrai and is holed up in Saint-Quentin. Garin lays siege to him there, which is described at very great length. Fromont’s brother, Fromont de la tour d’Ardres. After a very long war, the Bordelais and Lorrainers agree to submit themselves to the king’s judgment. Princess Blanchefleur, the cause of all this fighting, is now old enough to be married (i. e. at least twelve), and Auberi le Bourguignon conducts her to court. Pepin resolves the issue to nobody’s satisfaction by marrying her himself, (he bribes two monks to falsely swear that Garin and Blanchefleur are too closely related to marry). Pepin compensates Garin and Fromont with lofty titles. Shortly afterward, while all are still at court, the Bordelais accuse Garin of conspiring with Blanchefleur to kill the King. Begon proves his brother’s innocence by slaying Isoré in a judicial duel. He rips his heart out of his chest and throws it in the face of Fromont’s brother Guillaume de Monclin. Bernard flees to Naisil, but the king and Lorrainers lays siege, capture him when he sallies out, and lock him in a monastery.

Garin and Begon marry Alice and Beatrice, the two daughters of Pepin’s uncle Count Milon of Blaye, who thereupon becomes a monk. Garin and Begon agree that Garin will inherit all the lands of Lorraine, and Begon all the lands of Count Milon. The Bordelais, alarmed at Begon’s new inheritance so close to their fiefs, attempt to assassinate him. Fromont’s brother Aymon of Bordeaux and his nephew Thibaut of Plessis ambush Begon and Beatrice in the woods. Begon is sorely wounded, but Hervis le Vilain, lord of nearby Plasseïs, comes to the rescue. Begon and his men wind up in besieged in Belin, and send as their messenger a certain Manuel Galopin, a man of some magical talents who prefers to loaf around and get drunk in the taverns. With his magic, he turns invisible, and thus evades the besieging Bordelais and brings back help from court. The royal army raises the siege of Belin and goes on to besiege Bordeaux instead.

Two new knights play a large role in this siege: Fromondin, son of Fromont; and Rigaut, son of the Hervis li Vilain, who fights for the Lorrainers. Rigaut has no patience for the ceremonies of knighthood, and his bewilderment at the rituals of his dubbing is treated with a comic touch.

At long last, the Bordelais surrender, and peace is sworn. Begon is made Duke of Gascony and suzerain of Fromont in Bordeaux. Garin stands as godfather to the son of Fromont’s brother Guillaume de Monclin, and promises to invest the baby, also named Garin, with lordship of the Metz market: a promise he does not keep.


Begon is at his castle of Belin, happy with his wife Beatrice and his two sons, Gerin, now aged twelve, and Hernaut, ten. However, it has been seven years since he last saw Garin, and he decides to make a trip to Lorraine. But first, he decides to hunt an enormous boar which has been ravaging the forest of Vicogne. Unfortunately, the forest of Vicogne is right on the border of his lands and the lands of Fromont. Caught up in the excitement of the hunt, he becomes separated from all his men and wanders across the border, where he is found by six foresters of Fromont. They do not recognize him, but kill him for his armor and trappings. They bring his body back to Fromont’s hall and say they have killed a trespasser, but Fromont recognizes him, and grieves heavily, for he knows that Garin will not believe he was innocent. Fromondin wishes to execute the foresters; Guillame de Monclin wishes to reward them. Fromont arrests the foresters and sends a messenger to Garin, offering to have ten thousand Masses said for Begon’s soul, to let Garin execute the murderes however he pleases, to swear on holy relics that he (Fromont) was innocent, and to pay four horses loaded with gold and silver to Garin. Garin accepts. Bernard de Naisil, however, is disgusted at his nephew’s behavior, and secretly sets the foresters free. Garin is furious, and the war resumes again. Rigaut wastes the lands around Bordeaux with fire and sword, and Hugh of Cambrai siezes the chance to attack Flanders, but he is slain. The foresters, led by Guillaume de Blancafort (a brother of Fromont’s) and Thibaut de Plessis, flee to Pepin’s court.

At Guillaume and Thibaut’s insistance, Pepin decides that he has supported the Lorrainers for long enough, and withdraws his protection from them. When Queen Blanchefleur protests, he strikes her face, causing the blood to run down. She sends word to Garin, telling him to kill Guillaume and Thibaut or lose her esteem forever. To hear is to obey, and Garin gathers his son Gerbert, his nephews Hernaut and Gerin, and a goodly company, and leaves Metz to lie in ambush on the road to Orleans. Despite Pepin’s guarantee of a safe-conduct and his gift of a number of attendants, the Lorrainers ambush the Bordelais. Hernaut, Begon’s son, kills Thibaut, and Garin kills Guillaume. All the Bordelais are slaughtered except one old man. Garin then mounts Guillaume’s lifeless body upright on his horse as if he still lived, and bids the old man lead him to Lens, where Fromont and Fromondin can see him.

The war continues for some time. Ouri the German and Girard of Liege are slain, but the Lorrainers destroy the castles of Naisil, Verdun, and Monclin. Since Hugh of Cambrai has died some time previously, Garin and Auberi arrange for his orphaned daughter to marry a certain Milon de Laverdin. From their line will come Raoul of Cambrai.

At last, Garin has utterly wasted the south of France and arranged for the imprisonment of Bernard in a monastery. Peace is made and all are, supposedly, reconciled. Three years after the conclusion of the war, Garin is stricken with remorse for his deeds. He summons the Bordelais to Val-Gelin and meets them in a little chapel there. He offers to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre and to restore Monclin to Guillaume de Monclin. Guillaume, however, chooses this moment to reproach Garin for never giving his godson his promised fief: the markets of Metz. Garin agrees to this as well, but one of his vavasors reminds all present that Garin only promised one market, and that the best. Guillaume quarrels with and kills the vavasor. Garin will not fight back, threatens Guillaume with Hellfire if he starts the war again, and rides away without another word. The Bordelais hesitate a few moments, then Bishop Lancelin rouses them to pursue the Lorrainers. Garin orders Gerbert, Hernault, and Gerin to save themeselves, and they ride to Metz while Garin’s men are all cut down, until he alone remains. Garin retreats to a chapel, where he kneels, sorely wounded, before the altar. The Bordelais pursue him even here, and though he slays many of them, he falls at last, “like an oak among lesser trees.” The Bordelais flee, leaving Garin to die. One of Garin’s men comes back to the scene, and, thinking his lord already dead, cuts off his right arm to keep as a relic. Garin, who is still alive, pardons him for this deed and renders up his soul. Garin is buried in Val-Gelin. The widows Beatrice and Alice die of grief within three months. They are buried in the church of Saint Arnoul.


The primary purpose of this redaction was to tie the story together with that of Hervis de Metz and Gerbert de Metz. It consequently is closest to the original in the body of the poem, and most different at the beginning and end. Even though the body of the poem follows the original incidents closely, there is enough of a difference in vocabulary and tone that they can almost be considered two separate works. T returns to the First Redaction before the death of Garin and remains there throughout Gerbert.

Hervis’ children are already born before the invasion of the Vandals. Saint George fights on the side of the Christians. Pepin is born by Caesarian section. After Charles’ death and the second Vandal attack, as Hervis and Anseis are defending Metz, Hervis survives being shot with an arrow, thanks to a magic ring he received from Beatrice. After the Vandals are repulsed, Hervis and Beatrice leave Metz in the hands of Thierri and go to visit King Eustace of Tyre. Garin and Begon live in Metz for three years until Pepin invites them to court. Their uncle, Bishop Henri of Chalons, accompanies them thither, where Pepin greets them warmly, making Garin a trencherman and Begon a cup-bearer. Hervis and Beatrice, meanwhile, are reconciled with King Eustace, and renew their wedding vows in his presence. The couple then depart for the Holy Land, where they will die. Hervis’ tomb is still to be seen. Here ends the poem of Hervis, and begins that of Garin, according to N.

After supressing Richard of Normandy’s rebellion, Garin and Begon are sent by Pepin to reclaim Metz from Anseis, who has laid siege to the city after the burghers refused to pay him the tribute. In the meantime, Thierry and Alice, Hervis’ parents, have died.

The rest of the poem is essentially the same, albeit with many minor variants, up until the death of Garin, which is completely different.

Some time after the death of Guillaume de Blancafort and Thibaut of Plessis, Fromont, Fromondin, and their kin assemble on the borders of Lorraine. Fromondin rides into the city and slays some townsfolk under Garin’s window. Garin promises a reward to whoever slays Fromondin, which so excites his men that they do not bother arming before pursuing him out of the city. Only Garin, his son and his nephews are armed when they find Fromondin in the woods. Gerbert lays Fromondin on the ground, but before he can kill him, Guillaume de Monclin and the Bordelais spring out of hiding. Garin buys time for the lads to escape, but Guillaume slays him, after taunting him and accusing him of never giving his godson his promised fief. Once Garin is dead, the Bordelais follow the young Lorrainers to Metz, where four of Fromont’s ten sons are slain in a battle. The Lorrainers are victorious and send monks to the woods to fetch Garin’s body at Vespers. Garin is buried in Metz. Alice and Beatrice die of grief at his grave, and Gerbert buries his mother and his aunt in the church of Saint Stephen, swearing to avenge them all.

Let thus much suffice for the chanson of Garin the Lorrainer, and let us now turn to the histories in prose.

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