The Legend of Gerbert of Metz

The legend of Gerbert of Metz, son of Garin le Loherain, is to be found in the following versions:

A chanson de geste in some 15,000 alliterative decasyllables. Found in some 21 MSS, always with Garin le Loherain.

The prose of Philippe de Vigneulles.

David Aubert’s History of Charles Martel, volume 3.

Another prose rendering, Arsenal 3346.

Book One of Roman der Lorreinen. A Middle Dutch poem, c. 1275, surviving only in fragments. The translation of Gerbert is entirely lost.

LA CHANSON DE GERBERT DE METZ

On the MSS: For this poem, ABCL1O form family a. All other MSS except INR form family b, though EL1OPS have a tendency to hop back and forth. IN continue to form a Second Redaction, about which I can find no information. R is off in its own world, but again I can find no specific details.

FIRST REDACTION

The surviving Lorrainers are as hell-bent on vengeance as ever. The Bordelais are on the brink of capturing Metz, when Garin’s son Gerbert persuades the burghers to swear homage to King Anseis of Cologne while he (Gerbert) goes to Paris to speak with Pepin. On the road to Paris he meets Begon’s two sons, Gerin and Hernault, who tell him that Lancelin, one of Garin’s assassins, is out hunting in the forest of Frat [the modern Forest of Foug]. The three cousins ambush him there, cut off his head, throw his entrails in the river, and strew pieces of his body along their way as they ride towards Paris. Reaching the city, Blanchefleur persuades Pepin to retain them at court. Gerbert starts as a huntsman, but soon works his way up to be seneschal.

Meanwhile, Rigaut and his brother Morant attack Bordeaux. Guillaume of Monclin’s son, Garin, is dubbed a knight and joins the war. Rigaut’s brother, Morant, is slain. In a feast on St. Denis’ Day, Queen Blanchefleur notices Fromont is absent from court, and makes Pepin send Gerbert to summon him to answer for his crimes. Fromont is furious, and Gerbert narrowly escapes with his life.

Fromont nonetheless comes to court, where, despite Pepin’s best efforts to keep them away, Gerbert, Gerin, and Hernault meet him in the hall. Fromont insults Pepin and accuses Blanchefleur of sleeping with the three cousins. A brawl breaks out, and the Bordelais are driven away. Pepin invests Gerbert with Gironville, once a fief of the Bordelais. Gerbert occupies this city, and during the ensuing war Rigaut is shot and killed by Guillaume de Monclin, and Fromont burns all the Lorrainers’ castles save Gironville.

Here is a division in most manuscripts, with a large initial to begin a new section. EFJLMPXOQV here add a long description of Gironville, cobbled together from three later laisses (30, 36, 38 in Taylor’s edition) They later repeat the parts of this description in their original places. EFMP say that here ends the song of Jehan de Flagi, presumably the author, as no knight of that name is ever mentioned.

PART TWO

The Bordelais lay siege to Gironville. Fromont’s attempts to build a better siege machine fail, so he sends Fromondin off to Paris to bribe Pepin, who swears not to aid the Lorrainers. As he returns to Gironville, he is met by Gerbert, Gerin, and their cousin Mauvoisin, who have slipped away from Gironville to seek help in Paris. The Lorrainers slaughter all the Bordelais save Fromondin, who escapes. Pepin refuses them his help, however, and slaps the Queen when she intercedes for them. At this juncture, messengers arrive from King Anseis of Cologne, seeking aid. Pepin refuses to send any, but the Lorrainers ride north.

In the course of saving Cologne, Gerbert wins the good horse Fleuri, and the love of Anseis’ wife and daughter both. He is unresponsive to their advances, but Gerin councils him to marry the princess. He settles for becoming engaged to her. Anseis restores Metz to Gerbert, mostly to get rid of him before his womenfolk do something they’ll regret.

The three Lorraine cousins now go to Charles’ court in Orleans, where they find Fromont, who renews his accusations. It is suggested to have Gerbert and Guillaume de Monclin fight a duel, but Fromont refuses to allow it, since Gerbert is the grandson of a commoner (Hervis). Gerbert answers that at least his ancestors aren’t traitors and scoundrels. At last Fromondin agrees to fight, and is defeated. The Bordelais flee, and Fromont raises on army from King Yon of Gascony. With it, he besieges Hernault le Poitevin in Gironville.

During the siege, Fromont comes up with a scheme to entrap Hernaut: he will offer him the hand of his (Fromont’s) daughter Ludie to lure him into an ambush. Ludie is horrified at this treacherous behavior (and loves Fromont), and writes him a warning letter, which she wraps around an arrow and fires into the besiegers’ camp. Ludie seeks refuge with inside Gironville, and the Lorrainers capture her brother Fromondin. King Pepin arrives with the royal army. Guillaume de Monclin and Fromont offer to make peace with Pepin. Fromont will pay handsome reparations to Pepin and the Lorrainers, will walk barefoot to Saint-Denis in Paris, will give Ludie to Hernault, and will let bygones be bygones, if only he can keep Gironville. At the queen’s urging, Pepin refuses the offer and attacks the Bordelais. Guillaume’s son Garin, Bernard of Naisil, and Guillaume of Monclin are all slain. Fromont abandons the city and flees to Spain, where he is led before Emir Galafré, offers him his services, and becomes a renegade.

Meanwhile, in France, Fromondin has made peace with the Lorrainers. Fromondin will keep Bordeaux, and his sister Ludie will marry Hernault after all. All agree that the many deaths on each side will balance each other out and no further vengeance will be taken. A year passes by in peace.

The Bordelais invite Hernaut and his friends to a feast, where the townsfolk attack them. Hernaut escapes, but Doon the Hunter (Mauvoisin’s father) is slain, and Ludie is captured and returned to the custody of Fromondin. The Lorrainers appeal to Pepin, who answers with a curse on both their houses, until Blanchefleur once again talks him into supporting the Lorrainers. As the men of France and Lorrainer prepare for war, Fromondin secretly travels to Hernaut’s home of Blaye and ambushes him in the Church of Saint Martin. Hernaut grabs the great crucifix to use as the shield, but Fromondin cuts through it and him. The Bordelais then set the church on fire, leaving Hernaut for dead behind the altar. He survives, however, just barely, and the Queen’s army arrives to capture Fromondin, who is forced to take monastic vows.

The Saracens again attack King Anseis, who appeals to Gerbert for aid. Gerbert is minded to refuse, being bankrupt after defeating Fromondin. Gerin, however, counsels him to mortgage his fiefs and ask Pepin for Bordeaux. Gerbert agrees. Fromondin hears of this and breaks out of the monastery of Saint-Seurin, using the abbey’s wealth to raise an army, with which he intends to ambush Gerbert. However, when he reaches Cologne and sees Gerbert’s tiny army facing the Saracens, he decides, for the sake of honor, and to have the pleasure of killing Gerbert himself, to help Gerbert defeat the Saracens and then challenge him to a battle. Gerbert accepts this proposition in its entirety. Gerbert and Fromondin repel the heathens. Anseis urges Gerbert to finally wed Beatrice, but he declines. He then offers Gerbert his help against the Bordelais, but Gerbert declines this, owing to the terms of the oath he had sworn to Fromondin. Fromondin offers to make peace with Gerbert, who refuses. After a fierce battle, the two chieftains decide to fight in single combat. Gerbert overcomes Fromondin, but spares his life. The Lorrainers feast in Cologne and throw Fromondin in prison. Anseis urges Gerbert to marry Beatrice, but he still refuses, so she insults and mocks him in front of all the barons [only in two MSS] and marries Gerin instead. Fromondin serves at table at the wedding feast. Gerbert gives Metz to Gerin, and then takes Fromondin to Pepin’s court for judgment. The barons find Fromondin guilty, and allow Gerbert to set his punishment.

At this juncture, however, news comes that the heathen Spaniards, accompanied by Fromont, have invaded France and are besieging Hernault le Poitevin in Gironville. Fromondin offers to help defeat the Saracens if Gerbert will spare him, and so it is done. Fromondin slays the heathen Prince Cormadant, son of Emir Marsilius. Marsilius, when he hears the news, executes Fromont. Gerbert and the Royal army reach Gironville and raise the siege, Gerbert kills the Emir, and the Spaniards retreat. Fromondin finds his father’s body and secretly swears vengeance. Fromont is buried in Saint-Seurin in Bordeaux.[1]

Gerin, having wed Anseis’ daughter Beatrice, now inherits Cologne. Girbert marries the daughter of King Yon of Provence and inherits that kingdom. The princess dies giving birth to her son Anseis, and Girbert marries the daughter of Aymeri of Narbonne, likewise an orphan, whom he protects against invading Saracens. Fromondin, left as lord of Bordeaux, accepts Hernault le Poitevin as his suzerain. Hernault and Ludie are reunited and live peacefully together. Fromondin stands as godfather to Hernault’s sons, Fromont and Begon.

So matters stay for several years, until Fromondin invites Gerbert to stay with him for Pentecost. Gerbert visits Fromont’s tomb and offers to pay for the building of a richer one, which Fromondin accepts. However, Gerbert and his squire Mauvoisin secretly steal Fromont’s skull, which they take back to Aix with them and make into a drinking goblet. At the next great feast, it is Gerbert’s turn to play host, and he invites Gerin, Hernaut, Fromondin, and others. Girbert serves Fromondin and his cousins out of the skull-goblet. Unfortunately, the secret of the skull-goblet gets out, and Fromondin hears of it. He and the other Bordealais leave at once, swearing vengeance.

Fromondin occupies Gironville, taking Ludie and her children, the young Fromont and Begon, captive. She pleads with him to accept Gerbert’s offer of peace. He is willing to pay three horse-loads of gold, thirty helms and hauberks, and the golden goblet, but Fromondin is implacable. He dashes out the brains of his two nephews, his own godsons, in front of Ludie. Nonetheless, he does not have enough men to hold Gironville, and the Lorrainers force him to flee across the Pyrenees. Only one squire is with him as he enters Pamplona. Here the enormity of his sins overwhelms him, and he flees to the forest to become a hermit. He is shrived by a holy man who has lived in the forest for over thirty years, and the three men live together in fasting and prayer. Even after the old hermit dies, Fromondin and his squire continue their penance.

Four years have gone by, when King Gerin of Cologne desires to visit Saint James of Compostella. He stops by Aix-en-Provence to visit Gerbert, who decides to come with him. Mauvoisin also joins the party. As the three of them pass by Pamplona, they hear tell of a holy hermit living in the woods, and decide to make their confessions to him. Fromondin, unrecognized himself, recognizes the three cousins at once, and tells them to come back later, for he himself is not in a state of grace. What he is in fact lacking are weapons, which he sends his squire to the city to obtain. The squire, however, warns the Lorrainers of his master’s identity. They return to the hermitage and prepare to kill him. Fromondin asks for mercy, and warns them that his kinsmen will avenge him. Nonetheless, Gerbert smites him with his pilgrim’s staff, breaking his skull open. Fromondin falls dead to the floor. Gerbert and Gerin see to his burial, and then return home, where their story is met with much rejoicing.

Variants

Familes a and b differ in some minor details, but none of much importance. I suspect IN differ much more, but they have never been printed, nor, as far as I am aware, even analyzed.

The Emir uses a surprising variety of weapons to kill Fromont. A sword ABCM, his baton V, his shield DFJLSW, an ivory horn P, an ivory chessboard EQR, a tretel N.

All MSS of the Lorraine cycle end with a recapitulation of the main characters of both houses, this recapitualation coming at the end of either Gerbert, Yon, or Anseis, with adaptations to suit. A few also explain that after Blanchefleur died, Pepin married Bertha Broadfoot.

ARSENAL PROSE

Continues to be similar, though not identical, to S.

DAVID AUBERT

I can find no information on this part of Aubert’s prose, save that his volume 3 begins with the death of Garin and ends just before the death of Fromondin in the hermitage.

PHILIPPE DE VIGNEULLES

What moderns call Gerbert de Metz is called by Philippe Book III of Garin le Loherain. He begins his book III with the death of Garin, and carries it down to the death of Fromondin.

ROMAN DER LORREINEN

The part of his poem dealing with Gerbert has been completely lost.

Origins and Influence

The poem of Gerbert was written between 1185 and 1210, and at once became inseparable from Garin. There is no historical basis for it. Compare the story of Fromond’s skull made into a goblet with that of the Lombard queen Rosamund.

Aymeri of Narbonne is generally held to have flourished after the battle of Roncesvalles, and to have died in the reign of Louis the Pious. Perhaps Gerbert’s deceased father-in-law is a different man of the same name.

Philippe Mouskes’ Chronique Rimee gives the story down to the marriage of Gerbert with the daughter of Aymeri of Narbonne. The other chronicles listed above under Garin usually include some or all of the story of Gerbert.

The central legend of Garin and Gerbert spawned not only a prequel, but three continuations, written independently of each other: an Old French poem, Yon, ou le Vengeance Fromondin; another old French poem, Anseis de Metz; and the second book of the Middle Dutch Roman der Lorreinen. Let us now turn to those.

 

[1] Silver, Maurice, Girbert de Mes, According to Ms. B, Text and Variants of Lines 8879-10822, Followed by a Study of the Noun Declensional System, Ph. D. dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1942.

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