Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Battle of Fontenay-en-Puisaye

I'VE CHOSEN EXCERPTS from Angilbert's melancholy reflections of the Battle of Fontenay (also Fontenaille or Fontenoy, June 25, 841 A.D.) as introductory quotes to this blog, and I suppose my choice merits some comment. Not much is known about this Angilbert (fl. 840/50) or even this battle by the general public. As to the author of the words, other than what may be gleaned in the extant excerpts of two poems Angilbert wrote on this historically important and sanguinary battle, we know little of him. Though it is not commonly known, the battle at Fontenay-en-Puisaye was an important battle, and it probably was one of the chief historical reasons why Germany and France are two nations today.

After the death of Louis the Pious, his children disputed his division, and the political rift soon turned toward war. As it turned out, the fate of the Carolingian empire was in the hands of two armies consisting of about 150,000 men which met by the springs of the rustic village of Fontenay near Auxerre (Fontanella fontem dicunt/villam quoque rustici). The carnage was particularly unusual for early medieval warfare--some put the count at 40,000 dead--and Angilbert hyperbolically claims to be the only survivor of the many men with whom he fought (Angelbertus ego vidi/pugnansque cum aliis,/Solus de multis remansi/prima frontis acie). Clearly an educated man, Angilbert was a Frankish soldier who supported Lothair, King of Italy, (who was given the imperial title by his father) against his brothers Charles the Bald and Louis the German. The battle at Fontenay was to be the battle between the sons of Louis the Pious for Lothair's right of control or imperium over the entirety of the Frankish empire. (This Angilbert, it may be noted, should be distinguished from St. Angilbert, the Abbot of Centula or Saint-Riquier (d. 814), who was also a poet and friend of Charlemagne.) After suffering this catastrophic loss, Lothair fled to his capital at Aix-la-Chapelle.) Lothair's loss of this battle shattered the dreams of unity, as it shortly led to the Oath of Strassburg in 842 (where Charles the Bald and Louis the German sealed their alliance against Lothair), and the Treaty of Verdun in 843 (where the Frankish empire was finally divided up, with Lothair's imperium over the lands of Charles the Bald and Louis the German significantly reduced). It was the horrible carnage as well as this certain political result that Angilbert foresaw as he stood on the hill and surveyed the battlefield that rent the heart of our Frankish soldier. It was too much for this soldier's heart to bear, and led to these Latin verses which are in the form of a lament or planctus. The battle cannot be forgotten, Angilbert states, although it does not merit being praised or put into song: Laude pugna non est digna, nec cantus melodiae.

No, it did not merit a song, but cries, tears, a dirge, which told of the loss of life, and, perhaps even more tragic, the loss of a way of life. So traditional and orthodox Christians stand as if we are modern Angilberts, realizing that--absent Divine intervention--the battle for the heart of America and our influence on the political and legal institutions is likely lost. The opposition are seized of power; our traditions have been betrayed like Judas betrayed the Lord (Ecce olim velut Iudas salvatorem tradidit); the defensive walls of our Law have been breached (fracta est lex Christianorum); and rejoicing may be heard through the gates of Hell led by the barks of Cerberus (gaudet demon impius . . . gaudet gula Cerberi).

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