How to Stop a Bully (III)

The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.

Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.

As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.



The very next day, Henry and I again went to Josseran’s house. This time, we had decided, there was no way his mother would stop us from seeing him.

Clementia didn’t argue, and let us in. The room was dark. Josseran was resting on the bed, his small frame propped against a pillow. As we came closer, we noticed that parts of his face were bruised and swollen. One of his eyes was barely open. He made a small welcoming gesture with his hand as we sat on the edge of his bed.

Seeing him like this made me even more eager to move things around. Otto had to be stopped! His mother left us, and I started telling them about my meeting with Father Eusebius.

When I came to the part about thinking of Otto as naked, Henry laughed, but Josseran didn’t. Even though the image was funny for him too, his fear was stronger.

I kept going, trying to muster all the nakedness of Otto I could imagine. On a horse, at the schola, in the church. Josseran was still tight-lipped, not letting himself laugh. Finally Henry, who was enjoying multiple images of his brother naked, said, “How about, in the latrina?”

Josseran and I looked at each other and we burst into laughter. Now, we were all three rolling on the bed and clapping our hands as we pictured Otto, sword at his side, doing his thing. Naked.

Josseran was now crying with joy.

“Stop please!” he said, “My eyes hurt!”

“My stomach, too,” Henry managed to say between hiccups.

After a while, the laughter subsided. While we all were drying our eyes, Henry began talking: “My brother naked. That is such a good joke!”

“And it makes him not that scary anymore,” I said.

“True,” echoed Josseran. “Thank you for bringing me some joy. But out there, Otto is still roaming, fully clothed.”

I jumped in. “Josseran, if you can laugh at Otto here, it means that he is not that scary anymore. Next time you see him, keep this image in mind. Don’t let him overpower your thinking! Father Eusebius told me that we are what we think. Your mind is powerful, Josseran,” I said. “You can read and write better than any of us. You can also use that power against Otto!”

“I can picture him naked, but when he is going to hit me, that’s not going to help,” answered the little Lord of Bagé.

Henry was thinking.

“You are right, Josseran,” he said. “We have to reverse the trend. Now that we know we can laugh at him, we have to find a way to make him aware that we are not afraid of him.”

Josseran lowered his head. “I am still scared of him. I don’t want to be in a situation where I find myself alone with all three of them beating me.”


“Otto is not always with his cunning friends,” I said.

Henry slapped my back.

“That’s true, Renbaudus! And Josseran doesn’t have to be alone. We can organize ourselves to have at least two friends with him when he is outside the buildings. Otherwise, in the schola or in the scriptorium, he is safe.”

He looked at Josseran. “What do you think?”

“I will feel better, but we will have to organize ourselves very carefully.”

Henry nodded.”Yes, and the same for us. We cannot afford to be alone outside after dark.”

I stood up, troubled.”That can only be a temporary solution, because by protecting Josseran all the time or walking in groups, we will show Otto that we are still fearful of him. We have to beat him.”

“Beat him?” said Josseran, “What’s the point? He will get his revenge.”

We kept silent for a while. I looked at Henry. He was slowly blowing air into his fist, which was tucked against his mouth, a gesture showing he was thinking deeply. He suddenly stopped and looked at us.

“Father Eusebius is right. We are what we think. We can beat Otto. Not one time, as you said, Josseran. That would be playing his game and, as we painfully know, my brother is much stronger than us.

“Why don’t we change the playing field?” he said, eyes glittering. “How about we play by our rules?”

Josseran and I looked at each other, not quite understanding him.

“It is like when we train our physical skills,” said Henry. “I am good at swordmanship. Renbaudus, I can beat you more often than you wish. But when we are horseriding and dueling, spears in hand, there, my friend, you beat me more than I wish for.”

I slowly nodded, appreciating the compliment. Josseran was still skeptical.

“That’s a great idea, Henry. We bring him to play by our rules. But he doesn’t have to play at all.”

Henry stood up and started pacing the room, ignoring the few hens who were looking for scraps of food on the dirt floor.

“This is when we use our brains! Thank you God! I love Father Eusebius’ concept.”

He stopped, turned around and looked at us, opening his arms, smiling as if God’s grace had touched him.

“What could stop Otto the Red bullying forever?”

Josseran and I didn’t answer, not sure what Henry wanted to say. The look in his eyes was almost like he was getting divine guidance. He was truly inspired!

“Our best weapon will not be a sword, a spear, or acting as a group.”

He paused and pointed one finger up.

“No, if we want to have my brother leave us alone,” he said, “we need more than that. We need only one piece of information.”


The next few days, Cluny Abbey became our battleground. First, we had to organize our own protection.

Classmates from the schola who had been shoved or beaten over and over were more than eager to help. We created schedules so that not one of us would find himself alone outside in the daytime. Josseran received special protection, and always had three or four classmates with him as he was going from home, to the schola, or to the scriptorium.

Our dormitorium, in the nutriti’s building, became our headquarters. Brother Eginhard was surprised to see almost everyone up even before he called us for Prime. Our whispers and sudden silences, when he entered our large room lined up with beds, frustrated him.

“God is all powerful!” he exclaimed one day. “He can see through you. You’d better not scheme, but instead study hard or you will go to hell!”

Otto too, at first, was upset. He couldn’t let his instincts dictate his behavior anymore. Several times, alone or with his friends, he tried to scare us. But as a group, we found new strength, hardening our faces to impress him.

Anyway, in the daytime it was difficult for Otto to act on a whim among monks or visitors to the abbey. Frustrated too, he kicked a few poor dogs, and even began slapping his friends. That gave us further confidence.

But Otto the Red was not stupid. He decided to wait, too. Arms crossed, with Ranulf and Toly sneering, they were letting us walk around freely, betting we would make a mistake and one of us would end up in their claws.

The status quo went on for days. Eginhard was baffled to have lost his grip on his far-too-obedient nutriti, and we were sticking to our plan. Otto continued to yawn during the lectiones, but then he had never bothered to listen or to write anything, even when the great prior, Father Odo, was lecturing.

Our newfound strength allowed us to implement the next step of Henry’s plan. That involved spying on Otto. It was difficult because we had to follow him within the limits of the abbey or listen to his conversations. Spying was a lonely endeavor so we were risking a lot if one of us were to be caught.

One evening, Guy, who was about the same age as Josseran, stormed back in the dormitorium. He ran up to Henry, visibly excited but trying to keep a low voice.

“Henry, I saw your brother the Duke! He just arrived with a small retinue!”

“What? Hugh is here?”

“Yes. He went straight to the church where he joined the great abbot.”

“Thank you, Guy. You did great.”

Guy blushed with pride.

I jumped in. “I will go to the church to discover more.”

Henry stopped me.

“No. If you get caught what are you going to say?” he said. “I am the one going, because, if needed, I can say that I wanted to welcome my elder brother, the powerful Hugh Ist, Duke of Burgundy.”

He was right.

“We go together,” I concluded, not willing to let him go alone.

The others blessed us while we surreptitiously left the dormitorium.

We quickly made our way among the buildings lit on the inside by flickering candlelight. As we were about to cross the main cloister leading to the church, we heard footsteps on the right and retreated into the safety of the darkness. Three shadowy figures passed us. They were walking briskly towards the church.

When we saw the face of the man in the middle, we almost let out a shout of surprise.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.