How to Stop a Bully (V)

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.



“A butterfly? Father Eusebius said that?” Josseran asked.

It had been several days since the news had spread and he hadn’t come back to the schola. Henry, who was feeling better, and I had decided to pay another visit to Josseran.

While his mother Clementia served us some bread and honey, I gave a quick summary of the good Father’s conversation.

“That’s what he said. We could turn him into a butterfly.”

“This, I cannot believe. Soon he will be Duke of Burgundy and nobody will have control over him, except the pope.”

Henry disagreed. “My brother will not listen to the pope. The only person I see having some sort of control over him is the great abbot.”

“True,” I said. “I remember how he talked to Otto in the church. He was not impressed by his new title.”

Josseran was doubtful. “He said that Otto the Red lacks self-confidence? I find that difficult to believe.”

“I think it is possible,” said Henry. “After the death of our father, Hugh and Otto were directly taken care by our grandfather Robert. You know his reputation. He was violent and couldn’t bear any opposition to his will. Otto had a hard time with him because of his strong personality. My grandfather hit him many times because he was not obeying. That doesn’t help feeling good about oneself and maybe deep down Otto has a lot of doubts.”

“But this doesn’t excuse his behavior!” countered Josseran. He remembered too well how much he had suffered from his last beating.

“No, Otto is not excused for what he did. We are trying to understand why he is a bully. Father Eusebius might be right. The new duke has no confidence. That’s something we should use.”

“How does someone get confident?” asked Henry, suddenly more alert.

“Father Eusebius has told me many times that self-confidence is the best gift to give to a child. Amazingly not a good sword or a promising horse. He is adamant about that. But I trust him. The way to get more confident is to do things that make us feel good.”

“Like eating?”

“No, Henry. It has to be related to someone else or for the greater good of Christendom.”

Henry stood up banging one hand into the other one. “I think I know how to turn my brother into a butterfly and at the same time solve all of our problems!”

We were scrutinizing him, waiting. Henry looked squarely at Josseran. “You are the solution my friend. You will become Otto’ best friend!”


We had not seen Otto since the church incident. He was now about to be the new duke and there were lots of preparations for the festivities. Cluny was busy helping drawing new charters, sending messages all over Christendom in order to notify and invite crowned heads to participate in the ceremonies. The scriptorium itself was like a ruche. Monks relaying themselves with the writing and the copying.

Finally, we heard that the new Duke of Burgundy had arrived from Dole the previous night and would spend his morning signing all the documents that needed to be sent.

When we arrived in the scriptorium, Otto was busy signing a charter handed to him by Brother Servius. The new Duke was not enjoying this. Nearby, Bernhardus, the chamberlain, was waiting nervously with a few men-at arms. We pushed Josseran towards Otto and stayed behind, half hidden in the shadows.

Josseran, pale as snow, walked slowly towards the desk where Otto was, with great difficulty, signing  his name. When he saw the little Lord of Bâgé in the middle of the candlelight, he first was surprised and then barked, “You, get out of here!”

Josseran, even though he wanted to, didn’t move.

Otto lowered his voice into a growl. “I said, get out of here right now. I am busy but I am not forgetting about you. Wait until all of this is over,” he said, gesturing at the mountain of parchments on his pulpit.

“I can help,” whispered Josseran.


“I can help you manage this work, said Josseran, his voice growing stronger.” I can read and write. You…you cannot.”

Protests emerged from the others. One of the man-at-arms was already unsheathing his sword. Brother Servius intervened.

“Josseran! You are insulting the Duke. Apologize right now!”

The little Lord of Bâgé was about to open his mouth again when Otto stood up. “Everyone, get out of the scriptorium!” he commanded. “I am going to personally take care of this little vermin!”

“You cannot read!”

The high pitch tone of Josseran’s voice startled everyone in the room. I was not expecting him to answer back like this. He seemed on a roll now. “Read the charter you just signed,” he said pointing to the parchment still in Otto’ hand.

The new Duke threw it on the pulpit as if it were burning his hand.

“How dare you give me an order?” he said.

“It is not an order my Lord. I am just a fervent vassal of yours who is worried about the future of Burgundy.”

Otto broke into a smile.

“I love when my subjects care about the dukedom.” He opened his arms inviting everyone to leave. “I want…I would like to have a word in private with my vassal, the Lord of Bâgé.”

There was no way to oppose the Duke’s orders. Henry and I reluctantly left the room with everyone else, leaving Josseran alone with Otto. We both were panicked. It was like having a mouse trapped with a cat…in a cage.


Outside, in the cloister, the sun was bright, contrasting with the darkness of the scriptorium. We all waited, nobody talking, but all of us worrying. At least we didn’t hear screams from Josseran.

The great abbot Hugh who happened to walk nearby, surprised to see such a group of people outside the scriptorium, came to us and asked what was happening. The chamberlain, Bernhardus, told him. Frowning, the great abbot walked towards the door of the scriptorium.

“Father, I apologize but you can’t enter. The Duke gave an order,” said the chamberlain.

“Inside the walls of Cluny, I take orders only from God and the pope,” was the abbot’s answer. As he opened the door, he noticed my presence and gestured for me to follow him, which I did.

Our eyes had to get used to the darkness of the room. We noticed Josseran and Otto in one corner, the little Lord of Bâgé against the wall and the new Duke of Burgundy sword in hand, as if ready to strike.

“Stop this!” warned the abbot.

Surprised, Otto lowered his sword while Josseran ran towards us.

“In the name of God, Otto, can you start behaving as a Duke?”

“I was dealing with one of my lower vassals, as per my right.”

“No. You can’t do that. This is sacred ground and I am fully in charge here.”

Otto sheathed his sword, upset. Abbot Hugh was not done yet. “And what is this rumor about your reading and writing?”

Turning to Josseran he said: “You cannot tell a lie just to hurt people, my son. Every word of every sentence has a value. Why did you say that?”

Josseran didn’t hesitate: “Because it is true.”

“Nonsense!” shouted Otto.

The abbot was not about to get carried into a fight.

“There is no need to scream and accuse each other.” He looked around, picked up a small book of prayers and handed it to Otto, who started to step back. “Will my Lord, the Duke of Burgundy, be gracious enough to read for us a few lines?”

Otto was still retreating, starting to panic.

“I don’t…I don’t have to obey to you.”

“Of course you don’t have to, my Lord. It was just a polite invitation.” He looked at me and I slowly nodded.

“Perfect! We should all leave this room. Terce has already rung and it’s time for prayer.”

The Duke of Burgundy was more than happy to comply as were Josseran and I. As we were leaving, the great abbot said: “My Lord, I apologize for asking you to read. We will be more than happy to listen to you reading the breviary on the first Sunday of Lent as it is our tradition with the House of Burgundy.”

He then threw open the doors and the sun bathed us as we joined the rest of the group, still waiting outside.

Otto didn’t move. He stood frozen inside the scriptorium.

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