How to Stop a Bully (VI)

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 next day, Clementia invited us to partake of some pottage to thank us for supporting her son. Henry and I joined Josseran and we all enjoyed an early evening talk.

Revisiting the last few weeks’ events, we agreed that Henry’s plan hadn’t worked, but it did put Otto in the uncomfortable position of knowing that soon the truth would be known.

“What do you think will happen?” I asked Henry.

“Otto is lying,” he said. “It is common for kings and other leaders not to be able to read and write. That’s what scribes are for. Otto is pretending to do so, and has been signing charters unaware of their contents.”

Josseran, who was finishing his bowl of pottage, chimed in. “People think he can do so since he studied at the schola.”

“Well, we should say attended rather than studied!” joked Henry.

The three of us laughed while drinking our juice.

A rap at the door stopped us.

Clementia went to open it. When she did, the shape of a tall monk appeared in the dusk. His hood hid his face. He entered and signaled Clementia to close the door. Impressed, she complied.

Then he slowly pushed back his hood. Our faces reflected our surprise as we recognized Otto.

Otto the Red. The new and all-too-powerful Duke of Burgundy. Our now former classmate.

Nobody moved. He didn’t have his sword, but he slowly produced a dagger from one of his large sleeves. He carefully moved toward the three of us. We were trapped behind the table and too stunned by his sudden presence to be able to react.

When he reached the table, he put down the dagger and opened his arms. “I came peacefully,” he said. “To talk.”

We looked at each other, still unsure about his intentions. He looked at Henry.

“Can we sit and talk?”

“That’s what you came for?” asked Henry.

“Yes.” the Duke answered.

Clementia, who had been awestruck, regained her wits. “My Lord, it is an honor to have one of your rank visit such an unworthy place.”

She helped him be seated on a stool. Henry, Josseran, and I sat on the other side of the table, on the bed. Clementia shooed away a couple of hens that had become too curious about the new visitor. She brought back some grape juice for the Duke.

Otto thanked her. He was making a  great effort to restrain himself, something he was not used to. Finally he looked at Josseran, who quickly cringed. Then he spoke.

“I accept your help.”


We looked at each other, incredulous. Henry asked his brother: “You want Josseran to help you read and write?”

“Yes, but this has to be a secret. Nobody must know or…” he said, regaining his usual threatening tone. He caught himself, paused and started again with a softer voice.

“I would like to keep this matter between us. I am sure I can trust all of my subjects in this room. It is for the greater good of the Duchy.”

Josseran spoke for the first time.

“How…how do you want to do it? How do we keep this a secret?”

“At night the scriptorium will be the perfect place,” said Otto. “You are used to spending many hours there, right? So nobody will suspect you. An incognitus monk will join you, as I just did, and a few of my milites will be hiding around the place.”

“How can we trust you?” I asked.

“I came here tonight, alone.”

Josseran nodded. “I am willing to help you. But before we start,” he said, “I want to hear an apology for the beating. My face still hurts. I also want Ranulf and Toly to apologize.”

Furious, Otto stood up, unable to restrain himself. “Do you know who you are talking to? I made enough effort just by coming here. You will not get an apology from me or my friends!”

“No apology, no help,” the little Lord of Bagé answered.

Henry and I looked at him, surprised. Otto was getting angry. And the dagger was still at the center of the table.

“This apology doesn’t have to be made now,” I offered. “You can discuss it together in the scriptorium.”

“I am sure asking forgiveness through a penance can be considered as an apology too,” said Henry as he nudged Josseran. The latter slowly nodded. Otto sat back, still upset.

No one spoke for a while. Otto, trying to regain a ducal composure, drank every last drop of his juice, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

Josseran was not done yet.

“What is your real level of reading and writing?”

Otto grew uncomfortable.

“Ahem. I can read but I am too slow for the mountain of documents that awaits me every day. As for writing, I got pretty good at signing. For the rest…” He extended his opened hand.

“So we will have to start with the basics,” said Josseran. “I expect you to do your homework.”

The Duke of Burgundy, growing impatient again, gave a quick nod.

“Finally,” said Josseran, “I want my family and my friends here never, ever to be bullied by you! Do I have your word?”

“I swear to God,” was Otto’s answer. We knew how faithful he was.

“Tomorrow evening at the scriptorium, then.”

Otto almost said “Thank you,” but caught himself and nodded slightly as a Duke should.


As soon as Otto left, a wave of relief swept over us.

Josseran let himself fall back on the bed, breathing hard. We were still stunned by Otto’s visit.

Clementia was the first one to react. “Iesu! That was scary. I worry that my Josseran will spend his nights alone with this brute, but you all handled the Duke well. Here is an apple tart I made yesterday. Please have some.”

The sweet smell of the apples energized us up and we started wolfing down the tart. Between mouthfuls, I managed to talk. “Henry, in the end, your plan was perfect! Otto will no longer be a nuisance.”

Henry, gulping down his share of tart, added: “We can thank Father Eusebius for his help. He pushed us beyond our fear of Otto. He helped us see that even in a bleak situation there is hope!”

Josseran, who was eating like I had never seen him eat before, stopped a moment. “Looking at the situation from a different point of view helped us shift our thinking.”

“Tomorrow I will go to Berzé. I will bring word about the final events to Father Eusebius. I am sure he will be pleased. That was quite a challenge!”

“Nolle videre in somnis, fi,” chimed in Josseran.

We kept chatting for a while, enjoying the sweetness of victory, of having succeeded in our goal to get rid of Otto’s bullying.

“We have to share this. Other children need help around Burgundy,” said Henry. “Renbaudus, are you still writing your diarium?”

“Yes, I am.”

“We should make copies of this story from your diarium and send them to the scholas of other cluniac abbeys.”

And so we did.

The following weeks and months would prove very interesting, especially regarding the relationship between Josseran and Otto, the new Duke of Burgundy. But that is another story.

I here close the Diarum Renbaude for today.

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