France – Guillaume D’ Orange

The Tower Gloriete is gone from Orange, unless this crumbling bastion on the hillside be a part of it. The dazzling streets show no trace of the regime of Guillaume d’Orange—William of the Short Nose—principal figure in a whole library of legend, nor of his wife Guiborg the Saracen. And that is queer, for the relics of a Roman occupation antedating the era of Charlemagne by nearly a thousand years are still to be seen in all their grandeur. The Roman theater, undoubtedly one of the most impressive masses of masonry in the world, the Arch of Marius, proud memorial to an almost forgotten conqueror, stand to-day as strong as they were ten centuries ago. . . . But the medieval ramparts of Orange the impregnable, Orange, bulwark of Christianity against the Saracens, have vanished, blasted to dust.

From the station to the center of the town a hot road leads beneath an arch-work of dusty beeches. It is noon, and Orange is indoors. Square canopies cover the fronts of the shops on the principal streets. Flapping curtains hang from the sides of the canopies. Strings of tinkling beads curtain the doorways.

There comes a town crier with a cornet, a straw hat, and a genial expression to play a tune similar to “The Roast Beef of Old England.” The call completed, he sticks his instrument under his arm and reads with much energy and flourish the announcement of a grand ball to be held as part of a pentecostal celebration. The few brown pedestrians who have stopped to listen to him laugh heartily at his performance and make unkind remarks about his music. He retorts in kind, grins, and moves on to the next corner.

For all the hint that lies in the name of the Street of the Counterscarp one must wander about the crooked by-ways for some time before discovering the peculiarities of terrain that made Orange the most mighty city of the south. One turns from the curtained center of the town to con-front the massive facade of the Roman theater, and one forgets to inquire what may lie beyond it. The impressiveness of the theater is principally a matter of bulk. It is a peculiarly masculine conception, vast, square, formidable, unornamented. Its beauties are those of proportion rather than decoration, for the only effort made by the builders to relieve the severity of the front is to be seen in a series of blind arcades. So tremendous are its proportions that the hill of Orange, once the Gibraltar of the Midi, is completely masked by it.

Behind the theater a street of steps pursues a corkscrew course toward the top of the hill. At the end of the stair-way one may look down into the theater, where the restored semicircles of seats step down to almost unbelievable depths. Under the fig-trees about the stage the ancient guardian is reading a newspaper. From some unseen vault beneath the seats comes the clang of trowel on stone, where modem masons are halting, somewhat tardily, the ravages of time and weather.

The top of the hill is a panorama of desolation. The entire plateau seems to be paved with stone or cement, liberally sprinkled with wreckage. A walk across it has its own dangers, for at every hundred feet or so one comes upon an opening from which worn stairs lead down into some mysterious vaulting. The hill of Orange is honey-combed with tunnels and shafts. No one knows where they lead to; no one cares to risk the experiment. One might well imagine that here was the fortress which figures in the startling history of Guillaume d’Orange. Quite likely the citadel of the Prince of the Short Nose did occupy this same site. But his stronghold was pulverized long before the day of the chevaliers who built these tunnels. The wreckage of the hill is all that remains of the chateau of Maurice d’Orange, who, fired by the example of his legendary ancestors, tore down most of the Roman construction in the city and used the stone for the building of an impregnable fortress. It was just about completed when Louis, XIV, who had his own ideas about that sort of architecture, suggested to Maurice that he tear it down. And Maurice complied.

Art must have shuddered when the ambitious prince blasted temple and forum and palace to get cut stone for his fortress. War must weep at the wreck that Louis made. Granitic blocks quarried in the far mountains by slaves at a high cost in blood once rose in lofty tribute to the gods, fell, and rose again as the castle invincible, and now are granite blocks once more awaiting a new architectural role as the palms and fib trees and mosses seek to cover them. If Guillaume walks here of a night, as of course he does, he must view this particular ruin with mixed emotions.

The domestic affairs of William of the Short Nose—Cornet, Court Nez, or Courtney—have been occupying some attention in France recently. Paul Tuffrau’s modernization of the ancient Chanson de Geste concerning the doughty baron has gone into more than a dozen editions. And the reason for William’s revived popularity is not hard to find.

The story of his wars and his love and his numerous bursts of passion is quite naive and quite human. While the delineation of its central character may not be authentic as a picture of a Carolingian chieftain, it is meticulously correct as an analytical study of the warrior duke as he existed when the troubadours sang the legend. William is shown as an elemental creature, deeply religious and loyal according to his own lights, which occasionally were quite dim.

The epic of his adventuring opens with a description of how he snatched the crown of Charlemagne from the hands of a base villain and placed it on the head of Charles’ son Louis. The ensuing ten or fifteen cantos are monotonous in their recital of Guillaume’s brave deeds, his generosity, his poverty, his disinterestedness, and his unwavering fealty to the young king.

Then quite suddenly Guillaume is informed that Louis has been distributing fiefs. Guillaume’s magnificent services have been rewarded with honorable mention, which, according to the introductory stanzas of the chanson, should have caused the fighting baron to glow with gratitude. But at this juncture of the recital he upsets the plot. He refuses to adhere to the character of docile fidelity given him in the opening chapters. He invades the palace, defies all the king’s men-at-arms, calls the king vile names, and announces that he is going to seek a new master. The troubadours who tell the tale do not seem at all incensed that Guillaume should thus have betrayed their confidence. With true medieval consistency they agree with him categorically.

The king, thoroughly frightened, pleads that the supply of fiefs is a bit short at present but that he is willing to dispossess a few widows and orphans and kill a second-rate count or two if Guillaume will only reconsider. At length a compromise is reached whereby the baron receives as a fief the county of Orange. The king’s generosity in this grant becomes the more remarkable when one considers that Orange is in the hands of the Saracens and somewhat detached from Louis’s kingdom anyway.

“Seigneurs,” proceeds the chanson, “would it please you to know how Guillaume entered into combat in Orange, the strong city, and took as his wife Oriabel, the Saracen? Be silent ! Listen to me; it is of a marvelous love that I go to sing.”

Guillaume proceeded to his father’s castle in Narbonne. There he found much grief, for the Saracens had seized his brother Garin d’Anseune and had announced that they would release him only when Garin’s son Vivien should be sent to them as a hostage.

Guillaume, so runs the tale, pondered on the problem for many an hour and then brought forward this plan:

“Vivien is just a baby and no good as a warrior. Let us trade him for his father, who may still be of some use to us against the Saracens.”

And all the company were pleased mightily at Guillaume’s sagacity and agreed to the exchange. Guillaume took Vivien to Orange and there saw Queen Oriabel, “the lady of the clear visage.” That, as one might naturally expect, was the beginning of the great love. Oriabel, remembering Guillaume, eventually released Vivien. Guillaume, remembering Oriabel, disguised himself as a peddler and obtained admittance to the golden castle of the strong city. Oriabel consented to marry him and betray the city into his hands.

On a day agreed upon she sent all the troops out of the city to meet the Saracen bridegroom chosen for her by her princely brother. While they were away she let Guillaume into Orange. After that the fat was in the fire. Oriabel changed her name to Guiborg and married Guillaume. Her people swore vengeance.

Vivien, the youthful hostage, now grown to a man’s estate and filled with hatred for the Saracens, made a foolish vow when he assumed his armor that he would never retreat more than five paces from a Saracen. All of the warriors of Provence, Languedoc, and the neighboring territory stood aghast at this rash declaration. For, seigneurs, give ear to the words of William of the Short Nose, bravest of the brave: “Quite often the best way to fight a Saracen is to give way before him. If outnumbered or otherwise indisposed to give battle, one should run away and that with all haste.” But Vivien would not listen to this sane advice. He promptly rode southward with twenty thou-sand men and met the hordes of Desrame, the Saracen king, as they landed somewhere near the present site of Aigues-Mortes.

Considering the odds, twenty thousand to one hundred and twenty thousand, Vivien fought a good fight. But good generalship in the situation seemed to warrant re-treat, whereas that simple manoeuvre had been eliminated from Vivien’s book. He directed three principal charges and continued to give battle long after he had been so skilfully carved that he had to hold himself together with his left arm.

Vivien’s cousin Gerard fled from the battlefield and summoned Guillaume to the rescue. Guillaume, the bravery of whose troops requires thousands of words of description in the epic, led his mailed mob into battle by means of simple strategy. He issued a typical war communique telling them that Vivien had defeated the Saracens and that cart-loads of plunder were to be had at Aliscans for the taking. The thirty-five thousand warriors of Guillaume bravely sounded their battle-cries and dashed into the combat at the gallop. By the time they discovered that they had been hoaxed it was too late to argue about it. They were all dead in a very few minutes.

Guillaume profited by his own good advice, disguised himself in the armor of a dead Saracen chief, and escaped. That, my dear seigneurs, was a very dark day for Orange.

The fighting baron returned to Orange closely pursued by one hundred thousand Moors. Then, having notified his wife of the sad turn in their fortunes, he left to her the simple task of holding the city against the hundred thou-sand while he rode northward through Burgundy and France for help.

Here is the feminist interest in the tale. The troubadours, singing in the courts of love, knew that no chanson could hope for much popularity that did not give proper credit to the bravery of womanhood, a virtue too prone to be overlooked in the more interesting recitals of splendid amours. Always in these narratives there was a chapter in which the lady of the manor took down her husband’s sword and cut off heads with care-free abandon. Whatever the nature of the story, that portion of it had to be built according to certain set specifications. It was as necessary as punctuation. . . . So, in the legend of Guillaume, Dame Guiborg of the Clear Visage mobilized her waiting-women and took over the defense of the ramparts.

Guillaume rode to Paris, once more bullied the king into submission, borrowed the army of France, and went back to drive the Saracens out of Provence. There are some interesting side-lights on this phase of the campaign. For one thing, Guillaume discovers Rainouart, kidnapped brother of Guiborg, and, without knowing his identity, enlists him as a companion-at-arms. For another, Rainouart develops as the comedy relief character of the piece. Throughout the action he appears as the yokel blundering to victory where wise warriors fall, a Simple Simon who carries a tree for a club and thinks a steel sword too flimsy for a man’s use. Virtually single-handed Rainouart wins the fight against the Saracens—a thing strange enough when one considers that Guillaume is the hero of the chanson—and is given Aelis, daughter of Louis of France, in marriage.

There is plenty of pathos in the next section of the book. The Saracens have been driven out. Orange is deserted. The battling baron sits in the Tower Gloriete and sees the army go back to France. His lesser aids have departed for Narbonne and Dijon and Besancon and the cities of Aquitaine. “There are breaches in the walls, and the towers are crumbling”—thus the chanson in a description that might do very well for a modern guide-book. Guillaume and Guiborg rebuild the city. And then the Dame of the Clear Visage feels the touch of death, and she dies as “the waters of the heart well up in the eyes of William of the Short Nose and course down his scarred cheeks.”

“Then hear, seigneurs, a chanson thrice beautiful; it is of Guillaume, Count of the Short Nose, and how he turned toward God.”

The baron of Orange, grieving for Guiborg, entered a monastery, vowing to St. Martin that he would abandon sword and war-horse for ever, save only in the event that the Saracens should come seeking a new war or that France or any other country of merit should need his help.

We last see him in his old role when he doffs his cowl and drapes himself with Burgundian chain and rides off to rescue King Louis and Queen Blanchefleur from the Saxons who are besieging Paris. He enters Paris quite after his usual manner, with the head of Ysore, the Saxon chieftain, hanging to his saddle. He presents the head to the king, and then, having thus discharged all the minor items of his debt to France, he returns to his monastery and dies.

“At the hour of his death, seigneurs, all the great bells in Christendom began to sound, in Rocamadour, Aix-la-Chapelle, St.-Michel-du-Peril, and even as far as Cologne, without the hand of man having touched them.”

“Seigneurs, make a silence and listen as I go to sing. There was a fine figure of a man. . . .”

Orange has forgotten most of the exploits of this legendary hero. The old woman who sits in the cobbled street under the awnings and weaves straw sandals with numbing fingers could tell you all about Marius or Caesar Augustus or Julius the conqueror. The child slipping into the coolness of Notre Dame has learned in school all the events that have figured in the history of Orange from St. Louis to the revolution. But Guillaume has gone the way of his Tower Gloriete . . . and there are no monuments to his memory and few modern troubadours to sing his praises.