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Medieval Sourcebook:
The Cathedral Chapter of Chartres:
The Riot of 1210


In 1210 a mob of the citizens of Chartres, incited by officials of the Countess of Blois-Chartres, assaulted the house of the Dean of the cathedral chapter. After a lengthy battle, the citizens were only able to storm and plunder the forecourt of the Dean's house before retreating to their homes. The canons of the Chapter were not pleased, and a lengthy process of punishment and atonement followed. Note especially the liturgy of excommunication, the manipulation of reliquaries, and the increasing role of the king in providing justice and assessing guilt. It should hardly need to be noted that this text, which appears in the Cartulary of Notre-Dame to Chartres, represents the views of the Cathedral Chapter, not the citizens.

Notice of the violation of the House of the Dean and Cloister of Notre-Dame de Chartres

The terrible fury of the ancient enemy never ceases to incite the hatred of the laity against the clergy through the means of his many deceits; he tries [this] so that through these tricks the church, as if divided among itself, might be abandoned, since those who do not fear to freely hold the clergy, the very symbols of the character of Christ, in hatred and [do not fear] to freely ignore the words and deeds of the clergy are more easily able to withdraw from the communion of the faithful. And thus impelled by the most ancient enemy's hatred, it happened that in the city of Chartres, in the 1210th year from the incarnation of our Lord, in the month of October, on a certain Sunday after lunch, a great segment of the population [vulgus] dared to violently rise against Dean William and his household and to violate his house, which is located within the cloister of Notre-Dame, in such a way that one of the servants of the Dean [who] had ventured into the cloister, as it was said, suffered at the very least injury from the attacks made by a certain rustic manor-dweller who was, in fact, a slave of the Countess. And when the officials of the countess, who were the leaders of the citizens, namely the Marshal and the Provost, were asked by the Chapter, and by the partisans of the King, either to drive back the raging multitude of the commoners from the Chapter, or to restrain their fury through the power that had been entrusted in them, they [the officials] declined to do so; rather, they attempted to incite the populous more than drive them back, and to augment its rage more than restrain it, and they even sent a messenger through the streets and squares of the town urging everyone to invade the house of the Dean with arms and to plunder it. Whence it happened that, with the crowd rushing in, some tried to overwhelm the windows of the house with stones and others tried to chop down the door, doorposts, and lintel with axes. Truly the Dean, as soon as he saw the madness of the raging crowd increase, fled to the church; those who had dared to remain in his house, having at last closed the doors and bolted them, tried strenuously and manfully to defend and guard themselves from within: some were throwing stones and wood downwards through the windows [at the attackers], and others, ascending to the roof of the house, fought off the raging crowd by constantly hurling stones [from the roof]. And thus many from the sacrilegious crowd were wounded, of whom not a few fell into merited death. [p. 57] Whence the crowd, filled with the greatest insanity, seized one of the carts belonging to Notre-Dame and, with a great shout and much clatter, hurled it impetuously [at the house]; by this means they threw open the way for the waiting crowd to enter the house. And some, ripping open the iron doors and windows of the storeroom, carried off whatever iron within that they were able to drag away; and although they wanted to assault the hall [aula], the chapel, and the Dean's bedroom, they were not at all able to enter. Indeed, all of them drifted away because a good portion of the night had already passed. For this depredation had occurred at nighttime, in candlelight; and thus the work of darkness, which had begun during daylight, was consummated during the night.

The clergy was extremely troubled and saddened by this incident: since those who were usually laymen of sound mind and women of piety were not usually connected to such sacrilegious crimes. And therefore services ceased wholly in Notre-Dame in the other churches and monasteries of the region around Chartres, with the exception that it was permitted to parish priests alone to occasionally celebrate masses - behind closed doors, with the laity excluded, with submissive and humble voices, and without a modulated chant; this was permitted in order to preserve the Eucharistic sacrifices which are not to be denied to any penitents in their moment of need. All other sacraments were refused, except the baptism of infants, which was allowed to occur, but only outside the church or at the church porch, not within the church itself. The altar of Notre-Dame was stripped, and the holiest reliquary [of the Virgin's tunic] was taken down from the altar and placed before the lesser altar, not, truly, on the pavement itself, but [placed] just as it usually is from the day of the supper of the passion of our lord. The repositories containing the relics of the saints were similarly taken down and were gathered below on the pavement in front of the most holy reliquary. The image of the crucifix was also taken down from high, and was deposited before the holy repositories on the pavement of the choir. And the Chapter ordered that each day the priests of this church should ascend the pulpit and pronounce orally the sentence of excommunication, with its horrendous curse, which is called the greater excommunication, against the aforesaid blasphemers; this should be done with candles lit and with bells tolling, not only in this church [ie., Notre-Dame] but in the other churches as well. It was also decided that the bell which customarily, even in times of interdict, used to toll each night at the hour commonly called "curfew" [ignitegium], should be prohibited from tolling during this interdict.

Truly the blasphemers did not repent on account of this [the excommunication], but their hearts become more hardened. On the fifteenth day after the sacrilege had been performed, while one priest was proffering the words of the aforesaid malediction, just as had been ordered, the great and mocking clamor of the standing crowd followed [arose?] into the church. Whence the Lord, greatly provoked to wrath, did not delay his vengeance; on the next night, He ordered, by means of an angel of destruction [lit. "destroyer angel"], the prosecution of the sentence of anathema, which the priests his servants had only carried out in name. He ignited a fire in his fury, which, beginning in a certain lesser settlement [vicus] on the bank of the Eure, reached the city and devastated nearly all the houses of the blasphemers up to the cloister of Notre-Dame with not a wondrous but a miraculous fire; yet the fire burned none of the houses of the cloister. And if this fire caused fear and groans of repentance in some of the blasphemers, it nevertheless led to greater anger of disorder and envy in others.

Great disorder [confusio] befell the aforesaid blasphemers. For indeed, on the seventh day after the commission of the sacrilege, the dean and almost all of the canons came into the presence of Philip, most illustrious king of the Franks, whose ears had already heard the rumor of this sacrilege. And when they had made a complaint, strongly and in detail, to the king, who was their patron and defender, concerning the leaders of the blasphemers, namely the marshal and provost and their accomplices, the king, in response to this, caring more for the injury to the royal majesty than the injury to ecclesiastical immunity, held counsel with his close advisors [aulici] about what was to be done about this; and having received advice, he benignly responded that he held the highest loyalty toward the dean and other canons, but [that] he first wanted the truth of the matter, since, as judge, he ought [first] to make an inquiry before he could act as their avenger. And thus it [an inquiry] was done. For truly in the following week he visited the church of Chartres for the reason of pilgrimage, and, when he had examined the signs of desolation at the same church, passing piously and humbly under the most-holy reliquary, the King offered a most beautiful silken cloth for the ornamentation of the church, and gave two hundred pounds of Paris for the building of the church. He also deigned to go out to look at the house of the dean and to take note of the evidence [signa] of the afore-mentioned sacrilege; viewing the front of the house, which had been partly chopped with axes and partly beaten in with stones, from the steps of the church, the King did not at all doubt that this house, which had been violated thus, had also been plundered. He did not want to linger any longer in the same city, but, as much as to avoid the blasphemous citizens, he stayed here only for one hour, and [then] hastened to return [to Paris]. Nevertheless he ordered three of his knights, who were most faithful and prudent men, to remain there and conduct an inquiry into the truth of the matter by producing witnesses, both from the side of the Chapter and from the opposite side; after having diligently examined these witnesses, they [the knights] were to send their written and signed testimonies back to him. The king also fixed a certain day for both sides in Paris on which he would pronounce the sentence of his court over these testimonies. [note 1]

When this day, which fell on the feast of All Saints, arrived, many great men [proceres] had come together from all corners of the kingdom at the royal court in Paris, where the dean and his canons were desiring and awaiting the judgment of the king. The King himself regally announced and pronounced the sentence of the court publicly and openly, commanding that the aforementioned ministers of the countess, namely the marshal and provost, should publicly make amends [rectum] into the hands of the dean himself in the church of Chartres, in front of both laymen and clergy, concerning the violation of the cloister and all other wrongs; the provost should make amends for himself and for the entire population of Chartres, but the marshal only had to make amends for himself. And he also commanded that they consequently should make pledges to the dean and chapter, either by means of ready cash or pledges in gold or silver, for all things to be restored from those that had been plundered or taken from the house of the dean. This should be done, however, so that those who claimed to have lost their goods in the dean's house on that occasion should present sworn proof with their own hands. He also commanded that they should give pledges to the dean and to a certain other canon, whose house had been slightly violated during the same affair, concerning the repair of their houses to the same state of value in which they were previously seen to have existed. The King fixed a certain day for the realization of these terms, and he appointed distinguished pledges [fidejussores] to carry them out; namely he himself constituted the count of Boulogne [note 2] and certain others as the pledges for the dean and Chapter, and he sent one of his knights, a loyal and most prudent man, to be present at the realization of the terms.

And everything was done just as the king had commanded. When these things were completed, the clergy, preparing themselves to process, first celebrated certain liturgies, which the ordinary book indicates is to be performed for the reconsecration of the holy places. When these ceremonies had been completed, a multitude of laymen who were standing there flocked together in order to sound the bells of the church, and the anthem Gaude, Maria [Rejoice Mary] was sung repeatedly with the loudest of voices before the altar of the glorious Virgin. Truly, with the altar having been decently decorated in the interim, the most holy reliquary was repositioned on it, the containers holding the relics of the saints were lifted off of the ground and carried back to their own places with joy, exultation and songs, and the image of the Crucifix was repositioned in a more eminent place, just as it used to before the riot. And thus this happened to the great joy of the clergy, but to the great confusion of the people, [who were] still [filled] with great iniquity and sin.

All these abovementioned things occurred when the king was absent and when the bishop and many other faithful Christians had taken up the path of pilgrimage in order to fight certain heretics [note 3], whom the most illustrious count, Simon, lord of Montfort and the friend and parishioner of our church [note 4], was vigorously and manfully attacking. Truly even though the king, as has been recorded above, had ordered that amends should be made directly into the hands of the dean, that the houses should be repaired, and that the pillaged goods should be restored, he had not yet announced how much of a penalty of satisfaction the aforesaid malefactors should have to suffer for so great a sacrilege. [For that reason], once the bishop had returned from his pilgrimage, he and the dean, with certain canons who had been sent from the Chapter, approached the king simultaneously and together, asking him about this matter. And thus the king decreed that the same malefactors, who had made amends into the dean's hands and who, moreover, were seen by their deeds to have offended not only God and the church but to have despised the royal majesty, were to be punished with a fine of 3000 pounds of money from Paris. The king commanded that the bishop should be given 500 pounds from this sum and that the Chapter should receive 1500 pounds; because of the injuries inflicted specially on him, the dean was to have 60 pounds from the sum given to the Chapter. The king assessed the third part of the aforesaid fine [ie., the last 1000 pounds] to be entered into his fisc. Afterwards the king decreed that those malefactors and their accomplices, of whom the Chapter had made specific and detailed complaint, should appear nude on a certain feast day for a procession to the church in the sight of the entire populace; they should be carrying switches in their hands, with which they might render corporal satisfaction to God and to the most glorious Virgin by being whipped in front of the altar at the conclusion of the procession.

It was wholly fitting for all these things to fulfilled according to the inviolable sentence of the king and his imperium. And in this way, therefore, the church of Chartres was wont to grow and be perpetually strengthened in its tribulations through the merits, as we know and affirm, of both our glorious patron, the Mother of God, and our lord Jesus Christ, to whom is [given all] honor and glory for ever and ever [in secula seculorum]. Amen.


1. "A letter of King Philip Augustus to the chapter of Chartres exists from the month of October 1210, shortly after the king's visit to Chartres; it suggests that he had arranged a compromise during that visit. In the letter he writes 'And arriving at your church, we examined in our own person the visible confirmation of what and how much your party had been injured. After an agreement arbitrated [compromissionem] by us, we made the judgment that the aforesaid pretor [provost?] and such citizens should present themselves at your chapterhouse, where they were to render satisfaction to you according to your judgment [judicium].' The letter ends with the king urging the chapter to use moderation in this circumstance. The response of the chapter is found in the same Recueil des formules (BN latin 8566, A, f. 120; also Baluze, 128, f. 304), and promises the king that they will take his request under advisement. Cf. Delisle, Catalogue des actes de Philippe-Auguste, 516." [This is a translation of the note provided in the Cartulaire, p. 60, n. 1]

2. This is Renaud de Dammartin, count of Boulogne, fourth husband of Ida, the eldest daughter of Matthew d'Alsace and Marie de Boulogne. [this per the editor of the Cartulaire]

3. The editor of the Cartulaire notes: "Renaud de Moucon, bishop of Chartres, and Philip de Dreux, bishop of Beauvais, led a troop of crusaders to assist Simon de Montfort against the Cathars during the last months of 1210."

4. Also from the editor: "This is Simon, fourth count of Montfort, second son of Simon the Bald, count of Evreux, and of Amicie de Beaumont, countess of Leicester. The name of Simon IV, who was killed at the siege of Toulouse on June 25 1218, is recorded in the Necrology of Notre-Dame de Chartres alongside that of his mother."


Cartulaire de Notre-Dame de Chartres, 3 vols., ed. E. de Lepinois and L. Merlet (Chartres: Garnier, 1863), 2:56-62. Translated by Richard Barton, 1998

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