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Medieval Sourcebook:
The Trial of Enguerrand IV de Coucy Before Louis IX, 1259

1. The blessed St. Louis evidently had the virtue of justice, which gives to each man his right and yet safeguards the common weal, as appears from the things that follow.

2. My lord Enguerrand de Couci had, as a nobleman, had hanged three noble youths (who were, as has been said, with the Abbot of St. Nicholas-aux-Bois in the diocese of Laon), because they were found in his woods with bows and arrows but without dogs or any equipment (engins) for catching wild beasts. The said abbot and some women cousins of those hanged carried a complaint concerning their deaths before the king.

3. The blessed king, having made sufficient and due inquiry as to the said deed, had Enguerrand cited before him.

4. He then had him arrested by his knights and sergeants, taken to the Louvre, put into prison and held there unchained.

5. And when the said Enguerrand was held in this way, the king one day had him brought before him. With Enguerrand there came the king of Navarre, the duke of Burgandy, the counts of Bar, Soissons, Brittany, and Champagne, my lord Thomas then archbishop of Rheims, my lord Jean de Thorote and all the other barons of the realm.

6. In the end, it was proposed to the king on befalf of my lord of Couci that he wished to take counsel. He then withdrew and those noblemen mentioned above went with him. And the king remained there all alone except for the men of his household.

7. And after being long at counsel, they came back before the blessed king, and my lord Jean de Thorote proposed to him on my lord Enguerrand's behalf that he neither should nor would submit himself to Inquest (enqueste) in such a case, since this Inquest touched his person, his honour and his inheritance. He was, however ready to defend himself by battle and he denied in full that he had ever hanged the aforesaid youths or ordered them to be hanged.

8. And the said abbot and the women were there in the king's presence for the other side and demanded justice.

9. And when the king had listened carefully to my lord Enguerrand's chosen plea (conseil), he answered that one ought not to proceed by proof (loy) of battle in matters concerning the poor or churches or persons for whom one ought to feel pity, for one would not easily find anyone willing to fight for this kind of person against the barons of the realm. And he said that he was invoking no novel procedure against him, since on other occasions similar things had been done by the blessed king's ancestors in similar cases (semblables choses . . . en semblables cas). And the blessed king recalled (recorda) that my lord Philip [II Augustus] king of France, his grandfather, had held an Inquest against my lord Jean de Soilli, who was alive at that time, because he had (as was said) committed a homicide, and held the castle of Soilli for twelve years and more, even though it was not held of the king in chief but of the Church of Orleans.

10 (12). On that same day after the blessed king's answer, the count of Britanny said to him that he ought not to insist that Inquests be held against the barons of the realm in matters which touched their persons, inheritances and honours. And the blessed king answered the count: "You did not say this in time past when the barons who held directly and without intermediary from you brought before us a complaint about you yourself and offered to prove their claim (entencion) in certain matters against you by battle. On the contrary, you answered then before us that you should not proceed by battle in matters of this kind but by inquest and that battle is not a legal procedure (voie de droit)." And the blessed king said afterwards that, according to the customs of the realm, they could not judge him (Enguerrand) by Inquest held against him since this punished him in his person, given that my lord Enguerrand had not submitted himself to the said inquest. But even so, if he were sure of God's will in that case, he would not forgo seeing justice fully done against him, either on account of the nobility of his lineage or the power of any of his friends.

11 (10). Therefore the blessed king did not accept the (the defence's) request , but had my lord Enguerrand taken on the spot from there back to the Louvre by his sergeants and kept and guarded there.

12 (11). And although a number of people implored the blessed king on behalf of my lord of Couci, he was never willing to hear their prayers or to listen to anything on the matter. And then the blessed king rose from his seat and the aforesaid barons left the place abashed and in confusion.

13 (15). And truly at the time that my lord Enguerrand was taken and held, the king of Navarre, the count of Brittany, the countess of Flanders and many others sought from the blessed king the surrender to them of my lord Enguerrand whom he held, especially (meesmement) since he had never had any part in hanging the aforesaid men. But the blessed king, angered because they had made an assembly and seemed to have made a conspiracy against the realm and his honour, rose and would not grant their request but detained my Lord Enguerrand in prison.

14 (13). And in the end, the blessed king on the advice of his counsellors condemned my lord Enguerrand to pay twelve thousand Paris pounds, which sum he had sent to Acre to be spent in aid of the Holy Land. And this did not stop him condemning him (Enguerrand) to lose the wood where the youths had been hanged, which he adjudged to the abbey of St. Nicholas. Also he condemned him to make and endow three perpetual charities for the souls of those hanged. And he stripped him of all haute justice over hunting (bois) and fishing (viviers), so that from that time he could neither imprison nor put to death anyone for any offence (forfet) committed there.

15 (14). And it is said that on account of the aforesaid things my lord Jean de Thorote had said to the barons who were there that the blessed king would do well to hang them all. This remark was reported to the king, who sent his sergeants to seek Jean out. And when my lord Jean came into the blessed king's presence and knelt before him, the blessed king said to him: "What is this, Jean: Do you say that I should have my barons hanged? Certainly I shall not have them hanged, but I shall punish them if they misbehave." And my lord Jean answered: "Lord, whoever told you those words, which I never spoke, is no friend of mine", and he offered to purge himself of them there by his own oath and the oaths of twenty or thirty or more other knights. So the king did not have him arrested for this thing, even though he had previously intended to do so, because he excused himself in this way.


William of Saint-Pathus, Vita S. Ludovici in E. Faral, "Le procès d'Enguerran IV de Couci", Rev. hist. de droit francais et étranger 4e s. xxvi (1948), 219-22. (The numbering of paragraphs and their reordering are Faral's).

© Translation by Paul Hyams of Cornell University. See his home page/copyright page. Prof   Hyams indicates that the translations are available for educational use. He intends to expand the number of translations, so keep a note of his home page. 

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998