Tales from
the Loir

A Weekly Column

October 9, 2002 - William of Orange

The monk named William who came out of the desert to slay the giant Issoire was in fact William of Orange, the legendary warrior who retired his sword and armor to become a hermit monk in 804. Issoire, who is sometimes called Isore, Ysore or Isoire, was the Saracen king of Portugal who was reputed to be fifteen feet tall. He made camp at Montmartre and came each day to the gates of Paris to challenge the Parisians to fight him. Of course, no one within the walls of Paris wanted to fight a fifteen-foot giant. Finally, the king, Louis the Pious, one of the sons of Charlemagne, sent a messenger to find William in his hermitage in the Valley of Gellone. William was the only man known who could challenge the terrible Issoire in hand-to-hand combat.

William, who the messenger did not recognize, reported that William of Orange was already dead and sent the messenger away with the sad news. Paris continued to suffer the outrages of Issoire. William finally decided to help this king who so often disappointed him. He donned his old armor, belted his sword and headed for Paris. He arrived at night and was refused entry because no one recognized him. He spent the night in the cabin of a poor peasant named Bernard who told him that the giant arrived there each day to throw out his challenge to the Parisians and strip any travelers of their possessions.

The next morning William met the giant in hand-to-hand combat. Here is the text of the twelfth century account of the fight:

Roi Isore tint la hace tranchante,
Vers dant Guillaume est venus tost corant,
Ferir le guide sour son hiaume luisant
li quens se haste si le ferir avant
Le col li trence aussi con qu'un enfant
Puis prend la teste a tout l'elme luisant
Ainc n'en veut plus porter ne tant se quand
Le corps laissa a terre tout sanglotant

William killed Issoire, cut off his head, and carried it to Bernard who now recognized him. William immediately turned his horse and returned to his hermitage in the Languedoc village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert, hence the reference in the legend to his coming out of the desert. Issoire was buried where he fell and the spot became known of the Tomb of Issoire.

Prequel to the sequel of William of Orange

The real William of Orange was the grandson of Charles Martel and a cousin of Charlemagne. Besides being of noble blood, he was renown for his exploits in battle against the Saracens of Spain who occupied a large portion of France in the eighth century. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the troubadours of southern France immortalized William in a series of epic poems that told of his life and times. There are seven poems devoted to the exploits of William of Orange but the one that shows just how fearless and fearsome he was is The Charroi de Nimes.

When William learned that King Louis had handed out all of the land recently captured from the Saracens to toadying courtisans, he immediately went to talk to him. When he climbed the steps of the palace, the sound of his footsteps brought fear to the barons and stupefied the King who came running to greet him. Louis starts making excuses and William berates him unmercifully:

William is drunk with pride and his eyes are spewing fire.
-Lord Louis, son of Charlemagne who was the most brave and just of kings, have you forgotten the rude battle that I won for you against the giant Corsolt? Have you forgotten how you were crowned? Do you no longer remember these services when you share your lands?
King, have you forgotten Gui d'Allemagne, who disputed your crown and that I killed?
King, have you forgotten the grand army of Othon who surprised you under the walls of Rome and before which you fled like a frighten dog? I have defended you, I have made you the master of Rome. Now, you are rich. Me, I am scorned. I have not earned in so many years even a handful of straw!

Louis who is completely intimidated by William's rage finally ends up offering him a quarter of France but William rejects it. When he offers him whatever he wants, William demands Spain, Toulouse, Nimes and Orange. Then the King responds:

"But these lands do not belong to me. I can not give them to you."

And William says:

"That is of no importance"! I will conqueur them for you then I will give them to you in hommage."

William takes his army and leaves. He captures Nimes but quickly becomes bored and sets out to siege the well-fortified town of Orange. He enters the town by the ruse of claiming to have a message for the beautiful Saracen princess, Orable. He falls in love with Orable who converts to Christianity and helps him capture Orange. She is baptized with the name of Guibourc and the two are married. They live happily ever after for a short time before the Saracens regroup.

In the poem entitle Aliscans, the troubadours sing of the terrible battle where William's entire army is massacred.

On this day, the battle was fierce at Aliscans. Never has Christianity known such a massacre. There died Vivien and William lost all of his other nephews who were killed or taken prisoners by the Saracen King Desrame. No one except William escaped to see Orange again.

The poem details the horrible battle but in reading it one is reminded that these verses were sung for the entertainment of the people and the troubadours often injected a bit of humor from time to time. William's army of twenty thousand men was reduced to only seven companions, but they continued to fight proudly. When the last of his companions was dead, William killed a Saracen and took his horse and armor to disguise himself. Nevertheless, thousands of the pagans recognized him and he had to fight all the way in retreating to his fortress in Orange. He arrived wounded, exhausted and out of breath, but the gatekeeper did not recognized him and refused him entry.

When Guibourc arrived at the gate he pleaded with his wife to hurry the opening of the gate because twenty thousand Saracens were approaching to massacre him. Guibourc recognized him and saw the pagan army approaching with two hundred Christian knights in chains. Her response is something that all married men can appreciate.

No, I am now sure that you are not the true William so celebrated for his courage and strength in arms. My William would never run from a few pagans while they enslaved and tortured his knights and ladies before his eyes.

In other words, "you are not dead yet, get your ass back out there and fight."

Of course William responded by chasing off the Saracen army and freeing the captives. Then Guiborc let him into the fortress.

The last poem is the Moniage Guillaume and is the most descriptive of this man who killed giants. After years of war and the death of his wife, William decided to become a monk and finish his years in prayer and solitude. But when he approached the remote monastery he had chosen, the monks fled in terror at the site of him. Although he was not a giant, he must have been a large man.

William arrived at Aigniennes. He entered the gate disturbed and lost in thought, often calling on the name of the true Father of Jesus. The porter was in a panic: "God, Father in heaven above," he said, "what demon did this man come from? I've never seen a man of such stature, so ill-fashioned, so big, and so stoutly-built. Look at those shoulders, those arms and that body! I believe he's come from the depths of hell or from master Beelzebub. I wish he was in the depths of Montagu! – he would never come in here again. Holy Mary, where was such a man born?"

He sent for the convent, and they came before him. The abbot came; he was old and white-haired. They saw the count dismount, and when they saw him they were in such a panic, that if anyone welcomed him it would be the worst for the them! They stayed no longer but turned and fled; not one remained, neither bald nor hairy. A few remained among the vaults, saying to each other, "We are lost! Antichrist has come among us! We will be destroyed by him."
(Cardiff University School of History and Archaeology, HS 1805 The Military Orders, Translated by Helen Nicholson) See this website for an English translation of Moniage Guillaume:

Even though William made a huge donation to the monastery, the monks never accepted him. It took three times as much cloth to make his clothes and he consumed huge amounts of food. Eventually the monks conspired to bring about his death by sending him on a dangerous mission through territory of murderous bandits. Of course he defeated the bandits and accomplished the mission without too much trouble for a man of his abilities but the treachery of his fellow monks was more than he could take. He returned to the monastery, beat up all the monks and killed the porter.

William eventually becomes a hermit in the remote village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert where he founded a small monastery. It was probably from here that he was summoned by King Louis to fight the giant Issoire since the legend says that he came out of the desert. The monastery is today considered a prime stopping place for pilgrims hiking the route to Compostela, Spain. A piece of the true cross that Charlemagne gave to William is still venerated by the pilgrims who visit the monastery.

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October 2, 2002 - Catacombs of Paris

September 25, 2002 - Suburbs of Paris
September 18, 2002 - Saint James

September 11, 2002 - Le Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle

July 10, 2002 - Flintstones, meet the Flintstones

July 3, 2002 - Bugs

June 26, 2002 - Summer

June 19, 2002 - French Property News

June 5, 2002 - Emmanuel de Broglie

April 24, 2002 - Election Day in Saint Rimay

April 17, 2002 -Surprise Review

April 3, 2002 - Spring in Lavardin
March 20, 2002 - Guest Columnist /Furman Magazine/ John Roberts
March 13, 2002 - Tête de Veau
March 6, 2002 - Table Etiquette
February 27, 2002 - A Country Boy Can Survive
February 20, 2002 - Driving in France
February 13, 2002 - The Circus
February 6, 2002 - History of France
January 30, 2002 - THE BEST I EVER HAD
January 23, 2002 - Miranda This
January 16, 2002 - Charlotte Observer Interview
January 9, 2002 - Walnut Wine
January 2, 2002 - Sloe Gin
December 26, 2001 - Winter Solstice
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000



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