Chapter III: Wiccan of Fontevraud
Gwenhevre – a ‘contradiction’ personified – will lead an eventful life: pupil prodigy; merchant; passionate lover of le Mestre; reluctant wife; submissive but unfaithful viscountess.
What is her lineage?
God only knows!
Born a bastard child, Gwenhevre never knew her parents. Nevertheless, she was raised elegantly in Anjou at the Abbaye de Nostre-Dame de Fontevraud near Saulmur, the ideal training ground to launch the most ambitious ladies of Waule and England.
Fifty years ago, Philippa of Toulouse persuaded her husband Willam IX, Duke of Aquitaine, to donate a building site to the hermit, Robert d’Arbrissel, so he could establish a community dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. In 1099 was founded a ‘double’ monastery – for both monks and nuns. In fact, Robert insisted that this abbey always be managed by an abbess, the first being Petronille de Craon, who was followed by Matilde d’Anjou, the aunt of Henry II of England. This abbey continues to attract wealthy and noble women, having become the ‘springboard’ to propel ladies to the top but also a ‘refuge’ to comfort abused women and prostitutes doing penance.
Without fail, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ is as true for women as for men.
To get noticed and climb the ranks, Gwenhevre showed her brilliance in secular poetry and Greek and Roman philosophy, never wasting time with hymn books. Whoever likes to shine likes sometimes to feign knowledge by cutting corners, so Gwenhevre ‘adored’ Cicero and Latin rhetoric, but she excelled in magic and sorcery.
Help me God, I speak the truth!
Her ability to get the upper hand and fall on all fours impressed so much the religious that they nicknamed her ’Imperatrix nominatissima’. What ambition! Being in charge is her dream, and I consent willingly!
I swear, Gwenhevre knew how to stir joy, laughter and happy hearts in young men. Is this all a game for her? Yes and no. Women face multiple barriers in the Church and in feudal society. Therefore, Gwenhevre is using her charms as a way to move up and ahead. In her favor, single women in Waule hold all rights to own property and to dispose of it. This gives even more opportunity to climb higher! Does Gwenhevre want to marry someday? Perhaps, but only to wield political power, still reserved for men.
At the bottom of the social scale, peasants never enter discussion. Why not? Despite the obvious inequalities, we must admit that peasants represent various statuses, some are tenants, others are property owners, some are freemen, others are serfs. Serfs are not slaves but restricted in their movement and choice of spouse. On the other hand, slaves work without pay, but their number is decreasing.
Slaves must serve their lords without pay. Everything they produce goes to the lord. But serfs have limited obligations to their lords. For example, they work three days without pay, then the rest of the time they keep a part for themselves. Those who put aside deniers can pay their lords in lieu of serving them.
There is great motivation to put their money aside – for freedom in the bourgs! In market towns, peasants can become freemen after having resided there a year and a half. To prevent the flight of serfs from the countryside, lords give them more freedom, but it’s a matter of time to see peasants rush to chartered towns.
Let’s return to women and their ambitions.
In free market towns, the number of trades excluding women is minimal, and guilds include women as members: teachers, midwives; washerwomen; lace dealers; seamstresses; weavers; fullers; barbers; carpenters; saddle-makers; tile roofers, etc. There are also women who run these guilds. In addition, women go to various families to be trained and sometimes women train male apprentices. The Church promotes these kinds of limited authority for women – to study the liberal arts, to manage convents and guilds, where women do enjoy autonomy – but still only outside the Church. Woman cannot become priests or bishops. Alas! Gwenhevre and the Church represent the same ilk – ‘contradictions’ personified!
Thanks to the Church there is also charitable inequality.
For example, some tortures are prohibited for women – the wheel – and pregnant women are exempted from all torture. For the death penalty, men are beheaded, hanged, and burned alive, while women are strictly burned alive! If this charity suits anyone, he’s still insane who his death desires.
With the rapid growth of market towns, burghers come together to protect themselves against the endless warfare of nobles, especially in regions where royal authority is weak. Therefore, one sees expand the number of guilds, a force that transforms everyday life of burghers, with their creation of universal measurements, safety regulations, publicity, pensions, infirmaries, etc.
Why do the Ambitiouses of Waule and England favor Fontevraud Abbey? Because women there are respected, but there are other motivations.
First of all, Fontevraud advances the most positive ideas. The name ‘Fontevraud’ is derived from Fons Ebraudi. The two components are Gallo-Roman in origin; Fons from Latin (‘source, fountain’) and Ebraudi from the Gaulish F’froud (‘stream-washed valley’). Moreover, arriving there from his native Petite-Bretaigne, Robert d’Arbrissel found, like in his homeland, Druidism still practiced in the neighboring town of Repaire on the edge of another sacred spring.
What an omen!
But why did he target a druidic venue?
The Apostles of Waule always targeted such sites to erect the first Christian altars, overturning the idol while maintaining the pagan temple. Why redo everything? In this way, the Wauleis continued to honor their deity, not noticing they had changed gods. Thus, mysteries and superstitions persist in Fontevraud, especially in the Wault de Bor. In the end, this parcel, bounded by sesches and heather, had reminded Robert of his homeland – la Petite-Bretaigne!
Coming from a family of Druids, Robert the Hermit wanted to increase the power of Christian women in Waule. His father, Damalioc, and his mother, O’rgan, belonged, one and the other, to a priestly caste, both spiritual leaders. In their druidic belief, the woman dominates spiritually, not the man. For example, Koridgwen, ‘Celestial Virgin’, is the being closest to the father-god (Dispater), as is Nostre Dame – the Mother of Jesus Christ – the human being closest to the divine son. The Bretons recognize in women this superiority that makes them more capable than men to understand the sacred. Similarly, it is the Virgin Koridgwen who remains closest to Bali (Fire), creator of the universe, and, consequently, this druidic Virgin teaches young Wauleis, from generation to generation, all the subjects to learn.
For this ‘Gwen’ of la Petite-Bretaigne, bards sing while praising her: “‘Oh, Radiant One’, ‘Bright One’, ‘Resplendent One’, ‘Oh, Heavenly Dew’, the true source of Creation and Knowledge! Amen!”
With all the newly-built cathedrals called Nostre Dame in Waule, Christianity is beginning to challenge ‘the cause’ of mankind’s fall, the old view having forced women into a lower ranking than men. By giving superiority to women with the enhanced figure of the Virgin Mary, the Abbaye de Nostre-Dame de Fontevraud attempts to put all Ambitiouses in a favorable light and to bridge, at all costs, two diametrically opposed belief systems – Christianity and Druidism.
At this time, Gwenhevre no longer climbs the ladder in Fontevraud, directing instead her ambitions toward the Benedictine institution par excellence, much wealthier than the one in Fontevraud – Cluny – with its one-thousand affiliate monasteries across Europe, all subject to the mother-abbey in Burgundy. In addition, there is the enormous church of Cluny, the largest in the world, completed in 1130: “From whichever direction the wind blows, this mother-abbey receives a flow of revenue.” Cluny, how ambitious!
Inspired by the ‘double’ monastery of Fontevraud, however, Gwenhevre wants to sidestep the three fontevrist houses in England, several that exist in Spain and one hundred in Waule to realize a dream in Burgundy – to see ‘double’ in Cluny and convert it for monks and nuns! Is it possible?
Once again, as with the founding of Fontevraud, another Duke of Aquitaine is responsible for Cluny, but this monastic enterprise in Burgundy was established earlier, before the movement by Robert the Hermit to promote women in Anjou. Back in 910 Willam I the Pious appointed Berno to become the first abbot of Cluny – never intending to have an abbess lead in Burgundy. Since then, Cluny is gaining the lead in power across Europe – always without women.
For Gwenhevre, what people buy at low cost never pleases as much as what costs an ambitious person dearly. By God, she’s not the only one who feels that way! The Fontevrists are everywhere trying to outsmart each other. These women invest their money as “gifts” to ecclesiastical institutions, founding – monasteries; hospitals; orphanages; asylums, while buying for their own children – ecclesiastical benefits for sons; top posts in convents for daughters. Fontevrists are known across Waule and Europe for their tough negotiation skills. In fact, these Ambitiouses are often criticized by jealous priests who accuse them of usury, price manipulation, and extravagant tastes.
Being a smart investor, Gwenhevre placed her money in real estate near Avallon – eyeing the virgin forest of the Morvand. To spend less on grooming, she applies unrivaled skills – a twitch of the nose and three quick turns – she’s dressed to the nines! Magically, without having to travel, Gwenhevre is able to change water into the finest regional wines: Marly, Beaulne, Espernay, Montpellier, Narbone, Sancerre, Carcassone, Auxerre, Soissons, Orleans, and the most expensive – Pierrefite. Having set her lifetime goals in Fontevraud, Gwenhevre bloomed in Burgundy into the most cunning merchant and attorney.
The highest peak in the Morvand is called Haut-Folin. The other two peaks are called Mont Preneley and Mont Beuvray, the latter in honor – once again – of ancestral beavers. This immense forest furnishes a gamut of resources for Gwenhevre: first, she owns fertile soil to exploit which she rents to farmers who use a new method of crop rotation to increase land value; second, Gwenhevre obtained the right to sell lumber from loggers, and she shares profits with fishermen in the area, who harvest the river gords. Meanwhile, Gwenhevre practices her right as a single woman in Waule to sue in court, writing wills and contracts for herself and her clients, even pleading their cases in court.
In short, her days in court are many!
According to Charlemagne’s Frankish laws still practiced in Waule, there is compensation for all crimes committed in Waule, a price to pay for the victim and a percentage for the king, the latter a kind of tax for disturbing the public peace.
Gwenhevre takes advantage of this legal system. After the arbitration is discussed in court, the criminal compensates the victim or the victim’s relatives. The compensation paid is called the wergeld in Frankish. Rates vary according to a negotiable value: for example, let’s propose a value of 100 sols (shillings) for certain body parts that might be injured – hand; foot; eye; nose. However, being able to use the index finger is worth more to an archer than to a farmer who does not use it for archery. Here is precisely where Gwenhevre’s talent comes into play, to begin negotiating a fair price. Actually, there is no fixed value between a crime and its compensation. Everything is negotiable in court, and Gwenhevre really knows how to haggle!
In Frankish wergeld means ‘the man’s price’ but the ‘goods’ vary and values fluctuate: for example, the value of a cow is equal at the market to one gold coin; however, a plough is worth three times more. In like manner, human life is negotiable in court, and that’s the origin of the wergeld – ‘the man’s price’. Even a murderer can pay off relatives of the victim to save his own skin.
In the courts of Waule today, the French no longer expect biblical justice – ‘an eye for an eye’, nor do they practice any longer Roman jurisprudence, but instead the Salic Law of Charlemagne.
Working with the Salic Law, Gwenhevre also employs an ethical novelty. This innovation comes from the castrated philosopher, Abelard. Gwenhevre promotes Abelard’s ‘intentionalism’. This innovation infuriates the Church. Abelard insists that our actions themselves do not contribute to morality, since actions are often fortuitous, sometimes unintended. For Abelard, the intention behind our acts matters the most, and that intent determines the morality of the act – good, bad or indifferent. It’s challenging to prove the pure intention of someone’s ‘innermost self’, but audiences love Gwenhevre’s arguments, and she causes quite a stir in court. In any case, Gwenhevre juggles subtle distinctions between premeditated and involuntary acts to negotiate the wargueld and the right price to pay.
During his empire, Charlemagne imposed the wargueld primarily to end family vendettas in Waule, some of them lasting generations, and to safeguard his own image as their exalted Rex Francorum et Imperator Romanorum, crowned by the Pope. Thanks to Charlemagne’s wargueld, family feuds declined in Waule, as crimes became negotiable – at any price! Thanks now to Abelard’s intentionalism, morality has become subjective.
Little by little, the bird made her nest, and Gwenhevre amassed a fortune in no time!
Her many debtors nicknamed her ’Dame Putemoneye’!
It doesn’t matter.
Whoever is rich is powerful; the richer, the more powerful.
But isn’t she forgetting her mission to see ‘double’ in Cluny, and by extension, to see ‘double’ someday in the Gallican Church? Maybe not. Being little Catholic and more or less selfish, Gwenhevre will opt to climb worldly steps, her goal to buy herself a nobler title than ’Dame Putemoneye’, a real possibility for many wealthy merchants these days.
Bugibus, Gwenhevre is capable, and how!