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The Black Fog that defeated an army

Medieval chroniclers often attribute victory or defeat in battle to divine forces. As the following example shows, this can come in the form of some strange weather.

In the year 1003 the French king Robert II was trying to expand his kingdom by invading the Duchy of Burgundy. The Burgundian chronicler Rodulfus Glaber has an account of this event, and may have been an eyewitness when the French army came to the city of Auxerre.

Robert’s army, aided by the Normans under Duke Richard II, was strong, but Glaber reports that “after being there for a long time, tired by repeated assaults, the king failed to capture this city, which is said never to have been captured by force or by guile.” The French king then decided to attack what he hoped to be a weaker target - the nearby Abbey of Saint-Germain.

According to Glaber, only eight monks remained within the abbey, but it was also defended by troops from the Count of Nevers. Other religious leaders tried to convince Robert not to attack the monastery, but the king ignored their pleas and launched an attack.

Glaber writes about the assault:

The one with the other, they fought a long and bitter struggle; suddenly God came to the aid of those defending His house. At the hour of engagement the whole monastery was covered by a black fog, so that none of the enemy outside could see his way to cast a spear, while they saw that they were being cut down with great slaughter by the defenders within. After heavy losses, especially amongst the Norman contingent, they withdrew leaving the abbey unharmed.

Apparently, the attackers soon repented their actions, and King Robert was forced to return back to his kingdom after his failure. Glaber adds one more detail to the siege, stating that when the attack on the monastery started, one of the remaining monks held a mass within the abbey’s church, praying to the Virgin Mary. This helped to confirm to Glaber that “this fits well enough with the divine sanction for the victory.”

The Five Books of the Histories, by Rodulfus Glaber, was edited and translated by John France, and published by Oxford University Press in 1989. We will have more about sieges in the next issue of Medieval Warfare, including an article on ten ways to conquer a castle.

Top Image: A figure depicted within the walls of the Abbey of Saint-Germain in Auxerre. Photo by Ibex73 / Wikimedia Commons

One thought on “The Black Fog that defeated an army”

  • Bill

    Interesting. Was this just a normal dense fog or was there something peculiar about it, or was it a known but uncommon phenomena of nature? I suppose we'll never know. I went looking for a copy of Glaber's work and the only version I could find was going for 300.00 dollars. That's a lot of back issues of Ancient Warfare...

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