Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

YVETOT.

This is the name of a town in France, six leagues from Rouen, in Normandy, which, according to Robert Gaguin, a historian of the sixteenth century, has long been entitled a kingdom.

This writer relates that Gautier, or Vautier, lord of Yvetot, and grand chamberlain to King Clotaire I., having lost the favor of his master by calumny, in which courtiers deal rather liberally, went into voluntary exile, and visited distant countries, where, for ten years, he fought against the enemies of the faith; that at the expiration of this term, flattering himself that the king’s anger would be appeased, he went back to France; that he passed through Rome, where he saw Pope Agapetus, from whom he obtained a letter of recommendation to the king, who was then at Soissons, the capital of his dominions. The lord of Yvetot repaired thither one Good Friday, and chose the time when Clotaire was at church, to fall at his feet, and implore his forgiveness through the merits of Him who, on that day, had shed His blood for the salvation of men; but Clotaire, ferocious and cruel, having recognized him, ran him through the body.

Gaguin adds that Pope Agapetus, being informed of this disgraceful act, threatened the king with the thunders of the Church, if he did not make reparation for his offence; and that Clotaire, justly intimidated, and in satisfaction for the murder of his subject, erected the lordship of Yvetot into a kingdom, in favor of Gautier’s heirs and successors; that he despatched letters to that effect signed by himself, and sealed with his seal; that ever since then the lords of Yvetot have borne the title of kings; and — continues Gaguin — I find from established and indisputable authority, that this extraordinary event happened in the year of grace 539.

On this story of Gaguin’s we have the same remark to make that we have already made on what he says of the establishment of the Paris university — that not one of the contemporary historians makes any mention of the singular event, which, as he tells us, caused the lordship of Yvetot to be erected into a kingdom; and, as Claude Malingre and the abbé Vertot have well observed, Clotaire I., who is here supposed to have been sovereign of the town of Yvetot, did not reign over that part of the country; fiefs were not then hereditary; acts were not, as Robert Gaguin relates, dated from the year of grace; and lastly, Pope Agapetus was then dead; to this it may be added that the right of erecting a fief into a kingdom belonged exclusively to the emperor.

It is not, however, to be said that the thunders of the Church were not already made use of, in the time of Agapetus. We know that St. Paul excommunicated the incestuous man of Corinth. We also find in the letters of St. Basil, some instances of general censure in the fourth century. One of these letters is against a ravisher. The holy prelate there orders the young woman to be restored to her parents, the ravisher to be excluded from prayers, and declared to be excommunicated, together with his accomplices and all his household, for three years; he also orders that all the people of the village where the ravished person was received, shall be excommunicated.

Auxilius, a young bishop, excommunicated the whole family of Clacitien; although St. Augustine disapproved of this conduct, and Pope St. Leo laid down the same maxims as Augustine, in one of his letters to the bishop of the province of Vienne — yet, confining ourselves here to France — Pretextatus, bishop of Rouen, having been assassinated in the year 586 in his own church, Leudovalde, bishop of Bayeux, did not fail to lay all the churches in Rouen under an interdict, forbidding divine service to be celebrated in them until the author of the crime should be discovered.

In 1141, Louis the Young having refused his consent to the election of Peter de la Châtre, whom the pope caused to be appointed in the room of Alberic, archbishop of Bourges, who had died the year preceding, Innocent II. laid all France under interdict.

In the year 1200, Peter of Capua, commissioned to compel Philip Augustus to put away Agnes, and take back Ingeburga, and not succeeding, published the sentence of interdict on the whole kingdom, which had been pronounced by Pope Innocent III. This interdict was observed with extreme rigor. The English chronicle, quoted by the Benedictine Martenne, says that every Christian act, excepting the baptism of infants, was interdicted in France; the churches were closed, and Christians driven out of them like dogs; there was no more divine office, no more sacrifice of the mass, no ecclesiastical sepulture for the deceased; the dead bodies, left to chance, spread the most frightful infections, and filled the survivors with horror.

The chronicle of Tours gives the same description, adding only one remarkable particular, confirmed by the abbé Fleury and the abbé de Vertot — that the holy viaticum was excepted, like the baptism of infants, from the privation of holy things. The kingdom was in this situation for nine months; it was some time before Innocent III. permitted the preaching of sermons and the sacrament of confirmation. The king was so much enraged that he drove the bishops and all the other ecclesiastics from their abodes, and confiscated their property.

But it is singular that the bishops were sometimes solicited by sovereigns themselves to pronounce an interdict upon lands of their vassals. By letters dated February, 1356, confirming those of Guy, count of Nevers, and his wife Matilda, in favor of the citizens of Nevers, Charles V., regent of the kingdom, prays the archbishops of Lyons, Bourges, and Sens, and the bishops of Autun, Langres, Auxerre, and Nevers, to pronounce an excommunication against the count of Nevers, and an interdict upon his lands, if he does not fulfil the agreement he has made with the inhabitants. We also find in the collection of the ordinances of the third line of kings, many letters like that of King John, authorizing the bishops to put under interdict those places whose privileges their lords would seek to infringe.

And to conclude, though it appears incredible, the Jesuit Daniel relates that, in the year 998, King Robert was excommunicated by Gregory V., for having married his kinswoman in the fourth degree. All the bishops who had assisted at this marriage were interdicted from the communion, until they had been to Rome, and rendered satisfaction to the holy see. The people, and even the court, separated from the king; he had only two domestics left, who purified by fire whatever he had touched. Cardinal Damien and Romualde also add, that Robert being gone one morning, as was his custom, to say his prayers at the door of St. Bartholomew’s church, for he dared not enter it, Abbon, abbot of Fleury, followed by two women of the palace, carrying a large gilt dish covered with a napkin, accosted him, announced that Bertha was just brought to bed; and uncovering the dish, said: “Behold the effects of your disobedience to the decrees of the Church, and the seal of anathema on the fruit of your love!” Robert looked, and saw a monster with the head and neck of a duck! Bertha was repudiated; and the excommunication was at last taken off.

Urban II., on the contrary, excommunicated Robert’s grandson, Philip I., for having put away his kinswoman. This pope pronounced the sentence of excommunication in the king’s own dominions, at Clermont, in Auvergne, where his holiness was come to seek an asylum, in the same council in which the crusade was preached, and in which, for the first time, the name of pope (papa) was given to the bishop of Rome, to the exclusion of the other bishops, who had formerly taken it.

It will be seen that these canonical pains were medicinal rather than mortal; but Gregory VII. and some of his successors ventured to assert, that an excommunicated sovereign was deprived of his dominions, and that his subjects were not obliged to obey him. However, supposing that a king can be excommunicated in certain serious cases, excommunication, being a penalty purely spiritual, cannot dispense with the obedience which his subjects owe to him, as holding his authority from God Himself. This was constantly acknowledged by the parliaments, and also by the clergy of France, in the excommunications pronounced by Boniface VII., against Philip the Fair; by Julius II., against Louis XII.; by Sixtus V., against Henry III.; by Gregory XIII., against Henry IV.; and it is likewise the doctrine of the celebrated assembly of the clergy in 1682.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25