Chronicle of Matthew Paris: Year 1237


The emperor returns into Italy with a large army.
In the same year, about Michaelmas, the emperor, having quelled the disturbances which had broken out in Germany, and pacified all parties there, entered Italy in great force, with a determination by all means to punish the manifold injuries so often inflicted on him by the citizens of Milan. For when a short time before he returned into Germany, at the time the internal disturbances took place, which the duke of Austria had excited to his own ruin, the Milanese, on hearing of it, as it were pursuing the emperor with inexorable hatred, cruelly murdered his followers, whom he had placed in the castles which he had gained possession of in Italy; thus daily provoking the emperor’s anger. He, therefore, that he might not incur the charge of disobedience, often and with all humility, both by supplicatory letters and by several special messengers, entreated the pope himself, as the head of the Church, to assist him in obtaining his inheritance, to punish the manifold injuries inflicted on him by the Milanese citizens, and to root out the sin of heresy from every infamous city of Italy, especially as it was the duty of the church of Rome, if all others were silent, to oppose the insolence of all such people. The pope, however, on hearing this, dissembled and proceeded to Rome, as it were flying from before the emperor, being unwilling, or unable to assist him. The Romans received him on his arrival with delight, fancying that he would not thenceforth as formerly go away from them; for they found that during his absence, which had now lasted for ten years, they had incurred great loss of money.

The war between the emperor and the Milanese.
The Milanese, on hearing of the approach of the emperor, whom they had provoked to just anger, made all the preparations in their power for war, supplying their towers with provisions, their quivers with arrows, and furnishing arms to those who were without them. When therefore the emperor drew near with his large army, which was said to have exceeded a hundred thousand men, besides his Saracen mercenaries, and had proceeded to within a day’s march of the place, the citizens, together with their allies, went forth without alarm, in great strength and in battle-array to meet him, pitching a camp till the day of battle should be determined, with a host of troops amounting to about sixty thousand men, and fixed their carrochium where the army seemed to be strongest. At sight of this the emperor summoned his counsellors, and encouraged them by the following warlike speech :—” See how these insolent Milanese, our enemies, dare to appear against us, and presume to provoke me, their lord, to battle, enemies as they are to the truth and to the holy Church, and borne down by the weight of their sins. Cross the river [for there was a river called the Oglio between them], unfurl my banner, standard-bearer, and raise aloft my victorious eagle, and you, my knights, draw your formidable swords, which you have so often steeped in the blood of your enemies, and inflict your vengeance on these rats, who have dared this day to come forth from their holes to cope with the glittering spears of the Roman emperor.” And no delay was allowed them, for the Milanese at once rushed on the imperial troops, and eagerly attacking the Saracens, who were the first opposed to them, in a short time slew them all, and following up their advantage, purposed committing a similar slaughter on the rest of the army opposed to them. On seeing this, the emperor, with his brave and invincible nobles, threw themselves in a body on the enemy, and exerting all their strength, repulsed their attacks, whilst the citizens, on the other hand, seeing that it was a matter of life and death, mutually exhorted each other to keep up their courage, and, attacking the enemy more courageously, they plunged their glittering swords into their bodies, and converted the attack into a most bloody battle. Great numbers fell on both sides, and the air was filled with the shouts of the opposing troops, the groans of the dying, the clash of arms, the neighing of horses, and the cries of their riders urging them to speed, and the frequent hammering sound of thundering blows. At length, however-, after several bloody assaults on both sides, the Milanese, being unable to sustain the weight of the battle any longer that day, retreated into their city, purposing to renew it on the morrow, and they sent word to the emperor that they would, early in the morning, definitively try the fortune of war, and either they or their enemies would then triumph, according to the will of the Lord of Hosts, that their minds might not be any longer kept in a torture of suspense by delay. On hearing this, the emperor held a council, wisely and cautiously wishing to repress the fury of his enemies rather than unadvisedly to continue the doubtful struggle, and to commit himself and his wearied followers to the uncertain chances of war, for a dreadful slaughter of the nobles on both sides had taken place, to be lamented in after-ages ; but the Milanese got the worst of the battle, for the emperor made prisoners of three thousand men of rank belonging to the city, besides slaying a countless number of the common soldiers at the sword’s point. Besides this he afterwards laid an ambuscade, and made prisoners of three hundred nobles, took their carrochium and their podesta, the son of the duke of Venice, who would rather have fallen in battle, and also slew many other nobles. Their bishop, too, either fell in battle or was taken prisoner ; and it is a certain fact that he left no one to give any account of him. Thenceforth, therefore, the emperor ordered all the roads and passes round the city to be strictly guarded, and obstructed the ingress and egress of merchants and husbandmen by posting guards day and night, broke the bridges, and guarded the roads, in order, by these means, to weaken the strength and tame the wildness of his raging enemies. The citizens, raising their heel against God, became desperate, and distrusting God, suspended the crucifix in the church by its heels, and ate flesh on the sixth day of the week and in Lent, and many throughout Italy were sunk into this abyss of despair, reviling and blaspheming; they irreverently polluted the churches with filthiness unfit to be mentioned, defiled the altars and expelled the ecclesiastic officials. Fear and trembling then took possession of the cities of Italy, and numbers of the inhabitants came to the emperor offering valuable presents, and, that they might not be involved in a similar calamity, surrendered themselves and their cities to him, and gave him their right hands, humbled by the example of others who had already suffered. Thus before the middle of Lent the emperor had taken forcible possession of all Italy, besides Bologna and four other cities, which had not the means of resistance ; the whole body of clerks at Bologna were in great alarm for themselves, because, in the past year, the emperor had told them to depart in peace, and they refused to obey his commands.

The cause of the emperor’s return from Italy.
About the same time, the emperor Frederick, finding that the malice of his enemies had recalled him to Germany from his intended expedition, and that, to his disgrace, he was obliged to raise the siege and retire from Milan, instituted an inquiry as to who had caused him this obstruction, and finding that the duke of Austria had stirred up internal discord in Germany, and that he was the cause of us being hindered in his purpose, attacked him and deprived him of his lands, honours, and wealth.

Letters from the Emperor to Earl Richard, informing him of his
victory over the Milanese.
In the same year, just before Christmas, that mighty conqueror of his enemies, the Roman emperor Frederick, sent imperial letters, sealed with gold, as was his custom, to Richard, earl of Cornwall, to inform him, and others through him, of the victory granted to him by Heaven over the Milanese, as mentioned above ; the purport of which letter was as follows :—
Frederick, by the grace of God, emperor of the Romans, ever Augustus, king of Jerusalem and Sicily, to Richard, earl of Cornwall, his beloved brother-in-law, health and sincere affection.—How audacious and rash have been the proceedingsof the Ligurians [Genoese] in rebelling against ourroyal person, experience and the proximity of the place hasinformed neighbouring people, and the report of inveteratewickedness has carried the news to people at a distance.And we think that you are not unaware of what the worldknows, namely, that our constant system of passing overtheir offences has continued so long, that, if we were to doso any further, our endurance would lose the name of truepatience, and would incur the stigma of vile pusillanimity,instead of the honourable name of virtue. Considering,then, after some little time, that wounds which do not feelany effect from the application of fomentations, ought to becut with the knife, we of necessity resorted to arms, arousingthe sleeping empire from its lethargy ; but we could not,either in the past year, or during the present one, induceour rebellious subjects to incur the risk of giving us openbattle, that we might at once gain a victory over them. Bya fortunate chance, however, it happened that the Milanese with their allies were summoned to garrison Brescia, and thus a river was interposed between us and them, by which they were surrounded, as it were, by a rampart; on this we pitched our camp on the other side of the river Oglio; but hen the faithful knights and people of the cities returned home, not being able any longer to endure the tediousness of the unexpected delay, and the inclemency of the season ;we, however, with a chosen body of our army, directed our steps along the banks on the other side of this swift river, to the bridges, by which those returning home were obliged to cross. The Milanese and their allies, not being able to stay any longer in their hiding-places, owing to the scarcity of necessaries, crossed the river Oglio by the fords and bridges, and came into the open plain, thinking to escape from us by a secret flight, and perhaps not imagining that we were so near. When, however, they knew of our proximity, fear and terror fell on them like a clap of thunder from heaven, and at sight of the advanced guard of our imperial army, even before they could see the victorious standards, the imperial eagles, they turned to flight before us in such confusion, that, till they reached their carrochium, which they had sent forward to Nuova Croce, as fast as horses could carry it, not one of our pursuing troops could gain sight of the faces of the fugitives, and, as we believed that it was necessary for us to hasten to the assistance of the auxiliary troops, who had proceeded in advance in a small body, we marched forward after them with all speed with the strength of our army, and when we expected to find them repelled by the attacks of the fighting enemy, we found our progress impeded by the numbers of horses which were running hither and thither without riders, and by the multitude of knights lying wounded or slain ; whilst those who were alive were either standing or lying on the earth, having been bound by the esquires of the knights, who followed their lords. At length we discovered their carrochium, near the walls of Nuova Croce, surrounded by trenches, and protected by an immense body of knights, and their foot soldiers, “who fought wonderfully in its defence ; we then directed our attention to the attack and capture of this standard, and we saw that some of our troops, after having forced their way over the top of the trenches, had with commendable bravery, forced their way almost up to the pole of the carrochium. The shades of night, however, coming on, which our men ardently wished for, we desisted from the attack till the following morning early, lying down to rest only with swords drawn, and without taking off our armour, determining to return to gain an undoubted victory, and to get possession of the carrochium. When day broke, however, we discovered it deserted, and left amidst a crowd of vile wagons entirely undefended and deserted, and from the top of the staff where the sign of the cross had been, the cross had been cut off, but appearing to the fugitives to be too heavy, it had been left half-way. The garrison and inhabitants of the castle of Nuova Croce, under protection of which we thought that they would escape our attacks, all abandoned it; their podesta, the son of the duke of Venice, under whose command they had raised their sorrowful standard, did not escape from our hands. To make a short account of the matter, almost ten thousand men were said to have been taken and slain; amongst whom a great many nobles and chiefs of the Milanese faction fell. Of all these matters we send you word, to give you joy, that you may see how our empire is exalted, by the news which we now tell you. Given at Cremona, this fourth day of December, the eleventh indiction.” A credible Italian asserted, that Milan, with its dependencies, raised an army of six thousand armed men with iron-clad horses.

The emperor summons all the princes of Christendom.
In the same year, the emperor Frederick, by special messengers and imperial letters, summoned all the great Christian princes of the world to assemble on the day of St. John the Baptist’s nativity, at Vaucouleurs, which is on the confines, or near the confines, of the empire and the French kingdom, there to discuss some difficult matters concerning the empire as well as the kingdom. The king of France, as if entertaining suspicion of this conference, proceeded at the time fixed to the place appointed, attended by a large army, which he had assembled for the purpose, and thus set dreadful and pernicious example to others, inasmuch as he went to discuss matters of peace in the same way as he would to attack his enemies. The king of England made reasonable excuses for not coming in person ; but sent a peaceful embassy, consisting of some of the chief men of the kingdom ; namely, Richard earl of Cornwall, his brother, with some other nobles, fit to manage a conference, under the guidance of the venerable archbishop of York and the bishop of Ely, and other trustworthy persons selected for the purpose. The bishop of Winchester, although selected before all others, absolutely refused to go, and, not without reason, gave the following as the cause for excusing himself : ” My lord king,” said he,” you lately laid a heavy complaint against me before the emperor, telling him that I, with some other nobles, disturbed your kingdom : whether you did this with justice, or unjustly, God knows; but I trust that I have saved my conscience in every respect. But if your words were now placed with confidence in my mouth and in your letters, and should declare that I was a familiar and faithful friend of yours ; all this would appear as contrary, and he would accuse both you and me of instability ; and this would blacken your fame in a great degree. Therefore, because it would be manifestly to your dishonour, I will not go on any account.” And in the opinion of many, this reply gave sufficient excuse for him. When all preparations had been made, and they were all ready to set sail on this journey, they were met by letters from the emperor, to say that he could not go to the conference then, as he had purposed ; but that what he could not do then, should, by God’s favour, be carried into effect on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist in the following year ; and thus each and all of them returned without effecting anything. In this year, on the day of the Supper, the bishop of Hereford consecrated the holy unction in the church of St. Albans. About this time, too, John Scott, earl of Chester, closed his life about Whitsuntide, having been poisoned by the agency of his wife, the daughter of Llewellyn. The life of the bishop of Lincoln, too, was also attempted by the same means, and he was with difficulty recalled from the gates of death. In the same year, in the week before Whitsuntide, there fell storms of hail which exceeded the size of apples, killing the sheep ; and they were followed by continued rain.

The preaching of the crusade.
In the same year, on a warrant from the pope, a solemn preaching was made, both in England and France, by the brethren of the orders of Preachers and Minorites, and other famous clerks, theologians, and religious men, granting to those who would assume the cross, a full remission of the sins of which they truly repented and made confession. These preachers wandered about amongst cities, castles, and villages, promising to those who assumed the cross muchrelief in temporal matters, namely, that interest should not accumulate against them with the Jews, and the protection of his holiness the pope for all their incomes and property given in pledge to procure necessaries for their journey, and thus incited an immense number of people to make a vow of pilgrimage. The pope afterwards sent also Master Thomas, a Templar, his familiar, into England, with his wan-ant, to absolve those crusaders, whom he chose and thought expedient, from their vow of pilgrimage, on receiving money from them, which he considered that he could expend advantageously for the promotion of the cause of the Holy Land. When the crusaders saw this, they wondered at the insatiable greediness of the Roman court, and conceived great indignation in their minds, because the Romans endeavoured thus impudently to drain their purses by so many devices. For the Preachers added, that if any one, whether he had assumed the cross or not, should be unable in person to undertake such a toilsome journey, he must not omit to contribute as much of his property as his means permitted, for the assistance of the Holy Land, and that thus he would fully enjoy the before-mentioned indulgence ; but all these things rendered their hearers suspicious; for they said,” “Will our dispenser prove faithful ?” And so it turned out; for the pope, conceiving indignation against the people, made war, extorted money, collected a tenth part from all countries, and accumulated an endless sum of money to defend the Church; but peace was soon made, and he and the emperor became friends; the money, however, was never restored, and thus the devotion of many became daily weakened, and their confidence was abated.

The emperor’s preparations to conquer Italy.
About the same time, the pope, by mandatory letters, strictly forbade the emperor to invade Italy; for the latter had, in the summer, called together all the Imperial force she could muster, to attack the insolent Italians, and especially the inhabitants of Milan, for that city was a receptacle for all heretics, Paterines, Luciferians, Publicans, Albigenses, and usurers; and it seemed to the emperor to be an ill-advised plan for him to assist the Holy Land by the presence of himself and such a large army of God, and to leave behind him false Christians, worse than any Saracen. He moreover wondered beyond measure that the pope should be in any way favourable to the Milanese, or should seem in any manner to afford them protection, since it became him to be a father to the pious, and a hammer to the wicked. In reverence, however, for such a great father as his holiness the pope, the emperor modestly and prudently replied to him as follows.

The emperor’s answer to the pope.
Italy is my inheritance, and this is well known to all the world. To covet the property of others and abandon my own, would be ambitious and sinful, particularly as the insolence of the Italians, and especially the Milanese, has provoked me, showing no proper respect to me in any way. Moreover, I am a Christian, and, however unworthy a servant of Christ, I am prepared to subdue the enemies of the cross. Since, therefore, so many heresies are not only springing up, but are even growing thick in Italy, and the tares are beginning to choke the wheat throughout the cities of Italy, and especially Milan, to proceed to subdue the Saracens and to leave these unpunished, would be to rub the wound where the steel has entered with superficial fomentations, and to cause an ugly scar, not a cure. Again, I am alone and am human, and therefore not capable of such a great undertaking as that of subduing the enemies of the cross, without a great force to assist me; as they are so numerous and powerful. Again, as I am not of myself sufficient to carry out such an arduous matter without a great deal of money, I have determined to apply the wealth of the said country to lend assistance to, and to avenge the crucified One j for Italy abounds in arms, horses, and wealth, as all the world knows.”

The emperor marches into Italy to take Milan.
The pope, on hearing such profound reasonings, in order that he might not seem opposed to such incontrovertible arguments, pretended to give his consent; and that he might cross the mountains and enter Italy according to his purpose, his holiness promised, without fail, as far as he was able, to afford him his paternal assistance in every necessity. The emperor, encouraged by this, having by an imperial edict collected all the forces he could muster, entered Italy, followed by a large body of troops. The Milanese, not without reason, fearing his terrible anger, sent to the pope, asking advice and effectual assistance from him ; and he, after receiving a large sum of money with a promise of more, sent them much relief and assistance, to the injury of the emperor, and this seemed incredible and contrary to every one’s opinion, that in such case of necessity the father would be converted into a stepfather. The citizens then sallied forth from the city in great force, to the number of about fifty thousand armed men, and proceeded with their standard (which they called” carruca,” or ” carrochium,”) to meet the emperor, sending word that they were ready to fight him. About this time, a certain knight named Baldwin de Yere, had come from England as a messenger from the English king to the emperor, to arrange some secret business concerning the said king and the emperor; and on all these matters he afterwards gave his hearers full information. When the emperor heard that the Milanese had broken out into such audacity as to kick against him, he at once prognosticated that they had conceived this boldness, depending on the support of others than themselves ; and after the matter had been carefully weighed in council with his nobles, it was agreed by acclamation that all who were present on the side of the emperor, from the highest to the lowest, should, without delay, fly to arms and attack this Milanese rabble, which dared, like mice coming from their holes, to provoke their lord to battle and to try their strength with the imperial forces. When this determination was made known to the Milanese, they halted for a little, and one of the elder citizens, on whose judgment the opinion of all depended, arranged the others in a circle around him and spoke as follows : ” Hear me, noble citizens. The emperor is at hand in great power and with a large army, and he, as is known to the whole world, is our lord. If this lamentable struggle should take place, irreparable harm will arise from it; for if we are victorious in it, we shall obtain a reproachful and bloody victory over our lord, but if we are conquered, he will destroy our name, and that of our people and our city forever, and we shall be a disgrace to every nation. Since, therefore, in every event it is dishonourable and dangerous to proceed further in a hostile manner, I consider it a wise plan to return to our city, where, if he chooses to attack us, it will be lawful for us to repel force by force, and whether he allows us to make peace with him, or compels us to drive him from our territory by force, our city will be preserved and our good name will remain unimpaired.” All the rest acquiescing in this plan, they acted upon it, which was a pleasant sight to the emperor; however, that no fear or alarm might be shown on his part, he pursued them and prepared for a siege. Whilst all these events were passing, either by the instrumentality of the Roman church, or the enemies of the emperor, an internal discord was stirred up in the German provinces, by the duke of Austria, to quell which, letters and messengers were sent with all haste, explaining the great urgency of the case, and to summon him to return immediately. The emperor therefore raised the siege, for which he had made preparations, and returned into Germany, and the Milanese, on hearing this, seized by force on some castles, which the emperor had taken, and their garrisons, and put all the knights and soldiers of the emperor to death. When the emperor heard of this, he was much enraged, and not without good reason, and poured forth all his just indignation against the author of this evil; and punished the duke of Austria, by depriving him of his honours, lands, castles, and cities, scarcely granting him his life ; so that vengeance for the crime perpetrated by him against King Richard, on his return from the Holy Land, seemed even at this time unsatisfied, as the prophet says, “Although late, God severely punishes wickedness,” and” visits the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.” In this year, about Michaelmas-day, Baldwin de Yere, a discreet, faithful, and eloquent man, returned to England and brought the emperor’s reply to the king, and gave a full account of all those matters to all who chose to listen to him. About the same time, too, Peter, bishop of Winchester, returned from the continent, deprived of his bodily strength by disease. Near about the same time, too, namely on the Monday following that feast, deluges of rain fell in the northern parts of England, to such a degree that the rivers and lakes, overflowing their usual bounds, caused great damage by destroying bridges, mills, and other property near the banks. In the same year, on the 16th of August, died Thomas de Blundeville, bishop of Norwich. And about the same time died William of Bleis, bishop of Worcester, and Henry de Sandford, bishop of Rochester. Thomas, abbat of Evesham, also died in this year, and was succeeded by Richard, prior of Hurle.

2 thoughts on “Chronicle of Matthew Paris: Year 1237”

  1. Dear Mark Lord,

    I am trying to locate an online translation of Matthew Paris’ Annales of the year 1222 and I wonder if you might be able to point out such a source to me!

    Thank you in advance for your assistance.

    Terry Brown

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