1217: Eustace the Monk, turncoat outlaw

Add comment August 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1217, the pirate Eustace the Monk was defeated in battle and summarily beheaded, scuppering an ongoing invasion that nearly seated a French dauphin on the English throne.

This colorful outlaw commenced life as the younger son of a Boulogne lord, but his conventional path into the Abbey Saint-Wulms was aborted by the murder of his father — leading Eustace to abandon his cowl for a vain attempt at vengeance.

“From a black monk becoming demoniac” — in the words of one chronicle — the man’s career thence proceeded, first rejoining the secular economy as a seneschal and then pivoting to outlawry when his former master turned against him.

His exploits in banditry are greatly embellished and romanticized in the medieval French verse titled Eustache the Monk (peruse in full here; helpful introduction here), including a number of charming and imaginary vignettes that double as moral parables and medieval slices-of-life.

Eustache spotted the Abbot of Jumièges as he was coming down the road. “Sir Abbot,” he said, “stop where you are! What are you carrying? Come now, don’t hide it.” The Abbot answered: “What’s it to you?” At this, Eustache was ready to hit him, but instead replied: “What’s it to me, fat-ass? Upon my word, I’ll make it my business. Get down, fast, and not another word out of you, or I’ll let you have it. You’ll be beaten up so badly you won’t be worth a hundred pounds.” The Abbot thought the man was drunk, and said, more politely this time: “Go away. You won’t find what you are looking for here.” Eustache responded: “Cut the bullshit and get off your horse fast, or you’ll be in for a lot of trouble.” The Abbot got down, frightened now. Eustache asked how much money he had with him. “Four marks,” said the Abbot, “in truth I only have four marks silver.” Eustache searched him immediately and found thirty marks or more. He gave back to the Abbot the four marks he claimed to have. The Abbot became duly furious; for, had he told the truth, he would have got back all his money. The Abbot lost his money only because he told a lie.

Around this time Eustace set up as a freelance English Channel pirate and was regularly employed by the English King John from about 1205 until 1212, when he switched his allegiance back to Philip II of France. Eustace tormented his former English patrons during the civil war in that country that led to the Magna Carta; the rebel barons in this war offered the English throne to the French heir Louis, and Louis invaded and held London and about half the realm, merrily aided by Eustace’s channel buccaneers.

Things went sideways for Louis and for Eustace in 1217; the former suffered a devastating reversal at the Battle of Lincoln.* Our man Eustace, attempting to reinforce Louis’s camp, was intercepted at sea and trounced at the Battle of Sandwich.**

Run-of-the-mill French knights were captured for ransom as per usual;

With Eustance, however, the case was different. When the ship was captured, the English instituted a search for him, and he was at length discovered down in the hold (Matthew Paris says in the bilge-water) by ‘Richard Sorale and Wudecoc’. Then Eustace offered a large sum of money for a ransom, ten thousand marks, as the writer of the Guillaume le Marechal puts it; ‘but it could not be.’ His addition offer (so Wendover) to serve the king of the English faithfully thereafter, if actually made, would have been only a reminder of his previous injuries. It was Stephen Trabe (or Crave) [or Crabbe -ed.], one of the mariners, ‘who had long been with him,’ that executed him, so the Histoire des Ducs de Normandie tells us; or as the poem of Guillaume le Marechal narrates it: ‘There was one there named Stephen of Winchelsea, who recalled to him the hardships which he had caused them both upon land and sea and who gave him the choice of having his head cut off either upon the trebuchet or upon the rail of the ship. Then he cut off his head.’ The head was subsequently fixed upon a lance and borne to Canterbury and about the country for a spectacle. The Romance concludes with the sentiment: ‘Nor can one live long who is intent always upon doing evil.’ (Henry Lewis Cannon


13th century illustration: Eustace gets the chop over the side of the boat.

Eustace’s defeat completely undermined Louis’s position, and the chancer was obliged to retreat to his homeland — where he’d become king in 1223. He’s known as Louis the Lion, which is pretty good, but he was rather convincingly surpassed by his son Saint Louis.

* Known to history as the “Lincoln Fair” for all the looting that occurred afterwards.

** The English maneuver on this occasion was to use an advantageous wind to hurl lime onto the French ships, blinding the enemy crews.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Arts and Literature,At Sea,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,England,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Outlaws,Pirates,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Wartime Executions

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