Count Godefroi I, the Captive

Godfrey I (died 1002), called “the Prisoner” or “the Captive” ( le Captif), sometimes the Old (le Vieux), was the count of Bidgau and Methingau from 959. and the sovereign count of Verdun in 963 to his death. He was also my 32nd great grandfather.

It seems that a few of my relatives have earned a sobriquet, a nickname. Some were interesting twists “Barefot” was actually “Bareleg” because he had taken to wearing kilts. “Bluetooth”, because he had a dead tooth root, or that he loved blueberries, perhaps both. Some even had the phrase “the Great”, although that appears to have come later in their time. I don’t exactly see a friend actually say, “Oh, look, here comes “the Great!”.

Then there are the very misleading ones, “the Unready”, which apparently was because he took bad advice. Or even “Hardrada” because his advice was hard. Worse yet, “the Simple”, lets hope that he wasn’t also vicious.

This relative of mine was apparently called “the Captive” or “the Prisoner”. To his face!

The whole cultural to the royals at this time was war and military showmanship. And this was not about going around the countryside “righting wrongs” and freeing damsels in distress. In fact, I’ve read at least a dozen times when my relatives were being carted off as booty. From both sides! The royal Houses basically tried to keep their power by having enough children to marry with political advantages.

And when that didn’t work they simply attacked.

The spiritual leader at the time, the Pope, was constantly trying to put out fires. He was beseeched from all sides to end the senseless fighting. Well, technically, he was only beseeched by the losing side. He didn’t have much power, apart from ex-communicating, but the Pope did that quite often. Sometimes it worked.

Much has been written about the reasons for the Crusades, unfortunately, much has been poorly researched, and they target other agendas. But one thing was apparently correct. The Pope saw that asking the royal Houses to go fight in a distant place would keep them from fighting each other in their own countries. Unfortunately they fought each other in the distant lands as well.

My 32nd great grandfather apparently was on the losing side of at least three conflicts in order to earn the sub-title “the Captive”. It was lucky that he wasn’t killed. It’s true that battles were very bloody, but unless it was in the heat of a battle, or being drowned by running away, most royals survived the battles.

There was good reason for this. Royals either had money, or they could raise money, and soldiers were not paid a salary, they took their wages in loot or ransoms, provided they won.

Another thing I learned is that the development of better armor extended lives. Better armor meant encasing the whole body in steel, and it was very difficult to recognize who was who on the battlefield, so there was lots of flags around to let people know who to fight. Should you stray from the flags you could always be known for the emblem on your shield, if you lost your shield then your cloak had the same emblems, and perhaps the crest on your helmet had your symbol.

The picture that I am painting is that the two sides would face each other as different sides in a conflict. Yes, there might have been significant “reasons” for the conflict… but one thing is for certain. Over there, under the colorful flags, were people that if I can capture, would set me up for life, and I wouldn’t have to fight these wars anymore. Kill or wound anyone getting in the way, but head for the colorful royals and make them your prisoner.

Another painful reality is that the price desired was always more than what was available, so you had to keep your prisoners until the sum was raised.

My great grandfather was captured three times and spent a total of fifteen years in three different dungeons. Perhaps some treated him better than others.

I don’t know if my great grandfather was a good man, losing doesn’t mean that you were bad, it’s just that it was bad for you. Walking around around with the nickname or “the Captive”, not only reminded you that you picked the losing side, but it also meant that your family, your house, and your lands, had to raise lots of money to return you to your castle on the the hill.

That’s a life long burden.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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