Tales and legends

The " Enervés " of Jumièges.

presented by F. ALLAIS

Saint Philibert founded Jumieges Abbey in 654. King Clovis II and QueenBathilde's generosity allowed him to build three cllurches. The first one was

dedicated to the Virgin. Its altar was decorated with gold, silver and gemsthanks to the help of Saint Bathilde 's munificence and devotion.

These royal donations favoured Saint Philibert. Then he sent for seventyBenedictine monks who led edifying lives.

A large number or lords, attracted by the food name of the monastery cameto devote their lives to Cod after giving their property to the Abbey.

In ten years, the religious community grew up to eight hundred people. Inspite of the Abbey's wealth their rule of lift was most austere.

As early as the Middle Ages, the monks had claimed that Clovis II andBathilde had granted the monastery one fourth of the income of the crown

until it had enough means to support a great deal of monks.the "  Enerves " Legend, just as the Wolfs we told you about in the previous

book is said to date back to the foundation of the Abbey. indeed the Kingand the Queen had to give their royal assent and a financial assistance for

such a monument to be built.As a tribute to these generous sovereigns, the monks imagined this

wonderful and dramatic legend between the twelfth and the thirteenthcentury. As early as those days a fresco was painted on the walls of the

cloister. In numerous paintings it depicts the different episodes of thistragedy. Low reliefs located at the feet of Clovis and Saint Bathilde’s statues

show the princes collected by Saint Fhilibert from their small boat and the

presentation of the clerical dress.The tomb of the  " Enervés " , also seems to date back to the same period. They

are dressed in the same way as the heirs of the French realm at the beginningof the thirteenth century as they can be seen today in Saint Denis Basilica.

An · " Enervé "  is a personn whose nerves have been stripped off.

The head of one of the "Enervés" of Jumièges

The "  Enervés  " in the "  Franciade  "

In the sixteenth century, the most famous French poet, Pierre de Ronsard,mentioned this legend in his Fourth Canto of the Franciade in 1562.

" Puis (le roi) retourné pour quelque trouble en FranceDe ses enfants punira l’'arrogance,Qui, par flatteurs, par jeunes gens deceus (trompeurs)

Vers celle ingrats qui les avait conçusDe tout honneur dégraderont leur mère,Et donneront la bataille à leur père.Leur mère adonc,ah!mère sans merci !l (pitié)

Fera bouillir leurs jambes, et ainsyTous meshaignez (mutilés) les doit jeter en SeineSans guide iront où le fleuve les meine,

A l'abandon des vagues et des ventsGrave supplice afin que les enfants,Par tel exemple, apprennent à ne faire

Chose qui soit a leurs parents contraire. "This canto strives toward a moral design whose aim is to show the respect

that children owe to their parents. No redeeming or religious promise forthese rebellious and insubordinate sons. The Queen herself brings justice

against them in the most rigorous way. No leniency softens their tragic end.

The Legend of the "  Enervés "  after Adrien Langlois

The version we have decided to submit to yous by far the most completeand the noblest one. It is attributed to Dom Adrien Langlois who had been

elected prior of Jumièges Abbey in 1615." It is in this holy place (Jumièges Abbey) that the two eldest sons of

Clovis II and St Bathilde were sent by heaven to repent "The hand written history cluotes that Clovis was very young when he

succeeded to the French throne after the death of his father Dagobert. Hemarried a foreigner, a Saxon called Bathilde, who was canonised by the

Church as one of its saints. Clovis had five sons by her through thechroniclers never mentioned the two youngest ones because of their infamy

and they considered them as unworthy to come down to posterity as royalchildren.Some historians declared that Clovis was full of piety and devotion.

 As aresult he decided to go and visit the Holy Sepulchre of Our Lord as well asother places in the Holy Land. It fell to Bathilde, his wife, to rule over the

realm in which she was supported by the council and the authority of a fewprinces and lords.But as soon as he had set our 

on his journey with the majority of the nobleshe had chosen to assist him, several jealous lords who considered they were

treated as unworthy felt unhappy because the King had left them behind sothey began to conspire against the Queen. They aroused several others to

insurrection and to revolt. They considered that it was not for a woman,moreover a foreign one, to rule the French realm. They even managed to

turn her two eldest sons aga Lnst her obed ience.The Queen, who had been informed of this conspiracy warned her husband

as soon as possible. The minute he learnt of this news, he turned back andtried to get back to his realm by way of forced marches. Under the two

perfidious son's authority the conspirators raised large armies in order toprevent the return of the King. They appeared on the battle field against

their lather.But Clovis and his loyal servants placed themselves for help in the hands ofGod who never abandons his own. He put to rout the multitude

 of rebelswho were killed for a great part of the spot. The others succeeded inescaping but the two sons and the main conspirators were held prisoners

and taken away to Paris.There, the King gathered his counsellors, princes and lords so that theyshould all try the rebels. They were sentenced to death

 each one in adifferent way according to his rank and the Fart he Flayed in the uprising.With regard to the trial of their princes, they besought the King

 to impugnthem upholding that it is only up to the sovereign and the Queen to chastisetheir childrenAs the King did not like to condemn them himself,

 their mother was askedto judge them which relieved Clovis II all the more.Then St Bathilde inspired by the spirit of God preferred her children being

punished in their bodies to knowing they were submitted to eternal sufferingas God could not let such a crime go unpunished.

With harshness however tempered with mercy and to satisfy the demands ofdivine justice, Bathilde declared them incapable to succeed to the throne.

 Asthey had risen up against their father thanks to their strength and theirphysical power, she ordered that their nerves should be stripped off their

bodies to leave them disabled. Then she led them to a skiff or a boat withoutany oars and loaded with supplies on the Seine. Only one servant went

along with them to support them. She handed over the small boat toprovidence and to the mfrcy of God. Thanks to this protection the vessel

sailed rapidly to Newstria.It reached the chore near a monastery called Jumièges by the Ancients andwhich had been founded under King Dagobert's

 reign.St Phillbert, the chief abbot who had been informed went there to welcomethem, accompanied by his brethren.He recognised the Princes and was

 toldabout their act of treachery. But he admired their composure and hearing. Hekindly welcomed them and receive them in his monastery. He offered

prayers to God until they recovered.They were taught monastic discipline and spiritual life.Nevertheless, after being informed of the happy outcome of

 the journey, theKing and the Queen came with the utmost urgency to Jumieges monastery.They were greatly soothed and comforted. They gave thanks

 to God andagreed that their children s! should take their vows in accordance with theirwishes.They firmly believed that the Lord had decided that their

 fate should be tobecome monks and that they should lie and die in this holy place to whichtheir grandfather Dagobert had already devoted his heart an

 set hisaffection.The King and the Queen attended the ceremony of their children takingorders.They thought that they had sufficiently paid for their

 crime by takingorders and entering religious life which is a second baptism. They decided todeprive them in no wav of their inheritance and their estate

 in a spiritcontrary to the severity of the first sentence.But instead of their rights to succeed to the throne they gave the monastery

large privileges and many possessions in order to expand the properties ofthe monks and also to increase the number of brethren.

Such was the end of the life of those two children of France. They livedhappily in this monastery which, to keep their memory, was called, m the

chronicle of France a the Abbey of the " Enerves ".

The tomb of the "  Enervés " 

Nowadays, the only trace of this wonderful story is the tomb of the" Enerves "  which can be seen by the public in the abbey church as well as a

painting by Luminais from the nineteenth century which is reproduced onour book-cover. This painting can be seen in the Arts museum of Rouen.

However the legend is persistent and the inhabitants of Jumieges are oftencalled "  Enervés ", (in this case "  Enervés ", means over excited). So, it is not

because of their dispositions ( as they are rarely hostile and even oftenhospitable if people make the effort of meeting them ) but because of the

sound association between the two words.Hyacinthe Langlois devoted a scholarly and well documented study to the

story of this legend. His study is called : " Essay about the Jumièges Enervés " published in 1.838. This too rare book does not seem to have been

published again. We are borrowing from it the main elements about theauthor's reflection to clarify the pseudo-historical fact which is " only

founded on the inventions of some monks who will, according to ancientcustom, have embellished the deeds of St Bathilde " .

Here is the tomb of the " Enervés " Princes such as Father Duplessisdescribed it:"  it represents two young lords aged sixten or seventeen at the most,

 lyingfull length on their backs. Their outfit is noble: they are wearing long dresseswhich come down to their feet " .

Dom Adrien Langlois completed this description in an interesting way in hisShort collection of Jumièges antiques.

"  They are the two figures and effigies of the two sons carved clad in long

clothes nettled and sprinkled with many fleurs-de-lis in the way old Kingswore them "

_The thesis of Dom Adrien Langlois

The thesis of Dom Adrien Langlois claims they are the sons of Bathilde and

Clovis II. This thesis is demolished by the description Langlois himself made

of it. Indeed, in the seventh century, the House of France was not

represented by the lily yet. It only appeared in the twelfth century under the

reign of Philippe de Valois.

In the case of Clovis II, he is only remembered in History by the following

details : he was "a voluptuous, half imbecile prince, one of the most

sedentary of all our idle Kings. He got married in 649 and died in 656 aged

only twenty two or twenty six according to the most optimistic sources. He

had three children who were all Kings ".

It turns out quite clearly that he could not have had sons old enough to be

able to revolt against him. Moreover, this stay-at-hare King would not have

had the time enough to conceive five children, all born at different dates, and

to go to the crusades. So it could not refer to the children of Clovis and of

Bathilde. History belies the legend, and a number of assumptions then take

the shape to explain the existence of the tomb.

The thesis of Father Duplessis

The thesis of Father Duplessis insists on the youth of the two martyrs.

According to him, they would appeared to be Carloman's sons, the brother

of Pepin Le Bref. He upholds that they became their Uncle Cripon's allies.

The latter did revolt against Carloman to try to seize hold of the kingly

Power but his attempt was a failure. Have again, history has no solution. It

does not mention that the two sons were involved in the insurrection nor

than they were obviously locked up in Jumièges. Duplessis takes the

advantage of the fact that the life of these two children was related nowhere

to found his theory. He fills in his own way a historical gap on condition that

the possible opponent proves with documents that his theory is inaccurate.

Now, the records of this period are very poor except those about tile blood

ties of the royal families or of the nobility. Indeed the Church drew up

registers of all the religious ceremonies which punctuated the big events of

court life such as baptisms, marriages, or funerals. One can manage thanks

to these documents, to piece together the lineages of the French families.

However when an individual did not win fame neither on a political scene

nor from a religious point of view, no official act allowed him to leave an

historical trace of his life. For these people excluded from history a multitude

of more or less serious hypotheses can sometimes give substance to an

exceptional or marvellous life. Duplessis seems to have chosen this way of

seeing it. Carloman is known to have abdicated to the advantage of Pepin Le

Bref, the father of Charlemagne. He had several children who became monks

and then he devoted hitnself to monastic life. These are the only objective

elements which support the argumentation of Duplessis.

The thesis of Father Mabillon

Father Mabillon gives us a more truthful demonstration backed up with

historical facts which are better known.

According to him, it would be the tomb of a Bavière Duke called Tassillon

and of his son Théodon. The Benedictine annals report that they came to end

their days as obscure penitents in the Jumièges monastery. They had risen

up against Charlemagne at the end of the eighth century and they had been

condemned to the death penalty However, considering their blood ties with

the Emperor, the latter pardoned them but had them locked up in varied

convents in order that they should atone for their cowardice and their act of

treachery. They died at the Jumièges monastery and were buried in the

chapter room.

To reinforce Mabillon's thesis, it must be noted that in the place where the

tomb located was found a four foot deep excavation in which were lying two

skeletons one by the other. Their feet were turned to the east which clearly

points to the fact that they were not priests or monks whose heads are

always turned to the Orient but seculars or recluses who do not show this

characteristic. The Abbey would not have been for them a place for devotion

but doubtless a jail.

Moreover when the best preserved skull was examined it turned out that the

individual it beloged was an old man.

The weak points of these theses

In spite of the quality of Mabillon's proposition with regard to the historical

context we must be worry of not rushing to conclusions because this

proposition creates new problems. Why and how was not their tomb

destroyed during the Danish invasions which in the ninth century "  stripped

the churches or the dormitories of all the things they could take away, set fire

to the buildings, undermined their foundations and only left the places after

seeing the churches and all the other constructions crumbling amidst the

flames "?

While the Abbeys were being ransacked the tombs were often plundered

Seine was in the hands of the Bretons who left their name to the Brotonne

forest. A power had to be established which would be able to resist indeed to

repel this " barbarian " invasion. It is why two abbeys were erected

simultaneously : St Wandrille and Jumièges.

Finally the catholic religion enjoyed at that period a significant expansion. A

protected abbey represented for the people a guarantee of safety. At the

same time it brought steady work and some affluence. The royal crown also

drew benefits from it; peace could be brought to the country and in this wav

the influence of the realm could be increased. Then one can realise that

factors of a political nature have played as important a role as royal piety in

the construction of Jumieges Abbey. Bathilde, after her husband's death,

became regent of the realm. Thanks to her prodigality she managed to gain

the support of the Church because many people coveted her crown. Her

authority which was accepted in the religious field enabled to establish her

political power. The fact that she was clear-sighted enough to set up

Jumiègcs Abbey shows that she considered the Seine· as an insufficient

defence to insure the safety of the royal property. The Danish and Norman

invasions of the following centuries proved that her reflections were true.

But the myth of the " Enervés " had no reason to exist yet.

The rebirth of the legend

in the Seventeenth century

The last question is about the text itself of the legend such as it was described

by Dom Adrien Langlois and was presented to you at the beginning of the


Why did the Frier of the abbey choose in 1615 to unearth this prodigious

story which already dated back to nearly ten centuries ?

It must be noticed that at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Balthazar

Poittevin was Abbot of Jumièges. He had been put at the head of the abbey

by the King but it was the prior who administered it !

Dom Langlois wanted thus to introduce here the Saint Vannes Reform better

known under the name of Saint-Maur Reform. However, most of the monks

of the peninsula lived with slackening moral standards and they refused

straightway to restore the original discipline in their religious order.

However he implemented rules which rorbade monks to let women come

into the precinct of the convent on pain of excommunication. Many

cenobites were not convinced by his arguments. But a tragic event helped

him : eight of his opponents happened to die in a wat. which was as sudden

as untimely - was it poisoning ? - but the fact remains that their deaths made

the others believe that God himself was asking this change. Thanks to this

divine help, Dom Langlois was re-elected Prior and two monks from Saint

Vannes assisted him in his task. Three years were required to quieten down

the most recalcitrants but in 1618 the reform was adopted. With this agitation

the monks lost the confidence of the people. They hardly felt concerned by

the inner struggles of the Church because the wars of religion between

Catholics and protestants had just ended with the Edit de Nantes. The

Reformists had, as much as the Traditionalists, to draw closer to the people

of their country in order that the latter should not divert from the Church.

Then this legend was a good opportunity to present Jumièges, already

chosen by the Crown, as the guardian of royal religious fervour. The

inhabitants of the region then made large donations to restore the monastery

which improved during the whole seventeenth century despite the

Moreover, Dom Langlois wrote a petition to the King and the Queen mother to encourage new monks to

came. He took the opportunity to remind them that the Abbey was a royal

gift and that the monarchy had to provide for its upkeep and its splendour.

The legend of the "  Enerves " , was just what he needed to help his plans.

The reintroduction of this story allowed Dom Langlois to assert his authority

over the Abbey property and over the local population. He found on the

King's side the money necessary to increase the influence of the monastery

throughout the country.

Myth and poetry

The reality of the facts matters little today.

We are left with a beautiful story which constitutes on its own a jewel in the

case of the Abbey and in the collective memory of the inhabitants of


It is partly thanks to its legend that Jumieges is famous all around Europe.

its stones have a soul or a mystery which captivates all the visitors and the

episode of the · " Enervés " of Jumièges is doubtless one of the most beautiful

pieces of its history.


C.A DESHAYES: L'Abbaye royale de Jumièges·, Ed. Gerard Monfort, Brionne.

E.H LANGLOIS: · Essai sur les enervés de Jumièges , Ed; Edouard Frere, Rouen 1830

Chamoine JOUEN: Jumièges à travers l’'histoire, à travers les ruines, Roucn 1954

Congrés scientifique du Xlllème centenaire. Rouen 1955.