Venette near Compiègne. Rosette in the church of St Martin . Source: wikipedia

Revisiting a wartorn countryside – Venette near Compiegne in 1359

In 1358, the village of Venette near Compiegne was visited by marauding English troops burning, pillaging and murdering innocent people. These events inspired an evocative and haunting description of the horrors of wars

In the years from c. 1359 – 1368, a Carmelite friar and head of the order’s French province wrote a profoundly moving chronicle about the events in France since 1340, the devastation of the plague and the atrocities waged by armies and bands of mercenaries on Northern France. Scholars have postulated that the event, which prompted him to write, was the wholesale destruction of the village, Venette, along the river Oise, where he was born. He writes:

The old Batimént Conventuelle at Venette. Perhaps the harassed people hid there - and were murdered in 1358. Source: wikipedia
The old Batimént Conventuelle at Venette. Perhaps the harassed people hid there – and were murdered in 1358. Source: wikipedia

“The English destroyed, burned, and plundered many little towns and villages in this part of the diocese of Beauvais, capturing and even killing the inhabitants. The loss by fire of the village where I was born, Vennette near Compiègne, is to be lamented together with that of many others nearby. The vines in this region, which supply that most pleasant and desirable liquor which make glad the heart of man, were not pruned or kept from rotting by the labors of men’s hands. The fields were not sown or ploughed. There were no cattle or fowl in the fields.

No cock crowed in the depths of the night to tell the hours. No hen called to her chicks. It was of no use for the kite to lie in wait for chickens in- March of this year nor for children to hunt for eggs in secret hiding places. No lambs or calves bleated after their mothers in this region. The wolf might seek its prey elsewhere and here fill his capacious gullet with green grass instead of rams. At this time rabbits and hares played freely about in the deserted fields with no fear of hunting dogs, for no one dared go coursing through the pleasant woods and fields. Larks soared safely through the air and lifted their unending songs with no thought of the whistling attacks of eyas or falcon. No wayfarers went along the roads, carrying their best cheese and dairy produce to market. Throughout the parishes and villages, alas! went forth no mendicants to hear confessions and to preach in Lent but rather robbers and thieves to carry off openly whatever they could find.

Houses and churches no longer presented a smiling appearance with newly repaired roofs but rather the lamentable spectacle of scattered, smoking ruins to which they had been reduced by devouring flames. The eye of man was no longer rejoiced by the accustomed sight of green pastures and fields charmingly colored by the growing grain, but rather saddened by the looks of the nettles and thistles springing up on every side. The pleasant sound of bells was heard indeed, not as a summons ·to- divine worship, but as a warning of hostile incursions, in order that men might seek out hiding places while the enemy were yet on the way. What more can I say? Every misery increased on every hand, especially among the rural population, the peasants, for their lords bore hard upon them, extorting from them all their substance and poor means of livelihood. Though there were few flocks or herds, those who owned any were forced to pay their 51 lords for each animal; 10 solidi for an ox, 4 or 5 for a sheep. Yet, their lords did not, in return, repel their enemies or attempt to attack them, except occasionally”

From: Jean de Vennette: The Chronicle. Translated by Jean Birdsall. Edited. With an introduction and Notes, by Richard A. Newhall. Columbia University Press 1953, s. 93 – 94

St. Martin at Venette

The village was repeatedly destroyed, first by the Norman Vikings in the 10th century, again in 1358 – as described above – and finally in 1430. The latest fighting took place during the Napoleonic wars.

Situated two kilometres from the Abbey of Saint-Corneille de Compiègne, which was founded in AD 876, the history of the village history will have been intimately entwined with this. Exactly, though, when the village was founded is not known. Currently, the village is included in the town of Venette, which grew up around the Abbey. Most of the village dates to the 19th century.

The church, which dates to the 12th century, does feature a few details from the time of Jean de Venette, primarily the ribbed vaults in the choir. But, apart from these, the mix and match of styles in the church’s fabric witness to the constant effort to keep it under a roof.

More interesting is the 13th century conventual building – the Bâtiment Conventuel – in the courtyard of the old seignorial farm at Rue de Corbeaulieu. Perhaps the frightened people of Venette sought refuge here?

The village is worth a drive-through just to pay tribute to one of the great chroniclers of the 14th century, Jean de Venette.

Jean de Venette

Of peasant origin, Jean joined the Carmelite order and was elected prior of the Carmelite convent at Paris in 1339. In 1342 he was appointed provincial of France. Probably, he also taught theology at the University of Paris, where he experienced the horrors of the Black Death.

His Latin chronicle, covering the period of 1340–68, was a continuation of an earlier chronicle by Guillaume de Nangis. Although he was interested in the fate of the ruling Valois dynasty, he displayed an marked sympathy for the peasants and was critical of the leaders of France. Unique among chroniclers at that time, he wrote  as an eyewitness offering distinct characetisations of the events he recorded. He also wrote an unpublished religious poem, the Roman des trois Maries (c. 1347).


Jean de Vennette: The Chronicle.
Translated by Jean Birdsall.
Edited with an introduction and notes, by Richard A. Newhall.
Columbia University Press 1953





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