The Convent de la Miséricorde at Sées is a place for quiet contemplation. We matched our postcard from a little street in a nearby housing estate and the changes seemed superficial. Something timeless strengthens the Convent at Sées.
The caring nuns of Miséricorde do good works as far afield as Africa. We did not feel the need to knock on their door but would doubtless have been welcome. Instead we left these kind ladies to their thoughts and travelled on into the ancient town of Sées.
In the centre of Sées stands a beautiful medieval cathedral but not as old as the story we are about to tell. We know this because in our story the cathedral of Sées is burned to the ground.
Troubled times in Normandy
Long long ago… in the 11th century, after the death of Robert I and before his son William reached his majority, Normandy was a battleground of rival lords and Bishops. William would one day be Conqueror but is as yet just the Bastard. Incredibly, as Normandy neared anarchy, a core of vicomtes remained loyal to William and some ducal authority remained.
Normandy never fell into complete chaos, but it came pretty close.
During this time there lived some days ride from Sées a baron names William Soreng. The family had a long history, all the way from Scandinavia down to Normandy, of combat and bravado. Sometime in the Soreng past a favour of land had been sought and readily given.
The lawless sons of Soreng
Apart from that we know little until William Soreng’s three sons turn up in the history books. Richard, Robert and Avesgot. Three entitled, armed sons of a lord, every bit as lawless as the land they lived on.
They had been bought up on rich Normandy steak and gripping Viking tales of bravery and plunder.
However they were too independent to join armies led by distant Dukes. These young men who were strong, passionate and brave but without a worthy cause, soon found local outlets for their ferocity. Led by Richard, the tallest, loudest, striking elder son, the three brothers rode out for days at a time leaving a trail of disaster and fear. Gathering a brigade of rogues around them they looted castles, robbed undefended manor houses and plundered villages.
Their father had his own reasons to leave them unrestrained. His hatred for a landowning neighbour; Ivo Belleme, the Bishop of Sées.
Horses and prostitutes in the cathedral
It was no surprise when in 1048 Richard, Robert and Avesgot rode arrogantly into Sées. The surprise came when they took over the only building big enough to take their growing band of brigands, hangers on and loot; the cathedral of Saint Gervais. It was a huge slap in the face for the Bishop. Their father must have been proud.
The cathedral quickly became den of iniquity. To the horror of the local faithful, horses were bought into the cathedral and parts of it turned into a stable. Prostitutes arrived from miles around and did a lively trade. Fires glowed as stolen meat roasted and the sons of Soreng partied the night away.
Furious Bishop Ivo called in some favours and soon the Vicomte of the Hiemoise, Hugh de Grandmesnil and his militia arrived in Sées. They tried to take the cathedral by force but the brothers took to the clock tower and showered the militia with arrows.
Fire and brimstone
Ivo and Hugh decided to burn them out. The people of Sées enthusiastically helped gather wood and heaped it up around the tower. Unfortunately, the wind was not in their favour and flames leapt towards the cathedral. It began to burn vigorously.
Smoke and fire filled the centre of Sées. As the cathedral burned to the ground the three sons of Soreng made their escape, separately across the countryside.
There is no happy ending for them. The hatred they had earned spread far and wide.
Exhausted, Richard hid in a small hut by a pond not realising he had been followed by Richard of Sainte-Scolasse. The same Knight Sainte-Scolasse whose land he had ravaged, whose belongings he had robbed, the man he had beaten and hung up in chains, in his own home.
Richard Soreng tried to escape through the pond but Robert Sainte-Scolasse hit him in the head with an axe.
Robert Soreng fared no better. After fleeing Sées he slunk back into the area a few days later, possibly with the hope of collecting hidden loot. He was recognised by irate peasants who beat him to death when they caught him.
And young Avesgot? He and a group of fellow outlaws continued their life of thuggery for a short while. Then at Chambois they underestimated Albert Fleitel. When raiding Alberts house Avesgot was shot by an arrow and died.
Writing not long afterwards the monk Guillaume de Jumiège recorded the fate of the sons of Soreng adding the note that “God is good and forgiving, but just his revenge”…