Keith Van Sickle

The Legends of Provence: Monk Romée de Villeneuve a Fable

The following is my interpretation from the book “Legendes de Provence” by Eugene BressyThis book is a series of short stories about the legends of Provence. I let you decide whether you choose to believe this fable or not.

“There is no rampart against gossip.”—Molière

Falling for Gossip

One bright day in the 13th century the Count of Provence, Raymond Bérenger, called his most loyal barons to his tower chamber. He did this on only the most serious occasions and the barons wondered what had happened. As the count walked in, a cold look on his face, the barons became nervous. Had one of them displeased him?

“My friends,” the count began, “we must speak of Romée de Villeneuve, who has done me much good, but about whom some of you have whispered. There are villainous calumnies that our spoken against Romée, my most faithful servant, and you know from whose mouths they come. If these calumnies continue, you will risk losing my friendship and my support”

The barons murmured nervously.

The count continued. “When I heard it said that Romée was pillaging my finances, I just smiled. A simple check of my treasury proved this wrong. I have never found any reason to question the absolute confidence I have in Romée. My barons, jealously has no place in the heart of a true knight.”

Count Raymond looked sternly at each count, one after the other, and each nodded his assent. Only Olivier de Gadagne refused to agree.

Legends of Provence Romée de Villeneuve

“My lord,” he said in rising, “none of us wishes to speak badly of the one you hold in such rare esteem. But it is because we are your most faithful barons that we must accuse the one who has betrayed you.”

“Olivier,” replied the count, “I cherish your friendship. But you are too young to appreciate all that Romée has done for me. Let me remind you, and all of you, lest we forget his great service.”

“Fifteen years ago, the fief of Provence that I inherited from my father was in anarchy. My vassals were insubordinate, taxes were not collected, and everywhere there was ruin and rebellion. The King of France coveted my lands and I could no longer count on his support. My situation was desperate.”

“Only God could help me, so I went to the chapel and prayed for hours. Upon leaving, I realized that I had not been alone, that another had been on his knees near the door. He wore a monk’s frock and a faded felt hat and carried a pilgrim’s staff, indicating that he was a man of faith on a pilgrimage.”

“’Pilgrim,’ I asked, ‘where do you come from and where are you going?”

“’My brother’, he said, not realizing who I was, ‘I come from Compostelle and am on my way to Rome to pray before the tombs of the martyrs. If it please God, one day I will walk on the holy soil of Jerusalem.’

The count continued. “We spoke for some time and he showed great wisdom in the ways of men and of government. I realized that my prayers had been answered and he had been sent by God to give me wise and good counsel. I invited him to stay and he reluctantly agreed, giving up his pilgrim’s clothes and sharing my life. Since that time I have relied on his advice in matters great and small, and slowly my state has improved. The rebellion has finished, there is calm in the land, and my treasury is overflowing! And yet Romée, dressed now in the fine clothes of a nobleman, remains the same humble pilgrim as before. It is a saintly man that you accuse of theft and it is unjust.”

“Nay, it is indeed just,” replied Olivier. “Romée oversees the collection of taxes and he keeps a part for himself. He is stealing from you.”

The other barons smiled, indicating that they agreed. “Yes, your treasury overflows,” said one, “but so does his!”

Legends of Provence Romée de Villeneuve Gold

The other barons added their voices, each giving proof of the duplicity of Romée. The count protested but slowly began to weaken. Olivier rose again.

“Count Raymond, you judge others according to your own heart. You are incapable of dishonesty and cannot believe that others can be dishonest. But why do you resist against all evidence? It’s true that your treasury is gorged with gold, but does that prove that Romée’s is not as well? I know that he hides it in a secret room of his apartment. Demand the key and we will see!”

The Truth Hurts

The count hesitated. Romée had been his faithful servant for years and, thanks to him, his fief was peaceful and prosperous. He had proved over and over his honesty and loyalty, with never a hint of anything but the highest ideals. But his barons were united—was it possible that simple jealousy could move them to such calumny? There must be at least some truth in their accusations. He called for Romée.

“Yes, my lord, how may I serve you?”

“You have been accused of theft,” said the count sadly, “by my most faithful barons.”

“Perhaps it is to diminish me in your eyes,” replied Romée, “for these accusations are false. Do you really believe that I have two faces?”

“It is for me to judge. It appears that you have accumulated riches in your chambers. We must inspect them to prove your innocence.”

Romée looked at the count with sad eyes, then led him to his apartment, followed by the gleeful barons.

Romée unlocked the door. “Enter as you will,” he said.

The count and barons rushed in but found only a bare room, furnished like a peasant’s.

“Inspect the other rooms,” ordered the count.

“Please, my lord, cease,” said Romée, practically begging, “Please believe that I hold none of your fortunes. You can see that I live like a poor man.”

The count saw this as a desperate effort to avoid being caught. “No,” he said, “let us finish our inspection!”

But there was nothing in the other rooms—a table, some chairs, a hard and narrow bed, and crucifixes on the walls.

The count was relieved and happy. Romée was honest after all! Now he must deal with his barons.

“There is one more thing!” cried Olivier, pointing to a long box in a dark corner. It was covered with straps and locks, like a safe to hold the treasures of a king. “Open it!”

“My lord,” begged Romée, “I have thought of nothing but your success, nothing but your fame, have had no dream but of your prosperity. I have given you fifteen years of my life! Please save me from this shame.”

But the count would not listen. He ordered the trunk opened.


Legends of Provence Romée de Villeneuve

Romée knelt down as he slowly opened the locks and unstrapped the belts, one after another. Then he carefully lifted the lid as the count and barons peered over his shoulder, eager to see the ill-gotten gold.

Romée stood and turned to face them. “Here is my treasure,” he said gravely. “You have doubted me but I have done nothing wrong. God has indicated my new path and I will follow it.” Then he slowly removed from the box the monk’s frock, felt hat and pilgrim’s staff that he had piously stored away years before.

“I thank you, gentlemen,” he said. “You have brought me back to God, after fifteen years of thinking only of Count Raymond. Poor, I was and poor I am again, but He is in my heart.”

He removed his fine clothes and put on again his frock and hat. And away he walked, staff in hand, off to pray before the tombs of the martyrs in Rome.

Legends of Provence Romée de Villeneuve

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Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.

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