The War Lord (1965) 

 

 

 

Director:     Franklin J. Schaffner. 

Starring:     Charlton Heston (Chrysagon),  Richard Boone (Bors),  Rosemary Forsyth (Bronwyn),  Maurice Evans (Priest),  Guy Stockwell (Draco),  Niall MacGinnis (Odins),  James Farentino (Marc),  Henry Wilcoxon (Frisian Prince),  Sammy Ross (Volc),  Woodrow Parfrey (Piet),  John Alderson (Holbracht),  Allen Jaffe (Tybald),  Michael Conrad (Rainault),  Dal Jenkins (Dirck),  Johnny Jensen (Boy Prince). 

a Norman knight in the 11th century sent to built a defensive castle  falls in love with a local maiden which leads to big problems

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Eleventh century Europe was a patchwork of feudal states. Powerful dukes made life and death decisions over their subjects. Duke William of Ghent held a coastal area in Normandy. Chrysagon de la Creux, the Duke’s most trusted knight, leads a troop of the Duke’s warriors around the borders to make sure they are secured. One of the war lord’s duties was to fight against the Frisian warriors who came from across the waters to plunder the Norman settlements.

The Duke has given Chrysagon his own piece of land and Chrysagon has come to check it out. His brother Draco is with him and his aide Bors, along with some of the warriors.. They come across a wounded man who tells them that Frisian raiders sacked the village and took the women.

The Frisians are busy loading the women and their plunder onto their vessels. The Normans arrive and charge them. Chrysagon fights the leader of the Frisians. But the leader gets away because other Frisians come to his rescue. Nevertheless, the Frisian leader is wounded by an arrow to his back.

The son of the Frisian leader, however, is left behind because he was knocked out when he tried to help his father. The boy hides his royal necklace in the ground. But when he gets up to go he runs right into a dwarf and Bors. Bors takes the boy with him. The dwarf sees the boy’s hiding place.

The villagers come out of hiding. The village elder is Odin and he introduces himself and his son Marc to the War Lord. The War Lord asks where are the men of the garrison? Gone, is the answer. And the warden? Probably still alive.

Chrysagon leaves. The village men discuss whether their new Lord is a good thing or a bad thing. He brings protection for them, but he can also hang them if he wants to.

Chrysagon runs into more villagers. Father Hugo de Bouillion introduces himself to Chrysagon. Chrysagon has a negative view of the villagers, who used to believe in the Druids. On his way to the fortress, Chrysagon passes through the village.

Examining the outside of the tower, Chrysagon complains that the front door has no protection at all. Going inside he says the place stinks. The Father tells him that the warden became a little lax when he learned he was to be replaced. He shows Chrysagon to his quarters. Chrysagon finds a naked, dead woman and man laying in his bed.

From the top of tower, Chrysagon speaks of those "devils" – the Frisians. He knows that they will be coming back. He tells the priest: "Next time I’ll hold him fast, as he held my father." His father was captured in battle by the Frisians and ransomed. He came back broken and died soon afterwards a pauper knight.

The War Lord goes out hunting. The dogs attack a group of pigs tended by a young girl. She tries to fight off the dogs and they jump on her. Some of the hunters arrive to call the dogs off. They pick up "pig girl" and strip her of her simple peasant garment, then push her into the pond. Chrysagon knocks over one of the harassers of the girl. He tells the men he told them that he doesn’t want any trouble with these people. He wants the men to treat them softly.

Everyone leaves except Chrysagon. He helps the naked girl get up. Her name is Bronwyn. She is the foster child of the elder Odin. She asks him if she can get dressed. He says yes and retrieves her garment. She asks him if he is going to watch her and he says yes. He sees she has a wedding garland with her. She’s a virgin. So now Chrysagon takes off.

Bronwyn walks back to the village. Marc sees her and asks if the war lord touched her. No. She tells Marc that she loves him (Marc). He tells her to stay away from the war lord.

Chrysagon is bothered by a wound suffered in the fight with the Frisians. The men ask him what was the girl like? He says he let her go. Why? He doesn’t know. It’s just that he senses a strangeness about this place. Bors says that many of the villagers say that some of the old spirits still hang around these places.

Draco tells Bors to find out who this girl is and bring her to the tower so she can work in the kitchen. From the kitchen Bronwyn is sent up to see Chrysagon. She is afraid of what might happen to her. Bors tells her to come in. She is to hold the lord’s hands while he cauterizes the wound. (Bors says it will take either ten men or one woman to hold him down.) As soon as the operation is over, Bronwyn leaves the room.

Out falcon hunting the little prince hits the back of Draco’s horse. The horse bolts and throws Draco to the ground. Draco says he’s going to kill both the boy and the dwarf. To stop this, Chrysagon knocks his brother to the ground. He immediately apologizes, but Draco gets up, gets on his horse and rides away. Chrysagon goes after him.

He soon gives up the chase. Then he sees the girl. She starts to run from him but he chases her down. When he has her cornered he tells her: "Don’t run from me!" He asks her what is she collecting? Various wild plants. Chrysagon tells her that those plants will be used in magic and witchery. Bronwyn denies this emphatically, but Chrysagon is not convinced. He starts to ride away, but soon stops. He tells her they will lay under a big tree. He starts to kiss her, but is disturbed when all the birds in the tree suddenly take off making a terrific racket. Chrysagon looks at her like she is a witch. She uses the opportunity to walk away from him.

Two men are brought in for poaching deer. The Father says the deer were already dead, locked together by their horns. The men needed the meat. Draco wants them punished, but Chrysagon says there’s no proof. Draco doesn’t care about proof. He and the Father start arguing with one another over the case, but Chrysagon dismisses the men.

Chrysagon sees the dwarf Volc leading around the boy on a leash. He doesn’t like it and cuts the leash. The war lord tells the boy to stay around the tower.

Odin brings in Marc and Bronwyn for permission to marry. Chrysagon is shocked when he sees Bronwyn. They have been promised since childhood. He grants his permission. She hangs back a little while before leaving. He’s pretty upset and yells at Bors and then turns over a table in the room. He tears a tapestry of Adam and Eve from off the wall.

Draco and Bors come in to see what’s all the commotion. Draco suggests that his brother just take the wench tonight before the wedding. Chrysagon say he won’t take a girl on the night before her wedding. That would be wrong. So Draco tells him that as lord, Chrysagon has the right to the bride on the first night of the marriage. Draco asks the priest about the right, but the Father says that the church does not admit it.

But, says the Father, there is another, pagan ceremony after the church wedding. There is drinking, feasting, and dancing. At this second ceremony quite a bit of sexual frolicking takes place. The war lord shows up. He has come to claim his right. Odin says he has the right. March shouts "No!" Odin goes on to say that in the old days they would sacrifice a virgin for the fertility and enrichment of the tribe. It should be done this old way. The war lord is to make a fire in a high place. But in the morning Odin will come to reclaim her.

The villagers bring the bride to the tower. They carry her up the stairs to Chrysagon. He carries her into the room and sets her on his bed. She starts to cry. He tells her not to cry. He does not want her if he has to take her by coercion. She asks if he wants her to go. He says yes, go back to her pig people. But he stops her by saying that he needs her. She tells him that she too is bewitched. They kiss.

Marc is going crazy and has to be held back. He is extremely mad at his father. Dad tells him to try to forget the pain. She is still his.

The morning dawns. Bronwyn and Chrysagon talk together. He speaks of his dead father. And now he tells her that they will never take her back. He puts a ring on her wedding finger. Draco comes to tell his brother that Odin waits below. Chrysagon says that he will not give her up. Draco tells him that he must give her up. They need the good will of the villagers. That is what the Duke wants. He adds: "You are our Lord! You can’t be a slave of a slave! It sets the whole world turning!"

Draco pushes open the door and goes in to insult Bronwyn. He gets very upset that she wears his father’s ring and calls her a whore. Chrysagon forces him into a kneeling position in front of Bronwyn and tells him: "She is mine!" Draco replies: "You are bewitched." He says keep her and may his soul be damned for it! He leaves.

Odin walks up the steps as Draco walks down them. Draco tells him that his brother has not yet tired of his toy. Odin tries to push past Draco and Draco slaps him telling him to never touch him.

Marc asks Odin where is his wife? His father’s silence tells him what the war lord has decided. Marc screams. He talks of killing Chrysagon. His friends tell him to go get the aid of the Frisians. The dwarf tells him the Frisians will come because they want their prince back. To prove what he says, the dwarf throws a gold piece form the royal necklace to the men. He tells Marc to take it to the Frisians for proof they have the boy. Before he leaves, Marc says that Bronwyn will escape the war lord somehow no matter how close she keeps him.

Torn between her lord and her people, Bronwyn cries. The next day Chrysagon is told that only two of the villagers will still work on the moat. On a tree at the pagan worshiping place Chrysagon sees a carved model of Bronwyn stuck to one of the trees with nails sticking out of it. He takes it down.

In the middle of the night he finds Bronwyn gone from his bed. He goes up to the top of the tower to find her naked and shivering. He puts a cape around her. She says she can’t leave him, but she does miss her village. He says he will take her to a far off place and she asks when? He replies that he had to hold this place for a little while longer.

Three Frisians arrive at the castle with a small ladder. Chrysagon spots the Frisians hacking at the moat draw bridge. He takes a spear and throws it at one of the men, killing him. He then rings a bell to notify his men. Single-handedly he kills or knocks into the water all four of the remaining men working on the moat.

Bors and some other men see Chrysagon back safely inside the tower as the rest of the Frisians attack. The Frisian leader calls up to Chrysagon telling him to give him the boy or they will slit their Norman throats. Chrysagon and the others look at the boy. The war lord looks down at the Frisians. With them he sees his dwarf and Marc.

Draco grabs the boy and holds him outside the parapet. He tells the Frisian leader that they (the Frisians) accepted a bucket full of gold for their father and so the Normans will now take a bucket full of gold for the leader’s son. The leader leaves the area. Draco then puts an arrow into the dwarf’s back.

Draco rides out from the tower to go for help from the Duke. The Frisians build a battering ram. They intend to pound the tower door down. They approach the tower. Bors lets himself down to the water to get an anchor from a Frisian boat nearby. Bors is successful in his efforts. Chrysagon takes the anchor and hooks it to the battering ram. They pull the battering ram over into the water.

The Frisians try a night attack. They set up a fire next to the front door. The Normans pour water on it from above, but the fire still burns on. The Normans go down to prepare for the entry of the Frisians. The Normans send their horses out which pushes a lot of the Frisians into the moat. Then they pour hot oil on the attackers. Quite a few catch on fire. The bridge burns down. The Normans block up the doorway again.

Next the Frisians come with a set of covered stairs. They succeed in getting onto the top of the tower. Draco arrives and uses a catapult to set the stairs afire. He also has heavy rocks launched onto the stairs. When a big rock hits one of the wheels the climbing stairs machine falls over.

Lord Draco arrives to see his brother. He tells Chrysagon that the Duke promised him half the gold that they would get for the ransom of the boy prince. Chrysagon, however, does not like the idea of ransom. It is then that Draco tells him that the Duke also gave him Chrysagon’s holdings here because of all the trouble he had stirred up among the populace.

Draco tries to kill his brother. Chrysagon does not want to fight him, but he must. They fight it out and Chrysagon kills Draco with a knife deeply in his side.

Chrysagon takes the boy to the Frisians. They at first start the attack, but stop when they see the young boy. Chrysagon lets him go. The leader tells Chrysagon he will give him whatever he wants. He can come with them to their lands. Why don’t you go with him? asks Boris. Chrysagon replies that he can’t go. But he asks the Frisian leader to provide sanctuary for his lady. He will then go talk to the Duke. Boris thinks him a fool.

Marc hears all this and decides to stop it. He jumps from a tree onto Chrysagon. Bors kills Marc by thrusting him into the pointed end of a downed tree branch. Bronwyn goes with the Father to the Frisians. Chrysagon and Bors set off to see the Duke.

 

Pretty good movie, but there is not much history here.  The film is half love story and half action film.  It is not clear to me why the writer picked Frisia as a source of problems for 11th century Normans.  After all, in 1066 the Normans conquered England.  By 734 the glory days of the Frisian empire were over.  Charlton Heston was good as usual.  Rosemary Forsythe did alright, but she did some like a lightweight in her acting. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

In Normandy, France on the northwest is Cherbourg; in the northeast is Dieppe (place of disastrous battle for the Canadians in WWII); in the southeast Evreux; and in the southwest Avranches.  Off its west coast is the Isle of Jersey (where Lily Langtry grew up, the famous Jersey Lily). 

4th century to 3rd century BC – Belgian Celts, known as Gauls, invade Normandy.

Caesar invades Gaul and finds nine different Gallic tribes in Normandy.

3rd century (late) AD – barbarian raids devastate Normandy. Saxon pirates raid coastal settlements. Christianity enters the area.

406 – Germanic tribes invade from the east; Saxons take the Norman coast; and Romans withdraw from most of Normandy.

486 – the area between the Somme and the Loire comes under the control of Frankish lord Clovis.

687 – Pippin II defeats the Neustrians and establishes his authority in the north, fighting off Burgundian, Franconian, and Frisian attacks.

early 700s – the most famous Frisian king, Redbad, defeats Charles "The Hammer" Martel.

719 – death of Redbad. He left a pagan Frisia of renown.

734 – the glory days of Frisia end with Martel defeating and killing Redbad’s son Hrodbad. Frisian empire was incorporated into the Frankish empire.

785 – Charlemagne conquers East Frisia (which had been a free fragment of the Frisian empire).

900's (very early) – fiefdom of Normandy is created for Viking leader Rollo (aka, Robert of Normandy). Rollo besieges Paris.

911 – Rollo becomes a vassal to the king of the West Franks Charles the Simple through the Treaty of Saint Clair-sur-Epte. In exchange Roll granted legally the territory he had previously conquered.

925-early 1100s – the Frisians accepted the rule of Charlemagnian counts.

Rollo’s descendants become assimilated into the local culture and bloodlines. These people become known as the Normans.

1066 – William, Duke of Normandy, a descendant of Rollo, becomes king of England in the Norman Conquest. (It culminated at the Battle of Hastings.)  The Normans still retain the fiefdom of Normandy.

 

The Frisians are originally a Germanic people living in coastal areas of The Netherlands and Germany. These people came to inhabit an area known as Frisia. (Today they are concentrated in the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen and the German areas of East Frisia and North Frisia.) They were known as a tall, big-boned and light-haired people.

 

 

 

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