In A Nutshell
People conning each other is as old as history. While we in the modern age are taken in by sophisticated scams, in the more simple time of the Middle Ages, cons would seem childish and even comic in our eyes. One such hilarious scheme was pulled of by a group of monks, who instigated a haunting straight out of Scooby Doo to scam the King of France into handing over royal property.
The Whole Bushel
King Louis IX, who ruled France from 1226 to 1270, was a pious man who was canonized a saint after his death. He led a Crusade that succeeded in capturing Damietta in Egypt from the Muslims, but later met defeat, was captured, and had to be ransomed for a huge sum. Upon his return to France, Louis governed wisely and was genuinely concerned about the welfare of his people. He received all complaints, from rich or poor alike, and sought to remedy all grievances. But as in every age, there were those who sought to exploit the well-meaning Louis for their own selfish ends.
St. Louis had heard his confessor speak highly of the goodness and learning of the monks of the order of St. Bruno, and the King therefore invited their superior, Bernard la Tour, to found a monastic community near Paris. Bernard forthwith dispatched six monks whom Louis sent to live in a fine house in the village of Chantilly. From the windows, the monks had a fine view of the adjoining property, on which stood the deserted palace of Vauvert, once the royal residence of King Robert. The monks, laying covetous eyes upon the palace, thought that the place would suit them better, but they were apparently too modest to ask the King outright for a grant to stay in it. They therefore cooked up an elaborate scheme to get hold of Vauvert.
Before the monks’ appearance, Vauvert never had a scary reputation. But all at once, the palace erupted with paranormal phenomena. Bloodcurdling shrieks emanated from it at night. Blue, red, and green lights mysteriously appeared and disappeared at the windows. There was a clanking of chains accompanied by howls as if from someone in great pain. Finally, a terrifying specter appeared at Vauvert—a man in pea-green garb with a long white beard and a serpent’s tail. The ghost would appear at midnight at one of the windows and scream and shake his fists at passersby. The disturbances terrified the locals, and news of the haunting spread. By the time the news reached Paris and King Louis’s ears, it was significantly embellished.
Shaken by these diabolical events, the saintly King sent commissioners to investigate. The monks feigned indignation that the Devil chose to manifest virtually on their doorstep. They helpfully hinted that if only they could stay in the palace, they might be able to make the haunting cease. King Louis eagerly took up the suggestion and had a deed drawn up, dated 1259, that transferred Vauvert to the monks of St. Bruno. As soon as the monks moved in, all the spooky phenomena ceased. They claimed to have banished the green ghost forever beneath the waters of the Red Sea. The monks must have spent many nights afterward having a good laugh about the entire affair.
As for King Louis, he left France once again to lead another Crusade into Tunis. Sick and feeble, he had to be carried on a litter. A fever seized him as he arrived in Tunis, and he died a few days later.
Show Me The Proof
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles MacKay
Atlantic Monthly, Volume 16
Famous Ghosts and Haunted Places, by Gordon J. Lynch, Diane Canwell, Jonathan Sutherland