King Philippe-Auguste of France on a seal

Ingeburge of Denmark, Queen of France

Finally, after nine months of stubbornness, the King gave in to Rome, and sent away Agnes.  But he didn’t take back Ingeburge.  He had her locked up in a tower, near Etampes, where she would live in frightful conditions:  sleeping on a straw mattress amongst rats, covered in vermine, shivering with cold…  She remained like that for twenty years…  Twenty years because the King believed that he had had his laces tied…

And then, one day in 1214, Philippe-Auguste, who needed military aid from his ex-father-in-law, the King of Denmark, thought that it would be diplomatic to release Ingeburge.  He even went, himself, to collect her …

When she saw him appear in her cell, Ingeburge fell to her knees and kissed his hand, saying:

“My lord, my lord!”

In twenty years, she had had time to learn French.

The Queen had always hoped that this moment would arrive.  She cried, clutched the King’s arm, and tried to kiss him;  but, a chronicler tells us,

“Philippe-Auguste could not bring himself to do it the first day…”

Doubtless, he was still afraid for his virility…

The next day, Ingeburge once more became officially Queen of France.  And, as if nothing had happened, she lived with the King, her beloved lord, for ten years…  Ten happy years, for Philippe-Auguste had at last succeeded in untying his laces…


The laces in question were those used to fasten breeches.  They were iron-tipped, more or less like today’s shoelaces.  So, if a man was said to have had his laces tied (or knotted) it meant that he couldn’t undo the front of his pants, so couldn’t perform sexually.


Because men refused to believe that the problem came from themselves, the mentality of the time made them believe that it was the work of a demon or a witch/wizard.  Those who were accused of tying laces were tried and burnt alive…  The accused were usually women.  It was said that they did it to punish unfaithful men, or those uninterested in their charms.  In the XVIth Century, the number of men affected by impotence was so great that, in some provinces, marriages were celebrated in secret to escape these spells, and the Church included special prayers against knotted laces in its rituel…


There were many recipes for knotting laces.  Here’s one taken from a magic rituel of the time:

“Take the sex of a recently killed wolf;  take it to the front of the house of the man that you want to make impotent;  call this man by his name.  As soon as he answers, tie the wolf’s sex with a lace of white thread…  The man will have his laces knotted…”

There are many other recipes.  In Alsace, in the XVIIth Century, the witch or wizard, during the marriage ceremony, in the church, made three knots which, in virtue of the law of similarity, was supposed to tie the virile member of the young husband.  In Berry, the witch or wizard buried the heads and skins of snakes under the spouses’ doorstep.


At this epoch, people used love philtres, so it was normal to also employ magic to disunite couples.  The greatest minds have believed in these things.  Paracelsius, Rabelais and Montaigne, among others, absolutely believed, and Ambroise Pare wrote:

“There is no doubt that there are sorcerers who knot laces at the time of marriage to prevent the cohabitation of the spouses on whom they want to wreak nasty vengeance to sow discord, which is the true profession and office of the Devil…”

The tying of laces is a very old spell.  The Greeks and Romans called it “ligature”.  Plato, Herodote, Virgil and Ovid allude to it.  Those who did it used a little wax figure representing the victim which they wrapped in cords while pronouncing conjuration phrases.  It was a sort of bewitchment…

There were also strange recipes for untying the laces.  For example, it was recommended to wear a ring into which the right eye of a weasel had been set…  Or – Pliny gives us this recipe – rub wolf grease around and on the bedroom door.  But some exorcisms were even stranger.  Certain rituels advised men touched by the spell, to write seven times on a new parchment the psalm Eripe me de inimicis meis and attach it to their right thigh.  In some provinces, the “knotted” husband had to urinate through the hole in the lock on the door of the church where he was married.  Elsewhere, this act of unbewitchment was done through the wedding ring while saying In nomine Patris…  In Poitou, the conjuration ceremony became acrobatic:  the spouses who were victims of tied laces lay down naked on the floor.  The husband then kissed the big toe on his wife’s left foot while she kissed the big toe on her husband’s right foot.  They then had to make two signs of the cross together, one of them with the left hand, the other with the heel of the free foot…


People were known to tie laces up until World War II.  There are probably still some in country regions even today.


All historians seem to agree that Philippe-Auguste’s failure to perform was caused by his great emotion provoked by Ingeburge’s beauty.  It is well-known that there are some women so beautiful that they take your breath away and tie your laces…