Part 4 out of 6
my bow, which ever made sweetest music to my ears, and see that
green and gravel make my grave. And, Little John, take care that I
have length enough and breadth enough to lie in." So Robin he
loosened his last arrow from the string. He then died. And where the
arrow fell Robin was buried.
RICHARD THE LION-HEARTED
King Richard, with his chief nobles, disembarked at Acre an hour
before noon on the 8th day of June, 1191. I had the good fortune to
see him without difficulty, by the favour of one who has a charge in
the ordering of the harbour. Nor was this a small thing, for there
was such a press and crowding of men.
The King was as noble a warrior as ever I have seen. Some that I
have known were taller of stature, but never one that bore himself
more bravely and showed more likelihood of strength and courage.
They that are learned in such things said that his arms were over-
long for the height of his body; but this is scarce a fault in a
swordsman, another inch of length adding I know not how much of
strength to a blow. He was of a ruddy complexion, his eyes blue,
with a most uncommon fire in them, such as few could dare to look
into if his wrath was kindled, his countenance, such as befitted a
ruler of men, being of an aspect both generous and commanding.
Some ten days after his coming to the camp King Richard was taken
with sickness. This was never altogether absent, but it grew worse,
as might indeed be looked for, in the heats of summer. The King
sickened on the day which the Christians celebrate as the Feast of
St. Barnabas. [Footnote: The longest day according to the old
calendar. So the old adage has it: "Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright;
Longest day and shortest night."] I was called to see him, having,
as I have said, no small fame as a healer. Never have I seen a sick
man more intractable. My medicine he swallowed readily, I may say,
even greedily. Had I suffered it, he would have taken it at
intervals shorter by far than I ordered. Doubtless he thought that
the more a man has of a good thing, the better it is for him. (So
indeed many believe, and of other things besides medicine, but
wholly without reason). But in this I hindered him, leaving with
those who ministered to him sufficient for one dose only.
He was troubled about many things, about the siege, which, as he
justly thought, had already been too much drawn out, about King
Philip of France, whom he loved not nor trusted, about his engines
of war, of which the greater part had not yet reached the camp; the
ships that bore them having been outsailed by the rest of the fleet.
His fever was of the intermittent sort, coming upon him on alternate
days. On the days when he was whole, or as nearly whole as a man
sick of this ague may ever be, he was busy in the field, causing
such engines as he had to be set in convenient places for the
assault of the town, and in other cares such as fall to a general.
When he was perforce shut in his pavilion by access of the fever, he
suffered himself to take no rest. Messengers were coming and going
from morning to night with news of the siege--he could never hear
enough of the doings of the French King--and there were always near
him men skilful in the working and making of engines. One would show
him some new thing pictured upon paper; another would bring a little
image, so to speak, of an engine, made in wood or iron. Never was a
child more occupied with a toy than was King Richard with these
things. I am myself no judge of such matters, but I have heard it
said by men well acquainted with them, that the King had a
marvellous understanding of such contrivances. But these cares were
a great hindrance to recovery. So at least I judged, and doubtless
it had been thus in the case of most men. But the King was not as
others, and, as it seemed to me, he drove away his disease by sheer
force of will.
On a certain evening when King Richard was mending apace of his
fever one carne to his tent--an English knight, Hugh Brown by name--
who brought the news that the King of the French had commanded that
a general assault should be made on the town the very next day. The
King would fain know the cause of this sudden resolve. "Well," said
the English knight, "it came about, as I understand, in this
fashion. The Turks have this day destroyed two engines of King
Philip on which he had spent much time and gold." "Aye!" said King
Richard, "I know the two; the cat and the mantlet. They are pretty
contrivings the both of them, but I set not such store on them as
does my brother of France." And here I should say that the cat was
like to a tent made of hides long and narrow and low upon the
ground, with a pointed end as it might be a ploughshare, which could
be brought up to the walls by men moving it from within, and so
sheltered from the stones and darts of the enemy. As for the
mantlet, it was made in somewhat the same fashion, only it was less
in size, nor was it to be brought near to the wall. King Philip
loved dearly to sit in it, cross-bow in hand--the French, I noted,
like rather the cross-bow, the English the long-bow--and would shoot
his bolts at any Turk that might show himself upon the walls.
But to come back to the knight's story. "An hour or so after noon,
when the cat had been brought close to the wall, and the mantlet was
in its accustomed place, some fifty yards distant, the Turks made an
attack on both at the same moment of time. On to the cat they
dropped a heavy beam; and when this with its weight had broken in
the roof, or I should rather say the back of the cat, a great
quantity of brushwood, and after the brushwood a whole pailful of
Greek fire [Footnote: A composition, supposedly of asphalt, nitre
and sulphur. It burnt under water.]--the machine was over near to
the wall, so that these things could be dropped on it from above. At
the mantlet they aimed bolts from a strong engine which they had
newly put in place, and by ill luck broke it through. And verily
before the nimblest-tongued priest in the whole realm of England
could say a hunting-mass, both were in a blaze."
What the man might mean by the priest and the hunting-mass I knew
not then, but heard after, that when a noble will go forth hunting,
the service which they call the mass is shortened to the utmost, and
the priest that can say it more speedily than his brethren is best
"And my brother of France," cried the King, "how fared he?" "He had
as narrow an escape with his life," answered the knight, "as ever
had Christian king. His mantle, nay his very hair was singed, and as
for his cross-bow, he was constrained to leave it behind." "And he
gave commands for the assault in his anger?" said the King. "'Tis
even so," answered Sir Hugh.
"My brother of France is, methinks, too greedy of gain and glory; if
he had been willing to ask our help, he had done better." But King
Richard sorrowed for the brave men, fellow-soldiers of the Cross
with him, who had fallen to no purpose. Nevertheless, in his secret
heart, he was not ill-pleased that the French King had not taken the
town of Acre.
On the second day after the failure of the French assault upon the
town, King Richard would make his own essay. He was not yet wholly
recovered of his sickness; but it would have passed the wit of man
to devise means by which he could be kept within his pavilion; nor
must it be forgotten that such restraint might have done him more of
harm than of good. So his physicians, for he had those who regularly
waited on him (though I make bold to say that he trusted in me
rather than in them), gave him the permission which he had taken. He
had caused a mantlet to be built for him which was brought up to the
edge of the ditch with which the town was surrounded. In this he
sat, with a cross-bow in hand, and shot not a few of the enemy,
being skilful beyond the common in the use of this weapon. But towns
are not taken by the shooting of bolts, howsoever well aimed they
may be. This may not be done save by coming to close quarters.
It was on the thirty-fourth day after the coming of King Richard
that the town was given up. Proclamation was made throughout the
camp that no one should trespass by deed or word against the
departing Turks. And, indeed, he who would insult men so brave would
be of a poor and churlish spirit. To the last they bore themselves
with great courage and dignity. On the morning of the day of their
departure they dressed themselves in their richest apparel, and
being so drest showed themselves on the walls. This done, they laid
aside their garments, piling them in a great heap in the market-
place, and so marched forth from the town, each clad in his shirt
only, but with a most cheerful contenance.
When the last of the Turks had left the town the Christian army
entered. Half of it was given to the French king, who had for his
own abode the House of the Templars, and half to King Richard, to
whom was assigned the palace of the Caliph. In like manner the
prisoners and all the treasure were equally divided.
For one shameful deed the English King must answer. Of this deed I
will now tell the story. When the army had had sufficient rest--and
the King knew well that no army must have more than is sufficient,
suffering more from excess than from defect in this matter--and it
was now time to advance, there arose a great question touching the
agreement made when the town was given up. There was much going to
and fro of messengers and embassies between the English King and the
Caliph Saladin, much debating, and many accusations bandied to and
fro. Even to this day no man can speak certainly of what was done or
not done in this matter. What I write, I write according to the best
of my knowledge. First, then, it is beyond all doubt that the Caliph
did not send either the Holy Cross or the money which had been
covenanted, or the prisoners whom he had promised to deliver up; but
as to the cause wherefore he did not send them there is no
agreement, the Christians affirming one thing, the followers of
Mahomet another. As to the Holy Cross, let that be put out of the
account. No man that I ever talked with--and I have talked with
many--ever saw it. 'Tis much to be doubted whether it was in being.
As to the money, that the Caliph had it, or a great portion of it,
at hand, is certainly true. It was seen and counted by King
Richard's own envoys. As to the prisoners, it is hard to discover
the truth. For my part, I believe that the Caliph was ready to
deliver up all that he had in his own hands or could find elsewhere,
but that he had promised more in respect of this than he was able to
perform. Many of those whom he had covenanted to restore were dead,
either of disease or by violence. As for disease, it must be noted
that a sick man was likely to fare worse in the hands of Turks; as
for violence, there was not much diversity between the Christians
and the followers of Mahomet. But this may be said, that one who
invades the land of others is like to suffer worse injury should he
come into their power than he would have the disposition to inflict
upon them. Whatever, then, the cause, the Caliph had engaged in this
matter far more than he was able to perform. But he did not fail
from want of good faith. I take it that it was from the matter of
the money that there came the breaking of the agreement. To put it
very shortly, the Caliph said, "Restore to me the hostages and you
shall receive the gold"; King Richard said, "Send on the gold and
you shall receive the hostages." And neither was the Caliph willing
to trust the good faith of the King, nor the King the good faith of
So there was delay after delay, much talk to no purpose, and the
hearts of men, both on one side and on the other, growing more hot
with anger from day to day. And there was also the need which
increased from day to day, as, indeed, it needs must, for the
Christians to be about the business on which they came. They had
taken the town of Acre, but that was but the beginning of their
enterprise, for they had to conquer the whole land. And how could
the army march with a whole multitude of prisoners in their hands? It
would need no small number of men to keep watch over them, lest they
should escape, or, what was more to be feared, do an injury to the
army. What could be worse in a doubtful battle than that there
should be these enemies in its very midst? I set these things down
because I would not do an injustice to the English King, whom I have
always held as one to be greatly admired. Nevertheless I say again,
that in the matter of the prisoners he did a shameful deed. For on
the 20th day of August he commanded that all the prisoners that were
in his hands, whether they had been taken in battle, or delivered up
as hostages for the fulfilment of the covenant, should be led out of
the city and slain. These were in number between two and three
thousand. Some the King kept alive, for whom, as being of high
nobility and great wealth, he hoped to receive a ransom; others were
saved by private persons, a few for compassion's sake; and others in
the hope of gain. But the greater part were slain without mercy, the
soldiers falling upon them, without arms and helpless as they were.
It was soon made plain to all that the spirit of the Caliph and his
Turks was not broken by the losing of Acre. Rather were they stirred
up by it to more earnestness and courage; nor did they forget how
their countrymen had been cruelly slaughtered. For a time they were
content to watch the King's army as it went on its way, taking such
occasion as offered itself of plundering or slaying. If any lagged
behind, falling out of the line of march by reason of weariness, or
seeking refreshment on the way, as when there was a spring of water
near to the road, or a vineyard with grapes--'twas just the time of
the ripening of grapes--then the Turkish horsemen would be upon him.
Such loiterers escaped but seldom. And for this business the Turks
had a particular fitness, so quickly did they come and depart. The
Christian knights were clad in armour, a great defense, indeed,
against arrows and stones, but a great hindrance if a man would move
quickly; the horses also had armour on them. Why do they set men on
horses but that they may go speedily to and fro as occasion may
call? but these knights are like to fortresses rather than to
riders. A man on foot can easily outrun them; as for the Turks who
rode on horses from the desert--than which there is no creature on
earth lighter and speedier--they flew from the Christian who would
pursue them, as a bird flies from a child who would catch it.
All this while the Turks were close at hand, and ready to assault
the King's army so soon as a convenient occasion would arise. But
they did not take King Richard unaware, for indeed he was as
watchful as he was brave.
I will now set forth as briefly as may be the order of the army as
it was set out for battle at Arsuf. On the right hand of the army
was the sea, its front being set towards the south. In the van were
the Templars, and next to these the Frenchmen in two divisions, the
second being led by that Guy who called himself King of Jerusalem,
and after the Frenchmen King Richard with his Englishmen; last of
all, holding the rear-guard, were the Hospitallers. These are ever
rivals of the Templars, and it was the King's custom so to order his
disposition that this rivalry should work for the common good. On
one day the Templars would lead, and the Hospitallers bring up the
rear; on another each would take the other's place; and there was
ever a mighty contention between the two companies which would bear
itself the better. These two posts, it should be said, were the most
full of peril; nor was any part of the army save only these two
companies suffered to hold either the one or the other. Between the
divisions there was a small space, not more that sufficient to mark
one from the other: otherwise the soldiers stood and marched in as
close array as might be. Also they moved very slowly, travelling
less than a league in the space of two hours. And even the King with
some chosen knights rode up and down the lines, watching at the same
time the Turks, so that whenever they might make assault the army
might be ready to meet them.
Now King Richard's commandment had been that the Christians should
on no account break their lines to attack the enemy, but should only
defend themselves as best they could. There is nothing harder in the
whole duty of a soldier than so to stand; even they who have been
men of war from their youth grow greatly impatient; as for the
younger sort they often fail to endure altogether. Many a man will
sooner throw himself upon almost sure death than abide danger less
by far standing still. And so it could be seen that day in the
Christian army. The first to fail were the men that carried the
cross-bows; nor, indeed, is it to be wondered at that when they had
spent their store of bolts, they, having but short swords wherewith
to defend themselves, should be ill content to hold their place.
Many I did see throw away their bows and fly, thrusting themselves
by main force into the ranks of the men-at-arms, who liked not to
beat them back, nor yet to suffer them to pass. And they themselves
had much ado to hold their ground, for it was a very fierce assault
that they had to endure. In the first place there was such a shower
of darts and stones and arrows that the very light of the sun itself
was darkened, a thing which I had always before judged to be a
fable, but saw that day to be possible. The greater part of them, it
is true, fell without effect to the ground, for of twenty missiles
scarce one served its purpose, but some were not cast in vain. As
for the number, they lay so thick upon the ground that a man might
gather twenty into his hand without moving from his place.
About noon the Knights Hospitallers themselves, than whom, as I have
said, there were no braver men in the whole army, sent word to the
King that they could bear up no longer, unless they should be
suffered to charge the enemy. But they got small comfort from the
King. "Close up your lines," he said to the messenger, "and be
patient. Be sure that you shall not miss your reward." A second time
did they send to him, the Master of the Company himself going on the
errand, but he also came back with nothing done. Now the King's plan
was this, that when the Turks should have spent their strength, and
should also, through over-confidence and contempt of their
adversaries, have fallen into disorder, then the trumpets should
sound, and the whole army with one consent and moving all together,
so that the whole of its strength should be put, as it were, into
one blow, should fall upon the enemy. 'Twas a wisely conceived plan,
save in this that there was needed for the full carrying out more
than the King was like to find. He laid upon his soldiers a greater
burden of patience than they could bear.
As for the King, he was, I can scarce doubt, glad at heart that the
season of waiting was over. Certain it is that not only did he not
seek to call back his men from the charge--doubtless he knew full
well that to do this was beyond the power of mortal--but he himself
joined in it with the greatest vehemence; none that saw him but must
have believed that the affair was altogether to his liking. If
others were before him at the first, but a short time had passed
when he was to be seen in the front rank, aye, and before it. Where
he rode, it was as if Azrael had passed, for the dead lay upon the
ground on either side.
Never had the Caliph Saladin suffered so great a defeat as that
which fell upon him in the battle of Arsuf; never, indeed, after
that day did he dare to meet King Richard in the open field.
Nevertheless, from that very day did the hope of the Christians that
they should accomplish the end of their warfare grow less and less.
But, if any one ask what was the cause of this falling, and who
should bear the blame, I, for one, know not what answer should be
made to him. There was not one in the whole army more brave and more
generous in this matter than King Richard; yet even he, I hold, had
not a wholly single heart. He was ever thinking of worldly things;
he desired greatly to win the city of Jerusalem, yet he desired it
as much for his own sake, for his own glory and renown, and the
increase of his royal power, as for any other cause.
There is no need to tell of all the combats, skirmishes, and the
like that took place, how on one day a company of the Templars fell
into an ambush, how on another the Hospitallers suffered some
damage. For the most part the Christians had the better in these
things, and this not a little because of the great skill and valour
of the English King. Nevertheless, the fortunes of the army seemed
to go backwards rather than forwards.
About this time the King began to have dealings for peace with the
Caliph Saladin, sending an embassage to him, and receiving the like
from him. But it was ever thus that the King asked more than he
looked for the Caliph to give; and the Caliph promised more than he
had the purpose to fulfil. There were many courtesies passed between
them, and gifts also. King Richard would send a set of hawks, and,
indeed, he had not much that he could give; but the presents that
came from the Caliph were of exceeding richness and splendour; there
was a tent made of cloth of gold, and horses such as Kings only have
in their stalls, and rare beasts and birds, and snow from Lebanon,
for the cooling of wines, and many other things, both for show and
for use, of which it were long to tell. And these things, for all
that they were costly, served the Caliph's purpose well, and for
this reason, they seemed to show his good will, and all the while he
was busy destroying the towns and laying waste the country. Of these
things the King heard something, but not all, for in the matter of
news he was ill served. And all the while the Turks ceased not to do
all the mischief that they could, slaying such as strayed from the
camp, yea, and coming into the camp itself, and doing men to death
in their very tents, and Saladin, or rather Saphadin, his brother,
for he it was who held converse with King Richard, when complaints
were made of their deeds, affirmed that they were done by robbers
and others who were not subject to him, and paid no reverence to his
commands; of which pretence there need be said this only, that these
robbers or murderers, whether they were the Caliph's men or no,
never harmed any but such as were his enemies.
For all this King Richard still strove by all means that he could
devise to come to a peaceful agreement with his adversaries. Nor did
he refuse any instrument by which he might hope to compass this end.
When a whole moon had been wasted in parleying and the sending of
messengers to and fro, the King, seeing that he must accomplish his
purpose by force of arms or not at all, led his army towards the
Holy City. It would serve no profitable end to tell of the other
places where he pitched his camp, or of the days which he tarried in
this or that. Let it suffice to say that in a month's time he
traversed so much space only as an army well equipped might pass
over in a single day's march; and that about twenty-one days after
the winter solstice the army of the Christians came to a certain
place which is named the Casal of Beitenoble, and which in ancient
times was, if I err not, a city of the priests. There it tarried
some twelve days, being much troubled by storms and rains, for the
winds blew and the rains fell during the whole of this time, in such
a fashion as I have never seen. As for the tents, only such as were
appointed with ropes and so forth could be kept in their place, so
violent were the blasts, so that the greater part of the army lay
under the open sky, not a little to the damage of their health. The
horses also were in evil case. These creatures, all men know, suffer
from much sickness, and multitudes of them perished. Also there was
a great scarcity of victuals; for the corn and even the biscuit were
spoilt by the rain, and the hogs' flesh grew corrupt.
Though not a few died of sickness, yet did the host daily grow
greater. Many who had stayed behind in various cities, their zeal
having grown stale, now came back to the camp, judging that they
would do well to take part in an enterprise that was now near to
success. Also many that had tarried on the march for the cause of
sickness now made shift to come to the camp. Some I saw carried in
litters, and others that could scarce set one foot before the other
crawled painfully along the road. Many of these were slain by the
Turks, but not the less did the rest brave the dangers of the
journey. And in the camp there was a great furbishing of arms and
armour, and trimming of the plumes of helmets, for it was counted an
unseemly thing that any man should enter such a place as the Holy
City save in his best array.
On a certain evening, some eleven days after the coming of the army
to Beitenoble, there was a council held in the tent of King Richard,
at which were present the Master of the Templars and the Master of
the Hospitallers, and other chief men in the army. About an hour
after sunset the council came to an end; darkness had long since
fallen, but it chanced to be full moon, and the faces of them that
had been present at the council were plain to be seen. Before ever a
word was said, it was manifest to all that a great misfortune had
befallen them. For the faces of these men were clouded with
discouragement. And straightway all the multitude that had been
gathered together departed every man to his own place. There needed
no proclaiming that neither on the morrow nor on any other day would
there be a marching to the Holy City.
On the 8th day of January the army departed from Beitenoble, and on
the 20th it came, after much toil and suffering, for the rain and
tempest scarcely abated for a single hour through the twelve days,
to the city of Ascalon.
For some little time, King Richard and his army dwelt in peace in
the city of Ascalon. Nor can it be denied that they gathered
strength; the sick, being duly handled by their physicians, were
restored to a sound body, and they that were wearied with the
labours of long-continued warfare had rest and refreshment.
Nevertheless it may be doubted whether the King was able to
advance the cause at all which he had in hand, namely, the taking of
the Holy City. And the chief cause was this, that the Christians,
not having for the present a common foe with whom to contend, began
to quarrel among themselves more grievously than ever. So the King
and the French, among whom, now that the French King had departed to
his own land, a certain Duke of Burgundy was chief, fell out, and
this with such heat, that the duke departed from Ascalon to Acre in
great haste, and all the Frenchmen followed him.
Now about this same time there came a messenger to King Richard
bearing a letter from one that he had set to rule in England in his
stead while he should be absent from his kingdom. In this letter
there were written many things about the doings of Prince John the
King's brother: how he had commerce with the French to the King's
damage, and was troubling all loyal men, and had taken all the money
that was in the treasury. When the King heard these things he was
sore distraught. And indeed he was in a great strait. On the one
hand there was the purpose for which he had come on his present
journey, the taking again of the Holy City; and, on the other, there
was the loss of his own kingdom at home. For in the letter it was
plainly written that if he was not speedy in returning, all the
realm of England would be lost to him.
At the first he made no doubt of departing with but as little delay
as might be. "I must be gone," he said, "or my kingdom will not be
worth a silver penny." But before many days his purpose was changed.
'Twas said that a holy man, a priest of the land of France, took
courage to speak to him and set before him his duty in this matter.
He said that the hearts of all were sorely troubled by the King's
purpose to depart--and this was most certainly true, seeing that
they who were most jealous of the King and chafed most at his
command were not less dismayed by the news of his departure than
were his best friends. "Think too," he is reported to have spoken,
"how that you will greatly dim your kingly renown. You have done
well, O King, and God has manifestly bestowed His blessings on you.
Will you then be ungrateful, and, if your royal grace will suffer me
to say so much, unfaithful to Him? Verily there is a great reward
laid up for him that recovers the Holy City out of the hands of the
heathen, and will you give this up on the bare rumour of mischief
that may befall your estate in this world?" So the holy man is
reported to have spoken. Such words may have had weight with the
King, who was ever greatly moved by eloquent words. But I also
believe that when he came to himself he judged that there was no
great need of haste in the matter; that the Prince John his brother
was not greatly loved, nor was ever like to be; that when the people
of England had had a year's trial of his rule, if such should come
to pass, they would be the less likely to stand by him; and,
moreover, that if Richard should go back to his country in high
esteem among all men, as having set up yet again a Christian Kingdom
in the Holy City, his enemies would be brought nought by the mere
rumour of his coming. Certain it is that, let the cause be what it
might, he caused it to be made known throughout the army that they
would set out for the Holy City in three days' time.
Again there was great joy in the army; again the sick rose from
their beds, and the lame threw away there crutches, that they might
go without hindrance on this great journey. Again did the army come
almost in sight of the Holy City; again were all things ready for
the assault. And then once more the more skilful and prudent of the
leaders hindered the matter. It was not well, they said to run into
such danger. It might well be that if they should assail the city
they would not take it; it was well-nigh certain that even if they
should take it, they could not hold it to any good purpose. And so
it came to pass that King Richard and the army having once more come
to Beitenoble, once more departed, leaving their task
When the leaders had taken this resolve that they would turn back
and the army was now about to depart, there came to King Richard a
certain man-at-arms, who was well acquainted with the country, for
indeed, he had travelled on foot as a pilgrim from the coast to
Jerusalem, and this not once only but twice or thrice. This man
said, "My lord King, if you are minded to see the Holy City, you can
do so at little pains. If you will ride a mile or so you will come
to a hill from whence you can see the walls, and the hill on which
the temple was built and other of the Holy places." But the King
answered, "I thank you much, nor, indeed, is there any sight in the
whole world on which I would more gladly look with my eyes, but I am
not worthy of so great a favour. If it had been the will of God that
I should see His city, I do not doubt that I had done so, not as one
who looks upon some spectacle from far, but as the conqueror in some
great battle looks upon the thing that he has won. But of this grace
I, by reason I doubt not of my sins, have been judged unworthy." And
when he had so spoken he turned his horse's head to the west, as
being minded to return yet again to the sea-coast. And this he did.
I have spoken of the King's courage and skill in arms and wisdom in
leadership, nor need I say these things again. But one thing I will
add, namely, that of all the men that came to this land from the
West none left behind him so great a fame as did King Richard. So if
a mother was minded to make a crying child hold his peace, she would
say, "Hush, child, or King Richard shall have thee"; or if a horse
started unaware, his rider would say, "Dost see King Richard in the
On the 9th day of October, 1192, did King Richard set sail to return
to his own country. But it fared ill with him on his journey. For it
fell out that he was separated from all his friends, and that when
he was in this case a certain duke, with whom he had had a strife,
laid hands upon him, and laid him in prison. There he remained for
the space of a year and more, fretting much, I doubt not, against
his condition, for never surely was a man more impatient of bonds.
But he could not escape, nor did his friends so much as know where
he was. And when this was discovered by some strange chance, there
was yet much delay, nor indeed was he set free till there had been
paid for him a ransom of many thousands of gold pieces. Not many
years after he was slain by a chance arrow shot from the walls of a
certain castle which he was besieging, being then in the forty-
second year of his age.
King Louis sailing from Cyprus about the 24th day of May, 1249, came
with a fair wind to Egypt in some four days, having a great fleet of
ships, numbering in all, it was said, some eighteen hundred, great
and small. And now there fell upon him the first stroke of
misfortune. There arose a strong wind from the south which scattered
the fleet, so that not more than a third part remained with the
King. As for the others, they were blown far to the north, even to
the town of Acre, and, though none were cast away, it was many days
before they could return. Now the King's purpose was to lay siege to
the town of Damietta, a town which is built on the midmost of the
seven mouths of the Nile. It was commonly agreed that whoever should
hold possession of this said town of Damietta might go whithersoever
he would in the whole land of Egypt, and further, that whosoever
should be master of Egypt could do what he would in the land of
When the King came with what was left to him over against the city
of Damietta there was much debate between him and his counsellors as
to what might best be done. "I have no mind," said he, "to turn
back, having, by the grace of God, come so far. Say you that I
should do well to wait for those who have been separated from us?
That I would gladly do, for it grieves me much that they lose, so
far, their share in this great enterprise. But two reasons constrain
me to do otherwise. First, it would put the infidel in great heart
if they should see me so delay to make trial of them; and, second,
there is here no harbour or safe anchorage where I might wait. Nay,
my lords, it is my purpose to attack the enemy without delay, for
the Lord our God can save by few or by many."
The King being thus steadfastly resolved to have no more delay, his
nobles and knights could not choose but obey him. This being so,
they strove among themselves who should be the first to come to
blows with the enemy. There were small boats with the larger of the
ships, and these were filled with men and rowed to the shore. This
was not done wholly without loss, for some slipped as they descended
from the ships, or missed their feet, the boat moving from under
them with the motion of the waves, so that some were drowned and
others hardly saved.
Meanwhile they took the great flag of Saint Denys, from the ship in
which it was, and carried it to the shore. But when the King saw the
flag on the shore he would tarry no longer, but leapt into the sea,
accoutred as he was, and the water came up to his armpits. When he
saw the Saracens, he said to the knight that followed him, "Who are
these?" And the knight answered, "These, sir, are the Saracens."
When he heard this he put his lance in rest, and held his shield
before him, and would have charged them, but his counsellors would
not suffer it.
When the enemy saw that the King and his men had landed, they sent a
message to the Sultan by carrier-pigeons; this they did three times.
But it so chanced that the Sultan was in a fit of the fever which
troubled him in the summer time, and he sent no answer. Then his
men, thinking that he was dead, for they knew already that he was
sick, fled straightway from the town of Damietta. When the King knew
this for certain, the bishops that were in the army sang the Te Deum
with great joy. The army which King Louis brought with him numbered
thirty thousand men.
The army being thus established in the town of Damietta, there was
much debate as to what should be done. The King was set upon
assailing the enemy without delay. "It is by delay," he said, and
said truly, "that these enterprises have been ruined heretofore, for
not only does an army grow less and less with every day by sickness-
-keep it as carefully as you will, such loss must needs happen--but
the first fire of zeal begins to burn low." To such purpose the King
spoke to his counsellors, nor could they gainsay his words. Yet they
had to urge on the other part reasons so weighty that they could not
The truth is that there could not have been chosen a worse time for
the waging of war in Egypt than that at which the King arrived.
Whereas other rivers overflow their banks in the winier season, the
Nile overflows his in summer, and this he does because his stream is
swollen, not by rains that fall in the land of Egypt, for such rains
are more scanty than in any other country of the world, but by those
that fall in countries far inland and, haply, by the melting of
snows. So it is that in that part of Egypt which is nearest to the
sea the river begins to rise in the month of June, and for a quarter
of a year or so thereafter an army must rest perforce. The King was
very ill served in his ministers when he was suffered to remain in
ignorance of these things. Nevertheless, the case being so, he had
no choice but to accept the counsel of delay. It was agreed,
therefore, that the army should tarry in Damietta till the floods of
the river should have ceased.
In the beginning of the month of December the King set out for Cairo
with his army. Now the Sultan had sent five hundred of his knights,
the bravest warriors and the best mounted that he could find in his
whole army, to the end that they should harass the King's army as
much as might be. Now the King being very careful of the lives of
his men, as knowing that a soldier lost could not be replaced, had
given a strict commandment that no one should presume to leave the
line of march and charge the enemy. When the Turks saw this, or,
haply, had learnt from their spies that the King had given this
commandment, they grew bolder and bolder, till one of them, riding
up to the line, overthrew one of the Knights Templar. This was done
under the very eyes of the Master of the Temple, who, when he saw
it, could no longer endure to be quiet. So he cried to his brethren,
"At them, good sirs, for this is more than can be borne." So he
spurred his horse, and the other Templars with him, and charged the
Turks. And because their horses were fresh and the horses of the
Turks weary, they bore them down. It was said that not one of the
five hundred escaped, many being ridden down, and the rest being
drowned in the river.
After this the King encamped between the two branches of the Nile,
that which flows by Damietta and that which is the next to it toward
the sunsetting. On the other side of this branch was ranged the army
of the Sultan, to hinder the Christians from passing, an easy thing
seeing that there was no ford, nor any place where a man might cross
save by swimming.
While they were in this strait there came a Bedouin to the camp, who
said that for five hundred pieces of gold he would show them a good
ford. When the Constable Imbert, to whom the Bedouin had spoken of
this ford, told the matter to the King, the King said, "I will give
the gold right willingly; only be sure that the man perform his part
of the bargain." So the constable parleyed with the man; but the
Bedouin would not depart from his purpose. "Give me the gold," said
he, "and I will show you the ford." And because the King was in a
strait, he consented; so the man received the five hundred pieces,
and he showed the ford to certain that were sent with him.
It was agreed that the Duke of Burgundy and other nobles who were
not of France should keep guard in the camp, and that the King with
his brothers should ford the river at the place which the Arab
should show. So, all being ready, at daybreak they came down to the
water. A ford there was, but not such as a man would choose save in
the greatest need.
The King, having with him the main body of the army, crossed amidst
a great sounding of horns and trumpets. It was a noble sight to see,
and nothing in it nobler and more admirable than the King himself. A
fairer knight there never was, and he stood with a gilded helmet on
his head, and a long German sword in his hand, being by his head and
shoulders taller than the crowd. Then he and his knights charged the
Saracens, who by this time had taken a stand again on the river
bank. It was a great feat of arms. No man drew long-bow that day or
plied cross-bow. The Crusaders and the Saracens fought with mace and
sword, neither keeping their ranks, but all being confused together.
But the Crusaders, for all their valour, could scarce hold their
own, because the enemy outnumbered them by much. Also there was a
division of counsel among them. Also there came a messenger from
them that were shut up in Mansoura, telling the King how hard
pressed they were, and in what instant need of succour.
And now the Sacarens grew more and more confident, for they were
greatly the better in numbers; and if, man for man and in the matter
of arms and armour, they were scarce equal to the Crusaders, yet the
difference was not so great. They pushed on, therefore, and drove
the Christians back to the river. These were very hard pressed, and
some were for swimming across the river to the camp, but by this
time their horses were weary, and not a few perished by drowning.
Nevertheless as time passed the Crusaders fared somewhat better, for
they drew more together, and the enemy, seeing that they still held
their ground, and being themselves not a little weary, drew back. In
the end the King and such of the chiefs as were left got back into
the camp. Right glad they were to rest, for the battle had been long
But they had but little peace, for that very night the Saracens made
an attack upon the camp. A great disturbance they made, and most
unwelcome to men who had been fighting all the day. But they did not
work much harm. Many valiant deeds were done by the Christians.
But the Saracens were making ready for attacking the camp with more
force than before. And their leader could be seen from the camp,
taking account of the Crusaders, and strengthening his battalions
where he thought that the King's camp might be most conveniently
The first attack was made on the Count of Anjou. He held that part
of the camp that was nearest to the city of Cairo. Some of the enemy
were on horseback and some on foot; there were some also that threw
Greek fire among the count's men. Between them they pressed the
count so sorely that he was fain to send to the King for help. This
the King gave without loss of time; he led the men himself, and it
was not long before they chased the Saracens from this part of the
When the battle was over the King called the barons to his tent, and
thanked them for all that they had done, and gave them great
encouragement, saying that as they had driven back the Saracens over
and again, it would, beyond doubt, go well with them in the end.
And now the army was sore distressed for want both of food and of
water. In Damietta, indeed, there were yet stores of barley, rice,
and other grains; but in the camp scarce anything that could be
eaten. Some small fishes were caught in the river; but these were
very ill savoured, and all the more so--so, at least, it seemed to
such as eat them under constraint of hunger--because they fed on
dead bodies, of which many were thrown into the river. For a while
some portion of the stores that were in the city were carried across
the river to the camp. But this the Saracens hindered, for by this
time their ships had the mastery over the ships of the Christians.
They kept, therefore, the river, suffering nothing to pass. If
anything was carried across, it was but a trifle. Some things the
country people brought into the camp, but these were not to be
purchased save for large sums of money, and money was by this time
scarce even among the richer sort. And when it was judged expedient
that the King's army should cross the river again and return to the
camp, things were worse rather than better, so far as victuals were
concerned. It was well that the army should be brought together,
both for attack and for defence, but with the greater multitude the
famine grew worse and worse.
After a while there was a treating for peace between the King and
the Saracens; and for a while it seemed as if they might come to an
agreement, and this not without advantage to the King. But the
matter came to naught, because the Saracens would have the King
himself as a hostage for the due performance of the treaty. The
Christians would have given the King's brothers, and these were
willing to go; but the King they could not give. "It would be
better," said one of the bravest knights in the army, and in this
matter he spake the mind of all, "that we should all be taken
captive or slain, than that we should leave the King in pledge."
The King, seeing that the condition of the army still grew from bad
to worse, and that if they tarried they would all be dead men,
commanded that they should make their way into the town of Damietta.
And this the army began to do the very next night. Now the first
thing to be cared for was the taking of the sick, of whom there was
a great multitude, on board the ships. But while this was being
done, the Saracens entered the camp on the other side. When the
sailors who were busy in embarking the sick saw this, they loosed
the cables by which they were moored to the shore, and made as if
they would fly. Now the King was on the bank of the river, and there
was a galley in waiting for him, whereon, if he had been so minded,
he might easily have escaped. Nor could he have been blamed
therefor, because he was afflicted with the dysentery that prevailed
in the camp. But this he would not do; "Nay," he said, "I will stay
with my people." But when there was now no hope of safety, one of
his officers took him, mounted as he was on a pony, to a village
hard by, defending him all the way from such as chanced to fall in
with him--but none knew that he was the King. When he was come to
the village they took him into a house that there was, and laid him
down almost dead. A good woman of Paris that was there took his head
upon her lap, and there was no one but thought that he would die
before nightfall. Then one of the nobles coming in asked the King
whether he should not go to the chief of the Saracens, and see
whether a treaty might not yet be made on such terms as they would.
The King said yes; so he went. Now there was a company of the
Saracens round the house, whither by this time not a few of the
Christians had assembled. And one of the King's officers cried-
whether from fear or with traitorous intent cannot be said--"Sir
knights, surrender yourselves! The King will have it so; if you do
not, the King will perish." So the knights gave up their swords, and
the Saracens took them as prisoners. When the chief of the Saracens,
with whom the noble aforesaid was talking, saw them, he said, "There
can be no talk of truce and agreement with these men; they are
And now the question was not of a treaty but a ransom. About this
there was no little debate between the Sultan and the King. First
the Sultan required that the King should surrender to him the
castles of the Knights Templars and of the Hospitallers of St. John.
"Nay," said the King, "that I cannot do, for they are not mine to
give." This answer greatly provoked the Sultan, and he threatened to
put the King to the torture, to which the King answered this only,
that he was a prisoner in their hands, and that they could do with
him as they would.
When they saw that they could not turn him from his purpose by
threats or by fear, they asked him how much money he was willing to
pay to the Sultan for his ransom, such money being over and above
the rendering up of the town of Damietta. Then the King made answer:
"If the Sultan will take a reasonable sum in money for ransom, I
will recommend it to the Queen that she should pay the same." "Nay,"
said the envoy of the Sultan, "why do you not say outright that you
will have it so?" "Because," answered the King, "in this matter it
is for the Queen to say yea or nay. I am a prisoner, and my royal
power is gone from me." So it was agreed that if the Queen would pay
a thousand thousand gold pieces by way of ransom, the King should go
free. Said the King, "Will the Sultan swear to this bargain?" They
said that he would. So it was agreed that the King should pay for
the ransom of his army a thousand thousand gold pieces, and for his
own ransom the town of Damietta, "for," said he, "a King cannot be
bought and sold for money." When the Sultan heard this, he said, "On
my word, this is a noble thing of the Frenchman that he makes no
bargaining concerning so great a thing. Tell him that I give him as
a free gift the fifth part of the sum which he has covenanted to
All things were now settled, and there were but four days before the
fulfilling of the treaty, when the King should give up Damietta to
the Sultan, and the Sultan, on his part, should suffer the King and
his people to go free. But lo! there came to pass that which was
like to bring the whole matter to nothing. The emirs of the Sultan
made a conspiracy against him. "Know this," they said one to
another, "that so soon as he shall find himself master of Damietta,
he will slay us. Let us therefore be beforehand with him." And it
was agreed that this should be done. First, when the Sultan was
going to his chamber after a banquet which he had given to the
emirs, one, who was, indeed, his sword-bearer, dealt him a blow and
struck off his hand. But the Sultan, being young and nimble, escaped
into a strong tower that was hard by his chamber, and three of his
priests were with him. The emirs called upon him to give himself up.
"That," said he, "I will do, if you will give me a promise of my
life." "Nay," they answered, "we will give you no promises. If you
surrender not of your own free will, then will we compel you." Then
they threw Greek fire at the tower, and the tower, which was built
of pine-wood, caught fire on the instant. When the Sultan saw this
he ran down with all the speed that he could, seeking to reach the
river, if so be he could find a ship. But the emirs and their men
were ranged along the way, nor was it long before they slew him. And
he that dealt him the last blow came to the King, his hand yet
dripping with blood, and said, "What will you give me? I have slain
your enemy, who would assuredly have done you to death had he
lived." But the King answered him not a word.
Now the covenant between the King and the Saracen chiefs was
renewed, nor was any change made in the conditions; only the payment
was differently ordered; that is to say, one-half of the ransom was
to be paid before the King left the place where he was, and the
other half in the town of Acre.
Then the emirs on the one part and the King on the other took the
oaths that were held to be the most binding on them. The King indeed
held staunchly by his faith, and when the emirs would have had him
swear in a way that he thought to be unseemly to him as a Christian
man he would not. And the emirs paid him the more honour and
reverence for this very cause. It was said, indeed, that they would
have made him Sultan of Cairo, if he had been minded to receive that
dignity at their hands; furthermore, some that knew the King
affirmed that he was not altogether set against it. But none knew
for certain the truth in the matter. Yet it was well said by one of
the emirs, "There surely never was better or more steadfast
Christian than this King Louis. Verily if he had been made our
sultan he would never have been content till he had either made us
all Christians, or, failing this, had put us all to the sword."
And now there came a time of great peril to the prisoners. First the
town of Damietta was given up to the Saracens, the gates being
opened and their flag hoisted On the towers.
On the next day the paying of the ransom was begun. When the money
was counted it was found to be short by some thirty thousand pieces.
These were taken from the treasury of the Templars much against
their will, but the necessities of the prisoners prevailed.
As for the King, there could not have been a man more loyal in the
fulfilling of his promise. When one of those that counted the money
said that the Saracens had received less than their due by some ten
thousand pieces, the King would not suffer but that the whole matter
should be looked into, lest the Saracens should have wrong. The
counter, indeed, averred that this thing was said in jest; but the
King answered that such a jest was out of season, and that above all
things it was necessary that a Christian should show good faith.
Not many days after the paying of the ransom the King sent for his
chief counsellors and opened his mind to them in the matter of his
return to France. He said, "The Queen, my mother, begs me to come
back to France, saying that my kingdom is in great peril seeing,
that I have no peace, nor even a truce, with England. Tell me, then,
what you think. And because it is a great matter, I give you eight
days to consider it."
After this the King went to Acre, where he tarried till what was
left over of the ransom was paid.
On the day appointed the counsellors came before the King, who said
to them, "What do you advise? Shall I go, or shall I stay?" They
said that they had chosen one from among them, a certain Guy
Malvoisin, to speak for them. Thereupon this Guy said, "These lords
have taken counsel together, and are agreed that you cannot tarry in
this country without damage to yourself and your kingdom. For think
how that of all the knights whom you had in Cyprus, two thousand
eight hundred in number, there remain with you here in Acre scarce
one hundred. Our counsel, therefore, is that you return to France,
and there gather another army, with which you may come hither again
and take vengeance on your enemies for their trespasses against God
and against you."
Then the King turned to a certain John, who was Count of Jaffa, and
asked him for his judgment. Count John answered: "Ask me not, sire;
my domain is here, and if I bid you stay, then it will be said that
I did this for my own profit." But when the King was urgent for his
advice he said, "If you stay for a year it will be for your honour."
And one other of the counsellors gave the same judgment; but all the
rest were urgent for the King's return. Then the King said, "I will
tell you eight days hence what it is my pleasure to do."
On the day appointed they all came together again, and the King
said, "I thank you, my lords, for your counsel--both those who have
advised my going back and those who have advised my staying. Now I
hold that if I stay, my kingdom of France will be in no peril,
seeing that the Queen, my mother, is well able to keep it in charge;
but that if I depart, then the kingdom of Jerusalem will most
certainly be lost, because no man will be bold enough to stay after
I am gone. Now, it was for the sake of this same kingdom of
Jerusalem that I have come hither. My purpose, therefore, is to
stay." There was no little trouble among the barons when they heard
these words. There were some among them who could not hold back
their tears. But though the King resolved himself to stay, yet he
commanded his brothers to depart. And this they did before many
While the King tarried at Acre there came to him messengers from the
Old Man of the Mountain. One of the messengers was the spokesman,
and had his place in front; the second had in his hand three
daggers, to signify what danger threatened him who should not listen
to the message; the third carried a shroud of buckram for him who
should be smitten with the daggers. The King said to the first
envoy, "Speak on." Then the envoy said, "My master says, 'Know you
me?'" The King answered, "I know him not, for I have never seen him;
yet I have often heard others talk of him." "Why, then," went on the
envoy, "have you not sent him such gifts as would have gained his
friendship, even as the Emperor of Germany and the King of Hungary
and other princes have done, yea, and do now year after year,
knowing well that they cannot live save by my lord's pleasure?" The
King made no answer, but bade the envoys come again in the
afternoon. When they came they found the King sitting with the
Master of the Templars on one side and the Master of the
Hospitallers on the other. Now the Old Man is in great awe of these
two, for he knows that if he slay them there will be put in their
place other two as good or better. The envoys were not a little
disturbed when they saw the two. And the Master of the Templars
said, "Your lord is over bold to send you with such a message for
the King. Now be sure that we would have drowned you in the sea, but
that so doing might be a wrong to him. Go now to your lord, and come
again in fourteen days with such a token and such gifts as may
suffice for the making of peace."
So the envoys departed, and came again in the time appointed, and
they brought with them the shirt of the Old Man and his ring, which
was of the finest gold, and with these things this message: "As man
wears no garment that is nearer to him than his shirt, so the Old
Man would have the King nearer to him than any other King upon
earth; and as a ring is the sign of marriage by which two are made
one, so the Old Man would have himself and the King to be one."
Other gifts there were, an elephant of crystal, very cunningly
wrought, and a monster which they call a giraffe, also of crystal,
and draughts and chessmen, all finely made. The King, on his part,
sent to the Old Man a great store of newels, and scarlet cloth, and
dishes of gold and bridles of silver.
While the King was at Jaffa it was told him that if he desired to
make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem the Sultan of Damascus would give him
a safe-conduct. The King consulted his nobles on the matter, and
both he and they were of one mind in the matter, to wit, that he
should not go. "For," said they, "if the King should go as a
pilgrim, when he has not been able to take the Holy City itself out
of the hands of the infidel, then will other Kings in time to come
do the same. They will be content to go as pilgrims, but will take
no thought as to the city, whether it be held by Christian or
After these things the King went to the city of Sidon and fortified
it with strong walls, for he was greatly unwilling to give up his
hope of winning the whole land out of the hands of the infidel. But
when he had brought this work to an end, there came news to him from
his own country that the Queen his mother, who was charged with the
government thereof, was dead. Then he took counsel with his nobles
what he should do, and it seemed to them that he must of necessity
return to France. One among them put the case before the King as
"Sire, we see that it will not profit the kingdom of Jerusalem that
you tarry longer here. You have done what was in your power. You
have fortified the city of Sidon, and Cassarea, and Jaffa, and you
have made the city of Acre much stronger than it was. And now for
your own kingdom's sake, you must needs depart." And to this the
King gave his consent, though with an unwilling heart. So he
departed, and this, as it chanced, on his birthday. As the ship went
forth from the harbour he said to the Lord of Joinville, who stood
by him, "On this day I was born." And the Lord of Joinville said to
him, "Truly, sire, I should say that you are beginning another life,
now that you are safely quit of this land of death."
Some seventeen years after the things last recorded, I took a
journey to the Island of Sardinia, and made my abode at a town on
the west coast, called Neapolis. When I had sojourned there two
months there came in sight on a certain day a great fleet of ships,
which those who were acquainted with such things declared to be from
the land of France. As for the crowd that came ashore that day, it
were best to say little. It is more to the purpose to say that I met
with one whom I knew, having consorted with him in time past, and
this the more constantly because he followed the same occupation as
I. I asked him, "How came you hither? If you are bound for
Palestine, this is but a short stage in your journey." He answered
me with something of a smile in his eye, though his mouth was set,
"Where could we more conveniently halt than here, for we are bound
for Tunis?" "For Tunis?" said I; "but how shall this help you for
the taking of Jerusalem?" "That," said he, "you must ask of some one
that has more wisdom than I. But this I know that the King was told,
by whom I know not, that the Bey of Tunis desired to be baptised.
This, then, is cause sufficient for him. Are you minded to come with
me? If so, I can find you a place in the King's ship, for it is in
it that I sail."
When I heard that, I consented without delay. So that night I gave
my friend the shelter of my lodging; and the next day he took me
with him, and commended me to one of the chief officers of the ship,
bearing witness to my skill as a physician. On the fourth day we
sailed, and came in two days, the wind blowing from the north, to
the harbour of Tunis. As for the King, I saw him but once. His
valets carried him up on the deck; and, to tell the truth, he looked
as little fit for doing feats of arms as man could look. But I
thought that the sickness which takes many men upon the sea might be
Scarce had the army landed than there began a most grievous
sickness. In truth the place for the camp had been ill chosen, for
there was a little stream into which much of the filth of the city
was wont to run. From this there came a most evil smell. Many also,
for want of good water, would drink of the stream, than which there
could be no more deadly thing.
On the very day after he landed from his ship the King fell sick.
His physician being disabled by the same malady, I was called in to
the King's help; and from the first I saw that, save by a miracle,
he could not live. On the fourth day he died, making as good and
devout an end as any that I have ever seen. He would know the truth,
for he was not one of those who buoy themselves up with false hopes.
And when he knew it, then first with the help of the priests that
attended him he prepared his soul, and afterward he gave what time
remained to teaching the son who should be King after him how he
should best do his duty to God and man.
I heard much from him who had put it in my mind to come from the
island of Sardinia concerning King Louis. Never, he told me, was a
King more bent on doing justice and judgment. These he maintained
with his whole heart and strength, not having any respect of
persons, or having regard to his own profit. Though he held bishops
and priests in great reverence, being most careful of all the
offices of religion, yet he would withstand even these when they
seemed to seek that which was not fair and just. He was a lover of
peace far beyond the wont of Kings, who indeed, for the most part,
care but little for it, so that men say in a proverb, "War is the
game of Kings." Of the poor he was a great and constant favourer.
Every day he had a multitude of them fed at his cost in his palace,
and sometimes he would serve himself, and it was his custom on a
certain day to wash the feet of poor men. In his eating and drinking
he was as temperate as man could be, drinking, for example, but one
cup of wine, and that largely mingled with water. In all things
wherein great men ofttimes offend he was wholly blameless and beyond
reproach. Of all men that I had any knowledge of, whether by sight
or by hearing, in this business of the Crusades there was not one
who could be so much as named in comparison with King Louis. To King
Louis religion was as life itself. It filled, as it were, his whole
soul; he judged of all things by it; he hungered and thirsted after
it. And yet of all who bore the cross this man, being, as he was, so
much the most faithful to his vow, by far the truest cross-bearer of
all, yet failed the most utterly. Of such things I have not the wit
to judge; yet this, methinks, is manifest, that the Kingdom of God
is not set forward by the power of armies. I do believe that if King
Louis, being what he was, a man after God's own heart, had come, not
with the sword, but preaching the truth by his life, he had done
more for the cause that he had at heart. As it was, he furthered it
not at all, so far as I can discern, but rather set it back. That he
did not gain for Christendom so much as a single foot of earth is
not so much to be lamented, as that he made wider the breach between
Christian men and the followers of Mahomet. And this he did, though
he was in very truth the most Christlike of all the men that I have
William Tell was born toward the close of the thirteenth century. I
cannot tell you the precise year of his birth; but in the year 1307
he was a married man, and lived with his wife and children, in the
village of Burglen, near the great town of Altdorf, in the canton of
Tell maintained his family chiefly by hunting the chamois, and
shooting other wild game. So skilful was he in the use of the bow,
that the fame of his exploits in that way had obtained for him the
name of "The Crossbowman of Burglen." He was also very skilful in
the management of boats upon the lakes. His father had followed the
profession of a pilot, and William Tell, though he preferred the
life of a hunter, understood the navigation of the lakes better than
almost any boatman in the canton of Uri. It was a saying, "That
William Tell knew how to handle the rudder as expertly as the bow."
In short, he was a person of strong natural talents, who observed on
everything he saw, and acquired all the knowledge he could.
Switzerland was at that time in a state of slavery to Albert, Duke
of Austria, who had recently been selected Emperor of Germany. He
had taken great offence with the Swiss, because they wished Count
Adolph of Nassau to be elected Emperor of Germany instead of him.
The first use he made of his power was to punish the Swiss for
having favoured the cause of his rival; and he was so unwise as to
declare publicly, "that he would no longer treat them as subjects,
but as slaves." In pursuance of this wicked resolution he deprived
them of many of their rights and privileges, and altered their
ancient laws and customs.
By these proceedings the Emperor rendered his government very
unpopular, and when he found that the people expressed
dissatisfaction, he built castles and fortresses all over the
country, and filled them with soldiers to awe the people into
submission. In each of these fortresses he placed a governor, who
exercised despotic power in the district over which his sway
extended. The inhabitants of the canton Uri, in particular, had to
complain of the oppression of their German governor, Gessler, who
had committed several murders, and acted in such a manner as to
excite general indignation, by his pride, cruelty, and injustice.
The whole country was indeed ripe for a revolt, in case an
opportunity should occur of throwing off the German yoke.
One cold autumnal evening, the blaze of the cheerful fire which the
wife of William Tell had kindled on the hearth, against her
husband's return, gleamed through the rude latticed casements of
their cottage window. The earthern floor of the humble dwelling bad
been freshly swept; a clean cloth of the matron's own spinning, was
spread on the homely board, which was garnished with wooden bowls
and spoons of the most snowy whiteness; and a kettle of fish-soup,
with herbs, was stewing over the fire. Some flat oaten cakes,
designed to be eaten hot with butter, were baking on the hearth.
The babe was sleeping peacefully in the cradle; two or three of the
other little ones, weary with their sportive play, had been laid in
their cribs. Henric and Lewis, two lovely boys of five and six years
old, having promised to be very good, if allowed to sit up till
their father's return, were watching their mother, who was employed
in roasting a fine fat quail which their cousin, Lalotte, who had
arrived at the discreet age of fourteen, was basting, and spinning
the string by which it was suspended before the fire.
"Mother," said Henric, "if my father does not come home very soon,
that quail will be done too much."
"What then?" asked Lalotte.
"I was thinking, cousin Lalotte, that it would be a pity for it to
be spoiled, after you and mother have taken so much pains in cooking
it; and it smells so very good."
"Oh, fie! you greedy child; you want to eat the bird that is cooking
for your father's supper," said Lalotte. "If I were my aunt, I would
send you to bed only for thinking of such a thing."
"You are not the mistress--you are not the mistress!" cried the
sturdy rebel Henric; "and I shall not go to bed at your desire."
"But you shall go to bed, young sir, if your cousin Lalotte tells
you so to do," said his father, who had entered during the dispute.
"Alack!" cried Henric turning to his little brother, "if we had only
been patient, Lewis, we should have tasted the nice quail, and heard
all our father's news into the bargain."
"There now, see what you have lost by being naughty children," cried
Lalotte, as she led the offenders into their little bedroom.
"Thy father's news is not for thy young ears, my boys," murmured
William Tell, as the door closed after the unconscious children.
"There is a sadness in thy voice and trouble on thy brow," said the
anxious wife of Tell, looking earnestly in his face. "Wilt thou not
trust me with the cause of thy care?"
"Annette," replied Tell, "thou hast been a good and faithful wife to
me--yea, and a prudent counsellor and friend in the time of need.
Why, then, should I do a thing and conceal it from thee, my well-
"What is it thou hast done, my husband?"
"That for which thou wilt blame me, perchance."
"Nay, say not so; thou art a good man."
"Thou knowest, my loving wife, the sad state of slavery to which
this unhappy country of Switzerland is reduced by the unlawful
oppression of our foreign rulers," said Tell.
"I do," she replied; "but what have peasants to do with matters so
much above them?"
"Much!" returned Tell. "If the good laws made by the worthies of the
olden time, for the comfort and protection of all ranks of people,
be set at naught by strangers, and all the ancient institutions,
which were the pride and the glory of our land, be overthrown, by
those to whom we owe neither the love of children, nor the
allegiance of subjects, then, methinks, good wife, it becomes the
duty of peasants to stand forth in defence of their rights. I have
engaged myself, with three-and-thirty of my valiant countrymen, who
met this night on the little promontory of land that juts into a
lonely angle of the Lake, to concert with them means for the
deliverance of my country."
"But how can three-and-thirty men hope to oppose the power of those
who enthral Switzerland?" asked the wife of Tell.
"Great objects are often effected by small instruments," replied he.
"The whole population of Switzerland is exasperated against the
German tyrants, who have of late abused their power so far as to
rouse the indignation even of women and of children against them.
The father of Arnold Melchthal, one of the 'Brothers of Rutli,' as
our band is called, was recently put to a cruel death by the unjust
sentence of Gessler, the governor of our own canton of Uri; and who
knoweth, gentle wife, whether his jealous caprice may not induce him
to single me out for his next victim?"
"Single thee out, my husband!" exclaimed Annette turning pale. "Nay,
what accusation could he bring against thee?"
"That of being the friend of my country, which is, of course, a
crime not to be forgiven by a person of Gessler's disposition."
"But Gessler is too much exalted above our humble sphere of life, to
be aware of a peasant's sentiments on such matters," said Annette.
"Gessler will not permit us to indulge the thoughts of our hearts in
secret," said Tell; "for he hath recently devised a shrewd test,
whereby he is enabled to discern the freeman from the slave
throughout this province."
"And what is the test which the governor of Uri employeth for that
"Thou hast heard our good pastor read in the Scripture of the
prophet Daniel, of the golden image, which the tyrant Nebuchadnezzar
caused to be erected. He made a decree that all nations and people
of the world should bow down and worship it, and that those who
refused to do so should be cast into a burning fiery furnace.
Rememberest thou this, my beloved?"
"Certainly," Annette replied. "But what hath Gessler to do with that
presumptuous folly of the King of Babylon?"
"Gessler," replied Tell, "imitates the presumption, albeit it is not
in his power to rival the grandeur, of Nebuchadnezzar; for he hath
set up an idol in the market-place of Altdorf, to which he requireth
blind homage to be paid by fools and cowards. Now, the King of
Babylon's idol, the prophet tells us, was of solid gold, a metal
which the world is, I grieve to say, too prone to worship; but
Gessler's paltry Baal is but the empty ducal bonnet of Austria,
which he hath exalted on a pole; and he commands the men of Uri to
bow down before it, under penalty of death. Wouldst thou wish thy
husband to degrade the name of a Swiss, by stooping to such an
"No," she replied, "I should blush for thee, if thou wert capable of
"Thou hast spoken like a free woman," he exclaimed. "Yea, and thou
shalt be the mother of free children: for the first time I go to
Altdorf I will resist the edict, which enjoins me and my countrymen
to pay homage to the senseless bauble which the German governor hath
exalted in the market-place."
"But why go to Altdorf at all, my husband?" said the wife to Tell.
"My business calls me to Altdorf, and I shall go thither like an
honest man, in the performance of my duty," replied Tell. "Thinkest
thou that I am either to confess myself a slave, by bending my body
to an empty cap, or to permit it to be a scarecrow, that shall
fright me from entering the capital city of my native province, lest
I should draw upon myself the penalty of refusing to perform a
contemptible action, enjoined by a wicked man? No, no, my sweet
wife; I shall go to Altdorf, when occasion may require, without
considering myself bound to observe Gessler's foolish edict."
The return of Lalotte put an end to this discourse; and Annette
began to assist her in taking up the supper.
Lalotte was the orphan of Tell's brother. Her parents had both died
when she and her brother Philip were very young, and they had been
adopted into the family of her kind uncle soon after his marriage
with Annette. Lalotte was affectionate, sprightly, and industrious.
She assisted her aunt in the household work and the dairy; and it was
her business to take charge of the children, whom she carefully
instructed in such things as she knew, and laboured to render them
virtuous and obedient.
Philip, her brother, who was about a year older than herself, had
been unfortunately a spoiled child. He was self-willed and
intractable, and, though far from a bad disposition, was always
getting himself and others into scrapes and difficulties.
That night his place at the board was vacant, which his uncle
"Lalotte, where is your brother Philip?"
"Absent, uncle, I am sorry to say," replied Lalotte.
"It is not usual for Philip to desert the supper meal," observed
Tell, "even if he be absent the rest of the day. I am afraid he is
after no good."
A hasty step was heard; and Lalotte exclaimed, "I should not wonder
if that were my scrapegrace brother!"
"It does not sound well of you to call him so, Lalotte, though he is
a sad plague to us all," said Tell.
The door was hastily opened, and Philip bounced in out of breath,
and covered with mud. He flung himself on a wooden settle beside the
fire, and gave way to fits of laughter.
"How now, Philip! what is the cause of all this?" asked Tell
"Hurrah!" shouted he, springing from his seat, and capering about,
"I have done such a deed!"
"Some notable piece of folly, no doubt," observed his uncle; "what
is it, boy?"
"A deed that will render my name famous throughout the whole
province of Uri, my good uncle. Everybody is talking about it in
Altdorf at this very moment," exclaimed Philip, rubbing his hands.
"You have long been celebrated there as the ringleader of mischief,"
observed Tell; "but I doubt whether you will have much reason to
exult in the evil reputation you have acquired, Philip. Therefore go
to bed, and when you say your prayers, ask for grace to reform your
"My good uncle," replied Philip, "be content. This night I have
turned patriot, raised a rabble of boys, and pelted down the fool's
cap which old Gessler had stuck up in the market-place of Altdorf,
for Switzers to pay homage to. Is not that a glorious deed!"
"It is of a piece with the rest of your folly. Were you called upon
to pay homage to the cap?"
"By no means, uncle, else must I perforce have made my obeisance to
the empty bonnet of the Emperor-Duke of Austria. But this exploit of
mine was after dark, when one boy could not be distinguished from
another; and there were fully fifty of us engaged in pelting at the
mock majesty till down it came, feathers and all, souse into the
mud. Then, oh stars! how we all ran! But it was my stone that hit
it, take notice: ha! ha! ha!"
"Your head must be as devoid of brains as the empty cap you pelted,
Philip, or you never would have engaged in any such adventure."
"How, uncle!" cried Philip in amaze; "would you have me pay homage
to the ducal bonnet without a head in it?"
"It seems you were not required to do so, Philip; therefore you had
no pretext for raising a riot to break the peace."
"But, uncle, do you intend to yield obedience to the governor's
"Philip," replied Tell, "I am a man, and of age to form a correct
judgment of the things which it may be expedient to do or proper to
refuse. But it is not meet for idle boys to breed riots and commit
acts of open violence, calculated to plunge a whole country into
Philip withdrew with an air of great mortification and the family
soon after retired to rest.
The next day William Tell took his thoughtless nephew with him, on a
hunting excursion, since it was necessary he should find some better
occupation than throwing stones. After several days they returned,
loaded with the skins of the chamois that had been slain by the
unerring arrow of Tell.
His wife and children hastened to the cottage door to welcome him,
when they beheld him coming. "Behold, my beloved," said Tell, "how
well I have sped in the chase! These skins will bring in a mine of
wealth against the winter season. To-morrow is Altdorf fair and I
shall go thither to sell them."
"Hurrah!" shouted Philip. "Is Altdorf fair to-morrow? Oh, my faith,
I had forgotten it. Well, I shall go thither, and have some fun."
"And I mean to go too, cousin Philip," said Henric.
"Not so fast, young men," cried Tell. "Altdorf fair will be full of
soldiers and turbulent people, and is not a proper place for rash
boys and children."
"But you will take care of us, father, dear father," said Henric,
stroking his father's arm caressingly.
"I shall have enough to do to take care of myself, Henric," replied
Tell. "So you must be a good boy, and stay with your mother."
"But I won't be a good boy, if you leave me at home," muttered the
"Then you must be whipped, sir," said his father; "for we love you
too well to permit you to be naughty without punishing you."
On hearing this, Henric began to weep with anger. So his father told
Lalotte to put him to bed without his supper.
Now Philip was a silly, good-natured fellow, and fancied that his
little cousin, Henric, of whom he was very fond, was ill-treated by
his father. So he took an opportunity of slipping a sweet-cake into
his pouch, from the supper-board, with which he slily stole to
"Never mind my cross uncle, sweet cousin," said he: "see, I have
brought you a nice cake."
"Oh! I don't care about cakes," cried Henric. "I want to go to
Altdorf fair to-morrow."
"And you shall go to Altdorf fair," said Philip.
"But how can I go, when father says he won't take me?" sobbed
"There, dry your eyes, and go to sleep," whispered Philip; "as soon
as my uncle is gone I will take you to the fair with me; for I mean
to go, in spite of all he has said to the contrary."
"But what will mother say?" asked Henric.
"We won't let her know anything about it," said Philip.
"But Lalotte won't let us go; for Lalotte is very cross, and wants
to master me."
"A fig for Lalotte!" cried the rude Philip; "do you think I care for
"I won't care for Lalotte when I grow a great big boy like you,
cousin Philip; but she makes me mind her now," said Henric.
"Never fear; we will find some way of outwitting Mademoiselle
Lalotte to-morrow," said Philip.
The next morning William Tell rose at an early hour, and proceeded
to the fair at Altdorf, to sell his chamois skins.
Philip instead of getting up, and offering to carry them for his
uncle, lay in bed till after he was gone. He was pondering on his
undutiful scheme of taking little Henric to the fair, in defiance of
Tell's express commands that both should stay at home that day.
Henric could eat no breakfast that morning for thinking of the
project in which Philip had tempted him to engage. His kind mother
patted his curly head, and gave him a piece of honeycomb for not
crying to go to the fair. He blushed crimson-red at this
commendation, and was just going to tell his mother all about it,
when Philip, guessing his thoughts, held up his finger, and shook
his head at him.
When his mother and Lalotte went into the dairy to churn the butter
they begged Henric and Philip to take care of Lewis and the other
little ones, so that they should not get into any mischief. No
sooner, however, were they gone, than Philip said, "Now, Henric, is
our time to make our escape, and go to the fair."
"But," said Henric, "my mother gave me some sweet and honeycomb just
now, for being a good boy; and it will be very naughty of me to
disobey my father's commands after that. So, dear Philip, I was
thinking that I would stay at home to-day, if you would stay too,
and make little boats for me to float on the lake."
"I shall do no such thing, I promise you," replied Philip; "for I
mean to go to the fair, and see the fun. You may stay at home, if
you like--for I don't want to be plagued with your company."
"Oh, dear!" cried Henric, "but I want very much to go to the fair,
and see the fun too."
"Come along then," said Philip; "or we shall not get there in time
to see the tumblers, or the apes and dancing bears, or the fire-
eaters, or any other of the shows."
It was nearly two hours before the truants were missed by Henric's
mother and Lalotte; for they were all that time busy in the dairy.
At length they heard the children cry; on which, Lalotte ran into
the room, and found no one with them but Lewis.
"What a shame," cried Lalotte, "for that lazy boy Philip, to leave
all these little ones, with only you, Lewis. Where is Henric, pray?"
"Oh! Henric is gone to the fair with cousin Philip," lisped little
"Oh that wicked Philip!" cried Lalotte. "Aunt! aunt! Philip has run
off to Altdorf fair, and taken Henric with him!"
"My dear Lalotte," said her aunt, "you must put on your hood and
sabots, and run after them. Perhaps, as you are light-footed, you
can overtake them, and bring Henric back. I am sure, some mischief
will befall him."
Lalotte hastily threw her gray serge cloak about her, and drew the
hood over her head. She slipped her little feet into her sabots, or
wooden shoes, and took the road to Altdorf, hurrying along as fast
as she could, in hope of overtaking the truants before they reached
More than once the little maiden thought of turning back, but the
remembrance of Philip's rash and inconsiderate temper filled her
with alarm for the safety of the child whom he had tempted away from
home. She reflected that, as her uncle was at Altdorf, it would be
her wisest course to proceed thither to seek him out, and to inform
him of his little boy being then in the fair.
Lalotte entered the market-place of Altdorf, at the moment when her
uncle, having disposed of his chamois-skins to advantage, was
crossing from the carriers' stalls to a clothier's booth to purchase
woollen cloths for winter garments. Fairs were formerly marts, where
merchants and artisans brought their goods for sale; and persons
resorted thither, not for the purpose of riot and revelling, but to
purchase useful commodities, clothing, and household goods at the
William Tell had been requested by his careful wife to purchase a
variety of articles for the use of the family. He was so intent in
performing all her biddings, to the best of his ability, that he
never once thought of the cap which the insolent governor, Gessler,
had erected in the market-place, till he found himself opposite to
the lofty pole on which it was exalted. He would have passed it
unconsciously had he not been stopped by the German soldiers, who
were under arms on either side the pole, to enforce obedience to the
insulting edict of the governor of Uri. Tell then paused, and,
raising his eyes to the object to which the captain of the guard,
with an authoritative gesture, directed his attention, beheld the
ducal cap of Austria just above him.
The colour mounted to the cheek of the free-born hunter of the Alps,
at the sight of this badge of slavery of his fallen country. Casting
an indignant glance upon the foreign soldiers who had impeded his
progress, he moved sternly forward, without offering the prescribed
act of homage to the cap.
"Stop!" cried the captain of the guard; "you are incurring the
penalty of death, rash man, by your disobedience to the edict of his
excellency the Governor of Uri."
"Indeed!" replied Tell. "I was not aware that I was doing anything
"You have insulted the majesty of our lord the Emperor by passing
that cap without bowing to it," said the officer.
"I wist not that more respect were due to an empty cap, than to a
cloak and doublet, or a pair of hose," replied Tell.
"Insolent traitor! dost thou presume to level thy rude gibes at the
badge of royalty?" cried the governor, stepping forward from behind
the soldiers, where he had been listening to the dispute between
Tell and the officer.
Poor Lalotte, meantime, having caught a glimpse of her uncle's tall,
manly figure through the crowd, had pressed near enough to hear the
alarming dialogue in which he had been engaged with the German
soldiers. While, pale with terror, she stood listening with
breathless attention, she recognised Philip at no great distance,
with little Henric in his arms, among the spectators.
The thoughtless Philip was evidently neither aware how near he was
to his uncle, nor of the peril in which he stood. With foolish glee,
he was pointing out the cap to little Henric; and though Lalotte
could not hear what he was saying, she fancied he was rashly
boasting to the child of the share in the exploit of pelting it down
a few nights previous.
While her attention was thus painfully excited she heard some of the
people round her saying,
"Who is it that has ventured to resist the governor's decree?"
"It is William Tell, the crossbow-man of Burglen," replied many
"William Tell!" said one of the soldiers; "why it was his kinsman
who raised a rabble to insult the ducal bonnet the other night."
"Ay, it was the scapegrace, Philip Tell, who assailed the cap of our
sovereign with stones, till he struck it down," cried another.
"Behold where the young villain stands," exclaimed a third, pointing
"Hallo, hallo! seize the young traitor, in the name of the Emperor
and the governor!" shouted the Germans.
"Run, Philip, run--run for your life!" cried a party of his youthful
Philip hastily set his little cousin on his feet, and started off
with the speed of the wild chamois of the Alpine mountains; leaving
little Henric to shift for himself.
"The child, the child! the precious boy! he will be trampled to
death!" shrieked Lalotte.
Henric had caught sight of his father among the crowd while Philip
was holding him up to look at the ducal cap, and he had been much
alarmed lest his father should see him. But the moment he found
himself abandoned by Philip, he lifted up his voice, and screamed
with all his might, "Father, father!"
The helplessness, the distress, together with the uncommon beauty of
the child, moved the heart of a peasant near him, to compassion.
"Who is your father, my fair boy?" said he. "Point him out, and I
will lead you to him."
"My father is William Tell, the crossbow-man of Burglen," said the
child. "There he is close to the cap on the pole yonder."
"Is he your father, poor babe?" said the peasant. "Well, you will
find him in rare trouble, and I hope you may not be the means of
adding to it, my little man."
No sooner had the kind man cleared the way through the crowd for his
young companion, and conducted him within a few yards of the spot
where William Tell stood, than the urchin drew his hand away from
his new friend, and running to his father, flung his little arms
about his knees, sobbing, "Father, dear father, pray forgive me this
once, and I will never disobey you again."
Henric made his appearance at an unlucky moment both for his father
and himself; for the cruel governor of Uri, exasperated at the manly
courage of Tell, seized the boy by the arm and sternly demanded if
he were his son.
"Harm not the child, I pray thee," cried Tell: "he is my first
"It is not my intention to do him harm," replied the governor. "If
any mischief befall the child, it will be by thy own hand, traitor.
Here," cried he to one of his soldiers, "take this boy, tie him
beneath yon linden-tree, in the centre of the market-place, and
place an apple on his head--"
"What means this?" cried Tell.
"I am minded to see a specimen of your skill as an archer," replied
Gessler. "I am told that you are the best marksman in all Uri; and,
therefore, your life being forfeited by your presumptuous act of
disobedience, I am inclined, out of the clemency of my nature, to
allow you a chance of saving it. This you may do, if you can shoot
an arrow so truly aimed as to cleave the apple upon thy boy's head.
But if thou either miss the apple, or slay the child, then shall the
sentence of death be instantly executed."
"Unfeeling tyrant!" exclaimed Tell; "dost thou think that I could
endeavour to preserve my own life by risking that of my precious
"Nay," replied Gessler, "I thought I was doing thee a great favour
by offering thee an alternative, whereby thou mightest preserve thy
forfeited life by a lucky chance."
"A lucky chance!" exclaimed Tell: "and dost thou believe that I
would stake my child's life on such a desperate chance as the cast
of an arrow launched by the agitated hand of an anxious father, at
such a mark as that? Nay, look at the child thyself, my lord. Though
he be no kin to thee, and thou knowest none of his pretty ways and
winning wiles, whereby he endeareth himself to a parent's heart--yet
consider his innocent countenance, the artless beauty of his
features, and the rosy freshness of his rounded cheeks, which are
dimpling with joy at the sight of me, though the tears yet hang upon
them--and then say, whether thou couldst find in thine heart to aim
an arrow that perchance might harm him?"
"I swear," replied Gessler, "that thou shalt either shoot the arrow,
"My choice is soon made," said Tell, dropping the bow from his hand.
"Let me die!"
"Ay, but the child shall be slain before thy face ere thine own
sentence be executed, traitor!" cried the governor, "if thou shoot
not at him."
"Give me the bow once more!" exclaimed Tell, in a hoarse, deep
voice; "but in mercy let some one turn the child's face away from
me. If I meet the glance of those sweet eyes of his, it will unnerve
my hand; and then, perchance, the shaft, on whose true aim his life
and mine depend, may err."
Lalotte, knowing that all depended on his remaining quiet, as soon
as the soldiers had placed him with his face averted from his
father, sprang forward, and whispered in Henric's ear, "Stand firm,
dear boy, without moving, for five minutes, and you will be forgiven
for your fault of this morning."
There was a sudden pause of awe and expectation among the dense
crowd that had gathered round the group planted within a bow-shot of
the linden-tree beneath which the child was bound. Tell, whose arms
were now released, unbuckled the quiver that was slung across his
shoulder, and carefully examined his arrows, one by one. He selected
two: one of them he placed in his girdle, the other he fitted to his
bow-string; and then he raised his eyes to Heaven, and his lips
moved in prayer. He relied not upon his own skill but he asked the
assistance of One in whose hands are the issues of life and death;
and he did not ask in vain. The trembling, agitated hand that a
moment before shook with the strong emotion of a parent's anxious
fears, became suddenly firm and steady; his swimming eyes resumed
their keen, clear sight, and his mind recovered its wonted energy of
purpose at the proper moment.
Lalotte's young voice was the first to proclaim, aloud, "The arrow
hath cleft the apple in twain! and the child is safe."
"God hath sped my shaft, and blessed be His name!" exclaimed the
pious archer, on whose ear the thunders of applause, with which the
assembled multitude hailed his successful shot, had fallen unheeded.
The soldiers now unbound the child; and Lalotte fearlessly advanced,
and led him to his father. But before the fond parent could fold his
darling to his bosom, the tyrant Gessler sternly demanded for what
purpose he had reserved the second arrow, which he had seen him
select and place in his belt.
"That arrow," replied Tell, giving way to a sudden burst of passion,
"that arrow was designed to avenge the death of my child, if I had
slain him with the other."
"How to avenge?" exclaimed the governor, furiously. "To avenge,
saidst thou? and on whom didst thou intend thy vengeance would
"On thee, tyrant!" replied Tell, fixing his eyes sternly on the
governor. "My next mark would have been thy bosom, had I failed in
my first. Thou perceivest that mine is not a shaft to miscarry."
"Well, thou hast spoken frankly," said Gessler; "and since I have
promised thee thy life I will not swerve from my word. But as I have
now reason for personal apprehensions from thy malice, I shall
closet thee henceforth so safely in the dungeons of Kussnacht, that
the light of sun or moon shall never more visit thine eyes; and thy
fatal bow shall hereafter be harmless."
On this the guard once more laid hands on the intrepid archer, whom
they seized and bound, in spite of the entreaties of Lalotte, and
the cries and tears of little Henric, who hung weeping about his
"Take him home to his mother, Lalotte; and bear my last fond
greetings to her and the little ones, whom I, peradventure, shall
see no more," said Tell, bursting into tears. The mighty heart which
had remained firm and unshaken in the midst of all his perils and
trials, now melted within him at the sight of his child's tears, the
remembrance of his home, and anticipations of the sufferings of his
The inhuman Gessler scarcely permitted his prisoner the satisfaction
of a parting embrace with Henric and Lalotte, ere he ordered him to
be hurried on board a small vessel in which he embarked also with
his armed followers. He commanded the crew to row to Brunnen, where
it was his intention to land, and, passing through the territory of
Schwyz, to lodge the captive Tell in the dungeon of Kussnacht, and
there to immure him for life.
The sails were hoisted and the vessel under weigh, when suddenly one
of those storms common on the lake of Uri overtook them, accompanied
with such violent gusts of wind, that the terrified pilot forsook
the helm; and the bark, with the governor and his crew, was in
danger of being ingulfed in the raging waters. Gessler, like most
wicked people, was in great terror at the prospect of death, when
one of his attendants reminded him that the prisoner, William Tell,
was no less skilful in the management of a boat than in the exercise
of the bow. So he ordered that Tell should be unbound, and placed at
The boat, steered by the master-hand of the intrepid Tell, now kept
its course steadily through, the mountain surge; and Tell observed,
"that by the grace of God, he trusted a deliverance was at hand."
As the prow of the vessel was driven inland, Tell perceived a
solitary table rock and called aloud the rowers to redouble their
efforts, till they should have passed the precipice ahead. At the
instant they came abreast this point he snatched his bow from the
plank, where it was lying forgotten during the storm, and, turning
the helm suddenly toward the rock, he sprang lightly on shore,
scaled the mountain, and was out of sight and beyond reach of
pursuit, before any on board had recovered from consternation.
Tell, meantime, entered Schwyz, and having reached the heights which
border the main road to Kussnacht, concealed himself among the
brushwood in a small hollow of the road, where he knew Gessler would
pass on his way to his own castle, in case he and his followers
escaped and came safely to shore. This, it appeared they did, and
having effected a landing at Brunnen, they took horse, and proceeded
towards Kussnacht, in the direction. of the only road to the castle.
While they were passing the spot where Tell lay concealed, he heard
the cruel tyrant denouncing the most deadly vengeance, not only on
himself, but his helpless family: "If I live to return to Altdorf,"
he exclaimed, "I will destroy the whole brood of the traitor Tell,
mother and children, in the same hour."
"Monster, thou shalt return to Altdorf no more!" murmured Tell. So,
raising himself up in his lair, and fitting an arrow to his bow, he
took deadly aim at the relentless bosom that was planning the
destruction of all his family.
The arrow flew as truly to the mark as that which he had shot in the
market-place of Altdorf, and the tyrant Gessler fell from his horse,
pierced with a mortal wound.
The daring archer thought that he had taken his aim unseen by human
eye; but, to his surprise, a familiar voice whispered in his ear,
"Bravo, uncle! that was the best-aimed shaft you ever shot. Gessler
is down, and we are a free people now."
"Thou incorrigible varlet, what brings thee here?" replied Tell, in
an undervoice, giving Philip a rough grip of the arm.
"It is no time to answer questions," returned Philip. "The Rutli
band are waiting for thee, if so be thou canst escape from this
dangerous place; and my business here was to give thee notice of the
On this, Tell softly crept from the thicket, and, followed by his
nephew, took the road to Stienen, which under cover of darkness,
they reached that night.
Philip, by the way, after expressing much contrition for having
seduced little Henric to go to the fair with him, informed his uncle
that Henric and Lalotte had been safely conducted home by one of the
band of the Rutli who chanced to be at Altdorf fair.
When they reached Stienen Tell was received with open arms by
Stauffacher, the leader of the Rutli band; and with him and the
other confederates, he so well concerted measures for the
deliverance of Switzerland from the German yoke, that, in the course
of a few days, the whole country was in arms. The Emperor of
Germany's forces were everywhere defeated; and on the first day of
the year, 1308, the independence of Switzerland was declared.
His grateful countrymen would have chosen William Tell for their
sovereign, but he nobly rejected the offer, declaring that he was
perfectly contented with the station of life in which he was born,
and wished to be remembered in history by no other title than that
of the Deliverer of Switzerland.
This true patriot lived happily in the bosom of his family for many
years, and had the satisfaction of seeing his children grow up in
the fear of God and the practice of virtue.
I hope you have not forgotten, my dear child, that all the cruel
wars of Scotland arose out of the debate between the great lords who
claimed the throne after King Alexander the Third's death. The
Scottish nobility rashly submitted the decision of that matter to
King Edward I of England, and thus opened the way to his
endeavouring to seize the kingdom of Scotland to himself. It was
natural that such of the people as were still determined to fight
for the deliverance of their country from the English, should look
round for some other King, under whom they might unite themselves,
to combat the power of England.
Amongst these, the principal candidates, were two powerful noblemen.
The first was Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick; the other was John
Comyn, or Cuming, of Badenoch, usually called the Red Comyn, to
distinguish him from his kinsman, the Black Comyn, so named from his
swarthy complexion. These two great and powerful barons had taken
part with Sir William Wallace in the wars against England; but,
after his defeat, being careful of losing their great estates, and
considering the freedom of Scotland as beyond the possibility of
being recovered, both Bruce and Comyn had not only submitted
themselves to Edward, and acknowledged his title as King of
Scotland, but even borne arms, along with the English, against such
of their countrymen as still continued to resist the usurper. But
the feelings of Bruce concerning the baseness of this conduct, are
said, by the old tradition of Scotland, to have been awakened by the
following incident. In one of the numerous battles, or skirmishes,
which took place at the time between the English and their adherents
on the one side, and the insurgent or patriotic Scots upon the
other, Robert the Bruce was present, and assisted the English to
gain the victory. After the battle was over, he sat down to dinner
among his southern friends and allies, without washing his hands, on
which there still remained spots of the blood which he had shed
during the action. The English lords, observing this whispered to
each other in mockery, "Look at that Scotsman, who is eating his own
blood!" Bruce heard what they said, and began to reflect that the
blood upon his hands might be indeed called his own, since it was
that of his brave countrymen who were fighting for the independence
of Scotland, whilst he was assisting its oppressors, who only
laughed at and mocked him for his unnatural conduct. He was so much
shocked and disgusted that he arose from table, and, going into a
neighbouring chapel, shed many tears, and, asking pardon of God for
the great crime he had been guilty of, made a solemn vow that he
would atone for it by doing all in his power to deliver Scotland
from the foreign yoke. Accordingly, he left, it is said, the English
army, and never joined it again, but remained watching an
opportunity for restoring the freedom of his country.
Now, this Robert the Bruce was held the best warrior in Scotland. He
was very wise and prudent, and an excellent general; that is, he
knew how to conduct an army, and place them in order for battle, as
well or better than any great man of his time. He was generous, too,
and courteous by nature; but he had some faults, which perhaps
belonged as much to the fierce period in which he lived as to his
own character. He was rash and passionate, and in his passion he was
sometimes relentless and cruel.
Robert the Brace had fixed his purpose, as I told you, to attempt
once again to drive the English out of Scotland, and he desired to
prevail upon Sir John, the Red Comyn, who was his rival in his
pretensions to the throne, to join with him in expelling the foreign
enemy by their common efforts. With this purpose, Bruce requested an
interview with John Comyn. They met in the Church of the Minorites
in Dunfries, before the high altar. What passed betwixt them is not
known with certainty; but they quarrelled, either concerning their
mutual pretensions to the Crown, or because Comyn refused to join
Bruce in the proposed insurrection against the English; or, as many
writers say, because Bruce charged Comyn with having betrayed to the
English his purpose of rising up against King Edward. It is,
however, certain, that these two haughty barons came to high and
abusive words, until at length Bruce forgot the sacred character of
the place in which they stood, and struck Comyn a blow with his
dagger. Having done this rash deed, he instantly ran out of the
church and called for his horse. Two friends of Bruce were in
attendance on him. Seeing him pale, bloody, and in much agitation
they eagerly inquired what was the matter.
"I doubt," said Bruce, "that I have slain the Red Comyn."
"Do you leave such a matter in doubt?" said one, "I will make
sicker!"--that is, I will make certain. Accordingly, he and his
companion rushed into the church and made the matter certain with a
vengeance, by dispatching the wounded Comyn with their daggers. His
uncle, Sir Robert Comyn, was slain at the same time.
This slaughter of Comyn was a rash and cruel action. It was followed
by the displeasure of Heaven; for no man ever went through more
misfortunes than Robert Bruce, although he at length rose to great
honour. After the deed was done, Bruce might be called desperate. He
had committed an action which was sure to bring down upon him the