Part 2 out of 5
For the next week nothing was talked of in London but the approaching
sports, and the workmen were already engaged in the erection of the lists
and pavilions in the fields between the walls and Westminster. It was
reported that the king would add valuable prizes to those given to the
winners by the city; that there would be jousting on horseback by the sons
of the court nobles, and that the young Prince of Wales would himself ride.
The king had once before taken part in the city sports, and with ten of the
citizens had held his own against an equal number of knights. This was at
the commencement of his reign; but the accident to the queen's stand had so
angered him that he had not again been present at the sports, and his
reappearance now was considered to be an act of approval of the efforts
which the city had made to aid him in the war, and as an introduction of
the young prince to the citizens.
When the day arrived there was a general flocking out of the citizens to
the lists. The scene was a picturesque one; the weather was bright and
warm; the fields were green; and Westminster, as well as London, sent out
large numbers to the scene. The citizens were all in their best; their
garments were for the most part of somber colours - russet, murrey, brown,
and gray. Some, indeed, of the younger and wealthier merchants adopted
somewhat of the fashion of the court, wearing their shoes long and pointed,
and their garments parti-coloured. The line of division was down the centre
of the body; one leg, arm, and half the body would be blue, the other half
russet or brown. The ladies' dresses were similarly divided. Mingling with
the citizens, as they strolled to and fro upon the sward, were the
courtiers. These wore the brightest colours, and their shoes were so long
that the points were looped up to the knees with little gold chains to
enable them to walk. The ladies wore headdresses of prodigious height,
culminating in two points; and from these fell, sweeping to the ground,
streamers of silk or lighter material. Cloths of gold and silver, rich
furs, silks, and velvets, were worn both by men and women.
None who saw the nobles of the court walking in garments so tight that they
could scarce move, with their long parti-coloured hose, their silk hoods
buttoned under the chin, their hair braided down their back, would have
thought that these were the most warlike and courageous of knights, men
whose personal prowess and gallantry were the admiration of Europe. Their
hair was generally cut close upon the forehead, and the beard was suffered
to grow, but was kept trimmed a moderate length. Many of the ladies had the
coat-of-arms of their family embroidered upon their dresses, giving them
the appearance of heralds' tabards. Almost all wore gold or silver
girdles, with embroidered pouches, and small daggers.
Thus the appearance of the crowd who moved about among the fields near the
lists was varied and brilliant indeed. Their demeanour was quiet, for the
London merchants deemed a grave demeanour to belong to their calling, and
the younger men and apprentices restrained their spirits in the presence of
their superiors. For their special amusement, and in order, perhaps, to
keep them from jostling too freely against the court gallants and ladies,
the city authorities had appointed popular sports such as pleased the
rougher classes; and bull baiting, cock-fighting, wrestling for a ram,
pitching the bar, and hand ball, were held in a field some distance away.
Here a large portion of the artisans and apprentices amused themselves
until the hour when the king and queen were to arrive at their pavilion,
and the contests were to commence.
Presently a sound of trumpets was heard, and the royal procession was seen
moving up from Westminster. Then the minor sports were abandoned; the crowd
gathered round the large fenced-in space, and those who, by virtue of rank
or position in the city, had places in the various stands, took their
There was a flourish of trumpets as the king and queen appeared in front of
the pavilion, accompanied by the Prince of Wales and many of the nobles of
the court, and a shout of welcome arose from the crowd. The shooting at a
mark at once began. The preliminary trials had been shot off upon the
preceding day, and the six chosen bowmen now took their places.
Walter had not entered for the prizes at archery. He had on previous years
shot well; but since he had fully determined to become a man-at-arms he had
given up archery, for which, indeed, his work at the forge and his
exercises at arms when the fires were out, left him but little time. The
contest was a close one, and when it was over the winner was led by the
city marshal to the royal pavilion, where the queen bestowed upon him a
silver arrow, and the king added a purse of money. Then there were several
combats with quarterstaff and broadsword between men who had served among
the contingents sent by the city to aid the king in his wars. Some good
sword-play was shown and many stout blows exchanged, two or three men were
badly hurt, and the king and all present were mightily pleased with the
stoutness with which they fought.
The apprentices then came forward to compete for the prizes for sword-play.
They wore light iron caps and shirts of thickly quilted leather, and
fought with blunted swords, for the city fathers deemed wisely that with
these weapons they could equally show their skill, and that with sharpened
swords not only would severe wounds be given, but bad blood would be
created between the apprentices of the various wards. Each ward sent its
champion to the contest, and as these fought in pairs, loud was the
shouting which rose from their comrades at each blow given or warded, and
even the older citizens joined sometimes in the shouting and took a warm
interest in the champions of their respective wards.
The iron caps had stout cheek-pieces which defended the sides of the face
and neck, for even a blunted sword can deliver a terrible blow if it fall
upon the naked flesh. It took a long time to get through the combats; the
pairs were drawn by lot, and fought until the king decided which was the
superior. Some were speedily beaten, at other times the contests were long
and severe. It was generally thought by the apprentices that the final
contest lay between Walter Fletcher of Aldgate and Ralph Smith of Ludgate.
The former was allowed to be superior in the use of his weapon, but the
latter was also skilful, was two years older, and greatly superior in
strength. He had not taken part in the contest in the preceding year, as he
had been laid up with a hurt in his hand which he had got in his employment
as a smith, and the lads of Ludgate were confident that he would turn the
tables upon the champion of the eastern ward. Both had defeated with ease
the various opponents whom they had met, but it chanced that they had not
drawn together until the last round, when they remained alone to struggle
for the first and second prizes.
The interest in the struggle had increased with each round, and wagers were
freely laid upon the result. According to custom the two champions had laid
aside their leathern shirts and had donned mail armour, for it was
considered that the crowning contest between the two picked young swordsmen
of the city would be a severe one, and greater protection to the limbs was
Before taking their places they were led up to the royal pavilion, where
they were closely inspected by the king and his nobles.
"You are sure that this man is still an apprentice?" the king asked the
Lord Mayor, who was seated next to him; "he has the appearance of a
man-at-arms, and a stout one too; the other is a likely stripling, and is,
as I have seen, marvellously dexterous with his sword, but he is but a boy
while the other is a grown man.
"He is an apprentice, my liege, although his time will be up in a few days,
while the other has yet three years to serve, but he works for an armourer,
and is famed through the city, boy as he is, for his skill with weapons."
After a few words to each, exhorting them to do their best in the sight of
the queen and her ladies, the king dismissed them.
"I know the young one now!" the Prince of Wales said, clapping his hands as
the apprentices turned away to take their places. "My Lord Talbot, I will
wager a gold chain with you upon the smaller of the two."
"I will take your wager," the noble answered; "but I am by no means sure
that I shall win it, for I have watched your champion closely, and the
downright blows which he struck would seem to show that he has the muscle
and strength of a man though still but a boy."
The event justified the Prince of Wales's confidence; at the commencement
of the struggle Ralph Smith tried to beat down his opponent by sheer
strength as he had done his prior opponents, but to his surprise he found
that all his efforts could not break down his opponent's guard. Walter
indeed did not appear to take advantage of his superior lightness and
activity, but to prefer to prove that in strength as well as skill he was
equal to his antagonist. In the latter respect there was no comparison, for
as soon as the smith began to relax his rain of blows Walter took the
offensive and with a sweeping blow given with all his strength broke down
his opponent's guard and smote him with such force upon his steel cap that,
blunted as the sword was, it clove through the iron, and stretched the
smith senseless on the ground. A loud shout broke from the assemblage. The
marshal came up to Walter, and removing his helmet, led him to the royal
pavilion, while Ralph was carried to a tent near, where a leech attended
CHAPTER VI: THE MELEE
You have won your prize stoutly and well, sir 'prentice," the king said. "I
should not have deemed it possible that one of your age could have smitten
such a blow, and right glad should I be of a few hundred lads of your
mettle to follow me against the French. What is your calling?"
"I am an armourer, my liege," Walter answered.
"And you are as good at mending armour as you are at marring it," the king
said, "you will be a rare craftsman one of these days. 'Tis a rare pity so
promising a swordsman should be lost to our army. Wouldst like to change
your calling, boy, and take to that of arms?"
"It is my hope to do so, sir," Walter answered modestly, "and his grace the
Prince of Wales has already promised me that I shall some day ride behind
him to the wars."
"Ah! Edward," the king ejaculated, "how is this? Have you been already
enlisting a troop for the wars?"
"No, sir," the young prince replied, "but one day, now some four years
since, when I was riding with my Lord Talbot and others in the fields near
the Tower I did see this lad lead his play-fellows to the assault of an
earthen castle held by others, and he fought so well and gallantly that
assuredly no knight could have done better, until he was at last stricken
senseless, and when he recovered I told him that should he choose to be a
man-at-arms I would enlist him in my following to the wars."
The king laughed.
"I deemed not that the lads of the city indulged in such rough sports; but
I wonder not, seeing that the contingent which my good city of London
furnishes me is ever one of the best in my army. We shall see the lad at
work again tomorrow and will then talk more of it. Now let us bestow upon
him the prize that he has so well earned."
Walter bent on one knee, and the queen handed to him a sword of the best
Spanish steel, which was the prize given by the city to the victor. The
king handed him a heavy purse of gold pieces, saying:
"This may aid in purchasing your freedom."
Walter bowed deeply and murmured some words of thanks, and was then led off
by the marshal. After this many of the young nobles of the court jousted on
horseback, ran at the ring, and performed other feats of knightly exercise
to the great pleasure of the multitude. The marshal on leading Walter away
said to him, "You will be captain of the city band tomorrow, and I must
therefore tell you what the king purports. He has prepared a surprise for
the citizens, and the present show will be different to anything ever
before seen in London. Both to show them somewhat of the sieges which are
taking place on the borders of France and the Low Countries, in which Sir
Walter Manny and many other gallant knights have so greatly distinguished
themselves, and as an exercise for the young nobles, he has determined that
there shall be a castle erected. It will be built of wood, with battlements
and towers, with a moat outside. As soon as the lists are over a large
number of workmen will commence its erection; the pieces are all sawn and
prepared. There will be machines, ladders, and other appliances. The ten
champions on either side will fight as knights; you will have a hundred
apprentices as men-at-arms, and the court party will have an equal number
of young esquires. You, as winner of today's tourney, will have the choice
of defence or attack. I should advise you to take the defence, since it is
easier and requires less knowledge of war, and many of the other party have
accompanied their fathers and masters in the field and have seen real
sieges carried out."
"Can you show me a plan of the castle," Walter said, "if it be not contrary
to the rules, in order that I may think over tonight the plan of fighting
"Here it is," the marshal said. "You see that the walls are 200 feet long,
they are 12 feet in height, with a tower at the end and one over the
gateway in the centre six feet high. There is a drawbridge defended by an
outwork of palisades six feet high. The moat will be a dry one, seeing that
we have no means of filling it with water, but it will be supposed to be
full, and must be crossed on planks or bridges. Two small towers on wheels
will be provided, which may be run up to the edge of the moat, and will be
as high as the top of the towers.
"Surely they cannot make all this before morning?" Walter said.
"They will do so," the marshal replied. "The castle has been put together
in the king's courtyard, and the pieces are all numbered. Two hundred
carpenters will labour all night at it, besides a party of labourers for
the digging of the moat. It will be a rare show, and will delight both the
citizens and the ladies of the court, for such a thing has never before
been attempted. But the king grudges not the expense which it will cost
him, seeing that spectacles of this kind do much to arouse the warlike
spirit of the people. Here is a list of the various implements which will
be provided, only it is understood that the mangonels and arblasts will not
be provided with missiles, seeing that many would assuredly be killed by
them. They will be employed, however, to show the nature of the work, and
parties of men-at-arms will be told off to serve them. Crossbows and
arrows will be used, but the weapons will be blunted. You will see that
there are ladders, planks for making bridges, long hooks for hauling men
down from the wall, beams for battering down the gate, axes for cutting
down the palisades, and all other weapons. The ten who will serve under
you as knights have already been nominated, and the city will furnish them
with full armour. For the others, the apprentices of each ward will choose
sufficient representatives to make up the hundred, who will fight as
men-at-arms; these will wear steel caps and breastpieces, with leather
jerkins, and vizors to protect their faces, for even a blunted arrow or
wooden quarrel might well kill if it struck true."
On leaving the marshal Walter joined Giles Fletcher and Geoffrey Ward, who
warmly congratulated him upon his success. He informed them of the
spectacle which the king had prepared for the amusement of the citizens on
"In faith," Geoffrey said, "the idea is a good one, and promises rare
sport, but it will be rough, and we may expect many broken limbs, for it be
no joke to be thrown down with a ladder from a wall even twelve feet high,
and there will be the depth of the moat besides."
"That will only be two feet," Walter said, "for so it is marked on the
"And which do you mean to take, Walter, the attack or the defence? Methinks
the king has erred somewhat in making the forces equal, for assuredly the
besiegers should outnumber the besieged by fully three to one to give them
a fair chance of success."
"I shall take the assault," Walter answered; "there is more to be done that
way than in the defence. When we get home, Geoffrey, we will look at the
plans, and see what may be the best manner of assault."
Upon examining the plan that evening they found that the wall was continued
at an angle at either end for a distance of some twenty feet back so as to
give a postern gate behind each of the corner towers through which a sortie
might be made. Geoffrey and Walter talked the matter over, and together
contrived a plan of operation for the following day.
"You will have one great advantage," Geoffrey said. "The apprentices are
all accustomed to the use of the bow, while the young nobles will know but
little of that weapon; therefore your shooting will be far straighter and
truer, and even a blunt-headed arrow drawn from the shoulder will hit so
smart a blow that those on the wall will have difficulty in withstanding
After the talk was ended Walter again crossed London Bridge, and made his
way to Ludgate, where he found his late antagonist, whose head had been
plastered up, and was little the worse for the conflict.
"There is no ill-will between us, I hope," Walter said, holding out his
"None in the world," the young smith said frankly. He was a good-tempered-
looking young giant, with closely-cropped hair, light-blue eyes, and a
pleasant but somewhat heavy face.
"My faith but what a blow was that you gave me; why, one would think that
your muscles were made of steel. I thought that I could hit a good
downright blow, seeing that I have been hammering at the anvil for the last
seven years; but strike as I would I could not beat down your guard, while
mine went down, as if it had been a feather, before yours. I knew, directly
that I had struck the first blow, and felt how firm was your defence, that
it was all up with me, knowing that in point of skill I had no chance
whatever with you.
"I am glad to see that you bear no malice, Ralph," Walter said, "and hope
that we shall be great friends henceforth, that is, if you will take me as
such, seeing that you are just out of your apprenticeship, while I am not
yet half through mine. But I have come to talk to you about tomorrow. Have
you heard that there is to be a mimic siege?"
"I have heard about it," Ralph said. "The city is talking of nothing else.
The news was published at the end of the sports. It will be rare fun,
"It will be pretty rough fun," Walter replied; "and I should not be much
surprised if some lives are lost; but this is always so in a tournament;
and if knights and nobles are ready to be killed, we apprentices need not
fear to hazard our lives. But now as to tomorrow. I, as the winner today,
am to be the leader of the party, and you, as second, will of course be
captain under me. Now I want to explain to you exactly what I propose to
do, and to arrange with you as to your share in the business."
The young smith listened attentively to Walter's explanation, and, when he
had done, exclaimed admiringly: "Why, Walter, you seem to be made for a
general. How did it all come to you, lad? I should never have thought of
such a scheme."
"I talked it over with my master," Walter said, "and the idea is his as
much as mine. I wonder if it will do."
"It is sure to do," the smith said enthusiastically. "The castle is as good
The next day all London poured out to the scene of the sports, and the
greatest admiration and wonder were expressed at the castle, which had
risen, as if by magic, in the night. It was built at one end of the lists,
which had been purposely placed in a hollow, so that a great number of
people besides those in the pavilions could obtain a view from the
surrounding slopes. The castle was substantially built of heavy timber
painted gray, and looked at a little distance as if constructed of stone. A
flag floated from the central tower, and the building looked so formidable
that the general opinion was freely expressed that the task of the
assailants, whoever they might be - for at present this was unknown - was
quite impossible. At ten o'clock the king and his court arrived. After
they had taken their places the two bands, headed by their leaders,
advanced from the lower end of the lists, and drew up in front of the royal
pavilion. The leaders took their places in front. Behind them stood ten
chosen followers, all of whom, as well as their chiefs, were encased in
full armour. Behind, on one side, were 100 apprentices, on the other 100
esquires, all attired as men-at-arms. The court party were led by Clarence
Aylmer, son of the Earl of Pembroke. His companions were all young men of
noble family, aspirants for the order of knighthood. They were, for the
most part, somewhat older than the apprentices, but as the latter consisted
chiefly of young men nearly out of their term the difference was not great.
Walter's armour was a suit which the armourer had constructed a year
previously for a young knight who had died before the armour could be
delivered. Walter had wondered more than once why Geoffrey did not
endeavour to sell it elsewhere, for, although not so decorated and inlaid
as many of the suits of Milan armour, it was constructed of the finest
steel, and the armourer had bestowed special care upon its manufacture, as
the young knight's father had long been one of his best customers. Early
that morning Geoffrey had brought it to his room and had told him to wear
it instead of that lent by the city.
"But I fear it will get injured," Walter had urged. "I shall not spare
myself, you know, Geoffrey, and the blows will be hard ones.
"The more need for good armour, Walter. These city suits are made for show
rather than use. You may be sure that young Pembroke and his band will
fight their hardest rather than suffer defeat at the hands of those whom
they consider a band of city varlets."
Before issuing from the tent where he and his companions had put on their
mail Walter carefully fastened in the front of his helmet a tiny gold
bracelet. Upon taking their places before the pavilion the king ordered the
two leaders to advance, and addressed them and the multitude in the
"Brave leaders, and you, my people, I have contrived the pastime today that
I may show you on a mimic scale the deeds which my brave soldiers are
called upon to perform in France. It is more specially suited for the
combatants of today, since one party have had but small opportunity of
acquiring skill on horseback. Moreover, I wish to teach the lesson that
fighting on foot is as honourable as fighting on horseback, for it has now
been proved, and sometimes to our cost, in Scotland, that footmen can
repulse even the bravest chivalry. Today each party will fight his best.
Remember that, even in the heat of conflict, matters must not be carried to
an extreme. Those cut off from their friends will be accounted prisoners,
as will those who, being overpowered, throw down their arms. Any wounded on
either side will not be accounted as prisoners, but may retire with honour
from the field. You," he said, looking at Walter, "as the conqueror of
yesterday, have the choice of either the attack or defence; but I should
advise you to take the latter, seeing it is easier to defend a fortress
than to assault it. Many of your opponents have already gained credit in
real warfare, while you and your following are new to it. Therefore, in
order to place the defence on fair terms with the assault, I have ordered
that both sides shall be equal in numbers."
"If your liege will permit me," Walter said bowing, "I would fain take the
assault. Methinks that, with my following, I could do better thus than in
The king looked somewhat displeased.
"As you will," he said coldly; "but I fear this will somewhat mar the
effect of the spectacle seeing that you will have no chance whatever
against an equal force, more accustomed to war than your party, and
occupying so superior a position. However," he went on, seeing that Walter
made no sign of changing his mind, "as you have chosen, so be it; and now
it is for you to choose the lady who shall be queen of the tourney and
shall deliver the prizes to the victors. Look round you; there are many
fair faces, and it is for you to choose among them."
Smiles passed between many of the courtly dames and ladies at the choice
that was to be made among them by the apprentice lad; and they thought that
he would be sorely puzzled at such a duty. Walter, however, did not
hesitate an instant. He ran his eye over the crowd of ladies in the royal
gallery, and soon saw the object of his search.
"Since I have your majesty's permission," he said, "I choose, as queen of
the tournament, Mistress Edith Vernon."
There was a movement of surprise and a general smile. Perhaps to all who
thought that they had a chance of being chosen the selection was a relief,
as none could be jealous of the pretty child, who, at the king's order,
made her way forward to the front, and took her seat in a chair placed
between the king and queen. The girl coloured brightly; but she had heard
so much of tourneys and jousts that she knew what was her duty. She had
been sitting far back on the previous day, and the apprentice, when brought
up before the king, was too far below for her to see his features. She now
"Sir Knights," she said in a loud, clear, childish voice, "you will both do
your duty today and show yourselves worthy cavaliers. Methinks that, as
queen of the tourney, I should be neutral between you, but as one of you
carries my gage in his helm, my good wishes must needs go with him; but
bright eyes will be fixed on you both, and may well stir you to deeds of
So saying, she resumed her seat with a pretty air of dignity.
"Why, sweetheart," the king said, "how is it that this 'prentice lad knows
your name, and how is it that he wears your gage, for I know that the young
Pembroke wears the glove of the Earl of Surrey's daughter?"
"He saved my life, sir, mine and my mother's," the child said, "and I told
him he should be my true knight, and gave him my bracelet, which you see he
wears in his helm."
"I recall somewhat of the story," the king said, "and will question my Lady
Vernon further anon; but see, the combatants are filing off to their
With flags flying and trumpets blowing young Pembroke led his forces into
the castle. Each of his ten knights was followed by an esquire bearing his
banner, and each had ten men-at-arms under his immediate order. Two of
them, with twenty men, remained in the outwork beyond the drawbridge. The
rest took their station on the walls, and towers, where a platform had been
erected, running along three feet below the battlements. The real
men-at-arms with the machines of war now advanced, and for a time worked
the machines, which made pretence at casting great stones and missiles at
the walls. The assailants then moved forward and, unslinging their bows,
opened a heavy fire of arrows at the defenders, who, in turn, replied with
arrows and cross-bows.
"The 'prentices shoot well," the king said; "by our lady, it would be hot
work for the defenders were the shafts but pointed! Even as it is the
knocks must be no child's play, for the arrows, although not pointed, are
all tipped with iron, without which, indeed, straight shooting would be
The return fire from the walls was feeble, and the king said, laughing, "So
far your knight, fair mistress, has it all his own way. I did not reckon
sufficiently upon the superiority of shooting of the London lads, and,
indeed, I know not that I ought not in fairness to order some of the
defenders off the walls, seeing, that in warfare, their numbers would be
rapidly thinned. See, the assailants are moving up to the two towers under
shelter of the fire of the archers."
By this time Aylmer, seeing that his followers could make no effectual
reply to the arrow fire, had ordered all, save the leaders in full armour,
to lie down behind the parapet. The assailants now gathered thickly round
each tower, as if they intended to attempt to cross by the bridges, which
could be let down from an opening in the tower level with the top of the
wall, while archers upon the summit shot fast and thick among the defenders
who were gathering to oppose them.
"If the young Pembroke is wise," the king said, "he will make a strong
sally now and fall upon one or other of the parties."
As he spoke there was a sudden movement on the part of the assailants, who,
leaving the foot of the towers, made a rush at the outwork in the centre.
The instant they arrived they fell to work with axes upon the palisades.
Many were struck down by the blows dealt them by the defenders, but others
caught up the axes and in less than a minute several of the palisades were
cut down and the assailants poured in. The defenders fought gallantly, but
they were overpowered by numbers. Some were struck down, others taken
prisoners by main force, and the rest driven across the drawbridge, just as
the gates were opened and Pembroke, at the head of the defenders, swarmed
out to their assistance.
There was a desperate fight on the bridge, and it was well that the armour
was stout, and the arms that wielded the weapons had not yet attained their
full strength. Several were knocked off the bridge into the moat, and these
were, by the rules, obliged at once to retire and take no further part in
the contest. Walter and Ralph the smith, fought in front of their men, and
hard as Pembroke and his followers struggled, they could not drive them
back a foot. The court party were galled by the heavy fire of arrows kept
up by the apprentices along the side of the moat, and finding all his
efforts to regain the earth-work useless, Pembroke withdrew his forces into
the castle, and in spite of the efforts of the besiegers managed to close
the gates in their faces. The assailants, however, succeeded in severing
the chains of the drawbridge before it could be raised.
From the tower above, the defenders now hurled over great stones, which had
been specially placed there for the purpose of destroying the drawbridge
should the earthwork be carried. The boards were soon splintered, and the
drawbridge was pronounced by the Earl of Talbot, who was acting as judge,
to be destroyed. The excitement of the spectators was worked up to a great
pitch while the conflict was going on, and the citizens cheered lustily at
the success of the apprentices.
"That was gallantly done," the king said to Queen Philippa, "and the leader
of the assailants is a lad of rare mettle. Not a captain of my army, no,
not Sir Walter Manny himself, could have done it more cleverly. You see, by
placing his forces at the ends of the wall he drew all the garrison thither
to withstand the assaults from them, and thus by his sudden movement he was
able to carry the outwork before they could recover from their surprise,
and come down to its aid. I am curious to know what he will do next. What
thinkst thou, Edward?" he asked his son, who was standing by his side.
"He will win the day," the young prince said; "and in faith, although the
others are my comrades, I should be glad to see it. He will make a gallant
knight, sir, one of these days, and remember he is engaged to follow my
banner, so you must not steal him from me. See, my liege, they are taking
planks and ladders to the outwork."
"They are doing wrongly then," the king said, "for even should they bridge
the moat where the drawbridge is, they cannot scale the wall there, since
the tower defends it, and the ladders are but long enough to reach the
lower wall. No, their leader has changed his mind, they are taking the
planks along the edge of the moat towards the tower on the left, and will
aid the assault by its bridge by a passage of the moat there.
It seemed, indeed, that this was the plan. While some of the assailants
kept up the arrow fire on the wall others mounted the tower, while a party
prepared to throw a bridge of planks across the moat. The bridge from the
tower was now lowered; but a shout of triumph rose from the defenders when
it was seen that by some mistake of the carpenters this was too short, and
when lowered did not reach within six feet of the wall.
"All the better," the king said, while the prince gave an angry
exclamation. "Accidents of this kind will happen, and give an opportunity
to a leader to show his resources. Doubtless he will carry planks up to
the tower and so connect the bridge and the wall."
This, indeed, was what the assailants tried to do, while a party threw
planks across the moat, and rushing over placed ladders against the wall
and strove to climb. They strove in vain, however. The ladders were thrown
down as fast as they were placed, while the defenders, thickly clustered on
the walls, drove back those who tried to cross from the tower.
"I do not see the leader of the assailants," the prince said.
"He has a white plume, but it may have been shorn off," the king said.
"Look, the young Pembroke is making a sortie!"
From the sortie gate behind the tower the defenders now poured out, and
running down to the edge of the moat fell upon the stormers. These,
however, received them with great steadiness, and while some continued the
attack the rest turned upon the garrison, and, headed by Ralph the smith,
drove them gradually back.
"They fight well and steadily," the king said. "One would have thought that
they had reckoned on the sortie, so steadily did they receive it."
As only a portion of the garrison had issued out they were unable to resist
long the pressure of the apprentices, who drove them back step by step to
the sally- port, and pressing them hard endeavoured to force their way in
at their heels.
CHAPTER VII: THE YOUNG ESQUIRE
While the attention of the whole of the spectators and combatants was fixed
upon the struggle at the right-hand angle of the castle, a party of twenty
'prentices suddenly leapt to their feet from among the broken palisades of
the outwork. Lying prone there they had escaped the attention of the
spectators as well as of the defenders. The reason why the assailants
carried the planks and ladders to this spot was now apparent. Only a
portion had been taken on to the assault of the right-hand tower; those who
now rose to their feet lifted with them planks and ladders, and at a rapid
pace ran towards the left angle of the castle, and reached that point
before the attention of the few defenders who remained on the wall there
was attracted to them, so absorbed were they in the struggle at the other
angle. The moment that they saw the new assailants they raised a shout of
alarm, but the din of the combat, the shouts of the leaders and men were so
loud, that their cries were unheard. Two or three then hurried away at
full speed to give the alarm, while the others strove to repel the assault.
Their efforts were in vain. The planks were flung across the moat, the
ladders placed in position, and led by Walter the assailants sprang up and
gained a footing on the wall before the alarm was fairly given. A
thundering cheer from the spectators greeted the success of the assailants.
Springing along the wall they drove before them the few who strove to
oppose them, gained the central tower, and Walter, springing up to the top,
pulled down the banner of the defenders and placed that of the city in its
place. At this moment the defenders, awakened too late to the ruse which
had been played upon them, came swarming back along the wall and strove to
regain the central tower. In the confusion the assault by the flying tower
of the assailants was neglected, and at this point also they gained footing
on the wall. The young nobles of the court, furious at being outwitted,
fought desperately to regain their lost laurels. But the king rose from his
seat and held up his hand. The trumpeter standing below him sounded the
arrest of arms, which was echoed by two others who accompanied Earl Talbot,
who had taken his place on horseback close to the walls. At the sound
swords dropt and the din abruptly ceased, but the combatants stood glaring
at each other, their blood too heated to relinquish the fray readily.
Already much damage had been done. In spite of armour and mail many serious
wounds had been inflicted, and some of the combatants had already been
carried senseless from the field. Some of the assailants had been much
shaken by being thrown backward from the ladders into the moat, one or two
were hurt to death; but as few tourneys took place without the loss of
several lives, this was considered but a small amount of damage for so
stoutly fought a melee, and the knowledge that many were wounded, and some
perhaps dying, in no way damped the enthusiasm of the spectators, who
cheered lustily for some minutes at the triumph which the city had
obtained. In the galleries occupied by the ladies and nobles of the court
there was a comparative silence. But brave deeds were appreciated in those
days, and although the ladies would far rather have seen the victory
incline the other way, yet they waved their handkerchiefs and clapped their
hands in token of their admiration at the success of an assault which, at
the commencement, appeared well-nigh hopeless.
Lord Talbot rode up to the front of the royal pavilion.
"I was about to stop the fight, sire, when you gave the signal. Their blood
was up, and many would have been killed had the combat continued. But the
castle was fairly won, the central tower was taken and the flag pulled
down, a footing had been gained at another point of the wall, and the
assailants had forced their way through the sally-port. Further resistance
was therefore hopeless, and the castle must be adjudged as fairly and
A renewed shout greeted the judge's decision. The king now ordered the
rival hosts to be mustered before him as before the battle, and when this
was done Earl Talbot conducted Walter up the broad steps in front of the
king's pavilion. Geoffrey Ward, who had, after fastening on Walter's
armour in the tent, before the sports began, taken his place among the
guards at the foot of the royal pavilion, stept forward and removed
Walter's helmet at the foot of the steps.
"Young sir," the king said, "you have borne yourself right gallantly today,
and have shown that you possess the qualities which make a great captain. I
do my nobles no wrong when I say that not one of them could have better
planned and led the assault than you have done. Am I not right, sirs?" and
he looked round. A murmur of assent rose from the knights and nobles, and
the king continued: "I thought you vain and presumptuous in undertaking the
assault of a fort held by an equal number, many of whom are well accustomed
to war, while the lads who followed you were all untrained in strife, but
you have proved that your confidence in yourself was not misplaced. The
Earl of Talbot has adjudged you victor, and none can doubt what the end of
the strife would have been. Take this chain from your king, who is glad to
see that his citizens of London are able to hold their own even against
those of our court, than whom we may say no braver exist in Europe. Kneel
now to the queen of the tourney, who will bestow upon you the chaplet which
you have so worthily earned."
Walter bent his knee before Edith Vernon. She rose to her feet, and with an
air of pretty dignity, placed a chaplet of laurel leaves, wrought in gold
and clasped with a valuable ruby, on his head.
"I present to you," she said, "the chaplet of victory, and am proud that my
gage should have been worn by one who has borne himself so bravely and
well. May a like success rest on all your undertakings, and may you prove a
good and valiant knight!"
"Well said, Mistress Edith," Queen Philippa said smiling. "You may well be
proud of your young champion. I too must have my gift," and drawing a ring
set with brilliants from her finger she placed it in Walter's hand.
The lad now rose to his feet. "The prince my son," the king said, "has
promised that you shall ride with his men-at-arms when he is old enough to
take the field. Should you choose to abandon your craft and do so earlier I
doubt not that one of my nobles, the brave Sir Walter Manny, for example,
will take you before that time."
"That will I readily enough," Sir Walter said, "and glad to have so
promising a youth beneath my banner."
"I would that you had been of gentle blood," the king said.
"That makes no difference, sire," Sir Walter replied. "I will place him
among the young gentlemen, my pages and esquires, and am sure that they
will receive him as one of themselves."
Geoffrey Ward had hitherto stood at the foot of the steps leading to the
royal pavilion, but doffing his cap he now ascended. "Pardon my boldness,
sire," he said to the king, "but I would fain tell you what the lad himself
has hitherto been ignorant of. He is not, as he supposes, the son of Giles
Fletcher, citizen and bowmaker, but is the lawfully born son of Sir Roland
Somers, erst of Westerham and Hythe, who was killed in the troubles at the
commencement of your majesty's reign. His wife, Dame Alice, brought the
child to Giles Fletcher, whose wife had been her nurse, and dying left him
in her care. Giles and his wife, if called for, can vouch for the truth of
this, and can give you proofs of his birth."
Walter listened with astonishment to Geoffrey's speech. A thrill of
pleasure rushed through his veins as he learned that he was of gentle blood
and might hope to aspire to a place among the knights of King Edward's
court. He understood now the pains which Geoffrey had bestowed in seeing
that he was perfected in warlike exercises, and why both he and Giles had
encouraged rather than repressed his love for martial exercises and his
determination to abandon his craft and become a man-at-arms when he reached
"Ah is it so?" the king exclaimed. "I remember Sir Roland Somers, and also
that he was slain by Sir Hugh Spencer, who, as I heard on many hands, acted
rather on a private quarrel than, as he alleged, in my interest, and there
were many who avowed that the charges brought against Sir Roland were
unfounded. However, this matter must be inquired into, and my High
Justiciar shall see Master Giles and his wife, hear their evidence, and
examine the proofs which they may bring forward. As to the estates, they
were granted to Sir Jasper Vernon and cannot be restored. Nevertheless I
doubt not that the youth will carve out for himself a fortune with his
sword. You are his master, I suppose? I would fain pay you to cancel his
apprenticeship. Sir Walter Manny has promised to enroll him among his
"I will cancel his indentures willingly, my liege," the armourer answered,
"and that without payment. The lad has been to me as a son, and seeing his
high spirit, and knowing the gentle blood running in his veins, I have done
my best so to teach him and so to put him in the way of winning back his
father's rank by his sword."
"He hath gone far towards it already," the king said, "and methinks may yet
gain some share in his father's inheritance," and he glanced at little
Mistress Edith Vernon and then smiled at the queen. "Well, we shall see,"
he went on. "Under Sir Walter Manny he will have brave chances of
distinguishing himself, and when my son takes the field he shall ride with
him. But I am keeping the hosts waiting. Bring hither," he said to Earl
Talbot, "Clarence Aylmer."
The young noble was led up to the king. "You have done well, Clarence;
though you have been worsted you fought bravely, but you were deceived by a
ruse which might have taken in a more experienced captain. I trust that you
will be friends with your adversary, who will be known to you henceforth as
Walter Somers, son of Sir Roland of that name, and who will ride to the
wars, whither you also are shortly bound, under the standard of Sir Walter
The cloud which had hung over the face of the young noble cleared. It had
indeed been a bitter mortification to him that he, the son of one of the
proudest of English nobles, should have been worsted by a London
apprentice, and it was a relief to him to find that his opponent was one of
knightly blood. He turned frankly to Walter and held out his hand. "I greet
you as a comrade, sir," he said, "and hope some day that in our rivalry in
the field I may do better than I have done today."
"That is well spoken," the king said. Then he rose and in a loud voice
addressed the combatants, saying, that all had borne themselves well and
bravely, and that he thanked them, not only for the rare pastime which they
had made, but for the courage and boldness which had been displayed on both
sides. So saying, he waved his hand as a token that the proceedings were
ended, and returned with the court to Westminster; while the crowd of
spectators overflowed the lists, those who had friends in the apprentice
array being anxious to know how they had fared. That evening there was a
banquet given by the lord-mayor. Walter was invited to be present, with
Giles and Geoffrey, and many complimentary things were said to him, and he
was congratulated on the prospects which awaited him. After dinner all the
'prentices who had taken part in the sports filed through the hall and were
each presented with a gold piece by the lord-mayor, in the name of the
corporation, for having so nobly sustained the renown of the city.
After the entertainment was over Walter returned with Geoffrey to the
bowyer's house, and there heard from his two friends and Bertha the details
of his mother's life from the time that she had been a child, and the story
of her arrival with him, and her death. He had still difficulty in
believing that it was all true, that Giles and Bertha, whom he had so long
regarded as father and mother, were only his kind guardians, and that he
was the scion of two noble families. Very warmly and gratefully he thanked
his three friends for the kindness which they had shown to him, and vowed
that no change of condition should ever alter his feelings of affection
towards them. It was not until the late hour of nine o'clock that he said
goodbye to his foster parents, for he was next day to repair to the lodging
of Sir Walter Manny, who was to sail again before the week was out for the
Low Countries, from which he had only returned for a few days to have
private converse with the king on the state of matters there. His friends
would have delivered to him his mother's ring and other tokens which she
had left, but thought it better to keep these, with the other proofs of his
birth, until his claim was established to the satisfaction of the lord
The next morning early, when Walter descended the stairs, he found Ralph
Smith waiting for him. His face was strapped up with plaster and he wore
his arm in a sling, for his armour had been twice cut through as he led his
party in through the sally-port.
"How goes it with you, Ralph?" Walter said. "Not much the worse, I hope,
for your hard knocks?"
"Not a whit," Ralph replied cheerfully, "and I shall be all right again
before the week is out; but the leech made as much fuss over me as if I had
been a girl, just as though one was not accustomed to hard knocks in a
smithy. Those I got yesterday were not half so hard as that which you gave
me the day before. My head rings yet with the thought of it. But I have
not come to talk about myself. Is the story true which they tell of you,
Master Walter, that you are not the son of Giles the bowyer, but of a great
"Not of a great noble, Ralph, but of a gallant knight, which is just as
good. My father was killed when I was three years old, and my mother
brought me to Bertha, the wife of Giles the bowyer, who had been her nurse
in childhood. I had forgotten all that had passed, and deemed myself the
son of the good citizen, but since I have heard the truth my memory has
awakened somewhat, and I have a dim recollection of a lordly castle and of
my father and mother."
"And they say, Walter, that you are going with Sir Walter Manny, with the
force which is just sailing to the assistance of Lady De Montford."
"That is so, Ralph, and the good knight has taken me among his esquires,
young as I am, although I might well have looked for nothing better than to
commence, for two years at least, as a page, seeing that I am but eighteen
now. Now I shall ride with him into the battles and shall have as good a
chance as the others of gaining honour and winning my spurs."
"I have made up my mind that I will go with you, Master Walter, if you will
take me; each squire has a man-at-arms who serves him, and I will give you
good and faithful service if you will take me with you. I spoke to the
smith, my master, last night when I heard the news, and as my
apprenticeship is out next week he was willing enough to give me the few
days which remain. Once out of my apprenticeship I may count to be a man,
and seeing that I am nineteen, and as I may say well grown of my years,
methinks I am fit for service as a man-at-arms, and I would rather fight
behind you than labour all my life in the smithy."
"I shall be glad indeed, Ralph, to have you with me if such be really your
wish, and I do not think that Sir Walter Manny will say nay, for they have
been beating up for recruits through the kingdom, and we proved yesterday
that you have courage as well as strength. If he will consent I should be
glad indeed to have so brave a comrade with me, so we may consider that
settled, and if you will come down to Westminster, to Sir Walter Manny's
lodging, this afternoon, I will tell you what he says touching the matter.
You will, of course, need arms and armour."
"I can provide that," Ralph replied, "seeing that his worshipful the
lord-mayor bestowed upon me yesterday five gold pieces as the second in
command in the sports. I have already a steel cap and breast and back
pieces, which I have made for myself in hours of leisure, and warrant will
stand as hard a knock as the Frenchmen can give them."
Going across into the city with Geoffrey, Walter purchased, with the
contents of the purse which the king had given him, the garments suited for
his new position. He was fortunate in obtaining some which fitted him
exactly. These had been made for a young esquire of the Earl of Salisbury;
but the tailor, when he heard from Geoffrey for whom they were required,
and the need for instant despatch, parted with them to Walter, saying that
he for whom they were made could well wait a few days, and that he would
set his journeymen to work at once to make some more of similar fit and
Walter felt strange in his new attire, and by no means relished the
tightness of the garments, which was strictly demanded by the fashion of
the day. His long hose, one of which was of a deep maroon, the other a
bright yellow, came far up above the knee, then came a short pair of trunks
of similar colours divided in the middle. The tight-fitting doublet was
short and circled at the waist by a buff belt mounted in silver, and was of
the same colours as the hose and trunks. On his head was a cap, peaked in
front; this was of maroon, with a short erect feather of yellow. The
long-pointed shoes matched the rest of the costume. There were three other
suits similar in fashion, but different in colour; two like the first were
of cloth, the third was of white and blue silk, to be worn on grand
"You look a very pretty figure, Walter," Geoffrey said, "and will be able
to hold your own among the young gallants of the court. If you lack
somewhat of courtly manners it will matter not at all, since you are
leaving so soon for the wars.
The dress sets off your figure, which is fully two years in advance of your
age, seeing that hard work has widened you out and thickened your muscles.
I need not tell you, lad, not to be quarrelsome, for that was never your
way; but just at first your companions may try some jests with you, as is
always the manner of young men with newcomers, but take them in a good
spirit and be sure that, seeing the strength of arm and skill which you
showed yesterday and the day before, none will care to push matters with
One of the journeymen accompanied Walter to Westminster to carry up from
the boat the valise with his clothes and the armour which he had worn in
the sports. Sir Walter received the lad with much kindness and introduced
him to his future companions. They were five in number; the eldest was a
man of some thirty years old, a Hainaulter, who had accompanied Sir Walter
Manny to England at the time when the latter first came over as a young
squire in the suite of the Princess Philippa. He was devotedly attached to
the knight, his master, and although he might several times have received
the rank of knighthood for his bravery in the field, he preferred remaining
in his position as esquire and faithful friend of his master.
The other four were between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one, and all
belonged to the families of the highest nobility of England, it being
deemed a distinguished honour to be received as a squire by the most
gallant knight at the court of England. Their duties were, as Walter soon
learned, almost nominal, these being discharged almost exclusively by John
Mervaux. Two of the young esquires, Richard Coningsby and Edward Clifford,
had fought in the melee, having been among the ten leaders under Clarence
Aylmer. They bore no malice for the defeat, but received Walter with
cordiality and kindness, as did the other young men. Walter on his arrival
acquainted the knight with Ralph's wish to follow him, and requested
permission for him to do so. This was readily granted, Sir Walter Manny
telling the lad that although esquires were supposed to wait entirely upon
themselves, to groom their horses, and keep their armour and arms bright
and in good order, yet, in point of fact, young men of good families had
the greater part of these duties performed for them by a retainer who rode
in the ranks of their master's following as a man-at-arms.
"The other esquires have each one of their father's retainers with them,
and I am glad that you should be in the same position. After you have taken
your midday meal you had best go across to the Earl of Talbot's and inquire
for the Lady Vernon, who is still staying with him. She told me at the
king's ball last night that she wished to have speech with you, and I
promised to acquaint you with her desire. By the way, dost know aught of
"I have learnt to sit on a horse, Sir Walter," the lad answered. "My good
friend Geoffrey, the armourer, advised that I should learn, and frequently
hired from the horse-dealer an animal for my use. I have often backed
half-broken horses which were brought up by graziers from Kent and Sussex
for use in the wars. Many of them abode at the hostels at Southwark, and
willingly enough granted me permission to ride their horses until they were
sold. Thus I have had a good deal of practice, and that of a rough kind;
and seeing that latterly the horses have, for the most part, found it
difficult to fling me when sitting barebacked across them, I think I could
keep my seat in the high-peaked saddles on the most vicious, but I have had
no practice at tilting, or at the ring, or other knightly exercises."
"That matters not at all," the knight said. "All these knightly exercises
which you speak of are good in time of peace, for they give proficiency and
steadiness, but in time of war he who can sit firmly in his saddle and
wield sword and battle-axe lustily and skillfully is equal to the best; but
never fear, when this expedition is over, and we have time for such things,
I will see that you are instructed in them. One who has achieved so much
martial skill as you have done at so early an age will have little
difficulty in acquiring what may be termed the pastime of chivalry."
Ralph arrived just as Walter was setting out. The latter presented him to
the knight, who spoke with praise of the gallantry which he had displayed
on the previous day, and then handed him over to John Mervaux, with
instructions to enroll him as a man-at-arms among his followers, to inform
him of his duties, and to place him with those who attended upon the other
After seeing Ralph disposed of, Walter went across to the Earl of Talbot
and was again conducted to the presence of Dame Vernon.
"You have changed since we met last, young sir," she said with a smile,
"though it is but a month since. Then you were a 'prentice boy, now you are
an esquire of Sir Walter Manny, and on the highway to distinction. That you
will win it I am well assured, since one who risked his life to rescue a
woman and child whose very names were unknown to him is sure to turn out a
noble and valiant knight. I little thought when my daughter called you her
knight, that in so short a time you might become an aspirant to that
honour. I hope that you do not look askance at us, now that you know I am
in possession of the lands of your parents. Such changes of land, you know,
often occur, but now I know who you are, I would that the estates bestowed
upon Sir Jasper had belonged to some other than you; however, I trust that
you will hold no grudge against us, and that you may win as fair an estate
by the strength of your arm and the king's favour."
"Assuredly I feel no grudge, madam," Walter replied, "and since the lands
were forfeited, am pleased that of all people they should have gone to one
so kind and so fair as yourself."
"What, learning to be a flatterer already!" Dame Vernon laughed. "You are
coming on fast, and I predict great things from you. And now, Edith, lay
aside that sampler you are pretending to be so busy upon and speak to this
knight of yours.
Edith laid down her work and came forward. She was no longer the dignified
little queen of the tournament, but a laughing, bright-faced girl.
"I don't see that you are changed," she said, "except in your dress. You
speak softly and naturally, just as you used to do, and not a bit like
those little court fops, Uncle Talbot's pages. I am afraid you will not
want to be my knight any more, now that you are going to get great honours
at the war; for I heard my Uncle Talbot tell my lady mother that he was
sure you would gain great credit for yourself."
"I shall be always your knight," Walter said earnestly; "I told you I
should, and I never break my word. That is," he went on, colouring, "if
Dame Vernon makes no objection, as she well might."
"If I did not object before, Walter," she said smiling, "why should I do so
"It is different, my lady; before, it was somewhat of a jest, a sort of
childish play on the part of Mistress Edith, though so far as I was
concerned it was no play, but sober earnest.
"It needs no permission from me," Dame Vernon replied, "for you to wear my
daughter's colours. Any knight may proclaim any lady he chooses the
mistress of his heart, and a reigning beauty will often have a dozen young
knights who wear her colours. However, I am well content that one who has
done me such great service and who has shown such high promise should be
the first to wear the gage of my little daughter, and if in after years
your life fulfils the promise of your youth, and you remain true to her
gage, there is none among all the youths of the court whom I would so
gladly see at her feet. Remember," she said, as Walter was about to speak,
"her hand will not be at my disposal, but at that of the king. His majesty
is wont to bestow the hands of his wards upon those who most distinguish
themselves in the field. You have already attracted his royal attention and
commendation. Under Sir Walter Manny you will be sure of opportunities of
distinguishing yourself, and the king may well be glad some day at once to
reward your services and to repair a cruel injustice by bestowing upon you
the hand of the heiress of your father's lands. If I mistake not, such a
thought has even now crossed his majesty's mind, unless I misinterpreted a
glance which yesterday passed between him and our sweet queen. I need not
tell you to speak of your hopes to none, but let them spur you to higher
exertions and nobler efforts. Loving my little Edith as I do, I naturally
consider the prize to be a high one. I have often been troubled by the
thought that her hand may be some day given to one by years or temper
unsuited for her, and it will be a pleasure to me henceforth to picture her
future connected with one who is, I am sure, by heart and nature fitted for
her. And now, farewell, young sir. May God protect you in the field, and
may you carry in the battle which awaits you the gage of my daughter as
fairly and successfully as you did in the mimic fray of yesterday!"
CHAPTER VIII: OFF TO THE WARS
Two days later Walter started with Sir Walter Manny, with a large number of
knights, squires, men-at-arms, and archers, for the Orwell. Walter was
mounted, as were the other squires and men-at-arms, and indeed many of the
archers. Ralph Smith, in the attire of a man-at-arms, rode behind.
Walter was in the highest spirits. A brilliant career was open to him under
the most favourable circumstances; he had already distinguished himself,
and had gained the attention of the highest personages in the realm, his
immediate lord was one of the bravest and most chivalrous knights in
Europe, and he had to sustain and encourage him the hopes that Lady Vernon
had given him, of regaining some day the patrimony of his father. It was a
satisfaction to him that he was as well born as those who surrounded him,
and his purse was well lined as any in the company. Although he had spent
the largess which had been bestowed upon him at the tournament in procuring
clothes fitted for his rank, he was yet abundantly supplied with money, for
both Geoffrey Ward and Giles Fletcher, having no children of their own and
being both well-to-do men, had insisted upon his accepting a sum which
would enable him to make a good appearance with the best.
A large number of squires followed the banner of Sir Walter Manny. The
records of the time show that the barons were generally accompanied in the
field by almost as many squires as men-at-arms. The former were men of good
family, sons of knights and nobles, aspirants for the honour of knighthood,
and sons of the smaller gentry. Many were there from pure love of a life of
excitement and adventure, others in fulfilment of the feudal tenure by
which all land was then held, each noble and landowner being obliged to
furnish so many knights, squires, men-at-arms, and archers, in accordance
with the size of his holding. The squires fought in the field in the front
rank of the men-at-arms, save those who, like Walter, were attached to the
person of their leader, and who in the field fought behind him or bore his
orders to the companies under his banner.
In the field all drew pay, and it may be interesting in the present day to
know what were the rates for which our forefathers risked their lives. They
were as follows: each horse archer received 6 deniers, each squire 12
deniers or 1 sol, each knight 2 sols, each knight banneret 4 sols. 20 sols
went to the pound, and although the exact value of money in those days
relative to that which it bears at the present time is doubtful, it may be
placed at twelve times the present value. Therefore each horse archer
received an equivalent to 6s. a day, each squire 12s., each knight 24s.,
and each knight banneret 48s. per day.
Upon their arrival at the Orwell, where many troops from other parts had
been gathered, the expedition at once embarked on board the numerous ships
which had been collected. As that in which Sir Walter sailed also carried
several of his knights there was not room for all his young esquires, and
Walter and the three other juniors were told off into another ship. She was
a smaller vessel than most of those which composed the expedition, and only
carried twelve men-at-arms and as many archers, together with the four
young squires, and a knight, Sir John Powis, who was in command of the
"Your craft is but a small one," the knight said to the captain.
"She is small, but she is fast," the latter answered. "She would sail round
and round the best part of the fleet. I had her built according to my own
fancy. Small though she be, I warrant you she will be one of the first to
arrive at Hennebon, and the sooner the better say I, since I am but paid by
the trip, and would fain be back again at my regular work. It pays better
carrying merchants' goods between London and Holland than taking his
majesty's troops over to France."
"Your speed will not be of much avail," Sir John Powis said, "seeing that
the fleet will keep together."
"Yes, I know that is the order," the captain answered; "but accidents
happen sometimes, you know" - and his eye twinkled. "Vessels get separated
from fleets. If they happen to be slow ones so much the worse for those on
board; if they happen to be fast ones so much the better, seeing that those
they carry will arrive long before their comrades, and may be enabled to
gain credit and renown while the others are whistling for a wind in
mid-ocean. However, we shall see.
The next morning the fleet sailed from the Orwell. It contained 620
men-at-arms, among whom were many of the noblest and bravest of the
country, and 6000 picked archers in the pay of the king. The whole were
commanded by Sir Walter. The scene was a very gay one. The banners of the
nobles and knights floated from the lofty poops, and the sun shone on
bright armour and steel weapons. Walter, who had never seen the sea before,
was delighted. The wind was fair, and the vessels glided smoothly along
over the sea. At evening the knight and his four young companions gathered
in the little cabin, for it was in the first week in March, and the night
"Will you please tell me, Sir John," Walter said to the knight, "the merits
of this quarrel in which we are going to fight? I know that we are going in
aid of the Countess of Montford; but why she is in a sore strait I know
"The matter is a mixed one, Walter, and it requires a herald to tell you
all the subtleties of it. John III, Duke of Brittany, was present with his
liege lord, Phillip of Valois, in the last war with England, on the border
of the low country. When the English retired from before Tournay Phillip
dismissed his nobles. The Duke of Burgundy was taken ill, and died at Caen,
in Normandy, on the 30th of April, 1341. Arthur II, his father, had been
twice married. By his first wife he had three sons, John, Guy, and Peter.
John and Peter left no issue. Guy, who is also dead, left a daughter, Joan.
By his second wife, Jolande de Dieux, Duke Arthur had one son, John, Count
of Montford. Thus it happened, that when Duke John died, his half-brother,
the Count of Montford, and Joan, daughter of his second brother Guy, were
all that survived of the family. These were the rival claimants for the
vacant dukedom. In England we have but one law of succession, which rules
through the whole land. In France it is different. There the law of
succession depends entirely upon the custom of the county, dukedom, or
lordship, which is further affected both by the form of grant by which the
territory was conveyed to its first feudal possessors and by the mode in
which the province had been acquired by the kings of France. This is
important, as upon these circumstances alone it depended whether the son or
the granddaughter of Arthur II should inherit the dukedom.
"Joan claimed the duchy as the daughter of the elder brother. The Salic
law of France, which barred females from the right of succession, and in
virtue of which Philip of Valois succeeded to the throne instead of King
Edward, certainly did not obtain in Brittany. Duke John regarded Joan as
his heiress, and married her to Charles of Blois, nephew of the King of
France, thus strengthening her in her position; and he also induced the
provincial parliament of Brittany to acknowledge her husband as his
successor in the dukedom. Altogether it would seem that right is upon
Joan's side; but, on the other hand, the Count of Montford is the son of
Jolande, a great heiress in Brittany. He is an active and energetic noble.
The Bretons love not too close a connection with France, and assuredly
prefer to be ruled by a duke whom they regard as one of themselves rather
than by Charles of Blois, nephew of the French king. Directly Duke John
was dead the Count of Montford claimed the inheritance. Assuming the title
of duke he rode to Nantes, where the citizens did him homage, and then
proceeded to Limoges with a large train of men-at-arms, and there took
possession of the immense treasures which the late duke had accumulated in
the course of a long and tranquil reign. With these sinews of war at his
command he turned to Nantes, where he had left his wife the countess, who
was a sister of the Count of Flanders. He immediately invited the nobility
of Brittany to a grand banquet, but only one knight of any renown presented
himself at the feast, the rest all holding aloof. With the wealth of which
he had possessed himself he levied large forces and took the field. He
first marched against Brest, where the garrison, commanded by Walter de
Clisson, refused to acknowledge him. After three days' hard fighting the
place was taken. Rennes was next besieged, and presently surrendered. Other
towns fell into his hands, and so far as Brittany was concerned all
opposition, except in one or two fortresses, ceased. In the meanwhile
Charles of Blois sought assistance from his uncle the King of France; the
Count de Montford, therefore, crossed to England and besought the aid of
King Edward, and did homage to him as King of France. Edward, on his part,
promised to assist him. The fact that Phillip was sure to espouse the
opposite side was in itself sufficient to decide him; besides which, the
dukes of Brittany have always been in a special way connected with England
and bear the English title of Earls of Richmond.
"Believing that his journey, which had been a secret one, was unknown to
the King of France, De Montford went boldly to Paris, where he had been
summoned by the king to an assembly of peers called to decide upon the
succession. He found, however, that Phillip had already obtained news of
his journey to England. His manner convinced De Montford that it was unsafe
to remain in Paris, and he secretly made his escape. Fifteen days
afterwards the peers gave judgment in favour of Charles of Blois. The Dukes
of Normandy, Burgundy, and Bourbon, the Counts of Alencon, Eu, and Guisnes,
and many other French nobles, prepared to lead an army into the field to
support Charles, and the king added a body of 3000 Genoese mercenaries in
"Knowing the storm that was preparing to break upon him, De Montford put
every town and castle in a state of defence. He himself, confiding in the
affection of the inhabitants of Nantes, remained in that city, while his
wife repaired to Rennes.
"The Duke of Normandy advanced from Angiers with an army of 5000
men-at-arms and a numerous infantry, and after capturing the castle of
Chantoceaux marched to Nantes and laid siege to the city. A sortie was made
by the besieged, led by Henry de Leon, but, being attacked by the whole of
the French army, they were driven back into the town, a great many of the
citizens being killed. A warm altercation took place between Henry de Leon
and De Montford, who attributed to him the evil result of the sortie. The
result was that a large number of the citizens whose friends had been
captured by the French conspired to deliver up the place to Charles of
Blois, and Henry de Leon also entered into private negotiations with the
Duke of Normandy. De Montford, finding that he could rely neither upon the
citizens nor the soldiers, surrendered to the duke on condition that his
life was spared. He was sent to Paris, where he still remains a prisoner.
Winter was coming on, and after putting Nantes in a fresh state of defence
and leaving Charles of Blois there, the Duke of Normandy dismissed his
forces, engaging them to reassemble in the spring. Had he pushed on at once
he would have experienced no resistance, so great was the panic which the
surrender of Nantes and the capture of De Montford had caused among the
"In Rennes, especially, the deepest despondency was felt. The countess,
however, showed the greatest courage and firmness. Showing herself, with
her infant in her arms, she appealed to the citizens, and by her courageous
bearing inspired them with new hopes. Having restored heart at Rennes she
traveled from garrison to garrison throughout the province, and filled all
with vigour and resolution. Feeling, however, the hopelessness of her
struggle against all France, she despatched Sir Almeric de Clisson, who had
lately joined her party, to England, to ask the aid which the king had
promised. He arrived a month since, and, as you see, our brave king has not
been long in despatching us to her aid; and now, youngsters, to bed, for
methinks that the sea is rougher than it was and that the wind is getting
"Aye, that is it," the captain, who heard the knight's closing words,
exclaimed. "We are in for a storm, and a heavy one, or my name is not
Timothy Martin, and though with plenty of sea-room the Kitty makes not much
ado about a storm more or less, it's a very different thing in the middle
of a fleet of lubberly craft, which may run one down at any time. I shall
edge out of them as soon as I can, you may be sure.
Before morning a serious gale was blowing, and for the next three or four
days Walter and his companions knew nothing of what was going on. Then the
storm abated, and they staggered out from their cabin. The sea was still
high, but the sun shone brightly overhead. In front of them the land was
visible. They looked round, but to their astonishment not a sail was in
"Why, where is the fleet?" Walter exclaimed in astonishment.
"Snug in the Thames, I reckon," the captain said. "Soon after the storm
came on one of the sailors pretended he saw the lights of recall on the
admiral's ship; but I was too busy to look that way, I had enough to do to
look after the safety of the ship. Anyhow, I saw no more of them."
"And what land is that ahead?" Walter asked.
"That is Brittany, young sir, and before nightfall we shall be in the port
of Hennebon; as to the others, it may be days and it may be weeks before
The lads were not sorry at the chance which had taken them to their
destination before their companions and had given them a chance of
distinguishing themselves. Late in the afternoon the ship dropped anchor
off the castle of Hennebon, and Sir John Powis and his following were
conveyed in the ship's boats to shore. The countess received them most
graciously, and was delighted at the news that so strong a force was on its
way to her aid.
"In the absence of Sir Walter Manny, madam, I place myself and my men at
your orders. Our horses will be landed the first thing in the morning, and
we will then ride whithersoever you may bid us."
"Thanks, Sir John," the countess replied. "In that case I would that you
ride by Rennes, towards which the army of the Duke of Normandy is already
advancing. The garrison there is commanded by Sir William of Caddoudal, a
good and valiant knight."
The horses were landed on the following morning, and accompanied by the
four young squires and the men-at-arms, and followed by the twenty archers
on foot, Sir John Powis set out for Rennes. They arrived there, but just in
time, for the assailants were closing round the city. They were received
with the greatest cordiality by the governor, who assigned apartments to
Sir John and the squires, and lodged the men-at-arms and archers near them.
In a day or two the whole of the French army came up, and the siege
commenced. Sir John Powis, at his own request, was posted with his men for
the defence of a portion of the wall which was especially open to the
assaults of the enemy. These soon commenced in earnest, and the Genoese
and Spanish mercenaries endeavoured to carry the place by assault.
Sometimes one point would be attacked, at others points far distant.
Covered by the fire of the French crossbowmen, the Spaniards and Germans
came on to the assault, carrying ladders, with which they strove to climb
the walls, but the defenders plied them so vigorously with quarrels from
their cross-bows and flights of arrows that they frequently desisted before
reaching the walls. When they pushed on, and strove to ascend, their luck
was no better. Great stones were hurled down, and boiling oil poured upon
them. The ladders were flung back, and many crushed by the fall, and in
none of the assaults did they gain any footing in the town. Machines were
used, but these were not sufficiently powerful to batter down the walls,
and at the end of April the city was as far from being captured as it was
on the day of the commencement of the siege.
Walter bore his full share in the fighting, but he had no opportunity of
especially distinguishing himself, although Sir John several times
commended him for his coolness when the bolts of the crossbow-men and the
stones from the machines were flying most thickly. But although as yet
uninjured by the enemy's attacks, the prospect of the city holding out was
not bright. The burghers, who had at first fought valiantly, were soon
wearied of the strife, and of the hardships it entailed upon them. The
siege had continued but a short time when they began to murmur loudly. The
force under the command of the governor was but a small one, and it would
have been impossible for him to resist the will of the whole population.
For a time his exhortations and entreaties were attended with success, and
the burghers returned to their positions on the walls; but each time the
difficulty became greater, and it was clear to Caddoudal and Sir John Powis
that ere long the citizens would surrender the place in spite of them. The
English knight was furious at the cowardliness of the citizens, and
proposed to the governor to summon twenty of the leading burghers, and to
hang them as a lesson to the others; but the governor shook his head.
"I have but two hundred men on whom I can rely, including your following,
Sir John. We could not keep down the inhabitants for an hour; and were we
to try to do so, they would open the gates and let in the French. No; I
fear that we must await the end."
The following morning Sir John was awoke with the news that in the night
Caddoudal had been seized and thrown into prison by the burghers, and that
a deputation of citizens had already gone out through the gate to treat
with the Duke of Normandy for the surrender of the city.
The English knight was furious, but with his little band he could do
nothing, especially as he found that a strong guard of burghers had been
placed at the door of the apartments occupied by him and the esquires, and
he was informed that he must consider himself a prisoner until the
conclusion of the negotiations.
Cowardly and faithless as the burghers of Rennes showed themselves to be,
they nevertheless stipulated with the Duke of Normandy, as one of the
conditions of the surrender, that Caddoudal, Sir John Powis, and the troops
under them should be permitted to pass through the French lines and go
whithersoever they would. These terms were accepted. At mid-day the
governor was released, and he with his men-at-arms and the band of
Englishmen filed out from the city gate, and took their way unmolested
through the lines of the French army to Hennebon.
They had been for a month in ignorance of all that had passed outside the
walls, and had from day to day been eagerly looking for the arrival of Sir
Walter Manny with his army to their relief. Once past the French lines they
inquired of the peasantry, and heard to their surprise that the English
fleet had not yet arrived.
"We were in luck indeed," Walter said to his companions, "that Captain
Timothy Martin was in a hurry to get back to his tradings with the
Flemings. Had he not been so, we should all this time have been kicking our
heels and fretting on board a ship."
On nearing Hennebon, Sir William Caddoudal, with Sir John Powis and the
squires, rode forward and met the countess. They were the first bearers of
the news of the surrender of Rennes, and the countess was filled with
consternation at the intelligence. However, after her first burst of
indignation and regret had passed, she put a brave face on it.
"They shall meet with another reception at Hennebon," she said. "This is
but a small place, and my garrison here, and the soldiers you have brought,
will well- nigh outnumber the burghers; and we need have no fear of such
faintheartedness as that which has given Nantes and Rennes into the hands
of my enemy. The English aid cannot tarry long. Until it come we can
assuredly hold the place."
All was now bustle in Hennebon. Sir John Powis took charge of a part of the
walls, and busied himself with his men in placing the machines in position,
and in preparing for defence. The countess, attired in armour, rode through
the streets haranguing the townspeople. She urged the men to fight till the
last, and bade the women and girls cut short their dresses so that they
could the better climb the steps to the top of the walls, and that one and
all should carry up stones, chalk, and baskets of lime to be cast down upon
the assailants. Animated by her words and gestures, the townspeople set to
work, and all vied with each other, from the oldest to the youngest, in
carrying up stores of missiles to the walls. Never did Hennebon present
such a scene of life and bustle. It seemed like an ant-hill which a
passer-by has disturbed.
Absorbed in their work, none had time to think of the dangers which
threatened them, and a stranger would rather have thought from their
cheerful and animated countenances that they were preparing for a great
fete than for a siege by an army to which the two chief towns in Brittany
Ere long the French army was seen approaching. The soldiers, who had been
labouring with the rest, buckled on their armour. The citizens gathered on
the walls to hurl down the piles of stones which had been collected, and
all prepared for the assault.
"Sir John Powis," the countess said, "I pray you to grant me one of your
esquires, who may attend me while I ride about, and may bear my messages
for me. He will not be idle, nor will he escape his share of the dangers;
for, believe me, I do not intend to hide myself while you and your brave
soldiers are fighting for me.
"Willingly, lady," Sir John answered. "Here is Walter Somers, the son of a
good knight, and himself brave and prudent beyond his years; he will, I am
sure, gladly devote himself to your service."
The French, encouraged by their successes, thought that it would be a
comparatively easy task to capture so small a place as Hennebon, and as
soon as their camp was pitched they moved forward to the attack.
"Come with me, Master Somers," the countess said. "I will mount to one of
the watch-towers, where we may see all that passes.
Walter followed her, and marvelled to see the lightness and agility with
which the heroic countess, although clad in armour, mounted the rickety
ladders to the summit of the watch-tower. The French bowmen opened a heavy
fire upon the walls, which was answered by the shafts of the little party
of English bowmen. These did much execution, for the English archers shot
far harder and straighter than those of France, and it was only the best
armour which could keep out their cloth-yard shafts. So small a body,
however, could not check the advance of so large a force, and the French
swarmed up to the very foot of the walls.
"Well done, my men!" the countess exclaimed, clapping her hands, as a
shower of heavy rocks fell among the mass of the assailants, who were
striving to plant their ladders, crushing many in their fall; "but you are
not looking, Master Somers. What is it that you see in yonder camp to
withdraw your attention from such a fight?"
"I am thinking, Countess, that the French have left their camp altogether
unguarded, and that if a body of horse could make a circuit and fall upon
it, the camp, with all its stores, might be destroyed before they could get
back to save it."
"You are right, young sir," the countess exclaimed, "and it shall be done
So saying, she descended the stairs rapidly and mounted her horse, which
stood at the foot of the tower; then riding through the town, she collected
a party of about three hundred men, bidding all she met mount their horses
and join her at the gate on the opposite side to that on which the assault
was taking place. Such as had no horses she ordered to take them from
those in her own stables. Walter was mounted on one of the best of the
count's chargers. Immediately the force was collected, the gate was opened
and the countess rode forth at their head. Making a considerable detour,
the party rode without being observed into the rear of the French camp.
Here only a few servants and horse-boys were found, these were at once
killed or driven out; then all dismounting, set fire to the tents and
stores; and ere the French were aware of what was going on, the whole of
their camp was in flames. As soon as the conflagration was perceived, the
French commanders drew off their men from the attack, and all ran at full
speed towards the camp.
"We cannot regain the town," the countess said; "we will ride to Auray at
full speed, and re-enter the castle when best we may.
Don Louis of Spain, who with a considerable following was fighting in the
French ranks, hearing from the flying camp followers that the countess
herself was at the head of the party which had destroyed the camp,
instantly mounted, and with a large number of horsemen set off in hot
pursuit. A few of the countess's party who were badly mounted were
overtaken and slain, but the rest arrived safely at Auray, when the gates
were shut in the face of their pursuers.
The blow was a heavy one for the besiegers, but they at once proceeded to
build huts, showing that they had no intention of relinquishing the siege.
Spies were sent from Auray, and these reported that the new camp was
established on the site of the old one, and that the French evidently
intended to renew the attack upon the side on which they had first
commenced, leaving the other side almost unwatched.
Accordingly, on the fifth day after leaving the town, the countess prepared
to return. Except Walter, none were informed of her intention, as she
feared that news might be taken to the French camp by friends of Charles of
Blois; but as soon as it was nightfall, and the gates were shut, the
trumpet sounded to horse. In a few minutes the troop assembled in the
market-place, and the countess, accompanied by Walter, placing herself at
their head, rode out from the town. The strictest silence was observed. On
nearing the town all were directed to dismount, to tear up the
horse-cloths, and to muffle the feet of their horses. Then the journey was
resumed, and so careless was the watch kept by the French that they passed
through the sentries unobserved, and reached in safety the gate from which
they had issued. As they neared it they were challenged from the walls, and
a shout of joy was heard when Walter replied that the countess herself was
present. The gates were opened and the party entered. The news of their
return rapidly ran through the town, and the inhabitants, hastily attiring
themselves, ran into the streets, filled with joy. Much depression had been
felt during her absence, and few had entertained hopes that she would be
able to re- enter the town. She had brought with her from Auray two hundred
men, in addition to the party that had sallied out.
CHAPTER IX: THE SIEGE OF HENNEBON
The besiegers of Hennebon were greatly discouraged at the success of the
enterprise of the countess. They had already attempted several desperate
assaults, but had each time been repulsed with very heavy loss. They now
sent to Rennes for twelve of the immense machines used in battering walls,
which had been left behind there on a false report of the weakness of
Hennebon. Pending the arrival of these, Charles of Blois, with one division
of the army, marched away to attack Auray, leaving Don Louis to carry on
the siege with a force considered amply sufficient to compel its surrender
after the arrival of the battering machines.
In a few days these arrived and were speedily set to work, and immense
masses of stone were hurled at the walls.
Walter continued to act as the countess's especial squire. She had
informed Sir William Caddoudal and Sir John Powis that it was at his
suggestion that she had made the sudden attack upon the French camp, and he
had gained great credit thereby.
The effect of the new machines was speedily visible. The walls crumbled
under the tremendous blows, and although the archers harassed by their
arrows the men working them, the French speedily erected screens which
sheltered them from their fire. The spirits of the defenders began to sink
rapidly, as they saw that in a very short time great breaches would be made
in the walls, and that all the horrors and disasters of a city taken by
assault awaited them. The Bishop of Quimper who was within the walls,
entered into secret negotiations with his nephew, Henry de Leon, who had
gone over to the enemy after the surrender of Nantes, and was now with the
besieging army. The besiegers, delighted to find an ally within the walls
who might save them from the heavy losses which an assault would entail
upon them, at once embraced his offers, and promised him a large recompense
if he would bring over the other commanders and nobles. The wily bishop set
to work, and the consequences were soon visible. Open grumbling broke forth
at the hardships which were endured, and at the prospect of the wholesale
slaughter which would attend a storm when all hope of a successful
resistance was at an end.
"I fear, Walter," Sir John said one morning, "that the end is at hand. On
all sides submission is spoken of, and all that I can say to keep up their
spirits is useless. Upon our own little band we can rely, but I doubt if
outside them a single determined man is to be found in the town. In vain do
I speak of the arrival of Sir Walter Manny. Nearly ninety days have elapsed
since we sailed, and all hope of his coming is gone. I point out to them
that contrary winds have been blowing, and that at any moment he may
arrive; but they will not hear me. The bishop has gained over the whole of
them by his promises that none shall be molested in property or estate
should they surrender."
"It is sad to see the countess," Walter replied; "she who has shown such
high spirit throughout the siege now does nothing but weep, for she knows
that with her and her child in the hands of the French the cause of the
count is lost. If she could carry off the child by sea she would not so
much care for the fall of the town, but the French ships lie thick round
the port, and there is no hope of breaking through."
Two days later the conspiracy came to a head, and the people, assembling
round the countess's house, clamoured for surrender. The breaches were
open, and the enemy might pour in at any time and put all to the sword. The
countess begged for a little further delay, but in vain, and withdrew to
the turret where she had for so many weary weeks watched the horizon, in
hopes of seeing the sails of the approaching fleet. Walter was at the time
with Sir John Powis on the walls.
Presently a large body of French were seen approaching headed by Henry de
Leon, who summoned the town to surrender. Many standing on the walls
shouted that the gates should be thrown open; but Sir John returned for
answer that he must consult the countess, and that upon her answer must
depend whether he and his men would defend the breach until the last.
"Come with me, Walter," he said, "we must fain persuade the countess. If
she says no, we Englishmen will die in the breach; but though ready to give
my life for so brave a lady, I own that it is useless to fight longer. Save
our own little band not one in the town will lift a sword again. Such
resistance as we can offer will but inflame them to fury, and all the
horrors of a sack will be inflicted upon the inhabitants. There she is,
poor lady, on the turret, gazing, as usual, seaward."
Suddenly they saw her throw up her arms, and then, turning towards the
city, she cried, as she perceived the English knight: "I see them! I see
them! The English fleet are coming!"
"Run up, Walter," Sir John exclaimed, "maybe the countess is distraught
with her sorrows.
Walter dashed up to the turret, and looking seaward beheld rising over the
horizon a number of masts.
"Hurrah ! Sir John," he shouted, "we are saved, the English fleet is in
Many others heard the shout, and the tidings ran like lightning through the
town. In wild excitement the people ran to the battlements and roofs, and
with cheering and clapping of hands hailed the appearance of the still
far-distant fleet. The church bells rang out joyfully and the whole town
was wild with excitement.
The Bishop of Quimper, finding that his plans were frustrated, gathered
around him some of those who had taken a leading part in the intrigue.
These, leaving the city by a gate at which they had placed some of their
own faction to open it to the French, issued out and made their way to the
assailants' camp, to give news of the altered situation. Don Louis at once
ordered an attack to be made with his whole force, in hopes of capturing
the place before the arrival of the English succour. But, animated by their
new hopes, those so lately despondent and ready to yield manned the
breaches and repulsed with great slaughter all attempts on the part of the
French to carry them. While the struggle was still going on, the countess,
aided by the wives of the burghers, busied herself in preparing a sumptuous
feast in honour of her deliverers who were fast approaching, their ships
impelled by a strong and favourable breeze. The vessels of the French
hastily drew off, and the English fleet sailed into the port hailed by the
cheers of the inhabitants. The countess herself received Sir Walter Manny
on his landing, and the townspeople vied with each other in offering
hospitality to the men-at-arms and archers.
"Ah! Sir John Powis," Sir Walter exclaimed, "what, are you here? I had
given you up for lost. We thought you had gone down in the gale the night
"We were separated from the fleet, Sir Walter, but the master held on, and
we arrived here four days after we put out. We took part in the siege of
Rennes, and have since done our best to aid the countess here."
"And their best has been much," the countess said; "not to say how bravely
they have fought upon the walls, it is to Sir John and his little band that
I owe it that the town was not surrendered days ago. They alone remained
steadfast when all others fell away, and it is due to them that I am still
able, as mistress of this town, to greet you on your arrival. Next to Sir
John himself, my thanks are due to your young esquire, Walter Somers, who
has cheered and stood by me, and to whose suggestions I owe it that I was
able at the first to sally out and destroy the French camp while they were
attacking the walls, and so greatly hindered their measures against the
town. And now, sir, will you follow me? I have prepared for you and your
knights such a banquet of welcome as our poor means will allow, and my
townspeople will see that good fare is set before your soldiers."
That evening there was high feasting in the town, although the crash of the
heavy stones cast by the French machines against the walls never ceased.
Early the next morning Sir Walter Manny made a survey of the place and of
the disposition of the enemy, and proposed to his knights to sally forth at
once and destroy the largest of the enemy's machines, which had been
brought up close to the walls. In a few minutes the knights were armed and
mounted. Three hundred knights and esquires were to take part in the
sortie, they were to be followed by a strong body of men-at-arms.
As soon as the gates were opened a number of archers issued out, and taking
their place at the edge of the moat, poured a rain of arrows upon the men
working the machine and those guarding it. Most of these took to flight at
once, the remainder were cut down by the men-at-arms, who at once proceeded
to hew the machine in pieces with the axes with which they were provided.
Sir Walter himself and his mounted companions dashed forward to the nearer
tents of the French camps, cut down all who opposed them, and setting fire
to the huts retired towards the city.
By this time the French were thoroughly alarmed, and numbers of knights and
men- at-arms dashed after the little body of English cavalry. These could
have regained the place in safety, but in the chivalrous spirit of the time
they disdained to retire without striking a blow. Turning their horses,
therefore, and laying their lances in rest, they charged the pursuing
For a few minutes the conflict was desperate and many on both sides were
overthrown; then, as large reinforcements were continually arriving to the
French, Sir Walter called off his men and retired slowly. On reaching the
moat he halted his forces. The knights wheeled and presented a firm face to
the enemy, covering the entrance of their followers into the gate. The
French chivalry thundered down upon the little body, but were met by a
storm of arrows from the archers lining the moat. Many knights were struck
through the bars of their vizors or the joints of their mail. The horses,
though defended by iron trappings, fell dead under them, or, maddened by
pain, dashed wildly through the ranks, carrying confusion with them, and
the French commanders, seeing how heavy were their losses, called off their
men from the assault. Sir Walter Manny with his party remained without the
gate until the enemy had re-entered their camp, and then rode into the town
amid the acclamations of the inhabitants, the countess herself meeting her
deliverers at the gate and kissing each, one after the other, in token of
her gratitude and admiration.
The arrival of the reinforcements and the proof of skill and vigour given
by the English leader, together with the terror caused by the terrible
effect of the English arrows, shook the resolution of Don Louis and his
troops. Deprived of half their force by the absence of Charles of Blois, it
was thought prudent by the leaders to withdraw at once, and the third
morning after the arrival of Sir Walter Manny the siege was raised, and the
French marched to join Charles of Blois before the Castle of Auray.
Even with the reinforcements brought by Sir Walter Manny, the forces of the
Countess of Montford were still so greatly inferior to those of the
divisions of the French army that they could not hope to cope with them in
the field until the arrival of the main English army, which the King of
England himself was to bring over shortly. Accordingly the French laid
siege to and captured many small towns and castles. Charles of Blois
continued the siege of Auray, and directed Don Louis with his division to
attack the town of Dinan. On his way the Spaniard captured the small
fortress of Conquet and put the garrison to the sword. Sir Walter Manny, in
spite of the inferiority of his force, sallied out to relieve it, but it
was taken before his arrival, and Don Louis had marched away to Dinan,
leaving a small garrison in Conquet. It was again captured by Sir Walter,
but finding it indefensible he returned with the whole of his force to
Hennebon. Don Louis captured Dinan and then besieged Guerande. Here he met
with a vigorous resistance, but carried it by storm, and gave it up to be
pillaged by his soldiers. He now sent back to Charles of Blois the greater
part of the French troops who accompanied him, and embarked with the
Genoese and Spanish, 8000 in number, and sailed to Quimperle, a rich and
populous town in Lower Brittany.
Anchoring in the River Leita, he disembarked his troops, and leaving a
guard to protect the vessels marched to the interior, plundering and
burning, and from time to time despatching his booty to swell the immense
mass which he had brought in his ships from the sack of Guerande.
Quimperle lies but a short distance from Hennebon, and Sir Walter Manny
with Almeric de Clisson, a number of English knights, and a body of English
archers, in all three thousand men, embarked in the ships in the port, and
entering the Leita captured the enemy's fleet and all his treasure. The
English then landed, and dividing into three bodies, set out in search of
The English columns marched at a short distance apart so as to be able to
give each other assistance in case of attack. The news of the English
approach soon reached the Spaniards, who were gathered in a solid body, for
the enraged country people, armed with clubs and bills, hung on their
flanks and cut off any stragglers who left the main body. Don Louis at
once moved towards the sea- coast, and coming in sight of one of the
English divisions, charged it with his whole force.
The English fought desperately, but the odds of seven to one were too
great, and they would have been overpowered had not the other two divisions
arrived on the spot and fallen upon the enemy's flanks. After a severe and
prolonged struggle the Genoese and Spaniards were completely routed. The
armed peasantry slew every fugitive they could overtake, and of the 7000
men with whom Don Louis commenced the battle only 300 accompanied him in
his flight to Rennes, the troops of Sir Walter and de Clisson pursuing him
to the very gates of that city. Sir Walter marched back with his force to
the ships, but finding the wind unfavourable returned to Hennebon by land,
capturing by the way the castle of Goy la Foret. Their return was joyfully
welcomed, not only for the victory which they had achieved, but because the
enemy was again drawing near to the town. Auray had fallen. The brave
garrison, after existing for some time upon the flesh of their horses, had
endeavoured to cut their way through the besiegers. Most of them were
killed in the attempt, but a few escaped and made their way to Hennebon.
Vannes, an important town, and Carhaix quickly surrendered, and the French
force was daily receiving considerable reinforcements. This arose from the
fact that large numbers of French nobles and knights had, with their
followers, taken part with Alfonso, King of Castile and Leon, in his war
with the Moors. This had just terminated with the expulsion of the latter
from Spain, and the French knights and nobles on their way home for the
most part joined at once in the war which their countrymen were waging in
Seeing the great force which was gathering for a fresh siege of Hennebon,
Sir Walter Manny and the Countess of Montford sent an urgent message to
King Edward for further support. The king was not yet ready, but at the
beginning of August he despatched a force under the command of the Earl of
Northampton and Robert of Artois. It consisted of twenty-seven knights
bannerets and 2000 men-at-arms. Before, however, it could reach Hennebon
the second siege of that city had begun. Charles of Blois had approached it
with a far larger army than that with which he had on the first occasion
sat down before it. Hennebon was, however, much better prepared than at
first for resistance. The walls had been repaired, provisions and military
stores laid up, and machines constructed. The garrison was very much
larger, and was commanded by one of the most gallant knights of the age,
and the citizens beheld undaunted the approach of the great French army.
Four days after the French had arrived before Hennebon they were joined by
Don Louis, who had been severely wounded in the fight near Quimperle, and
had lain for six weeks at Rennes. Sixteen great engines at once began to
cast stones against the walls, but Sir Walter caused sandbags to be
lowered, and so protected the walls from the attack that little damage was
done. The garrison confident in their powers to resist, taunted the
assailants from the walls, and specially enraged the Spaniards and Don
Louis by allusions to the defeat at Quimperle.
So furious did the Spanish prince become that he took a step unprecedented
in those days of chivalry. He one morning entered the tent of Charles of
Blois, where a number of French nobles were gathered, and demanded a boon
in requital of all his services. Charles at once assented, when, to his
surprise and horror, Prince Louis demanded that two English knights, Sir
John Butler and Sir Hubert Frisnoy, who had been captured in the course of
the campaign and were kept prisoners at Faouet, should be delivered to him
to be executed. "These English," he said, "have pursued, discomforted, and
wounded me, and have killed the nephew whom I loved so well, and as I have
none other mode of vengeance I will cut off their heads before their
companions who lie within those walls."
Charles of Blois and his nobles were struck with amazement and horror at
the demand, and used every means in their power to turn the savage prince
from his purpose, but in vain. They pointed out to him that his name would
be dishonoured in all countries where the laws of chivalry prevailed by
such a deed, and besought him to choose some other boon. Don Louis refused
to yield, and Charles of Blois, finding no alternative between breaking his
promise and delivering his prisoners, at last agreed to his request.
The prisoners were sent for, and were informed by Don Louis himself of
their approaching end. At first they could not believe that he was in
earnest, for such a proceeding was so utterly opposed to the spirit of the
times that it seemed impossible to them. Finding that he was in earnest
they warned him of the eternal stain which such a deed would bring upon his
name. The Spaniard, however, was unmoved either by their words or by the
entreaties of the French nobles but told them that he would give them a few
hours to prepare for death, and that they should be executed in sight of
the walls after the usual dinner hour of the army.
In those days sieges were not conducted in the strict manner in which they
are at present, and non-combatants passed without difficulty to and fro
between town and camp. The news, therefore, of what was intended speedily
reached the garrison, whom it filled with indignation and horror. A council
was immediately called, and Sir Walter Manny proposed a plan, which was
Without loss of time Almeric de Clisson issued forth from the great gate of
Hennebon, accompanied by 300 men-at-arms and 1000 archers. The latter took
post at once along the edge of the ditches. The men-at-arms rode straight
for the enemy's camp, which was undefended, the whole army being within
their tents at dinner. Dashing into their midst the English and Breton
men-at-arms began to overthrow the tents and spear all that were in them.
Not knowing the extent of the danger or the smallness of the attacking
force, the French knights sprang up from table, mounted, and rode to
encounter the assailants.
For some time these maintained their ground against all assaults until,
finding that the whole army was upon them, Almeric de Clisson gave order
for his troop to retire slowly upon the town. Fighting every step of the
ground and resisting obstinately the repeated onslaught of the French,
Clisson approached the gate. Here he was joined by the archers, who with
bent bows prepared to resist the advance of the French. As it appeared that
the garrison were prepared to give battle outside the walls, the whole
French army prepared to move against them.
In the meantime Sir Walter Manny, with 100 men-at-arms and 500 horse
archers, issued by a sally-port on the other side of the town, and with all
speed rode round to the rear of the French camp. There he found none to
oppose him save servants and camp-followers, and making his way straight to
the tent of Charles of Blois, where the two knights were confined, he soon
freed them from their bonds. They were mounted without wasting a moment's
time upon two spare horses, and turning again the whole party rode back
towards Hennebon, and had reached the postern gate before the fugitives
from the camp reached the French commanders and told them what had
Seeing that he was now too late, because of De Clisson's sortie, Charles of
Blois recalled his army from the attack, in which he could only have
suffered heavily from the arrows of the archers and the missiles from the
walls. The same day, he learned from some prisoners captured in the sortie,
of the undiminished spirit of the garrison, and that Hennebon was amply
supplied with provisions brought by sea. His own army was becoming
straitened by the scarcity of supplies in the country round, he therefore
determined at once to raise the siege, and to besiege some place where he
would encounter less serious resistance.
Accordingly, next morning he drew off his army and marched to Carhaix.
Shortly afterwards the news came that the Earl of Northampton and Robert of
Artois, with their force, had sailed, and Don Louis, with the Genoese and
other Italian mercenaries, started to intercept them with a large fleet.
The fleets met off the island of Guernsey, and a severe engagement took
place, which lasted till night. During the darkness a tremendous storm
burst upon them and the combatants separated. The English succeeded in
making their way to Brittany and landed near Vannes. The Spaniards captured
four small ships which had been separated in the storm from their consorts,
but did not succeed in regaining the coast of Brittany, being driven south
by the storm as far as Spain. The Earl of Northampton at once laid siege
to Vannes, and Sir Walter Manny moved with every man that could be spared
from Hennebon to assist him.
As it was certain that the French army would press forward with all speed
to relieve the town, it was decided to lose no time in battering the walls,
but to attempt to carry it at once by assault. The walls, however, were so
strong that there seemed little prospect of success attending such an
attempt, and a plan was therefore determined upon by which the enemy might
be thrown off their guard. The assault commenced at three points in the
early morning and was continued all day. No great vigour, however, was
shown in these attempts which were repulsed at all points.
At nightfall the assailants drew off to their camp, and Oliver de Clisson,
who commanded the town, suffered his weary troops to quit the walls and to
seek for refreshment and repose. The assailants, however, did not disarm,
but after a sufficient time had elapsed to allow the garrison to lay aside
their armour two strong parties attacked the principal gates of the town,
while Sir Walter Manny and the Earl of Oxford moved round to the opposite
side with ladders for an escalade. The plan was successful. The garrison,
snatching up their arms, hurried to repel their attack upon the gates,
every man hastening in that direction. Sir Walter Manny with his party were
therefore enabled to mount the walls unobserved and make their way into the
town; here they fell upon the defenders in the rear, and the sudden
onslaught spread confusion and terror among them. The parties at the gates
forced their way in and joined their friends, and the whole of the garrison
were killed or taken prisoners, save a few, including Oliver Clisson, who
made their escape by sally-ports. Robert of Artois, with the Earl of
Stafford, was left with a garrison to hold the town. The Earl of
Salisbury, with four thousand men, proceeded to lay siege to Rennes, and
Sir Walter Manny hastened back to Hennebon.
Some of Sir Walter's men formed part of the garrison of Vannes, and among
these was Sir John Powis with a hundred men-at-arms.
The knight had been so pleased with Walter's coolness and courage at the
siege at Hennebon that he requested Sir Walter to leave him with him at
Vannes. "It is possible," he said to Walter, "that we may have fighting
here. Methinks that Sir Walter would have done better to leave a stronger
force. The town is a large one, and the inhabitants ill-disposed towards
us. Oliver Clisson and the French nobles will feel their honour wounded at
the way in which we outwitted them, and will likely enough make an effort
to regain the town. However, Rennes and Hennebon are not far away, and we
may look for speedy aid from the Earl of Salisbury and Sir Walter should
Sir John's previsions were speedily verified. Oliver Clisson and his
friends were determined to wipe out their defeat, and scattered through the
country raising volunteers from among the soldiery in all the neighbouring
towns and castles, and a month after Vannes was taken they suddenly
appeared before the town with an army of 12,000 men, commanded by
Beaumanoir, marshal of Bretagne for Charles of Blois. The same reasons
which had induced the Earl of Northampton to decide upon a speedy assault
instead of the slow process of breaching the walls, actuated the French in
pursuing the same course, and, divided into a number of storming parties,
the army advanced at once to the assault on the walls. The little garrison
prepared for the defence.
"The outlook is bad, Walter," Sir John Powis said. "These men approach
with an air of resolution which shows that they are bent upon success. They
outnumber us by twelve to one, and it is likely enough that the citizens
may rise and attack us in the rear. They have been ordered to bring the
stones for the machines to the walls, but no one has laid his hand to the
work. We must do our duty as brave men, my lad, but I doubt me if yonder is
not the last sun which we shall see. Furious as the French are at our
recent success here you may be sure that little quarter will given."
CHAPTER X: A PLACE OF REFUGE
The French, excited to the utmost by the exhortations of their commanders,
and by their desire to wipe out the disgrace of the easy capture of Vannes
by the English, advanced with ardour to the assault, and officers and men
vied with each other in the valour which they displayed. In vain did the
garrison shower arrows and cross-bow bolts among them, and pour down
burning oil and quicklime upon them as they thronged at the foot of the
wall. In vain were the ladders, time after time, hurled back loaded with
men upon the mass below. The efforts of the men-at-arms to scale the
defences were seconded by their archers and crossbow-men, who shot such a
storm of bolts that great numbers of the defenders were killed. The assault
was made at a score of different points, and the garrison was too weak to
defend all with success. Sir John Powis and his party repulsed over and
over again the efforts of the assailants against that part of the wall
entrusted to them, but at other points the French gained a footing, and
swarming up rushed along the walls, slaying all whom they encountered.
"All is lost," Sir John exclaimed; "let us fall back to the castle and die
Descending from the wall the party made their way through the streets. The
French were already in the town; every house was closed and barred, and
from the upper windows the burghers hurled down stones and bricks upon the
fugitives, while parties of the French soldiers fell upon them fiercely.
Many threw down their arms and cried for quarter, but were instantly slain.
For a while the streets were a scene of wild confusion; here and there
little knots of Englishmen stood together and defended themselves until the
last, others ran through the streets chased by their exulting foes, some
tried in vain to gain shelter in the houses. Sir John Powis's band was soon
broken and scattered, and their leader slain by a heavy stone from a
housetop. Walter fought his way blindly forward towards the castle although
he well knew that no refuge would be found there. Ralph Smith kept close
beside him, levelling many of his assailants with the tremendous blows of a
huge mace. Somehow, Walter hardly knew how, they made their way through
their assailants and dashed in at the castle gate. A crowd of their
assailants were close upon their heels. Walter glanced round; dashing
across the courtyard he ran through some passages into an inner yard, in
which, as he knew, was the well. The bucket hung at the windlass.
"Catch hold, Ralph!" he exclaimed; "there is just a chance, and we may as
well be drowned as killed." They grasped the rope and jumped off. The
bucket began to descend with frightful velocity. Faster and faster it went
and yet it seemed a long time before they plunged into the water, which was
nigh a hundred feet below the surface. Fortunately the rope was
considerably longer than was necessary, and they sank many feet into the
water, still retaining their hold. Then clinging to the rope they hauled
themselves to the surface.
"We cannot hold on here five minutes," Ralph exclaimed, "my armour is
dragging me down."
"We will soon get rid of that," Walter said.
"There go our helmets; now I will hold on with one hand and help you to