Part 3 out of 5
unbuckle your breast and back pieces; you do the same for me."
With great efforts they managed to rid themselves of their armour, and then
held on with ease to the rope. They hauled the bucket to the surface and
tied a knot in the slack of the rope, so that the bucket hung four feet
below the level of the water. Putting their feet in this, they were able to
stand with their heads above the surface without difficulty.
"This is a nice fix," Ralph exclaimed. "I think it would have been just as
well to have been killed at once. They are sure to find us here, and if
they don't we shall die of cold before tomorrow morning."
"I don't think they will find us," Walter said cheerfully. "When they have
searched the castle thoroughly it may occur to some of them that we have
jumped down the well, but it will be no particular business of anyone to
look for us, and they will all be too anxious to get at the wine butts to
trouble their heads about the matter; besides, it must be a heavy job to
wind up this bucket, and it is not likely there will be such urgent need of
water that anyone will undertake the task."
"But we are no better off if they don't," Ralph remarked, "for we must die
here if we are not hauled out. I suppose you don't intend to try and climb
that rope. I might do twenty feet or so on a pinch, but I could no more
get up to the top there than I could fly."
"We must think it over," Walter rejoined; "where there is a will there is a
way, you know. We will take it by turns to watch that little patch of light
overhead; if we see anyone looking down we must leave the bucket and swim
to the side without making the least noise. They may give a few turns of
the windlass to see if anyone has hold of the rope below; be sure you do
not make the slightest splashing or noise, for the sound would be heard
above to a certainty."
Ten minutes later they saw two heads appear above, and instantly withdrew
their feet from the bucket and made a stroke to the side, which was but
four feet distant, being careful as they did that no motion was imparted to
the rope. Then though it was too dark to see anything, they heard the
bucket lifted from the water. A minute later it fell back again with a
splash, then all was quiet.
"We are safe now, and can take our place in the bucket. They are satisfied
that if we did jump down here we are drowned. And now we must think about
"Aye, that will require a good deal of thinking," Ralph grumbled.
For some time there was silence; then Walter said, "The first thing to do
is to cut off the slack of the rope, there are some twelve feet of it. Then
we will unwind the strands of that. There are five or six large strands as
far as I can feel; we will cut them up into lengths of about a couple of
feet and we ought to be able to tie these to the rope in such a way as not
to slip down with our weight. If we tie them four feet apart we can go up
step by step; I don't see much difficulty about that."
"No," Ralph said much more cheerfully, "I should think that we could manage
They at once set to work. The rope was cut up and unravelled, and the
strands cut into pieces about two feet long. They then both set to work
trying to discover some way of fastening it by which it would not slip down
the rope. They made many fruitless attempts; each time that a strand was
fastened with a loop large enough for them to pass a leg through, it slid
down the rope when their weight was applied to it. At last they succeeded
in finding out a knot which would hold. This was done by tying a knot close
to one end of a piece of the strand, then sufficient was left to form the
loop, and the remainder was wound round the rope in such a way that the
weight only served to tighten its hold.
"Shall we begin at once?" Ralph said, when success was achieved.
"No, we had better wait until nightfall. The vibration of the rope when our
weight once gets on it might be noticed by anyone crossing the
"Do you think we have sufficient bits of rope," Ralph asked.
"Just enough, I think," Walter replied; "there were six strands, and each
has made six pieces, so we have thirty-six. I know the well is about a
hundred feet deep, for the other day I heard some of the soldiers who were
drawing water grumbling over the labour required. So if we put them three
feet apart it will take thirty-three of them, which will leave three over;
but we had better place them a little over a yard so as to make sure."
In a short time the fading brightness of the circle of light far overhead
told them that twilight had commenced, and shortly afterwards they attached
the first strand to the rope some three feet above the water.
"Now," Walter said, "I will go first, at any rate for a time. I must put
one leg through the loop, and sit, as it were, while I fasten the one
above, as I shall want both hands for the work. You will find it a good
deal easier to stand with your foot in the loop. If I get tired I will
fasten another loop by the side of that on which I am resting, so you can
come up and pass me. There is no hurry. It ought not to take up above an
hour, and it will not do for us to get to the top until the place becomes a
little quiet. Tonight they are sure to be drinking and feasting over their
victory until late."
They now set to work, and step by step mounted the rope. They found the
work less arduous than they had expected. The rope was dry, and the strands
held tightly to it. Two or three times they changed places, resting in
turn from the work; but in less than two hours from the time they made the
first loop Walter's head and shoulders appeared above the level of the
courtyard. He could hear sounds of shouting and singing within the castle,
and knew that a great feast was going on. Descending a step or two he held
parley with Ralph.
"I think, perhaps, it will be better to sally out at once. Everyone is
intent on his own pleasure, and we shall have no difficulty in slipping out
of the castle unnoticed. All will be feasting and riot in the town, and so
long as we do not brush against any one so that they may feel our wet
garments we are little likely to be noticed; besides, the gates of the town
will stand open late, for people from the villages round will have come in
to join in the revels."
"I am ready to try it, Master Walter," Ralph replied, "for I ache from head
to foot with holding on to this rope. The sooner the better, say I."
In another minute both stood in the courtyard. It was a retired spot, and
none were passing. Going along the passage they issued into the main yard.
Here great fires were blazing, and groups of men sat round them drinking
and shouting. Many lay about in drunken sleep.
"Stay where you are in the shade, Ralph. You had best lie down by the foot
of the wall. Anyone who passes will think that you are in a drunken sleep.
I will creep forward and possess myself of the steel caps of two of these
drunkards, and if I can get a couple of cloaks so much the better."
There was no difficulty about the caps, and by dint of unbuckling the
cloaks and rolling their wearers gently over, Walter succeeded at last in
obtaining two of them. He also picked up a sword for Ralph - his own still
hung in its sheath - and then he joined his companion, and the two putting
on the steel caps and cloaks walked quietly to the gate. There were none on
guard, and they issued unmolested into the town. Here all was revelry.
Bonfires blazed in the streets. Hogsheads of wine, with the heads knocked
out, stood before many of the houses for all to help themselves who wished.
Drunken soldiers reeled along shouting snatches of songs, and the burghers
in the highest state of hilarity thronged the ways.
"First of all, Ralph, we will have a drink of wine, for I am chilled to the
"Aye, and so am I," Ralph replied. "I got hot enough climbing that rope,
but now the cold has got hold of me again, and my teeth are chattering in
Picking up one of the fallen vessels by a cask they dipped it in and took a
long draught of wine; then, turning off from the principal streets, they
made their way by quiet lanes down to one of the gates. To their dismay
they found that this was closed. The French commanders knew that Sir Walter
Manny or Salisbury might ere this be pressing forward to relieve the town,
and that, finding that it had fallen, they might attempt to recapture it by
a sudden attack. While permitting therefore the usual licence, after a
successful assault, to the main body of their forces, they had placed a
certain number of their best troops on the walls, giving them a handsome
largess to make up for their loss of the festivities.
At first Walter and his friend feared that their retreat was cut off for
the night, but several other people presently arrived, and the officer on
guard said, coming out, "You must wait a while; the last batch have only
just gone, and I cannot keep opening and closing the gate; in half an hour
I will let you out.
Before that time elapsed some fifty or sixty people, anxious to return to
their villages, gathered round the gate.
"Best lay aside your steel cap, Ralph, before we join them," Walter said.
"In the dim light of that lamp none will notice that we have head-gear, but
if it were to glint upon the steel cap the officer might take us for
deserters and question us as to who we are.
Presently the officer came out from the guard-room again. There was a
forward movement of the little crowd, and Walter and Ralph closed in to
their midst. The gates were opened, and without any question the villagers
passed out, and the gates were shut instantly behind them.
Walter and his comrade at once started at a brisk pace and walked all night
in the direction of Hennebon. Their clothes soon dried, and elated at their
escape from danger they struggled on briskly. When morning broke they
entered a wood, and lay there till evening, as they feared to continue
their journey lest they might fall into the hands of some roving band of
French horse. They were, too, dog-tired, and were asleep a few minutes
after they lay down. The sun was setting when they awoke, and as soon as it
was dark they resumed their journey.
"I don't know what you feel, Master Walter, but I am well-nigh famished. It
is thirty-six hours since I swallowed a bit of food, just as the French
were moving to the attack. Hard blows I don't mind - I have been used to
it; but what with fighting, and being in the water for five or six hours,
and climbing up that endless rope, and walking all night on an empty
stomach, it does not suit me at all."
"I feel ravenous too, Ralph, but there is no help for it. We shall eat
nothing till we are within the walls of Hennebon, and that will be by
daylight tomorrow if all goes well. Draw your belt an inch or two tighter,
it will help to keep out the wolf."
They kept on all night, and in the morning saw to their delight the towers
of Hennebon in the distance. It was well that it was no further, for both
were so exhausted from want of food that they could with difficulty drag
their legs along.
Upon entering the town Walter made his way at once to the quarters of the
leader. Sir Walter had just risen, and was delighted at the sight of his
"I had given you up for dead," he exclaimed. "By what miracle could you
have escaped? Are you alone?"
"I have with me only my faithful follower Ralph Smith, who is below; but,
Sir Walter, for mercy's sake order that some food be placed before us, or
we shall have escaped from the French only to die of hunger here. We have
tasted nought since the attack on Vannes began. Have any beside us
"Lord Stafford contrived, with two or three others, to cut their way out by
a postern-gate, bringing with them Robert of Artois, who is grievously
wounded. None others, save you and your man-at-arms, have made their way
In a few minutes a cold capon, several manchets of bread, and a stoop of
wine were placed before Walter, while Ralph's wants were attended to below.
When he had satisfied his hunger the young esquire related his adventures
to Sir Walter and several other knights and nobles, who had by this time
gathered in the room.
"In faith, Master Somers, you have got well out of your scrape," Sir Walter
exclaimed. "Had I been in your place I should assuredly have perished, for
I would a thousand times rather meet death sword in hand, than drop down
into the deep hole of that well. And your brains served you shrewdly in
devising a method of escape. What say you, gentlemen?"
All present joined in expressions of praise at the lad's coolness and
presence of mind.
"You are doing well, young sir," the English leader went on, "and have
distinguished yourself on each occasion on which we have been engaged. I
shall be proud when the time comes to bestow upon you myself the order of
knighthood if our king does not take the matter off my hands."
A little later Robert of Artois died of his wounds and disappointment at
the failure of his hopes.
In October King Edward himself set sail with a great army, and landing in
Brittany early in November marched forward through the country and soon
reduced Ploermel, Malestrail, Redon, and the rest of the province in the
vicinity of Vannes, and then laid siege to that town. As his force was far
more than sufficient for the siege, the Earls of Norfolk and Warwick were
despatched in the direction of Nantes to reconnoitre the country and clear
it of any small bodies of the enemy they might encounter. In the meantime
Edward opened negotiations with many of the Breton lords, who, seeing that
such powerful aid had arrived for the cause of the Countess of Montford,
were easily persuaded to change sides. Among them were the lords of
Clisson, Moheac, Machecoul, Retz, and many others of less importance.
The Count of Valentinois, who commanded the garrison of Vannes, supported
the siege with great courage and fortitude, knowing that Charles of Blois
and the King of France were collecting a great army for his relief. Uniting
their forces they advanced towards the town. Before the force of the
French, 40,000 strong, the Earl of Norfolk had fallen back and rejoined the
king, but even after this junction the French forces exceeded those of
Edward fourfold. They advanced towards Vannes and formed a large entrenched
camp near that of the English, who thus, while still besieging Vannes, were
themselves enclosed by a vastly superior force. The King of France himself
arrived at the French camp. The French, although so greatly superior, made
no motion toward attacking the English, but appeared bent upon either
starving them out or forcing them to attack the strongly entrenched
position occupied by the French.
Provisions were indeed running short in the English camp, and the arrival
of supplies from England was cut off by a strong fleet under Don Louis,
which cruised off the coast and captured all vessels arriving with stores.
At this moment two legates, the Cardinal Bishop of Preneste and the
Cardinal Bishop of Tusculum, arrived from the pope and strove to mediate
between the two sovereigns and to bring about a cessation of hostilities,
pointing out to them the scandal and desolation which their rivalry caused
in Christendom, the waste of noble lives, the devastation of once happy
provinces, and the effusion of innocent blood. Going from camp to camp
they exhorted, prayed, and reproached the rival sovereigns, urging that
while Christians were shedding each other's blood in vain, the infidels
were daily waxing bolder and more insolent. Their arguments would have been
but of little use had either of the monarchs felt sure of victory. King
Edward, however, felt that his position was growing desperate, for
starvation was staring him in the face, and only by a victory over an
immensely superior force in a strongly entrenched position could he
extricate himself. Upon the part of the French, however, circumstances
were occurring which rendered them anxious for a release from their
position, for they were not without their share of suffering. While the
English army lay on a hill the French camp was pitched on low ground. An
unusually wet season had set in with bitterly cold wind. The rain was
incessant, a pestilence had destroyed a vast number of their horses, and
their encampment was flooded. Their forces were therefore obligated to
spread themselves over the neighbouring fields, and a sudden attack by the
English might have been fatal.
Thus distress pressed upon both commanders, and the pope's legates found
their exertions at last crowned with success. A suspension of hostilities
was agreed to, and the Dukes of Burgundy and Bourbon on the one side and
the Earls of Lancaster, Northampton, and Salisbury on the other, met as
commissioners and agreed to a convention by which a general truce was to be
made from the date of the treaty to the following Michaelmas, and to be
prolonged from that day for the full term of three years. It was agreed
that the truce should embrace not only the sovereigns, but all the
adherents of each of them. The truce was to hold good in Brittany between
all parties, and the city of Vannes was to be given into the hands of the
cardinals to dispose of as they chose. It was specially provided that in
the case of any of the adherents of either party in the Duchies of Gascony
and Brittany waging war against each other, neither of the monarchs should
either directly or indirectly meddle therewith, nor should the truce be at
all broken thereby.
Immediately the treaty was signed, on the 19th of January, 1343, the King
of France dismissed his army, and Edward sailed for England with the
greater part of his troops. The Countess of Montford and her son
accompanied him, and the possessions of her husband in Brittany were left
to the guardianship of her partisans, with a small but choice body of
The towns which had fallen into their hands and still remained were Brest,
Quimper-Corentin, Quimperle, Redon, and Guerande; Vannes was handed over to
them by the cardinals, and Hennebon, of course, remained in their
Walter returned to England with Sir Walter Manny, and on reaching London
was received with delight by his old friends Geoffrey Ward and Giles
Fletcher, who were never tired of listening to his tales of the wars. Dame
Vernon also received him with great kindness, and congratulated him warmly
upon the very favourable account which Sir Walter Manny had given of his
zeal and gallantry.
The time now for a while passed very quietly. Walter and the other young
squires practised diligently, under the instructions of Sir Walter, at
knightly exercises. Walter learned to bear himself well on horseback and to
tilt in the ring. He was already a skilful swordsman, but he spared no
pains to improve himself with his weapons. The court was a gay one, and
Walter, as a favoured esquire of one of the foremost knights there, was
admitted to all that took place. His courtly education, of course, included
dancing, and when he went down, as he often did, for a long chat with his
old friends, Geoffrey often said, laughing, that he was growing such a fine
gentleman that he hardly liked to sit in his presence; but although changed
in manner, Walter continued to be, as before, a frank, manly young fellow,
and free from the affectations which were so general among the young men of
CHAPTER XI: A STORMY INTERVIEW
Soon after Walter's return from France Dame Vernon returned to her country
estate, and a year passed before he again saw her. During this time the
truce which had been established between England and France had remained
unbroken. It was certain, however, that ere long the two powers would again
come to blows. The King of England had honourably observed the terms of
the treaty. Upon his return home he had entirely disbanded his army and
had devoted his whole attention to increasing the trade and prosperity of
the country. The measures which he took to do this were not always popular
with the people of England, for seeing how greatly they excelled the
English manufacturers Edward encouraged large numbers of Flemings and other
foreign workmen to settle in London, and gave them many privileges to
induce them to do so; this the populace strongly resented. There was a
strong ill feeling against the Flemings and serious popular riots took
place, for the English traders and workmen considered that these foreigners
were taking the bread from their mouths. The king, however, was wiser than
his people, he saw that although the English weavers were able to produce
coarse cloths, yet that all of the finer sort had to be imported from the
Continent. He deemed that in time the Flemings would teach their art to his
subjects, and that England would come to vie with the Low Countries in the
quality of her produce. Such was indeed afterwards the case, and England
gained greatly by the importation of the industrious Flemings, just as she
afterwards profited from the expulsion from France of tens of thousands of
Protestant workmen who brought here many of the manufactures of which
France had before the monopoly. The relations between England and the
Flemings were at this time very close, for the latter regarded England as
her protector against the ambition of the King of France.
But while King Edward had laid aside all thought of war, such was not the
case with Phillip of Valois. He had retired after the signature of the
treaty full of rage and humiliation; for hitherto in all their struggles
his English rival had had the better of him, and against vastly superior
forces had foiled all his efforts and had gained alike glory and military
advantage. King Edward had hardly set sail when Phillip began to break the
terms of truce by inciting the adherents of Charles of Blois to attack
those of De Montford, and by rendering assistance to them with money and
men. He also left no means untried to detach Flanders from its alliance
with England. Several castles and towns in Brittany were wrested from the
partisans of De Montford, and King Edward, after many remonstrances at the
breaches of the conditions of the truce, began again to make preparations
for taking the field. Several brilliant tournaments were held and every
means were taken to stir up the warlike spirit of the people.
One day Walter had attended his lord to the palace and was waiting in the
anteroom with many other squires and gentlemen, while Sir Walter, with some
other noblemen, was closeted with the king, discussing the means to be
adopted for raising funds for a renewal of a war with France, when a knight
entered whom Walter had not previously seen at court.
"Who is that?" he asked one of his acquaintances; "methinks I know his
face, though it passes my memory to say where I have seen it."
"He has been away from England for some two years," his friend answered.
"That is Sir James Carnegie; he is a cousin of the late Sir Jasper Vernon;
he left somewhat suddenly a short time after Dame Vernon had that narrow
escape from drowning that you wot of; he betook himself then to Spain,
where he has been fighting the Moors; he is said to be a valiant knight,
but otherwise he bears but an indifferent good reputation."
Walter remembered the face now; it was that of the knight he had seen enter
the hut of the river pirate on the Lambeth marshes. When released from duty
he at once made his way to the lodging of Dame Vernon. Walter was now
nineteen, for a year had elapsed since the termination of the French war,
and he was in stature and strength the match of most men, while his skill
at knightly exercises, as well as with the sword, was recognized as
pre-eminent among all the young esquires of the court.
After the first greeting he said to Dame Vernon: "I think it right to tell
you, lady, that I have but now, in the king's anteroom, seen the man who
plotted against your life in the hut at Lambeth. His face is a marked one
and I could not mistake it. I hear that he is a cousin of yours, one Sir
James Carnegie, as you doubtless recognized from my description of him. I
came to tell you in order that you might decide what my conduct should be.
If you wish it so I will keep the secret in my breast; but if you fear
aught from him I will openly accuse him before the king of the crime he
attempted, and shall be ready to meet him in the ordeal of battle should he
"I have seen Sir James," Lady Vernon said. "I had a letter writ in a
feigned hand telling him that his handiwork in the plot against my life was
known, and warning him that, unless he left England, the proofs thereof
would be laid before justice. He at once sailed for Spain, whence, he has
returned but a few days since. He does not know for certain that I am aware
of his plottings against us; but he must have seen by my reception of him
when he called that I no longer regard him with the friendship which I
formerly entertained. I have received a message from him that he will call
upon me this evening, and that he trusts he will find me alone, as he would
fain confer with me on private matters. When I have learned his intentions
I shall be the better able to judge what course I had best adopt. I would
fain, if it may be, let the matter rest. Sir James has powerful interest,
and I would not have him for an open enemy if I can avoid it; besides, all
the talk and publicity which so grave an accusation against a knight, and
he of mine own family, would entail, would be very distasteful to me; but
should I find it necessary for the sake of my child, I shall not shrink
from it. I trust, however, that it will not come to that; but I shall not
hesitate, if need be, to let him know that I am acquainted with his evil
designs towards us. I will inform you of as much of our interview as it is
necessary that you should know."
That evening Sir James Carnegie called upon Dame Vernon. "I would not
notice it the other day, fair cousin," he said, in return for her stiff and
ceremonious greeting; "but methinks that you are mightily changed in your
bearing towards me. I had looked on my return from my long journeying for
something of the sisterly warmth with which you once greeted me, but I find
you as cold and hard as if I had been altogether a stranger to you. I would
fain know in what way I have forfeited your esteem."
"I do not wish to enter into bygones, Sir James," the lady said, "and would
fain let the past sleep if you will let me. Let us then turn without more
ado to the private matters concerning which you wished to speak with me."
"If such is your mood, fair dame, I must needs fall in with it, though in
no way able to understand your allusion to the past, wherein my conscience
holds me guiltless of aught which could draw upon me your disfavour. I am
your nearest male relative, and as such would fain confer with you touching
the future of young Mistress Edith, your daughter. She is now nigh
thirteen years of age, and is the heiress of broad lands; is it not time
that she were betrothed to one capable of taking care of them for her, and
leading your vassals to battle in these troubled times?"
"Thanks, Sir James, for your anxiety about my child," Dame Vernon said
coldly. "She is a ward of the king. I am in no way anxious that an early
choice should be made for her; but our good Queen Philippa has promised
that, when the time shall come, his Majesty shall not dispose of her hand
without my wishes being in some way consulted; and I have no doubt that
when the time shall come that she is of marriageable age - and I would not
that this should be before she has gained eighteen years, for I like not
the over young marriages which are now in fashion - a knight may be found
for her husband capable of taking care of her and her possessions; but may
I ask if, in so speaking to me, you have anyone in your mind's eye as a
suitor for her hand?"
"Your manner is not encouraging, certes; but I had my plan, which would, I
hoped, have met with your approval. I am the young lady's cousin, and her
nearest male relative; and although we are within the limited degrees,
there will be no difficulty in obtaining a dispensation from Rome. I am
myself passably well off, and some of the mortgages which I had been forced
to lay upon my estates have been cleared off during my absence. I have
returned home with some reputation, and with a goodly sum gained in the
wars with the Moors. I am older than my cousin certainly; but as I am still
but thirty-two, this would not, I hope, be deemed an obstacle, and
methought that you would rather entrust her to your affectionate cousin
than to a stranger. The king has received me very graciously, and would, I
trust, offer no opposition to my suit were it backed by your goodwill."
"I suppose, Sir James," Dame Vernon said, "that I should thank you for the
offer which you have made; but I can only reply, that while duly conscious
of the high honour you have done my daughter by your offer, I would rather
see her in her grave than wedded to you.
The knight leapt from his seat with a fierce exclamation. "This is too
much," he exclaimed, "and I have a right to know why such an offer on my
part should be answered by disdain, and even insolence."
"You have a right to know," Dame Vernon answered quietly, "and I will tell
you. I repeat that I would rather see my child in her grave than wedded to
a man who attempted to compass the murder of her and her mother."
"What wild words are these?" Sir James asked sternly. "What accusation is
this that you dare to bring against me?"
"I repeat what I said, Sir James," Dame Alice replied quietly. "I know that
you plotted with the water pirates of Lambeth to upset our boat as we came
down the Thames; that you treacherously delayed us at Richmond in order
that we might not reach London before dark; and that by enveloping me in a
white cloak you gave a signal by which I might be known to your creatures.
The knight stood for a moment astounded. He was aware that the fact that he
had had some share in the outrage was known, and was not surprised that his
cousin was acquainted with the secret; but that she should know all the
details with which but one besides himself was, as he believed, acquainted,
completely stupefied him. He rapidly, however, recovered himself.
"I recall now," he said scornfully, "the evidence which was given before
the justices by some ragged city boy, to the effect that he had overheard a
few words of a conversation between some ruffian over in the Lambeth
marshes, and an unknown person; but it is new to me indeed that there was
any suspicion that I was the person alluded to, still less that a lady of
my own family, in whose affection I believed, should credit so monstrous an
"I would that I could discredit it, Sir James," Dame Vernon said sadly;
"but the proofs were too strong for me. Much more of your conversation
than was narrated in court was overheard, and it was at my request that the
ragged boy, as you call him, kept silence."
"And is it possible," the knight asked indignantly, "that you believed the
word of a fellow like this to the detriment to your kinsman? Why, in any
court of law the word of such a one as opposed to that of a knight and
gentleman of honour would not be taken for a moment."
"You are mistaken, sir," Dame Vernon said haughtily. "You may remember, in
the first place, that the lad who overheard this conversation risked his
life to save me and my daughter from the consequences of the attack which
he heard planned; in the second place, he was no ragged lad, but the
apprentice of a well-known citizen; thirdly, and this is of importance,
since he has recognized you since your return, and is ready should I give
him the word, to denounce you. He is no mere apprentice boy, but is of
gentle blood, seeing that he is the son of Sir Roland Somers, the former
possessor of the lands which I hold, and that he is in high favour with the
good knight Sir Walter Manny, whose esquire he now is, and under whom he
distinguished himself in the wars in France, and is, as Sir Walter assured
me, certain to win his spurs ere long. Thus you see his bare word would be
of equal value to your own, beside the fact that his evidence does not rest
upon mere assertion; but that the man in the hut promised to do what you
actually performed, namely, to delay me at Richmond, and to wrap me in a
white cloak in order that I might be recognized by the river pirates."
Sir James was silent. In truth, as he saw, the evidence was overwhelmingly
strong against him. After a while he stammered out, "I cannot deny that I
was the man in question; but I swear to you that this boy was mistaken, and
that the scoundrel acted altogether beyond my instructions, which were
simply that he should board the boat and carry you and your daughter away
to a safe place."
"And with what object, sir," Dame Vernon said contemptuously, "was I to be
thus taken away?"
"I do not seek to excuse myself," the knight replied calmly, having now
recovered his self-possession, "for I own I acted wrongly and basely; but
in truth I loved you, and would fain have made you my wife. I knew that you
regarded me with only the calm affection of a kinswoman; but I thought that
were you in my power you would consent to purchase your freedom with your
hand. I know now that I erred greatly. I acknowledge my fault, and that my
conduct was base and unknightly, and my only excuse is the great love I
"And which," the lady said sarcastically, "you have now transferred to my
daughter. I congratulate you, Sir James, upon the possession of a ready wit
and an invention which does not fail you at a pinch, and of a tongue which
repeats unfalteringly any fable which your mind may dictate. You do not, I
suppose, expect me to believe the tale. Still, I own that it is a
well-devised one, and might, at a pinch, pass muster; but fear not, Sir
James. As hitherto I have kept silence as to the author of the outrage
committed upon me, so I have no intention of proclaiming the truth now
unless you force me to do so. Suffice that both for myself and for my
daughter I disclaim the honour of your hand. So long as you offer no
molestation to us, and abstain from troubling us in any way, so long will
my mouth be sealed; and I would fain bury in my breast the memory of your
offence. I will not give the world's tongue occasion to wag by any open
breach between kinsfolk, and shall therefore in public salute you as an
acquaintance, but under no pretence whatever will I admit you to any future
private interview. Now leave me, sir, and I trust that your future life
will show that you deeply regret the outrage which in your greed for my
husband's lands you were tempted to commit."
Without a word Sir James turned and left the room, white with shame and
anger, but with an inward sense of congratulation at the romance which he
had, on the spur of the moment, invented, and which would, he felt sure, be
accepted by the world as probable, in the event of the share he had in the
matter being made public, either upon the denunciation of Dame Vernon or in
any other manner.
One determination, however, he made, and swore, to himself, that he would
bitterly avenge himself upon the youth whose interference had thwarted his
plans, and whose report to his kinswoman had turned her mind against him.
He, at any rate, should be put out of the way at the first opportunity, and
thus the only witness against himself be removed; for Lady Vernon's own
unsupported story would be merely her word against his, and could be
treated as the malicious fiction of an angry woman.
The following day Dame Vernon sent for Walter, and informed him exactly
what had taken place.
"Between Sir James and me," she said, "there is, you see, a truce. We are
enemies, but, we agree to lay aside our arms for the time. But, Walter, you
must be on your guard.
You know as well as I do how dangerous this man is, and how good a cause he
has to hate you. I would not have divulged your name had I not known that
the frequency of your visits here and the encouragement which I openly give
you as the future suitor of my daughter, would be sure to come to his ears,
and he would speedily discover that it was you who saved our lives on the
Thames and gave your testimony before the justices as to the conversation
in the hut on the marshes. Thus I forestalled what he would in a few days
"I fear him not, lady," Walter said calmly. "I can hold mine own, I hope,
against him in arms, and having the patronage and friendship of Sir Walter
Manny I am above any petty malice. Nevertheless I will hold myself on my
guard. I will, so far as possible, avoid any snare which he may, as 'tis
not unlikely, set for my life, and will, so far as I honourably can, avoid
any quarrel with which he may seek to saddle me.
A few days later Walter again met Sir James Carnegie in the king's
anteroom, and saw at once, by the fixed look of hate with which he had
regarded him, that he had already satisfied himself of his identity. He
returned the knight's stare with a cold look of contempt. The knight moved
towards him, and in a low tone said, "Beware, young sir, I have a heavy
reckoning against you, and James Carnegie never forgets debts of that
"I am warned, Sir James," Walter said calmly, but in the same low tone,
"and, believe me, I hold but very lightly the threats of one who does not
succeed even when he conspires against the lives of women and children."
Sir James started as if he had been struck. Then, with a great effort he
recovered his composure, and, repeating the word "Beware!" walked across to
the other side of the chamber. The next day Walter went down the river and
had a talk with his friend Geoffrey.
"You must beware, lad," the armourer said when he told him of the return of
Sir James Carnegie and the conversation which had taken place between them.
"This man is capable of anything, and careth not where he chooseth his
instruments. The man of the hut at Lambeth has never been caught since his
escape from Richmond Jail - thanks, doubtless, to the gold of his employer
- and, for aught we know, may still be lurking in the marshes there, or in
the purlieus of the city. He will have a grudge against you as well as his
employer, and in him Sir James would find a ready instrument. He is no
doubt connected, as before, with a gang of water pirates and robbers, and
it is not one sword alone that you would have to encounter. I think not
that you are in danger just at present, for he would know that, in case of
your murder, the suspicions of Dame Vernon and of any others who may know
the motive which he has in getting rid of you would be excited, and he
might be accused of having had a share in your death. Still, it would be so
hard to prove aught against him, that he may be ready to run the risk in
order to rid himself of you. Look here, Walter. What think you of this?"
and the smith drew out from a coffer a shirt of mail of finer work than
Walter had ever before seen.
"Aye, lad, I knew you would be pleased," he said in answer to Walter's
exclamation at the fineness of the workmanship. "I bought this a month ago
from a Jew merchant who had recently come from Italy. How he got it I know
not, but I doubt if it were honestly, or he would have demanded a higher
price than I paid him. He told me that it was made by the first armourer in
Milan, and was constructed especially for a cardinal of the church, who had
made many enemies by his evil deeds and could not sleep for fear of
assassination. At his death it came as the Jew said, into his possession. I
suppose some rascally attendant took it as a perquisite, and, knowing not
of its value, sold it for a few ducats to the Jew. However, it is of the
finest workmanship. It is, as you see, double, and each link is made of
steel so tough that no dagger or sword-point will pierce it. I put it on a
block and tried the metal myself, and broke one of my best daggers on it
without a single link giving. Take it, lad. You are welcome to it. I bought
it with a special eye to you, thinking that you might wear it under your
armour in battle without greatly adding to the weight; but for such dangers
as threaten you now it is invaluable. It is so light and soft that none
will dream that you have it under your doublet, and I warrant me it will
hold you safe against the daggers of Sir James's ruffians.
Walter did not like taking a gift so valuable, for his apprenticeship as an
armourer had taught him the extreme rarity and costliness of so fine a
piece of work. Geoffrey, however, would not hear of his refusal, and
insisted on his then and there taking off his doublet and putting it on. It
fitted closely to the body, descending just below the hips, and coming well
up on the neck, while the arms extended to the wrists.
"There!" the smith said with delight. "Now you are safe against sword or
dagger, save for a sweeping blow at the head, and that your sword can be
trusted to guard. Never take it off, Walter, save when you sleep; and
except when in your own bed, at Sir Walter Manny's, I should advise you to
wear it even at night. The weight is nothing, and it will not incommode
you. So long as this caitiff knight lives, your life will not be safe. When
he is dead you may hang up the shirt of mail with a light heart."
CHAPTER XII: JACOB VAN ARTEVELDE
King Edward found no difficulty in awakening the war spirit of England
anew, for the King of France, in an act of infamous treachery, in despite
of the solemn terms of the treaty, excited against himself the indignation
not only of England but of all Europe. Oliver de Clisson, with fourteen
other nobles of Brittany and Normandy, were arrested by his order, taken to
Paris, and without form of trial there decapitated. This act of treachery
and injustice aroused disgust and shame among the French nobles, and
murmurs and discontent spread throughout the whole country.
In Brittany numbers of the nobles fell off from the cause of Charles of
Blois, and King Edward hastened his preparations to avenge the butchery of
the adherents of the house of Montford. Phillip, however, in defiance of
the murmurs of his own subjects, of the indignant remonstrances of Edward,
and even those of the pope, who was devoted to his cause, continued the
course he had begun, and a number of other nobles were seized and executed.
Godfrey of Harcourt alone, warned by the fate of his companions, refused
to obey the summons of the king to repair to Paris, and fled to Brabant.
His property in France was at once seized by Phillip; and Godfrey, finding
that the Duke of Brabant would be unable to shield him from Phillip's
vengeance, fled to the English court, and did homage to Edward.
On the 24th of April, 1345, Edward determined no longer to allow Phillip to
continue to benefit by his constant violations of the truce, and
accordingly sent a defiance to the King of France.
De Montford, who had just succeeded in escaping from his prison in Paris,
arrived at this moment in England, and shortly afterwards set sail with a
small army under the command of the Earl of Northampton for Britanny, while
the Earl of Derby took his departure with a larger force for the defence of
King Edward set about raising a large army, which he determined to lead
himself, but before passing over to France he desired to strengthen his
hold of Flanders. The constant intrigues of Phillip there had exercised a
great effect. The count of that country was already strongly in his
interest, and it was only the influence of Jacob van Artevelde which
maintained the alliance with England. This man had, by his talent and
energy, gained an immense influence over his countrymen; but his commanding
position and ability had naturally excited the envy and hatred of many of
his fellow citizens, among whom was the dean of the weavers of Ghent, one
Gerard Denis. The weavers were the most powerful body in this city, and had
always been noted for their turbulence and faction; and on a Monday in the
month of May, 1345, a great battle took place in the market-place between
them and the fullers, of whom 1500 were slain. This victory of the weavers
strengthened the power of the party hostile to Artevelde and the English
connection; and the former saw that unless he could induce his countrymen
to take some irretrievable step in favour of England they would ultimately
fall back into the arms of France. Accordingly he invited Edward to pass
over with a strong force into Flanders, where he would persuade the
Flemings to make the Prince of Wales their duke. King Edward at once
accepted the offer, and sailing from Sandwich on the 3d of July arrived in
safety at Sluys. His intention had been kept a profound secret, and his
arrival created the greatest surprise throughout Flanders. He did not
disembark, but received on board a ship with great honour and magnificence
the burgomasters of the various towns who appeared to welcome him. The king
had brought with him the Prince of Wales, now fifteen years old, who wore a
suit of black armour, and was therefore called "the Black Prince."
Walter Somers was on board the royal vessel. The Prince of Wales had not
forgotten the promise which he had six years before made to him, and had
asked Sir Walter Manny to allow him to follow under his banner.
"You are taking my most trusty squire from me, Prince," the knight said;
"for although I have many brave young fellows in my following, there is not
one whom I value so much as Walter Somers. It is but fair, however, that
you should have him, since you told me when I first took him that he was to
follow your banner when you were old enough to go to the wars. You can rely
upon him implicitly. He cares not for the gaieties of which most young men
of his age think so much. He is ever ready for duty, and he possesses a
wisdom and sagacity which will some day make him a great leader."
Walter was sorry to leave his patron, but the step was of course a great
advancement, and excited no little envy among his companions, for among the
young esquires of the Prince of Wales were the sons of many of the noblest
families of England.
Sir Walter presented him on leaving with a heavy purse. "Your expenses
will be large," he said, "among so many young gallants, and you must do
credit to me as well as to yourself. The young prince is generous to a
fault, and as he holds you in high favour, both from his knowledge of you
and from my report, you will, I know, lack nothing when you are once fairly
embarked in his service; but it is needful that when you first join you
should be provided with many suits of courtly raiment, of cloth of gold and
silk, which were not needed while you were in the service of a simple
knight like myself, but which must be worn by a companion of the heir of
Walter had hoped that Sir James Carnegie would have accompanied the forces
of either the Earls of Northampton or Derby, but he found that he had
attached himself to the royal army.
Ralph of course followed Walter's fortunes, and was now brilliant in the
appointments of the Prince of Wales's chosen bodyguard of men-at-arms.
The councils of all the great towns of Flanders assembled at Sluys, and for
several days great festivities were held. Then a great assembly was held,
and Van Artevelde rose and addressed his countrymen. He set forth to them
the virtues of the Prince of Wales, whose courtesy and bearing had so
captivated them; he pointed out the obligations which Flanders was under
towards King Edward, and the advantages which would arise from a nearer
connection with England. With this he contrasted the weakness of their
count, the many ills which his adherence to France had brought upon the
country, and the danger which menaced them should his power be ever
renewed. He then boldly proposed to them that they should at once cast off
their allegiance to the count and bestow the vacant coronet upon the Prince
of Wales, who, as Duke of Flanders, would undertake the defence and
government of the country with the aid of a Flemish council. This wholly
unexpected proposition took the Flemish burghers by surprise. Artevelde had
calculated upon his eloquence and influence carrying them away, but his
power had diminished, and many of his hearers had already been gained to
the cause of France. The burgher councils had for a long time had absolute
power in their own towns, and the prospect of a powerful prince at their
head foredoomed a curtailment of those powers. When Artevelde ceased,
therefore, instead of the enthusiastic shouts with which he hoped his
oration would be greeted, a confused murmur arose. At last several got up
and said that, greatly attached as they were to the king, much as they
admired the noble young prince proposed for their acceptance, they felt
themselves unable to give an answer upon an affair of such moment without
consulting their fellow countrymen and learning their opinions. They
therefore promised that they would return on a certain day and give a
The Flemish burghers then took their leave. Van Artevelde, after a
consultation with the king, started at once to use his influence among the
After leaving the king he bade adieu to the Prince of Wales. "Would you
like," the young prince said, "that one of my esquires should ride with
you? His presence might show the people how entirely I am with you; and
should you have tidings to send me he could ride hither with them. I have
one with me who is prudent and wise, and who possesses all the confidence
of that wise and valiant knight, Sir Walter de Manny."
"I will gladly take him, your royal highness," Van Artevelde said, "and
hope to despatch him to you very shortly with the news that the great towns
of Flanders all gladly receive you as their lord."
In a few minutes Walter had mounted his horse, accompanied by Ralph, and,
joining Van Artevelde, rode to Bruges. Here and at Ypres Van Artevelde's
efforts were crowned with success. His eloquence carried away the people
with him, and both these cities agreed to accept the Prince of Wales as
their lord; but the hardest task yet remained. Ghent was the largest and
most powerful of the Flemish towns, and here his enemies were in the
ascendant. Gerard Denis and the weavers had been stirring up the people
against him. All kinds of accusations had been spread, and he was accused
of robbing and selling his country. The news of the hostile feeling of the
population reached Van Artevelde, and he despatched Walter with the request
to the king for a force of five hundred English soldiers as a guard against
Had Artevelde asked for a large force, Edward would have disembarked his
army and marched at their head into Ghent. As the rest of the country was
already won, there can be little doubt that this step would at once have
silenced all opposition, and would have annexed Flanders to the British
crown. Van Artevelde, however, believed himself to be stronger than he
really was, and thought with a small party of soldiers he could seize his
principal opponents, and that the people would then rally round him.
Upon the arrival of the five hundred men he started for Ghent; but as he
feared that the gates would be shut if he presented himself with an armed
force, he left the soldiers in concealment a short distance from the town
and entered it, accompanied only by his usual suite. At his invitation,
however, Walter, followed of course by Ralph, rode beside him. No sooner
was he within the gates than Van Artevelde saw how strong was the popular
feeling against him. He had been accustomed to be received with bows of
reverence; now men turned aside as he approached, or scowled at him from
"Methinks, sir," Walter said, "that it would be wiser did we ride back,
and, joining the soldiers, enter at their head, or as that number would be
scarce sufficient should so large a town rise in tumult, to send to King
Edward for a larger force and await their coming. Even should they shut the
gates, we can reduce the town, and as all the rest of Flanders is with you,
surely a short delay will not matter."
"You know not these Flemings as well as I do," Van Artevelde replied; "they
are surly dogs, but they always listen to my voice, and are ready enough to
do my bidding. When I once speak to them you will see how they will smooth
their backs and do as I ask them."
Walter said no more, but as he saw everywhere lowering brows from window
and doorway as they rode through the streets he had doubts whether the
power of Van Artevelde's eloquence would have the magical potency he had
expected from it.
When the party arrived at the splendid dwelling of the great demagogue,
messengers were instantly sent out to all his friends and retainers. A
hundred and forty persons soon assembled, and while Van Artevelde was
debating with them as to the best steps to be taken, Walter opened the
casement and looked out into the street. It was already crowded with the
people, whose silent and quiet demeanor seemed to bode no good. Arms were
freely displayed among them, and Walter saw men passing to and fro
evidently giving instructions.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Master Artevelde," he said, returning to the
room where the council was being held, "but methinks that it would wise to
bar the doors and windows, and to put yourself in a posture of defence, for
a great crowd is gathering without, for the most part armed, and as it
seems to me with evil intentions."
A glance from the windows confirmed Walter's statements, and the doors and
windows were speedily barricaded. Before many minutes had elapsed the
tolling of bells in all parts of the town was heard, and down the different
streets leading towards the building large bodies of armed men were seen
making their way.
"I had rather have to do with a whole French army, Master Walter," Ralph
said, as he stood beside him at an upper window looking down upon the
crowd, "than with these citizens of Ghent. Look at those men with bloody
axes and stained clothes. Doubtless those are the skinners and butchers.
Didst ever see such a ferocious band of savages? Listen to their shouts.
Death to Van Artevelde! Down with the English alliance! I thought our case
was a bad one when the French poured over the walls into Vannes but
methinks it is a hundred times worse now.
"We got out of that scrape, Ralph, and I hope we shall get out of this,
but, as you say, the prospect is black enough. See, the butchers are
hammering at the door with their pole-axes. Let us go down and aid in the
"I am ready," Ralph said, "but I shall fight with a lighter heart if you
could fix upon some plan for us to adopt when the rabble break in. That
they will do so I regard as certain, seeing that the house is not built for
purposes of defence, but has numerous broad windows on the ground-floor by
which assuredly they will burst their way in.
"Wait a moment then, Ralph; let us run up to the top storey and see if
there be any means of escape along the roofs."
The house stood detached from the others, but on one side was separated
from that next to it only by a narrow lane, and as the upper stories
projected beyond those below, the windows were but six feet distant from
those on the opposite side of the way.
"See," Water said, "there is a casement in the room to our left there which
is open; let us see if it is tenanted."
Going into the next room they went to the window and opened it. It exactly
faced the casement opposite, and so far as they could see the room was
"It were easy to put a plank across," Ralph said.
"We must not do that," Walter answered. "The mob are thick in the lane
below - what a roar comes up from their voices! - and a plank would be
surely seen, and we should be killed there as well as here. No, we must get
on to the sill and spring across; the distance is not great, and the jump
would be nothing were it not that the casements are so low. It must be
done as lightly and quickly as possible, and we may not then be seen from
below. Now leave the door open that we may make no mistake as to the room,
and come along, for by the sound the fight is hot below."
Running down the stairs Walter and Ralph joined in the defence. Those in
the house knew that they would meet with no mercy from the infuriated
crowd, and each fought with the bravery of despair. Although there were
many windows to be defended, and at each the mob attacked desperately, the
assaults were all repulsed. Many indeed of the defenders were struck down
by the pikes and pole- axes, but for a time they beat back the assailants
whenever they attempted to enter. The noise was prodigious. The alarm-bells
of the town were all ringing and the shouts of the combatants were drowned
in the hoarse roar of the surging crowd without.
Seeing that however valiant was the defence the assailants must in the end
prevail, and feeling sure that his enemies would have closed the city gates
and thus prevented the English without from coming to his assistance, Van
Artevelde ascended to an upper storey and attempted to address the crowd.
His voice was drowned in the roar. In vain he gesticulated and made motions
imploring them to hear him, but all was useless, and the courage of the
demagogue deserted him and he burst into tears at the prospect of death.
Then he determined to try and make his escape to the sanctuary of a church
close by, and was descending the stairs when a mighty crash below, the
clashing of steel, shouts, and cries, told that the mob had swept away one
of the barricades and were pouring into the house.
"Make for the stair," Walter shouted, "and defend yourselves there." But
the majority of the defenders, bewildered by the inrush of the enemy,
terrified at their ferocious aspect and terrible axes, had no thought of
continuing the resistance. A few, getting into corners, resisted
desperately to the end; others threw down their arms and dropping on their
knees cried for mercy, but all were ruthlessly slaughtered.
Keeping close together Walter and Ralph fought their way to the foot of the
stairs, and closely pursued by a band of the skinners headed by Gerard
Denis, ran up. Upon the first landing stood a man paralysed with terror. On
seeing him a cry of ferocious triumph rose from the mob. As nothing could
be done to aid him Walter and his follower rushed by without stopping.
There was a pause in the pursuit, and glancing down from the upper gallery
Walter saw Van Artevelde in the hands of the mob, each struggling to take
possession of him; then a man armed with a great axe pushed his way among
them, and swinging it over his head struck Van Artevelde dead to the floor.
His slayer was Gerard Denis himself.
Followed by Ralph, Walter sprang through the open door into the chamber
they had marked, and closed the door behind them. Then Walter, saying, "I
will go first, Ralph, I can help you in should you miss your spring,"
mounted on the sill of the casement. Short as was the distance the leap was
extremely difficult, for neither casement was more than three feet high.
Walter was therefore obliged to stoop low and to hurl himself head forwards
across the gulf. He succeeded in the attempt, shooting clear through the
casement on to the floor beyond. Instantly he picked himself up and went to
Ralph's assistance. The latter, taller and more bulky, had greater
difficulty in the task, and only his shoulder arrived through the window.
Walter seized him, and aided him at once to scramble in, and they closed
the casement behind them.
"It was well we took off our armour, Ralph; its pattern would have been
recognized in an instant."
Walter had thrown off his helmet as he bounded up the stairs, and both he
and his companion had rid themselves of their heavy armour.
"I would give a good deal," he said, "for two bourgeois jerkins, even were
they as foul as those of the skinners. This is a woman's apartment," he
added, looking round, "and nothing here will cover my six feet of height,
to say nothing of your four inches extra. Let us peep into some of the
other rooms. This is, doubtless, the house of some person of importance,
and in the upper floor we may find some clothes of servants or
They were not long in their search. The next room was a large one, and
contained a number of pallet beds, and hanging from pegs on walls were
jerkins, mantles, and other garments, evidently belonging to the retainers
of the house. Walter and Ralph were not long in transmogrifying their
appearance, and had soon the air of two respectable serving-men in a
"But how are we to descend?" Ralph asked. "We can hardly hope to walk down
the stairs and make our escape without being seen, especially as the doors
will all be barred and bolted, seeing the tumult which is raging
"It all depends whether our means of escape are suspected," Walter replied,
"I should scarce think that they would be. The attention of our pursuers
was wholly taken up by Van Artevelde, and some minutes must have passed
before they followed us. No doubt they will search every place in the
house, and all within it will by this time have been slaughtered. But they
will scarce organize any special search for us. All will be fully occupied
with the exciting events which have taken place, and as the casement by
which we entered is closed it is scarcely likely to occur to any one that
we have escaped by that means. I will listen first if the house is quiet.
If so, we will descend and take refuge in some room below, where there is a
better chance of concealment than here. Put the pieces of armour into that
closet so that they may not catch the eye of any who may happen to come
hither. The day is already closing. In half an hour it will be nightfall.
Then we will try and make our way out.
Listening at the top of the stairs they could hear voices below; but as the
gallery was quiet and deserted they made their way a floor lower, and
seeing an open door entered it. Walter looked from the window.
"There is a back-yard below," he said, "with a door opening upon a narrow
lane. We are now upon the second storey, and but some twenty-five feet
above the ground. We will not risk going down through the house, which
could scarce be accomplished without detection, but will at once tear up
into strips the coverings of the bed, and I will make a rope by which we
may slip down into the courtyard as soon as it is dark. We must hope that
none will come up before that time; but, indeed, all will be so full of the
news of the events which have happened that it is scarce likely that any
will come above at present."
The linen sheets and coverings were soon cut up and knotted together in a
rope. By the time that this was finished the darkness was closing in, and
after waiting patiently for a few minutes they lowered the rope and slid
down into the yard. Quietly they undid the bolts of the gate and issued
into the lane. The mantles were provided with hoods, as few of the lower
class of Flemings wore any other head-covering.
Drawing these hoods well over their heads so as to shade their faces the
two sallied out from the lane. They were soon in one of the principal
streets, which was crowded with people. Bands of weavers, butchers,
skinners, and others were parading the streets shouting and singing in
honour of their victory and of the downfall and death of him whom they had
but a few days before regarded as the mainstay of Flanders. Many of the
better class of burghers stood in groups in the streets and talked in low
and rather frightened voices of the consequences which the deed of blood
would bring upon the city. On the one hand Edward might march upon it with
his army to avenge the murder of his ally. Upon the other hand they were
now committed to France. Their former ruler would return, and all the
imposts and burdens against which they had rebelled would again be laid
upon the city.
"What shall we do now?" Ralph asked, "for assuredly there will be no issue
by the gates."
"We must possess ourselves of a length of rope if possible, and make our
escape over the wall. How to get one I know not, for the shops are all
closed, and even were it not so I could not venture in to purchase any, for
my speech would betray us at once. Let us separate, and each see whether he
can find what we want. We will meet again at the entrance to this church in
an hour's time. One or other of us may find what we seek."
Walter searched in vain. Wherever he saw the door of a yard open he peered
in, but in no case could he see any signs of rope. At the end of the hour
he returned to their rendezvous. Ralph was already there.
"I have found nothing, Ralph. Have you had better fortune?"
"That have I, Master Walter, and was back nigh an hour since. Scarce had I
left you when in a back street I came upon a quiet hostelry, and in the
courtyard were standing half a dozen teams of cattle. Doubtless their
owners had brought hay or corn into the city, and when the tumult arose and
the gates were closed found themselves unable to escape. The masters were
all drinking within, so without more ado I cut off the ropes which served
as traces for the oxen, and have them wound round my body under my mantle.
There must be twenty yards at least, and as each rope is strong enough to
hold double our weight there will be no difficulty in lowering ourselves
from the walls."
"You have done well indeed, Ralph," Walter said. "Let us make our way
thither at once. Everyone is so excited in the city, that, as yet, there
will be but few guards upon the wall. The sooner, therefore, that we
attempt to make our escape the better."
CHAPTER XIII: THE WHITE FORD
They made their way without interruption to the wall. This they found, as
they expected, entirely deserted, although, no doubt, guards had been
posted at the gates. The Flemings, however, could have felt no fear of an
attack by so small a force as the five hundred English whom they knew to be
in the neighbourhood.
Walter and his companion soon knotted the ropes together and lowered
themselves into the moat. A few strokes took them to the other side, and
scrambling out, they made their way across the country to the spot where
the English had been posted. They found the Earl of Salisbury, who
commanded, in a great state of uneasiness. No message had reached him
during the day. He had heard the alarm- bells of the city ring, and a scout
who had gone forward returned with the news that the gates were closed and
the drawbridges raised, and that a strong body of men manned the walls.
"Your news is indeed bad," he said, when Walter related to him the events
which had taken place in the town. "This will altogether derange the king's
plans. Now that his ally is killed I fear that his hopes of acquiring
Flanders for England will fall to the ground. It is a thousand pities that
he listened to Van Artevelde and allowed him to enter Ghent alone. Had his
majesty landed, as he wished, and made a progress through the country, the
prince receiving the homage of all the large towns, we could then very well
have summoned Ghent as standing alone against all Flanders. The citizens
then would, no doubt, have gladly opened their gates and received the
prince, and if they had refused we would have made short work of them.
However, as it has turned out, it is as well that we did not enter the town
with the Fleming, for against so large and turbulent a population we should
have had but little chance. And now, Master Somers, we will march at once
for Sluys and bear the news to the king, and you shall tell me as we ride
thither how you and your man-at-arms managed to escape with whole skins
from such a tumult."
The king was much grieved when he heard of the death of Artevelde, and held
a council with his chief leaders. At first, in his indignation and grief,
he was disposed to march upon Ghent and to take vengeance for the murder of
his ally, but after a time calmer counsels prevailed.
The Flemings were still in rebellion against their count, who was the
friend of France. Were the English to attack Ghent they would lose the
general goodwill of the Flemings, and would drive them into the arms of
France, while, if matters were left alone, the effect of the popular
outburst which had caused the death of Artevelde would die away, and
motives of interest and the fear of France would again drive them into the
arms of England. The expedition therefore returned to England, and there
the king, in a proclamation to his people, avoided all allusion to the
death of his ally, but simply stated that he had been waited upon by the
councils of all the Flemish towns, and that their faithful obedience to
himself as legitimate King of France, was established upon a firmer basis
This course had the effect which he had anticipated from it. The people of
Flanders perceived the danger and disadvantage which must accrue to their
trade from any permanent disagreement with England. They were convinced by
the events which soon afterwards happened in France that the King of
England had more power than Phillip of Valois, and could, if he chose,
punish severely any breach of faith towards him. They therefore sent over
commissioners to express their grief and submission. The death of Artevelde
was represented as the act of a frantic mob, and severe fines were imposed
upon the leaders of the party who slew him, and although the principal
towns expressed their desire still to remain under the rule of the Count of
Flanders, they suggested that the ties which bound them to England should
be strengthened by the marriage of Louis, eldest son of the count, to one
of Edward's daughters. More than this, they offered to create a diversion
for the English forces acting in Guienne and Gascony by raising a strong
force and expelling the French garrisons still remaining in some parts of
the country. This was done. Hugo of Hastings was appointed by the king
captain- general in Flanders, and with a force of English and Flemings did
good service by expelling the French from Termond and several other towns.
The character of Jacob van Artevelde has had but scant justice done to it
by most of the historians of the time. These, living in an age of chivalry,
when noble blood and lofty deeds were held in extraordinary respect, had
little sympathy with the brewer of Ghent, and deemed it contrary to the
fitness of things that the chivalry of France should have been defied and
worsted by mere mechanics and artisans. But there can be no doubt that
Artevelde was a very great man. He may have been personally ambitious, but
he was a true patriot. He had great military talents. He completely
remodelled and wonderfully improved the internal administration of the
country, and raised its commerce, manufactures, and agriculture to a pitch
which they had never before reached. After his death his memory was
esteemed and revered by the Flemings, who long submitted to the laws he had
made, and preserved his regulations with scrupulous exactitude.
Edward now hastened to get together a great army. Every means were adopted
to raise money and to gather stores, and every man between sixteen and
sixty south of the Trent was called upon to take up arms and commanded to
assemble at Portsmouth in the middle of Lent. A tremendous tempest,
however, scattered the fleet collected to carry the expedition, a great
many of the ships were lost, and it was not until the middle of July, 1346,
that it sailed from England.
It consisted of about 500 ships and 10,000 sailors, and carried 4000
men-at- arms, 10,000 archers, 12,000 Welsh, and 6000 Irish.
This seems but a small army considering the efforts which had been made;
but it was necessary to leave a considerable force behind for the defence
of the Scottish frontier, and England had already armies in Guienne and
Brittany. Lionel, Edward's second son, was appointed regent during his
father's absence. On board Edward's own ship were Godfrey of Harcourt and
the Prince of Wales. Walter, as one of the personal squires of the prince,
was also on board.
The prince had been greatly interested in the details of Walter's escape
from Van Artevelde's house, the king himself expressed his approval of his
conduct, and Walter was generally regarded as one of the most promising
young aspirants to the court. His modesty and good temper rendered him a
general favourite, and many even of the higher nobles noticed him by their
friendly attentions, for it was felt that he stood so high in the goodwill
of the prince that he might some day become a person of great influence
with him, and one whose goodwill would be valuable.
It was generally supposed, when the fleet started, that Guienne was their
destination, but they had not gone far when a signal was made to change the
direction in which they were sailing and to make for La Hogue in Normandy.
Godfrey of Harcourt had great influence in that province, and his
persuasions had much effect in determining the king to direct his course
thither. There was the further advantage that the King of France, who was
well aware of the coming invasion, would have made his preparations to
receive him in Guienne. Furthermore, Normandy was the richest and most
prosperous province in France. It had for a long time been untouched by
war, and offered great abundance of spoil. It had made itself particularly
obnoxious to the English by having recently made an offer to the King of
France to fit out an expedition and conquer England with its own resources.
The voyage was short and favourable, and the expedition landed at La Hogue,
on the small peninsula of Cotentin, without opposition. Six days were spent
at La Hogue disembarking the men, horses, and stores, and baking bread for
the use of the army on the march. A detachment advanced and pillaged and
burnt Barileur and Cherbourg and a number of small towns and castles.
In accordance with custom, at the commencement of the campaign a court was
held, at which the Prince of Wales was dubbed a knight by his father. A
similar honour was bestowed upon a number of other young aspirants, among
whom was Walter Somers, who had been highly recommended for that honour to
the king by Sir Walter Manny.
The force was now formed into three divisions - the one commanded by the
king himself, the second by the Earl of Warwick, and the third by Godfrey
of Harcourt. The Earl of Arundel acted as Lord High Constable, and the Earl
of Huntingdon, who was in command of the fleet, followed the army along the
sea- coast. Valognes, Carentan, and St. Lo were captured without
difficulty, and the English army advanced by rapid marches upon Caen,
plundering the country for six or seven leagues on each side of the line of
march. An immense quantity of booty was obtained. As soon as the news of
Edward's landing in Normandy reached Paris, Phillip despatched the Count
d'Eu, Constable of France, with the Count of Tankerville and 600
men-at-arms, to oppose Edward at Caen. The Bishop of Bayeux had thrown
himself into that city, which was already garrisoned by 300 Genoese. The
town was not defensible, and the only chance of resistance was by opposing
the passage of the river Horn, which flowed between the suburbs and the
city. The bridge was barricaded, strong wooden towers were erected, and
such was the confidence of the inhabitants and their leaders that Edward's
promise of protection for the person and property of the citizens was
rejected with scorn, and the whole male population joined the garrison in
the defence of the bridge. Marching through the deserted suburbs the
English army attacked the bridge with such vehemence that although the
enemy defended the barricades gallantly they were speedily forced, and the
English poured into the town. Before the first fury of the attack was over
near 5000 persons were slain. The Count of Tankerville, 140 knights, and as
many squires were made prisoners. The plunder was so enormous as to be
sufficient to cover the whole expenses of the expedition, and this with the
booty which had been previously acquired was placed on board ship and
despatched to England, while the king marched forward with his army. At
Lisieux he was met by two cardinals sent by the pope to negotiate a truce;
but Edward had learned the fallacy of truces made with King Phillip, and
declined to enter into negotiations. Finding that Rouen had been placed in
a state of defence and could not be taken without a long siege he left it
behind him and marched along the valley of the Eure, gathering rich booty
at every step.
But while he was marching forward a great army was gathering in his rear.
The Count of Harcourt brother of Godfrey, called all Normandy to arms.
Every feudal lord and vassal answered to the summons, and before Edward
reached the banks of the Seine a formidable army had assembled.
The whole of the vassals of France were gathering by the orders of the king
at St. Denis. The English fleet had now left the coast, and Edward had only
the choice of retreating through Normandy into Brittany or of attempting to
force the passage of the Seine, and to fight his way through France to
Flanders. He chose the latter alternative, and marched along the left bank
of the river towards Paris, seeking in vain to find a passage. The enemy
followed him step by step on the opposite bank, and all the bridges were
broken down and the fords destroyed.
Edward marched on, burning the towns and ravaging the country until he
reached Poissy. The bridge was as usual destroyed, but the piles on which
it stood were still standing, and he determined to endeavour to cross here.
He accordingly halted for five days, but despatched troops in all
directions, who burned and ravaged to the very gates of Paris. The
villages of St. Germain, St. Cloud, Bourg la Reine, and many others within
sight of the walls were destroyed, and the capital itself thrown into a
state of terror and consternation. Godfrey of Harcourt was the first to
cross the river, and with the advance guard of English fell upon a large
body of the burghers of Amiens, and after a severe fight defeated them,
killing over five hundred. The king himself with his whole force passed on
the 16th of August.
Phillip, with his army, quitted St. Denis, when he heard that the English
army had passed the Seine, and by parallel marches endeavoured to interpose
between it and the borders of Flanders. As his force was every hour
increasing he despatched messengers to Edward offering him battle within a
few days on condition that he would cease to ravage the country; but Edward
declined the proposal, saying that Phillip himself by breaking down the
bridges had avoided a battle as long as he could, but that whenever he was
ready to give battle he would accept the challenge. During the whole march
the armies were within a few leagues of each other, and constant skirmishes
took place between bodies detached from the hosts.
In some of these skirmishes Walter took part, as he and the other newly
made knights were burning to distinguish themselves. Every day the progress
of the army became more difficult, as the country people everywhere rose
against them, and several times attempted to make a stand but were defeated
with great loss. The principal towns were found deserted, and even Poix,
which offered great capabilities of defence, had been left unguarded. Upon
the English entering, the burghers offered to pay a large ransom to save
the town from plunder. The money was to be delivered as soon as the English
force had withdrawn, and Walter Somers was ordered by the king to remain
behind with a few men-at-arms to receive the ransom.
No sooner had the army departed than the burghers, knowing that the French
army was close behind, changed their minds, refused to pay the ransom, and
fell upon the little body of men-at-arms. Although taken quite by surprise
by the act of treachery Walter instantly rallied his men although several
had been killed at the first onslaught. He, with Ralph and two or three of
the staunchest men, covered the retreat of the rest through the streets,
making desperate charges upon the body of armed burghers pressing upon
them. Ralph fought as usual with a mace of prodigious weight, and the
terror of his blows in no slight degree enabled the party to reach the gate
in safety, but Walter had no idea of retreating further. He despatched one
of his followers to gallop at full speed to overtake the rear-guard of the
army, which was still but two miles distant, while with the rest he formed
a line across the gate and resisted all the attempts of the citizens to
The approach to the gate was narrow, and the overwhelming number of the
burghers were therefore of little avail. Walter had dismounted his force
and all fought on foot, and although sorely pressed they held their ground
until Lords Cobham and Holland, with their followers, rode up. Then the
tide of war was turned, the town was plundered and burnt, and great numbers
of the inhabitants slain. Walter gained great credit for holding the gate,
for had he been driven out, the town could have resisted, until the arrival
of Louis, all assaults of the English.
The river Somme now barred the passage of Edward. Most of the bridges had
been destroyed, and those remaining were so strongly fortified that they
could not be forced.
The position of the English was now very critical. On one flank and in
front were impassable rivers. The whole country was in arms against them,
and on their rear and flank pressed a hostile army fourfold their strength.
The country was swampy and thinly populated, and flour and provisions were
only obtained with great difficulty. Edward, on finding from the reports of
his marshals who had been sent to examine the bridges, that no passage
across the river could be found, turned and marched down the river towards
the sea, halting for the night at Oisemont.
Here, a great number of peasantry attempted a defence, but were easily
defeated and a number of prisoners taken. Late in the evening the Earl of
Warwick, who had pushed forward as far as Abbeville and St. Valery,
returned with the news that the passages at those places were as strongly
guarded as elsewhere, but he had learnt from a peasant that a ford existed
somewhere below Abbeville, although the man was himself ignorant of its
Edward at once called the prisoners belonging to that part of the country
before him, and promised to any one who would tell him where the ford lay
his freedom and that of twenty of his companions. A peasant called Gobin
Agase stepped forward and offered to show the ford, where at low tide
twelve men could cross abreast. It was, he said, called "La Blanche Tache".
Edward left Oisemont at midnight and reached the ford at daylight. The
river, however, was full and the army had to wait impatiently for low tide.
When they arrived there no enemy was to be seen on the opposite bank, but
before the water fell sufficiently for a passage to be attempted, Sir
Godemar du Fay with 12,000 men, sent by King Phillip, who was aware of the
existence of the ford, arrived on the opposite side.
The enterprise was a difficult one indeed, for the water, even at low tide,
is deep. Godemar du Fay, however, threw away part of his advantage by
advancing into the stream. The English archers lined the banks, and poured
showers of arrows into the ranks of the enemy, while the Genoese bowmen on
their side were able to give comparatively little assistance to the French.
King Edward shouted to his knights, "Let those who love me follow me," and
spurred his horse into the water. Behind him followed his most valiant
knights, and Walter riding close to the Prince of Wales was one of the
The French resisted valiantly and a desperate battle took place on the
narrow ford, but the impetuosity of the English prevailed, and step by step
they drove the French back to the other side of the river. The whole army
poured after their leaders, and the French were soon entirely routed and
fled, leaving two thousand men-at-arms dead on the field.
King Edward, having now freed himself from the difficulties which had
encompassed him on the other side of the river, prepared to choose a ground
to give battle to the whole French army.
Louis had advanced slowly, feeling confident that the English would be
unable to cross the river, and that he should catch them hemmed in by it.
His mortification and surprise on finding, when he approached La Blanche
Tache, that twelve thousand men had been insufficient to hold a ford by
which but twelve could cross abreast, and that his enemy had escaped from
his grasp, were great. The tide had now risen again, and he was obliged to
march on to Abbeville and cross the river there.
King Edward now advanced into the Forest of Cressy.
Hugh de le Spencer, with a considerable force, was despatched to Crotoy,
which he carried by assault after a severe conflict, in which four thousand
of the French men-at-arms were slain. The capture of this city removed all
danger of want from the army, for large stores of wine and meal were found
there, and Sir Hugh at once sent off a supply to the tired army in the
The possession of Crotoy and the mouth of the Somme would have now rendered
it easy for the English monarch to have transported his troops to England,
and to have returned triumphant after the accomplishment of his
extraordinary and most successful march through France. The army, however,
was elated by the many great successes it had won, he was now in Ponthieu,
which was one of his own fiefs, and he determined to make a stand in spite
of the immense superiority of the enemy.
Next morning, then - Friday the 25th of August, 1346 - he despatched the
Earl of Warwick with Godfrey of Harcourt and Lord Cobham, to examine the
ground and choose a site for a battle.
The plan of the fight was drawn out by the king and his councillors, and
the king yielded to the Black Prince the chief place of danger and honour
placing with him the Earl of Warwick, Sir John Chandos, and many of his
The ground which had been chosen for the battle was an irregular slope
between the forest of Cressy and the river Maie near the little village of
Canchy. The slope looked towards the south and east, from which quarters
the enemy was expected to arrive, and some slight defences were added to
the natural advantages of the ground.
On the night of the 25th all the principal leaders of the British host were
entertained by King Edward. Next morning, Mass was celebrated, and the
king, the prince, and many knights and nobles received the Sacrament, after
which the trumpet sounded, and the army marched to take up its position.
Its numbers are variously estimated, but the best account puts it at about
30,000 men which, considering that 32,000 had crossed the Channel to La
Hogue, is probably about the force which would have been present allowing
that 2000 had fallen in the various actions or had died from disease.
The division of the Black Prince consisted of 800 men-at-arms, 4000
archers, and 6000 Welsh foot. The archers, as usual, were placed in front,
supported by the light troops of Wales and the men-at-arms; on his left was
the second division, commanded by the Earls of Arundel and Northampton; its
extreme left rested on Canchy and the river, and it was further protected
by a deep ditch; this corps was about 7000 strong.
The king himself took up his position on a knoll of rising ground
surmounted by a windmill, and 12,000 men under his personal command were
placed here in reserve.
In the rear of the Prince's division an enclosure of stakes was formed; in
this, guarded by a small body of archers, were ranged the wagons and
baggage of the army, together with all the horses, the king having
determined that the knights and men-at-arms on his side should fight on
When the army had taken up its position, the king, mounted on a small
palfrey, with a white staff in his hand, rode from rank to rank exhorting
his soldiers to do their duty gallantly. It was nearly noon before he had
passed through all the lines, and permission was then given to the soldiers
to fall out from their ranks and to take refreshments while waiting for the
coming of the enemy. This was accordingly done, the men eating and drinking
at their ease and lying down in their ranks on the soft grass with their
steel caps and their bows or pikes beside them.
In the meantime the French had, on their side, been preparing for the
battle. Phillip had crossed the Somme at Abbeyville late on Thursday
afternoon, and remained there next day marshalling the large reinforcements
which were hourly arriving. His force now considerably exceeded 100,000
men, the number with which he had marched from Amiens three days
Friday was the festival of St. Louis, and that evening Phillip gave a
splendid banquet to the whole of the nobles of his army.
On the following morning the king, accompanied by his brother the Count
d'Alencon, the old King of Bohemia and his son, the King of Rome, the Duke
of Lorraine, the Count of Blois, the Count of Flanders, and a great number
of other feudal princes, heard Mass at the Abbey, and then marched with his
great army towards Cressy. He moved but slowly in order to give time to all
the forces scattered over the neighbourhood to come up, and four knights,
headed by one of the King of Bohemia's officers, went forward to
reconnoitre the English position. They approached within a very short
distance of the English lines and gained a very exact knowledge of the
position, the English taking no measures to interrupt the reconnaissance.
They returned with the information they had gathered, and the leader of the
party, Le Moyne de Basele, one of the most judicious officers of his time,
strongly advised the king to halt his troops, pointing out that as it was
evident the English were ready to give battle, and as they were fresh and
vigorous while the French were wearied and hungry, it would be better to
encamp and give battle the next morning.
Phillip saw the wisdom of the advice and ordered his two marshals the Lord
of St. Venant and Charles de Montmorency to command a halt. They instantly
spurred off, one to the front and the other to the rear, commanding the
leaders to halt their banners. Those in advance at once obeyed, but those
behind still pressed on, declaring that they would not halt until they were
in the front line. All wanted to be first, in order to obtain their share
of the honour and glory of defeating the English. Those in front, seeing
the others still coming on, again pressed forward, and thus, in spite of
the efforts of the king and his marshals, the French nobles with their
followers pressed forward in confusion, until, passing through a small
wood, they found themselves suddenly in the presence of the English army.
CHAPTER XIV: CRESSY
The surprise of the French army at finding themselves in the presence of
the English was so great that the first line recoiled in confusion. Those
marching up from behind imagined that they had been already engaged and
repulsed by the English, and the disorder spread through the whole army,
and was increased by the common people, who had crowded to the field in
immense numbers from the whole country round to see the battle and share in
the plunder of the English camp.
From King Edward's position on the rising ground he could see the confusion
which prevailed in the French ranks, and small as were his forces he would
probably have obtained an easy victory by ordering a sudden charge upon
them. The English, however, being dismounted, but small results would have
followed the scattering of the great host of the French. The English army
therefore remained immovable, except that the soldiers rose from the
ground, and taking their places in the ranks, awaited the onslaught of the
King Phillip himself now arrived on the field and his hatred for the
English led him at once to disregard the advice which had been given him
and to order the battle to commence as soon as possible.
The army was divided into four bodies, of which Phillip commanded one, the
Count D'Alencon the second, the King of Bohemia the third, and the Count of
Savoy the fourth. Besides these were a band of 15,000 mercenaries, Genoese
crossbow-men, who were now ordered to pass between the ranks of cavalry and
to clear the ground of the English archers, who were drawn up in the usual
form in which they fought - namely, in very open order, line behind line,
the men standing alternately, so that each had ample room to use his bow
and to fire over the heads of those in front. The formation was something
like that of a harrow, and, indeed, exactly resembled that in which the
Roman archers fought, and was called by them a quincunx.
The Genoese had marched four leagues beneath a hot sun loaded with their
armour and heavy cross-bows, and they remonstrated against the order,
urging that they were in no condition to do good service without some
repose. The Count D'Alencon, furious at their hesitation, ordered them up,
but as they advanced a terrible thunderstorm, with torrents of rain, broke
over the armies, and wetting the cords of the crossbows rendered many of
them unserviceable. At length the crossbow-men were arranged in front,
while behind them were the vast body of French cavalry, and the order was
given for the battle to begin.
The Genoese advanced with loud shouts but the English archers paid no
attention to the noise, but waited calmly for the attack. At this moment
the sun, now approaching the west, shone out brightly between the clouds
behind the English, its rays streaming full in the faces of the French.
The Genoese were now within distance, and began to discharge their quarrels
at their impassive enemies, but as they opened fire the English archers
drew their bows from the cases which had protected them from the rain, and
stepping forward poured their arrows among the Genoese. The crossbow-men
were smitten as with a storm, numbers were struck in the face and other
unprotected parts, and they were instantly thrown into confusion, and
casting away their cross-bows they recoiled in disorder among the horsemen
Phillip, passionate and cruel as ever, instead of trying to rally the
Genoese, ordered the cavalry behind them to fall upon them, and the
men-at-arms at once plunged in among the disordered mass of the
crossbow-men, and a wild scene of carnage and confusion ensued, the English
archers continuing to pour their unerring arrows into the midst.
The Count D'Alencon, who was behind, separated his division into two
bodies, and swept round on one side himself, while the Count of Flanders
did the same on the other to attack the Prince of Wales in more regular
array. Taking a circuitous route, D'Alencon appeared upon a rising ground
on the flank of the archers of the Black Prince, and thus, avoiding their
arrows, charged down with his cavalry upon the 800 men-at-arms gathered
round the Black Prince, while the Count of Flanders attacked on the other
flank. Nobly did the flower of English chivalry withstand the shock of the
French, and the prince himself and the highest nobles and simple
men-at-arms fought side by side. None gave away a foot.
In vain the French, with impetuous charges, strove to break through the
mass of steel. The spear-heads were cleft off with sword and battle-axe,
and again and again men and horses recoiled from the unbroken line. Each
time the French retired the English ranks were formed anew, and as attack
followed attack a pile of dead rose around them. The Count D'Alencon and
the Duke of Lorraine were among the first who fell. The young Count of
Blois, finding that he could not ride through the wall of steel, dismounted
with his knights and fought his way on foot towards the banner of the
Prince of Wales. For a time the struggle was desperate, and the young
prince, with his household knights, was for a time well-nigh beaten back.
Walter, fighting close beside the prince, parried more than one blow
intended for him, and the prince himself slew the Count of Blois, whose
followers all fell around him. The Count of Flanders was also slain, and
confusion began to reign among the assailants, whose leaders had now all
fallen. Phillip himself strove to advance with his division into the
fight, but the struggle between the Genoese and the men-at-arms was still
continuing, and the very multitude of his troops in the narrow and
difficult field which the English had chosen for the battle embarrassed his
Charles of Luxembourg, King of the Romans, and afterwards Emperor of
Germany, son of the old King of Bohemia, with a large body of German and
French cavalry, now assailed the English archers, and in spite of their
flights of arrows came to close quarters, and cutting their way through
them joined in the assault upon the men-at-arms of the Black Prince. Nearly
40,000 men were now pressing round the little body, and the Earls of
Northampton and Arundel moved forward with their divisions to his support,
while the Earl of Warwick, who was with the prince, despatched Sir Thomas
of Norwich to the king, who still remained with his powerful reserve, to
ask for aid.
"Sir Thomas," demanded the king, "is my son killed, overthrown, or wounded
"Not so, sire," replied the knight, "but he is in a rude fight, and much
needs your aid."
"Go back, Sir Thomas, to those who sent you and tell them from me that
whatsoever happens they require no aid from me so long as my son is in
life. Tell them also that I command them to let the boy win his spurs,
for, God willing, the day shall be his, and the honour shall rest with him
and those into whose charge I have given him."
The prince and those around him were filled with fresh ardour when they
received this message. Each man redoubled his efforts to repel the forces
that were incessantly poured down upon them by the French. On all sides
these pressed around them, striving desperately, but ever in vain, to break
through the solid ranks of the English. The French men-at-arms suffered,
moreover, terribly from the attacks of the Welsh infantry. These men, clad
in thick leather jerkins, nimble of foot, accustomed to a life of activity,
were armed with shortened lances and knives, mingled fearlessly among the
confused mass of French cavalry, creeping beneath the horses' bellies,
standing up when they got a chance, and stabbing horses and men with their
knives and pikes. Many were trampled upon or struck down, but numbering, as
they did, 6000, they pervaded the whole mass of the enemy, and did terrible
execution, adding in no small degree to the confusion caused by the shower
of arrows from the archers within the circle of the men-at-arms. The
instant a French knight fell, struck from his horse with a battle-axe or
arrow, or by the fall of a wounded steed, the half-wild Welsh were upon
him, and slew him before he could regain his feet.
The slaughter was immense. The Count of Harcourt, with his nephew the Count
D'Aumale and his two gallant sons, fell together, and at last Charles of
Luxembourg, seeing his banner down, his troops routed, his friends slain,
and the day irreparably lost, and being himself severely wounded in three
places, turned his horse and fled, casting off his rich emblazoned surcoat
to avoid recognition. In the meantime Prince Charles's father, the veteran
King of Bohemia, once one of the most famous warriors of Europe, but now
old and blind, sat on horseback at a little distance from the fight; the
knights around him told him the events as they happened, and the old
monarch soon saw that the day was lost. He asked them for tidings of his
son Charles of Luxembourg, but they were forced to reply that the banner of
the King of the Romans was no longer in sight, but that, doubtless, he was
somewhere engaged in the melee.
"Lords," said the old man, "you are my vassals, my friends, and my
companions, and on this day I command and beseech you to lead me forward so
far that I may deal one blow of my sword in the battle."
His faithful friends obeyed him, a number of knights arranged themselves
around him, and lest they should lose him in the fight they tied their
horses together by the bridles and charged down into the fray. Advancing
directly against the banner of the Prince of Wales, the blind monarch was
carried into the midst of the thickest strife.
There the little group of knights fought gallantly, and after the battle
was over, the bodies of the king and his friends were found lying together,
their dead horses still linked by the bridles.
During this terrible battle, which had been raging since three o'clock,
Phillip had made strenuous efforts to aid his troops engaged in the front
by continually sending fresh bodies to the assault. It was now growing
dark, terror and confusion had already spread among the French, and many
were flying in all directions, and the unremitting showers of English
arrows still flew like hail among their ranks. As the king made his way
forward, surrounded by his personal attendants to take part himself in the
fight, his followers fell thick around him, and his horse was slain by an
arrow. John of Hainault, who had remained by his side during the whole day,
mounted upon a fresh horse and urged him to fly, as the day was lost.
Phillip, however, persisted, and made his way into the melee, where he
fought for some time with extreme courage, until almost all around him were
slain, the royal standard bearer killed, and himself wounded in two places.
John of Hainault then seized his bridle exclaiming "Come away, sire, it is
full time; do not throw your life away foolishly; if you have lost this day
you will win another," and so almost forced the unwilling king from the
field. Phillip, accompanied by the lords of Montmorency, Beaujeu, Aubigny,
and Mansault, with John of Hainault, and sixty men-at-arms, rode to the
Castle of Broye, and there halted for a few hours. At midnight he again set
out, and in the morning arrived safely at Amiens.
The Black Prince held his station until night without yielding a single
step to all the efforts of the French. Gradually, however, the assailants
became less and less numerous, the banners disappeared, and the shouts of
the leaders and the clang of arms died away, and the silence which
prevailed over the field at once announced that the victory was complete
and the enemy in full flight. An immense number of torches were now lighted
through the English lines, and the king, quitting for the first time his
station on the hill, came down to embrace his gallant son. Edward and his
host rejoiced in a spirit of humility over the victory. No songs of
triumph, no feastings or merriment were permitted, but a solemn service of
the church was held, and the king and his soldiers offered their thanks to
God for the victory He had given them. The English army lay all night under
arms, and a number of scattered parties of the French, wandering about in
the darkness, entered the lines and were slain or taken prisoners.
The dawn of the next morning was thick and foggy, and intelligence coming
in that a large body of the enemy were advancing upon them, the Earls of
Northampton, Warwick, and Norfolk, with 500 men-at-arms and 2000 archers,
went out to reconnoitre, and came in the misty twilight upon an immense
force composed of the citizens of Beauvais, Rouen, and some other towns,
led by the Grand Prior of France and the Archbishop of Rouen, who were
approaching the field.
By some extraordinary accident they had not met any of the fugitives flying
from Cressy, and were ignorant that a battle had been fought. The English
charged them at once. Their advance-guard, consisting of burghers, was
easily overthrown. The second division, which was composed of men-at-arms,
fought bravely, but was unable to withstand the charge of the triumphant
English, and was completely broken and defeated. The Grand Prior was killed
and a vast number of his followers slain or captured. During the whole of
the morning detached parties from Edward's army scoured the country,
dispersing and slaughtering bands of French who still remained together,
and towards night the Earl of Northampton returned to the camp with the
news that no enemy remained in the vicinity that could offer a show of
resistance to the English force.
It is said that a far greater number of French were killed upon the second
day than upon the first. This can be accounted for by the fact that on the
first day but a small portion of the English army were engaged, and that
upon the second the English were fresh and vigorous, and their enemy
exhausted and dispirited.
The greater number of the French nobles and knights who fell, died in their
attempts to break through the Black Prince's array. Besides the King of
Bohemia, nine sovereign princes and eighty great nobles were killed, with
1200 knights, 1500 men-at-arms, and 30,000 foot; while on the English side
only three knights and a small number of men-at-arms and infantry were
The body of the King of Bohemia and those of the other great leaders were
carried in solemn pomp to the Abbey of Maintenay. Edward himself and his
son accompanied them as mourners. On the Monday following Edward marched
with his army against Calais, and summoned the town to surrender. John of
Vienne, who commanded the garrison, refused to comply with the demand. The
fortifications of the town were extremely strong and the garrison numerous,
and Edward perceived that an assault would be very unlikely to succeed, and
would entail great loss, while a repulse would have dimmed the lustre of
the success which he had gained. He therefore determined to reduce it by
famine, and the troops were set to work to build huts. So permanently and
strongly were these constructed that it seemed to the enemy that King
Edward was determined to remain before Calais even should he have to stay
there for ten years.
Proclamations were issued in England and Flanders inviting traders to
establish stores and to bring articles of trade of all kinds, and in a
short time a complete town sprang up which was named by Edward "New-Town
the Bold". The English fleet held complete possession of the sea, cutting
off the besieged from all succour by ship, and enabling abundant supplies
for the army to be brought from England and Flanders. Strong parties were
sent out in all directions. The northern provinces of France were scoured,
and the army was amply provided with necessaries and even luxuries.
After the first terrible shock caused by the crushing defeat of Cressy,
King Phillip began at once to take measures for the relief of Calais, and
made immense efforts again to put a great army in the field. He endeavoured
by all means in his power to gain fresh allies. The young Count of
Flanders, who, at the death of his father at Cressy, was sixteen years of
age, was naturally even more hostile to the English than the late prince
had been, and he strove to win over his subjects to the French alliance,
while Phillip made them magnificent offers if they would join him. The
Flemings, however, remained stanch to the English alliance, and held their
prince in duresse until he at last consented to marry the daughter of
Edward. A week before the date fixed for the nuptials, however, he managed
to escape from the vigilance of his guards when out hawking, and fled to
the court of France.
In Scotland Phillip was more successful, and David Bruce, instead of
employing the time given him by the absence of Edward with his armies in
driving out the English garrisons from the strong places they still held in
Scotland, raised an army of 50,000 men and marched across the border into
England plundering and ravaging. Queen Philippa, however, raising an army,
marched against him, and the Scotch were completely defeated at Neville's
Cross, 15,000 being killed and their king himself taken prisoner.
Walter's conduct at the battle of Cressy gained him still further the
favour of the Black Prince. The valour with which he had fought was
conspicuous even on a field where all fought gallantly, and the prince felt
that more than once he would have been smitten down had not Walter's sword
interposed. Ralph too had fought with reckless bravery, and many French
knights and gentlemen had gone down before the tremendous blows of his
heavy mace, against which the stoutest armour availed nothing. After the
battle the prince offered to make him an esquire in spite of the absence of
gentle blood in his veins, but Ralph declined the honour.
"An it please you, Sir Prince," he said, "but I should feel more
comfortable among the men-at-arms, my fellows. In the day of battle I
trust that I should do no discredit to my squirehood, but at other times I
should feel woefully out of my element, and should find nought for my hands
to do, therefore if it so pleases your Royal Highness, I would far rather
remain a simple man-at-arms.
Ralph did not, however, refuse the heavy purse which the prince gave him,
although indeed he, as well as all the soldiers, was well supplied with
money, so great were the spoils which the army had gathered in its march
before Cressy, and which they now swept off in their raids among the
northern provinces of France.
One evening Walter was returning from a banquet at the pavilion of the
Prince of Wales, with Ralph as usual following at a little distance, when
from a corner of the street a man darted suddenly out and struck a dagger
with all his force between his shoulders. Well was it for Walter that he
had taken Geoffrey's advice, and had never laid aside the shirt of mail,
night or day. Fine as was its temper, two or three links of the outer fold
were broken, but the point did not penetrate the second fold, and the
dagger snapped in the hand of the striker. The force of the sudden blow,
however, hurled Walter to the ground. With a loud cry Ralph rushed
forward. The man instantly fled. Ralph pursued him but a short distance
and then hastened back to Walter.
"Are you hurt, Sir Walter?" he exclaimed.
"In no way, Ralph, thanks to my shirt of mail. Well, indeed, was it for me
that I was wearing it, or I should assuredly have been a dead man. I had
almost begun to forget that I was a threatened man; but I shall be on guard
for the future."
"I wish I had followed the fellow," Ralph said. "I would not have slain him
could I have helped it, but would have left it for the hangman to extort
from him the name of his employer; but, in truth, he struck so hard, and
you fell so straight before the blow, that I feared the mail had given way,
and that you were sorely wounded if not killed. You have oft told me that I
was over-careful of you, but you see that I was not careful enough,
however, you may be assured that if another attempt be made those who
attempt it shall not get off scot free. Do you think of laying a complaint
before the provost against him you suspect?"
"It would be useless, Ralph. We may have suspicion of the man from whom the
blow came, but have no manner of proof. It might have been done by any
ruffian camp- follower who struck the blow only with the hope of carrying
off my chain and purse. The camp swarms with such fellows, and we have no
clue which could lead to his detection, unless," he added, stooping and
picking a piece of steel which lay at his feet, "this broken dagger may
some day furnish us with one. No; we will say nought about it. Sir James
Carnegie is not now in camp, having left a week since on business in
England. We exchange no words when we meet, but I heard that he had been
called away. Fortunately the young prince likes him not, and I therefore
have seldom occasion to meet him. I have no doubt that he credits me with
the disfavour in which he is held by the prince; but I have never even
mentioned his name before him, and the prince's misliking is but the
feeling which a noble and generous heart has, as though by instinct,
against one who is false and treacherous. At the same time we must grant
that this traitor knight is a bold and fearless man-at-arms; he fought well
at La Blanche Tache and Cressy, and he is much liked and trusted by my lord
of Northampton, in whose following he mostly rides; 'tis a pity that one so
brave should have so foul and treacherous a heart. Here we are at my hut,
and you can sleep soundly tonight, Ralph, for there is little fear that the
fellow, who has failed tonight, will repeat his attempt for some time. He
thinks, no doubt, that he has killed me, for with a blow so strongly struck
he would scarcely have felt the snapping of the weapon, and is likely
enough already on board one of the ships which ply to and fro from England
on his way to acquaint his employer that I am removed from his path."
The next morning Walter mentioned to the Black Prince the venture which had
befallen him, and the narrow escape he had had of his life. The prince was
extremely exasperated, and gave orders that an inquisition should be made
through the camp, and that all men found there not being able to give a
good account of themselves as having reasonable and lawful calling there
should be forthwith put on board ship and sent to England. He questioned
Walter closely whether he deemed that the attack was for the purpose of
plunder only, or whether he had any reason to believe that he had private
"There is a knight who is evilly disposed toward me, your highness," Walter
said; "but seeing that I have no proof whatever that he had a hand in this
affair, however strongly I may suspect it, I would fain, with your leave,
avoid mentioning his name."
"But think you that there is any knight in this camp capable of so foul an
"I have had proofs, your highness, that he is capable of such an act; but
in this matter my tongue is tied, as the wrong he attempted was not against
myself, but against others who have so far forgiven him that they would
fain the matter should drop. He owes me ill-will, seeing that I am aware of
his conduct, and that it was my intervention which caused his schemes to
fail. Should this attempt against me be repeated it can scarce be the
effect of chance, but would show premeditated design, and I would then,
both in defence of my own life, and because I think that such deeds should
not go unpunished, not hesitate to name him to you, and if proof be wanting
to defy him to open combat."
"I regret, Sir Walter, that your scruples should hinder you from at once
denouncing him; but seeing how grave a matter it is to charge a knight with
so foul a crime, I will not lay stress upon you; but be assured that should
any repetition of the attempt be made I shall take the matter in hand, and
will see that this caitiff knight receives his desserts.
A short time afterwards Walter accompanied the prince in an excursion which
he made with a portion of the army, sweeping the French provinces as far as
the river Somme. Upon their way back they passed through the village of
Pres, hard by which stood a small castle. It was situated some forty miles
from Calais, and standing upon rising ground, it commanded a very extensive
view over the country.
"What say you, Sir Walter?" the prince said to the young knight who was
riding near him. "That castle would make a good advanced post, and a
messenger riding in could bring news of any large movements of the enemy."
Walter assented. "Then, Sir Walter, I name you chatelain. I shall be sorry
to lose your good company; but the post is one of peril, and I know that
you are ever longing to distinguish yourself. Take forty men-at-arms and
sixty archers. With that force you may make shift to resist any attack
until help reaches you from camp. You may be sure that I shall not be slack
in spurring to your rescue should you be assailed."
Walter received the proposal with delight. He was weary of the monotony of
life in New Town, and this post in which vigilance and activity would be
required was just to his taste; so, taking the force named by the prince,
with a store of provision, he drew off from the column and entered the
CHAPTER XV: THE SIEGE OF A FORTALICE
Walter's first step on assuming the command was to examine thoroughly into
the capabilities of defence of the place, to see that the well was in good
order, and the supply of water ample, and to send out a foraging party,
which, driving in a number of beasts and some cart-loads of forage, would
supply his garrison for some time. The castle he found was less strong than
it looked. The walls were lightly built, and were incapable of
withstanding any heavy battering. The moat was dry, and the flanking towers
badly placed, and affording little protection to the faces of the walls;
however, the extent of the defences was small, and Walter felt confident
that with the force at his command he could resist any sudden attack,
unless made in overwhelming force, so that all the faces of the wall could
be assaulted at the same time. He had a large number of great stones
brought in to pile against the gate, while others were brought into the
central keep, similarly to defend the door should the outer wall be
carried. He appointed Ralph as his lieutenant, and every day, leaving him
in charge of the castle, rode through the country for many miles round,
with twenty men-at- arms, to convince himself that no considerable force of
the enemy were approaching. These reconnaissances were not without some
danger and excitement, for several times bodies of the country people,
armed with scythes, axes, and staves, tried to intercept them on their
return to the castle, and once or twice Walter and his men had to fight
their way through their opponents. Contrary to the custom of the times,
Walter gave orders to his men not to slay any when resistance had ceased.