Part 5 out of 5
CHAPTER XX: POITIERS
After the great sea-fight at the end of August, 1350, England had peace for
some years. Phillip of France had died a week before that battle, and had
been succeeded by his son John, Duke of Normandy. Upon the part of both
countries there was an indisposition to renew the war, for their power had
been vastly crippled by the devastations of the plague. This was followed
by great distress and scarcity owing to the want of labour to till the
fields. The truce was therefore continued from time to time; the pope
strove to convert the truce into a permanent peace, and on the 28th of
August, 1354, a number of the prelates and barons of England, with full
power to arrange terms of peace, went to Avignon, where they were met by
the French representatives. The powers committed to the English
commissioners show that Edward was at this time really desirous of making a
permanent peace with France; but the French ambassadors raised numerous and
unexpected difficulties, and after lengthened negotiations the conference
was broken off.
The truce came to an end in June, 1355, and great preparations were made on
both sides for the war. The King of England strained every effort to
furnish and equip an army which was to proceed with the Black Prince to
Aquitaine, of which province his father had appointed him governor, and in
November the Prince sailed for Bordeaux, with the advance-guard of his
force. Sir Walter Somers accompanied him. During the years which had passed
since the plague he had resided principally upon his estates, and had the
satisfaction of seeing that his tenants escaped the distress which was
general through the country. He had been in the habit of repairing to
London to take part in the tournaments and other festivities; but both he
and Edith preferred the quiet country life to a continued residence at
court. Two sons had now been born to him, and fond as he was of the
excitement and adventure of war, it was with deep regret that he obeyed the
royal summons, and left his house with his retainers, consisting of twenty
men-at-arms and thirty archers, to join the prince.
Upon the Black Prince's landing at Bordeaux he was joined by the Gascon
lords, the vassals of the English crown, and for three months marched
through and ravaged the districts adjoining, the French army, although
greatly superior in force, offering no effectual resistance. Many towns
were taken, and he returned at Christmas to Bordeaux after a campaign
attended by a series of unbroken successes.
The following spring the war recommenced, and a diversion was effected by
the Duke of Lancaster, who was in command of Brittany, joining his forces
with those of the King of Navarre, and many of the nobles of Normandy,
while King Edward crossed to Calais and kept a portion of the French army
occupied there. The Black Prince, leaving the principal part of his forces
under the command of the Earl of Albret to guard the territory already
acquired against the attack of the French army under the Count of Armagnac,
marched with 2000 picked men-at-arms and 6000 archers into Auvergne, and
thence turning into Berry, marched to the gates of Bourges.
The King of France was now thoroughly alarmed, and issued a general call to
all his vassals to assemble on the Loire. The Prince of Wales, finding
immense bodies of men closing in around him, fell back slowly, capturing
and levelling to the ground the strong castle of Romorentin.
The King of France was now hastening forward, accompanied by his four sons,
140 nobles with banners, 20,000 men-at-arms, and an immense force of
infantry. Vast accessions of forces joined him each day, and on the 17th of
September he occupied a position between the Black Prince and Guienne. The
first intimation that either the Black Prince or the King of France had of
their close proximity to each other was an accidental meeting between a
small foraging force of the English and three hundred French horse, under
the command of the Counts of Auxerre and Joigny, the marshal of Burgundy,
and the lord of Chatillon. The French hotly pursued the little English
party, and on emerging from some low bushes found themselves in the midst
of the English camp, where all were taken prisoners. From them the Black
Prince learned that the King of France was within a day's march.
The Prince despatched the Captal de Buch with 200 men-at-arms to
reconnoitre the force and position of the enemy, and these coming upon the
rear of the French army just as they were about to enter Poitiers, dashed
among them and took some prisoners. The King of France thus first learned
that the enemy he was searching for was actually six miles in his rear. The
Captal de Buch and his companions returned to the Black Prince, and
confirmed the information obtained from the prisoners, that the King of
France, with an army at least eight times as strong as his own, lay between
him and Poitiers.
The position appeared well-nigh desperate, but the prince and his most
experienced knights at once reconnoitered the country to choose the best
ground upon which to do battle. An excellent position was chosen. It
consisted of rising ground commanding the country towards Poitiers, and
naturally defended by the hedges of a vineyard. It was only accessible
from Poitiers by a sunken road flanked by banks and fences, and but wide
enough to admit of four horsemen riding abreast along it. The ground on
either side of this hollow way was rough and broken so as to impede the
movements even of infantry, and to render the maneuvers of a large body of
cavalry nearly impracticable. On the left of the position was a little
hamlet called Maupertuis. Here on the night of Saturday the 17th of
September the prince encamped, and early next morning made his dispositions
for the battle. His whole force was dismounted and occupied the high
ground, a strong body of archers lined the hedges on either side of the
sunken road; the main body of archers were drawn up in their usual
formation on the hillside, their front covered by the hedge of the
vineyard, while behind them the men-at-arms were drawn up.
The King of France divided his army into three divisions, each consisting
of 16,000 mounted men-at-arms besides infantry, commanded respectively by
the Duke of Orleans, the king's brother, the dauphin, and the king himself.
With the two royal princes were the most experienced of the French
commanders. In the meantime De Ribaumont, with three other French knights,
reconnoitered the English position, and on their return with their report
strongly advised that as large bodies of cavalry would be quite useless
owing to the nature of the ground, the whole force should dismount except
300 picked men designed to break the line of English archers and a small
body of German horse to act as a reserve.
Just as the King of France was about to give orders for the advance, the
Cardinal of Perigord arrived in his camp, anxious to stop, if possible, the
effusion of blood. He hurried to the King of France.
"You have here, sire," he said, "the flower of all the chivalry of your
realm assembled against a mere handful of English, and it will be far more
honourable and profitable for you to have them in your power without battle
than to risk such a noble array in uncertain strife. I pray you, then, in
the name of God, to let me ride on to the Prince of Wales, to show him his
peril, and to exhort him to peace."
"Willingly, my lord," the king replied; "but above all things be quick."
The cardinal at once hastened to the English camp; he found the Black
Prince in the midst of his knights ready for battle, but by no means
unwilling to listen to proposals for peace. His position was indeed most
perilous. In his face was an enormously superior army, and he was moreover
threatened by famine; even during the two preceding days his army had
suffered from a great scarcity of forage, and its provisions were almost
wholly exhausted. The French force was sufficiently numerous to blockade
him in his camp, and he knew that did they adopt that course he must
surrender unconditionally, since were he forced to sally out and attack the
French no valour could compensate for the immense disparity of numbers. He
therefore replied at once to the cardinal's application, that he was ready
to listen to any terms by which his honour and that of his companions would
The cardinal returned to the King of France and with much entreaty
succeeded in obtaining a truce until sunrise on the following morning. The
soldiers returned to their tents, and the cardinal rode backward and
forward between the armies, beseeching the King of France to moderate his
demands, and the Black Prince to submit to the evil fortune which had
befallen him; but on the one side the king looked upon the victory as
certain, and on the other the Black Prince thought that there was at least
a hope of success should the French attack him. All, therefore, that the
cardinal could obtain from him was an offer to resign all he had captured
in his expedition, towns, castles, and prisoners, and to take an oath not
to bear arms against France for seven years. This proposal fell so far
short of the demands of the French king that pacification soon appeared
Early on the Monday morning the cardinal once more sought the presence of
the French king, but found John inflexible; while some of the leaders who
had viewed with the strongest disapproval his efforts to snatch what they
regarded as certain victory from their hands, gave him a peremptory warning
not to show himself again in their lines. The prelate then bore the news
of his failure to the Prince of Wales. "Fair son," he said, "do the best
you can, for you must needs fight, as I can find no means of peace or
amnesty with the King of France."
"Be it so, good father," the prince replied, "it is our full resolve to
fight, and God will aid the right."
The delay which had occurred had not been without advantages for the
British army, although the shortness of provisions was greatly felt. Every
effort had been made to strengthen the position. Deep trenches had been dug
and palisades erected around it, and the carts and baggage train had all
been moved round so as to form a protection on the weakest side of the
camp, where also a rampart had been constructed.
Upon a careful examination of the ground it was found that the hill on the
right side of the camp was less difficult than had been supposed, and that
the dismounted men-at-arms who lay at its foot under the command of the
Dauphin would find little difficulty in climbing it to the assault. The
prince therefore gave orders that 300 men-at-arms and 300 mounted archers
should make a circuit from the rear round the base of the hill, in order to
pour in upon the flank of the Dauphin's division as soon as they became
disordered in the ascent. The nature of the ground concealed this maneuver
from the enemies' view, and the Captal De Buch, who was in command of the
party, gained unperceived the cover of a wooded ravine within a few hundred
yards of the left flank of the enemy. By the time that all these
dispositions were complete the huge French array was moving forward. The
Black Prince, surrounded by his knights, viewed them approaching.
"Fair lords," he said, "though we be so few against that mighty power of
enemies, let us not be dismayed, for strength and victory lie not in
multitudes, but in those to whom God give them. If He will the day be ours,
then the highest glory of this world will be given to us. If we die, I have
the noble lord, my father, and two fair brothers, and you have each of you
many a good friend who will avenge us well; thus, then, I pray you fight
well this day, and if it please God and St. George I will also do the part
of a good knight."
The prince then chose Sir John Chandos and Sir James Audley to remain by
his side during the conflict in order to afford him counsel in case of
need. Audley, however, pleaded a vow which he had made long before, to be
the first in battle should he ever be engaged under the command of the King
of England or any of his children. The prince at once acceded to his
request to be allowed to fight in the van, and Audley, accompanied by four
chosen squires, took his place in front of the English line of battle. Not
far from him, also in advance of the line, was Sir Eustace D'Arnbrecicourt
on horseback, also eager to distinguish himself.
As Sir James rode off the prince turned to Walter. "As Audley must needs
fight as a knight-errant, Sir Walter Somers, do you take your place by my
side, for there is no more valiant knight in my army than you have often
proved yourself to be."
Three hundred chosen French men-at-arms mounted on the strongest horses
covered with steel armour, led the way under the command of the Marechals
D'Audeham and De Clermont; while behind them were a large body of German
cavalry under the Counts of Nassau, Saarbruck, and Nidau, to support them
in their attack on the English archers. On the right was the Duke of
Orleans with 16,000 men-at-arms; on the left the Dauphin and his two
brothers with an equal force; while King John himself led on the
When the three hundred elite of the French army reached the narrow way
between the hedges, knowing that these were lined with archers they charged
through at a gallop to fall upon the main body of bowmen covering the front
of the English men-at-arms. The moment they were fairly in the hollow road
the British archers rose on either side to their feet and poured such a
flight of arrows among them that in an instant all was confusion and
disarray. Through every joint and crevice of the armour of knights and
horses the arrows found their way, and the lane was almost choked with the
bodies of men and horses. A considerable number, nevertheless, made their
way through and approached the first line of archers beyond. Here they were
met by Sir James Audley, who, with his four squires, plunged into their
ranks and overthrew the Marechal D'Audeham, and then fought his way onward.
Regardless of the rest of the battle he pressed ever forward, until at the
end of the day, wounded in a hundred places and fainting from loss of
blood, he fell from his horse almost at the gates of Poitiers, and was
borne from the field by the four faithful squires who had fought beside him
throughout the day.
Less fortunate was Sir Eustace D'Ambrecicourt, who spurred headlong upon
the German cavalry. A German knight rode out to meet him, and in the shock
both were dishorsed, but before Sir Eustace could recover his seat he was
borne down to the ground by four others of the enemy, and was bound and
carried captive to the rear.
In the meantime the English archers kept up their incessant hail of arrows
upon the band under the French marshals. The English men-at-arms passed
through the gaps purposely left in the line of archers and drove back the
front rank of the enemy upon those following, chasing them headlong down
the hollow road again. The few survivors of the French force, galloping
back, carried confusion into the advancing division of the Dauphin.
Before order was restored the Captal De Buch with his six hundred men
issued forth from his place of concealment and charged impetuously down on
the left flank of the Dauphin. The French, shaken in front by the retreat
of their advance guard, were thrown into extreme confusion by this sudden
and unexpected charge. The horse archers with the captal poured their
arrows into the mass, while the shafts of the main body of the archers on
the hill hailed upon them without ceasing.
The rumour spread among those in the French rear, who were unable to see
what was going forward, that the day was already lost, and many began to
fly. Sir John Chandos marked the confusion which had set in, and he
exclaimed to the prince:
"Now, sir, ride forward, and the day is yours. Let us charge right over
upon your adversary, the King of France, for there lies the labour and the
feat of the day. Well do I know that his great courage will never let him
fly, but, God willing, he shall be well encountered."
"Forward, then, John Chandos," replied the prince. "You shall not see me
tread one step back, but ever in advance. Bear on my banner. God and St.
George be with us!"
The horses of the English force were all held in readiness by their
attendants close in their rear. Every man sprang into his saddle, and with
levelled lances the army bore down the hill against the enemy, while the
Captal De Buch forced his way through the struggling ranks of the French to
To these two parties were opposed the whole of the German cavalry, the
division of the Dauphin, now thinned by flight, and a strong force under
the Constable de Brienne, Duke of Athens. The first charge of the English
was directed against the Germans, the remains of the marshal's forces, and
that commanded by the Constable. The two bodies of cavalry met with a
tremendous shock, raising their respective war-cries, "Denis Mount Joye!"
and "St. George Guyenne!" Lances were shivered, and horses and men rolled
over, but the German horse was borne down in every direction by the charge
of the English chivalry. The Counts of Nassau and Saarbruck were taken, and
the rest driven down the hill in utter confusion. The division of the Duke
of Orleans, a little further down the hill to the right, were seized with a
sudden panic, and 16,000 men-at-arms, together with their commander, fled
without striking a blow.
Having routed the French and German cavalry in advance, the English now
fell upon the Dauphin's division. This had been already confused by the
attacks of the Captal De Buch, and when its leaders beheld the complete
rout of the marshals and the Germans, and saw the victorious force
galloping down upon them, the responsibility attached to the charge of the
three young princes overcame their firmness. The Lords of Landas, Vaudenay,
and St. Venant, thinking the battle lost, hurried the princes from the
field, surrounded by eight hundred lances, determined to place them at a
secure distance, and then to return and fight beside the king. The retreat
of the princes at once disorganized the force, but though many fled a
number of the nobles remained scattered over the field fighting in separate
bodies with their own retainers gathered under their banners. Gradually
these fell back and took post on the left of the French king's division.
The Constable and the Duke of Bourbon with a large body of knights and
men-at-arms also opposed a firm front to the advance of the English. The
king saw with indignation one of his divisions defeated and the other in
coward flight, but his forces were still vastly superior to those of the
English, and ordering his men to dismount, he prepared to receive their
onset. The English now gathered their forces which had been scattered in
combat, and again advanced to the fight. The archers as usual heralded this
advance with showers of arrows, which shook the ranks of the French and
opened the way for the cavalry. These dashed in, and the ranks of the two
armies became mixed, and each man fought hand to hand. The French king
fought on foot with immense valour and bravery, as did his nobles. The
Dukes of Bourbon and Athens, the Lords of Landas, Argenton, Chambery,
Joinville, and many others stood and died near the king.
Gradually the English drove back their foes. The French forces became cut
up into groups or confined into narrow spaces. Knight after knight fell
around the king. De Ribaumont fell near him. Jeffrey de Charny, who, as one
of the most valiant knights in the army, had been chosen to bear the French
standard, the oriflamme, never left his sovereign's side, and as long as
the sacred banner floated over his head John would not believe the day was
lost. At length, however, Jeffrey de Charny was killed, and the oriflamme
fell. John, surrounded on every side by foes who pressed forward to make
him prisoner, still kept clear the space immediately around himself and his
little son with his battle-axe; but at last he saw that further resistance
would only entail the death of both, and he then surrendered to Denis de
Montbec, a knight of Artois.
The battle was now virtually over. The French banners and pennons had
disappeared, and nothing was seen save the dead and dying, groups of
prisoners, and parties of fugitives flying over the country. Chandos now
advised the prince to halt. His banner was pitched on the summit of a
little mound. The trumpets blew to recall the army from the pursuit, and
the prince, taking off his helmet, drank with the little body of knights
who accompanied him some wine brought from his former encampment.
The two marshals of the English army, the Earls of Warwick and Suffolk,
were among the first to return at the call of the trumpet. Hearing that
King John had certainly not left the field of battle, though they knew not
whether he was dead or taken, the prince at once despatched the Earl of
Warwick and Lord Cobham to find and protect him if still alive. They soon
came upon a mass of men-at-arms, seemingly engaged in an angry quarrel. On
riding up they found that the object of strife was the King of France, who
had been snatched from the hands of Montbec, and was being claimed by a
score of men as his prisoner. The Earl of Warwick and Lord Cobham instantly
made their way through the mass, and dismounting, saluted the captive
monarch with the deepest reverence, and keeping back the multitude led him
to the Prince of Wales. The latter bent his knee before the king, and
calling for wine, presented the cup with his own hands to the unfortunate
The battle was over by noon, but it was evening before all the pursuing
parties returned, and the result of the victory was then fully known. With
less than 8000 men the English had conquered far more than 60,000. On the
English side 2000 men-at-arms and 1500 archers had fallen. Upon the French
side 11,000 men- at-arms, besides an immense number of footmen, had been
killed. A king, a prince, an archbishop, 13 counts, 66 barons, and more
than 2000 knights were prisoners in the hands of the English, with a number
of other soldiers, who raised the number of captives to double that of
their conquerors. All the baggage of the French army was taken, and as the
barons of France had marched to the field feeling certain of victory, and
the rich armour of the prisoners became immediately the property of the
captors, immense stores of valuable ornaments of all kinds, especially
jewelled baldrics, enriched the meanest soldier among the conquerors.
The helmet which the French king had worn, which bore a small coronet of
gold beneath the crest, was delivered to the Prince of Wales, who sent it
off at once to his father as the best trophy of the battle he could offer
Its receipt was the first intimation which Edward III received of the great
As the prince had no means of providing for the immense number of
prisoners, the greater portion were set at liberty upon their taking an
oath to present themselves at Bordeaux by the ensuing Christmas in order
either to pay the ransom appointed, or to again yield themselves as
Immediately the battle was over, Edward sent for the gallant Sir James
Audley, who was brought to him on his litter by his esquires, and the
prince, after warmly congratulating him on the honour that he had that day
won as the bravest knight in the army, assigned him an annuity of five
hundred marks a year.
No sooner was Audley taken to his own tent than he called round him several
of his nearest relations and friends, and then and there made over to his
four gallant attendants, without power of recall, the gift which the prince
had bestowed upon him. The prince was not to be outdone, however, in
liberality, and on hearing that Audley had assigned his present to the
brave men who had so gallantly supported him in the fight, he presented Sir
James with another annuity of six hundred marks a year.
CHAPTER XXI: THE JACQUERIE
ON the evening after the battle of Poitiers a splendid entertainment was
served in the tent of the Prince of Wales to the King of France and all the
principal prisoners. John, with his son and six of his highest nobles were
seated at a table raised above the rest, and the prince himself waited as
page upon the French king. John in vain endeavoured to persuade the prince
to be seated; the latter refused, saying, that it was his pleasure as well
as his duty to wait upon one who had shown himself to be the best and
bravest knight in the French army. The example of the Black Prince was
contagious, and the English vied with each other in generous treatment of
their prisoners. All were treated as friends, and that night an immense
number of knights and squires were admitted to ransom on such terms as had
never before been known. The captors simply required their prisoners to
declare in good faith what they could afford to pay without pressing
themselves too hard, "for they did not wish," they said, "to ransom knights
or squires on terms which would prevent them from maintaining their station
in society, from serving their lords, or from riding forth in arms to
advance their name and honour."
Upon the following morning solemn thanksgivings were offered up on the
field of battle for the glorious victory. Then the English army, striking
its tents, marched back towards Bordeaux. They were unmolested upon this
march, for although the divisions of the Dauphin and the Duke of Orleans
had now reunited, and were immensely superior in numbers to the English,
encumbered as the latter were, moreover, with prisoners and booty, the
tremendous defeat which they had suffered, and still more the capture of
the king, paralysed the French commanders, and the English reached Bordeaux
without striking another blow.
Not long after they reached that city the Cardinal of Perigord and another
legate presented themselves to arrange peace, and these negotiations went
on throughout the winter. The prince had received full powers from his
father, and his demands were very moderate; but in spite of this no final
peace could be arranged, and the result of the conference was the
proclamation of a truce, to last for two years from the following Easter.
During the winter immense numbers of the prisoners who had gone at large
upon patrol, came in and paid their ransoms, as did the higher nobles who
had been taken prisoners, and the whole army was greatly enriched. At the
end of April the prince returned to England with King John. The procession
through the streets of London was a magnificent one, the citizens vying
with each other in decorating their houses in honour of the victor of
Poitiers, who, simply dressed, rode on a small black horse by the side of
his prisoner, who was splendidly attired, and mounted on a superb white
charger. The king received his royal prisoner in state in the great hall of
his palace at Westminster, and did all in his power to alleviate the
sorrows of his condition. The splendid palace of the Savoy, with gardens
extending to the Thames, was appointed for his residence, and every means
was taken to soften his captivity.
During the absence of the Black Prince in Guienne the king had been warring
in Scotland. Here his success had been small, as the Scotch had retreated
before him, wasting the country. David Bruce, the rightful king, was a
prisoner in England, and Baliol, a descendant of the rival of Robert Bruce,
had been placed upon the throne. As Edward passed through Roxburgh he
received from Baliol a formal cession of his rights and titles to the
throne of Scotland, and in return for this purely nominal gift he bestowed
an annual income upon Baliol, who lived and died a pensioner of England.
After Edward's return to England negotiations were carried on with the
Scots, and a treaty was signed by which a truce for ten years was
established between the two countries, and the liberation of Bruce was
granted on a ransom of 100,000 marks.
The disorganization into which France had been thrown by the capture of its
king increased rather than diminished. Among all classes men strove in the
absence of a repressive power to gain advantages and privileges. Serious
riots occurred in many parts, and the demagogues of Paris, headed by
Stephen Marcel, and Robert le Coq, bishop of Leon, set at defiance the
Dauphin and the ministers and lieutenant of the king. Massacre and violence
stained the streets of Paris with blood. General law, public order, and
private security were all lost. Great bodies of brigands devastated the
country, and the whole of France was thrown into confusion. So terrible was
the disorder that the inhabitants of every village were obliged to fortify
the ends of their streets, and keep watch and ward as in the cities. The
proprietors of land on the banks of rivers spent the night in boats moored
in the middle of the stream, and in every house and castle throughout the
land men remained armed as if against instant attack.
Then arose the terrible insurrection known as the Jacquerie. For centuries
the peasantry of France had suffered under a bondage to which there had
never been any approach in England. Their lives and liberties were wholly
at the mercy of their feudal lords. Hitherto no attempt at resistance had
been possible; but the tremendous defeat of the French at Poitiers by a
handful of English aroused the hope among the serfs that the moment for
vengeance had come. The movement began among a handful of peasants in the
neighbourhood of St. Leu and Claremont. These declared that they would put
to death all the gentlemen in the land. The cry spread through the
country. The serfs, armed with pikes, poured out from every village, and a
number of the lower classes from the towns joined them. Their first success
was an attack upon a small castle. They burned down the gates and slew the
knight to whom it belonged, with his wife and children of all ages. Their
numbers rapidly increased.
Castle after castle was taken and stormed, palaces and houses levelled to
the ground; fire, plunder, and massacre swept through the fairest provinces
The peasants vied with each other in inventing deaths of fiendish cruelty
and outrage upon every man, woman, and child of the better classes who fell
into their hands. Owing to the number of nobles who had fallen at Cressy
and Poitiers, and of those still captives in England, very many of their
wives and daughters remained unprotected, and these were the especial
victims of the fiendish malignity of the peasantry. Separated in many
bands, the insurgents marched through the Beauvoisis, Soissonois, and
Vermandois; and as they approached a number of unprotected ladies of the
highest families in France fled to Meaux, where they remained under the
guard of the young Duke of Orleans and a handful of men-at-arms.
After the conclusion of the peace at Bordeaux, Sir Walter Somers had been
despatched on a mission to some of the German princes, with whom the king
was in close relations. The business was not of an onerous nature, but
Walter had been detained for some time over it. He spent a pleasant time in
Germany, where, as an emissary of the king and one of the victors of
Poitiers, the young English knight was made much of. When he set out on his
return he joined the Captal De Buch, who, ever thirsting for adventure, had
on the conclusion of the truce gone to serve in a campaign in Germany; with
him was the French Count de Foix, who had been also serving throughout the
On entering France from the Rhine the three knights were shocked at the
misery and ruin which met their eyes on all sides. Every castle and house
throughout the country, of a class superior to those of the peasants, was
destroyed, and tales of the most horrible outrages and murders met their
"I regret," the Count de Foix said earnestly, "that I have been away
warring in Germany, for it is clear that every true knight is wanted at
home to crush down these human wolves."
"Methinks," the Captal rejoined, "that France will do well to invite the
chivalry of all other countries to assemble and aid to put down this
"Aye," the Count said bitterly; "but who is to speak in the name of France?
The Dauphin is powerless, and the virtual government is in the hands of
Marcel and other ambitious traitors who hail the doings of the Jacquerie
with delight, for these mad peasants are doing their work of destroying the
knights and nobles."
The villages through which they passed were deserted save by women, and in
the small towns the people of the lower class scowled threateningly at the
three knights; but they with their following of forty men-at-arms, of whom
five were followers of Walter, fifteen of the Captal, and twenty of the
Count de Foix, ventured not to proceed beyond evil glances.
"I would," de Foix said, "that these dogs would but lift a hand against us.
By St. Stephen, we would teach them a rough lesson!"
His companions were of the same mind, for all were excited to fury by the
terrible tales which they heard. All these stories were new to them, for
although rumours had reached Germany of the outbreak of a peasant
insurrection in France the movement had but just begun when they started.
As far as the frontier they had traveled leisurely, but they had hastened
their pace more and more as they learned how sore was the strait of the
nobles and gentry of the country and how grievously every good sword was
needed. When they reached Chalons they heard much fuller particulars than
had before reached them, and learned that the Duchess of Normandy, the
Duchess of Orleans, and near three hundred ladies, had sought refuge in
Meaux, and that they were there guarded but by a handful of men-at-arms
under the Duke of Orleans, while great bands of serfs were pouring in from
all parts of the country round, to massacre them.
Meaux is eighty miles from Chalons, but the three knights determined to
press onward with all speed in hopes of averting the catastrophe. Allowing
their horses an hour or two to rest, they rode forward, and pressing on
without halt or delay, save such as was absolutely needed by the horses,
they arrived at Meaux late the following night, and found to their delight
that the insurgents, although swarming in immense numbers round the town,
had not yet attacked it.
The arrival of the three knights and their followers was greeted with joy
by the ladies. They, with their guard, had taken up their position in the
market-house and market-place, which were separated from the rest of the
town by the river Maine, which flows through the city. A consultation was
at once held, and it being found that the Duke of Orleans had but twenty
men-at-arms with him it was determined that it was impossible to defend the
city walls, but that upon the following morning they would endeavour to cut
their way with the ladies through the peasant hosts. In the night, however,
an uproar was heard in the city. The burghers had risen and had opened the
gates to the peasants, who now poured in in thousands. Every hour increased
The market-place was besieged in the morning, and an hour or two afterwards
a large body of the ruffians of Paris, under the command of a brutal grocer
named Pierre Gille, arrived to swell their ranks.
The attack on the market-house continued, and the Duke of Orleans held a
consultation with the three knights. It was agreed that against such a
host of enemies the market-place could not long be defended, and that their
best hope lay in sallying out and falling upon the assailants. Accordingly
the men-at- arms were drawn up in order, with the banners of the Duke of
Orleans and the Count de Foix, and the pennons of the Captal and Sir Walter
Somers displayed, the gates were opened, and with levelled lances the
little party rode out. Hitherto nothing had been heard save yells of
anticipated triumph and fierce imprecations and threats against the
defenders from the immense multitude without; but the appearance of the
orderly ranks of the knights and men-at-arms as they issued through the
gate struck a silence of fear through the mass.
Without an instant's delay the knights and men-at-arms, with levelled
lances, charged into the multitude. A few attempted to fight, but more
strove to fly, as the nobles and their followers, throwing away their
lances, fell upon them with sword and battle-axe. Jammed up in the narrow
streets of a small walled town, overthrowing and impeding each other in
their efforts to escape, trampled down by the heavy horses of the
men-at-arms, and hewn down by their swords and battle-axes, the insurgents
fell in vast numbers. Multitudes succeeded in escaping through the gates
into the fields; but here they were followed by the knights and their
retainers, who continued charging among them and slaying till utter
weariness compelled them to cease from the pursuit and return to Meaux.
Not less than seven thousand of the insurgents had been slain by the four
knights and fifty men, for ten had been left behind to guard the gates of
History has no record of so vast a slaughter by so small a body of men.
This terrific punishment put a summary end to the Jacquerie. Already in
other parts several bodies had been defeated, and their principal leader,
Caillet, with three thousand of his followers, slain near Clermont. But the
defeat at Meaux was the crushing blow which put an end to the insurrection.
On their return to the town the knights executed a number of the burghers
who had joined the peasants, and the greater part of the town was burned to
the ground as a punishment for having opened the gates to the peasants and
united with them.
The knights and ladies then started for Paris. On nearing the city they
found that it was threatened by the forces of the Dauphin. Marcel had
strongly fortified the town, and with his ally, the infamous King of
Navarre, bade defiance to the royal power. However, the excesses of the
demagogue had aroused against him the feeling of all the better class of
the inhabitants. The King of Navarre, who was ready at all times to break
his oath and betray his companions, marched his army out of the town and
took up a position outside the walls. He then secretly negotiated peace
with the Duke of Normandy, by which he agreed to yield to their fate Marcel
and twelve of the most obnoxious burghers, while at the same time he
persuaded Marcel that he was still attached to his interest. Marcel,
however, was able to bid higher than the Duke of Normandy, and he entered
into a new treaty with the treacherous king, by which he stipulated to
deliver the city into his hands during the night. Everyone within the
walls, except the partisans of Marcel, upon whose doors a mark was to be
placed, were to be put to death indiscriminately, and the King of Navarre
was to be proclaimed King of France.
Fortunately Pepin des Essarts and John de Charny, two loyal knights who
were in Paris, obtained information of the plan a few minutes before the
time appointed for its execution. Arming themselves instantly, and
collecting a few followers, they rushed to the houses of the chief
conspirators, but found them empty, Marcel and his companions having
already gone to the gates. Passing by the hotel-de-ville, the knights
entered, snatched down the royal banner which was kept there, and unfurling
it mounted their horses and rode through the streets, calling all men to
arms. They reached the Port St. Antoine just at the moment when Marcel was
in the act of opening it in order to give admission to the Navarrese. When
he heard the shouts he tried with his friends to make his way into the
bastille, but his retreat was intercepted, and a severe and bloody struggle
took place between the two parties. Stephen Marcel, however, was himself
slain by Sir John de Charny, and almost all his principal companions fell
with him. The inhabitants then threw open their gates and the Duke of
Walter Somers had, with his companions, joined the army of the duke, and
placed his sword at his disposal; but when the French prince entered Paris
without the necessity of fighting, he took leave of him, and with the
Captal returned to England. Rare, indeed, were the jewels which Walter
brought home to his wife, for the three hundred noble ladies rescued at
Meaux from dishonour and death had insisted upon bestowing tokens of their
regard and gratitude upon the rescuers, and as many of them belonged to the
richest as well as the noblest families in France the presents which Walter
thus received from the grateful ladies were of immense value.
He was welcomed by the king and Prince of Wales with great honour, for the
battle at Meaux had excited the admiration and astonishment of all Europe.
The Jacquerie was considered as a common danger in all civilized countries;
for if successful it might have spread far beyond the boundaries of France,
and constituted a danger to chivalry, and indeed to society universally.
Thus King Edward gave the highest marks of his satisfaction to the Captal
and Walter, added considerable grants of land to the estates of the latter,
and raised him to the dignity of Baron Somers of Westerham.
It has always been a matter of wonder that King Edward did not take
advantage of the utter state of confusion and anarchy which prevailed in
France to complete his conquest of that country, which there is no
reasonable doubt he could have effected with ease. Civil war and strife
prevailed throughout France; famine devastated it; and without leaders or
concord, dispirited and impoverished by defeat, France could have offered
no resistance to such an army as England could have placed in the field.
The only probable supposition is that at heart he doubted whether the
acquisition of the crown of France was really desirable, or whether it
could be permanently maintained should it be gained. To the monarch of a
country prosperous, flourishing, and contented, the object of admiration
throughout Europe, the union with distracted and divided France could be of
no benefit. Of military glory he had gained enough to content any man, and
some of the richest provinces of France were already his. Therefore it may
well be believed that, feeling secure very many years must elapse before
France could again become dangerous, he was well content to let matters
continue as they were.
King John still remained a prisoner in his hands, for the princes and
nobles of France were too much engaged in broils and civil wars to think of
raising the money for his ransom, and Languedoc was the only province of
France which made any effort whatever towards so doing. War still raged
between the Dauphin and the King of Navarre.
At the conclusion of the two years' truce Edward, with the most splendidly-
equipped army which had ever left England, marched through the length and
breadth of France. Nowhere did he meet with any resistance in the field.
He marched under the walls of Paris, but took no steps to lay siege to that
city, which would have fallen an easy prey to his army had he chosen to
capture it. That he did not do so is another proof that he had no desire
to add France to the possessions of the English crown. At length, by the
efforts of the pope, a peace was agreed upon, by which France yielded all
Aquitaine and the town of Calais to England as an absolute possession, and
not as a fief of the crown of France; while the English king surrendered
all his captures in Normandy and Brittany and abandoned his claim to the
crown of France. With great efforts the French raised a portion of the
ransom demanded for the king, and John returned to France after four years
At the commencement of 1363 Edward the Black Prince was named Prince of
Aquitaine, and that province was bestowed upon him as a gift by the king,
subject only to liege homage and an annual tribute of one ounce of gold.
The prince took with him to his new possessions many of the knights and
nobles who had served with him, and offered to Walter a high post in the
government of the province if he would accompany him. This Walter begged to
be excused from doing. Two girls had now been added to his family, and he
was unwilling to leave his happy home unless the needs of war called him to
the prince's side. He therefore remained quietly at home.
When King John returned to France, four of the French princes of the
blood-royal had been given as hostages for the fulfilment of the treaty of
Bretigny. They were permitted to reside at Calais, and were at liberty to
move about as they would, and even to absent themselves from the town for
three days at a time whensoever they might choose. The Duke of Anjou, the
king's second son, basely took advantage of this liberty to escape, in
direct violation of his oath. The other hostages followed his example.
King John, himself the soul of honour, was intensely mortified at this
breach of faith on the part of his sons, and after calling together the
states-general at Amiens to obtain the subsidies necessary for paying the
remaining portion of his ransom, he himself, with a train of two hundred
officers and their followers, crossed to England to make excuses to Edward
for the treachery of the princes. Some historians represent the visit as a
voluntary returning into captivity; but this was not so. The English king
had accepted the hostages in his place, and was responsible for their
safe-keeping, and had no claim upon the French monarch because they had
taken advantage of the excess of confidence with which they had been
treated. That the coming of the French king was not in any way regarded as
a return into captivity is shown by the fact that he was before starting
furnished by Edward with letters of safe-conduct, by which his secure and
unobstructed return to his own country was expressly stipulated, and he was
received by Edward as an honoured guest and friend, and his coming was
regarded as an honour and an occasion for festivity by all England.
At the same time that John was in London the King of Cyprus, the King of
Denmark, and the King of Scotland were also there, and the meeting of four
monarchs in London was the occasion of extraordinary festivities and
rejoicing, the king and his royal guests being several times entertained at
sumptuous banquets by the lord-mayor, the ex-mayor Henry Pickard, and
several of the aldermen.
Six weeks after John's arrival in London he was seized with illness at the
palace of the Savoy, and died on the 8th of April, 1364. The Dauphin,
Charles, now succeeded him as Charles V, and the war between the houses of
Navarre and Valois was carried on with greater fury than ever. The armies
of Navarre were commanded by the Captal de Buch, who was a distant relation
of the king; while those of Charles were headed by the Marechal de
Boucicault and Bertrand du Guesclin, one of the most gallant of the French
knights. A great battle was fought near Cocherel. Contrary to the orders
of the Captal, his army, which consisted principally of adventurers,
descended from the strong position he had chosen, and gave battle in the
plain. They were completely defeated, and the Captal himself taken
In Brittany John of Montford and Charles of Blois had renewed their
struggle, and King Charles, seeing the danger of Brittany falling into the
hands of De Montford, who was a close ally of England, interfered in favour
of Charles of Blois, and sent Du Guesclin to his assistance.
This was a breach of the treaty of Bretigny, and De Montford at once sent
to the Black Prince for assistance. The Prince did not treat the conduct
of Charles as a breach of the treaty, and took no part himself in the war,
but permitted Sir John Chandos, who was a personal friend of De Montford,
to go to his aid. De Montford's army, after the arrival of Chandos with 200
spears, amounted to but 1600 men-at-arms and from 800 to 900 archers, while
Charles of Blois had 4000 men-at-arms and a proportionate number of
infantry. De Montford tried to negotiate. He offered to divide the dukedom,
and to agree that in case he died childless it should revert to the family
of Charles. Charles, however, refused all terms, even to grant his
adversary's request to put off the battle until the morrow, so as to avoid
violating the Sabbath; and having given orders that all prisoners taken in
the battle should be hung, he advanced upon De Montford.
Both forces were divided in four bodies. The first on De Montford's side
was commanded by Sir Robert Knolles, the second by Oliver de Clisson, the
third by Chandos and De Montford, the fourth by Sir Hugh de Calverley. Du
Guesclin led the front division of Charles's army, the Counts of Auxerre
and Joigny the second, Charles himself the third, and the Lords of Roye and
Rieux the reserve. The ducal arms of Brittany were displayed on both
By slow degrees the two armies closed with each other in deadly strife.
Both parties had dismounted and fought on foot with lances shortened to
five feet. Du Guesclin and his division attacked that of Knolles. Auxerre
fell upon De Clisson, while the divisions of the two rival princes closed
with each other. After desperate fighting numbers prevailed. De Montford
was driven back, but Calverley advanced to his aid, fell upon the rear of
the French, threw them into disorder, and then having rallied De Montford's
men, retired to his former position in readiness to give succour again
where it might be needed.
In the meantime Clisson had been engaged in a desperate struggle with the
Count of Auxerre, but was obtaining no advantage. Clisson himself had
received the blow of a battle-axe which had dashed in the vizor of his
helmet and blinded for ever one of his eyes. He was still leading his men,
but the enemies' superior numbers were pressing him back, when Chandos, the
instant the assistance of Calverley had relieved De Montford's division,
perceiving his danger, drew off a few men-at-arms, and with them fell upon
the rear of the Count of Auxerre, and dashing all who opposed him to the
ground with his battle-axe, cleft his way to the very centre of the enemy.
Pressed by De Clisson in front and broken by the sudden attack of Chandos
in the rear, the French division gave way in every direction. Auxerre was
desperately wounded, and he and Joigny both taken prisoners.
Chandos then returned to De Montford, who had gallantly followed up the
advantage gained by the confusion into which Charles's division had been
thrown by the attack of Calverley. Charles was routed; he himself struck
down and slain by an English soldier, and the division defeated with great
slaughter. De Montford's whole force now gathered round Du Guesclin's
division, which now alone remained, and after fighting gallantly until all
hope was gone, the brave French knight and his companions yielded
themselves as prisoners.
The battle of Auray terminated the struggle between the houses of Blois and
Montford. More than 1000 French men-at-arms died on the field, among whom
were many of the noblest in Brittany. Two counts, 27 lords, and 1500
men-at-arms were made prisoners. De Montford now took possession of the
whole of Brittany, and at the suggestion of King Edward himself did homage
to Charles V for the duchy, which he afterwards ruled with wisdom.
CHAPTER XXII: VICTORY AND DEATH
While the Black Prince was with difficulty governing his province of
Aquitaine, where the mutual jealousies of the English and native officers
caused continual difficulties, King Edward turned all his attention to
advancing the prosperity of England. He fostered trade, commerce, and
learning, was a munificent patron of the two universities, and established
such order and regularity in his kingdom that England was the admiration of
all Europe. Far different was the state of France. The cessation of the
wars with England and the subsequent disbandment of troops had thrown upon
their own resources great numbers of men who had been so long engaged in
fighting that they had no other trade to turn to. The conclusion of the
struggle in Brittany after the battle of Auray and the death of Charles of
Blois still further added to the number, and these men gathered in bands,
some of which were headed by men of knightly rank, and scattered through
France plundering the country and extracting heavy sums from the towns.
These "great companies," as they were called, exceeded 50,000 men in
number, and as almost all were trained soldiers they set the king and his
nobles at defiance, and were virtually masters of France. The most tempting
offers were made to them to lay down their arms, and the pope sent legates
threatening excommunication, but the great companies laughed alike at
promises and threats. At last a way of deliverance opened to France.
Pedro, named the Cruel, of Castile, had alienated his people by his
cruelty, and had defeated and driven into exile his half-brother, Henry of
Trastamare, who headed an insurrection against him. Pedro put to death
numbers of the nobles of Castile, despoiled the King of Arragon, who had
given aid to his brother, plundered and insulted the clergy, and allied
himself with the Moors.
His quarrel with the clergy was the cause of his ruin. The pope summoned
him to appear before him at Avignon to answer to the crimes laid to his
charge. Pedro refused to attend, and the pope at once excommunicated him.
The King of Arragon and Henry of Trastamare were then summoned to Avignon,
and a treaty of alliance was concluded between them, and the pope declared
the throne of Castile vacant owing to the excommunication of Pedro, and
appointed Henry to it.
These measures would have troubled Pedro little had it not been that France
groaned under the great companies, and the French king and the pontiff at
once entered into negotiations with them to support Henry in his war
against his brother. It was necessary that a leader in whom the companies
should have confidence should be chosen, and Du Guesclin, still a prisoner
of Chandos, who had captured him at Auray, was selected, and the pope, the
King of France, and Don Henry, paid between them the 100,000 francs
demanded for his ransom. Du Guesclin on his release negotiated with the
leaders of the great companies, and as the pope and king promised them
large gratuities they agreed to march upon Spain. They were joined by a
great number of French knights and men-at-arms.
The expedition was under the nominal command of John of Bourbon, but the
real guidance was in the hands of Du Guesclin. As the army marched past
Avignon they worked upon the terrors of the pope until he paid them 200,000
francs in gold. France was filled with joy at the prospect of a riddance
of the free companies which had so long been a prey upon them. They were,
too, eager to avenge upon the cruel King of Spain the murder of his queen,
who was a princess of France. The same feeling animated the people of
Aquitaine, and Calverley, D'Ambrecicourt, Sir Walter Hewitt, Sir John
Devereux, Sir John Neville, and several other distinguished knights, with a
large train of men-at-arms, joined the adventurers. The great army moved
through Arragon, whose king in every way facilitated their progress. As
they entered Castile the whole people declared in favour of Henry, and
Pedro, deserted by all, fled to Bordeaux and besought aid from the Prince
Between Pedro and the English court a firm alliance had existed from the
time when the former so nearly married the Princess Joan, and immediately
the king heard of the expedition against him he issued orders that no
English knights should take part in it. The order, however, came too late.
The English knights had already marched into Spain with Du Guesclin. As for
the English who formed no inconsiderable portion of the great companies,
they had already declined to obey the king, when, at the insistence of the
pope and the King of France, he had ordered them to disband.
On Pedro's arrival at Bordeaux with his three daughters and his son, they
were kindly received by the Black Prince, courtesy and kindness to those in
misfortune being among the leading characteristics of his nature. Pedro,
cruel and ruthless as he was, was a man of great eloquence and insinuating
manners, and giving his own version of affairs, he completely won over the
prince, who felt himself, moreover, bound in some degree to support him,
inasmuch as he, an ally of England, had been dethroned by an army composed
partly of English. Pedro made the most magnificent promises to the prince
in return for his aid, ceding him the whole of the province of Biscay, and
agreeing to pay the British troops engaged in his service when he regained
his throne, the Black Prince engaging to pay them in the meantime.
King Edward aided his son by raising an army in England, which sailed for
Bordeaux under the command of the prince's brother, John of Gaunt, Duke of
Lancaster. Walter formed part of this expedition. The king had issued his
writs to him and other barons of the southern counties, and the Black
Prince had himself written to ask him to join him, in memory of their
former deeds of arms together.
As it was now some years since he had taken the field, Walter did not
hesitate, but with thirty retainers, headed by Ralph, joined the army of
John of Gaunt.
The Black Prince's first step was to endeavour to recall the Englishmen of
the free companies, estimated to amount to at least 30,000 men. The news
that he was taking up arms and would himself command the army caused
Calverley and the whole of the other English knights to return at once, and
10,000 of the English men- at-arms with the great companies also left Don
Henry and marched to Aquitaine. The road led through the territory of the
King of Navarre, and the Black Prince advanced 56,000 florins of gold to
pay this grasping and treacherous king for the right of passage of the
By Christmas, 1366, the preparations were complete, but the severity of the
weather delayed the advance for some weeks. Fresh difficulties were
encountered with Charles the Bad, of Navarre, who, having obtained the
price for the passage, had now opened negotiations with Don Henry, and the
governors of the frontier towns refused to allow Sir Hugh Calverley and the
free companies, who formed the advance, to pass. These were not, however,
the men to stand on ceremony, and without hesitation they attacked and
captured the towns, when the King of Navarre at once apologized for his
officers, and renewed his engagements. As, however, the Black Prince had
received intelligence that he had formed a plan for attacking the English
as they passed through the terrible pass of Roncesvalles, he compelled him
to accompany the army. The invitation was couched in language which was
friendly, but would yet admit of no denial.
On the 17th of February the English army, 30,000 strong, reached the pass.
It marched in three divisions, the first commanded by the Duke of Lancaster
and Lord Chandos, the second by the Black Prince, the third by the King of
Majorca and the Count of Armaguac. The divisions crossed over on different
days, for the pass was encumbered by snow and the obstacles were immense.
Upon the day when the prince's division were passing a storm burst upon
them, and it was with the greatest difficulty that they succeeded in
crossing. On the 20th of February, however, all arrived safe on the other
side of the Pyrenees. Du Guesclin, who, seeing the storm which was
approaching from Aquitaine, had returned to France and levied a French
army, was nigh at hand, and kept within a few miles of the English army as
it advanced, avoiding an engagement until the arrival of Don Henry, who was
marching to join him with the great companies and 60,000 Spanish troops.
Du Guesclin kept up secret communications with the King of Navarre, who was
still forced to accompany the English army. The latter accordingly went out
from the camp under pretence of hunting and was captured by a detachment of
On the 1st of April, the Spanish army having joined the French, the Black
Prince sent letters to Don Henry, urging him in mild but dignified language
to return to obedience, and to resign the throne he had usurped, offering
at the same time to act as mediator between him and his brother, and to do
all in his power to remove differences and abuses. Henry, confident in his
strength, replied haughtily and prepared for battle.
The forces were extremely unequal. The Black Prince had under him 30,000
men; while under Don Henry were 3000 men-at-arms on mail-clad horses,
20,000 men-at- arms on horses not so protected, 6000 light cavalry, 10,000
crossbow-men, and 60,000 foot armed with spear and sword.
The night before the battle the Black Prince lodged in the little village
of Navarretta, which had been deserted by its inhabitants. Walter had been
his close companion since he started, and occupied the same lodging with
him in the village.
"This reminds me," the prince said, "of the day before Cressy. They
outnumber us by more than three to one.
"There were greater odds still," Walter replied, "at Poitiers, and I doubt
not that we shall make as good an example of them."
"They are more doughty adversaries," the prince replied. "There are nigh
20,000 English in their ranks - all veterans in war - and they are led by
Du Guesclin, who is a host in himself."
"Their very numbers will be a hindrance to them," Walter replied
cheerfully; "and never did I see a better army than that which you have
under you. I would we were fighting for a better man, for Don Pedro is to
my mind treacherous as well as cruel. He promises fairly, but I doubt if
when he has gained his end he will keep his promises. He speaks fairly and
smoothly, but his deeds are at variance with his words."
"It may be, my lord," the prince replied, "that I am somewhat of your
opinion, and that I regret I so quickly committed myself to his cause.
However, he was my father's ally, and having fulfilled all his engagements
had a right to demand our assistance. I am a bad hand, Walter, at saying no
to those who beseech me."
"It is so, Sir Prince," Walter said bluntly. "Would that your heart had
been a less generous one, for your nobleness of disposition is ever
involving you in debts which hamper you sorely, and cause more trouble to
you than all your enemies!"
"That is true enough," the Black Prince said with a sigh. "Since I was a
boy I have ever been harassed with creditors; and though all Aquitaine is
mine, I verily believe that there is not a man in my father's dominions who
is so harassed and straitened for money as I."
"And yet," Walter said, smiling, "no sooner do you get it than you give it
"Ah!" the prince laughed, "I cannot deny it. It is so much pleasanter to
give than to pay, that I can never find heart to balk myself. I am ever
surrounded by suitors. Some have lost estates in my cause, others have
rendered brilliant services in the field, some have burdened themselves
with debts to put their retainers in arms - all have pleased to urge, and
for the life of me I cannot say them nay. I trust, though," he added more
seriously, "that Don Pedro will fulfil his promises to pay my army. I have
bound myself to my soldiers for their wages, besides advancing large sums
to Pedro, and if he keeps not his engagements I shall indeed be in a sore
"There is one thing," Walter said; "if he fail to keep his promises, we
will not fail to oblige him to do so. If we win a kingdom for him, we can
snatch it from him again."
"We have not won it yet," the prince said.
"We will do so tomorrow," Walter rejoined confidently. "I hope the
fortunes of the day may bring me face to face with Du Guesclin. I am thrice
as strong as when I fought at Cressy, and I should like to try my hand
against this doughty champion."
The next morning the two armies prepared for battle, the Black Prince
dividing his army as before. The divisions were commanded as in the passage
of the Pyrenees, and each numbered 10,000 men.
Don Henry had also divided his force in three parts. In the first division,
commanded by Du Guesclin, were 4000 veteran French knights and men-at-arms
with 8000 foot-soldiers; the second was led by the prince's brother, Don
Tillo, with 16,000 horse; while he himself commanded the third, in which
were a multitude of soldiers, making up the gross total of 100,000 men.
As on the night preceding the battle of Poitiers, the English army had lain
down supperless. Soon after midnight the trumpets sounded, and the troops
soon moved forward. At sunrise the prince and his forces reached the
summit of a little hill, whence was visible the approaching host of Spain.
The first division, under the Duke of Lancaster and Lord Chandos,
immediately quickened its pace and charged the division of Du Guesclin,
which received it with great steadiness, and a desperate conflict ensued.
The Black Prince charged the division of Don Tillo, which gave way at the
first attack, and its commander, with 2000 horse, at once fled. The
remainder of the division resisted for some time, but was unable to
withstand the steady advance of the English, who without much difficulty
dispersed and scattered it from the field. The King of Majorca now joined
his division with that of the Black Prince, and the two advanced against
the great division led by Don Henry.
The Spanish slingers opened upon the advancing force and for a time annoyed
them greatly, but when the English archers arrived within bow-shot and
opened fire they speedily dispersed the slingers, and the men-at-arms on
both sides advanced to the attack. The conflict was long and desperate, and
both sides fought with great gallantry and determination. Don Pedro - who,
although vicious and cruel, was brave - fought in the ranks as a common
soldier, frequently cutting his way into the midst of the Spaniards, and
shouting to Don Henry to cross swords with him. Henry on his part fought
with great valour, although, as he had the burden of command upon him, he
was less able to distinguish himself by acts of personal prowess. Though
fighting in the thickest of the press, he never lost his grasp of the
general purpose of the battle. Three times, when his troops wavered before
the assaults of the Black Prince and his knights, he rallied them and
renewed the fight.
While this battle was raging, a not less obstinate fight was proceeding
between the divisions of Lancaster and Du Guesclin. For a long time victory
was doubtful, and indeed inclined towards the side of the French. The ranks
of both parties were broken, and all were fighting in a confused mass,
when, in the midst of the melee, a body of French and Spaniards poured in
upon the banner of Chandos. He was struck to the ground, and a gigantic
Castilian knight flung himself upon him and strove to slay him as he held
him down. Chandos had lost sword and battle-axe, but drawing his dagger, he
held with one hand his opponent's sword-arm, and at last, after repeated
strokes with his dagger, he found an undefended part of his armour and
pierced him with his dagger to the hilt. The Spaniard relaxed his hold, and
Chandos, throwing him off, struggled to his feet and rejoined his friends,
who had thought him dead. They now fought with more enthusiasm than ever,
and at last, driving back the main body of the French knights, isolated a
body of some sixty strong, and forced them to surrender. Among these were
Du Guesclin himself, the Marshal D'Audenham, and the Bigue de Vilaines.
As these were the leaders of the division, the main body lost spirit and
fought feebly, and were soon completely routed by Lancaster and Chandos.
These now turned their attention to the other part of the field where the
battle was still raging, and charged down upon the flank of Don Henry's
army, which was already wavering. The Spaniards gave way at once on every
side, and ere long the whole were scattered in headlong rout, hotly pursued
by the English. The greater portion fled towards the town of Najarra, where
they had slept the previous night, and here vast quantities were
slaughtered by the English and Gascons. A number of prisoners were taken,
and the palace and town sacked. The pursuit was kept up the whole day, and
it was not until evening that the leaders began once more to assemble round
the banner of the Prince of Wales. Among the last who arrived was Don Pedro
himself. Springing from his charger he grasped the hand of the Prince of
Wales, thanking him for his victory, which he felt would restore him to his
"Give thanks and praise to God, and not to me," the prince replied, "for
from Him, and not from me, you have received victory."
About 8000 men fell in the battle, the loss of the English, French, and
Spaniards being nearly equal; but many thousands of the latter fell in the
pursuit, and as many more were drowned in endeavouring to cross the river
Ebro. Don Henry escaped after fighting till the last, and reaching the
French territory in safety took refuge in the Papal court of Avignon.
Upon the morning after the battle Don Pedro requested the Black Prince to
give him up all the Castilian prisoners, in order that he might put them to
death. The prince, however, was always opposed to cruelty, and asked and
obtained as a boon to himself that the lives of all the Spanish prisoners,
with the exception of one whose conduct had been marked with peculiar
treachery, should be spared, and even induced Pedro to pardon them
altogether on their swearing fealty to him. Even Don Sancho, Pedro's
brother, who had fought at Najarra under Don Henry, was received and
embraced by Pedro at the request of the Prince of Wales. The city of
Burgos at once opened its gates, and the rest of the country followed its
example, and resumed its allegiance to Pedro, who remounted his throne
without further resistance.
As Walter had fought by the side of the Black Prince his desire to cross
swords with Du Guesclin was not satisfied; but his valour during the day
won for him the warm approbation of the prince. Opposed to them were many
of the great companies, and these men, all experienced soldiers and many of
them Englishmen, had fought with great stubbornness. Walter had singled out
for attack a banner bearing the cognizance of a raven. The leader of this
band, who was known as the Knight of the Raven, had won for himself a
specially evil notoriety in France by the ferocity of his conduct. Wherever
his band went they had swept the country, and the most atrocious tortures
had been inflicted on all well-to-do persons who had fallen into their
hands, to extract from them the secret of buried hoards or bonds, entailing
upon them the loss of their last penny.
The Knight of the Raven himself was said to be as brave as he was cruel,
and several nobles who had attempted to oppose his band had been defeated
and slain by him. He was known to be English, but his name was a mystery;
and the Black Prince and his knights had long wished to encounter a man who
was a disgrace alike to chivalry and the English name. When, therefore,
Walter saw his banner in the king's division he urged his horse towards it,
and, followed by Ralph and some thirty men-at-arms, hewed his way through
the crowd until he was close to the banner.
A knight in gray armour spurred forward to meet him, and a desperate
conflict took place.
Never had Walter crossed swords with a stouter adversary, and his opponent
fought with as much vehemence and fury as if the sight of Walter's banner,
which Ralph carried behind him, had aroused in him a frenzy of rage and
hate. In guarding his head from one of his opponent's sweeping blows
Walter's sword shivered at the hilt; but before the Gray Knight could
repeat the blow Walter snatched his heavy battle-axe from his saddle. The
knight reined back his horse for an instant, and imitated his example, and
with these heavy weapons the fight was renewed. The Knight of the Raven had
lost by the change, for Walter's great strength stood him in good stead,
and presently with a tremendous blow he beat down his opponent's axe and
cleft through his helmet almost to the chin.
The knight fell dead from his horse, and Walter, with his band pressing on,
carried confusion into the ranks of his followers. When these had been
defeated Walter rode back with Ralph to the spot where the Knight of the
Raven had fallen.
"Take off his helmet, Ralph. Let me see his face. Methinks I recognized
his voice, and he fought as if he knew and hated me."
Ralph removed the helmet.
"It is as I thought," Walter said; "it is Sir James Carnegie, a recreant
and villain knight and foul enemy of mine, a disgrace to his name and rank,
but a brave man. So long as he lived I could never say that my life was
safe from his machinations. Thank God, there is an end of him and his evil
Walter was twice wounded in the fight, but upon neither occasion seriously,
and he was soon able to take part in the tournaments and games which the
Prince of Wales instituted partly to keep his men employed, partly for the
amusement of the citizens of Burgos, outside whose walls his army lay
The prince was now obliged to remind the king of his promise to pay his
troops; but nothing was farther from the mind of the treacherous monarch
than to carry out the promises which he had made in exile. He dared not,
however, openly avow his intentions; but, trusting to the chapter of
accidents, he told the prince that at Burgos he could not collect a
sufficient sum; but if the army would march into Leon and take up their
quarters near Valladolid, he himself would proceed to Seville, and would as
soon as possible collect the money which he had bound himself to furnish.
The plan was adopted. Edward marched his troops to Valladolid, and Don
Pedro went to Seville.
Some time passed on without the arrival of the promised money, and the
prince was impatient to return to Aquitaine. Don Henry had gathered a
force in France, secretly assisted by the French king, and had made an
inroad into Aquitaine, where he obtained several successes, and was joined
by many of the disinterested nobles of that province.
"You were right," the prince said to Walter one day; "this treacherous
king, who owes his kingdom to us, intends to break his plighted word. I
know not what to do; my men are clamorous for their pay, and I am unable to
satisfy them. Don Pedro still sends fair promises, and although I believe
in my heart that he has no intention of keeping them, yet I can hardly
march against him as an enemy, for, however far from the truth it may be,
his pretext that the treasury has been emptied by his brother, and that in
the disturbed state of the kingdom no money can be obtained, may yet be
urged as valid."
Scarcely had the army encamped before Valladolid when a terrible pestilence
attacked the army. For a while all questions of pay were forgotten, and
consternation and dismay seized the troops. Neither rank nor station was of
avail, and the leaders suffered as severely as the men. Every day immense
numbers died, and so sudden were the attacks, and so great the mortality,
that the soldiers believed that Don Pedro had poisoned the wells in order
to rid himself of the necessity of fulfilling his obligations.
The Black Prince himself was prostrated, and lay for some time between life
and death. A splendid constitution enabled him to pull through, but he
arose from his bed enfeebled and shattered, and although for some years he
lived on, he received his death-blow at Valladolid. His personal strength
never came to him again, and even his mind was dulled and the brightness of
his intellect dimmed from the effects of the fever. When he recovered
sufficiently to inquire into the state of his forces, he was filled with
sorrow and dismay. Four-fifths of the number were either dead or so
weakened as to be useless for service again. The prince wrote urgently to
Don Pedro for the money due; but the king knew that the English were
powerless now, and replied that he had not been able to collect the money,
but would forward it to Aquitaine, if the prince would return there with
his army. Edward knew that he lied, but with only 6000 or 7000 men, many of
whom were enfeebled by disease, he was not in a position to force the
claim, or to punish the base and ungrateful king. Again, therefore, he
turned his face north.
Charles of Navarre had now allied himself with Don Henry, and refused to
allow the remnants of the army to pass through his dominions, although he
granted permission to the prince himself and his personal attendants and
friends. The southern route was barred by the King of Arragon, also an
ally of Don Henry; but with him the prince was more successful. He had a
personal interview with the monarch, and so influenced him that he not only
obtained permission for his troops to pass through his dominions, but
detached him from his alliance with Don Henry, and induced him to enter
into a friendly treaty with Pedro.
A greater act of magnanimity was never performed. In spite of the base
ingratitude with which he had been treated, and the breach of faith which
saddled him with enormous liabilities and debts, which weighed him down and
embittered the rest of his life, Edward remained faithful to the cause of
his father's ally, and did his best to maintain him in the position which
English valour had won for him. He himself with a few companions passed
through Navarre, and arrived safely in Bordeaux, where his wife awaited
him, and where he was received with rejoicings and festivities in honour of
his glorious campaign in Spain.
His health was now irreparably injured. Troubles came thick upon him in
Aquitaine, and he had no longer the energy to repress them. Risings took
place in all directions, and the King of France renewed the war. In
addition to his own troubles from the debts he had incurred, and the
enemies who rose against him, he was further shaken by the death of his
mother Philippa, whom he tenderly loved. His friend Chandos, too, was
killed in a skirmish. Unhappily, while thus weakened in mind and body the
treachery of the bishop and people of Limoges, who, having bound themselves
by innumerable promises to him, surrendered their city to the French,
caused him to commit the one act of cruelty which sullied the brightness of
an otherwise unspotted career, for at the recapture of the town he bade his
soldiers give no quarter.
This act, although common enough at the time, is so opposed to the
principles of mercy and humanity which throughout all the previous acts of
his life distinguished the conduct of the Black Prince that it cannot be
doubted that his brain was affected by the illness which was fast hurrying
him to the grave. Shortly afterwards he returned to England, and busied
himself in arranging the affairs of the kingdom, which his father's failing
health had permitted to fall into disorder. For the remaining four years of
life he lived in seclusion, and sank on the 8th of June, 1376.
Walter, Lord Somers, returned home after the conclusion of the campaign in
Spain, and rode no more to the wars.
Giles Fletcher and his wife had died some years before, but the good
citizen Geoffrey the armourer, when he grew into years, abandoned his
calling, and took up his abode at Westerham Castle to the time of his
In the wars which afterwards occurred with France Walter was represented in
the field by his sons, who well sustained the high reputation which their
father had borne as a good and valiant knight. He and his wife lived to a
green old age, reverenced and beloved by their tenants and retainers, and
died surrounded by their descendants to the fourth generation.