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War with France page 4

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This contempt of the truce roused the English nation to support the king in the continuance of the war. The Parliament granted him liberal supplies, and he sent over his near kinsman, the Earl of Derby, son of the Earl of Lancaster, with an army, to protect Guienne, and give assistance to the Countess de Montfort. The Earl of Derby was a nobleman of great ability and integrity of character, as distinguished for his humanity as his bravery. He very soon placed Guienne in a posture of strong defence, and then made a bold advance into the enemy's country. He attacked and defeated the Count de l'Isle at Bergerac, reduced a great part of Perigord, and took the strong castle of Auberoche in Gascony. This castle was again attempted by De l'Isle, being left only with a weak garrison; but a spy whom Derby had in the French camp apprised the earl of its situation. He advanced into the neighbourhood with 1,000 cavalry, and found the castle invested by 10,000 or 12,000 men. The earl had sent to the Earl of Pembroke at Bergerac to meet him with a large force, but he had not come up. To ordinary men the idea of attacking the French army of 10,000 or more with his 1,000 would have appeared insane; but the earl had with him the able commanders, Sir Walter Manny, Lord Ferrars, Sir Richard Hastings, and others, and, taking advantage of a wood, they came suddenly on the French camp as the soldiers were cooking their suppers. Darting amongst them, with loud shouts of "A Derby! a Derby!" the sudden apparition of the enemy threw the whole French host into such confusion that a total rout took place, and the Count de l'Isle, with nine earls and viscounts, and nearly all the barons, knights, and squires of his army, were taken.

This terminated the campaign of Lord Derby for 1345; and the next year, when he became Earl of Lancaster through the death of his father, he pursued his victories, and took the strong towns and fortresses of Monsegur, Monsepat, Villefranche, Miremont, Tonnins, the castle of Damassen, Aiguilon, and Reole. His successes were favoured by the state of France at that time, where the exhausted finances led Philip to debase the coin and lay a heavy impost on salt, both of which circumstances excited great disaffection and disorder in the kingdom. At length the Duke of Normandy, attended by the Duke of Burgundy and other powerful nobles, led a large army to the frontiers of Guienne, and compelled Lancaster to stand on the defensive, his forces being greatly inferior in number.

While these events were taking place, Edward III. was earnestly at work at home, endeavouring to organise an efficient scheme for achieving something more than the defence of Guienne, or the aid of Brittany; namely, his great dream of the total conquest of France. His first attempt was to secure the co-operation of his old friend, Jacob van Artavelde, the brewer of Ghent. He had the daring to propose that his son, the Black Prince, should be offered to the people of Flanders in lieu of their old earl, who had gone over to the French interest, But this scheme cost the stout old Artavelde his life. No sooner was the overture made than the burgesses took alarm at it, and lost their faith in Van Artavelde as a patriot. Bruges and Ypres were brought over by the promised advantages of trade with England, but his own town of Ghent broke out into open insurrection. "When he rode into the city attended by a body of Welsh, whom Edward had sent, he was received with the most hostile looks and expressions. He hastened to his house, and endeavoured by a speech from an upper window to appease the incensed people; but it was in vain. They broke into his house and murdered him on the spot. The man who had reigned like a king, from the opinion of his patriotism, now fell by the hand of a saddler, and amid the execrations of the mob, as a traitor. Hope of assistance was gone for Edward in that quarter.

He was equally unfortunate in Hainault. His brother-in-law, the young Count of Hainault, was killed also in a revolt of the Frieslanders; and his uncle, the well-known John of Hainault, so long allied with England, went over to the French on the plea that Edward had not duly estimated or rewarded his services. About the same time, too, John de Montfort, so long a captive in Paris, was liberated, but died of a fever before Quimperle. All hope appeared closed on the side of the Netherlands and of Brittany; but a new light sprung up in an unexpected quarter, giving an entirely new turn to his enterprise.

Sir Godfrey de Harcourt, Lord of Saint Sauveur le Vicompte, and brother of John, Earl of Harcourt, long in the service of England, had stood high in the favour of Philip of France; but having offended him by resisting one of his arbitrary acts, he had a narrow escape of sharing the fate of Olivier de Clisson. He fled to England, and, like his predecessor, Robert of Artois, he exerted all his talent to persuade the king to invade France on the side of Normandy, Sir Godfrey's own country, and where, of course, lay his forfeited estates. He represented to Edward that it was one of the most fertile and beautiful provinces of France - abounded with wealth, for it had not been the scene of war for two centuries; that the numerous and opulent towns had scarcely any fortifications, and were now deserted by the nobility and their vassals, who were with the Duke of Normandy in Gascony. He reminded Edward that it was an ancient possession of England, lay near the English coast, might be secured almost without a blow, and would strike the French king dumb with consternation, for it would bring his capital within easy reach of attack.

It is surprising that these facts had not presented themselves to Edward before; but, once offered to his mind, he embraced them with avidity. He assembled a fine army of 30,000 men, consisting of 4,000, men-at-arms, 10,000 archers, 10,000 Welsh infantry, and 6,000 Irish. Circumstances, rather than his own wishes, had brought him to depend no longer on mercenary and treacherous allies, but upon his own subjects; and from this moment he began to perform those prodigies of arms which raised the name of Englishmen above all others for steady and transcendent valour. He set sail from Southampton in-a fleet of near 1,000 sail of all dimensions, carrying with him all the principal nobility of the realm, and his son, the Black Prince, now fifteen years of age. He landed his army at La Hogue, on the coast of Normandy, and there divided it into three bodies, one of which he placed under the command of the Earl of Warwick, another under Sir Godfrey de Harcourt, whom he created marshal, and the third under the Earl of Arundel, whom he made constable; he himself was generalissimo, and before setting out on his march he knighted the Prince of Wales and a number of the young nobility. He next caused the French ships in La Hogue, Barfleur, and Cherbourg to be destroyed. This work was committed to the English fleet, and the plunder of these seaports was given up to those who manned it. Advancing into the country, Edward found it almost wholly defenceless, as Harcourt had represented. Montebourg, Carentan, St. Lo, Valognes, and other places in the Cotentin were taken and pillaged.

One of the king's objects was to create an alarm and thus draw off the French forces from Guienne; and in this he succeeded. The King of France, startled by this unexpected invasion, hastened to assemble troops from all quarters. He was soon at the head of a numerous army, which, from the sounding titles of many of the allies and generals, appeared extremely formidable. Amongst them were the Kings of Bohemia and Majorca, the Emperor elect of Germany, the Duke of Lorraine, John of Hainault, and the Earl of Flanders. He dispatched the Count of Eu, Constable of France, and the Count of Tankerville to defend the populous and commercial city of Caen; but they were speedily overthrown by Edward, who took the two counts prisoners, and, entering the city, massacred the inhabitants without distinction of age, sex, or rank. The scenes perpetrated in Caen are frightful to record, and present a revolting picture of the savage spirit of the age in war. It never seems to have entered the heads of these feudal conquerors that the wealth of the inhabitants, in case of success, would become national wealth, or that to massacre and ill-treat those inhabitants was the certain way to render them for ever hostile. Plunder and destruction were the only ideas of Edward's soldiers. The wretched people of Caen, driven to desperation, barricaded their doors against the ruffianly invaders. They, in turn, set fire to the houses, till Edward, at the earnest entreaty of Sir Godfrey Harcourt, put a stop to the burning, but gave up the town to three days' pillage, reserving for his own share the jewels, plate silks, fine cloths, and linen. These he shipped for England with 300 of the richest citizens, for whom ho meant demand heavy ransoms. Two cardinal legates, who had come with the benevolent hope of negotiating a peace, beheld instead this fearful butchery. Ike Church at this period was the only power which endeavoured to bring to men's remembrance the benign influence of Christianity, and, in exerting itself to check the spirit of military carnage and devastation, certainly discharged its sublime duty well. As for these martial monarchs, they seemed to forget in the fury of war all compassion; and both Edward and his youthful son displayed a hard and sanguinary disposition in their campaigns, in melancholy contrast with the high professions of chivalrous courtesy. Edward, on this occasion, as afterwards at Calais, was wrought to a pitch of vindictiveness greatly derogatory to the character of a hero; in that temper he forgot all magnanimity.

Edward, having inflicted this terrible chastisement on Caen, then advanced towards Rouen, intending to treat it the same; but, on arriving opposite to that city, he found the bridge of boats was taken away, and Philip of Valois occupying the right bank of the Seine, with an army far superior to his own. Edward then continued his march up the left bank of the river towards Paris, destroying all the towns and the country as he went along. The French king marched along the right bank, breaking down all the bridges, and taking every means to prevent his crossing. After sacking Vernon and Mantes, the English king arrived at Poissy, within nine miles of Paris. Here finding the bridge only partially destroyed, he resorted to this stratagem in order to cross the Seine: - He still ascended the river, as if intending to march on Paris; while his advanced lines scoured the country up to its very gates, burning St. Germains, St. Cloud, Bourg-la-Reine, Nanterre, and Neuilly. Having thus drawn the French king to Paris, he suddenly made a reverse march, reached Poissy, hastily repaired the bridge, and passed his troops over. Once across the Seine, he proceeded by hasty marches towards the river Somme. His vanguard, commanded by Harcourt, met with re-enforcements proceeding from Amiens to the king's camp, and defeated them with great slaughter. Reaching Beauvais, he burnt its suburbs, and plundered Pois. As he drew near the Somme, he found himself in the same difficulties as at the Seine. All the bridges were destroyed; and he endeavoured, but unsuccessfully, to pass at Pont St. Remi, Long, and Pequiny. He was now fast being enclosed by the enemy. The Somme was a deep and, so far as they could find, impassable river; on its right bank showed a strong force under Godemar de Faye, a powerful baron of Normandy, supported by the gentlemen of Artois and Picardy. Approaching the sea, near Oisement, he was thus cooped up between it and the Somme, with Philip and an army of 100,000 men pressing on his rear. In this urgent extremity, the marshals of the army were sent out to see whether they could not possibly discover a ford, but in vain. Edward now appeared in a very serious dilemma; but, assembling all the prisoners belonging to that part of the country, he offered to any one who would point out a ford his own liberty and that of thirty of his companions. On this a peasant, named Gobin Agace, said, "Know, sir, that during the ebb-tide, the Somme is so low at a place which I can show you, that it may be passed either by horse or foot with ease. The bottom is plain to see, for it is of chalk, quite white, and so is called Blanchetaque, that is, white water."

On hearing this agreeable news, Edward ordered the trumpets to sound at midnight, and set out from Oisement for the ford. There he arrived some hours before the ebb, and was compelled to wait, seeing Godemar de Faye ready with 12,000 men on the other side to oppose his passage, and every minute expecting the arrival of Philip. As soon as the ford was passable he ordered the marshals to dash into the river, and to drive back the enemy in the name of God and St. George! So great was his impatience that he himself led the way, crying, "Let those who love me follow me." The French forces met them half way, and valiantly disputed the passage; but they were driven back. The English, however, found the main body strongly posted on the right bank at a narrow pass through which they were compelled to force their way by hard fighting. The Genoese crossbowmen here galled them severely with their arrows; but the English archers replied so vigorously that they drove the enemy from the ground and landed in safety. It was still but just in time, for Philip came galloping up before the rear-guard had reached the other side, and did some damage amongst them. The tide, however, was now too high to permit him to follow; he therefore took his way up the river to Abbeville, and crossed at the bridge there.

Meantime Edward, having made this admirable passage, resolved to march no further. He had hoped to receive re-enforcements promised him by the repentant Flemings, but they did not appear, and he considered it hazardous to attempt to cross the open plains of Picardy in the presence of so preponderating a force, especially of French cavalry. He resolved to make a stand. He selected a strong position in the forest of Cressy, or Crecy, and near a village of that name. "Here," said he, "I am on the rightful heritage of my lady-mother, upon the lands of Ponthieu, given to her as her marriage dower. I now challenge them as my own, and may God defend the right!" He took his station on a gentle ascent, having in his rear a wood, where he placed all his baggage, and defended it with an entrenchment. He also threw up entrenchments on his flanks to secure them, and divided his army into three divisions. The first he put under the command of Edward, the Prince of Wales, now in his sixteenth year, to fight his first battle. Under him were the Earls of Warwick and Oxford, Sir Godfrey Harcourt, the Lord Holland, and Sir John Chandos; but the king confided the especial care of the prince to Sir John and to the Earl of Warwick, who were to assist him by their counsel and defend him in difficulty. The second line was commanded by the Lords Willoughby, De Roos, Bassett, and others. The king himself took the charge of the third, to hold it in readiness to support either of the other two, or secure their retreat, as circumstances might decide. The amount of the English army has been variously stated at from 10,000 to 30,000; but the most authentic accounts state it to be about one-fourth of the French, who were estimated at 120,000. The King of England, having made his arrangements, ordered the troops to take up their ground on the spot where they were to fight, and to await the next morning with confidence of victory. The soldiers set about vigorously polishing their arms, and repairing and burnishing their armour. They were well fed, and refreshed by abundant wine and provisions which had been seized in the port of Crotoy. The king gave a supper to his barons in his tent, where he made good cheer. When it was concluded he entered into the tent set apart as an oratory, and, falling on his knees, prayed God to bring him "out of the morrow with honour."

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Pictures for War with France page 4

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