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Reign of Edward III page 3

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Amongst the minor mortifications of Edward about this time, we may mention that his knight, Sir Emeric de Pcavia, who so nearly sold Calais, but who afterwards fought bravely, and took the fortress of Guisnes, was captured by his old acquaintance, Charni, whom he so bitterly deceived at the feigned surrender of Calais. Charni, therefore, took summary vengeance on him, causing his spurs to be hacked from his heels, as one unworthy of knighthood, and then having him torn to pieces by wild horses pulling in different directions.

His great friend and counsellor, Sir Godfrey de Harcourt, who had led him to seize Calais, also went back and made his humble submission to Philip before his death, throwing himself at the monarch's feet with a towel twisted round his neck like a halter, and expressing his remorse for having gone over to the English.

But circumstances were ripening, destined to involve England and France again in war. John, the son of Philip, whom we have often met under the name of the Duke of Normandy, commanding the armies against the English and Bretons, succeeded his father in 1350. He was then about thirty-one years of age, courageous, of great integrity of mind, possessing much experience for his age, and altogether a far more honourable prince than his father, whom his subjects hated for his avarice, and for his reckless invasion of their rights. He had, in his youth, been termed the Fortunate, but proved eventually more entitled to the cognomen of the Unlucky. John was now, by contrast, styled the Good; but John, however well-meaning, was evidently destitute of real sagacity, and his very sense of honour hurried him into the commission of deeds which early shook his popularity. The Count de Brienne, Count of Eu and Guisnes, and Constable of France, was accused of an intention to betray his county of Guisnes, adjacent to the town of Calais, to the English monarch. John caused him to be seized at a festival at Paris immediately after his coronation, and threw him into a dungeon, whence, three days afterwards, he brought him out before the lords of his council, and, without any form of trial or permission of defence, had his head struck off. This arbitrary act excited great fears of the future proceedings of the king amongst his nobility.

But John's authority was very soon invaded and disturbed by his near kinsman, Charles, King of Navarre. This young prince was of the blood royal of France. His mother was daughter of Louis X,, called Louis Hutin, and came to court and sought to render himself highly popular with both king and people. He succeeded so well, that he obtained the king's daughter, Joan, who must have been a mere girl at that time. It was soon found, however, that he was a mixture of the most shining talents and the most diabolical qualities. He was handsome, bold, eloquent, affable in his manners, and most insinuating in his address, but, at the same time, intriguing, ambitious, unprincipled, and revengeful. He had always some daring scheme on foot, and, if he failed, abandoned it without care, and plunged into another. He demanded of the king the post of Constable of Normandy, vacated by the execution of De Brienne; and when the king, fearing his possession of that important command, bestowed it upon his favourite, Charles de la Cerda, the King of Navarre assassinated him in his castle of De l'Aigle, in Normandy. He then boldly avowed the deed, put himself at the head of an armed force, called around him all the hot and disaffected young nobility of France, declared himself independent of the French crown, and made offers of alliance with the English. John called upon him to lay down his arms, and resume his place as a good subject; but he refused, except on condition of an absolute pardon for the murder of the constable, large rants of money and lands, and, above all, the delivery of the second son of John as a hostage for the faithful maintenance of the contract.

The French king was weak enough to comply; and then Charles of Navarre, in March, 1355, went to court, where John sat imposingly on his throne, and Navarre went through a farce of submission. The King of England, believing that it would not be long before the intrigues of the King of Navarre would produce civil discord in France, and expose it to his own plans of invasion, sent the Prince of Wales, now universally called the Black Prince, from the colour of his armour, into Gascony and Aquitaine, as his lieutenant, with an army which soon grew there to 60,000 men. From thence he entered the country of Toulouse, and took Carcassonne, Narbonne, and several other towns, committing great ravages.

Edward at the same time attacked France on the side of Normandy. He advanced to St. Omer, where the King of France had posted himself in expectation of this attack, but John took care not to come to open battle. The state of the internal affairs of his kingdom probably inspired John with caution, for his treacherous cousin of Navarre had resumed his seditious courses. He had united himself with the factious Sir Godfrey de Harcourt, and had succeeded in 'even winning over for awhile Charles, the king's eldest son, only seventeen years of age, to his party. But the young prince - the first Prince Royal of France who ever bore the title of dauphin, from his father having purchased that duchy for 100,000 florins, and conferred its feudal title on him - was soon repentant of his unfilial conduct, and betrayed Charles of Navarre, and a number of his noble associates, into his father's hands. The most guilty of the nobles were at once executed, and the King of Navarre thrown into prison. But this did not mend matters. The brother of Charles, Philip of Navarre, assumed the management of affairs, put all his towns and castles into a state of defence, and renewed the alliance with the English. Thus situated, John avoided an engagement which might be followed by an overthrow, and leave France exposed to the united efforts of his internal and foreign enemies. He contented himself with sending a challenge to fight a battle with Edward, for which he made no disposition whatever, so that Edward treated the offer with contempt, and retired to Calais.

From Calais he was speedily recalled to England by an incursion of the Scots, the usual diversion now of the French kings. Edward appeared before Berwick in the middle of winter, January, 1356, and, as usual, at his appearance the Scots withdrew. Edward, determined this time, if possible, to finish the subjugation of Scotland, made a contract at Roxburgh, on the 20th of January, with Edward Baliol, by which he purchased all the rights of Baliol to the Scottish throne for 5,000 marks and an annuity of 2,000. These rights v/era about as real as the rights of Edward to the crown of France. The Scotch had expelled Baliol in 1341, and renounced him and his claims for ever. But with this pretension Edward once more marched through the Lothians with fire and sword, burnt Edinburgh and Haddington, and then retreated for want of provisions, pursued by the Scots, who now advanced from their hiding-places, and dreadfully harassed the rear of his army. After this, Edward Baliol, freed from any pretence on the crown of Scotland, lived in retirement, and died without heirs in 1367.

Affairs in France were now approaching a crisis which well nigh proved fatal to the independence of that country. Edward III., learning that the internal disorders of France increased in consequence of the imprisonment of Charles of Navarre, sent out a small army under the Earl of Lancaster to co-operate with the party of that prince in Normandy. At the same time the Black Prince, who had returned from his Toulouse expedition to Bordeaux, set out once more with an army not exceeding 12,000 men, and few of them English except a body of archers. He now directed his marauding expedition northwards, and went on laying waste the country, and burning and plundering towns, in a style which this young prince, celebrated by the historians for every virtue, appeared especially to delight in. He ravaged the Agenois and Limousin, Auvergne, Marche, and Berri. He attacked the cities of Bourges and Issodun, but without success; and it then appeared that his intention was to advance to Normandy, and join his forces to those under Lancaster. But he found all the bridges on the Loire broken down, and the news which reached him of the motions of the King of France inclined him to retreat. John, exasperated at the devastations of the prince, and thinking that he had every chance of defeating him in his rash advance into the heart of the kingdom with so small a force, set out to intercept his return, with an army of upwards of 60,000 men. The prince, on his way, took the town of Vierson by storm, and burnt Ramorantin, about ten leagues from Blois.

John marched for Blois, and, crossing the Loire, advanced for Poictiers; and the country people, naturally enraged at the prince's wanton destruction of every place he approached, kept him in ignorance of the king's approach. Edward, therefore, unconsciously advanced on Poictiers, and on the 17th of September came, all unawares, on the rear of the French army at the village of Maupertuis, only two leagues from Poictiers. His scouts came galloping in, announcing that the whole country was filled by the great army. And, in fact, never did a King of France command a more promising force. Consisting of 60,000 men, there were in it 20,000 men-at-arms, including 2,000 men-at-arms, or cavalry, sent by the Scots. Most of the princes of the blood were with him, and the greater part of the nobility. On the other hand, the Prince of Wales's troops had decreased to about 10,000, of whom the bulk were Gascons; but he had 4,000 archers, and in them was the grand dependence.

The circumstances were such as to confound the bravest and most experienced commander; but the prince, though sensible of the seriousness of his situation, did not for a moment lose heart. "With consummate ability he took up his position on the summit of a gentle declivity, planted with vineyards, approachable only by one narrow road flanked with hedges and thickets. This ground, so strong by nature, he employed the whole army to make stronger by trenches and embankments. Sir Eustace de Ribeaumont, the stalwart knight who had fought with his father at Calais, went out with three other knights to reconnoitre the English army, and brought this word to the King of France: - "Sir, we have seen the enemy. By our guess, they amount to 2,000 men-at-arms, 4,000 archers, and 1,500 or 2,000 other men; and appear to form one division. They are strongly posted, wisely ordered, and their position is well nigh inaccessible. In order to attack them, there is but one passage, where four horsemen may ride abreast, which leads to the centre of their line. The hedges that flank this passage are lined with archers, and the English main body itself consists of dismounted men-at-arms, arranged in the form of a herse or harrow. By this difficult passage alone can you approach the English position; consider, therefore, what is best to be done."

King John hearing this, determined to charge the English on foot; ordering all his men-at-arms to dismount, take off their spurs, and cut their spears to the length of five feet. Three hundred horsemen only were to remain mounted, in order to break the line of archers by a violent charge, and make way for the infantry.

Edward, on his part, drew up his forces, not in one division, as when seen by De Ribeaumont, but in three, with a detachment of cavalry apart under the celebrated Captal de Buche, who was to take a compass round the hill during the fight, and fall on the rear of the French.

When about to engage, however, two legates from the Pope, Cardinals Talleyrand de Perigord and Capoccio, came into both the French and English camps, and used every endeavour to incline the two princes to peace. The Prince of Wales was so sensible of his critical situation that he made the most liberal offers. "Save my honour," he said, "and that of my army, and I will listen to anything.'' He proposed, indeed, to give up all the towns and castles which he had taken both in this and the former campaign, give up all his prisoners without ransom, and swear never again for seven years to bear arms against the King of France.

Never was a finer opportunity for securing a splendid triumph, in the surrender of so renowned an enemy; but John the Good again showed that he was not John the Wise. He was elated with the persuasion that he had the prince wholly in his power; and the very liberality of his offer only confirmed the fatal idea. He therefore insisted on the surrender of the prince, and a hundred of his best knights, flattering himself that in holding them he held the restitution of Calais. The prince at once and indignantly rejected the proposal. The Christian efforts of the humane cardinals were abortive; the greater part of the day, which was Sunday, had been wasted in these negotiations. The prince's army was badly off for provisions for either man or horse; but they cheerfully spent the remainder of the day in strengthening their defences, and arranging their baggage behind them, as at Crecy.

The next morning, Monday, the 19th of September, the French army was again drawn out; and again Cardinal Talleyrand endeavoured to move the mind of the French king; but he repulsed him rudely. John had arranged his army in three divisions: the first commanded by his brother, the Duke of Orleans; the second by the dauphin, and two of his younger brothers; the third by the king himself, who had at his side his fourth and favourite son Philip, then about fourteen years of age. Edward, on the other hand, commanded the main body of his army, and placed the van under the command of the Earl of Warwick. Just before the battle, Sir James Audley came before the prince and begged that he might begin the battle, in accordance with a vow he had made to do so in every battle of the prince's or of his father. The prince consented, and Sir James took his place with four stout esquires in the van; and thus the battle began.

The Marshals of France, Andreghen and Clermont, were ordered to advance and take possession of the lane leading to the English position, and disperse the archers who lined the hedges; but as fast as they entered the lane they were shot down. Marshal Andreghen was speedily wounded and made prisoner, and Clermont was killed. The horsemen, rapidly thinned, reached the end of the lane only to encounter the main body of the Black Prince's army. There Sir James Audley led on the charge, beating down all who approached. At the same instant, the detachment of Captal de Buche, attended by 600 bowmen, made their attack on the flank of the dauphin's division. This movement threw the whole division into confusion. The archers shot so well and thickly that the dauphin's second division dispersed in haste. The knights, alarmed for their horses left in the rear, were the first to run from their banners, and all was instantly one scene of flight. The dauphin and his brother were escorted from the spot by 800 lances, under the knights Landas, Bodenai, and St. Tenant; and the army of the Black Prince seeing this, and that the Duke of Orleans was in full retreat with his van-guard, sprang to their saddles, shouting, "St. George for Guienne!" and Sir John Chandos exclaimed to the prince, "Sire, ride forward, the day is won! Let us charge on the King of France, for well I know that he is too bold to flee, and there only will the battle be; and we shall take him, please God and St. George!" "Advance banners, in the name of God and St. George!" cried the prince, and they dashed down the lane, bearing all before them, riding over dead and wounded, till they came out on the plain where the king yet stood with his division, and they burst upon them with a fearful shock. But the king stood his ground, fighting manfully, leading up his division on foot and hewing his way with his battle-axe; so that, says Froissart, had the knights of King John fought as well, the issue of the day might have been different. The Constable of France stood firmly by his sovereign with his squadron of horse, shouting "Mountjoy, St. Denis!" but before the impetuous onset of the English men-at-arms, his troops were cut down and himself was slain. Then the Prince of Wales attacked a body of German cavalry, under the Count Sallebruche and two other generals, and there was a desperate conflict; but the German generals were all killed, and then the cavalry gave way and left the king almost alone. Still the king fought on, and refused to surrender, though his few remaining followers were fast falling, and his nobles one after another sunk around him. His son, the boy of fourteen, fighting bravely in defence of his father, was wounded, and the king might easily have been slain, but every one was anxious to take him alive. Several who attempted to seize him he felled to the ground. When called upon to yield he still cried out, "Where is my cousin, the Prince of Wales?" unwilling to surrender to any one of less rank. A knight from St. Omer, who had been banished for homicide, said, "Sire, the prince is not here; but I will conduct you to him." "But who are you?" demanded the king; and the knight replied, "I am Denis de Morbeque, a knight of Artois, but serving the King of England because I cannot belong to France, having been banished thence." "I surrender to you," said the king, giving his glove to Sir Denis. But there was violent struggling for possession of the king, every one saying, "I took him," and some of the rude soldiers declaring that they would kill him if not surrendered to them. At this moment arrived the Earl of Warwick, sent by the Black Prince to discover what was become of the king, and he conducted John and his son with great respect to the prince's tent.

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