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Reign of Edward III page 2

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When this ultimatum was made known to the people of Calais, they were struck with horror. John of Vienne, despairing of fulfilling the demand of the stern English king, caused the church bells to be rung, and collecting the people in the market-place, laid the matter before them. There was much weeping and lamenting, but all shrunk from the dreadful sacrifice. At length, Eustace de St. Pierre, one of the most eminent men of the place, arose and said, "Gentlemen, great and small, he who shall save the people of this fair town at the price of his own blood, shall doubtless deserve well of God and man. I will be one who will offer my head to the King of Eng-. land as a ransom for the town of Calais." At this noble resolve the greater part of the assembly was moved to tears, and very soon other great burgesses, Jehan d'Aire, Jacque Wisant, and Peter Wisant, his brother, and two others, offered themselves.

They presently took off their ordinary dress, reduced themselves to the condition dictated by the conqueror, and thus they were conducted by the brave John of Vienne, very sorrowfully, and mounted on a small palfrey, for he was too weak to walk from wounds and fasting. Thus they came, followed by the sad people, men, women, and children, to the gates. The six voluntary victims were admitted into the English camp and thus conducted before Edward, when they knelt before him, and presenting him the keys, implored his mercy. But Edward, looking on them with great displeasure, ordered them to instant execution. Then the noble barons and knights entreated that he would not refuse to listen to their petitions for their pardon, in which the Prince of Wales joined. Nothing, however, seemed to move the grim monarch. The brave Sir Walter Manny ventured to remind him of the greatness of his name, and of the stain this action would be upon it. At this the king made a stern grimace, and ordered the headsman to be summoned. Then the queen, falling an her knees, said, "Ah, gentle sire! since I have crossed the seas in great danger I have asked you nothing; but now I implore you, for the sake of the Son of the Holy Mary, and for your love of me, you will have mercy on these six men."

The queen had every right to ask such a boon. She had come to announce to the king that she had been able to defend his kingdom in his absence from the Scots, to win a great victory at Neville's Cross, and to take the King of Scots captive. She was, moreover, far advanced in pregnancy, and yet had run every hazard to bring him such great tidings. The king must have been more insensible than a stone to refuse her.

"Ah! dame," he said, "I could well wish that you had been elsewhere this day; but how can I deny you anything? Take these men, and dispose of them as you will."

The delighted queen thanked the king heartily, had befitting attire brought for these worthy citizens, gave them in her tent a good repast, and presenting them each with six nobles, sent them away, giving orders that they should be guarded safely through the host to the town gates.

This scene, which is related on the testimony of Froissart, who dedicated his history to the queen herself, has been questioned by some historians as doubtful, particularly as Avesbury, who is minute in his relation of the surrender of Calais, is silent about it; and as it seems too derogatory to the magnanimity of Edward III., after suffering so many of the inhabitants to pass out of the city, and even relieving their wants. But we must remember what was the king's conduct at Caen, and also what is asserted of his immovable disregard to the perishing cries of the second crowd sent out of the city; and that Froissart was a contemporary. Under all these circumstances, the transaction appears highly probable, and mankind will not readily give up a passage of human life so full of noble sacrifice and sympathy, and which has held its place firmly in history and tradition for 500 years. The very next act of Edward tends to confirm the narrative, for it was one of unforgiving sternness as well as policy.

The day following the surrender, August 4th, 1347, the king and queen rode into the town amid the sound of martial music, and followed by all their great lords and many men-at-arms. There they took up their quarters, and remained till the queen was delivered of a daughter, thence named Margaret of Calais. Immediately on taking possession, he ordered every inhabitant to quit the city, dispossessing them of their houses and property within the town, and substituting a thoroughly English population. The new inhabitants of the town were substantial citizens of London, and great numbers of agricultural people from the adjoining county of Kent, to whom he gave the surrounding lands. From that day to the reign of Queen Mary, Calais became altogether an English colony. He made it the staple of wool, leather, lead, and tin, the four principal articles which England furnished to the Continent, and where the foreign merchants could come to procure them. Having strengthened the defences of the town, Edward concluded a truce with Philip, which was by degrees extended to six years. Neither of these monarchs, however, would have listened to terms of peace "but for the constant and meritorious entreaties of the Pope.

He then returned to England, but was very soon startled by a foul act of treachery on the part of the seneschal of the castle of Calais. Lord John Montgomery was left governor of the town - a brave and trustworthy man; but the governor of the castle, which commanded the place, was one Emeric, or Aimery, of Pavia, a favourite officer of the king, who had lived in his court from childhood, and had shown much bravery in the war, but who was not proof to the temptation of money. This failing Sir Geoffrey de Charni, the commander of the French at St. Omer, who was there posted to watch the English garrison, soon discovered. He offered Sir Emeric 20,000 crowns to put him in possession of Calais, which was accepted. This fact was at once communicated to Edward by Sir Emeric's secretary, and the king sent for the governor to London, when he showed him that he was cognisant of his plot, but offered him his life on condition that he turned his treachery against the enemy. The supple traitor readily consented, and Edward, taking with him Sir Walter Manny and the Prince of "Wales, with about 1,000 men, secretly departed for Calais in mid-winter. Charni, who had failed to hear of this, appeared at the appointed time to be admitted to the city. Sir Emeric opened a postern, and admitted a small detachment of the French, bearing the money. This Sir Emeric cast into a chest, saying, "We have other work to do than to count money at present."

The postern was suddenly closed; the French were cut down or overpowered by numbers, and thrust into a dungeon. Meantime Charni had advanced along the narrow causeway from the bridge at Neuilly, where he left a rear-guard, to the Boulogne gate of the city; and while expecting to be admitted they saw the gate open, and a body of men-at-arms, but most of them on foot, and attended by 300 archers, issue forth, with the cry of "Manny to the rescue." Perceiving that they were betrayed, they cut their spears to the length of five feet, dismounted, and stood to their arms. But they were in a perilous position; for the king had dispatched six banners and 3-00 archers on horseback by a circuitous route to the bridge of Neuilly, where they quickly dislodged the rear-guard of the French. Thus the troops on the narrow causeway were completely enclosed, and the battle became desperate. Edward fought at the head of! his soldiers, without any mark of distinction upon him except his cries of "Ha! St. George! Ha! St. Edward!" accompanying every shout with a stroke of his two-handed sword. At length he encountered a knight named Eustace de Ribeaumont, who quailed all who approached him. Twice he beat the king to the ground; and it was only when Ribeaumont saw that he was left almost alone on the causeway by his countrymen, and surrounded by the English, that he surrendered his sword to the king, but without knowing who he was.

The whole of the French on the causeway were killed or made prisoners, except a few who escaped on horseback at an early period. At night, the French officers taken were invited to supper in a great hall, where the king sat at the head of the table, and the Prince of Wales and nobility served during the first course. There the king let them know whom they had had the honour of contending with; and approaching Charni, he told him that he was a better bargain-maker than himself, for he was near getting Calais for 20,000 crowns, whereas it had cost him hundreds of thousands. But to Ribeaumont he gave the highest compliments; and taking from his head a chaplet of pearls, he put it on that of the knight, and bade him wear it a year and a day in his honour. He then told him he was no longer a prisoner, but at liberty without ransom.

"Nothing," says David Hume, very justly, "proves more evidently the vast superiority assumed by the nobility and gentry above all other orders of men during those ages, than the extreme difference which Edward made in his treatment of the French knights and that of the six citizens of Calais, who had exerted more signal bravery in a cause more justifiable and more honourable."

The same historian might have added that, though on all the occasions which we have narrated, both in Scotland and France, the real business of the battle was done by the unrivalled archers of England, no particular mark of honour or note of fame was conferred on them; but for the knights and nobles new kinds of distinction were invented. Amongst these, at this precise period, originated the celebrated Order of the Garter, which still retains its value in the eyes of aspirants to royal rewards. This order was instituted to excite emulation amongst the aristocratic warriors of the time, in imitation of orders of a similar nature, both religious and military, which had been created by different monarchs of Europe. The number was, and is still, confined to twenty-five persons, besides the sovereign, except princes of the blood and illustrious foreigners, who have been admitted since the reign of George III., and hence the high value attached to this badge of distinction.

The traditionary story of its origin is, that at a state ball the king's mistress, a Countess of Salisbury, dropped her garter, which the king picked up, and, observing some of the courtiers smile at the action, as if they thought he had not obtained that favour merely by accident, he exclaimed, "Honi soit qui mal y pense!" (Evil to him who evil thinks), which became the motto of the order. Historians have chosen to doubt on this subject, as on many others; and antiquarians have puzzled themselves to discover some other origin: as that the garter was simply adopted as a symbol of union, and in compliment to the ladies; but still the story is a very probable one, and the tradition retains its full hold on public belief. The order was founded, according to the statutes, in 1350, and even to the time of Edward IV. ladies were admitted and wore the badge of the order. The wives of the knights companions and other great ladies had robes, the gift of the sovereign, ornamented with small garters, Our queens generally wear the garter, set with diamonds, on the left arm.

But in the midst of the gaieties, giving of honours, and festivities which succeeded the conquest of Calais and the glory of Crecy, there cams one of those terrible visitation which from time to time have swept over Europe under the general name of plague or pestilence - awful messengers of Providence to men, warning them to observe cleanly and healthy habits of life. These fatal epidemic have always appeared to originate in the same quarter - eastern Asia - and to sweep over the earth in every direction, as in radiation from that centre, carrying wholesale destruction into every place where the inhabitants were not careful to observe sanitary regulations. By medical men. the disease has been regarded as a virulent species of typhus fever, which in modern times has assumed the character of cholera, which issues periodically from the same regions, and travels the earth, fixing on every spot where there is a crowded population living in dirty dwellings, ill-drained streets, swampy hollows, and amid any vapours of putridity. Like the cholera, the plague had its cold succeeded by its hot fits, attended by vomiting, diarrhoea, and great depression of the vital powers. The cholera now issues from India; the plague of the time of Edward III. was traced to China, and visited on its way India, Egypt, Greece, and most of the western nations of Europe. Stowe says that in one churchyard in London, purchased by Sir Walter Manny for the poor, 50,000 bodies were buried. In fact, it fell, like the cholera, most severely on the poorer and worst lodged and fed people; is said to have half depopulated England; and so many of the inferior clergy perished that very many churches were left without any one to perform the service.

The mass of wealth brought from France by the victorious army did not prevent the finances of Edward from being in a very exhausted and unsatisfactory state. Those of the King of France were worse; and these causes tended to prolong the truce. Edward several times proposed to Philip to make a permanent peace, on condition that the sovereignty of Guienne, Calais, and other lands held in fief by the English in France should be acknowledged on Edward's renouncing all claim to the crown of that country. Philip steadfastly refused to listen to such terms. He died during this truce, and Edward renewed his offer to his successor, John, but with like effect.

About this time Edward and his son, the Black Prince, put to sea with a good fleet to chastise the Spaniards of the ports on the Bay of Biscay, who had repeatedly joined the French in intercepting and seizing his merchant vessels. The battle was fought within view of the English coast, and was watched by the queen's attendants from the hills behind Winchelsea. The engagement was contested with great valour on both sides; and in it both the king and prince had very nearly terminated their lives, for their ship was sinking, and they were only just saved by the Earl of Lancaster coming to their assistance. The result was a great victory to the English, and the capture of fourteen of the Spanish vessels, though with great loss of life on our side.

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