Jean Froissart (c.1337–1410?). The Chronicles of Froissart.
Vol. 35 pp. 42-53 of The Harvard Classics
In the days when kings rode to battle leading their troops it was possible to make good the boast of the doughboy: "I'll bring you a king for a souvenir."
(Froissart dates Battle of Poitiers, Sept. 22, 1356.)
The Battle of Poitiers
Of the Battle of Poitiers between the Prince of Wales and the French King
WHEN the prince saw that he should have battle and that the cardinal was gone without any peace or truce making, and saw that the French king did set but little store by him, he said then to his men: ‘Now, sirs, though we be but a small company as in regard to the puissance of our enemies, let us not be abashed therefor; for the victory lieth not in the multitude of people, but whereas God will send it;. If it fortune that the journey be ours, we shall be the most honoured people of all the world; and if we die in our right quarrel, I have the king my father and brethren, and also ye have good friends and kinsmen; these shall revenge us. Therefore, sirs, for God’s sake I require you do your devoirs this day; for if God be pleased and Saint George, this day ye shall see me a good knight.’ These words and such other that the prince spake comforted all his people. The lord sir John Chandos that day never went from the prince, nor also the lord James Audley of a great season; but when he saw that they should needs fight, he said to the prince: ‘Sir, I have served always truly my lord your father and you also, and shall do as long as I live. I say this because I made once a vow that the first battle that other the king your father or any of his children should be at, how that I would be one of the first setters on, 1 or else to die in the pain: therefore I require your grace, as in reward for any service that ever I did to the king your father or to you, that you will give me licence to depart from you and to set myself thereas I may accomplish my vow.’ The prince accorded to his desire and said, ‘Sir James, God give you this day that grace to be the best knight of all other,’ and so took him by the hand. Then the knight departed from the prince and went to the foremost front of all the battles, all only accompanied with four squires, who promised not to fail him. This lord James was a right sage and a valiant knight, and by him was much of the host ordained and governed the day before. Thus sir James was in front of the battle ready to fight with the battle of the marshals of France. In like wise the lord Eustace d’Aubrecicourt did his pain to be one of the foremost to set on. When sir James Audley began to set forward to his enemies, it fortuned to sir Eustace d’Aubrecicourt as ye shall hear after. Ye have heard before how the Almains in the French host were appointed to be still a-horseback. Sir Eustace being a-horseback laid his spear in the rest and ran into the French battle, and then a knight of Almaine, called the lord Louis of Recombes, who bare a shield silver, five roses gules, and sir Eustace bare ermines, two branches of gules,
2 —when this Almain saw the lord Eustace come from his company, he rode against him and they met so rudely, that both knights fell to the earth. The Almain was hurt in the shoulder, therefore he rose not so quickly as did sir Eustace, who when he was up and had taken his breath, he came to the other knight as he lay on the ground; but then five other knights of Almaine came on him all at once and bare him to the earth, and so perforce there he was taken prisoner and brought to the earl of Nassau, who as then took not heed of him; and I cannot say whether they sware him prisoner or no, but they tied him to a chare and there let him stand. 3
Then the battle began on all parts, and the battles of the marshals of France approached, and they set forth that were appointed to break the array of the archers. They entered a-horseback into the way where the great hedges were on both sides set full of archers. As soon as the men of arms entered, the archers began to shoot on both sides and did slay and hurt horses and knights, so that the horses when they felt the sharp arrows they would in no wise go forward, but drew aback and flang and took on so fiercely, that many of them fell on their masters, so that for press they could not rise again; insomuch that the marshals’ battle could never come at the prince. Certain knights and squires that were well horsed passed through the archers and thought to approach to the prince, but they could not. The lord James Audley with his four squires was in the front of that battle and there did marvels in arms, and by great prowess he came and fought with sir Arnold d’Audrehem under his own banner, and there they fought long together and sir Arnold was there sore handled. The battle of the marshals began to disorder by reason of the shot of the archers with the aid of the men of arms, who came in among them and slew of them and did what they list, and there was the lord Arnold d’Audrehem taken prisoner by other men than by sir James Audley or by his four squires; for that day he never took prisoner, but always fought and went on his enemies.
Also on the French party the lord John Clermont fought under his own banner as long as he could endure: but there he was beaten down and could not be relieved nor ransomed, but was slain without mercy: some said it was because of the words that he had the day before to sir John Chandos. So within a short space the marshals’ battles were discomfited, for they fell one upon another and could not go forth; 4 and the Frenchmen that were behind and could not get forward reculed back and came on the battle of the duke of Normandy, the which was great and thick and were afoot, but anon they began to open behind; 5 for when they knew that the marshals’ battle was discomfited, they took their horses and departed, he that might best. Also they saw a rout of Englishmen coming down a little mountain a-horseback, and many archers with them, who brake in on the side of the duke’s battle. True to say, the archers did their company that day great advantage; for they shot so thick that the Frenchmen wist not on what side to take heed, and little and little the Englishmen won ground on them.
And when the men of arms of England saw that the marshals’ battle was discomfited and that the duke’s battle began to disorder and open, they leapt then on their horses, the which they had ready by them: then they assembled together and cried, ‘Saint George! Guyenne!’ and the lord Chandos said to the prince: ‘Sir, take your horse and ride forth; this journey is yours: God is this day in your hands: get us to the French king’s battle, for their lieth all the sore of the matter: I think verily by his valiantness he will not fly: I trust we shall have him by the grace of God and Saint George, so he be well fought withal: and, sir, I heard you say that this day I should see you a good knight.’ The prince said, ‘Let us go forth; ye shall not see me this day return back,’ and said, ‘Advance, banner, in the name of God and of Saint George.’ The knight that bare it did his commandment: there was then a sore battle and a perilous, and many a man overthrown, and he that was once down could not be relieved again without great succour and aid. As the prince rode and entered in among his enemies, he saw on his right hand in a little bush lying dead the lord Robert of Duras and his banner by him, 5 and a ten or twelve of his men about him. Then the prince said to two of his squires and to three archers: ‘Sirs, take the body of this knight on a targe and bear him to Poitiers, and present him from me to the cardinal of Perigord, and say how I salute him by that token.’ And this was done. The prince was informed that the cardinal’s men were on the field against him, the which was not pertaining to the right order of arms, for men of the church that cometh and goeth for treaty of peace ought not by reason to bear harness nor to fight for neither of the parties; they ought to be indifferent: and because these men had done so, the prince was displeased with the cardinal, and therefore he sent unto him his nephew the lord Robert of Duras dead: and the chatelain of Amposte was taken, and the prince would have had his head stricken off, because he was pertaining to the cardinal, but then the lord Chandos said: ‘Sir, suffer for a season: intend to a greater matter: and peradventure the cardinal will make such excuse that ye shall be content.’
Then the prince and his company dressed them on the battle of the duke of Athens, constable of France. There was many a man slain and cast to the earth. As the Frenchmen fought in companies, they cried, ‘Mountjoy! Saint Denis!’ and the Englishmen, ‘Saint George! Guyenne!’ Anon the prince with his company met with the battle of Almains, whereof the earl of Sarrebruck, the earl Nassau and the earl Nidau were captains, but in a short space they were put to flight: the archers shot so wholly together that none durst come in their dangers: they slew many a man that could not come to no ransom: these three earls was there slain, and divers other knights and squires of their company, and there was the lord d’Aubrecicourt rescued by his own men and set on horseback, and after he did that day many feats of arms and took good prisoners. When the duke of Normandy’s battle saw the prince approach, they thought to save themselves, and so the duke and the king’s children, the earl of Poitiers, and the earl of Touraine, who were right young, believed their governours and so departed from the field, and with them more than eight hundred spears, that strake no stroke that day. Howbeit the lord Guichard d’Angle and the lord John of Saintré, who were with the earl of Poitiers, would not fly, but entered into the thickest press of the battle. The king’s three sons took the way to Chauvigny, and the lord John of Landas and the lord Thibauld of Vaudenay, who were set to await on the duke of Normandy, when they had brought the duke a long league from the battle, then they took leave of the duke and desired the lord of Saint-Venant that he should not leave the duke, but to bring him in safeguard, whereby he should win more thank of the king than to abide still in the field. Then they met also the duke of Orleans and a great company with him, who were also departed from the field with clear hands: there were many good knights and squires though that their masters departed from the field, yet they had rather a died than to have had any reproach.
Then the king’s battle came on the Englishmen: there was a sore fight and many a great stroke given and received. The king and his youngest son met with the battle of the English marshals, the earl of Warwick and the earl of Suffolk, and with them of Gascons the captal of Buch, the lord of Pommiers, the lord Amery of Tastes, the lord of Mussidan, the lord of Languiran and the lord de Latrau. To the French party there came time enough the lord John of Landas and the lord of Vaudenay; they alighted afoot and went into the king’s battle, and a little beside fought the duke of Athens, constable of France, and a little above him the duke of Bourbon and many good nights of Bourbonnais and of Picardy with him, and a little on the one side there were the Poitevins, the lord de Pons, the lord of Partenay, the lord of Dammartin, the lord of Tannay-Boutton, the lord of Surgieres, the lord John Saintré, the lord Guichard d’Angle, the lord Argenton, the lord of Linieres, the lord of Montendre and divers other, also the viscount of Rochechouart and the earl of Aunay; 6and of Burgoyne the lord James of Beaujeu, the lord de Chateau-Vilain and other: in another part there was the earl of Ventadour and of Montpensier, the lord James of Bourbon, the lord John d’Artois and also the lord James his brother, the lord Arnold of Cervolles called the archpriest, armed for the young earl of Alençon; and of Auvergne there was the lord of Mercoeur, the lord de la Tour, the lord of Chalencon, the lord of Montaigu, the lord of Rochfort, the lord d’Acier, the lord d’Acon; and of Limousin there was the lord de Melval, the lord of Mareuil, the lord of Pierrebuffiere; and of Picardy there was the lord William of Nesle, the lord Arnold of Rayneval, the lord Geoffrey of Saint-Dizier, the lord of Chauny, the lord of Helly, the lord of Montsault, the lord of Hangest and divers other: and also in the king’s battle there was the earl Douglas of Scotland, who fought a season right valiantly, but when he saw the discomfiture, he departed and saved himself; for in no wise he would be taken of the Englishmen, he had rather been there slain. On the English part the lord James Audley with the aid of his four squires fought always in the chief of the battle: he was sore hurt in the body and in the visage: as long as his breath served him he fought; at last at the end of the battle his four squires took and brought him out of the field and laid him under a hedge side for to refresh him; and they unarmed him and bound up his wounds as well as they could. On the French party king John was that day a full right good knight: if the fourth part of his men had done their devoirs as well as he did, the journey had been his by all likelihood. Howbeit they were all slain and taken that were there, except a few that saved themselves, that were with the king. 7 There was slain the duke Peter of Bourbon, the lord Guichard of Beaujeu, the lord of Landas, and the duke of Athens, constable of France, the bishop of Chalons in Champagne, the lord William of Nesle, the lord Eustace of Ribemont, the lord de la Tour, the lord William of Montaigu, sir Grismouton of Chambly, sir Baudrin de la Heuse, and many other, as they fought by companies; and there were taken prisoners the lord of Vaudenay, the lord of Pompadour, and the archpriest, sore hurt, the earl of Vaudimont, the earl of Mons, the earl of Joinville, the earl of Vendome, sir Louis of Melval, the lord Pierrebuffiere and the lord of Serignac: there were at that brunt, slain and taken more than two hundred knights. 8
Note 1. ‘The first setter-on and the best combatant.’ [back]
Note 2. That is, two hamedes gules on a field ermine. [back]
Note 3. ‘They tied him on to a cart with their harness.’ [back]
Note 4. ‘Ne pooient aler avant.’ [back]
Note 5. The original adds, ‘qui estoit de France au sentoir (sautoir) de gueulles.’ [back]
Note 6. ‘Le conte d’Aulnoy,’ but it should be ‘visconte.’ [back]
Note 7. ‘Howbeit they that stayed acquitted them as well as they might, so that they were all slain or taken. Few escaped of those that set themselves with the king: or according to the fuller text: ‘Few escaped of those that alighted down on the sand by the side of the king their lord.’ [back]
Note 8. The translator has chosen to rearrange the above list of killed, wounded or taken, which the French text gives in order as they fought, saying that in one part there fell the duke of Bourbon, sir Guichard of Beaujeu and sir John of Landas, and there were severely wounded or taken the archpriest, sir Thibaud of Vodenay and sir Baudouin d’Annequin; in another there were slain the duke of Athens and the bishop of Chalons, and taken the earl of Vaudemont and Joinville and the earl of Vendome: a little above this there were slain sir William de Nesle, sir Eustace de Ribemont and others, and taken sir Louis de Melval, the lord of Pierrebufière and the lord of Seregnach. [back]
Of Two Frenchmen That Fled from the Battle of Poitiers and Two Englishmen That Followed Them
AMONG the battles, recounterings, chases and pursuits that were made that day in the field, it fortuned so to sir Oudart of Renty that when he departed from the field because he saw the field was lost without recovery, he thought not to abide the danger of the Englishmen; wherefore he fled all alone and was gone out of the field a league, and an English knight pursued him and ever cried to him and said, ‘Return again, sir knight, it is a shame to fly away thus.’ Then the knight turned, and the English knight thought to have stricken him with his spear in the targe, but he failed, for sir Oudart swerved aside from the stroke, but he failed not the English knight, for he strake him such a stroke on the helm with his sword, that he was astonied and fell from his horse to the earth and lay still. Then sir Oudart alighted and came to him or he could rise, and said, ‘Yield you, rescue or no rescue, or else I shall slay you.’ The Englishman yielded and went with him, and afterward was ransomed. Also ie fortuned that another squire of Picardy called John de Hellenes was fled from the battle and met with his page, who delivered him a new fresh horse, whereon he rode away alone. The same season there was in the field the lord Berkeley of England, a young lusty knight, who the same day reared his banner, and he all alone pursued the said John of Hellenes. And when he had followed the space of a league, the said John turned again and laid his sword in the rest instead of of spear, and so came running toward the lord Berkeley, who lift up his sword to have stricken the squire; but when he saw the stroke come, he turned from it, so that the Englishman lost his stroke and John strake him as he passed on the arm, that the lord Berkeley’s sword fell into the field. When he saw his sword down, he lighted suddenly off his horse and came to the place where his sword lay, and as he stooped down to take up his sword, the French squire did pike his sword at him, and by hap strake him through both the thighs, so that the knight fell to the earth and could not help himself. And John alighted off his horse and took the knight’s sword that lay on the ground, and came to him and demanded if he would yield him or not. The knight then demanded his name. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘I hight John of Hellenes; but what is your name?’ ‘Certainly,’ said the knight, ‘my name is Thomas and am lord of Berkeley, a fair castle on the river of Severn in the marches of Wales.’ ‘Well, sir,’ quoth the squire, ‘then ye shall be my prisoner, and I shall bring you in safe-guard and I shall see that you shall be healed of your hurt.’ ‘Well,’ said the knight, ‘I am content to be your prisoner, for ye have by law of arms won me.’ There he sware to be his prisoner, rescue or no rescue. Then the squire drew forth the sword out of the knight’s thighs and the wound was open: then he wrapped and bound the wound and set him on his horse and so brought him fair and easily to Chatelleraut, and there tarried more than fifteen days for his sake and did get him remedy for his hurt: and when he was somewhat amended, then he gat him a litter and so brought him at his ease to his house in Picardy. There he was more than a year till he was perfectly whole; and when he departed he paid for his ransom six thousand nobles, and so this squire was made a knight by reason of the profit that he had of the lord Berkeley.
How King John Was Taken Prisoner at the Battle of Poitiers
OFTENTIMES the adventures of amours and of war are more fortunate and marvellous than any man can think or wish. Truly this battle, the which was near to Poitiers in the fields of Beauvoir and Maupertuis, was right great and perilous, and many deeds of arms there was done the which all came not to knowledge. The fighters on both sides endured much pain: king John with his own hands did that day marvels in arms: he had an axe in his hands wherewith he defended himself and fought in the breaking of the press. Near to the king there was taken the earl of Tancarville, sir Jaques of Bourbon earl of Ponthieu, and the lord John of Artois earl of Eu, and a little above that under the banner of the captal of Buch was taken sir Charles of Artois and divers other knights and squires. The chase endured to the gates of Poitiers: there were many slain and beaten down, horse and man, for they of Poitiers closed their gates and would suffer none to enter; wherefore in the street before the gate was horrible murder, men hurt and beaten down. The Frenchmen yielded themselves as far off as they might know an Englishman: there were divers English archers that had four, five or six prisoners: the lord of Pons, a great baron of Poitou, was there slain, and many other knights and squires; and there was taken the earl of Rochechouart, the lord of Dammartin, the lord of Partenay, and of Saintonge the lord of Montendre and the lord John of Saintré, but he was so sore hurt that he had never health after: he was reputed for one of the best knights in France. And there was left for dead among other dead men the lord Guichard d’Angle, who fought that day by the king right valiantly, and so did the lord of Charny, on whom was great press, because he bare the sovereign banner of the king’s: his own banner was also in the field, the which was of gules, three scutcheons silver. So many Englishmen and Gascons come to that part, that perforce they opened the king’s battle, so that the Frenchmen were so mingled among their enemies that sometimes there was five men upon one gentleman. There was taken the lord of Pompadour and 1 the lord Bartholomew de Burghersh, and there was slain sir Geoffrey of Charny with the king’s banner in his hands: also the lord Raynold Cobham slew the earl of Dammartin. Then there was a great press to take the king, and such as knew him cried, ‘Sir, yield you, or else ye are but dead.’ There was a knight of Saint-Omer’s, retained in wages with the king of England, called sir Denis Morbeke, who had served the Englishmen five year before, because in his youth he had forfeited the realm of France for a murder that he did at Saint-Omer’s. It happened so well for him, that he was next to the king when they were about to take him: he stept forth into the press, and by strength of his body and arms he came to the French king and said in good French, ‘Sir, yield you.’ The king beheld the knight and said: ‘To whom shall I yield me? Where is my cousin the prince of Wales? If I might see him, I would speak with him.’ Denis answered and said: ‘Sir, he is not here; but yield you to me and I shall bring you to him.’ ‘Who be you?’ quoth the king. ‘Sir,’ quoth he, ‘I am Denis of Morbeke, a knight of Artois; but I serve the king of England because I am banished the realm of France and I have forfeited all that I had there.’ Then the king gave him his right gauntlet, saying, ‘I yield me to you.’ There was a great press about the king, for every man enforced him to say, 2 I have taken him,’ so that the king could not go forward with his young son the lord Philip with him because of the press.
The prince of Wales, who was courageous and cruel as a lion, took that day great pleasure to fight and to chase his enemies. The lord John Chandos, who was with him, of all that day never left him nor never took heed of taking of any prisoner: then at the end of the battle he said to the prince: ‘Sir, it were good that you rested here and set your banner a-high in this bush, that your people may draw hither, for they be sore spread abroad, nor I can see no more banners nor pennons of the French party; wherefore, sir, rest and refresh you, for ye be sore chafed.’ Then the prince’s banner was set up a-high on a bush, and trumpets and clarions began to sown. Then the prince did off his bassenet, and the knights for his body and they of his chamber were ready about him, and a red pavilion pight up, and then drink was brought forth to the prince and for such lords as were about him, the which still increased as they came from the chase: there they tarried and their prisoners with them. And when the two marshals were come to the prince, he demanded of them if they knew any tiding of the French king. They answered and said: ‘Sir, we hear none of certainty, but we think verily he is other dead or taken, for he is not gone out of the battles.’ Then the prince said to the earl of Warwick and to sir Raynold Cobham: ‘Sirs, I require you go forth and see what ye can know, that at your return ye may shew me the truth.’ These two lords took their horses and departed from the prince and rode up a little hill to look about them: then they perceived a flock of men of arms coming together right wearily: 3there was the French king afoot in great peril, for Englishmen and Gascons were his masters; they had taken him from sir Denis Morbeke perforce, and such as were most of force said, ‘I have taken him.’ ‘Nay,’ quoth another, ‘I have taken him’; so they strave which should have him. Then the French king, to eschew that peril, said: ‘Sirs, strive not: lead me courteously, and my son, to my cousin the prince, and strive not for my taking, for I am so great a lord to make you all rich.’ The king’s words somewhat appeased them; howbeit ever as they went they made riot and brawled for the taking of the king. When the two foresaid lords saw and heard that noise and strife among them, they came to them and said: ‘Sirs, what is the matter that ye strive for?’ ‘Sirs,’ said one of them, ‘it is for the French king, who is here taken prisoner, and there be more than ten knights and squires that challengeth the taking of him and of his son.’ Then the two lords entered into the press and caused every man to draw aback, and commanded them in the prince’s name on pain of their heads to make no more noise nor to approach the king no nearer, without they were commanded. Then every man gave room to the lords, and they alighted and did their reverence to the king, and so brought him and his son in peace and rest to the prince of Wales.
Note 1. This ‘and’ should be ‘by,’ but the French text is responsible for the mistake. [back]
Note 2. S’efforçoit de dire.’ [back]
Note 3. ‘Lentement.’
Of the Gift That the Prince Gave to the Lord Audley after the Battle of Poitiers
AS soon as the earl of Warwick and the lord Cobham were departed from the prince, as ye have heard before, then the prince demanded of the knights that were about him for the lord Audley, if any knew anything of him. Some knights that were there answered and said: ‘Sir, he is sore hurt and lieth in a litter here beside.’ ‘By my faith,’ said the prince, ‘of his hurts I am right sorry: go and know if he may be brought hither, or else I will go and see him thereas he is.’ Then two knights came to the lord Audley and said: ‘Sir, the prince desireth greatly to see you, other ye must go to him or else he will come to you.’ ‘Ah, sir,’ said the knight, ‘I thank the prince when he thinketh on so poor a knight as I am.’ Then he called eight of his servants and caused them to bear him in his litter to the place whereas the prince was. Then the prince took him in his arms and kissed him and made him great cheer and said: ‘Sir James, I ought greatly to honour you, for by your valiance ye have this day achieved the grace and renown of us all, and ye are reputed for the most valiant of all other.’ ‘Ah, sir,’ said the knight, ‘ye say as it pleaseth you: I would it were so: and if I have this day anything advanced myself to serve you and to accomplish the vow that I made, it ought not to be reputed to me any prowess.’ ‘Sir James,’ said the prince, ‘I and all ours take you in this journey for the best doer in arms, and to the intent to furnish you the better to pursue the wars, I retain you for ever to be my knight with five hundred marks of yearly revenues, the which I shall assign you on mine heritage in England.’ ‘Sir,’ said the knight, ‘God grant me to deserve the great goodness that ye shew me’: and so he took his leave of the prince, for he was right feeble, and so his servants brought him to his lodging. And as soon as he was gone, the earl of Warwick and the lord Cobham returned to the prince and presented to him the French king. The prince made lowly reverence to the king and caused wine and spices to be brought forth, and himself served the king in sign of great love.