Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

Bourbourg is plundered after the English surrender it

The English have retired in the face of a French advance and are holding out in Bourbourg.

Book II ch. 144 (Johnes, v. II, pp. 10-11).  When the king of France came before Bourbourg there were never seen such fine men at arms nor such numbers as he had with him. The lords and their men were all drawn up, and eager for the attacks Those who had reconnoitred the place said, it could not hold out long; but that it would cost dearly in men: and several wondered why the attack was delayed. Some said, that the duke of Brittany and the earl of Flanders, who were on the other side of the town, were treating with the English to surrender without waiting for the assault. On this the Bretons, Burgundians, Normans, Germans, and others, who knew there was much wealth in the place, which, if taken by storm, would probably fall to their share, were much exasperated at the thoughts of a capitulation, and began to skirmish with the infantry at the barriers, without waiting for orders from the constable or marshals of the army: indeed, they were not forbidden to assault it.

This skirmish increased so much that the French set fire to the town by means of fire-arrows and cannons, so that such a flame and smoke came from the houses of Bourbourg as might have been seen forty leagues off. The attack then began with shouts; and sir William de Namur, who with his men, was in the front ranks, fought valiantly. Many gallant deeds were done, and the assailants leaped cheerfully into the mud of the ditches above the knees, when they engaged with the English at the palisade and barriers. The garrison defended themselves handsomely: indeed they had need of their exertions, for they knew not on which side to turn themselves. They were attacked on all parts: and the houses of the town were blazing with fire, which more confounded the English than anything else. This, however, did not throw them off their guard, nor cause them to quit their posts.

Sir Matthew Redman and sir Nicholas Drayton, with their men, in the centre of the town, endeavoured to check the progress of the fire; but it was such a dry season, that the smallest spark set the houses in flames. It is certain, that if the attack had begun earlier, or had not the night come on soon, the town must have been taken by storm, but the approach of night put an end to it.
Sir William de Namur's division had thirty-six killed and wounded; and the army lost, according to the report of the heralds, upwards of five hundred.

On the attack ceasing, the French retired to their quarters, to attend the sick and bury the dead. They said, that on the morrow they would renew the attack, and it should be irresistible. The English, all this Saturday night, were employed in repairing the palisadoes which had been broken, in putting all things in a good state, and in extinguishing the fires in the town. They were in a most perilous situation, being surrounded on all sides, without means of escaping by flight.

On the Sunday morning when the king had heard mass, it was proclaimed through the army, that whoever should bring a faggot to the king's tent should receive a halfpenny, and as many faggots so many halfpence. These faggots were intended to be thrown into the ditches, so that they might resolutely pass over them, and engage with the English, on the Monday morning at the pahisadoes. Upon this all the lower ranks, and the servants, began to make faggots and carry them to the king's tent, insomuch that a very large heap of them was made there. Sunday passed without any attack.

Some say that on this day, and appearances confirmed it, the duke of Brittany, who was on the opposite side of the town to the king, entered into negotiations with the English, aware of the peril they were in. He advised them to surrender the town, on their lives and fortunes being spared. This they were very willing to do, and they entreated the duke, through love of God, and in honor of his gentility, to undertake the business.

The duke sent information of what he had done to the king, his uncles, the constable of France, the count de St. Pol, and to the council. having considered how advisable it was to gain all the strong places in Flanders, in whatever manner they were offered to be surrendered, and that to win Bourbourg they must renew the attack, which would cost them, probably, numbers of lives; besides, they should at last only conquer a handful of men, who would defend themselves until they dropped; the king of France and his uncles replied, that, in God's name, they would willingly agree to a treaty, if the duke of Brittany and the constable of France would undertake it. In this manner Sunday passed, without anything being done.

I heard that, in the evening, on a promise of safety, John de Châteauneuf, a Gascon, and Remonnet de St. Marc, came to the tent of the lord Guy de la Tremouille to play and amuse themselves, where they staid all night. On the Monday morning they returned to Bourbourg; and at their departure the lord Guy said to them, "John and Remonnet, ye shall both be my prisoners this evening." They replied, they would prefer being his, than belonging to any other knight.

Intelligence arrived this Sunday of the capture of Oudenarde, which much vexed sir Gilbert de Lieneghien the governor, as it had been lost through his absence; but he was exculpated from all blame by his lord the earl of Flanders, who had sent for him.

The count de Blois commanded the king's guard this Sunday, and every one thought the attack would be renewed on Monday: but in the morning it was proclaimed through the army, that the king forbade any attack until further orders. This proclamation made every one quiet; and several lords guessed that the English would escape by means of a treaty, as the attack was forbidden. After dinner, those who were to negotiate came out of the town, such as sir William Elmham, sir Thomas Trivet, sir Nicholas Drayton, sir Matthew Redman, and others, to the number of fourteen knights and squires, whom the duke of Brittany, the constable of France, and the count de St. Pol, conducted to the tent of the king.

The king was much pleased thereat, as he had scarcely seen any English except sir Peter Courtenay, who had come to Paris to fight with the lord Guy de la Tremouille, but the king and his council had made up the quarrel. Now, as the English had been much renowned for gallantry and deeds of arms, the young king of France wished to see them: and their treaty was much the better for it. On the Monday this negotiation was carried on in the king's tent, and in his presence. There were also present the dukes of Berry, Burgundy, Bourbon, Brittany, the earl of Flanders, and the constable of France, and no more.

The duke of Brittany was very active in this business: and it was settled, that the English should depart from Bourbourg and Gravelines, and carry away with them as much of their wealth as they could. Several of the Bretons, French, Normans, and Burgundians were much vexed at this treaty, for they thought of partaking of the spoils; but the king and his council had ordered it otherwise. After the treaty had been signed, the English took leave of the king of France, his uncles, the duke of Brittany, and the constable, and went with the count de St. Pol, who carried them to supper at his house, where he entertained them as handsomely as he could in such a situation. After supper he had them conducted to the gates of Bourbourg, for which they testified to him their thanks.

The whole of Tuesday they employed in shoeing their horses, and in packing up all their wealth, of which they had much, and in making preparations for their departure. On the Wednesday morning they loaded their baggage-horses and began their march, passing through the army with passports from the king. The Bretons were much exasperated when they saw them so loaded; and they treated very indifferently a few who tarried behind.

Thus the English marched to Gravelines, where they halted. On the Thursday morning, when they left it, they set fire to the place, burned it to the ground, and arrived at Calais with all their pillage. They stopped there to refresh themselves, and to wait for a favourable wind to return to England.

The king of France, and all the lords of his army, with their attendants, entered Bourbourg the Thursday morning, when the Bretons began to plunder it, without excepting even the church of St. John: in which church, a pillager having mounted on an altar, with the intent of forcing out a precious stone that was in the crown of an image made to represent the person of our Lady, the image turned about, and the pillager in his fright fell from the altar and was instantly struck dead. This is a certain truth, for many persons were witnesses of it. Shortly afterwards, another pillager came with a similar intent of robbing the image; but all the bells began a peal without any one touching them, for no one could have rung them, the bell-ropes being drawn up and fastened. On account of these miracles, the church was visited by crowds. The king made a handsome present to it, as did all the lords, so that the amount of their gifts was upwards of three thousand francs.

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