Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

Sir Hugh Calverley is discouraged by the power of the King of France

The bishop of Norwich's expedition to Flanders goes sour, and the English are threatened by an army led by the French king.

Book II ch. 141 (Johnes, v. II, pp. 5-6).   All the English except the bishop, who, quite-thunderstruck, was gone to Gravelines, had retired into the town of Bergues, which was only inclosed by a palisade and ditches: he sorely repented having undertaken this expedition, for he saw that all he had done would now be turned with shame against him, and was still more sorry for the words line had uttered which had been repeated through France. He had boasted during the time he was besieging Ypres, that he would there wait for the king of France and his army, and offer them combat. He now felt how suddenly he had been forced to raise the siege and fly, for his army could not resist that of the king.

The English at Calais found great fault with him, saying he had very ill employed the pope's money. In truth, the duke of Lancaster, who had been prevented by this expedition of the bishop from carrying his own into execution, did not wish it would turn out otherwise. The principal barons of England were of the same sentiment; for when sir William Windsor, their marshal, sent to tell them, whilst before Ypres, that if they wished for reinforcements, they should have very numerous ones, the bishop answered, as did sir Thomas Trivet and sir William Helmon, that they had strength enough, and more than they wished, to combat the king of France and the army he could bring against them.

But sir Hugh Calverley, who had seen more service than any of the others, had always held a different language, and said during the siege of Ypres, when he heard of the offer from the barons in England, " Gentlemen, you seem to have great confidence in your strength: why should we refuse the assistance of our countrymen, when they offer to come to us and the country consents to it? A day may come, perhaps, when we shall repent of our refusal." But these words were not attended to, as they said they had men sufficient.

Things, therefore, continued as they were, and in the end they lost more than they gained by it. Sir Hugh Calverley, on his arrival at Bergues, quartered himself and his men in the different hotels and houses of the town: they were in the whole, including archers, more than four thousand men. Sir Hugh said, "I am determined to keep this town; it is of good strength, and we are enough to defend it. I expect we shall have, in five or six days, reinforcements from England; for they will learn our situation, and also the force of our enemies."
All replied, "God assist us!"

Upon this he made very prudent regulations: on dividing his men under pennons and into companies, to mount the walls and guard the gates, he found he had numbers sufficient. He ordered all the ladies and women, children and lower classes of inhabitants, to retire into a church, whence they were not to stir.

The king of France was at the abbey of Ranombergues, and learnt that the English had retreated to Bergues. A council was held on the occasion, when it was ordered that the van, with the constable and marshals, should advance beyond the town and encamp on one of its sides; and the king of France, with the dukes of Berry, Burgundy and Bourbon, would follow with the main army; that the count de Blois and the count d'Eu, within the rear division, should lodge themselves on the other side of the town, and thus surround the English.

This plan was executed; and the king set out from Ranombergues, attended by his whole army. It was a beautiful sight to behold these banners, pennons and helmets glittering in the sun, and such numbers of men at arms that the eye could not compass them: they seemed like a moving forest, so upright did they hold their lances. Thus they marched in four divisions towards Bergues, to inclose the English in that town.

About eight o'clock in the morning, an English herald entered the town, who, by the courtesy of the lords of France, had passed through their army: he waited on sir Hugh Calverley in his Hotel, and spoke so loud that every one heard him. "Herald, whence dost thou come ?"

"My lord," replied the Herald, "I come from the French army, where I have seen the finest men at arms, and in such vast numbers that there is not at this day another king who can show the like."

" And these fine men at arms which thou art speaking of," said sir Hugh, "what number are they?"

"By my faith, my lord, they are full twenty-six thousand men at arms: handsomer nor better armed were never seen."

"Ha, ha !" replied sir Hugh who was much provoked at the latter part of his speech, "thou art a fine fellow to come and mock us with this pompous tale. I know well thou hast lied; for many a time have I seen the armies of France, but they never amounted to twenty-six thousand; no, not even to six thousand men at arms."

As he said this, the watch of the town, who was at his post, sounded his trumpet, for the van of the enemy was about passing near the walls. Sir Hugh then, addressing the knights and squires present, said; "Come, come: let us go and see these twenty-six thousand men at arms march by, for our watch blows his horn."

They went on the walls of the place, and, leaning on them, observed the march of the van, which might have consisted of about fifteen hundred lances, with the constable, the marshals, the master of the cross-bows and the lord de Coucy. Next came the duke of Brittany, the earl of Flanders and the count de St. Pol, who had under their command about fifteen hundred lances more.

Sir Hugh Calverley, who thought he had seen the whole army, said," Now see if I did not say truth: where are these twenty-six thousand men? Why, if they be three thousand men at arms, they are tea thousand. Let us go to our dinner, for I do not yet see such a force as should oblige us to surrender the town. This herald would frighten us well, if we were to believe him."

The herald was much ashamed, but he said," My lord, you have as yet only seen the van-guard: the king and his uncles are behind with the main army, and there is besides a rear division, which consists of more than two thousand lances. You will see the whole in four hours, if you remain here."

Sir Hugh paid not any attention to him, but returned to his house, saying he had seen every thing, and seated himself at table. He had scarcely done so, than the watch again blew his horn, and so loud as if he would burst it. Sir Hugh rose from table, saying he would see what was the cause of this, and mounted the battlements.

At this moment, the king of France marched by, attended by his uncles, the duke Frederick, the duke of Lorraine, the count of Savoy, the dauphin of Auvergne, the count de la Marche and their troops: in this battalion were full sixteen thousand lances. Sir Hugh felt himself much disappointed, and said to the herald, who was by his side, " I have been in the wrong to blame you: come, come: let us mount our horses and save ourselves, for it will do us no good to remain here. I no longer know the state of France: I have never seen such numbers collected together by three-fourths as I now see and have seen in the van: besides, the rear division is still to come."

Upon this, sir Hugh Calverley left the walls and returned to his house. All the horses being ready saddled and loaded, they mounted, and, having ordered the gates to be opened which lead to Bourbourg, they set off without any noise, carrying with them all their pillage. Had the French suspected this, they could easily have stopped them; but they were ignorant of it for a long time, so that they were nearly arrived at Bourbourg before they heard of it.

Sir Hugh Calverley halted in the plain to wait for his rear and baggage. He was very melancholy, and said to sir Thomas Trivet and others who had come to meet him; "By my faith, gentlemen, we have this time made a most shameful expedition: never was so pitiful or wretched a one made from England. You would have your wills, and placed your confidence in this bishop of Norwich, who wanted to fly before he had wings: now see the honourable end you have brought it to. There is Bourbourg! if you choose it, retire thither; but for my part I shall march to Gravelines and Calais, because I find we are not of sufficient strength to cope with the king of France."

The English knights, conscious they had been to blame in several things, replied; " God help us! we shall return to Bourbourg and wait the event, such as God may please to ordain."

Sir Hugh on this left them; and they threw themselves into Bourbourg. The king of France heard that the English had marched from Bergues and retreated to Bourbourg, leaving Bergues quite empty; the gates of which were opened to him, when the king entered with all who wished it. The first who did so found enough to pillage, for the English had not been able to carry away every thing. The women were saved and sent to St. Omer, but almost all the men were put to death and the town set on fire.

The king marched on to lodge at a village, on account of the greatness of the fire. This happened on a Friday; and the lords encamped themselves separately in the fields as well as they could. It was fortunate for them that it was dry weather, for it could not be a finer season; had it been cold and rainy, they could not have foraged. Indeed it was wonderful where they found forage for such numbers of horses, as well as provision for so large an army.

But on the day on which they came before Bourbourg great quantities of stores arrived, of which the lords of France were duly informed. They resolved to surround the town and attack it. The Bretons were, from avarice, eager to take it, on account of the great booty they expected to find there.

On the Saturday morning it was clear weather, and the army made itself ready to march to Bourbourg. The van-guard, the duke of Brittany, the earl of Flanders, the count de St. Pol, the constable of France, with about three thousand lances, marched on the outside of the walls, and halted opposite to the king's division, which consisted of the finest men at arms that could be seen or imagined. They advanced to a large plain before Bourbourg, where the different lords drew up their men; and it was for a long time their intention to storm the place. Banners and pennons were flying in the wind, and each lord under his own banner. The lords of France made a splendid show, and had not been sparing of any expense in exhibiting appearances suitable to their rank.

The lord de Coucy and his state were particularly noticed, for he had led coursers richly caparisoned, and ornamented with housings with the ancient arms of Coucy mixed with those he now bore. He himself was mounted on a beautiful horse, on which he rode from side to side in a most graceful manner, to the delight of those who saw him: all praised him for the agreeable manner with which he addressed every one. The other great lords kept up a state suitable to their dignity.

More than four hundred knights were this day created. The heralds mustered the knights who were before Bourbourg with the king, and they amounted to from seven to nine thousand. In the army were upwards of twenty-five thousand men at arms and squires. The English were at their posts in the town of Bourbourg, and, seeing this immense force of the king of France before them, expected an assault: they were pleased at the thought; but when they found themselves shut up in a town which was only defended by palisadoes, they were not so well satisfied: however, like men of courage, they had posted themselves in companies round the town.

The lord Beaumont (who is an earl in England, and his name Henry) commanded one hundred men at arms and three hundred archers, to guard one part of the town: sir William Elmham, with as many men, guarded another part. Sir John de Châteauneuf, with the Gascons, had another quarter to defend as far as the tower, opposite to the quarters of the constable. The lord Ferrers, an Englishman, was with forty men at arms and as many archers at another part, so that the whole place was well guarded with men at arms and archers. Sir William Farrendon, sir Matthew Redeman, and sir Nicholas Tracton , with two hundred men and as many archers, were posted in the square before the church. They had appointed a body of men to watch and extinguish any fires that might happen; for the English were much afraid of the town being burnt, as the houses were only covered with thatch. In this situation were the English.

Return to the Tales from Froissart Main Page

Contact the editor