Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
The Men of Ghent Defeat Bruges and the Earl
In desperation the men of Ghent have followed Philip von Artaveld to Bruges to fight the earl of Flanders, who has demanded unconditional surrender.
Book II, ch. 96.
The Saturday was a fine bright day, and, being the feast of the Holy Cross, the inhabitants of Bruges, according to custom, made their usual processions. News was soon brought to Bruges, that the Ghent army was at hand; so that every one began to murmur until the earl heard it, as well as those about his person. He was much surprised, and said, "See how the wickedness of these mad and foolish people of Ghent leads them to their destruction: indeed it is time this was should be put an end to."
His knights, and others, instantly waited on him, whom he very graciously received, and said, "We will go and fight these wicked people; however, they show courage in preferring death by the sword rather than famine." They determined to send out three men at arms to examine the force and situation of the enemy... While this was going on, every person in Bruges made himself ready, and showed the most eager desire to sally forth and combat the men of Ghent; of whom I will now say a word, and of the manner in which they had drawn themselves up.
On the Saturday morning, Philip von Artaveld ordered his whole army to pay their devotions to God, and masses to be said in different places; (for there were with them several monks,) that every man should confess himself, and make other becoming preparations, and that they should pray to God with that truth, as people looking to him alone for mercy.
All this was done, and mass celebrated in seven different places. After each mass was a sermon, which lasted an hour and a half: the monks and priests endeavoured, by their discourses, to show the great similitude between them and the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh king of Egypt detained so long in slavery, and who, through God's grace, wee delivered, and conducted by Moses and Aaron into the land of promise, whilst Pharaoh and the Egyptians were drowned.
"In like manner, my good people," preached the monks, "have you been kept in bondage by your lord, the earl of Flanders, and by your neighbours of Bruges, whom you are now to meet, and by whom you will, without doubt, be combated, for your enemies are in great numbers, and have little fear of your force; but do not you mind this; for God, who can do all things and is acquainted with your situation, will have mercy on you: therefore, think of nothing but what you have left behind; for you well know, that everything is lost, if you be defeated. Sell yourselves well and valiantly; and if you must die, die with honour.
"Do not be alarmed if great numbers issue forth from Bruges against you, for victory is not to the multitude, but whither God shall please to send it; and, by his grace, it has been often seen, as well by the Maccabees as the Romans, that those who fought manfully, and confided in God, discomfited the greater number. Besides, you have justice on your side in this quarrel, which ought to make you feel yourselves bold and better comforted." In such words as these the priests had been ordered to preach to the army, and with these discourses they were well pleased. Three parts of them communicated, and all showed great devotion and much fear in God.
After the sermons, the whole army assembled round a small hill, on which Philip von Artaveld placed himself, in order to be the better heard, and harangued them very ably... and towards the end he added, "My good friends, you see here all your provision: divide it among you fairly, like brethren, without any disturbance; for when it is gone, you must conquer more, if you wish to live."
At these words they drew up very regularly, and unloaded the carts, when the bags of bread were given out, to be divided by constablewicks, and the two tuns of wine placed on their bottoms; and there they moderately breakfasted, each man having a sufficiency at that time; after which breakfast they found themselves more determined and active on their feet than if they had eaten more.
This repast being over, they put themselves in order, and retired within their ribaudeaus. These ribaudeaus are tall takes, with points shod with iron, which they were always accustomed to carry with them. They fixed them in front of the army, and inclosed themselves within.
The three knights who had been sent by the earl to reconnoitre, found them in this situation: they approached the entrances of these ribaudeaus; but the Ghent men never moved, and rather seemed rejoiced to see them. They returned to Bruges, where they found the earl in his palace, surrounded by many knights, waiting for them, to hear what intelligence they had brought back. They pushed through the crowd, and came near to the earl, when they spoke aloud, for the earl wished all present to hear, and said, "they had advanced so close to the Ghent army, that they might have shot at them, if they had so chosen, but they left them in peace; and that they had seen their banners, and the army inclosed within their ribaudeaus."
"And what are their numbers, think ye?" said the earl. They answered, "that as near as they could guess, they might be from five to six thousand." "Well," said the earl, "now let every one instantly get ready; for I will give them battle, and this day shall not pass without a combat." At these words the trumpet sounded in Bruges, when every one armed himself, and made for the market-place. As they came, they drew up under their proper banners, as they had usually done, in bands and constablewicks.
Many barons, knights, and men at arms, drew up before the palace of the earl. When all was ready, and the earl armed, he came to the market-place, and was much pleased to see such numbers in battle-array. They then marched off, for none dared disobey his commands; and, in order of battle, made for the plain: the men at arms afterwards issued forth from Bruges. It was a handsome sight, for there were upwards of forty thousand armed heads; and thus horse and foot advanced in proper order, near to the place where the Ghent men were, and then halted.
It was late in the afternoon when the earl and his army arrived, and the sun going down. One of the knights said to the earl, "My lord, you now see your enemies: they are but a handful of men in comparison with your army, and as they cannot escape, do not engage them this day; but wait for to-morrow, when you will have the day before you: you will, besides, have more light to see what you are about, and they will be weaker, for they have not anything to eat."
The earl approved much this advice, and would willingly have followed it; but the men of Bruges, impatient to begin the fight, would not wait, saying, they would soon defeat them and return back to their town. Notwithstanding the orders of the men at arms, for the earl had not less than eight hundred lances, knights, and squires, the Bruges men began to shoot and to fire cannons.
The Ghent men, being collected in a body on an eminence, fired at once three hundred cannon; after which they turned the marsh, and placed the Bruges men with the sun in their eyes, which much distressed them, and then fell upon them, shouting out, "Ghent!" The moment the men of Bruges heard the cannon and the cry of Ghent, and saw them marching to attack them in front, they, like cowards, opened their ranks, and letting the Ghent men pass without making any defence, flung down their staves and ran away. The Ghent men were in close order, and, perceiving their enemies were defeated, began to knock down and kill on all sides. They advanced with a quick step, shouting, "Ghent!" and saying, "Let us pursue briskly our enemies, who are defeated, and enter the town with them: God eyes us this day with looks of pity."
They followed those of Bruges with so much courage, that whenever they knocked down or killed any one, they marched on without halting or quitting the pursuit, whilst the men of Bruges fled with the haste of a defeated army.
I must say, that at this place there were multitudes of slain, wounded, and thrown down; for they made no defence, and never were such cowardly wretches as those of Bruges, or who more weakly or recreantly behaved themselves, after all their insolence when they first took the field. Some may wish to excuse them by supposing there might have been treason, which caused this defeat. This was not so; but such poor and weak conduct fell on their own heads.
This story continues.