Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

King Richard's Invasion of Ireland

Froissart presents a book of love poems to King Richard of England.   While at court he hears about the last expedition of the English to Ireland.

Book IV, ch. 64 (Johnes, v. 2, pp. 577-582).  I have taken much pleasure in detailing everything relative to the dispute with Gascony and Aquitaine, that the truth of my history may be apparent; and because I, the author of it, could not be present in these councils, that ancient and valiant knight sir Richard Sturry told me everything, word for word, as I have transcribed. On the Sunday, the whole council were gone to London, excepting the duke of York, who remained with the king, and sir Richard Sturry: these two, in conjunction with sir Thomas Percy, mentioned me again to the king, who desired to see the book I had brought for him. I presented it to him in his chamber, for I had it with me, and laid it on his bed. He opened and looked into it with much pleasure. He ought to have been pleased, for it was handsomely written and illuminated, and bound in crimson velvet, with ten silver-gilt studs, and roses of the same in the middle, with two large clasps of silver-gilt, richly worked with roses in the centre. The king asked me what the book treated of: I replied,-" Of love " He was pleased with the answer, and dipped into several places, reading parts aloud, for he read and spoke French perfectly well, and then gave it to one of his knights, called sir Richard Credon, to carry to his oratory, and made me many acknowledgments for it.

It happened this same Sunday, after time king had received my book so handsomely, an English squire, being in the king's chamber, called Henry Castide, a man of prudence and character, and who spoke French well, made acquaintance with me, because he saw the king and lords give me so hearty a reception, and had likewise noticed the book I had presented to the king: he also imagined, from his first conversation, that I was an historian; indeed, he had been told so by sir Richard Sturry. He thus addressed me :-" Sir John, have you as yet found any one to give you an account of the late expedition to Ireland, and how four kings of that country submitted themselves to the obedience of the king?" I replied, that had not. "I will tell it you, then," said the squire, who might be about fifty years old, "in order that, when you are returned home, you may at your leisure insert it in your history, to be had in perpetual remembrance." I was delighted to hear this, and offered him my warmest thanks.

Henry Castide thus began :-" It is not in the memory of man that any king of England ever led so large an armament of men at arms and archers to make war on the Irish, as the present king. He remained upwards of nine months in Ireland, at great expense, which, however, was cheerfully defrayed by his kingdom; for the principal cities and towns of England thought it was well laid out, when they saw their king return home -with honour. Only gentlemen and archers had been employed on this expedition; and there were with the king four thousand knights and squires and thirty thousand archers, all regularly paid every
week, and so well they were satisfied. To tell you the truth, - Ireland is one of the worst countries to make war in, or to conquer; for there are such impenetrable and extensive forests, lakes, and bogs, there is no knowing how to pass them, and carry on war advantageously: it is so thinly inhabited, that, whenever the Irish please, they desert the towns, and take refuge in these forests, and live in huts made of boughs, like wild beasts; and whenever they perceive any parties advancing with hostile dispositions, and about to enter their country, they fly to such narrow passes, it is impossible to follow them. When they find a favourable opportunity to attack their enemies to advantage, which frequently happens, from their knowledge of the country, they fail not to seize it; and no man at arms, be he ever so well mounted, can overtake them, so light are they of foot. Sometimes they leap from the ground behind a horseman, and embrace the rider (for they are very strong in their arms) so tightly, that he can no way get rid of them. The Irish have pointed knives; with broad blades, sharp on both sides like a dart-head, with which they kill their enemies; but they never consider them as dead until they have cut their throats like sheep, opened their bellies and taken out their hearts, which they carry off with them, and some say, who are well acquainted with their manners, that they devour them as delicious morsels. They never accept of ransom for their prisoners; and when they find they have not the advantage in any skirmishes, they instantly separate, and hide themselves in hedges, bushes, or holes under ground, so that they seem to disappear, no one knows whither.

"Sir William Windsor, who has longer made war in Ireland than any other English knight, has never been able, during his residence among them, to learn correctly their manners, nor the condition of the Irish people. They are a very hardy race, of great subtlety, and of various tempers, paying no attention to cleanliness, nor to any gentleman although their country is governed by kings, of whom there are several, but seem desirous to remain in the savage state they have been brought up in. True it is, that four of the most potent kings in Ireland have submitted to the king of England, but more through love and good-humour, than by battle or force. The earl of Ormond, whose lands join their kingdoms, took great pains to induce them to go to Dublin, where the king our lord resided, and to submit themselves to him and to the crown of England. This was considered by every one as a great acquisition, and the object of the armament accomplished: for, during time whole of king Edward's reign, of happy memory, he had never such success as king Richard. The honour is great, but the advantage little, for with such savages nothing can be done. I will tell you an instance of their savageness, that it may serve as an example to other nations. You may depend on its truth; for I was an eye-witness of what I shall relate, as they were about a month under my care and governance at Dublin, to teach them the usages of England, by orders of the king and council, because I knew their language as well as I did French and English, for in my youth I was educated among them and earl Thomas, father of time present earl of Ormond, kept me with him, out of affection, for my good horsemanship.

"It happened that the earl above-mentioned was sent with three hundred lances and one thousand archers to make war on the Irish; for the English had kept up a constant warfare against them, in hopes of bringing them under their subjection The earl of Ormond, whose lands bordered on his opponents, had that day mounted me on one of his best horses, and I rode by his side. The Irish having formed an ambuscade to surprise the English, advanced from it; but were so sharply attacked by the archers, whose arrows they could not withstand, for they are not armed against them, that they soon retreated. The earl pursued them, and I, who was well mounted, kept close by him-: it chanced that in this pursuit my horse took fright, and ran away with me, in spite of all my efforts, into the midst of the enemy. My friends could never overtake me; and, in passing through the Irish, one of them, by a great feat of agility, leaped on the back of my horse, and held me tight with both his arms, but did me no harm with lance or knife. He pressed my horse forward for more than two hours, and conducted him to a large bush, in a very retired spot, where he found his companions who had run thither to escape the English. He seemed much rejoiced to have made me his prisoner, and carried me to his house, which was strong, and in a town surrounded with wood, palisades, and stagnant water: the name of this town was Herpelin. The gentleman who had taken me was called Brin Costeret, a very handsome man. I have frequently made inquiries after him, and hear that he is still alive, but very old. This Bryan Costeret kept me with him seven years, and gave me his daughter in marriage, by whom I have two girls. I will tell you how I obtained my liberty. It happened in the seventh year of my captivity, that one of their kings, Arthur Macquemaire, king of Leinster, raised an army against Lionel duke of Clarence, son to king Edward of England, and both armies met very near the city of Leinster. In the battle that followed, many were slain and taken on both sides; but, the English gaining the day, the Irish were forced to fly, and the king of Leinster escaped. The father of my wife was made prisoner, under the banner of the duke of Clarence; and as Bryan Costeret was mounted on my horse, which was remembered to have belonged to the earl of Ormond, it was then first known that I was alive, that he had honourably entertained me at his house in Herpelin, and given me his daughter in marriage. The duke of Clarence, sir William Windsor, and all of our party, were well pleased to hear this news, amid he was offered his liberty, on condition that he gave me mine and sent me to the English army, with my wife and children, He at first refused time terms, from his love to me, his daughter, and our children; but, when he found no other terms would be accepted, he agreed to them, provided my eldest daughter remained with him. I returned to England with my wife and youngest daughter, and fixed my residence at Bristol. My two children are married: the one established in Ireland has three boys and two girls, and her sister four sons and two daughters.

"Because the Irish language is as familiar to me as English, for I have always spoken it in my family, and introduce it among my grandchildren as much as I can, I have been chosen by our lord and king to teach and accustom the four Irish kings, who have sworn obedience for ever to England, to the manners of the English. I must say, that these kings who were under my management were of coarse manners and understandings; and, in spite of all that I could do to soften their language and nature, very little progress has been made, for they would frequently return to their former coarse behaviour.

"I will more particularly relate the charge that was given me over them, and how I managed it. - The king of England intended these four kings should adopt the manners, appearance, and dress of the English, for he wanted to create them knights. He gave them first a very handsome house in the city of Dublin for themselves and attendants, where I was ordered to reside with them, and never to leave the house without an absolute necessity. I lived with them for three or four days without any way interfering, that we might become accustomed to each other, and I allowed them to act just as they pleased. I observed, that as they sat at table, they made grimaces, that did not seem to me graceful nor becoming, and I resolved in my own mind to make them drop that custom. When these kings were seated at table, and the first dish was served, they would make their minstrels and principal servants sit beside them, and eat from their plates and drink from their cups. They told me, this was a praiseworthy custom of their country, where everything was in common but the bed. I permitted this to be done for three days; but on the fourth I ordered the tables to be laid out and covered properly, placing the four kings at an upper table, time minstrels at another below, and the servants lower still. They looked at each other, and refused to eat, saying I had deprived them of their old custom in which they had been brought up. I replied with a smile, to appease them, that their custom was not decent nor suitable to their rank, nor would it be honourable for them to continue it; for that now they should conform to the manners of the English; and to instruct them in these particulars was the motive of my residence with them, having been so ordered by the king of England and his council. When they heard thus they made no further opposition to whatever I proposed, from having placed themselves under the obedience of England, and continued good-humoredly to persevere in it as long as I staid with them.

"They had another custom I knew to be common in the country, which was the not wearing breeches. I had, in consequence, plenty of breeches made of linen and cloths, which I gave to the kings and their attendants, and accustomed them to wear them I took away many rude articles, as well in their dress as other things, and had great difficulty at the first to induce them to wear robes of silken cloth, trimmed with squirrel skin or minever, for time kings only wrapped themselves up in an Irish cloak. In riding, they neither used saddles nor stirrups, and I had some trouble to make them conform in this respect to the English manners.

"I once made inquiry concerning their faith; but they seemed so much displeased, I was forced to silence: they said they believed in God and the Trinity, without any difference from our creed. I asked which pope they were inclined to: they replied, without hesitation, 'To that at Rome.' I enquired if they would like to receive the order of knighthood? for the king would willingly create them such, after the usual modes of France, England, and other countries. They said they were knights already, which ought to satisfy them. I asked when they were made; they answered, at seven years old; that in Ireland a king makes his son a knight, and should the child have lost his father, then the nearest relation; and the young knight begins to learn to tilt with a light lance against a shield fixed to a post in a field, and the more lances he breaks the more honour he acquires. 'By this method,' added they, 'are our young knights trained, more especially kings' sons.' Although I asked this, I was before well acquainted with the manner of educating their children to arms. : made no further reply than by saying, this kind of childish knighthood would not satisfy the king of England, and that he would create them in another mode. They asked, 'In what manner?' 'In church, with most solemn ceremonies;' and I believe they paid attention to what I said.

"About two days after, the king was desirous to create these kings knights; and the earl of Ormond, who understood and spoke Irish well, as his lands joined the territories of the kings, was sent to wait on them, that they might have more confidence in the message from the king and council. On his arrival, they showed him every respect, which he returned, as he knew well how to do, and they seemed happy at his coming. He began a most friendly conversation with them, and inquired if they were satisfied with my conduct and behaviour. They replied, 'Perfectly well: he has prudently and wisely taught us the manners and usages of his country, for which we ought to be obliged, and do thank him.' This answer was agreeable to the earl of Ormond, for it showed sense; and then, by degrees, he began to talk of the order of knighthood they were to receive, explaining to them every article and ceremony of it, and how great a value should be set on it, and how those who were created knights behaved. The whole of the earl's conversation was very pleasing to the four kings, whom, however, as I have not yet named, I will now do: first, Aneel the great, king of Mecte; secondly, Brun de Thomond, king of Thomond and of Aire; the third, Arthur Macquemaire, king of Leinster; and the fourth, Contruo, king of Chenour and Erpe. They were made knights by the hand of the king of England, on the feast of our Lady in March, which that year fell on a Thursday, in the cathedral of Dublin, that was founded by Saint John the Baptist. The four kings watched all the Wednesday night in the cathedral; and on the morrow, after mass, they were created knights, with much solemnity. There were knighted at time same time sir Thomas Orphem, sir. Joathas Pado, and his cousin sir John Pado. The four kings were very richly dressed, suitable to their rank, amid that day dined at the table of king Richard, where they were much stared at by the lords and those present: not indeed without reason;. for they were strange figures, and differently countenanced to the English or other nations. We are naturally inclined to gaze at anything strange, and it was certainly, sir John, at that time, a great novelty to see four Irish kings."

"Sir Henry, I readily believe you, and would have given a good deal if I could have been there. Last year I had made arrangements for coming to England, and should have done so, had I not heard of the death of queen Anne, which made me postpone my journey. But I wish to ask you one thing, which has much surprised me: I should like to know how these four Irish kings have so readily submitted to king Richard, when his valiant grandfathers who was so much redoubted everywhere, could never reduce them to obedience, and was always at war with them. You have said it was brought about by a treaty and the grace of God: the grace of God is good, and of infinite value to those who can obtain it; but we see few lords now-a-days augment their territories otherwise than by force. When I shall be returned to my native country of Hainault, and speak of these matters, I shall be strictly examined concerning them; for our lord duke Albert of Bavaria, earl of Holland, Hainault, and Zealand, and his son William of Hainault, style themselves lords of Friesland, an extensive country, over which they claim the government, as their predecessors have done before them; but the Frieslanders refuse to acknowledge their right, and will not by any means submit themselves to their obedience.

To this Henry Castide answered: " In truth, sir John, I cannot more fully explain how it was brought about; but it is generally believed by most of our party, that the Irish were exceedingly frightened at the great force the king handed in Ireland, where it remained for nine months. Their coasts were so surrounded, that neither provision nor merchandise could be handed; but, the inland natives were indifferent to this, as they are unacquainted with commerce, nor do they wish to know anything of it, but simply to live like wild beasts. Those who reside on the coast opposite to England are better informed, and accustomed to traffic. King Edward, of happy memory, had in his reign so many wars to provide for, in France, Brittany, Gascony, and Scotland, that his forces were dispersed in different quarters, and he was unable to send any great armament to Ireland. When the Irish found so large a force was now come against them, they considered it most advisable to submit themselves to the king of England. Formerly, when Saint Edward, who had been canonised, and was worshipped with much solemnity by the English, was their king, he thrice defeated the Danes on sea and land. This Saint Edward, king of England, lord of Ireland and of Aquitaine, the Irish loved and feared more than any other king of England before or since. It was for this reason, that when our king went thither last year, he laid aside the leopards and flowers de luce, and bore the arms of Saint Edward emblazoned on all his banners: these were a cross patencé or, on a field gules, with four doves argent on the shield or banner, as you please. This we heard was very pleasing to the Irish, and inclined them more to submission, for in truth the ancestors of these four kings had done homage and service to Saint Edward: they also considered king Richard as a prudent and conscientious man, and have therefore paid their homage in the like manner as was done to Saint Edward.

Thus I have related to you how our king accomplished the object of his expedition to Ireland. Keep it in your memory, that when returned home you may insert it in your chronicle with other histories that are connected with it." "Henry," said I, " you have well spoken, and it shall be done." Upon this we separated; and meeting soon after time herald March, I said -" March, tell me what are the arms of Henry Castide; for I have found him very agreeable, and he has kindly related to me the history of the king's expedition to Ireland, and of the four Irish kings, who, as he says, were under his governance upwards of fifteen days." March replied, "He bears for arms a chevron gules on a field argent, with three besants gules, two above the chevron and one below."

All these things I retained in my memory, and put on paper, for I wished not to forget them.
 

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