Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
The Prince of Wales' revenge on Limoges
Among the cities lost by Edward, Prince of Wales to French offensives in the 1360s was Limoges, which surrendered on good terms to a large French army. This infuriated the prince, who made an immediate effort to regain it.
Book I, ch. 288. When intelligence was brought to the prince that the city of Limoges had become French, that the bishop, who had been his companion, and one in whom he used to place great confidence, was a party to all the treaties, and had been much aiding and assisting in the surrender, he was in a violent passion, and held the bishop and all other churchmen in very low estimation, in whom formerly he had put great trust. He swore by the sour of his father, which he had never perjured, that he would have it back again, that he would not attend to anything before he had done this, and that he would make the inhabitants pay dearly for their treachery. When the greater part of his forces were arrived, he mustered them: they amounted to twelve hundred lances, knights and squires, a thousand archers, and a thousand footmen.
[Froissart lists the many lords who accompanied the prince.]
All these men at arms were drawn out in battle array, and took the field, when the whole country began to tremble for the consequences. At that time the prince of Wales was not able to mount his horse, but was, for his greater ease, carried in a litter. They followed the road to Limousin, in order to get to Limoges, where in due time they arrived and encamped all round it.
The prince swore he would never leave the place until he had regained it. The bishop of the place and the inhabitants found they had acted too wickedly, and had greatly incensed the prince; for which they were very repentant, but that was now of no avail, as they were not the masters of the town. Sir John de Villemur, sir Hugo de la Roche and Roger de Beaufort, who commanded in it, did all they could to comfort them by saying, "Gentlemen, do not be alarmed: we are sufficiently strong to hold out against the army of the prince: he cannot take us by assault, nor greatly hurt us, for we are well supplied with artillery."
When the prince and his marshals had well considered the strength and force of Limoges, and knew the number of gentlemen that were in it, they agreed they could never take it by assault, but said they would attempt it by another manner. The prince was always accustomed to carry with him, in his expeditions, a large body of miners: these were immediately set to work, and made great progress. The knight who were in the town soon perceived they were undermining them, and on that account began to countermine, to prevent the effect...
ch. 290. The prince of Wales remained about a month, and not more, before the city of Limoges: he would not allow of any assaults or skirmishing, but kept his miners steadily at work. The knights in the town perceived what they were about, and made countermines to destroy them; but they failed in their attempt. When the miners of the prince (who, as they found themselves countermined, kept changing the line of direction of their own mine) had finished their business, they came to the prince, and said: "My lord, we are ready, and will thrown down, whenever you please, a very large part of the wall into the ditch, through the breach of which you may enter the town at your ease and without danger."
This news was very agreeable to the prince, who replied, "I wish then that you would prove your words to-morrow morning at six o'clock." The miners set fire to the combustibles in the mine; and on the morrow morning, as they had foretold the prince, they flung down a great piece of wall, which filled the ditches. The English saw this with pleasure, for they were all armed and prepared to enter the town. Those on foot did so, and ran to the gate, which they destroyed as well as the barriers, for there were no other defenses; and all this was done so suddenly that the inhabitants had not time to prevent it.
The prince, the duke of Lancaster, the earls of Cambridge and of Pembroke, sir Guiscard d'Angle and the others, with their men, rushed into the town. You would then have seen pillagers, active to do mischief, running through the town, slaying men, women, and children, according to their orders. It was a most melancholy business; for all ranks, ages and sexes cast themselves on their knees before the prince, begging for mercy; but he was so inflamed with passion and revenge that he listened to none, but all were put to the sword, wherever they could be found, even those who were not guilty: for I know not why the poor were not spared, who could not have had any part in this treason; but they suffered for it, and indeed more than those who had been the leaders of the treachery.
There was not that day in the city of Limoges any heart so hardened, or that had any sense of religion, who did not deeply bewail the unfortunate events passing before their eyes; for upwards of three thousand men, women and children were put to death that day. God have mercy on their souls! for they were veritable martyrs.
A company of English, in entering the town, hastened to the palace of the bishop, whom they there found and took prisoner, carrying him, without any regard to his dignity, to the prince of Wales, who, eyeing him indignantly, told him that his head should be cut off, and ordered him out of his presence.
We will now speak of those knights who were in the town, sir John de Villemur, Hugh de la Roche, and Roger de Beaufort, son to the count de Beaufort, governors of the city. When they perceived the tribulation which was overpowering them, they said: "We shall all be slain for a certainty, if we do not gallantly defend ourselves: let us therefore sell our lives dearly as good knights ought to do." Upon this, sir John de Villemur said to Roger de Beaufort, "You must be knighted." Roger replied, "Sir, I have not as yet signalised myself sufficiently for that honour, but I thank you for your good opinion in suggesting it to me."
No more was said, for they had not time to hold further conversation. They collected in a body, and, placing themselves before an old wall, sir John de Villemur and sir Hugh de la Roche displayed their banners, and drew up in good order. They might be, in the whole, about fourscore. The duke of Lancaster and the earl of Cambridge, with their men, advanced upon them, and dismounted, to be on an equality with the enemy. They attacked them with a hearty good will. You may easily imagine that this handful of men could not resist the English, but were all slain or made prisoners.
The duke of Lancaster was engaged for a long time with sir John de Villemur, who was a hardy knight, strong and well made. The earl of Cambridge singled out sir Hugh de la Roche, and the earl of Pembroke Roger de Beaufort, who was but a simple esquire. These three Frenchmen did many valorous deeds of arms, as all allowed, and ill did it betide those who approached too near.
The prince, coming that way in his carriage, looked on the combat with great pleasure, and enjoyed it so much that his heart was softened and his anger appeased. After the combat had lasted a considerable time, the Frenchmen, with one accord, viewing their swords, said, "My lords, we are yours: you have vanquished us: therefore act according to the law of arms." "By God," replied the duke of Lancaster, "sir John, we do not intend otherwise, and we accept you for our prisoners." Thus, as I have been informed, were these three knights taken.
But the business was not here ended, for the whole town was pillaged, burnt, and totally destroyed. The English then departed, carrying with them their booty and prisoners. They marched to Cognac, where the princess had remained, and their the prince disbanded his forces, not intending to do anything more that season; for he did not feel himself at his ease, as every exertion aggravated his disorder, which was increasing, to the great dismay of his brothers and all those about him.
I must inform you how the bishop of Limoges escaped with imprisonment, who had been in imminent danger of his life. The duke of Lancaster asked him of the prince, who consented, and ordered him to be given up to the duke, for him to do with him according as he willed. The bishop having good friends, they sent information of his situation to the pope, who had lately arrived at Avignon; and fortunate was it for the bishop they did so, otherwise he would have been a dead man. The pope wrote such pressing and kind letters to the duke of Lancaster, to request he would give him the bishop, that he was unwilling to refuse, and sent him to the pope, who felt himself exceedingly obliged for it.