Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
The Massacre of the Peace Party in Ghent
Following the death of the lord d'Anghien, and the raising of the siege of Ghent, some of the people of that city negotiate with others in Flanders about seeking peace.
Book II, ch. 82. About this period, through the means of the counsels of Brabant, Hainault, and Liege, there was a great assembly appointed to be holden at Harlebecque, near Courtray: the men of Ghent sent thither twelve of their principal inhabitants, who had in general shown themselves desirous of peace, whatever it might cost them from the populace that sought only confusion. All the magistrates of the chief towns in Flanders were at Harlebeque, even the earl himself; and there were some also from Liege, Hainault, and Brabant.
Matters were so ably conducted, that the deputies from Ghent returned home with propositions for a peace. It happened that those inhabitants who wished for an end of the war, namely, the prudent and quiet ones, went to the houses of the deputies who had been at this conference, and who were two of the richest and most peaceable citizens, such as sir Guisebert Gente and sir Symon Bete, and asked them what news they had brought. They discovered themselves too soon; for they replied, "Good people, we shall have, if it please God, an excellent peace for those who are well inclined and wish for quiet; and some of the wicked ones in the town will be punished."
It is commonly said, if there be those who talk, there are those who act. Peter du Bois, not thinking his life in safety , had spies everywhere to give him intelligence. Some of them brought him the reports of the town, respecting a peace, and assured him the words came from sir Guisebert Gente and sir Symon Bete. Peter, on hearing this, was like a madman, and, applying them to himself, said, "If any are to be punished for this war, I shall not be one of the last; but it shall not go thus. Our gentlemen who have been at the conference may think what they will, but I have not desire to die yet The war has not lasted half so long as I intend it shall; and my good masters John Lyon and William Craffort, have not hitherto been sufficiently avenged. If the affairs be no in confusion, I will trouble them still more."
Peter du Bois was as good as his word, and I will show how. That same evening, the morrow of which the council were to meet in the council-chamber, to hear the report of the deputies, he came to the house of Philip von Artaveld, and found him musing and thoughtful, leaning against a window of his apartment.
The first word he uttered was, "Philip, have you hard any news?" "None," replied Philip, "except that our deputies are returned from the conference at Harlebecque, and that to-morrow we are to hear in the council-chamber what they have done."
"That is true," answered Peter; "but I know what they have done, and the terms of the treaty; for they have opened themselves to some of my friends. Be assured, Philip, that our heads will pay for all the treaties they make, or have made; for there will not be any peace between my lord and the town, but that you, the lord de Harzelles, myself, and all the captains our allies in this war, will be first put to death, and the rich citizens pardoned. They wish to free themselves by delivering us up; and this was the opinion of John Lyon, my master. Besides, the earl, our lord, has his base flatterers always with him; such as Gilbert Matthew and his brothers, the provost of Harlebecque, who is their relation, and the deacon of small crafts who fled away with them. It therefore behoves us to consider awhile on this business."
"How shall we act?" asked Philip. "I will tell you," replied Peter: "we must send orders to all our leaders and captains, to be ready armed, and in the market-place to-morrow, and to keep near us: when we will enter the council-chamber, with a hundred of our men, to hear the treaty read. Leave me to manage the rest; but only avow what I shall say; for whoever wishes to preserve his life and power with the commonalty, if he do not make himself feared, does nothing."
Philip willingly assented; and then Peter du Bois, taking his leave, departed. He instantly sent his servants and scouts to the different captains under him, to order them and their men to be in the market place on the next day, well armed, to hear the news. They all obeyed, for none dared to refuse, and were ready for any mischief.
The ensuing morning, at nine o'clock, the mayor, sheriffs, and rich men of the city, came to the market-place and entered the town hall; then came those who had been at the conferences at Harlebeque; and last came Peter du Bois and Philip van Artaveld, well attended by those of their party. When they were all assembled and seated, for everyone who chose it sat down, they found the lord de Harzelles was not present: they sent to him, but he excused himself by saying he could not come, for he was unwell: "Proceed," cried out Peter du Bois; "I will answer for him, and we are full enough: let us hear what these gentlemen have brought from the conferences at Harlebeque."
Upon this, Guisebert Gente and Simon Bete rose up, as being the principal deputies; when one of them spoke thus: "Gentlemen of Ghent, we have attended the conferences at Harlebeque; and we have had much labour and difficulty, in conjunction with the good men of Brabant, Liege, and Hainault, in making up our disputes with the earl our lord. However, at the entreaty of the duke and duchess of Brabant, who had sent thither their council, as well as duke Albert, the good town of Ghent is at peace with the earl, on condition that two hundred men at arms, whose names he will send within fifteen days in writing, shall surrender themselves to his prison in the castle of Lille, to his pure will: he is so noble and generous that he will show them mercy and pardon."
At these words, Peter du Bois advanced, and said, "Guisebert, how have you dared to enter into any treaty that should put two hundred men at arms into any of the enemy's prisons? Ghent would be indeed disgraced, and better would it be for it, if completely overturned, than to be reproached for having so scandalously concluded the war. We know well among ourselves, and understand that neither you nor Symon Bete will be of the two hundred. You have made your own choice; but we shall carve and cut out for ourselves. Advance, Philip, on these traitors, who want to betray and dishonour the town of Ghent."
On saying this, Peter du Bois drew his dagger, and coming up to Guisebert, struck him into the belly, so that he fell down dead. Philip drew also his dagger, and with it struck Symon Bete and slew him. They then began to cry out "Treason, treason!" They had their partisans all round about them, so that many of the richest and greatest men in the town dissembled, to save their lives.
A that time only those two were killed; but to satisfy the people, and to turn the affair to their advantage, they sent their scouts to cry through the town, that Guisebert and sir Symon Bete, like false traitors, wanted to betray the good town of Ghent.
Thus the matter ended: the dead were dead; and no one was called to any account for it, nor any penalty exacted. When the earl of Flanders, who was at Bruges, heard of this, he was sorely enraged, and said, "At the entreaties of my cousins of Brabant and Hainault, I too easily acceded to their wishes of making peace with Ghent, and more than once have they, in return, thus acted: but I will have them know, they shall never have peace, until I have had given up to me such a number of the inhabitants as will satisfy me."
In this manner were slain two valiant and rich men in the town of Ghent, for having acted according to the intentions of many of their fellow-citizens. Each of them had for his patrimony two thousand francs of yearly revenue. They were much pitied in secret; but no one dared to do so publicly, unless he wished to lose his life.
Things remained in this state, and the war was more bitter than before. The garrisons round Ghent were night and day in the field, so that no provision could enter the town. The Brabanters and Hainaulters were afraid of venturing themselves; for, whenever they were met by the earl's men, the best that could befall them was the slaughter of their horses, sending them prisoners to Dendremonde or to Oudenarde, or making them pay ransom. By these means, the victuallers were afraid to risk bringing supplies to the town.