Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

Francis Atremen takes Oudenarde by surprise

The men of Ghent seek to take Oudenarde, which is loyal to the earl of Flanders.

Book II, ch. 142 (Johnes, v. II, pp. 7-8).  Francis Atremen, Peter du Bois, Peter le Nuitre and the other captains, after their return to Ghent from the siege of Ypres, were daily and nightly imagining how they could annoy their enemies. Francis Atremen found out, that the governor of Oudenarde, sir Gilbert de Lieneghen and the men at arms, had left Oudenarde, by orders from the earl of Flanders, and were with the army of the king of France before Bergues and Bourbonrg. He also learnt that the town was carelessly guarded, and that the ditches in the meadows on the road to Hamme were dry, as they had emptied them of water to get the fish, so that the walls of the town might be approached on foot, and might be entered with ladders.

Such was the intelligence the spies of Francis Atremen had brought to Ghent, who, at their leisure, had examined the town; for the guards held the Ghent men very cheap, and, as it were, had forgotten, or were quite indifferent concerning them.

When Francis Atremen had heard all this from his spies, he went and related it to Peter du Bois, and said; "Peter, such is the situation of Oudenarde: I am resolved to risk the chance of taking it with scaling ladders: there never can be so good an opportunity as the present, for neither the governor nor the men at arms are in it, but with the king of France near St. Omer, and they have not the least fear or suspicions of any one."

Peter du Bois instantly assented to the proposal, and said; " Francis, if you succeed in this expedition, no man will ever have behaved better, and every one will praise you for so gallant an action."

"I do not know," replied he, "how it may turn out, but my courage does not fail me, and my heart tells me that this night I shall gain Oudenarde."

Francis Atremen then chose four hundred men in whom he had the greatest confidence, and, towards night-fall, set out on his road to Oudenarde. It was in the month of September, when the nights are tolerably long, and such beautiful weather that it was a pleasure to be out in it.

About midnight they arrived in the mends of Oudenarde, having ladders with them. As they were traversing the marshes, there was a poor woman gathering grass for her cows, who, hiding herself, heard their conversation, and knew from it that they were Ghent men going to surprise the town, for she saw them carrying ladders. She was at first much frightened, but recovering courage, said to herself, that she would hasten to the town and inform the guard of what she had heard and seen.

She made for the town by a short path she was acquainted with, and arrived at the ditches before the Ghent men, when she began to moan and complain, so that one of the night-guard going his rounds heard her, and asked who she was, she said she was a poor woman who had come to tell them that a body of Ghent men were close at hand; and that she had seen them carrying many ladders to surprise Oudenarde; but now she had given this information she must get away, for should they meet her she would be a dead woman.

The poor woman departed, and the watch remained perfectly astonished. He determined to keep quiet where he was, to see if this woman had told truth.

The Ghent men, without horn or trumpet, were silently advancing to begin their enterprise: they made not any noise except by talking. Francis Atremen sent forward four of his men, ordering them to reconnoitre without making the least noise by coughing or otherwise, and report to him, should they observe anything. They obeyed their orders, and Francis Atremen remained hid in the marshes with his men, very near this poor woman, who heard and saw them distinctly; but they did not notice her. The four men advancing up to the ditches, neither saw nor heard anything. It was very unlucky; for, if they had but seen a lighted candle, they would have thought there had been a good watch kept. They returned to Francis telling him they had not seen anything, nor heard the least noise.

"I believe the watch has gone his rounds," said Francis, "and is now retired to bed: come, let us take this upper road which leads to the gates, and enter the ditches."

The good woman heard these words; and what did she do? Why, she instantly returned by the same way as before, and came to the man who was listening on the walls and told him all she had heard, begging of him, for God's sake, to be on his guard and go to the Ghent gate to see if his companions were in a proper state, for very shortly the Ghent men would be at their post.

"I must now return," said the woman. "as I dare not stay longer, but I have told you all I have seen and heard: pay proper attention to it, for I shall not again come to you this night." On saying which, she departed.

The man now remained alone, but did not treat the information he had received with indifference. He went to the gate leading to Ghent, where he found the guard playing at dice.

"Gentlemen," said he, "have you well fastened your gates and your barriers? for a woman came to me this night, gave me notice of her having seen a body of Ghent men marching hither."

"Yes," replied they: "our gates are fast enough: but may a scurvy night befal this woman, who has thus alarmed you at such an hour. There probably were cows and calves that had got untied, and these she fancied to have been Ghent men coming hither: they have not any such intentions."

While this conversation was passing between the constable of the watch and the guard at the gate, Francis Atremen and his companions were executing their plan: they had got into the ditches, which were dry, as they had fished them this week, and had broken down a little of the palisades near the wall, against which they had placed their ladders and had entered the town. They marched to the market-place without any noise, and continued so until they were all collected, when they met a knight, called sir Florens de Halle, lieutenant-governor, who was there on guard with about thirty men at arms of the town. The Ghent men began to shout "Ghent, Ghent !" and to attack the guard, whom they slew, as well as sir Florens de Halle.

Thus was Oudenarde taken. You may suppose that the inhabitants, who were sleeping in their beds, were exceedingly astonished when they heard these shouts and saw the town taken by scalado without having any remedy for it. Their houses were forced open, and those within slain; for they were so suddenly surprised, there was not any help for it. Those who could escape did, leaving their houses in a state of nakedness, and leaping over the walls, saved themselves by the ponds and ditches of the town. None of the rich men could carry any part of their wealth with them, but were happy if they saved their lives.

This night great numbers were killed, or drowned in the ponds; and thus ended this expedition. In the morning, when the Ghent men saw themselves masters of the town, they sent out of it all the women and children in their shifts, or in the meanest dress they had. In this plight those who had escaped got to Mons, Arras, Condé, Valenciennes, or Tournay, in the best manner they could.

News was spread everywhere of the capture of Oudenarde. The inhabitants of Ghent were greatly rejoiced at it, and said that Francis Atremen deserved to be highly prized for his valour. Francis Atremen remained governor of Oudenarde, where he gained great riches, with all sorts of stores, which was a fortunate circumstance for the captors, such as corn and wines of all sorts. Everything fell into their hands, and all the wealth which was there from France, Flanders, and Tournay; but whatever belonged to Hainault was saved, nor was any part of that taken but what was duly paid for.

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