Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
The English in Portugal Mutiny
An English expedition the earl of Cambridge has been fighting for the king of Portugal against the king of Castile. Relations between the English and the king have become strained.
Book II, ch. 90. After the English and Gascons were returned to the town of Besiouse, and had remained there some time, they resolved to send to the king of Portugal to demand their pay. They chose unanimously the lord Talbot, a baron from Wales, as their ambassador. When the lord Talbot was come to Lisbon, and had remonstrated with the king on the subject of his mission, the king only made for answer, "that they had twice made excursions contrary to his orders, which had much displeased him, and had been the cause of the delay in their payment." As he could not obtain any other answer, lord Talbot returned to his companions, and related what the king had said, which much angered them.
This same week, the earl of Cambridge quitted Estremoz and came to Besiouse, where he took up his lodgings, in a monastery of monks on the outside of the town. The knights in garrison were rejoiced on hearing this; for there were among them some who were unable to wait so long for their pay from the king, and said among themselves, "We are marvellously well taken care of: we have been in this country almost a year, and have never received any money. It is impossible but our commander must have had some, for he would never have borne it for so great a length of time."
These murmurings increased so much that they declared they would not longer suffer such treatment, and fixed a day to debate the matter among themselves. The place of conference was appointed in a handsome church situated without the town of Besiouse, and opposite to the Cordeliers, where the earl of Cambridge had his residence. The canon of Robersac [despite his ecclesiastical title, a war captain] promised to attend: indeed, it was well he did, for otherwise it would have turned out badly.
About eight o'clock, they were all assembled, except the canon, such as sir William Beauchamp, sir Matthew Gournay his uncle, the lord Talbot, sir William Hermon; and, of Gascons, the souldich de la Traue, the lord de la Barde, the lord de Châteauneuf, and several more, who began to speak and make their complaints known to each other.
There was among them a knight, bastard brother to the king of England, called Sir John Sounder, who was louder than all the rest, and said, "The earl of Cambridge has brought us hither: every day we venture our lives, and are willing to do so, for his service, and yet he keeps our pay. I therefore advise, that we form a strict union among ourselves, and unanimously agree to display the pennon of St. George, declaring ourselves friends to God, and enemies to all the world; for if we do not make ourselves feared we shall not have anything."
"By my faith," replied William Helmon, "you say well, and we will do it."
All agreed to the proposal, and considered whom they should choose for their leader: they thought they could not have a better than Sounder, for he would have more leisure to do mischief, and had greater courage for it than the others. They hoisted the pennon of St. George, and cried out, "A Sounder, a Sounder, that valiant bastard! Friends to God, and enemies to all mankind." They were then well inclined to attack the town of Besiouse, and declare war against the king of Portugal.
Sir Matthew Gournay and sir William Beauchamp had long argued against attacking Besiouse, but had been little attended to. At the moment they had displayed the pennon of St. George, and were quitting the church, the canon arrived, and, pushing through the crowd, got up to the head altar, when he cried aloud, "My fair sirs, what are you going to do? Be orderly and temperate, I conjure you; for I see you are much disturbed."
Sir John Sounder and sir William Helmon then advanced to him, and related what they had done and what were their intentions. The canon, by fair language, restrained them: "Consider, gentlemen, what you are about: that which you intend is folly and madness. We cannot destroy ourselves more effectually. If we make war on this country, our enemies will hear of it, and will gain courage when they see we cannot oppose them. We shall thus ruin ourselves two ways; for our enemies will be rejoiced and assured of what at present they may only suspect, and we shall forfeit our loyalty to the earl of Cambridge."
"And what would you have us do, canon?" said Sounder: "we have expended much more than our pay, and since our arrival in Portugal we have not had any loan or any payment whatever. If you have been paid, we have not, and your complaints will be vain."
"By my faith, Sounder," replied the canon, "I have not received more than you have, nor will I receive anything without your knowledge."
Some of the knights present answered, "We firmly believe you: but all things must have an end. Show us how we can get clear of this business with honour, and that as speedily as may be; for if we be not well paid, and in a short time, matters will go ill."
The canon de Robersac then replied, "Fair sirs, I would advise first of all, in the situation we are in, that we wait on the earl of Cambridge, and remonstrate with him on these matters of which he ought to be informed." "And who is there among us," said some one, "who will remonstrate with him?" "I will," replied Sounder, "but you must all avow what I shall say." The whole company promised to do so. They then departed with the pennon of St. George, which they had that day displayed, carried before them, and came to the Cordeliers, where the earl of Cambridge was lodged.
Just as he was going to dinner, these companions, to the amount of about seven hundred, entered the court, and demanded the earl, who having quitted his chamber, came into the hall to speak with them. The knights had advanced with Sounder at their head, and remonstrated in an agreeable manner and speech, saying, "My lord, it was you who assembled us in England; and we came hither according to your entreaties, as well as the others who are now without; we have left our country to oblige you. You are therefore our chief, and we must look to you for our pay, of which hitherto we have not received anything: for, as to the king of Portugal, we should never have come to his country nor entered his service, if you had not been our paymaster. However, if you say that the war concerns only the king of Portugal, and that you are not interested in it, we will soon pay ourselves our subsidy, for we will overrun the country, let the consequences be what they may."
"Sounder," replied the earl, "I do not say that you ought not to be paid; but, that if you overrun this country, you will throw great blame on me, as well as on the king of England, who is so strictly allied to the king of Portugal."
"And what would you have us do?" asked Sounder.
"I will, " replied the earl, "that you choose three of our knights, an Englishman, a Gascon and a German, and that these three set out for Lisbon, to explain to the king this business, and the length of time he had delayed payment to our companions. When you shall thus have summoned him, you will have a better right to follow your own inclinations."
"By my faith," said the canon de Robersac, "my lord of Cambridge says well, and speaks wisely and boldly." They all agreed to this last proposal; but notwithstanding, they would not take down the pennon of St. George, saying that since they had unanimously raised it in Portugal, they would not lower it as long as they would remain there. They then selected those who were to wait on the king of Portugal: sir William Helmon was chosen by the English, sir Thomas Simon by the Germans, the lord de Châteauneuf by the Gascons.
These three knights set out, and continued their journey until they came to Lisbon, where they found the king, who received them handsomely, asked from them the news, and what their companions were doing?
"My lord," they replied, "they are all in very good health, and would willingly make some excursions, and employ this season otherwise than they do; for long idleness is not agreeable to them."
"Well," said the king, "they shall very shortly make an excursion, and I will accompany them, and you will let them know this from me."
"My lord," answered sir William, "we are sent hither by their orders, to tell you, that since their arrival in this country, they have neither had loan nor payment form you, and that they are not satisfied; for whoever wishes to obtain the love and service of men at arms must pay them better than you have done, the neglect of which they have for some time taken to heart; for they know not on whom they depend, and have thrown the blame on our captains, so that the affair was on the point of taking a very disagreeable turn. Our chiefs excused themselves, as it was known they had not received anything. Now, know for a truth, they will be paid their full pay, if you wish their services; and if you will not pay them, they assure you by us, that they will pay themselves from your country. Therefore consider well this business, and give us such an answer as we may carry back; for they are only waiting our return."
The king mused a little, and then said, "Sir William, it is but just they should be paid: but they have much vexed me, by disobeying my orders, in making two excursions, which if they had not done, they should long ago have been fully satisfied in every respect."
"Sire," replied sir William, "if they have made any excursions, they have turned out to your advantage: they have taken towns, castles, and overrun the territories of you enemy, even as far as Seville: all this has been gallantly performed. They ought not to lose this season, which, indeed, they are determined not to do; for they declare, on our return, they will pay themselves, unless they shall receive by us a more gracious answer, than as yet they have obtained from you."
"Well," said the king, "Inform them, that within fifteen days at the latest, I will give orders for their pay to be delivered to them, to the utmost farthing; but tell the earl of Cambridge that I wish to speak with him."
"Sire," replied sir William, "I will do so, and you say well."
As he finished these words, dinner was served, when they dined together, and the king made the three sit at his table, and feasted them much. Thus passed the day, and on the morrow they returned to their friends. As soon as their arrival was known, the knights crowded about them, to learn what they had done: they related to them the answer, and the king's promise, with which they were all well satisfied.
"Now see," said Sounder, "if riot be not sometimes of use: we have advanced the delivery of our pay, by having been a little riotous: he fares well who is feared."
Soon after the money arrived for the pay of the troops, the captains first, to that every one was contented; but the pennon of St. George was still displayed.