Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The king of Portugal marches to meet the king of Castile

Following the arrival of 500 English adventurers, the king of Portugal prepares to fight Castile.

Book III, ch. 14.  The king of Portugal had these new-corners to dine in the palace of Lisbon, and ordered them to be well lodged in the city, and their pay to be advanced them for three months. The king made his secretaries draw up letters, which he sent throughout the realm, commanding all persons, capable of bearing arms, to come instantly to Lisbon, under pain of his displeasure. Few paid any obedience to these letters, and too many remained at home; for three parts of the kingdom were on bad terms with the Lisboners, because they had crowned a bastard for king, and abused them much behind their backs.

The king of Castille and his council, knowing of this difference of opinion in Portugal, had thus advanced, with the intent of conquering it for they said it would be the affair of only one battle, when, if the Lisboners were conquered, the rest of the country would be rejoiced, and the grand master of Avis would be overpowered and slain, so that the kingdom would fall to Spain, for the queen was the right heiress to it.  King John of Castille, however, would willingly have avoided this war; but his subjects would not permit it, as they said he had just cause for it, and thus emboldened him.

 When the king of Portugal found his summons was so little attended to, and disobeyed by those on whose services he had counted, he was very pensive.  He assembled the principal persons of Lisbon, and the knights of his household who had been most active in crowning him, and who had served under king Ferdinand; such as sir John Radighos, sir John Testa d'Oro, the lord de la Figuire, sir Gomme de Tarbeston, Ambrose Condrich, Peter Condrich his brother, sir Monges de Navaret, a knight of Castille whom, having been banished from thence by the king, the king of Portugal had made captain of his knights.

At this council the king explained several things, and saidó "My fair sirs who are here assembled, I know I may depend on your friendships, for you have made me king; but you must perceive that great numbers of my subjects refuse me their assistance in this time of need, and will not take the field. I must own I should have been truly happy to have seen them as well disposed as myself to meet our enemies; but alas! it is otherwise, for they draw back and dissemble. I solicit your advice on this business, how I had best act, and beg of you to give me your opinions."

Sir Gomme de Tarbeston, a Portuguese knight, then spoke "Sir, I advise, for your own honour, that you instantly take the field, with as many men as you can collect, and hazard the event: we will assist you until death, for we hold you king and lord of this town; and if there be any rebels or discontented persons in Portugal, it is, I say (and in this I am joined by many in the town), because you have never yet attacked nor showed yourself to your enemies. You have had hitherto the renown of being a valiant man at arms, but on this occasion you have not acted like one. This has encouraged your enemies, and checked the ardour of your subjects; for, when once you show courage and resolution, they will fear you, as well as your enemies. "By my head," said the king, "sir Gomme you speak well: and now order our men to be made ready, and every other preparation to hasten our march, for we will meet our enemies, and gain all or lose all."

 "My lord," replied the knight, "it shall be done: if God send you good success, and the day be ours, you will reign king of Portugal, and be prized and honoured in all countries wherever you shall be known. You can only have the complete government of this kingdom by a battle; and I give you as an example king don Henry, your cousin, the father of don John of Castille. He gained all his inheritances by the sword, and would never otherwise have succeeded; for you know how the power of the prince of Wales replaced don Pedro on the throne, when afterwards by the event of the battle before Montiel, he forfeited his life, and don Henry regained possession of the kingdom. He in that day risked his own person as well as that of his friends; and you must do the same if you wish to live with honour."

"By my head," said the king, "you say well; and I will not ask other advice, but follow this, which is much to my advantage." The council now broke up; and orders were given for the army to march in three days' time, to choose a proper position to wait for the enemy.  The gates of Lisbon were kept so closely shut that no person whatever was allowed to quit the town; for the king and the inhabitants would not that the Spaniards should know their intention nor their numbers.

 The English were much pleased when they learnt they were to march towards Santarem, where the king and his army lay. Every one now prepared his arms; the archers their bows and arrows each according to his rank. On a Thursday, in the afternoon, the king with his army marched out of Lisbon, and encamped that day on the banks of a small river two leagues from the town, with their front towards Santarem: they said they would never return before they had seen their enemies, and that it was much better they should offer battle than for the enemy to come to them. They had remarked the difference between those who sought and those who waited for a battle, and that inferior numbers had frequently gained the day: for in almost all the victories the English had obtained over the French, they had been the first to offer battle; and they observed, that an attacking army is naturally more courageous than one on the defence.

This was the opinion of the inhabitants of Lisbon when they marched out of the town, and they thus continued their conversation: "Some of us were with the men of Ghent when they marched to Bruges and offered battle to the count of Flanders and his army in that town; and we well know, that Philip Von Artaveld, Peter du Bois, John Cliqueriel, François Atremen and Peter le Nuitre, the leaders of the Ghent-men, had not under them more than seven thousand men; but they fought the battle, and defeated eleven thousand. This is a known fact, for there was not any treachery: fortune was favourable to Ghent on the day of battle, which was fought on a Saturday, a long league distant from Bruges, as we were informed on the morrow when they had conquered that city." They comforted themselves that there was as good a chance to win as to lose, and that, if they wished to succeed in arms they must act boldly. Such were the conversations of the Lisboners among themselves on the Thursday, as they continued their march. When the king heard how resolutely they discoursed, he was much pleased.

When the trumpets of the king's army sounded on the Friday morning, all made themselves ready, and marched on the right, following the river and the flat country, on account of the baggage and provision which followed them, and advanced four leagues. News was brought, on this Friday, to the king of Castille at Santarem, that the Portuguese, under the command of the master of Avis, whom the Lisboners had crowned king, were advancing to meet him. This intelligence was soon spread through the army; and it gave the Spaniards, French, and Gascons much joy: they said, "These Lisboners are valiant fellows, thus to come and fight with us: let us hasten to take the field, and surround them if we can, that we may prevent their return: for, if we can help it, not one of them shall see Lisbon again." It was proclaimed through the army, by sound of trumpet, for every one to be ready, both horse and foot, on Saturday morning, as on that day the king would march to combat his enemies. Every one was prepared and showed great joy at the orders, and at the event likely to happen.

On the Saturday morning, all the trumpets in the Castille army sounded. The king heard mass in the castle, then drank a cup, as did his attendants, and mounting their horses, they marched into the plain in handsome order: sir Reginald de Limousin, marshal of the army, led the van. Scouts were ordered to examine the appearance of the enemy, where they were, and what might be their numbers. Two squires were ordered on this duty by the French; one a Burgundian, and the other a Gascon. The Burgundian was called William de Montigny, and of the company of sir John de Rue:  the Gascon came from Béarn, and his name was Bertrand de Barege. They were both on that day made knights, and with them a lord of Castille, an able man at arms, called sir Pedro Fernando de Medina; he was mounted on a light genet that had wonderful speed.

While these three knights were exploring the country on all sides, in search of the Portuguese, their main army, which consisted of full two thousand lances, knights, and squires, Gascons, Burgundian; French, Picards and Bretons, as well equipped and mounted as men at arms could be, and twenty thousand Spaniards, all on horseback marched at a foot's pace, and had not advanced the distance of a bow-shot when they halted. The king of Portugal had also sent three scouts to observe the countenance and order of the Spaniards, two of whom were English squires and expert men at arms, whose names were James d'Hartleberry and Philip Bradeston, and with them a Portuguese called Fernando de la Gresse. They were all well mounted, and rode so far that from an eminence where they were hid by the leaves of the trees they examined carefully the whole Spanish army.

They then returned to the king of Portugal and his army, which they found drawn up in the plain, and related what they had seen. "Sire, we have advanced so far as to have fully reconnoitred your enemies: they are very numerous, thirty thousand horse at least: therefore consider well the business."

The king asked, " Do they march in one body ?"

"No, sir: they are in two battalions."

The king turned about, and said aloud, "Now all of you attend to what I say, for here must be no cowardice: we shall soon engage our enemies, who are on their march and eager to meet us: this they will do, for we can neither fly nor return to Lisbon. We have left that town: therefore act well and sell your lives dearly.  You have made me your king: this day I shall see whether the crown is to be peaceably mine; for be assured I will never fly, but abide the event."

They replied, "God assist us! we will all stand by you."

Northberry and Hartsel were then called, with others the most experienced in arms, and men who had seen the greatest number of battles, when they were asked their opinions, as to the best mode of acting, to wait the event of a battle; for they were likely to be forced to fight, as the enemy was advancing fast, and in such numbers that they were at least four to one. The Englishmen said, "Since we must have a battle, and they are superior to us in numbers, it is an unequal chance, and we cannot conquer them but by taking advantage of the hedges and bushes; let us therefore fortify ourselves in such manner, and you will see they will not so easily break us as if we were in the plain. The king replied, "Yon speak wisely, and it shall be done as you recommend."

The story continues.

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