Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The Portugese and Castilian forces prepare for battle

The army of the Portuguese king, reached the vicinity of Aljubarota, get ready to defend themselves against a superior Castilian army.

Book III, ch. 15.  The Portuguese and Lisboners approved of the advice of the English, and gave their opinion whither they should march. They were then near Aljubarota, a large village, to which place they had sent their stores, sumpter-horses and baggage, as the situation in which they had intended lodging that night, battle or not. About a quarter of a league without the village is a considerable monastery, whither the inhabitants go to hear mass. The church is on a small eminence, a little beside the road, surrounded by large trees, hedges, and bushes, which, with some little assistance, might be made a strong post. This was then told the king and his council: but he would have the English called, for, though they were very few in number, he wished to follow their advice.

They said : "Sire, we know not any spot near, more favourable than the monastery of Aljubarota, situated as it is among trees: it is now a strong position, but may be much strengthened by art."

Those who knew the country agreeing to the truth of this, the king said,— "Let us march thither, and form ourselves in such a manner as good men at arms should do; so that our enemies, when they advance, may not find us unprepared."

This was instantly done: they marched slowly to Aljubarota, and came to the square before the church, when the English and sir Monges de Navarêt, with other valiant Portuguese and Lisboners, attentively examined the place and the environs. The English said, "This spot can be made sufficiently strong, and we may securely wait here the event."  They cut down the trees fronting the plain, and laid them across, so that the cavalry could not pass them, leaving one entry not too wide, on the wings of which they posted all their archers and cross-bows. The men at arms were on foot drawn up beside the church, where the king was : and they had already displayed the king's standard and banners.  When they saw themselves thus drawn up they were much contented, saying, if it pleased God, they were in a situation to hold out for a long time and to gain the advantage by it.

The king addressed them : "My fair gentlemen, show your valour this day, and think not of flight; for that will be of no avail, as you are too distant from Lisbon; and besides, there is no safety in flight, for three good men will overpower and slay twelve run-aways. Prove that you are men of courage and offer yourselves vigorously to your opponents: consider, should the day be ours, which it will be, if it please God, how much we shall be honoured and praised in the different countries where news of it shall be carried; for the victors are always exalted, and the conquered abased. Consider also, you have made me your king, which should strengthen your courage; for he assured, that as long as this battle-axe in my hand shall hold, I will continue the fight : and should it break or fail me, I will get another, and show I am determined to guard and defend the crown of Portugal for myself, and for the right I have to the succession of my lord and brother, in which, on my soul, I declare and say they oppose me wrongfully, and that the quarrel is personal."

 Those of his countrymen who had heard him, replied—" My lord and king, you have graciously admonished and greatly advised us to be men of valour, and to support you in defending what we have given to you, and at the same time acknowledge to be your own.  Know, then, that we will all remain with you steadily, and never leave the field alive, until we gain the battle, or be carried away. Have it proclaimed to your men, for they have not all heard you, that no one dare, on his life, think of flying; and if there should be any whose courage fails, so that he fear to await the battle, let him come forward, and he shall have leave to depart (for one faint heart discourages a dozen of good men at arms), or have his head struck. off as an example to others."

The king said it should be done, and two knights were ordered by him to examine the army and admonish it, and see if any symptoms appeared among them of fear. The knights, on their return, reported to the king, that wherever they had visited, and they had examined all the different companies, they had found every one resolute and determined to wait the event of the battle.

"So much the better," said the king.

He issued orders to the army, if any persons were desirous of knighthood, to come forward, and he would confer on them the order of knighthood in the name of God and St. George. From the information I had, it seems that sixty new knights were created, which pleased the king much; and placing them in front of the army, he said,— "My fair sirs, the order of chivalry is more exalted and noble than imagination can suppose; and no knight ought to suffer himself to be debased by cowardice, or any villanous or dirty action; but when his helmet is on his head he should be bold and fierce as a lion when he sees his prey; and because I wish you to show your courage this day, where it will be needful, I order you to the front of the battalion, where you must exert yourselves, that we may both obtain honour, otherwise your spurs will not become you." Each new knight answered in his turn, as he marched by—" Sire, we will, with God's grace, do so, that we shall gain your love and approbation." In this manner were the Portuguese drawn up, and fortified near the church. of Aljubarota. None of the English were desirous to be knighted this day: they were requested by the king to be so, but excused themselves for that time.

 We will now return to the king of Castille, and to the knights, squires and men at arms from France and Gascony with him, and speak of the appearance of the Spaniards, and how they were drawn up. The knights they had sent out to reconnoitre, had returned, and said, —" Sir king, and you barons and knights present, we have leisurely examined our enemies: we do not believe that their whole amount is more than ten thousand men: they have marched to the abbey of Aljubarota, where they have halted, and are drawn up in order of battle; and there they may be found by whoever chooses to seek for them."

Upon this the king summoned a council, to which, in particular, the barons and knights of France were invited: they were asked, what was best to be done, when they instantly replied,—" Sir, it is proper they should be fought with: we see nothing else to be done; for, from the report of our scouts, they are alarmed for the event, as they find themselves distant from any fortresses whither they may retreat, and Lisbon is six leagues off; they cannot, therefore, easily run thither, even if they should take advantage of the night, without being overtaken on the road. We therefore, sir, advise, since we know where they are, that we be drawn up in battle array, and march to combat them, while your men are in a good disposition to behave well."

The king then asked his countrymen their opinions, such as Don Gonzales Nunez de Gusman, don Diego de Mendoza, Peter Gonzales de Mendoza, Peter Lopez d'Ayala, and the grand master of Calatrava who replied,—" My lord, we have well heard the French knights advise you to march instantly against your enemies; but we wish you and them to know, that before we can arrive thither it will be night, for the sun is now on the decline, and we have not yet arranged our order of battle. It would be better to wait until morning, and approach them so near that we may discover by our scouts, whom we can spread over the plain, in what manner they have posted themselves; and if they should incline to march away during the night, we might also decamp, when they cannot escape, for the country is quite open, and there is not any strong place except Lisbon, so that they must fall an easy prey to us. This is the advice we give."

 The king, on hearing thus, was silent, and looked first on the ground and then on the foreigners; when sir Reginald de Limousin, marshal of the army, thus spoke (in order to please the French) in Spanish, that he might be heard and understood by all, for he spoke that language fluently, so long had he resided among them, addressing himself to the Spaniards who were near the king, and who had given him the last advice:—

"How can you, my lords, (calling each of them by their name, for he was well acquainted with them all) pretend to have more knowledge of battles or more experience in war than the valiant knights and squires here present? how can you imagine you can devise any plan superior to theirs, or even that could be of any value? For their whole life has been employed in travelling from one kingdom to another, in search of adventures. How can you dare offer any other opinion, or thus detract from what they have so nobly said, in the defence of the honour of the king and country; in which you are more interested than they are, for you have therein your properties as well as your persons, whilst they have only their persons. They have offered a proof of their attachment by requesting of the king to be posted in front of the battalions, which his majesty has disapproved. Consider how disinterested they must be, when they made this offer. It would appear to some persons as if you were envious, and wished not that any honour or profit might accrue to them, or that the king should gain the victory over his enemies.  Honourable men at arms, who seek perfection, should be above how jealousies and such base passions, and always be of one and the same way of thinking.  Besides, through your advice, has the king been thus long and expensively kept at the siege of Lisbon, without having any opportunity of a battle, until now when the master of Avis (who signs himself king of Portugal, though he can have no such right, being a bastard) has taken the field. He is at Aljubarota at this moment with all the force he can muster, but it is not any way great: if it should therefore happen that he make his escape from us, and avoid a battle, you will run the risk of the people rising and slaying you; or the king, considering you as traitors, will have you beheaded, and your estates confiscated. I therefore see no better means for you than being silent, and agreeing with those who have been actors in more matters of this sort than you ever have been engaged in, or ever will be."

As sir Reginald ended this speech, the king raised his eyes from the ground, and seemed highly pleased with what he had heard: the Spaniards on the contrary, were thunderstruck, and thought, at the moment, they had done worse than they really had; for, notwithstanding the marshal had thus opposed and reproved them, they had wisely and prudently advised the king, for he could not have had better counsel; but his valour and frankness made him speak as follows in compliance with the French and the strangers present, who were eager for battle.

Every one was silent, when the king said,—"In the name of God and my lord St. James, I will that we combat our enemies, and that those who desire knighthood, may advance, and receive the order of chivalry in honour of God and St. George." Many squires of France and Béarn came forward, and were knighted by the king's hand; such as sir Roger d'Espaign, and his son Edmund: from the county of Foix, sir Bertrand de Barege, sir Peter de Salbiere, sir Peter de Valentin, sir William de Quer, Sir Angiers de Sollenaire, Sir Peter de Vaud, Sir William de Mondigy, with many more; in all, one hundred and forty, who willingly accepted the order of knighthood.  Some barons, of Béarn first displayed their banners with several of Castille and Sir John de Rue.  You might have seen these young knights full of vigour and gallantry, carrying themselves so handsomely that it was a pleasant spectacle to see; and they were, as I have said, a large battalion of themselves.

The lord de Lingnach then approached the king, accompanied by all those who had come from different countries, and whom the Castillians called indiscriminately Frenchmen, completely armed except their helmets, and said—" My lord king, we are come from distant countries with the best dispositions to serve you: grant us, we beg of you, that we may form the van battalion."

"I grant it," replied the king, ' in the name of God, St. James, and my lord St. George, and may they be with you!"

Upon this the Spaniards whispered one to another,— "See, for God's sake! see how our king confides wholly in these foreigners: he has not any trust in others. They have obtained the honour of the van, and hold us so cheap they will net invite us to make a part. They are now drawing themselves up separately. Well, we will do the same on our part, and, by God, let them combat and fight by themselves. Have they not already boasted they are sufficient to vanquish the Portuguese? Be it so, then: we are contented; but it will be right we ask the king if he choose to remain with us, or go with the Frenchmen."

They were murmuring a long time, whether they should put such a question to the king or not, for they were much afraid of the reprimands of sir Reginald de Limousin. Having fully considered, they thought there would not be any harm in asking the question.

Six therefore of the principal nobles, employed about his person, advanced, and, with many obeisances, thus spoke: "Most noble king, we perceive plainly that this day there will be an engagement with your enemies. God grant you may have the victory and honour I as we sincerely wish it; but we are anxious to know your pleasure, whether you will remain with us or march with the Frenchmen?"

"By no means," replied the king: "my fair sirs, if I have determined on battle, in consequence of the advice of the knights and squires from France who have come to serve me, and who are men of great valour and abilities, I do not renounce you, but will remain among you, and you will therefore help in defending me."

The Castillians were delighted with this answer; and said, " That, my lord, will we do, and never fail you as long as we live; for we have sworn to do so, and pledged our faith on the day you were crowned: we had besides so great an affection for the good king your father, that nothing shall ever make us desert you." The king of Castille remained with his Castillians, who amounted to full twenty thousand horse all covered with armour. Sir Reginald de Limousin was in the first battalion, that post being his right as marshal.

The story continues.

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