Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
Artaveld Rallies Ghent
After Philip von Artaveld discloses the earl of Flanders' terms of peace, the people of Ghent are appalled.
Book II, ch. 95. When Philip had done speaking, it was a melancholy sight to behold men, women, and children, bewailing, with tears, their husbands, fathers, brothers, and neighbours.
After this tumult and noise had lasted some time, Philip again addressed them, and cried out, "Silence, silence!" when, on his beginning to speak, they ceased lamenting, -- "Worthy inhabitants of Ghent, you who are here assembled, are the majority of its citizens, and you have heard all I had to report to you: I see no means of remedy but a determined conduct.
"You know how very much we are straitened for all sorts of provision, an that there are thirty thousand persons in this town, who have not eaten bread for fifteen days. In my opinion, we have but the choice of three things; the first, that we close all our gates, and then, after having confessed ourselves, most fully, retire into the churches and monasteries, and there die confessed and repentant, like martyrs, to whom no mercy has been shown. In this state God will have pity on us, and on our souls; and wherever this shall be told or heard, they will say that we died nobly, like noble men of arms.
"Or, let us resolve to march out, men, women, and children, with halters about our necks, bareheaded, and with naked feet, and implore the mercy of my lord the earl: he is not so hard-hearted, nor so obstinate, but when he shall see us in such a humiliating condition, he will be softened, and take pity on his subjects; and I will be the first to offer him my head, in order to assuage his hatred, and sacrifice myself for the city of Ghent.
"Or, let us choose form five to six thousand of the most determined men in the town, and instantly march to attack the earl in Bruges; we will give him combat; and if we should be slain in the attempt, at least we shall die with honour, and God will have mercy upon us; and the world will say, that we have gallantly and valorously maintained our quarrel. If however, in this battle we be victorious, and our Lord God, who in ancient times delegated his power into the hands of Judas Maccabeus, the chief of his Jewish people, so that the Syrians were defeated and slain, would be indulgent enough to grant us this kindness, we should be everywhere the most honoured people since the time of the Romans.
"Now consider which of these propositions you will make choice of, for one of them must be adopted."
Those who were near him, and had most distinctly heard what he had said, replied, "Ah, dear lord, we put our whole confidence in you: what would you advise us? for we will do whatever you think will be most to our advantage."
"By my faith, then," said Philip," I would advise that we all march in arms against my lord. We shall find him at Bruges; and when he hears of our coming, he will sally forth and fight with us: for the pride of those in Bruges and about his person, who excite him day and night against us, will urge him to the combat. If God shall, through his mercy, grant that we gain the field, and defeat our enemies, our affairs will be instantly retrieved, and we shall be the most respected people in the universe. If we be defeated, we shall die honourably, and God will have pity on us; and thus the remainder of the inhabitants will escape and be pardoned by the earl our lord."
At these words, they all shouted out, "We will follow this plan, and no other!"
Philip then said, "My good gentlemen, since you are thus resolved, return home and get ready your arms; for in the course of to-morrow, I am determined to march for Bruges: the remaining longer here will not be to our advantage. Within five days we shall know if we be to die, or to live with honour. I will order the constables of the different parishes to go from house to house, and choose the best armed and those most fit for the service."
Immediately after the meeting broke up, and every one returned home to make ready, each according to his abilities, they kept the gates of the town so closely shut that no person whatever was suffered to come in or go out before Thursday afternoon, when those who were to march on this expedition were prepared: in all about five thousand men, and not more. They loaded about two hundred carts with cannon and artillery, and only seven with provisions; that is, five with bread and two with wine, for there were but two tuns of wine in the town. You may judge from this to what straits they had been reduced.
It was a miserable spectacle to see those who went and those who remained. These last said to them, "Good friends, you see what you leave behind; but never think of returning unless you can do so with honour, for you will not find anything here. The moment we hear of your defeat or death, we will set fire to the town, and perish in the flames, like men in despair." Those who were marching out, replied, by way of comforting them, "What you say is very just. Pray God for us; for we place our hopes in him, and trust he will assist you, as well as us, before our return."
Thus did these five thousand men of Ghent march off with their slender stores, and encamped about a league from Ghent, but touched not their provision, taking up with what they could find in the country. On Friday, they marched the whole day, and then meddled not with their stores; but their scouts picked up some few things in the country, with which they made shift, and fixed their quarters that evening a long league from Bruges. They halted there, considering it a proper place to wait for their enemies, for there were in front two extensive marshes, which were a good defence on one side; and they fortified themselves on the others with the carriages, and thus passed the night.
This story continues.