Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
The Lord de Boursiers on the Somme
The duke of Lancaster is invading Picardy, following the course of the river Somme. The people of the town of Ham, a natural crossing point, take measures to defend themselves.
Book I, ch. 317. The lord de Boursiers was at this time returning from Hainault into France, and arrived so opportunely at Ham that the inhabitants most earnestly entreated of him to remain there to assist them inn defending their town against the English. He complied with their request, staying with them two days, during the time the English passed by, following the course of the river Somme, to enter the Vermandois and to cross the river at the narrowest part. When the lord de Boursiers heard that the English had almost all passed, and that they were advancing towards St. Quentin and Ribemont, where the lord du Chin, whose daughter he had married, possessed a large estate, and where he also had lands in right of his wife, he took leave of the citizens of Ham, who thanked him much for his services, as he knew the castle of Ribemont was quite unprovided with men at arms.
He was attended by as many companions as he could muster, but they were few in number, and rode on until he came to St. Quentin, where he did not arrive without great danger, for the whole country was overspread with English. He got into the town just in time, for the English light troops came to the gates as he entered them. The lord de Boursiers found there sir William des Bourdes, who was governor of it for the king: he was received by him joyfully, and much pressed to stay there, to help him in the defense of the town.
The lord de Boursiers excused himself by saying, that he had undertaken to go to Ribemont, to defend that town and castle, which was without any garrison; and he entreated sir William so much for assistance that he gave him twelve cross-bows. He had not advanced far before he saw a company of English; but, as he knew the country well, he took a more circuitous road to avoid them: the English never quitted their line of march. He was this whole day much in peril on his road towards Ribemont. His force might now consist of about forty spears and thirty cross-bows.
As they were approaching Ribemont, having sent forward one of their scouts to inform the inhabitants that they were coming to their aid, they perceived a body of English advancing, who appeared to consist of at least fourscore men on horseback. The French said, "Here are our enemies returning from pillage: let us meet them." Upon which they stuck spurs into their horses, and galloped off as fast as they could, crying out, "Notre Dame Ribemont:" they fell upon the English, whom they defeated and slew. Happy were they who could escape.
When the French had thus conquered these English, they came to Ribemont, where they found the lord du Chin, who a little before had entered the town before the castle, and many of their men had gone to their quarters to disarm themselves, they heard the sentinel on the castle wall cry out, "here are men at arms advancing on the town." On which they went nearer the castle, and asked how many he thought there might be: he answered "About fourscore." Upon which, the lord de Boursiers said, "It behoves us to go and fight with them, for otherwise we shall have much blame in having suffered them thus to come up to our very walls unnoticed." The lord du Chin replied, "Fair son, you say well: order out our horses, and display my banner." Sir John de Bueil rejoined, "Gentlemen, you shall not go without my company: but I would advise you to act more deliberately in this business: for peradventure they may be men at arms lightly mounted, whom the marshals or constable may have sent hither to draw us out of our fortress, and our sally may turnout to our loss."
The lord de Boursiers said: "If you will adopt my plan, we will go and fight them, and that as speedily as may be; for whatever may happen, I am determined to do so." On saying this, he fixed on his helmet and tightened his armour, and then sallied forth with about one hundred and twenty combatants. The English were about fourscore, part of the troop of sir Hugh Calverley, though sir Hugh himself had remained with the duke of Lancaster. There were as many as six knights and other squires, who had advanced to revenge the deaths of their companions.
On the French coming out at the gate, they met the English, who, lowering their spears, vigorously attacked them: they opened their ranks, when the English galloped quite through: this caused so great a dust that they could scarcely distinguish each other. The French soon formed again, and shouted their cry of "Notre Dame de Ribemont!" Many a man was unhorsed on both sides. The lord du Chin fought with a leaden mace, with which he smashed every helmet that came within reach of it; for he was a strong and lusty knight, well made in all his limbs: but he himself received such a blow on his casque that he reeled, and would have fallen to the ground had he not been supported by his squire. He suffered from this blow as long as he lived.
Several knights and squires of the English were greatly surprised that the arms on the lord du Chin's banners were perfectly the same as those of the lord de Coucy, and said, "How is this? has the lord de Coucy sent any of his men hither? he ought to be one of our friends."
The battle was very mortal; for in the end almost all the English were killed or made prisoners, few escaping. The lord de Boursiers took two brothers of the name of Pembroke, one a knight, the other a squire. Sir John de Bueil took two others, with whom they retreated into Ribemont. The English army marched by, but made no assault; for they thought it would be losing time. Orders were given to do no damage, by burning or otherwise, to the lands of the lord de Coucy, who was at the time in Lombardy, and interfered not with the wars in France.