Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
John Lyon Exploits Dissatisfaction in Ghent.
John Lyon, who has been chased from the office of deacon of the pilots of Ghent by Gilbert Matthews, exploits the dissatisfaction of the citizens of the city and raises an armed party.
Book II, ch. 36. Things remained in this situation for some time, when the devil, who never sleeps, put it into the heads of the people of Bruges to make a canal from the river Lys: the earl agreed in their plans, and sent a number of pioneers, with a body of men at arms to guard them. They had in former times attempted to do this, but the citizens of Ghent had by force made them desist. News was brought to Ghent, that the inhabitants of Bruges were now intending to carry by force their old scheme of making a canal to obtain the waters of the Lys, which would be very prejudicial to them; so that great murmurs arose in Ghent, more particularly among the mariners, who were much affected by it.
They said, that the people of Bruges should not thus make a canal to draw off the course of the river, as it would be the ruin of the town. Some others said, in an underhand manner, "Now God save John Lyon! had he been our deacon, such an attempt would not have been made, nor the people of Bruges have had the courage to have undertaken this business."
John Lyon was duly informed of all these things: he began to awaken, saying, "I have for some time slept; but it seems that this trifling affair in appearance has roused me, and shall create such troubles between this town and the earl as will cost a hundred thousand lives."
Intelligence of these diggers was brought, with great additions, that much inflamed men's minds; for it chanced, that a woman on her return form a pilgrimage to our Lady of Boulogne, being weary, seated herself in the market-place, where there were crowds of people. They asked her, where she came from: she said, "From Boulogne; and I have seen in my road the greatest curse that can ever befall the town of Ghent: for there are upwards of five hundred diggers, who are labouring day and night to open a course for the Lys; and if they be not immediately prevented, they will turn to their town the current of that river."
This speech of the woman was heard, and repeated in different parts of the town. The townsmen rose, and said, such things were not to be suffered nor borne quietly. May of them went to John Lyon to ask advice in the matter, and how they should act. When John Lyon saw himself thus appealed to by those whose love and favour he wished to gain, he was much rejoiced, but took care not to show any signs of it; for it would not be a fit opportunity until the business should be more fully ascertained: he therefore made them greatly entreat before he would speak, or give any opinion on the subject. When he was prevailed on to speak, he said: "Gentlemen, if you wish to risk this business, and put an end to it, you must renew an ancient custom that formerly subsisted in the town of Ghent: I mean, you must first put on white hoods, and choose a leader, to whom every one may look, and rally on his signal."
This harangue was eagerly listened to, and they all cried out, "We will have it so, we will have it so! now let us put on white hoods." White hoods were directly made, and given out to those among them who loved war better than peace, and had nothing to lose. John Lyon was elected chief of the white hoods. He very willingly accepted of this office, to revenge himself on his enemies, to embroil the towns of Ghent and Bruges with each other, and with the earl their lord. He was ordered, as their chief, to march against the pioneers and diggers from Bruges, and had with him two hundred such people as preferred rioting to quiet.
When Gilbert Matthew and his brothers saw the numbers of these white hoods, they were not too well pleased: Stephen said to his brothers, "Did not I well forewarn you, that this John Lyon would discomfit us? It would have been better if I had been believed, and had been allowed to have killed him, than to have seen him in the situation he is in, or will be, through these white hoods which he has re-established."
"No, no," replied Gilbert, "let me but speak with my lord, and they shall be put down. I am willing they should accomplish their enterprise against the pioneers from Bruges, for the good of our town; for, in truth, it will be completely ruined, if they be suffered to proceed."
John Lyon and his rout, when they had all their white hoods, marched from Ghent, with the intention of killing the diggers and those who guarded them. News was soon carried to the pioneers, that a large force from Ghent was coming against them: they were so much afraid of the consequences they left their work, and retired to Bruges; and none were bold enough to return to their digging. John and his white hoods, not seeing any one, returned to Ghent: but they did not remain quiet, for they went up and down the town, looking at and examining every thing. John Lyon kept them in this state, and told some of them in private to make themselves comfortable, to eat and drink, and not to mind expense; for those should pay their score at a future time who would not now give them a farthing.
This story continues.