Chapter XXI: The Jacquerie
 

On the evening after the battle of Poitiers a splendid entertainment was served in the tent of the Prince of Wales to the King of France and all the principal prisoners. John, with his son and six of his highest nobles were seated at a table raised above the rest, and the prince himself waited as page upon the French king. John in vain endeavoured to persuade the prince to be seated; the latter refused, saying, that it was his pleasure as well as his duty to wait upon one who had shown himself to be the best and bravest knight in the French army. The example of the Black Prince was contagious, and the English vied with each other in generous treatment of their prisoners. All were treated as friends, and that night an immense number of knights and squires were admitted to ransom on such terms as had never before been known. The captors simply required their prisoners to declare in good faith what they could afford to pay without pressing themselves too hard, "for they did not wish," they said, "to ransom knights or squires on terms which would prevent them from maintaining their station in society, from serving their lords, or from riding forth in arms to advance their name and honour."

Upon the following morning solemn thanksgivings were offered up on the field of battle for the glorious victory. Then the English army, striking its tents, marched back towards Bordeaux. They were unmolested upon this march, for although the divisions of the Dauphin and the Duke of Orleans had now reunited, and were immensely superior in numbers to the English, encumbered as the latter were, moreover, with prisoners and booty, the tremendous defeat which they had suffered, and still more the capture of the king, paralysed the French commanders, and the English reached Bordeaux without striking another blow.

Not long after they reached that city the Cardinal of Perigord and another legate presented themselves to arrange peace, and these negotiations went on throughout the winter. The prince had received full powers from his father, and his demands were very moderate; but in spite of this no final peace could be arranged, and the result of the conference was the proclamation of a truce, to last for two years from the following Easter. During the winter immense numbers of the prisoners who had gone at large upon patrol, came in and paid their ransoms, as did the higher nobles who had been taken prisoners, and the whole army was greatly enriched. At the end of April the prince returned to England with King John. The procession through the streets of London was a magnificent one, the citizens vying with each other in decorating their houses in honour of the victor of Poitiers, who, simply dressed, rode on a small black horse by the side of his prisoner, who was splendidly attired, and mounted on a superb white charger. The king received his royal prisoner in state in the great hall of his palace at Westminster, and did all in his power to alleviate the sorrows of his condition. The splendid palace of the Savoy, with gardens extending to the Thames, was appointed for his residence, and every means was taken to soften his captivity.

During the absence of the Black Prince in Guienne the king had been warring in Scotland. Here his success had been small, as the Scotch had retreated before him, wasting the country. David Bruce, the rightful king, was a prisoner in England, and Baliol, a descendant of the rival of Robert Bruce, had been placed upon the throne. As Edward passed through Roxburgh he received from Baliol a formal cession of his rights and titles to the throne of Scotland, and in return for this purely nominal gift he bestowed an annual income upon Baliol, who lived and died a pensioner of England. After Edward's return to England negotiations were carried on with the Scots, and a treaty was signed by which a truce for ten years was established between the two countries, and the liberation of Bruce was granted on a ransom of 100,000 marks.

The disorganization into which France had been thrown by the capture of its king increased rather than diminished. Among all classes men strove in the absence of a repressive power to gain advantages and privileges. Serious riots occurred in many parts, and the demagogues of Paris, headed by Stephen Marcel, and Robert le Coq, bishop of Leon, set at defiance the Dauphin and the ministers and lieutenant of the king. Massacre and violence stained the streets of Paris with blood. General law, public order, and private security were all lost. Great bodies of brigands devastated the country, and the whole of France was thrown into confusion. So terrible was the disorder that the inhabitants of every village were obliged to fortify the ends of their streets, and keep watch and ward as in the cities. The proprietors of land on the banks of rivers spent the night in boats moored in the middle of the stream, and in every house and castle throughout the land men remained armed as if against instant attack.

Then arose the terrible insurrection known as the Jacquerie. For centuries the peasantry of France had suffered under a bondage to which there had never been any approach in England. Their lives and liberties were wholly at the mercy of their feudal lords. Hitherto no attempt at resistance had been possible; but the tremendous defeat of the French at Poitiers by a handful of English aroused the hope among the serfs that the moment for vengeance had come. The movement began among a handful of peasants in the neighbourhood of St. Leu and Claremont. These declared that they would put to death all the gentlemen in the land. The cry spread through the country. The serfs, armed with pikes, poured out from every village, and a number of the lower classes from the towns joined them. Their first success was an attack upon a small castle. They burned down the gates and slew the knight to whom it belonged, with his wife and children of all ages. Their numbers rapidly increased.

Castle after castle was taken and stormed, palaces and houses levelled to the ground; fire, plunder, and massacre swept through the fairest provinces of France.

The peasants vied with each other in inventing deaths of fiendish cruelty and outrage upon every man, woman, and child of the better classes who fell into their hands. Owing to the number of nobles who had fallen at Cressy and Poitiers, and of those still captives in England, very many of their wives and daughters remained unprotected, and these were the especial victims of the fiendish malignity of the peasantry. Separated in many bands, the insurgents marched through the Beauvoisis, Soissonois, and Vermandois; and as they approached a number of unprotected ladies of the highest families in France fled to Meaux, where they remained under the guard of the young Duke of Orleans and a handful of men-at-arms.

After the conclusion of the peace at Bordeaux, Sir Walter Somers had been despatched on a mission to some of the German princes, with whom the king was in close relations. The business was not of an onerous nature, but Walter had been detained for some time over it. He spent a pleasant time in Germany, where, as an emissary of the king and one of the victors of Poitiers, the young English knight was made much of. When he set out on his return he joined the Captal De Buch, who, ever thirsting for adventure, had on the conclusion of the truce gone to serve in a campaign in Germany; with him was the French Count de Foix, who had been also serving throughout the campaign.

On entering France from the Rhine the three knights were shocked at the misery and ruin which met their eyes on all sides. Every castle and house throughout the country, of a class superior to those of the peasants, was destroyed, and tales of the most horrible outrages and murders met their ears.

"I regret," the Count de Foix said earnestly, "that I have been away warring in Germany, for it is clear that every true knight is wanted at home to crush down these human wolves."

"Methinks," the Captal rejoined, "that France will do well to invite the chivalry of all other countries to assemble and aid to put down this horrible insurrection."

"Aye," the Count said bitterly; "but who is to speak in the name of France? The Dauphin is powerless, and the virtual government is in the hands of Marcel and other ambitious traitors who hail the doings of the Jacquerie with delight, for these mad peasants are doing their work of destroying the knights and nobles."

The villages through which they passed were deserted save by women, and in the small towns the people of the lower class scowled threateningly at the three knights; but they with their following of forty men-at-arms, of whom five were followers of Walter, fifteen of the Captal, and twenty of the Count de Foix, ventured not to proceed beyond evil glances.

"I would," de Foix said, "that these dogs would but lift a hand against us. By St. Stephen, we would teach them a rough lesson!"

His companions were of the same mind, for all were excited to fury by the terrible tales which they heard. All these stories were new to them, for although rumours had reached Germany of the outbreak of a peasant insurrection in France the movement had but just begun when they started. As far as the frontier they had traveled leisurely, but they had hastened their pace more and more as they learned how sore was the strait of the nobles and gentry of the country and how grievously every good sword was needed. When they reached Chalons they heard much fuller particulars than had before reached them, and learned that the Duchess of Normandy, the Duchess of Orleans, and near three hundred ladies, had sought refuge in Meaux, and that they were there guarded but by a handful of men-at-arms under the Duke of Orleans, while great bands of serfs were pouring in from all parts of the country round, to massacre them.

Meaux is eighty miles from Chalons, but the three knights determined to press onward with all speed in hopes of averting the catastrophe. Allowing their horses an hour or two to rest, they rode forward, and pressing on without halt or delay, save such as was absolutely needed by the horses, they arrived at Meaux late the following night, and found to their delight that the insurgents, although swarming in immense numbers round the town, had not yet attacked it.

The arrival of the three knights and their followers was greeted with joy by the ladies. They, with their guard, had taken up their position in the market-house and market-place, which were separated from the rest of the town by the river Maine, which flows through the city. A consultation was at once held, and it being found that the Duke of Orleans had but twenty men-at-arms with him it was determined that it was impossible to defend the city walls, but that upon the following morning they would endeavour to cut their way with the ladies through the peasant hosts. In the night, however, an uproar was heard in the city. The burghers had risen and had opened the gates to the peasants, who now poured in in thousands. Every hour increased their numbers.

The market-place was besieged in the morning, and an hour or two afterwards a large body of the ruffians of Paris, under the command of a brutal grocer named Pierre Gille, arrived to swell their ranks.

The attack on the market-house continued, and the Duke of Orleans held a consultation with the three knights. It was agreed that against such a host of enemies the market-place could not long be defended, and that their best hope lay in sallying out and falling upon the assailants. Accordingly the men-at- arms were drawn up in order, with the banners of the Duke of Orleans and the Count de Foix, and the pennons of the Captal and Sir Walter Somers displayed, the gates were opened, and with levelled lances the little party rode out. Hitherto nothing had been heard save yells of anticipated triumph and fierce imprecations and threats against the defenders from the immense multitude without; but the appearance of the orderly ranks of the knights and men-at-arms as they issued through the gate struck a silence of fear through the mass.

Without an instant's delay the knights and men-at-arms, with levelled lances, charged into the multitude. A few attempted to fight, but more strove to fly, as the nobles and their followers, throwing away their lances, fell upon them with sword and battle-axe. Jammed up in the narrow streets of a small walled town, overthrowing and impeding each other in their efforts to escape, trampled down by the heavy horses of the men-at-arms, and hewn down by their swords and battle-axes, the insurgents fell in vast numbers. Multitudes succeeded in escaping through the gates into the fields; but here they were followed by the knights and their retainers, who continued charging among them and slaying till utter weariness compelled them to cease from the pursuit and return to Meaux. Not less than seven thousand of the insurgents had been slain by the four knights and fifty men, for ten had been left behind to guard the gates of the market-place.

History has no record of so vast a slaughter by so small a body of men. This terrific punishment put a summary end to the Jacquerie. Already in other parts several bodies had been defeated, and their principal leader, Caillet, with three thousand of his followers, slain near Clermont. But the defeat at Meaux was the crushing blow which put an end to the insurrection.

On their return to the town the knights executed a number of the burghers who had joined the peasants, and the greater part of the town was burned to the ground as a punishment for having opened the gates to the peasants and united with them.

The knights and ladies then started for Paris. On nearing the city they found that it was threatened by the forces of the Dauphin. Marcel had strongly fortified the town, and with his ally, the infamous King of Navarre, bade defiance to the royal power. However, the excesses of the demagogue had aroused against him the feeling of all the better class of the inhabitants. The King of Navarre, who was ready at all times to break his oath and betray his companions, marched his army out of the town and took up a position outside the walls. He then secretly negotiated peace with the Duke of Normandy, by which he agreed to yield to their fate Marcel and twelve of the most obnoxious burghers, while at the same time he persuaded Marcel that he was still attached to his interest. Marcel, however, was able to bid higher than the Duke of Normandy, and he entered into a new treaty with the treacherous king, by which he stipulated to deliver the city into his hands during the night. Everyone within the walls, except the partisans of Marcel, upon whose doors a mark was to be placed, were to be put to death indiscriminately, and the King of Navarre was to be proclaimed King of France.

Fortunately Pepin des Essarts and John de Charny, two loyal knights who were in Paris, obtained information of the plan a few minutes before the time appointed for its execution. Arming themselves instantly, and collecting a few followers, they rushed to the houses of the chief conspirators, but found them empty, Marcel and his companions having already gone to the gates. Passing by the hotel-de-ville, the knights entered, snatched down the royal banner which was kept there, and unfurling it mounted their horses and rode through the streets, calling all men to arms. They reached the Port St. Antoine just at the moment when Marcel was in the act of opening it in order to give admission to the Navarrese. When he heard the shouts he tried with his friends to make his way into the bastille, but his retreat was intercepted, and a severe and bloody struggle took place between the two parties. Stephen Marcel, however, was himself slain by Sir John de Charny, and almost all his principal companions fell with him. The inhabitants then threw open their gates and the Duke of Normandy entered.

Walter Somers had, with his companions, joined the army of the duke, and placed his sword at his disposal; but when the French prince entered Paris without the necessity of fighting, he took leave of him, and with the Captal returned to England. Rare, indeed, were the jewels which Walter brought home to his wife, for the three hundred noble ladies rescued at Meaux from dishonour and death had insisted upon bestowing tokens of their regard and gratitude upon the rescuers, and as many of them belonged to the richest as well as the noblest families in France the presents which Walter thus received from the grateful ladies were of immense value.

He was welcomed by the king and Prince of Wales with great honour, for the battle at Meaux had excited the admiration and astonishment of all Europe. The Jacquerie was considered as a common danger in all civilized countries; for if successful it might have spread far beyond the boundaries of France, and constituted a danger to chivalry, and indeed to society universally.

Thus King Edward gave the highest marks of his satisfaction to the Captal and Walter, added considerable grants of land to the estates of the latter, and raised him to the dignity of Baron Somers of Westerham.

It has always been a matter of wonder that King Edward did not take advantage of the utter state of confusion and anarchy which prevailed in France to complete his conquest of that country, which there is no reasonable doubt he could have effected with ease. Civil war and strife prevailed throughout France; famine devastated it; and without leaders or concord, dispirited and impoverished by defeat, France could have offered no resistance to such an army as England could have placed in the field. The only probable supposition is that at heart he doubted whether the acquisition of the crown of France was really desirable, or whether it could be permanently maintained should it be gained. To the monarch of a country prosperous, flourishing, and contented, the object of admiration throughout Europe, the union with distracted and divided France could be of no benefit. Of military glory he had gained enough to content any man, and some of the richest provinces of France were already his. Therefore it may well be believed that, feeling secure very many years must elapse before France could again become dangerous, he was well content to let matters continue as they were.

King John still remained a prisoner in his hands, for the princes and nobles of France were too much engaged in broils and civil wars to think of raising the money for his ransom, and Languedoc was the only province of France which made any effort whatever towards so doing. War still raged between the Dauphin and the King of Navarre.

At the conclusion of the two years' truce Edward, with the most splendidly- equipped army which had ever left England, marched through the length and breadth of France. Nowhere did he meet with any resistance in the field. He marched under the walls of Paris, but took no steps to lay siege to that city, which would have fallen an easy prey to his army had he chosen to capture it. That he did not do so is another proof that he had no desire to add France to the possessions of the English crown. At length, by the efforts of the pope, a peace was agreed upon, by which France yielded all Aquitaine and the town of Calais to England as an absolute possession, and not as a fief of the crown of France; while the English king surrendered all his captures in Normandy and Brittany and abandoned his claim to the crown of France. With great efforts the French raised a portion of the ransom demanded for the king, and John returned to France after four years of captivity.

At the commencement of 1363 Edward the Black Prince was named Prince of Aquitaine, and that province was bestowed upon him as a gift by the king, subject only to liege homage and an annual tribute of one ounce of gold. The prince took with him to his new possessions many of the knights and nobles who had served with him, and offered to Walter a high post in the government of the province if he would accompany him. This Walter begged to be excused from doing. Two girls had now been added to his family, and he was unwilling to leave his happy home unless the needs of war called him to the prince's side. He therefore remained quietly at home.

When King John returned to France, four of the French princes of the blood-royal had been given as hostages for the fulfilment of the treaty of Bretigny. They were permitted to reside at Calais, and were at liberty to move about as they would, and even to absent themselves from the town for three days at a time whensoever they might choose. The Duke of Anjou, the king's second son, basely took advantage of this liberty to escape, in direct violation of his oath. The other hostages followed his example.

King John, himself the soul of honour, was intensely mortified at this breach of faith on the part of his sons, and after calling together the states-general at Amiens to obtain the subsidies necessary for paying the remaining portion of his ransom, he himself, with a train of two hundred officers and their followers, crossed to England to make excuses to Edward for the treachery of the princes. Some historians represent the visit as a voluntary returning into captivity; but this was not so. The English king had accepted the hostages in his place, and was responsible for their safe-keeping, and had no claim upon the French monarch because they had taken advantage of the excess of confidence with which they had been treated. That the coming of the French king was not in any way regarded as a return into captivity is shown by the fact that he was before starting furnished by Edward with letters of safe-conduct, by which his secure and unobstructed return to his own country was expressly stipulated, and he was received by Edward as an honoured guest and friend, and his coming was regarded as an honour and an occasion for festivity by all England.

At the same time that John was in London the King of Cyprus, the King of Denmark, and the King of Scotland were also there, and the meeting of four monarchs in London was the occasion of extraordinary festivities and rejoicing, the king and his royal guests being several times entertained at sumptuous banquets by the lord-mayor, the ex-mayor Henry Pickard, and several of the aldermen.

Six weeks after John's arrival in London he was seized with illness at the palace of the Savoy, and died on the 8th of April, 1364. The Dauphin, Charles, now succeeded him as Charles V, and the war between the houses of Navarre and Valois was carried on with greater fury than ever. The armies of Navarre were commanded by the Captal de Buch, who was a distant relation of the king; while those of Charles were headed by the Marechal de Boucicault and Bertrand du Guesclin, one of the most gallant of the French knights. A great battle was fought near Cocherel. Contrary to the orders of the Captal, his army, which consisted principally of adventurers, descended from the strong position he had chosen, and gave battle in the plain. They were completely defeated, and the Captal himself taken prisoner.

In Brittany John of Montford and Charles of Blois had renewed their struggle, and King Charles, seeing the danger of Brittany falling into the hands of De Montford, who was a close ally of England, interfered in favour of Charles of Blois, and sent Du Guesclin to his assistance.

This was a breach of the treaty of Bretigny, and De Montford at once sent to the Black Prince for assistance. The Prince did not treat the conduct of Charles as a breach of the treaty, and took no part himself in the war, but permitted Sir John Chandos, who was a personal friend of De Montford, to go to his aid. De Montford's army, after the arrival of Chandos with 200 spears, amounted to but 1600 men-at-arms and from 800 to 900 archers, while Charles of Blois had 4000 men-at-arms and a proportionate number of infantry. De Montford tried to negotiate. He offered to divide the dukedom, and to agree that in case he died childless it should revert to the family of Charles. Charles, however, refused all terms, even to grant his adversary's request to put off the battle until the morrow, so as to avoid violating the Sabbath; and having given orders that all prisoners taken in the battle should be hung, he advanced upon De Montford.

Both forces were divided in four bodies. The first on De Montford's side was commanded by Sir Robert Knolles, the second by Oliver de Clisson, the third by Chandos and De Montford, the fourth by Sir Hugh de Calverley. Du Guesclin led the front division of Charles's army, the Counts of Auxerre and Joigny the second, Charles himself the third, and the Lords of Roye and Rieux the reserve. The ducal arms of Brittany were displayed on both sides.

By slow degrees the two armies closed with each other in deadly strife. Both parties had dismounted and fought on foot with lances shortened to five feet. Du Guesclin and his division attacked that of Knolles. Auxerre fell upon De Clisson, while the divisions of the two rival princes closed with each other. After desperate fighting numbers prevailed. De Montford was driven back, but Calverley advanced to his aid, fell upon the rear of the French, threw them into disorder, and then having rallied De Montford's men, retired to his former position in readiness to give succour again where it might be needed.

In the meantime Clisson had been engaged in a desperate struggle with the Count of Auxerre, but was obtaining no advantage. Clisson himself had received the blow of a battle-axe which had dashed in the vizor of his helmet and blinded for ever one of his eyes. He was still leading his men, but the enemies' superior numbers were pressing him back, when Chandos, the instant the assistance of Calverley had relieved De Montford's division, perceiving his danger, drew off a few men-at-arms, and with them fell upon the rear of the Count of Auxerre, and dashing all who opposed him to the ground with his battle-axe, cleft his way to the very centre of the enemy. Pressed by De Clisson in front and broken by the sudden attack of Chandos in the rear, the French division gave way in every direction. Auxerre was desperately wounded, and he and Joigny both taken prisoners.

Chandos then returned to De Montford, who had gallantly followed up the advantage gained by the confusion into which Charles's division had been thrown by the attack of Calverley. Charles was routed; he himself struck down and slain by an English soldier, and the division defeated with great slaughter. De Montford's whole force now gathered round Du Guesclin's division, which now alone remained, and after fighting gallantly until all hope was gone, the brave French knight and his companions yielded themselves as prisoners.

The battle of Auray terminated the struggle between the houses of Blois and Montford. More than 1000 French men-at-arms died on the field, among whom were many of the noblest in Brittany. Two counts, 27 lords, and 1500 men-at-arms were made prisoners. De Montford now took possession of the whole of Brittany, and at the suggestion of King Edward himself did homage to Charles V for the duchy, which he afterwards ruled with wisdom.