Saint George for England by G. A. Henty
Chapter XXII: Victory and Death
While the Black Prince was with difficulty governing his province of Aquitaine, where the mutual jealousies of the English and native officers caused continual difficulties, King Edward turned all his attention to advancing the prosperity of England. He fostered trade, commerce, and learning, was a munificent patron of the two universities, and established such order and regularity in his kingdom that England was the admiration of all Europe. Far different was the state of France. The cessation of the wars with England and the subsequent disbandment of troops had thrown upon their own resources great numbers of men who had been so long engaged in fighting that they had no other trade to turn to. The conclusion of the struggle in Brittany after the battle of Auray and the death of Charles of Blois still further added to the number, and these men gathered in bands, some of which were headed by men of knightly rank, and scattered through France plundering the country and extracting heavy sums from the towns.
These "great companies," as they were called, exceeded 50,000 men in number, and as almost all were trained soldiers they set the king and his nobles at defiance, and were virtually masters of France. The most tempting offers were made to them to lay down their arms, and the pope sent legates threatening excommunication, but the great companies laughed alike at promises and threats. At last a way of deliverance opened to France. Pedro, named the Cruel, of Castile, had alienated his people by his cruelty, and had defeated and driven into exile his half-brother, Henry of Trastamare, who headed an insurrection against him. Pedro put to death numbers of the nobles of Castile, despoiled the King of Arragon, who had given aid to his brother, plundered and insulted the clergy, and allied himself with the Moors.
His quarrel with the clergy was the cause of his ruin. The pope summoned him to appear before him at Avignon to answer to the crimes laid to his charge. Pedro refused to attend, and the pope at once excommunicated him. The King of Arragon and Henry of Trastamare were then summoned to Avignon, and a treaty of alliance was concluded between them, and the pope declared the throne of Castile vacant owing to the excommunication of Pedro, and appointed Henry to it.
These measures would have troubled Pedro little had it not been that France groaned under the great companies, and the French king and the pontiff at once entered into negotiations with them to support Henry in his war against his brother. It was necessary that a leader in whom the companies should have confidence should be chosen, and Du Guesclin, still a prisoner of Chandos, who had captured him at Auray, was selected, and the pope, the King of France, and Don Henry, paid between them the 100,000 francs demanded for his ransom. Du Guesclin on his release negotiated with the leaders of the great companies, and as the pope and king promised them large gratuities they agreed to march upon Spain. They were joined by a great number of French knights and men-at-arms.
The expedition was under the nominal command of John of Bourbon, but the real guidance was in the hands of Du Guesclin. As the army marched past Avignon they worked upon the terrors of the pope until he paid them 200,000 francs in gold. France was filled with joy at the prospect of a riddance of the free companies which had so long been a prey upon them. They were, too, eager to avenge upon the cruel King of Spain the murder of his queen, who was a princess of France. The same feeling animated the people of Aquitaine, and Calverley, D'Ambrecicourt, Sir Walter Hewitt, Sir John Devereux, Sir John Neville, and several other distinguished knights, with a large train of men-at-arms, joined the adventurers. The great army moved through Arragon, whose king in every way facilitated their progress. As they entered Castile the whole people declared in favour of Henry, and Pedro, deserted by all, fled to Bordeaux and besought aid from the Prince of Wales.
Between Pedro and the English court a firm alliance had existed from the time when the former so nearly married the Princess Joan, and immediately the king heard of the expedition against him he issued orders that no English knights should take part in it. The order, however, came too late. The English knights had already marched into Spain with Du Guesclin. As for the English who formed no inconsiderable portion of the great companies, they had already declined to obey the king, when, at the insistence of the pope and the King of France, he had ordered them to disband.
On Pedro's arrival at Bordeaux with his three daughters and his son, they were kindly received by the Black Prince, courtesy and kindness to those in misfortune being among the leading characteristics of his nature. Pedro, cruel and ruthless as he was, was a man of great eloquence and insinuating manners, and giving his own version of affairs, he completely won over the prince, who felt himself, moreover, bound in some degree to support him, inasmuch as he, an ally of England, had been dethroned by an army composed partly of English. Pedro made the most magnificent promises to the prince in return for his aid, ceding him the whole of the province of Biscay, and agreeing to pay the British troops engaged in his service when he regained his throne, the Black Prince engaging to pay them in the meantime.
King Edward aided his son by raising an army in England, which sailed for Bordeaux under the command of the prince's brother, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Walter formed part of this expedition. The king had issued his writs to him and other barons of the southern counties, and the Black Prince had himself written to ask him to join him, in memory of their former deeds of arms together.
As it was now some years since he had taken the field, Walter did not hesitate, but with thirty retainers, headed by Ralph, joined the army of John of Gaunt.
The Black Prince's first step was to endeavour to recall the Englishmen of the free companies, estimated to amount to at least 30,000 men. The news that he was taking up arms and would himself command the army caused Calverley and the whole of the other English knights to return at once, and 10,000 of the English men- at-arms with the great companies also left Don Henry and marched to Aquitaine. The road led through the territory of the King of Navarre, and the Black Prince advanced 56,000 florins of gold to pay this grasping and treacherous king for the right of passage of the army.
By Christmas, 1366, the preparations were complete, but the severity of the weather delayed the advance for some weeks. Fresh difficulties were encountered with Charles the Bad, of Navarre, who, having obtained the price for the passage, had now opened negotiations with Don Henry, and the governors of the frontier towns refused to allow Sir Hugh Calverley and the free companies, who formed the advance, to pass. These were not, however, the men to stand on ceremony, and without hesitation they attacked and captured the towns, when the King of Navarre at once apologized for his officers, and renewed his engagements. As, however, the Black Prince had received intelligence that he had formed a plan for attacking the English as they passed through the terrible pass of Roncesvalles, he compelled him to accompany the army. The invitation was couched in language which was friendly, but would yet admit of no denial.
On the 17th of February the English army, 30,000 strong, reached the pass. It marched in three divisions, the first commanded by the Duke of Lancaster and Lord Chandos, the second by the Black Prince, the third by the King of Majorca and the Count of Armaguac. The divisions crossed over on different days, for the pass was encumbered by snow and the obstacles were immense. Upon the day when the prince's division were passing a storm burst upon them, and it was with the greatest difficulty that they succeeded in crossing. On the 20th of February, however, all arrived safe on the other side of the Pyrenees. Du Guesclin, who, seeing the storm which was approaching from Aquitaine, had returned to France and levied a French army, was nigh at hand, and kept within a few miles of the English army as it advanced, avoiding an engagement until the arrival of Don Henry, who was marching to join him with the great companies and 60,000 Spanish troops.
Du Guesclin kept up secret communications with the King of Navarre, who was still forced to accompany the English army. The latter accordingly went out from the camp under pretence of hunting and was captured by a detachment of French troops.
On the 1st of April, the Spanish army having joined the French, the Black Prince sent letters to Don Henry, urging him in mild but dignified language to return to obedience, and to resign the throne he had usurped, offering at the same time to act as mediator between him and his brother, and to do all in his power to remove differences and abuses. Henry, confident in his strength, replied haughtily and prepared for battle.
The forces were extremely unequal. The Black Prince had under him 30,000 men; while under Don Henry were 3000 men-at-arms on mail-clad horses, 20,000 men-at- arms on horses not so protected, 6000 light cavalry, 10,000 crossbow-men, and 60,000 foot armed with spear and sword.
The night before the battle the Black Prince lodged in the little village of Navarretta, which had been deserted by its inhabitants. Walter had been his close companion since he started, and occupied the same lodging with him in the village.
"This reminds me," the prince said, "of the day before Cressy. They outnumber us by more than three to one.
"There were greater odds still," Walter replied, "at Poitiers, and I doubt not that we shall make as good an example of them."
"They are more doughty adversaries," the prince replied. "There are nigh 20,000 English in their ranks - all veterans in war - and they are led by Du Guesclin, who is a host in himself."
"Their very numbers will be a hindrance to them," Walter replied cheerfully; "and never did I see a better army than that which you have under you. I would we were fighting for a better man, for Don Pedro is to my mind treacherous as well as cruel. He promises fairly, but I doubt if when he has gained his end he will keep his promises. He speaks fairly and smoothly, but his deeds are at variance with his words."
"It may be, my lord," the prince replied, "that I am somewhat of your opinion, and that I regret I so quickly committed myself to his cause. However, he was my father's ally, and having fulfilled all his engagements had a right to demand our assistance. I am a bad hand, Walter, at saying no to those who beseech me."
"It is so, Sir Prince," Walter said bluntly. "Would that your heart had been a less generous one, for your nobleness of disposition is ever involving you in debts which hamper you sorely, and cause more trouble to you than all your enemies!"
"That is true enough," the Black Prince said with a sigh. "Since I was a boy I have ever been harassed with creditors; and though all Aquitaine is mine, I verily believe that there is not a man in my father's dominions who is so harassed and straitened for money as I."
"And yet," Walter said, smiling, "no sooner do you get it than you give it away."
"Ah!" the prince laughed, "I cannot deny it. It is so much pleasanter to give than to pay, that I can never find heart to balk myself. I am ever surrounded by suitors. Some have lost estates in my cause, others have rendered brilliant services in the field, some have burdened themselves with debts to put their retainers in arms - all have pleased to urge, and for the life of me I cannot say them nay. I trust, though," he added more seriously, "that Don Pedro will fulfil his promises to pay my army. I have bound myself to my soldiers for their wages, besides advancing large sums to Pedro, and if he keeps not his engagements I shall indeed be in a sore strait."
"There is one thing," Walter said; "if he fail to keep his promises, we will not fail to oblige him to do so. If we win a kingdom for him, we can snatch it from him again."
"We have not won it yet," the prince said.
"We will do so tomorrow," Walter rejoined confidently. "I hope the fortunes of the day may bring me face to face with Du Guesclin. I am thrice as strong as when I fought at Cressy, and I should like to try my hand against this doughty champion."
The next morning the two armies prepared for battle, the Black Prince dividing his army as before. The divisions were commanded as in the passage of the Pyrenees, and each numbered 10,000 men.
Don Henry had also divided his force in three parts. In the first division, commanded by Du Guesclin, were 4000 veteran French knights and men-at-arms with 8000 foot-soldiers; the second was led by the prince's brother, Don Tillo, with 16,000 horse; while he himself commanded the third, in which were a multitude of soldiers, making up the gross total of 100,000 men.
As on the night preceding the battle of Poitiers, the English army had lain down supperless. Soon after midnight the trumpets sounded, and the troops soon moved forward. At sunrise the prince and his forces reached the summit of a little hill, whence was visible the approaching host of Spain. The first division, under the Duke of Lancaster and Lord Chandos, immediately quickened its pace and charged the division of Du Guesclin, which received it with great steadiness, and a desperate conflict ensued. The Black Prince charged the division of Don Tillo, which gave way at the first attack, and its commander, with 2000 horse, at once fled. The remainder of the division resisted for some time, but was unable to withstand the steady advance of the English, who without much difficulty dispersed and scattered it from the field. The King of Majorca now joined his division with that of the Black Prince, and the two advanced against the great division led by Don Henry.
The Spanish slingers opened upon the advancing force and for a time annoyed them greatly, but when the English archers arrived within bow-shot and opened fire they speedily dispersed the slingers, and the men-at-arms on both sides advanced to the attack. The conflict was long and desperate, and both sides fought with great gallantry and determination. Don Pedro - who, although vicious and cruel, was brave - fought in the ranks as a common soldier, frequently cutting his way into the midst of the Spaniards, and shouting to Don Henry to cross swords with him. Henry on his part fought with great valour, although, as he had the burden of command upon him, he was less able to distinguish himself by acts of personal prowess. Though fighting in the thickest of the press, he never lost his grasp of the general purpose of the battle. Three times, when his troops wavered before the assaults of the Black Prince and his knights, he rallied them and renewed the fight.
While this battle was raging, a not less obstinate fight was proceeding between the divisions of Lancaster and Du Guesclin. For a long time victory was doubtful, and indeed inclined towards the side of the French. The ranks of both parties were broken, and all were fighting in a confused mass, when, in the midst of the melee, a body of French and Spaniards poured in upon the banner of Chandos. He was struck to the ground, and a gigantic Castilian knight flung himself upon him and strove to slay him as he held him down. Chandos had lost sword and battle-axe, but drawing his dagger, he held with one hand his opponent's sword-arm, and at last, after repeated strokes with his dagger, he found an undefended part of his armour and pierced him with his dagger to the hilt. The Spaniard relaxed his hold, and Chandos, throwing him off, struggled to his feet and rejoined his friends, who had thought him dead. They now fought with more enthusiasm than ever, and at last, driving back the main body of the French knights, isolated a body of some sixty strong, and forced them to surrender. Among these were Du Guesclin himself, the Marshal D'Audenham, and the Bigue de Vilaines.
As these were the leaders of the division, the main body lost spirit and fought feebly, and were soon completely routed by Lancaster and Chandos. These now turned their attention to the other part of the field where the battle was still raging, and charged down upon the flank of Don Henry's army, which was already wavering. The Spaniards gave way at once on every side, and ere long the whole were scattered in headlong rout, hotly pursued by the English. The greater portion fled towards the town of Najarra, where they had slept the previous night, and here vast quantities were slaughtered by the English and Gascons. A number of prisoners were taken, and the palace and town sacked. The pursuit was kept up the whole day, and it was not until evening that the leaders began once more to assemble round the banner of the Prince of Wales. Among the last who arrived was Don Pedro himself. Springing from his charger he grasped the hand of the Prince of Wales, thanking him for his victory, which he felt would restore him to his throne.
"Give thanks and praise to God, and not to me," the prince replied, "for from Him, and not from me, you have received victory."
About 8000 men fell in the battle, the loss of the English, French, and Spaniards being nearly equal; but many thousands of the latter fell in the pursuit, and as many more were drowned in endeavouring to cross the river Ebro. Don Henry escaped after fighting till the last, and reaching the French territory in safety took refuge in the Papal court of Avignon.
Upon the morning after the battle Don Pedro requested the Black Prince to give him up all the Castilian prisoners, in order that he might put them to death. The prince, however, was always opposed to cruelty, and asked and obtained as a boon to himself that the lives of all the Spanish prisoners, with the exception of one whose conduct had been marked with peculiar treachery, should be spared, and even induced Pedro to pardon them altogether on their swearing fealty to him. Even Don Sancho, Pedro's brother, who had fought at Najarra under Don Henry, was received and embraced by Pedro at the request of the Prince of Wales. The city of Burgos at once opened its gates, and the rest of the country followed its example, and resumed its allegiance to Pedro, who remounted his throne without further resistance.
As Walter had fought by the side of the Black Prince his desire to cross swords with Du Guesclin was not satisfied; but his valour during the day won for him the warm approbation of the prince. Opposed to them were many of the great companies, and these men, all experienced soldiers and many of them Englishmen, had fought with great stubbornness. Walter had singled out for attack a banner bearing the cognizance of a raven. The leader of this band, who was known as the Knight of the Raven, had won for himself a specially evil notoriety in France by the ferocity of his conduct. Wherever his band went they had swept the country, and the most atrocious tortures had been inflicted on all well-to-do persons who had fallen into their hands, to extract from them the secret of buried hoards or bonds, entailing upon them the loss of their last penny.
The Knight of the Raven himself was said to be as brave as he was cruel, and several nobles who had attempted to oppose his band had been defeated and slain by him. He was known to be English, but his name was a mystery; and the Black Prince and his knights had long wished to encounter a man who was a disgrace alike to chivalry and the English name. When, therefore, Walter saw his banner in the king's division he urged his horse towards it, and, followed by Ralph and some thirty men-at-arms, hewed his way through the crowd until he was close to the banner.
A knight in gray armour spurred forward to meet him, and a desperate conflict took place.
Never had Walter crossed swords with a stouter adversary, and his opponent fought with as much vehemence and fury as if the sight of Walter's banner, which Ralph carried behind him, had aroused in him a frenzy of rage and hate. In guarding his head from one of his opponent's sweeping blows Walter's sword shivered at the hilt; but before the Gray Knight could repeat the blow Walter snatched his heavy battle-axe from his saddle. The knight reined back his horse for an instant, and imitated his example, and with these heavy weapons the fight was renewed. The Knight of the Raven had lost by the change, for Walter's great strength stood him in good stead, and presently with a tremendous blow he beat down his opponent's axe and cleft through his helmet almost to the chin.
The knight fell dead from his horse, and Walter, with his band pressing on, carried confusion into the ranks of his followers. When these had been defeated Walter rode back with Ralph to the spot where the Knight of the Raven had fallen.
"Take off his helmet, Ralph. Let me see his face. Methinks I recognized his voice, and he fought as if he knew and hated me."
Ralph removed the helmet.
"It is as I thought," Walter said; "it is Sir James Carnegie, a recreant and villain knight and foul enemy of mine, a disgrace to his name and rank, but a brave man. So long as he lived I could never say that my life was safe from his machinations. Thank God, there is an end of him and his evil doings!"
Walter was twice wounded in the fight, but upon neither occasion seriously, and he was soon able to take part in the tournaments and games which the Prince of Wales instituted partly to keep his men employed, partly for the amusement of the citizens of Burgos, outside whose walls his army lay encamped.
The prince was now obliged to remind the king of his promise to pay his troops; but nothing was farther from the mind of the treacherous monarch than to carry out the promises which he had made in exile. He dared not, however, openly avow his intentions; but, trusting to the chapter of accidents, he told the prince that at Burgos he could not collect a sufficient sum; but if the army would march into Leon and take up their quarters near Valladolid, he himself would proceed to Seville, and would as soon as possible collect the money which he had bound himself to furnish. The plan was adopted. Edward marched his troops to Valladolid, and Don Pedro went to Seville.
Some time passed on without the arrival of the promised money, and the prince was impatient to return to Aquitaine. Don Henry had gathered a force in France, secretly assisted by the French king, and had made an inroad into Aquitaine, where he obtained several successes, and was joined by many of the disinterested nobles of that province.
"You were right," the prince said to Walter one day; "this treacherous king, who owes his kingdom to us, intends to break his plighted word. I know not what to do; my men are clamorous for their pay, and I am unable to satisfy them. Don Pedro still sends fair promises, and although I believe in my heart that he has no intention of keeping them, yet I can hardly march against him as an enemy, for, however far from the truth it may be, his pretext that the treasury has been emptied by his brother, and that in the disturbed state of the kingdom no money can be obtained, may yet be urged as valid."
Scarcely had the army encamped before Valladolid when a terrible pestilence attacked the army. For a while all questions of pay were forgotten, and consternation and dismay seized the troops. Neither rank nor station was of avail, and the leaders suffered as severely as the men. Every day immense numbers died, and so sudden were the attacks, and so great the mortality, that the soldiers believed that Don Pedro had poisoned the wells in order to rid himself of the necessity of fulfilling his obligations.
The Black Prince himself was prostrated, and lay for some time between life and death. A splendid constitution enabled him to pull through, but he arose from his bed enfeebled and shattered, and although for some years he lived on, he received his death-blow at Valladolid. His personal strength never came to him again, and even his mind was dulled and the brightness of his intellect dimmed from the effects of the fever. When he recovered sufficiently to inquire into the state of his forces, he was filled with sorrow and dismay. Four-fifths of the number were either dead or so weakened as to be useless for service again. The prince wrote urgently to Don Pedro for the money due; but the king knew that the English were powerless now, and replied that he had not been able to collect the money, but would forward it to Aquitaine, if the prince would return there with his army. Edward knew that he lied, but with only 6000 or 7000 men, many of whom were enfeebled by disease, he was not in a position to force the claim, or to punish the base and ungrateful king. Again, therefore, he turned his face north.
Charles of Navarre had now allied himself with Don Henry, and refused to allow the remnants of the army to pass through his dominions, although he granted permission to the prince himself and his personal attendants and friends. The southern route was barred by the King of Arragon, also an ally of Don Henry; but with him the prince was more successful. He had a personal interview with the monarch, and so influenced him that he not only obtained permission for his troops to pass through his dominions, but detached him from his alliance with Don Henry, and induced him to enter into a friendly treaty with Pedro.
A greater act of magnanimity was never performed. In spite of the base ingratitude with which he had been treated, and the breach of faith which saddled him with enormous liabilities and debts, which weighed him down and embittered the rest of his life, Edward remained faithful to the cause of his father's ally, and did his best to maintain him in the position which English valour had won for him. He himself with a few companions passed through Navarre, and arrived safely in Bordeaux, where his wife awaited him, and where he was received with rejoicings and festivities in honour of his glorious campaign in Spain.
His health was now irreparably injured. Troubles came thick upon him in Aquitaine, and he had no longer the energy to repress them. Risings took place in all directions, and the King of France renewed the war. In addition to his own troubles from the debts he had incurred, and the enemies who rose against him, he was further shaken by the death of his mother Philippa, whom he tenderly loved. His friend Chandos, too, was killed in a skirmish. Unhappily, while thus weakened in mind and body the treachery of the bishop and people of Limoges, who, having bound themselves by innumerable promises to him, surrendered their city to the French, caused him to commit the one act of cruelty which sullied the brightness of an otherwise unspotted career, for at the recapture of the town he bade his soldiers give no quarter.
This act, although common enough at the time, is so opposed to the principles of mercy and humanity which throughout all the previous acts of his life distinguished the conduct of the Black Prince that it cannot be doubted that his brain was affected by the illness which was fast hurrying him to the grave. Shortly afterwards he returned to England, and busied himself in arranging the affairs of the kingdom, which his father's failing health had permitted to fall into disorder. For the remaining four years of life he lived in seclusion, and sank on the 8th of June, 1376.
Walter, Lord Somers, returned home after the conclusion of the campaign in Spain, and rode no more to the wars.
Giles Fletcher and his wife had died some years before, but the good citizen Geoffrey the armourer, when he grew into years, abandoned his calling, and took up his abode at Westerham Castle to the time of his death.
In the wars which afterwards occurred with France Walter was represented in the field by his sons, who well sustained the high reputation which their father had borne as a good and valiant knight. He and his wife lived to a green old age, reverenced and beloved by their tenants and retainers, and died surrounded by their descendants to the fourth generation.