Chapter XII. The Troubles in Flanders
 

On re-entering the city gates they first went to an armourer's, where they purchased and buckled on some gilded spurs.

"Truly, Albert, I can scarce believe our good fortune," Edgar said, as they left the shop. "It seems marvellous that though we have not served as esquires, we should yet at seventeen be dubbed knights by the king."

"You have well deserved it, Edgar; as for me, I have but done my best to second you."

"And a very good best it was, Albert," Edgar laughed. "'Tis true that in the skirmish outside Aldersgate I might have managed by myself, but in the Fleming's affair and in the Tower I should have fared hardly indeed had it not been for your help. I fancy that we have the Fleming to thank for this good fortune. You see he had already told the king that we were to accompany him, and perhaps he may have pointed out to him that it might be to the advantage of his mission that we should be made knights. He has great influence with the Court, seeing that he has frequently supplied the royal needs with money. First let us visit our good friend Sir Robert Gaiton."

The knight received them most warmly. "I heard from Van Voorden that you were going to Flanders with him. You are like to see stirring events, for Ghent has long been in insurrection against the Count of Flanders, and things are likely to come to a head erelong. Ah, and what do I see--gold spurs! Then the king has knighted you. That is well, indeed, and I congratulate you most heartily. I tell you that I felt some shame that I, who had not even drawn a sword, should have been knighted, while you two, who had fought like paladins, had not yet your spurs, and I was glad that I had an opportunity, down in Kent, of showing that I was not a mere carpet knight."

"'Tis for that affair that the king said he knighted us, Sir Robert," Edgar said. "The other matters were private ventures, though against the king's enemies; but that was a battle in the field, and the success put an end to rioting down there."

"I shall not forget my promise about the knightly armour," the merchant said, "but methinks that it were best to wait for a while. The armour the Fleming bought you is as good as could be made, but doubtless you will outgrow it, so it would be best for me to delay for two or three years. It is not likely that you will have much to do with courtly ceremonies before then, and when you get to twenty, by which time you will have your full height, if not your full width, I will furnish you with suits with which you could ride with Richard when surrounded by his proudest nobles and best knights."

"We thank you, indeed, Sir Robert, and it would be much better so. The first shine is not off our armour at present, and it would be cumbrous to carry a second suit with us, therefore we would much rather that you postponed your gift."

He now went with them into the ladies' room. "Dame and daughter," he said, "I have to present to you Sir Edgar Ormskirk and Sir Albert De Courcy, whom his Majesty has been pleased this morning to raise to the honour of knighthood, which has been well won by their own merits and bravery."

The dame gave an exclamation of pleasure and her daughter clapped her hands.

"'Tis well deserved, indeed," the former exclaimed, "and I wish them all good fortune with their new dignity. How much we owe them, Robert."

"That do we," the merchant said, heartily.

"I am pleased," the girl said, coming forward and frankly shaking hands with both.

"I can scarce credit our good fortune, Mistress Ursula," Albert said. "'Tis but a few months since I deemed that I was unfit for martial exercise, and that there was naught for me but to enter the Church, and now, thanks entirely to Edgar and to good luck, I am already a knight; 'tis well-nigh past belief. That meeting with you and your father was the beginning of our great fortune."

"That was a terrible night," the girl said, with a little shudder at the recollection. "Heaven surely sent you to our aid."

While they were talking, Sir Robert said a word apart to his wife, and left the room. He presently returned with a small coffer, which he handed to her.

"It seems to me, young knights," she said, "that your equipment is incomplete without a knightly chain. My husband, I know, is going to give you armour for war; it is for us to give you an ornament for Court. These are the work of Genoese goldsmiths, and I now, in the name of my daughter and myself, and as a small token of the gratitude that we owe you, bestow these upon you."

So saying she placed round their necks two heavy gold chains of the finest workmanship. Both expressed their thanks in suitable terms.

"When do you sail?" the merchant asked Edgar.

"To-morrow morning," he replied, "and the ship will unmoor at noon. We will come to say farewell to you in the morning."

Mynheer Van Voorden and his family were no less delighted than Sir Robert Gaiton at the honour that had befallen them.

"Methinks, Mynheer," Edgar said, "that 'tis to you that we in part owe the honour the king has bestowed on us, for he said that as you had a mission from him it would be well that we should have the rank of knighthood."

"I may have said as much to the king," Van Voorden admitted, "but it was not until Richard had himself said that he intended at the first opportunity to knight you both. On that I spoke, and pointed out that the presence of two English knights with me would add weight to my words. On which he gladly assented, saying that it had before been his intention to do so ere you left London, had not Sir Ralph said it would be better for you to earn it in the field; but as, since that time, you had fought in a stiff battle, and done good service to the realm by putting down the insurgents in Kent, who had been the foremost in the troubles here, he would do so at once.

"I think now that it were well you should each take a man-at-arms with you--a knight should not ride unattended. When we get across there I will hire two Flemings, who speak English, to ride with your men. You will need them to interpret for you, and they can aid your men to look after your horses and armour. If the two fellows here start at once for your homes, the others can be back in the morning."

"One of them is the man I should take with me," Edgar said. "I promised him that he should ride behind me as soon as occasion offered. He has no horse, but I doubt not that I shall be able to purchase one out there."

"I will see to that," Van Voorden said, "and to his armour. Do not trouble yourself about it in any way. And now about your man, Sir Albert?"

"I will ask my father to choose a good fellow for me, and one who has armour and a horse."

"Then it were best to lose no time. There is pen and parchment on that table. Doubtless you will both wish to write to tell your fathers of the honour that the king has bestowed upon you."

Both at once sat down and wrote a short letter. Edgar, after telling his father that he had been knighted, said:

"Mynheer Van Voorden says it will be as well if we each take a man-at- arms with us, so I shall, with your permission, take Hal Carter, as I had arranged with you to do so when I went to the wars. He is a stout fellow, and will, I am sure, be a faithful one. I hope that you will find no difficulty in replacing him."

Sir Ralph himself arrived at the house the next morning. "I could not let you go without coming to congratulate you both on the honour that has befallen you. It might have been well that it should have come a little later, but doubtless it will be of advantage to you in Flanders, and should there be fighting between Ghent and the earl you will be more free to choose your own place in battle, and to perform such journeys and adventures as may seem good to you as knights, than you would be as private gentlemen, or esquires, following no leader, and having no rank or standing save that of gentlemen who have come over as friends of Mynheer Van Voorden.

"Your mother is greatly pleased, and as for Aline, she would fain have ridden hither with me, but as I intend to return this afternoon, and as she saw you both but two days since, I thought it best that she should stay at home. I have brought up with me John Lance. I thought that he was the one who would suit you best. In some respects the other is the more experienced and might be of more value were you going on a campaign, but he is somewhat given to the ale-jug, so I thought it best to bring Lance, who is a stout fellow, and can wield his sword well. He is civil and well- spoken, and as I have told him he is to obey your orders just the same as if they were mine, I believe that you will have little trouble with him. His arms and armour are in good condition, and he has been furnished with a fresh suit out of the chest.

"I saw your father, Edgar, late yesterday evening. I myself took over your letter to him. He said that whatever a man's calling may be, it is well that he should go into it with all his heart, and that since you have taken to arms, it is well indeed that you should so soon have distinguished yourself as to be deemed worthy of knighthood. He said that he would get another to take the place of the man you keep with you, and he wishes you God-speed in Flanders."

At eleven o'clock, Van Voorden, his wife and daughter, mounted, together with Edgar, Albert, and their two men-at-arms; both the latter were in body armour, with steel caps; the Fleming had secured a strong and serviceable horse for Hal. His own servants had gone on an hour before with three carts carrying the baggage; Sir Ralph accompanied them across London Bridge to Rotherhithe, where the barque was lying alongside a wharf. The horses were first taken on board, and placed in stalls on deck. These Van Voorden had had erected so that the horses should suffer no injury in case they encountered rough weather. As soon as the animals were secured in their places, Sir Ralph said good-bye to them all, the hawsers were thrown off, and the vessel dropped out into the tide, the baggage having been lowered into the hold before they came down.

There were no other passengers, the Fleming having secured all the accommodation for his party. There were two small cabins in the stern, one of which was set apart for the merchant's wife and daughter, the other for their two maids. The cabin where they sat and took their meals was used by the merchant and the two young knights as a sleeping-place. The Fleming's four men-servants and the two men-at-arms slept in a portion of the hold under the stern cabins. The wind was favourable, and although speed was not the strong point of the ship, she made a quick passage, and forty- eight hours after starting they entered the port of Sluys.

"Will you tell us, Mynheer," Edgar said, as they sailed quietly down the Thames, "how it comes about that Ghent is at war with the Earl of Flanders, for it is well that we should have some knowledge of the matter before we get into the midst of it."

"'Tis well, indeed, that it should be so, Edgar. The matter began in a quarrel between two men, John Lyon and Gilbert Mahew. Lyon was a crafty and politic man, and was held in great favour by the earl. There was a citizen who had seriously displeased Louis, and at his request John Lyon made a quarrel with him and killed him. The matter caused great anger among the burgesses, and Lyon had to leave the city, and went and dwelt at Douay, living in great state there for three years, at the earl's expense. At the end of that time the earl used all the influence he possessed at Ghent, and obtained a pardon for Lyon, and the restoration of his property, that had been forfeited for his crime, and, moreover, made him chief ruler of all the ships and mariners.

"This caused great displeasure to many, not only in Ghent but in all Flanders. Mahew, who, with his seven brothers, was the leading man among the mariners, and between whose family and that of Lyon there was a long- standing feud, went presently to the earl and told him that if things were properly managed and certain taxes put on the shipping, the earl would derive a large annual sum from it, and the earl directed Lyon to carry this out. But owing to the general opposition among the mariners, which was craftily managed by Mahew's brothers, Lyon was unable to carry the earl's orders into effect. Gilbert Mahew then went to the earl and said that if he were appointed in Lyon's place he would carry the thing out. This was done, and Mahew. from his influence with the mariners, and by giving many presents to persons at the earl's Court, gained high favour, and used his power to injure Lyon.

"The latter, however, kept quiet, and bided his time. This came when the people of Bruges, who had long desired to make a canal--which would take away most of the water of the river Lys for their benefit--but who had never been able to do so, owing to the opposition offered by Ghent, now set a great number of men upon this work. This caused a great agitation in Ghent, especially among mariners, who feared that if the river Lys were lowered their shipping trade would be much injured. Then people began to say that if Lyon had remained their governor in Ghent the people of Bruges would never have ventured on such action. Many of them went secretly to Lyon to sound him on the matter. He advised them that they had best revive the old custom of wearing white hoods, and that they should then choose a governor whom they would obey.

"In a few days a great number of white hoods appeared in the streets, and a popular meeting was held. John Lyon was elected leader, and with two hundred companies marched from Ghent to attack the pioneers digging the channel. These, on hearing that a great force from Ghent was marching against them, hastily retired. John Lyon and his force returned home, and the former again resumed his position as a quiet trader. The White Hoods, however, dominated the town. In a short time some of them demanded that a mariner, who was a burgess of Ghent, and who was confined in the earl's prison at Eccloo, should be liberated, as, according to the franchise of the city, no burgess could be tried save by its Courts.

"This trouble Lyon carefully fostered, and as the new and heavy dues injured the trade of Ghent, his party increased rapidly. In public, however, he always spoke moderately, remaining quietly in his house, and never going out except with an escort of two or three hundred of the White Hoods. An embassy was sent to the earl to ask that the rights of the city should be respected. The earl answered them mildly, ordered the prisoner to be given up to them, and promised to respect the franchise of the city, but at the same time asked that the wearing of white hoods should be discontinued. Lyon, however, persuaded the White Hoods not to accede to this request, saying that it was the White Hoods that had wrung those concessions from the earl, and that if they disappeared from the streets, the franchise would be speedily abolished.

"In this Lyon was right, and he at once set to work to organize the White Hoods, dividing them into companies, and appointing a captain to each hundred men; a lieutenant to fifty; and a sub-officer to ten. In a short time the Bailie of Ghent, with two hundred horse, rode into the city, the earl having agreed with Gilbert Mahew that John Lyon and several other leaders should be carried off and beheaded. As soon as the bailie arrived at the market-place he was joined by the Mahews and their adherents. The White Hoods at once gathered at John Lyon's house, and he set out for the market-house with four hundred men. These were joined by many others as they went. As soon as they appeared, the Mahews, with their party, fled. Then the White Hoods rushed upon the bailie, unhorsed and slew him, and tore the earl's banner to pieces. His men-at-arms, seeing how strong and furious were the townsmen, at once turned their horses and rode away.

"A search was then made for the Mahews, but they had fled from the town and ridden away to join the earl. Their houses were all sacked and destroyed. The White Hoods were now undisturbed masters of the place; most of the rich burgesses, however, were much grieved at what had taken place. A great council was held, and twelve of their number went to the earl to beg for pardon for the town. The earl received them sternly, but at their humble prayer promised to spare the city and to punish only the chief offenders. While they were away, however, Lyon called an assembly of the citizens in a field outside the town. Ten thousand armed men gathered there, and they at once sacked and burnt the palace of Andrehon, which was the earl's favourite residence, and a very stately pile.

"The earl, on hearing the news, called the burgesses, who were still with him, and sent them back to Ghent with a message to the town that they should have neither peace nor treaty until he had struck off the heads of all those whom he chose. John Lyon began the war by marching to Bruges, which, being wholly unprepared, was forced to admit him and his men, and to agree to an alliance with Ghent. He then marched to Damme, where he was taken ill, and died, not without strong suspicion of having been poisoned. The people of Ghent sent a strong force to Ypres. The knights and men-at- arms of the garrison refused to admit them, but the craftsmen of the town rose in favour of Ghent, slew five of the knights, and opened the gates. The men of the allied cities then tried to attack Tormonde, where the earl was, but were unable to take it; they afterwards besieged Oudenarde. The Duke of Burgundy, however, interposed, and peace was agreed upon, on condition that the earl should pardon all and come to live in Ghent. The earl kept his promise so far as to go there, but he only stayed four days and then left the town.

"The peace was of very short continuance, for some relations of the bailie and some other knights took forty ships on the river, put out the eyes of the sailors, and sent them into Ghent, in return for which a strong body marched out from Ghent, surprised Oudenarde, and stayed there a month, during which time they hewed down the gates and made a breach in the walls by destroying two towers. After the men of Ghent had left Oudenarde the earl went there and repaired the damage they had done, and then marched to Ypres and beheaded many of those who had risen against him, and had slain his knights. In the meantime Ghent prepared for the war by sacking and destroying all the houses of the gentry in the country round the city.

"Several battles were fought, and in these the White Hoods had the worst of it, for although they fought stoutly they were greatly outnumbered. Bruges and Damme opened their gates to the earl, and Ghent was left without an ally. Then Peter De Bois, who was now the chief of the White Hoods, seeing that many of the townsmen were sorely discouraged by their want of success, went to Philip Van Artevelde (the son of Jacob Van Artevelde, who was murdered by the townsfolk for making an alliance with England) and persuaded him to come forward as the leader of the people. On his doing so Philip was at once accepted by the White Hoods. Two of the leaders of the party of peace were at once murdered. As his father had been a great man and an excellent ruler, Philip was joyfully accepted by the whole population, and was given almost arbitrary power.

"Since that time," went on Van Voorden, "Ghent has been straitly besieged, and had it not been that they sent out a strong force, who bought large supplies at Brussels and at Liege, and managed to convey them back to the city, most of the inhabitants would have died from hunger.

"So matters stand at present. The mission with which I am charged at present is to see Van Artevelde, and to find out whether he, like his father Jacob, is well disposed towards the English, and if so, to promise that some aid shall be sent to him."

"And what are your own thoughts on the matter, Mynheer?"

"As to Ghent, I say nothing," the merchant replied. "The population have ever been rough and turbulent, swayed by agitators, and tyrannized over by the craftsmen; but I can well see that it is for the interest of England that Ghent should be upheld, for these troubles in Flanders greatly disturb both the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France, whose interests never run together. Again, I see that the independence of Ghent, Bruges, and other large towns is for the good of Flanders, since were it not for that, the country would be but an appanage of Burgundy or France. Heavy imposts would be laid upon the people, their franchises abolished, and the trade greatly injured; and it would therefore be a sore misfortune for the country were the Earl of Flanders to crush Ghent, for did he do so he could work his will in all the other towns.

"These, you see, are something like your city of London; they exist and flourish owing to the rights they have gained. They curbed the power of the nobles, and have built up great wealth and power for themselves. Their merchants have the revenues of princes, and carry on a great trade with all countries. You see how readily the earl fell in with Mahew's suggestion, and laid heavy taxes on the shipping of Ghent. In the same way, were he supreme master, he and his lords could similarly tax the trade of other towns of Flanders, to the great benefit of the merchants of foreign countries. Thus, you see, as a Fleming I should wish to see Ghent --although I love not the turbulent town--preserved from the destruction that would surely fall upon it were the earl to capture it. Why, at Ypres, not only did he kill many thousands of the citizens in an ambush, but when he entered the town, he beheaded well-nigh six hundred of the citizens. If he did that at Ypres, which had offended comparatively little, what would he do to Ghent, which has killed his bailie, sacked and burned his palace, defied his authority, and holds out against all his force?"

"Thank you very much, Mynheer; I knew but little of the matter before, and I am glad to be so thoroughly informed in it. I see it is the same there as it was in London when the rioters came thither; the better class were overborne by the baser. Had it not been for the death of Wat the Tyler, and the dispersal of his rabble, it is likely that every trader's house in London would have been pillaged and all the better class murdered, as were the Flemings."

As soon as the vessel drew alongside the wharf at Sluys, a Flemish trader came on board. He was a correspondent of Van Voorden's, and to him the merchant had written, asking him to secure lodgings for him and his party for a day or two. Van Voorden was well known to him, for the merchant had occasion to cross to Flanders three or four times every year, and his correspondent often came over to London. After greeting the merchant, his wife and daughter, he said:

"I was in much fear for you, Van Voorden, when I heard the reports of the wild doings of the rabble in London, and how they specially directed their fury against our people, and killed very many worthy merchants. You have said in your letters to me that you had been in some danger, but that, as you would see me shortly, you would not write at length."

"I will tell you of it anon, Rochter. First, how about the lodging?"

"As to that, there is no difficulty. It would be strange indeed were you to go elsewhere than to my house, which you have always used hitherto when you passed through."

"Yes: when I was alone. Now I have my wife and daughter, and these two young English knights, to say nothing of the maids and the men-at-arms."

"We can take them all without difficulty. As you know, the house is a large one, and there are but my wife and myself and my daughter Marie. There is the room you always occupy for yourself and madame, a bed has been put up in Marie's room for your daughter, the large room over it will be allotted to these gentlemen, your maids can sleep with ours, and there is a large room in the attic for your servants and the knights' men."

"So be it," Van Voorden said, "and it will be far more pleasant to be with you and your good wife than in a strange place. How about the horses, of which we have six?"

"The accommodation I have for them is small, but I have arranged with a friend for the disposal of the horses in his stables, which are commodious, and of which he makes but little use."

The house of Mynheer Rochter surprised the young knights by its size. It was massively and strongly built, and apparently there was no pressure for room, as was the case in the busy streets of London. The hall was of great size, panelled with a dark wood, and with a flooring so smooth and polished that both knights narrowly escaped falling, on stepping on it for the first time. A great staircase led to the family apartments upstairs. The main room would have held four of either those of Van Voorden or Sir Robert Gaiton in London, and the rest of the house was on the same scale. All was dark, massive, and rich, with an air of great comfort. The furniture and floors were polished until they reflected the light from the casements, and heavy rugs and carpets were stretched in front of the fire- places and windows, and at other points where the family were accustomed to sit.

There were heavy curtains to the windows, and others before the doors, so that all draught should be cut off. Although not so handsome as the rooms of the two merchants in London, everything was so substantial, well kept, and comfortable, that the two friends were greatly struck by it. It was now October, and great wood fires blazed in the hall below and in all the upstairs rooms, and these quite dispelled any air of gloom that might otherwise have been caused by the darkness of the furniture.

"Truly, Edgar," Albert said, in a low tone, while the ladies were talking together, "I think that I shall change my vocation once again, abandon the cutting of throats, and establish myself as a Flemish merchant."

"It would be years before you could acquire the necessary knowledge," Edgar laughed, "to say nothing of the capital required for the business; but truly the comfort of this house is wonderful, and it is clear to me that, although we Englishmen have learned to fight, we are mightily behind others in the art of making our lives comfortable."

Before the meal was served the friends went upstairs to their room, took off the rough clothes in which they had travelled, and apparelled themselves in the plainest of their two suits. When dinner was announced they went into a room leading from that in which they had before been. As the numbers were equal, the four gentlemen each offered his hand to a lady, and led her to the table. It was almost dark now, and the room was lighted with many wax candles, which were novelties to the young knights. Tallow candles had indeed come into partial use at the beginning of the century, but they had never seen wax used, save on occasions of great ceremony in the churches. It was now for the first time that Frau Rochter obtained a fair view of the faces of her guests.

"You are young indeed, gentlemen, are you not, to have attained the rank of knighthood?" she said; "but I believe that in England 'tis a title that goes with the land."

"It is so," Van Voorden said, before either of the young knights could reply; "but in this case it has been won by distinguished bravery, for which King Richard himself bestowed knighthood upon them. No one can testify to their bravery more strongly than ourselves, for it was thanks alone to them that my life certainly, and probably those of my wife and daughter, were preserved on that evil day in London," and as the meal proceeded he gave a full narrative of the manner in which they had defended his house while his wife was removed from her sick-bed and carried down to the hiding-place below. "It was not only for this single act of bravery that they received knighthood. Young though they are, they saved the life of a worshipful London citizen--who has since himself become a knight--when he had fallen into the hands of a party of robbers. When the Tower was in the hands of the rioters, they, without assistance, killed seven men who had entered the ladies' chamber; and, lastly, they rode, with two knights and fifty men-at-arms, at a mob consisting of some two thousand of the worst of the rebels, and entirely defeated them with the loss of five hundred, and it was for this last act that they were knighted."

"Mynheer Van Voorden omits to say," Edgar added, "that it was largely to his own good offices that we owe the honour."

"I said nothing to the king but what was true and just," the merchant replied; "and he told me that he had already determined to promote you on the first opportunity; indeed, even had I not spoken I believe that he would have done so before we left London."

"I am sure that they deserved it if it had only been for what they did for us," his daughter said, warmly. "Several times, while you were getting mother down the stairs, I ran out to the landing and looked down at the fight. It was terrible to see all the fierce faces, and the blows that were struck with pole-axe and halbert, and a marvel that two young men should so firmly hold their ground against such odds."

"We all owe them our lives assuredly," Madame Van Voorden said. "Had it not been for them, undoubtedly I should have died that day. I was very near to death as it was, and had I seen my husband slaughtered before my eyes, it would have needed no blow of knife to have finished me."