Chapter XVI. A War of the Church

"You have been but a short time absent this voyage," Sir Ralph said as his son and Edgar rode up to the castle.

"Truly we have been but a short time, father," Albert said, "but we have seen much. Of course the news has not yet reached you, but the army of Flanders has been utterly broken by the French. Whether Van Artevelde was killed we know not, but of the fifty thousand men who marched to battle, we doubt whether half ever returned to their homes."

"That was indeed a terrible defeat. And how bore you yourselves in the battle?"

"It was rough work, though short, father. Five other English knights were with us; four of these were killed, and one we left behind at a farm, grievously wounded. Each of us had two men-at-arms, and of the fourteen two were left behind wounded sorely, one remained in charge of his master and them, and Edgar's man here is the only one who rode to Sluys with us; the rest are dead. So, too, might we have been but for the strength and temper of our armour."

"Did not the Flemings fight sturdily, then?"

"They fought sturdily for a time, but altogether without leader or order. They took up a strong position, but impatient of an hour's delay, marched from it to give battle, and being attacked on both flanks, as well as in front, were driven into a close mass, so that few could use their arms, and, were it only to find breathing space, they had to fly."

"'Tis bad news, indeed. Had they prevailed, their alliance with us would have brought about great things, for Artevelde would have put Flanders under English protection, and between us we could have withstood all the attacks of France and Burgundy."

"Think yon that Ghent will be taken, Edgar?"

"That I cannot say, Sir Ralph. However great their loss may be, the Ghentois are like to make an obstinate defence, judging from the way in which they withstood their earl with all Flanders at his back. They will know that they have no mercy to expect if they yield, and I believe that so long as there is a man left to wield arms the city will hold out. As to the other towns of Flanders, they are as fickle as the wind, and will all open their gates to the King of France, who, seeing that it is by his power alone that Flanders has been taken, will assuredly hold it as his own in the future."

"Now that you have returned, it would be well, Edgar, that you and my son should practise with the lance. 'Tis a knightly weapon, and a knight should at least know how to use it well. There is a piece of ground but a quarter of a mile away that I have been looking at, and find that it will make a good tilting-ground, and I will teach you all that I know in the matter."

Edgar thankfully embraced the offer and, after going into the castle to pay his respects to the dame and her daughter, went home with Hal Carter, whose wounds were still sore.

The news that came from Flanders to England from time to time was bad. It was first heard how terrible had been the slaughter of the Flemings after the victory, and that in all thirty-four thousand had been killed. Then the news came that Courtray, although it opened its gates without resistance, had been first pillaged and then burnt, and that Bruges had surrendered, but had been only spared from pillage by the payment of a great sum of money. None of the other towns had offered any resistance, but Ghent had shut her gates, and the French, deeming that the operations of the siege would be too severe to be undertaken in winter, had marched away, their return being hastened by the news of an insurrection in France.

The king, however, had declared Flanders to be a portion of France, and the Earl of Flanders had done homage to him as his liege lord. The news of the merciless slaughter of the Flemings, and of the cruel treatment of Courtray, aroused great indignation in England, which was increased when it was heard that all the rich English merchants in Bruges had been obliged to fly for their lives, and that all other Englishmen found in the towns had been seized by the Earl of Flanders, and thrown into prison, and their goods confiscated.

The young knights practised at tilting daily under the eye of Sir Ralph, and at the end of three months could carry off rings skilfully, and could couch their lances truly, whether at breast-piece or helm. It was nigh two years since they had first ridden to London, and both had grown tall and greatly widened. Edgar was still by far the taller and stronger, and was now an exceptionally powerful young man. Albert was of a fair strength and stature, and from his constant practice with Edgar, had attained almost as great a skill with his weapons. When they jousted they always used lighter spears than when they practised at the ring, for in a charge, Edgar's weight and strength would have carried Albert out of his saddle, and that with such force as might have caused him serious injury; the lances therefore were made so slight as to shiver at the shock.

"You are like to be employing your weapons to better advantage soon," Sir Ralph said one day on his return from London. "You know of the rivalry between the two popes, and that we hold for Urban while France champions Clement."

"Yes, sir," Edgar said; "but how is that likely to give occasion for us to betake ourselves to arms again?"

"Urban is going to use us as his instrument against France and Spain. A bull was received yesterday, of which copies have also been sent to all the bishops, calling upon Richard to engage in a sort of Holy War to this end. He has ordered that all church property throughout England shall be taxed, and that the bishops shall exhort all persons to give as much as they can afford for the same purpose. To all those who take part in the war he gives absolution from all sins, and the same to those who, staying at home, contribute to the Church's need.

"The sum of money thus raised, which, I doubt not, will be great, is to be devoted partly to an expedition against France, and partly to one under Lancaster against Spain. As it is a church war, the expedition to France is to be led by a churchman, and Urban has chosen Sir Henry Spencer, Bishop of Norwich, who, if you will remember, bore himself so stoutly against the insurgents in his diocese, as the nominal leader. The king has taken the matter up heartily, and many of the knights whom I met at Court are also well content, seeing that the war is to be conducted at the expense of the Church and not of themselves; and I doubt not that a large number of knights and gentlemen will take part in the expedition, which is of the nature of a crusade.

"More than that, I met an old friend, Sir Hugh Calverley, with whom I have fought side by side a score of times, and whose name is, of course, well known to you. He is minded also to go, partly because he hates the French, and partly because of the pope's blessing and absolution. Seeing that, I said to him, 'As you are going, Sir Hugh, I pray you to do me a favour.'

"'There is no one I would more willingly oblige, old friend,' he said.

"'My son,' I went on, 'and a friend of his whom I regard almost as a son, were knighted more than a year since, as you may have heard, for their valiant conduct in the time of the troubles here.'

"'I have heard the story,' he said. 'It is well known to all at Court.'

"'Since then, Sir Hugh, they have been over in Flanders, where they gained the approbation of Van Artevelde by their conduct, and fought stoutly at the grievous battle of Rosbecque. But hitherto they have had no knightly leader. They have gained such experience as they could by themselves, but I would that they should campaign in the train of a valiant and well-known knight like yourself, under whose eyes they could gain distinction as well as a knowledge of military affairs.'

"'I will take them with me gladly,' he said. 'They must be young knights of rare mettle, and even apart from my regard for you I should be right glad to have them ride with me.'"

Both the young knights gave exclamations of pleasure. It was hard for a knight unattached to the train of some well-known leader to rise to distinction, and there was no English knight living who bore a higher reputation than Sir Hugh Calverley, so that to ride under him would be an honour indeed. But some months passed before the preparations were complete. Throughout England the bishops and priests preached and incited the people to what they considered a Holy War. The promises of absolution of past and future sins were in proportion to the money given. In the diocese of London alone, a tun full of gold and silver was gathered, and by Lent the total amounted to what at that time was the fabulous sum of 2,500,000 francs. Thomas, Bishop of London, and brother to the Earl of Devonshire, was appointed by Urban to go with the Duke of Lancaster to Spain, as chief captain, with two thousand spears and four thousand archers, and half the money gathered was to be spent on this expedition, and the other half on that of the Bishop of Norwich.

The expeditions were to set out together, but one progressed far more rapidly than the other. The Bishop of Norwich was very popular. He was of ancient lineage, had personally shown great bravery, and was highly esteemed. Upon the other hand, the Duke of Lancaster was hated. Thus great numbers of knights and others enlisted eagerly under the bishop, while very few were willing to take service under the duke. Five hundred spearmen, and fifteen hundred men-at-arms and archers were soon enrolled under the bishop's banner. A great number of priests, too, followed the example of the bishop, threw aside the cassock and clad themselves in armour to go to the war in the spirit of crusaders.

Great numbers passed over from Dover and Sandwich in parties to wait at Calais for the arrival of their leaders. At Easter, the bishop, Sir Hugh Calverley, and two of the principal knights attended the king and his council, and swore to do their best to bring to an end the matter on which they were engaged, and to war only against the supporters of Clement. The king begged them to wait for a month at Calais, promising that he would send them over many men-at-arms and archers, and Sir William Beauchamp as marshal to the army. The bishop promised the king to do this, and he and his party sailed from Dover and arrived at Calais on April 23, 1383.

The young knights had gone up to town a month before by invitation of Sir Robert Gaiton, and had stayed with him for a week. At the end of that time he presented each of them with a superb suit of Milan steel, richly inlaid with gold, and two fine war-horses.

"It is a gift that I have long promised you," he said. "I gave orders to my agents in Italy a year since to spare neither time nor trouble to obtain the best that the armourers of Milan could turn out. The horses are of Yorkshire breed, and are warranted sound at every point."

"It is a princely present, Sir Robert," Edgar said, "and, indeed, a most timely one, for truly we have well-nigh grown out of the other suits, although when we got them it seemed to us that we should never be able to fill them properly; but of late we have been forced to ease the straps, and to leave spaces between the pieces, by which lance or arrow might well find entrance."

Sir Ralph had gone up with them and introduced them to Sir Hugh, who promised to give them two days' warning when they were to join him at Sandwich or Dover. During this week Edgar for the most part went about alone, Albert, at first to his surprise, and then to his amusement, always making some pretext or other for not accompanying him, but passing, as he found on his return, the greater portion of the time in the house, in discourse, as he said, with Dame Gaiton, but as Edgar shrewdly guessed, chiefly with Ursula, who, he found, obligingly kept his friend company while the dame was engaged in her household duties. It seemed to him, too, that on the ride back to St. Alwyth Albert was unusually silent and depressed in spirits.

Edgar himself, however, experienced something of the same feeling when he took his last farewell from the De Courcys before starting for Dover. On this occasion each took with him four men-at-arms, stout fellows, Albert's being picked men from among the De Courcy retainers, while Hal Carter had selected his three mates from among the villagers, and had, during the last three months, trained them assiduously in the use of their arms.

"How long do you think that you are likely to be away, Edgar?" his father asked, the evening before the party started.

"I cannot tell you, father, but I do not think that it will be long. If the expedition had started six months ago, it would have arrived in Flanders in time to have helped the Flemings, and with their aid the French might have been driven flying over the frontier; but I cannot see what two or three thousand men can do. We cannot fight the whole strength of France by ourselves."

"It seems to me a hare-brained affair altogether," Mr. Ormskirk said; "almost as mad, only in a different way, as the crusade of Peter the Hermit. The Church has surely trouble enough in these days, what with men like Wickliffe, who denounce her errors, and point out how far she has fallen back from the simple ways of old times, what with the impatience or indifference of no small part of the people, the pomp and wasteful confusion of the prelates, and the laziness of the monks--she has plenty of matters to look after without meddling in military affairs.

"What would she say if a score of nobles were to take upon themselves to tell her to set her house in order, to adopt reforms, and to throw aside sloth and luxury; and yet the Church is stirring up a war, and raising and paying an army of fighting men--and for what? To settle which of two men shall be pope. The simple thing would be to hold a high tournament, and to let Urban and Clement don armour and decide between themselves, in fair fight, who should be pope. They might as well do that as set other men to fight for them. I see not what good can come of it, Edgar."

"Albert and myself are of the same opinion, father. Certainly with two or three thousand men we can hardly expect to march to Paris and force the King of France to declare for our pope. Still, we shall march in good company, and shall both be proud to do so under the banner of so distinguished a knight as Sir Hugh Calverley."

"I say naught against that, Edgar; but I would rather see you start with him as knights-errant, willing at all times to couch a lance for damsels in distress. The day has passed for crusades. Surely we have had experience enough to see that solid advantages are not to be won by religious enthusiasm. Men may be so inspired to deeds of wondrous valour, but there is no instance of permanent good arising out of such expeditions. As for this in which you are going to embark, it seems to me to be the height of folly."

The next day the two young knights rode to Canterbury, and thence to Dover. The following evening the Bishop of Norwich, with his train, Sir Hugh Calverley, and other knights, arrived, and the next morning embarked with their following and horses on board three ships, and sailed to Calais. Those who had preceded them were already impatient to take the field. The news that there was to be a further delay of a month until Sir William Beauchamp with reinforcements should arrive, caused much disappointment and vexation.

"'Tis unfortunate," Sir Hugh said, one evening a few days later to the knights of his party, "that there are not more men here accustomed to war, and who have learned that patience and obedience are as needful as strong arms, if a campaign is to be carried out successfully. The Bishop of Norwich is young and fiery, and he hath many like himself round him, so that he frets openly at this delay. Moreover, Sir Thomas Trivet and Sir William Helmon are too full of ardour to act with discretion, and are ready enough to back up the bishop in his hot desire to be doing something. I regret that this army is not, like the army which fought at Crecy and Poictiers, composed of men well inured to war, with a great number of good archers and led by experienced warriors, instead of a hasty gathering of men, who have been fired by the exhortations of the priests and the promises of the pope.

"We are but a small gathering. We may take some castles, and defeat the forces that the nobles here gather against us, but more than that we cannot do unless England arms in earnest. I foresaw this, and spoke to the council when they prayed me to go with the bishop; but when they pointed out that what I said made it all the more needful that one of grave experience and years should go with him, and prayed me to accept the office, I consented."

On the 4th of May the Bishop of Norwich took advantage of Sir Hugh's absence--he having gone for two days to see a cousin who was commander of Guines--to call the other leaders together, and said that it was time they did some deed of arms, and rightly employed the money with which the Church had furnished them. All agreed with him, and the bishop then proposed that instead of entering France they should march to Flanders, which was now a portion of France. To this Sir Thomas Trivet and Sir William Helmon cordially agreed.

When Sir Hugh returned another council was called, and the matter was laid before him. Sir Hugh opposed it altogether. In the first place, they had given their word to the king to wait for a month for the promised reinforcements; in the second place, they had not come over as Englishmen to fight the French, but as followers of Pope Urban to fight those of Clement, and the men of Flanders were, like themselves, followers of Urban. The bishop answered him very hotly, and as the other knights and all present agreed with the bishop, Sir Hugh reluctantly gave way, and said that if they were determined upon going to Flanders he would ride with them. Accordingly notice was given through the town that the force would march the next morning. All assembled at the order to the number of three thousand, and marched from Calais to Gravelines.

No preparations for defence had been made there, for there was no war between England and Flanders. However, the burghers defended the place for a short time, and then withdrew, with their wives and families, to the cathedral, which was a place of strength. Here they defended themselves for two days. The church was then stormed, and all its defenders put to the sword. The news excited the greatest surprise and indignation in Flanders, and the earl at once sent two English knights who were with him to Gravelines to protest, and with orders to obtain from the bishop a safe-conduct to go to England to lay the matter before the English king and his council.

When they arrived at Gravelines the bishop refused their request for a safe-conduct, but told them to tell the earl that he was not warring against Flanders, nor was his army an army of England, but of Pope Urban, and that, although the greater portion of Flanders was Urbanist, the Lord of Bar--in whose dominion Gravelines stood--was for Clement, and so were his people. If he and they would acknowledge Pope Urban, he would march away without doing damage and paying for all he took, but unless they did so he would force them to submit. The people of Artois, however, who were French rather than Flemings, took the matter in their own hands, and twelve thousand men, under some knights from Nieuport and other towns, marched to Dunkirk and then to Mardyck, a large village not far from Gravelines.

Edgar and Albert had taken no part in the attack upon the cathedral, but remained with Sir Hugh Calverley in the house that he occupied as soon as resistance of the entry to the town had ended.

"On the field I will fight with the rest," he said, "but I will have no hand in this matter. There has been no defiance sent to the Earl of Flanders nor received from him, and 'tis not my habit to fight burghers against whom we have no complaint, and who are but defending their homes against us."

The two young knights were well pleased with this decision. It was an age when quarter was but seldom given, and wholesale slaughters followed battles, so that they had, naturally, the ideas common to the time. Still, they both felt that this attack was wholly unprovoked and altogether beyond the scope of the expedition, and were well pleased that their leader would have naught to do with it. It was, however, a different matter when they heard that an army twelve thousand strong was coming out against them, and they were quite ready to take their share in the fight.

While waiting at Gravelines several other knights had joined the army, among them Sir Nicholas Clifton and Sir Hugh's cousin, the commander of Guines, Sir Hugh Spencer, nephew of the bishop, and others.

The force consisted of six hundred mounted men, sixteen hundred archers, and the rest foot-men. They found that the Flemings had fallen back to Dunkirk, and had taken up a position in front of that town. The bishop, on approaching them, sent forward a herald, to ask them whether they were for Pope Urban or Clement, and that if they were for Urban he had no quarrel with them. As soon, however, as the herald approached, the Flemings fell upon him and killed him. This excited the most lively indignation among the English, for among all civilized people the person of a herald was held to be sacred.

The bishop and knights at once drew up the force in order of battle. The men on foot were formed into a wedge. The archers were placed on the two flanks of the unmounted men-at-arms, while the cavalry prepared to charge as soon as opportunity offered. The army was preceded by the standard of the Church. The trumpets on both sides sounded, and as they came within range the English archers poured flights of arrows among the Flemings. These advanced boldly to the attack of the foot-men. Again and again the horsemen charged down upon them, but were unable to break their solid lines, and for a time the battle was doubtful, but the English archers decided the fate of the day. The Flemings, although they resisted firmly the charge of the men-at-arms, were unable to sustain the terrible and continuous rain of arrows, and their front line fell back.

As soon as they did so the second line wavered and broke. Then the bishop with his knights and men-at-arms charged furiously down upon them, and the battle was over. The Flemings broke and fled in wild disorder, but the English pursued them so hotly that they entered Dunkirk with them. Here again and again they attempted to make a stand, but speedily gave way before the onslaught of the English. No one distinguished themselves in the battle more than did the priests and monks who were fighting on the side of the bishop, and it was said among the others that these must have mistaken their vocation, and that had they entered the army instead of the Church they would have made right valiant knights.

The English loss was four hundred, that of the Flemings was very much heavier. There died, however, among them no knights or persons of quality, for the rising was one of the people themselves, and as yet the Earl of Flanders was waiting for the King of England's reply to the message he had sent by the two knights from Sluys. The English, however, considered that the absence of any horsemen or knights was due to the fact that these remembered what terrible havoc had been made among the chivalry of France at Crecy and Poictiers, and cared not to expose themselves to that risk.