From Miniatures of French History, by Hilaire Belloc, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1926; pp. 152-200.
Miniatures of French History
PHILIP AUGUSTUS, the King of France, sat upon a stone; it was a rough block of stone that lay, not yet used by the builders, on the rampart of his lines before Château Gaillard.
The huge building lay before him like a town — but such a town as no sight we see to-day can recall. Mass upon mass of sheer masonry — worked limestone — carefully jointed, and towering wall within and above wall, angle conflicting with angle in a hundred ways, and the whole an effort of shoulders and of rock. These things were (their ruins are) a sort of sacrament in human strength. What man can do to defend himself against man was there visible and tangible and amenable to common standards: apparent to a child as much as to a mathematician. And it was not only a sacrament of strength and of defence appalling in its dumb solidity and hugeness, but also a sacrament of labour, of energy manifest and achieved. It was also new and white.
Philip Augustus, the king, was an engineer. Every trace of the ditch, of the three circumvallations, 153 of bastion and of angle, meant for him just what it should mean. He understood the correlation of every part in that vast whole. It was for him what a score of music is to those rare men who can read and take pleasure in music from its mere printed signs though no instrument is sounding. And as he meditated the attack he admired. His creative soul was full of that creation which another such soul had ordered — Richard, the Angevin, the Lion Heart, now dead.
The King of France, thus sitting alone (for he would not be accompanied in such a meditation), watched the big thing with his chin upon his hand. He was a man in his fortieth year; his broad, square, somewhat flat face already definitely marked with the fixed passions of the mind and the habits of his long effort of recovery and of triumph. His eyes were a little cautious for those of a soldier, but very steady, and had in them that sort of secret smile which goes with the certitude of delayed achievement. His thin nose, and the slight sneer about his pressed lips, betrayed the same emotion as he pondered. His great head, rather bald for his age, was bare, and did not move in his contemplation of the mighty problem before him.154
The foundations of the work were below him, as were its vast surrounding ditch and its first low containing wall. But the turrets and the battlements, with their wooden, jutting platforms, stood immensely above him, and higher still that enormous central keep which was the stake of the entire concern. It stood inhumanly large up against the keen March air, and the wind blew upon it from down the broad river valley and the distant sea. It had in it all the magnificence of Normandy. Down below, hundreds of feet, where the wide river ran, the Seine, he could see the burnt timber houses of Lesser Andelys, surrounded by its wall which he had stormed months before; the ruins also of the outworks upon the island by which he had approached across the stream. He heard, but did not see, the carts in perpetual rumble and the footmen tramping across his bridge of boats below. He heard the hammering of wood and the sawing of stone in his own lines, and in his mind he recalled, as he so sat, the long business of the siege.
Here was the test! This place, once fallen, he had forced the gate of Normandy, the last province which could defy his arms and his sovereignty. For now three hundred years and 155 more it had been a kingdom almost apart from his own, though in feudal tenure responsible to him and to his house. John the Angevin, last Duke of Normandy, no longer the young man but still the great soldier, had abandoned the Normans — now five months ago. He was back in England. And here, before Philip, Roger of Lascy, with his superb little garrison, was still holding out, and until the castle fell there was no passing north into the Caux country or into the Calvados, no seizing of rich Caen or of Rouen, the mistress of all that land.
Philip, the king, remembered the long adventure. The advance up the wide valley of the Seine until, a march away, he first saw, whiter than the white scars of chalk on which it stood, the splendid new work of Richard gleaming far off like a challenge. He remembered the storming of the outworks on the island, the laborious fighting into Andelys, the rush of the refugees into the castle. He remembered the abominable winter, and his alignment of the strict blockade: the sentries calling to each other round the lines through the long, frozen nights. He remembered, not with pleasure, that awful day in which Roger of Lascy had turned out all the useless mouths, the refugees from the town below — the old men, 156 and the children, and the women; their helpless panic, stumbling to and fro between the outer wall and his own lines; their hideous famine, and the blood, and at last his own clemency, and his permission that they should pass through and be fed.
Now the first breath of spring had come, and still the strict blockade was of no avail. Five months had gone, and nothing had been done save to contain that little band within, which still mounted guard surely in regular fashion, whose taunts could still be heard in the rough jibes shouted by night against his sentinels, and whose arrows, when they went down wind, sometimes just reached his lines, and had cost him men here and there. As he sat there he determined, for all great odds and risks, that an assault must be delivered even against so tremendous a body of resistance. Much lay in that decision; but Philip, the solider, was a man who would arrive at a plan with increasing swiftness of judgment, and, having arrived at it, would as suddenly execute his desire.
There went through the lines the order for the attack, and the whole aspect of the camps surrounding the castle, one great oval lined by continuous works, was changed. The business was 157 now no longer to starve but to destroy — and the murder of Arthur of Brittany should be avenged in violence.
* * * * *
First they made a great way, very broad and hardened everywhere with stone, along which the engines and the wooden towers could be hauled. Then, at night, they threw into the first outer main ditch earth and faggots from the woods on the hill above and all the refuse of the camp, and they began that week to struggle against the corner bastion of the outer wall. It was undermined in its foundations — the sappers’ work defended by vigorous fire from the causeway against the battlements of the tower, and by the repeated shocks from the catapults and the rams, until, in some few days, the hard chalk rock having been tunnelled thoroughly, down came a whole segment of the outer wall, and the first circuit was in the hands of the king. Next, in the same fashion, was the second circuit attempted; and this, far less extended, concentrating its men more thoroughly, resisted with greater power. The engines did nothing against it. It seemed that the assault must fail.
Now there was in King Philip’s army a soldier 158 called Bogis, an obscure man loving ruse, and he found that in certain wooden outworks of the place there was an entry to be made by those who could cunningly avoid the sentinels, and he, with a small band, went in there. But just as they thought to hold this entry, the besieged caught them, and, as being the quickest way to drive them out, set fire to this little building. It was a ruinous plan. Both had they — the besieged themselves — to retire from the fierceness of the flame, and also they were, by the effect of the fire when it was over and done, left with a gap in their defences, so that though the first intruders had been beaten back, Philip’s men could pour through the charred breach.
They were at the third wall, the high wall round the donjon keep, and this was taken by mere strength and at vast loss and at storm. But of Lascy’s very loyal band not two hundred remained, and all of them defending the wall, so that when they were cut off by the many thousands of Philip Augustus, the king, they could not post even a rearguard to defend the rush into the keep itself, though that was but a few yards behind; and so, upon the Saturday, the 6th of March, 1204, those that had not fallen in the fight were taken each separately between the wall and 159 the tower. And the Saucy Castle, Richard the Lion Heart’s eldest daughter, so young and so strong, had fallen.
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It was the greatest feat of arms, almost, of the Middle Ages. It was to the French monarchy and the re-constitution of the land what Watignies, six hundred years later, was to be for the defence and the survival of the Revolution. It was the opening of Normandy and the advent of all the host into the rich province of the north; the most stalwart, the most lengthily organized of all the feudal things that had proposed to withstand the re-integration of France. Through that breach in Château Gaillard’s wall, as through a break in a dike, the flood of France poured through, armed, into the deep pasturage, the loaded wealth, the granaries, and the orchards of Normand. And with Normandy so held under, that summer France was made again. And Philip Augustus, the king, became something almost more than a king as kings were accounted in that time. For he became a strict ruler over not one fief or two of his own, but over fief after fief that had formerly been bound only by plea and service, 160 not in subjection, to his fathers. And it almost seemed as though Rome were returning.
This conqueror so conquering had about him, as he entered the Norman towns after his victory, a physical character of conquest, and there was a monk away in Tours, a canon of St. Martin’s there, who saw him and knew him, and tells us well enough what he was: —
“A man high coloured, of a nature driven to good cheer, and to women and to wine, large to his friends, sparing to those who displeased him, an engineer, in faith Catholic, cautious for the future, stubborn in a resolution formed; he judged at once and directly. Fortune loved him, though he was too careful of his life. He was easily both roused and appeased. He loved to be served by the many and to think himself a tamer of the proud. Of the Church he was a good protector, and he nourished the poor.”
THE CONVERSATION OF THE KING
ST. LOUIS, the king, loved quiet speech, meeting the speech of others. He loved rallying and conversed with all as though with peers. Pomp wearied him, even where it was necessary for the dignity of so great a state. Those jests which complete a question and leave no more to be said he was amused to hear. Also he himself observed men with very great wisdom, often silently; and his eyes, which were a little weary even in youth from too much questioning of himself and of the world, and from too much business of fighting of every kind within and without, were always luminous and often smiled. His body, which was spare, exercised by continual chivalry and by the weight of arms, but a little wasted by solicitude, by mortification, and by occasional disease, suited his gesture and the holy irony with which he salted life.
All those, or nearly all, who came about the king — men themselves, for the most part, much grosser in temper or much less subtle in observation — felt this play of his intelligence upon theirs, 162 and when he was dead remembered it most vividly. Nor were the words of St. Louis and his manner things very conscious. They surrounded his personality like an air, impossible to define, easy to taste. They were a perfume. Some who thus received his influence wrote down a little clumsily what they remembered, and the things they wrote down, after so many catastrophes and such vast changes in Europe, stand to-day quite neat and clear. So that when you read of St. Louis it is like looking out of a little window, unglazed, in a tower, and seeing through it, framed in the stones of the wall, a well-ordered, sunlit landscape, particular, vivid, and defined; full of small brilliant things, exact in outline.
One day in that good thirteenth century, when all was new, amid the new white buildings, upon the new ordered roads, when even the grass was new (for it was Pentecost), the king, Louis the Saint, was in Corbeil with eighty of his knights and certain others of his train. And when he had eaten the morning meal (which was at nine o’clock, for that was their hour), he went down to the field below the chapel to speak at the door with Count John of Brittany, and with him was the Seneschal of Champagne and others, younger and older men. And as the groups stood there 163 at the door in the spring sunlight, treading the spring grass, mown smooth, Robert of Cerbon (the same that founded the great college of Sorbonne, so that his name stands everywhere to-day for learning) took the young seneschal’s coat and pulled him by it towards the king. And the seneschal said, —
“What would you with me, Master Robert?”
Robert said, —
“I wish to ask you this: If the king were to sit himself down in this field, and you were to sit down without leave on the same bench, and higher than he, would you not be to blame?”
“Yes,” said the seneschal, “I should.”
“Then,” said Robert, “you are to blame now. For even now you are far more nobly clad than the king, for your coat is of many colours, and embroidered nobly with green, and the king does not go so clothed.”
Louis, hearing this dispute, smiled at them but did not speak. And the seneschal answered sharply, —
“Master Robert, saving your grace, I am not to blame at all, though I do dress in ’broidery and in green. For this cloak was left to me by my father and my mother, who were noble. But you are to blame. For you are the son of a serf, 164 and your mother was a serf as well, and you have given up the clothes that were left you by your father and your mother, and you are dressed in rich woollens much grander than the king’s.”
And the seneschal, growing livelier still, took Robert of Cerbon’s coat, and took the hem of the king’s coat, and held them up side by side, and said triumphantly, —
“There! See if I do not speak the truth. Look how much grander is the stuff you wear than the stuff that clothes the king.”
Then King Louis spoke, and first he put his hand upon the sward and sat him down at the gate of the chapel, and said to his sons, who were there, young men, —
“Come, sit down beside me on the grass that we may hear each other the plainer.”
And they answered, —
“Sire, we wound not dare.”
Then he said to the seneschal, —
“Seneschal, do you sit so.”
And so did the seneschal. He sat so close that their two cloaks touched.
Then said St. Louis to his sons, —
“You have done very wrong in that you did not obey at once, you, my sons.”165
And then he said to the seneschal, —
“You did wrong to speak thus to Master Robert, and when I saw how shamed you made him, I at once knew that it was my business to defend him; and as to dress, this is my counsel: you all of you should dress well and decently, in order that your women may love you more, and that your household may respect you; for the wise man says that we ought to dress ourselves and to arm ourselves in such a manner that neither shall the good men of this world blame us for extravagance nor the young blades for meanness.”
And upon another time, when they were sailing upon the sea, it being night, the ship was struck violently and lay over, and the storm rose so that it was thought she could not live. Then St. Louis, understanding that death was at had, went as he was, half-clad, to where the Blessed Sacrament was kept, and there expected death.
But when the storm as suddenly abated, and the morning was come, and danger was passed, he asked by what name that wind was called which had nearly wrecked the King of France and all his people. To which the master mariner answered that this wind was no great wind, not one of the major winds of the world, not one of 166 the cardinal winds, but a little side wind that hardly had a name, though some called it the little Gerbin wind.
When St. Louis heard this, he said to one of those about him, —
“See how great is God, and how He shows us His power. Since one of His little unimportant winds, which hardly has a name, all but destroyed the King of France, his children, and his wife, and all his household, in peril of the sea.”
St. Louis, the king, loved also to tell this tale: —
There was a master in divinity, one who had disputed for the Faith, and he came to Bishop William of Paris in great distress, and said that he was full of doubt, and that his heart would not bend to believe in the Sacrament of the Altar, and this his mood, sent by the Enemy, pressed him sore.
To whom Bishop William answered, —
“And does this please you?”
To which the argufier answered vehemently, —
“Not at all! I am tormented thereby!”
“Sir,” said the bishop again, “would you be pleased that these new doubts should conquer?”
“I would rather,” said the poor man, “that my limbs should be torn from my body.”
“Why, then,” said Bishop William, “I will 167 give you a parable. You know that the King of France wars now with the King of England, that on the front of this war stands the castle of Rochelle, which is in the country of Poitiers. Now, if the king had given you Rochelle to guard, upon the edges of the war where the fighting is, but to me the hill of Laon, peaceable in the heart of his kingdom, which would be honour most — to whom would he give the greater reward?”
“To the man,” said the doubter, “who held Rochelle.”
“Well, then,” said Bishop William, “let me tell you that my heart is not even like the hill of Laon, but rather like the little hill of Montlheri, near Paris, with its tower, for I have never doubted at all. So where God gives me in reward one measure, he will give you four.”
St. Louis said that one should never speak ill of any man, and those who listened closely to his talk never remembered his speaking ill of any man; on which account also he would never so much as mention the name of the Devil.
Also one day, when he was in Cyprus, on Crusade, he said to a companion that put water into his wine, —
“Why do you put water into your wine?”168
Then that companion, who was a young man, answered, —
“For two reasons. First, because the physicians have warned me to do so; and secondly because I do not wish to get drunk.”
To which St. Louis answered, —
“You do well. For if you do not learn this custom in youth you will not practise it in age, and if in age you drink your wine unmixed, you will, without doubt, be drunk every evening of your life; which is a horrible thing to see in a valiant man.”
And thinking of this, he said again, —
“Would you be honoured in this world, and then have Paradise?”
And the young man said “Yes.”
Then the king said, —
“This is the rule: Neither say nor do what you would fear that all men should know.”
And another time the king said to this young man, when they were on Crusade in the East, —
“Tell me which you would rather be — a leper, or in mortal sin.”
And the young man, who was afraid to lie to the king, answered, —
“I would much rather have committed thirty or forty mortal sins than be a leper.”169
And the king did not answer him; but the next day he said to the young man, —
“Come here and sit at my feet.” Which the young man did, and then St. Louis said, “You spoke yesterday like a wild man in a hurry, for all ills of the body are cured in a little time, when a man dies; but if your soul is tarnished, and you cannot be certain that God has pardoned you, that evil will last for ever as long as God sits in Paradise.”
And then he asked the young man suddenly whether he ever washed the feet of poor men on Maundy Thursday, and the young man answered, —
“Sire, far be it from me to wash the feet of poor men! No! Never will I do this thing!”
And the king said to him, —
“You are wrong again — thinking yourself too grand to do what God did for our enlightenment. Now I pray you, for the love of God and for the love of me, get yourself into the habit of washing poor men’s feet.”
For this king loved all kinds of men, whatsoever kind God had made and Himself loved.
On which account also he would give castles to guard to men that had no claim on him, if they had renown in good deeds. And he would have 170 at his table men of any birth or the same reason. And so seated once at table he said to a companion, —
“Tell me the reasons that a ‘loyal gentleman’ is so good a thing to be called.”
Then they all began disputing and defining, and at the end the king said, giving no reasons and turning to Robert of Cerbon, the same whom he had defended for dressing well, —
“Master Robert, this is what I think upon the matter: I desire to be called by men a ‘loyal gentleman,’ but much more to know that I am one. And if you would leave me that, you might take all the rest; for that title is so great a thing, and so good a thing, that merely to name it fills my mouth.”
THE DEATH OF ST. LOUIS
THERE is a little hill, not steep at first sight and seemingly very low, which rises bare enough to-day over the African Sea. The Mediterranean breaks (when in that sheltered gulf it breaks at all) in waves upon a straight and narrow beach at the foot of this hill. Beyond, not farther inland but farther up the coast, another hill, somewhat higher but still insignificant, is joined by a saddle to this first; to the south the land sinks altogether and admits (by a narrow passage) the sea into the broad and stagnant lagoon of Tunis.
A few isolated houses, with no pretense to comfort or to charm, a sort of villas, are to be found upon the quarter of mile of flat by the seashore, and one or two stand on the rise of the little height. Between them, for here a hundred yards and here two hundred, and all around them for half a mile and a mile again, is dry, burnt, dirty land, brown in summer, and empty save for here and there some tufts of coarse grass. Far off, in two great horns or arms leading to the 172 horizon, run the mountain promontories that enclose this bay like a pocket — a side pocket of the sea. A tramway, come from Tunis and spanning the lagoon upon the embankment, runs past the base of the hill at the edge of the sea flat. There is a halt rather than a station, a deserted wooden platform without rooms or master. On that platform is the name of the place, “CARTHAGE”; and thus does a man to-day know where it was that the mighty Carthaginian aristocracy stood, where the ships rode innumerable, where Elissa died, and where the Roman armies, masters at last as armies always are of merchants and the sea, stormed yard by yard the rise to the Citadel.
It was upon this hill and near the summit of it, upon the eastern side which overlooks the water below, at a spot just in front of the place where the Saracens had built out of the blocks of Carthaginian ruin a castle of their own, that the King of France lay dying.
He was in his splendid tent, the baking air within hardly relieved by the lifting of its side and the spraying of water on the canvas. With him were his sons, and round that poor camp-bed were the many men of his house. It was the day after St. Bartholomew’s feast, an awful day of heat in August, when the distant blue of the 173 promontory hills trembled in the air, and when the iron of men’s accoutrements, the rings of the saddle and of the bridle, were burning to the hand, and the baked earth of that low hill camp scorching to the feet.
St. Louis, who thus lay feeble in the last moments of his life, was but fifty-five years of age, nor did even these years fit him well, for his face had always something boyish in it and too tender for the approach of age. But the coming of death was clearly imprinted upon his pinched features, his lips without blood, and the droop of his mouth after so many days of pain. Before his voice fell low, while he yet had the power, he already had ordered a layer of ashes to be spread — as custom was then with pious rich men, that they might pass the more humbly. He said that Philip, his son, who was to reign after him, should be sent to him. This soldier was also weak from illness, but he came; and when that lord had come St. Louis said from his bed many things to this his heir, which things he ordered to be put down in writing as he spoke them, and to be kept as a testament for the governing of the realm of France, of which, years before, he had said to this same son as a child, —
“Rather would I that a Scot should come out of 174 Scotland to govern this land of France than that it should be governed other than in Christian wise.”
Of these things which he gave for commandment to his son he said (among other things), —
“Fair son, the first thing I teach you is that you order your life to the love of God, for lacking this no man can be saved. If God sends you adversity, received it in patience; if He sends you prosperity, give thanks humbly lest you become worse through pride. Confess thee often, and choose a wise confessor, who can guide you in what should e done, and what should be left undone; follow devoutly with heart and with lips the service of the Church, but especially the Mass, where Consecration is. Keep your heart soft and piteous to the poor, the misshapen, and all men ill at ease, and comfort and aid them within your power. Do not take all to which you have a right. If you have torment in your heart, share it with your confessor or some other man who is discreet. Thus will you bear it more easily. Cherish what is yours and your goods. Allow none to blaspheme God to your face. Be very stiff to insist on justice and on the fulfilment of rights, veering neither left nor right as between your subjects, and follow up the quarrel of the 175 weak until full truth is declared. If you hold anything that you think another’s, give it back at once, and if you are in doubt put the matter into the judgment of a third. Remember the chief townsfolk, for if you will rely on them the foreigner and the great man within will fear to attack you. Revere your father and your mother in memory, and keep their commandments. Give the benefices of the Church not only to wise men but to clean. Do not fight against Christian men, at least without taking counsel, and in your wars spare the Church and all those who have done you no harm. Lastly, very dear son, have Masses sung for me and my soul, and prayers said throughout your realm, and I pray you put apart for this a fixed sum of all you receive. Dear and fair son, I give you all benedictions, whatever a good father can give his child, and may the Blessed Trinity and all the Saints guard and defend you from all evils, and God give you grace to do His will always, and to have Himself honoured by you so that you and I both, when we have done this mortal life, may be together with Him and praise Him for ever.”
Then added King Louis, “Amen!”
But these are only certain few words out of all that St. Louis said, for the whole that he said 176 was longer by far, and when he had done, it was the full heat of the day, and already he was failing.
The suffering he was in grew greatly. He called for the Sacraments. He received them with a whole mind, as was clearly apparent from this, that they could hear him murmuring the verses of the Psalms as they anointed him; and his younger son, the Count of Alençon, heard him as he whispered in death. He was calling in whispers upon the Saints, and in particular on St. James, the guardian of pilgrims and of men who take long voyages; also he called on St. Denis of France, and on St. Geneviève, who is the Queen of Paris, as all must know. But by this time, noon being long past, all strength was deserting him. He could make some sign, so that they lifted him as he desired down upon the bed of ash where he would pass; and lying there he found the strength to cross one hand above the other on his breast, and so lying backwards, and still looking up to Heaven, he gave up his spirit to God who made us, in that same hour of None — that is three o’clock in the afternoon, which is the hour in which God the Son died upon the Cross for the salvation of the world.
Thus, upon the morrow of the Feast of St. 177 Bartholomew the Apostle, passed wholly out of this world the good King Louis, in the year of the Incarnation of our Lord, the year of Grace 1270. And his bones were put into a chase and buried at St. Denis in France, there in the place where he had chosen his sepulchre. In which place he was laid away in earth, there where God has worked many a miracle for him through his deserts.
IN that quarter of Paris which lay to the north, built on the old marsh that had been so laboriously drained, and close to the wall which Philip August had thrown round the city a century before, stood wide, with its open spaces and innumerable roofs, the enclosure of the Templars. It was a polity within a polity. No thoroughfare ran through those many acres, and gates admitted outsiders through the walls just as gates similarly guarded admitted outsiders through the walls into the larger unit of the city.
This fortification of stone all about, this high curtain flanked with towers and containing within its defences a whole population, was the very symbol of what the Temple had become. Wherever Christian men (now that the Crusades had failed) still held their own against the pressure of Baltic heathendom or of Islam insolent upon the east and south, there the Temple, over wide estates or commanding great castles armed, boasted its power.
Within the fields of Christendom, far within, wherever long immunity from heathen or from 179 Saracen pressure had half corrupted the life of Christian men, the Temple boasted its wealth or exalted its luxury. In London, in Ravenna, in Aragon — principally here in Paris — everywhere it was the richest and the greatest thing. Christendom counted perhaps one hundred thousand manors; nine thousand were in the hands of the Temple. Saving perhaps the Papacy itself, the enormous wealth of the Jewish financiers, and the Courts of the Angevins and of the Capetians, there was no such strength of gold anywhere in Europe. It was the rival of all of these, and I think their superior.
And this vast Order, as it was thus so enormously strong through gold, was strong also through two other things — ubiquity and noble lineage; and through a third thing it was strong — secrecy. For those younger sons of the great nobles, those many squires and those knights returned from wars in Spain or in the Levant, who formed its not very numerous but dominating body, were bound by so strict a discipline and acted with such solidarity behind their fortress gates in every capital and garrison, that it seemed as though Christendom had now within it some alien body separate from itself, and already half an enemy to the great traditions of the common 180 people and of the universal Church, and those open public servants, the kings. There was a grumbling and a hatred against Templars everywhere. It had endured fifty years. What was all this wealth and all this secrecy? Of what sort was the evil that hid behind those walls? And how could there be tolerated in Christendom, whose nature it is to be both homogeneous and free, something so jealously separate and possessed of such unaccredited dominion?
And more: were not these men, by the very tenure of their office, the defenders of the Holy Sepulchre, and had not that charge of theirs been lost? St. Peter men knew, and his successor, and the kings they knew, and the great lords their barons; but what was this other thing established in their midst, irresponsible and giving no man account of their worship — whatever it was they worshipped? Some said it was an idol. All feared it was Satan. The great Orders, the preachers coming right out of the populace, mixing with them, and haranguing in the market-places, were no such peril. The Jews, in the mass small men and poor, some few composing that strong oligarchy of finance which had long dominated Europe, were exposed to constraint; but even those that hated them could jest with them. 181 They were neighbours. The pitiless executors of royal orders were still neighbours too. Whatever had power for whatever reasons over the lives of common men was at least known and openly judged — save only the Temple. All the West in the great mass of its people was inflamed and alarmed, the little children, playing in the street put forth their fingers to ward off bad influence whenever two Templars went by. Men loved to repeat whatever tales were told against them; and the pride of their demeanour, sprung from a general nobility of blood as much as from the consciousness of unchallenged strength, exasperated the public soul.
Of all such angers the Capetian monarchy was about to become the spokesman. It was a rôle perilous in the extreme; for to strike at such a thing a man must strike at once with a secrecy equal to its own and with a power almost as universal. Time and again, for a generation past, it had been said that the thing would be done. Philip the Fair, King of France, discovered in his jealousy, and perhaps in his indignation, the strength required for the blow.
* * * * *
That fortress, which stood, an isolated thing, 182 challenging the greater fortress which Paris was, had in its centre, overlooking the many low gables of its outhouses and servants of those who lived under its protection, of its guests, and of its treasure rooms, one great square tower, capped with the high, pointed slate roof which could be seen from miles around. The tower was as tall and as menacing as the huge round tower of the Louvre itself; it lifted above Paris as high as the old belfry of St. Germanus, or as the twin praying towers of Notre-Dame.
Within that tower certain men, among the chiefs of the whole Order, sat upon an autumn evening, feasting. It was a Friday in October, and Friday is a day big with the superstitions or the disasters of Christendom. It was in October, the 13th of the month, and thirteen is a number which Christendom has consented to regad with some similar dread.
But thse men suffered no great fear, although so much had been rumoured now year after year. The greater part of them had come to Paris upon the invitation of the king but recently. That Burgundian squire, who was the chief of them all, had only the day before walked, by the king’s own order, in a funeral of the king’s own Court, holding the pall and playing his great part. 18 Certain of these men, the lesser ones, spoke as they sat at meat in this high tower, which in a fashion commanded the city, of the talk that was everywhere about, and the dangers which all might feel to be in the air they breathed. But their timorous suggestions were ridiculed both by the gayer of their colleagues and by the grave reproof of the superiors who sat there eating and drinking with them.
It was not yet quite dark, for this meal of the day was a meal begun at five o’clock as we now reckon time.
“There is such power in the Temple,” said that Burgundian knight, the old Grand Master, gravely, “that if there were but allied with them those others of the Knights Hospitallers which are not of our body, freely could they rule the whole world.”
Then another said, after a little pause, —
“Though the King of France himself should seek to do us some evil, others as powerful as he would stand our sponsors. The King of Aragon was with us when last the dogs growled and dared not bite.”
Then a third, who had a subtle face and spoke in high voice, said, not pleasantly, —
“Were my own father to seek admission to this 184 Order of ours I would warn him that there are things known to us which should bid him pause, for there are secrets we hold” (and here he smiled at the brethren) “which are known only to God and to the Devil — and to you: three partners.”
As the last man said this, the youngest of the Templars there present showed in his face at once so great a terror and so great a pain that the speaker sneered. That young man was muttering to himself. The grand Master, speaking still gravely but somewhat sharply from his old lips, asked him what words he was thus saying secretly.
“I was praying to the Mother of God,” said the young man, “and I was thinking of the dead.”
From the streets below, as evening gathered, there came a sound perhaps a little louder than the common sound of the tradesmen at their booths and of the passing crowds, but not much louder. Over the river, in the king’s garden under the new white walls and squa turrets of the palace on the island, a strange gathering had met. There assembled at the king’s express command members chosen from all the guilds and trades of Paris. They sat in rank, some hundreds 185 in number, by parishes and by mysteries beneath certain wooden pulpits, that had been hastily set up; and, from these, monks of the preaching Orders cried out in tones of violence and of condemnation, preparing them for what was to come
“A thing deplorable and horrible to the mind is among us, and a thing terrible to the ears. . . . Natures that have exiled themselves beyond the bounds of nature, treasonable to the dignity of man. Christ is betrayed, and their initiation is the initiation of devils. They spit upon the Cross.”
Also to these men admissions made by Templars who had betrayed their Order were related, and truth and rumour, and blasphemy and justice, were commingled in these high denunciations.
The congregation of these picked men chosen to spread the thing immediately throughout Paris were ready to believe, and most of what they believed was true.
But still in that high tower, as the darkness came, the chiefs of the Templars were confident and immune. Nothing in Christendom was so strong as they. The noise from the streets beyond their walls grew less, then suddenly rose and 186 was more ordered and, as it were, more menacing. They could catch the regular footfall of men in rank and the clank of metal. Some rose, and going to the deep western windows of their high place, whence the sunset beyond Valerian and the hills of St. Cloud still warmed all the sky, they saw torches lit in the gloaming, and they heard a challenge at the gate. It was the king’s men.
No resistance was held or opposed. That great door of the tower itself, which was to stand as the tower stood for so many centuries more (until it fell at the orders of Napoleon), was opened to the order of the king. The men who opened it at first looked at one another. None spoke save the Grand Master, who only said, “Woe to him that betrays his brethren,” and who, as he said it, looked fixedly at the youngest man. Then the worked hanging, which hung by rings before the archway of their room, was drawn clattering aside. The archers entered in a body, and these men were prisoners. Before it was night Philip himself, the king, had taken possession of that tower. He had filled it with his scribes. The treasury was forced. The rolls of parchment were brought forth, the accounts were rendered, and the vast fortunes of that place 187 were beneath the grasp of the monarchy, which would proceed to the full revelation of so many crimes and of the humbling of so much pride, to the torture and to the death.
But later, months and months later, when the last of these men were themselves brought out for public recantation before the cathedral, the old Grand Master, that Burgundian knight, standing forward on the high platform before the thousands of the people to declare the guilt of the Templars to the astonishment of Europe, for all his avowals acted a most memorable part. Loudly he denied whatever wrongs he had himself admitted, whatever blasphemies, whatever obscenities, whatever denials of the Christ. They burnt him with his companions after that relapse (for so they called it); they burnt him on those little islands which lay westward of the palace, and which are now a green place beneath the Place Dauphine; and the awestruck crowd that watched his death whispered among themselves that the man in his agony had summoned to the tribunal of God within one year and a day the Pope and the King. Before the term of that citation had expired the Pope and the King were dead.
[I have corrected Froissart by the map and local knowledge. Hence Boismont, not Oisemont, etc.]
EDWARD THE PLANTAGENET sat in Boismont at his evening meal upon Wednesday, August 23, 1346. He, and his nobles about him. He had marched from Acheux that day, an easy journey. He had found at Boismont, before sunset, the advance guard of his force; now, by evening, it had all concentrated, and the division (as we should call it to-day, for it was about that strength) lay, some in bivouac, some billeted, some under canvas, grouped round the village. The moon was at the full; through the late summer air, still warm, the flood of her light was over those miles of stubble, the open high fields of Picardy.
Edward, the Plantagenet, in a chance room of the village, chosen in its best house, still sat at a table well furnished and spoke to those about him of the campaign.
There sat among these who were that night the guests of the king one or two useful upland 189 squires, a little doubtful of their French, a little afraid, therefore, of speaking in such company; but Edward could understand, and could even make himself understood in the local idioms of north England which sounded so harsh in such a place; and, intermingled with the play of French at that table — with the advice and the jests and the courtesy of the greater men — he would demand the opinion and listen carefully to the reply of those few whom he had also bidden to meet him, and who, in their ignorance, hesitated to use the tongue of their rank.
But there was little to learn, either from these few who were easier in their half-Saxon dialects, or from the main group of guests with whom, as with the king, French was the only talk. The position was known, its character was simple, its issue was desperate.
Headquarters take tragedy in war with a strange ease, partly because it is their duty to check emotion, partly because they have to handle affairs as a problem in the void, and to forget the too human reactions of peril; partly because they have grown too familiar with an evil situation, if that situation has arisen gradually and enforced itself; partly because instruction, and the habit of a cultured class, has taught them how 190 futile in such a pass is any waste of energy upon grieving.
In the billets and posts around, the polyglot gossip at the camp fires and hearths, where sergeants saw to the cooking of the common meals, was less restrained; and in Welsh, and in the Saxon or nearly English phrases, in the rare French, in the mingled speech of the men from the sea coast, there was a note always of gloom and sometimes of alarm. Though the solid organization of the sergeants saw to it that the muttering should not spread too far, there could be no mistaking the temper of the troops. They knew, by that curious unexplained process through which the common soldier absorbs a position which he could not understand from a map, that things were desperate.
But around the king’s table a much clearer appreciation of the peril led to no corresponding words, nor would any stranger present have imagined, from the tone of that room, how close and apparently inevitable was disaster.
The little force had now been in retreat, and rapid retreat, from the failure before Paris, through one feverish week, pounding up northward for Calais; not with forced marches, indeed, but with full days’ marches. Now, at the end of 191 that effort, it found itself headed off. The long, straight, marshy trench of the Somme lay between them and their Channel transports home. They had attempted its crossing a first, a second, a third time, and every attempt had been thrust back. They had felt down river with increasing anxiety, as the host upon the farther bank grew; and, while they had failed to make the crossing good, and while, as they were thus impelled northward, the breadth of the valley which defied them increased. Here they were at last at Boismont, on the lower estuary, with a huge sea tide swirling back and forth, at its height — a mile and a half of deep tumbling water — twice the depth that would drown a man. At its lowest it became a mass of marsh and mud, through which the hurrying ebb ran tumbling to the open sea in varied channels.
Boismont stood upon the eastern bank of that broad water flank, grouped upon the dry steep above the edge of the marsh and the mud. There were rumours of some available passage, but no one caught sight of it, and even were it known, what chance had the army of forcing a long and narrow and perilous traverse when they had been unable to force the short bridges of the upper stream?
Yet that very difficulty was to prove their salvation. 192 There was a ford, as the king was to learn, but its farther end upon the eastern bank was ill guarded with an insufficient force detached from the French vanguard upon the farther shore. For it was imagined that the crossing could hardly be attempted, or, if attempted, easily repelled.
Edward Plantagenet burned to one of the lesser commanders, who had spoken of the rumour of a ford, and said, —
“What was the name of your prisoner?”
The soldier replied, —
“Gobain Agache. He is a farmer of Mons, through which we marched but yesterday. We took him with us because he had been talking too much.”
“One might have thought that you could have found intelligence.”
“No, sir; they were all dumb. But we had heard that this man had talked, so we took him with us.”
“What has he told you?”
“He has told us nothing.”
“What have you offered him?”
The commander mentioned a sum large in his eyes. Edward Plantagenet laughed.
“We will give him the worth of his whole farm,” he said, “and his freedom, and that of 193 any twenty of his comrades. Are there so many from his part?”
“No doubt, sir,” said the officer.
They sent for Gobain Agache, and they made him their offer pleasantly enough. He stood before them stolid for a moment. They did not press him.
As to which of these two kings should prove himself by ordeal of battle to be the rightful king Gobain Agache cared nothing. The jabbering of Welsh and of half English in the billets had sounded to him very foreign indeed, but then many of the others there were also of his own kind. He was disturbed in the matter of loyalty to his lord, who, he was told, had followed the Valois king upon the farther side of the river. He was disturbed about his farm, and what would happen to it if the battle were decided one way or the other; and here he was, with the value of his farm to his hand for the taking! So he spoke.
“The ford is close by. Your men ought to have seen it. Any stranger could see it. It is clearly marked at low tide from the hard to the hard, a broad made way of marl and chalk and great stones going right across the river.”
Edward looked at that one of his subordinates chiefly responsible, who murmured at once, —194
“Sir, we did not reach this bank until the tide was already flowing.”
“Did you see a hard going down into the water?” said the king sharply.
“I thought it was a village wharf.”
The king smiled, and turned again to Gobain Agache.
“How broad is it?”
“About twenty paces,” said the farmer.
“Who is the best fisherman here?” said the king abruptly.
“I do not know the place,” he said.
The king nodded his head slightly to a younger man who stood ready. That younger man went out. Edward bade the farmer be seated on a form near the wall, and spent the next few mintues talking of this and that at random, until the young man who had gone out came back with an old, wooden-faced fellow, who pulled his hair as he entered and stood stooping somewhat and stroking his beard with his left hand.
Of him the king asked at what o’clock the tide was full. He said, but in the speech of St. Valery, —
“At midnight, for it is the full moon.”
“That means that the last of the ebb,” said 195 Edward, half to himself and half to his companions, “will be a little after six in the morning.”
The fisherman shook his head and grinned at hearing such strange errors.
“After seven,” he said. Seven hours ebb, five hours flow.”
An old man, half servant, half vassal, who looked after the king’s land round the waters of Chicester harbour, and who could always be straight with his mater, looked him full in the face and said, —
“Never argue about the tide.”
And Edward answered, —
“All the better, so long as it is not too late.”
Then he turned to the old fisherman for a last question, —
“What depth is there at the very lowest of the passage on this ebb?”
“No more than knee-deep water,” said the old man, “for the springs are making, and we shall have the lowest ebb in three more tides.”
All this the king fitted together in one. He saw his opportunity. The ford close at hand, its hardness, the chance of the tide just at the right moment; he saw how all depended upon the defence of the farther shore. He saw that his 196 chance of crossing and escaping to Calais had come.
He told the young man to lead the fisherman out and to give him a piece of gold, and to see that no one took it from him.
* * * * *
The king gave orders for a march in the first hours of the morning, long before dawn, while still they had the full moonlight to guide them. The sergeants were warned. The Court and the army took but little sleep. The grooms had none.
The accustomed delays and rearrangements, without which no force is gathered, kept them to within two hours of dawn. There was but one road leading parallel to the shore along the higher dry land southward; the very long column followed it under the moonlight. They reached Saigneville, those few miles to the south, just as the beginnings of daylight, mixing in with the last gold of the moon, was restoring colour to the world. Yet an hour more was the division occupied in marshalling under three columns to face the river. It was broad daylight by the time everything was done, and the sun was very near the edge of the uplands on the farther shore.197
In front of the army ran rapidly the broad stream of the estuary, racing at more than half ebb to the sea. Already the mud flats below the village were widely exposed, and were similarly showing upon the farther bank, and there, running out boldly to the water, which still submerged it, was the causeway of the ford. Its prolongation, now that they knew its character, could be caught by the eye nearly a mile beyond, upon the farther flats. It was Blanchetaque, the ford, broad and raised as Gobain had described it. Far away upon the low bluff there could just be made out doubtfully the small — the too small — force which the advance guard of the Valois had sent to protect that scarcely threatened issue. It numbered not a sixth of the Plantagenet’s columns.
Those three columns waited for the fall of the tide. Before them, in a small, close group, some four hundred knights, fully armed, stood for the order to mount. It came somewhat before seven in the morning. The thing had to be calculated closely. Too early a start would find unfordable water. Too late would mean the catching of the ends of the column by the tide; for the rearguard of that army, as it crossed on so narrow a front, was two miles from the head.
The signal sounded, and that trumpet was 198 heard by Godemard de Fay, the commander of the Valois on the farther bank. He saw Edward’s knights mount, and the three columns, each four abreast, coming across the covered causeway, formed. Against Edward’s mounted squires he sent knights, equally mounted and armed, down into the water to take the shock. These two small bodies of cavalry met, struggling and thrusting and hacking at each other, with the salt ebb swirling round the horses’ knees as the beasts slipped and struggled on the slime of the causeway floor. But not the wrestling between those handfuls of heavily accoutred nobles was to decide the passage. That was determined by the long-bow.
Behind the French knights, on the hard above the falling water level, a detachment of the Genoese with their cross-bows supported the horse and sent their shafts into the mass of Edward’s knights, perhaps just reaching the infantry behind. But that infantry was here in the van, wholly made up of the archers, the superb arm of all that command, and it was they who forced the advance. For the Welsh long-bow, with its greater precision, its sharper impact, its longer range, and the discipline of the force that used it, firing with exactitude and command, not 199 only threw Godemard’s horse into a confusion, stampeding from the causeway into the mud and breaking back towards the shore, but threw into an equal confusion the Genoese archers and the French infantry behind. Edward’s knights, acting as a sort of spearhead, could go forward, but only through the perpetual support of the long-bow men as they advanced steadily through the narrowing water and up towards the shore.
There was a moment of hesitation and of last resistance, then that break in the line which is the end. Edward could see from far off the horse of his small group of knights vigorously mounting the bluff, and the scattering of the small force that opposed them. The bridgehead was held; the main army began to file across.
So close was the issue that it could hardly save its baggage. A detachment of the King of France’s forces had already appeared upon the sky-line above Saigneville before the wagons could follow the last of the English infantry on to the ford. Much of Edward’s train had to be abandoned. But that same accident which caused so severe a loss in provision saved the army. The Plantagenet’s command, nearly all its fighting men at least, had crossed the Somme, and the rising tide had made pursuit impossible by the 199 time the Valois’ men had made secure of their booty and had reached the eastern bank. They watched the growing flood of water between, as, far away upon the farther bank, the triple column of the English king disappeared over the western folds of the land.
This was the crossing of Blanchetaque, and this it was which founded, two days later, the decision of Crécy.
Edward had said “God and our Lady and St. George will find me a passage.”
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