From Peter the Cruel, The Life Of The Notorious Don Pedro of Castile Together With An Account Of His Relations With The Famous Maria de Padilla, by Edward Storer; London: John Lane, The Bodley Head; New York: John Land Company, 1911; pp. 257-275.
AND all the while in Valencia Don Pedro was burning, pillaging, sacking and putting to the sword. Sieges were his especial delight; pitched battles he avoided, and in this choice he was followed by his enemies.
From now until the end Don Pedro presents, it must be admitted, a rather poor figure. He runs away from the foe unless the odds are largely on his side; he neglects opportunities of striking blows, which a little daring would have made very deadly; he confines himself to a disreputable brigandage unworthy of a king. Of course he was sick at heart, faint at heart, at this time, for the power built upon fear was showing him the weakness of its miserable foundation. All those dead heads, rotting in the soil of Castile, were crying softly from their resting-places against the hour of vengeance. The hearts of the relicts of his murdered ones treasured an instinctive treachery against the King. Pedro felt these things, and from this time he becomes like a man whose soul is ridden with ghosts.
Doubts prey on his will and resolution, and he goes inert against his foes.
To his knights at the table he said one day, as he 258 put a morsel of bread into his mouth: “With this piece of bread I could feed all the loyal subjects I have throughout Castile.”
With a little of his old vigour, he could have made himself master of the Peninsula. He was a better general than any of his foes, better than Enrique, better than Carlos, the debauchee of Navarre, better than the tyrant of Aragon.
When Don Pedro’s army was besieging Valencia, unknown to him, Pedro IV. set on foot a relief expedition. This force would have fallen on the Castilians unaware, but for Don Tello, who sent a squire of his to warn his brother. Don Tello, like everybody else played a double game, and, while fighting in the Conde’s army, secretly corresponded with the King. The sight of the mountain-tops bursting into smoke persuaded Don Pedro that his brother’s messenger brought tidings of truth, and, losing no time, he forthwith raised the siege. He established himself in an advantageous position near Murviedo, on some neighbouring heights. Although the King of Aragon invited battle, Don Pedro remained where he was, and allowed the enemy to go to the relief of Valencia. Even when they were at the disadvantage of crossing a river, the King did not hasten to attack, but merely annoyed them temporarily with a few genetours whose arrows and javelins were harmless against the mail of the Aragonese soldiers.
The arrival of Pedro IV. and his relieving host was marked with great delight by the Valencians, tortured and unstrung by all the privations of a siege. They 259 pressed round the King, kissing his hands, his armour, and even the very accoutrements of his horse. Mérimée thinks that Don Pedro’s inaction in this case must be put down to the non-arrival of his fleet in which he reposed a warmer confidence than in his army. His naval captains were mostly aliens who had no private wrongs to clash with their sense of professional duty. Pedro was not above seeking to throw the blame of the fiasco of Murviedo on the King of Aragon. He complained that he could not force him to a battle.
“He makes war like an Almogavar,” he said, implying by the word a low type of Arabian guerilla warrior, whose principal military skill lay in his remarkable elusiveness from pursuit.
The King of Aragon replied to this by challenging Don Pedro to a pitched battle, on a given day in an open plain — a challenge which the King of Castile completely ignored.
When his fleet at length arrived, Don Pedro embarked in person, and proceeded to engage in a series of skirmishes and manœuvres, which had little or no result. Both sides watched each other’s movements very warily, but nothing in the way of an engagement occurred.
Then suddenly a storm arose, and the principal galley in which Don Pedro was sailing lost its anchor three times, and drifted dangerously near to the enemy’s coast. Fortunately for those on board, the fourth anchor held, but the vessel was so near the shore that Don Pedro could remark the fetters which were 260 being prepared for him by those waiting on the beach. He was in great fear, and vowed to God and the saints, that if he should escape from the tempest, he would go forthwith on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady del Puch, a holy place near by.
And he kept his word.
When the storm went down, and he was enabled to return to Murviedo, he solemnly repaired to the church of del Puch, where, in his shirt, bare-footed, and with a rope round his neck, he gave thanks to God for his safety.
Is not this a different Pedro from the priest-burner, the sceptic, the excommunicate, of a few years ago?
After a short visit to Seville, to divert his mind with the decorations of the Alcazar which were then in progress, he continued the type of war which is so characteristic of the country and the age: fruitless sieges, brutal pillagings and burnings, the concentration of large forces on totally disproportionate objectives. Yet where his troops did meet those of the Conde and the King of Aragon, they were generally the victors.
The Castilians established themselves outside the city of Oriheuela, an important point in Valencia, and before this place Don Pedro once more declined to accept a pitched battle which the enemy sought to force on him. In the council of war which was held, he asked his nobles’ opinion: “Ought we to attack?” he said to his knights assembled round him. A silence followed, and all turned towards Diego de Padilla, Master of Calatrava, whose advice they felt would echo their own.261
“Sire,” said Padilla, “it is a long time since God gave to the House of Castile and the House of Aragon their appointed shares, and if Castile were now divided into four parts, one alone of those quarters would constitute a kingdom larger than the whole of Aragon. You, as lord of all Castile, are the greatest king among Christians, and, I might add with truth, the greatest in all the world. My opinion is that if you to-day attack the King of Aragon, with all your strength, you will overcome him and become both King of Castile and Aragon, nay, with God’s help, the Emperor of Spain.”
These sentiments were echoed by all present, for the Castilian knights felt, no doubt, that their honour and chivalry were becoming tarnished in the undignified and petty manner of war in which they were engaged.
Then it was that the King made his famous pronouncement on the loyalty of his subjects: —
“For my own part,” he said to those around him, “if I had for vassals men like those of the King of Aragon, I would fearlessly fight against you and against all Spain.”
Such talk from a leader could not but lower the enthusiasm of his lieutenants, and the council of war broke up in frowns and silence. Among themselves, the knights fretted and chafed at these unmerited taunts at their loyalty and honour, and some even went again to the King to assure him of their devotion and eagerness to fight. To one another they said that he was losing the most favourable opportunity 262 of destroying his adversary, and was imprinting a stain on the honour of the Castilian army. The knights who approached him, however, were repulsed.
A few days later, a further opportunity arose for Don Pedro to attack the Aragonese, but he would do nothing more than allow Martin Lopez to harass the enemy’s rear-guard with a few genetours. This captain, ashamed, perhaps, of the army’s inactivity, made so furious an assault on the foe, that he threw them into great confusion, and it was thought, that had he been supported, Castile must that day have gained a great victory. For his exploit, Lopez was made Master of Alcantara by the King.
After another short rest in the capital, the next feature of this extraordinary campaign consisted in Don Pedro’s again besieging Oriheula, from which he had just before so ignominiously and unnecessarily retired. His own men were being at the time besieged in Murviedo, but he showed no desire to go to their rescue. This time Oriheula fell before the Castilian army, but all requests for assistance from the beleaguered in Murviedo were entirely neglected. In the end the place fell. It was reduced by famine to accept what terms its defenders could arrange with the besiegers. These were of an honourable nature, and the garrison of some six hundred men-at-arms and an equal number of foot-soldiers were led to the frontier by the Conde and his men.
On the way, this wily prince, with his insinuating manners and his air of beau garçon and gallant knight, 263 whose polish had been received at the French Court, endeavoured to seduce the fallen Castilians from their old allegiance. Promises, caresses, kindnesses — all acts of such rarity in these wars as to be the more astonishing — did he lavish on these saddened and battered heroes of Murviedo. He was so careful with the wounded, so generous in praise of their gallant defence, so clever in suggesting the possibilities of a new régime, the wielder of whose destinies he, perhaps, delicately adumbrated in a not too obvious portrait of himself.
The old warriors fell into the lure of his wiles. How different a master he must have seemed to them after the silent, fierce, and cruel Pedro! He told them the story of the coming of the Free Companies — those terrible soldiers, the bruit of whose deeds had been rumbling louder and louder of late from the plains of France. He pictured to these beaten knights, shorn of the assistance of their leader and King, depressed at his miserable inaction, utterly disgusted with his repeated cruelties, the valorous deeds of men like Du Guesclin, Sir Hugh de Calverley, and the Captal de Buch. “Whoever,” he said to them, finally “whether now or hereafter, feeling himself dissatisfied with Don Pedro, desires to serve a lord more generous and more just, let him come to me, secure of a hearty welcome.”
Was it any wonder that his words made traitors among the soldiers of Don Pedro? Though many forthwith joined his standard, there were others, whom loyalty and fear kept true to their old banner. 264 Yet these same men were, perhaps, more hurtful in their act to the king than the frank deserters, for they carried with them, as they scattered into Castile, seeds of dissension, and insidious praises of Don Enrique. They would be only the traitors of to-morrow instead of the traitors of to-day.
The hour of Don Pedro’s misfortune was coming. The spirits of the noble Castilian dead could now prick up their ghost-ears at those sounds coming from over the mountains.
The torrent that had so long threatened was about to break.
Urban V., Charles V., Charles of Bourbon, Du Guesclin, were all of them pointing the way from France to the Pyrenees. The Jacquerie was reduced, and in France there was a great ache for deliverance from the terrible Free Companies.
In Spain, thought Don Enrique, a corresponding desire and need of them. Soon they were to start, king-makers and king-breakers, from Montpellier in Languedoc.
Meanwhile Don Pedro was in Seville, decorating his Alcazar.
MELODRAMATICALLY, the story of the fall of Don Pedro is most satisfying and complete. Right triumphs as serenely as ever it did in a fourth act. Poetic justice is dealt out with rhythmical exactitude. Prince Charming takes up the Crown, and the villain is crushed into the dust. True, indeed, that the hero Enrique seems to have acquired not a few of the villain’s bad qualities, but then it cannot be denied that of these Don Pedro had plenty.
In this last act, indeed, there is almost a plethora of heroes, and once scarcely knows which to choose for the true one.
Thus, there is the great Du Guesclin, and the even more heroic figure of the Black Prince, who is quite an historical example of the sentimental hero.
While Spain had been harassed and tortured by the ambitions of its princes, France, though it had for some time enjoyed peace with its principal foe, had still suffered from internal disorders and troubles.
There had been the affair of the Jacquerie, a terrible uprising of peasants and fanatics — to give the point of view of the ruling party, the only one which has survived.266
The revolt had given rise to scenes as violent and horrible as any Castile had witnessed — wholesale slaughters, ravishments, executions en masse — until this state of things had been brought to an end by the Captal de Buch and the Comte de Foix at Meaux where, according to Froissart, more than seven thousand of the Jacques perished.
France, in its own manner, had suffered from the struggles of its petty princes and feudatories. Under the pretext of serving the King of Navarre, the Free Companies made war wherever there was promise of good plunder. That it was a profitable business, this captaining of Free Companies, we may believe, when we find Sir John Froissart speaking of a certain Sir Robert Knolles, who had gained by it upwards of 100,000 crowns.
At Auray, the question of the Dukedom of Brittany had been finally settled by the victory of John de Montfort and the death of Charles de Blois. It was at this battle that Du Guesclin, who fought on the side of France, was made prisoner by Sir John Chandos — a fortunate capture for that lucky knight, considering the amount of the ultimate ransom.
Almost the first thing that the young King of France determined on, as being necessary to the happiness and security of his kingdom, was the departure of the Free Companies.
To this end he assembled round him the wisest heads of the State, in order that a remedy against the evil might be devised, without the necessity of engaging them in open war. It was the crafty brain of Du 267 Guesclin that devised the scheme which eventually dispersed them.
He suggested that the manner of the death of Queen Blanche in Castile should be made a pretext for the gathering together under one standard of the various bands of ruffians in France.1 He offered to put himself at the head of an expedition against Don Pedro, and received at the same time Charles’s assent to the idea, and a permission to send a royal herald to ask of the leaders of the Companies a safe-conduct for himself.
This cornet found the gentleman whom he was seeking camped comfortably enough near Châlons-sur-Saône. When the cornet was brought to the leaders sitting at their table, they were rather surprised at the coming of a messenger from the court.
There were there Sir Hugh Calverley, Mathieu de Gournay, Nicolas Strambourt, Robert Scot, Gutier Huet, the Green Knight, and several others.
The mention of Du Guesclin’s name seems to have acted magically upon these knights, who were drinking someone else’s best wine in a handsomely furnished room of a chateau which did not belong to them. Sir Hugh Calverley especially was delighted at the sound of Du Guesclin’s name — Sir Hugh, who, we learn, “ate like two men and fought like six.”
No doubt memories of the famous Frenchman’s prowess at Auray where Sir Hugh had fought against him, gave him a flush of generous feeling. As spokesman for his companions, Calverley granted the herald 268 the desired safe-conduct, and bade him lose no time in bringing back to Châlons the redoubtable Bertrand.
Nor had the captains of the Malandrines long to wait. Du Guesclin set out for them as soon as the safe-conduct reached him.
The gigantic Sir Hugh, so soon as he saw him coming, rushed out to meet him, fell on his neck, and called him companion and friend.
“Ah,” said the careful Bertrand, “that is as may be, but I cannot tell if you are my friend, until I know whether you are prepared to follow me in the expedition I have come to talk to you about.”
Leading him towards the other knights, Sir Hugh declared that he would follow Du Guesclin anywhere, save against the Prince of Wales, “and that I have sworn not to do,” he added.
The best wine was produced, and compliments passed over the freebooters’ board. They all had a great admiration for Du Guesclin, who physically and intellectually, was a very fine man. “A fine wine, Sir,” said the Breton General to Sir Gutier Huet, who offered him the cup.
“No man living can deny that,” answered the knight.2
Then Du Guesclin, finding them all in such good humour, took the opportunity of explaining to the company the reason of his visit.
He told them of the wicked deeds of Don Pedro, who had cruelly put his innocent wife to death. He was, he said, a pagan, an infidel, and consorted only 269 with Jews and Saracens. Du Guesclin mentioned all his infamies, and pointed out the injury done by his acts to the fair honour of France, and then he began to picture to the knights the wealth and richness of the land of Castile. He told them that the King of France would pay them the sum of 200,000 livres, and that the Holy Father would, in consideration of this crusade, grant them a remission of the ex-communication then laid on them, as well as an absolution of all their sins.
To this latter inducement they replied that they had more faith in Du Guesclin than in all the prelates of France or Avignon. To which the captain answered in the following vein: —
“What rascals we all have been!” he cried, artfully including himself among them. “We have violated women, burnt houses, and killed men’s children. We have slaughtered cattle and sheep, pilfered geese, chickens, and capons, drunk the best wines, and committed sacrileges on churches and religious houses. In fact, we have been worse than thieves.
“Let us go against the pagans. We shall all become rich, and also win paradise for ourselves when we die.”3
We may imagine that cheers went up at the conclusion of this speech, that the glasses were clinked on the tables, and that a great volume of talk and sentiment greeted these words.
Although nearly all the knights present declared 270 their willingness to follow Du Guesclin anywhere, a few protested, saying that Spain was a long way off, and that they were very happy in France. These few dissentients were soon shouted down, and Du Guesclin took his departure with the promises of the leaders to follow him into Spain.
Returning to Paris, he lost no time in getting matters hastened along. He was received with great joy by everybody, and Charles was so pleased with the success of his expedition, that he embraced him before the whole court, and declared that his brave Breton had done more for his service than if he had won him a province.
There is extant the treaty beginning — “Tractatus Magnarum Compagniarum cum gentibus Regis et dom Henrico de Trastamara” which was concluded in pursuance of this meeting at Châlon’s. Du Guesclin’s ransom was paid, and amounted to 100,000 francs4 of which sum the Pope contributed a proportion.
Many adventurers throughout Europe were attracted by the romantic atmosphere which seemed to attend the expedition, and from several countries knights drifted to join the standard of Du Guesclin. The Maréchal d’Audeneham, a prisoner of the Black Prince on parole and the Comte de la Marche, a scion of the royal family, were ready enough to join the troops of filibusters and marauders gathering together in Languedoc.
There was some little wonder as to whether 271 English knights might, without failing in their allegiance to King Edward and his son, join an expedition arranged against a sovereign who was by treaty allied to their own. But the scruple does not seem to have deterred many from their object. Perhaps it was to satisfy the more particular and fastidious among them, that the expedition was declared to be against the Saracens.
The famous White Company was organised as a brigade of the army, and under its standard were gathered some of the best soldiers of the Malandrines.
About twelve or thirteen thousand men-at-arms were brought together in the neighbourhood of Châlons, of whom the greater part were French or Bretons. The remainder were mainly English, and were led by Sir Hugh de Calverley, or “Mosen Hugo de Caureley” as Ayala calls him.
There were also men of Flemish, Scottish, German, Welsh and Navarrese origin among the forces.
The expedition started from Montpellier in Languedoc under the nominal command of the Comte de la Marche though actually under that of Du Guesclin.
What sort of a man was this Bertrand du Guesclin, called by some Du Glayquin or Glecquin or Gayaquin or Glesquin or Claikin?5
A stout enough fellow by all accounts and according to Hume the first general who ever appeared in Europe.6272
Certainly a man with no illusions in the wrong place about chivalry or war, a veritable Captain Bluntschli of the fourteenth century, and as opposed to the sentimentality of the Black Prince as possible.
He is the exposition of common sense trampling over ideality or rather catching it up; for the whole of man’s spiritual life is an insistent dogging of the imagination by reason.
In person, Du Guesclin was, according to the old chronicles, of round and sunburnt face, snub-nosed, and with green eyes. His hair was crisp, his neck short, his shoulders large, thick and rather high. His arms were long; he had a small hand, clumsy legs, and a face that was by no means handsome. He had but little education.
Further we learn that he was: —
“In battle as calm and assured as if he were in his own room; in combat fierce, strong, and swift. A frank fellow of open countenance, with ever a pleasant word ready to his tongue.”
This was Bertrand, the famous general of the Middle Ages, the man who was to drive Don Pedro from his throne, and later to win back France for the French.
A bit of a rogue in a way, it can hardly be doubted, with a curt contempt for all ecclesiastics whom he called “furred hoods” and with little respect even for the Holy Father, whom he blackmailed on behalf of himself and his companions with the lightest of consciences.
There arrived outside Avignon one day, towards 273 the end of the year 1365, the White Company with Bertrand at its head.
In the old Papal Palace there was great commotion and stir. When great kings like those of France and England bent a humble knee to the authority of Avignon, how dare a mere band of adventurers arrive in so martial and threatening a fashion?
Pope Urban V. sent a messenger to the chief of the Companies desiring that they should remove themselves from the papal territory. Meanwhile, he promised to withdraw the ban of excommunication lying — very lightly it must be thought — on them. The legate of this perilous mission was the Cardinal of Jerusalem, and he had barely arrived in the camp of the strangers, when a body of English archers surrounded him and cried out insolently to know if he had brought them any money.
“Bien soyez-vous venus: apportez-vous argent?” they shouted.
Du Guesclin, more polite, more politic, but no doubt equally venal, put the case of his men shortly before the Cardinal.
He represented the danger to which the Holy Father must necessarily expose himself if the troops got out of hand, and expressed to him his fears, that on such an occasion as this, the leaders would have practically no authority over them.
Others were less diplomatic, and cried that they must have money; that the expedition was in fact 274 a religious crusade, which well deserved the assistance of Holy Church.
Du Guesclin, added: —
“Our men,” he said, “have become good Catholics in spite of themselves, and they would very readily return to their old trade.”
The pope temporised, but the delay only irritated the freebooters, who, if they were believers, knew themselves excommunicated, and had therefore nothing more spiritually to fear, while if they were not, even less restraint attached to their conduct.
Fires soon began to flicker over the rich plains of Villeneuve, and rumours of pillage came quickly to Urban’s ears.
And to all expostulation, Du Guesclin merely said: —
“What can I do? My men are excommunicated. The devil is in them, and we are no longer their masters.”
The pope capitulated. He could do nothing else. He made as good a bargain for himself as was possible, and paid the companies a sum of five thousand gold florins. Not all of this, however, came from the ecclesiastical coffers, for the townsmen of Avignon were charged with a proportion of this tribute — perhaps almost all of it.
Cuvelier makes Du Guesclin insist that the entire sum should be a papal contribution, inasmuch as he was not risking his life for the burghers, but for the interests of the Holy See. Mérimée, however, disproves this by a manuscript in the Archives of Avignon. And, as he says, Du Guesclin was not the 275 man to fetter with spiteful or sentimental conditions a contract plainly leaning in his favour.
So these knights of the Free Companies started out at last for Spain, absolved of their sins, with gold in their pockets, and songs upon their lips.
1 Saincte-Marthe says that Blanche wrote to her brother-in-law, Charles V., protesting against Peter’s treatment of her.
2 Chronique de Du Guesclin.
3 Chronique de Du Guesclin.
4 Thirty thousand, according to Choisy.
5 Ayala speaks of him as “Mosen Beltran de Claquin.”
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