Saint George for England


Walter was raised from the ground, water was fetched from the cottage, and the blood washed from his head by Ralph, aided by two of the women. It had at once been seen that he was still living, and Ralph on examining the wound joyfully declared that no great harm was done.

"Had Sir Walter been strong and well," he said, "such a clip as this would not have knocked him from his feet, but he would have answered it with a blow such as I have often seen him give in battle; but he was but barely recovering and was as weak as a girl. He is unconscious from loss of blood and weakness. I warrant me that when he opens his eyes and hears that the lady Edith has risen from her bed and came to send me to his rescue, joy will soon bring the blood into his cheeks again. Do one of you run to the hut and see if they have any cordial waters; since the plague has been raging there are few houses but have laid in a provision in case the disease should seize them."

The man soon returned with a bottle of cordial water compounded of rosemary, lavender, and other herbs. By this time Walter had opened his eyes. The cordial was poured down his throat, and he was presently able to speak.

"Be of good cheer, Sir Walter," Ralph said; "three of your rascally assailants lie dead, and the other two have fled; but I have better news still for you. Lady Edith, who you told me lay unconscious and dying, has revived. The din of the conflict seems to have reached her ears and recalled her to life, and the dear lady came to my room with the news that you were carried off, and then, while I was throwing on my clothes, roused the village to your assistance by ringing the alarm-bell. Rarely frightened I was when she came in, for methought at first it was her spirit."

The good news, as Ralph had predicted, effectually roused Walter, and rising to his feet he declared himself able to mount and ride back at once. Ralph tried to persuade him to wait until they had formed a litter of boughs, but Walter would not allow it.

"I would not tarry an instant," he said, "for Edith will be full of anxiety until I return. Why, Ralph, do you think that I am a baby? Why, you yourself were but this morning unable to walk across the room, and here you have been galloping and fighting on my behalf."

"In faith," Ralph said, smiling, "until now I had forgotten that I had been ill."

"You have saved my life, Ralph, you and my friends here, whom I thank with all my heart for what they have done. I will speak more to them another time, now I must ride home with all speed."

Walter now mounted; Ralph took his place on one side of him, and one of his tenants on the other, lest he should be seized with faintness; then at a hand-gallop they started back for the castle. Several women of the village had, when they left, hurried up to the castle. They found Edith lying insensible by the rope of the alarm-bell, having fainted when she had accomplished her object. They presently brought her round; as she was now suffering only from extreme weakness, she was laid on a couch, and cordials and some soup were given to her. One of the women took her place at the highest window to watch for the return of any belonging to the expedition.

Edith felt hopeful as to the result, for she thought that their assailants would not have troubled to carry away the body of Walter had not life remained in it, and she was sure that Ralph would press them so hotly that sooner or later the abductors would be overtaken.

An hour and a half passed, and then the woman from above ran down with the news that she could see three horsemen galloping together towards the castle, with a number of others following in confused order behind.

"Then they have found my lord," Edith exclaimed joyfully, "for Ralph would assuredly not return so quickly had they not done so. It's a good sign that they are galloping, for had they been bearers of ill news they would have returned more slowly; look out again and see if they are bearing one among them."

The woman, with some of her companions, hastened away, and in two or three minutes ran down with the news that Sir Walter himself was one of the three leading horsemen. In a few minutes Edith was clasped in her husband's arms, and their joy, restored as they were from the dead to each other, was indeed almost beyond words.

The plague now abated fast in Westerham, only two or three more persons being attacked by it. As soon as Edith was sufficiently recovered to travel Walter proceeded with her to London and there laid before the king and prince a complaint against Sir James Carnegie for his attempt upon their lives. Even in the trance in which she lay, Edith had recognized the voice which had once been so familiar to her. Walter, too, was able to testify against him, for the rough jolting on horseback had for a while restored his consciousness, and he had heard words spoken, before relapsing into insensibility from the continued bleeding of his wound, which enabled him to swear to Sir James Carnegie as one of his abductors.

The king instantly ordered the arrest of the knight, but he could not be found; unavailing search was made in every direction, and as nothing could be heard of him it was concluded that he had left the kingdom. He was proclaimed publicly a false and villainous knight, his estates were confiscated to the crown, and he himself was outlawed. Then Walter and his wife returned home and did their best to assist their tenants in struggling through the difficulties entailed through the plague.

So terrible had been the mortality that throughout England there was a lack of hands for field work, crops rotted in the ground because there were none to harvest them, and men able to work demanded twenty times the wages which had before been paid. So great was the trouble from this source that an ordinance was passed by parliament enacting that severe punishment should be dealt upon all who demanded wages above the standard price, and even more severe penalties inflicted upon those who should consent to pay higher wages. It was, however, many years before England recovered from the terrible blow which had been dealt her from the pestilence.

While Europe had been ravaged by pestilence the adherents of France and England had continued their struggle in Brittany in spite of the terms of the truce, and this time King Edward was the first open aggressor, granting money and assistance to the free companies, who pillaged and plundered in the name of England. The truce expired at the end of 1348, but was continued for short periods. It was, however, evident that both parties were determined ere long to recommence hostilities. The French collected large forces in Artois and Picardy, and Edward himself proceeded to Sandwich to organize there another army for the invasion of France.

Phillip determined to strike the first blow, and, before the conclusion of the truce, to regain possession of Calais. This town was commanded by a Lombard officer named Almeric of Pavia. Free communication existed, in consequence of the truce, between Calais and the surrounding country, and Jeffrey de Charny, the governor of St. Omer, and one of the commissioners especially appointed to maintain the truce, opened communications with the Lombard captain. Deeming that like most mercenaries he would be willing to change sides should his interest to do so be made clear, he offered him a large sum of money to deliver the castle to the French.

The Lombard at once agreed to the project. Jeffrey de Charny arranged to be within a certain distance of the town on the night of the 1st of January, bringing with him sufficient forces to master all opposition if the way was once opened to the interior of the town. It was further agreed that the money was to be paid over by a small party of French who were to be sent forward for the purpose of examining the castle, in order to ensure the main body against treachery. As a hostage for the security of the detachment, the son of the governor was to remain in the hands of the French without, until the safe return of the scouting party.

Several weeks elapsed between the conclusion of the agreement and the date fixed for its execution, and in the meantime the Lombard, either from remorse or from a fear of the consequences which might arise from a detection of the plot before its execution, or from the subsequent vengeance of the English king, disclosed the whole transaction to Edward.

The king bade him continue to carry out his arrangements with De Charny, leaving it to him to counteract the plot. Had he issued orders for the rapid assembly of the army the French would have taken alarm. He therefore sent private messengers to a number of knights and gentlemen of Kent and Sussex to meet him with their retainers at Dover on the 31st of December.

Walter was one of those summoned, and although much surprised at the secrecy with which he was charged, and of such a call being made while the truce with France still existed, he repaired to Dover on the day named, accompanied by Ralph and by twenty men, who were all who remained capable of bearing arms on the estate.

He found the king himself with the Black Prince at Dover, where they had arrived that day. Sir Walter Manny was in command of the force, which consisted in all of 300 men-at-arms and 600 archers. A number of small boats had been collected, and at midday on the 1st of January the little expedition started, and arrived at Calais after nightfall.

In the chivalrous spirit of the times the king determined that Sir Walter Manny should continue in command of the enterprise; he and the Black Prince, disguised as simple knights, fighting under his banner.

In the meantime a considerable force had been collected at St. Omer, where a large number of knights and gentlemen obeyed the summons of Jeffrey de Charny. On the night appointed they marched for Calais, in number five hundred lances and a corresponding number of footmen. They reached the river and bridge of Nieullay a little after midnight, and messengers were sent on to the governor, who was prepared to receive them. On their report De Charny advanced still nearer to the town, leaving the bridge and passages to the river guarded by a large body of crossbow-men under the command of the Lord De Fiennes and a number of other knights. At a little distance from the castle he was met by Almeric de Pavia, who yielded his son as a hostage according to his promise, calculating, as was the case, that he would be recaptured by the English. Then, having received the greater portion of the money agreed upon, he led a party of the French over the castle to satisfy them of his sincerity. Upon receiving their report that all was quiet De Charny detached twelve knights and a hundred men-at-arms to take possession of the castle, while he himself waited at one of the gates of the town with the principal portion of his force.

No sooner had the French entered the castle than the drawbridge was raised. The English soldiers poured out from their places of concealment, and the party which had entered the castle were forced to lay down their arms. In the meantime the Black Prince issued with a small body of troops from a gate near the sea, while De Manny, with the king under his banner, marched by the sally-port which led into the fields. A considerable detachment of the division was despatched to dislodge the enemy at the bridge of Nieullay, and the rest, joining the party of the Black Prince, advanced rapidly upon the forces of Jeffrey de Charny which, in point of numbers, was double their own strength.

Although taken in turn by surprise the French prepared steadily for the attack. De Charny ordered them all to dismount and to shorten their lances to pikes five feet in length. The English also dismounted and rushing forward on foot a furious contest commenced. The ranks of both parties were soon broken in the darkness, and the combatants separating into groups a number of separate battles raged around the different banners.

For some hours the fight was continued with unabating obstinacy on both sides. The king and the Black Prince fought with immense bravery, their example encouraging even those of their soldiers who were ignorant of the personality of the knights who were everywhere in front of the combat. King Edward himself several times crossed swords with the famous Eustace de Ribaumont, one of the most gallant knights in France. At length towards daybreak the king, with only thirty companions, found himself again opposed to De Ribaumont with a greatly superior force, and the struggle was renewed between them.

Twice the king was beaten down on one knee by the thundering blows of the French knight, twice he rose and renewed the attack, until De Charny, seeing Sir Walter Manny's banner, beside which Edward fought, defended by so small a force, also bore down to the attack, and in the struggle Edward was separated from his opponent.

The combat now became desperate round the king, and Sir Guy Brian, who bore De Manny's standard, though one of the strongest and most gallant knights of the day, could scarce keep the banner erect. Still Edward fought on, and in the excitement of the moment, forgetting his incognito, he accompanied each blow with his customary war-cry—"Edward, St. George! Edward, St. George!" At that battle-cry, which told the French men-at-arms that the King of England was himself opposed to them, they recoiled for a moment. The shout too reached the ears of the Prince of Wales, who had been fighting with another group. Calling his knights around him he fell upon the rear of De Charny's party and quickly cleared a space around the king.

The fight was now everywhere going against the French, and the English redoubling their efforts the victory was soon complete, and scarcely one French knight left the ground alive and free. In the struggle Edward again encountered De Ribaumont, who, separated from him by the charge of De Charny, had not heard the king's war-cry. The conflict between them was a short one. The French knight saw that almost all his companions were dead or captured, his party completely defeated, and all prospects of escape cut off. He therefore soon dropped the point of his sword and surrendered to his unknown adversary. In the meantime the troops which had been despatched to the bridge of Nieullay had defeated the French forces left to guard the passage and clear the ground towards St. Omer.

Early in the morning Edward entered Calais in triumph, taking with him thirty French nobles as prisoners, while two hundred more remained dead on the field. That evening a great banquet was held, at which the French prisoners were present. The king presided at the banquet, and the French nobles were waited upon by the Black Prince and his knights. After the feast was concluded the king bestowed on De Ribaumont the chaplet of pearls which he wore round his crown, hailing him as the most gallant of the knights who had that day fought, and granting him freedom to return at once to his friends, presenting him with two horses, and a purse to defray his expenses to the nearest French town.

De Charny was afterwards ransomed, and after his return to France assembled a body of troops and attacked the castle which Edward had bestowed upon Almeric of Pavia, and capturing the Lombard, carried him to St. Omer, and had him there publicly flayed alive as a punishment for his treachery.

Walter had as usual fought by the side of the Prince of Wales throughout the battle of Calais and had much distinguished himself for his valour. Ralph was severely wounded in the fight, but was able a month later to rejoin Walter in England.

The battle of Calais and the chivalrous bearing of the king created great enthusiasm and delight in England, and did much to rouse the people from the state of grief into which they had been cast by the ravages of the plague. The king did his utmost to maintain the spirit which had been evoked, and the foundation of the order of the Garter, and the erection of a splendid chapel at Windsor, and its dedication, with great ceremony, to St. George, the patron saint of England, still further raised the renown of the court of Edward throughout Europe as the centre of the chivalry of the age.

Notwithstanding many treaties which had taken place, and the near alliance which had been well-nigh carried out between the royal families of England and Spain, Spanish pirates had never ceased to carry on a series of aggressions upon the English vessels trading in the Bay of Biscay. Ships were every day taken, and the crews cruelly butchered in cold blood. Edward's remonstrances proved vain, and when threats of retaliation were held out by Edward, followed by preparations to carry those threats into effect, Pedro the Cruel, who had now succeeded to the throne of Spain, despatched strong reinforcements to the fleet which had already swept the English Channel.

The great Spanish fleet sailed north, and capturing on its way a number of English merchantmen, put into Sluys, and prepared to sail back in triumph with the prizes and merchandise it had captured. Knowing, however, that Edward was preparing to oppose them, the Spaniards filled up their complement of men, strengthened themselves by all sorts of the war machines then in use, and started on their return for Spain with one of the most powerful armadas that had ever put to sea.

Edward had collected on the coast of Sussex a fleet intended to oppose them, and had summoned all the military forces of the south of England to accompany him; and as soon as he heard that the Spaniards were about to put to sea he set out for Winchelsea, where the fleet was collected.

The queen accompanied him to the sea-coast, and the Black Prince, now in his twentieth year, was appointed to command one of the largest of the English vessels.

The fleet put to sea when they heard that the Spaniards had started, and the hostile fleets were soon in sight of each other. The number of fighting men on board the Spanish ships was ten times those of the English, and their vessels were of vastly superior size and strength. They had, moreover, caused their ships to be fitted at Sluys with large wooden towers, which furnished a commanding position to their crossbow-men. The wind was direct in their favour, and they could have easily avoided the contest, but, confiding in their enormously superior force, they sailed boldly forward to the attack.

The king himself led the English line, and directing his vessel towards a large Spanish ship, endeavoured to run her down. The shock was tremendous, but the enemy's vessel was stronger as well as larger than that of the king; and as the two ships recoiled from each other it was found that the water was rushing into the English vessel, and that she was rapidly sinking. The Spanish passed on in the confusion, but the king ordered his ship to be instantly laid alongside another which was following her, and to be firmly lashed to her. Then with his knights he sprang on board the Spaniard, and after a short but desperate fight cut down or drove the crew overboard. The royal standard was hoisted on the prize, the sinking English vessel was cast adrift, and the king sailed on to attack another adversary.

The battle now raged on all sides. The English strove to grapple with and board the enemy, while the Spaniards poured upon them a shower of bolts and quarrels from their cross-bows, hurled immense masses of stone from their military engines, and, as they drew alongside, cast into them heavy bars of iron, which pierced holes in the bottom of the ship.

Walter was on board the ship commanded by the Black Prince. This had been steered towards one of the largest and most important of the Spanish vessels. As they approached, the engines poured their missiles into them. Several great holes were torn in the sides of the ship, which was already sinking as she came alongside her foe.

"We must do our best, Sir Walter," the prince exclaimed, "for if we do not capture her speedily our ship will assuredly sink beneath our feet."

The Spaniard stood far higher above the water than the English ship, and the Black Prince and his knights in vain attempted to climb her sides, while the seamen strove with pumps and buckets to keep the vessel afloat. Every effort was in vain. The Spaniard's men-at-arms lined the bulwarks, and repulsed every effort made by the English to climb up them, while those on the towers rained down showers of bolts and arrows and masses of iron and stone. The situation was desperate when the Earl of Lancaster, passing by in his ship, saw the peril to which the prince was exposed, and, ranging up on the other side of the Spaniard, strove to board her there. The attention of the Spaniards being thus distracted, the prince and his companions made another desperate effort, and succeeded in winning their way on to the deck of the Spanish ship just as their own vessel sank beneath their feet; after a few minutes' desperate fighting the Spanish ship was captured.

The English were now everywhere getting the best of their enemies. Many of the Spanish vessels had been captured or sunk, and after the fight had raged for some hours, the rest began to disperse and seek safety in flight. The English vessel commanded by Count Robert of Namur had towards night engaged a Spanish vessel of more than twice its own strength. His adversaries, seeing that the day was lost, set all sail, but looking upon the little vessel beside them as a prey to be taken possession of at their leisure, they fastened it tightly to their sides by the grappling irons, and spreading all sail, made away. The Count and his men were unable to free themselves, and were being dragged away, when a follower of the count named Hennekin leapt suddenly on board the Spanish ship. With a bound he reached the mast, and with a single blow with his sword cut the halyards which supported the main-sail. The sail fell at once. The Spaniards rushed to the spot to repair the disaster which threatened to delay their ship. The count and his followers, seeing the bulwarks of the Spanish vessel for the moment unguarded, poured in, and after a furious conflict captured the vessel. By this time twenty-four of the enemy's vessels had been taken, the rest were either sunk or in full flight, and Edward at once returned to the English shore.

The fight had taken place within sight of land, and Queen Philippa, from the windows of the abbey, which stood on rising ground, had seen the approach of the vast Spanish fleet, and had watched the conflict until night fell. She remained in suspense as to the result until the king himself with the Black Prince and Prince John, afterwards known as John of Gaunt, who, although but ten years of age, had accompanied the Black Prince in his ship, rode up with the news of the victory.

This great sea-fight was one of the brightest and most honourable in the annals of English history, for not even in the case of that other great Spanish Armada which suffered defeat in English waters were the odds so immense or the victory so thorough and complete. The result of the fight was, that after some negotiations a truce of twenty years was concluded with Spain.

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