Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The Battle of Aljubarota, 1385 (first version)

The French allies of Castile initiate the attack on the Portuguese position at Aljubarota.

Book III, ch. 16.  This Saturday had been a fine clear day, but the sun was now declining, and it was about the hour of vespers, when the first battalion of the Castillian army came before Aljubarota where the king of Portugal and his men were drawn up in battle array.

The French knights amounted to two thousand, as gallant lances as could be seen. The moment they perceived the enemy they formed in close order, like men of resolution who knew their business, and advanced within bow-shot. This attack was very sharp; for those who were eager after glory, and to perform feats of arms, assaulted the place which the English had fortified. The entrance having been made narrow caused a great pressure of the assailants against each other, and much mischief was done by the English archers, who shot so vigorously and quick that the horses were larded, as it were, with arrows, and fell one on the other.

The few English men at arms and the Lisboners now came forward, shouting their cry of "Our Lady for Lisbon!"  They were armed with well steeled Bordeaux lances, with which they pierced through every thing, and wounded knights and squires. The Lord de Lingnach of Béarn was unhorsed, his banner taken, and himself made prisoner, and numbers of his men slain or taken. On the other hand, sir John de Rue, sir Geoffry Ricon, sir Geoffry de Partenay, with difficulty, had entered the fort with their men; but their horses were so wounded by the archers, they fell down under them. The men at arms on their side were in great danger, for one could not assist the other, nor could they gain room to exert themselves, while the Portuguese, seeing the ill success which had attended the first assailants, were as fresh and as active as ever for the combat.

The king of Portugal was mounted on a tall courser decorated all over with the arms of Portugal, and his banner set up before him: he was much pleased at seeing the defeat of his enemies, and to encourage his men, and for his own pleasure he laughed aloud, crying out,— "Go on, my good fellows: defend yourselves well, for, if there be no more than what I see, we shall not make much of them; and if I have any knowledge of war, these men must remain with us."

Thus did the king of Portugal encourage his men, who fought valiantly, and, having inclosed the first comers within their fort, they were putting numbers of them to death. True it is, that this first battalion of which I am speaking, under the command of knights from France and Béarn, expected to have been more quickly and better supported by the Castillians than they were; for if the king of Castille with the main army, which consisted at least of twenty thousand men, had advanced to check the Portuguese in another quarter, the day must have been theirs; but they did nothing, for which they suffered much loss and blame.

It is also true, that the battle began too soon; but they did so to acquire greater honour, and to make their words good which they had said in the presence of the king. On the other hand, as I have heard, the Castillians made no great haste to advance, for the French were not in good favour with them, and they had said,— "Let them begin the fight, and tire themselves: they will find enough to do. These Frenchmen are too great boasters, and too vainglorious, and our king has not any perfect confidence but in them. Since he wishes that they should have the honour of the day, it shall be so; for we will have it our own way, or not at all." Conformably to this resolution, the Spaniards kept in a large body, twenty thousand at least, in the plain, and would not advance, which vexed the king much; but he could not help it, for they said,— "My lord, it is all over, (though none had returned from the battle): these French knights have defeated your enemies: the honour and victory of the day are theirs."

"God grant it may be so!" replied the king ; "but let us advance a little." They advanced about a bow-shot, and halted again. It was truly a fine sight to view their appearance, so well and handsomely were they armed and mounted.

During all this time the French were fighting; and those knights and squires who had been able to dismount performed many gallant deeds, for, when their lances were broken, they used their battle-axes, and with them gave such desperate blows on the helmets of all who opposed them, that wounds, if not death, were the consequences. Whoever is engaged in such-like combats as this at Aljubarota must abide the event, if safety be not sought in flight: but in flight there is more danger than in the heat of the battle, for, when any one flies a pursuit is made, and, if overtaken, he is slain: when in a battle, if the chance turn unfortunate, he surrenders, and is well taken care of as a captive.

 It cannot be denied but that the knights and squires from France, Brittany, Burgundy and Béarn, fought valiantly: they were overpowered at the first onset, from the advice the English had given to fortify the place: besides, in this attack, the Portuguese were superior in numbers. They therefore were at their mercy, and all were slain or taken, for few escaped: At this beginning they made a thousand knights and squires prisoners, which gave them much joy. They did not expect any further battle that day, and entertained their prisoners handsomely, saying to them, —" Do not be cast down: you have valiantly fought and have been conquered fairly: we will behave to you as generously as we should wish to be dealt with ourselves, were we in your situation. You must come and recruit yourselves in the good city of Lisbon, where you shall have every comfort." Those to whom such speeches were made, replied by returning thanks. Some were ransomed on the spot, and others said they would wait the event, for they did not imagine things would remain as they then were, but that the king of Spain would come with the main army and deliver them.

As the king of Castille and his people were drawing near to Aljubarota, news of what had happened speedily came to them from the runaways (for unfortunate indeed is the battle whence no one escapes), who cried aloud and with much fear—"Sir king, advance; for your whole van battalion are either slain or made prisoners, and there is no hope of deliverance but from you."

When the king heard this he was much enraged, and with reason, for it too nearly concerned him: he instantly gave orders to march, saying, "March, banners, in the name of God and St. George: let us hasten to the rescue of our friends who have been captured, for they have need of us."

The Castillians began to quicken their march in close order: it was now vespers, and the sun was setting when some of them said, it would be better to wait for the morning, as it would soon be night, when they would be unable to perform any good deeds of arms. But the king was determined to advance, and was in the right; for he said,— "How can we think of thus deserting our friends, who are fatigued and in distress? whoever gives such advice neither loves me nor regards my honour." They continued therefore to advance, with trumpets sounding and drums beating and making a great noise to frighten their enemies.

I will now relate how the king of Portugal and his army had employed themselves. As soon as they had defeated the van division and taken care of their prisoners, as has been before said, they did not confide in this first victory, though they saw not any appearance of reinforcements, but ordered six men at arms, the best mounted, to reconnoitre, and bring them intelligence, if they were to expect another battle. Those who had been sent on this expedition, saw and heard the army of the king of Castille, which was at least twenty thousand men on horseback, and approaching very near to Aljubarota: they returned full gallop to their friends, and said aloud—" My lords, take care of yourselves, for hitherto we have done nothing: the king of Castille is advancing with his whole army, of twenty thousand horse, for not one has remained behind."

On hearing this they held a short council, as the necessity of the case obliged them, and came to a pitiless resolution ; for it was commanded, under pain of death, that whoever had taken a prisoner should instantly kill him, and that neither noble, nor rich, nor simple, should be exempted. Those barons, knights and squires, who had been captured, were in a melancholy situation, for entreaties would have been of no avail. They were scattered about disarmed in different parts, considering themselves in safety, for their lives at least; but it was not so, which was a great pity. Each man killed his prisoner, and those who refused, had him slain before their eyes: for the Portuguese and English, who had given this advice, said,— "It was better to kill than to be killed; and if we do not put them to death they will liberate themselves while we are fighting and then slay us, for no one ought to put confidence in his prisoner."

By this order there were killed the lord de Lingnach, sir Peter de Salbiere, the lords de Lespre, de Béarn, des Bordes, sir Bertrand de Barege, the lord de Moriane, sir Raymond Donzack, sir John Afolege, sir Manaut de Saremen, sir Peter de Salibieres, sir Stephen de Valentin, sir Raymond de Courasse, sir Peter de Hausane, with full three hundred squires from Béarn. Of Frenchmen, them were sir John de Rue, sir Geoffry Ricon, sir Geoffry de Partenay and many more. This was a very unfortunate event to the prisoners, as well as to the Portuguese; for they put to death, this Saturday, as many good prisoners as would have been worth to them, taking one with another, four hundred thousand francs. When they had thus cleared the place, by putting every one to death, (for none escaped but those who had been carried to the village of Aljubarota, where the baggage and stores were) they again formed themselves in the same position and place as when the van battalion commenced their attack.

The sun was now setting, when the king of Castille advanced in puissant array, with banners displayed, and on barded horses, shouting out "Castille!" and entered the fortified pass.  They were received with lances and battle-axes, and the first flight of arrows grievously wounded their horses, threw them into confusion, and many were wounded or slain. The king of Castille, ignorant of the unfortunate fate of the van, imagining they were only prisoners, was anxious to deliver them, as you have heard.

The battle raged with violence: many were thrown to the ground, and the Portuguese had not the advantage: they were forced to fight most valiantly, or they would have been overpowered: they owed their safety to the impossibility of being attacked but in one place. The king of Portugal dismounted, and, taking his battle-axe, placed himself at the pass, where he performed wonders, knocking down three or four of the stoutest of the enemy, insomuch that none dared to approach him.

I must not omit to notice the manner in which the Spaniards generally act in war. It is true they make a handsome figure on horseback, spur off to advantage, and fight well at the first onset; but as soon as they have thrown two or three darts, and given a stroke with their spears, without disconcerting the enemy, they take alarm, turn their horses' heads, and save themselves by flight as well as they can: this game they played at Aljubarota; for they found their enemies obstinate, and as fresh as if they had not had an engagement, which astonished them much; and their surprise was increased by not hearing anything of the van battalion.

The Spaniards had a hard afternoon's  work, and the fortune of war was greatly against them: all who through courage, or a wish to distinguish themselves, had entered the fort of the Lisboners, were cut to pieces; for they would not ransom any, whether poor or noble, (such had been their orders) nor encumber themselves with prisoners. Very many of the nobles of Castille were there slain: among the greatest barons who suffered were sir Dangommes Neudrich, sir Diego Parsament, don Pedro de Rourmont, sir Marc de Versaux, the grand master of Calatrava, and his brother, who was that day created a knight, and called sir Diego Moro, sir Peter Goussart de Modesque, don Pedro Goussart de Seville, don John Rodrigo de la Rousselle, with upwards of sixty barons and knights of Spain. There were not even at the battle of Najara, when the prince of Wales defeated the king, don Henry, so many nobles of Castille killed, as at this battle of Aljubarota, which was on a Saturday, the feast of our Lady, in August 1385.

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