Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

Three episodes concerning captive warriors

The constable of France, sir Bertrand du Guesclin, having defeated sir Robert Knolles, captures many English prisoners.

Book I, ch. 292 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 457-58). After the defeat of Pont-valin, where a part of the English were slain and the remainder put to the rout, so that the expedition was ruined, sir Bertrand du Guesclin (whose entrance into the office of constable had been thus fortunately signalized, in a way to gain him great honour and reputation) came to Paris, accompanied by the lord de Clisson, and bringing with them the greater part of the prisoners, to whom they behaved very handsomely, allowing them to go at large on their parole for their ransom. They neither shut them up in prison, nor put on shackles and fetters, as the Germans do in order to obtain a heavier ransom. Curses on them for it. These people are without pity or honour, and they ought never to receive quarter. The French entertained their prisoners well, and ransomed them courteously without being too hard on them.

Four knights hold the fortress of Mont-paon for its absent lord, William de Mont-paon, against the duke of Lancaster's army for some weeks, and then find they can hold out no longer.

Book I, ch. 295 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 461-62). ...There were continued attacks every day made on Mont-paon; and the knights within defended themselves so well that they acquired great honour, for until a large piece of the wall had been thrown down, they were not any way dismayed. ...Upon this, sir William de Longueval, sir Alain de la Houssaye, sir Louis de Mailly, and the lord d'Arcy, finding from this situation that they could not any longer hold out, sent one of their heralds mounted on horseback, through the breach, so to speak with the duke of Lancaster. ...The duke, by the advice of those about him, granted an armistice to the garrison during the time of a parley; and the herald returned with his answer to his masters. The four knights directly came forward upon the ditch, and the duke sent sir Guiscard d'Angle to hold a parley with them.

Upon the ditch, therefore, they entered on a treaty by asking, "In what sort or manner does the duke intend to make us prisoners?" Sir Guiscard, who had received his instructions, replied: "Gentlemen, you have greatly displeased my lord; for you have detained him here several weeks, which has fretted him very much, and caused the loss of several of his men: for which reasons, he will not receive you, nor grant you mercy, but will have you surrender yourselves simply to him. He also insists on sir William de Mont-paon being first given up, for him to be dealt with according to his deserts as a traitor."

Sir Louis de Mailly replied: "Sir Guiscard, in regard to sir William de Mont-paon, whom you require from us, we swear truly and loyally that we are ignorant what is become of him, for he did not remain in this town a moment after you had begun to besiege it. But it will be very hard for us to surrender ourselves in the manner you insist on, who are soldiers here for pay, just as your commanders may send you, or you may be obliged to it by personal service; and before we accept of such a bargain, we will sell our lives so dearly that report shall speak of it a hundred years hence.

"Return, therefore, to the Duke of Lancaster, and tell him to accept of us in a courteous manner, upon certain terms of ransom, as he would wish should be done to any of his own party, should they happen to be so unfortunate."

Sir Guiscard answered, that he would very willingly do so to the utmost of his power. With these words, he returned to the duke, and took with him the captal de Buch, the lords de Rosen and de Mucident, the better to forward the business. When these lords were come into the duke's presence, they remonstrated with him so eloquently, and with such good success, that he granted their request, and received the four knights, with Silvestre Budes, and their men, in mercy as prisoners.

An English garrison in Derval in Brittany, besieged by a force of two thousand, agree to surrender if not relieved by the duke of Brittany, and sends several knights and squires as hostages to the duke of Anjou as security for their actions. Later, Sir Robert Knolles enters Derval in violation of this agreement.

Book I, ch. 318 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 499). Sir Robert Knolles, as I have before related, was returned to his castle of Derval, which he considered as his own inheritance, and had determined to break the treaty which had been entered into by his cousin and the duke of Anjou; on which account, the duke himself was come to the siege of Derval, attended by numbers form Brittany, Poitou, and the lower countries. The king of France was desirous that his constable, who was there, and the lord de Clisson, with several more, should return to France, to assist his brother the duke of Burgundy in the pursuit of the English. He frequently renewed these orders to the different lords, who were anxious to obey them, and also to gain possession of this castle of Derval.

When the day was passed on which the castle was to have been surrendered, the besiegers wondered what the garrison were thinking of: they imagined that sir Robert Knolles had thrown himself into it with reinforcements. The duke and constable sent to sir Robert, and to sir Hugh Brock who had made the treaty.

The herald, on arriving in the square of the castle, said to the gentlemen present: "My lord send me here to enquire from you the reasons, which they would willingly learn, why you do not ransom your hostages by surrendering the castle according to the terms of the treaty to which you, sir Hugh, have sworn." Sir Robert Knolles then addressed the herald, saying, "Herald, you will tell your masters, that my cousin had no authority to enter into any capitulation or treaty without my consent first had; and you will now return with this answer from me."

The herald went back to his lords, and related to them the message sir Robert Knolles had charged him with: they sent him again to tell the garrison, that from the tenor of the treaty, they ought not to have recieved any one into the fort, and that they had received sir Robert Knolles, which they should not have done; and likewise to inform them for a truth, that if the castle was not surrendered, the hostages would be beheaded. Sir Robert replied, "By God, herald, I will not lose my castle for fear of the menaces of your lords; and if it should happen that the duke of Anjou, through arrogance, puts my friends to death, I will retaliate; for I have here in prison several knights and squires of France, and if I were offered one hundred thousand francs I would not show mercy to any one of them."

When the herald had delivered this answer, the duke of Anjou sent for the headsman, and ordered the hostages, who were two knights and a squire, to be brought forth, and had them beheaded before the castle, so that those within might see and know them.

Sir Robert Knolles instantly ordered a table to be fixed withoutside of the windows of the castle, and had led there four of his prisoners, three knights and a squire, for whom he might have had great ransom, but he had them beheaded and flung down in the ditch, the heads on one side and the bodies on the other.

The siege was raised after this, and all the men at arms returned to France.

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