Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

How Sir John Chandos Rescued the Earl of Pembroke

In 1369 and 1370, the renowned Sir John Chandos was seneschal of Poitou for Edward III. The Earl of Pembroke, wanting to make a name for himself, declined to cooperate with Chandos, but soon was forced to appeal to him for help.

Book I, ch. 270 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 422-23). Sir John Chandos, being seneschal of Poitou, and a hardy and valiant knight, had a great desire to meet the French: he therefore did not remain long idle, but collected, during the time he passed at Poitiers, a body of men at arms, English and Poitevins, and said he would make an incursion with them towards Anjou, and return by Touraine, to look at the French who were assembled in those parts. He sent information of the expedition he meditated to the earl of Pembroke, who was in garrison at Mortagne-sur-mer with two hundred lances.

 The earl was much pleased with this intelligence, and would willingly have been of the party: but his attendants and some knights of his council prevented him, by saying: "My lord, you are a young and noble knight, formed to excel: if you at this moment unite yourself with sir John Chandos and his army, he will gain all the glory of the expedition, and you will be only named as his companion. It is therefore more proper for you, who are of such high rank and birth, to act for yourself, and let sir John Chandos do so on his part, who is but a knight-bachelor when compared with you." These and such like words cooled the ardour of the earl of Pembroke, who, having no longer any wish to go, sent an excuse to sir John Chandos.

 Sir John would not, however, give up his enterprise, but ordered his rendevous at Poitiers; from whence he marched, with three hundred lances, knights and squires, and two hundred archers. [...]

 [After doing "infinite mischief to this rich and fine country"] sir John Chandos received information that the lord Louis de Sancerre, marshal of France, with a great body of men at arms, were at la Haye in Touraine. He was very desirous to march that way, and sent in great haste to the earl of Pembroke to signify his intentions, and to be of him to accompany him to la Haye in Touraine...Chandos the herald was the bearer of this message. He found the earl of Pembroke at Mortagne busily employed in mustering his men, and preparing, as it appeared, to make an excursion. He excused himself a second time, by the advice of his council, saying he could not accompany him.

 The herald, on his return, found his master and the army at Châtelheraut, to whom he delivered his answer. When sir John Chandos heard it, he was very melancholy, knowing that pride and presumption had made the earl refuse to be a party in the expedition, and only replied, "God's will be done." He dismissed the greater part of his army, who separated, and he, with his attendants, returned to Poitiers.

 Book I, ch. 271 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 424-25). We will now relate how the earl of Pembroke prospered. As soon as he knew that sir John Chandos had disbanded his army, and was returned to Poitiers, he assembled his own forces, which consisted of three hundred English and Poitevins, and marched from Mortagne. ... [The earl of Pembroke and his forces] took the direct road to where sir John Chandos had been, burning and despoiling all those parts of Anjou which the first had left, or which had been ransomed. They halted to refresh themselves in the Loudunois, and then took the road for the lands of the viscount de Rochechouart, to which they did great damage.

 The French who were in garrison on the frontiers of Touraine, Anjou and Poitou ... heard the whole truth of these two excursions, and how the earl of Pembroke, who was a young man, would not, through pride, serve under sir John Chandos. They therefore resolved to conquer him if they could; for they thought they should more easily defeat them than sir John Chandos. They made, in consequence, a secret levy of their forces from all the garrisons...

 The English and the Poitevins marched on without any thought or precaution, having heard nothing of these men at arms: they had entered Poitou with all their pillage, and came, one day about noon, to a village called Puirenon, where they halted, after the manner of persons in perfect security. But when the servants were about to put the horses in the stable, and to prepare the supper, the French, who well knew what they were about, entered the village of Puirenon, with their lances in their rests, bawling out their cry, "Our Lady, for Sancerre the marshal!" and then overthrew all they met in the streets.

 The noise became so violent, that the English ran to the head-quarters with great alarm, to inform the earl of Pembroke, lord Thomas Percy, sir Baldwin de Franville, and the others, that the French had suddenly attacked and surprised them. These lords were soon armed, and sallying out from their hotels, collected their men together; but they could not all assemble, for the numbers of the French were so considerable that the English and Poitevins were overpowered; and in this first attack, more than one hundred and twenty were killed or made prisoners.

 The earl of Pembroke and some knights had no other remedy but to retire, as quickly as they could, into an unembattled house, which belonged to the knights-templars, without a moat, and only enclosed with a stone wall. All who could get there time enough shut themselves in: the greater part of the others were slain or made prisoners, and their arms and horses taken. The earl of Pembroke lost all his plate.

 The French, who closely pursued them, finding those who could get together had shut themselves up in this house, were much rejoiced, saying among themselves, "They must be our prisoners, for they cannot escape; and wee will make them dearly repay the damages they have done in Anjou and Touraine." On which, they advanced to this house in regular order, and with a good will to assault it: when they were come thither, it was evening;: after they had examined it narrowly on all sides, to see if it might be easily taken, they began the attack, in which were performed many gallant deeds of arms, for the French were in great numbers, and were all well tried men. They made different attempts on this house, which was very strong, and gave the earl of Pembroke and his men enough to do; for the English being so few, laboured hard to defend themselves, as it was to them of the greatest consequence.

 Scaling ladders were brought, and fixed against the walls, which some bold adventurers mounted, with their shields over their heads to shelter themselves from stones and arrows; but when they were got to the top they had done nothing, for they found there, ready to receive them, knights, squires, men at arms, with lances and swords, with which they handsomely fought hand to hand, and made them descend much quicker than they had mounted. Add to this, that there were English archers intermixed with these men at arms, at two feet distance on the walls, who shot so well that the French beneath suffered much.

 The English continued under constant alarm, repelling these attack until night, when the French, tired with fighting and fatigue, sounded their trumpets for the retreat, saying they had done enough for one day, but that they would return to the attack on the morrow; adding, that, as they could not escape from them, they would starve them to surrender.

They returned to their quarters in high spirits, and made merry, having placed a strong guard in front of the house to be more secure of their enemies. It will readily be believed that the earl of Pembroke and those who were thus blockaded were not much at their ease: they were aware that this house was not of sufficient strength to hold out long against so many men at arms. It was as badly provided with artillery, to their great sorrow, as with provision; but this last was not of much consequence, for they could well fast a day and night, if necessary, in defending themselves.

 When it was dark, they entreated a squire, an expert soldier, and in whom they placed great confidence, to set out directly by a postern, and ride as fast as he could to Poitiers, to inform sir John Chandos and his friends how awkwardly they were situated, and to beg they would come their assistance; in the hopes of which they would hold out until noon; and, if he made haste, he might easily make this journey by early morning. The squire, who perceived the extreme danger in which all the lords were, very cheerfully undertook it, but boasted a little too much of his knowledge of the roads. He set out about midnight by a postern-gate, and took the straight road, as he thought, for Poitiers; but it so fell out, that during the whole night he wandered about, until it was broad day, before he hit upon the right road.

 [The French got up at daybreak to renew their attack in the cool of the morning, and a fierce battle ensued.] Book I, ch. 272 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 426-27). Between six and nine o'clock, after the heat of the attack, the French, indignant that the English had made so long a defence, sent orders to all the villagers thereabouts to bring pick-axes and mattocks to undermine the walls, which was what the English were most afraid of. The earl of Pembroke called one of his own squires and said to him, "My friend, mount a horse, and sally out from the back gate, where they will make a way for you, and ride as fast as possible to Poitiers to sir John Chandos, to tell him our situation and the imminent danger we are in: recommend me to him by this token."

 He then took off his finger a rich ring of gold, adding, "Give him this from me: he will know it well again." The squire, who thought himself much honoured by this commission, took the ring, mounted the best courser he could find, and set off by the back gate during the attack, for they opened it for him. He took the road to Poitiers; and whilst he was making all the haste he could, the assault was carried on warmly by the French, and as vigorously opposed by the English: indeed, it behoved them so to do.

 We will now say something of the first squire, who had left Puirenon at midnight, and who, having lost his road, had wandered about all the night. When it was broad day, he knew his road, and made straight for Poitiers; but his horse being tired, he did not arrive there until about nine o'clock, when he dismounted in the square before the hotel of sir John Chandos, and immediately entered it, having learnt that he was at mass: he approached him, and falling on his knees, delivered his message.

 Sir John Chandos, who had not yet recovered his vexation at the earl of Pembroke's refusal to join him on his expeditions, was not very eager to give him assistance: he coldly said, "It will be almost impossible for us to get there in time and hear the whole mass." Soon after mass the tables were spread, and dinner set out. His servants asked sir John, if he would dine: "Yes," said he, "since it is ready," and then entered the hall, where his knights and squires had preceded him with water to wash his hands.

 As he was thus employed, and before he had set down to table, the second squire from the earl of Pembroke entered the hall, and having knelt down, drew the ring from his purse, saying, "Dear sir, my lord the earl of Pembroke recommends himself to you by this token, and entreats you most earnestly to come to his assistance, and rescue him from the imminent danger he is now in at Puirenon." Sir John Chandos took the ring, and, having examined it, knew it well. He then replied, "It will not be possible to for us to arrive there in time, if they be in the situation you describe." He added, "Come let us dine."

 Sir John seated himself with his knights at table, and ate of the first course: as the second was served, and indeed begun on, sir John Chandos, who had much thought on this business, raised his head, and, looking at his companions, spoke as follows, which gave much pleasure to those around him: "The earl of Pembroke (a lord of such high birth and rank that he has even married a daughter of my natural lord the king of England, and is brother in arms as in everything else with my lord of Cambridge) entreats me so courteously, that it behoves me to comply with his request to succor and rescue him, if it be possible to arrive in time." He then pushed the table from him, and rising, said to his knights and squires, "Gentlemen, I am determined to go to Puirenon."

This was heard with joy, and they were soon ready to attend him. The trumpets sounded, and every man at arms in Poitiers was mounted in the best way he could; for it had been speedily told abroad, that sir John Chandos was marching to Puirenon, to the assistance of the earl of Pembroke and his army, who were there besieged by the French. When these knights and squires took the field, they amounted to upwards of two hundred lances, and increased every moment. They marched with all haste: news of this was brought to the French, who had constantly been engaged at this assault from daybreak until noon, by their spies, who said, "Dear lords, look well to yourselves, for sir John Chandos has marched from Poitiers with upwards of two hundred lances, and is advancing with great haste and a greater desire to meet you."

 When sir Louis de Sancerre, sir John de Vienne, sir John de Beuil, and the others who were present, heard this, the best informed among them said, "Our men are tired and worn down by their assaults upon the English, yesterday and to-day: it will be much wiser for us to make a handsome retreat with all we have gained, and our prisoners, than to wait the arrival of sir John Chandos and his company, who are quite fresh; for we may lose more than we can gain."

 Thus plan was immediately followed, for there was not a moment to lose: the trumpets were ordered to sound a retreat: their men assembled in a body, and, having sent off their baggage, they themselves took the road to la Roche-Posay.

 The earl of Pembroke and those with him, imagining the French must have had some intelligence, said among themselves: "Chandos must certainly be on his march, for the French are retreating, not daring to wait his coming: come, come, let us immediately quit this place and take the road towards Poitiers and we shall meet him." Those who had horses mounted them: and others went on foot, and several rode double.

They thus left Puirenon, following the road to Poitiers: they had scarcely advanced a league before they met sir John Chandos and his army in the condition I have before told: some on horseback, some on foot, and some riding double. Much joy was shown on both sides at this meeting; but sir John said, he was sorely vexed that he had not been in time to have met the French. They rode together conversing for about three leagues, when they took leave of each other and separated...

 ...the marshal of France and his army [went] to la Roche-Posay, where they refreshed themselves and divided their booty; they then retired to their garrisons, carrying with them their prisoners, whom they courteously admitted to ransom, as the French and English have always been accustomed to act towards each other.

Return to the Tales from Froissart Main Page.

Contact the editor.