Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The death of Sir John Chandos.

Sir John Chandos assembles an expedition to counter French raids into his province of Poitou. Lord Thomas Percy advances before the main body of the English army and encounters a French troop under sir Louis de St. Julien and Carnet le Breton. Percy takes a position on a defensible bridge. At the same time, the main English army under sir John Chandos comes up behind the French.

Book I, ch. 278 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 434-37). ...Whilst the French and Bretons were considering the most advantageous manner to begin the onset, sir John Chandos arrived with his company, his banner displayed and flying in the wind. This was borne by a valiant man at arms, called James Allen, and was a pile gules on a field argent. They might be about forty lances, who eagerly hastened to meet the French. As the English arrived at a small hillock, about three furlongs from the bridge, the French servants, who were between this hillock and the bridge, saw them, and being much frightened, said, "Come away: let us save ourselves and our horses." They therefore ran off, leaving their masters to shift as well as they could.

When sir John Chandos, with displayed banner, was come up to the French, whom he thought very lightly of, he began from horseback to rail at them, saying, "Do you hear, Frenchmen! you are mischievous men at arms: you make incursions night and day at your pleasure: you take towns and castles in Poitou, of which I am seneschal. You ransom poor people without my leave, as if the country were your own; but, by God, it is not. Sir Louis, sir Louis, you and Carnet are too much the masters. It is upwards of a year and a half that I have been endeavouring to meet you. Now, thanks to God, I do so, and will tell you my mind. We will now try which of us is the strongest in this country. It has often been told me, that you were very desirous of seeing me: you have now that pleasure. I am John Chandos; look at me well; and, if God please, we will now put to the proof your great deeds of arms which are so renowned." With such words as these did sir John Chandos greet them: he would not have wished to have been anywhere else, so eager was he to fight with them.

Sir Louis and Carnet kept themselves in a close body, as if they were willing to engage. Lord Thomas Percy and the English on the other side of the bridge knew nothing of what had passed, for the bridge was very high in the middle, which prevented them from seeing over it.

During this scoffing of sir John Chandos, a Breton drew his sword, and could not resist from beginning the battle: he struck an English squire, named Simkin Dodenhale, and beat him so much about the breast with his sword that he knocked him off his horse on the ground. Sir John Chandos, who heard the noise behind him, turned round, and saw his squire on the ground and persons beating him. This enraged him more than before: he said to his men, "Sirs, what are you about? how suffer you this man to be slain? Dismount, dismount:" and at the instant he was on foot, as were all his company. Simkin was rescued, and the battle began.

Sir John Chandos, who was a strong and bold knight, and cool in all his undertakings, had his banner advanced before him, surrounded by his men, with the scutcheon above his arms. He himself was dressed in a large robe which fell to the ground, blazoned with his arms on white sarcenet, argent, a pile gules; one on his breast, and the other on his back; so that he appeared resolved on some adventurous undertaking; and in this state, with sword in hand, he advanced on foot towards the enemy.

This morning there had been hoar-frost, which had made the ground slippery; so that as he marched he entangled his legs with his robe, which was of the longest, and made a stumble: during which time a squire, called James de St. Martin (a strong expert man), made a thrust at him with his lance, which hit him in the face, below the eye, between the nose and forehead. Sir John Chandos did not see the aim of the stroke, for he had lost the eye on that side five years ago, on the heaths of Bordeaux, at the chase of a stag: what added to this misfortune, sir John had not put down his vizor, so that in stumbling he bore upon the lance, and helped it to enter into him. The lance, which had bee struck from a strong arm, hit him so severely that it entered as far as the brain, and then the squire drew it back to him again.

The great pain was too much for sir John, so he fell to the ground, and turned twice over in great agony, like one who had received his death-wound. Indeed, since the blow, he never uttered a word. His people, on seeing this mishap, were like madmen. His uncle, sir Edward Clifford, hastily advanced, and striding over the body (for the French were endeavoring to get possession of it,) defended it most valiantly, and gave such well-directed blows from his sword that none dared to approach him. Two other knights, namely sir John Chambo and sir Bertrand de Cassilies, were like men distracted at seeing their master lie thus on the ground.

The Bretons, who were more numerous than the English, were much rejoiced when they saw their chief thus prostrate, and greatly hoped he was mortally wounded. They therefore advanced, crying out "By God, my lords of England, you will all stay with us, for you cannot now escape."

The English performed wonderful feats of arms, as well to extricate themselves from the danger they were in as to revenge their commander, sir John Chandos, whom they saw in such a piteous state. A squire attached to sir John marked out this James de St. Martin, who had given the blow; he fell upon him in such a rage, and struck him with his lance as he was flying, that he ran him through both his thighs, and then withdrew his lance; however, in spite of this, James de St. Martin continued the fight. Now if lord Thomas Percy, who had first arrived at the bridge, had imagined anything of what was going forwards, sir John Chandos' men would have been considerably reinforced; but it was otherwise decreed: for not hearing anything of the Bretons since he had seen them advancing in a large body towards the bridge, he thought they might have retreated; so that lord Thomas Percy and his men continued their march, keeping the road to Poitiers, ignorant of what was passing

Though the English fought so bravely at the bridge of Lussac, in the end they could not withstand the force of the Bretons and French, but were defeated, and the greater part made prisoners. Sir Edward Clifford stood firm, and would not quit the body of his nephew. If the French had had their horses, they would have gone off with honour, and have carried with them good prisoners; but, as I have before said, their servants had gone away with them. Those of the English also had retreated, and quitted the scene of battle. They remained therefore in bad plight, which sorely vexed them, and said among themselves, "This is a bad piece of business: the field is our won, and yet we cannot return through he fault of our servants. It is not proper for us who are armed and fatigued to march through this country on foot, which is quite against us; and we are upwards of six leagues from the nearest of any of our fortresses. We have, besides, our wounded and slain, whom we cannot leave behind."

As they were in this situation, not knowing what to do, and had sent off two or three of the Bretons, disarmed, to hunt after and endeavor to find their servants, they perceived advancing towards them, sir Guiscard d'Angle, sir Louis de Harcourt, the lords de Parthenay, de Tannaybouton, d'Argenton, de Pinane, sir James de Surgeres, and several others. They were full two hundred lances, and were seeking for the French; for they had received information that they were out on an excursion, and were then following the traces of their horses. They came forwards, therefore, with displayed banners fluttering in the wind, and marching in a disorderly manner.

The moment the Bretons and French saw them they knew them for their enemies, the barons and knights of Poitou. They therefore said to the English: "You see that body of men coming to your assistance: we know we cannot withstand them; therefore," calling each by his name, "you are our prisoners; but we give you your liberty, on condition that you take care to keep us company; and we surrender ourselves to you, for we have it more at heart to give ourselves up to you than to those who are coming." They answered, "God's will be done."

The English thus obtained their liberty. The Poitevins soon arrived, with their lances in their rests, shouting their war-cries; but the Bretons and the French, retreating on one side, said, "Holla! stop my lords: we are prisoners already." The English testified to the truth of this by adding, "It is so: they belong to us." Carnet was prisoner to sir Bertrand de Cassilies, and sir Louis de St. Julien to sir John Chambo: there was not one who had not his master.

These barons and knight of Poitou were struck with grief when they saw their seneschal, sir John Chandos, lying in so doleful a way, and not able to speak. They began grievously to lament his loss, saying, "Flower of knighthood! oh sir John Chandos! cursed be the forging of that lance which wounded thee, and which has thus endangered thy life." Those who were around the body most tenderly bewailed him, which he heard, and answered with groans, but could not articulate a word. They wrung their hands, and tore their hair, uttering cries and complaints, more especially those who belonged to his household.

Sir John Chandos was disarmed very gently by his own servants, laid upon shields and targets, and carried at a foot's pace to Mortemer, the nearest fort to the place where they were. The other barons and knights returned to Poitiers, carrying with them their prisoners. I heard that James Martin, he who had wounded sir John Chandos, suffered so much form his wounds that he died at Poitiers. That gallant knight only survived one day and night. God have mercy on this soul! for never since a hundred years did there exist among the English one more courteous, nor fuller of every virtue and good quality than him.

When the prince, princess, earls of Cambridge and Pembroke, and the other English knights in Guienne heard of this event, they were completely disconcerted, and said, they had now lost every thing on both sides of the sea. Sir John was sincerely regretted by his friends of each sex: and some lords of France bewailed his loss.

Thus it happens through life. The English loved him for all the excellent qualities he was possessed of. The French hated him because they were afraid of him. Not but that I have heard him at the time regretted by renowned knights in France; for they said it was a great pity he was slain, and that, if he could have been taken prisoner, he was so wise and full of devices, he would have found some means of establishing a peace between France and England; and was so much beloved by the king of England and his court, that they would have believed what he should have said in preference to all others.

Thus were the French and English great losers by his death, for never have I heard otherwise; but the English the most, for by his valour and prudence Guienne might have been totally recovered.

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