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1387 – 100 years’ war - The Earl of Arundel attacks La Rochelle and Marans

D 18 July 2009     H 22:09     A Pierre     C 0 messages A 1678 LECTURES


This episode has been told in the Froissart’s Chronicles with a savourous language. Let’s now see how it’s told by the historians of the British Fleet.

Source : The early naval history of England – Robert Southley, LL.D. – Philadelphia – 1835 – Books Google

See the complete translation of Froissart’s pages about this episode

Arundel, meantime, with the English fleet [1], kept hovering off the coasts of Normandy and Bretagne, in expectation of advice from the duke when and where to land When the season advanced, and they deemed it certain that their summons could not long be delayed, they came to anchor off an island on the Breton coast: and when they had lain there more than a month, obtained intelligence at last that the duke had gone to confer with the king a uncles at Blois ; and that, in consequence of what had passed with them, he had proceeded to Paris. He had frustrated the proposed invasion of England ; and it was evident now that the English armament, which had been sent out at his solicitation, was to be rendered equally vain by his change of purpose. Urgent as the motives might be which induced him to act thus, and necessary as it was to brook such treatment, Arundel deemed it unbecoming to return from a bootless expedition : he held a council of war, and it was resolved that they should approach Rochelle, and land in the Rochellois; seeing that, although they had no strong place to support them, they were enough to meet in the field the whole power of Xainctonge and Poictou. They hired, therefore, a trusty messenger, who was to make his way into the Lemosin, and direct Perrot le Bearnois, who held a command there for the English, to collect what force he could there and in Auvergne, and make such movements in those provinces as should prevent any force from being despatched from thence against them. There was little reason to doubt the speed of their agent, who was a Breton, perfectly conversant in the French, English, and Spanish languages, as well as in his own tongue, and who carried with him nothing by which his errand could possibly be discovered. This done, they weighed anchor and made towards Rochelle full sail, " at the will," says Froissart, " of God and the wind. They had the weather and the tide with them; for it was so fair and serene, and the wind so to a point for them, that it was a goodly sight to behold these ships upon the sea. One and another they were about sixscore, with banners and streamers [2] waving in the wind, richly emblazoned with the arms of the lords, which glittered against the sun. Thus they went on sailing over the fair and favouring sea, that seemed as if it had great delight in wafting them. And as a horse, well-rested and well-fed, when he comes out of the stable, neighs in the feeling of his strength, so the sea, with the aid of the wind, which was at their wish, seemed to move onward, and might, by a figure, be thought to say, merrily and boldly, ’lam for you; I will bring you safely to harbour.’ ”

So characteristic a passage should be given in its original language, for it must needs lose something in translating. " Quand se furent departis des bendes de Bretaigne, ils singlerent, a l’entente de Dieu et du vent a plain voile. Car ils avoient le temps et la maree pour eux, et faisoit si bel et si sery, et vent si a point, que grand plaisir estoit de veoir ces vaisseaux sur la mer, car ils estoient environ six vingts voiles, uns et autres; et venteloient sur estrainnieres trop gentement armoyées des armes des seigneurs, qui resplendissoient contre le soleil. Ainsi s’en vindrent ils, tout nageant et flottant, parmi celle mer, qui lors estoit haitee, et monstroit qu’elle eust grande plaisance d’eux porter. Ainsi comme un cheval, agrené et sejourné quand il est hors de l’estable, a grande faim de henner, ainsi la mer, avec l’aide du vent, qui luy estoit si a point comme a son hait, monstroit cheminer. Ce pouvoit elle dire par figure, liément et hardement : « Je suis pour vous. Je vous mettray en havre et port, sans peril. » — iii. 116.

They anchored in the harbour of Rochelle opposite Marant. Some 200 adventurers, without waiting for high water, got into their boats as soon as the tide served, and so entered that town. The watch from the castle, seeing the fleet arrive, and the boats making for the river, blew the alarm, and the inhabitants lost no time in removing their best effects into the castle; " and well for them," says the chronicler, " that they did so, otherwise they would have lost all. When they saw the English at their heels, they left the rest, and thought only of saving themselves. The invaders immediately fell to pillage, as for pillage they were come; and little they found there except large empty chests : but of corn, bacon, and other provisions, they found good store, and more than 400 pipes of wine, in guard of which seasonable supply they determined to remain there that night. On the morrow the main force landed, leaving the great ships, which could not approach the shore, at anchor, with 100 men-at-arms, and 200 archers, to protect them. They encamped between Marant and Rochelle, which was four short leagues distant. The news soon spread ; and not the open country only, but the towns and castles were alarmed, and kept good watch ; and the villagers began to take flight and remove their goods into the woods, or wherever they could, with all speed.

If the English had been provided with horses, they might have overrun the country, for it was altogether unprepared for defence. Though an enemy’s fleet had so long been lying off the coast, there was no commander in the province. The seneschals were not in their respective districts ; the barons and knights, who might have brought together a sufficient force to have encountered these invaders, looked only each to the preservation of his own; the people followed their example, hastening only to gather in the harvest, and secure it where they could; and if there were any who were disposed to take the lead for the defence of the land, they were distracted between the alarm of the debarkment and that which Perrot le Bearnois excited by his incursions. The seneschal of Rochelle was employed by the duke of Berry at a distance; but there were two brave knights in the town, by name messire Pierre de Jouy and messier Taillepie, whom the seneschal had left to perform his functions during his absence. Rochelle was a populous, place : these knights called together the mayor and the principal inhabitants, and said to them, " Sirs, we must go look at these Englishmen in their lodging, and give them a welcome; for which they shall either pay us,.or we will pay them ! We shall be blamed if we let them remain there at their ease. And there is one point which is right good for us ; they have no horses ; they are men of the sea, and we are well mounted. We will send our arbalisters before, to wake them with their quarrels, and, when they have done this, to return. The English will issue out against them on foot: we will let the arbalisters pass into the town, and receive the enemy at the spear’s point; and, being on horseback, we shall have them at such vantage that we may do them great hurt." The proposal was thought good, and, before daybreak on the morrow, some 1200 arbalisters and tall men sallied from Rochelle; while the horsemen, 300 in number, made ready to follow and support them. The plan was not so well laid but that the English, if they had had any initimation or suspicion thereof, might have laid an ambush and cut off the whole party. There was a want of due vigilance in the English camp: strict watch was kept there during the night; but no sooner had the sun risen (and this was at the beginning of August), than, as if all danger of a sudden attack were over, the sentinels went to their quarters, where the army lay upon straw, in huts constructed of green boughs. They were roused there by a shower of viretons from the cross-bows: six discharges the enemy made, which rattled through the boughs, and wounded many, before the English knew that the enemy were upon them. They were presently upon their feet: the arbalisters retreated as they as they had been instructed, and more than apace when they saw with what alacrity the men whom they had thus roused came out against them, for they feared the English arrows. The horsemen covered the retreat, falling back as fast as they could, while making head against an eager enemy. Arundel, himself, was foremost in the pursuit, with about 400 men-at-arms, each having " his spear in hand, or on his neck; the two knights, at whose advice the sally had been made, did their devoir in presenting themselves to the brunt of the danger, and both narrowly escaped death just as they reached the barriers. Pierre de Jouy had his horse killed under him there, and was with great difficulty drawn in by his people. Taillepie was pierced through the thigh with a spear, and wounded with an arrow through his bacinet, and the horse which bore him into the town fell there dead under him. About forty were slain or wounded there; but the townsmen " got above the gate, and by the stones which they cast down, and by their guns, prevented the English from pursuing their advantage farther." [3]

The men of Rochelle did not repeat an adventure which had succeeded so ill, and in which both their captains had been wounded; and the invaders made three or four incursions into the Rochelloys towards Blesvire, and into the land of Thouars, to the great damage as well as dismay of the country. It was well for the French that they came without horses and found none; and well, perhaps, for themselves also—or the little resistance which they met with might have tempted them to proceed so far that they might have found it difficult to retreat. Arundel, however, conducted himself with great prudence. He stored himself plentifully with wine and fresh provisions; and, contenting himself with this, and with having done enough by this debarkation to show that no discredit could be attached to him for the failure of the expedition, but that the English had performed their part, and were ready and able to have done much more, had the support which had been promised been given them—he re-embarked, after a fortnight’s tarriance on shore, and continued to cruise, as if to make it appear that he had been sent out rather to keep the seas than with any more serious views. Perrot le Bearnois, meantime, had performed his instructions well. Taking the field with 400 spears, and as many more attendants, who were denominated by the more significant than honourable appellation of Pillers, he passed through the Lemoisin, entered Berry, and came into the town of Le Blanc, on fair day, with his unexpected and ugly customers, who carried off not only the goods but the merchants also. " There," says Froissart, " they had great profit and good prisoners." The whole country, as far as the Loire, and beyond that river, was sore dismayed; and the counties of Blois and Touraine partook in the alarm, apprehending that this force would form a junction with that which had landed at Marant, and that some great enterprise was designed. Before they were roused to exert themselves in their own defence, Perrot had plundered the land; and when he and his comrades were satisfied with their booty, they retired with it in safety to their own strongholds." [4]

Such was war during the age of chivalry: except when royal armies took the field in strength, it was carried on in the spirit of privateering by sea and by land, and by the same persons; to all whom it seems to have been indifferent in which service they engaged, and, to most of them, in whose. Courage was carried to its height, and, in some better natures, the principle of honour also; hut these unhappily were few; and fewer still were they in whom it was always connected with humanity; there were too many who, like the old Vikingr, seemed to think that it became the brave to be merciless; but those who were the most honourable were generally the most compassionate. One who, in those ages, should have asserted that our natural state is a state of warfare, would have been home out in that philosophy, if men were to be regarded only as they then were. There was no other occupation for restless spirits, no other education than what directly related to it, for the great and the wellborn ; no other field for ambition except that of the church—into which ambition never ought to enter. Government was nowhere strong enough to maintain order at home, when this outlet for the turbulent and the lawless was closed; and, therefore, every country was sure to be disturbed by factions, or convulsed by civil wars, when it was at peace with its neighbours, and had no foreign enemies to contend with.


[1“They had with them," says Froissart, " vessels called balniers coursiers, qui flotterent sur la mer, and went before them seeking adventures, in like manner as certain knights and esquires a-land, mounted upon the flower of the horses, go before the main battles and prick forward to discover ambushes." (iii. 110.). In another chapter, speaking of this same fleet, he calls these vessels balleniers, " qu’ escumeurs de mer par coustume ont volontiers, et qui approcherent les terres de plus pres, que les autres vaiseaux ne font."—iii. 116.

[2" Venteloient sur estrainniers." Denis Sauvage says in a marginal note, " Verard dit estrannieres ; mais je confesse n’entendre ne l’un, ne l’autre." The context, however, explains the word, which was understood by lord Beiners, and which is found in Roquefort’s Glossary,—Estrainniere, estrannere : drapeau, étendart.

[3Froissart, iii. 117.

[4Ibid.

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