« ZurückWeiter »
and with these the mass of the Essex men and the men of Hertfordshire withdrew quietly to their homes. But while the King was successful at Mile-end a terrible doom had fallen on the councillors he left behind him. Richard had hardly quitted the Tower when the Kentishmen who had spent the night within the city appeared at its gates. The general terror was shown ludicrously enough when they burst in and taking the panic-stricken knights of the royal household in rough horse-play by the beard promised to be their equals and good comrades in the days to come. But the horse-play changed into dreadful earnest when they found that Richard had escaped their grasp, and the discovery of Archbishop Sudbury and other ministers in the chapel changed their fury into a cry for blood. The Primate was dragged from his sanctuary and beheaded. The same vengeance was wreaked on the Treasurer and the Chief Commissioner for the levy of the hated poll-tax, the merchant Richard Lyons who had been impeached by the Good Parliament.
Richard meanwhile had ridden round the northern wall of the city to the Wardrobe near Blackfriars, 16 and from this new refuge he opened his negotiations with the Kentish insurgents. Many of these dispersed at the news of the King's pledge to the men of Essex, but a body of thirty thousand still surrounded Wat Tyler when Richard on the morning of the fifteenth encountered that leader by a mere chance at Smithfield. Hot words passed between his train and the peasant chieftain, who advanced to confer with the King, and a threat from Tyler brought on a brief struggle in which the Mayor of London, William Walworth, struck him with his dagger to the ground. “Kill! kill !” shouted the crowd, “they have slain our captain !” But Richard faced the
15 On the western side of London.
Kentishmen with the same cool courage with which he faced the men of Essex. “What need ye, my masters ?" cried the boy-king as he rode boldly up to the front of the bowmen. “1 am your Captain and your King ; Follow me!” The hopes of the peasants centred in the young sovereign ; one aim of their rising had been to free him from the evil counsellors who, as they believed, abused his youth; and at his word they followed him with a touching loyalty and trust till he entered the Tower. His mother welcomed him within its walls with tears of joy. “Rejoice and praise God," Richard answered, "for I have recovered to-day my heritage which was lost and the realm of England I” But he was compelled to give the same pledge of freedom to the Kentishmen as at Mile-end, and it was only after receiving his letters of pardon and emancipation that the yeomen dispersed to their homes.
[Richard's pledge was broken; the peasant revolt was put
down with terrible bloodshed ; and serfdom set up again. But the troubles of England went on; and though peace with France was won for a while, Richard's own misgovernment at last forced England to a general rising. He was driven from the throne; and his cousin Henry, the son of John of Gaunt, was made King in his stead as Henry the Fourth. Henry's whole reign was a struggle against treason and revolt; and it was not till the days of his son, Henry the Fifth, that England was again at peace. To strengthen his throne, Henry the Fifth revived the old quarrel with France; and landing in Normandy took
Harfleur with great loss and suffering. His weakened army then marched for Calais; but was overtaken on its way at Agincourt by the army of the French king, Charles the Sixth.]
THE two armies were strangely contrasted. On the French side might be seen three enormous squadrons, like three forests of lances, which in this narrow plain followed one another in order, and extended to a vast depth; in their front stood the Constable, the Princes, the Dukes of Orleans, of Bar, and of Alençon, the Counts of Nevers, of. Eu, of Richemont, of Vendôme, a crowd of nobles, a dazzling rainbow of enamelled armour, of coats of arms, of banners, of horses strangely masked in steel and gold. The French had their archers too, men of the commons these ; but where were they to be set? Every place was disposed of; no one would give up his post; people such as these archers would have been a blot on so noble a gathering. There were cannons too, but it does not seem that they were used; probably no more room could be found for them than for the bowmen. On the other side stood the English army. Its outer seeming was poor enough. The archers had no armour-often no shoes; they had wretched headpieces of boiled leather, or even of osier, guarded by a cross-piece of iron; the axes and hatchets hung at their belts gave them the look of carpenters. Many of these good workmen had loosed their belts to work the more easily, first to bend the bow, then to wield the axe, when time came for leaving behind them the line of sharpened stakes which protected their front and for hewing at the motionless masses which stood before them.
For strange, incredible as it may seem, it is certain that the French army could not move, either to fight or fly. In the after struggle the rear-guard alone made its escape. At the critical moment indeed of the battle, when old
Thomas of Erpingham, after putting the English army in array, threw up his staff in the air, and cried “Now strike !" while the English replied with a shout of ten thousand men, the French army, to their great surprise, remained immoveable. Horses and horsemen all seemed enchanted or dead in their armour. In reality these great war-horses, under the weight of their heavy riders and of their huge caparisons of iron, had sunk deeply in the thick clay on which they stood ; they were so firmly fixed that it was with difficulty that they disengaged themselves in an attempt to advance. But their advance was only step by step. The field was a mere swamp of tenacious mud. “The field was soft and cut up by the horses; it was almost impossible to draw one's feet out of the ground, so soft was it. Besides this,” goes on the historian, Lefebvre, “the French were so loaded with harness that they could not go forward. In the first place, they were burdened with steel coats of mail long enough to reach below the knees, and very heavy, and below this mail they had harness on their legs, and above it harness of white, and helmets atop of all. Then they were so crowded together that none could lift their arms to strike the enemy, save those who were in the front rank.” Another historian on the English side tells us that the French were arrayed thirty-two men deep, while the English stood but four men deep. This enormous depth of the French column was useless, for almost all who composed it were knights and horsemen, and the bulk of them were so far from being able to act that they never even saw what was going on in the front; while among the English every man had his share in the action. Of the fifty thousand Frenchmen in fact but two or three thousand had the power actively to engage with the eleven thousand Englishmen; or at least might have had the power, had their horses freed themselves from the mire.
To rouse these sluggish masses to action the English archers discharged thousands of arrows right at their faces. The iron-clad horsemen bowed their heads, or the arrows would have pierced the vizors of their helmets. Then, on either flank of the army, from Tramecourt and from Agincourt, two French squadrons, by dint of hard spurring, got clumsily into motion, and came on headed by two famous men at arms, Messire Cliquet de Brabant and Messire Guillaume de Sausure. But the first squadron, which came from Tramecourt, was suddenly riddled by the fire from a body of archers hidden in the wood on its flank; and neither the one squadron nor the other ever reached the English line. In fact, of twelve hundred men who charged but a hundred and twenty managed to dash themselves against the stakes on the English front. The bulk had fallen on the road, men and horses, as they floundered in the thick mud. And well had it been had all fallen, for those whose horses were wounded could no longer govern the maddened beasts, and they turned back to rush on the French ranks. Far from being able to open to let them pass, the advance-guard was, as has been seen, so thickly massed together that not a man could move; and one may conceive the fearful confusion that fell on the serried mass, the frightened horses plunging and backing through it, flinging down their riders, or crushing them into a mass of clashing iron. It was in the midst of this turmoil that the Englishmen fell on them. Quitting their front of stakes, throwing down bow and arrow, they came on at their ease, hatchet and axe, sword or loaded club in hand, to hew at the vast confused heap of men and horses. When, in all good time, they had finally made a clearance of the advanceguard, they advanced, with King Henry at their head, on the second line of battle behind it. It was perhaps at this moment that eighteen French gentlemen fell upon the