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Jean Froissart (c.1337–1410?). The Chronicles of Froissart.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

The Battle of Poitiers

How King John Was Taken Prisoner at the Battle of Poitiers

OFTENTIMES the adventures of amours and of war are more fortunate and marvellous than any man can think or wish. Truly this battle, the which was near to Poitiers in the fields of Beauvoir and Maupertuis, was right great and perilous, and many deeds of arms there was done the which all came not to knowledge. The fighters on both sides endured much pain: king John with his own hands did that day marvels in arms: he had an axe in his hands wherewith he defended himself and fought in the breaking of the press. Near to the king there was taken the earl of Tancarville, sir Jaques of Bourbon earl of Ponthieu, and the lord John of Artois earl of Eu, and a little above that under the banner of the captal of Buch was taken sir Charles of Artois and divers other knights and squires. The chase endured to the gates of Poitiers: there were many slain and beaten down, horse and man, for they of Poitiers closed their gates and would suffer none to enter; wherefore in the street before the gate was horrible murder, men hurt and beaten down. The Frenchmen yielded themselves as far off as they might know an Englishman: there were divers English archers that had four, five or six prisoners: the lord of Pons, a great baron of Poitou, was there slain, and many other knights and squires; and there was taken the earl of Rochechouart, the lord of Dammartin, the lord of Partenay, and of Saintonge the lord of Montendre and the lord John of Saintré, but he was so sore hurt that he had never health after: he was reputed for one of the best knights in France. And there was left for dead among other dead men the lord Guichard d’Angle, who fought that day by the king right valiantly, and so did the lord of Charny, on whom was great press, because he bare the sovereign banner of the king’s: his own banner was also in the field, the which was of gules, three scutcheons silver. So many Englishmen and Gascons come to that part, that perforce they opened the king’s battle, so that the Frenchmen were so mingled among their enemies that sometimes there was five men upon one gentleman. There was taken the lord of Pompadour and the lord Bartholomew de Burghersh, and there was slain sir Geoffrey of Charny with the king’s banner in his hands: also the lord Raynold Cobham slew the earl of Dammartin. Then there was a great press to take the king, and such as knew him cried, ‘Sir, yield you, or else ye are but dead.’ There was a knight of Saint-Omer’s, retained in wages with the king of England, called sir Denis Morbeke, who had served the Englishmen five year before, because in his youth he had forfeited the realm of France for a murder that he did at Saint-Omer’s. It happened so well for him, that he was next to the king when they were about to take him: he stept forth into the press, and by strength of his body and arms he came to the French king and said in good French, ‘Sir, yield you.’ The king beheld the knight and said: ‘To whom shall I yield me? Where is my cousin the prince of Wales? If I might see him, I would speak with him.’ Denis answered and said: ‘Sir, he is not here; but yield you to me and I shall bring you to him.’ ‘Who be you?’ quoth the king. ‘Sir,’ quoth he, ‘I am Denis of Morbeke, a knight of Artois; but I serve the king of England because I am banished the realm of France and I have forfeited all that I had there.’ Then the king gave him his right gauntlet, saying, ‘I yield me to you.’ There was a great press about the king, for every man enforced him to say, I have taken him,’ so that the king could not go forward with his young son the lord Philip with him because of the press.

The prince of Wales, who was courageous and cruel as a lion, took that day great pleasure to fight and to chase his enemies. The lord John Chandos, who was with him, of all that day never left him nor never took heed of taking of any prisoner: then at the end of the battle he said to the prince: ‘Sir, it were good that you rested here and set your banner a-high in this bush, that your people may draw hither, for they be sore spread abroad, nor I can see no more banners nor pennons of the French party; wherefore, sir, rest and refresh you, for ye be sore chafed.’ Then the prince’s banner was set up a-high on a bush, and trumpets and clarions began to sown. Then the prince did off his bassenet, and the knights for his body and they of his chamber were ready about him, and a red pavilion pight up, and then drink was brought forth to the prince and for such lords as were about him, the which still increased as they came from the chase: there they tarried and their prisoners with them. And when the two marshals were come to the prince, he demanded of them if they knew any tiding of the French king. They answered and said: ‘Sir, we hear none of certainty, but we think verily he is other dead or taken, for he is not gone out of the battles.’ Then the prince said to the earl of Warwick and to sir Raynold Cobham: ‘Sirs, I require you go forth and see what ye can know, that at your return ye may shew me the truth.’ These two lords took their horses and departed from the prince and rode up a little hill to look about them: then they perceived a flock of men of arms coming together right wearily: there was the French king afoot in great peril, for Englishmen and Gascons were his masters; they had taken him from sir Denis Morbeke perforce, and such as were most of force said, ‘I have taken him.’ ‘Nay,’ quoth another, ‘I have taken him’; so they strave which should have him. Then the French king, to eschew that peril, said: ‘Sirs, strive not: lead me courteously, and my son, to my cousin the prince, and strive not for my taking, for I am so great a lord to make you all rich.’ The king’s words somewhat appeased them; howbeit ever as they went they made riot and brawled for the taking of the king. When the two foresaid lords saw and heard that noise and strife among them, they came to them and said: ‘Sirs, what is the matter that ye strive for?’ ‘Sirs,’ said one of them, ‘it is for the French king, who is here taken prisoner, and there be more than ten knights and squires that challengeth the taking of him and of his son.’ Then the two lords entered into the press and caused every man to draw aback, and commanded them in the prince’s name on pain of their heads to make no more noise nor to approach the king no nearer, without they were commanded. Then every man gave room to the lords, and they alighted and did their reverence to the king, and so brought him and his son in peace and rest to the prince of Wales.