Les fleurs de l’histoire

Extrait de « Flowers of History » de Roger de Wendover (Texte complet).

At this time the English king’s army in Flanders had spread its ravages through several provinces, and was now laying waste Poictou in a most relentless manner ; in this expedition were the warlike and tried men William duke of Holland ; Reginald, formerly count of Boulogne ; Ferrand count of Flanders ; and Hugh de Boves, a brave soldier though a cruel and proud man, for he showed his cruel disposition in those regions by sparing neither the female sex nor the young children. King John had appointed his brother William earl of Salisbury, marshal over that army, and over the knights of the kingdom, to fight in conjunction with them, and also to give the pay from the treasury to the other soldiers.

These warriors were moreover assisted and favoured by Otho the Roman emperor, with all the forces of the dukes of Louvaine and Brabant, who were equally exasperated against the French. When all these proceedings came to the knowledge of Philip king of the French, he was much alarmed lest he should be unable to defend that part of the country, having lately sent his son Louis with a large army into Poictou to oppose the English king, and to check his hostile incursions there ; and although the said king often thought on the common proverb :

"Whose mind to many schemes is bent, On each can scarcely be intent."

He however collected an army of earls, barons, knights, and soldiers, horse and foot, together with the commoners of the cities and towns, and advanced in great force to meet his enemies, giving orders to the priests, religious men, clerks and nuns, to give alms, to offer prayers to God, and to perform services for the firm standing of his kingdom ; after which he boldly marched with his army against the enemy. Hearing that the latter had already arrived as far as the bridge of Bovines in the territory of Pontoise, he led his forces in that direction, and arriving at the aforesaid bridge, he crossed the river with his army, and there pitched his camp. The heat of the sun was very great, as is usual in the month of July, on which account the French determined to halt near the river for the sake of refreshing the men as well as horses. They arrived at the before-mentioned river on a Saturday, about the hour of evening ; and, having arranged the carts, waggons, and all the vehicles in which they conveyed their food and arms, engines of war and weapons ; to the right and left they appointed watches all round, and rested there for the night.

When morning came, and the English commanders were informed that the French king had arrived, they held a council, and unanimously determined to give open battle to the enemy ; but, as it was Sunday, it seemed to the more prudent men of the army, and especially to Reginald, formerly count of Boulogne, that it was improper to engage in battle on such a festival, and to profane such a day by slaughter and the effusion of human blood. The Roman emperor Otho coincided in this opinion, and said that he had never gained a triumph on such a day ; on hearing this Hugh de Boves broke forth into blasphemy, calling count Reginald a base traitor, and reproaching him with the lands and large possessions he had received as gifts from the king of England ; he added also that, if the battle was put off that day, it would redound to the irreparable loss of king John, for " delays are always dangerous when things are ready." But count Reginald, in reply to the taunts of Hugh, said indignantly, " This day will prove me faithful, and you the traitor ; for even on this very Sunday, if necessary, I will stand up in battle for the king, even to the death, and you, according to your custom, will, by fleeing from the battle, show yourself a most base traitor in the presence of all. By these and other abusive words of the said Hugh, the whole multitude were stirred up and excited to battle ; they therefore all flew to arms and boldly prepared for fighting. When all were armed, they arranged themselves in three bodies, over the first of which they appointed Ferrand count of Flanders, Reginald earl of Boulogne, and William earl of Salisbury, as commanders ; the command of the second they gave to William duke of Holland, and Hugh de Boves, with his Brabant followers ; the command of the third was assigned to Otho the Roman emperor and his fighting men : and in this manner they slowly marched forth against the enemy, and arrived in sight of the French army.

When the French king saw that his enemies were prepared for a pitched battle, he ordered the bridge in his rear to be broken down, that, in case any of his army should endeavour to fly, they should have no where to fly except amongst the enemy. The French king having drawn up his troops, surrounded by his waggons and other vehicles, as already mentioned, there awaited the assault of his enemies. In short, the battalions commanded by the above-named counts burst upon the ranks of the French with such impetuosity, that in a moment they broke their ranks, and forced their way even up to where the French king was. Count Reginald, when he saw the king who had disinherited him and expelled him from his county, couched his lance against him, and having forced him to the ground, was preparing to slay him with his sword ; but one of the soldiers, who had been appointed as a body-guard for the king, exposed himself to the blows of the count and was killed in his stead. The French, seeing their king on the ground, rushed impetuously and in great force to his assistance, and re-mounted him on his horse ; then the battle raged on both sides, swords glistened like lightning around helmeted heads, and the conflict was most severe on both sides.

The before-mentioned counts with the body of troops under their command had become separated from the rest of their fellow soldiers, and their retreat, as well as the advance of the rest of the army to their succour was stopped ; and thus their small body not being able to withstand the attacks of such numbers of the French, at length gave way, and in this manner the aforesaid counts with the whole of the band which they commanded, were, after showing great bravery, taken and made prisoners.

Whilst these events were passing round king Philip, the counts of Champagne, Perche, and St. Paul, with many other nobles of the French kingdom, made an attack on the troops above-mentioned to be commanded by Hugh de Boves, and put that noble to flight, together with all the troops collected from the different provinces ; and in their base flight they were pursued at the sword’s point by the French as far as the position of the Emperor ; therefore, after their flight, all the weight of the battle was in an instant thrown on the latter. The above-named counts then summoned him and endeavoured to slay him or to compel him to surrender ; but he, holding his sword, sharp on one side like a knife, with both hands, dealt such insupportable blows on all sides, that he either stunned all whom he struck, or levelled riders and horses with the ground.

His enemies, fearing to come too near him, killed three horses under him with their lances, but by the bravery of his troops, he was each time remounted, and renewed his attacks more fiercely ; at length his enemies left him and his followers unconquered, and he retreated from the battle without harm to himself or his followers.

The king of the French, in his joy for such an unexpected victory, gave thanks to God for having granted him such a triumph over his enemies. The three counts above named, with a great number of knights and others, were taken away to be imprisoned. This battle took place on the 27th of July.