Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
The Attack on Châlons.
After the battle of Poitiers, King John of France was a prisoner in England. Many armed bands took advantage of the political uncertainty. Some of these bands were English, some adherents of the King of Navarre, John's cousin and rival and an English ally, others were "free companies." This story gives some idea of their modus operandi and of the general uncertainty of life.
Book I, ch. 195. It happened that while sir Peter Audley was governor of Beaufort, which is situated between Troyes and Châlons, he imagined, that if he could cross the Marne above the town of Châlons and advance by the side of the monastery of St. Peter, he might easily take the town.
To carry this scheme into effect, he waited until the river Marne was low, when he secretly assembled his companions from five or six strong castles he was master of in that neighbourhood. His army consisted of about four hundred combatants. they set out from Beaufort at midnight. He led them to a ford of the river Marne, which he intended to cross, for he had people of the country as guides. On coming thither, he made them all to dismount, and give their horses to their servants, when he marched them through the river, which was very low. All having crossed, he led them slowly towards the monastery of St. Peter.
There were many guards and watchmen scattered over the town of Châlons, and in the public squares: those who were nearest to the monastery of St. Peter, which is situated above the town, heard very distinctly the noise of the Navarrois: for as they were advancing, their arms, by touching each other, made a noise and sounded. Many who heard this wondered what it could be: for all at once, sir Peter having halted, the noise ceased, and when he continued his march, the same sounds were again heard by the sentinels posted in St. Peter's street, as the wind came from the opposite quarter; and some among them said, "It must be those English and Navarrois thieves that are advancing, to take us by escalade: let us immediately sound the alarm, and awaken our fellow-citizens."
Some of them went to the monastery to see what it might be. They could not, however, make such speed but that sir Peter and his army were in the court-yard; for the walls in that part were not four feet high; and they immediately rushed through the gate of the monastery into the street, which was large and wide. The citizens were exceedingly alarmed, because there were cries from all parts of "Treason, treason! To arms, to arms!" They armed themselves in haste, and, collecting in a body to be the stronger, advanced to meet their enemies, who overthrew and killed the foremost of them.
It happened, very unfortunately for Châlons, that Peter de Châlons, who had been governor of the city upwards of a year, with a hundred lances under his command, had lately left it, on account of not being able to get paid according to his wishes. The commonalty of the city were numerous, and set themselves in earnest to make a good defence. It was high time; but they suffered much, and the Navarrois conquered all the lower town, as far as the bridges over the Marne.
Beyond the bridges, the citizens collected themselves, and defended the first bridge, which was of great service to them. The skirmish was there very sharp; the Navarrois attacked and fought well. Some of the English archers advanced, and passing over the supports of the bridge, shot so well, and so continually, that none from Châlons dared to come within reach of their arrows.
This engagement lasted until mid-day. It was said by some, that Châlons must have been taken, if sir Odes de Grancy had not learnt, as it were by inspiration, this excursion of the Navarrois. In order to defeat it, he had intreated the assistance of many knights and squires; for he know that there was not one gentleman in Châlons. He had come therefore, day and night, attended by sir Philip de Jancourt, the lord Anceau de Beaupré, the lord John de Guermillon, and many others, to the amount of sixty lances.
As soon as they were come to Châlons, they advanced towards the bridge, which the inhabitants were defending against the Navarrois, who were exerting themselves to the utmost to gain it. The lord de Grancy displayed his banner, and fell upon the Navarrois with a hearty good will. The arrival of the lord de Grancy mightily rejoiced the people of Châlons; and well it might, for without him and his company they would have been hard driven.
When sir Peter Audley and his friends saw these Burgundians, they retreated in good order the way they had come, and found their servants with their horses on the banks of the Marne. They mounted them, and crossing the river without molestation, returned towards Beaufort, having by a trifle missed their aim.
The inhabitants of Châlons were much pleased at their departure, and gave thanks to God for it. After expressing their obligations to the lord de Grancy for the kindness he had done them, they presented him with five hundred livres for himself and his people. They intreated the lord John de Besars, who was present and a near neighbour, to remain, to advise and assist them. He consented to their request, for the handsome salary they allowed him, and set about fortifying the city in those places which were the weakest.