Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
How the Earl of Flanders Hid From the Men of Ghent
After his army is defeated outside Bruges, the earl of Flanders tries to rally the townsfolk to resist the men of Ghent.
Book II, ch. 97. The earl of Flanders saw no help for his men, who were flying on all sides, and, as it was now dark night, followed this advice [to retreat to the city] and took the road to Bruges, his banner displayed before him. He ordered guards to defend the gates if the men of Ghent should come thither, and then rode to his palace, from whence he issued a proclamation, that every person, under pain of death, should assemble in the market-place. The intention of the earl was to save the town by this means; but it did not succeed, as you shall hear.
While the earl was in his palace, and had sent the clerks of the different trades from street to street, to hasten the inhabitants to the market-place, in order to preserve the city, the men of Ghent, having closely pursued their enemies, entered the town with them, and instantly made for the market-place, without turning to the right or the left, where they drew themselves up in array.
Sir Robert Mareschaut, one of the earl's knights, had been sent to the gates to see they were guarded: but, while the earl was planning means for defending the town, sir Robert found a gate flung off its hinges, and the Ghent men masters of it. Some of the citizens said to him," Robert, Robert, return and save yourself, if you can, for the Ghent men have taken the town."
The knight returned as speedily as he could to the earl, whom he met coming out of his palace on horseback, with a number of torches. The knight told him what he had heard; but, notwithstanding this, the earl, anxious to defend the town, advanced toward the market-place, and as he was entering it with a number of torches, shouting, "Flanders for the Lyon! Flanders for the Earl!" those near his horse and about his person, seeing the place full of Ghent men, said, "My lord, return; for if you advance further you will be slain, or at the best made prisoner by your enemies, as they are drawn up in the square and are waiting for you."
They told him truth; for the Ghent men, seeing the great blaze of torches in the street, said, "Here comes my lord, here comes the earl: how he falls into our hands!" Philip von Artaveld had given orders to his men, that if the earl should come, every care was to be taken to preserve him form harm, in order that he might be carried alive and in good health to Ghent, when they should be able to obtain what peace they chose.
The earl had entered the square, near to where the Ghent men were drawn up, when several people came to him and said, "My lord do not come further; for the Ghent men are masters of the market-place and of the town, and if you advance, you will run a risk of being taken. Numbers of them are now searching for their enemies from street to street, and many of the men of Bruges have joined them, who conduct them from hôtel to hôtel to seek those whom they want. You cannot pass any of the gates without danger of being killed, for they are in their possession; nor can you return to your palace, for a large rout of Ghent men have marched thither."
When the earl heard this speech, which was heart-breaking as you may guess, he began to be much alarmed and to see the peril he was in... He ordered the torches to be extinguished, and said to those about him, "I see clearly that affairs are without remedy: I therefore give permission for every one to depart and save himself in the best manner he can." His orders were obeyed. The torches were put out and thrown in the streets; and all who were in company with the earl separated and went away. He himself went to a bye-street, where he was disarmed by his servant, and throwing down his clothes, put on his servant's saying, "Go about thy business, and save thyself if thou canst; but be silent if thou fall into the hands of my enemies; and if they ask thee anything about me, do not give them any information."
"My lord," replied the valet, "I will sooner die."
The earl of Flanders thus remained alone, and it may be truly said that he was in the greatest danger; for it was over with him if he had at that hour, by any accident, fallen into the hands of the mob, who were going up and down the streets, searching every house for the friends of the earl and whomsoever they found they carried before Philip von Artaveld and the other captains in the market-place, when they were instantly put to death. It was God alone who watched over him, and delivered him from this peril: for no one had ever before been in such imminent danger, as I shall presently relate.
The earl inwardly bewailed his situation from street to street a this late hour, for it was a little past midnight, and he dared not enter any house, lest he should be seized by the mobs of Ghent and Bruges. Thus, as he was rambling through the streets, he at last entered the house of a poor woman, a very unfit habitation for such a lord, as there were neither halls nor apartments, but a small house, dirty and smoky , and as black as jet: there was only in this place one poor chamber, over which was a sort of garret that was entered by means of a ladder of seven steps, where, on a miserable bed, the children of this woman lay.
The earl entered this house with fear and trembling, and said to the woman, who was also much frightened, -- "Woman, save me: I am thy lord, the earl of Flanders; but at this moment I must hide myself, for my enemies are in pursuit of me; and I will handsomely reward thee for the favour that thou showest me."
The poor woman knew him well, for she had frequently received alms at his door; and had often seen him pass and repass, when he was going to some amusement, or hunting. She was ready with her answers, in which God assisted the earl: for had she delayed it ever so little, they would have found him in conversation with her by the fireside. "My lord, mount this ladder, and get under the bed in which my children sleep." This he did, while she employed herself by the fire-side, with another child in the cradle.
The earl of Flanders mounted the ladder as quickly as he could, and getting between the straw and the coverlid, hid himself, and contracted his body into as little space as possible. He had scarcely done so, when some of the mob of Ghent entered the house; for one of them had said, he had seen a man go in there.
They found this woman sitting by the fire, nursing her child, of whom they demanded, "Woman, where is the man we saw enter this house, and shut the door after him?" "By my troth," replied she, "I have not seen any one enter here this night; but I have just been at the door to throw out some water, which I then shut after me; besides, I have not any place to hide him in, for you see the whole of this house; here is my bed, and my children sleep overhead."
Upon this one of them took a candle, and mounted the ladder, and thrusting his head into the places, saw nothing but the wretched bed in which the children were asleep. He looked all about him, above and below, and then said to his companions, "Come, come, let us go: we only lose our time here: the poor woman speaks truth: there is not a soul but herself and her children."
On saying this, they left the house and went into another quarter; and no one afterwards entered it, who had bad intentions.
Continuation: how the men of Ghent acted in victory.
Continuation: the escape of the earl.