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- A Knight of the White Cross - 6/72 -


round fell upon the Duke of Gloucester's division, and was equally successful in his attack upon it. Had the centre, under Lord Wenlock, moved forward at once to his support, the victory would have been assured; but Wenlock lay inactive, and Somerset was now engaged in conflict with the whole of Edward's force. But even under these circumstances he still gained ground, when suddenly the whole aspect of the battle was changed.

Before it began Edward had sent two hundred spearmen to watch a wood near the defenders' lines, as he thought that the Lancastrians might place a force there to take him in flank as he attacked their front. He ordered them, if they found the wood unoccupied, to join in the fight as opportunity might offer. The wood was unoccupied, and the spearmen, seeing the two divisions of their army driven backwards, and being thereby cut off from their friends, issued from the wood and, charging down in a body, fell suddenly upon Somerset's rear.

Astounded and confused by an attack from such a quarter, and believing that it was an act of treachery by one of their own commanders, Somerset's men, who had hitherto been fighting with the greatest bravery, fell into confusion. Edward's quick eye soon grasped the opportunity, and rallying his troops he charged impetuously down upon the Lancastrians, seconded hotly by Gloucester and his division.

The disorder in Somerset's lines speedily grew into a panic, and the division broke up and fled through the lanes to the right and left. Somerset, after in vain trying to stop the panic, rode furiously back into the camp, followed by his principal officers, and riding up to Lord Wenlock he cleft his head in two with a battleaxe. His resentment, although justified by the inactivity of this nobleman at such a crisis, was yet disastrous, as it left the centre without a leader, and threw it into a state of disorganization, as many must have supposed that Somerset had turned traitor and gone over to the enemy. Before any disposition could be made, Edward and Gloucester poured their forces into the camp, and the Lancastrians at once broke and fled. Many of their leaders took refuge in the church, an asylum which they deemed inviolable, and which the Lancastrians had honourably respected in their hour of triumph.

Among them were the Duke of Somerset, the Grand Prior of the Order of St. John, Sir Humphrey Audely, Sir Gervis of Clifton, Sir William Gainsby, Sir William Cary, Sir Henry Rose, Sir Thomas Tresham, and seven esquires. Margaret of Anjou fell into the hands of the victors. As to the fate of the young prince, accounts differ. Some authorities say that he was overtaken and slain on the field, but the majority related that he was captured and taken before Edward, who asked him, "What brought you to England?" On his replying boldly, "My father's crown and mine own inheritance," Edward struck him in the mouth with his gauntlet, and his attendants, or some say his brothers, at once despatched the youth with their swords.

The king, with Gloucester and Clarence, then went to the church at Tewkesbury, where the knights had taken refuge, burst open the doors, and entered it. A priest, bearing the holy vessels, threw himself before the king, and would not move until he promised to pardon all who had taken sanctuary there. The king then retired, and trusting in the royal word, the gentlemen made no attempt to escape, although it is said that they could easily have done so. Two days later a party of soldiers by the king's orders broke into the church, dragged them from the foot of the altar, and beheaded them outside.

The news of the issue of the fatal battle of Tewkesbury, the capture of the queen, and the death of the prince, was borne to Exeter by fugitives on the following day. Beyond the fact that the Earl of Devon and other nobles were known to have been killed, and Somerset with a party of knights had taken sanctuary, they could give no details as to the fate of individuals. In the deepest distress at the utter ruin of the cause, and in ignorance of the fate of her husband, who she could only hope was one of those who had gained sanctuary, Dame Tresham prepared for flight. This accomplished, she had only to wait, and sit in tearless anguish at the window, listening intently whenever a horseman rode past. All night her watch continued. Gervaise, who had cried himself to sleep, lay on a couch beside her. Morning dawned, and she then knew that her husband would not come, for had he escaped from the field he would long ere this have been with her. The messenger with the news had arrived at eight the previous morning, and, faithful to her husband's wishes, at that hour she ordered the horses to be brought round, and, joining a party of gentlemen who were also making for the coast, rode with them to Plymouth. Arrangements were at once made with the captain of a small ship in the port, and two days later they landed at Honfleur, where Sir Thomas had enjoined his wife to wait until she heard from him or obtained sure news of his fate.

A week after her arrival the news was brought by other fugitives of the violation of the sanctuary by the king, and the murder of Somerset and the gentlemen with him, of whom Sir Thomas Tresham was known to have been one.

The blow proved fatal to Dame Tresham. She had gone through many trials and misfortunes, and had ever borne them bravely, but the loss of her husband completely broke her down. Save to see his wishes concerning their son carried out, she had no longer any interest in life or any wish to live. But until the future of Gervaise was assured, her mission was unfulfilled. His education was her sole care; his mornings were spent at a monastery, where the monks instructed the sons of such of the nobles and gentry of the neighbourhood as cared that they should be able to read and write. In the afternoon he had the best masters in the town in military exercises. His evenings he spent with his mother, who strove to instill in him the virtues of patience, mercy to the vanquished, and valour, by stories of the great characters of history. She herself spent her days in pious exercises, in attending the services of the Church, and in acts of charity and kindness to her poorer neighbours. But her strength failed rapidly, and she was but a shadow of her former self when, two years and a half after her arrival at Honfleur, she felt that if she was herself to hand Gervaise over to the Order of St. John, she must no longer delay. Accordingly she took ship to London, and landing there made her way with him to the dwelling of the Order at Clerkenwell. It was in process of rebuilding, for in 1381 it had been first plundered and then burned by the insurgents under Wat Tyler. During the ninety years that had elapsed since that event the work of rebuilding had proceeded steadily, each grand prior making additions to the pile which, although not yet fully completed, was already one of the grandest and stateliest abodes in England.

On inquiring for the grand prior, and stating that she had a letter of importance for him, Dame Tresham and her son were shown up to his apartment, and on entering were kindly and courteously received by him when informed that she was the widow of the late Sir Thomas Tresham.

"I am the bearer of a letter for you, given into my hand by my husband's dear friend your predecessor," she said, "a few days before his murder at Tewkesbury. It relates to my son here."

The grand prior opened the letter and read it.

"Assuredly, madam, I will carry out the wishes here expressed," he said. "They are, that I should forward at once the letter he has given you to Sir Peter D'Aubusson, and that until an answer is received from him, I should take care of the boy here, and see that he is instructed in all that is needful for a future knight of our Order. I grieve to see that you yourself are looking so ill."

"My course is well nigh run," she said. "I have, methinks, but a few days to live. I am thankful that it has been permitted to me to carry out my husband's wishes, and to place my boy in your hands. That done, my work on earth is finished, and glad indeed am I that the time is at hand when I can rejoin my dear husband."

"We have a building here where we can lodge ladies in distress or need, Dame Tresham, and trust that you will take up your abode there."

"I shall indeed be thankful to do so," she replied. "I know no one in London, and few would care to lodge a dying woman."

"We are Hospitallers," the grand prior said. "That was our sole mission when we were first founded, and before we became a military order, and it is still a part of our sworn duty to aid the distressed."

A few minutes later Dame Tresham was conducted to a comfortable apartment, and was given into the charge of a female attendant. The next day she had another interview with the grand prior, to whom she handed over her jewels and remaining money. This she prayed him to devote to the furnishing of the necessary outfit for Gervaise. She spent the rest of the day in the church of the hospital, had a long talk with her son in the evening, giving him her last charges as to his future life and conduct, and that night, as if she had now fulfilled her last duty on earth, she passed away, and was found by her attendant lying with a look of joy and peacefulness on her dead face.

Gervaise's grief was for a time excessive. He was nearly twelve years old, and had never until now been separated from her even for a day. She had often spoken to him of her end being near, but until the blow came he had never quite understood that it could be so. She had, on the night before her death, told him that he must not grieve overmuch for her, for that in any case they must have soon been sundered, and that it was far better that he should think of her as at rest, and happy, than as leading a lonely and sorrowful life.

The grand prior, however, wisely gave him but little time to dwell upon his loss, but as soon as her funeral had taken place, handed him over to the knights who had the charge of the novices on probation, and instructed them in their military exercises, and of the chaplain who taught them such learning as was considered requisite for a knight of the Order.

The knights were surprised at the proficiency the lad had already attained in the use of his weapons.

"By St. Agatha," one of them exclaimed, after the conclusion of his first lesson, "you have had good teachers, lad, and have availed yourself rarely of them. If you go on like this you will become a distinguished knight of our Order. With a few more years to strengthen your arms I warrant me you will bear your part well in your first tussle with the Moslem corsairs."

It fortunately happened that a party of knights were starting for Rhodes a few days after the admission of Gervaise to the Hospital, and the letter to Sir Peter D'Aubusson was committed to their charge. They were to proceed to Bordeaux by ship, then to journey


A Knight of the White Cross - 6/72

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