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- Saint George for England - 40/47 -
For some hours the fight was continued with unabating obstinacy on both sides. The king and the Black Prince fought with immense bravery, their example encouraging even those of their soldiers who were ignorant of the personality of the knights who were everywhere in front of the combat. King Edward himself several times crossed swords with the famous Eustace de Ribaumont, one of the most gallant knights in France. At length towards daybreak the king, with only thirty companions, found himself again opposed to De Ribaumont with a greatly superior force, and the struggle was renewed between them.
Twice the king was beaten down on one knee by the thundering blows of the French knight, twice he rose and renewed the attack, until De Charny, seeing Sir Walter Manny's banner, beside which Edward fought, defended by so small a force, also bore down to the attack, and in the struggle Edward was separated from his opponent.
The combat now became desperate round the king, and Sir Guy Brian, who bore De Manny's standard, though one of the strongest and most gallant knights of the day, could scarce keep the banner erect. Still Edward fought on, and in the excitement of the moment, forgetting his incognito, he accompanied each blow with his customary war-cry - "Edward, St. George! Edward, St. George!" At that battle-cry, which told the French men-at-arms that the King of England was himself opposed to them, they recoiled for a moment. The shout too reached the ears of the Prince of Wales, who had been fighting with another group. Calling his knights around him he fell upon the rear of De Charny's party and quickly cleared a space around the king.
The fight was now everywhere going against the French, and the English redoubling their efforts the victory was soon complete, and scarcely one French knight left the ground alive and free. In the struggle Edward again encountered De Ribaumont, who, separated from him by the charge of De Charny, had not heard the king's war-cry. The conflict between them was a short one. The French knight saw that almost all his companions were dead or captured, his party completely defeated, and all prospects of escape cut off. He therefore soon dropped the point of his sword and surrendered to his unknown adversary. In the meantime the troops which had been despatched to the bridge of Nieullay had defeated the French forces left to guard the passage and clear the ground towards St. Omer.
Early in the morning Edward entered Calais in triumph, taking with him thirty French nobles as prisoners, while two hundred more remained dead on the field. That evening a great banquet was held, at which the French prisoners were present. The king presided at the banquet, and the French nobles were waited upon by the Black Prince and his knights. After the feast was concluded the king bestowed on De Ribaumont the chaplet of pearls which he wore round his crown, hailing him as the most gallant of the knights who had that day fought, and granting him freedom to return at once to his friends, presenting him with two horses, and a purse to defray his expenses to the nearest French town.
De Charny was afterwards ransomed, and after his return to France assembled a body of troops and attacked the castle which Edward had bestowed upon Almeric of Pavia, and capturing the Lombard, carried him to St. Omer, and had him there publicly flayed alive as a punishment for his treachery.
Walter had as usual fought by the side of the Prince of Wales throughout the battle of Calais and had much distinguished himself for his valour. Ralph was severely wounded in the fight, but was able a month later to rejoin Walter in England.
The battle of Calais and the chivalrous bearing of the king created great enthusiasm and delight in England, and did much to rouse the people from the state of grief into which they had been cast by the ravages of the plague. The king did his utmost to maintain the spirit which had been evoked, and the foundation of the order of the Garter, and the erection of a splendid chapel at Windsor, and its dedication, with great ceremony, to St. George, the patron saint of England, still further raised the renown of the court of Edward throughout Europe as the centre of the chivalry of the age.
Notwithstanding many treaties which had taken place, and the near alliance which had been well-nigh carried out between the royal families of England and Spain, Spanish pirates had never ceased to carry on a series of aggressions upon the English vessels trading in the Bay of Biscay. Ships were every day taken, and the crews cruelly butchered in cold blood. Edward's remonstrances proved vain, and when threats of retaliation were held out by Edward, followed by preparations to carry those threats into effect, Pedro the Cruel, who had now succeeded to the throne of Spain, despatched strong reinforcements to the fleet which had already swept the English Channel.
The great Spanish fleet sailed north, and capturing on its way a number of English merchantmen, put into Sluys, and prepared to sail back in triumph with the prizes and merchandise it had captured. Knowing, however, that Edward was preparing to oppose them, the Spaniards filled up their complement of men, strengthened themselves by all sorts of the war machines then in use, and started on their return for Spain with one of the most powerful armadas that had ever put to sea.
Edward had collected on the coast of Sussex a fleet intended to oppose them, and had summoned all the military forces of the south of England to accompany him; and as soon as he heard that the Spaniards were about to put to sea he set out for Winchelsea, where the fleet was collected.
The queen accompanied him to the sea-coast, and the Black Prince, now in his twentieth year, was appointed to command one of the largest of the English vessels.
The fleet put to sea when they heard that the Spaniards had started, and the hostile fleets were soon in sight of each other. The number of fighting men on board the Spanish ships was ten times those of the English, and their vessels were of vastly superior size and strength. They had, moreover, caused their ships to be fitted at Sluys with large wooden towers, which furnished a commanding position to their crossbow-men. The wind was direct in their favour, and they could have easily avoided the contest, but, confiding in their enormously superior force, they sailed boldly forward to the attack.
The king himself led the English line, and directing his vessel towards a large Spanish ship, endeavoured to run her down. The shock was tremendous, but the enemy's vessel was stronger as well as larger than that of the king; and as the two ships recoiled from each other it was found that the water was rushing into the English vessel, and that she was rapidly sinking. The Spanish passed on in the confusion, but the king ordered his ship to be instantly laid alongside another which was following her, and to be firmly lashed to her. Then with his knights he sprang on board the Spaniard, and after a short but desperate fight cut down or drove the crew overboard. The royal standard was hoisted on the prize, the sinking English vessel was cast adrift, and the king sailed on to attack another adversary.
The battle now raged on all sides. The English strove to grapple with and board the enemy, while the Spaniards poured upon them a shower of bolts and quarrels from their cross-bows, hurled immense masses of stone from their military engines, and, as they drew alongside, cast into them heavy bars of iron, which pierced holes in the bottom of the ship.
Walter was on board the ship commanded by the Black Prince. This had been steered towards one of the largest and most important of the Spanish vessels. As they approached, the engines poured their missiles into them. Several great holes were torn in the sides of the ship, which was already sinking as she came alongside her foe.
"We must do our best, Sir Walter," the prince exclaimed, "for if we do not capture her speedily our ship will assuredly sink beneath our feet."
The Spaniard stood far higher above the water than the English ship, and the Black Prince and his knights in vain attempted to climb her sides, while the seamen strove with pumps and buckets to keep the vessel afloat. Every effort was in vain. The Spaniard's men-at-arms lined the bulwarks, and repulsed every effort made by the English to climb up them, while those on the towers rained down showers of bolts and arrows and masses of iron and stone. The situation was desperate when the Earl of Lancaster, passing by in his ship, saw the peril to which the prince was exposed, and, ranging up on the other side of the Spaniard, strove to board her there. The attention of the Spaniards being thus distracted, the prince and his companions made another desperate effort, and succeeded in winning their way on to the deck of the Spanish ship just as their own vessel sank beneath their feet; after a few minutes' desperate fighting the Spanish ship was captured.
The English were now everywhere getting the best of their enemies. Many of the Spanish vessels had been captured or sunk, and after the fight had raged for some hours, the rest began to disperse and seek safety in flight. The English vessel commanded by Count Robert of Namur had towards night engaged a Spanish vessel of more than twice its own strength. His adversaries, seeing that the day was lost, set all sail, but looking upon the little vessel beside them as a prey to be taken possession of at their leisure, they fastened it tightly to their sides by the grappling irons, and spreading all sail, made away. The Count and his men were unable to free themselves, and were being dragged away, when a follower of the count named Hennekin leapt suddenly on board the Spanish ship. With a bound he reached the mast, and with a single blow with his sword cut the halyards which supported the main-sail. The sail fell at once. The Spaniards rushed to the spot to repair the disaster which threatened to delay their ship. The count and his followers, seeing the bulwarks of the Spanish vessel for the moment unguarded, poured in, and after a furious conflict captured the vessel. By this time twenty-four of the enemy's vessels had been taken, the rest were either sunk or in full flight, and Edward at once returned to the English shore.
The fight had taken place within sight of land, and Queen Philippa, from the windows of the abbey, which stood on rising ground, had seen the approach of the vast Spanish fleet, and had watched the conflict until night fell. She remained in suspense as to the result until the king himself with the Black Prince and Prince John, afterwards known as John of Gaunt, who, although but ten years of age, had accompanied the Black Prince in his ship, rode up with the news of the victory.
This great sea-fight was one of the brightest and most honourable in the annals of English history, for not even in the case of that other great Spanish Armada which suffered defeat in English waters were the odds so immense or the victory so thorough and complete. The result of the fight was, that after some negotiations a truce of twenty years was concluded with Spain.
CHAPTER XX: POITIERS
After the great sea-fight at the end of August, 1350, England had peace for some years. Phillip of France had died a week before that battle, and had been succeeded by his son John, Duke of Normandy. Upon the part of both countries there was an indisposition to renew the war, for their power had been vastly crippled by the devastations of the plague. This was followed by great distress and scarcity owing to the want of labour to till the
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