David Bruce: KING EDWARD III: A Retelling — Act 3: Scenes 1-4

— 3.1 —

King John II of France, his two sons — Prince Charles Duke of Normandy and young Prince Philip — and the Duke of Lorraine met and talked together on the coast of France.

King John II of France said, “Here, until our navy of a thousand sails has devoured for breakfast our foe by sea, let us camp to wait for news of their happy success.”

He then asked, “Duke of Lorraine, what readiness does King Edward III of England have? What have you heard about the military equipment he has for this exploit?”

The Duke of Lorraine answered, “To lay aside unnecessary soothing reassurance, and not to spend the time in unnecessary detail, it is reported for a certainty, my lord, that he’s exceedingly strongly fortified. His subjects flock as willingly to war as if they were being led to a triumph.”

Prince Charles Duke of Normandy said, “England is accustomed to harbor malcontents, bloodthirsty and seditious Catilines, spendthrifts, and such as yearn for nothing else but the changing and alteration of the state.”

Catiline was an ancient Roman who wished to overthrow the Roman Republic.

Prince Charles Duke of Normandy continued, “Given this, is it possible that they are now so loyal in themselves?”

“All except the Scot, King David II, who solemnly protests, as heretofore I have informed his grace, never to sheathe his sword or make a truce with the English,” the Duke of Lorraine said.

King John II of France said, “Ah, that’s the anchorage of some better hope.

“But, on the other side, to think what friends King Edward III of England has retained in the Netherlands among those ever-imbibing epicures — those frothy Dutchmen puffed with double-strength beer, who drink and swill in every place they come — does not a little aggravate my ire.

“Besides, we hear that the Emperor of Almagne joins him and installs him in his own position of authority.

“But all the mightier that their number is, the greater glory reaps the victory. A victory against greater numbers achieves greater glory.

“Some friends have we besides our own domestic power: The stern, fierce Poles, the warlike Danes, the King of Bohemia, and the King of Sicily have all become confederates with us, and, as I think, are marching hither apace.”

The Poles and the Danes were mercenaries.

Military drums sounded.

King John II of France said, “Be quiet. I hear the music of their drums, by which I guess that their approach is near.”

The King of Bohemia and some Danish mercenaries arrived, and a Polish Captain with other soldiers arrived from a different direction.

The King of Bohemia said, “King John II of France, as league and our friendly close neighborly relations require when friends are in any way distressed, I come to aid you with my country’s military forces.”

The Polish Captain said, “And from great Moscovy, fearful to the Turk, and from lofty Poland, nurse of hardy men, I bring these mercenaries to fight for you; they willingly will fight for your cause.”

Moscovy is Russia.

“Welcome, Bohemian King, and welcome, all,” King John II of France said. “This your great kindness I will not forget; besides your plentiful rewards in crowns that from our treasury you shall receive, there comes a hare-brained nation decked in pride, the plunder of which will be a third gain. You will gain gratitude from me, crowns from me, and plunder from the defeated enemy.

“And now my hope is full, my joy complete.

“At sea we are as puissant as the force of Agamemnon in the haven of Troy.”

Agamemnon led the Greeks against the Trojans in the Trojan War.

King John II of France continued, “By land, we compare in strength with Xerxes, whose soldiers were so numerous they drank up rivers in their thirst.”

Xerxes twice tried to conquer the Greeks, but his military forces were defeated each time.

King John II of France continued, “Then Bayard-like, blind, overweening Ned, in his attempt to reach at our imperial diadem, will either be swallowed by the waves or hacked to pieces when he comes ashore.”

Coming from King John II of France, “Ned” was an insulting nickname for King Edward III of England.

Bayard was the name of Charlemagne’s horse, but the name later became proverbial for blind recklessness.

A mariner entered with news.

“Near to the coast I have descried, my lord, as I was busy in my watchful charge, the proud armada of King Edward III’s ships, which, far off when I first saw them, seemed as if they were a grove of withered pines.

“But, as they drew near, their glorious bright aspect, their streaming flags wrought of colored silk, appeared like a meadow full of sundry flowers adorning the naked bosom of the earth. Majestic was the order of their course. Their ships were arranged like the horned circle of the moon, and on the top gallant of the flagship, and likewise all the handmaids of his train, the arms of England and the arms of France united are quartered equally by herald’s art.”

Because King Edward III claimed to be King of France as well as King of England, his flags bore the arms of both countries. Each flag was divided into four quarters. Two quarters displayed the British lion, and two displayed the French fleur-de-lis.

The mariner continued, “Thus quickly carried with a merry gale, they plow the ocean hitherward at full speed.”

King John II of France asked, “Dare he already crop the fleur-de-lis?”

The fleur-de-lis appeared in the royal arms of France. King Edward III had cropped it — he was acting as if the arms of France were already his, even before fighting for them.

King John II of France continued, “I hope the honey being gathered thence, he with the spider will afterward approach and shall suck forth deadly venom from the leaves.”

The honey was the fleur-de-lis, which was already cropped. What remained was the poison: the French armada and land soldiers. The spider possibly was Edward the Black Prince. “He” referred to King Edward III.

King John II of France then asked, “But where’s our navy? How are they prepared to wing themselves with sails against this flight of ravens?”

He meant to insult the British, but ravens were ill omens of death.

The mariner answered, “They, having knowledge of the English armada brought to them by the scouts, broke from anchor immediately and, puffed with rage no otherwise than were their sails puffed with wind, set forth, as when the food-empty eagle flies to satisfy his hungry voracious gullet.”

King John II of France gave the mariner some money and said, “There’s something for your news. Return to your ship, and if you escape the bloody stroke of war and survive the conflict, come back here again, and let us hear the manner of the fight.”

The mariner exited.

“In the meantime, my lords,” King John II of France said, “it is best that we be dispersed to separate places lest they chance to land.

“First you, my lord, with your Bohemian troops shall pitch your battalions on the lower hand.

“My eldest son, Prince Charles Duke of Normandy, together with these Russian mercenaries, shall climb the higher ground another way.

“Here in the middle coast between you two, Prince Philip — my younger boy — and I will lodge.

“So, lords, go, and look after your command.

“You stand for France, an empire fair and large.”

Everyone except King John II of France and Prince Philip, his youngest son, exited.

King John II of France said, “Now tell me, Philip, what is your opinion about the challenge to France that the English are making?”

Prince Philip answered, “I say, my lord, claim Edward III what he can, and bring he never so plain a pedigree, it is you who are in possession of the crown, and that’s the surest point of all the law.

“But even if it were not, yet before he should prevail, I’ll either make a conduit — a fountain — of my dearest blood or chase those straggling upstarts home again.”

“Well said, young Philip,” King John II of France said. “Call for bread and wine, so that we may cheer our stomachs with repast in order to look our foes more sternly in the face.”

The noise of a sea battle sounded in the distance.

“Now is begun the heavy day at sea,” King John II of France said. “Fight, Frenchmen, fight; be like the field of bears when they defend their younglings in their caves. Steer, angry Nemesis, the happy helm so that with the sulphur battles of your rage the English fleet may be dispersed and sunk.”

The ancient Greek goddess Nemesis got vengeance against those who were arrogant toward the gods.

A cannon shot fired at sea.

Prince Philip said, “Oh, father, how this echoing cannon shot, like sweet harmony, digests the delicacies I am eating.”

Sweet music was thought to be good for the digestion.

King John II of France said, “Now, boy, you hear what thundering terror it is to fight at close quarters for a Kingdom’s sovereignty. The earth with giddy trembling when it shakes, or when the exhalations of the air break in extremity of lightning flash, frightens not more than Kings when they decide to show the rancor of their high-swollen hearts.”

A signal for retreat sounded.

“Retreat is sounded,” King John II of France said. “One side has the worse of the battle. Oh, if it should be the French, sweet Fortune turn, and in your turning change the adverse winds, so that with the advantage of a favoring sky our men may vanquish and the other men flee.”

The mariner returned. He looked downcast.

“My heart misgives,” King John II of France said.

He then said to the mariner, “Say, mirror of pale death, to whom belongs the honor of this day? Relate, I tell you, if your breath will serve, the sad discourse of this discomfiture.”

“I will, my lord,” the mariner said. “My gracious sovereign, France has been defeated, and boasting Edward III triumphs with success. These iron-hearted navies of France and of England, when last I was reporter to your grace, both full of angry temper, of hope and fear, hastening to meet each other face to face, at last conjoined, and by their flagship, our flagship encountered much cannon fire.

“By this ship, the other ships, which beheld these twain give promises of further destruction, like fiery dragons took their haughty flight, and, likewise meeting, from their smoky wombs sent many grim ambassadors of death.

“Then the day began to turn to gloomy night because of the smoke of cannon fire, and darkness did as well enclose the living as those who were but newly bereft of life.

“No leisure served for friends to bid farewell, and if it had, the hideous noise was such as each to the other seemed deaf and dumb. Red with blood was the sea, whose channel filled as fast with streaming gore that from the maimed fell, as did her gushing moisture break into the crannied fissures of the shot-through planks.

“Here flew a head dissevered from the trunk. There mangled arms and legs were tossed aloft, as when a whirlwind takes the summer dust and scatters it in the middle of the air.

“Then might you see the reeling vessels split in two, and tottering sink into the ruthless water until their lofty tops were seen no more.

“All tactics were tried both for defense and the hurt of offense, and now the effect of valor and of force, of resolution and of cowardice, were lively pictured: We saw how the one for fame and reputation, the other by compulsion laid about.

“Much did the Nonpareil, that brave ship without an equal. So did the Black Snake of Boulogne, than which a more splendid vessel never yet spread sail. But all in vain: The sun, as well as the wind and tide, all revolted against us and joined our foemen’s side, so that we of necessity were forced to give way to them, and they landed on the beach.

“Thus my tale is done: We have inopportunely lost, and they have won.”

King John II of France said, “Then remains there nothing to do but as quickly as we can to join our separate military forces all in one group and bid the enemy to battle before they range too far.

“Come, gentle Philip, let us from hence depart. This soldier’s words have pierced your father’s heart.”

— 3.2 —

Two Frenchmen met a French woman, her two little children, and some other French citizens and began to talk together in a town. The two Frenchmen had traveled to the town, while the French woman, her children, and the other French citizens lived in the town but were preparing to flee.

“Well met, my masters,” the first Frenchman said. “How is everything now? What’s the news? And why are you laden thus with your belongings? Is it quarter day so that you are moving, and carrying your bag and baggage, too?”

“Quarter day” was the day that leases ran out, and so it was the day that families who did not renew the lease moved.

The first citizen said, “Quarter day, yes, and quartering day, I fear.”

“Quartering day” was a grim pun. The bodies of executed criminals were sometimes quartered: cut into four parts.

The first citizen added, “Have you not heard the news that flies abroad?”

The first Frenchman asked, “What news?”

The second citizen said, “How the French navy is destroyed at sea, and the English army has arrived on French soil.”

The first Frenchman asked, “So what, then?”

The first citizen said, “‘So what, then?’ said you? Why, isn’t it time to flee, when enmity and destruction are so nigh?”

The first Frenchman said, “Calm down, man; they are far enough away from here, and they will be met, I assure you, to their cost before they break so far into the realm of France.”

The first citizen said, “Yes, and so the grasshopper spends the time in mirthful jollity until winter comes, and then too late he would redeem and use better his time when frozen cold has nipped his neglectful head. He who no sooner will provide a cloak than when he sees it begin to rain, may very likely, for his negligence, be thoroughly soaked when he doesn’t expect it.

“We who have responsibility and such a train of dependents as this must take timely actions to look after them and ourselves, lest when we would, we cannot be relieved. We must be prudent and take steps now to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

The second Frenchman said, “Probably you then fear ill results, and you think your country will be subjugated to the English.”

The second citizen said, “We cannot tell; it is good to fear the worst.”

The first Frenchman said, “Yet you should fight rather than, like unnatural sons, forsake your loving parents in distress.”

The first citizen said, “Tush, they who have already taken up arms are many dread-inspiring millions in comparison to that small handful of our enemies. But it is true that a rightful quarrel must prevail. Edward III is the son of our late King’s sister, whereas John Valois — King John II of France — is three degrees removed.”

The Frenchwoman said, “Besides, there goes a prophecy abroad, published by one who was a friar once, whose oracles have many times proved to be true, and now, he says, the time will shortly come when a lion — the symbol of England — roused in the west shall carry away from here the fleur-de-lis of France. These I can tell you, and similar surmises strike many Frenchmen cold to the heart.”

Another Frenchman arrived and said, “Flee, countrymen and citizens of France! Sweet flowering Peace, the root of happy life, has been quite abandoned and has been expelled from the French land. Instead of Peace, War — which inevitably leads to looting — sits like evil-omened ravens on your houses’ tops. Slaughter and Evil walk within your streets and unrestrained make havoc as they pass.

“The form of such horrifying things just now I myself beheld, upon this fair mountain from whence I came” — he pointed to the mountain — “for so far off as I directed my eyes, I perceived five cities all on fire, cornfields and vineyards burning like an oven; and as the smoke rising in the wind turned aside and cleared a little, I likewise discerned the poor inhabitants, having escaped the flame, falling numberless upon the soldiers’ pikes.

“Three ways these dreadful ministers of wrath tread the measures of their tragic march. Upon the right comes the conquering King Edward III. Upon the left comes his hot unbridled son, Edward the Black Prince. And in the midst is their nation’s glittering armed multitude of their best soldiers. All three of these parts, though distant, yet conspire as one to leave behind desolation wherever they have come.

“Flee, therefore, citizens. If you are wise, seek some habitation further off. Here if you stay, your wives will be abused, your treasure shared before your weeping eyes. Shelter yourselves, for now the storm does rise.”

The treasure consisted of the citizens’ wives.

The Frenchman continued, “Leave! Leave! I think I hear their drums!

“Ah, wretched France, I greatly fear you will fall. Your glory shakes like a tottering wall.”

— 3.3 —

King Edward III and the Earl of Derby stood together. Also present were some English soldiers and the French prisoner Gobin de Grace.

King Edward III asked, “Where’s the Frenchman by whose cunning guide we found the ford of this Somme River and received instructions about how to pass the estuary?”

Gobin de Grace said, “Here I am, my good lord.”

“What are you called?” King Edward III said. “Tell me your name.”

“My name is Gobin de Grace, if it please your excellence.”

“Then, Gobin, for the service you have done,” King Edward III said, “we here set you at large and give you liberty, and for recompense in addition to this freedom, you shall receive five hundred marks in gold.”

Gobin de Grace exited.

Using the royal plural, King Edward III said, “Without his help, I don’t know how we would have met our son, whom now in heart I wish I might behold.”

The Count of Artois arrived and said, “Good news, my lord. The Prince is close at hand, and with him comes Lord Audley and the rest, whom since our landing we have not been able to meet.”

Edward the Black Prince, Lord Audley, and some soldiers arrived.

“Welcome, fair Prince,” King Edward III said. “How have you sped, my son, since your arrival on the coast of France?”

Edward the Black Prince said, “We have sped successfully, and I thank the gracious Heavens. Some of their strongest cities we have won, including Barfleur, Lô, Crotoy, and Carentan, and others we have laid waste to, leaving at our heels a wide apparent wasteland and beaten path for solitariness to progress in. Yet those who would submit we kindly pardoned, but those who in scorn refused our proffered peace have endured the penalty of sharp revenge.”

“Ah, France, why should you be this obstinate against the kind embracement of your friends?” King Edward III said. “How gently had we thought to touch your breast and set our foot upon your tender earth, but in perverse, obstinate, and disdainful pride you, like a skittish and untamed colt, startle and then strike us with your heels.

“But tell me, Ned, in all your warlike course, have you seen the usurping King of France?”

“Yes, my good lord, and not two hours ago,” Edward the Black Prince said. “I saw him with his multitudes. Fully a hundred thousand French fighting men were upon both sides of the river’s bank.

“I feared that he would cut down our smaller army, but fortunately, perceiving your approach, he and his soldiers have withdrawn to the plains of Crécy, where, as it appears by his good array of soldiers, he intends to bid us to fight soon.”

King Edward III said, “He shall be welcome — that’s the thing we crave.”

King John II of France, Prince Charles Duke of Normandy, the Duke of Lorraine, the King of Bohemia, young Prince Philip, and some French soldiers arrived.

King John II of France said, “Edward, know that John, the true King of France, astonished that you should encroach upon his land and in your tyrannous proceeding slay his faithful subjects and overthrow his towns, spits in your face, and upbraids you with your arrogant invasion for these reasons:

“First, I condemn you and say that you are a vagrant, a thievish pirate, and an unworthy fellow — you are one who has either no abiding place, or else, inhabiting some barren soil where neither herbs nor fruitful grains can be had, you live entirely by pilfering.

“Next, insofar as you have infringed your faith, broken your league and solemn covenant made with me, I regard you as a false pernicious wretch.

“And last of all, although I scorn to come into contact with one so much inferior to myself, yet because your thirst is all for gold, your labor rather to be feared than loved, to satisfy your lust in either part here have I come, and with me I have brought an exceedingly great store of treasure, pearls, and coin.”

The words “your labor rather to be feared than loved” were ambiguous. They could mean 1) you labor to make yourself feared rather than loved, and/or 2) your labors (in making war) are rather to be feared than loved.

In The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli wrote that “it is far safer to be feared than loved” (Ninian Hill Thomson translation).

King John II continued, “Cease therefore now to persecute the weak, and armed entering conflict with the armed, let it be seen among other petty thefts how you can win this pillage manfully. Let your army fight my army, and see if you can win this treasure by force of arms.”

King Edward III said, “If gall or wormwood has a pleasant taste, then your salutation to me is honey-sweet. But since gall and wormwood do not have a pleasant taste, so your salutation to me is most satirical and ironic.

“Yet learn how I regard your worthless taunts: If you have uttered them to dishonor my fame or dim the reputation of my birth, know that your wolfish barking cannot hurt me.

“If you have uttered your worthless taunts slyly to insinuate your false opinions with the world, and with a strumpet’s artificial lines of makeup to paint over and prettify your vicious and deformed cause, be well assured that the counterfeit will fade, and in the end your foul defects will be revealed and seen.

“But if you did it to provoke me on, as one who should say I were only timorous or, should I say, coldly negligent, did need a spur, then think to yourself how slack I was at sea.

“Now since my landing I have won no towns, entered no further than upon the coast, and there I have ever since securely slept.

“But if I have been employed otherwise than in sacking cities, guess, Valois, whether I intend to skirmish not for pillage, but for the crown that you wear and that I vow to have. The right answer involves one of us falling into his grave.”

King Edward III was calling John “Valois” because before he had become King John II of France, he had been “John of Valois.”

Edward the Black Prince said, “Don’t look for cross, angry invectives at our hands or railing execrations of contempt. Let creeping serpents hidden in hollow banks sting with their tongues; we have remorseless swords, and they shall plead for us and our affairs.

“Yet, thus much briefly, by my father’s leave, let me say that as all the immodest poison of your throat is scandalous and most notorious lies, and our proposed claim to the crown of France is truly just, so end the battle when we meet today — the one with the just claim to the French crown shall prosper and prevail, and the other, luckless and cursed, shall receive eternal shame.”

King Edward III said, “Who has the rightful title to the French crown needs no further questioning, and I know that John’s conscience witnesses that it is my right.

“Therefore, Valois, say if you will resign as King of France before the sickle’s thrust into the corn, and before enkindled fury turns to flame?”

King John II of France said, “Edward, I know what ‘right’ you have in France, and before I basely will resign my crown, this level, open field shall be a pool of blood and all in our field of view shall be like a slaughterhouse.”

Edward the Black Prince said, “Yes, that proves, tyrant, what you are: You are no father, King, or shepherd of your realm; instead, you are one who tears the realm’s entrails with your hands, and like a thirsty tiger sucks her blood.”

Lord Audley asked, “You peers of France, why do you follow him — a man who is so wastefully prodigal in spending your lives?”

Prince Charles Duke of Normandy asked Lord Audley, who was an older man, “Whom should they follow, aged impotent, but that man who is their true-born sovereign?”

King Edward III said, “Do you upbraid Lord Audley because time has engraved deep wrinkles of age in his face? Know that these grave scholars of experience, like stiff-grown oaks, will stand immovable when a whirlwind quickly turns up younger trees.”

The Earl of Derby said to King John II, “Were any of your father’s house ever King except yourself before this present time? Edward’s great lineage, by the mother’s side, has for five hundred years reigned and held the scepter up. Judge then, conspirators, by this descent who is the true-born sovereign.”

He pointed to John II and then to Edward III as he asked, “This man or that man?”

Prince Philip said to King John II, “Father, arrange your battle formation and chatter no more. These Englishmen willingly would spend the time in exchanging words so that, with night approaching, they might escape without having fought.”

King John II of France said to the Frenchmen, “Lords and my loving subjects, now’s the time that your resolved military forces must undergo the test. Therefore, my friends, consider this in brief:

“He whom you fight for is your natural King. He against whom you fight is a foreigner. He whom you fight for rules in clemency and governs you with reins of a mild and kind and gentle bit. He against whom you fight, if he should prevail will immediately enthrone himself in tyranny, make slaves of you, and with a heavy hand curtail and curb your sweetest liberty.

“So then to protect your country and your King, let but the haughty courage of your hearts answer the number of your able hands, and we shall quickly chase after these fugitives.

“For what’s this Edward but a belly-god, a man who makes a god of his sexual appetite, a man of tender and lascivious wantonness, who just the other day was almost dead for love?

“And what, I ask you, is his goodly guard? They are such soldiers that if you deprive them of their joints of beef and take away their downy featherbeds, then immediately they are as rusty and stiff from over-rest as if they were so many over-ridden jades.

“So then, Frenchmen, scorn that such should be your lords, and instead bind them in captive bands.”

All the Frenchmen shouted, “Vive le roi! God save King John II of France!”

King John II of France said, “Now on this plain of Crécy spread yourselves, and Edward, when you dare, begin the fight.”

King John II of France, the King of Bohemia, and all the Frenchmen disappeared.

King Edward III said as they exited, “We soon will meet you, John of France, in battle.”

He then said, “And, English lords, let us resolve on the day, either to clear us of that scandalous crime, or be entombed in our innocence.”

The scandalous crime he was accused of was trying to usurp the crown of France.

King Edward III said to Edward the Black Prince, “And, Ned, because this battle is the first ever that you will fight in a pitched field, as it is the ancient custom of martialists and soldiers to dub you with the emblems of chivalry, we will give you arms in solemn manner.”

He then ordered, “Come therefore, heralds. Orderly bring forth strong military equipment for Edward the Black Prince, my son.”

Four heralds brought in a coat of armor, a helmet, a lance, and a shield. King Edward III took the coat of armor, the Earl of Derby took the helmet, Lord Audley took the lance, and the Count of Artois took the shield.

King Edward III said, “Edward Plantagenet, in the name of God, as with this armor I enfold your breast, may your noble unrelenting heart be walled in with flint of matchless fortitude so that base affections never enter there. Fight and be valiant; conquer wherever you go.

“Now follow, lords, and do him honor, too.”

The Earl of Derby said, “Edward Plantagenet, Prince of Wales, as I set this helmet on your head, wherewith the chamber of your brain is fenced, so may your temples by Bellona’s hand be always adorned with the laurel wreath of victory. Fight and be valiant; conquer wherever you go.”

Bellona is the Roman goddess of war.

Lord Audley said, “Edward Plantagenet, Prince of Wales, receive this lance in your manly hand. Use it in the fashion of a pen made of bronze to draw forth bloody stratagems in France and print your valiant deeds in honor’s book. Fight and be valiant; conquer wherever you go.”

The Count of Artois said, “Edward Plantagenet, Prince of Wales, grasp and take this shield, wear it on your arm and may the view of this shield, like Perseus’ shield, astonish and transform your gazing foes to senseless images of gaunt death. Fight and be valiant; conquer wherever you go.”

King Edward III said, “Now nothing is lacking except knighthood, which we defer and leave until you have won it in the battlefield.”

“My gracious father and you leading peers,” Edward the Black Prince said, “this honor you have done me animates and cheers my young and green, still scarcely appearing, strength with comforting signs of good things to come. No otherwise did old Jacob’s words when he breathed his blessings on his sons. When I profane these hallowed gifts of yours or don’t use them for the glory of my God or to provide patronage for the fatherless and poor, or for the benefit of England’s peace, then let my joints be numb, both my arms grow feeble, and my heart wither so that, like a sapless tree, I may remain the epitome of infamy.”

King Edward III said, “This is how our ranks of steel-brandishing soldiers shall be arranged.

“The leading of the vanguard, the foremost division, Ned, is yours. To dignify your lusty spirit all the more, we temper it with Lord Audley’s gravity, so that, with courage and experience joined in one, your management of your troops may be second to none.

“As for the main fighting forces, I will guide them myself, and the Earl of Derby with troops in the rear will march behind the other forces.

“With the soldiers orderly arranged and set in readiness for combat, let us mount our horses and may God grant us the victory.”

— 3.4 —

The Battle of Crécy was in progress. Edward the Black Prince pursued many fleeing Frenchmen.

King John II of France and the Duke of Lorraine talked together.

King John II of France said, “Oh, Duke of Lorraine, tell me, why are our men fleeing? Our soldiers number far greater than our foes.”

The Duke of Lorraine answered, “The garrison of the Genoese, my lord, who came from Paris, weary with their long march, grudging to be immediately employed in battle, no sooner in the forefront took their place but they immediately retreated and so dismayed the rest of the soldiers that they likewise betook themselves to flight. In this flight, out of the soldiers’ haste to make a safe escape, a thousandfold more are being pressed to death in the clustering throng than are being killed by the enemy.”

“Oh, luckless fortune!” King John II of France said. “Let us yet try to see if we can persuade some of our soldiers to stay and fight.”

In another part of the battlefield, King Edward III and Lord Audley talked together.

King Edward III said, “Lord Audley, while our son is in the chase after the fleeing French soldiers, withdraw our troops to this little hill, and here for a brief time let us rest ourselves.”

“I will, my lord,” Lord Audley said.

He exited.

A retreat sounded.

King Edward III said, “Justly ordaining Heaven, whose secret providence is inscrutable to our gross judgment, how we are bound to praise your wondrous works that have this day given way to the right, and made the wicked stumble at themselves.”

Psalm 27:2 states, “When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell” (1599 Geneva Bible).

The Count of Artois arrived and said, “Rescue, King Edward III, rescue your son!”

King Edward III asked, “Rescue my son, Count of Artois? Is he taken prisoner? Or has he by violence fallen and is dead beside his horse and so I need to rescue his corpse?”

“Neither, my lord,” the Count of Artois answered, “but he is narrowly beset by Frenchmen whom he pursued but who turned around and attacked him, and it is impossible that he will escape unless your highness will immediately descend from the hill and rescue him.”

“Tut, let him fight,” King Edward III said. “We gave him arms today, and he is laboring to earn a knighthood, man.”

The Earl of Derby arrived and said, “The Prince, my lord, the Prince! Oh, help him! He’s closely surrounded with a world of odds against him!”

Using the royal plural, King Edward III said, “Then he will win a world of honor, too, if he can free himself from thence by the use of his valor. If not, what does it matter? We have more sons than one to comfort us in our declining age.”

Lord Audley arrived and said, “Renowned Edward, give me permission, I ask you, to lead my soldiers where I may relieve your grace’s son, who is in danger of being slain. The snares of the French soldiers, like ants on an ant-hill, muster about him while he, lion-like, entangled in the net of their assaults, franticly rends and bites the woven net, but all in vain — he cannot free himself.”

“Lord Audley, be calm,” King Edward III said. “I will not have a man, on pain of death, sent forth to help him. This is the day, ordained by destiny, on which if he breaks out without help from others, he will season his courage with impressive memories — impressive memories that he will take pleasure in even if he lives as long as Nestor, the Greeks’ old warrior-advisor in the Trojan War.”

The Earl of Derby said, “Ah, but he shall not live to see those aged days.”

King Edward III replied, “Why, then his epitaph — his reputation after death — will be lasting praise.”

Lord Audley said, “Yet, my good lord, it is too much willfulness to let his blood be spilled when it may be saved.”

King Edward III ordered, “Exclaim no more, for none of you can tell whether a borrowed aid — the help of others — will serve or not. Perhaps he is already slain or captured.

“If you make a falcon tremble and be afraid when she’s in her flight, forever after she’ll be untrainable. Let Edward be delivered from danger by our hands, and then whenever he’s in danger he’ll expect to be rescued, but if he frees himself from danger, he will have vanquished, cheerfully, death and fear, and forever after dread their force no more than if they were but babes or captive slaves.”

Apparently, he meant that it was best for Edward the Black Prince to fight against the odds. He would have two outcomes: to win or to be defeated. He would win by fighting and not by trembling; fighting against the odds can concentrate the mind wonderfully so that fear is conquered. But if he were to be rescued, he would learn the danger he was in, and he would be afraid the next time he was in that situation.

“Oh, cruel father!” Lord Audley said. “Farewell, Prince Edward, then.”

“Farewell, sweet Prince, the hope of chivalry,” the Earl of Derby said.

“Oh, I wish that my life might ransom him from death,” the Count of Artois said.

A retreat sounded.

King Edward III said, “Be quiet. I think I hear the dismal charge of trumpets’ loud retreat. All are not slain, I hope, who went with him. Some will return with tidings, good or bad.”

Edward the Black Prince arrived, in triumph, bearing in his hand his shivered lance. Ahead of him, the body of the King of Bohemia, wrapped in one of his battle flags and some other cloths, was carried. The Englishmen ran and embraced him.

Lord Audley said, “Oh, joyful sight — victorious Edward lives!”

“Welcome, brave Prince,” the Earl of Derby said.

“Welcome, Plantagenet,” King Edward III said.

Edward the Black Prince knelt and kissed his father’s hand.

He then said, “First, Lords, I having done my duty as was fitting, greet you all again with hearty thanks. And now, behold, after my winter’s toil, my painful voyage on the boisterous, tempestuous sea of war’s devouring gulfs and hard-as-steel rocks, I bring my freight into the wished-for port, my summer’s hope, my travel’s sweet reward.

“And here with humble duty I present this sacrifice, this first fruit of my sword, cropped and cut down even at the gate of death, the King of Bohemia, father, whom I slew, whose thousands had entrenched me round about, and lay blows with their ponderous spears as thickly upon my battered helmet as on an anvil.

“Yet courage as enduring as marble always propped me up, and when my weary arms with frequent blows, like the continually laboring woodman’s ax that is used to fell a load of oaks, began to falter, immediately I would remember the gifts you gave to me and I would remember my zealous vow, and then new courage made me fresh again, with the result that, in contempt, I carved my passage forth to safety and put the multitude of the enemy to speedy flight.”

A soldier arrived, carrying Edward the Black Prince’s sword.

Edward the Black Prince continued, “Lo, thus has Edward’s hand fulfilled your request and has done, I hope, the duty of a knight.”

King Edward III said, “Yes, you have well deserved a knighthood, Ned.”

Edward the Black Prince knelt, and King Edward III took the Black Prince’s sword from the soldier and then said, “And therefore with your sword, still smoking with the warm blood of those who fought to be your bane, I dub you knight.”

King Edward III dubbed the Black Prince on the shoulders with the sword and said, “Arise, Prince Edward, trusty knight at arms. This day you have stunned me with joy and proven yourself to be a fit heir to a King.”

Edward the Black Prince said, “Here is a list, my gracious lord, of those of our foes who in this conflict were slain.”

He read the list out loud:

Eleven princes of esteem, fourscore barons,

A hundred and twenty knights,

“And thirty thousand common soldiers;

“And of our men, a thousand.”

“Our God be praised!” King Edward III said. “Now, John II of France, I hope that you know King Edward III is not a libertine or a love-sick sissy, and I hope that you know that his soldiers are not broken-down animals. But by which way has the fear-filled King escaped?”

“Towards Poitiers, noble father — and his sons went there, too,” Edward the Black Prince said.

King Edward III ordered, “Ned, you and Lord Audley shall pursue them still, I and the Earl of Derby will go to Calais immediately, and there we will surround that haven town with a siege.

“Now the war lies on an upshot, so therefore strike, and intently follow them while the game’s afoot.”

An upshot is the final shot in an archery contest. In a close competition, the final shot determines the winner.

Seeing a picture on a cloth that was covering the King of Bohemia’s corpse, King Edward III asked, “What picture’s this?”

Edward the Black Prince answered, “A pelican, my lord, wounding her bosom with her crooked beak, so that her nest of young ones might be fed with the drops of blood that issue from her heart. The motto is Sic et vos: ‘And so should you.’”

This may be seen as a criticism of King Edward III’s decision to allow his son to fight against the odds. Or it may be seen as a criticism of any enemy who would not allow their young ones to fight against the odds.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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