Edward III’s Letter detailing his campaign in France, 1339


In his work, De Gestis Edwardi Tertii, Robert of Avesbury has preserved several letters from Edward III in which he gives accounts of his actions while on campaign in France in the 1330s and 1340s.  In the letter given below, the King writes to his son, the Black Prince, and other government officials, and describes how he invades France in an unsuccessful effort to provoke the French King, Philip, to do battle.


Edward, etc., to out dear son and to the honourable fathers in God, John [Stratford] by the same grace Archbishop of Canterbury etc…greeting.  The cause of our long sojourn in Brabant we have often times made known to you before now, and well known it is to each of you; but, for that of late scarce any aid has come to us out of our realm, and that the delay was to us so grievous, and our people in such great straight and our allies to slow in business, our messengers also, who had so long tarried over against the Cardinals and the Council of France to treat for peace, did bring us never offers save that we shall not have one handbreadth of land in the realm of France, and again our cousin Philip of Valois had ever sworn, as we do have report, that we should never make a sojourn for a single day with our host in France, but that he would give us battle – We, ever trusting in God and our right, did make to come before us our allies, and did surely make shown to them that for nothing we would longer wait, but would go forward in pursuit of our right, taking the grace that God should give us; and they, seeing the dishonour which should have come to them if they should have tarried behind us, agreed to follow us.  A day was taken for all to be on the march within France on a certain day, at which day and place we were all ready and our allies came after, as well as they could.  The Monday, on the eve of St.Matthew [Sept. 20], we passed out of Valenciennes, and on the same day they did begin to burn in Cambresis, and they burnt there all the week following, so that that country is clean laid waste, as of corn and cattle and other goods. The Saturday following we came to Marcoing, which is between Cambray and France, and they began to burn within France the same day; and we did hear that the said lord Philip was drawing near towards us at Peronne on his march to Noyon.  So we held ever our road forward, our people burning and destroying commonly to the breadth of twelve or fourteen leagues of country.  The Saturday next before the Feast of St. Luke [October 18] we passed the water of Oise, and lodged and sojourned there the Sunday; on which day we had our allies before us, who showed unto us their victuals were near spent and that the winter was nigh at hand, that they could not tarry, but that they must needs withdraw on the march back, when their victuals should be spent. In truth, they were the more shortly victualled by reason that they thought that our said cousin should have given us speedy battle.  On the Monday morning there came letters unto my lord Hugh of Geneva from the master of the crossbowmen of France, making mention that he wished to say to the King of England, as from the King of. France, that he would give him battle within the Thursday next following.  On the, morrow, to do alwayswhat destruction we could, we marched on.  On the Wednesday after came a messenger to the said Sir Hugh, and brought him letters of the King of Bohemia and of the Duke of Lorraine, with their seals hanging, making mention that whatever the said master of the crossbowmen had said, on the part of the King of France, touching the battle, he would keep covenant. We, regarding the said letters, immediately on the morrow withdrew towards Flamengerie, where we stayed the Friday, all the day.  At vespers three spies were taken and were examined, each by himself, and they agreed in saying that the said Philip would give battle on Saturday, and that he was a league and a half from us.  On the Saturday we stood in the field full a quarter before dawn, and took our ground in a fitting place for us, and for him, to fight.  In early morning some of his scouts were taken, and they told us that his advance guard was in front of the field in battle array, and coming out toward us. The news coming to our host, although our allies before bore themselves sluggishly towards us, they were surely of such loyal intent that never were folk of such good will to fight.  In the meantime was one of our scouts, a German knight, taken, who had seen all our array and showed it in his light to our enemy; so that now he made withdraw his vanguard, and gave orders to encamp, and they made trenches around them, and cut down the large trees, in order to prevent the approach to them. We tarried all day in battle array, until, towards vespers, it seemed we had tarried enough; and, at vespers, we mounted our horses and went near unto Avesnes, a league and a half from our said cousin, and made him to know that we would await him there all the  Sunday; and so we did. And other news of him we send not, save that on the Saturday when we mounted our horses at the departing from our ground, he thought that we should come towards them, and, such haste had he to take stronger ground, that a thousand horsemen all at once were foundered in the marsh at his passage, so came each one upon the other.  On the Sunday was the lord of Fagnolle taken by our people.  On Monday morning had we news that the said Lord Philip and all his allies were scattered and withdrawn in great haste.  And so would our allies no longer afterwards abide.  And touching what is further to be done we shall take counsel with them at Antwerp on the morrow of St. Martin [November 11].  And from thence afterwards [we will send news] speedily of what may be meanwhile done.

Given under our privy seal, at Brussels, the 1st day of November.


This text is from War and Misrule, volume 5 of Bell’s English History Source Books, ed. A. Audrey Locke (London, 1913).


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