French Chronicle of London: Naval Battle of Sluys (1340), Siege of Tournai (1341)

The French Chronicle of London, detailing events from 1259 to 1343, provides one of the best accounts of the naval battle of Sluys, and the siege of Tournai by Edward III in 1340.

12 Edward III. [A.D. 1337, 8]. Henry Darcy, Mayor. Walter Nele and Nicholas Crane, Sheriffs.

In the same year, the Scots began once again to wage war against our King; and the King, the third time, assembled a great host, and made an expedition throughout the territories of Scotland, but could find no one to oppose him; whereat the King and all his host were very indignant. And on his return towards England, the King laid siege to the Castle of Dunbarre, and there remained full fifteen weeks; until the King of France wrongfully began to levy war against Sir Edward, our young King. And then, messengers were sent to the King of France, that is to say, the Archbishop of Caunterbury, the Bishop of Durham, Sir Geoffrey Scrope, and Sir William de Clinton, Earl of Huntingdon, to treat of peace between the two realms of France and England; and they proffered him great gifts, marriage, and great treasure, but the King of France would in no wise consent thereto, or grant any terms, but would wage war in every way, and seize the land of Gascony into his hand, and all the lands that our young King had beyond the sea. And then, when our young King perceived that the King of France would not do otherwise, he sent for all the great men of England, and held a Parliament at Westminster, and took counsel to cross the sea and lead an expedition against the King of France, who would have no peace: and so he asked aid of all his land; whereupon, there was granted unto him, for carrying on his war, great treasure, and a great multitude of men-at-arms, as also all the wool of England for two years, to be kept from the commencement of his expedition

13 Edward III. [A.D. 1338, 9]. Henry Darcy, Mayor. William Pountfreit and Hughe Marberer, Sheriffs.

In this year, our young King provided himself with a great force of English and of Welsh, and crossed the sea from Orewelle in Essex, and arrived in Flanders; and his people passed on unto the isle of Cagent and slew all who could be found therein; and there they obtained great riches, and then ravaged the whole of the said island with fire. And then our young King took his host, and went into Brabant, and sojourned a long time at Antwerp, and there held his Parliament; and there made oath unto him all those of Flanders, of Brabant, of Henaud, and of Almaine [Germany], that they would live and die with him, our young King, in his cause against the King of France. Also, our young King agreed that he would be their liege lord, to live and die with them, and to defend and maintain them at all times against all people in the world.

And when the alliance had been made by assent of the lands aforesaid, Sir Edward, our young King, took his host and removed from Antwerp, and began to make incursions in the territory of the King of France, and ravaged it with fire on every side, and conquered more than 160 miles of his land. And then was a certain day appointed for a battle to be fought between the two kings. And when the time came that the battle should have been fought, as to Philip de Valois, the King of France, his mind changed, and he began to shudder when he saw our people all ready in the field in battle array; whereupon he retreated, like a disloyal knight, and said, like a coward, that his heart misgave him that he should be discomfited in any battle fought on that day. Wherefore, he retreated with his host towards Paris; to his own perpetual disgrace, and to the lasting honour and victory of our own King of England. And at this time did Philip de Valois lose the name and appellation of King of France; and to Sir Edward, our King, was given the name and appellation of rightful King of France and of England; and the same was acceded to by all the chivalry of Christendom.

And then our young King, the Duke of Brabant, the Count of Henaud, the Count of Julers, the Count of Gerle, and many other great men of divers lands, returned, each to his own country. But before that the host had departed, the men of Almaine rifled the English of what they had gained in that expedition, and slew many of our people. But Sir Edward, our King, and the Duke of Brabant, and other great men, caused this great strife, to be put an end to and appeased, so that all were reconciled. And then the King, with his people, returned to Antwerp in Brabant,, and sojourned there a long time, together with a great council of all the great persons who had made oath unto him.

And never in the meantime, did Philip de Valois dare, with all his proud vauntings, to approach our young King; but said to all who were about him, that he would suffer him to lie in peace and spend all that he had, and more too than all his realm of England would be able to supply; so that he should make him either the richest king or the very poorest in all the world. And then our young King took his leave of the Duke of Brabant, and of all the great men of those parts who had made oath unto him, to return to England, in order to regulate the state of his realm, until a certain hour should come when they should be better able to be revenged upon Philip de Valois, King of France. Then our King returned unto England, and left the Queen, Lady Philippa, there as a hostage, as also his children, in the custody of the Duke of Brabant, and other great personages associated with him; and she sojourned at Ghent until the return of her lord. Also, at the same time were taken prisoners Sir William Mountagu, Earl of Salisbury, and Sir Robert de Offorde, Earl of Suffolk, and brought to Paris in mean guise. And then the King of France said to them, “Ah! traitors, you shall be hanged; seeing that you cannot make amends for the damage that your king and you have done in my land.”  “Certes, Sire,” said Sir William Mountagu, “you are in the wrong and our King in the right, and this will I prove against whosoever shall gainsay the same, as a loyal knight should do in a strange land.” And then spoke the Queen of France, and swore that never again should she be glad or joyous, if they were not disgracefully put to death.  “Sire,” said the King of Bohemia, “it would be a great wrong, and a folly, to slay such lords as these; for if it should so happen that the King of England should again invade your realm of France, and take any peer of your is realm, then might one of these go in exchange for another, who is one of our own friends.”

And so our Lord the King arrived at Harwich in Suffolk, and came to London before the beginning of Lent, and sojourned there, and held a Parliament at Westminster of all the great men of the land. And to this Parliament there came messengers from Scotland, to sue for peace, but no peace was granted them. At the same time also, Philip de Valois had as great a navy prepared as could be arrayed, of galleys, pinnaces, great barges, and all the large ships of Spain and Normandy, and wherever else they could be found; in order to prevent our young King from coming back again into his land, and to seize and put all the realm of England to the sword. At the same time also, he inflicted great damage and great destruction upon England. For at this time the towns of Southhampton and Portsmouth were burnt by night, spoiled, and the plunder carried off. Also, the Castle of Guernsey was taken, and the people therein slain, through treason on part of the Constable of the said castle. But when our young King heard this, and perceived the great felony and compassing of his enemy, Philip de Valoys, he commanded in haste that all his navy of England should be made ready, and every ship well equipped and victualled by a certain day named.

14 Edward III. [A.D. 1339, 40] Andrew Aubry, Mayor. William de Thorneye and Roger de Forsham, Sheriffs.

In this year, all the mariners of England, by commission of our Lord the King, had all their ships speedily assembled and victualled, and hardy and vigorous men from all parts well equipped and armed at all points, in every place to fight for life or death. And when the fleet of ships of England was assembled in manner aforesaid, Sir Edward, our King, and his people, were in the parts of Bury Saint Edmund’s; and from thence he passed on to Orwelle, where he put to sea, with his people beyond number, upon the Thursday next before the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist [24 June], which was on a Saturday; and upon the [next] Friday morning, our King espied his enemies upon the sea, and said, “Because our Lord Jesus Christ was put to death on a Friday, we will not shed blood upon that day.”

The wind had then been in the East for the whole fortnight before the King put to sea, but by the grace of Him who is Almighty, the wind shifted immediately to the West; so that, by the grace of God, the King and his fleet had both wind and weather to their mind. And so they sailed on until sunrise at break of day; when he saw his enemies so strongly equipped, that it was a most dreadful thing to behold; for the fleet of the ships of France was so strongly bound together with massive chains, castles, bretasches, and bars. But notwithstanding this, Sir Edward, our King, said to all those who were around him in the fleet of England, “Fair lords and brethren of mine, be nothing dismayed, but be all of good cheer, and he who for me shall begin the fight and shall combat with a right good heart, shall have the benison of God Almighty; and every one shall retain that which he shall gain.”

And so soon as our King had said this, all were of right eager heart to avenge him of his enemies. And then our mariners hauled their sails half-mast high, and hauled up their anchors in manner as though they intended to fly; and when the fleet of France beheld this, they loosened themselves from their heavy chains to pursue us. And forthwith our ships turned back upon them, and the melee began, to the sound of trumpets, nakers, viols, tabors, and many other kinds of minstrelsy. And then did our King, with three hundred ships, vigorously assail the French with their five hundred great ships and galleys, and eagerly did our people exert great diligence to give battle to the French. Our archers and our arbalesters began to fire as densely as hail falls in winter, and our engineers hurled so steadily, that the French had not power to look or to hold up their heads. And in the meantime, while this assault lasted, our English people with a great force boarded their galleys, and fought with the French hand to hand, and threw them out of their ships and galleys. And always, our King encouraged them to fight bravely with his enemies, he himself being in the cog called ‘Thomas of Winchelsee.’ And at the hour of tierce [about 9 am] there came to them a ship of London, which belonged to William Haunsard, and it did much good in the said battle. For the battle was so severe and so hardly contested, that the assault lasted from noon all day and all night, and the morrow until the hour of prime [about six in the evening]; and when the battle was discontinued, no French man remained alive, save only Spaudefisshe, who took to flight with four-and-twenty ships and galleys.

And after this great battle gained, Sir Edward, our King, always maintained himself stoutly upon the sea, and would in no manner dissemble on land; and there he held his Parliament for a whole fortnight, to see any one of his enemies might think proper again to assail him. And the did our young King disembark, and rode on to Bruges with a very fair company, and there held festival for one whole week. And then after this, Sir Edward, our King, took his host, with a very fair company of Dukes [and] Earls of great lordship, and began to invade France against King Philip de Valois, until he came to the strong city of Tournai; and he besieged the said city with a great host for a quarter of a year; that is to say, from the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist until the Feast of Saint Michael. And there, there came to him the Duke of Brabant, with 150 men, mounted and well armed; the Count of Henaud also came with as many; so that his host all about covered seventeen miles of the same country, it being a finer army than had ever yet been seen.

And while the siege of the strong city of Tournai was being carried on, Sir Robert the Count of Artois, Sir Walter de Manny, Jacob de Artefelde, and many other great men, assembled a great host of good people, horse and foot, well armed, and took their way to the city of Saint Omer, and hastily assailed the said city, and began to throw great stones with their engines, to destroy the city. And when those within the city saw the compassing of our people without, they took counsel among them to open the gates and give battle to our people. And when our people perceived this, they withdrew, and with a good will allowed a great multitude of people to come out of the city. And when the people were all come forth from the city, our men, with hearty good will, turned back, and boldly gave battle to the French; and all those who had taken the field met their death by evil mishap, for of the French there were slain 5210; among which dead were found ninety-five with gilt spurs. So that our people pursued the French as far as the gate of Saint Omer, and there, right at the portcullis, were the Frenchmen all slain. And as for those who had escaped within the gate, they did not dare come any more out of the city, until our people had taken their departure for the siege of Tournai. And in the meantime while the siege lasted, that is to say, fox a quarter of a year, our people from day to day made incursions in the parts of France, and burnt, and took prey and prisoners, knights and esquires of great renown; and beasts, and corn, and other provisions had, they, belonging to the King of France, so that the country, all round about the siege, was ravaged, burnt, and brought to destruction.

At this time, while the siege lasted, Sir Edward, our King, had assault made upon the said city of Tournai six times each day; with springalds and mangonels, throwing huge stones, [and employing] engines with  powder [and] wildfire; so that the engines with the great stones broke down the towers and stout walls, churches, belfries, strong walls, fine mansions, and rich habitations, throughout all the said city of Tournai. Also, the people within the town were all but destroyed by the great famine which prevailed in the said city. For the water, running in a fine stream, which used to pass through the city, was dammed up and withheld from them, so that neither horse nor other beast was retained alive in all the said city; for so closely were they pent within the city, and so great was the famine, that the quarter of wheat was worth four pounds sterling, the quarter of oats two marks, a hen’s egg six pence, and two onions one penny. And as for our people besieging it without, throughout all the host of the King of England they had so great a plenty of victuals, wine, bread, and flesh of every kind, that nothing was wanting; praised be sweet Jesus Christ therefore.

Also, at this same time, those within the city of Tournai caused a letter to be written to their king, Philip de Valois, to the effect that he must aid them with his forces with all haste, or that otherwise they would be compelled of necessity to surrender the said city to the King of England; for that their people, whom they had had in the city, were killed, dead, and destroyed, and their provisions all consumed; so that they had nothing upon which to subsist, nor could any longer hold the city against their adversary, the King of England. And when their letter was written, they took a vadlet, and arrayed him in poor cloth like a Jacobin, and delivered him their letter, to carry to their King, Philip de Valois, and sent him by night out of a postern privately. And when he had proceeded fully two miles from the city, at daybreak Sir Henry de Lancaster, Earl of Derby, met him away from the road, and had him arrested and interrogated him; and the vadlet varied in his words. And forthwith, Sir Henry had him searched, and found the letter upon him; and then at once they brought this Jacobin before the King of England, and he was put upon peril of life and limb to tell all the truth as to the strong city of Tournai. And the messenger forthwith began his speech before the King; “Sire,’ said he, “in nothing will I lie unto you; certes, all their men-at-arms are slain, and there are left not more than two hundred men capable of defence; nor victuals have they to sustain themselves beyond a fortnight.”

And the same day, the Count of Henaud took a great force with him, and rode to forage full twenty miles in the land beyond the siege, and took great prey in beasts belonging to France, and slew men-at-arms in great numbers, and took six-and-twenty of the most valiant knights whom Philip de Valois at that time had, and had them taken as prisoners to the King of England; beasts and provisions also without number. For a person might then have had a good beeve for forty pence, a swine for eighteen pence, a mutton for twelve pence, bread and wine in great plenty ; blessed be God therefore!

And when the news came to Philip de Valois, how that he had lost his valiant knights, and his people had been slain, his beasts and his provisions taken and carried to his enemy, the King of England, he began to sigh and be in great sorrow thereat. For he did not dare give battle to our King of England; but, like a coward and a recreant knight, he made a lady, the Countess of Henaud, his messenger to come to our King and his Council, and pray that he would cease, and no more spill the blood of Christians or destroy their goods; that so, peace might be between the two realms, with truce otherwise at his will, and in such manner as the parties might agree upon. And the said Philip de Valois was also to agree at the same time, that he should hold in peace Gascony, Poitou, Normandy, Anjou, and all the lands that had ever belonged to any one of his ancestors in those parts, which he claimed of right to hold; so that there should be no further slaughter of people by land or by sea, no burning or destruction, on the one side or the other, so long as the truce should last; as also, that merchants in either kingdom should be able safely to pass in every place until a certain day named. Also, that no town, city, or castle, was in the meantime to be better victualled, or more strongly provided with men or with arms, than they were at that hour, under the ordinance in such indenture made. And this covenant, in form aforesaid, loyally to observe, Philip de Valois made oath upon the Saints of God; and every point in the indentures, between him and our King ordained, loyally to observe, and in all things on his part to perform the same.

And then, when they had done this, all the prisoners of the great lords, on the one side and on the other, were liberated, until a certain day in the truce named; upon condition, that if peace could between the two kingdoms be maintained, in such manner as is in the indentures more fully contained, then in such case, all the aforesaid prisoners, of the one side and the other, should, without ransom given, be for ever quit; and further, that if the parties should not be able to agree, nor by a certain day from the truce to establish peace, in such case each prisoner, on the one side and the other, should upon that same day deliver himself up at the place where he was before imprisoned. Then were Sir William de Mountagu, Earl of Salisbury, Sir Robert de Offorde, Earl of Suffolk, and many others, released; and came to the [royal] abode before that our Lord the King returned into England. All these things were provided, by counsel of our Lord the King, by the great lords beyond sea; who would no longer give their sanction to the great war, nor yet to the destruction of the land or to the loss of Christian blood. And further, our Lord the King had no treasure anywhere wherewith to maintain and pay his people, except at a great loss, wholly by borrowing of merchants and paying great usury therefore. For he had no treasures whatever of his own, nor yet arising from the wool which had been granted him by the commons of England, to aid him in maintaining his war against the King of France; for during all the time since his last passage, when he conquered his enemies in battle at sea, never since could he obtain any thing whatever of his treasure from England; and this, through the covin and abetting of bad traitors who of his Council were sworn.

15 Edward III. [A.D. 1340, 1]. Andrew Aubry, Mayor. Adam Lucas and Bartholomew Denmars, Sheriffs.

Then was raised the siege of Tournai, which had been continued for a quarter of a year; and our people made great lamentation thereat, for they fully thought to have had the treasure and fine things as their own for ever, and then was it all lost. And when the host was all broken up, our King, with his people, took the road until he came to the city of Ghent; and there he sojourned a long time, and held his Parliament there, and took counsel which it would be best to do, to remain there or to return to England. For every week he was sending letters to his false guardians in England, requesting them to aid and succour him with his own treasure which had been granted to him by all the commons of England. And these false traitors, who had made oath unto him, sent him back letters enough, to the effect that the collection of the tenths of England, which had been granted to him, could not be made, nor could the number of sacks of wool throughout all the realm be raised; and that they did not dare to act more rigorously through fear of war, and lest the people might choose rather to rise against them than give them any more. Also, that the collection of such monies as they had received, did not suffice for the wages or for the fees of the servants and officers of the King; nor yet to clear off the debts which he himself owed for the expenses of his household; to the payment of which they had been assigned by command of the King himself.

The previous section comes from Chronicles of the Mayors and Sheriffs of London, translated by Henry Thomas Riley (London, 1863).

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