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THE BATTLES OF CRESSY AND POITIERS.
It was Saturday, the 28th of August, 1346, and it was at four in the afternoon that the battle commenced. The French armyadvanced from the south-east, after a hard day's march to overtake the retiring enemy. Every one, from the Bang down to the peasants on the road, went crying "Kill, kill!" and were in a state of the greatest excitement, drawing their swords, and thinking they were sure of their prey. What the French King chiefly relied upon (besides his great numbers) was the troop of fifteen thousand cross-bowmen from Genoa. These were made to stand in front: when, just as the engagement was about to take place, one of those extraordinary incidents occurred, which often turn the fate of battles, as they do of human life in general. A tremendous storm gathered from the west, and broke in thunder, and rain, and hail, on the field of battle. The sky was darkened and the horror was increased by the hoarse cries of crows, and ravens, which fluttered before the storm, and struck terror into the hearts of the Italian bowmen, who were unaccustomed to these northern tempests. And when at last the sky had cleared, and they prepared their cross-bows to shoot, the strings had been so wet by the rain that they could not draw them. By this time the evening sun streamed out in full splendour over the black clouds of the western sky— right in their faces; and at the same moment the English archers, who had kept their bows in cases during the storm, and so had their strings dry, let fly their arrows so fast and thick, that those who were present could only compare it to snow or sleet. Through and through the heads, and necks, and hands of the Genoese bowmen, the arrows pierced. Unable to stand it, they turned and fled; and from that moment the panic and confusion was so great, that the day was lost.
But though the storm, and the sun, and the archers had their part, we must not forget the Prince. He was, we must remember, only sixteen, and yet he commanded the whole English army. It is said that the reason of this was, that the King of France had been so bent on destroying the English forces, that he had hoisted the Sacred Banner of France—the great scarlet flag, embroidered with golden lilies, called the Oriflamme—as a sign that no quarter would be given; and that when King Edward saw this, and saw the hazard to which he should expose not only the army, but the whole kingdom, if he were to fall in battle, he determined to leave it to his son. Certain it is that, for whatever reason, he remained on a little hill, on the outskirts of the field, and the young Prince, who had been knighted a month before, went forward with his companions in arms, into the very thick of the fray; and when his father saw that the victory was virtually gained, he forbore to interfere. "Let the child win his spurs," he said, in words which have since become a proverb, " and let the day be his." The Prince was in very great danger at one moment; he was wounded and thrown to the ground, and only saved by Bichard de Beaumont, who carried the great banner of Wales, throwing the banner over the boy as he lay on the ground, and standing upon it till he had driven back the assailants. The assailants were driven back, and far through the long summer evening, and deep into the summer night, the battle raged. It was not till aU was dark, that the Prince and his companions halted from their pursuit; and then huge fires and torches were lit up, that the King might see where they were. And then took place the touching interview between the father and the son; the King embracing the boy in front of the whole army, by the red light of the blazing fires, and saying, "Sweet son, God give you good perseverance; you are my true son—right royally have you acquitted yourself this day, and worthy are you of a crown," —and the young Prince, after the reverential manner of those times, " bowed to the ground, and gave all the honour to the King his father." The next day the King walked over the field of carnage with the Prince, and said, "What think you of a battle? is it an agreeable game?"
The general result of the battle was the deliverance of the English army from a most imminent danger, and subsequently the conquest of Calais, which the King immediately besieged and won, and which remained in the possession of the English from that day to the reign of Queen Mary. From that time the Prince became the darling of the English, and the terror of the French; and, whether from this terror, or from the black armour which he wore on that day, and which contrasted with the fairness of his complexion, he was called by them "Le Prince Noir,"—the Black Prince, and from them the name has passed to us; so that all his other sounding titles by which the old poems call him—" Prince of Wales, Duke of Aquitaine,"— are lost in the one memorable name which he won for himself in his first fight at Cressy.
And now we pass over ten years, and find him on the field of Poitiers. Again we must ask, what brought him there, and why the battle was fought? He was this time alone; his father, though the war had rolled on since the battle of Cressy, was in England. But, in other respects, the beginning of the fight was very like that of Cressy. Gascony belonged to him by right, and from this he made a descent into the neighbouring provinces, and was on his return home, when the King of France— John, the son of Philip—pursued him as his father had pursued Edward III., and overtook him suddenly on the high upland fields, which extend for many miles south of the city of Poitiers. It is the third great battle which has been fought in that neighbourhood,—the first was that in which Clovis defeated the Goths, and established the faith in the creed of Athanasius throughout Europe—the second was that in which Charles Martel drove back the Saracens, and saved Europe from Mahometanism—the third was this, the most brilliant of English victories over the French. The spot, which is about six miles south of Poitiers, is still known by the name of the Battlefield. Its features are very slightly marked—two ridges of rising ground, parted by a gentle hollow; behind the highest of these two ridges is a large tract of copse and underwood, and leading up to it from the hollow is a somewhat steep lane, there shut in by woods and vines on each side. It was on this ridge that the Prince had taken up his position, and it was solely by the good use he made of this position that the victory was won. The French army was arranged on the other side of the hollow in three great divisions, of which the King's was the hindmost. It was on Monday, September 19th, 1356, at nine A.m., that the battle began. All the Sunday had been taken up by fruitless endeavours of Cardinal Talleyrand to save the bloodshed, by bringing the King and Prince to terms; a fact to be noticed for two reasons, first because it shows the sincere and Christian desire which animated the clergy of those times, in the midst of all their faults, to promote peace and goodwill amongst the savage men with whom they lived; and secondly because the refusal of the French King and Prince to be persuaded shows, on this occasion, the confidence of victory which had possessed them.
The Prince offered to give up all the castles and prisoners he had taken, and to swear not to fight in France again for seven years. But the King would hear of nothing but his absolute surrender of himself and his army on the spot. The Cardinal laboured till the very last moment, and then rode back to Poitiers, having equally offended both parties. The story of the battle, if we remember the position of the armies, is told in a moment. The Prince remained firm in his position; the French charged with their usual chivalrous ardour—charged up the lane; the English archers, whom the Prince had stationed behind the hedges at each side, let fly their showers of arrows, as at Cressy; in an instant the lane was choked with the dead; and the first check of such headstrong confidence was fatal. The Prince in his turn charged; a general panic seized the whole French army; the first and second division fled in the wildest confusion; the third alone, where King John stood, made a gallant resistance; the King was taken prisoner, and by noon the whole was over. Up to the gates of the town of Poitiers, the French army fled and fell, and their dead bodies were buried by heaps within a convent which still remains in the city. It was a wonderful day. It was eight thousand to sixty thousand; the Prince who had gained the battle was still only twenty-six, that is, a year younger than Napoleon at the beginning of his campaigns, and the battle was distinguished from all others by the number, not of the slain but of the prisoners—one Englishman often taking four or five Frenchmen.
Perhaps, however, the best known part of the whole is the scene where the King first met the Prince in the evening, which cannot be better described than by old Froissart:—
"The day of the battle at night, the Prince gave a supper in his lodgings to the French King, and to most of the great lords that were prisoners. The Prince caused the King and his son to sit at one table, and other lords, knights, and squires at the others; and the Prince always served the King very humbly, and would not sit at the King's table, although he requested him—he said he was not qualified to sit at the table with so great a prince as the Bang was. Then he said to the King, 4 Sir, for God's sake make no bad cheer; though your will was not accomplished this day. For, sir, the King, my father, will certainly bestow on you as much honour and friendship as he can, and will agree with you so reasonably that you shall ever after be frierids; and, sir, I think you ought to rejoice, though the battle be not as you will, for you have this day gained the high honour of prowess, and have surpassed all others on your side in valour. Sir, I.say not this in raillery, for all our party, who saw every man's deeds, agree in this, and give you the palm and chaplet.'
"Therewith the Frenchmen whispered among themselves that the Prince had spoken nobly, and that most probably he would prove a great hero, if God preserved his life, to persevere in such good fortune."
BEFORE SUNRISE IN THE VALE OF CHAMOUNI. Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Besides the rivers Arve and Arveiron, which have their sources in the foot of Mont Blanc, five conspicuous torrents rush down its sides; and within a few paces of the Glaciers, the Gentiana Major grows in immense numbers, with its " flowers of loveliest blue."
Hast thou a charm to stay the morning-star
0 dread and silent Mount! I gazed upon thee,
Didst vanish from my thought: entranced in prayer
1 worshipped the Invisible alone.
Yet, like some sweet beguiling melody,
Awake, my soul! not only passive praise
Thou first and chief, sole sovran of the Vale!