Monday, September 8, 2014

The Peasants Crushed

Featuring Sir John Froissart

Previously on The Jacquerie Rebellion. And now Sir John Froissart

Time: 1358
Place: Paris

When the gentlemen of Beauvoisis, Corbie, Vermandois, and of the lands where these wretches were associated, saw to what lengths their madness had extended, they sent for succor to their friends in Flanders, Hainault, and Bohemia; from which places numbers soon came and united themselves with the gentlemen of the country. They began therefore to kill and destroy these wretches wherever they met them, and hung them up by troops on the nearest trees. The King of Navarre even destroyed in one day, near Clermont in Beauvoisis, upward of three thousand; but they were by this time so much increased in numbers that, had they been all together, they would have amounted to more than one hundred thousand. When they were asked for what reason they acted so wickedly, they replied, they knew not, but they did so because they saw others do it, and they thought that by this means they should destroy all the nobles and gentlemen in the world.

At this period the Duke of Normandy, suspecting the King of Navarre, the provost of merchants and those of his faction--for they were always unanimous in their sentiments--set out from Paris, and went to the bridge at Charenton-upon-Marne, where he issued a special summons for the attendance of the crown vassals, and sent a defiance to the provost of merchants and to all those who should support him. The provost, being fearful he would return in the night-time to Paris--which was then unenclosed--collected as many workmen as possible from all parts, and employed them to make ditches all around Paris. He also surrounded it by a wall with strong gates. For the space of one year there were three hundred workmen daily employed; the expense of which was equal to maintaining an army. I must say that to surround with a sufficient defense such a city as Paris was an act of greater utility than any provost of merchants had ever done before; for otherwise it would have been plundered and destroyed several times by the different factions.

At the time these wicked men were overrunning the country, the Earl of Foix, and his cousin the Captal of Buch were returning from a crusade in Prussia. They were informed, on their entering France, of the distress the nobles were in; and they learned at the city of Chalons that the Duchess of Orleans and three hundred other ladies, under the protection of the Duke of Orleans, were fled to Meaux on account of these disturbances. The two knights resolved to go to the assistance of these ladies, and to re├źnforce them with all their might, notwithstanding the Captal was attached to the English; but at that time there was a truce between the two kings. They might have in their company about sixty lances.

They were most cheerfully received, on their arrival at Meaux, by the ladies and damsels; for these Jacks and peasants of Brie had heard what number of ladies, married and unmarried, and young children of quality were in Meaux; they had united themselves with those of Valois and were on their road thither. On the other hand, those of Paris had also been informed of the treasures Meaux contained, and had set out from that place in crowds. Having met the others, they amounted together to nine thousand men. Their forces were augmenting every step they advanced.

They came to the gates of the town, which the inhabitants opened to them and allowed them to enter; they did so in such numbers that all the streets were quite filled, as far as the market-place, which is tolerably strong, but it required to be guarded, though the river Marne nearly surrounds it. The noble dames who were lodged there, seeing such multitudes rushing toward them, were exceedingly frightened. On this, the two lords and their company advanced to the gate of the market-place, which they had opened, and, marching under the banners of the Earl of Foix and Duke of Orleans, and the pennon of the Captal of Buch, posted themselves in front of this peasantry, who were badly armed.

When these banditti perceived such a troop of gentlemen, so well equipped, sally forth to guard the market-place, the foremost of them began to fall back. The gentlemen then followed them, using their lances and swords. When they felt the weight of their blows, they, through fear, turned about so fast they fell one over the other. All manner of armed persons then rushed out of the barriers, drove them before them, striking them down like beasts, and clearing the town of them; for they kept neither regularity nor order, slaying so many that they were tired. They flung them in great heaps into the river. In short, they killed upward of seven thousand. Not one would have escaped if they had chosen to pursue them farther.

On the return of the men-at-arms, they set fire to the town of Meaux, burned it; and all the peasants they could find were shut up in it, because they had been of the party of the Jacks. Since this discomfiture which happened to them at Meaux, they never collected again in any great bodies; for the young Enguerrand de Coucy had plenty of gentlemen under his orders, who destroyed them, wherever they could be met with, without mercy.

The End

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