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Walter de Manny attacks Mortagne, 1339

This text copyright ©2000 Dr Helen Nicholson



From Jean Froissart, Chroniques. Dernière rédaction du premier livre. Edition du manuscrit de Rome Reg. Lat. 869, ed. George T. Diller (Geneva, 1972), ch. 78, pp. 303-5. Translated by H. J. Nicholson.

The action is set in the Low Countries, at the beginning of the Hundred Years' War. Lord Walter de Manny, a knight of Hainaut, was one of the leading knights in alliance with King Edward III of England. When the extract begins, King Edward III of England has just sent the bishop of Lincoln to deliver his declaration of war to King Philip VI of France.

As soon as Lord Walter de Manny discovered and realised that a formal declaration of war had been made against the king of France and the bishop of Lincoln was on his way back [from delivering the king of England's declaration of war to the king of France], he gathered together 40 lances, good companions from Hainaut and England, and left Brabant and rode by night and day until he arrived in Hainaut. He and his people rode undercover and no one knew about them, except for themselves and a guide who led them where they wanted to go. Then they hid in the wood of Blaton. The noble knight had vowed in England in the hearing of ladies and lords that: 'If war breaks out between my lord the king of England and Philip of Valois who calls himself king of France, I will be the first to arm himself and capture a castle or town in the kingdom of France.' And he did not fail in this vow, for he came by night and hid in the wood of Wiers [in modern Belgium], very close to Mortagne [now in France, département du Nord]. When he had arrived there, he told his companions what he wanted to do and they agreed to his enterprise.

The town of Mortagne on the river Escaut - although it is very well protected - was in great danger of being captured that day, for Lord Walter de Manny and his band arrived at daybreak so close to the town that they hid in ambush in the hedges and bushes next to Mortagne. They had procured dresses and women's clothes, which they had acquired in a village on their road, and great flat paniers, where women who are going to market put butter, eggs and cheeses. Four of their men dressed in the women's clothes and wrapped lovely white head-wraps of white cloth around their heads and they took the paniers covered with white cloths and made out that they were coming to market to sell their butter and cheese. They came to the gate at the hour of sunrise, and found it closed and the wicket gate half open, and a man who guarded it. He truly believed that these were women from a village close by who were coming to market, and he opened the wicket gate wide open so that they could enter with their paniers. When these men in women's clothing were inside, they seized hold of the porter and drew long knives which they were carrying under their gowns and said to him: 'If you say one word, you're dead.' The man was absolutely terrified and feared death, so he remained silent and still in their midst.

Here comes Lord Walter de Manny and his companions, who were following them at a distance; and they had left their horses in the hedges and bushes, quite close to Mortagne, under the guard of their valets. When they saw that their companions were lords of the gate, they hurried as fast as they could and entered in by the wicket gate at their ease. Then they went towards the tower and the castle keep, and expected to find it badly guarded; but they did not, for it was shut up. Then they stopped short, for they saw clearly that they had failed in their intentions, and that it was worth nothing for them to hold the town without the castle. So they retraced their steps the way that they had come, and did not do any other damage to the town of Mortagne except that they set fire to two or three houses; and then they went out and mounted their horses and left without doing anything more. Many people from the town of Mortagne were still in their beds, and knew nothing about this adventure.

In order to accomplish his enterprise, Lord Walter de Manny and his companions rode and returned into Hainaut, and crossed the Escaut by a little bridge just below Condé. And that day they dined at the abbey of Vicoigne, and refreshed their horses there, and remained there until night. The country was not yet in a state of alarm. At sunset they mounted their horses and rode off, and passed through the Walers wood, and entered [the region of] Ostrevan. They had guides to lead them: and they came between Douai and Cambrai, passing the river of Sensee, which joins the Escaut at Bouchain. They rode until, at the hour of sunrise, they came to a castle, which is called Thun l'Evêque, sited on the river Escaut; and they arrived at the moment that the garrison of the castle were sending out the cattle, to graze in the meadows which are close by, and the castellan was still in his bed. So they entered in through the gate, for they found it standing open, and made themselves lords and masters of the gate, and kicked out all the men and women whom they found inside. The said Lord Walter de Manny kept the castle for himself, and put it in order and gave it to a brother of his, a knight, who is known as Lord Giles de Manny. For the rest of that year, the latter gave the people of Cambrai plenty of trouble. When the said Lord Walter de Manny had completed these enterprises, he returned to his lord the king of England, whom he found at Maligne. The king of England had arrived there and was holding a council there.


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