Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The men of Ghent escape from Damme (1385)

Damme is being beseiged by King Charles of France.

Book II, ch. 166 (Johnes, v. II, p. 44-45).  There were several skirmishes almost daily at the barriers of Damme,
where many were wounded and slain. The walls could not be approached because the ditches were filled with mud and filth: and, if it had been rainy weather, the army would have had enough to do, and must have decamped whether they would or not: but for the space of one month, during which this siege lasted, there never fell one drop of rain. They had provision in great abundance; but the stench of the beasts killed by the army and the dead horses corrupted time air, and caused many knights and squires to be so ill and low spirited that they retired to Bruges or elsewhere: the king was wont to lodge at Marle, notwithstanding his tents were left standing in the camp.

It was the intention of Francis Atremen to hold out his siege till the reinforcements which he expected from England should arrive to raise it: for it is certain that Francis, and the men of Ghent, had sent to England for assistance. The uncles of the king of England would undoubtedly have carried over a sufficiency of men at arms and archers, if the admiral of France had not at that
time been in Scotland with so large a force. It was confidently said, that the constable was to reinforce the admiral with a greater body: by which means the Flemings were not assisted, and those of Damume were forced to make a bad bargain of it; for on the 27th day of August, 1385, was the town of Damme conquered back again.

When Francis Atremen found, after the king of France had besieged him for a month, that he was not to expect any succour, and that his artillery began to fail, he was much cast down, and said to those of his council, "I will, that all of us from Ghent return home: but let it be made known to them secretly, so that none of the town be informed of our intended departure, and attempt to save themselves, with their wives and children, by sacrificing us. They would obtain peace, and we should be slain:
but I must take good care to prevent this; for we will keep in a body, and go round the town to visit the guard. We will secure all the inhabitants, not having arms, in the churches, and give them to understand, we do so because we expect a grand attack to be made to-morrow, and do not wisin them to suffer from it. We must tell the guard of the night that we intend to beat up the enemy's quarters, and the moment we are in the plain we will spur for the fastest to Ghent."

His council replied, that he had well spoken. Every man made his preparation accordingly, and in the evening packed up their all, and put the women,  children and lower sort of people in the churches: they even ordered thither the ladies of the knights who were prisoners, telling them, that on the morrow there was to be a grand attack, and they wished them not to be frightened: all this was thought very proper.

The first hour of the night the Ghent men went their rounds: there were none of their townsmen on the walls, but only those of Damme. Francis Atremen said to them, -- "Keep up a strict watch about midnight; and on no account, whatever you may see or hear, quit the battlements, for in the morning we shall be attacked; but I am resolved this night to beat up their quarters."

His words were believed, for they thought he was speaking the truth. After Francis Atremen had arranged all his business, he ordered the gate to be opened, and sallied forth with those his townsmen from Ghent. They were not half a league from the town when day appeared, and the inhabitants discovered that Francis and his companions were gone off: they we much disheartened: but their leaders began to negotiate within those belonging to the king, and said they said killed
Francis Atremen the preceding evening.

Several of the town, understanding that Francis Atremen was gone away, and the gate still open, set out from the town as fast as they were able. When this news arrived at time camp, the Bretons and Burgundians, who were eager for pillage, mounted their horses, and pursued them within two leagues of Ghent: several were slain, and upwards of five hundred made prisoners; they were not from Ghent, but the inhabitants of Damme who were running away.

Whilst they were pursuing them on all sides, the town, now defenceless, was attacked: the French entered it at different parts by ladders, which they carried over the ditches with ranch difficulty. When they had entered, they imagined they should roll in riches; but they found nothing, except poor people, women and children, and great quantities of good wines. In spite, therefore, they set fire to the town and burnt almost the whole of it. The king, and duke of Burgundy were much vexed at this,
but they could not prevent it.  The noble ladies were, however, saved,

After Damme had been thus regained by France, the king was advised to decamp and to fix his own quarters at a small town two leagues from Ghent called Artavelle, and that, during that time he should be there, the men at arms should scour the country of the Quatre Mestiers, and completely destroy it; because, in former times, all sorts of provision were sent from thence to Ghent, and more assistance given to that town from those countries than from any. others. The king of France and his army marched from before Damme: he took up his quarters at Artavelle; during which time the men at arms destroyed the country, burning all houses, monasteries and forts which had held out for them. They left not any house whole, and killed or drove into the woods all the women and children. When the French had completed this destruction, they were ordered to march and lay siege to the castle of Gaure, and afterwards to do the same to Ghent. But all this ended in nothing.

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