Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The Count of Flanders detains a French ambassador

The Count of Flanders hinders French efforts to work with Scotland against England.

Book II, ch. 30. King Charles, who at this time governed France, was very sagacious and subtle as his conduct showed; for though he never quitted his closet or his amusements, he re-conquered all that his predecessors had lost in the field at the head of their armies, for which he was greatly to be commended.

Now, because the king of France knew that king Robert of Scotland, and that whole kingdom, bore a mortal hatred to the English (for never can these two kingdoms love each other), that a better understanding between him and the Scots might be continued, he determined to send one of his knights, and a secretary of his council, to king Robert and the Scots, to treat with them; to examine the state of that country, and see whether they were in a condition to carry on any effectual war: for Evan of Wales had during his life-time informed him, that the most certain way of disturbing England was through Scotland.

The king of France, having well considered this matter, had various ideas on the subject; and, having fixed his plan, he called to him one of his knights, a prudent man, named sir Peter lord de Bournezel, and said: "You will carry this message to Scotland, and salute the king and barons, with the assurance that we and our realm are willing to enter into treaties with them on the footing of good friends, in order that, when the season shall be favourable, we may send over troops, to be there admitted in the like manner as the practice has been with our predecessors in former times: and in your journeys thither and back again, as well as during your residence, you will take care to keep such state as shall become an ambassador from the king; for such is our will; and every expense shall be repaid you."

The knight answered, "Sire, your orders shall be obeyed."

He did not delay his journey long after this; but, when his preparations were ready, he took leave of the king, and set out from Paris, continuing his route until he came to Sluys in Flanders. He waited there for a wind, which being unfavourable, detained him fifteen days. During this time he lived magnificently; and gold and silver plate were in such profusion in the apartments as if he had been a prince. He has also music to announce his dinner, and caused to be carrried beffore him a sword in a scabbard, richly blazoned with his arms in gold and silver. His servants paid well for everything. Many of the townspeople were much astonished at the great state of this knight lived in at home, which he also maintained when he went abroad.

The bailiff of the town, who was an officer under the earl of Flanders, had noticed this conduct, and could not remain silent on the subject, for which he was to blame, but went and informed the earl of it, who at the time resided at Bruges, and his cousin the duke of Britanny with him. The earl of Flanders having considered a while, with the advice of the duke of Brittany, ordered the ambassador to be brought thither. The bailiff returned to Sluys, and came very uncourteously to the king's knight; for he laid his hand on him, and arrested him in the name of the earl.

The knight was exceedingly surprised at this proceeding: he told the bailiff, that he was ambassador and commissioner from the king of France. The bailiff said, "that might be; but he must speak to the earl, who had ordered him to be conducted into his presence." The knight could not by any means excuse himself from being carried to Bruges with all his attendants.

When he was brought into the apartments of the earl, he and the duke of Brittany were leaning on a window which looked into the gardens. The knight cast himself on his knees before the earl, and said, "My lord, I am your prisoner." At which words, the earl was mightily enraged, and replied with passion, "How, rascal, do you dare to call yourself my prisoner when I have only sent to speak with you? The subjects of my lord may very freely come and speak with me; but thou hast ill acquitted thyself by remaining so long at Sluys without coming to visit me, when thou knewest I was so near; but I suppose, thou disdainest it."

"My lord," answered the knight, "saving your displeasure" -- He was interrupted by the duke of Brittany, who said, "It is by such tattlers and jesters of the parliament of Paris, and of the king's chamber, as you, that the kingdom is governed; and you manage the king as you please, to do goood or evil according to your wills: there is not a prince of the blood, however great he may be, if he incur your hatred, who will be listened to: but such fellows shall yet be hanged, until the gibbets be full of them."

The knight, who was still on his knees, was much mortified by these words: he saw that it was better for him to be silent than to make any reply: he did not therefore answer, but quitted the presence of the earl and his lords, when he found an opportunity. Soem worthy people who were with the earl made way for him, and carried him to refresh himself.

The knight afterward mounted his horse, and returned to his hotel in Sluys, where I will tell you what happened to him. Although all his stores were embarked, and there was a favourable wind for Scotland, he would not sail and risk the dangers of the sea; for he was warned that he was watched by the English who resided in Sluys, and that, if he should sail, he would be taken, and carried to England. Through fear of this happening, he gave up his intended voyage, quitted Sluys, and returned to the king at Paris.

You may easily imagine, that the lord de Bournezel was not long before he told the king all that had befallen him in Flanders: he related every thing exactly as it had happened. It was necessary he should do so by way of excusing himself for not having obeyed his orders, as the king was very much surprised at his return.

When sir Peter was relating the events of this journey, there were present several knights of the king's chamber: in particular, sir John de Guistelles of Hainault, a cousin to the earl of Flanders, who mutteringly repeated the words of sir Peter; so that, thinking the knight had spoken too freely of the earl of Flanders, he could not contain himself, but said: "I cannot thus hear my dear cousin the earl of Flanders so slightingly spoken of; and if, sir knight, you mean to affirm for truth all you have said, and assert that he by his act prevented you from fulfilling your orders, I challenge you to the field, and here is my glove."

The lord de Bournezel was not slow to reply: "Sir John, I say that I was thus arrested and conducted by the bailiff of Sluys, and brought before the earl of Flanders; and that every word which I have spoken as from that earl and the duke of Brittany were said by them; and if you wish to say anything contrary, and that it was not so, I will take up your glove." "I do say so, " replied the lord de Guistelles.

At these words, the king looked very grave, and said, "Come, come; we will hear no more of this." He then retired into his closet, attended by his chamberlains, very well pleased that sir Peter had so frankly spoken, and had so well answered sir John de Guistelles. He said to them smiling, "He has kept his ground well: I would not for twenty thousand francs it had not so happened."

Sir John de Guistelles, who was one of the king's chamberlains, was afterwards so ill at court, and received with so much coldness, that he noticed it, and wished not to abide the consequences: he therefore took leave of the king, and went to Brabant to duke Winceslaus, who retained him in his service.

With regard to the king of France, he was much angreed with the earl of Flanders; for it appeared to several of the kingdom, that he had prevented the lord de Bournezel from continuing his journey to Scotland. He had also entertained his cousin the duke of Brittany, who was greatly out of favour with the king of France. Those who were near the person of hte king easily saw that the earl of Flanders was not in his good graces. Shortly after this event, the king of France wrote very sharp letters to his cousin the earl of Flanders, which contained also menaces, for that he had supported and kept with him the duke of Brittany, whom he considered as his enemy.

For the consequences of this incident, read on.

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