Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

How the Wars in Flanders Began.

Book II, ch. 36. Before the commencement of these wars in Flanders, the country was so fertile, and everything in such abundance, that it was marvellous to see; and the inhabitants of the principal towns lived in very grand state. You must know, that this war originated in the pride and hatred that several of the chief towns bore to each other: those of Ghent against those of Bruges, and others, in a like manner, vying with each other through envy. However, this could not a have created a war without the consent of their lord the earl of Flanders, who was so much loved and feared that no one dared to anger him.

The earl, being wise and prudent, carefully avoided encouraging a war between his vassals; for he foresaw, that if any difference should arise between him and them, he would be much weakened...The wars which ensued were caused by so trifling an event, that if the earl had possessed any prudence, it ought not to have produced that effect; and those who read this book, or who may have it read to them, will say, that it was the work of the devil.

You know wise men think the devil, who is subtle and full of artifice, labours night and day to cause warfare wherever he finds peace and harmony, and seeks by distant means, and by degrees, how to accomplish his ends. And thus it fell out in Flanders, as you will clearly see and learn from the different treaties and ordinances which follow relative to these matters.

During the time that earl Lewis of Flanders was in his greatest prosperity, there was a citizen of Ghent called John Lyon; he was wise, subtle, and bold, but cruel, enterprising and cool in business, and very much in favour with the earl, as it should seem; for he employed him to assassinate, in a secret way, a man of Ghent that was disagreeable to him, and who acted contrary to the wishes of the earl. John Lyon sought a quarrel with him, and killed him. This man was greatly lamented by all; and, for grief of what he had done, John Lyon went and resided at Douay, where he lived for three years, keeping a handsome state, for which the earl paid.

John Lyon, on account of this murder, was instantly deprived of everything he had in the city of Ghent, and banished from it for four years. The earl managed so as to make up the matter and recover for him the freedom he had lost of Ghent, which was a circumstance not before heard of, and several in Ghent and Flanders were much astonished at it, but so it happened.

In addition to this, the earl, that he might enrich himself and live well, made him deacon of the pilots: this office might be worth to him a thousand francs a year, doing honestly his duty. Thus was John Lyon so much in the good graces of the earl that no one was equal to him.

At this time there was a family in Ghent called the Matthews: they were seven brothers, and the most considerable of all the pilots. Among these seven brothers was one named Gilbert Matthew, who was rich, wise, subtle, and more enterprising than any of his family. This Gilbert bore in secret a great hatred to John Lyon, because he saw him so much in favour with the earl; and he occupied his thoughts, night and day, how he could supplant him.

He sometimes inclined to have him slain by his brothers, but gave it up for fear of the earl. He thought so much on this subject that at last he hit upon a plan to accomplish it: however, I will first tell you the real cause why they hated each other, that you may the more fully understand it. There existed formerly, in the town of Deynse, a mortal hatred between two pilots and their families: one was called Peter Guillon, and the other John Barbé. Gilbert Matthew and his brothers were connected by blood to one of these families, and John Lyon, by similar ties, to the other. This hatred was for a long time nourished in secret, though they sometimes spoke, and even ate and drank with each other, and Gilbert made more of this connexion than John Lyon did. Gilbert, without striking a blow, bethought himself of a cunning contrivance.

This story continues.

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