Tales from Froissart
edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University
Gilbert Matthews Plots against John Lyon.
Gilbert Matthews, a prominent pilot of Ghent, plots against John Lyon, the deacon of the pilots and high in the favour of the earl of Flanders.
Book II, ch. 36. The earl of Flanders resided sometimes at Ghent: Gilbert, during these residences, got acquainted with one of the earl's chamberlains, who was attached to his person, and said to him: "If my lord of Flanders pleased, he might gain, every year, a handsome revenue from the pilots, who now pay nothing: it might be levied on the foreign trade, provided John Lyon, who is deacon of the pilots, would acquit himself honestly." The chamberlain said he would inform the earl of it, which he did. The earl (like other great lords, who naturally wish for gain, and who did not foresee the consequences, but only seek to get the money into their hands) told his chamberlain to bring Gilbert Matthew to him, and he would hear what he had to say.
Gilbert was introduced, and in conversation, made use of such arguments as appeared reasonable to the earl, who replied, "It is well, let it be so." John Lyon was immediately called into the apartment, in presence of Gilbert Matthew, quite ignorant of what had passed, when the earl opened the business to him, and added, "John, if you choose, we may gain much wealth by this scheme."
John was indeed loyal to his employment, but saw this was not a reasonable demand: being unwilling to speak to the contrary, he replied, "My lord, what you have required, which it seems Gilbert has proposed, I cannot execute myself, for it will be too heavy upon the mariners." "John, " answered the earl, "if you will exert yourself, the business will be done." "My lord," replied John, "I will then do every thing in my power."
The conference broke up, when Gilbert Matthew (whose only aim was to ruin John Lyon in the mind of the earl, to deprive him of his office, so that, being turned out, it might profit him) went to his six brothers, and said to them; "It is now time to assist me, which I hope you will do, like good friends and brothers, for it is your cause I am fighting. I will discomfit John Lyon without striking a blow, and so ruin him in the opinion of the earl that he shall be more disliked by the earl than he had before been liked.
"Now notwithstanding all I may say or argue at the meeting to be holden, you must refuse to comply: I will dissemble, and argue that if John Lyon would faithfully acquit himself, this ordinance would be obeyed. I know so well our lord, that sooner than give up his point, John Lyon will lose his favour, as well as his office, which will be given to me; and when I am in the possession of it you will comply with the demand. We are very powerful with the mariners of this town, so that none of them will dare oppose us. I will afterwards so manage that John Lyon shall be slain, and we have our revenge without appearing in the matter."
All his brethern complied with this request. The meeting was held of the mariners, when John Lyon and Gilbert Matthew explained the will of the earl, who proposed, by a new statute, to lay a tax on the navigation of the Lys and the Scheld. It appeared very burdensome, and too great a stretch of power, particularly to the six brothers of Gilbert, who were more firm and unanimous in their opposition to it than all the rest. John Lyon, their deacons, was secretly rejoiced at this; for he was desirous of maintaining all their ancient rights and privileges, and flattered himself that the brothers were in his favour, while they were acting just the contrary. John Lyon reported to the earl the answer of the mariners, adding, "My lord, it is a thing which cannot be done: much evil may result from it: let things remain as they are, and do not attempt to introduce any novelties."
This answer was not very pleasing to the earl, for he perceived that if the impost were laid, and collected in the manner he had been told, he should have received every year from six to seven thousand florins of revenue: he therefore made no reply, but did not think less upon it, and had those mariners whom John Lyon found rebellious sued by actions and otherwise.
On the other hand, Gilbert Matthew came to the earl and his council, to say that John Lyon did not act well in this business; that if he had his office, he would so manage the mariners that the earl of Flanders should have this revenue hereditarily.
The earl did not see clear, for this revenue, with his avarice, blinded him; and, without asking for advice, he deprived John Lyon of his office, which he gave to Gilbert. When Gilbert thus saw himself deacon of the pilots, he turned his brothers according to his will, and gave the earl satisfaction in regard to this impost, for which he was not the more beloved by the majority of the mariners; but they were forced to submit, for the seven brothers, assisted by the earl, were too many for them, and it behoved them to do so in silence.
Thus did Gilbert Matthew, by this wary method carry his point, and obtain the favour of the earl of Flanders. Gilbert made very handsome presents to the officers and chamberlains of the earl; by which means he blinded them, and gained their friendship. All these fine gifts were paid for by the mariners, which dissatisfied many, but they dared not complain. John Lyon ... entirely lost the good graces of the earl: he lived quietly on his fortune, suffering patiently whatever was done to him. Gilbert, being now deacon, and secretly hating John Lyon, took away form him a third or fourth of the profits which were his due from the navigation. John Lyon did not say one word, but, prudently dissembling, and with an apparent good will, took whatever they gave him; for, he said, there were times when it was better to be silent than too talk.
Gilbert Matthew had a brother named Stephen, a cunning fellow, who had watched all the actions of John Lyon: he said to his brothers (for he prophesied to them all that was to happen); "Certainly, gentlemen, John Lyon suffers at this moment, and keeps his head very low; but he acts with good sense, and will contrive to throw us as low as we are now high. I will give you one piece of advice, which is, to kill him while we continue in the favour of my lord the earl: I can very easily do it, if you charge me with this business, by which we shall escape all the danger, and can easily get acquitted for his death."
His brothers refused to consent to this, saying he had not done them any wrong, and that no man ought to lose his life but by the sentence of a judge.
This story continues.