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The Chantry Priest of Barnet by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

OF THE BATTLE OF BARNET

[201] ON the morrow, being Easter Eve, about one hour after noon, the King set forth, marching northwards, by the same road by the which he had come. And about four of the clock we came to Barnet, which is a small town with a market, about ten miles from London, lying for the most part on a hill that slopeth southward and eastward, and on the top of the hill there is a lair plain. It was now close upon sun setting, and there was such a mist as I have never seen at any time. Already when we set forth from London it had begun to rise from the earth; and now, as we came nigh to Barnet town, it was so thick that a man could scarce see a spear's length before him. This, it was commonly reported, was brought about by the enchantments of one Bungay, a Black Friar. [202] This I can scarce believe, for I doubt whether any man hath power by charms and such like to change the course of nature, though, indeed, it was credited among the ancients that the witches of Thessaly could make the moon dark by their enchantments. The likelier cause, methinks, was this, that the earth being wet with much rain, there came a sudden heat of the sun (and such, indeed, there was for the three days next before this Saturday of which I write), and that the mist was begotten of the heat and rain together. But be the cause what it might, so much is certain, that it favoured the King greatly. I pretend not to have knowledge of warlike matters, but I have talked with many that have such; and I understand not for what cause, save only it was the hindering of this mist, my lord of Warwick and the Marquis Montagu, being right skilful commanders, suffered the King to bring his army without let up the hill of Barnet to the plain that lieth upon the top. They were content to take but half of the said plain, having it in their power to take the whole, for that they were beforehand with the King by five or [203] six hours at the least. Why brought they not their host to the very edge of the hill so that they might have hindered their adversaries in the climbing thereof, for it is a steep place, and they that stand upon the top have no small advantage over them that ascend? To this question I have no answer, save that for this thickness of the air they knew not where they stood. Certes the King was greatly profited by the mist in this matter, and in others also of which I shall presently speak. Having, therefore, ascended the hill without hindrance, and passed through Barnet town, he made his encampment on the plain hard by, not suffering his men to abide in the said town. And because he had marched out in haste, with as little baggage as might be, the soldiers fared, as best they might, without tents, comforting themselves with fires; only there was a pavilion pitched for King Henry, which the King carried with him. And before the army there were dug trenches, and palisades were fixed in the earth, lest the enemy should take them at unawares in the night. And now I will make mention of another thing in which, as I have [204] said, the mist served the King. For he, thinking to set his army in array over against the enemy, but not knowing truly where they lay, did extend his right wing too far towards a great wood which is in these parts, and which men call the Chase of Enfield. So it came to pass that his left wing was withdrawn from the right of the enemy, and thus escaped no small loss. For in this said right wing were certain cannon, from which great bullets of lead were shot forth by force of gunpowder, which bullets had done great damage, but that they fell upon an empty space. And so did the mist serve the King a second time, and that by his own error, so wonderful are the ways of God towards man. These cannon made a terrible great noise, yet were they scarce heeded that night, for the whole plain was in an uproar, so that, what for neighing of horses and talking of men, none in either host could get any rest or quietness.

But how shall I, that am a man of peace, set forth in words the battle that followed upon the next day, which, indeed, was Easter Day. It being now more than a month past the equinox, [205] the day began to break about four of the clock; nor was there any delay on either side, but all addressed themselves to the fight, so weary were they of waiting. And when the captains of the two hosts had set their battle in array as best they could for the scantiness of the light, then King Edward on the one side, and my lord of Warwick on the other, gave such exhortation to their men as time permitted. What the Earl of Warwick spake I know not of my own knowledge, nor will I write it down from the report of others; but the words of the King I heard with my own ears. He bade the soldiers fight valiantly as knowing that their cause was just and was surely favoured of God. "They that have set themselves in array against you this day have not only broken their oaths to me, which were of itself in comparison a small thing, but are traitors to the realm and spoilers of the poor commonalty, which I and my house have holpen, yea, and will always help to the utmost of our power, and are people destitute of all grace, good fortune, and good living. And if these mischievous persons should prevail this day [206] through the faintness of your hearts, know ye for a surety that it shall fare ill with all. Such of you as are gentlemen and rich men shall be in jeopardy, not only of the spoiling of your goods, but also of your lives, seeing that they who take to themselves the riches of others count not themselves secure in their possessions till they have taken their lives also. Ye are that of meaner estate will assuredly suffer robbing and spoiling, especially ye that dwell in towns and cities, and are concerned with buying and selling both at home and beyond the seas, for Warwick and the nobles that are with him love not traders. And as for you that are peasants and handicraftsmen, for you they design perpetual bondage and servitude, desiring, above all things, to take from you that freedom which ye have. Think not that these great lords are lovers of freedom; so that they be free themselves to do what they list, they care not for aught else. Trust ye rather to your King, inasmuch as he knoweth that whoso ruleth over free men is greater than he that ruleth over slaves. Bear yourselves, therefore, with a brave heart; and, seeing that this realm [207] hath had enough, yea, and too much, for many years past of civil war, so strike that after this day ye shall not need to strike again."

It hath, I know, been commonly reported that the King gave commandment to his soldiers that they should not spare their adversaries even when these should have yielded themselves. Yet such meaning may not fairly be drawn from his words, which need not intend anything further than an exhortation to valiant doing. But what the captains said each to their own men I know not. This only I know, that the battle was fought with much rage and fury on either side; as, indeed, was like to be when the battle was between brothers, if I may say so; and that some, beyond doubt, were ruthlessly slain who would in common times have been kept alive either for pity's sake or for ransom.

About five of the clock the trumpets sounded for the attack, and the King's army moved forwards. But whither they were moving, and with whom they were about to contend in battle, this they could scarce see. For though the mist would lighten for the space of a few [208] minutes, yet would it grow thick again, and though it would well-nigh pass from one place or another, yet in no long time it would roll back, wrapping all things in obscurity. At the first, therefore, if I may so speak, there was not one battle, but many. For the soldiers fought not according to the plans and counsels of their leader, but rather contended against their enemies in companies of ten and companies of a hundred, so that there was not one line of battle, but a line broken into many parts. First the archers shot their arrows amidst the enemy, and after the archers came the billmen, and after the billmen the men-at-arms and knights, but these last very slowly and cautiously, for they feared to fall into a snare.


[Illustration]

THE BATTLE OF BARNET.

Now at the first it seemed like that the King would suffer defeat. For the right wing of my lord of Warwick's army having a great advantage in numbers, and being led also by two most brave and skilful captains—to wit, the Marquis Montagu and the Earl of Oxford—fell upon the left wing of the King's army and brake it and drave it back, so that it fled, seeking refuge in the houses of Barnet town [209] and in the great wood of Enfield Chase, which lieth to the eastward of the town. And some of them that fled, or, as others will have it some that stood by and watched the battle rode with all the speed of their horses to London, and told, to the no small fear of the citizens, how that the King's army was altogether broken. And now mark again how the mist saved the King's cause. For whereas had the day been clear, all the host would doubtless have suffered much discouragement seeing how their comrades fled, now, by reason of the darkness, scarce any knew of the thing so that they fought with as good a courage a though no ill chance had befallen them. And now the good success of the adversaries turned as often happeneth in war time, to their damage. For some of the soldiers pursued them that fled into the wood, and others fell to plundering the houses in Barnet town Thus was much time spent in vain; and when their captains had painfully gathered together such as they could find (but some returned not at all), lo! another mischance. For coming back to the field of battle by way of Barnet town [210] they came face to face with the middle part of' the army of the Earl of Warwick. Now in this middle part, whereof the Duke of Somerset; was captain, were set the archers. And these, thinking not that they who came from the southward were friends (for by this way had come the army of the King), and not discerning their faces, some of which had else been known to them by reason of the mist, the archers, I say, let fly a shower of arrows upon them. And for this error there was also, I have heard tell, another cause. For King Edward's men had upon their coats a sun with rays streaming therefrom, and the men of the Earl of Oxford a mullet—that is to say, a star with five points—which two things had a close similitude, and could scarce be discerned except by them that looked closely. Thus again did the mist serve King Edward, causing his enemies to fall by the hands one of another. And so it was that when the archers let fly upon them, my lord Oxford's men thinking that they were betrayed—and indeed in those days a man could scarce know for a certainty who were his friends and who his enemies—cried, Treachery! treachery! and fled from the field, as did also their leader.

[211] Then, while the archers doubted what this might mean, and some of them also looking more closely at those that had fallen by their arrows saw that they were indeed friends, then fell no little fear upon them, and they wavered to and fro, not knowing whether they should go forward or fall back. Which when King Edward perceived, for he was close at hand, he cried to them that followed him that the time was come, and that God had delivered their adversaries into their hands. Now at the beginning certain companies both of horsemen and footmen, having indeed a greater host than be could conveniently set in line, he had reserved. To these he now gave command that they should join the battle. And this they did, and because they had not wearied themselves with fighting, but were refreshed with food and drink, they bore down their adversaries before them; for these were spent with toil and hunger, having fought for three hours and more, and this, for the most part, fasting. But the Earl of Warwick on his part had none such on whom he could call. As for King Edward, he bore himself that day with such courage—nay, if I may so [212] say, with such fury—that it seemed as if none could withstand him. And indeed he had such strength and stature as could scarce be matched in either army. Nor, indeed, did my lord of Warwick and they that were with him fail to quit themselves like men. So much I heard afterwards from them that had been near them, both friends and foes. But I say not aught of them, because I speak only of that which I saw with mine own eyes. And now it could scarce be doubted what the issue of the day should be; for the line of Lancaster was broken. Nevertheless the battle was not yet ended, for in one place and another there were some that yet held out, holding their lives cheap, as men oft times do in the heat and fury of fighting, or, it may be, not knowing that their, companions had fled, for the mist was yet thick over the field though the sun was now high in the heavens. But these also were overborne one by one, so that by an hour before noon the battle was ended. And about noon there sprang up a wind from the west, and scattered the mist, so to speak, in a moment of time, and showed the whole plain. I pray God that I may never see [213] such a sight again; and indeed it was such as even the men of war could scarce look upon without shrinking of heart. For though there have been slain in other battles of these last wars more by many times (as at the battle of Hexham there fell of the vanquished alone eight and twenty thousand, but at Barnet of both armies not many more than three thousands), yet here the dead lay together in a small space. The cause whereof was this, that the mist had kept them that fought together, none knowing where or among whom he might find himself if he should move from his place. And even as they fought so did they fall, so that for the space of two or three furlongs was the ground, which, as I have before written, is here a plain upon the top of a hill, was covered with dead bodies both of men and horses. And these lay in all manner of ways, some decently composed as though they slept, and others, wrested, if I may so say, out of all shape, as though they had been wracked with pains that could scarce be borne. And it seemed to me that the sight was even more dreadful to behold because of the bright shining of the sun; for indeed, now that the [214] mist was driven away by the wind, the heavens were clear and without a cloud. Nor indeed did I fail to remember that this day of slaughter was the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, than which there should be, by rights, no more joyful day in the whole year. But of this few, it seemed to me, took any account. For the ill creatures that hang ever upon the skirts of an army, and find their prey, like unto the vultures, among the dead, had come forth seeking to spoil the dead, yea, and I do verily believe, sparing not, if occasion served, to slay the wounded. And some, that were not so wicked as these, yet were careless and hard of heart, did wander over the field, as though they saw some curious spectacle, but gave no help to any that needed. And among the conquerors, for the King halted upon the plain till his men had taken their noonday meal, there was laughter and singing, but not such mirth, I trow, as becometh the feast-day of the Lord.


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