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The Chantry Priest of Barnet by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

HOW I SAW THE BATTLE OF BLORE HEATH

[103] AND now I must speak awhile of more serious things. When September was one-third spent, saith John to me, "Wouldst thou see something more of this fair county of Salop? If it please thee we will ride to Ellesmere, which is in the northern part, not far from Cheshire. There are goodly pools, which they call meres in those parts, full of such fish as thou shalt not often see. Put up thy angle, therefore, and we will ride and tarry there a week or thereabouts, and so back." And I, though I would have chosen rather a hundred times to abide where I could see Mistress Joan, could not, if it was but for friendship's sake, say nay; and so, feigning a contentment which was not in my heart, agreed to his counsel.

On the morrow, therefore, being the eleventh [104] day of September, we set forth, and the next day came to Ellesmere, nor had any adventure on the road; only we heard rumours of wars, for the peace which my lord Archbishop of Canterbury had made was altogether broken, and the armies of York and Lancaster were making themselves ready for the battle. At Ellesmere we were entertained by Master Tomkins, a maltster, and kinsman to Mistress Eliot. Sufficient of sport we had, I with my angle and John with his crossbow, shooting wild geese and the like, of which there was great plenty in those parts. Yet we were not altogether at ease, for the whole land was disturbed as if trouble were nigh at hand. On the twenty-second day of this said month of September we journeyed to Drayton, which is also called Market Drayton, for John had another kinsman there whom he would fain see. On the morrow, when we were now on the point to set forth journeying homeward, we were aware of a great stir in the town. And when we inquired the cause, we were told that an hour since (for it was then eight of the clock) there had come a rider into the town from my lord of Salisbury with a [105] writing to the bailiff of the said town, that there should be made ready forthwith such provision of food and drink as might be got together. And the rider said that my lord had nigh upon ten thousand men with him, and that he was on his way to join himself with the Duke of York. Now when all had been gathered together, twenty carts full, so that there was scarce left in the whole town a loaf, or a cheese, or a quart measure of ale, the bailiff was in no small perplexity who should take charge of the provender to carry it to the army. "For," said he, "we would willingly take no side in these wars. Thanks be to God, Drayton hath no walls, for walls, though they do furnish defence against chance plunderers, are oftentimes a sore trouble to them that dwell therein. Wherefore it is the easier for us to live peaceably with all men. Nevertheless, if one of our chief men among our townsfolk should take charge of these goods he would be held to favour the one side. And yet to avoid waste and plundering there must needs go with them some one in authority." Thereupon said John, "Let me go, for I am a stranger in these parts, [106] and yet not so much a stranger but that ye have warranty of my good faith. And within the space of a few days I shall depart to Oxford, where there shall be no inquiry what part I have taken in these matters." To this answered the bailiff, "So be it." Then said John to me, "Let us come; haply we shall see a battle, and though I would not for vain curiosity thrust myself into any place to which I am not called, yet if such a sight should fall to us while we do our duty, it were well worth the seeing." So we set forth, the carts following. And when we had gone a mile or thereabouts, we saw a company of horsemen. Then the rider of my lord Salisbury, setting spurs to his horse, hastened to meet them. And one of them rode back to the main army, which we now espied marching on the high-road, and in the meadows which lie upon either side of it. And in the front was a man of noble presence, and about him a company of thirty knights, or may be forty. Then said a certain trooper, "That is my lord of Salisbury, and the young men who ride on either hand of him are his two sons." And while we looked came one in the garb of [107] a countryman riding at full speed, and a trooper with him. What the man said we heard not, being at two furlongs' distance; but we saw that he pointed northward with his hand. And looking thither we were aware of another army that marched from the westward, as though it would cut us off in our way. Now there lay before us a hill, with a fair plain of a mile or more every way on the top thereof, which they call Blore Heath, and it was between the two armies, but nigher to us, may be, by a furlong's distance. Then my lord of Salisbury bade sound on the trumpets that his men should quicken their pace, which they did so that they first gained the hill, and held already the greater part of the plain before their adversaries could come at it. Therefore I was the more astonished that the battle being but just begun, my lord Salisbury's men began to give ground, losing, for so it seemed to me, the vantage which they had. And I said, "They flee already, and are like to lose the day." "Nay," said he, "hast thou not heard of feigned flights? These men give ground in orderly fashion, and not as though they were possessed with fear. The end is not [108] yet." Now there is a stream that divideth the Heath, shallow for the most part, but with deep pools. And I saw that the adversaries as they crossed the said stream brake their line, crowding together to the shallower parts. And before they could set it again in order my lord's archers, that were lying behind a certain rise that there is, let fly upon them a very storm of arrows. And ere they had recovered themselves, came my lord himself with his horsemen, five hundred at the least, and charged upon them. Then was there a very fierce battle, for a man could not choose between the two armies for strength, or courage, or numbers. Many knights and men-at-arms did valiantly on either side, and the archers on either side shot fast and with good aim. Nevertheless there remained with my lord Salisbury this advantage, and with his adversary—who was, as I after heard, my lord Audley—this damage, that the line of battle of the one was whole, and of the other broken. And so indeed went at last the fortune of the day.

I noted this of the knights, that such as fell came by their end in this way. They were [109] clad in armour of proof so cunningly wrought that spear or sword could scarce do any damage thereto. But I saw that some were unhorsed, or were borne down man and horse together by the charge of some rider that was heavier of weight, or drave against them with some advantage, or came to the ground by the stumbling or wounding of their horses. And being fallen they could not by any means rise again for the weight of their armour, that which had been before their safeguard turning now to their undoing. And the billmen or the archers, who carried swords besides their bow, slew them as they lay upon the ground, having often much ado to come at any mortal part, so cunningly joined together was their armour. One knight I did specially note, whom the billmen did thus kill, and that in a very barbarous fashion; a very horrible sight, such as l pray I may never look upon more. Of ransoming there was, I take it, but little. For in civil wars men slay rather than hold to ransom, not only because they have more heat one against another, but because they are ashamed to hold in prison sometime friends, [110] whom, nevertheless, they are not ashamed to slay. Many men perished on either side in this battle, two thousand four hundred in all, of whom the greater part belonged, I heard say, to Cheshire, which shire indeed specially suffered, being divided against itself.

The battle being ended, my lord Audley, with such as were left to him—for besides them that were slain many had fled to their homes—returned westward by the way by which he had come; and my lord Salisbury went on his way to Pontefract to the Duke of York; but his two sons, being sore wounded in the battle, journeyed northward into Cumberland, where they might be more conveniently healed of their hurts. The two armies carried their wounded with them, save a few that chanced to have kindred in Drayton town. Of the knights and squires that were slain well-nigh all were taken for burial to their own homes, being, as I have said, for the most part of this country. Some few that came from far were buried in Drayton Church; for the common sort the townsfolk made great trenches upon the Heath and bestowed their bodies therein, not without [111] due offices from the parson of Drayton and of other churches which are thereabouts. For two days we busied ourselves in these matters, and afterwards set forth for home, to which we came in two days' time, with great joy of the whole household, for they had heard that a battle had been fought hard by Drayton, and feared lest we might have been entangled therein.

Now it was time that we should take thought of our going back to Oxford. Therefore we had speech of a gatherer of scholars that purposed to journey from Shrewsbury. With him we made agreement for hire of horses and other things needful.

On the first day of October (on which day we were to set forth) cometh Master Eliot, as I stood in the hall ready for my journey, and saith, "Son Thomas, if I may so call thee," and as he spake I caught him by the hand, as though to show my willingness, "it is meet that thou shouldst know to what family thou hast joined thyself. I am not of this country, but of the English border, as, perchance, thou hast already gathered from my name. My father was slain at Halidon Hill, which battle was fought, as [112] thou knowest, fifty and three years since, at which time I was but a child of two years. And when I was come to thirty years my mother died, having had much trouble, for the Border is an ill place for a woman that is a widow, nor would she take another husband. Then I, being left alone, without brother or sister, and having small regard for my kinsmen and namefolk, who for the most part did live by robbery, caring nothing so that they did their plundering on the other side of the Border, I sold my holding to my lord Percy and came southward, having some hundred gold pieces in my pouch. And chancing on Drayton town, I fell into the company of a certain yeoman, Tompkins by name, an old man, having one daughter of his old age. Her I wedded, and lived in much content till the old man died. But when his kinsfolk were ill content that the land should pass to another name, we made agreement with them for a sum of money, and yielded the estate. Not many days after I bought this house wherein we stand of an old knight, Sir Louis Delisle. The said knight had wasted his means in his youth, living riotously with King Richard, second of the [113] name, and his sons were dead, having been slain in France fighting against the Maid. So I bought the house and that which remained to it of the land, but the greater part had been sold beforehand, and also all the furnishing of beds, and tables and chairs, and other things which doubtless thou hast noted as being somewhat beyond my station. It was covenanted between us that the old man should dwell here to his death; and this he did. That chain armour that thou seest was worn by one Sir Thomas Delisle at the battle of Evesham, and that other by yet another Sir Thomas at Poictiers. But the bow that hangeth over the chimney was my grandsire's."

When he had ended came Willie, saying that the horses stood saddled at the gate. So after farewells given and taken we departed. But I noted that when I kissed Mistress Joan upon either cheek she neither trembled at all or changed colour; and with this, though I was not learned in the signs and tokens of love, I was ill content. As for me, of what aspect I was I know not; but my heart beat so fiercely that it seemed like to have broken from its place.


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