Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The First Expedition of Edward III Against the Scots


THE Scots are bold, hardy, and much inured to war. When they make their invasions into England, they march from twenty to four-and-twenty leagues without halting, as well by night as day; for they are all on horseback, except the camp-followers, who are on foot. The knights and esquires are well mounted on large bay horses, the common people on little galloways. They bring no carriages with them on account of the mountains they have to pass in Northumberland; neither do they carry with them any provisions or bread or wine; for their habits of sobriety are such, in time of war, that they will live for a long time on flesh half sodden, without bread, and drink the river water without wine. They have, therefore, no occasion for pots or pans; for they dress the flesh of their cattle in the skins, after they have taken them off: and being sure to find plenty of them in the country which they invade, they carry none with them. Under the flaps of his saddle, each man carries a broad plate of metal; behind the saddle, a little bag of oatmeal: when they have eaten too much of the sodden flesh, and their stomachs appear weak and empty, they place this plate over the fire, mix with water their oatmeal, and when the plate is heated, they put a little of the paste upon it, and make a thin cake like a cracknel or biscuit, which they eat to warm their stomachs: it is therefore no wonder that they perform a longer day's march than other soldiers. In this manner the Scots entered England, destroying and burning everything as they passed. They seized more cattle than they knew what to do with. . . .

When the English king and all his host had seen the smoke of the fires which the Scots had made, the alarm was immediately sounded, and every one ordered to dislodge and follow his banners: they all, therefore, withdrew to the fields, armed for immediate combat. Three battalions of infantry were formed; each battalion having two wings, composed of five hundred men-at-arms, who were to remain on horseback.

It was said that there were eight thousand men-at-arms, knights, and esquires, and thirty thousand men armed and equipped, half of whom were mounted on small hackneys; the other half were countrymen on foot, sent by the towns and paid by them. There were also twenty-four archers on foot, besides all the crew of followers of the army. Thus being drawn up, they marched in battle array after the Scots, toward the place from whence the smoke came, until it was night. The army halted in a wood, by the side of a small river, to rest themselves, and to wait for their baggage and provision.

The Scots had burnt and pillaged all the country within five leagues of the place where they were, without the English being able to come up with them.

At daybreak the next morning every one was armed, and, with banners displayed, marched in good order over mountains and through valleys, but could never approach the Scots, who were advanced before them; for there were so many marshes and dangerous places that it was ordered, under pain of death, that no one should quit his banner except the marshals. When it drew toward night, the cavalry, and those who attended the baggage, more especially the infantry, were so fatigued that they could march no farther.

The lords saw that they followed the Scots to no purpose; and that if the Scots were willing to wait for them, they might post themselves on some mountain, or in some dangerous pass, where they could not be attacked but at extreme disadvantage.

The king then ordered the marshals to encamp the army there for the night, in order that they might consider what was to be done the next day. The army lay in a wood upon the banks of a small river, and the king was lodged in a Nor monastery hard by. The men-at-arms, horses and baggage, were much fatigued. When each had chosen a spot of ground to encamp himself on, the lords retired apart, to consider what would be the best method to force the Scots to battle, considering the situation of the country in which they were. It appeared to them that the Scots were sheering off to their own country, burning and pillaging as they went, and that it would be impossible to fight with them in these mountains, without a manifest disadvantage, supposing they should overtake them, which they could not; but, as they must repass the Tyne, it was determined in full council that if they were to get themselves ready about midnight, and hasten their march next day, they might cut off the passage of the river, and force them to fight to a disadvantage, or remain shut up prisoners in England.

After this resolution had been entered into, each retired to his quarters, to eat and drink what he could find there; and they desired their companions to be silent, in order that the trumpets might be heard: at the first sounding of which, the horses were to be saddled and made ready; at the second, every one was to arm himself without delay; and at the third, to mount their horses immediately and join their banners. Each was to take only one loaf of bread with him, slung behind him after the manner of hunters. All unnecessary arms, harness, and baggage, were ordered to be left behind, as they thought they should for a certainty give battle the next day, whatever might be the consequences, whether they should win or lose all. As it had been ordered so it was executed, and all were mounted and ready about midnight. Some had but little rest, notwithstanding they had labored hard the day before. Day began to appear as the battalions were assembled at their different posts: the banner-bearers then hastened on over heaths, mountains, valleys, rocks, and many dangerous places, without meeting any level country. On the summits of the mountains and in the valleys were large marshes and bogs, and of such extent that it was a miracle many were not lost in them; for each galloped forward without waiting for either commander or companion: those who fell into them found difficulty in getting any to help them. Many banners remained there, and several baggage and sumpter horses never came out again.

In the course of the day there were frequent cries of alarm, as if the foremost ranks were engaged with the enemy; which those behind believing to be true, they hurried forward as fast as possible, over rocks and mountains, sword in hand, with their helmets and shields prepared for fighting, without waiting for father, brother, or friend. When they had hastened about half a league toward the place from which the noise came, they found themselves disappointed, as the cries proceeded from some herds of deer or other wild beasts, which abounded in these heaths and desert places, and which fled before the banners, pursued by the shouts of the army, which made them imagine it was something else.

In this manner the young King of England, agreeably to the advice of his council, rode all that day over mountains and deserts, without keeping to any fixed road or finding any town. About vespers, and sorely fatigued, they reached the Tyne, which the Scots had already crossed, though the English supposed they had it still to repass. Accordingly, they went over the ford, but with great difficulty, owing to the large stones that were in the river.

When they had passed over, each took up his lodging on its bank as he could; and at this time the sun was set. There were few among them that had any hatchets, wedges, or other instruments, to cut down trees, to make themselves huts; many of them had lost their companions, and even the foot had remained behind, not knowing what road to ask for. Those who were best acquainted with the country said that they had traveled that day twenty English leagues on a gallop, without stopping, except to arrange the furniture of their horses, when it had been loosened by the violent exercise. They were forced to lie this night on the banks of the river in their armor, and at the same time hold their horses by their bridles, for there was not any place where they could tie them. Thus the horses had nothing to eat, neither oats nor any forage; and the men had only their loaf that was tied behind them, which was wetted by the sweat of the horses. They had no other beverage but the water of the river, except some great lords, who had bottles among their baggage: nor had they fire or light, not having anything to make them of; except some few lords, who had some torches, which they had brought on sumpter horses. In such a melancholy manner did they pass the night, without taking the saddles from their horses or disarming themselves. And when the long expected day appeared, when they hoped to find some comfort for themselves and horses, or to fight the Scots, which they very much wished for, to get out of their disagreeable situation, it began to rain, and continued all the day, insomuch that the river was so increased by noon that no one could pass over, nor could any one be sent to know where they were, or to get forage and litter for their horses, or bread or wine for their own sustenance; they were therefore obliged to fast another night. The horses had nothing to subsist on but the leaves of the trees and grass. They cut down with their swords young trees and tied their horses to them. They also cut down brushwood to make huts for themselves.

Some poor peasants, coming that way in the afternoon, informed them they were fourteen leagues from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and eleven from Carlisle, and that there was not a town nearer whence they could get any accommodation. When this intelligence was brought to the king and the principal lords, they directly sent off messengers with horses to bring them provision, and they caused a proclamation to be made in the king's name in Newcastle, that whoever wished to get money, he had only to bring provision, wine, etc., for which he would be instantly paid, and a safe-conduct granted him. They were also informed that they should not move from their present quarters until they had information where the Scots were. The next day the messengers which the lords had sent for provision returned about noon with what they had been able to procure for them and their households; but it was not much: and with them came people of the country, to take their advantage of the situation of the army, and brought with them on mules and small horses bread badly baked, in baskets, and poor thin wine, in large barrels, and other kind of provision to sell, with which the army was tolerably refreshed, and their discontent appeased. This was the case during the seven days that they remained on the banks of this river, among the mountains, expecting the return of the Scots, who knew no more of the English than they did of them.

Thus they had remained for three days and three nights without bread, wine, candles, oats, or any other forage: and they were afterwards for four days obliged to buy badly baked bread, at the price of sixpence a loaf, which was not worth more than a penny, and a gallon of wine for six groats, scarcely worth sixpence. Hunger, however, was still felt in the camp, notwithstanding this supply; and frequent quarrels happened from their tearing the meat out of each other's hands. To add to their unpleasant situation, it had rained all the week, by which all their saddles and girths were rotted, and the greater part of the cavalry were worn down. They had not wherewithal to shoe their horses that wanted it; nor had they anything to clothe themselves, or preserve them from the rain and cold, but their jerkins or armor, and the green huts: nor had they any wood to burn, except what was so green and wet as to be of small service.

Having continued for a whole week without hearing any tidings of the Scots, who they imagined must pass that way or very near it, in their return home, great murmurs arose in the army: and many laid the fault on those who had given such advice, adding that it was done in order to betray the king and his host. Upon which, the lords of council ordered the army to make ready to march, and cross the river seven leagues higher up, where the ford was better; and it was proclaimed that every one was to be in readiness to march the next dayand to followhis banners. There was another proclamation made, that 'whoever chose to take pains and find out where the Scots were and should bring certain intelligence of it to the king, the messenger of such news should have one hundred pounds a year in land, and be made a knight by the king himself. When this was made known among the host, many knights and esquires, to the number of fifteen or sixteen, eager to gain such rewards, passed the river with much danger, ascended the mountains, and then separated, each taking different routes.

The next day the army dislodged; marched tolerably well, considering that they were but ill clothed, and exerted themselves so much, that they repassed the river, though with much danger from its being swollen by the rains. Many were well washed and many drowned. When they had crossed over, they remained there for that night, finding plenty of forage in the fields near to a small village, which the Scots had burnt as they passed. The next day they marched over hill and dale till about noon, when they came to some burnt villages, and some fields where there were corn and hay, so that the host remained there for that night. The third day they marched in the same manner; but many were ignorant where they were going, nor had they any intelligence of the enemy.

They continued their route the fourth day in this order; when, about three o'clock, an esquire, galloping up hastily to the king, said, "Sire, I bring you news of the Scots: they are three leagues from this place, lodged on a mountain, where they have been this week, waiting for you. They knew no more where you were than you did of them: and you may depend on this as true; for I approached so near to them that I was taken and led a prisoner to their army, before their chiefs. I informed them where you were, and that you were seeking them to give them battle. The lords gave me up my ransom and my liberty, when I informed them that you had promised one hundred pounds a year to whoever should first bring intelligence of them, upon condition that he rested not until he brought you this information; and I now tell you that you will find them in the place I have mentioned, as eager to meet you in battle as you yourself can be."

As soon as the king heard this news, he ordered his army to be prepared, and turned his horses to feed in the fields, near to a monastery of white monks, which had been burnt, and which was called in King Arthur's time Blanche Land. Then the king confessed himself, and each made his preparations according to his abilities. The king ordered plenty of masses to be said, to housel such as were devoutly inclined. He assigned one hundred pounds' value of land, yearly, to the esquire, according to his promise, and made him a knight with his own hands in the presence of the whole army.

When they had taken some repose, and breakfasted, the trumpets sounded; and all being mounted, the banners advanced as the young knight led them on; but each battalion marched by itself in regular array, over hill and dale, keeping their ranks according to order. Thus they continued marching, when about twelve o'clock they came within sight of the Scots' army.

As soon as the Scots perceived them, they issued forth from their huts on foot, and formed three good battalions, upon the descent of the mountain on which they lodged. A strong rapid river ran at the foot of this mountain, which was so full of large rocks and stones that it was dangerous to pass it in haste. If the English had passed the river, there was not room between it and the mountain for them to draw up their line of battle. The Scots had formed their first two battalions on the two sides of the mountain, and on the declivity of the rock, which was not easy to climb to attack them: but they themselves were posted so as to annoy them with stones, if they crossed the river; which if the English effected, they would not be able to return.

[There were skirmishes by both parties, but no regular engagements. At length, the Scots moved to a second mountain, and the English camped on one directly opposite. Day after day both armies waited for something to be done, and, behold, at last something was  done.]

Toward daybreak two Scots trumpeters fell in with one of the patrols, who took them and brought them before the lords of the council, to whom they said, "My lords, why do you watch here? You are losing your time; for we swear by our heads that the Scots are on their march home since midnight, and are now four or five leagues off—and they left us behind, that we might give you the information." The English said that it would be in vain to follow them, as they could never overtake them; but, fearing deceit, the lords ordered the trumpeters to close confinement, and did not alter the position of the battalions until four o'clock. When they saw that the Scots were really gone, they gave permission for each to retire to his quarters, and the lords held a council to consider what was to be done. Some of the English, however, mounted their horses, passed the river, and went to the mountain which the Scots had quitted, and found more than five hundred large cattle, which the enemy had killed, as they were too heavy to carry with them, and too slow to follow them, and they wished not to let them fall into the hands of the English alive. They found there also more than three hundred caldrons, made of leather with the hair on the outside, which were hung on the fires full of water and meat, ready for boiling. There were also upward of a thousand spits with meat on them, prepared for roasting; and more than ten thousand pairs of old worn-out shoes, made of undressed leather, which the Scots had left there. There were found five poor English prisoners, whom the Scots had bound naked to the trees, and some of them had their legs broken; they untied them and sent them away, and then returned to the army, just as they were setting out on their march to England, by orders from the king and council.

They followed all that day the banners of the marshals, and halted at an early hour in a beautiful meadow, where there was plenty of forage for their horses; and much need was there of it, for they were so weakened by famine that they could scarce move. The next day they decamped betimes, and took up their quarters still earlier, at a large monastery within two leagues of Durham. The king lay there that night, and the army in the fields around it, where they found plenty of grass, pulse, and corn. They remained there quiet the next day; but the king and lords went to see the church of Durham. The king paid his homage to the church and the bishopric, which he had not before done, and gave largesses to the citizens.

They found there all their carriages and baggage which they had left in a wood thirty-two days before, at midnight, as has been related. The inhabitants of Durham, finding them there, had brought them away at their own cost, and placed them in empty barns. Each carriage had a little flag attached to it that it might be known. The lords were much pleased at finding them again.

The king and nobles reposed two days at Durham, and the army in its environs, for there would not have been sufficient room to lodge them in that city. They had all their horses well shod, and set out on their march toward York. They made such haste that in three days they arrived there, and found the queen mother, who received the king and nobles with great joy, as did all the ladies of the court and city. The king disbanded the army, and gave permission for every one to return to his home, and made many acknowledgments to the earls, barons, and knights, for the services they had rendered him by their advice and prowess. He kept near his person Sir John de Hainault and his company, who were much feasted by the queen and all the ladies. The knights made out their accounts for horses which had been ruined or lost or had died, and gave them in to the council, and also a statement of their own expenses, which Sir John de Hainault took upon him as his own debt toward his followers, for the king and his ministers could not immediately collect such a sum as their horses amounted to; but he gave them sufficient for their own expenses, and to carry them back to their own country. They were afterwards all paid within the year the full amount of their losses.

by Sir John Froissart

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