The King, “as if a sword had struck him to the heart,” spoke not a word, but rushed to his chamber; next morning he was nowhere to be found.
Continuing Philip Breaks the Angevin Empire,
our selection from John Lackland by Kate Norgate published in 1902. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Philip Breaks the Angevin Empire.
Place: Plantagenet lands in France
Meanwhile, seventy transport vessels, which had been built by Richard to serve either for sea or river traffic, and as many more boats as could be collected, were to be laden with provisions for the distressed garrison of the island fort, and convoyed up the stream by a flotilla of small warships, manned by “pirates” under a chief named Alan and carrying, besides their own daring and reckless crews, a force of three thousand Flemings. Two hundred strokes of the oar, John reckoned, would bring these ships to the French pontoon; they must break it if they could; if not, they could at least cooperate with the Marshal and Lou Pescaire in cutting off the northern division of the French host from its comrades and supplies on the left bank, and throw into the island fort provisions which would enable it to hold out till John himself should come to its rescue.
One error brought the scheme to ruin, an error neither of strategy nor of conduct, but of scientific knowledge. John had miscalculated the time at which, on that night, the Seine would be navigable upstream, and his counsellors evidently shared his mistake till it was brought home to them by experience. The land forces achieved their march without hindrance, and at the appointed hour, shortly before daybreak, fell upon the French camp with such a sudden and furious onslaught that the whole of its occupants fled across the pontoon, which broke under their weight. But the fleet, which had been intended to arrive at the same time, was unable to make way against the tide, and before it could reach its destination the French had rallied on the northern bank, repaired the pontoon, recrossed it in full force, and routed John’s troops. The ships, when they at last came up, thus found themselves unsupported in their turn, and though they made a gallant fight they were beaten back with heavy loss. In the flush of victory one young Frenchman contrived to set fire to the island fort; it surrendered, and the whole population of the New Andely fled in a panic to Château Gaillard, leaving their town to be occupied by Philip.
The Saucy Castle itself still remained to be won. Knowing, however, that for this nothing was likely to avail but a blockade, which was now practically formed on two sides by his occupation of the island fort and the Lesser Andely, Philip on the very next day set off to make another attempt on Radepont, whence he had been driven away by John a year before. This time John made no effort to dislodge him. It was not worthwhile; the one thing that mattered now was Château Gaillard. Thither Philip, after receiving the surrender of Radepont, returned toward the end of September, 1203, to complete the blockade.
No second attempt to relieve it was possible. It may have been for the purpose of endeavoring to collect fresh troops from the western districts, which were as yet untouched by the war, that John about this time visited his old county of Mortain, and even went as far as Dol, which his soldiers had taken in the previous year. But his military resources in Normandy were exhausted; the Marshal bluntly advised him to give up the struggle. “Sire,” said William, “you have not enough friends; if you provoke your enemies to fight, you will diminish your own force; and when a man provokes his enemies, it is but just if they make him rue it.”
“Whoso is afraid, let him flee!” answered John. “I myself will not flee for a year; and if indeed it came to fleeing, I should not think of saving myself otherwise than you would, wheresoever you might be.”
“I know that well, sire,” replied William; “but you, who are wise and mighty and of high lineage, and whose work it is to govern us all, have not been careful to avoid irritating people. If you had, it would have been better for us all. Methinks I speak not without reason.”
The King, “as if a sword had struck him to the heart,” spoke not a word, but rushed to his chamber; next morning he was nowhere to be found; he had gone away in a boat, almost alone, and it was only at Bonneville that his followers rejoined him. This was apparently at the beginning of October, 1203. For two months more he lingered in the duchy, where his position was growing more hopeless day by day. At the end of October, or early in November, he took the decisive step of dismantling Pont de l’Arche, Moulineaux, and Montfort, three castles which, next to Château Gaillard, would be of the greatest value to the French for an advance upon Rouen. To Rouen itself he returned once more on November 9th, and stayed there four days. On the 12th he set out for Bonneville, accompanied by the Queen, and telling his friends that he intended to go to England to seek counsel and aid from his barons and people there, and would soon return. In reality his departure from the capital was caused by a rumor which had reached him of a conspiracy among the Norman barons to deliver him up to Philip Augustus. At Bonneville, therefore, he lodged not in the town, but in the castle, and only for a few hours; the Marshal and one or two others alone were warned of his intention to set forth again before daybreak, and the little party had got a start of seven leagues on the road to Caen before their absence was discovered by the rest of the suite, of whom “some went after them, and the more part went back.” Still John was reluctant to leave Normandy; he went south to Domfront and west to Vire before he again returned to the coast at Barfleur on November 28th, and even then he spent five days at Gonneville and one at Cherbourg before he finally took ship at Barfleur on December 5th, to land at Portsmouth next day.
It was probably before he left Rouen that he addressed a letter to the commandant of Château Gaillard in these terms: “We thank you for your good and faithful service, and desire that, as much as in you lies, you will persevere in the fidelity and homage which you owe to us; that you may receive a worthy meed of praise from God and from ourself and from all who know your faithfulness. If, however — which God forbid! — you should find yourself in such straits that you can hold out no longer, then do whatsoever our trusty and well-beloved Peter of Préaux, William of Mortimer, and Hugh of Howels, our clerk, shall bid you in our name.”
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