Sirs,’ he said, ‘although we be but a small company compared with our enemies, we must not lose courage. If it is to be our good fortune to win the day, we shall be the most honoured people in all the world; and if we die in our right quarrel, I have the king my father and my brothers, and you have good friends and kinsmen, and they will avenge our deaths. I beg that each of you will do your duty to-day, and if God be pleased and St. George, this day you will see me a true knight.’
After this the battle began.
The French cavalry charged up the lane, hoping to break the lines of archers, but the men who were posted behind the hedges received them with such a volley of arrows that the horses refused to advance, and some of them fell, blocking up the way.
Then a body of English knights, galloping down the hill, threw the foremost of the French lines into confusion.
Lord James Audley, who during the first part of the battle had been by the side of the prince, now said to him, ‘Sir, I have always truly served my lord your father and yourself also, and I shall do so as long as I live. I once made a vow that in the first battle that your father or any of his children should be in, I should be the first setter-on and the best combatant, or else die; therefore I beg of you that you will allow me to leave you in order that I may accomplish my vow.’
The prince took him by the hand and said, ‘Sir James, God give you this day the grace to be the first knight of all’; and Lord James rode away into the battle and fought until he had to be carried, sorely wounded, from the field.
In the meantime the battle raged with great fury upon all sides, and many French and English knights were engaged in deadly combat.
An English knight, Sir John Chandos, who had never left the prince, said to his master, ‘Ride forward, noble prince, and the day is yours; let us get to the French king, for truly he is so valiant a gentleman that I think he will not fly, but may be taken prisoner; and, sir, I heard you say that this day I should see you a good knight.’
‘John,’ said the prince, ‘let us go forth; you shall not see me turn back this day, but I will ever be with the foremost’; then the prince and his friend rode into the thickest of the fight.
Where the battle raged most fiercely the French king, with his young son Philip by his side, was laying about him with his battle-axe. When the nobles around him were slain or had fled, the brave lad refused to leave his father, who made his last stand with the blood streaming down from a wound in the face.
At last the king was forced to yield, and he gave his glove to a banished French knight, Sir Denis de Marbeke, in token of surrender.
When the French were fleeing from the field, the Black Prince had become so exhausted with fighting that Sir John Chandos persuaded him to retire to his tent and take some rest.
Presently the news came to the royal tent that the king had been taken prisoner, and was on his way to the English camp. The prince immediately sent two of his lords to meet him, and had him brought to his own tent, where he received his brave enemy with the greatest respect.
After the king had rested and refreshed himself, the prince invited him and the other captive nobles to a supper in his tent, and Prince Edward himself waited upon King John, saying that he was not worthy to sit at table with so great a prince and so valiant a man.
Soon after this the English returned to their own country, bringing with them the French king and many other prisoners.
The victorious army was received with the greatest joy; and on the day when the Black Prince entered London, the people crowded by thousands into the streets to see him pass as he rode on a little pony by the side of his prisoner, King John of France, whom he had mounted upon his own magnificent cream-coloured charger.
King John was kept, an honourable prisoner, until a peace was made with France. Then he was allowed to return to his own country upon condition that the French should pay, within six years, a sum of money for his ransom.
Until the ransom should be paid, the French king’s three sons agreed to remain as hostages in the town of Calais, which belonged to the English. They were allowed to ride into French territory as often as they pleased, provided that they gave their word of honour not to remain away longer than four days at a time. King Edward and his son, knowing how honourable their father was, trusted in the honour of these young princes.
One day, however, one of the princes yielded to temptation, rode away, and never came back to Calais at all. Upon hearing the news the French king was so shocked that he returned to England and yielded himself up a prisoner once more.
‘If honour is to be found nowhere else,’ he said, ‘it should find a refuge in the breast of kings.’
King Edward gave him a palace to live in, and he and his people did all they could to show the imprisoned king how much they loved and admired him for his noble conduct.
But King John never returned to his own country. Three months after his arrival in England he died, his end hastened by sorrow at the base and thoughtless conduct of his son.
by: Hilda T. Skae
The following short story is reprinted from Stories from English History. Hilda T. Skae. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1907.