from the Chronicles of Jean Froissart
The “Hundred Years’ War” between France and England (1337-1453) was an episodic struggle lasting well over a hundred years, for much of the time without any conflict. The battles were both violent, but also occasions when ideals of “chivalry” were displayed.
Oftentimes the adventure of amours and of war are more fortunate and marvellous than any man can think or wish. Truly this battle, the which was near to Poitiers in the fields of Beauvoir and Maupertuis, was right great and perilous, and many deeds of arms there was done the which all came not to knowledge. The fighters on both sides endured much pain: king John with his own hands did that day marvels in arms: he had an axe in his hands wherewith he defended himself and fought in the breaking of the press. Near to the king there was taken the earl of Tancarville, sir Jaques of Bourbon car] of Ponthieu, and the lord John of Artois earl of Eu, and a little above that under the banner of the captal of Buch was taken sir Charles of Artois and divers other knights and squires. The chase endured to the gates of Poitiers: there were many slain and beaten down, horse and man, for they of Poitiers closed their gates and would suffer none to enter; wherefore in the street before the gate was horrible murder, men hurt and beaten down….
Then there was a great press to take the king, and such as knew him cried, “Sir, yield you, or else ye are but dead.” There was a knight of Saint-Omer’s, retained in wages with the king of England, called sir Denis Morbeke, who had served the Englishmen five year before, because in his youth he had forfeited the realm of France for a murder that he did at Saint-Omer’s. It happened so well for him, that he was next to the king when they were about to take him: he stept forth into the press, and by strength of his body and arms he came to the French king and said in good French, “Sir, yield you.” The king beheld the knight and said: “To whom shall I yield me? Where is my cousin the prince of Wales? If I might see him, I would speak with him.” Denis answered and said: “Sir, he is not here; but yield you to me and I shall bring you to him.” “Who be you?” quoth the king. “Sir,” he, “I am Denis of Morbeke, a knight of Artois; but I serve the king of England because I am banished the realm of France and I have forfeited all that I had there. ” Then the king gave him his right gauntlet, saying “There I yield me to you.” was a great press about the king, for every man enforced him to say “I have taken him,” so that the king could not go forward with his young son the lord Philip with him because of the press.
[The Black Prince sent two lords to search for the French king.] These two lords took their horses and departed from the prince rode up a hill to look about them: then they perceived a flock of men of arms coming together right wearily: there was the French king afoot in great peril, for Englishmen and Gascons were his masters; they had taken him from sir Denis Morbeke perforce, and such as were most of force said, “I have taken him”; “Nay,” quoth another, “I have taken him”; so they strave which should have him. Then the French king, to eschew that peril, said: “Sirs, strive not: lead men courteously, and my son, to my cousin the prince, and strive not for my taking, for I am so great a lord to make you all rich.” The king’s words somewhat appeased them; howbeit ever as they went they made riot and brawled for the taking of the king. When the two foresaid lords saw and heard that noise and strife among them they came to them and said: “Sirs, what is the matter that ye strive for?” “Sirs,” said one of them, “it is for the French king, who is here taken prisoner, and there be more than ten knights and squires that challengeth the taking of him and of his son. “Then the two lords entered into the press and caused every man to draw aback, and commanded them in the prince’s name on pain of their heads to make no more noise nor to approach the king no nearer, without they were commanded. Then every man gave room to the lords, and they alighted and did their reverence to the king, and so brought him and his son in peace and rest to the prince of W ales.
The same day of the battle at night the prince made a supper in his lodging to the French king and to the most part of the great lords that were prisoners. The prince made the king and his son, the lord James of Bourbon, the lord John d’Artois, the earl of Tancarville the earl of Estampes, the earl of Dammartin, the earl of Joinville the lord of Partenay to sit all at one board, and other lords, knights and squires at other tables; and always the prince served before the king as humbly as he could, and would not sit at the king’s board for any desire that the king could make, but he said he was not sufficient to sit at the table with so great a prince as the king was. But then he said to the king, “Sir, for God’s sake make none evil nor heavy cheer, though God this day did not consent to follow your will; for, sir, surely the king my father shall bear you as much honour and amity as he may do, and shall accord with you so reasonably that ye shall ever be friends together after. And, sir, methink ve ought to rejoice, though the journey be not as ye would have had it, for this day ye have won the high renown of prowess and have passed this day in valiantness all other of your party. Sir, I say not this to mock you, for all that be on our party, that saw every man’s deeds, are plainly accorded by true sentence to give you the prize and chaplet.” Therewith the Frenchmen began to murmur and said among themselves how the prince had spoken nobly, and that by all estimation he should prove a noble man, if God send him life and to persevere in such good fortune.
Reprinted here by kind permission of the Internet Medieval Source Book.