The Battle of Bouvines according to the Anonymous of Bethune
This account comes from a chronicle for the years 1185 to 1217 that was written after 1220 for Robert of Bethune, a participant in the battle, by a member of his entourage.
These are the names of the high men who went to battle
with the King of France: Eudes, Duke of Burgundy; Henry, Count of Bar; Henry,
Count of Grantpre; John, Count of Beaumont; Gauthier of Chatillon, Count of
Saint Pol; William, Count of Ponthieu; Ainoul, Count of Guines; Raoul, Count of
Soissons; Mathew of Montmorency; William des Barren; Engourans of Couchy and his
two brothers Thomas and Robert, and many other great men too numerous to name.
The King of France went to
his town Tournai, while the Emperor along with a castellan, Everard Radol,
Castcllan of Tournai which he held from Count Ferrand, went to Mortagne. When
the King of France heard that they were so near him, he became worried as
Mortagne is only three mils from Tournai. Then he called his great men and
concluded in council that they would go towards France the next day.
When the next day came, the
king had all his men arm themselves and his echelons put in formation. He thus
left Tournai and took the road to Lille with his host in good order. They were
going so fast that all those who saw them said that they had never seen such a
great armed host riding at such a speed. And when the Emperor and the Count
Ferrand and the people who were at Mortagne found this out, what did they do?
They climbed in full armor on their horses and rode at breakneck speed after
them so as to catch up with their prey. They reached the Duke of Burgundy and
the Champenois who made up the rearguard in a small wood two miles away from
Tournai and pressed them so hard that they had to stop and turn toward them and
had their bowmen shoot so as to make their men [the assailants] retreat. In this
manner, the Flemings forced the rearguard to stop five times on this day and
turn towards them, so that the Duke of Burgundy sent a message asking the King
to ride slowly as they were much, pressed.
It was Sunday, and because of
this the King would have preferred the battle to be postponed till the morrow
for the honor of the day. But when he saw that there was no other way, he put on
his armor, entered the church, made his orisons, and was soon finished praying.
Then he climbed on his horse and did not appear frightened anymore as he decided
and ordered his affairs very wisely and assuredly and without any panic, and had
everyone, knights and others, called to return to their battalions. I must tell
you that most of the host had already passed a bridge spanning a small river and
several pavilions had already been set upon the other side of the bridge in a
meadow where the King had planned to spend the night.
Thus the King had his
echelons put in formation and they rode forward. You could see among them many
noblemen, much rich armor and many noble banners. The same was true for the
opposite side, but I must tell you that they did riot ride as well and in as
orderly a manner ac the French, and they became aware of it.
As the hosts had come close
enough to see each other clearly, they stopped for a long time and put their
affairs in order. Then the king asked for an echelon of mounted sergeants, who
were all carrying pennants at the tips of their swords, to assemble, and they
did. They attacked the Flemings and performed many great deeds.
Then the Count of Flanders
charged the Champenois and the Champenois charged him and there was a heated
melee, but the Champenois had to retreat.
Then, the Viscount of Melun
charged; in his battalion were the Count of Ponthieu, the Count of Guines, and
all those residing between the Somme and the Lis who had come from the fief of
Louis, the King's son. This battalion stopped the pursuit, and they all fought
so well that the valorous men who were there said that they had never seen such
good tourneying as had occurred during this battle.
Baudouin of Praet, a wealthy
man from Flanders, with a blow threw Huan of Malaunoi [Hugh of Maleveine?], a
very good knight, and his horse to the ground as he was charging him.
Then the armies from both
sides charged each other and there was a melee. The King's trumpets sounded
because he himself had been hit and his horse fell under him, but he was soon up
again. On this day, his banner was carried by Galon of Montigny, a knight from
the Vermandois who carried it very gallantly.
Gauthier of Chatillon, Count
of Saint-Pol, charged through the whole of the battalions and caused much
damage. And when Henry, Duke of Louvain, who had not yet charged, saw this, he
took flight and initiated the defeat.
Mathew of Montmorency held a
billhook in his hands and was astride a great horse. All those who saw him
charge through the melee and saw how he went about, hitting and throwing knights
to the ground and wounding many people, deny ever having seen a better knight.
Eudes, Duke of Burgundy, had
put on the coat of arms of William des Barres, the good knight, but carried his
own shield. You must know that he [William] had performed so many great deeds of
arms that he was spoken about with praise as far away as Syria. He [the Duke of
Burgundy] looked to one side and saw Arnoul of Audenarde, one of the greatest
men of Flanders and, since his youth, one of the best knights, at a spot where
he had stopped in front of the sergeants. And thus he charged him. When Arnoul
saw him coming, he told his people: "Lords, look, William des Barres, the
good knight, is charging us. Let us make our horses face toward him because if
he attacks us from the side he would do us too much harm." He was saying
this because he thought that the duke was William des Barres on accountt of the
coat of arms that he was wearing. As he uttered these words, the duke came upon
him and Arnoul stood his ground well and bravely. As they fought each other, the
duke bent down and tried to slay his horse but Arnoul had a knife in his hand
and tried to hit the duke through the eye-hole of his helmet but the duke bent
down and parried the blow, and then fled. And when Arnoul saw him leave, he told
his squire who was called Estoutin: "God helped us!" Estoutin said:
"He could help us some more and make their good knights leave instead of
ours abandoning this place." But things were not to go the way he wished.
And thus there were clashes everywhere and they did what they knew how to do
well. There was fine prowess and passage of arms.
What more call I tell you?
The Emperor's men and those of Count Ferrand were completely defeated. Count
Ferrand himself was taken, as I told you, with many great men from his land.
Hellins of Waverin, the Seneschal of Flanders, a fairly new knight, was taken.
The three sons of Rasson of Gaure, the boteillier of Flanders - Rasse the eldest
who was very brave for his age and his two brothers, Arnoul and Philip ‑
were taken. Gerard of Grinberghes, who was also a very brave man, was taken.
Gauthier of Ghistele and Philip of Malenghin, who had much valor, and Peter del
Maisnil, a young man, the son of the good Pieron del Maisiiil who was both
valorous and wise, were taken. Robert of Bethune was taken but he offered so
much to a knight called Fleming of Crepelaine that he freed him and brought him
back to safety.
From amongst the King of
England's people William Longsword, Count of Salisbury, brother of the King of
England, was taken.
Renaud of Dammartin, the
Count of Boulogne, and several other knights with these two counts were taken.
From among the Emperor's
people Count Hairy and Bernard of Ostemale, a very good knight, and Conrad of
Tremoigne, a man of great worth, and several others were taken.
Arnoul of Audenarde, who was
Flemish, was also taken but the King soon turned him over to the Count of
Soissons whose cousin he was and to Roger of Rassoi whose daughter he had wed.
In the evening, the Duke of Burgundy mentioned this and said to the King:
"You have the right to ransom him because if it were not for him you would
have 200 more knights in your prisons." And the King answered the duke:
"Duke of Burgundy, I am well aware of this! But he never did like war and
he always advised his lord against it; he has never wanted to do homage to the
King of England when the others did so; if he has done me wrong in order to
loyally serve his lord, I hold no ill will toward him on that account."
Thus the King did honor to Arnoul of Audenarde.
What more can I tell you? It
was a marvel that the number of barons, bachelors, sergeants taken was so great.
They were pursued over two miles of land. The emperor took flight towards
Valenciennes, and spent the night at the Abbey of Saint-Sage, and the others ran
away to various places as best as thoroughly vanquished people could.
And the King returned to
France with the whole of his host and his prisoners. He put the Count of
Boulogne in the tower at Peronne, and the others he brought to Paris. He put the
Count Ferrand along with Eustache del Roes, a great man from Hainaut, in prison
in the tower of the Louvre where many a great man and traitor was kept. And most
of the others he put in prison in the fort of the Great Bridge and the others he
put in the fort of the Little Bridge. In this way, he kept them a long time and
received large ransoms for several of them and, as you might guess, none
After this, no one dare wage
war against him, and he lived in great peace and the whole of the land was in
great peace for a long time to come so that his bailiffs could exact much and
his son's bailiffs even more from all the land he had come to hold: it was one
of his sergeants called Nevelon, who was bailiff of Arras, who put into such
servitude the whole of Flanders, inherited by Louis, that all those who heard
about it marveled that one could suffer so and endure.
This Battle of Bouvines occurred on a Sunday, in the month of July, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Two Hundred and Fourteen.
These translations were all originally published in The Legend of Bouvines: War, Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages, by Georges Duby, translated by Catherine Tihanyi (University of California Press, 1990). We thank Catherine Tihanyi for allowing to republish this material.