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.

Brother Guerin came to the King at a church called Bouvines, near Cysoign, which the Queen had once visited. He found him off his horse at a place where he had refreshed himself with bread and wine. He asked him: "What are you doing?" "Well," said the King, "I have eaten." "That is good," said Brother Guerin, "and now you need to arm yourself because those on the opposite side do not, on any account, want to postpone the battle till tomorrow but they want it now. Thus you must do likewise."

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.

            Before anything else notable occurred, Arnoul, the Castellan of Rasse, let his horse loose between the two lines and charged their bowmen, sending them running and throwing one to the ground; then he charged the knights and in his drive threw rudely to the ground a bachelor named Michel of Auchi and kept on going through, and then came back safe and sound to his people where he was much praised.

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.

When Count Ferrand was taken, the Flemings started to tremble and, one after another, began to take flight. Seeing this, the valorous men of France charged this battalion and gave grief to the Flemings and the Emperor's men even though these included many a noble baron.

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 escaped.

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.