The Battle of Bouvines according to Roger of Wendover

Roger of Wendover was an English chronicler, whose work the Flowers of History was completed between 1219 and 1225. 

At this same time, the King of England's army which was waging war in Flanders was causing devastation with so much success that, after having ravaged several provinces, it penetrated into the territory of Ponthieu and devastated it with an unrelenting fury. Those who took part in this expedition were valiant men, with great expertise in war, such as William, Count of Holland, Renaud, formerly Count of Boulogne, Ferrand, Count of Flanders, Hugh of Boves, a good knight but cruel and arrogant who struck with so much rage against this country that he spared neither the weakness of women nor the innocence of small children. King John had named, as marshal of this army, William, Count of Salisbury, to fight with the English knights and to disburse to the others payment taken from the treasury. These warriors received the help and the favor of Otto, Emperor of the Romans, with the troops that the Duke of Louvain and the Duke of Brabant had assembled. They were together attacking the French with equal fury. When news of this reached Philip, King of France, he was very pained as he worried that he did not have enough troops to defend this part of the land, having recently sent to Poitou his son Louis with a large army to repel the hostile incursions of the King of England. However, even though he often repeated to himself the common saying "The one who is busy with many things at once can less clearly judge each one of them," he nonetheless gathered a large army made up of counts, barons, knights, and sergeants, on foot and on horses, and [militias] coming from the communes and the towns. Accompanied by these contingents, lie prepared to march against his adversaries. At the same time, he ordered the bishops, the clerks, the monks, and the nuns to distribute alms, to address prayers to God, and to celebrate the divine mysteries in favor of the kingdom. Having arranged this, he left with his army to fight his enemies.

He was told that his adversaries had advanced in arms tip to the bridge of Bouvines, in the territory of Ponthieu. He led his armies and his standards in that direction. When he arrived at the above named bridge, he crossed the river with the whole of his army and decided to camp in that place. Indeed, the heat was extreme because the sun is very hot in the month of July. Thus the French took up their position near the river to refresh their men and their horses. They arrived at that river on a Saturday, toward evening, and after having disposed, on the right and on the left, wagons drawn by two and four horses as well as the other vehicles which had carried the food, the arms, the machines and all the instruments of war, this army set up guards oil all sides and spent the night in this spot.

The next morning, when the princes of the King of England's chivalry were told of the arrival of the King of France, they hurriedly held a council and unanimously decided for a battle champel. But since this day was a Sunday, the wisest in the army, and particularly Renaud, formerly Count of Boulogne, stated that it would not be very honorable to wage a battle on such a solemn day and to sully this day with homicide and the spilling of human blood. The Emperor Otto went along with this viewpoint and said that if he fought on such a day he could never boast of a joyous triumph. At these words, Hugh of Boves lost his temper and, cursing, called the Count Renand a despicable traitor, and reproached him for the lands and the large possessions that he had received from the King of England's generosity. He added that the postponement of the battle to another day would bring irreparable damage which would harm King John and that one always has cause to repent when one has not grasped a favorable opportunity. Renaud answered Hugh with indignation: "This day will prove that it is I who is loyal and you who are a traitor; because on this Sunday I will, if need be, fight to the death for the King while you, as usual, on this same day, you will show to all by running away that you are the evil traitor." These insulting words provoked by Hugh of Boves' similar words, soured everyone's spirits and made the battle unavoidable. The army ran to its arms and formed into ranked battalions. When they were all armed, the allies divided themselves into three battalions: the first had as captains Ferrand, the Count of Flanders, Renaud, Count of Boulogne, and William, Count of Salisbury; the second was led by William, Count of Holland, and by Hugh of Boves with his Brabancons; the third was made up of German soldiers under the command of the Roman Emperor Otto. In this order, they marched slowly toward the enemy and arrived at the French.

King Philip, seeing his adversaries ready for a battle champel, had the bridge which was behind his army destroyed so that if, by chance, some of his soldiers should attempt to flee they could only open up a way through the enemies themselves. The King, after having arranged his troops in the area delimited by the wagons and the baggage, awaited the shock of his adversaries' attack. Finally, the trumpets sounded on both sides and the first battalion, in which the counts we have spoken of were, threw itself so violently on the French that in a moment it broke their ranks and penetrated to where the King of France stood. Count Renaud, who had been disinherited and chased away from his county by the King, saw him, struck him with his lance, threw him to the ground, and tried to kill him with his sword. But a knight who, along with many others, had been assigned to protect him [the King], threw himself between him and the count and received the mortal blow. The French, seeing their King on the ground, hurried towards him, and a large troop of knights put him back on his horse with some difficulty. Then the battle was engaged on all sides; swords threw lightning flashes by falling like thunder on the helmeted heads and the melee became furious. However, the counts we have mentioned, along with their battalion, found themselves too far removed from their companions and noticed they could not join their allies and the latter could not reach them. Because of this, not being able to withstand the superior forces of the French, they were overwhelmed by their numbers and the above named counts along with the whole of the battalion were taken and put in chains after very great prowess and having killed a large number of the enemies.

While these things occurred around King Philip, the Counts of Champagne, of Perche, and of Saint-Pol, along with many nobles of the kingdom of France, attacked in their turn the other two battalions and put to flight Hugh of Boves along with all the people who had been recruited in various provinces. While they were running away like cowards, the French, with their swords drawn, pursued them all the way to the place where the Emperor stood. Then the whole of the weight of combat became concentrated on that spot: The above named counts surrounded the Emperor and tried to kill him or to force him to surrender. But he, with his single-edged sword, which he held with both hands like a billhook, was dealing unfendable blows all around him. All those he struck were stunned or fell to the ground along with their horses. The enemies, fearing to come too close, killed three horses under the Emperor with lance blows. But always the praiseworthy prowess of his companions put him back on a new horse and he threw himself anew against his enemies. Finally, the French let him go. Unbeaten, he left the battle along with his people with no harm to him or his followers.

            The King of France, happy with such an unexpected victory, gave thanks to God who had granted him such a great triumph over his adversaries. He brought with him, laden with chains and destined to be locked in strong prisons, the three aforementioned counts as well as a numerous crowd of knights and others. When the King arrived, the whole of Paris was illuminated with torches and lanterns, resounding with songs, applause, fanfares, and praises during the following day and night.  Carpets and silken cloths were hung from the house; the enthusiasm was general. 

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.