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.
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.