The Battle of Bouvines according to William the Breton (prose account)

William the Breton was the personal chaplain and advisor to the French king Philip Augustus, and was present on the battlefield of Bouvines when the French forces under Philip defeated the German emperor Otto.  His account, although very favourable to the French king, is very detailed and clear, allowing the reader a good understanding of the what occurred during the battle.

And now we would like to write as best we can of King Philip's glorious victory.

    In the year of Our Lord 1214, at the time when King John of England was warring in Poitou, as we have said earlier, and that he fled, him and the whole of his host, at the approach of My Lord Louis, Otto, the damned and excommunicated Emperor whom King John of England had retained against King Philip, assembled his host in Hainaut at the castle of Valenciennes, in the land of Count Ferrand who had allied himself against his liege lord. There King John sent to him, at his expense and in his pay, noble combatants and knights of high valor: Renaud the Count of Boulogne, William Longsword, Count of Chester, the Count of Salisbury, the Duke of Limburg, the Duke of Brabant who had wed Otto's daughter, Bernard of Ostemale, Othe of Tecklemburg, the Count Conrad of Dortmund and Gerard of Ramrode, and many other counts and barons from Germany, Brabant, Hainaut, and Flanders. The good King Philip assembled on his part his chivalry at the castle of Peronne, only as much of it as he was able because his son Louis was warring at that time in Poitou against King John and had with him a great part of France's chivalry.

    On the day after Magdalen day, the King left Peronne and entered in great strength into Ferrand's land; he went through Flanders while burning and destroying everything left and right and in this manner arrived at the city of Tournai which the Flemings had taken by trickery the previous year and damaged badly. But the King sent Brother Guerin and the Count of Saint-Pol to the city and they took it back quite easily. Otto left Valenciennes and went to a castle called Mortagne. This castle was taken by force and destroyed by King Philip's host after they had taken Tournai which was only six miles away.

    The first week after the feast day of Saint Philip and Saint James, the King proposed attacking his enemies, but his barons advised him not to, as the passes to them were narrow and difficult to cross. Because of this, he changed his mind on the advice of his barons and ordered that they backtrack and find a more level way into the county of Hainaut and destroy it completely. The following day, which was thus the sixth calend of August, the King left Tournai and was longing to rest himself and his host that same night in a castle called Lille. But things went differently than planned as Otto had left the castle of Mortagne that same morning and, as hard as he could, rode after the King in battle order. The King neither knew nor thought his enemies were thus coming after him. It so happened by chance or by the will of God that the Viscount of Melun along with other lightly 'armed knights detached himself from the King's host and rode toward those parts from which Otto was coming. And, detached also from the host and riding with him was Brother Guerin, the Elect of Senlis (Brother Guerin, we call him, because he was a practising brother of the Hospital and still wore its habit), a wise man, of sound counsel and with marvelous foresight for things to come. These two went away from the host for about three miles and rode together till they climbed a high hill from which they were able to see clearly their enemies' battalions moving fast and in fighting formation. When they saw this, the Elect Guerin left immediately and made haste to return to the King, but the Viscount of Melun remained on the spot along with his knights who were rather lightly armed. As soon as he reached the King and the barons, the Elect Guerin told them that their enemies were fast arriving in battle order and that he had seen the horses covered, the banners unfurled, the sergeants and the foot soldiers up front which is a sure sign of battle.

    After the King heard this, he ordered the whole host to stop and then convened the barons and sought advice on what to do, but they did not much favor waging battle and advocated riding on. When Otto and his people came to a small stream, they crossed it a few at a time because the passage was difficult. After they had alt crossed to the other side, they pretended to go toward Tournai. T hen the French started to say that their enemy was going away towards Tournai. But at that moment Brother Guerin felt the very opposite and cried and insisted with conviction that the thing to do was to fight or to retreat in shame and loss. Finally the opinion of the many prevailed over that of the one. They continued on their way and rode thus to a small bridge called the bridge of Bouvines, between the place named Sanghin and the village called Gisoing. The greater part of the host had already crossed the bridge, and the King had taken off his arms but had not yet crossed the bridge, as his enemies believed. Their plan was, had the King crossed the bridge, to throw themselves on those whom they found crossing it and kill them or take them prisoner.

    As the King was resting for a while in the shade of an ash-tree because he was already quite worn out as much from riding as from bearing his arms (quite close to this place was a small chapel founded in honor of My Lord Saint Peter), messengers of those who were in the last battalion came to the host. Horrified, they were yelling with terrible cries that their enemies were coming and were readying to wage hard battle on those who were in the last echelon, and that the Viscount of Melun and those with him who were lightly armed and the bowmen who were containing the enemy's arrogance and bearing his assault were in great danger and could not restrain for very long his temerity and forcefulness. Then the host started to become excited and the King entered the chapel of which we spoke above and offered a short prayer to Our Lord. After coming out, he had himself hastily armed and he jumped on his steed, as lively and in as great spirits as if he had been on his way to a wedding or a celebration to which he had been invited. Then the cry "To arms, barons! To arms!" was heard in the fields. Trumps and trumpets began to rise up and the battalions which had already crossed the bridge began to return. The Oriflamme of Saint Denis which was carried at the front line of the battle, ahead of all others, was then called back. But so that it would not have to return in haste, it was not awaited as the King at full gallop was first to return and he put himself in the front rank of the first battalion, so that there was nobody between him and his enemy.

    When Otto and his people saw that the King had returned, which they had not expected, they were surprised and overtaken by sudden fear. They then turned to the right side of the road so that they were going west and spread themselves out to the extent that they covered the greater part of the field. They came to a stop facing north so that the sun shone directly into their eyes, a sun which was hotter and brighter on this day than previously. The King called up his battalions and positioned them in the fields right in front of his enemy and facing south in such a way that the French had the sun at their shoulders. Thus were the battalions organized and evenly positioned on both sides. In the middle of this arrangement was the King in the front rank of his battalion: at his sides were William des Barres, the flower of chivalry, Bartholomew of Roye, an elder and wise man, Gauthier the Young, the chamberlain, a wise man and good knight of sound counsel, Peter Mauvoisin, Gerard La Truie, Stephen of Longchamp, William of Garlande, Henry the Count of Bar, a young man old with courage, noble in strength and virtue - he was the king's cousin and had recently received the county after the death of his father - and many other good knights whose names are not given here, of marvelous virtue and marvelous ability in the use of arms. All these had been put in the King's battalion specially to protect his person and because of their great loyalty and reputation for outstanding prowess. On the other side was Otto in the middle of his people; he had had raised as a standard a golden eagle above a dragon attached to the top of a tall pole.

    Before the start of the battle, the King addressed his barons and his people; and even though they already had the heart and the will to do well, he gave them a short speech in the following words: "Lord barons and knights, we are putting all our faith and hope into God's hands. Otto and his people have been excommunicated by our Father the Apostle because they are the enemies and destroyers of things holy of the Church. The deniers at their disposal and with which they are paid have been taken through the tears of the poor and by stealing from clerks and churches. But we are Christians and follow the dictates of the Holy Church, and even though we are sinners like other men, we nonetheless submit to God and the Holy Church. We guard and defend it with all our ability and this is why we must fearlessly trust in the compassion of Our Lord who will allow us to overcome our and His enemies and to win." When the King had thus spoken, barons and knights asked for his blessing and he, with a raised hand, prayed so as to bring the benediction of Our Lord over them. They had the trumps and trumpets sound and then attacked their enemies with great and marvelous daring.

    At this time and place behind the King were his chaplain who is the writer of this account and a clerk, and as soon as they heard the sound of the horns they began to chant and pray out loud the psalm Benedictus Dominus Deus meus, gui docet manus meas ad proelium, etc., the whole of it till the end, and then Exurgat Deus, the whole of it till the end, and Domine, in virtute tua laetabitur Rex, the best they could as tears and sobs hindered them greatly. 'then with pure devotion they recalled to God the honor and freedom which the Holy Church enjoys under King Philip's rule, and in contrast, the shame and indignities which she suffers and has suffered at the hands of Otto and King John of England. Through the gifts and promises of the latter, all these enemies had been worked up against the King in his own kingdom and some of them were fighting their liege lord whose welfare they should rather have been protecting against all men.

    The first assault of the battle did not occur where the King was, as; before those in his echelon and proximity could start the fray, others were already fighting against Ferrand and his people on the right side of the field without the King being aware of it. The first line or the French battalion was positioned and organized as we have described above and extended 1,040 paces across the field. In this battalion was Brother Guerin, the Elect of Senlis, fully armed, not to do battle but to admonish and exhort the barons and other knights to fight for the honor of God, of the King, and of the kingdom, and for the defense of their own welfare. There were also Eudes, the Duke of Burgundy, Mathew of Montmorency, the Count of Beaumont, the Viscount of Melun and other noble combatants, and the Count of Saint-Pol whom some suspected of having made agreements with their enemy in the past. And because he was well aware of this suspicion, he quipped to Brother Guerin that the King was to find him to be a good traitor today. In this same battalion were 180 combatants from Champagne which the Elect Guerin had organized: he moved some of them from the front to the rear as he felt them to be cowardly and fainthearted, while those he felt to be courageous and eager to fight, in whose prowess he had faith and confidence, he put in the first echelon and told them: "Lord knights, the field is large, spread yourselves out so that the enemy does not surround you and because it is not fitting that some become the shields of others. Rather, arrange yourselves in such a way that you can all fight together at the same time, all in one front." After he said this, he sent ahead, on the Count of Saint-Pol's advice, 150 mounted sergeants to start the battle. He did this with the aim that the noble combatants of France, whom we have named above, would find their enemy somewhat agitated and worried.

    But the Flemings and the Germans, who were very eager to fight, greatly scorned being first challenged by sergeants instead of knights. Because of this, they did not deign to move from their position but waited and received them very harshly; many of their horses were slain and they suffered many injuries but only two were wounded unto death. These sergeants were born in the Soissons valley; they were full of prowess and great courage and were fighting no less virtuously on foot than on horseback.

    Gautier of Ghistelle and Buridan, who were knights of noble prowess, were exhorting the knights of their echelon to battle and were reminding them of the exploits of their friends and ancestors with, it seemed, no more fear than if they had been jousting in a tournament. After unhorsing and striking down some of the above mentioned sergeants, they left them and turned toward the middle of the field to fight the knights. They were then met by the battalion of the Champenois, and they attacked and fought each other valorously. When their lances broke, they pulled out their swords and exchanged wondrous blows. Into this fray appeared Peter of Remy and the men of his company; by force they captured and brought away this Gauthier of Ghistelle and John. Buridan. But a knight of their group called Eustache of Malenghin began to yell out loud with great arrogance "Death, death to the French!" and the French began to surround him. One stopped him and took hold of his head between his arm and his chest, and then ripped his helmet off his head, while another struck him to his heart with a knife between the chin and the ventaille and made him feel through great pain the death with which he had threatened the French through great arrogance. After this Eustache of Malenghin had thus been slain, and Gautier of Ghistelle and Buridan had been taken prisoners, the daring of the French doubled; they put aside all their fears and made use of all their strength as if they were assured of victory.

    Following the mounted sergeants whom the Elect had sent ahead to start the battle, the Count Gautier of Saint-Pol moved with the knights of his echelon who were all hand-picked and of noble prowess. He threw himself unto his enemies as fiercely as a hungry eagle throws himself unto a crowd of doves. Many he hit and many were those who hit him as soon as he plunged into the fray. There, the bravery of his heart and the prowess of his body came to the fore as he struck down all those who reached him, and he killed men and horses indifferently and without taking any prisoners. Along with his people, he struck and slaughtered left and right so much that he beat a path all the way through the crowd of his enemies, then threw himself back in from another side and encircled them so that they were in the middle of the battle.

    After the Count of Saint-Pol, the Count of Beaumont made his move with as great courage. Mathew of Montmorency and his people, the Duke Eudes of Burgundy who had many a good knight in his troop, all threw themselves into the press eager and burning to fight, and waged marvelous battle upon their enemies. The Duke of Burgundy, a corpulent man of phlegmatic temperament, fell on the ground as his steed was killed under him. When his people saw him fall, they gathered all around him and soon had him climb on another horse. After getting back up, he felt greatly upset by his fall and said he would avenge this shame; he brandished his lance and spurred his horse, then threw himself with great anger into the thickest of his enemies. He paid no attention to where he was striking or whom he was fighting, but avenged his misfortune equally on everyone as though each of his enemies had slain his horse.

    The Viscount of Melun, who had in his troop knights of renown, practised in the use of arms, was fighting at the same time. He attacked his enemies from another side in the same manner that the Count of Saint-Pol had done; he went all the way through them and came back into this battle from another point. In this fray, Michael of Harmes was hit with a lance between the hauberk and the thigh. He was pinned to his saddlebow and horse, and both he and the horse were thrown to the ground. Hugh of Maleveine and many others were thrown as their horses were slain, but out of great virtue they jumped up and fought with no less prowess on their feet than on their horses.

    The Count of Saint-Pol, who had fought very strongly and for a long time and was already quite worn out by the many blows which he had given and received, withdrew from the press in order to rest, catch his breath, and regain his composure. He had his face turned toward his enemies. As he was thus resting, he noticed that one of his knights had been so well surrounded by his enemies that he could not see an opening through which he could come to him. Even though the count had not yet caught his breath, he put on his helmet, laid his head on his horse's neck, and hugged it firmly with both arms; then he pricked his spurs and in this manner reached his knight through all his enemies. Then he stood up on his stirrups, drew his sword, and distributed blows so great that he split and broke the press of his enemies with his marvelous virtue. After having freed his knight from their hands at great danger to himself, through great courage or folly, he returned to his battalion and his troop. As those who witnessed the following have since recounted, at this point he came into great mortal danger as he was hit by twelve lances at the same time, and yet, with the help of his outstanding virtue, no one could bring either him or his horse down. After accomplishing this marvelous feat and having recouped with his knights who had been resting during this time, he pulled himself together, wrapped himself in his armor, and threw himself back into the thickest of his enemies.

    In this place and in this hour, so intense and heated had the fighting, which had already lasted three hours, been on both sides that Pallas, the goddess of battles, was fluttering above the combatants as if she did not yet know to whom she should grant victory. At the end she piled up all the weight of the battle on Ferrand and his people. Ferrand, struck to the ground, injured and hurt with many large wounds, was taken prisoner and tied up with many of his knights. He had fought so long that he was as if half-dead and could not endure fighting any more when he surrendered to Hugh of Mareuil and his brother John. As soon as Ferrand was taken, all those of his party who were fighting in this part of the field fled or were killed or captured. 

    While Ferrand was thus brought to defeat, the Oriflamme of Saint Denis returned, followed by the legions from the communes which had gone forward to the tents earlier, especially the communes of Corbie, Amiens, Arras, Beauvais, and Compiegne, and they rushed to the King's battalion toward the spot where they saw the royal standard with the azure field and golden fleurs-de-lis which a knight called Galore of Montigny was carrying on that day. This Galore was a very good knight and very strong, but he was not a wealthy man. The communes passed in front of the King, opposite Otto and his battalion. But the members of his echelon who were knights of great prowess soon forced them to retreat to the King's battalion; they gradually scattered them all and made their way through them to the point where they came very close to the King's echelon. When William des Barres, Guy Mauvoisin, Gerard La Truie, Stephen of Longchamp, William of Garlande, John of itouvray, Henry the Count of Bar, and the other noble combatants who had been specially put in the King's battalion to protect him saw that Otto and the Teutons of his battalion were coming straight to the King with the sole aim of seeking his person, they put themselves in front of him so as to meet and curb the Teutons' temerity. They left behind their backs the King for whom they were concerned. While they were fighting Otto and the Germans, the Teuton foot soldiers who had gone on ahead suddenly reached the King and, with lances and iron hooks, brought him to the ground. If the outstanding virtue of the special armor with which his body was enclosed had not protected him, they would have killed him on the spot. But a few of the knights who had remained with him, along with Galore of Montigny who repeatedly twirled the standard to call for help and Peter Tristan who of his own accord got off his steed and put himself in front of the blows so as to protect the King, destroyed and killed all those sergeants on foot. The King jumped up and mounted his horse more nimbly than anyone would have thought possible. After the King had remounted and the rabble who had brought him down had all been destroyed and killed, the King's battalion engaged Otto's echelon. Then began the marvelous fray, the slaying and slaughtering by both sides of men and horses as they were all fighting with wondrous virtue. Killed right in front of the King was Stephen of Longchamp, valorous and loyal knight of total dedication; he was struck by a knife through the eye hole of his helmet all the way to the brain. In this battle the King's enemies made use of a type of weapon which had never been seen before. They had long and slender knives with three sharp edges from the point to the guard, and they were using these in the battle as swords and glaives. But through the grace of God, the glaives and swords of the French along with their virtue, which never faltered, overcame the cruelty of their enemies' new weapons. They fought so strongly and long that they forced the whole of Otto's battalion to fall back and retreat so close to him that Peter Mauvoisin, who was more powerful at arms than wise in the ways of the world, took him by the bridle and tried to pull him out of the fray. But he saw that he could not accomplish his aim on account of the press and the great number of his people who closely surrounded him. Gerard La Truie, who was nearby, struck him in the middle of the chest with a knife which he held unsheathed in his hand, and when he saw that he could not pierce through (because of the thickness of the armor with which warriors of our time are equipped and which is impenetrable), he gave him a second blow to make up for the failure of the first. He thought that he was going to hit Otto's body but instead he met the horse's head which was high and raised; he dealt it a blow right in the eye and the knife, thrust with great virtue, slipped all the way to its brain. The horse, feeling this great blow, took fright and began to struggle strongly. He turned back towards the area he had come from in such a way that Otto showed his back to our knights and ran away on the spot. He left as prize for his enemies the eagle and the standard and everything he had brought to the field. When the King saw him thus leave, he told his people: "Otto is running away, from now on we will not see his face." He had not fled very far before his horse dropped dead. Then a fresh one was brought to him and after mounting it he took flight as fast as he could, as he could withstand no more the virtue of the knights of France, seeing that William des Barres had twice grabbed him by the neck but could not get a good hold because the horse was strong and skittish and because of the press of his followers.

    At the place and time that Otto fled, the battle was wondrously violent and heated on both sides. His knights were fighting so strongly that they had thrown down William des Barres and slain his horse as he had gone further forward than the others. This happened because Gauthier the Young, William of Garlande, their lances broken and their glaives bloodied, and Bartholomew of Roye, a good knight and wise man, and the others who were with them, judged and said that it was dangerous to leave the King alone behind them, following unprotected. On this account, they did not wish to go as deeply into the fray as the Barrois had done, who was on foot against his enemies and, as usual, defended himself with marvelous virtue. But because a man alone on foot cannot last very long against such a great number, he would have ended dead or captured had it not been for Thomas of Saint-Valery, a noble knight, powerful at arms, who appeared there with fifty knights and 2,000 sergeants and freed the Barrois from the hands of his enemies.

    There the battle waxed again because, as Otto was fleeing, the noble knights of his battalion were fighting strongly. They were Bernard of Ostemale, who was a knight of great prowess, Count Othe of Tecklemburg, Count Conrad of Dortmund, Gerard of Randerode, and many other knights, strong and daring combatants, whom Otto had specially chosen for their great prowess to be at his side in the battle and to protect his person. All these were fighting marvelously and were destroying and killing our people. Nevertheless, the French overcame them and captured the two above mentioned counts and Bernard of Ostemale and Gerard of Ramrode. The chariot on which the standard was resting was destroyed, the dragon broken and the golden eagle, its wings torn off and in pieces, brought to the King. Thus was Otto's battalion completely destroyed after he ran away.

    Count Renaud of Boulogne who had been in the fray continually was still fighting so strongly that no one could vanquish or overcome him. He was using a new art of battle: he had set up a double row of well-armed foot sergeants pressed closely together in a circle in the manner of a wheel. There was only one entrance to the inside of this circle through which he went in when he wanted to catch his breath or was pushed too hard by his enemies. He did this several times.

    Count Renaud, Count Ferrand, and the Emperor Otto had sworn before the start of the battle, as was learned later from the prisoners, that they would turn neither to right nor to left, that they would fight against no echelon but that in which the King was. And they had planned on killing the King as soon as they captured him with the intention, once the King was slain, of easily doing what they wanted with the whole kingdom. Because of this pledge, they would at no time engage anyone but the King's battalion. Ferrand, who had taken this same oath, wanted to go directly towards the King and began to do this but he could not because the battalion of the Champenois blocked his way and fought so strongly that it thwarted his aim. Count Renaud as well, avoiding all other battalions, engaged the King's battalion and came directly to him at the start of the fray. But then, when he came near him, he became horrified and, as some believe, was overcome by a natural fear of his rightful lord. He turned toward another part of the press and fought against Count Robert of Dreux who was in the same battalion and close to the King in a very thick crowd.

    Count Perron of Auxerre, who was the King's cousin, was fighting virtuously for the King, but his son Philip, because he was Ferrand's wife's cousin through his mother, was fighting against his father and the French crown. This was because sin and the Enemy had caused the hearts of some to be so blinded that, even if they had a father or brothers and cousins in the King's party, the fear of God did not prevent them from fighting and, if they could, they would have chased away in shame and embarrassment their rightful lord and all of their blood kinsmen whom they should have naturally loved.

    Count Renaud had at first opposed doing battle even though he ended up fighting more virtuously and longer than anyone else but, as one who well knew the daring and prowess of the knights of France, he had strongly advised against fighting. For this reason, Otto and his people had suspected him of treason, and had he not consented to the battle they would have made him prisoner and tied him up. He spoke to Hugh of Boves about this just a moment before the battle: "Here is the battle which you extol and advocate and which I put down and advise against; it will come of this that you will run away as a bad man and a coward and I will fight at the risk of my life knowing full well that I will either be killed or captured." After saying this, he went to the place assigned to his battalion and fought more strongly and longer than anyone else of his party.

    With all these events, the ranks of Otto's party were becoming sparse as the Duke of Louvain, the Duke of Limburg, and Hugh of Boves had already fled along with others in groups of fifty, forty and various numbers, but Count Renaud was still fighting so strongly that no one could tear him away from the battle. He had with him only six knights who, rather than abandoning him, were fighting very strongly at his side. At this point a courageous and daring sergeant by the name of Peter of Tournelle, who was fighting on foot because his enemies had killed his horse, went toward the count, lifted up the covering of his horse, and struck it so well with his sword that he plunged it to the guard all the way to the guts. Upon seeing this blow, one of the knights who was fighting on the side of the count took him by the bridle and dragged him out of the press with great effort and against his will. Then he took flight as best he could while Quenon of Condune and his brother John pursued him and threw this knight to the ground. The count's horse dropped dead and the count fell in such a manner that his right leg was trapped under the horse's neck. At this point Hugh and Gauthier of Fontaine and John of Rouvray appeared. While they were arguing as to whom should take the count prisoner, John of Nesle appeared on the scene. This John was a handsome knight and large of body, but his prowess matched neither the handsomeness nor the amount of his body as he had fought no one in the course of the whole day. So, along with his knights, he was arguing with those who held the count as he wanted to gain some undeserved praise for the capture of such a great man. In the end, he would have succeeded in taking the count away from them if the Elect Guerin had not appeared at the place. As soon as the count saw him, he gave him his sword and surrendered to him, begging him to spare his life. However, before the Elect had arrived at the place where the knights were fighting with each other, a boy named Commotus, as if he had been a man of strength and great virtue, ripped the helmet off the count's head and inflicted a large wound on his head. Then he lifted the side of his hauberk, thinking he would strike him in the stomach, but the knife could find no entry as the iron chausses were strongly sown to the hauberk. While they were thus holding him and were forcing him to get up, he looked around and saw Arnoul of Audenarde and some knights hurriedly coming to help him. Upon seeing them come thus toward him, he let himself slide to the ground and pretended not to be able to remain on his feet, with the hope that this Arnoul would rescue him. But those around him were hitting him with great blows and forced him to climb on a work-horse, and this Arnoul and all those who were with him were captured and restrained.

    After all the knights of the opposing party were dead or captured or escaped through flight and the whole of Otto's mesnie had fled from the field, there still remained in the field the 700 foot sergeants, courageous and strong, born in the land of Brabant; they were those who had been made into a wall and used as defense against the onslaught of their enemy. The King noticed them and sent against them Thomas of Saint-Valery, a noble praiseworthy knight who was, as well, knowledgeable in letters. This Thomas had in his troop fifty good and loyal knights, born in his country, and 2,000 foot sergeants. After he and his followers had equipped themselves well, they threw themselves on them as the hungry wolf throws himself on the sheep. Even though they were very weary from fighting, both Thomas and his followers, as they had participated in many engagements during the day, they destroyed and took them all with marvelous prowess. A wondrous thing came to light after this was accomplished. As he counted his people after his victory he found only one to be missing, and he was looked for and found amongst the dead. He was brought to the tents and handed over to the doctors who cured him and made him well in no time.

    The King did not want our people to hunt further than a mile for the men in flight because of the danger of poorly known paths and the oncoming night and, also, so that the captured princes and the wealthy men would not escape by some chance or be taken by force from their guards. This was something the King was very worried about. Thus trumps and trumpets sounded the return signal for those who were still hunting, and when all the companies had returned from the hunt they went to the tents with great joy and rejoicing.

    (Oh the admirable clemency of the prince! Oh his incredible mercy unheard of in this century!) After the King and the barons had returned to the tents, on this very same evening he had brought to him all the noble men who had been taken in battle. There were thirty of them amongst whom were five counts and twenty-five men of such high nobility that each carried his own banner in battle, this without counting the other prisoners of lesser position. When they were all in front of him, he gave them all their lives through the great kindness and compassion of his heart; this even though all those who were from his kingdom and were his liege men and who had conspired against him and sworn to kill him and had acted on this, were guilty and deserved to be beheaded according to the customs of the land. (Indeed, just as an inflexible severity against rebels was burning in him, clemency for those who submitted, as much and even more, flowered in him. This was because his supreme intent always was to spare the meek and defeat the haughty.) In chains and in ropes they were loaded on carts to be taken to prisons in various locations. The King departed the next day and returned to Paris.

    When he reached Bapaume, he was told, either in truth or falsely, that Count Renaud had sent a message to Otto. He was asking and advising him to return to Ghent and there receive the fugitives and rearm his army so as to renew the battle with the help of the men of Ghent and other enemies of the King. Upon hearing these words, the King became very upset with the count. He then went into the tower where Renaud and Count Ferrand, the two most powerful men amongst his prisoners, were imprisoned. And, as he was possessed by anger and resentment, he began to reproach him for all the favors he had granted him and thus said that, as he was his liege man, he had dubbed him into knighthood; as he was poor he had made him rich; and, for all these privileges, he had returned ill for good. He and his father, the Count Aubry of Dammartin, had turned to King Henry of England and allied themselves with him to the detriment of the King and the kingdom. And then, after this misdeed, when he wanted to come back to him, the King forgave him everything and received him in mercy and in love, and gave him the county of Dammartin which had by right reverted back to the King as his father, the above mentioned Aubry, had misused it and lost it through judgment upon allying himself with the King's enemy and dying in Normandy in his service. And the King gave him the county of Boulogne in addition to all this. After all these privileges, Renaud deserted him again and allied himself with King Richard of England and remained in his party as long as King Richard lived. After his death, Renaud came back to him and he immediately received him in friendship and, in addition to the two counties he had already given him, gave him three more: the counties of Mortain, Aumale, and Varennes. And then Renaud, all these favors forgotten, worked up against him the whole of England, the whole of Germany, the whole of Flanders, Hainaut, and the whole of Brabant, and in the preceding year seized some of the King's ships at the port of Damme. And then he did even worse as, along with the King's other enemies, he solemnly swore to kill him and fought bodily against him on the battlefield. And then he did even worse still, as, after being granted his life by the King, after the King through great compassion forgot all his misdeeds, Renaud, on top of all the harm he had committed, asked Emperor Otto and the men who had escaped from the press to rally the fugitives and start anew the fight against him: "All of this harm," said the King, "you have returned in exchange for all the good I did for you and yet I will not take your life as I have granted it to you, but I will put you in such a prison that you will not escape till you have expiated all these ills you have caused me."

    After the King had thus spoken to Count Renaud, he had him taken to Peronne and put in a very strong prison and into iron chains which were joined and interlaced with marvelous cleverness. The chain which connected one chain to the other was so short that he could not move by more than half a step, and through the middle of this small chain passed a large one, ten feet long, from which another one was tied to a large tree trunk which two men could barely move each time he had to go and relieve himself. Ferrand was brought on horseback to Paris and put in a new fortified tower, tall and strong, outside the walls of the city, and which was called the Louvre Tower.

    On the very day of the battle, William Longsword, Count of Salisbury, was handed over to Count Robert of Dreux with the intent that he give him back to his brother, King John of England, in exchange for his son, who, as we have said earlier, he held in prison. But King John, who hated his own flesh and blood and who as such had slain his nephew and kept Eleanor, the sister of this Arthur, in prison for twenty years, refused to give up a stranger in exchange for his own brother. This makes one think of Merlin's lynx. Merlin, while speaking about his father whom he was comparing to a lion, said: "From him will be born a lynx driven to intrude everywhere, the cause of the ruination of his own race. It is because of him that Neustria will lose its two isles and be stripped of its external dignity." Another part of the rest of the prisoners were put into the small forts of the large bridge and the little bridge and the others were sent to various prisons in the kingdom.

    How right, just and irreproachable are your judgments, Oh Lord, you who turn around the designs of princes, you who fail the enterprises of peoples! You who tolerate evils so as to turn them into good, you who postpone vengeance so as to allow time for the wicked to convert, you who permit those refusing penance to be chastised with a rod as worthy as it is deserved! You who, when the Bad threaten to exterminate the Good, always turn their designs into their opposites!

    The King's enemies that were captured in battle had not only conspired against him but had also through promises and gifts joined and allied to them some of the King's own men such as Harvey the Count of Nevers and all the high nobles of Outre Loire, all the Mansins; the Angevins, and the Poitevins with the exception only of William de la Roche, Seneschal of Anjou, and Johel of Mayenne. The Viscount of Sainte‑Suzanne and many other lords had already promised their support to the King of England, but secretly till they could be certain of the outcome of the battle as they feared Philip. The King's enemies had already divided and shared out amongst themselves all the kingdom of France, as if they had been assured of victory, and the Emperor Otto had promised each a share: Count Renaud of Boulogne was to have Peronne and the whole of Vermandois, Ferrand was to have Paris, and the others other countries. He did not fail Count Renaud and Count Ferrand as Ferrand ended up with Paris and Count Renaud with Peronne, but not to their honor and glory but instead to their shame and embarrassment.

    All these things we have told and reported regarding their presumptuousness and betrayal were told to the King by members of their own party and witnesses to their council. We do not want to tell anything about them and their deeds that goes against our conscience but only what we believe to be absolutely true even though they are enemies of the kingdom.

    It has become common knowledge that the old Countess of Flanders, aunt of Count Ferrand of Spain arid daughter of the king of Portugal, so that she was called both queen and countess, had wished to know the outcome of the battle. She cast her fortune according to the custom of the Spaniards who readily use this art and received the following answer: "There will be fighting. The King will be thrown down in the course of the battle and trampled under the horses' hooves and have no sepulcher. And Ferrand will be welcomed in Paris in a great procession after the victory." All these things could be seen as truthful answers to one who so wishes, as everything did occur as divination had predicted but with a double meaning in accordance with the Devil's habit of always deceiving in the end those who serve him and hiding by means of a fallacious amphibology a pronouncement that is nothing but deceptive.

    How could one describe by word of mouth or feel in one's heart or write on tablets or parchment, the applause, the felicitations, the triumphant hymns, the population's innumerable dances of joy, the very great feast the people were giving the King as he returned to France after the victory? The clerks were singing in the churches sweet songs delightful in praise of Our Lord; the bells were pealing in the abbeys and churches; the places of worship were solemnly decorated inside and out with silken cloth; the streets and the houses of the loyal towns were draped with wall hangings and adorned with rich decorations; roads and paths were strewn with boughs of alburnum, green saplings, and fresh flowers; the whole population, high and low, men, women, old and young came running in large groups to roadsides and crossings; peasants and reapers assembled, their rakes and scythes on their shoulders (as this was the time of the wheat harvest), to see and insult Ferrand in chains whom a short time earlier they had feared in arms. Peasants, old women, and children had no qualms about mocking and insulting him, and took this opportunity to taunt him about his equivocal name as it can be used for both a man and a horse. It happened by chance that two horses of the color calling for this kind of horse's name were carrying him in a litter and so they were yelling as a taunt that two ferrants were carrying a third ferrant and that Ferrand was en ferre [tied in iron chains and/or iron shackles], that he was so enrage [enraged] that he stamped his foot and through conceit had rebelle [rebelled] against his lord. So much acclaim was given to the King and so much shame heaped on Ferrand all the way to Paris! The bourgeois and all the schoolmen, the clergy, and the people singing hymns and canticles went to meet the King and showed the great joy in their hearts through visible actions as they made a feast and celebration without compare. And the day was not long enough for them as they were celebrating as much by night as by day with so many lights that night was as bright as day. Thus the feast lasted continuously for seven days and seven nights. The schoolmen, in particular, untiringly and ceaselessly were showing their joy at great expense through banquets, chorales, dances, and songs.

    It did not take long for the Poitevins who had secretly conspired against the King to be wondrously terrified by the news of such a great victory and they made use of all possible means to reconcile themselves with the King. But the King who had experienced their trickery and disloyalty many times and who well knew their love and support was fruitless and always brought grief and damage to their lord, rejected them and refused to make an agreement. Instead, he assembled his host and hurriedly entered Poitou where King John was. When the host arrived at a castle called Loudun, a rich, fortified, and well-supplied castle, the Viscount of Thouars, who was a wise and powerful man, and the highest nobles of the whole of Aquitaine sent their messenger to the King begging him to receive them in forgiveness and in love, or to give them a truce. And the King, who was accustomed to always prefer to vanquish his enemies through peace rather than through battle, received the Viscount of Thouars in peace upon the request of the Count Perron of Brittany, cousin to the King, who was married to the viscount's niece.

    King John of England, who was then in the countryside fifteen miles away from the castle where the King was, did not know what he could do or what would become of him as there was no retreat to which he could safely flee and he did not dare wait for him nor set out to engage him in battle. In the end he sent his messengers to the King to negotiate some sort of peace or at least a truce if at all possible. The messengers he sent were Master Robert, legate of the Roman court, Count Renoul of Chester, and many other men. The legate and the other messengers spoke so intently that the King, out of the kindness of his heart, granted them a five-year truce, this even though he had in his host 1,000 knights and a large number of his other followers and of his sergeants, both on foot and mounted, with which he could easily and quickly have taken the whole of Aquitaine along with the King of England and all his troops.

    These things accomplished, the King returned to France. There, Ferrand's wife and the Flemings came to negotiate with him on the sixteenth calend of November. Then the King granted them back Ferrand, this against the opinion and wishes of his people, on condition that they would give him Godfrey, the Duke of Brabant's son, as hostage for five years and that they would destroy at their own expense all the castles and forts of Flanders and Hainaut, and would pay ransom for Ferrand and each of the other prisoners according to the quantity of their misdeeds. In this way, Ferrand and all the others were freed from prison. As to Count Harvey of Nevers and the others who were the King's liege men, the King never took any vengeance on them other than to make them swear on the saints that they would from then on be good and loyal toward him and the French crown.

This account was first 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 giving her permission to republish this text.