William Morris. Commonweal 1888

The Revolt of Ghent (Part 5)

Title:The Revolt of Ghent”, Part 5
Author: William Morris
Source: Commonweal, Volume 4, Number 134, pp. 242-243 4 August 1888 (The fifth of seven parts.)
Transcribed by: Ted Crawford
Proofing and HTML:Graham Seaman

Says the old chronicler:—

“When Philip van Artevelde and his company entered again into Ghent, a great number of the common people desiring nothing but peace, were right joyful of their coming, trusting to hear some good tidings ; they came against him, and could not restrain, but demanded tidings, saying, ‘Ah, dear sir, Philip van Artevelde, rejoice us with some good word, let us know how ye have sped’ : to which demands Philip gave none answer, but passed by, holding down his head. The more he held his peace, the more the people followed him, pressing to hear some tidings : and once or twice as he rode to his lodging ward, he said to them that followed ‘Sirs, return to your houses : for this day God help you, and to morrow at nine of the clock come into the market place, and then ye shall hear the tidings that I can show you.’ Other answer could they have none of him, whereof every man was greatly abashed.

“And when Philip van Artevelde was alighted at his lodging, and such as had followed him had been at Tournay with him, and every man gone to their own lodgings, then Peter du Bois, who desired to hear some tidings, came in the evening to Philip’s house, and so then they two went together into a chamber ; then Peter demanded of him how he had sped, and Philip, who would hide nothing from him, said, ‘By my faith, Peter, by that the Earl of Flanders hath answered by his council sent to Tournay, he will take no manner of person within the town of Ghent to mercy, no more one than another.’ ‘By my faith,’ quoth Peter, ‘to say the truth he doth but right to do so: he is well counselled to be of that opinion for they be all partakers, as well one as another ; now the matter is come even after mine intent, and also it was the intent of my good master John Lyon that is dead ; for now the town will be so troubled, that it will be hard ever to appease it again. Now it is time to take bridle in the teeth ; now it shall be seen who is sage and who is hardy in the town of Ghent. Either shortly the town of Ghent shall be the most honoured town in Christendom, or else the most desolate. At the least, if we die in this quarrel we shall not die all alone ; therefore Philip remember yourself well this night how ye may make relation to-morrow to the people of the determination of your council holden now at Tournay, and that ye may show it in such manner that the people may be content with you : for ye have already the grace of the people, for two causes ; one is, because of your name, for sometime James van Artevelde, your father, was marvellously well beloved ; the other cause is, ye entreat the people meekly and sagely, as the common saying is throughout the town, wherefore the people will believe you to live or die ; and at the end show them your counsel, and say how ye will do thus, and they will all say the same. Therefore it behoveth you to take good advice, in showing words, wherein lieth your honour.’ ‘Truly’ quoth Philip, ‘ye say truth, and I trust so to speak and show the business of Ghent, that we who are now governors and captains shall either live or die with honour.’ So thus they departed for that night each fro other : Peter du Bois went home to his house, and Philip van Artevelde abode still in his.

‘Ye may well know and believe that when the day desired was come that Philip van Artevelde should generally report the effect of the council holden at Tournay, all the people of the town of Ghent drew them to the market place on a Wednesday morning ; and about nine of the bell Philip van Artevelde, Peter du Bois, Peter de Nuitre, Francis Atreman, and the other captains came thither into the common hall. Then Philip leaned out at a window and began to speak, and said —

“ ‘O, all ye good people, it is of truth that at the desire of the right honourable lady, my lady of Brabant, and the right noble duke Albert, bailiff of Hainault, Holland, and Zealand, and of my lord the bishop of Liége, there was a council agreed and accorded to be at Tournay, and thereat, to be personally the Earl of Flanders ; and so he certified to these said lords, who have nobly acquitted themselves : for they sent, thither right notable councillors, and knights and burgesses of good towns ; and so they and we of this good town of Ghent were there at the day assigned, looking and abiding for the Ear1 of Flanders who came not nor would not come ; and when they saw that he came not nor was not coming, then they sent to him to Bruges three knights for the three countries, and burgesses for the good towns ; and they travailed so much for our sakes, that they went to him to Bruges, and there they found him, who made them great cheer (as they said) and heard well their message : but he answered them and said, that for the honour of their lords, and for the love of his sister the lady of Brabant (he said) he would send his council to Tournay within five or six days after, so well instructed by him that they should plainly show the full of his intention and mind. Other answer could they none have, and so they returned again to us at Tournay.

“ ‘And then the day assigned by therle there came fro him to Tournay the lord of Rannesels, the lord of Gountris, sir John Villayns, and the provost of Harlebeke ; and there they showed graciously their lord’s will, and certain arrest of this war, how the peace might be had between the Earl and the town of Ghent. First, determinally they said, the Earl will that every man in the town of Ghent, except prelates of churches and religious, all that be above the age of fifteen year and under the age of sixty, that they all in their shirts, bare headed and bare-footed, with halters about their necks, avoid the town of Ghent, and so go a twelve mile thence into the plain of Burlesquans, and there they shall meet the Earl of Flanders, accompanied with such as shall please him ; and so when he seeth us in that case, holding up our hands and crying for mercy, then he shall have pity and compassion on us if it please him. But, sirs, I can not know by the relation of any of his council but that by shameful punition of justice there shall suffer death the most part of the people that shall appear there that day. Now, sirs, consider well if ye will come to peace by this means or not.’

“When Philip van Arfevelde had spoken these words, it was great pity to see men, women, and children weep, and wring their hands for love of their fathers, brethren, husbands, and neighbours. And after this tournment and noise, Philip van Artevelde began again to speak and said, ‘Peace, sirs, peace,’ and incontinent every man was still. Then he began to speak, and said —

" 'Ah, ye good people of Ghent, ye be here now assembled the most part, and ye have heard what I have said. Sirs, I see none other remedy but short counsel, for ye know well what necessity we be in for lack of victual; I am sure there be thirty thousand in this town that did eat no bread this fifteen days passed. Sirs, of three things we must of necessity do the one. The first is, if ye will, let us enclose ourselves in this town, and mure up all our gates, and then confess us clean to God, and let us enter into the churches and minsters and so let us die for famine repentant of our sins like martyrs, and such people as no man will have mercy of. Yet in this estate God shall have mercy of our souls, and it shall be said in every place where it shall be heard, that we be dead valiantly, and like true people.

“ ‘Or else, secondly, let us all, men women, and children, go with halters about our necks in our shirts, and cry mercy to my lord the Earl of Flanders : I think his heart will not be so indurate (as when he seeth us in that estate) but that his heart will mollify and take mercy on his people ; and as for myself, I will be the first to appease his displeasure ; I shall present my head and be content to die for them of Ghent.

“ ‘Or else, thirdly, let us choose out in this town five or six thousand men of the most able and best appointed, and let us go hastily and assail the Earl at Bruges, and fight with him ; and if we die in this voyage, at the least it shall be honourable, and God shall have pity of us, and all the world shall say that valiantly and truly we have kept and maintained our quarrel. And in this battle, if God shall have pity of us, as anciently he put his puissance into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, duke and master of chivalry, by whom the Assyrians were discomfited, then shall we be reputed the most honourable people that have reigned sith the days of the Romans.

“ ‘Now sirs, take good heed which of these three ways ye will take, for one of them must ye needs take.’

“Then such as were next to him, and had heard him best, said : ‘Ah, sir, all we have our trust in you to counsel us, and sir, look ye as ye counsel us, so shall we follow.’

“ ‘By my faith’ quoth Philip ‘then I counsel you ; let us go with an army of men against the Earl ; we shall find him at Bruges and as soon as he shall know of our coming he will issue out to fight with us, by the pride of them of Bruges, and of such as be about him who night and day informeth and stirreth him to fight with us ; and if God will by his grace that we have the victory, and discomfit our enemies, then shall we be recovered for ever, and the most honoured people in the world, and if we be discomfited we shall die honourably, and God shall have pity of us, and thereby all the other people in Ghent shall escape, and the Earl will have mercy on them.’

“And therewith they all answered with one voice, ‘We will do this, we will do this, we wilt make none other end.’

“Then Philip answered and said, ‘Sirs, if it be your wills to do thus, then return home to your houses, and make ready your harness, for tomorrow sometime of the day I will that we depart out of Ghent and go toward Bruges, for the abiding here is nothing for us profitable and within five days we shall know if we shall die or live with honour, and I shall send the constables of every parish from house to house, to choose out the most able and best appointed men.’

“In this estate every man departed out of the market place, and made them ready ; and this Wednesday they kept the town so close, that neither man nor woman entered nor issued out of the town till the Thursday in the morning, that every man was ready, such as should, depart ; and they were to the number of five thousand men, and not past, and they had with them two hundred cars of ordnance and artillery, and but seven carts of victua1, five of biscuit bread, and two tun of wine, for in all they had but two tun, and left no more behind them in the town.

“This was a hard departing, and they that were left behind were hardly bested. It was pity to behold them that went forth, and they that abode behind said to them, ‘Sirs, now at your departure, ye know what ye leave behind you, but never think to come hither again without ye come with honour ; for if it be otherwise, ye shall find here nothing ; for as soon as we hear tidings that ye be either slain or discomfited, we shall set the town a-fire and destroy ourselves like people despaired.’

“Then they that went forth said to comfort them, ‘Sirs, pray to God for us, for we trust he shall help us and you also, or we return again.’

“Thus these five hundred departed from Ghent with their small provision ; and that Thursday they went and lay a mile without Ghent and brake not up their provision, but passed that night with such things as they found abroad in the country ; and the Friday they went forth, not touching as yet their victual, for the foragers found somewhat in the country, wherewith they passed that day, and so lodged a seven mile from Bruges and there rested and took a place of ground at their device, abiding their enemies ; and before them there was a great plash of standing water, wherewith they fortified themselves on the one part, and on the other part with their carriages. And so they passed that night.

“And when it came to the Saturday in the morning, the weather was fair and clear, and a holiday called in Bruges, for that day of custom they made processions. Then tidings came to them how the Ghentois were come thither. And then ye should have seen great murmurings in Bruges, so that at last word thereof came to the Earl and to his company, whereof the Earl had great marvel, and said, ‘Behold yonder ungracious people of Ghent, I trow the devil hath brought them to their destruction ; now is the time come to have an end of this war.’

And so then his knights and squires came to him, and he received them graciously, and said to them, ‘We shall go and fight with yonder unhappy people of Ghent. Yet,’ quoth the Earl, ‘they had rather die by the sword than by famine.’

“Then the Earl was counselled to send three men of arms into the field to see the demeanour of his enemies. And so then the marshal of Flanders appointed out three squires, valiant men of arms, to go and see the behaving of the Ghentois.

“As Lambert of Lambres, Damas of Buffey, and John of Beart ; and so they three departed from Bruges, and rode toward their enemies. And in the meantime, while these three went forth, they of Bruges made them ready to issue out to go and fight with the Ghentois. Of whom I shall show somewhat of their order.”


( To be continued.)