The voyage of William Longespee Or, Longsword. Earle of Sarisburie into Asia, in the yeere 1248, and in the 32 yeere of the reigne of Henry the third, king of England.
Lewis the French king being recovered of his sicknesse which he fell into, in the yeere 1234, vowed thereupon for a free will sacrifice to God, that he (if the Councell of his realme would suffer him) would in his owne person visit the Holy land: which matter was opened and debated in the Parliament of France held in the yeere 1247. Where at length it was concluded, that the king according to his vow should take his journey into Asia, and the time thereof was also prefixed, which should be after the feast of S. John Baptist the next yeere ensuing.
At which time William Longespee a worthie warrior, with the bishop of Worcester and certaine other great men in the Realme of England (mooved with the example of the Frenchmen) prepared themselves likewise to the same journey.
It fell out in this enterprise, that about the beginning of October, the French king assaulted and tooke Damiata, being the principall fort or hold of the Saracens in all Egypt, Anno 1249, and having fortified the Citie with an able garrison left with the Duke of Burgundies he remooved his tents from thence to goe Eastward. In whose armie followed William Longespee, accompanied with a piked number of English warriors retaining unto him. But such was the disdaine of the Frenchmen against this William Longespee and the Englishmen that they could not abide them, but flouted them after an opprobrious maner with English tailes, insomuch that the French king himselfe had much adoe to keepe peace betweene them.
The originall cause of this grudge betweene them began thus. A fort won by the Englishmen There was not farre from Alexandria in Egypt a strong fort or castle replenished with great Ladies and rich treasure of the Saracens: which hold it chanced the sayd William Longespee with his company of English soldiers to get, more by politique dexteritie then by open force of armes, wherewith, he and his retinue were greatly enriched. When the Frenchmen had knowledge hereof (they not being made priuie hereto) began to conceive an heart burning against the English souldiers, and could not speake well of them after that.
A rich bootie also gotten by the Englishmen. It hapned againe not long after that the sayd William had intelligence of a company of rich merchants among the Saracens going to a certaine Faire about the parts of Alexandria, having their camels, asses and mules, richly loden with silkes, precious jewels, spices, gold and silver, with cart loades of other wares, beside victuall and other furniture, whereof the souldiers then stood in great need: he having secret knowledge hereof, gathered all the power of Englishmen unto him that he could, and so by night falling vpon the merchants, some he slew with their guides and conducters, some he tooke, some hee put to flight: the carts with the driuers, and with the oxen, camels, asses and mules, with the whole cariage and victuals he tooke and brought with him, losing in all the skirmish but one souldier and eight of his seruitors: of whom notwithstanding some he brought home wounded to be cured.
The iniurie of the Frenchmen to our English. This being knowen in the Campe, foorth came the Frenchmen which all this while loytered in their pauilions, and meeting this cariage by the way, tooke all the foresayd praie whole to themselues, rating the said William and the Englishmen for aduenturing and issuing out of the Campe without leaue or knowledge of their Generall, contrary to the discipline of warre. William said againe he had done nothing but he would answere to it, whose purpose was to haue the spoyle deuided to the behoofe of the whole armie.
Will. Longspee iustly forsaketh the French king. When this would not serue, hee being sore grieued in his minde so cowardly to be spoyled of that which he so aduenturously had trauailed for, went to the King to complaine: But when no reason nor complaint would serue by reason of the proude Earle of Artoys the Kings brother, which vpon spight and disdaine stood agaynst him, he bidding the King forewell sayd hee would serue him no longer: and so William de Longespee with the rest of his company breaking from the French hoste went to Achon. Vpon whose departure the earle of Artoys sayd, Now is the army of French men well rid of these tailed people, which words spoken in great despight were ill taken of many good men that heard them.
But not long after, when the keeper of Cayro & Babylonia, bearing a good mind to the Christian religion, and being offended also with the Souldan, promised to deliuer the same to the French king, instructing him what course was best for him to take to accomplish it, the king hereupon in all haste sent for William Longespee, promising him a full redress of all his iniuries before receiued: who at the kings request came to him againe, and so ioyned with the French power.
After this, it happened that the French king passing with his armie towardes Cayro aforesayd, came to the great riuer Nilus, on the further part whereof the Soldan had pitched himselfe to withstand his comming ouer: there was at this time a Saracen lately conuerted to Christ, seruing the earle Robert the French kings brother, who told him of the absence of the Soldan from his tents, and of a shallow foord in the riuer where they might easily passe ouer. Whereupon the sayd earle Robert and the Master of the Temple with a great power, esteemed to the third part of the army issued ouer the riuer, after whom followed W. Longspee with his band of English souldiers. These being ioyned together on the other side of the water, encountred the same day with the Saracens remaining in the tents and put them to the worst. Which victory being gotten, the French earle surprised with pride and triumph, as though hee had conquered the whole earth, would needs forward, diuiding himselfe from the maine hoste, thinking to winne the spurres alone. To whom certain sage men of the Temple, giuing him contrary counsell, aduised him not to do so, but rather to returne and take their whole company with them, and so should they be more sure against all deceits and dangers, which might be layed priuily for them. The maner of that people (they sayd) they better knew, and had more experience thereof then he: alledging moreouer their wearied bodies, their tired horses, their famished souldiers, and the insufficiency also of their number, which was not able to withstand the multitude of the enemies, especially at this present brunt, in which the aduersaries did well see the whole state of their dominion now to consist either in winning all or losing all.
Which when the proud earle did heare, being inflated with no lesse arrogancy then ignorance, with opprobrious taunts reuiled them, calling them cowardly dastards, and betrayers of the whole countrey, obiecting vnto them the common report of many, which sayd, that the land of the holy crosse might soone be woon to Christendome, were it not for rebellious Templaries, with the Hospitalaries, and their followers.
To these contumelious rebukes, when the master of the Temple answered againe for him and his fellowes, bidding him display his ensigne when he would, and where he durst, they were as ready to follow him, as he to goe before them. Then began William de Longespe the worthy knight to speake, desiring the earle to giue eare to those men of experience, who had better knowledge of those countreyes and people then he had, commending also their counsell to be discreet and wholesome, and so turning to the master of the Temple, began with gentle wordes to mittigate him likewise. The knight had not halfe ended his talke, when the Earle taking his wordes out of his mouth, began to fume and sweare, crying out of those cowardly Englishmen with tailes: What a pure armie (sayd he) should we haue here, if these tailes and tailed people were purged from it, with other like words of villany, and much disdaine: The worthy answere of William Longspe to Earle Robert. whereunto the English knight answering againe, well, Earle Robert (said he) wheresoeuer you dare set your foote, my step shall go as farre as yours, and (as I beleeue) we goe this day where you shall not dare to come neere the taile of my horse, as in deede in the euent it prooued true: for Earle Robert would needes set forward, weening to get all the glory to himselfe before the comming of the hoste, and first inuaded a litle village or castle, which was not farre off, called Mansor. The countrey Boores and Pagans in the villages, seeing the Christians comming, ranne out with such a maine cry and shout, that it came to the Soldans hearing, who was neerer then our men did thinke. In the meane time, the Christians inuading and entring into the munition444 incircumspectly, were pelted and pashed445 with stones by them which stood aboue, whereby a great number of our men were lost, and the armie sore maymed, and almost in despaire.
Then immediatly vpon the same, commeth the Soldan with all his maine power, which seeing the Christian armie to be deuided, and the brother separated from the brother, had that which he long wished for, and so inclosing them round about, that none should escape, had with them a cruell fight.
Then the earle beganne to repent him of his heady rashnes, but it was too late, who then seeing William the English knight doughtily fighting in the chiefe brunt of the enemies, cried vnto him most cowardly to flie, seeing God (saith he) doth fight against vs: To whom the Knight answering againe, God forbid (sayth he) that my fathers sonne should runne away from the face of a Saracene. The cowardly flight of Earle Robert. The Earle then turning his horse, fled away, thinking to auoid by the swiftnes of his horse, and so taking the riuer Thafnis, oppressed with harnesse, was there sunken and drowned.
Thus the Earle being gone, the Frenchmen began to dispaire and scatter. The valiant ende of William Longespe. Then William de Longespe bearing all the force of the enemies, stoode against them as long as he could, wounding and slaying many a Saracen, till at length his horse being killed, and his legges maymed, he could no longer stande, who yet notwithstanding as he was downe, mangled their feete and legges, and did the Saracens much sorrow, till at last after many blowes and wounds, being stoned of the Saracens, he yeelded his life. And after the death of him, the Saracens setting vpon the residue of the armie, whom they had compassed on euery side, deuoured and destroyed them all, insomuch that scarce one man remained aliue, sauing two Templaries, one Hospitaler, and one poore rascall souldier, which brought tidings hereof to the King.
And thus by the imprudent and foolish hardines of that French Earle, the Frenchmen were discomfited, and that valiant English Knight ouermatched, to the griefe of all Christian people, the glory of the Saracens, and the vtter destruction and ruine of the whole French armie, as afterwards it appeared.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51