Anne of Geierstein, by Walter Scott

Chapter 34

And is the hostile troop arrived,

And have they won the day?

It must have been a bloody field

Ere Darwent fled away!

The Ettrick Shepherd.

Sleep did not close the eyes of the Earl of Oxford or his son; for although the success or defeat of the Duke of Burgundy could not now be of importance to their own private or political affairs, yet the father did not cease to interest himself in the fate of his former companion-in-arms; and the son, with the fire of youth, always eager after novelty,25 expected to find something to advance or thwart his own progress in every remarkable event which agitated the world.

Arthur had risen from his bed, and was in the act of attiring himself, when the tread of a horse arrested his attention. He had no sooner looked out of the window, than, exclaiming, “News, my father, news from the army!” he rushed into the street, where a cavalier, who appeared to have ridden very hard, was inquiring for the two Philipsons, father and son. He had no difficulty in recognizing Colvin, the master of the Burgundian ordnance. His ghastly look bespoke distress of mind; his disordered array and broken arm or, which seemed rusted with rain, or stained with blood, gave the intelligence of some affray in which he had probably been worsted; and so exhausted was his gallant steed, that it was with difficulty the animal could stand upright. The condition of the rider was not much better. When he alighted from his horse to greet Arthur, he reeled so much that he would have fallen without instant support. His horny eye had lost the power of speculation; his limbs possessed imperfectly that of motion, and it was with a half-suffocated voice that he muttered, “Only fatigue — want of rest and of food.”

Arthur assisted him into the house, and refreshments were procured but he refused all except a bowl of wine, after tasting which he set it down, and looking at the Earl of Oxford with an eye of the deepest affliction, he ejaculated, “The Duke of Burgundy!”

“Slain?” replied the Earl; “I trust not!”

“It might have been better if he were,” said the Englishman; “but dishonor has come before death.”

“Defeated, then?” said Oxford.

“So completely and fearfully defeated,” answered the soldier, “that all that I have seen of loss before was slight in comparison.”

“But how, or where?” said the Earl of Oxford; “you were superior in numbers, as we were informed.”

“Two to one at least,” answered Colvin; “and when I speak of our encounter at this moment, I could rend my flesh with my teeth for being here to tell such a tale of shame. We had sat down for about a week before that paltry town of Murten or Morat, or whatever it is called. The governor, one of those stubborn mountain bears of Berne, bade us defiance. He would not even condescend to shut his gates, but when we summoned the town, returned for answer, we might enter if we pleased — we should be suitably received. I would have tried to bring him to reason by a salvo or two of artillery, but the Duke was too much irritated to listen to good counsel. Stimulated by that black traitor, Campo-Basso, he deemed it better to run forward with his whole force upon a place, which, though I could soon have battered it about their German ears, was yet too strong to be carried by swords, lances, and hagbuts. We were beaten off with great loss, and much discouragement to the soldiers. We then commenced more regularly, and my batteries would have brought these mad Switzers to their senses. Walls and ramparts went down before the lusty cannoniers of Burgundy; we were well secured also by intrenchments against those whom we heard of as approaching to raise the siege. But on the evening of the twentieth of this month, we learned that they were close at hand, and Charles, consulting only his own bold spirit, advanced to meet them, relinquishing the advantage of our battlefield and strong position. By his orders, though against my own judgment, I accompanied him with twenty good pieces, and the flower of my people. We broke up on the next morning, and had not advanced far before we saw the lances and thick array of halberds and two-handed swords which crested the mountain. Heaven, too, added its terrors — A thunderstorm; with all the fury of those tempestuous climates, descended on both armies, but did most annoyance to ours, as our troops, especially the Italians, were more sensible to the torrents of rain which poured down, and the rivulets, which swelled into torrents, inundated and disordered our position. The Duke for once saw it necessary to alter his purpose of instant battle. He rode up to me, and directed me tp defend with the cannon the retreat which he was about to commence, adding, that he himself would in person, sustain me with the men-at-arms. The order was given to retreat. But the movement gave new spirit to an enemy already sufficiently audacious. The ranks of the Swiss instantly prostrated themselves in prayer — a practice in the field of battle which I have ridiculed — but I will do so no more. When, after five minutes they sprung again on their feet, and began to advance rapidly, sounding their horns and crying their war-cries with all their usual ferocity — behold, my lord, the clouds of Heaven opened, shedding on the Confederates the blessed light of the returning sun, while our ranks were still in the gloom of the tempest. My men were discouraged. The host behind them was retreating; the sudden light thrown on the advancing Switzers showed along the mountains a profusion of banners, a glancing of arms, giving to the enemy the appearance of double the numbers that had hitherto been visible to us. I exhorted my followers to stand fast, but in doing so I thought a thought, and spoke a word, which was a grievous sin. ‘Stand fast, my brave cannoniers,’ I said, ‘we will presently let them hear louder thunders, and show them more fatal lightnings, than their prayers have put down! ‘ — My men shouted — But it was an impious thought — a blasphemous speech — and evil came after it. We levelled our guns on the advancing masses as fairly as cannon were ever pointed — I can vouch it, for I laid the Grand Duchess of Burgundy myself — Ah, poor Duchess! what rude hands manage thee now! — The volley was fired, and ere the smoke spread from the muzzles, I could see many a man and many a banner go down. It was natural to think such a discharge should have. checked the attack, and whilst the smoke hid the enemy from us, I made every effort again~to load our cannon, and anxiously endeavored to look through the mist to discover the state of our opponents. But ere our smoke was cleared away, or the cannon again loaded,, they came headlong down on us, horse and foot, old men and boys, men-at-arms and varlets, charging up to the muzzle of the guns, and over them, with total disregard to their lives. My brave fellows were cut down, pierced through and overrun, while they were again loading their pieces, nor do I believe that a single cannon was fired a second time.”

“And the Duke?” said the Earl of Oxford, “did be not support you?”

“Most loyally and bravely,” answered Colvin, “with his own body-guard of Walloons and Burgundians. But a thousand Italian mercenaries went off, and never showed face again. The pass, too, was cumbered with the artillery, and in itself narrow, bordering on mountains and cliffs, a deep lake close beside. In short, it was a place totally unfit for horsemen to act in. In spite of the Duke’s utmost exertions, and those of the gallant Flemings who fought around him, all were borne back in complete disorder. I was on foot fighting as I could, without hopes of my life, or indeed thoughts of saving it, when I saw the guns taken and my faithful cannoniers slain. But I saw Duke Charles hard pressed, and took my horse from my page that held him — Thou, too, art lost, my poor orphan boy I could only aid Monseigneur de la Croye and others to extricate the Duke. Our retreat became a total rout, and when we reached our rear-guard, which we had left strongly encamped, the banners of the Switzers were waving on our batteries, for a large division had made a circuit through mountain-passes known only to themselves, and attacked our camp, vigorously seconded by that accursed Adrian de Bubenburg, who sallied from the beleaguered town, so that our intrenchments were stormed on both sides at once. — I have more to say, but having ridden day and night to bring you these evil tidings, my tongue clings to the roof of my mouth, and I feel that I can speak no more. The rest is all flight and massacre, disgraceful to every soldier that shared in it. For my part, I confess my contumelious self-confidence and insolence to man, as well as blasphemy to Heaven. If I live, it is but to hide my disgraced head in a cowl, and expiate the numerous sins of a licentious life.”

With difficulty the broken-minded soldier was prevailed upon to take some nourishment and repose, together with an opiate, which was prescribed by the physician of King Rene, who recommended it as necessary to preserve even the reason of his patient, exhausted by the events of the battle, and subsequent fatigue.

The Earl of Oxford, dismissing other assistance, watched alternately with his son at Colvin’s bedside. Notwithstanding the draught that had been administered, his repose was far from sound. Sudden starts, the perspiration which sprung from his brow, th~ distortions of his countenance, and the manner in which he clenched his fists and flung about his limbs, showed that in his dreams he was again encountering the terrors of a desperate and forlorn combat. This lasted for several hours; but about noon fatigue and medicine prevailed over nervous excitation, and the defeated commander fell into a deep and untroubled repose till evening. About sunset he awakened, and, after learning with whom and where he was, he partook of refreshments, and without any apparent consciousness of having told them before, detailed once more all the particulars of the battle of Murten.

‘It were little wide of truth,” he said, “to calculate that one half of the Duke’s army fell by the sword, or were driven into the lake. Those who escaped are great part of them scattered, never again to unite. Such a desperate and irretrievable rout was never witnessed. We fled like deer, sheep, or any other timid animals, which only remain in company because they are afraid to separate, but never think of order or of defence.”

“And the Duke?” said the Earl of Oxford.

“We hurried him with us,” said the soldier, “rather from instinct than loyalty, as men flying from a conflagration snatch up what they have of value without knowing that they are doing. Knight and knave, officer and soldier, fled in the same panic, and each blast of the horn of Un in our rear added new wings to our flight.”

“And the Duke?” repeated Oxford.

“At first he resisted our efforts, and strove to turn back on the foe; but when the flight became general, he galloped along with us, without a word spoken or a command issued. At first we thought his silence and passiveness, so unusual in a temper so fiery, were fortunate for securing his personal safety. But when we rode the whole day without being able to obtain a word of reply to all our questions — when he sternly refused refreshments of every kind, though he had tasted no food all that disastrous day — when every variation of his moody and uncertain temper was sunk into silent and sullen despair, we took counsel what was to be done, and it was by the general voice that I was despatched to entreat that you, for whose counsels alone Charles has been known to have had some occasional deference, would come instantly to his place of retreat, and exert all your influence to awaken him from this lethargy, which may otherwise terminate his existence!”

“And what remedy can I interpose?” said Oxford. “You know how he neglected my advice, when following it might have served my interest as well as his own. You are aware that my life was not safe among the miscreants that surrounded the Duke, and exercised influence over him.”

“Most true,” answered Colvin; “but I also know he is your ancient companion-in-arms, and it would ill become me to teach the noble Earl of Oxford what the laws of chivalry require. For your lordship’s safety, every honest man in the army will give willing security.”

“It is for that I care least,” said Oxford, indifferently; “and if indeed my presence can be of service to the Duke — if I could believe that he desired it — ”

“He does — he does, my lord!” said the faithful soldier, with tears in his eyes. “We heard him name your name, as if the words escaped him in a painful dream.”

“I will go to him, such being the case,” said Oxford. — “I will go instantly. Where did he propose to establish his headquarters?”

“He had fixed nothing for himself on that or other matters; but Monsieur de Contay named La Riviere, near Salins, in Upper Burgundy, as the place of his retreat.”

“Thither, then, will we, my son, with all haste of preparation. Thou, Colvin, hadst better remain here, and see some holy man, to be assoilzied for thy hasty speech on the battlefield of Morat. There was offence in it without doubt, but it will be ill atoned for by quitting a generous master when he liath most need of your good service and it is but an act of cowardice to retreat into the cloister till we have no longer active duties to perform in this world.”

“It is true,” said Colvin, “that should I leave the Duke now, perhaps not a man would stay behind that could stell a cannon properly. The sight of your lordship cannot but operate favorably on my noble master, since it has waked the old soldier in myself. If your lordship can delay your journey till to-morrow I will have my spiritual affairs settled, and my bodily health sufficiently restored to be your guide to La Riviere and for the cloister, I will think of it when I have regained the good name which l have lost at Murten. But I will have masses said, and these right powerful, for the souls of my poor cannoniers.”

The proposal of Colvin was adopted, and Oxford, with his son, attended by Thiebault, spent the day in preparation, excepting the time necessary to take formal leave of King Rene, who seemed to part with them with regret. In company with the ordnance officer of the discomfited Duke, they traversed those parts of Provence, Dauphine, and Franche Compte, which lie between Aix and the place to which the Duke of Burgundy had retreated; but the distance and inconvenience of so long a route consumed more than a fortnight on the road, and the month of July 1476 was commenced, when the travellers arrived in Upper burgundy, and at the Castle of La Riviere, about twenty miles to the south of the town of Salins. The castle, which was but of small size, was surrounded by very man tyents, which were pitched in a crowded, disordered, and unsoldierlike manner, very unlike the discipline unusually observed in the camp of Charles the Bold. That the Duke was present there, however, was attested by his broad banner, which, rich with all its quarterings, streamed from the battlements of the castle. The guard turned out to receive the strangers, but in a manner so disorderly, that the Earl looked to Colvin for explanation. The master of the ordnance shrugged up his shoulders, and was silent.

Colvin having sent in notice of his arrival, and that of the English Earl, Monsieur de Contay caused them presently to be admitted, and expressed much joy at their arrival.

“A few of us,” he said, “true servants of the Duke, are holding council here, at which your assistance, my noble Lord of Oxford, will he of the utmost importance. Messieurs De la Croye, De Craon, Rubempre, and others, nobles of Burgundy, are now assembled to superintend the defence of the country at this exigence.”

They all expressed delight to see the Earl of Oxford, and had only abstained from thrusting their attentions on him the last time he was in the Duke’s camp, as they understood it was his wish to observe incognito.

“His Grace,” said De Craon, “has asked after you twice, and on both times by your assumed name of Philipson.”

“I wonder not at that, my Lord of Craon,” replied the English nobleman; “the origin of the name took its rise in former days, when I was here during my first exile. It was then said, that we poor Lancastrian nobles must assume other names than our own, and the good Duke Philip said, as I was brother-in-arms to his son Charles, I must be called after himself, by the name of Philipson. In memory of the good sovereign, I took that name when the day of need actually arrived, and I see that the Duke thinks of our early intimacy by his distinguishing me so. — How fares his Grace?”

The Burgundians looked at each other, and there was a pause.

“Even like a man stunned, brave Oxford,” at length De Contay replied. “Sieur d’Argentin,26 you can best inform the noble Earl of the condition of our sovereign.”

“He is like a man distracted,” said the future historian of that busy period. “After the battle of Granson, he was never, to my thinking, of the same sound judgment as before. But then, he was capricious, unreasonable, peremptory, and inconsistent, and resented every counsel that was offered, as if it had been meant in insult; was jealous of the least trespass in point of ceremonial, as if his subjects were holding him in contempt. Now there is a total change, as if this second blow had stunned him, and suppressed the violent passions which the first called into action. He is silent as a Carthusian, solitary as a hermit, expresses interest in nothing, least of all in the guidance of his army. He was, you know, anxious about his dress; so much so, that there was some affectation even in the rudenesses which he practised in that matter. But, woe’s me, you will see a change now; he will not suffer his hair or nails to be trimmed or arranged. He is totally heedless of respect or disrespect towards him, takes little or no nourishment, uses strong wines, which, however, do not seem to affect his understanding; he will hear nothing of war or state affairs, as little of hunting or of sport. Suppose an anchorite brought from a cell to govern a kingdom, you see in him, except in point of devotion, a picture of the fiery active Charles of Burgundy.”

“You speak of a mind deeply wounded, Sieur d’Argentin,” replied the Englishman. “Think you it fit I should present myself before the Duke?”

“I will inquire,” said Contay; and leaving the apartment, returned presently, and made a sign to the Earl to follow him.

In a cabinet, or closet, the unfortunate Charles reclined in a large arm-chair, his legs carelessly stretched on a footstool, but so changed that the Earl of Oxford could have believed what he saw to be the ghost of the once fiery Duke. Indeed, the shaggy length of hair which, streaming from his head, mingled with his beard; the hollowness of the caverns, at the bottom of which rolled his wild eyes; the falling in of the breast, and the advance of the shoulders, gave the ghastly appearance of one who has suffered the final agony which takes from mortality the signs of life and energy. His very costume (a cloak flung loosely over him) increased his resemblance to a shrouded phantom. De Contay named the Earl of Oxford; but the Duke gazed on him with a lustreless eye, and gave him no answer.

“Speak to him, brave Oxford,” said the Burgundian in a whisper; “he is even worse than usual, but perhaps he may know your voice.”

Never, when the Duke of Burgundy was in the most palmy state of his fortunes, did the noble Englishman kneel to kiss his hand with such sincere reverence. He respected in him, not only the afflicted friend, but the humbled sovereign, upon whose tower of trust the lightning had so recently broken. It was probably the falling of a tear upon his hand which seemed to awake the Duke’s attention, for he looked towards the Earl, and said, “Oxford — Philipson — my old — my only friend, hast thou found me out in this retreat of shame and misery?”

“I am not your only friend, my lord,” said Oxford. “Heaven has given you many affectionate friends among your natural and loyal subjects. But though a stranger, and saving the allegiance I owe to my lawful sovereign, I will yield to none of them in the respect and deference which I have paid to your Grace in prosperity, and now come to render to you in adversity.”

“Adversity, indeed!” said the Duke; “irremediable, intolerable adversity! I was lately Charles of Burgundy, called the Bold — now am I twice beaten by a scum of German peasants; my standard taken, my men-at-arms put to flight, my camp twice plundered, and each time of value more than equal to the price of all Switzerland fairly lost; myself hunted like a caitiff goat or chamois — The utmost spite of hell could never accumulate more shame on the head of a sovereign!”

“On the contrary, my lord,” said Oxford, “it is a trial of Heaven, which calls for patience and strength of mind. The bravest and best knight may lose the saddle; he is but a laggard who lies rolling on the sand of the lists after the accident has chanced.”

“Ha, laggard, say’st thou?” said the Duke, some part of his ancient spirit awakened by the broad taunt; “Leave my presence, sir, and return to it no more, till you are summoned thither — ”

“Which I trust will be no later than your Grace quits your dishabille, and disposes yourself to see your vassals and friends with such ceremony as befits you and them,” said the Earl composedly.

“How mean you by that, Sir Earl? You are unmannerly.”

“If I be, my lord, I am taught my ill-breeding by circumstances. I can mourn over fallen dignity; but I cannot honor him who dishonors himself by bending, like a regardless boy, beneath the scourge of evil fortune.”

“And who am I that you should term me such?” said Charles, starting up in all his natural pride and ferocity; “or who are you but a miserable exile, that you should break in upon my privacy with such disrespectful upbraiding?”

“For me,” replied Oxford, “I am, as you say, an unrespected exile nor am I ashamed of my condition, since unshaken loyalty to my king and his successors has brought me to it. But in you, can I recognize the Duke of Burgundy in a sullen hermit, whose guards are a disorderly soldiery, dreadful only to their friends; whose councils are in confusion for want of their sovereign, and who himself lurks, like a lamed wolf in its den, in an obscure castle, waiting but a blast of the Switzer’s horn to fling open its gates, which there are none to defend; who wears not a knightly sword to protect his person, and cannot even die like a stag at bay, but must be worried like a hunted fox?”

“Death and hell, slanderous traitor!” thundered the Duke, glancing a look at his side, and perceiving himself without a weapon, — “It is well for thee I have no sword, or thou shouldst never boast of thine insolence going unpunished. — Contay, step forth like a good knight, and confute the calumniator. Say, are not my soldiers arrayed, disciplined, and in order?”

“My lord,” said Contay, trembling (brave as be was in battle) at the frantic rage which Charles exhibited, “there are a numerous soldiery yet under your command, but they are in evil order, and in worse discipline, I think, then they were wont.”

“I see it — I see it,” said the Duke “idle and evil counsellors are ye all. — Hearken, Sir of Contay, what have you and the rest of you been doing, holding as you do large lands and high fiefs of us, that I cannot stretch my limbs on a sick-bed, when my heart is half broken, but my troops must fall into such scandalous disorder as exposes me to the scorn and reproach of each beggarly foreigner?”

“My lord,” replied Contay more firmly, “we have done what we could. But your Grace has accustomed your mercenary generals and leaders of Free Companies to take their orders only from your own mouth, or hand. They clamor also for pay, and the treasurer refuses to issue it without your Grace’s order, as he alleges it might cost him his head; and they will not be guided and restrained, either by us or those who compose your council.”

The Duke laughed sternly, but was evidently somewhat pleased with the reply.

“Ha, ha!” he said, “it is only Burgundy who can ride his own wild horses, and rule his own wild soldiery. Hark thee, Contay — To-morrow I ride forth to review the troops — for what disorder has passed allowance shall be made. Pay also shall be issued — but woe to those who shall have offended too deeply! Let my grooms of the chamber know to provide me fitting dress and arms. I have got a lesson” (glancing a dar’h look at Oxford), “and I will not again be insulted without the means of wreaking my vengeance. Begone, both of you. And, Contay, send the treasurer hither with his accounts, and woe to his soul if I find aught to complain of! Begone, I say, and send him hither.”

They left the apartment with suitable obeisance. As they retired, the Duke said abruptly, “Lord of Oxford, a word with you. Where did you study medicine? In your own famed university, I suppose. Thy physic bath wrought a wonder. Yet, Doctor Philipson, it might have cost thee thy life.”

“I have ever thought my life cheap,” said Oxford, “when the object was to help my friend.”

“Thou art indeed a friend,” said Charles, “and a fearless one. But go — I have been sore troubled, and thou has tasked my temper closely. To-morrow we will speak further; mean — time, I forgive thee, and I honor thee.”

The Earl of Oxford retired to the Council-hall, where the Burgundian nobility, aware of what had passed, crowded around him with thanks, compliments, and congratulations. A general bustle now ensued; orders were hurried off in every direction. Those officers who had duties to perform which had been neglected, hastened to conceal or to atone for their negligence. There was a general tumult in the camp, but it was a tumult of joy; for soldiers are always most pleased when they are best in order for performing their military service; and license or inactivity, however acceptable at times are not, when continued, so agreeable to their nature, as strict discipline and a prospect of employment.

The treasurer, who was, luckily for him, a man of sense and method, having been two hours in private with the Duke, returned with looks of wonder, and professed, that never in Charles’s most prosperous days, had he showed himself more acute in the department of finance, of which he had but that morning seemed totally incapable; and the merit was universally attributed to the visit of Lord Oxford, whose timely reprimand had, like the shot of a cannon dispersing foul mists, awakened the Duke from his black and bilious melancholy.

On the following day Charles reviewed his troops with his usual attention, directed new levies, made various dispositions of his forces, and corrected the faults of their discipline by severe orders, which were enforced by some deserved punishments (of which the Italian mercenaries of Campo-Basso had a large share), and rendered palatable by the payment of arrears, which was calculated to attach them to the standard under which they served!

The Duke also, after consulting with his council, agreed to convoke meetings of the States in his different territories, to dress certain popular grievances, and grant some boons which he had hitherto denied; and thus began to open a new account of popularity with his subjects, in place of that which his rashness had exhausted.

25 Cupidus novarum renim.

26 Phi1ip des Comines, Sieur d'Argentine, author of Historical Memoirs. See notes to Quentir Durward, pp 454, 457

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00