A knight, named the lord de Graville, who was attached to the king of Navarre by his faith and oath, was much hurt at his imprisonment, as were likewise many of the inhabitants of the Evreux; but they could not help themselves so long as the castle was in the enemy’s possession. This sir William lived about two short leagues from Evreux, and whenever he came to that city, was received by a citizen, who in former times had been a great friend to the king of Navarre. When sir William came to the house of this citizen, he ate with him, and, during their repasts, discoursed on various subjects, but generally of the king of Navarre, and of his imprisonment, which vexed them sorely.
It happened one day that sir William said to him; “If you will give me your assistance, I will surely re-conquer this city and castle for the king of Navarre.” “How will you do that?” replied the citizen, “for the governor is strongly attached to the French interest; and, without having gained the castle, we dare not shew ourselves, for he is master of the town and suburbs.” Sir William answered: “I will tell you. You must get three or four citizens of your friends, that are of the same way of thinking as yourself, and fill your houses well with armed men that can be depended on; and I promise you on my head, that we will enter the castle by a trick, without incurring any danger.” The citizen was so active, that he soon collected a hundred of his friends, who were as well inclined as himself.
Sir William went in and out of the town without any suspicion; for he had not borne arms in the last expedition with the lord Philip de Navarre, because the greater part of his property lay near to Evreux, and the king of France, at the time he conquered Evreux, had made all the landholders in the neighbourhood swear allegiance to him, otherwise he would have taken possession of their lands; he had thus only gained outwardly their affections, but their hearts remained attached to the interest of Navarre. If king John, however, had been in France, this sir William would not have dared to attempt what he performed. But he perceived the embarrassed state of public affairs, and that the three estates were desirous of giving the king of Navarre his liberty.
Sir William having made his preparations, the citizens were apprised what they were to do: he armed himself at all points, put on a short gown, and over all his cloak. He had under his arm a small battle-axe, and, thus equipped, he came, attended by his servant, whom he had let into the secret, to walk upon the square before the castle, as had been of late his custom. He walked there so long a time, that the governor, who usually came to the gate twice or thrice about that time, opened the gate of the castle to look about him, but it was only the wicket-gate, and he placed himself right before it. When sir William perceived him, he approached nearer by little and little, saluting him most respectfully. The governor, though he returned the salute, kept his position. Sir William, however, at last came up to him, and began to converse with him on different subjects: he inquired if he had heard what was doing in France. The governor, from being constantly shut up in the castle, had enjoyed little communication from without, and being eager to learn the news, replied that he had heard nothing, and would thank him to let him know what was passing. “Very willingly,” answered sir William. “It is reported in France, that the kings of Denmark and Iceland1 have made an alliance, and have sworn never to return to their countries before they shall have destroyed England, and brought back the king of France to Paris. They have an armament at sea, with upwards of one hundred thousand men: and the English are so much alarmed and frightened, that they know not which way to turn themselves to defend their coasts; for it was a very old saying with them that they were to be destroyed by the Danes.” The governor inquired from whom he had learnt this news. Sir William said, that a knight in Flanders had written it to him as a fact, and added, “He has sent me the handsomest set of chess men I ever saw.” He had invented this tale, because he had learnt the governor was very fond of playing at chess. The governor said, he should be very glad to see them. “Well,” replied sir William “I will send for them, but on condition you play with me for some wine;” and, turning to his servant, said, “Go, look for the chess-board and men, and bring them to us at the gate.”
The servant set off, and the governor and sir William entered the first gate of the castle. The governor fastened the wicket on the inside with a bolt, but did not lock it. Sir William said, “Governor, open this second gate; you may do it without any risk.” The governor opened the wicket only, and let sir William pass through to see the inside of the castle, while he himself followed. The servant, in the mean time, went to those citizens who had the armed men in their houses, led them up to the castle, and then blew his horn, as had been agreed on between him and his master. When sir William heard the horn, he said to the governor, “Let us go out, and pass this second gate, for my servant will soon return.” Sir William re-passed this wicket, and stood close by it on the other side. When the governor had but one foot through, and had lowered his head, sir William drew out the axe he had under his cloak, and struck him such a blow that he split his head asunder, and felled him dead on the sill of the door. He then went to the first gate, which he opened.
The watch of the castle had heard with astonishment the servant’s horn, for it had been proclaimed in the city, that no one should dare to sound a horn, under pain of losing his hand. He perceived also armed men running towards the castle; upon which he sounded his horn, and cried out, “Treason! treason!” Those that were in the castle hastened to the gate, which, to their surprise, they found open, the governor lying dead across it, and sir William, his axe in his hand, guarding the passage. The men at arms, who were to assist him, soon arrived, and having passed the first and second gates, fiercely drove back the garrison. Several were killed, and as many taken as they chose. They entered the castle: and in this manner was the strong castle of Evreux retaken. The citizens and inhabitants of the town immediately surrendered, when they drove out all the French. They sent to inform lord Philip de Navarre of this event, who was but lately returned from England. He came immediately to Evreux, and made it his principal garrison to carry the war into the rich country of Normandy. There were with him sir Robert Knolles, sir James Pipe, the lord Fricquet de Fricquant, le Bascle de Marneil, sir John Jewel, who afterwards, as you will hear in this history, did much mischief to France.