The siege of Evreux being formed by the lords de Coucy and de la Riviere, they had frequent communication with the king of France, who had fixed his residence at Rouen to be as near his army as possible. He was desirous they should gain Evreux, either by storm or capitulation, as soon as might be, for he knew the English were in great force in Brittany: he ordered, therefore, all his troops to advance thither to raise the siege of St. Malo, and to combat the English. These two lords acquitted themselves loyally and valiantly, for every day there were assaults as well as negotiations going forward. They sent to remonstrate with the inhabitants on their folly in thus having war made upon them with the risk of losing their fortunes and having their houses razed to the ground; for they had their lawful lord with them, the lord Charles de Navarre, to whom, by right of succession from his mother, the county of Evreux had devolved. They advised them, therefore, not to attend to the erroneous opinions of that madman Ferrando of Navarre, who was there only to ruin them; for they must well know that the goodness of their cause would never allow them to march from thence without having conquered it; and, should it be taken by storm, every one would be put to the sword, and the town re-peopled with new inhabitants. Such were the offers, speeches, and menaces to the townsmen of Evreux; but these did not prevent daily assaults from being made.
The inhabitants at last began to waver, on seeing that no succour was likely to be sent them; and they said to each other, “We see that the king of France does not claim the territory for himself, but for his nephew.” They therefore entered into a treaty with the lord de Coucy. When Ferrando perceived this, he shut himself up in the castle, and would not be present at any of the meetings. In short, they surrendered on their lives and fortunes being spared, whether they were in town or country, and acknowledged the lord Charles for their lord. They then besieged Ferrando in the castle, who negotiated with the lords of France, and offered to surrender the castle if they would permit him and his men freely to depart. His offer was accepted. Shortly after, they packed up their baggage, and marched out of Evreux, under the conduct of the lords de Coucy, de la Riviere, and sir John le Mercier, taking the road to Cherbourg.
After the conquest of Evreux, all the leaders of the French army went to Rouen, where the king resided, in order to consider what was next for them to do; for they had heard that the English were besieging St. Malo. The king of France received them very graciously; in particular, the lords de Coucy and de la Riviere; for having so well succeeded in their exploits. All the man at arms remained in Normandy: not one of their captains were dismissed, but were regularly paid their allowances. The king of France, during his residence at Rouen, had heard of the English having laid siege to St. Malo, with a powerful army, and that the inhabitants were hard pressed by their daily assaults. He was unwilling to lose his subjects, as well as the town; for if St. Malo were taken, Brittany would be very much weakened in that part. The king had therefore, to this purpose, issued a special summons for assembling troops, in order to assist them against the English, which no one dared to disobey. The dukes of Berry and Burgundy, the count d’Alençon, the cont de la Marche, the dauphin d’Auvergne, the count de Guines, sir John de Boulogne, and great numbers of barons and knights of all sorts, marched thither with numerous forces. The king sent orders to his constable, sir Bertrand du Guesclin, to see that none absented themselves from this assembly.
The constable obeyed, and came with all the men at arms of Anjou, Poitous, and Touraine. The marshal de Blainville and the marshal de Sancerre, the two marshals of France, were also there. From other parts came sir Olivier de Clisson, the lord de Léon, with the other knights and barons of Brittany: there were ten thousand men at arms at least, and in the plains one hundred thousand horses1.
These men at arms took up their quarters as near to each other as they could; but there were between them and the English an arm of the sea and a river. When the sea ebbed, some young knights usually adventured on the sands, and performed several gallant deeds. Never was there seen so numerous an assembly of knighthood in Brittany. If the French were in great force, the English were very powerful, and each party thought there must be a combat, for every day there was an appearance of it from the banners and pennons fluttering in the wind. The English frequently drew out their army in battle-array, to examine the force of the French and the strength of the banners and pennons, which were there in very great abundance. It was a great pleasure to see them thus drawn out in a line of battle, and advance towards the river, to show that they were ready to engage. The English said, “Let us look at our enemies, who will soon, at low water, cross over and fight with us.” But they had no such inclination, and were afraid of trying the chance; for their leaders would not allow them to advance to the combat.
During these frequent displays on each side, the earl of Cambridge, being fatigued with their inutility, declared with an oath, that if he saw them continued without any further advance made towards a battle, he would engage the French himself, whatever might be the consequence. The van-guard, composed of numbers of able men under the command of the constable, who well knew the hot and impatient temper of the English, were ordered to draw up their battalions on foot, on the sands as near to the river as possible. The earl of Cambridge, who saw this manaœuvre, cried out, “Let them who love me follow me, for I am going to engage!” He then dashed into the river, which was low, but the tide was returning, and he began to cross it with his banner: the English commenced shooting at the French, when the constable ordered his men to retreat to the fields, in hopes the English would have crossed; for very willingly would he have seen them do so, and have had them o the other side of the water.
The duke of Lancaster was prepared, with a very strong battalion,. to follow his brother, should there have been occasion. He said to Gerard de Brees, a squire from Hainault who was near him; “Gerard, see how my brother ventures: he shows the French by his example his willingness for the combat, but they have no such inclination.” Thus was this business crried on, without any deeds of arms being performed worth mentioning: the French keeping on one side the water, the English on the other. The flood beginning to increase, the English retreated out of the river, and returned to their quarters: the French followed their example. Whilst these appearances of a battle were carried on, the siege of St. Malo was continued, and several feats of arms were done. The French guarded the banks so well, that the English were afraid to cross the water.
It frequently happened that several knights or squires of Brittany, well acquainted with the country, forded the river, and in their excursions met the English foragers, with whom they engaged: and success, as is usual in such cases, was sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. The lords of England resolved to employ a mine, to gain entrance into St. Malo; for otherwise they thought they could not win it, as it was well provided with men at arms, who carefully defended it, as well as with all sorts of stores and artillery. The English were obliged to be continually armed, and to keep in a body ready for battle, should the French advance; and for this reason, they had not leisure to assault the town, except by their cannon, of which they had plenty, that greatly annoyed it. Having fixed on a spot, they set their miners to work. We will now leave for a while the siege of St. Malo, and return to that of Mortain in Poitou.