17. The Battle Of Moncontor
When Pierre left him in order to look after the horses, Philip continued his meal. There could be no hurry, for Nevers was twelve miles away; and it would be four hours, at least, before a party could arrive.
The landlady herself brought in the next course. After placing the dish upon the table, she stood looking earnestly at him for a minute, and then said:
"You spoke of stopping here tonight, sir. The accommodation is very poor and, if you will take my advice, you will ride farther. There have been some men along here this afternoon, inquiring for a party like yours; and offering a reward to any who would carry the news to them, should you pass through. Methinks their intentions were not friendly."
"I thank you very much for your counsel," Philip said, "and will take it. I know that there are some who would gladly hinder me, in my journey; and if there is, as you say, a risk of their coming here for me, it were as well that I rode farther, although I would gladly have given my horses a night's rest. I thank you warmly for having warned me."
"Do not let my husband know that I have spoken to you," she said. "He is an honest man, but timid; and in these days 'tis safest not to meddle with what does not concern one."
Philip waited for two hours, and then told Pierre to saddle the horses, and tell the landlord that he wished to speak to him.
"I have changed my mind, landlord," he said, "and shall ride forward. The horses will have rested now, and can very well do another fifteen miles; so let me have your reckoning. You can charge for my bedroom as, doubtless, it has been put in order for me."
Philip saw that the landlord looked pleased, though he said nothing; and in a few minutes the horses were brought round, the bill paid, and they started. They struck off from the road, three or four miles farther; and halted in a wood which they reached, after half an hour's riding. The grain bags had been filled up again, at the inn; but as the horses had eaten their fill, these were not opened and, after loosening the girths and arranging the order in which they should keep watch, the party threw themselves on the ground.
Two hours after their arrival Eustace, who was on watch, heard the distant sounds of a body of horsemen, galloping along the main road in the direction of the village they had left.
In the morning at daybreak they started again, directing their way to the southwest, and following the course of the Loire; which they crossed at Estree, and so entered Burgundy. Crossing the great line of hills, they came down on the Saone; which they crossed at a ferry, fifteen miles below Dijon. They here obtained news of the position of the Duc de Deux-Ponts, and finally rode into his camp, near Vesoul. They had been fortunate in avoiding all questioning; it being generally assumed, from their travelling without baggage, that they belonged to the neighbourhood.
Riding into the camp, they were not long in discovering an officer who spoke French and, upon Philip saying that he was the bearer of despatches for the Duc from Admiral Coligny, he was at once conducted to his pavilion. He had, when the camp was in sight and all dangers at an end, taken his despatches from his boots; and these he at once presented to the duke, who came to the door of his tent, on hearing that a gentleman had arrived with letters from Coligny, himself.
"I am glad to get some news direct, at last," the Duc said; "for I have heard so many rumours, since I crossed the frontier, that I know not whether the Admiral is a fugitive or at the head of a great army. Which is nearest the truth?"
"The latter, assuredly, sir. The Admiral is at the head of as large a body of men as that with which he offered battle to the Duc d'Anjou, when winter first set in."
"Come in, monsieur, and sit down, while I read the despatches. How many days have you taken in traversing France?"
"It is the tenth day since I left La Rochelle, sir."
"And have you ridden the same horses the whole way?"
"Then they must be good beasts, for you must have done over forty miles a day."
"We carried no baggage, sir and, as you see, no armour; and we have husbanded our horses' strength, to the best of our power."
The duke sat down, and read the papers of which Philip was the bearer.
"The Admiral speaks very highly of you, sir, both as regards discretion and bravery; and mentions that he knighted you, himself, for your conduct in the battle of Jarnac. He need not have said so much, for the fact that he chose you to carry these despatches is the highest proof of his confidence.
"And now, tell me all particulars of your journey; and what news you have gathered, on your way, as to the movement and positions of the forces of the royal dukes. This will supplement the Admiral's despatches."
Philip gave a full report of his route, of the state of the roads, the number of cattle in the country through which he had passed, the accounts he had heard of the forces assembled in the cities, and the preparations that had been made to guard the passages across the rivers of Burgundy.
"I will travel by the route that the Admiral indicates, so far as I can do so undisturbed by the armies of the two French dukes. I have with me some good guides, as many French gentleman joined me, not long since, with the Prince of Orange. I had already decided, by their advice, upon following nearly the route commended by the Admiral. I trust that you, sir, will ride among my friends; to whom I will introduce you this evening, at supper."
The Duc's army amounted to some fifteen thousand men, of whom seven thousand five hundred were horsemen from the states of Lower Germany, and six thousand infantry from Upper Germany; the remaining fifteen hundred being French and Flemish gentlemen, who had joined him with the Prince of Orange. The armies under the French dukes were, together, considerably superior in force to that of Deux-Ponts; but singly they were not strong enough to attack him, and the mutual jealousies of their commanders prevented their acting in concert. Consequently, the German force moved across Comte and on to Autun, in the west of Burgundy, without meeting with any opposition. Then they marched rapidly down. The bridges upon the Loire were all held; but one of the French officers, who knew the country, discovered a ford by which a portion of the army crossed. The main body laid siege to the town of La Chants, and compelled it to surrender, thus gaining a bridge by which they crossed the Loire.
As the enemy were now in great force, in front of them; they turned to the southwest, several messengers being sent off to appoint a fresh meeting place with Coligny; and skirting the hills of Bourbonais, Auvergne, and Limousin, they at last arrived within a day's march of Limoges; the journey of five hundred miles, through a hostile country, being one of the most remarkable in military history.
That evening Admiral Coligny and his staff rode into camp, having arrived with his army at Limoges. The Duc had been for some time suffering from fever; and had, for the last week, been carried in a litter, being unable to sit his horse. He was, when the Admiral arrived, unconscious; and died the next morning, being succeeded in his command by the Count of Mansfeldt. Next day the two armies joined, with great demonstrations of joy.
The Duc d'Anjou had been closely watching the army of Coligny, his army being somewhat superior in force to that of the allies, who now numbered some twenty-five thousand; for the duke had been recently reinforced by five thousand papal troops, and twelve hundred Florentines. A part of his force, under General Strozzi, was at La Roche Abeille. They were attacked by the Huguenots. Four hundred Royalists were killed, and many taken prisoners, among them their general.
There was, for a time, a pause. The court entered into fresh negotiations with the Admiral, being anxious to delay his operations; as many of the nobles who were with the Duc D'Anjou, wearied by the burdens imposed upon them, insisted upon returning for a time to their homes. The Huguenots were, above all things, anxious for peace; and allowed themselves to be detained, for nearly a month, by these negotiations.
On the march down after the capture of La Charite, the German force had passed within a few miles of the Chateau de Landres; and Philip rode over to see whether Claire was still there. She received him with the frank pleasure of a girl.
"We have heard very little of what is going on outside, Monsieur Fletcher," Madame de Landres said, after the first greetings were over; "though the air has been full of rumours. Again and again, reports were brought in that the duke's army had been entirely destroyed by the Royalist forces. Then, after a day or two, we heard of it as still advancing; but in danger, hourly, of being destroyed. Then came the news that every town commanding a bridge across the Loire was being put in a state of defence, and strong bodies of troops thrown into them; and we heard that, as soon as the Germans reached the river, and farther advance was impossible, they would be attacked by the armies of Nemours and Aumale. But by this time we had become so accustomed to these tales that we were not much alarmed.
"We were, however, surprised when we heard that a strong body of the Germans had forded the river; and had blockaded La Charite on this side, while it had been besieged on the other. I hear that a strong garrison has been left there."
"Yes, madam. The place is of great importance, as it gives us a means of crossing the Loire at any time. We find, too, that a large part of the population are Huguenot; and the place will certainly be held against any attack the Royalists may make against us."
"The news will be received with joy, indeed, by all of our religion in this part of France. Hitherto we have had no place of refuge, whatever. There was but the choice of dying in our own houses or villages, or taking refuge in the woods until hunted down. It will be, to us, what La Rochelle is to the Huguenots of the west. Besides, the garrison there will make the Catholics very chary of attacking us. Moreover, having now this passage across the Loire it is likely that our party will largely use it on their marches, and would be able to punish heavily any places at which there had been massacres. It is by this way, too, the Germans are sure to return. Therefore I feel that, for a time, my young charge will be perfectly safe here.
"I sent off a messenger to our army, on the day you left us; but have had no reply, and know not whether he reached it in safety. At any rate, you cannot be very long before your force joins the Admiral; and as we felt quite sure that you would come to see us, as you passed, we have our letters ready to my husband and the Count de Valecourt. You will, I am sure, deliver them as soon as you join the Admiral."
"That I will assuredly do, madam. I expect that we shall meet him near Limoges. That is the direction in which we are now marching."
The Count de Valecourt was one of the gentlemen who rode into the Duc do Deux-Ponts' camp with the Admiral and, as soon as they dismounted, and Coligny entered the tent of the dying general, Philip made his way to his side.
"Ah! Monsieur Fletcher, I am glad to see you again. You accomplished, then, your journey in safety. The Prince of Navarre often spoke of you, and wondered how you were faring."
"I did very well, sir; but I have not thrust myself upon you, at the moment of your arrival, to speak of my own journey; but to deliver you a letter, which I have the honour of being the bearer, from your daughter."
The count stepped backwards a pace, with a cry of astonishment and pleasure.
"From my daughter! Is it possible, sir? How long is it since you saw her?"
"It is nigh three weeks back, sir."
"The Lord be praised!" the count said solemnly, taking off his cap and looking upwards. "He has shown me many mercies, but this is the greatest. For the last two months I have mourned her as dead. News was brought to me, by one of my retainers, that she was with a congregation who were attacked by the people of La Chatre, and that all had been massacred. My chateau near there was attacked and burnt, and those of the men who were Huguenots slain, save the one who brought me the news."
"You will see, sir, that your daughter escaped," Philip said, handing him the letter. "She is now in the safe custody of Madame de Landres."
The count tore open the letter, and he had read but a few lines when he uttered an exclamation of surprise and, turning towards Philip, who had moved a few paces away, ran to him and threw his arms round his neck.
"It is you who have, with God's blessing, rescued my daughter from death," he exclaimed. "She is my only child. Oh, monsieur, what joy have you brought to me, what thankfulness do I feel, how deeply am I indebted to you! I had thought that there remained to me but to do my duty to God, and His cause; and then, if I lived to see the end of the war, to live out my days a childless old man. Now I seem to live again. Claire is alive; I have still something to love and care for.
"I will first run through the rest of the letter; and then you shall tell me, in full, all the story. But which is your tent? Pray take me there. I would be alone, a little while, to thank God for this great mercy."
Half an hour later, the count reappeared at the entrance of the tent. Pierre had wine and refreshments ready and, placing them on a box that served as a table, retired; leaving his master and the count together.
"Now, tell me all about it," the count said. "Claire's description is a very vague one, and she bids me get all the details from you. She only knows that a man on horseback rode at her, with uplifted sword. She commended her soul to God, and stood expecting the blow; when there was a pistol shot, close to her, and the man fell from his horse. Then another dashed forward; while you, on horseback, threw yourself between her and him. There was a terrible clashing of swords; and then he, too, fell. Then you lifted her on to your horse, and for a short time there was a whirl of conflict. Then you rode off with three men, behind one of whom her maid Annette was sitting. That is all she knows of it, except what you told her, yourself."
"That is nearly all there is to know, count. The fray lasted but two minutes, in all; and my being upon the spot was due to no forethought of mine, but was of the nature of a pure accident."
"Nay, sir, you should not say that; you were led there by the hand of God. But tell me how you came to be in the wood, and pray omit nothing."
Philip related the whole story, from the time of the incident at the inn, to the time when he handed over Claire to the care of Madame de Landres.
"It was well done, sir," the count said, laying his hand affectionately on his shoulder, when he concluded. "The young prince said you would have a story to tell him, when you came back; but I little dreamt that it would be one in which I had such interest.
"Well, Claire cannot do better than remain where she is, for the present; until, at any rate, I can remove her to La Rochelle, which is the only place where she can be said to be absolutely safe; but so long as we hold La Charite there is, as you say, but slight fear of any fresh trouble there. From all other parts of France, we hear the same tales of cruel massacre and executions, by fire and sword."
Francois de Laville was not with Coligny's army, as he was with the Prince of Navarre, who had remained near La Rochelle; but he was very pleased to find the Count de la Noue, who had just rejoined the army; having been exchanged for a Royalist officer of rank, who had fallen into the hands of the Huguenots.
"You have been doing great things, while I have been lying in prison, Philip," the count said warmly. "I hear that the Admiral has made you and my cousin knights; and more than that, I heard half an hour since from De Valecourt that, while carrying despatches to the Germans, you had time to do a little knight-errant's work, and had the good fortune to save his daughter from being massacred by the Catholics. By my faith, chevalier, there is no saying what you will come to, if you go on thus."
"I don't want to come to anything, count," Philip said, laughing. "I came over here to fight for the Huguenot cause, and with no thought of gaining anything for myself. I am, of course, greatly pleased to receive the honour of knighthood, and that at the hands of so great and noble a general as Admiral Coligny. I have been singularly fortunate, but I owe my good fortune in no small degree to you; for I could have had no better introduction than to ride in your train."
"You deserve all the credit you have obtained, Philip. You have grasped every opportunity that was presented to you, and have always acquitted yourself well. A young man does not gain the esteem and approval of a Coligny, the gratitude of a Valecourt, and the liking of all who know him--including the Queen of Navarre and her son--unless by unusual merit. I am proud of you as a connection, though distant, of my own; and I sincerely trust you will, at the end of this sad business, return home to your friends none the worse for the perils you have gone through."
At the end of a month the negotiations were broken off, for the court had no real intention of granting any concessions. The Huguenots again commenced hostilities. Two or three strong fortresses were captured; and a force despatched south, under Count Montgomery, who joined the army of the Viscounts, expelled the Royalists from Bearn, and restored it to the Queen of Navarre.
There was a considerable division, among the Huguenot leaders, as to the best course to be taken. The Admiral was in favour of marching north and besieging Saumur, which would give them a free passage across the lower Loire to the north of France, as the possession of La Charite kept open for them a road to the west; but the majority of the leaders were in favour of besieging Poitiers, one of the richest and most important cities in France. Unfortunately their opinion prevailed, and they marched against Poitiers, of which the Count de Lude was the governor. Before they arrived there Henry, Duke of Guise, with his brother the Duke of Mayenne, and other officers, threw themselves into the town. A desperate defence was made, and every assault by the Huguenots was repulsed, with great loss. A dam was thrown across a small river by the besieged, and its swollen waters inundated the Huguenot camp; and their losses at the breaches were greatly augmented by the ravages of disease.
After the siege had lasted for seven weeks, the Duc d'Anjou laid siege to Chatelherault, which the Huguenots had lately captured; and Coligny raised the siege, which had cost him two thousand men, and marched to its assistance.
The disaster at Poitiers was balanced, to a certain extent, by a similar repulse which a force of seven thousand Catholics had sustained, at La Charite; which for four weeks successfully repelled every assault, the assailants being obliged, at last, to draw off from the place. In Paris, and other places, the murders of Huguenots were of constant occurrence; and at Orleans two hundred and eighty, who had been thrown into prison, were massacred in a single day. The Parliament of Paris rendered itself infamous by trying the Admiral, in his absence, for treason; hanging him in effigy; and offering a reward, of fifty thousand gold crowns, to anyone who should murder him.
But a serious battle was now on the eve of being fought. The Duc d'Anjou had been largely reinforced, and his army amounted to nine thousand cavalry and eighteen thousand infantry; while Coligny's army had been weakened by his losses at Poitiers, and by the retirement of many of the nobles, whose resources could no longer bear the expense of keeping their retainers in the field. He had now only some eleven thousand foot, and six thousand horse. He was therefore anxious to avoid a battle until joined by Montgomery, with the six thousand troops he had with him at Bearn.
His troops from the south, however, were impatient at the long inaction, and anxious to return home; while the Germans threatened to desert, unless they were either paid or led against the enemy.
La Noue, who commanded the advance guard, had captured the town of Moncontour; and the Admiral, advancing in that direction, and ignorant that the enemy were in the neighbourhood, moved towards the town. When on the march, the rear was attacked by a heavy body of the enemy. De Mouy, who commanded there, held them at bay until the rest of the Huguenot army gained the other side of a marsh, through which they were passing, and entered the town in safety.
The Admiral would now have retreated, seeing that the whole force of the enemy were in front of him; but the Germans again mutinied, and the delay before they could be pacified enabled the French army to make a detour, and overtake the Huguenots soon after they left Moncontour. The Admiral, who commanded the left wing of the army--Count Louis of Nassau commanding the right--first met them, and his cavalry charged that of the Catholics, which was commanded by the German Rhinegrave. The latter rode well in advance of his men, while Coligny was equally in front of the Protestants.
The two leaders therefore met. The conflict was a short one. Coligny was severely wounded in the face, and the Rhinegrave was killed.
While the cavalry on both sides fought desperately for victory, the infantry was speedily engaged. The combat between the Huguenot foot, and the Swiss infantry in the Royalist ranks, was long and doubtful. The Duc d'Anjou displayed great courage in the fight; while on the other side the Princes of Navarre and Conde, who had that morning joined the army from Parthenay, fought bravely in the front of the Huguenots. The Catholic line began to give way, in spite of their superiority in numbers; when Marshal Cosse advanced with fresh troops into the battle, and the Huguenots in turn were driven back.
The German cavalry of the Huguenots, in spite of the valour of their leader, Louis of Nassau, were seized with a panic and fled from the field; shattering on their way the ranks of the German infantry. Before the latter could recover their order, the Swiss infantry poured in among them. Many threw down their arms and shouted for quarter, while others defended themselves until the last; but neither submission nor defence availed and, out of the four thousand German infantry, but two hundred escaped.
Three thousand of the Huguenot infantry were cut off by Anjou's cavalry. A thousand were killed, and the rest spared, at the Duc's command. In all, two thousand Huguenot infantry and three hundred knights perished on the field, besides the German infantry; while on the Catholic side the loss was but a little over five hundred men.
La Noue was again among those taken prisoner. Before the battle began, he had requested Philip to join his cousin, who had come up with the princes; and to attach himself to their bodyguard, during the battle. They kept close to the princes during the fight, riding far enough back for them to be seen by the Huguenots, and closing round when the enemy poured down upon them. When the German horsemen fled, and the infantry were enveloped by the Catholics, they led Henri and Conde from the field; charging right through a body of Catholic horse who had swept round to the rear, and carrying them off to Parthenay.
Here they found the Admiral, who had been borne off the field, grievously wounded. For a moment the lion-hearted general had felt despondency at the crushing defeat, being sorely wounded and weakened by loss of blood; but as he was carried off the field, his litter came alongside one in which L'Estrange, a Huguenot gentleman, also sorely wounded, was being borne. Doubtless the Admiral's face expressed the deep depression of his spirit; and L'Estrange, holding out his hand to him, said:
"Yet is God very gentle."
The words were an echo of those which formed the mainspring of the Admiral's life. His face lit up, and he exclaimed:
"Thanks, comrade. Truly God is merciful, and we will trust him always."
He was much pleased when the two young princes, both unhurt, rejoined him. He issued orders to his officers to rally their troops as they came in, to evacuate Parthenay, and march at once to Niort.
The gallant De Mouy was appointed to command the city, and three or four days were spent there in rallying the remains of the army. Scarce had they reached Niort when the Queen of Navarre arrived from La Rochelle, whence she had hastened, as soon as she had heard the news of the defeat. The presence of this heroic woman speedily dispelled the despondency among the Huguenots. Going about among them, and addressing the groups of officers and soldiers, she communicated to them her own fire and enthusiasm. Nothing was lost yet, she said; the Germans had failed them, but their own valour had been conspicuous, and with the blessing of God matters would soon be restored. Already the delay of the Catholics in following up their victory had given them time to rally, and they were now in a position to give battle again.
Leaving a strong garrison at Niort, Coligny moved with a portion of his army to Saintes; while the southern troops, from Dauphine and Provence, marched to Angouleme. These troops were always difficult to retain long in the field, as they were anxious for the safety of their friends at home. They now clamoured for permission to depart, urging that the news of the defeat of Moncontour would be the signal for fresh persecutions and massacres, in the south. Finally they marched away without Coligny's permission and, after some fighting, reached Dauphine in safety.
In the meantime Niort had been attacked. De Mouy defended the place stoutly, and sallied out and repulsed the enemy. His bravery, however, was fatal to him. A Catholic named Maurevel, tempted by the fifty thousand crowns that had been offered for the assassination of Coligny, had entered the Protestant camp, pretending that he had been badly treated by the Guises. No opportunity for carrying out his design against the Admiral presented itself, and he remained at Niort with De Mouy; who, believing his protestations of attachment for the cause, had treated him with great friendship. As the Huguenots were returning after their successful sortie, he was riding in the rear with De Mouy and, seizing his opportunity, he drew a pistol and shot the Huguenot leader, mortally wounding him. He then galloped off and rejoined the Catholics; and was rewarded, for the treacherous murder, by receiving from the king the order of Saint Michael, and a money reward from the city of Paris.
The garrison of Niort, disheartened at the death of their leader, surrendered shortly after. Several other strong places fell, and all the conquests the Protestants had made were wrested from their hands. The battle of Moncontour was fought on October 3rd. On the 14th the southern troops marched away, and four days later Coligny, with the remains of the army, started from Saintes. He had with him but six thousand men, of whom three thousand were cavalry.
His plan was an extremely bold one. In the first place, he wished to obtain money to pay the German horsemen, by the capture of some of the rich Catholic cities in Guyenne; to form a junction with the army of Montgomery; then to march across to the Rhone, and there to meet the forces of the south, which would by that time be ready to take the field again; then to march north to Lorraine, there to gather in the Germans whom William of Orange would have collected to meet him; and then to march upon Paris, and to end the war by giving battle under its walls.
The Queen of Navarre was to remain in La Rochelle, which city was placed under the command of La Rochefoucault; and the two young princes were to accompany the army, where they were to have small commands. They would thus become inured to the hardships of war, and would win the affection of the soldiers.
Francois de Laville had, with his own troop, ridden off to his chateau from Parthenay on the morning after the battle; Coligny advising him to take his mother, at once, to La Rochelle, as the chateau would speedily be attacked, in revenge for the sharp repulse that the Catholics had suffered there. On his arrival the countess at once summoned all the tenants, and invited those who chose to accompany her; pointing out that the Catholics would speedily ravage the land. Accordingly, the next day all the valuables in the chateau were packed up in carts, and the place entirely abandoned. The whole of the tenants accompanied her, driving their herds before them, as they would find a market for these in the city. As they moved along they were joined by large numbers of other fugitives, as throughout the whole country the Protestants were making for refuge to the city.
When the Admiral marched away, Philip rode with a young French officer, for whom he had a warm friendship, named De Piles. The latter had been appointed governor of Saint Jean d'Angely, which was now the sole bulwark of La Rochelle; and he had specially requested the Admiral to appoint Philip to accompany him. The place was scarcely capable of defence, and the Admiral had only decided to hold it in the hope that the Duc d'Anjou, instead of following him with his whole army, would wait to besiege it.
This decision was, in fact, adopted by the Royalists, after much discussion among the leaders. Several of them wished to press on at once after Coligny, urging that the destruction of the remnant of his army would be a fatal blow to the Huguenot cause. The majority, however, were of opinion that it was of more importance to reduce La Rochelle, the Huguenots' stronghold in the west, and in order to do this Saint Jean d'Angely must first be captured. Their counsel prevailed and, just as the siege of Poitiers had proved fatal to the plans of Coligny, so that of Saint Jean d'Angely went far to neutralize all the advantages gained by the Catholic victory at Moncontour.
Scarcely had De Piles taken the command than the army of the Duc d'Anjou appeared before the walls, and at once opened fire. The garrison was a very small one, but it was aided by the whole of the inhabitants; who were, like those of La Rochelle, zealous Huguenots. Every assault upon the walls was repulsed, and at night the breaches made by the cannon during the day were repaired; the inhabitants, even the women and children, bringing stones to the spot, and the soldiers doing the work of building.
On the 26th of October, after the siege had continued for a fortnight, the king himself joined the Catholic army, and summoned the place to surrender. De Piles replied that, although he recognized the authority of the king, he was unable to obey his orders; as he had been appointed to hold the city by the Prince of Navarre, the royal governor of Guyenne, his feudal superior, and could only surrender it on receiving his orders to do so. The siege, therefore, recommenced.
The walls were so shaken that De Piles himself, after repulsing a furious attack upon them, came to the conclusion that the next assault would probably be successful; and he therefore caused a breach to be made in the wall on the other side of the town, to afford a means of retreat for his troops. His supply of ammunition, too, was almost exhausted.
"What do you think, Fletcher?" he said gloomily. "If we could but hold out for another ten days or so, the Admiral would have got so fair a start that they would never overtake him. But I feel sure that another twenty-four hours will see the end of it."
"We might gain some time," Philip replied, "by asking for an armistice. They probably do not know the straits to which we are reduced, and may grant us a few days."
"They might do so. At any rate, it is worth trying," De Piles agreed; and an hour later Philip went, with a flag of truce, to the royal camp. He was taken before the Duc d'Anjou.
"I am come with proposals from the governor," he said. "He will not surrender the town without orders from the Prince of Navarre. But if you will grant a fortnight's armistice, he will send a messenger to the prince; and if no answer arrives, or if no succour reaches him at the end of that time, he will surrender; on condition that the garrison shall be permitted to retire, with their horses and arms, and that religious liberty shall be granted to all the inhabitants."
The Duc consulted with his generals. The losses in the attacks had been extremely heavy, and disease was raging in the army and, to Philip's inward surprise and delight, an answer was made that the conditions would be granted, but that only ten days would be given. He returned with the answer to De Piles, and the armistice was at once agreed upon, six hostages for its proper observance being given on both sides.
On the ninth day Saint Surin, with forty horsemen, dashed through the enemy's lines and rode into the town; thus relieving De Piles from the necessity of surrendering. The hostages were returned on both sides, and the siege recommenced.
Attack after attack was repulsed, with heavy loss; several of the bravest royalist officers, among them the governor of Brittany, being killed. The town was valiantly defended until the 2nd of December, when De Piles, satisfied with having detained the royal army seven weeks before the walls, and seeing no hope of relief, surrendered on the same conditions that had before been agreed on. Its capture had cost the Duc d'Anjou 6000 men, about half of whom had fallen by disease, the rest in the assaults; and the delay had entirely defeated the object of the campaign.
The gates were opened, and the little body of defenders marched out, with colours flying. One of the conditions of surrender had been that they should not serve again during the war.
The Duc d'Aumale, and other officers, endeavoured to ensure the observance of the condition of their safe conduct through the Catholic lines; but the soldiers, furious at seeing the handful of men who had inflicted such loss upon them going off in safety, attacked them, and nearly a hundred were killed--a number equal to the loss they had suffered throughout the whole siege. De Piles with the rest were, by their own exertions and those of some of the Catholic leaders, enabled to make their way through, and rode to Angouleme.
There De Piles sent a letter demanding the severe punishment of those who had broken the terms of the surrender; but, no attention having been paid to his demand, he sent a herald to the king to declare that, in consequence of the breach of the conditions, he and those with him considered themselves absolved from their undertaking not to carry arms during the war; and he then rode away, with his followers, to join the Admiral.
The French army rapidly fell to pieces. With winter at hand, it was in vain to attempt the siege of La Rochelle. Philip of Spain and the pope ordered the troops they had supplied to return home, alleging that the victory of Moncontour, of which they had received the most exaggerated reports, had virtually terminated the war. The German and Swiss troops were allowed to leave the service, and the nobles and their retainers were granted permission to do the same, until the spring. Thus the whole fruits of the victory of Moncontour were annihilated by the heroic defence of Saint Jean d'Angely.
In the meantime, the Admiral had been moving south. In order to cross the rivers he had marched westward, and so made a circuit to Montauban, the stronghold of the Huguenots in the south. Moving westward he joined the Count of Montgomery at Aiguillon, and returned with him to Montauban, where he received many reinforcements; until his army amounted to some twenty-one thousand men, of whom six thousand were cavalry.
At the end of January they marched to Toulouse, a city with an evil fame, as the centre of persecuting bigotry in the south of France. It was too strong to be attacked; but the country round it was ravaged, and all the country residences of the members of its parliament destroyed. Then they marched westward to Nismes, sending marauding expeditions into the Catholic districts, and even into Spain, in revenge for the assistance the king had given the Catholics. De Piles and his party had joined the Admiral at Montauban, and the former commanded the force that penetrated into Spain.
Coligny turned north, marched up the Rhone, surmounting every obstacle of mountain and river; until he reached Burgundy, arriving at Saint Etienne-sur-Loire on the 26th of May. Here they were met by messengers from the court, which was in a state of consternation at the steady approach of an enemy they had regarded as crushed; and were ready, in their alarm, to promise anything. The Admiral fell dangerously ill and, at the news, the king at once broke off the negotiations. He recovered, however, and, advancing, met the royal army, under Marshal Cosse, in the neighbourhood of the town of Arnay de Duc.
Coligny's army had dwindled away during its terrible march, and it consisted now of only two thousand horsemen and two thousand five hundred arquebusiers, the cannon being all left behind. Cosse had ten thousand infantry, of whom four thousand were Swiss; three thousand cavalry, and twelve cannon. The armies took post on the hills on opposite sides of a valley, through which ran a stream fed by some small ponds. The Royalists commenced the attack but, after fighting obstinately for seven hours, were compelled to fall back with heavy loss.
A fresh body was then directed against an intrenchment the Huguenots had thrown up, near the ponds. Here again the fighting was long and obstinate, but at last the Catholics were repulsed.
The next morning both armies drew up in order of battle; but neither would advance to the attack, as the ground offered such advantages to those who stood on the defensive; and they accordingly returned to their camps.
The Admiral, being unwilling to fight till he received reinforcements, marched away to La Charite; where he was reorganizing his force, when a truce of ten days was made. At the end of that time he again marched north and, distributing his soldiers in the neighbourhood of Montargis, took up his quarters at his castle of Chatillon-sur-Loing, where he remained while negotiations were going on.