August 1346 “THE BATTLE OF BLEMHOUGH”
The cold air of the North Eastern French coastline drew an early morning fog, as they awakened at dawn, to a French sunrise that tinted the sky a pale gold, the occasional cloud spangled in copper and bronze. With the prospect of fair weather, spirits rose, and they made ready the first meal of the day, with meat, cheese, and biscuits, hoping it would not be their last. Heric awoke with a start, torn from a dream that had not been a pleasant one. His second in command, was sitting cross-legged on the floor by his straw-filled mattress. Sitting up, he glanced around. Where were his men?
“What time is it, Arne?”
“You’re awake, sire!”
Arne’s smile was bright enough to pierce the shadowed gloom of the morning. He was Heric’s second in command and most trusted warrior. Heric rose, a quickened pace, dawning his cloak to hold back the wind as he makes his way for a slow walk through the camp, to check on his men. The fog covered the field like a velvet blanket, though the last vestiges of night still glimmered on the horizon, as the sun rose.
His men busying themselves with morning duties, Heric calls them out for an address. The warriors gathered themselves, battle-hardened hands, staying their weapons for reassurance. Wood smoke, and burning pitch, drifted on air stinging their noses, as they gather in the center of the encampment. The orange firelight cast the fog-filled camp, in a yellow glow.
He realizes that the upcoming battle will be hard fought, so he enunciates a speech to rally his men:
“My countrymen, who have made Britain the mistress of thirty kingdoms, I pay tribute to your valor, which I judge to be not failing but rather flourishing more and more….you have…persevered, and you have put the enemy to flight. Provoked by their own pride, they wanted to deprive you of liberty; they desired to make slaves of you. We who have prevailed in harder conflict shall surely prevail in this easier fight, if with equal passion we labor to crush those half-men. What great honors each of you will possess if as faithful soldiers, you obey my will, and my orders!”
Watching the enemy camp preparing for battle, Ernaldus III orders Heric to ready his division. Heric had already given his men the command “To arms”.
The English army was led by Ernaldus III, primarily comprising English and Welsh troops along with allied Breton and German mercenaries. Around 2,500 men-at-arms; nobles and knights, heavily armored and armed men, accompanied by their retinues. The army contained around 5,000 long bowmen, 3,000 hobelars (light cavalry & mounted archers) and approximately 3,500 spearmen.
Facing south on a sloping hillside Ernaldus III places his army at the top of the hill; the slope putting the French mounted knights at an immediate disadvantage. The left flank was anchored against Breh, while the right was protected by Blemhough itself and the River Khem beyond. This made it impossible for the French army to outflank them. The English army was also well-fed and rested, putting them at an advantage over the French, who did not rest before the battle.
The English army was deployed in three divisions; Ernaldus himself commanded the division behind, while the rear division was led by Sir William de Holeun, Earl of Northampton and Sir Heric of Shaldorn.
For one glance had been enough for Ernaldus III and his commanders to discern the predatory intent of the French forces. In his command tent, Heric’s squire helped him don his gambeson, the padded tunic worn under his hauberk. The squire handed him the shiny armor, locking it into place.
“God speed Sire.” the squire said, handing Heric his sword
Finding a quiet spot, alone with sword in hand; Heric prays:
“Lord God, I entreat Thee to save us, Thy servants, do not let men who’ve taken the cross, die on this field, and be denied Christian burial!”
The marsh field was about three fourth of a mile wide, on the left a line of low, round hills, and on the right, the river bottom covered with a growth of cottonwood trees and bushes. Sun shone through the choking black smoke, as it filled the sky from the tar, and hay piles lit on the field. Could it be an omen? Heric thought as his hand stroked the neck of his horse.
“Steady Arroch,” “We must ready ourselves for battle.” “Maybe this will be the last.” His horse whinnying
Mounting his horse Sir Heric shivered atop his Courser, and tugged his cloak around him, then almost regretted the show of nerves, remembering the disdain in the eyes of Catherynne when last they saw each other. The weathered look on his face bespoke the toll of combat. Both feared, and respected by his men.
The French army was led by Philip Dutertre VI and his army outnumbered the English by around 30,000 men. They came north from Cesterfield, the advance guard of his army arriving at the Blemhough ridgeline at around midday on 23 August. After reconnoitering the English position, it was advised to Philip that the army should encamp and give battle the following day. Philip met stiff resistance from his senior nobles and was thus forced to concede that the attack would be given that day.
This put them at a significant disadvantage; the English army was well-fed after plundering the countryside and well-rested, having slept in their positions the night before the battle. The French were further hampered by the absence of their Constable. It was the duty of the Constable of France to lead its armies in battle; however, the Constable Raoul Escoffier II of Crienne, Count of Enu had been taken prisoner when the English army sacked Maen, depriving them of his leadership.
The French army moved forward late in the afternoon, around 4pm after it had formed up. As it advanced, a sudden rainstorm broke over the field of battle.
The English archers de-strung their bows to avoid the strings becoming damaged; the French with their crossbows could take no such precautions, resulting in damage to their weapons. The English, who were drawn up in three divisions and seated on the ground, on seeing their enemies advance, arose boldly and fell into their ranks.
Arne’ readied himself for battle, his squire assisting with his tunic and armor. Mounting his destrier, Arne’s stays himself, as Heric gives the order to Arne’, to command his archers to move into position. Heric rides his horse over to his mounted cavalry. Experienced in battle, these men await his final orders. Heric tells his troops, “Show no mercy to the enemy, as they will show you none”, ““Await my signal.” Heric turns on his horse interrupted by his men; “Should anything happen to you Sire?” the men asked
“Then I’ll see you all in hell.” Heric’s knighted horsemen laughing as Heric rides back to his troops.
Astride on his battle horse; his senior commanders alongside him, Battle flags flailing in the wind; Heric raises his sword into the air, looking at Arne nodding as Heric commands his forward archers to move into position, raising their longbows into the air.
“Archers Ignite,” Arne gives the command
Heric nods at Arne signaling the command to fire on the French forward position. “Fire”, Arne’ shouts
Heric’s division fires thousands of flaming arrows; the French return fire. Heric gives the command, to ready the forward troops to attack, and cavalry to hold. The battle begins; the French firing thousands of scattering arrows within range of Heric’s men, as he orders his archers to return fire. Noticing the French moving their infantry forward Heric commands his crossbowmen, and horse archers, and heavy cavalry lancers to move in forward position, holding his cavalry knights in the woods, awaiting his command to flank the French.
The French cavalry charged the English ranks; however, the slope and obstacles laid by the English disrupted the charge. The continued hail of English longbow arrows inflicted mounting losses upon the French knights, blocking successive waves of advance by the following ranks. The massed ranks could not break the English position, subjecting them to a relentless barrage of arrows.
Hundreds of men fall, on both sides, and are struck by flaming arrows. Heric orders his forward infantry to charge, the heavy cavalry lancers follow close behind. The front hooves of his battle horse lifting into the air, as he raises his sword to command his troops to attack.
“Charge”, he shouts, as a column of one thousand troops with lances, axes and swords charge at the enemy.
Thousands of infantry, and hundreds, of armed cavalry knights charge at full speed toward the French front lines. Soldiers of both sides meet in the middle of the field, swords clashing, as the stinging blades herald a bloody battle lasting for hours. Spears from the cavalry piercing bodies of enemy soldiers; the sky blackened by the sickly smoke; it was a hellish scene.
Heric gives the order to charge, amidst a thunder of hooves, as the cavalry flanked the French position, while the forward troops charge ahead. The ground beneath them shakes; amid the thunder of horse cavalry racing toward the enemy weapons in hand; charging forward on his horse “Stay with me”, “Hold the line” Heric shouts.
Heric’s men advanced, about a mile from the ford, to a line of marsh grass on the right, and dismounted his cavalry to fight on foot. The horses galloped into the timber, and the men, forward on the field, and advanced toward the French. After skirmishing for a few minutes Heric fell back to his horse in the timber. The French, mounted on horses, came across the field, and opened a heavy fire of spears and arrows on the English soldiers.
Heric ordered his mounted cavalry to move through the timber, but as his men got into the saddle the French, who had advanced in the timber, fired at close range killing several of his men. As a last attempt he ordered his remaining infantry to gather. Heric drew the reins on his muscular blackish-roan stallion. The horse reared. Its front hooves pawed. Raising his sword: “Lock your shields, stay as one”, Heric commanded. This was his final call to action, as the battle was changing in favor of the French. Eyes darting to and fro, like a fox chased by the hounds. Arne’ close by mounted his horse, sword in hand, his closest friend, and strongest warrior. Heric turned to look at Arne’, saying: “A little something we learned from the Romans”, Arne’ chuckling.
His men formed the shape of a saw, the points facing the enemy, piercing swords extended outward between their shields, as his men advanced toward the French. This proved to be an effective technique for Heric who was now winning the battle. A sickening stench filled the air as bodies of slain men lay beneath them.
Finding the French flanked on both sides by the advancing mounted cavalry; firing tar tipped flaming arrows raining down on their position, killing many of French breaking their lines; Heric orders the final charge of his cavalry and infantry.
The French moved to his left, and rear, intending to cut him off from the rest of his men. With lance in hand, his horse rearing, Heric grabs a spear stuck in the ground and thrusts it into his attacker, killing him. A French knight is knocked down by Heric leaping off his horse. Blood soaked face, and fiercely fighting Heric strikes his enemy with all his might, swords clashing feeling the sting of the Heric’s blade the French knight, begins to weaken. The French knight realizes his own mortality, as the remaining horse cavalry, and infantry surround the French nobleman.
Heric gives the order preventing his men from killing the French knight.
“Take him prisoner”.
When the battle ended, over one thousand French were killed, and twenty one knights captured including the nobleman. The loss of their commander was a fatal blow for the French. The broken army fled north. The French nobleman was held at an English prison.
An army of English, Welsh and allied troops from the Holy Roman Empire led by Ernaldus III of England engaged and defeated a much larger army of French, Genoese and Majorcan troops led by Philip Dutertre VI of France. Emboldened by the lessons of tactical flexibility, and utilization of terrain learned from the earlier Saxons; the Vikings, and the recent battles with the Scots, the English army, despite being heavily outnumbered by the French, won a decisive victory. The battle crippled the French army’s ability to come to the aid of Calais, which fell to the English.
The struggle continued well into the night when Philip abandoned the field of battle. His sacred and royal banner, the Palmieri, which when rose meant that no quarter was to be given to the enemy, was also captured and taken. The battle crippled the French army’s ability to come to the aid of Calais, which was besieged by Ernaldus’s army the following month. Calais fell after a year-long siege and became an exclave of England.
Back home however; dark forces were shaping the future of Shaldorn.
Heric was not part of the English royal lineage. He would, however, have impacted the outcome of the return of Ernaldus to the throne of England.
Heric spent years away from home, while away, his wife thinking him dead fell for a Frenchman named Frederick Durling, who was one of the knights serving under Philip Dutertre VI. In the summer of 1349 while Heric was busy enjoy his life, and helping Ernaldus in his rise to be king, his wife Catherynne, feeling the weight of her actions, attempts to send a rider with a secret message to Calais, but it is intercepted by Heric’s men guarding the roads putting her at greater risk, creating political turmoil for her and the family.
His men bring Catherynne back with the message showing it to Heric. Feeling betrayed, Heric decides to send his best currier with a message to a secret contact in Calais; the message asking for a man named Jean-philippe Buchet, to assist with ridding himself of his wife’s lover. A few days later, Heric receives word that Buchet was on his way. Buchet arrived late in the day.
Darkness approaches, as he dismounts his horse. Beneath the cloak he wore a dark robe, smeared with dirt and the robe was girdled with a three knotted cord. Buchet was tall and strong, an experienced fighter of many battles. Heric, and Buchet met at a tavern not far from Shaldorn, were they plotted in secret. They set up a meeting between Catherynne, and her lover, and allowed her to feel as though they could escape Shaldorn unseen. What Heric did not know was that the French assassin had been instructed in secret by the French king Philip Dutertre, to kill Catherynne setting up Heric to take the fall preventing any rise to English nobility. Furthermore the French were planning on setting him up for the assignation of the Black Prince. The plans were already underway.
It was a cold fall night; beams of moon light fill the long hallway; Catherynne wore a fitted bodice, accented with gold, inlaid long sleeves, and gold inlay front, and deep forest green brocade gracing the ground, a long velvet cloak, her blond hair protruding the hood, as she and Frederick walk together down the long corridor of the second tower passing a dark corner.
Hiding in that darkness, Buchet reaches for an object wrapped inside cloth, something heavy, as he inched toward them, then caught proper hold of it, and drew the object free, grabbing her lover by the throat from behind, thrusted a dagger deep into his back, piercing his heart killing him instantly.
Screaming, Catherynne ran, with torn raiment and disheveled hair. Buchet giving chase grabs her from behind with all his strength, covering her mouth, reaching around with his other hand, yielding the dagger stabbing her in the chest. Buchet quickly carries her lifeless body down into a narrow passage nearby, and through a small opening hides her body inside a wall quickly filling the remaining space with stones which he collected from a small wall still under construction nearby, than scurrying back up the stairs toward a hidden passage down the hall where he escaped.
The slain French lover turned out to be a knight in service of King Philip Dutertre VI of France. To avoid being blamed for the murder of the French knight and officer of the French Army, Heric dispatches a request to King Ernaldus for the immediate release of the French nobleman captured at the battle. The release of the French nobleman was a result of favors paid to the English during the Truce of Leulinghem which immediately followed the Battle of Blemhough, and to entice them to release the nobleman.
Upon receiving word of the nobleman’s release King Philip Dutertre VI of France dispatches a ship with a secret cargo onboard as reward payment for the French nobleman. The money onboard also included much more than was needed for the captured nobleman. It’s purpose was to make it look like Heric was being paid for the assignation of the Black Prince. The ship is sent from Calais on its way to Hastings then overland to London. However, the ship was commandeered by the English who changed course to Carbis Bay.
There was a courier carrying a sealed dispatch meant for the French king but was caught by a French spy along the way. The spy reads the contents and kills the courier. Not wanting peace with England this spy goes to Castle Shaldorn with a small army of his own, unknown to the king of France.
For many years, Heric, his family, and closest friends had lived at Shaldorn enjoying a simple life before war torn them away from it. Now they plead with the Almighty to protect their wives, sons, and brothers as they fight for England and Shaldorn.
Candlelight flickered on the medieval walls as Malik stepped into the warmth of his father’s private chamber. The shadows in the room were the only witnesses to their secret— no one but Heric and Malik knew the location of the place that stored the supplies for their survival was also a hiding place. Heric receives word that a French army is on the way, and orders his men to escort his son to the bay to board a ship to safety.
“Father, I wish to stay with you and fight”.
“No!”, “I will follow soon, if the French arrive while I’m here—”
Heric cleared his throat. “The French won’t harm a member of the Royal Order of the Garter.”
Heric’s men advise him that the French are fast approaching Shaldorn from the East.
Malik’s chest felt as if it might explode. The French might kill him if he stayed, but he couldn’t leave without telling his father that he wished him to flee as well. “I can’t leave.” said his son
Heric turned toward him. “Hurry, Malik.”
“I won’t leave.”
“You must leave now you don’t have a choice”.
Gripping his son’s arm with his own and shaking hands “Strength and honor”, he tells him.
“Strength and honor”, his son replies swallowing.
Heric commands several of his senior officers to escort his son to Carbis Bay where he would board a vessel bound for safety far to the North. Heric watches his son mount a horse and ride away fast. Heric fears for his son’s safety but knows the French will not find anything of value, even upon Heric’s death. After receiving word that his son is safely onboard a ship, and has set sail Heric prepares for battle.
Wearing full armor Heric speaks to his knights before battle. Heric places his right arm on the left shoulder of each knight, while his knights place their right arms on Heric’s right shoulder, their arms locked.
“Brother to brother, yours in life and death”, they chant.
After saying a prayer Heric mounts his steed suited up for battle and joins his men outside the castle walls. The French are unaware that they were outnumbered by the English. Heric’s archers and his cavalry await his orders. Heric has more troops inside the castle lying in wait. Heric forms lines of defense just as they have done in previous battles.
The French attack in full force arrows flying and cavalry rushing toward them at full speed.
“For King and country”, Heric shouts raising his sword into the air. His men repeat his words “For King and country”, following Heric into battle.