Crusaders - Alfred J. Church

Of what Befell at Mansoura

While they were in this strait there came a Bedouin to the camp, who said that for five hundred pieces of gold he would show them a good ford. There had now passed ten months and more since the coming of the King to Egypt, for this coming was at Pentecost, and the coming of the Bedouin was on the Thursday before Easter. When the Constable Imbert, to whom the Bedouin had spoken of this ford, told the matter to the King, the King said, "I will give the gold right willingly; only be sure that the man perform his part of the bargain." So the constable parleyed with the man; but the Bedouin would not depart from his purpose. "Give me the gold," said he, "and I will show you the ford." And because the King was in a strait, he consented; so the man received the five hundred pieces, and he showed the ford to certain that were sent with him.

It was agreed that the Duke of Burgundy and other nobles who were not of France should keep guard in the camp, and that the King with his brothers should ford the river at the place which the Arab should show. So, all being ready, at daybreak they came down to the water. A ford there was, but not such as a man would choose save in the greatest need; and indeed there were some drowned in the crossing; but the army came safe to the other side, and the Turks that were on the farther bank fled.

And now there befell a great loss. It had been agreed that the Templars should have the first place in the line of march, and that the Count of Artois with his men should have the second. So soon as he had crossed the river he charged the Saracens, for these, not looking for the Crusaders, were giving way. At this the Templars were not a little vexed. "Why," said they, "does the count charge before us, who have of right the first place?" Now the count had for his next comrade a knight, very gallant in arms, but so afflicted with deafness that he could hear nothing. So when the Master of the Templars sought to make the count halt, this knight heard not a single word of what he said, but cried without ceasing, "At them! At them!" So the count charged, and when the Templars saw themselves scorned in this fashion they thought that it would be a great dishonour to be so left behind. Then they also charged, and the Saracens fled before them, even to the town of Mansoura.

Even yet the matter might have ended well but for the folly of the count. The Master of the Templars, and with him the Master of the Hospitallers, were urgent with the count that he should hold back his men and deal prudently with the enemy. "We have done well," they said; "let us not lose by rashness that which we have gained. These Saracens are brave men and stout soldiers for all that they are seized now and again with a sudden panic. Beware lest they turn and fall upon us, for they are many times more than we are in number, and they are fighting in their own country. Let us wait, therefore, till the King come up with the main body of the army. So having had a good beginning of this day we shall bring it to a yet better ending." To these words the count, being wholly mastered by pride and folly, made this answer: "This is ever the way with you Templars and Hospitallers. You make so great a profit out of these wars that you will not have an ending put to them. You have betrayed great kings and princes to the enemy; aye, and have done them to death lest they should be a hindrance to your honour and profit." "Nay, sir," said the Master of the Templars, "think you that we have vowed ourselves to the service of God, leaving our homes and all that we love, in order to be traitors to the cause of God, and to imperil our own souls?" Then, turning to the knight who bore the standard of the Order, he cried, "Display the standard! This strife among ourselves will surely turn to our ruin; nevertheless the Templars can suffer no stain upon their honour." Then spoke a great English knight, William, surnamed the Longsword.' "It is well to listen to the Master of the Temple, than whom there is no knight braver or more expert in war." At this the count burst into a yet greater fury.

"See," he cried, "what cowards are these men with tails. It would be well if the army were quit of them." (It is a foolish jest that the Englishmen have tails.) "Sir count," said William Longsword, "you may think as you will; but know that to-day I will go so far that you shall not touch the tail of my horse."

After such words there could be no talk of holding back or caution. For a while the Saracens gave way before the Crusaders, but there were skilful soldiers and men of experience among them, and when these saw that the Frenchmen were scattered over the town, and that some were busy plundering, as men will, let their commanders do what they may, then they took heart, and gathered their soldiers together; also they showed the green banner of Mahomet the prophet, a thing they do not often, but only when there is the call of some great necessity. Also they caused to be thrown down in the streets of the town faggots and beams to the great hindrance of the horsemen. Now of the Frenchmen and the Templars and the Hospitallers there were but two or three thousand, but of the Saracens many times more. The Crusaders, then, were shut up in the town of Mansoura, having neither engines of war, nor food, nor even water; and a great multitude of the enemy were ranged between them and the remainder of the army. Of those, indeed, that went with the Count of Artois, and William Longsword, and the Master of the Templars, there returned but very few. The count was slain; so also was Longsword; as for the Master of the Hospitallers, he was taken prisoner; the Master of the Templars, with but three, as was said, of his companions, escaped, but not without losing an eye.

In the meanwhile the King, having with him the main body of the army, crossed the ford amidst a great sounding of horns and trumpets. It was a noble sight to see, and nothing in it nobler and more admirable than the King himself. A fairer knight there never was, and he stood with a gilded helmet on his head, and a long German sword in his hand, being by his head and shoulders taller than the crowd. Then he and his knights charged the Saracens, who by this time had taken a stand again on the river bank. It was a great feat of arms. No man drew long-bow that day or plied cross-bow. The Crusaders and the Saracens fought with mace and sword, neither keeping their ranks, but all being confused together.

But the Crusaders, for all their valour, could scarce hold their own, because the enemy outnumbered them by much. Also there was a division of counsel among them. Some were for seeking the help of the Duke of Burgundy and the other leaders who kept the camp; some were for staying where they were. Also there came a messenger from them that were shut up in Mansoura, telling the King how hardly pressed they were, and in what instant need of succour.

And now the Saracens grew more and more confident, for they were greatly the better in numbers; and if, man for man and in the matter of arms and armour, they were scarce equal to the Crusaders, yet the difference was not so great. They pushed on, therefore, and drove the Christians back to the river. These were very hard pressed, and some were for swimming across the river to the camp, but by this time their horses were weary, and not a few perished by drowning.

Nevertheless as time passed the Crusaders fared somewhat better, for they drew more together, and the enemy, seeing that they still held their. ground, and being themselves not a little weary, drew back. In the end the King and such of the chiefs as were left got back into the camp. Right glad they were to rest, for the battle had been long and fierce.

But they had but little peace, for that very night the Saracens made an attack upon the camp. It was a great disturbance that they made, and most unwelcome to men who had been fighting all the day. But they did not work much harm. Many valiant deeds were done by the Christians, nor did any one gain greater glory than the priest of whom mention has been made above, for he charged a troop of eight Saracens, being alone and having no other armour than an iron cap on his head. So astonished were they at his boldness that they did not abide his coming, but fled with all the speed that they could use. Thereafter men pointed him out as the priest who put eight men to flight.

After this there was peace for two or three days. But the Saracens were making ready for attacking the camp with more force than before. Also their new leader, for the old chief, Scecedin by name, had been slain in the fighting at Mansoura, greatly encouraged his men in this manner. He took the coat of arms of the Count of Artois, who had been slain at Mansoura, and showed it publicly as being the coat of arms of the King himself. At the same time he said: "As no one fears a body without a head, so no one need fear a people that is without a king. If, therefore, as I doubt not, you desire to have done with these adversaries, we will attack them on the second day from now." So much the King heard from his spies, for he also had spies in the camp of the enemy, even as the enemy had spies in his. Thereupon he ordered that a watch should be kept, that all the soldiers should remain under arms during the night on which, according to information given, the attack would be made; and also that the camp should be fortified.

Nevertheless the Saracens did not make the attack in the night, but waited till the next day at noon. And their leader could be seen from the camp, taking account of the Crusaders, and strengthening his battalions where he thought that the King's camp might be most conveniently assailed.

The first attack was made on the Count of Anjou (the same that was afterwards King of Sicily). He held that part of the camp that was nearest to the city of Cairo. Some of the enemy were on horseback and some on foot; there were some also that threw Greek fire among the count's men. Between them they pressed the count so sorely that he was fain to send to the King for help, This the King gave without loss of time; he led the men himself, and it was not long before they chased the Saracens from this part of the field.

As for the foreign lords—that is to say, such as were from lands other than France—they held their ground so boldly and well that the enemy could not turn them for a moment.

With the Templars it went not so well. They had made a great barrier of pinewood in front of them; against this the enemy threw Greek fire, and the flames caught it so that it burned furiously. And while it was yet burning, the Saracens ran in and engaged them in battle. The Master, the same that had lost an eye in the battle of Mansoura, was slain on that day.

In this battle the cross-bow men of the King did good service. It had gone hard with the Crusaders but for them, for they kept up so fierce a fire upon the enemy that these drew back from the camp, and that in various places there were scarce forces to hold them back. It must be remembered that many knights and men-at-arms had been wounded at Mansoura, and had not yet been healed. Nevertheless many valiant knights were slain. Among these was a very famous warrior, the Lord of Brancion. He had fought in thirty-six battles, and had received many times the prize of valour. The Lord of Joinville told this story of him, that on a certain day when he and some others had driven away a troop of Germans who were spoiling a church in the land of France, he fell on his knees before the altar and prayed aloud, "O Lord, have mercy on me; take me from these wars wherein Christians fight against Christians; I have lived over-long among them; and send me where I may do service to Thee and Thee only." And so it fell out; for he died fighting against the infidels for God and his king.

When the battle was over the King called the barons to his tent, and thanked them for all that they had done, and gave them great encouragement, saying that as they had driven back the Saracens over and again, it would, beyond doubt, go well with them in the end.