The gay and prodigal
Henry recalled from exile the Constable de Montmorencie, whom his father
had warned him never to employ; hut in all things he was wholly governed
by Diana of Poictiers, a lady nearly twenty years his senior.
The Duke of Parma having claimed his protection against the usurpations
of Charles V., Henry gladly availed himself of an opportunity of drawing
his sword against the ancient foe of his father. The great emperor was
now declining in years, in health, and perhaps in political success
Solyman, his bitter enemy, threatened an invasion of Hungary; Maurice
duke of Saxony, at the head of the Protestant League, kept him in
continual alarm ; and, to crown these troubles, the martial Henry
declared war against him, entered into a secret alliance with Maurice,
and seized Lorraine, ravaged Flanders, and, taking the fortified
bailiwicks of Toul and Verdun, laid siege to Metz, which, by a stratagem
of the. constable, he took in 1552. After building there a strong
citadel, which enabled the noble and heroic Francis duke de Guise to
defend the city successfully against the Spaniards, who could not
recover it, he marched into Alsace.
At the time that he was in the Low Countries, Marie queen of Hungary,
sister of the emperor, and governess of Flanders, assembled an army,
which Martin de Eossem led into Picardy and Champagne, where he gave the
royal palace of Fontanbre, with all the surrounding towns and villages,
to the flames, with the intention of compelling Henry to return for the
defence of his own territories. This he immediately did; and, after
boasting that the steeds of his chevaliers and gendarmerie had drunk of
the waters of the Rhine, marched with all speed towards the fertile
plains of Champagne.
Thus stood affairs when, in the month of May 1553, Anne de Montmorencie,
high-constable of France, as the king’s lieutenant, raised a numerous
army, and marched towards the invaders, who were carrying the tide of
war through Picardy, the land of apple bowers. With those troops went
Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange, whom Henry had made captain of a troop
of light-horse, cavalry brilliantly but lightly accoutred, for desultory
warfare, and desperate and active service.2 Their armour covered only
the upper part of their body; their large and slashed trunk-hose, being
quilted and stuffed with bombast, in the voluminous fashion of the time,
were not covered with steel; they wore conical morions, like the half of
an acom, of polished plate, but without visors, having only a rim
turning up in front, and a waving plume sustained in an iron tube;
petronels, swords, daggers, and demi-lances completed their equipment.
In the gay captain of a hundred such richly-accoutred troopers, none
could have recognised the poor mendicant fugitive, who a short time
before had wandered homeless and penniless through Normandy and
Bretagne. Many of Kirkaldy’s friends and countrymen now rode in their
armour under the standard of the constable; among these were his kinsmen
Sir James Melville of Halhill, Archibald Mowbray of Barnebougal, and
Norman Leslie master of Rothes, whom Henry had appointed “Colonel of the
Scotts Lanciers,” (Balf. Annales)—an appointment he had obtained through
the influence of the Laird of Brimstone, another expatriated soldier of
fortune who carried a lance in the Spanish wars.1 Both Kirkaldy and
Leslie were anxious, by their bravery, to wipe out the blot that
Beatoun’s slaughter had cast upon their fame.
Sir James Melville was then in his eighteenth year. He had come from
Scotland in the train of the ambassador, John de Monluc, the learned
bishop of Valence, who had returned to France immediately after the
ratification of the treaty of Edinburgh. Melville was appointed page of
honour to the youthful Mary; but, preferring the glitter of arms and the
tramp of horses to the honour of bearing the train of the fairest girl
in Europe, by her express permission he joined the army of Montmorencie,
to win his spurs beneath the oriflamme.
Marching into Picardy, the constable quartered his army in Amiens, a
city well fortified, and flanked by bulwarks and ravelins, and
pleasantly situated amid a fertile country. The Somme entered it by
three channels, under three bridges, and united again under the Pont de
St Michel, at the other end. It could even then boast of two beautiful
squares, where u seven fair streets centred;” two large rows of trees
surrounded and shaded its Boulevartes, (as bastions were then named ;)
and it boasted of its grand cathedral, where John the Baptist’s head
grinned from the reliquary, where Peter the Hermit was first inspired by
that wild enthusiasm which poured the crusaders on the plains of Asia,
and where Edward of England did homage to Philip of Valois, for his
hereditary dominions of Guienne and Ponthieu.
De Montmorencie had not time to tarry long in this city of so many
historical memories. Marching from Brussels, the warlike Charles burst
with a powerful host into Picardy, seized Terouanne, after the
miscarriage of his siege of the rich and important city of Metz, where,
by the valour of Francis of Guise, he lost thirty thousand of his
infantry, then considered the finest in Europe. Impatient to efface the
memory of this repulse, he demolished Terouanne, and captured Sedan with
its ancient castle, laying the country waste with fire and sword, while
the brave old constable hurried forward from the towers of Amiens to
give him battle.
When within twenty-one miles of Charles’s army, he halted and encamped.
Soon afterwards he was informed by a spy, that a strong column of
Spanish horse, led by the Duke d’Arcot, were that very night to assault
his camp—intelligence which made him immediately strike his tents. His
trumpets sounded a cheval, and, pushing forward in the night with his
entire force, he came suddenly upon the Spanish cavaliers of the Duke
dArcot, and, surprising those who meant to have surprised him, attacked
them sword in hand, and, after a desperate conflict, completely put them
to flight. Many brave knights were slain, and Arcot was taken prisoner.
The wary constable had just achieved this victory, when Henry joined the
army and assumed the command in person.
After some desultory skirmishing, the emperor retired into Hainault.
Henry followed, galling the flanks of the retreating army with his light
horsemen, until Charles reached Valenciennes, the capital of the
province, where he encamped upon a hill, and raised strong intrenchments.
Situated amidst a morass, in those days Valenciennes, with its citadel
and other defences, was deemed a place of great strength: its ditches
were deep; it had ten bridges across the Scheldt; and by its sluices the
garrison, if so disposed, could have laid the whole surrounding country
under water in an hour. Instead of taking possession of this strong
place, Charles contented himself with encamping on a hill which rises
from the level and fruitful country near it.
In view of this position, Henry drew out in order of battle the whole
array of his army, in all the glittering pomp and panoply of the age, to
entice Charles forth from his trenches. For a whole day the French army
continued thus under arms, but failed to draw the Spaniards from their
secure position. From time to time a few bands of French harquebussiers
shot their heavy bullets among them, until the emperor ordered his train
of artillery to open a cannonade on the French lines, which was done
with promptitude, but without much success.
Charles, who had now begun to imagine that fortune might not he
favourable to him in his old age, was resolved not to risk a battle, if
he could with honour avoid it: he remained within his trenches with a
persevering obstinacy that soon wore out the patience of the fiery
French, who, when evening darkened on the level plains, the broad round
towers and slender spires of Valenciennes, retreated to St Quentin.
There the venerable de Montmorencie, old in arms and in years, “fell
deadly sick, being in his grand climacterick.”
Both armies then went into winter-quarters. The emperor returned to
Brussels, the constable to his noble chateau of Chantilly, in the Isle
of France, and Henry to the smiles of Diana of Valentinois and the
gaieties of the Tournelles.
It is very probable that his favourite Kirkaldy accompanied him to