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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter VIII. The Wars in Picardy, First Campaign


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 Paris.


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