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Memoirs and Adventures of Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange
Chapter X. Battles of Renti and Saint Quentin


After a restless night spent in their harness and under arms, and after matin prayers, early next morning the entire French army drew up in order of battle, under the command of the king, by whose side rode the Constable de Montmorencie, to aid him with his valuable advice. With a bravery worthy of the hero of Metz, Francis duke de Guise led the vanguard or first column, which stood the brunt of the conflict, and the Mareschal de St Andre the reserve.

The battle began by the French harquebussiers skirmishing with the Spaniards, who were sheltered by the wood before mentioned. The dark green glades gave them such an advantage, that the enferns perdus (as the soldiers selected from the several bands to skirmish were then called) were compelled to retire. Upon this the emperor ordered forward seven culverins, which belched forth their bullets of lead and iron upon the glittering columns of French infantry. Some bands of Spanish Arcabuziers, meanwhile, volleyed forth upon them point-blank from the underwood of the forest, and their flanks were threatened by the cavalry; on the left a thousand lanz-knechts in bright armour, with their tall uplifted lances gleaming in the sun, advanced rapidly along the side of the hill, as the French infantry ascended: on their right the Count or Baron of Swartzenburg, with his column of reitres or pistoleers, the elite of the German cavalry, armed cap-a-pie, and all the Spanish light-horse, swept forward to the charge. Disheartened by the retreat of their skirmishers, assailed in front by culverins and harquebusses, and threatened on both flanks by bodies of lances, the French infantry gave way, and began to retire with precipitation. The Spanish vanguard now rushed upon them; and so impetuous was its advance that Kirkaldy’s branch of the army, the Chevaux Legers, who were posted in a valley, retired ; but the Spaniards received a severe check from a column led by Jasper Vicomte de Tavannes, and a brave knight of the Scottish house of Eglinton, Sir Gabriel Montgomerie, styled Lord of Lorges in France. The Spaniards were still pressing forward, when the Duke de Guise galloped up to these two knights, saying, "he would obtain the king’s command for the cavalry to charge.”

“There is no time to obtain such counsel,” replied Montgomerie; “the enemy will be at the king as soon as you! ”

By his advice, without the ceremony of consulting Henry, a furious and simultaneous cavalry charge was made upon the Spaniards. Swartzenburg’s reitres felt the first brunt of it, and, firing their long petronels, immediately retreated; while the Duke de Guise, Jasper de Tavannes, Montgomerie, Kirkaldy, and the whole French cavalry, swept forward in heavy columns. The enthusiastic lines in Mr Macaulay’s ballad of Ivry are well descriptive of such a furious charge :—

“Hurrah! the foes are moving. Hark to the mingled din Of fife, and steed, and trump, and dram, and roaring culverin; Now, by the lips of those ye love, fair gentlemen of France,

Charge for the golden lilies!
Upon them with the lance!
A thousand spurs are striking deep,
A thousand spears in rest,

A thousand knights are pressing close behind the snow-white crest; And in they burst, and on they rushed—”

at full gallop among the dense masses of the cuirassed and helmeted Spanish and Dutch infantry, slaying them hy scores, and driving them within the wood. By this gallant dash of Lorges and de Guise, the seven culverins, and an immense number of prisoners, were captured. The whole French army then advanced, and took possession of the scene of contest; while the emperor retired to his trenches upon the hill, leaving three thousand of his soldiers dead upon the field. The constable—actuated either hy the caution which is sometimes characteristic of an old soldier, or by an unwillingness to second his rival, the Duke de Guise—by delaying the advance of the main body in support of the cavalry charge, left the victory less complete than it might have been.

The next day passed quietly without hostilities 5 hut when evening fell, encouraged hy the near approach of twelve thou sand fresh soldiers, Charles’s cannoneers opened a fire on the French camp at the foot of the hills of lienti, by which many soldiers were slain, and tents prostrated. When darkness closed over the scene of the past day’s carnage, the French army, finding themselves straightened by want of provisions, and the difficulty of continuing a siege in the sight of a relieving army, struck their tents and retired, without sound of trumpet, leaving the castle of Renti unwon; and the emperor suffered them to retreat unmolested to their winter-quarters, at Montrieul. But, immediately upon Henry placing garrisons in all the frontier towns, and breaking up his army, the Imperialists burst into Lower Picardy, laying waste the land with fire and sword, to avenge the ravages of the French in Hainault and Artois.

So highly did that brave prince value Norman Leslie, and so greatly did he deplore his death, that all the survivors of his Scottish troop of lances were, under Crichton of Brunstane, sent back to their own country, laden with rewards and honours; and, by his influence, such as were exiles were restored by the regent to their estates and possessions, as a recompense for their valour on the frontiers of Flanders.

Soon after the battle of Renti, Charles V., "the immortal thunderbolt of war,”—who for fifty years had filled all Europe with the glory and the terror of his name, —after having displayed his banners in sixty pitched battles, retired into the convent of St Juste, in the solitary wilds of Estremadura; while his son and successor, Philip, who had espoused Mary of England, prosecuted the war which yet raged between France and Spain.

Assembling an army which, after forming a junction with a few English under the Earl of Pembroke, amounted to sixty thousand fighting men, he ordered Emanuel Philibert duke of Savoy and prince of Piedmont, to lead it against France. After menacing Marienbourg and Pocroy, a city near the forest of Ardennes, this distinguished leader suddenly laid siege to the town of St Quentin in Upper Picardy. The brave and veteran Admiral Gaspard de Coligni, governor of the province, deeming it necessary for his honour that so important a stronghold should not fall into Philip’s hands, had suddenly thrown himself into it at the head of the French and Scottish gendarmerie, while he despatched a courier to his uncle, the constable, for immediate succour. By his exhortations and example, Coligni animated his soldiers to make a vigorous resistance, while the constable, with an army less than half the strength of Philibert’s, but composed of the flower of his old comrades, advanced to raise the siege. After a vain attempt to aid the admiral with a few companies, led by Monsieur d’Andelot, he pushed forward with eighteen pieces of cannon and sufficient pontoons to cross the various rivers in his route.

South-west of St Quentin lay a lake, by means of which M. d’Andelot, colonel-general of the infantry of France, with five hundred resolute soldiers, after cutting his way sword in hand through the Imperialists, to obtain boats, entered the city; and on the great army of Philibert of Savoy advancing towards him, the prudent constable, aware of the weakness of his force, and thinking he had sufficiently reinforced his nephew the admiral, endeavoured to avoid a battle, and retreated in admirable order towards La Fere, a strong city situated on the Oise, which flowed through its ditches. It was well defended by walls and bastions, and a French fortress overlooked it.

He had not retired four miles before the Spanish cavalry, led by the Count of Egmont—the same hapless Egmont who afterwards lost his head1—came up with his infantry, and compelled him to give battle, by taking up a position between a forest and village. When the elated Imperialists were rapidly advancing, the M areschal de St Andre unluckily ordered all the mounted camp-followers to save themselves, by riding rearward, which they did in great haste and disorder: encouraged by this appearance of flight, the overwhelming masses of the foe pressed exulting upon the little host.

The French maintained their position with perfect order and bravery, until they perceived the Duke of Savoy advancing in person at the head of his infantry, while Egmont’s formidable squadrons of horse, all sheathed in shining armour, were forming in solid array of battle, preparatory to making one grand and headlong charge—then they could no longer withstand the sensation of panic which seized them. Animated by their wavering and disordered aspect, Egmont’s iron columns came thundering upon their yielding masses with the force and speed of a falling mountain. The mailed Flemings hewed their deadly way, with sword and partisan, to the very centre; the cannon poured their iron balls on each defenceless band, the white standard, with its silver lilies, being the grand point of assault. In an instant the rout became general; and the power, the pride, and the glory of France lay trampled, like its boasted oriflamme, in the dust.

Eight valiantly fought the brave old constable, disdaining flight, and resolving to die in his stirrups, like a knight who valued honour rather than life.

“Montjoie — St Denis!” he exclaimed; “let all who are true to the king follow me!” and spurred his charger fearlessly among the densest mass of the Imperialists. Sixty brave chevaliers followed him, but they were all unhorsed and overthrown in a moment. The constable received a bullet through his steel cuisses and subarmale, which severely shattered a thigh-bone. He fell from his saddle, and, as he sank beneath the hoofs and swords of the Flemish cavalry, would inevitably have been slain, had not his master of the horse cried aloud,—

“Kill him not—kill him not—he is the great constable!”

The brave old man continued to fight like a lion amid the dense and hostile mass that pressed around him, until at last he was disarmed and captured alive by some Flemish knights, who saved him from the fury of their men-at-arms., Kirkaldy’s youthful kinsman, Sir James Melville of Halhill, who had kept close to the side of the constable, was also unhorsed in this terrible melde by a blow on the helmet; but was remounted, by his servant, u upon a Scots gelding, which bore him right through the enemy, who aimed innumerable blows at his defenceless head, he having lost his casque by its laces giving way. The smoke of the culverins and harquebusses filled the village near the position, and the summer woods around it, with curling eddies of vapour, while the fields between were strewn with the bodies of the mailed French infantry, who had perished under the furious charge of Egmont’s Flemish spears. Cutting a passage through the press, and leaping his horse over several walls, Melville passed the village, and gained the harriers of La Fere, where he drew up at the booth of a chirurgeon-harher, to have the wounds on his head dressed; and there the gossiping knight informs us he u met with Mr Henry Killegrew, an English gentleman, his old friend, who held his horse for him during the operation.

The French army was totally routed, and all the cannon and colours were taken. France was stricken with consternation. The constable, the Dukes of Montpensier and Longueville, the Mareschal de St Andre, ten knights, three hundred chevaliers of coat-armour, and five thousand private soldiers were taken prisoners; while the Duke d’Enghien, six hundred gentlemen of rank, and four thousand soldiers, lay dead upon the field. Such was the famous battle before St Quentin, which was fought on St Lawrence’s day, 1557, and nearly laid France prostrate at the feet of Philip. Seventeen days afterwards the garrison of Coligni surrendered.

Sir James Melville attended his friend the constable, who was carried prisoner of war to Camhray, where a peace was afterwards concluded.


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