Book Four, Chapters 5-13; Book Five, Chapter 1

This document is linked to ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. Use this link to reach the project’s home page.



[The War of 1475]
A few words are necessary about the king of England, who had got his army at Dover ready to cross the sea to Calais. This was the biggest army with which any king of England had invaded France. All the army was mounted, and it was the best turned out and the best armed that had ever gone to France, for most if not all of the nobles of England were in it. There were fifteen  hundred well-horsed men at arms and most of them were barded and richly accoutred after our fashion; they had many followers on horse-back. In their army there were more than fifteen hundred mounted archers, carrying bows and arrows, as well as large numbers of infantry, and others who both looked after all their tents, of which they had a great quantity, and attended their artillery and enclosed their camp. In the whole army there was not a single page and the English had ordered three thousand men to go to Brittany.

I have said before, but it serves my purposes to say it again that had God not wanted to trouble the senses of the Duke of Burgundy, in order to preserve this kingdom (to which he has granted more favours up to the present than to any other), who would have believed that the duke would have been so obstinate in besieging such a strong place as Neuss, defended as it was? In all his life he had never known the kingdom of England disposed to send an army across the sea, and he recognized clearly that they would be almost useless in was in France on their own. For if he had ever wanted to use them it would have been necessary not to let them out of his sight for one full season in order to help them to train and instruct their army in our most important methods of warfare. When the English first come over no one is more stupid or clumsy but in a very short space of time they become very good, clever and brave soldiers.

The Duke did exactly the opposite and, amongst the other dis-services he did them, he caused them to lose almost all the campaigning season. 13

As for him, he had so broken up his army and it was in such poor condition and so impoverished that he dared not muster it before the English, because he had lost four thousand regular soldiers before Neuss, including the best men that he had. So you can see that God caused him to do the contrary to what he should reasonably have done against all that he knew and understood better than anyone else only ten years previously.

ii How the king of England crossed to France and anded at Calais to wage war on te Kind, and what happened.

When King Edward was at Dover waiting to cross, the duke of Burgundy sent him more than five hundred ships from Holland and Zeeland which had flat bottoms and low sides and were very suitable for transporting horses. They were called ‘scutes’14 and originated in Holland. Despite this great number and all that the kind of England was able to do it took more than three weeks to transport everything from Dover to Calais, which are only seven leagues apart.15 You can thus see what difficulties a king of England encounters in crossing to France; and if the King our master had understood naval as well as he understood military matters King Edward would never have crossed, at least not that year. But the King did not understand naval tactics and those whom he had put in charge of his military affairs knew even less than he did. The kind of England took three weeks to cross, and a single ship from Eu captured tow or three of the small transports. Before the king of England embarked and sailed from Dover he sent a herald called Garter, who was a native of Normandy, to the king.16 He carried to the King a letter of defiance from the king of England in fine language and elegant style (I believe no English-man could have had a hand in composing it!). He required the King to deliver the realm of France to him, to whom it belonge, sp that he could restore the Church, the nobles and the people to their ancient liberties and remove the great taxes and burdens which the King had imposed upon them. He also declared what evils would follow in the case of his refusal, in the form and manner which was customary in such cases.

The King read the letter to himself and then he withdrew all alone into a smaller room and called the herald to him. He told him that he was well aware that the king of England had not come of his own accord but had been forced to as much by the duke of Burgundy as by the commons of England.He could equally well see that the campaigning season was almost finished and the duke of Burgundy was returning from Neuss a defeated and much weakened man and that, with regard to the Constable, the King knew that he had been in communication with the king of England because he had married his niece, but warned that he woul deceive Edward. He told him about the rewards he had conferred on him, saying, The Constable wants nothing more than to live by dissimulation and to keep in touch with everyone so as to make his profit.’ He gave the herald several other reasons for warning King Edward of England to make peace with him. H also personally gave the herald three hundred crowns and promised him another thousand if peace was agreed upon. Publicly he gave him a very fine piece of crimson velvet thirty ells long.

The herald replied that he would do all in his power to achieve this peace and that he believed his master would willingly entertain the suggestion; but nothing more should be said until the king of England had crossed the sea. When he had done so another herald should be sent to ask for safe- conducts so that ambassadors could come to meet him; they should apply to Lord Howard or Lord Stanley and also to himself to help guide the herald.

There were many people in the hall whilst the King was speaking to the herald. They were all waiting eagerly to hear what the King would say or what his expression would be when he came out. When he had finished he called me in to entertain the herald until an escort had been found to accompany him back, so that no one could speak to him and that I should give him the thirty ells of crimson velvet, which I did. The King then addressed some of the others and told them about hte letter of defiance and , calling seven or eight people apart, he made them read the letter. He put on a very assured air without showing any fear because he was very pleased with the way the herald had received his proposals.


  • 13: M.S reads raison but M.S.P. reads saison which seems the more likely reading
  • 14: In Dutch schuit
  • 15: This phrase added from M.S.P.
  • 16: John Smert was Garter King of Arms at this time. Commynes has cinfused him with Ireland King of Arms, Walter Bellengier, a native of Dieppe, who accomplished the mission he describes p246







Text copyright © [1972], Michael Jones. This edition is still a work in progress. We are grateful to Professor Jones for permission to place this edition online while he completes a review of the text, and will correct any errors found by Professor Jones on completion of this review.