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DUNKIRK TAKEN BY THE FRENCH.
turn from a bootless expedition, he determined upon attempting Dunkirk, a place so poorly fortified, that it was judged incapable of holding out more than two days. The invaders established themselves on the second evening in the suburb, made their approaches during the night, and before noon had effected a breach: the garrison then proposed to surrender; but while they were treating, the French, who were little scrupulous at such times *, entered the town, and sacked it without mercy. Their officers made no attempt to restrain them; and after allowing them one day to pillage, and another for disposing as they could of the spoil, the mareschal left two companies there, thinking that the place might easily be so fortified as to be maintained; and then proceeded against Bergues. This town was evacuated at his approach; and as it was not thought feasible to hold it, it was burnt. The mareschal was at at this time seized with a fit of the gout, which attacked him by his own account in both feet, both knees, both arms, and the neck. Being, therefore, in no condition for active service, he assigned the command to M. de Villebon, a man noted for rapacity and cruelty even in that inhuman age; and the soldiers, to whom M. de Thermes had already permitted too much, were now allowed full licence.†
One evil consequence was presently perceived; the men who had enriched themselves thought of nothing but how to secure what they had gained: as the only means, therefore, of preventing their dispersion, M. de Senarpont was sent to escort the whole spoil to Calais : having done which, he returned to the camp before Gravelines. It was then taken into consideration how to employ the troops; some were for proceeding to Nieuport: the objection to this was, that success there would have no other effect than to enrich the soldiers, and so render them unserviceable. Villebon then proposed that
* Thuanus, L. xx. p. 569. Mareschal de Thermes in his narrative excuses his troops in a way that confirms the statement of Thuanus.
Thuanus, 569. Coll. du Mém. 39. pp. 339–344. M. de Thermes's narrative is printed in the notes to this volume, the editor having removed it thither from the Mémoires de Boivin de Villars.
Mend-Port in the original; but Nieuport is certainly the place intended.
they should look at Gravelines again, till the despatches from the king, which were now daily expected, should arrive. Thither he proceeded, leaving the mareschal in his bed, and on the morrow sent him word, that, having reconnoitred it during the night, he found it could easily be breached, but that there were now 4000 men there. M. de Thermes was of opinion that it was not advisable with 6000 men to besiege so strong a garrison; and, suspecting probably that the Spaniards might have greater forces at hand, he concluded, when orders arrived, to fortify Dunkirk, and 2000 crowns were sent him for commencing the works, that this was no time for engaging in them. Herein he judged rightly; for Lamoral, count, or rather Graaf von Egmond, (well known in history for having a little before commanded in the great victory of St. Quentin, and better known for the death which he unjustly suffered ten years afterwards at Brussels,) collecting the garrisons of Bethune, St. Omer, Aire, and Bourbourg, in addition to his own disposable force, and some troops which the duke of Savoy had sent for the defence of Maubeuge, was hastening to intercept his retreat: July and on the following day, the mareschal was informed, 12. by a second despatch from Villebon, that the enemy
had issued out of Gravelines in battle array, and that it was necessary for him to repair to the spot, and see what was to be done.
There are some diseases which may be suspended, even in a severe stage, by circumstances that require great and immediate exertion. M. de Thermes was with the army early on the morrow; and having taken counsel with Villebon, Senarpont, and the other officers, it was determined that the baggage should be sent along the sands to Calais, under an escort of horse, as soon as the tide allowed; and that the army should follow the next morning, and take a position between that town and Gravelines, and there remain till they could ascertain the enemy's intention, in the hope of re-entering their territories if they should fall back towards Luxem
DEFEAT OF THE FRENCH.
bourg, where operations of greater magnitude were carrying on. Having thus resolved, they waited till the tide should serve, in no apprehension of immediate danger: the mareschal took his breakfast, mounted on horseback, and rode to reconnoitre the place, to which the enemy had advanced: he found that they had entered the camp, and had set fire to a house, so near to Villebon's quarters, that they might have been attacked there to great advantage, if any good order had been observed, and prompt measures taken; and when he was expediting the departure of the baggage, upon this information which made him more sensible of his insecurity, intelligence came that the enemy were crossing the water at a point near Gravelines, where it was fordable an hour earlier than at the place where he must pass. Upon this he countermanded the baggage; and, concluding that the intention was to interpose between him and Calais, for the purpose of cutting off his supplies, ordered Villebon immediately to cross with the cavalry, the old French troops, the legionaries, and the Germans, remaining himself with some 500 harquebussiers, and two companies of horse, to secure his rear against any sally from Gravelines. He was upon the bank of the river, in a place from whence he could see nothing of the enemy, and little of his own troops after they had crossed; but it was not long before he was informed that the enemy were in motion, and that it was advisable for him to join the main body with all speed.
Till this time the French appear to have been very ill informed of Egmond's strength, or of his intentions. That able commander had with him about 12,000 foot and 3500 horse, chiefly Belgians, but part were Germans, and part Spanish veterans, who were then esteemed, not undeservedly, the best troops in the world. Thermes neither expected to find himself in the presence of such an enemy, nor thought they could have brought so many guns against him, his own artillery consisting only of six culverins and three falcons. The river,
however, protected his rear, and the sea, as he supposed, his right; the left he endeavoured to cover with his carriages, and placed his guns in front, leaving ample room for his cavalry, with his best troops to support them. One charge of the enemy they repelled, though not without considerable loss. Egmond's horse was killed under him as he led the charge, and M. de Thermes at one time thought the day had been his own. But at this time a fire was opened upon him from the sea by ten English ships, part of a large fleet, which, coming in sight of the action, had hastened thither in the hope of bearing a part in it. It was a most effectual part: the French were exposed to their fire without any means of resistance or of retreat; behind them was the town, "from whence came thick hail shot of artillery,” and in front, and upon their flank, a superior enemy: their German troops gave way first, and they were totally defeated with great slaughter; they who escaped falling into the hands of the peasantry, who, in hope of this opportunity, had collected in great numbers, men and women, under cover of Egmond's army, and now exacted cruel vengeance for the outrages and cruelties which they had themselves endured. The number slain on the field is estimated by the French at 1500; a greater number fell by the hands of the peasantry : a few fugitives were all who escaped from captivity or death. The mareschal himself was made prisoner with Villebon, Senarpont, D'Annebault, and many other distinguished persons. Not a few ran into the sea, and perished there: the English saved some 200* from
*Quos cum in profundum mergere potuissent, ad ludibrium servatos in Britanniam quasi in triumphum ad reginam adducere maluerunt. Thuanus, 570. Holinshed, 118, 119. Coll. du Mém. 39. pp. 255-242
Guise has been accused of remaining inactive at this time, in hope that some disgrace might be brought upon M. de Thermes, against whom he bore an old hatred: of this there is neither proof nor probability. But that blame was believed to attach to some high quarter appears from what Rabutin says:-"M'est fort difficile de déduire et narrer certainement tout le faict de ceste adventure, tant pour n'y avoir esté present, que pour en estre les rapports si différens et partiaux, que la vérité s'y trouve le plus souvent masquée et dissimulée; et par ainsi, en la cuidant quelquefois ensuivre, on fait bien souvent tort et injure à qui l'honneur appartient, oultre
FAILURE IN BRETAGNE.
drowning, and carried them to England as living witnesses of this memorable defeat.
The ships which had borne so important a part in this action belonged to a fleet under the then high admiral Edward lord Clinton, who had been ordered to join Philip's admiral with all the queen's ships of war; that while the French king was engaged in the field, these combined fleets might "endamage some of his countries by way of invasion, and surprise some of his towns." Brest in particular, as well because of its convenient situation for receiving succours and supplies from England, as because it was known not to be well garrisoned," was thought the best mark to "be shot at for the time."-" It is verily believed," says the chronicler, "that if the admirals of England and Flanders had been present there with their navies, as the said other few ships of England were, and upon this sudden had attempted Calais, with the aid of the countie Egmond, having his power present, the town of Calais might have been recovered again with as little difficulty, and haply in as short time, as it was before gained by the duke of Guise. But the said admirals, as it ap peared, knew nothing thereof." They had, indeed, then formed a junction; but following their prescribed course, met at the place appointed, and sailing, with sevenscore ships of war, wind and weather favouring, appeared before the haven of Conquet one morning at break of day. Upon their arrival they sounded their trumpets, as June the manner was," and, with a thundering peal of great 29. ordnance, roused the inhabitants of that unfortunate town. There they landed, in spite of any resistance that could be opposed to so unexpected an attack: soon mastering the town, they "put it to the saccage, with a great abbey, and many pretty towns and villages thereabout ;" then marched some way into the country, burning and destroying, till, tired of devastation, and satisfied with booty, the English returned to the coast and re-em
que ce, que pour le jourd'huy à la trop tenir de près et declairer il n'y va que de la vie." P. 236.