The illustration is from the valuable MS. Life and Acts of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. The present is part of a fight before Calais, in which Philip Duke of Burgundy was concerned on one side, and Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, Richard Earl of Warwick, and Humphrey Earl of Stafford on the other.
Seizing that moment, a party of camp followers run forward with a couple of planks, which they throw over the moat to make a temporary bridge. They are across in an instant, and place scaling-ladders against the walls. The knights, following close at their heels, mount rapidly, each man carrying his shield over his head, so that the bare ladder is converted into a covered stair, from whose shield-roof arrows glint and stones roll off innocuous. It is easy to see that a body of the enemy might thus, in a few minutes, effect a lodgment on the castle-wall, and open a way for the whole party of assailants into the interior.
Suppose the king and his chivalry in the following woodcut to be only summoning the castle; and suppose them, on receiving a refusal to surrender, to resolve upon an assault. They retire a few hundred yards and dismount, and put their horses under the care of a guard. Presently they return supported by a strong body of archers, who ply the mail-clad defenders with such a hail of arrows that they are driven to seek shelter behind the battlements.
It represents a sally of the garrison of Nantes on the English, who are besieging it. The man-at-arms who lies prostrate under the horse-hoofs is one of the garrison, who has been pierced by the spear whose truncheon lies on the ground beside him.
The unarmed man on the left is one of the English party, in ordinary civil costume, apparently only a spectator of the attack.
The illuminators are never tired of representing battles and sieges; and the general impression which we gather from them is that a mediæval combat must have presented to the lookers-on a confused melée of rushing horses and armoured men in violent action, with a forest of weapons overhead—great swords, and falchions, and axes, and spears, with pennons fluttering aloft here and there in the breeze of the combat.[Pg 376] We almost fancy we can see the dust caused by the prancing horses, and hear the clash of weapons and the hoarse war-cries, and sometimes can almost hear the shriek which bursts from the maddened horse, or the groan of the man who is wounded and helpless under the trampling hoofs.