Thursday, 29 November 2012

THE ANTIQUARIAN: Sir Bartholomew Burghersh & Cormicy Castle

A legacy of William the Conqueror, who became King of England in 1066 while still Duke of Normandy, the Hundred Years’ War was a conflict waged for control of the throne of France.  The war began in 1337 when Edward III refused to pay homage to Phillip VI of France.  The French king responded by confiscating Edward’s lands in Aquitaine.  As a result, Edward III (who was the son of Isabella, the daughter of Phillip IV of France) declared that he was the rightful heir to the French throne; with this challenge to the legal succession of the Kingdom of France, the first phase of the conflict began and only ended in 1453.

One of the most distinguished soldiers to have participated in the conflict was Sir Bartholomew Burghersh, the younger.  He was the son of Lord Bartholomew Burghersh, the elder, who laid the family’s esteemed foundation as both a man of military and diplomatic genius.  The younger Burghersh’s career rivaled his father’s and began in 1339 when he accompanied Edward III on his expedition to Flanders.  The younger Burghersh participated in such campaigns as Brittany, Crecy, Gascony and the siege of Calais.  His personal letters have provided scholars with one of the few trusted eyewitness accounts of the famed Battle of Poitiers and in 1350 he was chosen “to be one of the first knights companions” in the newly instituted Order of the Garter (Stephen, 335).   

Considered one of the great Barons of his age, an event involving Sir Bartholomew Burghersh at the Seige of Rheims is recorded by Sir John Froissart in his chronicle on the history of England.   After reconnoitering the great Castle of Cormicy and concluding that it could not be taken by assault, Froissart reports that Burghersh ordered the undermining of the castle’s most formidable defensive structure, a large square tower “whose walls were very thick”(Froissart, 128).  Starting at a great distance from the tower, so as to keep the operation secret, the miners worked night and day to advance to a great depth under the tower and so, unnoticed, push upward.  When the miners had secretly replaced the secure footings of the tower with their own wooden props and the report was sent back to Burghersh that the tower could be thrown down at his command, the great knight mounted his horse and advanced to the castle.    The defender of the castle was Sir Henry de Vauix, the black armoured knight of Champagne, and after being summoned by his guards at the request of Burghersh, the French knight came forward and called down from the battlements, asking the English knight what he wanted. “’I want you to surrender,’ replied Burghersh” (Froissart, 128).  Laughing, Sir Henry de Vauix inquired what would possess Burghersh to suppose they would surrender from such an impregnable fortress as Cormicy.  To this the English knight responded, “if you were truly informed what your situation is, you would surrender instantly…” (Froissart, 128).  De Vauix, still skeptical, was then persuaded, on Burghersh’s assurance of safety, to come down and witness the true nature of the great tower’s precarious situation.  When de Vauix saw that the castle’s strongest defensive position was now only held up by wooden props in the control of the English, he thanked Burghersh for his gallant offer of surrender and the entire garrison was taken prisoner.  Without a single loss of life, England gained possession of the great castle of Cormicy.

Sir Bartholomew Burghersh died in 1369 and was buried in the lady chapel of Walsingham Abbey.

"No really...I think, you are going to want to see this!"

Froissart, Jean et al.  Chronicles of England, France, Spain & the Adjoining Countries. Trans. Thomas Johnes.  New York: John B. Alden, 1884.

Stephen, Leslie and Sidney Lee.  Dictionary of National Biography.  Vol. 7.  London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1886.

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