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The Gallant Sir John Chandos

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     Of all the Norman families who have made their home in this realm of England, few can boast of a more noble descent, or a more worthy ancestor than the house of Chandos. 'According to Sir Bernard Burke and the heralds, the founder of the house was one Robert de Chandos, or Chandois, who came over to this country from Normandy, and who proved a great benefactor to the Church in the West of England. The family vas for three centuries of knightly rank in Herefordshire; and there is still to be seen in the parish of Much Marcle, near Hereford, the place which is the traditional home of this brave and intrepid race.
     But of all the members of the Chandos family not one bears a more honored name than Sir John Chandos, one of the leaders of the English army in those wars with France which were finally settled, for a time at least, by our victories at Crecy, Poictiers, and Agincourt, in the middle of the fourteenth century. In several of these battles Sir John Chandos took a leading part, and in one of them he lost his life, fighting for king and country, thus showing himself no unworthy descendant of Sir Robert Chandos, the companion-in-arms of William the Conqueror, who, when his brother chieftains began to enlarge their grants by invading Wales, contrived, by the aid of his good sword and stout arm, to carve out for himself a property in Monmouthshire, along the banks of the Usk, round about Carleon. Several of this Sir Robert's descendants, it may be stated here, proved men of note in their day, and from time to time became sheriffs of Herefordshire, and constables of the Castle of Hereford.
     John Chandos, though young in , years, had already gained renown at the great naval battle of Slut's, On St. John Baptist's Day, 1340, when Edward III. wholly defeated and disabled the fleet of France. Some six years later, having become one of the king's chief counselors, he was entrusted with the education of Edward, prince of Wales, well known to history as the 'Black Prince,' so-called from the color of his armor, which is still preserved in the Tower of London. The Black Prince fought under him and by his side at Crecy; and the tutor and governor of the young hero was made one of the first knights of the Order of the Garter at Windsor. The honor was well deserved, for, as Froissart says, Chandos 'was one of the best knights in England for wisdom, strength, fortune, high emprise, and good counsel.'
     From this time he was hardly ever separated from the Black Prince, and the experience of the master, writes Mr. D. M. Smith, in his ` Tales of Chivalry and Romance,' contributed principally to the glory of the pupil. The success of the battle of Poictiers, for example, is to be attributed chiefly to Chandos, who, on seeing the French cavalry in disorder, cried out, 'Sire, charge, and the day is yours: After the battle Sir John Chandos, like a true knight, was most active in enforcing the duty of mercy and courtesy towards the vanquished.
     Having accompanied the Black Prince to London, where he was received with all marks of honor and triumph, Sir John returned to France to take part in the war then being waged in Bretagne by the English under the Duke of Lancaster, as the earl was now called, for the ducal title had but recently been introduced into England.
     It was during this campaign that Chandos first met the most brilliant leader of France, Bernard du Guesclin. These men showed themselves not only the most generous, but the most courtly of adversaries, rivals in magnanimity as well as in military renown. The occasion of their
first meeting is said to have been the illegal capture of Du Guesclin's  brother Oliver, during a season of truce, by an English knight. At this time the English were besieging the town of Dinan, which was defended by the French under Bertrand du Guesclin. 'It must, therefore,' writes Mr. Smith, 'have somewhat startled the lords and chief officers of the English camp to see the leader of their enemies coming in amongst them, trusting only to their honor and to the courteous usages of knighthood. 'The French knight demanded satisfaction for the wrong done; the English knight had to
enter the lists with Du Guesclin, and was beaten; and the English soon after raised the siege.
     In the next year, Chandos was named, along with Sir Walter Manny and the Dukes of Lancaster and Warwick, to represent the King of England at a conference for bringing about peace between the two kingdoms; and so pleased was Edward with his brave warrior and counselor, that be made him Constable of Aquitaine and Lieutenant-General of all the English possessions. in France, at the same time bestowing on him the viscountcy of St. Sauveur, in Cotentin, with a fair estate.
     At the battle of Auray he took prisoner his old foe and rival Du Guesclin. But the Black Prince was so elated with his successes that he began to act harshly and tyrannically in Aquitaine. In vain did his old tutor remonstrate with him; the Black Prince, like many another .young man before and after him, would not listen to the counsels of experience. All Gascoigne was soon up in arms against the English, and the Gascons applied openly to the French king for aid in resisting the tyranny and extortions of the enemy. When it was too late, the Prince saw his mistake; the tragedy was working towards its gloomy conclusion. On the last night of the year 1370, Sir John Chandos, as General of the Forces in Poictou, sent forth a summons to all the barons and nights of the province to meet him at Poictiers on a second expedition. Three hundred knights, among was Sir Thomas Percy, answered to his call. He led them out, not telling them their destination; but at midnight they found themselves beneath the walls of St. Salvain; with orders. to mount their ladders, and scale the walls. But it was not to be. The night passed away,, and in the morning it was found that the French had taken the field, and were near Poictiers. At once Sir John Chandos resolved to encounter them, though his forces were few and ill-provided with food and arms. Unhappily, Sir John; Chandos, though on horseback, wore a long, flowing robe, and, slipping on the miry ground,, got his feet entangled in it. At that moment a French knight poised his lance, and thrust it. into the face and neck of the English knight, who fell mortally wounded. The victory seemed to be at first for the French; but Sir John Chandos lived just long enough to see the English forces regain the I well-foughten' field; and he breathed his last almost at the moment of victory.
     When the body of the English lord was found, and recovered from among the heaps of the slain, there was great mourning in the camp. The knights and barons of Poictou were grieved at heart, 'Flower of knighthood and of bravery,' they cried; Sir John Chandos, cursed was the forging of the lance that wounded thee, and which has cost us thy life.'  Then they stripped his armor off him gently and reverently, and, laying his body on their shields, they bore him to the nearest fortress. But it was all too late. The English mourned their general; but no one grieved for his loss more deeply than the Black Prince himself, whose folly and rashness had cost the King so great a hero. And well might he grieve, for amongst all his comrades-in-arms, though he found many brave heroes and many sage counselors, he never again found one who was the equal of Chandos, in both the tent and the field--

'Brave hand in the foray,
Sage Counsel in cumer.'

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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