Ambroise Paré (151090). Journeys in Diverse Places. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Battle of Saint Quentin. 1557
AFTER the battle of Saint Quentin, the King sent me to La Fère en Tartenois, to M. le Maréchal de Bourdillon, for a passport to M. le Duc de Savoie, that I might go and dress the Constable, who had been badly wounded in the back with a pistol-shot, whereof he was like to die, and remained prisoner in the enemys hands. But never would M. le Duc de Savoie let me go to him, saying he would not die for want of a surgeon; that he much doubted I would go there only to dress him, and not rather to take some secret information to him; and that he knew I was privy to other things besides surgery, and remembered I had been his prisoner at Hesdin. M. le Maréchal told the King of this refusal: who wrote to M. le Maréchal, that if Mme. the Constables Lady would send some quickwitted man of her household I would give him a letter, and had also something to say to him by word of mouth, entrusted to me by the King and by M. le Cardinal de Lorraine. Two days later there came one of the Constables gentlemen of the bedchamber, with his shirts and other linen, to whom M. le Maréchal gave a passport to go to the Constable. I was very glad, and gave him my letter, and instructed him what his master must do now he was prisoner.
I thought, having finished my mission, to return to the King; but M. le Maréchal begged me to stop at La Fère with him, to dress a very great number of wounded who had retreated there after the battle, and he would write to the King to explain why I stopped; which I did. Their wounds were very putrid, and full of worms, with gangrene, and corruption; and I had to make free play with the knife to cut off what was corrupt, which was not done without amputation of arms and legs, and also sundry trepannings. They found no store of drugs at La Fère, because the surgeons of the camp had taken them all away; but I found the waggons of the artillery there, and these had not been touched. I asked M. le Maréchal to let me have some of the drugs which were in them, which he did; and I was given the half only at one time, and five or six days later I had to take the rest; and yet it was not half enough to dress the great number of wounded. And to correct and stop the corruption, and kill the worms in their wounds, I washed them with Ægyptiacum dissolved in wine and eau-de-vie, and did all I could for them; but in spite of all my care many of them died.
There were at La Fère some gentlemen charged to find the dead body of M. de Bois-Dauphin the elder, who had been killed in the battle; they asked me to go with them to the camp, to pick him out, if we could, among the dead; but it was not possible to recognize him, the bodies being all far gone in corruption, and their faces changed. We saw more than half a league round us the earth all covered with the dead; and hardly stopped there, because of the stench of the dead men and their horses; and so many blue and green flies rose from them, bred of the moisture of the bodies and the heat of the sun, that when they were up in the air they hid the sun. It was wonderful to hear them buzzing; and where they settled, there they infected the air, and brought the plague with them. Mon petit maistre, I wish you had been there with me, to experience the smells, and make report thereof to them that were not there.
I was very weary of the place; I prayed M. le Maréchal to let me leave it, and feared I should be ill there; for the wounded men stank past all bearing, and they died nearly all, in spite of everything we did. He got surgeons to finish the treatment of them, and sent me away with his good favour. He wrote to the King of the diligence I had shown toward the poor wounded. Then I returned to Paris, where I found many more gentlemen, who had been wounded and gone thither after the battle.