Ambroise Paré (151090). Journeys in Diverse Places. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Journey to Metz. 1552
THE EMPEROR having besieged Metz with more than an hundred and twenty thousand men, and in the hardest time of winter,it is still fresh in the minds of alland there were five or six thousand men in the town, and among them seven princes; MM. le Duc de Guise, the Kings Lieutenant, dEnghien, de Condé, de la Montpensier, de la Roche-sur-Yon, de Nemours, and many other gentlemen, with a number of veteran captains and officers; who often sallied out against the enemy (as I shall tell hereafter), not without heavy loss on both sides. Our wounded died almost all, and it was thought the drugs wherewith they were dressed had been poisoned. Wherefore M. de Guise, and MM. the princes, went so far as to beg the King that if it were possible I should be sent to them with a supply of drugs, and they believed their drugs were poisoned, seeing that few of their wounded escaped. My belief is that there was no poison; but the severe cutlass and arquebus wounds, and the extreme cold, were the cause why so many died. The King wrote to M. the Marshal de Saint André, who was his Lieutenant at Verdun, to find means to get me into Metz, whatever way was possible. MM. the Marshal de Saint André, and the Marshal de Vielleville, won over an Italian captain, who promised to get me into the place, which he did (and for this he had fifteen hundred crowns). The King having heard the promise that the Italian captain had made, sent for me, and commanded me to take of his apothecary, named Daigne, so many and such drugs as I should think necessary for the wounded within the town; which I did, as much as a post-horse could carry. The King gave me messages to M. de Guise, and to the princes and the captains that were in Metz.
When I came to Verdun, some days after, M. the Marshal de Saint André got horses for me and for my man, and for the Italian captain, who spoke excellent German, Spanish, and Walloon, beside his own mother-tongue. When we were within eight or ten leagues of Metz, we began to go by night only; and when we came near the enemys camp I saw, more than a league and a half off, fires lighted all round the town, as if the whole earth were burning; and I believed we could never pass through these fires without being discovered, and therefore hanged and strangled, or cut in pieces, or made to pay a great ransom. To speak truth, I could well and gladly have wished myself back in Paris, for the great danger that I foresaw. God guided our business so well, that we entered into the town at midnight, thanks to a signal the captain had with another captain of the company of M. de Guise; to whom I went, and found him in bed, and he received me with high favour, being right glad at my coming.
I gave him my message as the King had commanded me, and told him I had a little letter for him, and the next day I would not fail to deliver it. Then he ordered me a good lodging, and that I should be well treated, and said I must not fail next morning to be upon the breach, where I should find all the princes and seigneurs, and many captains. Which I did, and they received me with great joy, and did me the honour to embrace me, and tell me I was welcome; adding they would no more be afraid of dying, if they should happen to be wounded.
M. le Prince de la Roche-sur-Yon was the first who entertained me, and inquired what they were saying at the Court concerning the town of Metz. I told him all that I chose to tell. Forthwith he begged me to go and see one of his gentlemen named M. de Magnane, now Chevalier of the Order of the King, and Lieutenant of His Majestys Guards, who had his leg broken by a cannon-shot. I found him in bed, his leg bent and crooked, without any dressing on it, because a gentleman promised to cure him, having his name and his girdle, with certain words (and the poor patient was weeping and crying out with pain, not sleeping day or night for four days past). Then I laughed at such cheating and false promises; and I reduced and dressed his leg so skilfully that he was without pain, and slept all the night, and afterward, thanks be to God, he was healed, and is still living now, in the Kings service. The Prince de la Roche-sur-Yon sent me a cask of wine, bigger than a pipe of Anjou, to my lodging, and told me when it was drunk, he would send me another; that was how he treated me, most generously.
After this, M. de Guise gave me a list of certain captains and seigneurs, and bade me tell them what the King had charged me to say; which I did, and this was to commend him to them, and give them his thanks for the duty they had done and were doing in holding his town of Metz, and that he would remember it. I was more than eight days acquitting myself of this charge, because they were many. First, to all the princes; then to others, as the Duke Horace, the Count de Martigues, and his brother M. de Baugé, the Seigneurs de Montmorency and dAnville, now Marshal of France, M. de la Chapelle aux Ursins, Bonnivet, Carouge, now Governor of Rouen, the Vidame de Chartres, the Count de Lude, M. de Biron, now Marshal of France, M. de Randan, la Rochefoucault, Bordaille, dEstres the younger, M. de Saint Jean en Dauphiné, and many others whom it would take too long to name; and also to many captains, who had all done their duty well for the defence of their lives and of the town. Afterward I asked M. de Guise what it pleased him I should do with the drugs I had brought with me; he bade me distribute them to the surgeons and apothecaries, and principally to the poor wounded soldiers, who were in great numbers in the Hospital. Which I did, and can truly say I could not so much as go and see all the wounded, who kept sending for me to visit and dress them.
All the seigneurs within the town asked me to give special care, above all the rest, to M. de Pienne, who had been wounded, while on the breach, by a stone shot from a cannon, on the temple, with fracture and depression of the bone. They told me that so soon as he received the blow, he fell to the ground as dead, and cast forth blood by the mouth, nose, and ears, with great vomiting, and was fourteen days without being able to speak or reason; also he had tremors of a spasmodic nature, and all his face was swelled and livid. He was trepanned at the side of the temporal muscle, over the frontal bone. I dressed him, with other surgeons, and God healed him; and to-day he is still living, thank God.
The Emperor attacked the town with forty double cannons, and the powder was not spared day or night. So soon as M. de Guise saw the artillery set and pointed to make a breach, he had the nearest houses pulled down and made into ramparts, and the beams and joists were put end to end, and between them faggots, earth, beds, and wool-packs; then they put above them other beams and joists as before. And there was plenty of wood from the houses in the suburbs; which had been razed to the ground, for fear the enemy should get under cover of them, and make use of the wood; it did very well for repairing the breach. Everybody was hard at work carrying earth to repair it, day and night; MM. the princes, the seigneurs, and captains, lieutenants, ensigns, were all carrying the basket, to set an example to the soldiers and citizens to do the like, which they did; even the ladies and girls, and those who had not baskets, made use of cauldrons, panniers, sacks, sheets, and all such things to carry the earth; so that the enemy had no sooner broken down the wall than they found behind it a yet stronger rampart. The wall having fallen, our men cried out at those outside, Fox, fox, fox, and they vented a thousand insults against one another. M. de Guise forbade any man on pain of death to speak with those outside, for fear there should be some traitor who would betray what was being done within the town. After this order, our men tied live cats to the ends of their pikes, and put them over the wall and cried with the cats, Miaut, Miaut.
Truly the Imperials were much enraged, having been so long making a breach, at great loss, which was eighty paces wide, that fifty men of their front rank should enter in, only to find a rampart stronger than the wall. They threw themselves upon the poor cats, and shot them with arquebuses as men shoot at the popinjay.
Our men often ran out upon them, by order of M. de Guise; a few days ago, our men had all made haste to enroll themselves in sallying-parties, chiefly the young nobility, led by experienced captains; and indeed it was doing them a great favour to let them issue from the town and run upon the enemy. They went forth always an hundred or six score men, well armed with cutlasses, arquebuses, pistols, pikes, partisans, and halbards; and advanced as far as the trenches, to take the enemy unawares. Then an alarum would be sounded all through the enemys camp, and their drums would beat plan, plan, ta ti ta, ta ta ti ta, tou touf touf. Likewise their trumpets and clarions rang and sounded, To saddle, to saddle, to saddle, to horse, to horse, to horse, to saddle, to horse, to horse. And all their soldiers cried, Arm, arm, arm! to arms, to arms, to arms! arm, to arms, arm, to arms, arm:like the hue-and-cry after wolves; and all diverse tongues, according to their nations; and you saw them come out of their tents and little lodgings, as thick as little ants when you uncover the ant-hills, to bring help to their comrades, who were having their throats cut like sheep. Their cavalry also came from all sides at full gallop, patati, patata, patati, patata, pa, ta, ta, patata, pata, ta, eager to be in the thick of the fighting, to give and take their share of the blows. And when our men saw themselves hard pressed, they would turn back into the town, fighting all the way; and those pursuing them were driven back with cannon-shots, and the cannons were loaded with flint-stones and with big pieces of iron, square or three-sided. And our men on the wall fired a volley, and rained bullets on them as thick as hail, to send them back to their beds; whereas many remained dead on the field: and our men also did not all come back with whole skins, and there were always some left behind (as it were a tax levied on us) who were joyful to die on the bed of honour. And if there was a horse wounded, it was skinned and eaten by the soldiers, instead of beef and bacon; and if a man was wounded, I must run and dress him. Some days afterward there were other sallies, which infuriated the enemy, that we would not let him sleep a little in safety.
M. de Guise played a trick upon them: he sent a peasant, who was none of the wisest, with two letters to the King, and gave him ten crowns, and promised the King would give him an hundred if he got the letters to him. In the one letter M. de Guise told the King that the enemy shewed no signs of retreating, and had put forth all their strength and made a great breach, which he hoped to defend, even at the cost of his own life and of all who were in the town; and that the enemy had planted their artillery so well in a certain place (which he named) that it was with great difficulty he could keep them from entering the town, seeing it was the weakest place in the town; but soon he hoped to rebuild it well, so that they should not be able to enter. This letter was sewed in the lining of the mans doublet, and he was told to be very careful not to speak of it to any person. And the other letter was given to him, wherein M. de Guise told the King that he and all those besieged with him hoped to guard the town well; and other matters which I leave untold here. He sent out the man at night, and he was taken by the enemys guard and brought to the Duke of Alva, that the Duke might hear what was doing in the town; and the peasant was asked if he had any letters. He said Yes, and gave them the one; and they having seen it asked him if he had not another. He said No. Then he was searched, and they found on him that which was sewed in his doublet; and the poor messenger was hanged and strangled.
The letters were taken to the Emperor, who called his council, where it was resolved, since they had been unable to do anything at the first breach, the artillery should forthwith be set against the place which they thought weakest, where they put forth all their strength to make a fresh breach; and they sapped and mined the wall, and tried hard to make a way into the Hell Tower, but dared not assault it openly.
The Duke of Alva represented to the Emperor that every day their soldiers were dying, to the number of more than two hundred, and there was so little hope of entering the town, seeing the time of year and the great number of our soldiers who were in it. The Emperor asked what men they were who were dying, and whether they were gentlemen and men of mark; answer was made to him They were all poor soldiers. Then said he, It was no great loss if they died, comparing them to caterpillars, grasshoppers, and cockchafers, which eat up the buds and other good things of the earth; and if they were men of any worth they would not be in his camp at six livres the month, and therefore it was no great harm if they died. Moreover, he said he would never depart from the town till he had taken it by force or by famine, though he should lose all his army; because of the great number of princes who were shut up in it, with the greater part of the nobility of France, who he hoped would pay his expenses four times over; and he would go yet again to Paris, to see the Parisians, and to make himself King of all the kingdom of France.
M. de Guise, with the princes, captains, and soldiers, and in general all the citizens of the town, having heard the Emperors resolve to exterminate us all, forbade the soldiers and citizens, and even the princes and seigneurs, to eat fresh fish or venison, or partridges, woodcocks, larks, francolines, plovers, or other game, for fear these had acquired any pestilential air which could bring infection among us. So they had to content themselves with the fare of the army; biscuit, beef, salt cow-beef, bacon, cervelas, and Mayence hams; also fish, as haddock, salmon, shad, tunny, whale, anchovy, sardines, herrings; also peas, beans, rice, garlic, onions, prunes, cheeses, butter, oil, and salt; pepper, ginger, nutmegs and other spices to put in our pies, mostly of horses, which without the spice had a very bad taste. Many citizens, having gardens in the town, had planted them with fine radishes, turnips, carrots, and leeks, which they kept flourishing and very dear, for the extreme necessity of the famine. Now all these stores were distributed by weight, measure, and justice, according to the quality of the persons, because we knew not how long the siege would last. For after we heard the Emperors words, how he would not depart from before Metz, till he had taken it by force or by famine, the victuals were cut down; and what they used to distribute to three soldiers was given to four; and it was forbidden to them to sell the remains which might be left after their meals; but they might give them to the rabble. And they always rose from table with an appetite, for fear they should be subject to take physick.
And before we surrendered to the mercy of the enemy, we had determined to eat the asses, mules, and horses, dogs, cats, and rats, even our boots and collars, and other skins that we could have softened and stewed. And, in a word, all the besieged were resolved to defend themselves valiantly with all instruments of war; to set the artillery at the entry of the breach, and load with balls, stones, cart-nails, bars and chains of iron; also all sorts and kinds of artificial fires, as barricadoes, grenades, stink-pots, torches, squibs, fire-traps, burning faggots; with boiling water, melted lead, and lime, to put out the enemys eyes. Also, they were to make holes right through their houses, and put arquebusiers in them, to take the enemy in flank and hasten his going, or else give him stop then and there. Also they were to order the women to pull up the streets, and throw from their windows billets, tables, trestles, benches, and stools, to dash out the enemys brains. Moreover, a little within the breach, there was a great stronghold full of carts and palisades, tuns and casks; and barricades of earth to serve as gabions, interlaid with falconets, falcons, field-pieces, crooked arquebuses, pistols, arquebuses, and wild-fires, to break their legs and thighs, so that they would be taken from above and on the flank and from behind; and if they had carried this stronghold, there were others where the streets crossed, every hundred paces, which would have been as bad friends to them as the first, or worse, and would have made many widows and orphans. And if fortune had been so hard on us that they had stormed and broken up our strongholds, there would yet have been seven great companies, drawn up in square and in triangle, to fight them all at once, each led by one of the princes, for the better encouragement of our men to fight and die all together, even to the last breath of their souls. And all were resolved to bring their treasures, rings, and jewels, and their best and richest and most beautiful household stuffs, and burn them to ashes in the great square, lest the enemy should take them and make trophies of them. Also there were men charged to set fire to all the stores and burn them, and to stave in all the wine-casks; others to set fire to every single house, to burn the enemy and us together. The citizens thus were all of one mind, rather than see the bloody knife at their throats, and their wives and daughters ravished and taken by the cruel savage Spaniards.
Now we had certain prisoners, who had been made secretly to understand our last determination and desperation; these prisoners M. de Guise sent away on parole, who being come to their camp, lost no time in saying what we had told them; which restrained the great and vehement desire of the enemy, so that they were no longer eager to enter the town to cut our throats and enrich themselves with the spoils. The Emperor, having heard the decision of this great warrior, M. de Guise, put water in his wine, and restrained his fury; saying that he could not enter the town save with vast butchery and carnage, and shedding of much blood, both of those defending and of those attacking, and they would be all dead together, and in the end he would get nothing but ashes; and afterward men might say it was a like destruction to that of the town of Jerusalem, made of old time by Titus and Vespasian.
The Emperor thus having heard our last resolve, and seeing how little he had gained by his attack, sappings, and mines, and the great plague that was through all his camp, and the adverse time of the year, and the want of victuals and of money, and how his soldiers were disbanding themselves and going off in great companies, decided at last to raise the siege and go away, with the cavalry of his vanguard, and the greater part of the artillery and engines of war. The Marquis of Brandebourg was the last to budge from his place; he had with him some troops of Spaniards and Bohemians, and his German regiments, and there he stopped for a day and a half, to the great regret of M. de Guise, who brought four pieces of artillery out of the town, which he fired on him this side and that, to hurry him off: and off he went, sure enough, and all his men with him.
When he was a quarter of a league from Metz, he was seized with a panic lest our cavalry should fall upon his tail; so he set fire to his store of powder, and left behind him some pieces of artillery, and a quantity of baggage, which he could not take along with him, because their vanguard and their great cannons had broken and torn up the roads. Our cavalry were longing with all their hearts to issue from the town and attack him behind; but M. de Guise would never let them, saying on the contrary we had better make their way smooth for them, and build them gold and silver bridges to let them go; like the good pastor and shepherd, who will not lose one of his sheep.
That is how our dear and well-beloved Imperials went away from Metz, which was the day after Christmas Day, to the great content of those within the walls, and the praise of the princes, seigneurs, captains, and soldiers, who had endured the travail of this siege for more than two months. Nevertheless, they did not all go: there wanted more than twenty thousand of them, who were dead, from our artillery and the fighting, or from plague, cold, and starvation (and from spite and rage that they could not get into the town to cut our throats and plunder us): and many of their horses also died, the greater part whereof they had eaten instead of beef and bacon. We went where their camp had been, where we found many dead bodies not yet buried, and the earth all worked up, as one sees in the Cemetery of the Holy Innocents during some time of many deaths. In their tents, pavilions, and lodgings were many sick people. Also cannon-shot, weapons, carts, waggons, and other baggage, with a great quantity of soldiers bread, spoiled and rotted by the snows and rains (yet the soldiers had it but by weight and measure). Also they left a good store of wood, all that remained of the houses they had demolished and broken down in the villages for two or three leagues around; also many other pleasure-houses, that had belonged to our citizens, with gardens and fine orchards full of diverse fruittrees. And without all this, they would have been benumbed and dead of the cold, and forced to raise the siege sooner than they did.
M. de Guise had their dead buried, and their sick people treated. Also the enemy left behind them in the Abbey of Saint Arnoul many of their wounded soldiers, whom they could not possibly take with them. M. de Guise sent them all victuals enough, and ordered me and the other surgeons to go dress and physick them, which we did with good will; and I think they would not have done the like for our men. For the Spaniard is very cruel, treacherous, and inhuman, and so far enemy of all nations: which is proved by Lopez the Spaniard, and Benzo of Milan, and others who have written the history of America and the West Indies: who have had to confess that the cruelty, avarice, blasphemies, and wickedness of the Spaniards have utterly estranged the poor Indians from the religion that these Spaniards professed. And all write that they are of less worth than the idolatrous Indians, for their cruel treatment of these Indians.
And some days later M. de Guise sent a trumpet to Thionville to the enemy, that they could send for their wounded in safety: which they did with carts and waggons, but not enough. M. de Guise gave them carts and carters, to help to take them to Thionville. Our carters, when they returned, told us the roads were all paved with dead bodies, and they never got half the men there, for they died in their carts: and the Spaniards seeing them at the point of death, before they had breathed their last, threw them out of the carts and buried them in the mud and mire, saying they had no orders to bring back dead men. Moreover, our carters said they had found on the roads many carts stuck in the mud, full of baggage, for which the enemy dared not send back, lest we who were within Metz should run out upon them.
I would return to the reason why so many of them died; which was mostly starvation, the plague, and cold. For the snow was more than two feet deep upon the ground, and they were lodged in pits below the ground, covered only with a little thatch. Nevertheless, each soldier had his camp-bed, and a coverlet all strewed with stars, glittering and shining brighter than fine gold, and every day they had white sheets, and lodged at the sign of the Moon, and enjoyed themselves if only they had been able, and paid their host so well over night that in the morning they went off quits, shaking their ears: and they had no need of a comb to get the down and feathers out of their beards and hair, and they always found a white tablecloth, and would have enjoyed good meals but for want of food. Also the greater part of them had neither boots, half-boots, slippers, hose, nor shoes: and most of them would rather have none than any, because they were always in the mire up to mid-leg. And because they went bare-foot, we called them the Emperors Apostles.
After the camp was wholly dispersed, I distributed my patients into the hands of the surgeons of the town, to finish dressing them: then I took leave of M. de Guise, and returned to the King, who received me with great favour, and asked me how I had been able to make my way into Metz. I told him fully all that I had done. He gave me two hundred crowns, and an hundred which I had when I set out: and said he would never leave me poor. Then I thanked him very humbly for the good and the honour he was pleased to do me.