Hawkwood, Sir John

, a brave officer of the four, teenth century, has been slightly noticed by his contemporaries at home, and would not have been brought into a conspicuous point of view but for the engraved portrait of him presented to the society of antiquaries in 1775, by lord Hailes. He is said, by the concurrent testimony of our writers, to have been the son of a tanner of Sible Hedingham, in Essex, where he was born in the reign of Edward II. Mr. Morant says, the manor of Hawk wood in. that parish takes its name from sir John. But it was holden before him by Stephen Hawkwood, probably his father, a circumstance which would lead one to doubt the meanness of his birth as well as his profession. Persons who gave names to manors were generally of more considerable rank: and the manor appears to have been in the family from the time of king John.

Our hero is said to have been put apprentice to a tailor in London: “but soon,” says Fuller, “turned his needle into a sword, and his thimble into a shield,” being prest into the service of Edward III. for his French wars, where he behaved himself so valiantly, that from a common soldier he was promoted to the rank of captain; and for some farther good service had the honour of knighthood conferred on him by that king, though he was accounted the poorest knight in the army. His general, the black prince, highly esteemed him for his valour and conduct, of which he gave extraordinary proofs at the battle of Poictiers.

Upon the conclusion of the peace between the English and French by the treaty of Bretigni 1360, sir John, finding his estate too small to support his title and dignity, associated himself with certain companies called, by Froissart, “Les Tard Venus;” by Walsingham, “Magna Comitiva.” These were formed by persons of various nations, who, having hitherto found employment in the wars between England and France, and having held governments, or built and fortified ho.uses in the latter kingdom which, they were now obliged to give up, found themselves reduced to this desperate method of supporting themselves and their soldiers by marauding and pillaging, or by en-, gaging in the service of less states, which happened to be at war with each other. Villani, indeed, charges Edward III. with secretly authorizing these ravages in France, while outwardly he affected a strict observance of the peace. At this time, in the summer, continues this | historian, ah English tailor, named John della Guglea, that is, John of the needle, who had distinguished himself iri the war, began to form a company of marauders, and collected a number of English, who delighted in mischief, and hoped to live by plunder, surprizing and pillaging first one town, and then another. This company increased so much that they became the terror of the whole country. All who had not fortified places to defend them were forced to treat with him, and furnish him with provision and money, for which he promised them his protection. The effect of this was, that in a few months he acquired great wealth. Having also received an accession of followers and power, he roved from one country to another, till at length he came to the Po. There he made all who came in his way prisoners. The clergy he pillaged, but let the laity go without injury. The court of Rome was greatly alarmed at these proceedings, and made preparations to oppose these banditti. Upon the arrival of certain Englishmen on the banks of the Po, Hawkwood resigned his command to them, and professed submission to the king of England, to whose servants he presented a large share of his ill-gotten wealth.

The first appearance of Hawkwood in Italy-was in the 1*isan service in 1364; after which period he was every where considered as a most accomplished soldier, and fought, as different occasions presented themselves, in the service of many of the Italian states. In 1387 we find him engaged in a hazardous service in defence of the state of Florence. The earl of Armagnac, the Florentine general, having been lately defeated by Venni, the governor of the Siannese, the victors marched to surprize Hawkwood, and encamped within a mile and a half of him. But this cautious general retreated into the Cremonese, and when by several skirmishes he had amused the enemy, who kept within a mile of him, and thought to force his camp, he sallied out and repulsed them with loss. This success a little discouraged them. Venni is said to have sent Hawkwood a fox in a cage, alluding to his situation; to which Hawkwood returned for answer, “the fox knew how to find his way out.” This he did by retreating to the river Oglio, placing his best horse in the rear till the enemy had crossed the river, on whose opposite bank he placed 400 English archers on horseback. The rear by their assistance crossed the river and followed the rest, | who, after fording the Mincio, encamped within ten miles of the Adige. The greatest danger remained here. The enemy had broken down the banks of the river, and let out its waters, swoln by the melting of the snow and mountains to overflow the plains. Hawkwood’s troops, surprized at midnight by the increasing floods, had no resource but immediately to mount their horses, and, leaving all their baggage behind them, marched in the morning slowly through the water, which came up to their horses bellies. By evening, with great difficulty, they gained Baldo, a town in the Paduan. Some of the weaker horses sunk under the fatigue. Many of the foot perished with cold, and struggling against the water; many supported themselves by laying hold on the tails of the stronger horses. Notwithstanding every precaution, many of the cavalry were lost as well as their horses. The pursuers, seeing the country under water, and concluding the whole army had perished, returned back. The historian observes, that it was universally agreed no other general could have got over so many difficulties and dangers, and led back his small army out of the heart of the enemy’s country, with no other loss than that occasioned by the floods, which no precaution could have prevented. One of the most celebrated actions of Hawkwood’s life, says Muratori, was this treat, performed with so much prudence and art, that ! deserves to be paralleled with the most illustrious Roman generals; having, to the disgrace of an enemy infinitely superior in number, and in spite of all obstructions from the rivers, given them the slip, and brought off his army safe to Castel Baldo, on the borders of the Paduan. Sir John Hawkwood, as soon as he found himself among his allies, employed himself in refreshing his troop and watching the enemy’s motions.

At the end of 1391 the Florentines made peace with Galeazzo and the rest of their enemies, though on disadvantageous terms. To reduce the expences of the state, they discharged their foreign auxiliaries, except Hawkwood, of whose valour and fidelity they had had such repeated proofs, with 1000 men under his command.

Peace being now re-established abroad, the city of Florence was, in 1393, distracted with civil feuds, which were not terminated by the execution and exile of some principal citizens. But at the close of this year they sustained a greater loss in sir John Hawkwood, who died | March 6, advanced in years, at his house in the street called PulveYosa, near Florence. His funeral was celebrated with -reat magnificence, and the general lamentation of the whole city. His bier, adorned with gold and jewels, was supported by the first persons of the republic, followed by horses in gilded trappings, banners, and other military ensigns, and the whole body of the citizens. His remains were deposited in the church of St. Repar.ita, where a statue (as Poggio and Rossi call it, though it is well known to be a portrait) of him on horseback was put np by a public decree. If the Florentine historians did not distinguish between a statue and a portrait, no wonder our countryman Stowe talks of an “image as great as a mighty pillar,” erecteci to the memory of sir John Hawkwood at Florence or that Weever, copying him, calls it “a statue.

In the representation of this hero painted on the dome of the church, he appears mounted on a pacing gelding, whose bridle, with the square ornament embossed on it, is covered with crimson velvet or cloth, and the saddle is red, stuffed or quilted. He is dressed in armour with a surcoat flowing on from his shoulders, but girt about his body; his greaves are covered with silk or cloth, but the kneepieces may be distinguished under them: his shoes, which are probably part of his greaves, are pointed according to the fashion of the times. His hands are bare in his right he holds a yellow baton of office, which rests on his thigh in his left the bridle. His head, which has very short hair, is covered with a cap not unlike our earls’ coronets, with a border of wrought work.

Sir John had a cenotaph in the church of his native town, erected by his executors Robert Rokeden senior and junior, and John Coe. It is described by Weever, as “a tomb arched over, and engraven to the likeness of hawks flying in a wood,” which, Fuller says, was “quite flown away.” It is plain the last of these writers never took any pains to visit or procure true information about this monument, which still remains in good preservation near the upper end of the fourth aile of Sible Hedingham church. The arch of this tomb is of the mixed kind, terminating in a sort of bouquet, on both sides of which, over the arch, are smaller arches of tracery in relief. The arch is adorned with hawks and their bells, and other emblems of hunting, as, a hare, a boar, a boy sounding a conch-shell, &c. The | two pillars that support it are charged with a dragon and lion. Under this arch is a low altar-tomb with five shields in quatrefoils, formerly painted. In the south window of the chantry chapel, at the east end of this aile, are painted hawks, hawks bells, and escallops, which last are part of the Hawkwood arms, as the first were probably the crest, as well as a rebus of the name; and we find a hawk volant on sir John’s seal. In the north and west side of the tower are two very neat hawks on perches in relief, in rondeaux hollowed in the wall: that over the west door is extremely well preserved. They probably denote that some of the family built the tower. Mr. Morant imagines some of them rebuilt this church about the reign of Edward III. but none appear to have been in circumstances equal to such munificence before our hero; and perhaps his heirs were the rebuilders.

Contemporary and succeeding writers agree in their praises of this illustrious general. Both friends and enemies considered him as one of the greatest soldiers of his age. Poggio styles him “rei militaris scientia clarus, et bello assuetus,” “dux sagax,” “dux prudens,” “tantus dux,” “rei bellicae peritissimus,” fl ad belli officia prudentissimus,“” expertae virtutis et fidei;“epithets these which might serve instead of a particular character. Muratori calls him,” II prodeet il accortissimo capitano." As he had been formed under the Black Prince, it is not to be wondered that his army became the most exact school of martial discipline, in which were trained many captains, who afterwards rose to great eminence.

The circumstances of the times must make an apology for the frequent changes of his service, which led him to engage as suited his interest. He was a soldier of fortune; and his abilities in the field occasioned him to be couned by different rival states. The Florentines offered the best terms, and to them he ever after adhered with an irreproachable fidelity. His chanty appears in his joining with several persons of quality in this kingdom, in founding the English hospital at Rome for the entertainment of poor travellers. 1


Life, by Mr. Gojigh, in Bibl. Topog. Brit. No. I V. Shepherd’s Life of Poggio, p, 18.