Journeys in Diverse Places

Author: Ambroise Pare

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The Emperor Charles laid siege to the town of Therouenne; and M. le Due de Savoie was General of his whole army. It was taken by assault: and there was a great number of our men killed and taken prisoners.

The King, wishing to prevent the enemy from besieging the town and castle of Hesdin also, sent thither MM. le Duc de Bouillon, le Duc Horace, le Marquis de Villars, and a number of captains, and about eighteen hundred soldiers: and during the siege of Therouenne, these Seigneurs fortified the castle of Hesdin, so that it seemed to be impregnable. The King sent me to the Seigneurs, to help them with my art, if they should come to have need of it.

Soon after the capture of Therouenne, we were besieged in Hesdin. There was a clear stream of running water within shot of our cannon, and about it were fourscore or an hundred of the enemy’s rabble, drawing water. I was on a rampart watching the enemy pitch their camp; and, seeing the crowd of idlers round the stream, I asked M. du Pont, commissary of the artillery, to send one cannon-shot among this canaille: he gave me a flat refusal, saying that all this sort of people was not worth the powder would be wasted on them. Again I begged him to level the cannon, telling him, "The more dead, the fewer enemies;" which he did for my sake: and the shot killed fifteen or sixteen, and wounded many. Our men made sorties against the enemy, wherein many were killed and wounded on both sides, with gunshot or with fighting hand to hand; and our men often sallied out before their trenches were made; so that I had my work cut out for me, and had no rest either day or night for dressing the wounded.

And here I would note that we had put many of them in a great tower, laying them on a little straw: and their pillows were stones, their coverlets were cloaks, those who had any. When the attack was made, so often as the enemy’s cannons were fired, our wounded said they felt pain in their wounds, as if you had struck them with a stick: one was crying out on his head, the other on his arm, and so with the other parts of the body: and many had their wounds bleed again, even more profusely than at the time they were wounded, and then I had to run to staunch them. Mon petit maistre, if you had been there, you would have been much hindered with your hot irons; you would have wanted a lot of charcoal to heat them red, and sure you would have been killed like a calf for your cruelty. Many died of the diabolical storm of the echo of these engines of artillery, and the vehement agitation and severe shock of the air acting on their wounds; others because they got no rest for the shouting and crying that were made day and night, and for want of good food, and other things needful for their treatment. Mon petit maistre, if you had been there, no doubt you could have given them jelly, restoratives, gravies, pressed meats, broth, barley-water, almond-milk, blanc-mange, prunes, plums, and other food proper for the sick; but your diet would have been only on paper, and in fact they had nothing but beef of old shrunk cows, seized round Hesdin for our provision, salted and half-cooked, so that he who would eat it must drag at it with his teeth, as birds of prey tear their food. Nor must I forget the linen for dressing their wounds, which was only washed daily and dried at the fire, till it was as hard as parchment: I leave you to think how their wounds could do well. There were four big fat rascally women who had charge to whiten the linen, and were kept at it with the stick; and yet they had not water enough to do it, much less soap. That is how the poor patients died, for want of food and other necessary things.

One day the enemy feigned a general attack, to draw our soldiers into the breach, that they might see what we were like: every man ran thither. We had made a great store of artificial fires to defend the breach; a priest of M. le Duc de Bouillon took a grenade, thinking to throw it at the enemy, and lighted it before he ought: it burst, and set fire to all our store, which was in a house near the breach. This was a terrible disaster for us, because it burned many poor soldiers; it even caught the house, and we had all been burned, but for help given to put it out; there was only one well in the castle with any water in it, and this was almost dry, and we took beer to put it out instead of water; afterward we were in great want of water, and to drink what was left we must strain it through napkins.

The enemy, seeing the explosion and violence of the fires, which made a wonderful flame and thundering, thought we had lit them on purpose to defend the breach, and that we had many more of them. This made them change their minds, to have us some other way than by attack: they dug mines, and sapped the greater part of our walls, till they came near turning our castle altogether upside down; and when the sappers had finished their work, and their artillery was fired, all the castle shook under our feet like an earthquake, to our great astonishment. Moreover, they had levelled five pieces of artillery, which they had placed on a little hillock, so as to have us from behind when we were gone to defend the breach. M. le Duc Horace had a cannonshot on the elbow, which carried off his arm one way and his body the other, before he could say a single word; his death was a great disaster to us, for the high rank that he held in the town. Also M. de Martigues had a gunshot wound which pierced his lungs: I dressed him, as I shall tell hereafter.

Then we asked leave to speak with the enemy; and a trumpet was sent to the Prince of Piedmont, to know what terms he would give us. He answered that all the leaders, such as gentlemen, captains, lieutenants, and ensigns, would be taken prisoners for ransom, and the soldiers would leave the town without their arms; and if we refused this fair and honest offer, we might rest assured they would take us next day, by attack or otherwise.

A council was held, to which I was called, to know if I would sign the surrender of the town; with many captains, gentlemen, and others. I answered it was not possible to hold the town, and I would sign the surrender with my own blood, for the little hope I had we could resist the enemy’s forces, and for the great longing I had to be out of this hell and utter torture; for I slept neither night nor day for the great number of the wounded, who were about two hundred. The dead were advanced in putrefaction, piled one upon the other like faggots, and not covered with earth, because we had none. And if I went into a soldier’s lodging, there were soldiers waiting for me at the door when I came out, for me to dress others; it was who should have me, and they carried me like the body of a saint, with my feet off the ground, fighting for me. I could not satisfy this great number of wounded: nor had I got what I wanted for their treatment. For it is not enough that the surgeon do his duty toward his patients, but the patient also must do his; and the assistants, and external things, must work together for him: see Hippocrates, Aphorism the First.

Having heard that we were to surrender the place, I knew our business was not prospering; and for fear of being known, I gave a velvet coat, a satin doublet, and a cloak of fine cloth trimmed with velvet, to a soldier; who gave me a bad doublet all torn and ragged with wear, and a frayed leather collar, and a bad hat, and a short cloak; I dirtied the neck of my shirt with water mixed with a little soot, I rubbed my hose with a stone at the knees and over the heels, as though they had been long worn, I did the same to my shoes, till one would have taken me for a chimney- sweep rather than a King’s surgeon. I went in this gear to M. de Martigues, and prayed him to arrange I should stop with him to dress him; which he granted very willingly, and was as glad I should be near him as I was myself.

Soon afterward, the commissioners who were to select the prisoners entered the castle, the seventeenth day of July, 1553. They took prisoners MM. le Due de Bouillon, le Marquis de Villars, de Roze, le Baron de Culan, M. du Pont, commissary of the artillery, and M. de Martigues; and me with him, because he asked them; and all the gentlemen who they knew could pay ransom, and most of the soldiers and the leaders of companies; so many and such prisoners as they wished. And then the Spanish soldiers entered by the breach, unresisted; our men thought they would keep their faith and agreement that all lives should be spared. They entered the town in a fury to kill, plunder, and ravage everything: they took a few men, hoping to have ransom for them. ... If they saw they could not get it, they cruelly put them to death in cold blood. ... And they killed them all with daggers, and cut their throats. Such was their great cruelty and treachery; let him trust them who will.

To return to my story: when I was taken from the castle into the town, with M. de Martigues, there was one of M. de Savoie’s gentlemen, who asked me if M. de Martigues’s wound could be cured. I told him no, that it was incurable: and off he went to tell M. le Due de Savoie. I bethought myself they would send physicians and surgeons to dress M. de Martigues; and I argued within myself if I ought to play the simpleton, and not let myself be known for a surgeon, lest they should keep me to dress their wounded, and in the end I should be found to be the King’s surgeon, and they would make me pay a big ransom. On the other hand, I feared, if I did not show I was a surgeon and had dressed M. de Martigues skilfully, they would cut my throat. Forthwith I made up my mind to show them he would not die for want of having been well dressed and nursed.

Soon after, sure enough, there came many gentlemen, with the Emperor’s physician, and his surgeon, and those belonging to M. de Savoie, and six other surgeons of his army, to see M. de Martigues’s wound, and to know of me how I had dressed and treated it. The Emperor’s physician bade me declare the essential nature of the wound, and what I had done for it. And all his assistants kept their ears wide open, to know if the wound were or were not mortal. I commenced my discourse to them, how M. Martigues, looking over the wall to mark those who were sapping it, was shot with an arquebus through the body, and I was called of a sudden to dress him. I found blood coming from his mouth and from his wounds. Moreover, he bad a great difficulty of breathing in and out, and air came whistling from the wounds, so that it would have put out a candle; and he said he had a very great stabbing pain where the bullet had entered. ... I withdrew some scales of bone, and put in each wound a tent with a large head, fastened with a thread, lest on inspiration it should be drawn into the cavity of the chest; which has happened with surgeons, to the detriment of the poor wounded; for being fallen in, you cannot get them out; and then they beget corruption, being foreign bodies. The tents were anointed with a preparation of yolk of egg, Venice turpentine, and a little oil of roses. ... I put over the wounds a great plaster of diachylum, wherewith I had mixed oil of roses, and vinegar, to avoid inflammation. Then I applied great compresses steeped in oxycrate, and bandaged him, not too tight, that he might breathe easily. Next, I drew five basons of blood from his right arm, considering his youth and his sanguine temperament. ... Fever took him, soon after he was wounded, with feebleness of the heart. ... His diet was barley- water, prunes with sugar, at other times broth: his drink was a ptisane. He could lie only on his back. ... What more shall I say? but that my Lord de Martigues never had an hour’s rest after he was wounded. ... These things considered, Gentlemen, no other prognosis is possible, save that he will die in a few days, to my great grief.

Having finished my discourse, I dressed him as I was accustomed. When I displayed his wounds, the physicians and surgeons, and other assistants present, knew the truth of what I had said. The physicians, having felt his pulse and seen that the vital forces were depressed and spent, agreed with me that in a few days he would die. Then they all went to the Duc de Savoie, and told him M. de Martigues would die in a short time. He answered them, "Possibly, if he had been well dressed, he might have escaped death." Then they all with one voice said he had been very well dressed and cared for altogether, and it could not be better, and it was impossible to cure him, and his wound was of necessity mortal. Then M. de Savoie was very angry with them, and cried, and asked them again if for certain they all held his case hopeless: they answered, yes.

Then a Spanish impostor came forward, who promised on his life to cure him; and if he did not, they should cut him in an hundred pieces; but he would have no physicians, nor surgeons nor apothecaries with him: and M. le Duc de Savoie forthwith bade the physicians and surgeons not go near M. de Martigues; and sent a gentleman to bid me, under pain of death, not so much as to touch him. Which I promised, and was very glad, for now he would not die under my hands; and the impostor was told to dress him, and to have with him no other physicians or surgeons, but only himself. By and bye he came, and said to M. de Martigues, "Senor Cavallero, M. de Savoie has bid me come and dress your wound. I swear to God, before eight days I will set you on horseback, lance in hand, provided none touch you but I alone. You shall eat and drink whatever you like. I will be dieted instead of you; and you may trust me to perform what I promise. I have cured many who had worse wounds than yours." And the Seigneurs answered him, "God give you His grace for it."

He asked for a shirt of M. de Martigues, and tore it in little strips, which he laid cross-wise, muttering and murmuring certain words over the wounds: having done this much for him, he let him eat and drink all he would, saying he himself would be dieted in his stead; which he did, eating but six prunes and six morsels of bread for dinner, and drinking only beer. Nevertheless, two days later, M. de Martigues died: and my friend the Spaniard, seeing him at the point of death, eclipsed himself, and got away without good-bye to any man. And I believe if he had been caught he would have been hanged and strangled, for the false promise he made to M. le Due de Savoie and many other gentlemen. M. de Martigues died about ten o’clock in the morning; and after dinner M. de Savoie sent the physicians and surgeons, and his apothecary, with a store of drugs to embalm him. They came with many gentlemen and captains of his army.

The Emperor’s surgeon came to me, and asked me in a very friendly way to make, the embalmment; which I refused, saying that I was not worthy to carry his instrument-box after him. He begged me again to do it to please him, and that he would be very glad of it...Seeing his kindness, and fearing to displease him, I then decided to show them the anatomist that I was, expounding to them many things, which would here be too long to recite... Our discourse finished, I embalmed the body; and it was placed in a coffin. Then the Emperor’s surgeon drew me aside, and told me, if I would stop with him, he would treat me well, and give me a new suit of clothes, and set me on horseback. I gave him many thanks, and said I had no wish to serve any country but my own. Then he told me I was a fool, and if he were a prisoner as I was, he would serve a devil to get his freedom. In the end I told him flat I would not stop with him. The Emperor’s physician then went back to M. de Savoie, and explained to him the causes of M. de Martigues’ death, and that it was impossible for all the men in the world to have cured him; and assured him again I had done all that was to be done, and besought him to take me into his service; saying much more good of me than there was. He having been persuaded to do this, sent to me one of his stewards, M. du Bouchet, to tell me, if I would serve him, he would use me well; I sent back my very humble thanks, and that I had decided not to take service under any foreigner. When he heard my answer he was very angry, and said I ought to be sent to the galleys.

M. de Vaudeville, Governor of Graveline, and colonel of seventeen ensigns of infantry, asked him to send me to him, to dress an old ulcer on his leg, that he had had for six or seven years. M. de Savoie said he was willing, so far as I was concerned; and if I used the cautery to his leg, it would serve him right. M. de Vaudeville answered, if he saw me trying it, he would have my throat cut. Soon after, he sent for me four German halberdiers of his guard; and I was terrified, for I did not know where they were taking me: they spoke no more French than I German. When I was come to his lodging, he bade me welcome, and said, now I belonged to him; and so soon as I had healed him, he would let me go without ransom. I told him I had no means to pay any ransom. He called his physician and his surgeon-in-ordinary, to show me his leg; and when we had examined it, we withdrew into a room, where I began my discourse to them. ... Then the physician left me with the surgeon, and went back to M. de Vaudeville, and said he was sure I could cure him, and told him all I had decided to do; which pleased him vastly. He sent for me, and asked if I thought I could cure him; I said yes, if he were obedient to what was necessary. He promised to do only what I wished and ordered; and so soon as he was healed, he would let me go home without ransom. Then I asked him to make better terms with me, saying it was too long to wait for my liberty: in fifteen days I hoped his ulcer would be less than half its present size, and give no pain; then his own surgeon and physician could finish the cure. He granted this to me. Then I took a piece of paper to measure the size of the ulcer, and gave it to him, and kept another by me; I asked him to keep his promise, when I had done my work; he swore by the faith of a gentleman he would. Then I set myself to dress him properly, after the manner of Galen. ... He wished to know if it were true, what I said of Galen, and bade his physician look to it, for he would know it for himself; he had the book put on the table, and found that what I said was true; so the physician was ashamed, and I was glad. Within the fifteen days, it was almost all healed; and I began to feel happy about the compact made between us. He had me to eat and drink at his table, when there were no more great persons than he and I only. He gave me a big red scarf which I must wear; which made me feel something like a dog when they give him a clog, to stop him eating the grapes in the vineyards. His physician and surgeon took me through the camp to visit their wounded; and I took care to observe what our enemy was doing. I found they had no more great cannons, but only twenty-five or thirty field-pieces.

M. de Vaudeville held prisoner M. de Bauge, brother of M. de Martigues who died at Hesdin. M. de Bauge was prisoner at Chateau de La Motte au Bois, belonging to the Emperor; he had been captured at Therouenne by two Spanish soldiers; and M. de Vaudeville, when he saw him there, concluded he must be some gentleman of good family: he made him pull off his stockings, and seeing his clean legs and feet, and his fine white stockings, knew he was one to pay a good ransom. He told the soldiers he would give them thirty crowns down for their prisoner: they agreed gladly, for they had no place to keep him, nor food for him, nor did they know his value: so they gave their man into his hands, and he sent him off at once, guarded by four of his own soldiers, to Chateau de La Motte au Bois, with others of our gentlemen who were prisoners.

M. de Bauge would not tell who he was; and endured much hardship, living on bread and water, with a little straw for his bed. When Hesdin was taken, M. de Vaudeville sent the news of it to him and to the other prisoners, and the list of the killed, and among them M. de Martigues: and when M. de Bauge heard with his own ears his brother was dead, he fell to crying, weeping, and lamentation. His guards asked him why he was so miserable: he told them, for love of M. de Martigues, his brother. When he heard this, the captain of the castle sent straight to tell M. de Vaudeville he had a good prisoner: who was delighted at this, and sent me next day with four soldiers, and his own physician, to the castle, to say that if M. de Bauge would pay him fifteen thousand crowns ransom, he would send him home free: and he asked only the security of two Antwerp merchants that he should name. M. de Vaudeville persuaded me I should commend this offer to his prisoner: that is why he sent me to the castle. He told the captain to treat him well and put him in a room with hangings, and strengthen his guard: and from that time onward they made a great deal of him, at the expense of M. de Vaudeville.

M. de Bauge answered that he could not pay his ransom himself: it depended on M. d’ Estampes his uncle, and Mlle. de Bressure his aunt: he had no means to pay such a ransom. I went back with my guards, and gave this answer to M. de Vaudeville; who said, "Possibly he will not get away so cheap": which was true, for they knew who he was. Then the Queen of Hungary and M. le Duc de Savoie sent word to M. de Vaudeville that this mouthful was too big for him, and he must send his prisoner to them (which he did), and he had other prisoners enough without him. The ransom paid was forty thousand crowns, without other expenses.

On my way back to M. de Vaudeville, I passed by Saint Omer, where I saw their great cannons, most of which were fouled and broken. Also I passed by Therouenne, where I saw not one stone left on another, save a vestige of the great church: for the Emperor ordered the country people for five or six leagues round to clear and take away the stones; so that now you may drive a cart over the town: and the same at Hesdin, and no trace of castle and fortress. Such is the evil that wars bring with them.

To return to my story; M. de Vaudeville soon got the better of his ulcer, and was nearly healed: so he let me go, and sent me by a trumpet, with passport, as far as Abbeville. I posted from here, and went to find my master, King Henry, at Aufimon, who received me gladly and with good favour. He sent MM. de Guise, the Constable, and d’ Estres, to hear from me the capture of Hesdin; and I made them a true report, and assured them I had seen the great cannons they had taken to Saint Omer: and the King was glad, for he had feared the enemy would come further into France. He gave me two hundred crowns to take me home: and I was thankful to be free, out of this great torment and thunder of the diabolical artillery, and away from the soldiers, blasphemers and deniers of God. I must add that after Hesdin was taken, the King was told I was not killed but taken prisoner. He made M. Goguier, his chief physician, write to my wife that I was living, and she was not to be unhappy, and he would pay my ransom.


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Chicago: Ambroise Pare, "The Journey to Hesdin. 1553," Journeys in Diverse Places, ed. Charles W. Eliot and trans. Stephen Paget in Journeys in Diverse Places (New York: P. F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1910), Original Sources, accessed March 29, 2023,

MLA: Pare, Ambroise. "The Journey to Hesdin. 1553." Journeys in Diverse Places, edited by Charles W. Eliot, and translated by Stephen Paget, in Journeys in Diverse Places, Vol. 38, New York, P. F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1910, Original Sources. 29 Mar. 2023.

Harvard: Pare, A, 'The Journey to Hesdin. 1553' in Journeys in Diverse Places, ed. and trans. . cited in 1910, Journeys in Diverse Places, P. F. Collier & Son Corporation, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 29 March 2023, from