Volume 1, Chapter 6 -- Travels of an Englishman into Tartary, and thence into Poland, Hungary, and Germany, in 1243.[1]

This earliest remaining direct account of the Tartars, or Mongols receiving that name, which is extremely short and inconclusive, is recorded by Matthew Paris, in a letter from Yvo de Narbonne to the archbishop of Bourdeaux, and is here given as a literary curiosity.

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Provoked by the sins of the Christians, the Lord hath become as it were a destroying enemy, and a dreadful avenger; having sent among us a prodigiously numerous, most barbarous, and inhuman people, whose law is lawless, and whose wrath is furious, even as the rod of God's anger, overrunning and utterly ruining infinite countries, and cruelly destroying every thing where they come with fire and sword. This present summer, that nation which is called Tartars, leaving Hungary, which they had surprised by treason, laid siege, with many thousand soldiers, to the town of Newstadt, in which I then dwelt, in which there were not above fifty men at arms, and twenty cross-bow-men, left in garrison. All these observing from certain high places the vast army of the enemy, and abhorring the beastly cruelty of the accomplices of Antichrist, signified to the governor the hideous lamentations of his Christian subjects, who, in all the adjoining provinces, were surprised and cruelly destroyed, without any respect of rank, fortune, age, or sex. The Tartarian chieftains, and their brutishly savage followers, glutted themselves with the carcasses of the inhabitants, leaving nothing for the vultures but the bare bones; and strange to tell, the greedy and ravenous vultures disclaimed to prey on the remains left by the Tartars. Old and deformed women they gave for daily sustenance to their cannibals: The young and beautiful they devoured hot, but smothered them shrieking and lamenting under their forced and unnatural ravishments; and cutting off the breasts of tender virgins to present as dainties to their leaders, they fed themselves upon their bodies.

Their spies having descried from the top of a high mountain the Duke of Austria, the King of Bohemia, the Patriarch of Aquileia, the Duke of Carindiia, and as some say, the Earl of Baden, approaching with a mighty power towards them, the accursed crew immediately retired into the distressed and vanquished land of Hungary, departing as suddenly as they had invaded, and astonishing all men by the celerity of their motions. The prince of Dalmatia took eight of the fugitives, one of whom was recognized, by the Duke of Austria as an Englishman, who had been perpetually banished from England for certain crimes. This man had been sent twice as a messenger and interpreter from the most tyrannical king of the Tartars to the king of Hungary, menacing and fortelling those mischiefs which afterwards happened, unless he would submit himself and his kingdom to the yoke of the Tartars. Being urged by our princes to confess, the truth, this man made such oaths and protestations, as I think might have served to make even the devil be trusted.

He reported of himself, that presently after his banishment, being then about thirty years of age, and having lost all he possessed at dice in the city of Acon[2] he set off from thence, in the middle of winter, wearing nothing but a shirt of sacking, a pair of shoes, and a hairy cap; and, being shaven like a fool, he uttered an uncouth noise, as if he had been dumb, and wandered about through many countries in search of food. At length, through fatigue, and change of air and diet, he fell grievously sick in Chaldea, insomuch that he was weary of his life. Being compelled to remain there a long time to recover his strength, and having some learning, he began to write down the words he heard spoken, and in a short time made himself so much master of the language, as to be reputed a native; and in this manner he attained expertness in many languages. The Tartars got notice of this man by means of their spies, and drew him by force among them; and, having been admonished by an oracle or vision to extend their dominion over the whole earth, they allured him by many offers of reward, to serve them as an interpreter. He gave the following account of the manners and superstitions of the Tartars, of the disposition and stature of their bodies, and of their country and manner of fighting.

The Tartars are covetous, irascible, deceitful, and merciless, beyond all men; yet, through the rigour of discipline which is exercised by their superiors, they are restrained from brawls and mutual strife. They esteem the ancient founders and fathers of their tribes as Gods, in whose honour they celebrate solemn feasts at certain fixed times; and these deities are very numerous, though only four are considered as general gods of the nation. They consider all things as created for their sole use, and do not therefore think themselves cruel or unjust in wasting and destroying the surrounding nations, whom they esteem rebels against their legitimate authority. Their bodies, though lean, are hardy and strong, with broad chests, and square high shoulders, strong, well knit joints and firm sinews, thick and large thighs, with short legs, so that, being equal to us in stature, what they want in their legs is supplied in the upper part of their bodies. Their faces are pale, with short flat noses, their eyes black and inconstant, having large eyebrows, extending down to the nose; long sharp chins, their upper jaws low and declining, their teeth long and thin, their countenances distorted, fierce and terrible.

In ancient times their country, which is situated far beyond Chaldea, was utterly waste and barren, from whence they have expelled the lions, bears, and other wild beasts. Of the tanned hides of beasts they make for themselves light but impenetrable armour, and their backs are only slightly armed, that they may not flee in battle. They use small but strong horses, which are maintained with little provender. In fight they use javelins, maces, battle-axes, and swords, but are particularly expert in the use of bows and arrows. When engaged in battle they never retire till they see the chief standard of their general give back. When vanquished they ask no quarter, and in victory they shew no compassion; and though many millions in number, they all persist as one man, in resolving to subdue the whole world under their dominion. They have 60,000 couriers who are sent before upon light horses to prepare a place for the army to encamp, and these will gallop in one night as far as our troops can march in three days. When they invade a country, they suddenly diffuse themselves over the whole land, surprising the people unarmed, unprovided, and dispersed, and make such horrible slaughter and devastation, that the king or prince of the invaded land cannot collect a sufficient force to give them battle.

Sometimes they say, they intend to go to Cologne to bring home the three wise kings into their own country; sometimes they propose to punish the avarice and pride of the Romans, who formerly oppressed them; sometimes to conquer the barbarous nations of the north; sometimes to moderate the fury of the Germans with their own mildness; sometimes in derision they say that they intend going in pilgrimage to the shrine of St James in Galicia. By means of these pretences, some indiscreet governors of provinces have entered into league with them, and have, granted them free passage through their territories; but which leagues they have ever violated, to the certain ruin and destruction of these princes and their unhappy countries.

[1] Hakluyt, I, 22.
[2] Acre, in Palestine--E.


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