Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

Nicholas Clifford kills a French squire who had challenged him

Soon after the breaking up of the Earl of Buckingham's expedition, some English knights ride through French territory towards Cherbourg.

Book II, ch. 161 (Johnes, v. 1, pp. 634-36).  We will now speak of certain knight and squires who returned to Cherbourg by land, and relate what befel them on their road.  The constable of France, who at that time resided at Château Josselin, seven leagues from Vannes, had granted passports to some English and Navarre knights of the garrison of Cherbourg, who had served under the earl of Buckingham.  Among others were sir John Harlestone, governor of Cherbourg, sir Evan Fitzwarren, sir William Clinton and sir John Burley.  They set out from Vannes, following the road to the town below the castle, not intending more than to dine and continue their journey.  When they had dismounted at the inn, like travellers who wished to repose themselves, the knights and squires of the castle came to visit them as brother-soldiers, who always see each other with pleasure, particularly the French and the English.

Among the French, there was a squire of great renown in arms, who belonged to John de Bourbon, count de la Marche, the nearest to his person of all his squires, and whom he loved the most:  his name was John Boucmel.  He had formerly been in garrison in Valogne with sir William des Bordes, and in his expedition against Cherbourg.   During that time, he had often had words with an English squire, called Nicholas Clifford, who was then present, respecting a tilting match.

In the course of the conversation with these French knights and squires held at the inn with the English, John Boucmel, recollecting Clifford, cried out, --"Nicholas Clifford!  Ah!  Nicholas, Nicholas, we have often wished and sought to perform a tilting match; but we never could find fit opportunity or place for it.  Now, as we are here before my lord constable and these gentlemen, let us perform it:  I therefore demand from you three courses with a lance."

"John," replied Nicholas, "you know that we are here but as travellers on our road, under the passport of my lord constable :  what you ask from me cannot now be complied with, for I am not the principal in the passport, but under the command of these knights whom you see:  if I were to stay behind, they would set out without me."

"Ha, Nicholas, do not make such excuses as these:  let your friends depart, if they please, for I give you my promise, that as soon as our tilt shall be over, I will conduct you myself within the gates of Cherbourg without loss or peril, as I can depend on my lord constable's good will."

Nicholas said, -- "Now suppose it to be as you say, and that I place my confidence in being safely conducted by you, yet you see we are travelling through the country without arms of any sort:  therefore, if I were willing to arm myself, I have not wherewithal to do so."

John replied, -- "You shall not excuse yourself that way, for I will tell you what I will do:  I have plenty of arms at my command, and will order different sorts ot be brought to the place where we shall tilt; and, when all are laid  out, you shall examine them, and consider which will suit you best:  for I will leave the choice to you, and , when you shall have chosen, I will then arm myself."

When Nicholas saw himself so earnestly pressed, he was ashamed that those present should have heard it, and thought, that since John made such handsome offers, he could not in honour refuse them; for John still added, "Make whatever arrangements you please, I will agree to them sooner than we should not have a tilting match."

Nicholas then said, he would consider of it; and before his departure he would make him acquainted with his resolution; adding, "if it will not be possible for me to comply with your request at this place, and if my lords, under whom I am, should be unwilling to assent to it, on my return to Cherbourg, if you will come to Valogne, and signify to me your arrival, I will immediately hasten thither, and deliver you from your engagement."

"No, no," said John, "seek not for excuses:  I have offered you such handsome proposals, that you cannot in honour depart without running a tilt with me, according to the demand I make."

Nicholas was more enraged than before; for he thought, and true it was, that he, by such a speech, greatly outraged his honour.  Upon this, the French returned to the castle, and the English to their inn, where they dined.

When these knights had got to the castle, you may suppose they were not silent on the words which had passed between John Boucmel and Nicholas Clifford, insomuch that the constable heard of them.   He considered a short time; and when the knights and squires of the country who were with him entreated him to interest himself that this combat might be fought, he willingly promised it.  The English knights and squires, wishing to pursue their journey after dinner, went to the castle to wait on the constable; for he was to give them seven knights to escort them the whole road, through Brittany and Normandy, as far as Cherbourg.

When they were arrived in the castle, the constable received them very amicably, and then said, -- "I put you all under arrest, and forbid you to depart hence this day:  to-morrow morning, after mass, you shall witness the combat between your squire and ours, and then you shall dine with me.  Dinner over, you shall set out, and I will give you good guides to conduct you to Cherbourg."  They complied with his requests, and, having drank of his wine, returned to their inn.  Now the two squires consulted together, for it was fixed they should on the morrow morning engage without fail.

When morning came, they both heard mass, confessed themselves, and mounted their horses; the French being on one side, and the English on the other:  they rode together to a smooth plain on the outside of the castle, where they dismounted.   John Boucmel had provided there two suits of armour, according to his promise, which were good and strong, as the occasion demanded:  having had them displayed, he told the English squire to make the first choice.  "No," said the Englishman, "I will not choose: you shall have the choice."   John was therefore forced to choose first, which he did, and armed himself completely (in doing which he was assisted), as a good man at arms should be.   Nicholas did the same.

When they were both armed, they grasped their spears, well made with Bordeaux steel and of the same length; and each took the position proper for him to run his course, with their helmets and vizors closed.  They then advanced, and, when they approached pretty near, they lowered their spears, aiming them to hit each other.  At the first onset, Nicholas Clifford stuck with his spear John Boucmel on the upper part of his breast; but the point slipped off the steel-breastplate, and pierced the hood, which was of good mail, and, entering his neck, cut the jugular vein, and passed quite through, breaking off at the shaft with the head; so that the truncheon remained in the neck of the squire, who was killed, as you may suppose.

The English [French?] squire passed on to his chair, where he seated himself.  The French lords, who had seen the stroke and the broken spear in his neck, hastened to him:  they immediately took off his helmet, and drew out the spear.  On its being extracted, he turned himself about without uttering a word, and fell down dead.

The English squire hurried to his relief, crying out to have the blood staunched, but could not arrive before he expired.  Nicholas Clifford was then extremely vexed, for having by ill fortune slain a valiant and good man at arms.  All who at that time could have seen the despair of the count de la Marche, who had such an affection for his deceased squire, would surely have much pitied him; he was in the greatest distress, for he esteemed him above all others.

The constable was present, and endeavored to comfort him, saying, "that such things were to be expected in similar combats.  It has turned out unfortunate for our squire, but the Englishman could not help it."   He then addressed himself to the English, -- "Come, come to dinner, for it is ready."  The constable led them, as I may say, against their wills to the castle to dinner, for they wished not to go there on account of the death of the Frenchman.

The count de la Marche most tenderly bewailed his squire, as he viewed his corpse.  Nicholas Clifford directly retired to his lodgings, and would not by any account dine at the castle, as well for the great vexation he was in for this death as on account
of his relations and friends:  but the constable sent to seek for him, and it was necessary that he should comply.  On his arrival, the constable said, --"In truth, Nicholas, I can very well believe, and I see by your looks, that you are much concerned for the death of John Boucmel; but I acquit  you of it, for it was no fault of yours, and, as God is my judge, if I had been in the situation you were in, you have done nothing more than I would have done, as it is better to hurt one's enemy than to be hurt by him.   Such is the fate of war."

They then seated themselves at table, and these lords dined at their ease.  After they had finished their repast, and drank their wine, the constable called the lord le Barrois des Barres, and said to him, --"Barrois, prepare yourself:  I will that you conduct these Englishmen as far as Cherbourg, and that you have opened to them every town and castle, and have given to them whatever they shall be in need of."

Le Barrois replied, -- "My lord, I shall cheerfully obey your orders."

The English, then, taking leave of the constable and the knights with him, came to their lodgings, where every thing was packed up and ready.  They mounted their horses, departed from château Josselin, and rode straight to Pontorson and Mont St. Michel.   They were under the escort of that gallant knight le Barrois des Barres, who never quitted them in Brittany or Normandy, until they had arrived in Cherbourg.   In this manner did the army of the earl of Buckingham quit France by sea and by land.

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