Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

Trickery in the Lists?

While the duke of Lancaster's army is campaigning in Galicia, a French knight, Sir Reginald de Roye, challenges Sir John Holland to a series of combats in the lists. The first of these combats is a joust.

Book III, ch. 60. You have before heard how the town of Entença surrendered to the duke of Lancaster, for the king of Castille sent no assistance; and how the duchess of Lancaster and her daughter visited the king and queen of Portugal at Oporto, when the king and his court, as was right, received them most honourably.

During the stay of the duke of Lancaster in Entença, a herald arrived from Valladolid, who demanded where sir John Holland was lodged.  On being shown thither, he found sir John within; and, bending his knee, presented him a letter, saying, "Sir, I am a herald at arms, whom sir Reginald de Roye sends hither:  he salutes you by me, and you will be pleased to read this letter."

Sir John answered, he would willingly do so.  Having opened it, he read that sir Reginald de Roye, entreated him, for the love of his mistress, that he would deliver him form hi s vow, by tilting with him three courses with the lance, three attacks with the sword, three with the battle-axe, and  three with the dagger; and that, if he chose to come to Valladolid, he had had provided him an escort of sixty spears; but, if it were more agreeable to him to remain in Entença, he desired he would obtain form the duke of Lancaster a passport for himself and thirty companions.

When sir John Holland had perused the letter, he smiled, and looking at the herald, said, -- "Friend, thou art welcome; for thou hast brought me what pleases me much, and I accept the challenge.  Thou wilt remain in  my lodging with my people, and, in the course of tomorrow, thou shalt have my answer, whether the tilts are to be in Galicia or Castille."

The herald replied, "God grant it."  He remained in sir John's lodgings, where he was made comfortable; and sir John went to the duke of Lancaster, whom he found in conversation with the marshal, and showed the letter the herald had brought.

"Well," said the duke, "and have you accepted it?"

"Yes, by my faith, have I; and why not?   I love nothing better than fighting, and the knight entreats me to indulge him:  consider therefore, where you would choose it should take place."

The duke mused a while, and then said; "It shall be performed in this town; have a passport made out in what terms you please, and I will seal it."

"It is well said," replied sir John;  "and I will, in God's name, soon make out the passport."  The passport was fairly written and sealed for thirty knights and squires to come and return; and sir John Holland, when he delivered it to the herald, presented him with a handsome mantle lined with minever, and twelve nobles.   The herald took leave and returned to Valladolid, where he related what had passed, and shewed his presents.

News of this tournament was carried to Oporto, where the king of Portugal kept his court.  "In the name of God," said the king, I will be present at it, and so shall my queen and the ladies."

"Many thanks," said the duchess; "for I shall be accompanied by the king and queen when I return."  It was not long after this conversation that the king of Portugal, the queen, the duchess, with her daughter, and the ladies of the court, set out for Entença, in grand array.  The duke of Lancaster, when they were near at hand, mounted his horse; and attended by a numerous company, went to meet them.  When the king and the duke me, they embraced each other most kindly, and entered the town together, where their lodgings were as well prepared as the could be in such a place, though they were not so magnificent as if they had been at Paris.

Three days after the arrival of the king of Portugal, came sir Reginald de Roye, handsomely accompanied by knights and squires, to the amount of six score horse.  They were all properly lodged; for the duke had given his officers strict orders they should be well taken care of.  On the morrow, sir John Holland and sir Reginald de Roye armed themselves, and rode into a spacious close in Entença, well sanded, where the tilts were to be performed.  Scaffolds were erected for the ladies, the king, the duke, and the many English lords who had come to witness the combat; for none had stayed at home.

The two knights who were to perform this deed of arms, entered the lists so well armed and equipped that nothing was wanting. Their spears, battle-axes and swords, were brought them; and each, being mounted on the best of horses, placed himself about a bowshot distant from the other, but, at times, they all pranced about on their horses most gallantly, for they knew every eye to be upon them.

All being now arranged for their combat, which was to include everything, except pushing it to extremity, though no one could foresee what mischief might happen, nor how it would end; for they were to tilt with pointed lances, then with swords, which were so sharp that scarcely a helmet could resist their strokes; and these were to be succeeded by battle-axes and daggers, each so well tempered that nothing could withstand them. Now, consider the perils that those run who engage in such combats to exalt their honour; for one unlucky stroke puts an end to the business.

 Having braced their targets and examined each other through the visors of their helmets, they spurred on their horses, spear in hand. Though they allowed their horses to gallop as they pleased, they advanced on as straight a line as if it had been drawn with a cord, and hit each other on the visors, with such force that sir Reginald's lance was shivered into four pieces, which flew to a greater height than they could have been thrown. All present allowed this to be gallantly done. Sir John Holland struck sir Reginald likewise on the visor, but not with the same success, and I will tell you why; sir Reginald had but slightly laced on his visor, so that it was held by one thong only, which broke at the blow, and the helmet flew over his head, leaving sir Reginald bare-headed. Each passed the other, and sir John Holland bore his lance without halting. The spectators cried out that it was a handsome course.

The knights returned to their stations, when sir Reginald's helmet was fitted on again, and another lance given to him: sir John grasped his own, which was not worsted. When ready, they set off full gallop, for they had excellent horses under them, which they well knew how to manage, and again struck each other on the helmets so that sparks of fire came from them, but chiefly from sir John Holland's. He received a very severe blow, for this time the lance did not break; neither did sir John's, which hit the visor of his adversary without much effect, passing through and leaving it on the crupper of the horse, and sir Reginald was once more bare-headed.

"Ha," cried the English to the French, "he does not fight fair; why is not his helmet as well buckled on as sir John Holland's? We say he is playing tricks: tell him to put himself on an equal footing with his adversary." "Hold your tongues," said the duke, "and let them alone: in arms every one takes what advantage he can: if sir John think there is any advantage in thus fastening on the helmet, he may do the same. But, for my part, were I in their situations, I would lace my helmet as tight as possible; and if one hundred were asked their opinions, there would be fourscore of my way of thinking."

The English, on this, were silent, and never again interfered.

The ladies declared that they had nobly justed; and they were much praised by the king of Portugal, who said to sir John Fernando,-- "In my country they do not tilt so well, nor so gallantly: what say you, sir John?" "By my faith, sir," replied he, "they do tilt well; and formerly I saw as good justs before your brother, when we were at Elvas to oppose the king of Castille, between this Frenchman and sir William Windsor; but I never heard that his helmet was tighter laced then than it is now."

The king on this turned from sir John to observe the knights, who were about to begin their third course. Sir John and sir Reginald eyed each other, to see if any advantage were to be gained, for their horses were so excellent that they could manage them as they pleased, and sticking spurs into them, hit their helmets so sharply that their eyes struck fire, and the shafts of their lances were broken. Sir Reginald was again unhelmed, for he could never avoid this happening, and they passed each other without falling.

 All now declared, they had well justed; though the English, excepting the duke of Lancaster, blamed greatly sir Reginald: but he said, "he considered that man as wise who in combat knows how to seize his vantage. Know," added he, addressing himself to sir Thomas Percy and sir Thomas Moreaux, "that sir Reginald de Roye is not now to be taught how to tilt: he is better skilled than sir John Holland, though he has borne himself well."

 After the courses of the lance, they fought three rounds with swords, battle-axes, and daggers, without either of them being wounded. The French carried off sir Reginald to his lodgings, and the English did the same to sir John Holland. The duke of Lancaster entertained this day at dinner all the French knights and squires: the duchess was seated beside him, and sir Reginald de Roye next to her.

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