The tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne, from the History of William the Marshal

William the Marshal was renowned as a tournament competitor and was able to make a good career from the money made from ransoms of those he captured in these mock battles, as well as from prize winnings. The following text details the tournament held at Lagni-sur-Marne, in 1179. Organized by Henry, count palatine of Champagne and Brie, this tournament was unusually large, with the writer of our history estimating that 3,000 knights attending. Many prominent people from France and England were on hand as well, including Henry Plantagenet, son of the English king Henry II, the count of Flanders, the duke of Burgundy, the brother of the King of Scotland and eighteen other counts.

William Marshal at a joust unhorses Baldwin Guisnes. From the Historia Major of Matthew Paris, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College Library, vol 2, p. 85.

Engaging in feats of chivalry in Lagny,

alongside the young King,

4752                        were those here named,

eighty chosen knights.

Not merely chosen, but the pick of the chosen.

Why were they called the pick of the chosen?

4756                        Because those well capable of picking them out

had chosen them from amongst the best.

That is the right gloss to put on the text.

But eighty is still an under-estimate,

4760                        and I shall undertake to prove to you

that there were yet seven times as many such after them:

whoever raised his banner

in the company of the young King,

4764                        whoever was under his command, received twenty shillings a

day for each man he had with him

from the moment they left their own lands,

whether they were on the move or in lodgings.

4768                        It was a source of wonder where this wealth was to be found,

and one can only say that God shared out to him

the wealth placed at his disposal.

There were fifteen flying their banners,

4772                        and so I can swear to you

that there were at least two hundred and more,

as you have already heard,

who lived off the purse of the young King

4776                        and were knights of his.

There is no account of all these,

for there were at least nineteen counts

with the King on that occasion,

4780                        and the duke of Burgundy besides.

Why should I spin out my tale?

The knights who were there to tourney

were estimated

4784                        at more than three thousand or so,

some with the King, some with the count.

I shall not spin out my tale further:

they armed, joined in combat,

4788                        and did what they had come to do.

There were to be seen banners unfurled,

so many of them and of such diverse types

that no man could make them out sufficiently

4792                        to be able to describe them in detail.

The entire field of combat was swarming with them,

the plain so full of them

that there was not an inch of ground to be seen.

4796                        One company spurred to meet the other.


I can tell you that that encounter

was not a stealthy affair,

indeed, there was great noise and tumult

4800                        as all strove to deal mighty blows.

There you would have heard such a great clash

of lances, from which the splinters

fell to the ground as the companies met

4804                        and impeded the forward charge of the horses.

The throng across that plain was huge,

with each company shouting out its battle cry.

There you might have learned something of armed combat,

4808                        there you might have seen knights taken

by the bridles of their horses, and others being rescued.

On all sides you would have seen horses running

and sweating with their exertions.

4812                        Every man strove hard and did all within his power

to perform high deeds, for it is in such a situation

that prowess is shown and displayed for all to see.

It was a very fiercely fought contest,

4816                        many were the feats of arms performed that day;

the tournament was an exceedingly fine one,

even before the King and the count

had arrived to join in combat.

4820            But when they did, then you would have seen the earth shake, as the King said: “This has gone on long enough;

spur on, I shall have not a moment’s further delay.”

The King spurred forward, but the count cleverly

4824                        held back, and did not move forward

until he saw that the time was exactly right.

But when it was, he did not hesitate for a moment.

Those on the King’s side rode forward

4828                        so impetuously

that they did not wait a moment for the King,

and they fought so fiercely

that the other side were sent on their way.

4832                        Actually, not so much on their way as off their way.

Once they had driven them back

through the vines and the ditches,

off they rode between the closely planted

4836                        vine stocks.

Horses fell down there thick and fast,

and the men who fell with them

were badly trampled and injured,

4840                        damaged and disfigured.

Count Geoffrey and his company

rode on with such incredible speed that,

when the King arrived, all those who should have been with

4844                        him were in the far distance,

so that on his arrival

he was nowhere able to reach

his opponents, for off they went

4848                        with the others in hot pursuit.

Some were intent on performing well in combat,

others were bent on booty,

and the King was greatly disturbed

4852                        by the fact that he had been left completely on his own.


He saw a company belonging to the other side

on his right, consisting of some

forty knights at least.

4856                        With his lance in hand,

he galloped to engage them in combat,

and the clash was so ferocious

that his lance was shattered as easily

4860                        as if it had been made of glass.

And those on the other side, who were very

numerous, soon took him by the bridle and brought him to a halt.

They had come up from all sides,

4864                        but the situation with the King was that,

out of his entire company,

all he had with him were

the Marshal, who was following closely

4868                        behind him, for it was his wont

to be at his side in a difficult situation

and never be far away from him,

and William de Préaux,

4872                        who, that day, had just been taken prisoner

and had left the throng,

and, in great secrecy, had donned

a hauberk under his tunic,

4876                        and, apart from this, nothing more

than an iron cap on his head.

The others had the King within their grasp;

each of them strove might and main

4880                        to knock off his helmet by force.

The Marshal rode forward,

then launched himself into their midst;

he dealt so many blows in front and behind him,

4884                        showed them so much the stuff he was made of,

pushed and pulled to such an extent

that he forced the harness

off the head of the King’s horse,

4888                        together with the bridle, and pulled it to the ground.

And William de Préaux took

the horse by the neck and put every effort

into escaping the fray,

4892                        for those who were intent on capturing him

had hemmed him in.

They tried hard to strike William

as often as they could,

4896                        but the King protected him skilfully

with his shield, so that they did not touch him

or do him injury.

However, the force of their assault had been such

4900                        that they had torn the King’s helmet

from his head,

and that was a source of great annoyance to him.

The tussle lasted for a long time,

4904                        but the Marshal hounded them,

fighting them with great ferocity

and meting out powerful blows.

The count of Flanders was filled with joy

4908                        when he heard the battle-cry raised by the King,

there in the midst of that fray

where he had been for some time.

There was no question now of holding back:

4912                        now he rode hard to cut them off,

and, reaching them, overwhelmed them.

The men  who had tourneyed there

and were by now suffering from fatigue,

4916                        could not withstand the onslaught.

[They fled] and were given chase,

and every horse was given its head.

Count Geoffrey was greatly grieved by this

4920                        and very much dismayed.

Often he turned round to face his opponents,

but nobody in his company turned to do the same,

so there was no possibility of his standing his ground.

4924                        But when he was in a position to strike them,

they found the games he played were wicked ones,

and often he left them face up on the ground.

But, before the rout occurred,

4928                        there was another incident

which should have been recounted earlier;

as I find it in my written source,

so should I relate it word for word.

4932                        It is not possible to resume in a sentence

the whole course of a tournament,

or the blows dealt there.

Anyway, at the point where the King was thus making off,

4936                        Sir Herluin de Vancy,

who was the seneschal of Flanders,

had at least thirty knights with him,

outside the press of battle.

4940                        One of his knights galloped up

to inform his lord, Herluin.

“My lord,” he said, “in God’s name,

look over there, the King is on the point of being captured.

4944                        You take him and get the praise for it;

he’s already lost his helmet

and is much distraught by that.”

When sir Herluin heard this,

4948                        his heart was filled with joy,

and he said: “He’s ours, I think.”

They all spurred on at a fast gallop

in pursuit of the King.

4952                        The Marshal was not idle,

instead he rode to meet them with lance in hand.

They clashed so violently

that his lance was completely shattered ….

4956                        as far as his horse’s hocks,

but I can assure you that he was soon upright again.

The fight homed in around him;

they attacked him, and he defended.

4960                        Everything he struck was broken and split,

shields were hacked to pieces, helmets staved in.

My lord William the Marshal performed so many feats

that nobody present had the slightest idea

4964                        what had become of the King.

Afterwards, the King, those who witnessed the event,

and those who heard speak of it,

said that never before had finer blows been witnessed

4968                        from a single knight, or known of,

as those dealt by the Marshal that day.

The bravest amongst them gave him high praise for this.


This text was translated by Stewart Gregory, with the assistance of David Crouch.  The full text and translation of this work was published by the Anglo-Norman Text Society in a three volume set.  We thank Ian Short of the Anglo-Norman Text Society and David Crouch for their permission and assistance in republishing these section.

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