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

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.

Lines 4750-4970

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 section offers the text in the original medieval French. 

                                                Oe chivalerie ensement

Le giemble rei a Leeingni

4752                        Furent cil que j’ai nomez ci,

Quatre vinz chevaliers esliz;

Non mie esliz mais tresesliz.

Por quei tresesliz nomez furent?

4756                        Qu’entre les esliz les eslurent

Cil qui bien les sourent eslire;

Issi deit l’om la letre lire.

Quatre vinz, c’est ore del mains,

4760                        Quer a prover vos prenc en mains

Qu’il en remaint set tanz ariere,

Quer qui unques portout baniere

E ert ove le giemble rei,

4764                        A toz cels qu’il menout o sei,

Aveient vinten sous lo jor,

Fust a esrer, fust a sejor,

Des que il moveient de lor terre.

4768                        Merveille ert ou l’em puet ce querre,

Ne mais que Dex li devisout

Les biens qu’il li abandonout.

Quinze i out banieres portant;

4772                        Por ce vos plevis en por tant

Que bien erent deux cenz e plus,

Si com avez oï desus,

Qui del giemble rei se vivoient

4776                        E qui si chevalier estoient.


De toz cels n’est gaires de conte,

Quer bien furent dis e noef conte

O le rei en cele besoingne,

4780                        Si i fu li dus de Borgoingne.

Que vos ireie ge contant?

A plus de trei mile ou a tant

Furent esmé li chivalier

4784                        Qui la furent por torneier,

Que devers rei, que devers conte.

Ne vos ferai ci plus lonc conte:

Armez furent, si s’entrevindrent

4788                        E firent ce por quei il vindrent.

La vit l’em despleier banieres

Tantes e de tantes manieres

Que nuls ne seüst diviser

4792                        Tant qu’il les seüst deviser;

Tote en formiout la campaingne,

Si esteit emplie la plaingne

Que de plaingne n’i aveit point.                                                                   

4796                        Li uns conreis vers l’autre point.

Or saciez que cele asemblee

Ne fu mie faite a emblee,

Ainz grant noise e grant bruit;

4800                        Al bien ferir tendeient tuit.

La oïsiez si grant escrois

De lances, de quei li retrois

Qui chaeient a terre al joindre

4804                        Ne lassoient les chevals poindre.

Molt fu grant la presse en la plaingne,

Chascuns conreis crie s’ensenne;

La peüst l’om d’armes aprendre,

4808                        La veïst l’om chevalers prendre

As freins e les autres rescorre.

De totes parz veïst l’om core

Chevals a tressuer d’angoisse;

4812                        Chascuns a son poeir s’angoisse

De bien faire, quer en tele ovre

Se mostre proëce e descouvre.

Molt i out aresté estor,

4816                        Molt i out fait d’armes le jor,

Molt fu li torneiemenz buens

Anceis que li reis ne li quens

I venissent por asembler.

4820                        Lors veïssiez terre trembler

Quant li reis dist: “Ore est ennui;

Poinniez!  n’i atendrai mais hui.”

Li reis poinst, mais li quens se tint

4824                        Par cointise, que pas ne vint

De si qu’il en vit ore e point,

Mais lors ne se targa il point.

Cil qui par devers li rei furent

4828                        Si sorcuideement s’esmurent

Qu’onques le rei n’i atendirent,

E si oltreement le firent

Que cil se mistrent a la veie:

4832                        Ne fu pas veie, einz fu desveie.

Quant il les ourent adossez                                                                         

Parmi vingnes, parmi fossez,

Si aloient parmi les ches

4836                        Des vingnes, qui erent espés;

La chaeient chevals souvent,

Si erent defolez vilment

Cil qui chaeient e laidi

4840                        E empeirié e enlaidi.

Li quens Geifreis o sa baniere

Poingneit si d’estrange maniere,

Quant li reis vint, qu’esloingnié furent

4844                        Tuit cil qui o lui estre durent,

Si que li reis en son venir

Ne pout en nul liu avenir

A lor genz, quer il s’en aloent,

4848                        E cil durement les tesoent.

Li un al bien faire tendoient,

Li autre al gaaing entendoient,

Si que li reis fu angoissous

4852                        De ce qu’il fu remés si sous.


Une bataille vit sor destre

De lor gent, s’i poeient estre

Quarante chevaliers al mains.

4856                        Une lance tint en ses mains;

Il lor corut sore a l’encontre;

Si tresdurement les acontre

Qu’altresi peceia en eirre

4860                        Sa lance cum s’el fust de veirre;

E cil de la, qui grant gent erent,

Par le frein tantost l’aresterent.

De tutes parz furent venu;

4864                        E a lui fu si avenu

Qu’il n’i out de tote sa gent

Ensemble o lui fors solement

Le Mareschal, qui le suieit

4868                        De pres, quer costumiers esteit

D’estre pres de lui a besoing,

Quer il ne s’en teneit pas long.

E Willaumes, cil de Preials,                                                                         

4872                        Qui le jor ert prisons novels,

E s’ert departi de la flote

E out vestu de soz sa cote

Un haubert molt priveement,

4876                        E chapel de fer ensement

Olt al chef, sanz plus e sanz mains.

E il tindrent entre lor mains

Li reis; chascuns d’els mist sa force

4880                        D’abatre li son helme a force.

Li Mareschals tant s’avansa

Que tresdevant els se lansa;

Tant feri avant e ariere,

4884                        Tant lor acointa sa maniere

E tant bota e tant sacha

Que a force al rei esracha

La testiere de son cheval,

4888                        O tot le frein, e traist aval;

E Willeaume de Preials prist

Le cheval par le col e mist

Grant peine a esir de l’estor,

4892                        Quer molt li aloient entor

Cil quil voleient retenir.

Molt se penoent de ferir

Willeaume de Preals souvent;

4896                        Li reis le couvreit sagement

A son escu, qu’il n’ateingneient

A lui ne mal ne li faiseient,

Mais tant se furent esforcié

4900                        Qu’il ourent al rei esracié

Son healme a force de son chef;

Molt li pesa e li fu grief.

Li tooilz dura longement,

4904                        Mais molt le faiseit durement

Li Mareschals quis herdoiout,

De granz coups i empleiout.


Li cuens de Flandres s’esjoï

4908                        De la baniere qu’il oï

Al rei qui esteit en l’estor,                                                                            

E out esté piece de jor.

D’arester fu pus nule chose,

4912                        Einz lor corut a la forclose

Sis desconfist en sun venir,

Que cil ne se porent tenir

Qui le ici torneié avoient

4916                        E qui trop travaillé esteient;

Si fu la chace maintenue

Que puis n’i out regne tenue.

Molt pesa al conte Guiffrei

4920                        E molt en fu en grant effrei;

Souventes feiz lor trestorneit,

Mais ove lui ne retorneit

Nus; por ce n’i poeit remaindre.

4924                        Quant il poeit a els ateindre,

Molt troveuent ses gieus porvers,

Souvent en i laissout d’envers.


Mais devant la desconfiture

4928                        I avint une autre aventure

Qui deüst estre devant dite;

Mais si cum ge la truis escrite

La m’estuet dire mot a mot.

4932                        L’en ne puet pas tot a un mot

Conter tot le conveiement

Ne les coups d’un torneiement.

Quant li reis s’en alout issi,

4936                        Missire Herlins de Vanci,

Seneschal de Flandres esteit,

Bien trente chevaliers aveit

Ovoques lui ors de la presse.

4940                        Uns siens chevaliers s’eslece,

A seignor Herlin le vait dire.

“Enom Deu!”  fait il, “beal doz sire,

Veez la le rei pres de pris,

4944                        Pernez le, sin avrez le pris,

Qu’il a ja son hialme perdu,

Dont molt se tient a esperdu.”

Quant misires Herlins l’oï,                                                                           

4948                        Molt durement s’en esjoï

E dist: “Cist est nostre, ce cuit.”

Des esperons ferirent tuit

Aprés le rei grant aleüre.

4952                        Li Mareschals ne s’aseüre,

Ainz muet d’une lance a encontre;

Si tresdurement les encontre

Que sa lance tote depiece ….

4956                        Dusque as jarrez de son chival,

Mais tost fu redreciez sanz faille.

Sor lui comence la bataille;

Cil l’asaillent, il se defent,

4960                        Quantqu’il ateint depiece e fent,

Decoupe escuz, enbarre hielmes.

Tant fist li Marescal Willelmes

Unques nul de cels qui la vint

4964                        Ne seurent qui li reis devint.

Puis dist li reis e cil quil virent

E cil qui parler en oïrent

Qu’ains plus beau coups ne fu veüz

4968                        D’un sol chevalier ne seüz

Que li Mareschals fist le jor;

Molt l’en loerent li meillor.

This text was translated by Stewart Gregory, with the assistance of David Crouch.  The full text and translation of this work will be published soon 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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