Friday, March 06, 2009

The Seneschal of Hainault Challenges the Knights of the Garter, 1408

Jean de Verchin, Seneschal of Hainault, was one of the more strenuous knights of the early 15th c. In 1408 he wrote to Henry IV of England, offering to perform a deed of arms against three or more Knights of the Garter, who are described as noble successors to Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. He offered first to meet any members of the order who wished for twelve strokes of the sword on horseback with saddles of war without retreat, with the combatants able to strike the front or back of their adversary at their advantage.

That done, the next day he proposed to be ready to exchange a dozen blows with the sword on foot with any members of the Order of the Garter who wished to do so “a deux reprinses”. I read this as meaning that during the twelve blows struck on either side there would be two opportunities to retreat and reenter the combat.

The following day he would be ready to similarly exchange another twelve strokes with the axe with the Garter Knights who wished to do so, to be struck to the lower edge of the coat of plates or higher. All the aforesaid weapons would be of equal length, which he would provide by means of his herald.

Henry IV courteously thanked the seneschal for his letter. However, he said, in times past it was not the custom for all of the Knights of the Round Table to fight together against a single foreign knight. To the contrary, you will find it written in many places that they would fight alone against ten, twenty, thirty or forty foreign knights, and depart with honor with no other help than God and the high prowess of their heart. He had not the slightest desire to change this custom.

However, given the high resolve of the seneschal and for various other reasons it seemed fitting to allow a single member of the Order of the Garter to deliver him of his enterprise. He directed that the appropriate arrangements be made.

" Seeing that the beauteous ladies of our kingdom would be highly indignant to think that none of our knights were sufficiently bold for their love to encounter and give all the satisfaction he might desire to any stranger knight, just as your ladies would feel towards your knights, so we, being anxious with all our hearts to earn their goodwill and sweet favour, and to avoid their resentment, as you would do that of your ladies, think that this our answer should prove satisfactory to you."

No comments: