Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What was the point of the Combat of the Thirty (1351)?

At this year's Pennsic war, as for several preceding this one, there was a reenactment of the combat of the  thirty, which took place in Brittany in the year 1351 during the first phase of the Hundred Years War. As every time before, the sides were not even. Despite a big discrepancy in numbers, the sides are not evened up. The combatants chose to stay with the signs they had chosen or had been recruited into earlier. I think this is rather odd, given that the whole point of the original combat of the 30 was to see who was better if sides were kept even and no outsider was allowed to intervene. To remind the SCA community of what contemporaries thought was essential to the event, I am reproducing here from my book The Combat of the Thirty, three contemporary and near contemporary descriptions of how the combat was arranged.  
Jean le Bel's account
How thirty French fought against thirty English and Germans by certain agreements in Brittany, and the English and the Germans were defeated.
In this same season, there took place in Brittany a most marvelous deed of arms which should never be forgotten
Messire Robert de Beaumont, a valiant knight of a great family in Brittany, was castellan of Castle Josselin, where he had a great many men-at-arms and squires of his lineage.  And it so happened one day that he came  near the  castle of Ploermel, whose castellan was a German mercenary called Brandebourch, who had with him a great many German, Breton, and  English mercenaries, and he was of the party of the Countess.
When Messire Robert saw that none of the garrison was coming out, he went to the gate and called out this Brandebourch, under a guarantee of safety, and asked him whether he had any companion, or perhaps two or three, who wished to joust with steel lances against three, for the love of their ladies.  Brandebourch replied and said to him, that their lady loves would hardly wish that they should get themselves killed in a single joust, for this kind of venture was over too soon, and in it one got more of a reputation for presumption and folly than for honor and worth.
"But I will tell you what we will do.  If you like, you will choose twenty or thirty of your companions  from your garrison, and I will choose as many from ours  and we will go to a field where no one will be able to disturb or prevent us, and command on pain of the noose to all of our companions on either side, and all those who watch us, that none should give the combatants reinforcement or help."
"By my faith," replied Messire Robert, "I agree to thirty against thirty, and I swear it thus by my faith."
"I, too," said Brandebourch, "swear it, for he who carries himself well there will gain more honor than in a joust."   And so this affair was agreed and an appointment was made for the following Wednesday, four days hence.
During that time, each party chose their own thirty, just as they wished, and each of the sixty procured such armor for himself as he was able.
When the day had come, the thirty companions of Brandebourch heard Mass and then armed themselves and left for the field where the battle was to take place.  And they dismounted and ordered all those who were there that none of them should be so bold as to intervene for any reason whatever.
Those thirty companions whom we will call "the English" waited a long time for those whom we will call "the French."
When the thirty French had come, they dismounted and commanded just as the English had done, that no one should give them help or aid.   Some say that four or five of the French remained on horseback at the entrance to the field, and that twenty-five dismounted, just as the English had; but I don't know for certain, for I wasn't there.   However it was, they spoke a little, all sixty of them, and then stepped back, each party to its own side, and made all their people retreat well back from field.

La Bataille de trente Anglois et de trente Bretons

“ Brambro,” said Beaumanoir, “Know for certain
That all your boasts will avail you nothing.
Those who say the most in the end deceive themselves.
Now please, Brambro, let us do the smart thing.
Let us get together to fight, by appointment,
With sixty companions, or eighty or a hundred,
And then indeed we will see for truth and for a certainty,
Who will have wrong or right, without further ado.”
“My lord, “ this Brambro said, “I swear it to you!”


Will “Brambro,” says Beaumanoir, “for the sake of God the just,
You are a valiant man and a very shrewd warrior,
Come on that day without asking for delay
In a year one says many a word which one wishes to recall,
And one often makes great boasts over dinner.
Do not do to me what you did to Pierre Angier
That valiant, noble man, that gentle bachelor.
He chose a day for battle with you
At the town of Ambissat. And I have heard said
That he went to that place to acquit his oath
With twenty-six spurred knights
All accoutered in gold and steel.
And Brambro, you defaulted.  You did not dare to go.
This deed we are discussing, is a very great one.
You should not mock it! 
People will speak of it for a very long time!”
“Beaumanoir,” says Brambro, “For God’s sake let be!
For I will certainly be the first on the field.
With me will be thirty men, no more, no less,
Who will all be covered in good iron and steel.
I will not bring any villain, God give me aid!
The least of them will be a squire,
Bearing a coat of arms on his chest.”
But Brambro lies to conceal his plan,
So you do not imagine that he will bring
A bastard villain vagabond
Strong enough to carry, easily, a setier of beans
Over his neck, whose stomach was bigger
Than that of a courser.  Brambro, by his great fierceness,
Armed him this day.  Through him he thought
To avenge Dagworth, when he should have struck down
Such a villain deceiver.

I now will tell you of the noble Beaumanoir.
To Brambro he says, “I wish concerning this to go
To castle Josselin, to muster my men.”
“You go,” Brambro told him.  “I also wish to issue my orders
Through all the duchy.   I will assemble all
The noble English I can find.”
Thus was the battle vowed, that without cheating or fraud
They should fight it out in good faith
And on either side, all would be on horseback.
Pray then to the King of Glory, who knows and sees all,
That he will help those who have the right,
For this is the point at issue.

Androw of Wyntoun’s Account

The lord of Beaumanoir in battle
Manfully approached an English knight
That spoke of Frenchmen quite lightly
And would often say scornfully
“What, are not the English the doughtiest men
Though God may sleep in his den
Yet I think and I think it true
One Englishman is worth two French.”
Thus he often spoke until the day
This lord of Beaumanoir said to him
“You speak, sir, too freely
Men may perchance find near at hand
Men of such quality
As you may find in your country.”
The knight said, “Sir, by my faith
That I would like to  put to the test
Where we could fight with even sides.
And I would like to be one of them.”
Beaumanoir then was angered
And said to him, “You may find perchance
Your fill of fighting if you dare.”
“Yes, God willing,” said he, “I will be there.”
“Good sir,” says Beaumanoir, “perhaps
If you wish to put it to the test
I shall make the covenant.
You shall go home to England
And choose of the best men in your country
Until there be thirty-one
And I shall choose as many for myself
Of kin and friends here with me
And let us set here a certain place
To meet, and if God gives me grace
I will have victory with my retinue
If you shall be slain in the combat
Your ransom I will forgive you
I shall not ask for anything
And if you are taken to prison
Then shall you double your ransom to me.
So shall men see if French can deal
As fiercely with Englishmen.

No comments:

Post a Comment