Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

The Count d'Ostrevant attends a great tournament in London and gets into trouble (1390)

Richard II decides to imitate the recent French festivities, and attracts many foreign knights to London.

Book IV, ch. 23 (Johnes, v. 2, pp. 477-81).  News of the splendid feasts and entertainments made for Queen Isabella's public entry into Paris was carried to many countries, and very justly, for they were most honourably conducted. The king of England and his three uncles had received the fullest information of them: for some of his knights had been present, who had reported all that had passed with the utmost fidelity. In imitation of this, the king of England ordered grand tournaments and feasts to be holden in the city of London, where sixty knights should be accompanied by sixty noble ladies, richly ornamented and dressed.

The sixty knights were to tilt for two days; that is to say, on the Sunday after Michaelmas-day, and the Monday following in the year of grace 1390. The sixty knights were to set out at two o'clock in the afternoon from the Tower of London, with their ladies, and parade throngli the streets, down Cheap-side, to a large square called Smithfield. There the knights were to wait on the Sunday the arrival of any foreign knights who might be desirous of tilting; and this feast of the Sunday was called the challengers.

The same ceremonies were to take place on the Monday, and the sixty knights to be prepared for tilting courteously with blunted lances against all corners. The prize for the best knight of the opponents was to be a rich crown, of gold, that for the tenants of the lists a very rich golden clasp: they were to be given to the most gallant tilter, according to the judgment of the ladies, who would be present with the queen of England and the great barons as spectators.

On the Tuesday, the tournaments were to be continued by squires, against others of the same rank who wished to oppose them. The prize for the opponents was a courser saddled and bridled, and for the tenants of the lists--a falcon.

The manner of holding this feast being settled, heralds were sent to proclaim it throughout England, Scotland, Hainault, Germany, Flanders, and France. It was ordered by the council to what parts each herald was to go; and, having time beforehand, they published it in most countries.

 Many knights and squires from foreign lands made preparations to attend it: some to see the manners of the English, others to take part in the tournaments. On the feast being made known in Hainault, sir William de Hainault count d'Ostrevant, who was at that time young and gallant, and fond of tilting, determined, in his own mind, to be present and to honour and make acquaintance with his cousin, king Richard, and his uncles whom he had never seen. He therefore engaged many knights and squires to accompany him; in particular the lord de Gomegines, because he was well known in England, having lived there some time. Sir William resolved, while his preparations were making, to visit his father, the count of Hainault, Holland, and Zealand, to speak with him on the subject, and to take leave of him before he went to England.

He therefore set out from Quesnoy, in Hainault, and continued his journey to the Hague, a good town in Holland, where his father then resided. During the visit, he told his father his intentions to partake of the great feast in England, to see his cousins and other English lords whom he was desirous of knowing.

"William," replied the count, "my good son, you have nothing to do in England: you are now connected by marriage with the blood royal of France, and your sister is the wife of the eldest son of our cousin the duke of Burgundy: you have no occasion, therefore, to seek other connections."

"My lord," answered sir William, "I do not wish to go to England to form any alliance, but merely to tilt and enjoy this feast, which has been publicly proclaimed everywhere, and visit my cousins, whom I have never seen. Should I not go thither, after the particular invitation I have had, for a purpose messenger brought it me, my refusal will be considered as the effect of pride and presumption. I feel myself bound therefore in honour to go, and I beg, father, that you will not refuse me your consent."

 "William," replied the count, "you are your own master; act as you please; but I should think, for the sake of peace, it were better you did not go."

 The count d'Ostrevant, perceiving this subject was disagreeable to his father, turned the conversation to other matters; but his resolution was fixed, and his purveyances were continued to be made and forwarded to Calais. His herald, Gomegines, was sent to England to inform the king and his uncles, that he would come honourably attended to his feast. They were much pleased at this intelligence, and presented the herald with great gifts, which were very acceptable, for he became blind towards the end of his days. I know not if he had angered God, that he was afflicted with such a punishment; but this herald, when in power, had behaved, with so much insolence, that he was little pitied in his distress.

The count d'Ostrevant took leave of his father, and, on his departure from the Hague, returned to his lady at Quesnoy. Many noble knights were busy in preparations for this feast that had been so pompously proclaimed.

 The count Waleran de Saint Pol, who had married the half-sister to king Richard, assembled a handsome body of knights and squires, and with them made for Calais, where passage-vessels were waiting to convey to Dover the lords and knights going to this tournament. From Dover they continued their journey to London, where their servants had previously secmmred their lodgings.

 The count d'Ostrevant set out from Hainault with a numerous attendance of knights and squires, and travelled througlm Artois to Calais, where he met the count de St. Pol. When the wind was favourable, and their attendants embarked, they crossed the channel; but it was told me, and I believe it, that the count do St. Pol arrived first at London, where he found the king and his brother-in-law, sir John Holland, who with many other nobles, made him a hearty welcome, and enquired the news in France. The count d'Ostrevant having crossed the sea, stopped at Canterbury, and on the Friday morning, without breaking his fast, paid his devotions at the shrine of Thomas à Becket, making at the same time a very rich offering at that altar. He remained that whole day at Canterbury, and on the following went to Rochester. On account of his numerous train, he travelled but a short day's journey, to spare his horses that carried the baggage. After mass he left Rochester and dined at Dartford, whence he continued his journey to London, for it was on this Sunday the tournaments were to begin.

This Sunday, according to proclamation, being the next to Michaelmas day, was the beginning of the tiltings, and called the feast of the challengers. About three o'clock, there paraded out frdm the Tower of London, which is situated in the square of St. Catherine, on the banks of the Thames, sixty barded coursers ornamented for the tournament, on each was mounted a squire of honour that advanced only at a foot's pace; then came sixty ladies of rank, mounted on palfreys most elegantly and richly dressed, following each other, every one leading a knight with a silver chain completely armed for tilting; and in this procession they moved on through the streets of London, attended by numbers of minstrels and trumpets, to Smithfield. The queen of England and her ladies and damsels were already arrived and placed in chambers handsomely decorated. The king was with the queen. When the ladies who led the knights arrived in the square, their servants were ready to assist them to dismount from their palfreys, and to conduct them to the apartments prepared for them. The knights remained until their squires of honour had dismounted and brought them their coursers, which having mounted, they had their helmets laced on, and prepared themselves in all points for the tilt.

 The count de Saint Pol with his companions now advanced, handsomely armed for the occasion, and the tournament began. Every foreign knight who pleased tilted, or had time for so doing, before the evening set in. The tiltings were well and long continued until night forced them to break off. The lords and ladies then retired where they had made appointments. The queen was lodged in the bishop of London's palace near St. Paul's church, where the banquet was held.

 Towards evening, the count d'Ostrevant arrived, and was kindly received by king Richard and his lords. The prize for the opponents was adjudged to the count de St. Pol, as the best knight at this tournament, and that for the tenants to the earl of Huntingdon. The dancings were at the queen's residence, in the presence of the king, his uncles and the barons of England. The ladies and damsels continued their amusements, before and after supper, until it was time to retire, when all went to their lodgings, except such as were attached to time king or queen, who, during the tournament, lived at the palace of the bishop of London.< P> You would have seen on the ensuing morning, Monday, squires and varlets busily employed, in different parts of London, furbishing and making ready armour and horses for their masters who were to engage in the justs. In the afternoon, king Richard entered Smithfield magnificently accompanied by dukes, lords, and knights, for he was chief of the tenants of the lists. The queen took her station as on the preceding day, with her ladies, in the apartments that had been prepared for her. The count d'Ostrevant came next, with a large company of knights and squires fully armed for tilting; then the Count de Saint Pol and the knights from France.

 The tournament now began, and every one exerted himself to the utmost to excel: many were unhorsed, and more lost their helmets. The justing continued with great courage and perseverance until night put an end to it. The company now retired to their lodgings or their homes; and, when the hour for supper was near, the lords and ladies attended it, which was splendid and well served. The prize for the opponents at the tournament was adjudged, by the ladies, lords, and heralds, to the count d'Ostrevant, who far eclipsed all who had tilted that day; that for the tenants was given to a gallant knight of England called sir Hugh Spenser

 On the morrow, Tuesday, the tournament was renewed by the squires, who tilted in the presence of the king, queen, and all the nobles, until night, when all retired as on the preceding day. The supper was as magnificent as before at the palace of the bishop, where the king and queen lodged; and the dancing lasted until day-break, when the company broke up. The tournament was continued on the Wednesday by all knights and squires indiscriminately,. who were inclined to just; it lasted until night, and the supper and dances were as the preceding day.

 On Thursday, the king entertained at supper all the foreign knights and squires, and the queen their ladies and damsels. The duke of Lancaster gave a grand dinner to them on the Friday. On Saturday, the king and his court left London for Windsor, whither the count d'Ostrevant, the count de St. Pol, and the foreign knights who had been present at the feasts, were invited. All accepted the invitation, as was right, and went to Windsor, which has a handsome castle, well built and richly ornamented, situated on the Thames twenty miles from London. The entertainments were very magnificent in the dinners and suppers king Richard made, for he thought he could not pay honour enough to his cousin the count d'Ostrevant. He was solicited by the king and his uncles to be one of the companions of the order of the blue Garter, as the chapel of St. George, the patron, was at Windsor. In answer to their request, he said he would consider of it, and instantly consulted the lord de Gomegines and the bastard Fierabras de Vertain, who were far from discouraging him from accepting the order. He returned to the king, and was admitted a knight companion of the Garter, to the great surprise of the French knights then present.

They murmured together, and said,—" This count d'Ostrevant plainly shows that his heart is more inclined to England than France when he thus accepts the order of the Garter, which is the device of the kings of England. He is purchasing the ill will of the court of France and of my lord of Burgundy, whose daughter he has married, and a time may come for him to repent of it. However, to say the truth, he must know what concerns him best: but he was well beloved by the king of France, his brother the duke of Touraine, and all the rcyal family; so that when he came to them at Paris or elsewhere, they showed him more kindness than to any other of their cousins.

 Thus was the count d'Ostrevant blamed by the French, without the smallest cause; for what he had done was no way to injure the crown of France, nor his cousins and friends of that country. Nothing was farther from his mind than any hostility to the king of France; but he had accepted the Garter to oblige his cousins in England, and on occasion to be a mediator between the two countries. When he took the oaths usual on the admission of knights to the order, it ought to be known publicly that nothing was said or done prejudicial to France, nor any treaties entered into with that intent. I mention this, since it is impossible to prevent the envious from spreading abroad their tales. When the entertainments at Windsor had lasted a sufficient time, and the king had made handsome presents to the knights and squires of France, particularly to the young count d'Ostrevant, the company took leave of the king, the queen, and the court, and departed for their different homes.

 Rumour, which magnifies everything, carried to the king of France, his brother, and uncles, every particular that had passed at this feast in England. Those who had been there confirmed it, nothing was forgotten, but rather additions made with the intent of doing mischief in preference to good. They related, that William of Hainault, who called himself count d'Ostrevant, had taken great pains to honour this feast; that he had had the prize given him at the tournament in preference to many other foreign knights, and that he was loud in the praise of the English, and was become the liege-man to the king of England by taking the oaths and accepting the order of the blue Garter, in the chapel of Saint George at Windsor, which order had been established by king Edward and his son the prince of Wales; that no one could be admitted a knight companion of that order, without making oath never to bear arms against the crown of England, and this oath the count d'Ostrevant had taken without the smallest reservation.

 The king of France and his uncles, on hearing this, were much troubled and vexed with the count d'Ostrevant. The king said,—" Only think, it is not a year ago since the count begged of me that his brother might be bishop of Cambray; but after what we have heard. toat would now be much to our prejudice. It will be better that our cousin of St. Pol have Cambray than John of Hainault.—The Hainaulters were never our sincere friends, nor ever will be, for they are too proud and presumptuous, and have always been more attached to England than France but a time may come when they shall dearly pay for it. We will," added the king, "that the count d'Ostrevant be summoned to appear before us, and do homage for the county of Ostrevant, or we will dispossess him and attach it to our crown."

 Such of the council as were present, replied,—" Sire, you say well, and what you order ought to be done." The duke of Burgundy, whose daughter the count had married, was highly displeased at these reports; for he had always pushed his son-in-law as much as he could into the good graces of time king and the royal family. This business was not neglected; for the king of France wrote very sharp letters to the count d'Ostrevant, which he sent to him at Quesnoy, commanding him to come to Paris, and, in the presence of the peers of France, do homage for the county of Ostrevant, or he would make war upon him, and dispossess him of it.

The count d'Ostrevant, on perusing these letters, found that the king and his council were much angered, and instantly assembled his most confidential counsellors to consider of the answer. He called to his aid the lord de Fontaines, the lord de Gomegines, sir William de Heremies, the lord de Trassegnies, the bailiff of Hainault, the lord de Sancelles, sir Race de Montigny, the abbot de Crespin, John Semart, and James Barrier of Valenciennes.

These counsellors having some time debated, and turned the matter over various ways, thought it most advisable to write to the king of France, and answer generally to what he had urged, and demand an opportunity for so doing more particularly, by persons that were properly qualified and not by letters. In the mean time, they recommended sending a well informed messenger, to duke Albert in Holland, to acquaint him with what was passing, and have his advice. This was done: they wrote such humble and discreet letters to the king of France and his council as greatly pacified them; and sent the lord de Trassegnies, the lord de Sancelles, John Semart, and James Barrier to Holland. On being admitted to the count of Holland they laid before him the situation of Hainault, and the letters that had been received from the king of France.

 If the count of Holland was not surprized at what had happened, it is not to be wondered at; for he replied,—" I was just thinking that what you tell me would come to pass: my son William had no business to go to England. I have given up to him the government of Hainault: let him advise with the wisest and most prudent in that country. Make interest with our fair cousin, the duke of Burgundy; for he has the power to set to rights all this business. I cannot give you better advice, nor recommend a more fit person to address yourselves to."

On this, the envoys returned to Hainault, and related all that had passed, which gave satisfaction. The lord de Trassegnies, sir William de Heremies, sir Race de Montigny, John Semart and James Barrier, were ordered to wait on the king of France and the duke of Burgundy. The detail of all that passed would be too long for such a history as this, that embraces so many objects. The conclusion was, that notwithstanding the support of the dmmke of Burgundy, the count d'Ostrevant was forced to go to Paris to perform his duty, and acknowledge his holding the county of Ostrevant from the crown of France, otherwise he would have had war instantly carried into Hainault. The lord de Coucy and sir Oliver de Chisson took much pains that a war should ensue; but the lord de la Riviere and sir John he Mercier counteracted them to the utmost of their power.

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