Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

A combat of ten Christians against ten Saracens fails to take place

A Christian force besieging the town of Africa in North Africa is challenged by a Muslim defender to a combat of ten against ten.
Book IV, ch. 22 (Johnes, v. 2 pp. 474-7).  The besiegers and their enemies studied day and night how they could most effectually annoy each other. Agadinquor Oliferne, Madifer de Tunis, Belins Maldages, and Brahadin de Bugia, and some other Saracens, consulted together, and said: "Here are our enemies the Christians encamped before us, and we cannot defeat them. They are so few in number when compared to us, that they must be well advised by their able captains; for, in all our
skirmishes, we have never been able to make one knight prisoner. If we could capture one or two of their leaders, we should acquire fame, and learn from them the state of their army and what are their intentions. Let us now consider how we may accomplish this."

Agadinquor replied,-" Though I am the youngest, I wish to speak first." "We agree to
it," said the others.

"By my faith," continued he, "I am very desirous of engaging them; and I think, if I were matched in equal combat with one of my size, I should conquer him. If you will therefore select ten valiant men, I will challenge the Christians to send the same number to fight with us. We have justice on our side in this war, for they have quarrelled with us without reason; and this right and the courage I feel, induce me to believe that we shall have the victory."

Madifer de Tunis, who was a very valiant man, said,-" Agadinquor, what you have proposed is much to your honour. To-morrow, if you please, you shall ride as our chief towards the camp of the Christians, taking an interpreter with you, and make a signal that you have something to say. If you be well received by them, propose your combat of ten against ten. We shall then hear what answer they give; and, though I believe the offer will be accepted, we must take good counsel how we proceed against these Christians, whom we consider as more valiant than ourselves."

This being determined on, they retired to rest. On the morrow, as usual, they advanced
to skirmish; but Agadinquor rode on at some distance in front with his interpreter. The
day was bright and clear, and a little after sunrise the Saracens were ready for battle.  Sir
Guy and sir William de la Tremouille had commanded the guard of the night, and were on
the point of retiring when the Saracens appeared in sight about three bow-shots distant,
Agadinquor and his interpreter advanced towards one of the wings, and made signs to give
notice that he wanted to parley with same one by accident, he came near the pennon of a
good squire at arms called Affrenal, who, noticing his signs, rode forward a pace. and told
his men to remain as they were, "for that he would go and see what the Saracen wanted:
he has an interpreter with him, and is probably come to make some proposition." His men
remained steady, and he rode towards the Saracen.

When they were near each other, the interpreter said,-" Christian, are you a gentleman,
of name in arms, and ready to answer what shall be asked of you?" "Yes," replied
Affrenal, "I am: speak what you please, it shall be answered."

"Well," said the interpreter, " here is a noble man of our country who demands to combat with you bodily; and, if you would like to increase the number to ten, he will bring as many of his friends to meet you. The cause for the challenge is this: They maintain, that their faith is more perfect
than yours; for it has continued since the beginning of the world, when it was written
down; and that your faith has been introduced by a mortal, whom the Jews hung and
crucified."

"Ho," interrupted Affrenal, "be silent on these matters, for it does not become
such as thee to dispute concerning them, but tell the Saracen, who has ordered thee to speak,
to swear on his faith that such a combat shall take place, and he shall be gratified within
four hours. Let him bring ten gentlemen, and of name in arms, on his side, and I will
bring as many to meet him."

The interpreter related to the Saracen the words that had passed, who seemed much rejoiced thereat, and pledged himself for the combat.

This being done, each returned to his friends; but the news had already been carried to
sir Guy and to sir William de la Tremouille, who, meeting Affrenal, demanded how he had
settled matters with the Saracen. Affrenal related what you have heard, and that he had
accepted the challenge. The two knights were well pleased, and said,-" Affrenal, go and
speak to others, for we will be of your number ten."

He replied,-" God assist us! I fancy I shall find plenty ready to fight the Saracens." Shortly after, Affrenal met the lord de Thim, to whom he told what had passed, and asked if he would make one. The lord de Thim willingly accepted the offer; and of all those to whom Affrenal related it, he might, if
he pleased, have had a hundred instead of ten. Sir Boucicaut, the younger, accepted it with
great courage, as did sir Helion de Lignac, sir John Russel, an Englishman, sir John
Harpedone, Alain Boudet and Bouchet. When the number of ten was completed, they
retired to their lodgings, to prepare and arm themselves.

When the news of this combat was spread through the army, and the names of the ten were told, the knights and squires said,-" They are lucky fellows, thus to have such a gallant feat of arms fall to their lot." "Would to Heaven," added many, "that we were of the ten."

All the knights and squires seemed to rejoice at this event, except the lord de Coucy. I believe the lord de Thim was a dependant on, or of the company of, the lord de Coucy: for, when he repaired to his tent to arm, he found him there, and acknowledged him for his lord. He related to him the
challenge of the Saracen, and that he had accepted being one of the ten.

All present were loud in praise of it, except the lord de Coucy, who said,-" Hold your tongues, you
youngsters, who as yet know nothing of the world, and who never consider consequences,
but always applaud folly in preference to good. I see no advantage in this combat, for
many reasons: one is, that ten noble and distinguished gentlemen are about to fight with
ten Saracens. How do we know if their opponents are gentlemen? They may, if they
choose, bring to the combat ten varlets, or knaves, and, if they are defeated, what is the
gain? We shall not the sooner win the town of Africa, but by it risk very valuable lives.
Perhaps they may form an ambuscade, and, while our friends are on the plain waiting for
their opponents, surround them and carry them off, by which we shall be greatly weakened.
I therefore say, that Affrenul has not wisely managed this matter; and, when he first met
the Saracen, he should have otherwise answered, and said,-'I am not the comrnander-in-
chief of our army, but one of the least in it; and you Saracen, who address yourself to me
and blame our faith, are not qualified to discuss such matters, nor have you well addressed
yourself. I will conduct you to my lords, and assure you, on my life, that no harm befal
you in going or in returning, for my lords will cheerfully listen to you.' He should then
have led him to the duke of Bourbon and the council of war, when his proposal would have
been heard and discussed at leisure, his intentions been known, and answers made according as
they should think the matter deserved. Such a combat should never be undertaken but after
great deliberation, especially with enemies like to those we are engaged with. And when
it had been agreed on, that the names and qualities of each combatant should be declared,
we would then have selected proper persons to meet them, and proper securities would have
been required from the Saracens for the uninterrupted performance of the combat, and a due
observance of the articles. If matters had been thus managed, lord of Thim, I think it
would have been better. It would be well if it could be put on this footing; and I will
speak to the duke of Bourbon and the principal barons in the army, and hear what they
shall say on the subject."

The lord de Coucy then departed for the tent of the duke of Bourbon, where the barons were assembled, as they had heard of this challenge, to consider what might be the probable event of it. Although the lord de Coucy had intended his speech to the lord de Thim as advice for his benefit, he did not the less arm himself: when fully equipped, he went with his companions, who were completely armed, and in good array, with sir Guy de la Tremouille at their head, to meet the Saracens.

During this, there was conversation on the subject between the lords in the tent of the
duke of Bourbon: many thought the accepting such a challenge improper, and supported
the opinion of the lord de Coucy, who said it ought to have been ordered otherwise. But
some, and in particular the lord Philip d' Artois, count d'Eu, and the lord Philip de Bar,
said,-" Since the challenge has been accepted by our knights, they would be disgraced were
the combat now broken off: and in the name of God and our Lady, let them accomplish it
the best manner they can."

This was adopted; for it was now too far advanced to be stopped. It was therefore ordered to draw out the whole army properly arrayed, that if the Saracens had formed any bad designs, they might be prepared to meet them. Every one, therefore, made himself ready: the whole were drawn up, as if for instant combat; the Genoese cross-bows on one side, and the knights and squires on the other; each lord under his own banner or pennon emblazoned with his arms. It was a fine sight to view the army thus displayed, and they showed great eagerness to attack the Saracens.

The ten knights and squires were advanced on the plain waiting for their opponents, but
they came not, nor showed any appearance of so doing; for, when they saw the Christian
army so handsomely drawn out in battle-array, they were afraid to advance though they
were thrice their numbers. At times they sent horsemen, well mounted, to ride near their
army, observe its disposition, and then gallop back, which was solely done through malice,
to annoy the Christians.

This was the hottest day they felt, and it was so extremely oppressive that the most active
among them were almost stifled in their arm our: they had never suffered so much before,
and yet they remained expecting the ten Saracens, but in vain, for they never heard a word
from them. The army was ordered to attack the town of Africa, since they were prepared,
and thus pass the day; and the ten champions, in regard to their honour, were to remain on
their ground to the evening.

The knights and squires advanced with great alacrity to the attack of the town, but they
were sorely oppressed with the heat; and had the Saracens known their situation, they might
have done them much damage, probably they might even have raised the siege and obtained
a complete victory, for the Christians were exceedingly weakened and worn down. True it
is, they gained by storm the wall of the first enclosure: but no one inhabited that part, and
the enemy retired within their second line of defence, skirmishing as they retreated, and
without any great loss. The Christians paid dear for an inconsiderable advantage: the
heat of the sun and its reflection on the sands, added to the fatigue of fighting, which
lasted until evening, caused the deaths of several valiant knights and squires: the more
the pity.

I will mention the names of those who this day fell victims to the heat and unhealthiness
of the climate. First, sir William de Gacille, sir Guiscard de la Garde, sir Lyon Scalet, sir
Guy de la Salveste, sir William d'Estapelle, sir William de Guiret, sir Raffroy de la Chapelle,
the lord de Pierre Buffiere, the lord de Bonnet, sir Robert de Ranges, sir Stephen de San-
cerre, sir Aubert de la Motte, sir Alain de la Champaigne, sir Geoffry Sressiers, sir Raoul
d'Econflan, the lord de Bourg from Artois, sir John de Crie, bastard de la Mouleraye, sir
Tristan his brother, sir Arne de Consay, sir Arne de Donnay, sir John de Compaignie, sir
Fouke d'Escauffours, sir John de Dignant, sir John de Cathenais.  I will now add the names
of squires who fell: Fouchans de Liege, John des Isles, Blondelet d' Arenton, John de la
Motte, Blomberis, Floridas de Rocque, the lord de Bellefreres, William Fondrigay, Walter
de Canfours, John Morillon, Peter de Maulves, Guillot Villain, John de la Lande, John
Purier, John le Moine, John de Launay and William du Parc.

Now consider how great was this loss; and, had the advice of the gallant lord de Coucy
been followed, it would not have happened, for the army would have remained quietly in its
camp, as it had hitherto done. The whole army were dismayed at it, and each bewailed the
loss of his friend. They retired late to their camp, and kept a stronger guard than usual,
during the night, for fear of the Saracens. It passed however without further accident, and
more prudent arrangements were made. The Saracens were ignorant of what their enemies
had suffered; had they known it, they would have had a great advantage over them, but
they were in dread of the Christians, and never ventured to attack them but in skirmishes,
retreating after one or two charges.

The person among them who had shown the most courage was Agadinquor d'Oliferne. He was enamoured with the daughter of the king of Tunis, and in compliment to her, was eager to perform brilliant actions. Thus was the siege of Africa continued; but the relations and friends of the knights and squires who had gone thither, from France and other countries, received no intelligence, nor
knew more of them than if they were dead. They were so much alarmed at not having any
news of them that many processions were made in England, France and Hainault, to the
churches to pray God that he would bring them back, in safety, to their several homes. The
. intention of the Christians was to remain before the town of Africa, until they should have
conquered it by storm, treaty or famine. The king of Sicily, as well as the inhabitants of
the adjacent islands, were anxious it should be so, for the Africans had done them
frequent damage; but the Genoese were particularly kind, in supplying the knights
and squires with everything they wanted, to prevent them from being tired with the length
of the campaign.

To say the truth, this was a very great enterprise, and the knights and squires showed much
courage and perseverance in continuing the siege in so unhealthy a climate, after the great
losses they had suffered, without assistance from anyone; and even when the Genoese, who
had first proposed the expedition, were dissembling with them, and as it was said, were in
treaty with the Saracens, to leave the Christian army unsupported and neglected as I shall
relate in due time, according to the reports that were made to me.

We will now leave the affairs of Africa, and speak of the handsome feasts that were at this
time given at London.
 

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Posted originally on October 17, 2002