Stirling Tournament of 1449

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A celebrated tournament took place at Stirling during Lent 1449, in presence of the king and a large assemblage of nobility,

In 1449, Jacques de Lalaing travelled to Stirling, Scotland, to fight with members of the Douglas clan before the King of Scotland. This was to be a combat of six. On the side of Hainault were Jacques, his uncle Simon de Lalaing, and a squire from Brittany named Herve de Meriadec. On the Scottish side were James Douglas (brother of the Earl of Douglas), another James Douglas, and John Ross of Halket (or Hawhead). The combat took place on 25 February 1449. A crowd of five or six thousand gathered to watch.

Under the agreed-upon terms, the combat was to take place on foot, armed with spear, polaxe, sword, and dagger. At the request of the Scots, the throwing of spears was forbidden. The combat was fought with sharp weapons, and was to continue until stopped by the king. Each combatant was allowed to help his companions.

Jacques and his companions agreed in advance that as soon as the combat began, they would discard their spears and switch to their polaxes. When the combat began, they followed their plan; the Scots retained their spears.

Jacques came against James Douglas (the earl's brother) and swiftly disarmed him, knocking the spear from his grasp. James switched to his polaxe, but Jacques disarmed him again, just as easily. Irate at having lost both his spear and his axe, James drew his dagger and attempted to close, striking repeatedly at Jacques' unarmored face. Jacques held him at bay with his left hand, catching his fingers in the eye-slits of his helmet. Discarding his polaxe, Jacques drew his sword, "...which was a thin estoc, and grasped the blade near the point, so he could use it as a dagger, for he had somehow lost his own." Meanwhile, James had caught hold of his bevor (chin-guard); attempting to thrust at the unarmored palm of James' hand, Jacques lost his sword. Now completely disarmed, Jacques caught his opponent with both hands on his visor, and was in the process of throwing him to the ground when the king stopped the combat.

While this was going on, Simon de Lalaing fought with John Ross of Halket. As the chronicle says, Simon was "strong, hardy, and very expert in arms." Like his nephew Jacques, he quickly disarmed his opponent, knocking the spear out of his hands. The two knights then fought with polaxes. Sir John was a powerful man, but Simon "knew well how to receive the blows on his polaxe." Calmly warding off his opponent's attacks, Simon waited until his opponent "began to lose his force and his breath." Then, seeing his opportunity, he shifted to the offensive, thrusting with both the point and the tail-spike of the polaxe. As he drove his opponent back the entire length of the lists, says the chronicle, it was clear to everyone that Sir John was taking a beating.

Meanwhile, Herve de Meriadec was fighting the other James Douglas. As the two closed in, James lowered his spear and thrust at Herve's face. However, he missed his mark; instead, his point went through the left sleeve of Herve's surcoat and glanced off of the armour underneath. Herve, stepping within distance, struck Sir James so hard on the head with his polaxe that he knocked him to the ground, stunned, face down.

Herve immediately looked to see whether his companions needed assistance, since that was allowed by the rules. As he did so, Sir James began to recover, rising to his knees. Seeing this, Herve struck him to the ground again with numerous blows of his axe. As he turned to aid his friends, Sir James rose yet again, and the two fought briefly with their polaxes. At this point, seeing the danger that the Scottish knights were in, the king ended the fight.

A full and an interesting,  if somewhat biased, account has been preserved by a contemporary writer :—

"When Messire Jaques de Lalain saw that there was no further occasion for him there, he returned, and found the good Duke of Burgundy in his city of Lille, who received him favourably: but he soon took leave of the Duke, and set out for Scotland. He was accompanied by Messire Simon de Lalain his uncle, and Herve de Meriadet, and many other worthy men ; and so far as I understand Messire James Douglas, brother of the Earl of Douglas, and the said Messire Jaques de Lalain, had formerly wished to meet in arms, and had sought each other for that purpose. At the instance of the said Messire James Douglas, battle was permitted by the king, between him and M. Jaques de Lalain; but the fair grew and multiplied so that a conflict to outranee was concluded on, of three noble Scotishmen, against M. Simon and M. Jaques de Lalain, and Herve Meriadet, all to fight at once before the King of Scotland. And when the day of the conflict came, the king most honourably received them in the lists; and though I was not myself a spectator, yet I must recount the ceremonies for example to future times. For three memorable things occur, besides the battle, which was most fiercely disputed on both sides.

"The first was, that when the three belonging to the court of Burgundy were all armed, and each his coat-of-arns on his back, ready to enter into battle, M. Jaques de Lalain spoke to M. Simon his uncle, and to Meriadet, and said, 'Messieurs, and my brothers in the conflict, you know that it is my enterprise which has led us into this kingdom, and that in consequence the battle has been granted to M. James Douglas; and, although each of us may assist his comrade, I beg and request you that, whatever befall me this day, none of you attempt to succour me, for it would seem that you had passed the sea, and entered into this conflict only to assist me, and that you did not hold or know me a man able to sustain the assault and combat of one knight, and hence less account will be held of me and my knighthood.'

"After this request, sallied from the pavilions the champions in armour, furnished with axes, lances, swords, daggers; and they had leave either to throw or push their lances as they chose.

"The two Messires James Douglas and Jaques de Lalain were in the middle, to encounter each other, which they did. On the right was M. Simon de Lalain, who was to engage a Scotish squire, and Meriadet was to meet a knight of high power and fame; but they found themselves transverse, so that the knight was opposite to M. Simon; and then Meriadet, (who desired to assail him who was appointed, without regard to the strength or fame of his antagonist,) passed across, to place himself before M. Simon, and meet his man. But the good knight coldly and firmly turned towards Meriadet, and said, ' Brother let each keep himself to his opponent; and I shall do well if it please God.' So Meriadet resumed his rank before his antagonist: and this is the second thing which I desired to commemorate.

"The champions began to advance each against the other; and because that the three on the part of Burgundy doubted lest the place might be too confined for so many lances, they all three threw their lances behind them, (the third cause of my recital,) and seized their axes, and rushed on the Scots, who came within push of lance, but that availed them nothing. Though all fought at once, I shall rehearse the adventures one after the other.

"The two Messires James Douglas and de Lalain met each other, and approached so nigh, that of all their weapons there remained none save a dagger, which the Scottish knight held. The said M. Jaques de Lalain seized him by the arm, near his hand which held the dagger, so closely, that the Scot could not avail himself of it; and he held the other arm below the arm-pit so that they turned each other round the lists for a long time.

"M. Simon de Lalain and the Scottish knight were strong champions, and neither of them skilled in warding blows of the the axe; like two valiant knights they attacked each other so often, that in a short time they had crushed the visors of their basinets, and their weapons and armour, with mutual blows; and the fight seemed equal.

"On the other side was Herve de Meriadet, whom the Scotishman attacked with the push of lance; but Meriadet turned off the blow with the but end of his axe, so that the lance fell from the Scot's hands; and Meriadet pursued him so keenly that, before the Scot could undo his axe, he came within his guard, and with one blow felled him to the earth. Meriadet then left the Scot to arise, who was quick, light, and of great spirit, and arose speedily, and ran to Meriadet for the second time. Meriadet (who was one of the most redoubled squires of his time for strength, lightness, coolness, and skill in arms and in wrestling,) received the assault with great composure, then returned it, and again struck him to the ground with his axe; when the Scot again attempted to rise, but Meriadet struck him on the back with his hand and knee, and made him fall flat on the sand. And notwithstanding the request which Messire Jaques de Lalain had made, the said Meriadet, seeing the struggle of the two knights, advanced to assist the said Jaques; but the King of Scots threw down his baton, and they were parted.

Now though it be against my plan, and though I write of this combat without having seen it, I nevertheless report it truly, by the report of the Scots and of our party."




Sources for this article include:

• The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts

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