Winning Renown

26 Aug 2014 by gebhard, No Comments »

joustEveryone wants to be a winner,  After all winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. In our culture, we have a become accustomed to a winner-take-all attitude. It hasn’t always been this way.  In the SCA, this isn’t really our collective attitude. It is something often seen in sports, games and Business Weekly.  Any time I do run across it in our sport, it seems as out of place as a pink lawn chair at a Rose Tournament.

In period, all deeds of arms came at some risk to your person. Without modern medicine, even a small cut, or a sprain could escalate to the point it would end your career or your life. Those bold enough risk their very person for a cause were worthy of admiration. Taking part in such deeds built your renown (word fame or name fame).  This resulted in accolades and appreciation by your local authorities and/or crown.  Renown led to promotions, lands, or better marriages.  More comes to those of high renown. Those who do more are more worthy.

How was renown built in period? Let’s take a brief look at a period example.

In 1383, there was long stint of battles between England and France.  The English sought to establish a presence in Burgundy. They did at first have some success, but were then repelled for reasons too lengthy to cover in this blog.

We do not know what Peter Courtenay’s role was in this campaign, but we do know he couldn’t put the loss behind him and wanted to prove that if there was any failure, it was not due to his lack of willingness to fight. He came up with a plan to show English Prowess in the showiest manner possible.

He issued a Challenge to the Standard Bearer of Flanders (a very prestigious position to hold), Gui de las Tremoille. Peter would go to Paris and fight Gui before the King.  In doing such, he would gain personal honor and political credit, or at least that was his plan.

Of course an English Knight can’t just go riding into Paris and demand satisfaction. You need approval. I can’t image what the paperwork for such a request must look like, but Peter eventually acquired permission from English nobility, the dominate Burgundian party, the nobles of France and even the King himself before he could depart on his quest.

The day of the event I’m sure was an amazing display of splendor, attracting huge crowds and and excitement, with spectators from all walks of life.

Details regarding how many passes there were to be and what type of weapons were to be used have been lost to history. What we do know is that after the initial joust, which Peter lost, King Charles of France called a halt to whole thing. There could have been many political reasons he would want to stop this affair. We don’t know why this was done, but we do know that Peter wasn’t happy that the terms of combat were not met.

“To the (or “to appease the”) discontent of the English Knight, who seemed desirous of pushing the combat to extremities” the French offered rich gifts, presented by the King and by the Duke of Burgundy.

Peter Courtenay accepted the gifts and may have seemed to be satisfied for the time.

However, this was not the case.  During his return trip home, Peter was escorted by a number of French knights under the command of the Lord of Clary who was tasked to see him safely to the border.  They stopped at the residence of Countess of St. Pol, an English woman and relative of Peter’s, so that they could dine.  During dinner, Sir Peter was recorded as having said the following:

“To be sure, madam, I am perfectly contented as to the reception I have had; but, in regard to the reason I crossed the sea, they have but shabbily acquitted themselves: and I wish that you should know, and the Lord of Clary too, who is a French knight, that if a knight of France had come to England, and Challenged any one, however high his mark, it would have been accepted, and the terms faithfully fulfilled to his utmost pleasure; but this has been refused me. It is true, that Sir Gui de la Tremoille and myself were brought into the lists; but, when we had run one course with the lance, I was stopped, and ordered from the king to attempt nothing more. for that we had done enough. I therefore say, madam, and shall say and maintain it wherever I go, that I have not met anyone able to oppose me in arms; and that it has not been my fault, but rests solely with the knights of France.”

The Lord of Clary was angered by these words, but could say or do nothing, as Peter was under his care. The Lord of Clary intended to follow his orders and keep harm away from Sir Peter, at least until he was out of French Territories. When the two knights reached the border, Clary was free to express his own opinion, and said thus:

“Sir Peter, You may recollect that, the day before yesterday, you spoke too freely, as it seemed to me, and too much blame and prejudice of the French chivalry for you said you came to the court of the King of France, and had found none willing to oppose you in arms: and you gave it to be understood that there was not a knight in France who dared to perform arms with you or to run three courses with a steel lance. I wish you there to know that I (who am on of the least knights of the realm) offer myself, to maintain that France is not so devoid of knights, but that you may find many willing to accept your challenge; and if you will accept me to this intent, either this day or tomorrow, I will meet you without hatred or any ill-will. It is solely with a view to defend our honor, and that you may not to Calais or England, and boast you have defeated the chivalry of France without striking a blow: now, say whether you will accept my challenge or not”

Peter Courtenay was overjoyed to hear these words, and responded:
“Lord Clary, you speak well: I accept your challenge, and propose that you be at this place tomorrow, armed as you please. I will be so likewise; and we will run three courses with the lance, by which you will recover the honor of the court of the King of France and give me much satisfaction”

The next day, both men came with a retinue of friends to bear witness to the challenge,  and both properly armored to befit such a deed of arms. Without wasting much time, they set out to fulfill their agreement. On the second course, they each struck the other with amazing force. The Lord of Clary pierced Peter’s shield and drove his lance into his shoulder until it stuck out the other side by a hand, knocking the English knight to the ground.

Clary, turned his horse around down field turned to see Peter laying the ground, with his friends leaning over him. As Clary drew near he heard the Englishman say, “Light!”…. err… That’s not what he said. Instead, his friends met Clary and proclaimed,

“You are not a very courteous jouster”
“Why so?” he replied
“Because you have thrust your lance into Sir Peter’s shoulder: you ought and could have jousted more courteously”
“Courtesy was not my concern; and I was ready to meet with such an accident, if things had gone against me. But in this case, since he was challenged by me, ask him, or I will, if he is satisfied, or whether anything is lacking and he wants more.”
“No, Sir Knight: you may depart, for you have done enough”

Peter, who suffered defeat in battle, made a high profile challenge, was dismissed before its completion, complained loudly, and now lays in the dirt as an arrogant loser who deserves what he got. Or, I’m pretty sure this would be the message that a modern movie would portray as the camera pans in, with a phrase like “You have been found wanting”.

History is a little different, what the English remember is that Sir Peter showed both skill and a willingness to fight. He traveled to Paris to defend and the serve the English. He suffered no lasting harm to his pride, his martial reputation, or his political standing. He went on to participate in other famous deeds of arms and had a successful career.

Winning wasn’t as important as Peter’s willingness to see his quest through, to finish what he started. Sir Peter came to do a job, and took every opportunity to see it through. Perhaps this is more important than the end itself.



In this entry, I quote very heavily from Steven Muhlberger’s “Formal Combats in the Fourteenth Century”. If you enjoyed this story and would enjoy more stories like it, I encourage you to pick up a copy of his book at this link.

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