Sir Jean Froissart: John of Gaunt in Portugal, 1385
[Tappan Introduction: Portugal was still an unimportant little country, often engaged in warfare with the more powerful land of Spain. Each country sought for allies. Castile found them in the French; Portugal in the English. In 1385 the great battle of Aljubarrota was fought, and the Portuguese were the winners. The English archers had been of great service to them in this battle, and now the barons and knights and magistrates of the principal towns in Portugal met together in Lisbon to plan how to make a closer alliance with England. The way was open. The Duke of Lancaster, uncle to Richard II, King of England, had married a daughter of the late King of Castile. Their daughter Costanza had, then, a claim to the Castilian throne. Therefore, the wily Portuguese wrote some letters to the duke, saying that now was the time to stand for the rights of his daughter, and that if he wished to enter Castile, he might pass through Portugal. In England, at that date French was the court language, and Latin the literary language; therefore, the letters were written in both tongues, and a messenger was chosen who could speak French as easily as Portuguese, one Lawrence Fongasse. The duke was well pleased with the suggestion, and set out with his wife and children and men-at-arms for Portugal.]
THE King of Portugal was well pleased at the arrival of the English knights, and commanded that they should be comfortably lodged. When they were ready, Don Martin d’Acunha and Don Fernando Martin de Merlo, who were acquainted with the king’s habits, introduced them to him. He received them very graciously; and after some conversation, which they knew well how to keep up, they presented the falcons and greyhounds. The king cheerfully accepted them, as he was fond of the chase. They returned the king thanks, on the part of the Duke and Duchess of Lancaster, for the handsome mules he had given them. The king replied, these were trifles, merely tokens of affection, such as lords desirous of maintaining love and friendship ought to make to each other; but he should soon offer more splendid presents. Wine and spices were now brought, of which the English knights having partaken, they took leave of the king and returned to their lodgings, where they supped. On the morrow, they were seated at the king’s table. Sir John d’Ambreticourt and Sir John Sounder were at another table with the great barons of the kingdom, among whom was Lawrence Fongasse, squire of honor to the king, who was well known to these knights, having been acquainted with them in England; on which account he made them the best cheer in his power, and this he knew well how to do.
The dinner the King of Portugal gave to these knights was very handsome and well served. When over, they adjourned to the council-chamber, and the knights, addressing themselves to the king, the Count d’Acunha and the Count de Novaire spoke as follows: “Sire, with all the compliments the Duke of Lancaster has charged us to pay you, he ordered us to say that he is very desirous of having a personal interview with you.” The king replied, he was equally anxious for it, and added, “I beg of you to hasten everything as much as possible, that we may have a conference together.” “That will be very proper,” said the barons of Portugal; “for until you meet, you will never understand each other. You may then confer on the most effectual means of carrying on the war against the King of Castile.” “That is true,” answered the knights. “Be speedy about it, then,” said the king, “for if the duke wishes to see me I wish also to see him.” They then entered on other conversation; for the council was to determine when and where this meeting should take place, and inform the English knights of it. This was done. It was agreed the King of Portugal should go to Oporto, and the Duke of Lancaster advance along the borders of Galicia; and somewhere between them and Oporto the meeting was to be held. When the English knights had remained three days at Coimbra, they departed and followed the same road back to St. Jago, where they related to the duke and duchess all that had passed. They were with reason well satisfied with it, for their affairs seemed now likely to be attended to.
When the day of meeting approached, the Duke of Lancaster left his army, under the command of his marshal, at St. Jago, and attended by three hundred spears and six hundred archers, and Sir John Holland (who had married his eldest daughter) with many knights, rode toward the frontiers of Portugal. The King of Portugal, hearing that the duke was set out from St. Jago, left Oporto with six hundred spears, and went to a town called in that country Monçao, the last town of Portugal on that side. The duke came to a town on the frontiers called Melgaço. Between Monçao and Lemgaço runs a small river through meadows and fields, over which is a bridge called Pont de More.
On a Thursday morning, the King of Portugal and the Duke of Lancaster had their first interview at this bridge, attended by their escorts, when they made acquaintance with each other. On the King of Portugal’s side had been built a bower, covered with leaves, in which the duke was entertained at dinner by the king. It was a handsome one; and the Bishop of Coimbra, the Bishop of Oporto, as also the Archbishop of Braganza, were seated at the king’s table with the duke, and a little below him were Sir John Holland and Sir Henry Beaumont. There were many minstrels, and this entertainment lasted until night. The King of Portugal was that day clothed in white lined with crimson, with a red cross of St. George, being the dress of the Order of Avis, of which he was grand master. When the people had elected him their king, he declared he would always wear that dress in honor of God and St. George, and his attendants were all dressed in white and crimson. When it became late, they took leave of each other, with the engagement of meeting again on the morrow. The king went to Monçao, and the duke to Melgaço, which places were only separated by the river and meadows. On the Friday, after hearing the Mass, they mounted their horses, and rode over the Pont de More, to the spot where they had met the preceding day. The house which had been erected for this occasion was the fairest and greatest that had ever been seen there. The king and duke had each their apartments hung with cloth and covered with carpets, as convenient as if the king had been at Lisbon or the duke in London.
Before dinner they had a conference on the state of their affairs, how they should carry on the war, and when they should commence it. They resolved to order their marshals to continue their attacks during the winter, which the king was to pass in Portugal, and the duke at St. Jago; and it was settled that, early in March, they would unite their forces, and march to combat the King of Castile, wherever he might be, and whomever he might have with him; for the English and Portuguese, when united, would be full thirty thousand men. When this had been determined, the king’s council introduced the subject of marriage with their king; for the country was very desirous he would marry, as it was now time; and by it they would be much strengthened; and they thought he could not make a better choice for himself, nor one more agreeable to them, than by inter-marrying with the House of Lancaster. The duke, who saw the attachment the king and the Portuguese had for him, and that he had need of their assistance, as he was come from England to Portugal to regain his kingdom of Castile, replied with a smile, addressing the king: “Sir King, I have at St. Jago two girls, and I will give you the choice to take which of them shall please you best. Send thither your council, and I will return her with them.” ” Many thanks,” said the king: “you offer me more than I ask. I will leave my cousin Catherine of Castile; but I demand your daughter Philippa in marriage, whom I will espouse and make my queen.” At these words the conference broke up, as it was dinnertime. They were seated as on the preceding day, and most sumptuously and plentifully served, according to the custom of that country. After dinner, the king and duke returned to their lodgings.
On the Saturday after Mass, they again mounted their horses, and returned to Pont de More in grand array. The duke this day entertained at dinner the king and his attendants. His apartments were decorated with the richest tapestry, with his arms emblazoned on it, and as splendidly ornamented as if he had been at Hertford, Leicester, or at any of his mansions in England, which very much astonished the Portuguese. Three bishops and one archbishop were seated at the upper table: the Bishops of Lisbon, of Oporto, of Coimbra, and the Archbishop of Braganza. The King of Portugal was placed at the middle, and the duke somewhat below him; a little lower than the duke, the Count d’Acunha and the Count de Novaire. At the head of the second table was the deputy grand master of Avis: then the grand master of St. James, in Portugal, and the grand master of St. John, Diego Lopez Pacheco, Joao Fernandez Pacheco his son, Lopo Vasquez d’Acunha, Vasco Martin d’Acunha, Lopo Diaz d’Azevedo, Vasco Martin de Merlo, Gonzalves de Merlo, all great barons. The Abbot of Aljubarrota, the Abbot of St. Mary, in Estremadoura, Sir Alvarez Pereira, marshal of Portugal, Joao Rodriguez Pereira, Joao Gomez de Silva, Joao Rodriguez de Sa, and many other Portuguese knights, were there seated; for not one Englishman was at the table that day, but served their guests. There were numbers of minstrels, who played their parts well; and the duke gave them and the heralds one hundred nobles each.
When this festival was ended, they took a most friendly leave of each other, until they should meet again. The king returned to Oporto, and the duke to Melgaço, from whence he journeyed toward St. Jago. The Count de Novaire escorted him with one hundred Portuguese lances, until he was out of all danger, when he took leave and returned to Portugal. The duchess was very impatient for the duke’s return, to hear how the conferences had passed; of course, you may suppose, she received him with joy. She asked what he thought of the King of Portugal. “On my faith,” replied the duke, “he is an agreeable man, and has the appearance of being a valiant one, and I think he will reign powerfully; for he is much beloved by his subjects, who say that they have not been so fortunate in a king for these hundred years. He is but twenty-six years old, and, like the Portuguese, strong and well-formed in his limbs and body to go through much labor and pain.” “Well, and what was done in regard to the marriage,” said the duchess. “I have given him one of my daughters.” “Which?” asked the duchess. “I have offered him the choice of Catherine or Philippa; for which he thanked me much, and has fixed on Philippa.” “He is in the right,” said the duchess; “for my daughter Catherine is too young for him.”
DURING the stay of the Duke of Lancaster in Entenga, a herald arrived from Valladolid, who demanded where Sir John Holland was lodged. On being shown thither, he found Sir John within; and, hending his knee, presented him with a letter, saying, “Sir, I am a herald-at-arms, whom Sir Reginald de Roye sends hither: he salutes you by me, and you will be pleased to read this letter.” Sir John answered he would willingly do so. Having opened it, he read that Sir Reginald de Roye entreated him, for the love of his mistress, that he would deliver him from his vow, by tilting with him three courses with the lance, three attacks with the sword, three with the battle-axe, and three with the dagger; and that, if he chose to come to Valladolid, he had provided him an escort of sixty spears; but, if it were more agreeable to him to remain in Entenca, he desired he would obtain from the Duke of Lancaster a passport for himself and thirty companions.
When Sir John Holland had perused the letter, he smiled, and, looking at the herald, said, “Friend, thou art welcome; for thou hast brought me what pleases me much, and I accept the challenge. Thou wilt remain in my lodging with my people, and in the course of tomorrow, thou shalt have my answer, whether the tilts are to be in Galicia or Castile.” The herald replied, “God grant it.” He remained in Sir John’s lodgings, where he was made comfortable; and Sir John went to the Duke of Lancaster, whom he found in conversation with the marshal, and showed him the letter the herald had brought. “Well,” said the duke, “and have you accepted it? ” ” Yes, by my faith, have I: and why not? I love nothing better than fighting, and the knight entreats me to indulge him: consider, therefore, where you would choose it should take place.” The duke mused awhile, and then said: “It shall be performed in this town: have a passport made out in what terms you please, and I will seal it.” “It is well said,” replied Sir John; “and I will, in God’s name, soon make out the passport.”
The passport was fairly written and sealed, for thirty knights and squires to come and return; and Sir John Holland, when he delivered it to the herald, presented him with a handsome mantle lined with a minever, and twelve nobles. The herald took leave and returned to Valladolid, where he related what had passed, and showed his presents.
News of this tournament was carried to Oporto, where the King of Portugal kept his court. “In the name of God,” said the king, “I will be present at it, and so shall my queen and the ladies.” “Many thanks,” replied the duchess, ” for I shall be accompanied by the king and queen when I return.” It was not long after this conversation that the King of Portugal, the queen, the duchess, with her daughter, and the ladies of the court, set out for Entença in grand array. The Duke of Lancaster, when they were near at hand, mounted his horse; and, attended by a numerous company, went to meet them. When the king and the duke met, they embraced each other most kindly, and entered the town together, where their lodgings were as well prepared as they could be in such a place, though they were not so magnificent as if they had been in Paris. Three days after the arrival of the King of Portugal, came Sir Reginald de Roye, handsomely accompanied by knights and squires, to the amount of six score horse. They were all properly lodged; for the duke had given his officers strict orders they should be well taken care of. On the morrow Sir John Holland and Sir Reginald de Roye armed themselves, and rode into a spacious close in Entença, well sanded, where the tilts were to be performed. Scaffolds were erected for the ladies, the king, the duke, and the many English lords who had come to witness the combat; for none had stayed at home.
The two knights who were to perform this deed of arms entered the lists so well armed and equipped that nothing was wanting. Their spears, battle-axes, and swords were brought them; and each, being mounted on the best of horses, placed himself about a bow-shot distant from the other; but at times they both pranced about on their horses most gallantly, for they knew every eye to be upon them. All being now arranged for their combat, which was to include everything except pushing it to extremity, though no one could see what mischief might happen, nor how it would end; for they were to tilt with pointed lances, then with swords, which were so sharp that scarcely a helmet could resist their strokes; and these were succeeded by battle-axes and daggers, each so well tempered that nothing could withstand them Now, consider the perils those run who engage in such combats to exalt their honor; for one unlucky stroke puts an end to the business. Having braced their targets and examined each other through the visors of their helmets, they spurred on their horses, spear in hand. Though they allowed their horses to gallop as they pleased, they advanced on as straight a line as if it had been drawn with a cord, and hit each other on the visors with such force that Sir Reginald’s lance was shivered into four pieces, which flew to a greater height than they could have been thrown. All present allowed this to have been gallantly done. Sir John Holland struck Sir Reginald likewise on the visor, but not with the same success, and I will tell you why: Sir Reginald had but slightly laced on his helmet, so that it was held by one thong only, which broke at the blow, and the helmet flew over his head, leaving Sir Reginald bare-headed. Each passed the other, and Sir John Holland bore his lance without halting. The spectators cried out that it was a handsome course.
The knights returned to their station, when Sir Reginald’s helmet was fitted on again, and another lance given to him: Sir John grasped his own, which was not worsted. When ready, they set off full gallop, for they had excellent horses under them, which they well knew how to manage, and again struck each other on the helmets, so that sparks of fire came from them, but chiefly from Sir John Holland’s. He received a very severe blow, for this time the lance did not break; neither did Sir John’s, which hit the visor of his adversary without much effect, passing through and leaving it on the crupper of the horse, and Sir Reginald was once more bare-headed. “Ha,” cried the English to the French, “he does not fight fair; why is not his helmet as well buckled on as Sir John Holland’s? We say he is playing tricks: tell him to put himself on an equal footing with his adversary.” “Hold your tongues,” said the duke, “and let them alone: in arms every one takes what advantage he can if Sir John thinks there is any advantage in thus fastening on his helmet, he may do the same. But for my part were I in their situations, I would lace my helmet as tight as possible, and if one hundred were asked their opinions, there would be fourscore of my way of thinking.” The English on this were silent, and never again interfered.
The ladies declared they had nobly jousted; and they were much praised by the King of Portugal, who said to Sir John Fernando, “In our country they do not tilt so well, nor so gallantly: what say you, Sir John?” “By my faith, sir,” replied he, “they do tilt well; and formerly I saw as good jousts before your brother, when we were at Elvas to oppose the King of Castile, between this Frenchman and Sir William Windsor; but I never heard that his helmet was tighter laced than it is now.”
The king on this turned to Sir John to observe the knights, who were about to begin their third course. Sir John and Sir Reginald eyed each other, to see if any advantage were to be gained, for their horses were so excellent that they could manage them as they pleased, and sticking spurs into them, hit their helmets so sharply that their eyes struck fire and the shafts of their lances were broken. Sir Reginald was again unhelmed, for he could never avoid this happening, and they passed each other without falling. All now declared they had well jousted; though the English, excepting the Duke of Lancaster, blamed greatly Sir Reginald: but he said, he considered that man as wise who in combat knows how to seize his vantage. “Know,” added he, addressing himself to Sir Thomas Percy and Sir Thomas Moreaux, “that Sir Reginald de Roye is not now to be taught how to tilt: he is better skilled than Sir John Holland, though he has borne himself well.”
After the courses of the lance, they fought three rounds with swords, battle-axes, and daggers, without either of them being wounded. The French carried off Sir Reginald to his lodging, and the English did the same to Sir John Holland.
[Source: Eva March Tappan, ed., The World’s Story: A History of the World in Story, Song and Art, 14 Vols., (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914), Vol. V: Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal, pp. 570-582. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton.]