Edward I.—The Little War of Chalons
I N the days when knights wore armour and fought with sword and lance, they used often to play at war, as if they had not real fighting enough.
These mock wars were called tournaments. They took place in
a great open space or plain, which was called the lists. The
knights, dressed in full armour, with painted shields and
waving plumes, met each other and fought as they would in
battle. Each wore the badge of his
Round the lists were seats where fair ladies and great princes sat to watch the tournament. Each knight was eager to do great deeds, so that he might win the praise of the beautiful ladies who looked on. When the jousting, as it was called, was over, the fairest lady placed a crown of bay leaves on the head of the victor. This crown was prized more than if it had been of gold and gems, and each knight did his best to win it. It was thought that no knight could show his love and reverence for his lady better than by jousting and tilting in her name.
As Edward travelled home to England he passed through France, and near to a little town called Chalons. When the count of that place heard that the great English prince was passing through his land, he sent a message asking that they might meet in a tournament with a thousand knights on either side, lance for lance.
Far and wide Edward was known as a brave and courteous warrior, and although his knights whispered that the Count of Chalons had no love for the prince and meant to do him harm, Edward accepted the challenge, as such a message was called. Indeed it seemed to him that he was in honour bound to do so, for it was counted unknightly to refuse a challenge. Great preparations were made, and on a fair day in May the plain of Chalons was gay with knights on horseback, and lovely ladies and people of all ranks in holiday dress, crowding to see the tournament.
The earth seemed to shake as Edward and his thousand splendid and brave English knights thundered over it. But the Count of Chalons came to meet them, not with one thousand men as had been agreed, but with two thousand.
Yet the English had no fear, and the tournament began. It was soon seen, however, that it was no friendly trial of strength, but a fight of bitter hate.
The count rode again and again at Edward, until his lance was splintered in his hand. Then throwing away the shaft, he seized the prince round the neck, and tried to drag him from his horse.
This, according to the rules of the tournament, was a mean and unknightly thing to do. Edward sat his horse like a rock, and, great though the strength of the French count was, he could not move him. Then suddenly Edward spurred his horse, it sprang forward, and the count, who still clung tightly to Edward, was pulled from his saddle and fell to the ground with a fearful crash.
Enraged at such unknightly behaviour, Edward leaped down and beat with the shaft of his lance upon the armour of the fallen count, heeding not his cries for mercy. As of a hammer upon an anvil, blow after blow fell, until at last the rage of the prince was spent, and he allowed the count to rise.
The count then offered his sword to the prince in token of submission, but Edward turned from him in scorn. "Nay, sir knight," he said, "this day have you proved yourself no true knight. My servants may receive your tarnished sword, I shall not touch it." So the count was obliged to give up his sword to a common soldier, which, for a true knight, was the deepest disgrace.
Meanwhile the English archers outside the lists, seeing that the French knights far outnumbered the English, and that there was no fair play, shot with their arrows at the horses of the French. Many of them fell dead, dragging their riders to the ground, where they lay helpless, trampled upon alike by friend and foe. Then the French foot-soldiers joined in the fight, and the tournament became a battle.
The English were far outnumbered, but even so they had the best of it. They took many of the French knights prisoners, making them pay large sums of money for their freedom. The common soldiers they slew because, they said, "they were but rascals and of no great account." So fierce a tournament was this that, ever after, it was called "The little war of Chalons."