William Marshal at the Tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne,
from the History of William the Marshall

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William the Marshal was renowned as a tournament competitor and was able to make a good career from the money made from ransoms of those he captured in these mock battles, as well as from prize winnings.  The following text details the tournament held at Lagny-sur-Marne, in 1179.  Organized by Henry, count palatine of Champagne and Brie, this tournament was unusually large, with the writer of our history estimating that 3,000 knights attending.  Many prominent people from France and England were on hand as well, including Henry Plantagenet, son of the English king Henry II, the count of Flanders, the duke of Burgundy, the brother of the King of Scotland and eighteen other counts:


Engaging in feats of chivalry in Lagny,
Oe chivalerie ensement
alongside the young King,
Le giemble rei a Leeingni
were those here named,
Furent cil que j'ai nomez ci,
eighty chosen knights.
Quatre vinz chevaliers esliz;
Not merely chosen, but the pick of the chosen.
Non mie esliz mais tresesliz.
Why were they called the pick of the chosen?
Por quei tresesliz nomez furent?
Because those well capable of picking them out
Qu'entre les esliz les eslurent
had chosen them from amongst the best.
Cil qui bien les sourent eslire;
That is the right gloss to put on the text.
Issi deit l'om la letre lire.
But eighty is still an under-estimate,
Quatre vinz, c'est ore del mains,
and I shall undertake to prove to you
Quer a prover vos prenc en mains
that there were yet seven times as many such after them:
Qu'il en remaint set tanz ariere,
whoever raised his banner
Quer qui unques portout baniere
in the company of the young King,
E ert ove le giemble rei,
whoever was under his command, received twenty shillings a
A toz cels qu'il menout o sei,
day for each man he had with him
Aveient vinten sous lo jor,
from the moment they left their own lands,
Fust a esrer, fust a sejor,
whether they were on the move or in lodgings.
Des que il moveient de lor terre.
It was a source of wonder where this wealth was to be found,
Merveille ert ou l'em puet ce querre,
and one can only say that God shared out to him
Ne mais que Dex li devisout
the wealth placed at his disposal.
Les biens qu'il li abandonout.
There were fifteen flying their banners,
Quinze i out banieres portant;
and so I can swear to you
Por ce vos plevis en por tant
that there were at least two hundred and more,
Que bien erent deux cenz e plus,
as you have already heard,
Si com avez oï desus,
who lived off the purse of the young King
Qui del giemble rei se vivoient
and were knights of his.
E qui si chevalier estoient.
There is no account of all these,
De toz cels n'est gaires de conte,
for there were at least nineteen counts
Quer bien furent dis e noef conte
with the King on that occasion,
O le rei en cele besoingne,
and the duke of Burgundy besides.
Si i fu li dus de Borgoingne.
Why should I spin out my tale?
Que vos ireie ge contant?
The knights who were there to tourney
A plus de trei mile ou a tant
were estimated
Furent esmé li chivalier
at more than three thousand or so,
Qui la furent por torneier,
some with the King, some with the count.
Que devers rei, que devers conte.
I shall not spin out my tale further:
Ne vos ferai ci plus lonc conte:
they armed, joined in combat,
Armez furent, si s'entrevindrent
and did what they had come to do.
E firent ce por quei il vindrent.
There were to be seen banners unfurled,
La vit l'em despleier banieres
so many of them and of such diverse types
Tantes e de tantes manieres
that no man could make them out sufficiently
Que nuls ne seüst diviser
to be able to describe them in detail.
Tant qu'il les seüst deviser;
The entire field of combat was swarming with them,
Tote en formiout la campaingne,
the plain so full of them
Si esteit emplie la plaingne
that there was not an inch of ground to be seen.
Que de plaingne n'i aveit point.           
One company spurred to meet the other.
Li uns conreis vers l'autre point.
I can tell you that that encounter
Or saciez que cele asemblee
was not a stealthy affair,
Ne fu mie faite a emblee,
indeed, there was great noise and tumult
Ainz grant noise e grant bruit;
as all strove to deal mighty blows.
Al bien ferir tendeient tuit.
There you would have heard such a great clash
La oïsiez si grant escrois
of lances, from which the splinters
De lances, de quei li retrois
fell to the ground as the companies met
Qui chaeient a terre al joindre
and impeded the forward charge of the horses.
Ne lassoient les chevals poindre.
The throng across that plain was huge,
Molt fu grant la presse en la plaingne,
with each company shouting out its battle cry.
Chascuns conreis crie s'ensenne;
There you might have learned something of armed combat,
La peüst l'om d'armes aprendre,
there you might have seen knights taken
La veïst l'om chevalers prendre
by the bridles of their horses, and others being rescued.
As freins e les autres rescorre.
On all sides you would have seen horses running
De totes parz veïst l'om core
and sweating with their exertions.
Chevals a tressuer d'angoisse;
Every man strove hard and did all within his power
Chascuns a son poeir s'angoisse
to perform high deeds, for it is in such a situation
De bien faire, quer en tele ovre
that prowess is shown and displayed for all to see.
Se mostre proëce e descouvre.
It was a very fiercely fought contest,
Molt i out aresté estor,
many were the feats of arms performed that day;
Molt i out fait d'armes le jor,
the tournament was an exceedingly fine one,
Molt fu li torneiemenz buens
even before the King and the count
Anceis que li reis ne li quens
had arrived to join in combat.
I venissent por asembler.
But when they did, then you would have seen the earth shake, 
Lors veïssiez terre trembler
e King said: "This has gone on long enough;
Quant li reis dist: "Ore est ennui;
spur on, I shall have not a moment's further delay."
Poinniez!  n'i atendrai mais hui."
The King spurred forward, but the count cleverly
Li reis poinst, mais li quens se tint
held back, and did not move forward
Par cointise, que pas ne vint
until he saw that the time was exactly right.
De si qu'il en vit ore e point,
But when it was, he did not hesitate for a moment.
Mais lors ne se targa il point.
Those on the King's side rode forward
Cil qui par devers li rei furent
so impetuously
Si sorcuideement s'esmurent
that they did not wait a moment for the King,
Qu'onques le rei n'i atendirent,
and they fought so fiercely
E si oltreement le firent
that the other side were sent on their way.
Que cil se mistrent a la veie:
Actually, not so much on their way as off their way.
Ne fu pas veie, einz fu desveie.
Once they had driven them back
Quant il les ourent adossez   
through the vines and the ditches,
Parmi vingnes, parmi fossez,
off they rode between the closely planted
Si aloient parmi les ches
vine stocks.
Des vingnes, qui erent espés;
Horses fell down there thick and fast,
La chaeient chevals souvent,
and the men who fell with them
Si erent defolez vilment
were badly trampled and injured,
Cil qui chaeient e laidi
damaged and disfigured.
E empeirié e enlaidi.
Count Geoffrey and his company
Li quens Geifreis o sa baniere
rode on with such incredible speed that,
Poingneit si d'estrange maniere,
when the King arrived, all those who should have been with         
Quant li reis vint, qu'esloingnié furent
him were in the far distance,
Tuit cil qui o lui estre durent,
so that on his arrival
Si que li reis en son venir
he was nowhere able to reach
Ne pout en nul liu avenir
his opponents, for off they went
A lor genz, quer il s'en aloent,
with the others in hot pursuit.
E cil durement les tesoent.
Some were intent on performing well in combat,
Li un al bien faire tendoient,
others were bent on booty,
Li autre al gaaing entendoient,
and the King was greatly disturbed
Si que li reis fu angoissous
by the fact that he had been left completely on his own.
De ce qu'il fu remés si sous.
He saw a company belonging to the other side
Une bataille vit sor destre
on his right, consisting of some
De lor gent, s'i poeient estre
forty knights at least.
Quarante chevaliers al mains.
With his lance in hand,
Une lance tint en ses mains;
he galloped to engage them in combat,
Il lor corut sore a l'encontre;
and the clash was so ferocious
Si tresdurement les acontre
that his lance was shattered as easily
Qu'altresi peceia en eirre
as if it had been made of glass.
Sa lance cum s'el fust de veirre;
And those on the other side, who were very
E cil de la, qui grant gent erent,
ous, soon took him by the bridle and brought him to a halt.
Par le frein tantost l'aresterent.
They had come up from all sides,
De tutes parz furent venu;
but the situation with the King was that,
E a lui fu si avenu
out of his entire company,
Qu'il n'i out de tote sa gent
all he had with him were
Ensemble o lui fors solement
the Marshal, who was following closely
Le Mareschal, qui le suieit
behind him, for it was his wont
De pres, quer costumiers esteit
to be at his side in a difficult situation
D'estre pres de lui a besoing,
and never be far away from him,
Quer il ne s'en teneit pas long.
and William de Préaux,
E Willaumes, cil de Preials,   
who, that day, had just been taken prisoner
Qui le jor ert prisons novels,
and had left the throng,
E s'ert departi de la flote
and, in great secrecy, had donned
E out vestu de soz sa cote
a hauberk under his tunic,
Un haubert molt priveement,
and, apart from this, nothing more
E chapel de fer ensement
than an iron cap on his head.
Olt al chef, sanz plus e sanz mains.
The others had the King within their grasp;
E il tindrent entre lor mains
each of them strove might and main
Li reis; chascuns d'els mist sa force
to knock off his helmet by force.
D'abatre li son helme a force.
The Marshal rode forward,
Li Mareschals tant s'avansa
then launched himself into their midst;
Que tresdevant els se lansa;
he dealt so many blows in front and behind him,
Tant feri avant e ariere,
showed them so much the stuff he was made of,
Tant lor acointa sa maniere
pushed and pulled to such an extent
E tant bota e tant sacha
that he forced the harness
Que a force al rei esracha
off the head of the King's horse,
La testiere de son cheval,
together with the bridle, and pulled it to the ground.
O tot le frein, e traist aval;
And William de Préaux took
E Willeaume de Preials prist
the horse by the neck and put every effort
Le cheval par le col e mist
into escaping the fray,
Grant peine a esir de l'estor,
for those who were intent on capturing him
Quer molt li aloient entor
had hemmed him in.
Cil quil voleient retenir.
They tried hard to strike William
Molt se penoent de ferir
as often as they could,
Willeaume de Preals souvent;
but the King protected him skilfully
Li reis le couvreit sagement
with his shield, so that they did not touch him
A son escu, qu'il n'ateingneient
or do him injury.
A lui ne mal ne li faiseient,
However, the force of their assault had been such
Mais tant se furent esforcié
that they had torn the King's helmet
Qu'il ourent al rei esracié
from his head,
Son healme a force de son chef;
and that was a source of great annoyance to him.
Molt li pesa e li fu grief.
The tussle lasted for a long time,
Li tooilz dura longement,
but the Marshal hounded them,
Mais molt le faiseit durement
fighting them with great ferocity
Li Mareschals quis herdoiout,
and meting out powerful blows.
De granz coups i empleiout.
The count of Flanders was filled with joy
Li cuens de Flandres s'esjoï
when he heard the battle-cry raised by the King,
De la baniere qu'il oï
there in the midst of that fray
Al rei qui esteit en l'estor,      
where he had been for some time.
E out esté piece de jor.
There was no question now of holding back:
D'arester fu pus nule chose,
now he rode hard to cut them off,
Einz lor corut a la forclose
and, reaching them, overwhelmed them.
Sis desconfist en sun venir,
The men  who had tourneyed there
Que cil ne se porent tenir
and were by now suffering from fatigue,
Qui le ici torneié avoient
could not withstand the onslaught.
E qui trop travaillé esteient;
[They fled] and were given chase,
Si fu la chace maintenue
and every horse was given its head.
Que puis n'i out regne tenue.
Count Geoffrey was greatly grieved by this
Molt pesa al conte Guiffrei
and very much dismayed.
E molt en fu en grant effrei;
Often he turned round to face his opponents,
Souventes feiz lor trestorneit,
but nobody in his company turned to do the same,
Mais ove lui ne retorneit
so there was no possibility of his standing his ground.
Nus; por ce n'i poeit remaindre.
But when he was in a position to strike them,
Quant il poeit a els ateindre,
they found the games he played were wicked ones,
Molt troveuent ses gieus porvers,
and often he left them face up on the ground.
Souvent en i laissout d'envers.
But, before the rout occurred,
Mais devant la desconfiture
there was another incident
I avint une autre aventure
which should have been recounted earlier;
Qui deüst estre devant dite;
as I find it in my written source,
Mais si cum ge la truis escrite
so should I relate it word for word.
La m'estuet dire mot a mot.
It is not possible to resume in a sentence
L'en ne puet pas tot a un mot
the whole course of a tournament,
Conter tot le conveiement
or the blows dealt there.
Ne les coups d'un torneiement.
Anyway, at the point where the King was thus making off,
Quant li reis s'en alout issi,
Sir Herluin de Vancy,
Missire Herlins de Vanci,
who was the seneschal of Flanders,
Seneschal de Flandres esteit,
had at least thirty knights with him,
Bien trente chevaliers aveit
outside the press of battle.
Ovoques lui ors de la presse.
One of his knights galloped up
Uns siens chevaliers s'eslece,
to inform his lord, Herluin.
A seignor Herlin le vait dire.
"My lord," he said, "in God's name,
"Enom Deu!"  fait il, "beal doz sire,
look over there, the King is on the point of being captured.
Veez la le rei pres de pris,
You take him and get the praise for it;
Pernez le, sin avrez le pris,
he's already lost his helmet
Qu'il a ja son hialme perdu,
and is much distraught by that."
Dont molt se tient a esperdu."
When sir Herluin heard this,
Quant misires Herlins l'oï,     
his heart was filled with joy,
Molt durement s'en esjoï
and he said: "He's ours, I think."
E dist: "Cist est nostre, ce cuit."
They all spurred on at a fast gallop
Des esperons ferirent tuit
in pursuit of the King.
Aprés le rei grant aleüre.
The Marshal was not idle,
Li Mareschals ne s'aseüre,
instead he rode to meet them with lance in hand.
Ainz muet d'une lance a encontre;
They clashed so violently
Si tresdurement les encontre
that his lance was completely shattered ....
Que sa lance tote depiece ....
as far as his horse's hocks,
Dusque as jarrez de son chival,
but I can assure you that he was soon upright again.
Mais tost fu redreciez sanz faille.
The fight homed in around him;
Sor lui comence la bataille;
they attacked him, and he defended.
Cil l'asaillent, il se defent,
Everything he struck was broken and split,
Quantqu'il ateint depiece e fent,
shields were hacked to pieces, helmets staved in.
Decoupe escuz, enbarre hielmes.
My lord William the Marshal performed so many feats
Tant fist li Marescal Willelmes
that nobody present had the slightest idea
Unques nul de cels qui la vint
what had become of the King.
Ne seurent qui li reis devint.
Afterwards, the King, those who witnessed the event,
Puis dist li reis e cil quil virent
and those who heard speak of it,
E cil qui parler en oïrent
said that never before had finer blows been witnessed
Qu'ains plus beau coups ne fu veüz
from a single knight, or known of,
D'un sol chevalier ne seüz
as those dealt by the Marshal that day.
Que li Mareschals fist le jor;
The bravest amongst them gave him high praise for this.
Molt l'en loerent li meillor.


This text was translated by Stewart Gregory, with the assistance of David Crouch.  We thank Ian Short of the Anglo-Norman Text Society and David Crouch for their permission and assistance in republishing this section.




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