Coronation Anecdotes Part 5

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"The slow procession moved up the gentle eminence, on the summit of which was the tilt-yard, and entering the lists, marched once around them from right to left, and when they had completed the circle made a halt. There was then a momentary bustle while the grand-master and his attendants" took their places: when "a long and loud flourish of trumpets announced that the court was seated for judgment. Malvoisin, then acting as G.o.dfather to the champion, stepped forward and laid the glove of the Jewess, which was the pledge of battle, at the feet of the grand-master.

"Valourous lord and reverend father," said he, "here standeth the good knight Brian de Bois Guilbert, knight preceptor of the Order of the Temple, who by accepting the pledge of battle which I now lay at your reverence's feet, hath become bound to do his devoir in combat this day, to maintain that this Jewish maiden, by name Rebecca, hath justly deserved the doom pa.s.sed upon her--condemning her to die as a sorceress.

Here, I say, he standeth such battle to do knightly and honourably, if such should be your n.o.ble and sanctified pleasure."

"Hath he made oath," said the grand-master, "that his quarrel is just and honourable? Bring forward the crucifix and the _Te igitur_."

"Sir and most reverend father," answered Malvoisin readily, "our brother here present hath already sworn to the truth of his accusation, in the hand of the good knight Conrade de Mont Fitchet, and otherwise he ought not to be sworn, seeing his adversary is an unbeliever and may take no oath."

"The grand-master having allowed the apology, commanded the herald to stand forth and do his devoir. The trumpets then flourished, and a herald stepping forward, proclaimed aloud, "Oyez, oyez, oyez. Here standeth the good knight Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert, ready to do battle with any knight of free blood who will sustain the quarrel allowed and allotted to the Jewess Rebecca, to try by champion in respect of lawful essoigne of her own body; and to such champion the reverend and valorous grand-master here present allows a fair field, an equal part.i.tion of sun and wind, and whatever else appertains to a fair combat." The trumpets again sounded, and there was a dead pause of many minutes.--

"The judges had now been two hours in the lists, awaiting in vain the appearance of a champion.

"It was the general belief, that no one could or would appear for a Jewess accused of sorcery, and the knights, instigated by Malvoisin, whispered to each other, that it was time to declare the pledge of Rebecca forfeited. At this instant a knight, urging his horse to speed, appeared on the plain, advancing towards the lists. An hundred voices exclaimed, 'A champion,' 'a champion!' And, despite the prepossession and prejudices of the mult.i.tude, they shouted unanimously as the knight rode into the tilt-yard. The second glance, however, served to destroy the hope that his timely arrival had excited. His horse, urged for many miles to its utmost speed, appeared to reel from fatigue, and the rider, however undauntedly he presented himself to the lists, either from weakness, weariness, or both, seemed scarce able to support himself in the saddle.

"To the summons of the herald who demanded his rank, his name and purpose, the strange knight answered readily and boldly, 'I am a good knight and n.o.ble, come hither to sustain with lance and sword the just and lawful quarrel of this damsel, Rebecca, daughter of Isaac of York; to uphold the doom p.r.o.nounced against her to be false, and truthless, and to defy Sir Brian de Bois Guilbert as a traitor, murtherer, and liar; as I will prove in this field with my body against his, by the aid of G.o.d, our Lady, and of Monseigneur Saint George, the good knight.'

"The stranger must first show," said Malvoisin, "that he is a good knight, and of honourable lineage. The Temple sendeth not forth her champion against nameless men."

"My name," said the knight, raising his helmet, "is better known, my lineage more pure, Malvoisin, than thine own. I am Wilfrid of Ivanhoe."--"Rebecca", said he, riding up to the fatal chair, "dost thou accept of me for thy champion?"

"I do," she said, "I do!" fluttered by an emotion which the fear of death was unable to produce.

--"Ivanhoe was already at his post, and had closed his visor, and a.s.sumed his lance. Bois Guilbert did the same.

--"The herald then, seeing each champion in his place, uplifted his voice, repeating thrice, _Faites vos devoirs, preux chevaliers_. After the third cry, he withdrew to one side of the lists, and again proclaimed, that none on peril of instant death should dare by word, cry, or action, to interfere with, or disturb this fair field of combat.

The grand-master, who held in his hand the gage of battle, Rebecca's glove, now threw it into the lists, and p.r.o.nounced the fatal signal words, _Laissez aller_. The trumpets sounded, and the knights charged each other in full career."

The result arising out of the peculiar situation of one of the combatants toward Rebecca, was his almost immediate death: but, seeing him fall, Wilfrid a.s.sumed the rights of a victor, and "placing his foot on his breast, and the sword point to his throat, commanded him to yield or die on the spot. Bois Guilbert returned no answer.

"Slay him not, sir knight," said the grand-master, "unshriven and unabsolved--kill not body and soul. We allow him vanquished."--"This is indeed the judgment of G.o.d," said he, looking upwards--"_Fiat voluntas tua_[62]!"

But Froissart records a most curious instance of the motives that were sometimes a.s.signed for "a deed of arms" of this description.

Shortly after Henry IV. had ascended the throne of our feeble Richard II. Louis duke of Orleans sent him a letter of the following tenor.

"I Louis, by the grace of G.o.d, son and brother to the kings of France, duke of Orleans, write and make known to you, that with the aid of G.o.d and the blessed Trinity, in the desire which I have to gain renown, and which you in like manner should feel, considering _idleness_ as the bane of lords of high birth which do not employ themselves in arms, and thinking I can no way better seek renown than by proposing to you to meet me at an appointed place, each of us accompanied with one hundred knights and esquires, of name and arms without reproach, there to combat together until one of the parties shall surrender; and he to whom G.o.d shall grant the victory, shall do with his prisoners as it may please him. We will not employ any incantations that are forbidden by the church, but make every use of the bodily strength granted us by G.o.d, having armour as may be most agreeable to every one for the security of his person, and with the usual arms; that is to say, lance, battle-axe, sword and dagger, and each to employ them as he shall think most to his advantage, without aiding himself by any bodkins, hooks, bearded darts, poisoned needles, or razors, as may be done by persons unless they be positively ordered to the contrary."

He then states, that "under the good pleasure of our Lady and my lord St. Michael" he will wait the answer of the king at Angouleme: and concludes,

"Most potent and n.o.ble prince, let me know your will in regard to this proposal, and have the goodness to send me as speedy an answer as may be; for in all affairs of arms, the shortest determination is the best, especially for the kings of France, and great lords and princes; and as many delays may arise from business of importance, which must be attended to, as well as doubts respecting the veracity of our letters, that you may know I am resolved, with G.o.d's help, on the accomplishment of this deed of arms, I have signed this letter with my own hand, and sealed it with my seal of arms. Written at my castle of Coucy, the 7th of August, 1402."

Henry replied to this curious challenge, by expressing his surprise at such an invitation from a sworn friend and ally.--"With regard to what you say, that we ought to accept your proposal to avoid idleness," he adds, "it is true we are not so much employed in arms and honourable exploits as our n.o.ble predecessors have been; but the all-powerful G.o.d may, when he pleases, make us follow their steps, and we through the indulgence of his graces have not been so idle, but that we have been able to defend our honour." He declines the meeting, at that time, princ.i.p.ally on account of the inequality of rank between the parties,--but intimates that he shall be ready to afford all proper satisfaction to his challenger on his next visit to the continent. This affair ended in a mere war of words; but the real motive of Louis was subsequently avowed by him to be the revenging on Henry what he had "done against king Richard," the son-in-law of the king of France. "With regard to your high station," he smartly says, "I do not think the divine virtues have placed you there. G.o.d may have dissembled with you, and have set you on a throne, like many other princes, whose reign has ended in confusion; but in consideration of my own honour I do not wish to be compared with you."

An _Inquisitio post mortem_, dated in the 7th of Edward III., speaks of the tenure of the manor appertaining to the royal champion as follows: "That the manor of Scrivelsby is holden by grand sergeanty, to wit by the service of finding, on the day of coronation, an armed knight, who shall prove by his body, _if need be_, that the king is true and rightful heir to the kingdom."

It is remarkable that this important doc.u.ment neither prescribes the absolute appearance of the lord of the manor as knight, but only that he is bound to '_find_ an armed knight' if required; nor does it describe the office as hereditary. With regard to the latter point, it would seem that possession is the entire law of the case, and we suppose the office would pa.s.s with the property by sale: with respect to the former, the honour seems to have called forth the valour of every successive lord, and princes have seldom imagined that their subjects can in such a cause overstep their duty.

Anciently, the champion rode with the royal procession from the Hall to the Abbey, and proclaimed the challenge on his way, as well as at the feast: some instances have occurred of its being repeated also in the city, as at the coronation of Henry IV. At his predecessors coronation it is remarked by Walsingham, that sir John Dimmock, being armed according to custom, came to the door of the Abbey with his attendants before the service was concluded: and that the earl marshal of the day went out to him and said, he should not have made his appearance so soon.

The fate of our recent and future champions has become of late duly regarded by law. To challenge all who should dispute the pretensions of the king is rightly enough a post of honour; to accept the challenge would always, we know, have been still more bold; but an act of parliament pa.s.sed during the regency (59 Geo. III. cap. 46.) abolishes altogether the trial and actual battle; so that the champion's lands, after being held with manifest peril for centuries, have at last become a peaceable possession; and all dispute respecting the crown is of course as fully disposed of. It no longer rests on the valour of a single arm--not even on that of a Marmion, or a Dymoke.

There was another office, that of the _Lord High Steward_ of England, to which in former times much authority was attached. He possessed a kind of vice-regal power on the demise of the crown and until the coronation of the rightful heir, and was a governor of the kingdom immediately under the reigning monarch, so as to be able to control or remove the judicial servants of the crown, at any time. What was once the importance of this office is still indicated by the temporary guardianship of St. Edward's crown being committed to an officer bearing this t.i.tle on the day of the coronation, and his honourable place of walking immediately before the king in procession. The Earls of Leicester once enjoyed this great dignity hereditarily; through them it descended to the De Montford family, until, on the attainder of the last Earl, it was granted by Henry III. to his younger son Edmund, by whom it became transmitted to John of Gaunt, and eventually to Henry IV. while Duke of Lancaster; since which period it has been prudently suffered to merge in the crown.

The _Court of Claims_ takes its origin from the ancient prerogatives of the Lord High Steward, who sat judicially in the Whitehall of the king's palace, at Westminster, to receive the applications and decide upon the claims of all those who held lands on the tenure of performing some personal service at the coronation. It is a court, in fact, exercising this part of his ancient office by commission. These services had the name of _magnum servitium_, or grand sergeanty, as being attached to the person of the king, and involve the honour of knighthood in all cases; no person under the rank of a knight, nor a minor or female tenant, being allowed to perform them.

Numerous offices occur in the list of claims, to which our limits will not allow us to pay attention. Toward him who is "every inch a king"

every sort of service is supposed to confer honour; and many comparatively trivial duties have been long connected with the more substantial rights of property. The preceding offices require no recognition of the Court of Claims for their exercise; but those which follow are to be substantiated before this tribunal at each successive coronation.

The hereditary _Grand Almoner_ of England is an honour attached to the barony of Bedford. Its duties are to collect and distribute certain monies at the coronation from a silver dish; which the Almoner claims for his fee, together with all the cloth on which the king walks in procession from the door of the hall at Westminster to the Abbey church.

The _Chief Butlership_ is traced by authentic records into the hands of William de Albini, who came to England with William the Conqueror, and has been exercised by some of the n.o.blest families in the country since.

It is now an hereditary right of the Duke of Norfolk as Earl of Arundel, and ent.i.tles the possessor to the best gold cup and cover, with all the vessels and wine remaining under the bar, and all the pots and cups, except those of gold and silver, which shall be in the wine cellar after dinner.

In the remote periods of our history, when the a.s.sa.s.sination of princes was practised by various arts, a faithful guardian of the royal cup might well be esteemed an acquisition to the court. A "chief butler" was one of the most ancient attendants on royalty, we know from Scripture history, and, according to the same details, was instrumental in bringing about that singular revolution in the court of Egypt[63], which resulted in planting the Jews there, for the accomplishment of some of the most extraordinary purposes of G.o.d. The same kind of office seems to have been held by the Jewish chieftain Nehemiah in the court of Persia, and to have given him considerable influence in accelerating the return of his countrymen from their captivity in Babylon[64].

The _Dapifer_ or _Sewer_, who, "in his surcote, with tabard, sleeves, and a hoode about his neck, and his towell above all, served the messes," or arranged the dishes on the table of the coronation feast of Elizabeth, Henry VII.'s queen, is an ancient worthy of the royal day, whose office has become extinct. If the dishes are not become more tractable, or the royal observation less nice, royal feasting has become, perhaps, less rare in modern times, and this kind of skill, therefore, more common.

The _Grand Carver--Grand Panniter_, or provider of bread, and the Royal _Napier_, are offices that have also become extinct, while good carving and good living have been still found at the royal table; and while the _Chief Cupbearer_ has retained his office and the possession of the manor of Great Wimondley, in Hertfordshire, as his reward.

The _Chief Lardiner_ is also still ent.i.tled to notice, as having the care and management of the royal larder, and being duly careful of "the remainder of beef, mutton, venison, kids, lard, and other flesh; as also the fish, salt, &c. remaining in the larder," which fall to his share of the feast. This office has been attached to the manor of Scoulton, in Norfolk, from the reign of Henry II.

Nor should we omit to notice that the Lord Mayor and Citizens of London claim a snug "seat next the cupboard, on the left side of the hall," in virtue of their right to a.s.sist the Chief Butler in his duties at the coronation feast; or that his lordship serves the king after dinner with wine in a gold cup, having the cup and its cover for a fee. It is remarkable that the city claims a right to perform the same service, and to receive a similar fee, at the coronation of our queens: but as this escaped Her Majesty's law officers in the late argument for her coronation, we will not suppose it had any connexion with the strong desire for that event at the Mansion House. The mayor, bailiffs, and commonalty of Oxford also claim to a.s.sist in the office of butlery, and receive the humbler reward of three maple cups.

With other presents--of grout or gruel, maple cups and napkins, _to_ the king, gentle reader, we will suppose thou hast of late been sufficiently acquainted; but the conspicuous duty of the Barons of the Cinque Ports must not pa.s.s unnoticed.

These ports claim to furnish sixteen supporters of the royal canopy, in the following proportion, _i.e._--Hastings, 3; Dover, 2; Hithe, 2; Rye, 2; Sandwich, 3; Rumney, 2; Winchelsea, 2. It is called in an account of the coronation of Richard I. "a silk _umbraculum_, borne on four lances:" but is now generally composed of cloth of gold, having a gilt silver bell at each of the four corners, which are supported by four staves of silver. The origin of this claim is involved in such remote antiquity, that a charter of Charles II. speaks of "the time of the contrary being never remembered to have been." We have seen that a crown, ascribed to the days of King Alfred, bore a couple of bells on its sides. These accompaniments of royal and pontifical dignity, appear to be of Eastern origin; but the modern application of them is curiously contrasted with the ancient design. At the doors of the tents or houses of grandees a bell or sonorous body was generally placed, that applicants for admission might announce _their_ desires[65]: thus the Jewish High Priest wore bells round the lower border of his sacerdotal garments, "that his sound might be heard" on approaching the presence of G.o.d. It was clearly designed to indicate an application for the audience of a superior: but in the roar of cannon, the clatter of church bells, and the warm gratulations of such a people as received His Majesty on a late occasion, _what_ tidings of any kind could the feeble bells of the canopy convey?

We shall notice but one other claim, that of the lord of the Isle of Man to present the king with the interesting present of two falcons on the day of his coronation. "Hawks and falcons were favourite subjects of amus.e.m.e.nt, and valuable presents in those days," says Mr. Turner[66], "when the country being much over-run with wood, all species of the feathered race must have abounded. A king of Kent begged of a friend abroad two falcons of such skill and courage as to attack cranes willingly, and seizing them to throw them on the ground. An Anglo-Saxon, by his will, gives two hawks (hafocas), and all his stag-hounds (head or hundas) to his natural lord." And similarly to this claim of the king on the lord of Man, "Ethelstan," according to this writer, "made North Wales furnish him with as many dogs as he chose, whose scent-pursuing noses might explore the haunts and coverts of the deer; he also exacted _birds_ 'who knew how to hunt others along the atmosphere[67].'"

The Isle of Man was given in the reign of Henry IV. to the Northumberland family; on the forfeiture of that earldom Sir John Stanley became possessed of it, on the present tenure of presenting the kings of England with two falcons on the day of their coronation; and although the sovereignty was purchased from the Duke of Athol by the crown during the late king's reign, that n.o.bleman still holds his manorial rights by the performance of this duty.


[Footnote 56: There have been instances in which the see having been vacant, and the archbishop suspended or abroad, other prelates have officiated: but the right of the metropolitan see seems to have been still preserved.]

[Footnote 57: Lingard's History of England, vol. ii. p. 88, 89.]

[Footnote 58: Henry V. p. i.]

[Footnote 59: Johnes' Froissart, v. 12. p. 162.]

[Footnote 60: Chron. Sax. 57, 63; Malmsbury, &c.]

[Footnote 61: Wilk. Leg. 217, 228.]

[Footnote 62: Ivanhoe, v. iii. p. 328-345.]

[Footnote 63: Gen. xli. 9.]

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Coronation Anecdotes Part 5 summary

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