If men would examine how many are killed with weapons and how many eat and drink themselves to death, there would be found more dead from the cup and the kitchen than from the thrust of a sword. — Thomas More

Ivanhoe Told to the Children - Ethel Lindsay




The Tournament at Ashby

At this time King Richard was a prisoner in Austria, where he had been seized by the Duke and held to ransom as he journeyed back from the Holy Land. In England efforts were being made to raise the sum demanded for his release, but his brother, Prince John, was doing all he could secretly to delay this payment and to induce the Duke of Austria to prolong his brother's captivity and keep him out of the country while he strengthened his own position, hoping that he might hear of Richard's death and so seize the crown himself, which really should, after Richard, pass to his nephew Arthur, Duke of Brittany, who was still a boy.

Prince John was deceitful and fond of lawless pleasures, and so he easily gathered round him many bad men who forwarded his designs, fearing that they should be punished, should King Richard return, for their many crimes and misdeeds during his absence. The people of England suffered badly under this state of affairs, added to which, many men who had despaired of justice for their wrongs under the wicked nobles had formed themselves into gangs, and now roamed the woods and forests, setting all law at defiance.

Even amid all this distress, however, the poor as well as the rich hurried to the tournament. Here all found pleasure and excitement, which increased when it was stated that Prince John himself would grace the tournament.

The scene was a beautiful one, and was laid in an extensive meadow beside a wood, about a mile outside Ashby. The meadow was enclosed by a fence, and at either end were large, wooden gates to admit the knights who engaged in combat. On a slight rise of ground by the southern gate were placed five magnificent tents, adorned with pennons of the colours of the five knight challengers; and before each was hung the shield of the knight by whom it was occupied. The central tent had been erected for Brian de Bois-Guilbert the Templar, whose renown in all games of chivalry had occasioned him to be eagerly received into the company of the challengers. Then came the tents of Reginald Front-de-Boeuf and Philip de Malvoisin, and after them the knights of lesser degree.

The whole of the space occupied by the tents was strongly guarded by men-at-arms. At the northern entrance to the lists was a large enclosed space reserved for such knights as might be disposed to enter the lists with the challenger; behind which were placed tents for refreshments of every kind, with armourers, farriers, and other attendants ready to give their services wherever they might be needed.

Isaac and Rebecca
HE BEHELD ISAAC AND HIS LOVELY DAUGHTER REBECCA.


There was one gallery or stand raised higher than the rest on the eastern side. This was reserved for Prince John and his attendants. Opposite this was another, more gaily, if less sumptuously, decorated. On this was emblazoned an inscription informing the spectators that it was reserved for the Queen of Beauty and of Love. But who was to occupy the seat of honour as the Queen of Beauty on the present occasion, no one was prepared to guess.

Meanwhile, spectators of every description thronged forward to occupy their respective stations. Those of humbler rank, who were not entitled to seats in the galleries, took up stations on the sloping banks round the meadow, while others climbed into the branches of the trees.

When Prince John, followed by his glittering train, well mounted, and splendidly dressed in crimson and gold, rode into the lists at the head of his jovial party, he laughed loud with his followers as he eyed the beautiful ladies who occupied seats in the galleries. At the brave show this prince made, the crowd applauded loudly.

As John rode round, he espied a commotion in a corner of the lists, and in this tumult he beheld Isaac the Jew and his lovely daughter, Rebecca. Now, this prince knew Isaac quite well, and was even at the moment endeavouring to borrow a large sum of money from Isaac and his brethren at York.

"Who is that lovely girl with you, Isaac?" he cried gaily. "Wife or daughter?"

"My daughter, Rebecca, your grace," replied the Jew with a low bow.

"Then she should with her beauty have a place in the stands. Who sits above there?" the prince cried, looking up at this part of the gallery. "Saxon churls, I see, lolling at their lazy length! Out upon them. Let them sit close and make room for the Jew and his daughter."

Now, those to whom this injurious and unpolite speech was addressed were the family of Cedric the Saxon and his ally and kinsman Athelstane of Coningsburgh, a personage who, on account of his descent from the last Saxon monarchs of England, was held in the highest respect by Saxons in the north of England. In spite of his royal descent, he was a weak man and sluggish in his motions, and generally called Athelstane the Unready.

Athelstane, utterly confounded at an order so insulting and injurious, unwilling to obey, opened his eyes without making any movement. The impatient John, seeing this, called aloud.

"The Saxon porker is either asleep or minds me not. Prick him with your lance," he said to one of his followers as he moved on. Suddenly he stopped and turned to the Prior of Jorvaulx, who rode in his cavalcade. "By my halidom," he cried, "we have forgotten to choose the fair Sovereign of Love and Beauty; for my part, I care not if we appoint the lovely Rebecca, the Jew's daughter."

"Holy Virgin!" answered the Prior in horror; "a Jewess! I swear by my patron saint that she is far inferior to the lovely Saxon Rowena."

"Saxon or Jew," said John, "I say Rebecca."

"Nay, my Lord," remonstrated one of his followers, De Bracy. "It would be an insult to appoint a Jewess, and no knight here would fight before such a Queen of Beauty. Let us leave it till we know the conqueror of the tournament, and leave him to choose."

To this Prince John agreed, and dismounting from his palfrey, he ascended his throne in the gallery and gave signal to the heralds to proclaim the rules of the tournament, which were briefly as follows: That the five knights were to undertake to fight all comers. That any knight might choose the one he most wished to fight by touching the other's shield. That when the knights present had accomplished their vow by each of them breaking five lances, the Prince was to declare the victor in the first day's tourney, who should receive as prize a war-horse of exquisite beauty; and in addition to this honour it was now declared that he should have the peculiar honour of naming the Queen of Beauty, by whom the prize should be given on the ensuing day. It was also announced that on the second day there should be a general tournament in which all the knights present who wished might take part, and being divided into two bands, fight one against the other until Prince John gave the signal for the battle to be ended.

It was customary for the knights to fight with lances and swords, or battle-axes. A knight unhorsed might fight another on foot, but those still mounted were forbidden to attack those on foot. Any knights struck down or unable to rise must yield themselves up as beaten, and hand their horses and armour over to their conquerors. On the second day the knightly games ceased, but they were followed by archery, bull baiting and other popular sports for the populace to take part in.

When the heralds had finished their proclamation they withdrew from the lists. As they did so the barriers were opened, and five knights, chosen by lot, advanced slowly into the arena, a single champion riding in front, and the other four riding in pairs. They rode up the platform on which the tents of the challengers stood, and each one touched lightly the shield of the antagonist whom he wished to oppose. Then the challengers of all comers came out from their tents, and mounting their horses, and headed by Brian de Bois-Guilbert, descended from the platform and opposed themselves individually to the knights who had touched their shields.

At the flourish of trumpets, they started out against each other at full gallop, and such was the superior skill or good fortune of the challengers, that those knights opposed to Bois-Guilbert, Malvoisin and Front-de-Boeuf, rolled on the ground. The antagonist of the fourth knight broke his lance across his opponent by swerving, and this was accounted a disgrace, worse than being unhorsed, as it showed bad management of his weapon and horse. The fifth knight alone was unsuccessful in defeating his opponent, and these two parted after having both splintered their lances without advantage on either side.

Then the shouts of the people announced the triumph of the victors, who retreated to their tents to await the next knights who wished to oppose them. A second and third party of knights came forward, and although they had various successes, the advantage still remained with the challengers. Three knights only entered on a fourth encounter, and those contented themselves with touching three shields, but avoiding those of Bois-Guilbert and Front-de-Boeuf. After this encounter there was a pause, nor did it appear that anyone was desirous of continuing the contest. The spectators murmured amongst themselves, for Malvoisin and Front-de-Boeuf were not popular with the populace, and two of the other knights were disliked as strangers and foreigners.

But none shared the general feeling so keenly as Cedric the Saxon, who saw in each advantage gained by the Norman challengers triumph over the honour of England. He himself was a brave and determined soldier, but he had never been taught skill in the games of chivalry such as the Normans loved.

"The day is against England, my lord," cried Cedric to Athelstane; "are you not tempted to fight the challengers?"

"I shall tilt to-morrow," answered Athelstane lazily. "It is not worthwhile to arm myself to-day."