28 December 2022

The King's Champion

At coronations up to that of George III, the rites were followed by agreat banquet ... at the end of which, a memorable ceremony occurred.

Into the Banquet Hall rode a knight in full armour. He uttered a challenge to any who might dispute the right to the throne of the prince who had just been crowned; then he threw down his gauntlet (gage, armoured glove) onto the ground. 

Any man who took up that gauntlet, leaving behind him on the ground his own gauntlet, would be deemed to have accepted the challenge. Monomachy .. or disgrace ... must follow.

After the coronation of George III, rumours spread that a mysterious Person had, indeed, accepted that challenge. The novelist Sir Walter Scott incoporated a fictionalised account of this into his novel Redgauntlet. The 'Narrator' in what follows is a young lady called Lilias, whose Jacobite uncle Redgauntlet has smuggled her into the Banquet.

"It is indeed", said I, "all that my mind could have fancied of regal power and splendour."

"Girl, " he whispered, ..."all that is noble and worthy in this fair land are there assembled -- but it is to bend like slaves and sycophants before the throne of a new usurper."

"For God's sake, "I whispered, "consider where we are." 

"Fear nothing", he said, "we are surrounded by friends. " As he proceeded, his strong and muscular frame shook with suppressed agitation. "See," he said, "yonder bends Norfolk, renegade to his Catholic faith;" there stoops the Bishop of --, traitor to the Church of England; and, --the shame of shames! yonder the gigantic form of Errol bows his head before the grandson of his father's murderer!..."

I was not long held in suspense. A loud flourish of trumpets and the voice of heralds were mixed with the clatter of horses' hoofs, while a champion, armed at all points like those I had read of in romances, attended by esquires, pages, and the whole retinue of chivalry, pranced forward, mounted upon a barbed steed. His challenge, in defiance of all who dared impeach the title of the new sovereign, was recited aloud-- once, and again.

"Rush in at the third sounding," said my uncle to me; "bring me the parader's gage, and leave mine in lieu of it."

... at the third sounding of the trumpets, a line opened as if by word of command, betwixt me and the champion, and my uncle's voice said, "Now, Lilias, NOW!"

With a swift and yet steady step, and with a presence of mind for which I have never since been able to account, I discharged the perilous commission. I was hardly seen, I believe, as I exchanged the pledges of battle, and in an instant retired. "Nobly done, my girl!" said my uncle, at whose side I found myself, shrouded as I was before, by the interposition of the bystanders. "Cover our retreat, gentlemen," he whispered to those around him ...


PseudonymousposterJohn said...

God save the King

Dominic said...

The following is an account by a French diplomat of the banquet which followed the Coronation of Mary Tudor:
As the banquet continued with royal meats throughout the hall, which was full of tables, there came a gentleman mounted on a beautifully decorated horse, armed with a lance, named Demok [Dymock] , whose house had been given the privilege of fulfilling this role and in a herald’s voice he announced that he recognised her as the true queen of England, and that if there was anyone who was brave enough to gainsay him, he, with weapons in his fist, would defend said queen, and he threw down his gauntlet. Having remained there for a time, and seeing that no-one was taking up his gauntlet, he did the same in two or three parts of the hall and came back to the place where he had been in the first place, and made as if to wait for someone to challenge him, and seeing no one, he made his obeisance to her majesty, always making clear his delight in her, and she took a golden cup full of wine, drank to him and gave him the cup which he held in his hand as he left, and then the banquet was ended, her majesty called the ambassadors to her and with very sincere words thanked them for their trouble, gave them leave, rose from the table and retired.
Apologies for the rather uneven translation. It is from an unmodernised 16th century French text and my translation resources amounted to an A level in French from 1981 and a small dictionary. Nice to see the essentials of the ceremony confirmed from an unrelated source.

Matthew F Kluk said...

Great post Father, and thank you Dominic as well! I'm going to have to find Red gauntlet.

Calvin Engime said...

I hope this salutary tradition will be revived at the upcoming coronation, especially because it's a hereditary post presently held by a 67-year-old chartered accountant, and I believe I could take him on.