The Tournament at Anet-Sorel: Henry and William Win the Day (Or Are They?)

Since I was not here on 11 June to mention Henry the Young King's untimely passing, amends need to be made. But instead of dwelling on his tragic end I would rather travel back in time, to those happy days, when he was winning fame on the tournament circuits of northern France. With William Marshal always at his side. Of course the great tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne held in November 1179 to celebrate the coronation of the young Philippe Capet was the most spectacular appearance they made together, but there were other occasions when they left their mark on the world of medieval warfare.

At Eu, for, example, (in 1178) the Young King had with him 'the best knights that could be found' and there were over 100 of them. 'No amount of expense would stop the King enticing to his side ny good, valiant and experienced knight who could be found, for in his generosity, high exploits and all other fine qualities he surpassed all princes". Little wonder the knights flocked to his side. The Young King's patronage and largesse made him the very model of chivalry.

Medieval town of Martel, Limousin, France. Gives an idea how Henry and William's street fight might have looked like. Photo courtesy of Leonie Coleman

But back in 1176, at the tournament organised between Anet and Sorel-Moussel an episode occured, described in vivid detail by the author of The History of William Marshal. From this particular story Henry emerges as the one always up to mischief. William, too, saw wry humour in their predicament. Even more so, he found it a splendid joke. 

That day in the early spring Henry's mesnie included Normans, Bretons, English, Manceaux, Angevins and Poitevins, and the action spilled from the field into the streets of the town. At some point Henry and William found themselves facing a group of knights under Sir Simon de Neauphle barricading the street. They charged. The knights not willing to meet their end under the hooves of the warhorses dispersed. Still William managed to capture their leader. 

The Marshal rode up and reached for Sir Simon’s bridle; the moment he seized it, that was it: he had such fast hold that Simon couldn’t break free, and he led him off, the king followed behind. Now, the Marshal didn’t notice, but there was a gutter hanging low above the street, with Sir Simon’s reach; he grabbed hold and stayed swinging there while the Marshal, unaware, carried on without backward glance! The king had seen, but preferred not to say; so on down the street rode the Marshal, leaving Sir Simon hanging from the gutter! Back he came to the baggage train leading the horse by the reins and said to a squire:

“Take charge of this knight.”

“Which knight would that be?” said the jovial, witty king.

“Which knight? The one I’ve captured.”

“You can keep his horse and harness,” said the king, “but I think you’ll find you’ve lost the knight!”

“What!” said the Marshal. “Where’s he gone?”

“He decided to hand around back there - suspended from a gutter!”

When the Marshal looked round he roared with laughter and thought it a splendid joke!"

Written by Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik

For Henry and William other tournament episodes check
The History of William Marshal


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