Monday, August 10, 2015

Combat of the Thirty

The War of Breton Succession (see immediately previous entries) included an interesting military interlude.

A new book on the subject!
Jean de Beaumanoir, on behalf of Charles de Blois, issued a challenge to Robert (or Richard) Bemborough (or Pembroke, or Pennbrock, or Brembo, or Brandebourch, or something else) that they would meet in fair combat. But not single combat: thirty men from each side would meet on 26 March 1351 at Auray and "Heaven defend the right."

The knights and squires were armed with all manner of weaponry: daggers, swords, axes and spears. There is a tradition that some of Beaumanoir's men used horses at some point, but it is probably more likely that the combatants were all on foot.

The fighting continued until all of one side were dead or captured. The fight was exhausting; after several hours (with four French and two English dead), they agreed to pause to dress wounds and take food and drink. After the break, Bemborough was killed, whereupon the English pulled back into a small band for defense. The Anglo-Breton group was finally broken up and its members either killed or captured. Prisoners on both sides were released when ransom arrangements were made.

"There was no tactical or strategic goal behind the Combat..." we are told by Steven Muhlberger, whose book on the subject (see the link under the illustration) goes into far more detail. Much of the detail we get comes from a 14th century poem (translated and published in 1827, found here on a web page edited by the same Steven Muhlberger).

In fact, the entire affair was "illegal" because it was in defiance of the Truce of Calais. The truth is, tournaments and combat were a glorious part of the lives of some men, and "for honor" was a good enough reason to make a challenge and follow through on it, even if it meant potentially the deaths of your comrades.

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