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Trading Punches in Medieval Europe
Trial of a Captive King


From an anonymous manuscript of uncertain date, estimated to have been written between 1600-1700

Richard quoth, with heart so free:

“Thou dost ill, so seemith me,

Palmers passing on their way

Should go free, by night or day,

’Nay, Sir King, for courtise

Do us here no villaine,

For His Love Who thee hath bought

Let us go, and grieve us naught;

It may to your lot betide

In strange lands to wander wide.”

But the king, he bade ere long

Shut them fast in prison strong.

Then the jailer at command

Took King Richard by the hand

And with him his comrades twain—

Food they might not taste again

’Till the morrow waxed to prime.

The king’s son, at the same time,

(Arthur was the prince’s name)

Thought to do King Richard shame,

(He was held throughout the land

For the strongest man of hand,)

To the jailer then quoth he:

“Let me now the prisoners see!”

Quoth the jailer, “At thy will

Thy command I will fulfil.”

Swift he bringeth them anon,

And King Richard first hath gone,

The king’s son, he spake forthright,

“Art thou Richard, that strong knight,

Whom men praise in every land?

Wilt a buffet from me stand,

And anon, as I shall live,

Thou shalt me a buffet give?”

Then King Richard, undismayed,

Hath with him this forward made,

And the king’s son, proud and brave,

Such a blow to Richard gave

From his eyes, the fire, it sprung—

Richard deemed he did him wrong:

“By Saint Helena, I swear,

With the moon to pay thee fair!”

The king’s son he mocked him still,

Bade them give him, at his will,

Both of drink, and eke of meat.

Of the best that he might eat,

That he thirst nor hunger know

Lest o’er-feeble be his blow.

On the morrow when’t was day.

Richard rose, without delay,

And a fire he hath him dight,

Wax he tool, so fair and white,

At the fire he waxed his hand

All about, I understand.

Came the king’s son, free and bold,

As true man, his pledge to hold,

And before King Richard stood,

Spake to him, with eager mood:

“Richard, smite with all they might

As thou wouldst be held true knight,

And if e’er I stoop or yield

May I never carry shield!”

‘Neath his cheek his hand he laid,

(He who saw it smoothly said,)

Flesh and skin were torn away;

In a soon he fell that day,

For in twain it brake, the bone,

He fell dead as any stone!

To the king a knight then sped,

Bare to him, these tidings dread:

“Richard, he hath slain thy son!”

“Woe is me! Now have I none!”

With that cry he fell to ground

As a man by woe fast bound,

Swooned for sorrow at their feet;

Knights, they raised him as we meet,

Saying: “Sire, turn from this thought,

Now’t is done, ‘t will help us naught!”

Then the king aloud did cry

To the knights who stood near by,

Saying: “I to hear am fain

In what manner was my son slain!”

Silent stood they every one,

Yea, for sorrow speaketh none;

At their cry she came, the queen,

Cried: “Alas! What here hath been?

Why this sorrow, this despair?

Who hath brought ye all to care?”

“Dame,” he quoth, ‘say, know’st thou naught?

Thy fair son to death is brought!

Since the day that I was born

No such grief my heart hath torn,

All to lose is turned my gain,

Yea, myself I fain

Had slain!”

When the queen, she understood,

Cetes, she was well nigh wood,

With her nails her cheeks she tare

As one doth in madness fare,

Covered was her face with blood—

Rent the robe wherein she stood,

Cursed the day she first drew breath;

“Say, how was he done to death?”

Saith the king, “’I’ll tell to thee,

Here the knight who told it me,

Say the sooth,” so spake the king,

“In what wise it chanced this thing,

If thou aught but truth shalt say

An ill death shalt die to-day!”

Then he doth the jailer call,

Bade him stand before them all,

Bear them witness here again

How the king’s son had been slain.

He quoth: ‘Yesterday, at prime,

Came your son in evil time,

To the prison door, to me;

Said the palmers he would see,

Bade me fetch them forth to show:—

First of all did Richard go,

Straightway Arthur asked him there,

If to stand a blow he’ld dare

If so, as true knight I land,

He would take one from his hand.

Richard answered: 'By this light,

Smite at will, and do thy might!’

Arthur smote him such a blow

That he well nigh laid him low,

Saith, ‘Now here I challenge thee

Such, at morn, to give to me.’

So they parted in wise,

With the morn did Richard rise

And your son, again he came;

Richard met him at the same

As the forward ‘twixt them lay,

Richard smote him, sooth so say,

Smote his cheek-bone there in twain—

Fell your son before hi slain.

Here I swear I truly tell

In this wise his death, it fell.”

Quoth the king with eager will:

“There in prison keep them still,

And in fetters bind with speed:

Trow me, for this evil deed,

In that he hath slain my son,

He shall now to death be done.”

Forthwith doth the jailer go,

Swift his lord’s command will do,

Meat that day the knights had naught,

Never drink to them was brought.

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