"Duelling stories of the 16thC - From the French of Brantome"

by George H Powell (AH Bullen 1904)

These stories are my paraphrasing of his paraphrasing of Brantome. They are various strange true tales of duels that were fought in the 16thC, showing the rules and customs.


des Guerres and de Findilles

When Henry II came to the throne of France, there as a duel fought at Sedan between the Baron des Guerres and the Lord de Fendilles over a great insult de Fendilles had offered to the Baron.

The young Fendilles refused to enter the ring to face his older opponent until a gallows had been erected as he was determined to follow the old custom and "do as he willed" with his conquered foe.

Both parties wore armour, and des Gurres as wronged party had chosen the short thick "bastard sword" as weapon. de Fendilles objected as it wasn't the weapon of a gentleman, but des Guerres maintained that those warlike people, the Swiss, used no other.

So they fought. At the first pass, the Baron was hit so that his thigh was torn right open, and feeling faint from loss of blood he tried his skill as a wrestler and closed with his opponent, bearing him to the ground. Neither now had a sword, the Baron was uppermost, using his fists and hands all he could, but getting weak from loss of blood.

Suddenly a scaffold bearing many ladies who were watching the fight collapsed! The cries were great and the people didn't know whether to go and rescue the ladies or watch the fight...

The Baron's partisans took shameful and unlawful advantage of the commotion to call to him to "throw some sand!" and he had just enough strength left to throw sand and gravel into his opponent's eyes and mouth and so defeat him.

des Guerres's men claimed the victory, and the Baron said he'd hang and burn Fendilles as Fendilles would have done to him. But the young man's supporters claimed they had heard no call of surrender!

The dispute was put to the judgement of M. de Buillion who decided the affair would go no further.


Deeds of Bayard - the fight with Alonzo

The Chevalier de Bayard once had a Spaniard as a prisoner of war. The Spaniard upon release told all and sundry that he had not been treated as a gentleman should be - a story that none believed as all knew that Bayard was the most courteous man alive.

Bayard grew weary of the Spaniard's story, and sent him a cartel, offering to meet him. The Spaniard accepted, and on the appointed day the two met. The Spaniard unexpectedly called for the fight to be on foot, as Bayard had a touch of the ague and would be thought to be at a disadvantage. Bayard of course accepted quickly enough despite the concern of his seconds, as no man should cry off a duel unless sick unto death, and the list field was marked out.

Don Alonzo selected the arms and armour to be used - a close helm and gorget, with spear and dagger. The combatants knelt to pray and then Bayard laid himself flat to kiss the earth before springing up as advancing as gayly as if he was entering some palace to dance with fair ladies.

Don Alonzo was no less at ease, and went straight to Bayard saying "Sir Bayard, what would you of me?" To which Bayard answered "To defend my honour!". They fell to, dealing fierce thrusts.

Alonzo was wounded slightly in the face, then several more blows were exchanged without result.

Bayard noticed his opponent had a trick of thrusting and then immediately parrying to deflect any return his adversary might make. The Chevalier then waited for the Spaniard to raise his arm for a thrust, then started to deliver his return... but waited a moment for the parry to pass so that the unblocked attack went home. The lance went a good four inches through the gorget into the man's throat!

Don Alonzo feeling he was wounded unto death grappled with Bayard and they both fell to the ground. Bayard drew his dagger and held it to the Spaniard's nostrils crying "Surrender or you are a dead man!" but too late, for Alonzo was dead already.

Alonzo's second came forward to say "Seigneur Bayard, he is dead and you have conquered." And no one was more distressed than the victor who said that he would have given a hundred thousand crowns to have conquered him alive. Bayard then dragged the body from the lists, as it was his to do with as he pleased. By the laws of the duel he could have left it for the dogs, but he gave it into the keeping of Alonzo's seconds for honourable burial, showing his honour and courtesy.


Ste. Croix and Azevedo

Two Spaniards approached M de Namours, the French King's Lieutenant in Italy and having heard so much of his courtesy, Chivalry, and reknown they asked if they could settle their quarrel before him. This was a great compliment to him, that they should prefer him to the Spanish lords, even to King Ferdinand.

On the appointed day all assembled and before de Namours and the Duchess de Ferrara the two men fought.

Captain Ste. Croix was wounded in the upper thigh so badly as to bare the bone, and there was such a flow of blood that as he was trying to advance and strike, he fell. His opponent, Azevedo said "Surrender or I'll kill you", but Ste. Croix said nothing, just sat down, grasped his sword, and resolved to die first.

Azevedo entreated him to get up, saying he couldn't strike him on the ground like that, and Brantome says that it looked so dangerous, with a man so desperate and courageous. Ste. Croix got up, staggered two paces, and fell again. Azevedo raised his sword to cut his opponent's head off, but drew it back. NOthing would make Ste. Croix yield, and the Duchess tried to intervene. But de Namours said no, he could not break the laws of the duel, it was only over when one died or surrendered.

Then Ste. Croix's second stepped forward and said that he knew his friend, and nothing would make Ste. Croix yield. So The second surrendered for him! It caused a great sensation, but de Namour accepted it, and the doctors attended Ste. Croix.

It might have ended there, but his men carried him off the field with his arms, and when Alzevedo demanded them as was his right, he was refused. de Namour said that if Ste. Croix refused to give them up, his wound would be unsewn and he'd be put back into the lists in exactly the same position as when his second had surrendered for him... The arms were given to the Chevalier Bayard who then gave them to the victor.


A duel with strange weapons

Two men of Corsica fought a duel in the late autumn. For armour they had sleeveless jackets of mail over an ordinary shirt with no coat or jack, and fought with a sword apiece. THey had morions on their heads, and fastened to each helmet a short sharp dagger!

This was a fancy of the smaller man, who thought himself the weaker and feared the other man's skill at wrestling if they closed.

They entered the lists with all due ceremony and fell to, exchanging many blows with no result. The stronger man closed with his enemy and brought him to the ground. The smaller man fell undermost, but his opponent couldn't gain much advantage as he broke his arm when he fell.

So they lay on the ground, pecking at each other's arms and necks and faces with the blades mounted on their morions, until they were both bleeding from many ghastly wounds and could move no more.

They fought like brave men, but finally their seconds separated them, with neither having gained any honour or advantage over the other.

One of them died a month later, and the other nearly died of sheer grief as they were close friends before their quarrel and had been reconciled afterwards and forgiven one another.