Trial by Combat

Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, Constable under Richard II, on the manner of conducting judicial duels

In the first place, the quarrels and the bills of the appellant and of the defendant shall be posted in the court before the constable and the marshal.

And when they may not prove their cause by witnesses or by any other manner, but must determine their quarrel by strength, the one to prove his intent upon the other and the other in the same manner to defend himself, the constable has power to join the battle as vicar general under God and the king.

The battle conjoined by the constable, he shall assign them a day and place, so that the day be not within forty days after the said battle so conjoined, unless it be by the consenting of said appellant and defendant. Then he shall award them points of arms otherwise called weapons. Either of them shall have, that is to say, long sword, short sword, and dagger. The appellant and the defendant must find sufficient surety and pledges that each of them shall come at his said day. And that this may be done, there shall be given unto the appellant hour, term and so on, to make his prove and dare, and for him to be the first within the lists to quit his pledges. And of the same wise the defendant. . . .

The king shall find the field to fight in. And the lists shall be made and devised by the constable. It is to be considered that the lists shall be forty paces of length and forty paces of breadth in good manner, and firm, stable, and hard, and evenly made without great stones, and that that it be flat. And that the lists be strongly barred round about and a gate in the cast and another in the west with good and strong barriers of seven foot of height or more. . . .

The day of the battle the king shall be in a raised chair or scaffold and a place shall be made for the constable and marshal at the stair foot of the scaffold. Then shall be asked the pledges of the appellant and defendant to come as prisoners into the lists before the king and those present in the court until the appellant and the defendant have come in the lists and have made their oaths.

The appellant shall come to the east gate of the lists in such manner as he will fight, with his arms and weapons assigned to him by the court, and there he shall abide till he be led in by the constable and the marshal. And the constable shall ask him what man he is which is come armed to the gate of the lists and what name he has and for what cause he is come. The appellant shall answer: "I am such a man -- A. de K. -- the appellant, which is come this tourney, etc, to do, etc." And then the constable shall open the visor of his basinet so that he may plainly see his visage and if it be the same man that is the appellant. Then shall he open the gates of the lists and make him enter with his said arms, points, victuals, and lawfull, necessaries upon him and also his council with him; he shall lead him before the king and then to his tent, where he shall abide till the defendant be come.

In the same manner shall be done for the defendant, but that he shall enter in at the west gate of the lists. The constable's clerk shall write and set in the register all these things. . . . Also the constable shall take heed that no other before or behind the appellant or the defendant bring more weapons or victuals than were assigned by the court.

And if it be that the defendant come not on time to his tourney and at the hour and term limited by the court, the constable shall command the marshal to have him called at the four corners the lists, which shall be done in manner as follows: "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez. C. de B., defendant, come to your tourney which ye have undertaken at this day to acquit your pledges before the king, the constable, and marshal in your defense against A. de K., appellant, and that that he has put upon you." And if he come not betimes, he shall be called the second time in the same manner, and at the end he shall say, "Come, the day passes fast"; and if he come not at that time, he shall be called the third time, unless this be between high tierce and noon. But although the constable hath given hour and term unto the defendants, to come to his tourney, nevertheless, if that he tarry unto the hour noon, the judgment should not by right go against him whether it be case of treason or not. But so is it not of the appellant, for he must hold the hour and term limited by the court without any evasions (pro longings) or excuses whatsoever if it be in case of treason.

The appellant and the defendant being entered into the lists . . . they shall be searched by the constable and marshal of their points and that they be genuine (vowable) without any manner of deceit on them, and if they be other than reason asks, they shall be taken away, because reason, good faith, and law of arms will suffer neither guile nor deceit in so great a deed. And it is, to wit, that the appellant and the defendant may be armed as much upon their bodies as they will.

Then the constable shall send first after the marshal and then for the appellant with his council to make his oath. The constable shall ask him if he will any more protest and that he put forth all his protestations by writing, for from that time forth he shall make none. The constable shall have his clerk ready in his presence that shall lay forth a mass book, open. And the constable shall make his said clerk read out the bill of the appellant. Then the constable shall say to the appellant: "A. de K., thou knowest well this bill and this warrant and pledge that thou gavest in our court. Thou shalt lay thy right hand here upon these saints and shalt swear in manner as follows. Thou, A. de K., this thy bill, is sooth in all points and articles from the beginning continuing therein to the end and that is thine intent to prove this day on the aforesaid C. de B., so God thee help, and these saints." This oath made, he shall be led again to his place. The constable shall make the marshal call the defendant and so shall be done to him in the same manner as to the appellant.

Then the constable shall have the appellant called again and shall make him lay his hand as he did before upon the mass book and shall say: "A. de K., thou swearest that thou neither hast nor shalt have more points or any points on thee or on thy body within these lists, but they that be assigned by the court; that is to say, a long sword, short sword, and dagger, nor any other knife little or big, nor any other instrument or engine of point or otherwise, nor stone of virtue [magical poer], nor herb of virtue, nor charm, nor experiment, nor caract [charm], nor any other enchantment by thee or for thee by which thou trustest the better to overcome C. de B., thine adversary. . . . Nor that thou trustest in any other thing, but only in God and thy body and on thy rightful quarrell, help thee God and these saints." The oath made, he shall be led again to his place. In the same wise shall be done to the defendant.

These oaths made and their chamberlains and servants put away, the constable shall have called by the marshal the appellant and the defendant also, who shall be led and kept by the men of the constable and the marshal before them. And the constable shall say to both the parties, "Thou, A. de K., appellor, shall take C. de B., defender, by the right hand and he thee. And we forbid you and each of you in the king's name and upon the peril that belongeth thereto and the peril of losing your quarrel, whichever one is found in default, that neither of you be so hardy as to do to the other, ill or grievance, thrusting or other harm by the hand, upon the peril aforesaid."

This charge given, the constable shall make them place their right hands together and their left hands upon the missal, saying to the appellor: "A. de K., appellor, thou swerest by the faith that thou givest in the hand of thine adversary, C. de B, defender, and by all the saints that thou touchest with thy left hand, that thou this day shall do all thy true power and intent by all the ways that thou best mayst or canst to prove thine intent on C. de B., thine adversary and defender, to make him yield himself up to thine hand hand vanquished, to cry, or speak, or else to make him die by thine hand before thou wend out of these lists by the time and the sun that thee is assigned by this court, by thy faith, and so help thee God and these saints. C. de B., defender, thou swearest by thy faith that thou givest in the hand of thine adversary, A. de K., appellor, and by all the saints that thou touchest with thy left hand, that today thou shalt do all thy true power and intent by all the ways that thou best mayst or canst to defend thine intent of all that that is put on thee by A. de K., thine adversary, by thy faith, and so help thee God and all these saints."

And then the constable shall command the marshal to cry at the four corners of the lists in manner as follows: "Oyez, Oyez, Oyez. We charge and command by the king's constable and marshal that none of great value and of little estate, of what condition or nation that he be, be so hardy henceforward to come nigh the lists by four feet or to speak or to cry or to make countenance or token or semblance or noise whereby either of these two parties A. de K., appellor, and C. de B., defender, may take advantage the one upon the other, upon peril of losing life and limb and their goods at the king's will."

And afterward the constable and the marshal shall turn all manner of people out of the lists except their lieutenants and two knights for the constable and marshal which shall be armed upon their bodies, but they shall have neither knife nor sword upon them nor any other weapons whereby the appellant or the defendant may have advantage because of negligence in keeping them. But the two lieutenants shall have in their hands each a spear without iron to separate them if the king will make them leave off in their fighting, whether it be to rest them or other thing whatsoever pleases him.

And it is to be known that if any administration should be made to the appellant or to the defendant, of meat or of drink any other necessary lawful thing after the counsel of friends and servants have been dismissed, the said administration appertains to the heralds and also to all the cries made in the said court; which king's heralds and followers shall have a place for them assigned by the constable and marshal as nigh the lists as may be, so that they may see all the deed and be ready if they be called for, to do anything. The appellant in his place [is] kept by some men assigned by the constable or the marshal, and the defendant in his place, in the same wise, both made ready and arrayed and with fellowship by their keepers abovesaid, the marshall with the one party, and the lieutenant of the constable with other.

The constable sitting in his place before the king as his vicar general, and the parties made ready to fight as is said by the commandment of the king, the constable shall say with loud voice as follows: "Lessiez les aler"; that is to say, "Let them go and rest a while"; "Lessiez les aler," and rest another while; "Lessiez les aler et fair leur devoir de par dieu"; that it is to say, "Let them go and do their duty in God's name." And this said, each man shall depart from both parties, so that they may encounter and do that which seems best to them.

Neither the appellant nor the defendant may eat or drink from that time forth without leave and license of the king, for anything that might befall, unless they will do it by consenting between them. From this time forth it is to be considered diligently by the constable whether the king will make the parties fighting depart, rest, or abide, for any cause whatsoever; that he take good care how they are separated, so that they be in the same estate and degree in all things; if the king will sure or make them go together again, and also that he have good harkening and sight unto them if either speak to other, be it of yielding or otherwise; for unto him belongs the witness and the record of the words from that time forth, and to no other.

And if the said battle [be] of treason, he that is convicted and discomfited shall be disarmed in the lists by the commandment of the constable, and a corner of the lists be broken for the reprove of him, by which he shall be drawn out with horses from the same place where he is so disarmed, through the lists unto the place of justice, where he shall beheaded or hanged after the usage of the country. Which thing appertains to the marshal and to oversee and to perform his said office and to put him in execution and to go or ride and to be always with him till it be done and all performed and as well of the appellant as of the defendant; for the good faith and right and law of arms will that the appellant suffer the same penalty that the defendant should if he were convicted and discomfited. And if it happen that the king would take the quarrel in his hands and make them agree without more fighting, then the constable, taking the one party, and the marshal, the other, shall lead them before the king, and he showing them his will, the constable and marshal shall lead them to the one side of the lists with all their weapons and armor as they are found and have on when the king took the quarrel in his hands. And so they shall be led out of the gate of the lists equally, so that the one go not before the other in any way nor in any thing; for since the [king] has taken the quarrel in his hands, it should be dishonest that either of the parties should have more dishonor than the other. . . .

The fee of the heralds is all the weapons and armor broken, those that have been forfeited or left behind in the lists, as well of that appellant as of the defendant, and all the weapons and armor of him that is discomfited, be it the appellant or the defendant. The fee of the marshal is the lists, the barriers, and the posts of them.

Dillon, "On a MS Collection of Ordinances of Chivalry of the Fifteenth Century, Belonging to Lord Hastings," Archaeologia 57 (1902), 62-66.