Tourney at Chalon

Edward I was not a king to cross.
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In July 1274 the Little Battle or Little War of Chalon took place on the Saone in Burgundy-Franche-Comté. This was a tournament that turned nasty when the host, the Count of Chalon, tried in vain to unhorse Edward I. The tourney at Chalon was a strange affair. Walter of Guisborough identifies Edward’s opponent as the ‘Count of Chalon’, but this title was in abeyance. The last count of Chalon, Jean, had exchanged his title in 1237 with the duke of Burgundy for the very rich seigneury of Salins. Jean’s family retained Chalon as a surname, but his successors were not counts. Edward’s opponent was most likely one of Jean’s sons, either Pierre le Bouvier (“the Oxherd”) or his younger half-brother Jean, seigneur de Chalon. Since the chroniclers specifically reference Chalon, Jean is perhaps the more credible.

The ‘count’ is said to have invited Edward to tourney in his land. This sounded like an honourable invitation, but really he planned to capture the king and despoil his knights. To that end many men from all parts of Franche-Comté were summoned to the tourney, including great numbers of horse and foot. Before the event, the Burgundians bartered English horses and arms for sale and took to drinking to celebrate the plunder they would take.

Edward in turn summoned nobles from England to join him. When the day came, there were supposedly a thousand men-at-arms and footsoldiers on the English side, and twice that number on the other. The count sent forward his infantry first. Edward had a number of slingers and archers, who killed a great number of these men and chased them to the city gates. They were pursued all the way to the river, where many drowned.

Then the mounted divisions or ‘conrois’ of knights charged each other. The count went for Edward at the head of fifty chosen knights, and attacked the royal conroi. Both men came together in the press and exchanged blows. When the count saw he could not overcome Edward with the sword, he threw away his blade and seized the king by the neck. Edward shouted:

“What are you trying to do? Do you think you can take me?”

To which the count replied:

“Most assuredly. I will have you and your horse.”

After this manly banter, Edward struck the count’s horse, which reared and almost threw its rider. The count clung onto Edward’s neck, but was beaten to the ground. At this point Edward left the field to catch his breath. When he saw how the Burgundians were treating the tourney as a real battle, he gave an order that might have come straight from the mouth of Don Corleone:

“Spare no-one you set eyes on now, and do the same to them as they are doing to us.”

The English infantry, who had returned from their pursuit, set about the Burgundian knights; the horses were gutted and their girths cut, so their riders fell to the ground, where they could be polished off with a knife through the slits of their helms. Edward returned to the fray and attacked the count, who had been lifted onto a spare horse. At last the count begged for mercy, but in his fury the king refused to accept his surrender. Instead he was forced to yield to a mere knight.

David Pilling is the author of Edward I & Wales: 1254-1307.