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The Career Of A Knight-Errant
by [?]

Mediaeval history would be of greatly reduced interest but for its sprightly stories of knights and their doings. In those days when men, “clad in complete steel,” did their fighting with spear, sword, and battle-axe, and were so enamoured of hard blows and blood-letting that in the intervals of war they spent their time seeking combat and adventure, much more of the startling and romantic naturally came to pass than can be looked for in these days of the tyranny of commerce and the dominion of “villanous saltpetre.” This was the more so from the fact that enchanters, magicians, demons, dragons, and all that uncanny brood, the creation of ignorance and fancy, made knighthood often no sinecure, and men’s haunting belief in the supernatural were frequently more troublesome to them than their armed enemies. But with this misbegotten crew we have nothing to do. They belong to legend and fiction, not to history, and it is with the latter alone that we are here concerned. But as more than one example has been given of how knights bore themselves in battle, it behooves us to tell something of the doings of a knight-errant, one of those worthy fellows who went abroad to prove their prowess in single combat, and win glory in the tournament at spear’s point.

Such a knight was Jacques de Lelaing, “the good knight without fear and without doubt,” as his chroniclers entitle him, a Burgundian by birth, born in the chateau of Lelaing early in the fifteenth century. Jacques was well brought up for a knight. Literature was cultivated in Burgundy in those days, and the boy was taught the arts of reading and writing, the accomplishments of French and Latin, and in his later life he employed the pen as well as the sword, and did literary work of which specimens still survive.

In warlike sports he excelled. He was still but a youth when the nephew of Philip the Good of Burgundy (Philip the Bad would have hit the mark more nearly) carried him off to his uncle’s court to graduate in knighthood. The young adventurer sought the court of Philip well equipped for his new duties, his father, William de Lelaing, having furnished him with four fine horses, a skilful groom, and a no less skilful valet; and also with some good advice, to the effect that, “Inasmuch as you are more noble than others by birth, so should you be more noble than they by virtues,” adding that, “few great men have gained renown for prowess and virtue who did not entertain love for some dame or damoiselle.”

The latter part of the advice the youthful squire seemed well inclined to accept. He was handsome, gallant, bold, and eloquent, and quickly became a favorite with the fair sex. Nor was he long in gaining an opportunity to try his hand in battle, a squabble having arisen between Philip and a neighboring prince. This at an end, our hero, stirred by his “errant disposition,” left Philip’s court, eager, doubtless, to win his spurs by dint of battle-axe and blows of blade.

In 1445 he appeared at Nancy, then occupied by the French court, which had escorted thither Margaret of Anjou, who was to be taken to England as bride to Henry VI. The occasion was celebrated by festivals, of which a tournament was the principal feature, and here the Burgundian squire, piqued at some disparaging remarks of the French knights, rode into the lists and declared his purpose to hold them against all comers, challenging the best knight there to unhorse him if he could.

The boastful squire was richly adorned for the occasion, having already made friends among the ladies of the court, and wearing favors and jewels received at the hands of some of the fairest there. Nor was his boast an empty one. Not a man who faced him was able to hurl him from the saddle, while many of them left the lists with bruised bodies or broken bones.