Sir John De Courcy (3)

Patrick Weston Joyce

And now Sir John de Courcy, being in the Tower in evil plight, cried often to God why He suffered him to be thus so miserably used, who did build so many good abbeys and did so many good deeds to God: and thus often lamenting with himself he asked God his latter end to finish.

It fortuned after this that much variance and debate did grow between King John of England and King Philip of France [2] about a certain castle which the king of France won from King John. And when King Philip had often been asked to restore it he refused, saying it was his by right. But at last he offered to try the matter by battle. For he had a champion, a mighty man who had never been beaten; and he challenged the king of England to find on his side, a champion to fight him, and let the title to the castle depend on the issue thereof; to which King John, more hasty than well advised, did agree.

And when the day of battle was appointed, the king of England called together his Council to find out where a champion might be found that would take upon him this honour and weighty enterprise. Many places they sought and inquired of, but no one was found that was willing to engage in so perilous a matter. And the king was in a great agony, fearing more the dishonour of the thing than the loss of the castle.

At length a member of the Council came to the king and told him that there was a man in the Tower of London—one De Courcy—that in all the earth was not his peer, if he would only fight. The king was much rejoiced thereat, and sent unto him to require and command him to take the matter in hand: but Sir John refused. The king sent again and offered him great gifts; but again he refused, saying he would never serve the king in field any more; for he thought himself evil rewarded for such service as he did him before. The king sent to him a third time and bade him ask whatever he would for himself and for his friends, and all should be granted to him: and he said furthermore that upon his stalworth and knightly doings the honour of the realm of England did rest and depend.

He answered that for himself the thing he would wish to ask for, King John was not able to give, namely, the lightness and freedom of heart that he once had, but which the king's unkind dealing had taken from him. As for his friends, he said that saving a few they were all slain in the king's service; “and for these reasons” said he “I mean never to serve the king more. But”—he went on to say—“the honour of the realm of England, that is another matter: and I would defend it so far as lies in my power provided I might have such things as I shall ask for.”

This was promised to him, and the king sent messengers to set him at liberty; who, when they had entered into his prison, found him in great misery. His hair was all matted and overgrew his shoulders to his waist; he had scarce any apparel, and the little he had fell in rags over his great body; and his face was hollow from close confinement and for lack of food.

After all things that he required had been granted to him, he asked for one thing more, namely, that his sword should be sent for all the way to Downpatrick in Ireland, where it would be found within the altar of the church; for with that weapon he said he would fight and with no other. After much delay it was brought to him; and when they saw it and felt its weight, they marvelled that any man could wield it. And good food was given to him, and seemly raiment, and he had due exercise, and in all things he was cherished and made much of; so that his strength of body and stoutness of heart returned to him.


[2] At this time the kings of England had a large territory in France, so that quarrels often arose between them and the French kings.