The King’s Champion Part 2

I have written a previous post about my quest to discover the medieval origins of the position of King’s Champion. Rather than rehashing it, you can find it here.

So following the work I did for the previous post, I decided I needed more information than my collection of books and what I’d so far managed to find online could provide. So I headed for the State Library of Victoria. It’s one of my favourite places to do research and if you’re not familiar with it you can see the famous domed reading room in the photos below. I always work in here whenever I can because it has an extensive collection and the most amazing atmosphere. IMG_0695


In the reading I’d been doing for my previous post many of the 1800s sources on the King’s Champion I’d found had been based on the work of William Dugdale. I decided he would be a good person to begin the next stage of my search with. Primarily to see if he had any references in his work that would let me track back further. I discovered he was a writer in the 1600s who wrote extensively about both baronial families and peerage. I also found that the State Library had a copy of his two volume work The Baronage of England or The Historical Account of the Lives and Most Memorable Actions Of Our English Nobility.  The first volume covers from the Saxons, to the Norman Conquest, to those who had their rise before the reign of Henry III. The second volume covers from the end of Henry III’s reign to the reign of Richard II. It was the first volume I was most interested in as it was this that later writers were referencing when discussing the Marmion family’s heritage.

I ordered both the books from the State Library. They are classified as rare books so I had to view them in the heritage reading room. Rare books is a wide ranging definition. A book can be rare due to age, or fragility, or a lack of copies in existence as well as other reasons. I was expecting an 1800s copy of the work as this is what usually happens. So I was delighted to find that what I’d ordered was actually a printing from 1675. This is one of the things I love about libraries like the State Library of Victoria. They have an amazing range of rare, fragile and obscure items but you don’t have to have any special qualification to access them. They are there for the use of all Victorians. All I needed to access these books was my library card. I was very excited as this is now my record for the earliest book I have ever held. It beat one from the mid 1700s I used for researching William Marshal during my honours year. The title page of Dugdale’s book can be seen below.


The first volume indeed had the peerage of the Marmion family. It begins by saying that William I gave Robert Marmion the castle of Tamworth. The Domesday Book lists Tamworth castle as being in the hands of the king in 1086. William I died in 1087 so it is just about possible that he gave the castle to Robert Marmion. What is most interesting is the entry regarding the Marmion family and Scrivelsby, the manor which is now tied to the role of King’s Champion. It is only mentioned once and this is not until the narrative reaches Phillip Marmion who died in the 20th year of the reign of Edward I. In this case it is just a passing mention. Scrivelsby is listed as of one of the properties Phillip held by right of Barony on his death. You can see the passage on the page below.


Dugdale does provide references as to where he is getting his sources. Unfortunately he does it in an abbreviated form, but doesn’t explain what the abbreviations mean. I am yet to work out exactly what the reference for Scrivelsby is referring to, but when I work it out I’ll track it down. The other telling thing about this book is the lack of any kind of reference to the Marmions as hereditary Kings Champions. This doesn’t prove that they weren’t of course, but it might mean that it wasn’t well known or considered especially important.

I also examined the second volume of Dugdale’s work, but there were no further mentions of the Marmions or of the Dymoke family, the family who inherited the title of King’s Champion. What Dugdale does give the reader is what seems to a be a reasonably accurate account of the individual Marmions in England in the Norman and early Plantagenet times. So it seems likely that whether or not they were official King’s Champions, or hereditary Champions of Normandy, that the Marmions were in England roughly from the time of William I. There is also a second Dugdale work that apparently does discuss the role of King’s Champion that I am hoping to track down soon.

Having determined that most likely the Marmions were in England in some form from the time of William I, I decided to try a slightly different track. I’d been looking into the household of the king because the King’s Champion is often mentioned in coronations alongside positions such as the Marshal. From work I’d done on William Marshal I knew that the Marshal is definitely an hereditary position and that it was certainly considered a part of the king’s household. So I decided it was worth having a look through one of the best records of a king’s household from the early Plantagenet period. The Constitutio Domus Regis is a contemporary account probably of the household of Henry I. The exact date is still under debate. It has thankfully been translated by S.D Church. The State Library has a copy which also contains the translation, by Emile Amt, of the Dialogus De Scaccario (the Dialogue of the Exchequer) which dates to the 12th century. I have gone carefully through the Constitutio and am unable to find any mention of the King’s Champion. I also can’t find any kind of regular payment to the King’s Champion listed in the Dialogus. Again this doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist in this time, it may just not have been included in these particular documents. It could also mean that if it did exist then it was much less formal an appointment than say the Marshal, and may have not had a day to day role.

Continuing on a slightly different track I decided that exploring the question from the point of view of the coronation itself was a good idea. Other sources I’d been reading referenced two books

1. The Coronation Book of the Hallowing of the Sovereigns of England.  By Jocelyn T. Perkins published 1902

2.  English Coronation Records  Edited by Leopold  G. Wickham Legg published 1901.

The State Library had copies of both. I began with The Coronation Book. While this text doesn’t provide  any revelatory new information it does cover the position of King’s Champion in later years in detail and provide some lovely little vignettes of the Champion’s role in the coronation.  For example John Dymoke entrance as the champion to Richard II. When he appeared at the coronation on his ‘mighty steed’ he was summarily told that he had come in at the wrong time and told to come back later when it was appropriate.

The Coronation Book  provides extensive discussion of many of the ceremonies that various Champions after the reign on Richard II were involved in. It doesn’t however provide any information as to the the role of the Champion before the reign of Richard II. What it does do though is give some lovely illustrations and photos. Some are non contemporary illustrations of the Champions performing their duties and others are of the Champion’s acroutements. They can all be seen below.


The Manor of Scrivelsby  which is currently tied to the position of Champion.


Some of the suits of armour worn by the Champions.


The cups which are the official payment to the Champion for their service at the coronation.


Sir Charles Dymoke James II’s Champion


Henry Dymoke the Deputy Champion.

Henry Dymoke participated in George IV’s coronation because the Champion John Dymoke (Henry’s father) was a cleric and therefore apparently unable to undertake the role. The only other time a Deputy Champion was used was at the coronation of Richard II when the hereditary Champion was Margery Dymoke. Her husband John Dymoke undertook the role by right of his wife as she was a woman and as such unable to be to be Champion. [1]

Margery and John Dymoke actually raise a very interesting point which is briefly discussed in The Coronation Book. The coronation of Richard II is the first record we have of the Champion’s role in the coronation. It is also the period in which the Dymoke family took over from the Marmions as the Champions. The Coronation Book mentions that there was a case in the Court of Claims before Richard II’s coronation. John Dymoke argued his right to be Champion through his wife’s descent from Phillip Marmion and his possession of Scrivelsby. [2] When I found this I realised that this court case would be absolutely key because it would have to include an explanation of the rights of the Marmions to the position of King’s Champion. The Coronation Book  doesn’t really provide that much more detail, but thankfully the second book I listed above, English Coronation Records, does.

English Coronation Records in fact has a transcription and translation of the court case. It’s reasonably long and as such I won’t present it in full here. In summary John Dymoke and Baldwin de Freville both presented their cases to be the King’s Champion. Both of them were claiming the position of Kings Champion due to their descent, through marriage, from Phillip Marmion. Phillip was the last of the main line of Marmions and he died in the reign of Edward I. John held Scrivelsby and Baldwin held Tamworth. There were fierce arguments on both sides. In the end it was decided that as John had presented a better case and crucially because “several nobles and magnates appeared in the said Court and gave evidence before the said Lord Steward, that the said Lord King Edward and the said Lord Prince lately dead frequently asserted, while they lived, and said that aforesaid John ought of right to perform the aforesaid service for the said Manor of Scrivelsby.” [3] This last point is absolutely key because this is the point where the role of Champion is tied irrefutably to Scrivelsby itself rather than the specific family.

So through all this I have still failed to find definitive evidence that the Marmions were the hereditary Champions. It does seem, however, that they were certainly believed to be the hereditary Champions in 1367 at the time of Richard II’s coronation. Baldwin and John were both arguing on hereditary descent from the Marmions not specifically on the possession of their respective manors. Additionally no one in the court seemed to find this claim odd and several nobles seemed to feel that Edward III and Edward the Black Prince had discussed it, so it must have been a position that was known and understood.

I am still not quite finished with this. I’m hoping to track down the other Dugdale book in which he apparently discusses the role of the King’s Champion, as well as deciphering his abbreviation style. I am also going to look into the Marmions specifically, as it seems clear that the role was tied to their family not to the property of Scrivelsby until 1367. I am going to see what I can find out about their role in Normandy where they were supposedly hereditary Champions. If I find anything I’ll post an update.

[1]  The Coronation Book of the Hallowing of the Sovereigns of England.  By Jocelyn T. Perkins published 1902 p.151

[2] The Coronation Book of the Hallowing of the Sovereigns of England.  By Jocelyn T. Perkins published 1902 p.134

[3] English Coronation Records  Edited by Leopold  G. Wickham Legg published 1901. pp. 160-161

The photos are all mine.

The King’s Champion

This is a post of ongoing research. It began with a conversation between my brother and me. He mentioned a podcast he’d been listening to which had discussed the modern existence of the position of a ‘king’s champion’, a hereditary role that was apparently part of the coronation ceremony. The champion was intended to challenge in combat anyone who disputed the monarch’s right to the throne. The modern holder of the position was apparently an accountant by training. My brother quickly Googled it when I said I was interested and according to Wikipedia it is a role that goes back to the time of William the Conquerer. Now Wikipedia is a great quick reference source, but as everyone knows it should be taken with a grain of salt.

I’ve been reading about the medieval period for a long time and I’d never even heard of the position. Especially in the period I know the most about, the early Plantagenets. I’m always a little suspicious of anything that is blithely labeled as going back to the Conquerer. Also, the king’s champion is such a romantic sounding notion that to me it felt like something you’d find in later eras of romance and chivalry. So I decided to investigate.

It immediately became clear that the position certainly exists today and many secondary sources report that it goes back to the Conquerer. Not many, however, provide any proof of this except to say that the position was, and still is, attached to the Manor of Scrivelsby and was originally held by the Marmion family. So I decided that the Domesday Book was probably a good place to start.

For anyone who doesn’t know the Domesday Book dates to 1086 and was created at the orders of William I, otherwise known as William the Bastard or to a modern audience William the Conquerer. It was essentially a census of Britain, basically who held what land and what they held on it. A facsimile copy can be seen below.


In the Domesday Book the owner of Scrivelsby manor is listed as Robert Despenser.  It has never been suggested that Despenser was the champion, so it appears the position was not tied to the manor from the beginning. However, I quickly discovered that the Marmions inherited the Manor from Despenser through marriage.

I haven’t, however, been able to find a source definitively confirming that the Marmions came over to England with William I. The closest I’ve found is the Encyclopedia Brittanica  from 1911, which mentions a charter from the reign on Henry I in which Robert Marmion is listed as king’s champion. I haven’t been unable to find the actual charter as the Encyclopedia doesn’t give any more information. [1]

The Marmions were definitely in England during the period of Anarchy, 1136-1154, though because Henry of Huntingdon lists a Robert Marmion as fighting with rebel, and many would say bandit, Geoffrey Mandeville. Robert Marmion is described as being one of the only people killed in a fight at a monastery. According to Huntingdon as he died excommunicated he is still “being devoured by eternal death”.[2]

The Marmions themselves are an interesting family. According to tradition they were the hereditary champions of the Dukes of Normandy. While I haven’t been able to find any primary sources confirming this I have found several secondary sources, including an 1800s work on the heritage of the Marmion family.[3] The Marmions certainly were close to the Dukes of Normandy as various Marmions were witnesses to a number of charters of the Dukes of Normandy and the Kings of England. For anyone unaware the Dukes of Normandy became the Kings of England when William I conquered England, though it was not a title held by all of his descendants. The Calendar of the Documents of France 918-1206 lists a Marmion, usually Robert which seems to be a family name, as a witness to charters of Henry II, Robert Duke of Normandy and Richard I. Marmions are also listed  in a writ of Geoffrey of Anjou, when he was Duke of Normandy, as holding property from the Bishop of Bayeux in c. 1150. [4]  Roger de Torigni who was Abbot of Mont St Michel also describes Fontanetum, which he says was the home of Robert Marmion, as one of the places in Normandy conquered by Geoffrey of Anjou.[5] Therefore the Marmions did hold land and have influence with the Dukes of Normandy, so the tradition that they were the hereditary champions of the Dukes is not impossible. Also if the name Marmion is familiar it is because one particular Marmion is the subject of a Walter Scott poem. It can be found at and seems to be a largely romantic and fictionalised account of a Marmion at Flodden Field.

It is also not beyond the realm of possibility that the concept of a royal champion was in existence in this time period. The concept of a non royal champion certainly existed in this time period. Champions were, to an extent, part of the judicial system. They were usually used by those who could not fight for themselves; either due to age, gender, infirmity, religious position i.e a monk, or the fact that they were an entity i.e a town or monastery. Not many contracts for these sorts of champions survive, but they did exist. For more information on the role please see Trial By Battle in  France and England by Ariella Elemma. [6] The concept of a judicial champion is more documented in France, but it did happen in England. As Elemma says the earliest known record of a champion contract in England is the pipe roll from the ninth year of the reign of Henry II which lists a payment of what amounts to a year’s wage to a Thomas as ‘king’s champion’. [7] This may or may not have been a Marmion. As far as I can find the head of the Marmion family at the time was Robert Marmion. It is therefore possible that the ‘Thomas’ who is listed here is a champion for the king in another matter entirely apart from the role the Marmions played in the coronation and as official king’s champion.

The earliest definite listing of the role of the king’s champion in a coronation is Richard II’s coronation, but that isn’t to say that it didn’t happen earlier. For example Henry III’s second coronation. He had more than one coronation because he was only nine years old at his first and the country was in the midst of the Baron’s War of which the Magna Carta was part. During this coronation Phillp Marmion bore “sable, an arming sword, the point in chief, argent.” [8] This is possibly for his role as king’s champion.

The best described coronation from the time period is the first coronation of Richard I, also known as Richard the Lionheart. Chronicler Roger of Hoveden described it in detail. An excerpt can be seen below.

“First came the clergy in their robes, carrying holy water, and the cross, tapers, and censers. Next came the priors, then the abbots, and then the bishops, in the midst of whom walked four barons, bearing four candlesticks of gold ; after whom came Godfrey de Lucy, bearing the king’s cap [of maintenance], and John Marshal by him, carrying two great and massive spurs of gold. After these came William Marshal, earl of Striguil, bearing the royal sceptre of gold, on the top of which was a cross of gold, and by him William Fitz-Patrick, earl of Salisbury, bearing a rod of gold, having on its top a dove of gold. After them came David, earl of Huntingdon, brother of the king of Scotland, John, earl of Mortaigne, the duke’s brother, and Robert, earl of Leicester, carrying three golden swords from the king’s treasury, the scabbards of which were worked all over with gold ; the earl of Mortaigne walking in the middle.[9]

This is only a small segment of the detailed description. The office of champion is not mentioned which does argue for the fact that it might not have been as integral a part of the coronation as it became. That being said, Hoveden does say that there were other officials and the champion may simply have been counted as one of those.

The existence of a champion who played a key role in the coronation of the king can not be disputed by the time of the coronation of Richard II. Richard II was crowned in 1377. In this case it was John Dymoke who undertook the position because he had inherited it, along with Scrivelsby, through marriage. [10] By the reign of Charles II Edward Dymoke was champion and he was very much part of Charles’ coronation. His role is described below.

The champion, The lord high-constable on his right hand, both likewise on horseback. At the lower end of the hall, York-herald proclaimed the challenge, in these words following “ If any person, of what degree soever, high or low, shall deny, or gain-say our sovereign lord King Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith, son and next heir to our sovereign lord Charles the First, the last king deceased, to be right heir to the imperial crown of this realm of England, or that he ought not to enjoy the same; here is his champion, who saith, that he lieth, and is a false traitor, being ready in person to combat with him, and in this quarrel will adventure his life against him, on what day soever he shall be appointed.”

Thereupon the champion threw down his gauntlet, which lying some small time, and no body taking it up, it was delivered unto him again by York-herald. Then all advanced forward, until the champion came to the middle of the hall, where York-herald made the like proclamation, and the gauntlet was again thrown down, taken up, and returned to the champion; who advanced to the foot of the ascending steps to the state, and at the top of the said steps, the said herald proclaimed the said challenge the third time; whereupon the champion threw down his gauntlet again, which nobody taking up, it was delivered unto him. This being done, the earl of Pembroke and Montgomery (assisted as before) presented on the knee to the king a gold cup with a cover, full of wine, who drank to his champion, and by the said earl sent him the cup ; and he, after three reverences drank it all off, went a little backward, and so departed out of the hall, taking the said cup for his fee, according as had been adjudged him by the said Court of Claims. [11]

Edward Dymoke’s son Charles performed the office of champion for the coronation of James II and this time he came in clad in fully white armour on a white charger. [12] A nice little poem written before the coronation of George II sums up the romance of the role quite clearly:

“When first the new-crown’d King in splendor reigns,
A golden cup the loyal Champion gains.
With gesture fierce, his gauntlet stern he throws,
And dares to mortal fight, his absent foes.
Where no brave Quixote answ’ring to his call,
He rides triumphant thro’ the guarded hall.
Thrice happy conqu’ror, that the laurel wears
Unstain’d by warrior’s blood, or widow’s tears. .
Arm’d at all points should he a foe behold,
Say, would he keep the field, or quit the gold ?[13]

The role of champion in full splendour, including riding in on the horse and throwing down the gauntlet, continued until the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838. The ritual was suspended, but Henry Dymoke was made a baronet in compensation.[14] Another John Dymoke was hereditary champion for Elizabeth II’s coronation, and while he did not ride into the banquet on a white charger he did carry the Union Standard as part of the coronation ceremony. He died at the start of 2015 at the age of 88.[15] The current champion is Francis Marmion Dymoke, and he is a chartered accountant. What role, if any, he plays in the coronation of the next king remains to be seen.

What my research has shown me so far is that I was right to be suspicious of secondary sources blithely declaring that the title of king’s champion went back to the Conquerer. While it is possible that kings’ champions played roles in Norman and early Plantagenet coronations, and it certainly seems to be what tradition says, there is little primary proof. I will continue to have a dig around and I’ll update this post if I find anything new. If anyone reading this has a source of information I haven’t found, please feel free to let me know. I would like to say quickly that I have looked at the peerage book from the 1800s that Wikipedia references, it provides no sources for the sweeping statements it makes so I deliberately have not included it. 


P.S I have done some more research and managed to track the champion definitively to the coronation of Richard II and to a court case which makes it clear that the Marmion family were at least thought to have been the champions then. I’ve written it up in a seperate post and it can be found here.



[2] Henry of Huntington. The History of the English People 1000-1154, translated by Diana Greenway. ISBN970199554805. P.83

[3]  History of the ancient noble family of Marmyun; their singular office of King’s champion, by the tenure of the baronial manor of Scrivelsby, in the county of Lincoln: also other dignitorial tenures, and the services of London, Oxford, etc. on the coronation day. The whole collected at a great expense from the public records … by T. C. Banks. esq.;view=1up;seq=27 p. 6

[4] Calendar of Documents from France

[5] Roger de Torigni Chronicles of the reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I. Volume 4 p. 139


[7] Elemma, p. 211

[8] An historical and critical enquiry into the nature of the kingly office and how far the art of coronation with the oath established by law, is a solemnity indispensable to the exercise of the regal dignity; shewing, the origin and antiquity of inunction, the ancient and modern forms of the coronation ceremony, and setting forth divers peculiar services claimed to be performed on that grand occasion; particularly the singular office of King’s champion… / by T. C. Banks.;view=2up;seq=132;size=150 p. 110

[9] Roger of Hoveden Volume II. p. 117.

[10] Banks p. 117;view=1up;seq=27

[11] Banks 74-45;view=1up;seq=97

[12] Banks p. 96;view=1up;seq=124

[13] Banks p. 112;view=1up;seq=134

[14] John Plunkett Queen Victoria p. 23