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.

IMG_6144

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 http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5077 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. 

Ellen

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.

 

[1]  http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/CAU_CHA/CHAMPION_Fr_champion_Late_Lat_c.html

[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.https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101073399535;view=1up;seq=27 p. 6

[4] Calendar of Documents from France https://archive.org/details/cu31924028043663

[5] Roger de Torigni Chronicles of the reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I. Volume 4 https://archive.org/stream/chroniclesofreig04howl#page/138/mode/2up/search/marmion p. 139

[6]https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/67806/3/elema_ariella_m_201211_PhD_thesis.pdf

[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. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31158008333139;view=2up;seq=132;size=150 p. 110

[9] Roger of Hoveden Volume II. https://archive.org/details/annalsofrogerdeh02hoveuoft p. 117.

[10] Banks p. 117 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101073399535;view=1up;seq=27

[11] Banks 74-45 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31158008333139;view=1up;seq=97

[12] Banks p. 96 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101073399535;view=1up;seq=124

[13] Banks p. 112 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31158008333139;view=1up;seq=134

[14] John Plunkett Queen Victoria p. 23 https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=b8HVrM5LES0C&pg=PA23&dq=&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

[15] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11512352/Lieutenant-Colonel-John-Dymoke-Queens-Champion-obituary.html

 

 

 

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