The Combat of the Thirty
Chivalry’s finest military expression in contemporary eyes was the famous Combat of the Thirty in 1351 [C.E.]. An action of the perennial conflict in Brittany [part of the Hundred Years War], it began with a challenge to single combat issued by Robert de Beaumanoir, a noble Breton on the French side, to his opponent Bramborough of the Anglo-Breton party. When their partisans clamored to join, a combat of thirty on each side was agreed upon. Terms were arranged, the site was chosen, and after participants heard mass and exchanged courtesies, the fight commenced. With swords, bear-spears, daggers, and axes, they fought savagely until four on the French side and two on the English were slain and a recess was called. Bleeding and exhausted, Beaumanoir called for a drink, eliciting the era’s most memorable reply: “Drink thy blood, Beaumanoir, and thy thirst will pass!” Resuming, the combatants fought until the French side prevailed and every one of the survivors on either side was wounded. Bramborough and eight of his party were killed, the rest taken prisoner and held for ransom. In the wide discussion the affair aroused, ‘some held it as a very poor thing and others as a very swaggering business,’ with the admirers dominating. The combat was celebrated in verse, painting, tapestry, and in a memorial stone erected on the site. More than twenty years later Froissart noticed a scarred survivor at the table of Charles V, where he was honored above all others. He told the ever-inquiring chronicler that he owed his great favor with the King to his having been one of the Thirty. The renown and honor the fight earned reflected the knight’s nostalgic vision of what battle should be. While he practiced the warfare of havoc and pillage, he clung to the image of himself as Sir Lancelot.
— A Distant Mirror, pp. 137-38