Tales from Froissart

edited by Steve Muhlberger, Nipissing University

Sir John Holland kills Lord Ralph Stafford

King Richard II is leading an expedition against the Scots.

Book II, ch. 170 (Johnes, v. 2, pp. 50-2).  The king of England was quartered in the country round Beverley, in the diocese of York with numbers of earls, barons, and knights of his realm; for every one tried to be lodged as near him as possible, more especially his two uncles. Sir Thomas Holland, earl of Kent, and sir John Holland, earl of Huntington, his brothers, were also there with a handsome company of men at arms.

With the king was a knight from Bohemia, who had come to pay a visit to the queen and, out of affection to her, the king and barons showed him every attention. This knight was gay and handsome in the German style, and his name was sir Meles. - It happened one afternoon that two squires attached to sir John Holland quarrelled in the fields of a village near Beverley, for time lodgings of sir Meles, and followed him, to his great displeasure, with much abuse.

At this moment two archers belonging to lord Ralph Stafford came thither, who took up the quarrel of sir Meles because he was a stranger: they blamed time squires for their language, and added: "You have used this knight very ill by thus quarrelling with him, for you know he is attached to the queen and from her country: you would have done better to have assisted him than to act thus." " Indeed!" replied one of the squires to time archer who had first spoken, " thou villanous knave, thou wantest to intermeddle: what is it to thee if I laugh at his follies?" " What is it to me!" answered the archer; "it concerns me enough, for he is the companion of my master; and I will never remain quiet to see or hear him abused." "If I thought, knave," said the squire, "thou wouldst aid him against me, I would thrust my sword through thy body." As he uttered these words, he made an attempt to strike him: the archer drew back, and having his bow ready bent, with a good arrow, let fly, and shot him through the body and heart, so that he fell down dead. The other squire, when me saw his companion fall, ran away.

Sir Meles had before returned to his lodgings, and the two archers returned to their lord amid related to him what had happened. Lord Ralph, when he had heard the whole, said, " You have behaved very ill." "By my troth," replied the archer, " I could not have acted otherwise, if I had not wished to have been killed myself, and I had much rather he should die than that I should." "Well," said lord Ralph, "go and get out of sight, that thou mayest not be found: I will negotiate thy pardon with sir John
Holland, either through my lord and father, or by some other means." The archer replied, "he would cheerfully obey him."

News was carried to sir John Holland, that one of sir Ralph Stafford's archers had murdered his favourite squire; and that it had happened  through the fault of the foreign knight, sir Meles. Sir John, on hearing it, was like a madman, and said he would neither eat nor drink until he had revenged it. He instantly mounted his horse, ordering his men to do the same, though it was now very late, and, having gained the fields, he inquired for the lodgings of sir Meles: he was told that he was lodged at the rear-guard with the earl of Devonshire and the earl of Stafford, and with their people.

Sir John Holland took that road, riding up and down to find sir Meles. As he was thus riding along a very narrow lane, he met the lord Ralph Stafford; but, being night, they could not distinguish each other, he called out, " Who comes here?" He was answered, " I am Stafford :" " And I am Holland." Then sir John added, "Stafford, I was inquiring after you. Thy servants have murdered my squire, whom I loved so much." On saying this, he drew his sword and struck lord Ralph such a blow as felled him dead, which was a great pity.  Sir John continued his road, but knew not then that he had killed him, though he was well aware he had strucken him down. The servants of the lord Ralph were exceedingly wroth, as was natural, on seeing their master dead: they began to cry out, "Holland, you have murdered the son of the earl of Stafford: heavy will this news be to the father when he shall know it."

Some of the attendants of sir John Holland, hearing these words, said to their master, "My lord, you have slain the lord Ralph Stafford." "Be it so," replied sir John. "I had rather have put him to death than one of less rank; for by this I have the better revenged the loss of my squire." Sir John hastened to Beverley, to take advantage of the sanctuary of St. John's church, whither he went, and did not quit the sanctuary; for he well knew he should have much trouble in the army from time affection it bore lord Ralph, and he was uncertain what his brother the king of England would say to it. To avoid, therefore, all these perils, he shut himself up in the sanctuary.

News was carried to the earl of Stafford, that his son had been unfortunately killed. The earl asked who had done it. They told him, "Sir John Holland, the king's brother," and related why, and wherefore. You may suppose, that the father, having only one beloved son. who was a young, handsome, and accomplished knight, was beyond measure enraged.  He sent for all his friends,  to have their advice how he ought to act to revenge this loss. The wisest and most temperate did all they could to calm him, adding, that on the morrow the fact should be laid before the king, and he should be required to see law and justice put in force.

Thus passed the night. In time morning, the lord Ralph Stafford was buried in the church of a village near the spot where he fell: he was attended by all the barons, knights, and squires related to him that were in the army. After the funeral, the earl of Stafford, with full sixty of his own relations, and others connected with his son, mounted their horses, and went to time king, who had already received information of this unfortunate event. They found the king attended by his uncles and many knights.

When the earl approached, he cast himself on his knees, and thus spoke with tears and anguish of heart : "Thou art king of all England, and hast solemnly sworn to maintain the realm in its rights, and to do justice. Thou art well acquainted how thy brother, without the slightest reason, has murdered my son and heir. I therefore come and demand justice: otherwise thou wilt not have a worse enemy than me. I must likewise inform thee, my son's death affects me so bitterly, that if I were not fearful of breaking up this expedition by the trouble and confusion I should make in the army, and the defections it would cause, by my honour, it should be revenged in so severe a manner that it should be talked of in England a hundred years to come. For the present, however, and during this expedition to Scotland, I shall not think of it ; for I like not the Scots be rejoiced at the misery of the earl of Stafford,"

The king replied, " Be assured, I myself will do justice, and punish the crime more severely than the barons would venture to do; and never for any brother will I act otherwise." The earl of Stafford and his relations answered, "Sir, you have well spoken, and we thank you."

Thus were the relations of lord Ralph Stafford appeased. He performed the expedition to Scotland, as I shall relate to you; and, during that whole time, the earl of Stafford seemed to have forgotten the death of his son, in which conduct all the barons thought he showed great wisdom.