Barbarossa - George Upton

The Mayence Festival and Tournament

Peace now prevailed both in Italy and Germany. Frederick regarded the remarkable prosperity of the Italian cities without envy, for it contributed greatly toward the prosperity of the German cities; and the German people did not withhold their gratitude to the Emperor for the good fortune they enjoyed. Frederick indeed was richly rewarded for his great achievements both in youth and manhood.

In recognition of this great prosperity, the Emperor organized a national festival upon a scale grander than had ever been known before. At Whitsuntide of 1184, princes, counts, and knights from all parts of Germany assembled by his invitation at Mayence, the seat of the highest spiritual princes, prelates, abbots, and priests. Strangers poured into the city in such numbers that they could hardly find accommodation. Upon the great plain before the gates a new city of tents quickly arose, where lodging could be obtained. The princes entered through the city gates splendidly mounted and with large retinues. The Archbishop of Cologne had over four thousand followers. If it was hardly possible to count the nobles and distinguished persons, how can the number of people who streamed in from everywhere be estimated? It was not so much the brilliant spectacle that drew these burghers and peasants to the city, as it was affection for the highest and most revered personage in the Empire, who had secured peace and prosperity for them. The joy of the Emperor was the joy of the people. It exalted the one and glorified the other. The streets of Mayence swarmed with people of all conditions. The fields were thronged by them, and the neighboring mountains loudly echoed their festive songs.

The Emperor entertained all the princes and nobles, the strangers and the people of the city for three days. An incredible amount of food was consumed, and wine flowed in streams. All were happy and satisfied, for every one found something that contributed to his highest pleasure. Some regaled themselves at the abundant feasts, others admired the stately knights, the brilliancy of their armor, the beauty and strength of their steeds, while still others visited the various sports.

Along the tented city stretched a wide plain, surrounded by barriers, and in the midst an elevated dais decorated with gaily colored banners, splendid tapestries, and brilliant draperies. At early daybreak one morning people stood in crowds by the barriers, evidently awaiting a spectacle. As the sun rose, the crowds increased, and distinguished guests from far and near assembled on the dais.

At last the Emperor appeared, and received an enthusiastic and long-continued welcome from the people. In the open space, in sight of the exultant thousands, he knighted his two sons with his own hands, and then ordered the tournament to begin. The contestants in the feats of arms had already been waiting long. Their powerful battle horses, seeming to know what was impending, stamped impatiently and champed at their bits. Their shields, embellished with their crests and arms, hung upon columns. The heralds advanced and loudly and distinctly read the rules and regulations of the tournament, each one of which must be strictly observed. After sharply scrutinizing the weapons, helmets, and shields, and inquiring the name of each knight, the heralds announced, "All are qualified for the tournament."

The barriers were then opened. The heralds stepped aside, two overseers entered, carrying long white staves, and behind them followed two knights splendidly mounted upon fiery, prancing steeds. They rode around the grounds at a quick gallop, and as they passed the dais their steeds stepped more proudly, the knights saluted the Emperor by lowering their lances, and then took positions at opposite sides of the barriers. After remaining there a short time, they couched their lances with the right hand, and holding high their shields with the left, put spurs to their horses and rushed at each other. They came together in the centre of the arena. Their shields rang from the impact of the lances, but neither of the knights was shaken. Changing positions, they rode around a second time and then prepared for a fresh onset. It was plain that both were greatly excited. The spectators, who had been so enthusiastic, were now quiet, and looked on almost breathlessly as the overseers advanced near the spot where the knights would meet. The rush was swift and impetuous. One of the gallant knights wavered a little, but resolutely kept his place. Furiously they came together; a lance was shattered, and its bearer was hurled from his horse to the ground. The victor greeted the spectators, received his prize, and withdrew. The vanquished knight arose, and, to the delight of all, was found to be unhurt.

Two other contestants were announced with a flourish of trumpets, and their names were loudly called. There was instant and universal attention, for it was known that the two cherished an old grudge, and an open encounter between them had been prevented only by the Emperor's command. Would they settle their quarrel now? Easily handling their high-strung battle horses and testing their heavy lances with strong, skilful hands, they rode to their respective positions, while a messenger from the Emperor was conferring with the heralds and overseers. Many were apprehensive he might forbid the contest at the very instant the signal was given.

The knights were ready at once for the onset. The ground shook under the hoofs of the mighty steeds, and there came a fearful crash. Both lances struck the centres of the shields, but neither knight moved in his saddle. With a jerk they turned their horses around and rode back to their positions, savagely glaring at each other. Their steeds snorted as if excited by their masters' fury and seemed to know what was expected from them. Like two mighty billows rushing together the knights met the second time. The spectators eagerly watched their every movement. It was a frightful collision: first, a shock, then a crash like a thunderbolt tearing its way through dry branches. Both lances were shivered, the shields clashed together, and the horses ran against each other.

The next instant the stumps of the lances were flung away and the startled heralds and overseers sprang to one side. The broad, two-edged swords flew from the scabbards, and blow rapidly followed blow. The horses themselves seemed to know they were engaged in a life and death struggle, and instantly obeyed the slightest signal of their riders. The contest between the evenly matched combatants lasted several minutes, as neither left himself exposed at any point or made any mistake in his sword play. Nor did their thirst for revenge affect their presence of mind or their caution. Blows felt with the rapidity of lightning and were as rapidly warded off. It seemed as if the contest would never end; but suddenly one of them dealt the other's horse a mighty blow which clove its head and killed the brave beast. In a trice its rider was on his feet, the other knight dismounted, and the fight was renewed on foot. Their shields had already crashed together and their swords were clashing with such force that the sparks flew, when the overseers advanced at the Emperor's command, shouting, and interposed their white staves as a signal that the contest must cease. The knights heard the order with ill-concealed indignation. They looked at each other for a moment, breathing hatred and revenge, but sheathed their swords before they were stained with blood.

Amid loud applause for their bravery they reluctantly left the arena and paid their homage to the Emperor. Their honorable recognition by the first knight of his time and his mild conciliatory advice to them exorcised the demon of hatred, and, once more reconciled, the strong, brave men, who had just been engaged in a death-struggle, embraced one another.