Winner Takes All

Time for another tale of the Holderness coast and this one involves two abbots and an argument about who can fish where.
Photos of Hornsea Mere, Hornsea
This photo of Hornsea Mere is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Fish were much munched in the 13th century and Hornsea Mere – the last surviving, post ice-age lake in the area – teemed with the wee beasties. Local spiritual homes, the abbeys of Meaux (rhymes with juice – don’t ask) and St Mary’s each had fishing rights on the Mere with supposedly a clear boundary between each abbey’s patch. However, the boundary wasn’t clear and the abbots of each establishment accused the other of poaching their perch and pike. Unable to resolve their disagreement through prayer and persuasion, the abbots opted for trial by combat – the most common way of resolving land, boundary and other disputes back in those days.

Trial by combat or Duellum was a fancy French method of resolving disputes brought over to England by no less than Billy the Conqueror. Each party to the dispute hired champions to fight on their behalf and last man standing was the winner. Once the champions agreed to do battle on behalf of their paymaster, they each gave the judge in the dispute a gauntlet with one penny in each finger.

Arriving at the fight arena suitably dressed for the rumble, each champion swore an oath affirming the rightness of their paymaster’s cause. They also solemnly promised they were not smothered in concealed charms, talismans or other magic tokens and had eschewed all forms of sorcery. It was to be a fair fight.

Now the Abbot of Meaux was probably a bit more worldly than his adversary and he mopped up the market for champions by employing seven of the best around at great cost to the abbey. In monopolising the market in this way he forced St Mary’s abbot to employ the left-overs and, by inference, the less accomplished. The appointed day of battle dawned; the disputed boundary marked out and the champions set to no doubt watched by a host of locals having a bit of a flutter out of sight of the holy men.

Trial by combat only ended when one party was dead or cried “craven” to submit. The abbots’ champions knocked seven bells out of each other for most of the day before surprise, surprise, the men of Meaux submitted and owned themselves beat.

Imagine the chagrin of the Abbot of Meaux after going to all that effort to secure the best and especially when back in his treasure house he counted the cost of his failed endeavour.

Clearly, on this occasion, might was not right.
Pictures of Hornsea Mere - Attraction Photos
This photo of Hornsea Mere is courtesy of TripAdvisor

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