1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Champion

CHAMPION (Fr. champion, Late Lat. campio from campus, a field or open space, i.e. one “who takes the field” or fights; cf. Ger. Kampf, battle, and Kämpfer, fighter), in the judicial combats of the middle ages the substitute for a party to the suit disabled from bearing arms or specially exempt from the duty to do so (see Wager). Hence the word has come to be applied to any one who “champions,” or contends on behalf of, any person or cause. In the laws of the Lombards (lib. ii. tit. 56 §§ 38, 39), those who by reason of youth, age or infirmity could not bear arms were allowed to nominate champions, and the same provision was made in the case of women (lib. i. tit. 3 § 6, tit. 16, §2). This was practically the rule laid down in all subsequent legislation on the subject. Thus the Assize of Jerusalem (cap. 39) says: “These are the people who may defend themselves through champions; a woman, a sick man, a man who has passed the age of sixty, &c.” The clergy, too, whether as individuals or corporations, were represented by champions; in the case of bishops and abbots this function was part of the duties of the advocatus (see Advocate). Du Cange gives instances of mercenary champions (campiones conductitii), who were regarded as “infamous persons” and sometimes, in case of defeat, were condemned to lose hand or foot. Sometimes championships were “serjeanties,” i.e. rendered service to lords, churches or cities in consideration of the grant of certain fiefs, or for annual money payments, the champion doing homage to the person or corporation represented by him (campiones homagii).

The office of “king’s champion” (campio regis) is peculiar to England. The function of the king’s champion, when the ceremonial of the coronation was carried out in its completeness, was to ride, clad in complete armour, on his right the high constable, on his left the earl marshal, into Westminster Hall during the coronation banquet, and challenge to single combat any who should dispute the king’s right to reign. The challenge was thrice repeated by the herald, at the entrance to the hall, in the centre, and at the foot of the dais. On picking up his gauntlet for the third time the champion was pledged by the king in a gilt-covered cup, which was then presented to him as his fee by the king. If he had had occasion to fight, and was victorious, his fee would have been the armour he wore and the horse he rode, the second best in the royal stables; but no such occasion has ever arisen. This picturesque ceremonial was last performed at the coronation of George IV. The office of king’s champion is of great antiquity, and its origins are involved in great obscurity. It is said to have been held under William the Conqueror by Robert or Roger Marmion, whose ancestors had been hereditary champions in Normandy. The first authentic record, however is a charter of Henry I., signed by Robert Marmion (Robertus de Bajucis campio regis). Of the actual exercise of the office the earliest record dates from the coronation of Richard II. On this occasion the champion, Sir John Dymoke, appeared at the door of the Abbey immediately after the coronation mass, but was peremptorily told to go away and return later; moreover, in his bill presented to the court of claims, he stated that the champion was to ride in the procession before the service, and make his challenge to all the world. This seems to show that the ceremony, as might be expected, was originally performed before the king’s coronation, when it would have had some significance. The office of king’s champion is hereditary, and is now held by the family of Dymoke (q.v.).

See Du Cange, Glossarium, s.v. “Campio”; L. G. Wickham Legg, English Coronation Records (Westminster, 1901); J. H. T. Perkins, The Coronation Book (London, 1902).