“Hugh Spencer's Feats in France”


Hugh Spencer is sent to the king of France to know whether there be peace or war; answer: War. The French queen challenges him to joust with her knight. French horses and spears are inferior but he wins, then fights others until the king sues for peace.


In trying to match the events here with actual history, we should note the reigns of the various Kings Henry of England before 1525:

Henry I, 1100-1135 (no war with France; skirmishing in Normandy)

Stephen, 1135-1154 (no war with France; civil war in England)

Henry II, 1154-1189 (constant skirmishing with France)

Richard I, 1189-1199 (continued skirmishing with France)

John, 1199-1216 (John, bankrupted by Richard's spending, cannot defend Normandy)

Henry III, 1216-1272 (cold war with France but no direct fighting)

Edward I, 1272-1307 (cold war with France but no direct fighting)

Edward II, 1307-1327 (cold war with France but no direct fighting)

Edward III, 1307-1377 (war declared with France 1337. Victories at Sluys, Crecy, Poitiers. Peace of Bretigny 1360.)

Richard II, 1377-1399 (Technical peace, but France keeps retaking land)

Henry IV, 1399-1413 (technically at war with France but no direct fighting; France continues to recapture land)

Henry V, 1413-1422 (invaded France 1415; appointed heir to Charles VI 1421)

Henry VI, 1422-1461 AND 1470-1471 (all British possessions in France except Calais lost by 1453; fighting was constant, though Henry hated it and eventually went mad)

Edward IV, 1461-1470 AND 1471-1483 (plans and mounts but does not carry through an invasion of France)

Edward V, 1483 (did not reign in fact)

Richard III, 1483-1485 (no time for war with France)

Henry VII, 1485-1509 (too cheap to even think about war)

Henry VIII, 1509-1547 (last English king to threaten France)

During this period France had several Kings Charles:

Charles IV, 1314-1328

Charles V, 1364-1380 (and sometimes regent while his father John was in English captivity)

Charles VI (Charles the Mad), 1380-1422

Charles VII 1422-1461 (not crowned until 1430)

Charles VIII 1470-1498

Thus, although the song is not dated, it seems very likely that it is intended to refer to the time of Henry V. It's true that Charles VI was not in very good mental shape at the time (a madness that would, in fact, come to affect Henry V's son Henry VI, who was Charles's grandson) -- but an English song could easily ignore that fact. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1337-1453 - Hundred Years' War between Britain and France


  1. Child 158, "Hugh Spencer's Feats in France" (3 texts)
  2. Roud #3997
  3. BI, C158


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1750 (Percy folio)