The Twelve of England

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The Twelve of England (in Portuguese: Os Doze de Inglaterra) is a Portuguese chivalric legend of 15th-century origin, famously related by the poet Luís de Camões in his 1572 Os Lusíadas (Canto VI). It tells the story of twelve Portuguese knights who travelled to England at the request of twelve English ladies to avenge their insult by a group of English knights.


According to the legend, in the 1390s, twelve English knights insulted[1] twelve ladies-in-waiting of the household of the Duchess of Lancaster. The ladies appealed to their master, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, but he was unable to find any English champions to defend the honor of the ladies. The twelve offending knights, renowned for their martial prowess, were too widely feared. Recalling his Iberian campaigns of the 1370s and 1380s, and the bravery of the Portuguese knights he encountered there, Lancaster recommended that they search for a champion among them.

In one version of the legend,[2] John of Gaunt wrote down the names of twelve Portuguese knights from memory, had the ladies draw lots to be matched with a knight, and then had each of the ladies write a letter of appeal to their champion. John of Gaunt wrote a separate letter himself to his son-in-law, John I of Portugal, asking him to grant the Portuguese knights permission to travel to England for this noble endeavor.

(In another version, related in Teófilo Braga's poem, John the Gaunt made an open request to John I, and scores of Portuguese knights applied, from which twelve were selected from an urn by Queen Philippa of Lancaster in Sintra.[3] Their exact match with an English lady was sorted later - John of Gaunt shuffled the anonymous chivalric mottoes of the twelve knights, and had each of the twelve ladies select one, only learning the exact identify of their champion afterwards.)[4]

The twelve were scheduled to set out by ship from Porto, but one of them, Álvaro Gonçalves Coutinho, nicknamed o Magriço ("Ladies' Paladin") told the others to go ahead without him, that he would make his way overland via Spain and France.

The eleven knights set sail from Porto and landed in England, where they were well received in London by the Duke of Lancaster and the ladies, but there was great nervousness about whether Magriço would arrive on time. Magriço travelled overland at a languid pace, taking time to meander on the route, and visit various curious locations along the way.

When the day of the tournament arrived, legendarily held at Smithfield, London,[5] there was still no news of Magriço, leaving the damsel destined to be defended by him (named 'Ethwalda' in one version) quite distraught. But just as the fight was about to be enjoined, Magriço arrived on the scene with great fanfare, just in time to take his position alongside his compatriots, heartening the distressed lady.

The twelve Portuguese champions successfully dispatched the offending English knights that day, in what was characterized as an unusually hard and brutal fight. The ladies' honor was successfully defended. But a few of the English knights had been killed in the tournament field, and in the aftermath, the Portuguese were threatened with revenge by the friends of the fallen. Fearful of being betrayed if they lingered in England, the Portuguese knights applied to John of Gaunt to secure them passage back to Portugal quickly. However, Magriço, still possessed by a spirit of adventure, decided to linger on in northern Europe, and eventually entered the service of the Count of Flanders for some time. Álvaro Vaz de Almada also went on adventures in continental Europe (legendarily engaging in a duel with a German knight in Basel).


The legend of the "Twelve of England" was famously related by Portuguese poet Luís de Camões in his 1572 epic poem Os Lusíadas. In Canto VI, Stanzas 40-69, while Vasco da Gama's fleet was crossing the Indian Ocean, a soldier named Fernão Veloso[6] regales his fellow Portuguese sailors with the story of the "Twelve of England" to pass the time and inspire their bravery.[7]

Historians have found some versions of the legend prior to Camões's telling, notably a mid-15th-century manuscript known as Cavalarias de Alguns Fidalgos Portugueses.[8] Jorge Ferreira de Vasconcelos's 1567 Memorial das Proezas da Segunda Tavola Redonda (which precedes Camões by a few years) briefly mentions that 'thirteen' (not twelve) Portuguese knights were dispatched to England "to defend the ladies of the Duke of Lancaster".[9] The summaries by Pedro de Mariz (1598) and Manuel Correia (1613), although published after Camões, seem to rest on pre-Camões sources.[10] The legend was retold in various versions after Camões, with occasional embellishments and variations.[11]

The twelve[edit]

The identities of the twelve of the legend have been subject to speculation. An early 17th-century commentator Manuel Correia names five (Coutinho, Almada, Agostim, Lopo Pacheco, and Pedro Homem)[12] while the remaining seven were identified in a 1732 tract by Védouro.[13] Although many Portuguese noble families would later claim an ancestor of theirs was among the twelve, expanding the list enormously, the following is most generally accepted list of the twelve:

Named by Correia:

Added by Védouro (and Soares da Silva)

Common alternates to the above list are:

In Teófilo Braga's 1902 poem, the twelve English knights are named as Austin (killed in the opening fight by Álvaro Vaz de Almada), Athelard, Blundell, Loveday, Argenton, Clarency, Corleville, Otenel, Turneville, Morley, Glaston and Reginald (who fought Magriço in the last fight).[26] The twelve English ladies are also named: Adhelm, Egberte, Oswalda, Jorceline, Luce, Florence, Egwin, Gotslina, Gerlanda, Ailmer, Tatwine and Ethwalda (Magriço's lady).[27] These names are purely literary fiction by Braga, with no known historical counterparts.


While the particulars of the legend are doubtlessly fanciful, there may be some (slim) historical basis for such an encounter[28] If such an event happened, it would have to be sometime after 1387 (when the Anglo-Portuguese alliance was sealed by the marriage of John I of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt) and before the death of John the Gaunt in 1399. Narrowing the window further, it was probably sometime after 1389, when John of Gaunt returned to England from his failed Iberian campaign, and before the death of John of Gaunt's wife, the Duchess of Lancaster, Constance of Castile in 1394.[29] The common date frequently cited is 1390.[30]

The Duchess's Castilian nationality may lend credence to such an event, and her twelve ladies-in-waiting were also, likely, Castilian rather than English, which may explain John of Gaunt's difficulty in finding English champions to pick up arms against their English brethren in their defense.[31] The early 1390s also marks a difficult period in John of Gaunt's political life, at a low point in his fortunes, trying to navigate an England riven with great tension between King Richard II and the English nobility. With the humiliating failure in Iberia still stinging, it was not unlikely disgruntled English knights might have taken to poking at the Duke of Lancaster and his household, in particular the Castilian Duchess who could be blamed for the hare-brained Iberian adventure to begin with.[31] Finally, it is possible that if the event happened as early as 1389-1390, Lancaster may not have had to send to Portugal for knights, but may have had a few already in his entourage - Portuguese knights who served with him in the Castilian campaign and accompanied him to England, possibly as a bodyguard when John of Gaunt was still uncertain as to what kind of reception he might receive at home. Add a few others from his son-in-law's embassy, and there might have been enough Portuguese knights in England at the time to engage in some sort of tournament over some offense against Lancaster's household.

Setting the event in the early 1390s, however, eliminates many of the identified twelve, who were merely children at the time, if born at all. But it is probably safe to assume that the list is largely fanciful and anachronistic anyway.[32] Most of the named knights were known to have gone abroad at some point - e.g. Álvaro Vaz de Almada served for a long time in England and was made a Knight of the Garter and Count of Avranches in 1445; Soeiro da Costa fought in Aragon and Italy in the early 15th century, and was at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415; Álvaro Gonçalves Coutinho, the Magriço himself, is reported to have fought in tournaments in France. The French chronicle of Enguerrand de Monstrelet records a chivalric fight (over women) in Saint-Ouen in 1414 between three Portuguese knights (named simply D. Álvares, D. João and D. Pedro Gonçalves) and three Gascon knights (François de Grignols, Archambaud de la Roque and Maurignon).[33] News of the feats of various Portuguese knights abroad in different countries - filtered back home in the early 15th century and somehow, inchoatly and anachronistically, congealed in popular memory into a single English tournament set around 1390.

Another influence in this story is the rise of the Arthurian legend, probably brought to the Portuguese court by Philippa of Lancaster.[34] The story of the "Twelve of England" evokes the image of John I of Portugal, as some sort of Portuguese King Arthur, sending out his knights of the round table in feats of chivalry, saving distant damsels in distress (a marked change from the old reconquista tales of battling Moors.) The number - twelve - is also not accidental. As pointed out by Camões himself, it happens to match the Twelve Peers of Charlemagne, that other great source of chivalric literature, re-popularized in the 16th century by Boiardo and Ariosto ("For the Twelve Peers, I put forth the Twelve of England, and their Magriço", Camões Lusiadas, Canto I, Stanza 12[35]).

Cultural references[edit]

In the 1820s, Portuguese Romantic poet Almeida Garrett worked for many years on an extended poem, Magriço ou Os Doze de Inglaterra, which used the story of the twelve as a device for wider philosophical meanderings, which was never completed.[36] Many decades later, in 1902, Teófilo Braga composed his own more straightforward poetic version of the story of the twelve, with a more nationalist tone, apparently inspired by his research into Camões and Garrett, but also possibly motivated by the 1890 British Ultimatum, which had provoked a strong anti-British feeling in republican-nationalist circles in Portugal at that time.

The legend took a new life when the Portugal national football team made their debut at the 1966 FIFA World Cup hosted in England. Led by eventual top-scorer Eusébio, they reached third place in the tournament. The Portuguese newspaper press gave the fabled team the nickname Os Magriços, in reference to the "Twelve of England". Although the legend was familiar to the Portuguese public, it became even more prominent in the aftermath of the World Cup campaign.


  1. ^ Camões does not make the content of the insult explicit; but Pedro de Mariz (1598) and Manuel Correia (1613) say the English knights simply called the ladies "very ugly" - too ugly to be loved, and too ugly to serve in the ducal household, and challenged any man to prove them wrong. Camões insinuates the insult arose only after the ladies refused to yield to the knights' advances.
  2. ^ de Mariz (1598: p.140)
  3. ^ Braga, 1902: p.95
  4. ^ Braga, (1902, p.207)
  5. ^ Braga, 1902: p.300
  6. ^ Fernão Veloso is a historical figure, see João de Barros, Decadas da Asia (1552), Dec. I, Lib. IV, Ch. II, p.283
  7. ^ In English translations, see W.J. Mickle, 1776, The Lusiad, or the discovery of India, an epic poem, p.247, T.M. Musgrave, 1826, The Lusiad, an epic poem p.229; R.F. Burton, 1880, The Lusiads p.230, and J.J. Aubertin (trans.) 1878-84, The Lusiads of Camoens vol. 2, p. 22
  8. ^ Cavalaria was first published in Magalhães Basto (1935).
  9. ^ Vasconcelos Memorial (1567: Ch. 46, p.234)
  10. ^ Pedro de Mariz (1598 p.140); Manuel Correia (1613: p.175
  11. ^ See Costa (1935) and Hutchinson (2007)
  12. ^ Manuel Correia (1613: p.175
  13. ^ Teófilo Braga (1874: p. 433-34; 1902: p.95,p.298); Pimentel (1891, p.141ff). Curiously, these authors seemed to have overlooked the account of José Soares da Silva, whose 1732 Memórias para a Historia de Portugal (vol. 3, Ch. 281, p.1364), also supplies a complete list as well as a few more details about the twelve. For a rough English translation of Silva's text, see T.M. Musgrave's note in 1826 trans. The Lusiad: An epic poemp.494
  14. ^ See genealogy of Álvaro Gonçalves Coutinho, 'O Magriço' at
  15. ^ a b c d José Soares da Silva Memórias para a Historia de Portugal (1732: p.1368). (Musgrave 1826 trans., p.495)
  16. ^ See genealogy of João Pereira da Cunha Agostim at
  17. ^ Pimentel, p.142
  18. ^ Pimentel, p.142. See also genealogy of Luís Gonçalves Malafaia at
  19. ^ Genealogy of Martim Lopes de Azevedo at
  20. ^ Genealogy of Rui Gomes da Silva at
  21. ^ Possible genealogy of Álvaro de Almada 'o Justador' at
  22. ^ e.g. Pimentel, p.142-43.
  23. ^ Genealogy of João Fernandes Pacheco
  24. ^ Almada 'o Justador' is wholly omitted and definitively replaced with João Fernandes Pacheco by José da Fonseca in his 1846 Paris edition of Lusiadas p.508. See Pimentel, 1891: p.143.
  25. ^ Corte-Real's presence among the twelve was first proposed by Francisco Soares Toscano in his 1623 Parallelos de Principes e Varoens Illustres, p.193
  26. ^ T. Braga, 1902: p.203-04
  27. ^ Braga, p.205
  28. ^ For a review of possible historicity, see Costa (1935) and Hutchinson (2007).
  29. ^ The 15th-century Cavalarias identifies the Duchess as Constance of Castile, thus placing the date for this event definitely before her death in 1394. Braga (1902) prefers to identify the Duchess with Gaunt's third wife, Katherine Swynford, the duchess from 1396 to 1399.
  30. ^ Soares da Silva (1732: p.1364).
  31. ^ a b Hutchinson, 2007
  32. ^ Pimentel (1891: p.150).
  33. ^ Pimentel (1891: p.144-45)
  34. ^ Hutchinson (1988, 2007)
  35. ^ e.g. Aubertin transl. 1.12
  36. ^ See Braga (1902: p.299-300). After nine long years, Garrett abandoned the poem in 1832. The fragments were published in a posthumous volume of his collected works in 1914.
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  • Teófilo Braga (1902) Os Doze de Inglaterra - Poema, Porto: Chardron. online
  • Manuel Correia (1613) Lusiadas de Luiz de Camões, comèntados pelo licenciado Manuel Correia. Lisbon: P. Crasbeek. online
  • Costa, Joaquim (1935) Os Doze de Inglaterra: O célebre episódio de «Os Lusíadas» na história e na lenda.Porto: Imprensa Portugesa
  • Almeida Garrett (1832) Magriço ou Os Doze de Inglaterra, first published 1914, in Obras completas de Almeida Garrett, Volume 30, Lisbon: Livraria Moderna. online
  • Hutchinson, A.P. (1988) "Anglo-Portuguese Relations and Arthurian Revival in Portugal", in M. Gomes da Torre, editor, Actas to Coloquio Comemorativo to VI centenario do Tratado de Windsor, 1986 Porto.
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  • Santos, J.J. Moreira dos (1985) "O Medievalismo em Camões. Os Doze de Inglaterra", Revista da Universidade de Coimbra, Vol. 33, p.209-20. offprint
  • Francisco Soares Toscano (1623) Parallelos de Principes e Varoens Illustres, antigos a que muitos da nossa Nação Portugueza se a semelharão em suas obras, ditos e feitos; com a origem das armas de algumas familias deste Reyno 1733 edition, Lisbon: Ferreiriana online.
  • Jorge Ferreira de Vasconcelos (1567) Memorial das proezas da Segunda Tavola Redonda, 1867 edition, Lisbon: Panorama online
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