Brewer's: Battle

Professor Creasy says there are fifteen decisive battles; that is, battles which have decided some political change: B.C. 490, Marathon, 413, Syracuse; 331, Arbela; 207, Metaurus; the defeat of the Romans by Varus, 9; Chalons, A.D. 451; Tours, 732; Hastings, 1066; Joan of Arc's victory at Orléans, 1429; the Armada, 1588; Blenheim, 1704; Pultow'a, 1709, Saratoga, 1777, Valmy, 1792; and Waterloo, 1815. See also Fifteen Decisive Battles.

Battle royal
A certain number of cocks, say sixteen, are pitted together; the eight victors are then pitted, then the four, and last of all the two; and the winner is victor of the battle royal. Metaphorically, the term is applied to chess, etc.

Battle scenes
Le Clerc could arrange on a small piece of paper not larger than one's hand an army of 20,000 men.

The Battle-painter
or Delle Battaglie. (See Michael Angelo.)

Battle of the Books
A satire, by Dean Swift, on the contention among literary men whether ancient or modern authors were the better. In the battle the ancient books fight against the modern books in St. James's Library.

Battle of the Giants
i.e. the battle of Marignan (Ma-rin-yan') in 1515, when Francois I. won a complete victory over 12,000 Swiss, allies of the Milanese.

Battle of the Herrings
in 1429. A sortie made by the men of Orléns, during the siege of their city, to intercept a supply of salt herrings sent to the besiegers.

Battle of the Moat
A skirmish or battle between Mahomet and Abu Sofian (chief of the Koreishites) before Medina; so called because the “prophet” had a moat dug before the city to keep off the invaders; and in the moat much of the fighting took place.

Battle of the Standard
in 1138, when the English overthrew the Scotch, at Northallerton, in Yorkshire. The standard was a high crucifix borne by the English on a wagon.

Battle of the Spurs
(1302), in which the allied citizens of Ghent and Bruges won a famous victory over the chivalry of France under the walls of Courtray. After the battle more than 700 gilt spurs (worn by French nobles) were gathered from the field.

In English history the Battle of Guinegate (1513) is so called, “because the French spurred their horses to flight, almost as soon as they came in sight of the English troops.”

A close battle
A naval fight at “close quarters”, in which opposing ships engage each other side by side. A line of battle. The position of troops drawn up in battle array. At sea, the arrangement formed by ships in a naval engagement. A line-of-battle ship is a ship fit to take part in a main attack. Frigates do not join in a general engagement.

A pitched battle
A battle which has been planned, and the ground pitched on or chosen beforehand, by both sides.

Half the battle
Half determines the battle. Thus, “The first stroke is half the battle,” that is, the way in which the battle is begun half determines what the end will be.

Trial by battle
The submission of a legal suit to a combat between the litigants, under the notion that God would defend the right. It was legal in England till the nineteenth century.

Wager of Battle
One of the forms of ordeal or appeal to the judgment of God, in the old Norman courts of the kingdom. It consisted of a personal combat between the plaintiff and the defendant, in the presence of the court itself. Abolished by 59 Geo. III. c. 46.
Battle of the Frogs and Mice

(The). [See Batrachomyomachia. ]

Battle of the Kegs

(The). A mockheroic by Francis Hopkinson (1738-1791). In the War of Independence certain machines, in the form of kegs, charged with gunpowder, were sent down the river to annoy the British at Philadelphia. When the British found out the nature of these machines, they waged relentless war with everything they saw floating about the river.

Battle of the Poets

(The). A satirical poem by John [Sheffield], Duke of Buckingham, in which all the versifiers of the time are brought into the field (1725).

Battle of the Whips

The Scythian slaves once rose in rebellion against their masters, and many a bloody encounter followed. At length, one of the Scythian masters said to his followers: Let us throw away our spears and swords, and fight in future with whips. We get killed by the former weapons and weakened. So in the next encounter they armed themselves with whips, and immediately the slaves saw the whips, remembering former scourgings, they turned tail and were no more trouble.


(Sarah), who considered whist the business of life and literature one of the relaxations. When a young gentleman, of a literary turn, said to her he had no objection to unbend his mind for a little time by taking a hand with her, Sarah was indignant, and declared it worse than sacrilege to speak thus of her noble occupation. Whist “was her life business; her duty; the thing she came into the world to do, and she did it. She unbent her mind afterwards over a book.” (C. Lamb: Elia.)

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894

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