Jousting tournaments are not known for their live reporting… until now. Toby Capwell, our Curator of Arms and Armour, reports from ‘The Great Tournament of Schaffhausen’ in Switzerland. Remember to keep checking in for updates or add the blog to your RSS feed!
Fourth Report- Monday 21 July, Final Weekend
Well, we’ve made it to the final weekend. It’s been getting hotter and hotter and therefore physical much more challenging for everyone involved in the tournament. Two more days left!
There have been a lot of fantastic photos being made over the last week, so I thought in this installment, possibly the last, I’d pick out some of my favourites to feature here. I don’t need to say much about them- they speak for themselves and tell their own stories.
Many thanks again to Isis Sturtewagen and the museum staff photographers for this amazing record of a really special event.
Third Report – Friday 18 July, The Riders
Its Day 8 of 11 and the weather has changed in a big way. It’s HOT. Don’t get me wrong, the sunshine is glorious and its nice not to be getting soaked whenever we get on the horses, but the heat is a new challenge. Out in the sun, you can feel your armour slowly heating up, like your own personal humanoid-shaped oven. Now I’m thinking all that effort polishing the heck out of my armour is paying off- I must be reflecting a lot of heat. Black armour doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore… I’m certainly glad to be shiny today.
In this instalment I thought it would be nice to introduce the riders here at Schaffhausen- we’re so often enclosed in our steel carapaces its sometimes difficult to get a sense of who we actually are. So welcome to ‘helmets off’. First up, Bertus:
Bertus is one of several of the Schaffhausen riders from the Netherlands. He’s comparatively new to jousting, but rides really well, has a quiet, careful demeanour, and takes his job very seriously. Bertus is the one who got stabbed in the hand early in the tournament but he’s back in now- I’m jousting with him today in fact. He also gives me beard envy.
Also from the Netherlands, Wouter is the very image of the medieval idea of the ‘parfait gentile knyght’. He is kind, gentle and courteous, and yet he fights like a demon.
I now have several new coronel bites on the front of my helmet from several great head strikes delivered by his hand. I’ve done my best to hit him back mind you- my best head strike landed on Wouter’s helmet the day before yesterday. It made him laugh.
Continuing the parade of Dutch chivalry… Alyx. Alyx is quite simply an equestrian virtuoso. Being able to ride well is one thing. Lots of people can do that. The hardest part in this game is to keep riding as well as you can while wearing full plate armour, and while trying to fight a swirling mass of other armoured riders, in a confined space. She never forgets about her horse. In fact, she always knows what button to press, which manoeuvre to call upon, to get herself out of a tricky situation or to get herself into the most advantageous position to strike her opponents.
From Holland to England…. Dom. I still remember giving Dom his first lance way back in 2000, at a joust at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire. ‘Me?!’ he explained incredulously… Well, Dom is now one of the great examples of how those who practice the knightly riding and fighting arts at a high level have devoted their whole lives to it. Dom now runs his company Historic Equitation from his horse farm in Northamptonshire, doing riding displays and demonstrations all over the UK, when he is not off on chivalric adventures round Europe.
Back to the Netherlands… sort of. Joram is actually from New Zealand, but he’s lived in Holland for a long time. Yeah, he’s big, but don’t let that fool you. Mounted on his Murguse stallion Zogo, Joram is incredibly nimble and light on his hooves. He turns faster and tighter than just about anybody else, and in the mêlée, turning is everything. He who turns faster almost always wins. If you charge past Joram in the club tourney, he flashes past you, disappearing out of your sight to the right in one instant, and only a moment later your head explodes on the left, as he turns right on your tail and breaks his club on you.
I have to admit, it can be a bit demoralising. And yet it’s also tremendously inspiring. The Middle Ages was like that I suppose. Contradictions and extremes, all blended together.
All the way from Norway… Petter. I first met Petter at the Tournament of the Phoenix in California in 2008, and we’ve just worked out that we have not jousted against each other since then. It’s a small community, the jousting world, but still, it can be a remarkably long time before you actually encounter people you think you know quite well. Petter and I had a good set of courses for the cameras before the tournament began, but we actually don’t face each other at all in the event itself. Ah well, we got a few good hits in anyway. We will meet again Butters…
Like me, Petter wears a fine armour in the Italian style, surmounted by his fearsome great bascinet. It’s funny how the visor of a good helmet can be as distinctive and individual as a human face. I’d recognise that evil, ice-breaker visage anywhere, even hundreds of yards across a field.
Almost finally, Arne Koets! Arne is Dutch, but he lives in Germany and works with the Fürstliche Hofreitschule in Bückeburg, near Hanover. As head of Arne Koets Events he is also the Director of the Schaffhausen tournament. Running an event and starring in it is never an easy job, and not many people can do it well. Arne has remained outwardly calm most of the time, which I find quite remarkable. It’s very hard to let all the stress go when you get on the horse, and just focus on the job in the field. But he’s always there, cool as the proverbial cucumber. We’re all tremendously grateful to Arne for arranging this whole thing, one of the most important tournaments in modern times, certainly for me personally, one of the very best. He’s made sure everyone has what they need… food, drink, ice cream, comfy beds, even a nice swimming hole. With all the armour and fighting and everything we often forget that a fundamental aspect of knighthood was hospitality and largesse. But Arne hasn’t forgotten.
So, I’m now very late getting back to the fight line, so I must sign off. I’m very grateful to Isis Sturtewagen and Dirk Breiding for all the fantastic images they’ve been allowing me to feature here.
Second Report – Tuesday 15 July, The Forms of Combat
OK, we’re three days in. The fighting has been fierce, and so has the weather. We had to pause for 30 minutes yesterday before we could start the first joust when the heavens opened and dumped what seemed like several storms’ worth of water on us. But soon the sun came out and we began. Today was better, with beautiful evening sun shining on the second round, which takes place at 19:00 every day. The sun inspired us I think, solar-powered creatures that we are, to greater efforts and the mêlées today were certainly the best yet.
We have already suffered injuries- not me personally, but one of the other competitors was stabbed through the hand yesterday, by the cross-guard of one of his opponent’s sword. It isn’t quite clear whose…. so we are down to seven riders in operational condition.
But I should at this point outline some of the basics of the event. In this instalment I’d like to briefly explain the forms of combat which comprise the Schaffhausen tournament. Somewhat unusually, there are four disciplines in which we all have to compete, which makes this a very challenging event. Challenging in terms of skill, stamina, and concentration.
All of this is based very closely on two detailed accounts of tournaments held in Schaffhausen, in 1436 and 1438, which seem to have inspired and formed the basis of King René d’Anjou’s famous Book of the Tournament (c. 1460). In the fifteenth century, all of the different forms of combat took place over about a week. We have one hour, twice a day, to demonstrate everything in the historical records. As I said, its challenging.
First, what is today perhaps the most famous form of knightly combat, the joust. To be precise, the ‘Italian joust over the tilt’, as fifteenth-century German-speakers would have termed it. This form of joust is run with a planked barrier (the tilt) separating the two charging jousters. The tilt, an Iberian invention, helps the horses run well and prevents collisions. Wielding a 12-foot solid pine lance, tipped with a pronged steel spearhead (a ‘coronel’), and galloping down the tilt towards one’s opponent, the idea is simply to hit him as forcefully and accurately as possible. The success of that effort is measured by where one hits the opponent, and, among other things, whether the lance breaks or not. Breaking one’s lance on the opponent is a good thing- it is one of the ways a proper hit is registered. The main targets are the opponent’s head and the shield. The head is the harder target to hit, and is therefore of a higher value in terms of score. But the shield is the safer bet. It is easy to miss the head, or, if you hit it, for the spearhead to just skid off ineffectually. Different jousters have different strategies, high-risk/high-reward balanced in different ways against the safe bet of the shield. I’ve noticed that, as the skill level and confidence of a jouster increases, so too does disinterest in the shield….
The next form of combat is the one-one-one duel on horseback with swords. This is above all an exercise in horsemanship. The striking is the easy part- manoeuvring with skill and panache, so as to put oneself in the perfect, dominant position relative to the opponent is the real skill. It is often said to be a lot like aerial dogfighting. Often the rider who can wheel around the fastest, turn more rapidly than the opponent, is the one who wins.
The third form is the first of the two mass combats or mêlées- the Kolbenturnier or ‘club tournament’, fought in teams. In Schaffhausen today we have three riders on each side. In the fifteenth century there were usually over a hundred, even two hundred knights per side. But even three vs. three is wonderfully violent. Here we fight with wooden clubs, the object being to manoeuvre around the field at the canter, working together with your team mates, if possible, to attack vigorously the riders on the opposite side until the tournament master orders the halt. It’s a bit like armoured polo, only there is no ball and instead you hit the members of the opposing side. It’s so much fun I am surprised it’s legal.
Finally, the final combat, the Nachturnier, or ‘end tournament’. This is another mass combat, but here it is every rider for themselves. No teams. Fought with swords, rather than clubs. Here the object is not to strike the opponent themselves, but rather the large flamboyant crests mounted on the helmets. Now I have to admit something here. I’ve never believed in crest-smashing tournaments. I’ve always thought it was a load of nonsense, made up in the nineteenth century or whatever. It has always seemed a bit silly, frivolous and undignified to me. Like some kind of armoured piñata fight. However the primary historical accounts say otherwise. They did it, it’s real, the end. I was wrong, I admit it. But actually, for me the key to understanding it, the light bulb moment, is provided by an understanding of the context. The Nachturnier, it seems to me, is designed to lighten the mood a little bit, at the end of what has been a pretty violent and serious affair. And it accomplishes that task wonderfully. It’s this idea that before we complete this extraordinary display of chivalric fighting prowess, we need to bring ourselves back down, lighten up, enjoy being in each other’s company and have a bit of a laugh. It still requires strength, stamina and great skill with the horse and the weapon, but it’s also a bit of fun at the end. This is what they did in 1436 and it still works beautifully today.
So far the modern audiences have responded to it better than we could have expected. There was a determination to do the thing as it really was, and not add any modern entertainment elements, to offer the audience as authentic a medieval experience of knightly combat as possible, without trying to anticipate what they will or will not respond to, what they will or will not understand. It’s a refreshingly honest approach, and the museum in Schaffhausen deserves some real credit for daring to do such a thing.
Three days in, it seems to be working really well. And it didn’t rain today.
First report – Thursday 10 July
You might not have thought that jousting, and otherwise fighting on horseback in full plate armour of the fifteenth century, would involve a frankly incredible amount of sewing. It seems like that’s all I’ve been doing since I arrived in Switzerland two days ago. I suppose it’s understandable that, when we think of medieval knights, we think of the glittering steel armour, the thundering hooves, the crashing lances, the dizzy ecstasy of victory and the crushing humiliation of defeat. But I assure you, it’s also about the consumption of miles of waxed linen thread, and about accidently stabbing oneself in the fingers… a lot.
I’m on a short break from my duties as one of the curators at Hertford House in order to take part in a modern tournament. I do this several times a year. As Curator of Arms and Armour, I deal with a subject that involves the history of art, technology, chivalric literature, warfare, and courtly life in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. However arms and armour is also an intensely active, physical subject, and I’ve always been drawn to the experience of that physicality. I suppose I wanted to be a knight a long long time before I wanted to be a curator, or even knew what a curator was. So in the summer months I take breaks from the museum to go off into the world and fight in tournaments.
This event, ‘The Great Tournament of Schaffhausen’ (10-20 July) is without question the most important one for me, ever. I have been jousting and fighting in armour for twenty-one years, and riding for thirty, and right now it feels like it has all been leading me here, to a charming, but usually rather quite town near the German border in northern Switzerland. To the ‘Herrenacker’, the medieval town square, where great tournaments were held in the Middle Ages and where now, the splendour of knightly combat returns.
The tournament is being hosted by the Museum zu Allerheilegen (Museum of All Saints), in the heart of the old medieval town. It supports a major special exhibition on the knightly tournament, ‘Ritterturnier: Geschichte einer Festkultur’, featuring objects from the museum’s own remarkable collections as well as stunning loans from the Hofjagd–und Rüstkammer, Vienna, one of the world’s greatest collections of medieval and Renaissance arms and armour.
I was very pleased to see some ‘old friends’ appearing in the exhibition, including a helmet of the future Emperor Ferdinand I (a notable jouster himself), the exchange visor of which is in the Wallace Collection, and the fabulous ‘1549’ garniture of the Emperor Maximilian II, from which the tourney gauntlet escaped, at some point in the 19th century, eventually also to be acquired by Sir Richard Wallace.
Needless to say, it’s always an honour to be able to support a fellow museum. But this time, it is a very rare and special honour, because I’m not here as an academic colleague. I’ve brought my armour, my weapons and my horse. Tomorrow will be the first of ten days of jousting, mounted sword-fighting, and club-combat, all reconstructed directly from the museum’s new and groundbreaking research into the history and conduct of these events in Schaffhausen in particular. But more on that later…. For now check out:
This just in… somewhere in all the manic preparations we managed to find time to shoot this… just in case you’re not ready to take my word for all this:
I will be reporting on the event as it happens, relaying key links, and generally doing my best to convey some sense of what it’s like to be here as one of the eight armoured competitors.
Tomorrow morning it all begins. I’m sure I’ll have stabbed myself with a sewing needle several times by mid-day, making final adjustments and modifications to my gear. I will then have to put down the sewing and arm for battle. The combat will be fought with real weapons- solid 12-foot pine lances tipped with steel spearheads, solid wooden clubs, and steel swords. So if it is only my fingers that do the bleeding, I’ll be quite happy.
Look out for posts on different elements of the tournament- the competitors, the horses, the forms of combat, the equipment, weapons, rules, etc. And of course I will report results and key moments!