Monday, December 31, 2007

Challenge of Lady May, Greenwich 1506

The Challenge of the Lady May’s servants, to all Comers, to be performed at Greenwich, To Run 8 Courses. To shoot Standard Arrow or Flight. To strike 8 Strokes with Swords Rebated. To Wrestle all manner of ways. To Fight on foot with Spears Rebated and afterwards to strike 8 Strokes with Swords, with Gripe, or otherwise. Cast the Bar on Foot, and with the Arm, both heavy and light.

Most high and excellent Princess, under your patient supportation I, which am called the Lady May in all months of the year to lusty hearts most pleasant, certify your Highness how that under sign and seal fully authorized by the hand of my lady and sovereign Dame Summer I have free license during the time of my short Reign to pass my time and a Fortnight in the month of my sister June as shall be to my Comfort and most solace. Wherefore I being thus at my free liberty, taking my leave from her and her lusty Courageous Court all the months of March and April for to view the manner of all the whole dominion of my said lady, have sailed in the scouring seas in this ship apparelled and tackled after my judgment as to my nature is appropriate, and accompanied for the surety of my person with divers gentlemen and yeomen apt and active to any exercise that shall of them be demanded. And where I am so fortunable to make my first arrival in this most famous stream of honor, fountain of all Noblesse and part most renowned called the Realm of England. I have availed my sails as it appeareth, and in token my mind is determined here to abide, I have cast out mine anchors, under the supportation of your gracious license to rest me and my said servants, which have been long travailed in the stormy seasons of March and April, humbly beseeching your grace not to be miscontent that I so boldly have enterprised arrival without your gracious license afore obtained. But in manner I was enforced so to do; as I came sailing along the Coast I heard news to me not very pleasant, how that Winter, a great enemy of my lady’s, not long ago was honored in the month of February by the reason of exercise of feats of Arms, the fame whereof is not hid in all the parts of the world. That hath caused me in all haste to speed me hither, and since my coming my heart is somewhat rejoiced for I see in mind that noble courageous hearts are determined to have my Lady Summer in exercise of Chivalry. And for to stir them the sooner to the said feats I, the Lady May, humbly beseech your grace to license my poor servants to exercise against all corners in way of pleasure and pastime all such articles as hereafter ensueth, not doubting but your
gracious license obtained all gentle courageous hearts will do as great and greater honor unto me, the lusty Lady May, Comfort of all lusty hearts, as they did lately to the servant of the Lady winter Dame February.

The articles of the Lady May’s servants as ensueth.

IMPRIMIS at Greenwich the fourteenth day of May shall be ready in the field certain gentlemen pertaining to the Lady May armed for the Tilt in harness thereunto accustomed, and there to keep the field in such place as it shall please the King to appoint from 2 of the Clock till 5 at afternoon, to run to every comer eight Courses, and thus the answerers all answered and served that then, if there be any that desireth for their Lady’s sake other four Courses, it shall be granted so the hour be not past, if it be then at the Queen’s pleasure.

ITEM: the 15th day of May next following there shall be certain Archers of the said Lady’s in the field at the hours aforenamed to shoot standard arrow and flight with all corners and he that will come and furthest shoots without stand at any of these games or at all, that is to say the answerer that shoots the standard urthest, to have a prize delivered him by the judges, and he that shoots next another, and so in like Case at the arrow and flight. Provided always that he that winneth any of these prizes shall not after that shoot again for none of the prizes of that game he hath once won of during the time.

ITEM: the 16th day of May following there shall be certain gentlemen of the said Lady’s at the hour aforenamed in the field armed for the Tourney with swords rebated to strike with every Comer eight strokes in way of pleasure, as it hath been accustomed, and when all comers be answered and the hours not spent, then, if any of the said Comers require four strokes for his Lady’s sake, it shall be granted so the hours be not spent, if it be then at the pleasure of the Queen.

ITEM: the 18th day of May next shall certain gentlemen of the said Lady’s at the said hours be ready to wrestle with all comers all manner of ways at the pleasure of the Comer as proofs of strength ought to be used, and what answerer doeth best at this feat by sight of the judges shall have a prize and the next another after the discretion of the judges.

ITEM: the 19th day of May next ensuing shall certain gentlemen of the said Lady’s at the said hour enter into the field armed for to fight on foot with spears in their hands rebated, their swords by their sides for the battle with vnlimd and thus with spear and sword to defend their barriers, that is to say with spear eight strokes whereof two with foin and six with strokes at the advantage of either of the doers.

And that done to draw their swords and strike eight strokes every man to his best advantage with gripe or otherwise, and when all Comers be answered and the hours not spent, then, if any of the said Comers require four strokes more of his lady’s sake either with spear or sword, or both, it shall be granted, if the hours be not spent and if it be then at the Queen’s pleasure.

ITEM: the 20th day of May immediately after shall again certain servants of the said Lady’s be ready in the field for further proof of strength, as to cast the bar on foot and with the arm both heavy and light at the Choice of the Corners, and what answerer this feat best doeth at the sight of the judges shall have a prize and the next another.

ITEM: the 21st of May the gentlemen to begin again and the servants aforesaid to follow the next day after and so to Continue during day by day after the rate of this book afore rehearsed all the month of May and fortnight in the month of June, all the Sundays to be excluded from the before rehearsed Feats.

ITEM: that all that will answer the feats of exercise of Arms set their hands to this book.

Giles Capell
William Courtney
Rowland Kent
Griffith Don’e
Edward Howard
Edmund Haward
Edward Nevill
Edward Gilford
Charles Brandon
Thomas Cheney
George Harvye
Richard Blunt
Wm. Kingston
Henry Stafford

Harl. MS. 69. fo. 2b, in Cripps-Day, Appendix. p. xlv-xlvii

By this time, elaborate pageant cars like parade floats were often part of the ceremony and display associated with the tournament. Lady May seems to have made her appearance in a fully rigged ship on wheels, a device associated with tournaments from the 13th century on.

16th Century Deeds of Arms

Challenge of Lady May, Greenwich 1506

Greenwich May 1510 Casting spear and target followed by twelve strokes with a two handed sword

Greenwich, October 1510 Axe. Not explicitly described as a barrier fight, but barriers seem to have been typical for foot combat in this period.

Paris 1514 Challenge by the Dauphin in honor of the marriage of the French King “First six foins with hand spears, and after that eight strokes to the most advantage if the spears so long held, and after that twelve strokes with sword” also casting spear and target followed with two-handed sword

Noseroy 1519 “two against two, with strokes of the lance, turning the large end of the said lance; and afterwards they were to fight with sword in one hand, as long as my lords the judges ordered them to.” The next day of combat “each one threw a stroke of the partisan and afterwards they fought with the two handed sword as long as it pleased my lords the judges.” Combat with axes at the barriers was originally planned but apparently not actually fought.

Deeds at the Barriers at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, Guisnes, 1520

Newton and Hamilton, Scottish Gentlemen, Accuse Each Other, 1548

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Robert Bresson’s Lancelot of the Lake (Lancelot du Lac, 1974)

Bresson’s 1974 film is now available on DVD in the US from New Yorker Video. This is a difficult and powerful film. Visually, he tends to use tightly framed close ups: a joust is portrayed with shots of banners and the galloping horses’ feet. Similar scenes are repeated. Key events are often unshown, and revealed only through their aftermath or portents.

Like Kubrick’s 2001, it can be a baffling and frustrating experience if you don’t already know the story, and his style may not be to everyone’s taste. The Death of King Arthur (La Mort le Roi Artu) seems to have been Bresson’s starting point: if you’ve read that the narrative of the film is quite clear. However, I think the ellipses are deliberate. Real human beings don’t know where they fit into a neat narrative: the characters in the film are confused and doubtful, riding through dark woods, ignorant of their fate, looking for portents.

The film shows the characters’ belief in the reality of the supernatural world. Early in the film an old woman tells a child: “the person whose footsteps I hear but do not see will die within the year.” We hear horse’s hoofs, and the child looks up to see a knight; Lancelot. Later Lancelot is missing after a tournament. After a storm pieces of his banner lie on the ground before his tent: the other knights immediately conclude he is dead. They are thinking like medieval people, not like moderns in costume.

This ties back to Bresson’s presentation of the story in selective scenes and shots. From rational, non-mystical viewpoint the portents are there as well. Early on we are shown enough of the character of Lancelot, the queen and Mordred, and of the factions and disunity in the court, to infer where the story will end up, just as we can infer from three riderless horses fleeing through a wood that something very unpleasant is happening to some knights further in. But when we see only fragments of the world, it’s easy enough to mistake the signs and portents of our fate: the knights have misread the omen of Lancelot’s banner, and Lancelot misjudges his ability to break off from his relationship with the queen, reconcile with his enemies and surmount his challenges through personal prowess.

Like Malory, the film is rife with anachronism. The body armor generally follows the style of the 16th c., the helmets and crests are roughly those of the 15th c., or 14th c. visors on 15th c. skulls. I suspect that this, like the lack of mail gussets and collars, the mail-fingered gauntlets and the many backless greaves, was forced by budgetary limitations. The decision to dress the non-noble characters like Breton peasants from some time in the past century or so seems deliberate, perhaps to break the story loose from its medieval moorings a bit and emphasize the more universal elements of the tale.

There are some very gory sequences, beginning with the opening scenes in which the Grail Quest has turned into a bloody chevauchee. It’s hard to see them in a quite the same way today: they are far too close to similar sequences in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, released the following year.

This is a film of contradictions: gritty and mystical, in which aspiration struggles with human failing. It’s not so much a revisionist script as a return to the roots of the story: the flawed characters, bickering nobles and bloody combats are not so far from the spirit of the 13th c. romance that inspired it.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Terry Pratchett's Hogfather will be running on ION television on December 23, 2007, 7 PM, 6 Central.

I just saw it on DVD. It does a pretty good job selecting a cast that matched my image of the characters from the book, particularly Susan Sto Helit, Best Governess Ever.

Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork is a Shire-like temporal stew, where waistcoats and tobacco meet mailshirts and magic swords. The film version skews more 19th century than the Discworld I imagine, but I can understand why.

A 19th century ambience makes it a lot easier to provide settings and props. And many of Pratchett’s audience have as part of their mental furniture a prototypical urban Christmas fantasy featuring anthropomorphic personifications, including a tall ominous one shrouded in black. Dickens A Christmas Carol was published in 1843.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rules for the Combat at the Barriers at 12th Night

The Proclamation of the Deed of Arms

Ending the Combat

Each combat between two champions will continue until the judges stop the fight, or a champion is unable to continue.

A champion is unable to continue if he is struck five good blows in the course of the combat, or falls or becomes disarmed, or is disabled as described below. A champion whose weapon breaks is not considered disarmed, and the fight will halt while he replaces it.

Judging Blows

Plate is proof against all thrusts except a thrust to a faceplate or plate visor, which counts as a good blow. Breastplates, coats of plate, brigandine and cuirasses are also proof against all cuts to the areas they cover. Good two handed blows to any other plate protection, and good single handed blows to a helmet count as a good blow.

Solid cuts and thrusts to areas protected only by mail count as a good blow.

Other or no protection counts any cut as a good blow.

For areas with this level of protection a thrust to the torso or limbs is disabling. Thrusts to a barred visor are disabling.

Champions should not act out wounds other than disabling. They should call out good blows struck against them loudly enough for the marshals and their opponents to hear.

Heavy hardened leather and other suitably covered rigid protection will generally count as plate, with debatable cases to be decided by the discretion of the judges. The judges will, as far as seems practical, attempt to match opponents with similar levels of protection like against like, and harness from the same period like against like.

I suggest these rules for halfswording with two-handed swords, if both parties consent.

Special Rules for the Barriers

Single handed swords are used without shields.

Blows must be struck over the barrier rather than through it, but the normal target areas apply.

He that stayeth his hand in fight on the barriers will have no prize.

The reasoning behind the rules is discussed here and here.

Attending the deed of arms

The company has not set an appearance or armor requirement for comers at their deeds of arms. Of course, we encourage you to equip yourself as befits a good man at arms, so that your appearance increases your honor and pleases the ladies.

We expect to provide two matched matched pairs of pollaxes and matched pairs of spears and of two handed swords. I don’t know if we will have a matched pair of single handed swords, and comers who wish to fight with a single handed sword should bring one. You may wish to bring other weapons in case one of the provided pair breaks, or if there are so many fighters that we wish to have two pairs fight at a time.

Once we have a sense of the number of fighters who are present and wish to fight in the deed of arms, we will select a sufficient number to join the tenans to insure that the tenans can satisfy the venans without becoming too tired to fight well or answer each challenge without delay. The venans will be everybody else. The format of the deed of arms does not require a captain for the venans.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Terry Pratchett's Hogfather will be running on ION television on December 23, 2007, 7 PM, 6 Central.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Deeds at the Barriers at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, Guisnes, 1520

Friday the 22nd day of June in the camp was set a barrier for to fight on foot, also an hale of the kings of England was set in the same place, embroidered with clouds of blue, and out of the clouds the sun rising, the valence of the same was written in letters of blue embroidered, dieu et mon droit, in which hale the lords and other of the entertain of the challenge armed their selves.

Now was the noble kings ready to do battle on foot at the barriers, the queens on their stages: then entered band after band on foot and pressed to the barriers, every one in his hand a punchion spear, wherewith without any abode foined and lashed always one at another, two for two as the lot fell. When the spears were spent, then swords to them were given. Then pressed to the barriers the two valiant kings, and other, then was no tarrying but fought with such force that the fire sprang out of their armor. Thus band after band they were all delivered by the two noble kings and their aids of retain.

Then in came a band with two hand swords and casting darts to answer to that challenge, twelve men well armed which pressed to the barriers and mightely threw their spears the one to the other, ready or not ready, none favored other more than two enemies or at utterance, and ever still two for two, till all were delivered concerning the challenge, so this same two kings safe in body and limbs ended the battle for that day at the barriers with great honor.

June 23

The two noble kings put themselves in arms with their band and entered the field on foot, before the barriers, then entered the bands of men of arms in armor right richly, then all was ready and the two kings at the barriers ready to fight right nobly. This day was delivered at barriers by battle 106 persons, the two last battles did the kings. The king of England with few strokes disarmed his counter party, the French king likewise bare himself right valiantly. Thus the said Saturday was fully ended, and all men delivered of articles of jousts and all tourneys and battles on foot by the said two noble kings.

Hale: a long tent
Punchion spear: spear with a sharp, bodkin shaped point

Hall, Edward. The union of the two noble and illustre famelies of Lancastre & Yorke, beyng long in continuall discension for the croune of this noble realme : with al the actes done in both the tymes of the princes, both of the one linage & of the other....(Hall’s Chronicle) London 1550