Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Neologistic Ecranche

Modern writers frequently refer to this sort of shield as an écranché shield.

However, I've yet to see a pre-1600 source that used the term to describe a shield. This sort of shield was however, not infrequently called a targe or some variation of the term, as opposed to shield or escu. In Froissart's account of the announcement of the jousts at St. Inglevert, the defenders state that "outside of our tents will be hung our shields, blazoned with our arms; that is to say, with our targets (targes) of war and our shields (escus) of peace. Whoever may choose to tilt with us has only to come, or send any one, the preceding day, to touch with a rod either of these shields, according to his courage. If he touch the target, he shall find an opponent ready on the morrow to engage him in a mortal combat with three courses with a lance : if the shield, he shall be tilted with a blunted lance; and if both shields are touched, he shall be accommodated with both sorts of combat." Here is a 15th c. illumination of Froissart, illustrating the jousts. A joust with sharp lances is shown: the illustrator has depicted the targe of war as concave with a notch for the lance, exactly what modern writers call an écranché shield, the other form hung from the tents is the older "heater" shape.

I should emphasize that in the context of the St. Inglevert, the “targe of war” was used for jousts with sharp lances and the “shield of peace” for jousts with blunt coronels. This did not necessarily mean that the targe of war was typical battlefield equipment.

The Gladiatoria fechtbuch also illustrates a small version of the écranché shield, and calls it a tartschen.

I don't wish to imply that all medieval writers were consistent and rigorous in using targe and shield to distinguish between the concave shield and the convex heater form. However, it is a convenient way to make the distinction that is consistent with period practice and uses English words.

It also allows us to recognize the significant category of jousting targes that were convex but without a cutout for the lance.

Although most often depicted as jousting equipment, the concave targe was also shown being used for single combat on foot, both in Gladiatoria and the Codex Wallerstein.

At least one illumination shows one being used in battle on foot, in BL Royal 20 C. VII. My line drawing of the scene is reproduced here on page 154.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jeff Wasson in the WSJ

The work of Jeff Wasson,an armorer that some of my readers will recognize, appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of the WSJ. magazine. Their website has an online version of the article as well as a video of Jeff at work.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Seneschal of Hainault Challenges the Knights of the Garter, 1408

Jean de Verchin, Seneschal of Hainault, was one of the more strenuous knights of the early 15th c. In 1408 he wrote to Henry IV of England, offering to perform a deed of arms against three or more Knights of the Garter, who are described as noble successors to Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. He offered first to meet any members of the order who wished for twelve strokes of the sword on horseback with saddles of war without retreat, with the combatants able to strike the front or back of their adversary at their advantage.

That done, the next day he proposed to be ready to exchange a dozen blows with the sword on foot with any members of the Order of the Garter who wished to do so “a deux reprinses”. I read this as meaning that during the twelve blows struck on either side there would be two opportunities to retreat and reenter the combat.

The following day he would be ready to similarly exchange another twelve strokes with the axe with the Garter Knights who wished to do so, to be struck to the lower edge of the coat of plates or higher. All the aforesaid weapons would be of equal length, which he would provide by means of his herald.

Henry IV courteously thanked the seneschal for his letter. However, he said, in times past it was not the custom for all of the Knights of the Round Table to fight together against a single foreign knight. To the contrary, you will find it written in many places that they would fight alone against ten, twenty, thirty or forty foreign knights, and depart with honor with no other help than God and the high prowess of their heart. He had not the slightest desire to change this custom.

However, given the high resolve of the seneschal and for various other reasons it seemed fitting to allow a single member of the Order of the Garter to deliver him of his enterprise. He directed that the appropriate arrangements be made.

" Seeing that the beauteous ladies of our kingdom would be highly indignant to think that none of our knights were sufficiently bold for their love to encounter and give all the satisfaction he might desire to any stranger knight, just as your ladies would feel towards your knights, so we, being anxious with all our hearts to earn their goodwill and sweet favour, and to avoid their resentment, as you would do that of your ladies, think that this our answer should prove satisfactory to you."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Recreating William Marshal Tourneys

Steve Muhlberger describes a recreation of a William Marshal style tournament within the context of the SCA here.

I would suggest some modifications. First, let those who are “disarmed” hold their weapons reversed to make their status clear. Second, let their be only two teams rather than four, but let each team be composed of at least two retinues, (Which were also called routes or conrois, and might be translated as troops)

Although each retinue wants its own team to win, since it increases their chance of taking ransoms, their primary loyalty is to each other first and the whole team second.

Let the ransoms be settled in token coinage: let us call the smallest coin a florin. This might be part of a charity or find-raising drive. For example, for a toys-for-tots tournament, each toy donated is exchanged for two florins. Alternatively, cash donations could be converted into florins at a fixed rate. If not intended as a fund-raiser, each entrant in the tourney might be issued an initial stake of coins, with the option of purchasing more if they run low. In either case, the florins would not be redeemable for cash.

Here is a Yahoo group “to discuss techniques of recreation of period coinage and SCA coinage practices.” Here is a source for reproduction medieval coins in base metal.

Suppose the standard ransom is two florins and twice that for a knight. Half of each fighter’s initial stake goes into the retinue treasury. The treasury receives half of the ransoms gained by members of the retinue and pays half of their ransoms. At the end of the tourney any funds in the retinue treasury are redistributed to the members of the retinue.

At each of the two refuges let there be an exchequer table, with all the retinues of one team and their individual members listed on one side, and those of the other team on the other. At refuge A, where team A takes their captives, the initial stake of each individual and retinue of Team B starts on Team B’s side of the table, and vice versa at refuge B. As ransoms are paid they are shifted from debtor to creditor.

It may happen that the same person is both captor and captured several times, so periodically a messenger should be sent with Team A’s winnings and an accounting of which retinues and individuals gained them to replenish their accounts at Refuge B, and vice versa.

Note that under these rules it isn’t sensible to fight to the bitter end when your team is going down to defeat: it’s better for a retinue or individual to retreat to their safe zone if they can.

The fighting can ebb and flow over the course of the day, depending on the fortunes of war and the exhaustion of the combatants. The marshal in charge should be alert to the desirability of calling truces if too many fighters are lying panting in the neutral ground with their helmets off, so that the fighting can continue later with both sides refreshed and at full strength. Likewise, he should judge with care when it might be best to end the combat for the day so that there are still a reasonable number of fighters on the field and the tourney does not end in anti-climax.

After the fighting is done the participants can gather to reckon their gains and losses. There are a number of ways you can let the victors spend their winnings and return the coinage to the event’s host for reuse in later events of this sort: games of chance to increase or lose their winnings, refreshments or special dishes at the feast for themselves and their chosen companions, minstrels and musicians and heralds to celebrate their prowess and open handed largess. At one such event we set up a merchant’s table, stocked with spices, fabrics and other goods that the contestants could purchase with their coins, choosing in the order of the size of their purse.

To recreate the feel of a 12th century tournament requires a large field with ample room to maneuver. The recreations hosted by Steve Muhlberger ranged over something like 15 acres, which feels about right. The recreation also works best with large numbers of combatants. I ran one of these with about eight combatants on each side, and felt the experience would have been greatly enhanced by larger numbers. 12th century accounts describe tourneys with hundreds of knights on each side, and it would be a joy and delight to see such a deed of arms recreated on that scale.

These tourneys were mounted combats. If you are trying to recreate them on foot, you may want to insist that all blows must be stuck while the striker is in motion. Then again, you may not.

Recreating a 12th c. mounted tournament without horses will require compromises. Understand that if you are attempting such a recreation with rules to make it more like mounted combat, you may end up in Monty Python territory. With coconuts. The success of rules to mimic the characteristics of mounted combat depends very much on the willingness and ability of your participants to suspend disbelief.

Update: Steve Muhlberger, who has run a lot more of these than I have, has some valuable observations in the comments below. He makes a strong argument for at least four different refuges. I dislike the idea of more than two teams fighting every team for itself as a matter of historical recreation, but perhaps a separate refuge for each retinue might serve the same purpose