Knight school homework

Last night we had another class of knight school. It's a good teaching exercise Sir Giotto came up with to help fighters improve their skills, and it pushes us knights to really teach and fight for what feels like two non stop hours. We were each asked to give a little five minute lecture at the end of the class. As the thunder was rolling toward our little practice I tried to cover what I'd intended but had to rush it a bit. Here's the core of what I was trying to say:

If we're recreating any aspect of the Middle Ages we should look at the original model. Even if you're trying to draw a bowl of fruit you set a bowl of fruit in front of you- sure you know what an apple looks like, but having a clear model to base your rendition on makes the drawing much easier, much more detailed, more accurate, and more lifelike. If you're trying to look like a knight, copy an actual knight's harness- and not a KSCA- we make mistakes, so copy the originals. Their gear worked for them in life and death situations, so they took it seriously. Their stuff articulated well, gave them good flexibility, was light weight yet protective. If you just make stuff up you're throwing away thousands of years of armour evolution for very dubious gain.

Beyond gear there's a lot that was written about and by knights. Understanding what they thought gives a fantastic depth to what we do. If we approach fealty, or prowess, or renown differently than they did, what are we doing? You have to bear in mind that not everyone even from a single place and time is going to agree on all the details, but if you never hear their opinion first hand you're not as close to the source as you should be. I believe everyone on the path to knighthood should read Ramon Lull's Book of Knighthood and Chivalry. I'm a huge fan of Geoffroi de Charny's book on Chivalry. Not only is he Burgundian and 14th century like my persona, but he was a total bad ass. He fought in numerous sieges, on crusade in Turkey, in the Hundred Years War, in the war of succession in Brittany, and died protecting his king and the Oriflame at the battle of Poitiers. He was a rough, brutal slayer of men, but also refined and deeply pious. He owned the Turin shroud. Godless heathens like me don't get that kind of sheet to hang in their living room. Charny also wrote a book on jousts and tournaments. It's a compilation of questions of rules and etiquette for the old ultra violence. It's very thought provoking and can give us better insight into deeds of arms in the 14th century. Lull and Charny fundamentally changed how I think about knighthood. (Side note- both of these guys were intensely religious, and because of that there are some parts of their books some folks might prefer to skim over. It's good to understand that aspect of knighthood particularly since it's so absent in the SCA. It's certainly not my intent to cause a religious conversion by suggesting they read these books.)
Maurice Keen wrote what's probably still the best compilation of ideas about knighthood. He tried to span the whole scope of Europe in the Middle Ages for what knighthood meant to a wide range of people. His book really helped me in grappling with what it meant to be a squire and what fealty was all about.
There are numerous books that can give you great insight into how knighthood was viewed in specific places and times. Froissart's Chronicles is fantastic. French Chivalry by Sidney Painter is good. The Knight in History by Frances Geis gives some great snapshots of what a knight was in various eras. But it's best to explore close to where your persona is from. If you can't find any information about what your persona would have worn, or what he would have thought either your need a hand with the research, or maybe you should look for a different bowl of fruit to draw.

Here's a book I'm a little conflicted on: The Book of the Courtier. It's had a strong influence on what a lot of knights believe knighthood to be. It can give us insight into what's essentially Renaissance Italy, but without the prior knowledge from Lull and Charny and even Keen a few aspects tend to get over emphasized. It's still worth a read, particularly if your persona's Italian and/or late period.

There are a ton of "fechtbucher" or fighting manuals which have survived and are now getting attention from the academic community. There are pictures! Of people fighting! Even a dyed in the wool stick jock can appreciate a lesson from one of the old masters. A lot of these can take time to really absorb and master, but they're worth the effort. For me nothing is more fun than kicking someone's butt with a technique from a 600 year old book. It's like being a wizard. A very violent wizard.
There are some great free fechtbuch resources here. Though many folks will prefer to have a hard copy with more detail. The I33 manuscript has had a publication by Jeffrey Forgeng and an interpretation by Stephen Hand which are both quite good. I taught a class a couple years ago based on their work and documented it here. It might be a good place for folks to start, though some of the links at the end are probably dead. There's a good copy of Talhoffer's manual which is widely available. Brian Price runs a publishing company that focuses on many of these topics and has a wealth of books which are likely to be of interest to you. He's really the one who started me down this path.

I'm throwing this link in just because it's cool:
Tournament deeds of a Burgundian knight.
So the core message I'm trying to impart is this: look at a good book and learn more about the middle ages.


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