Members of the Companye were in action this weekend as part of English Heritage’s showpiece the Knights Tournament of Foot.
For two years now this has been run by our friends in the Hartley Companie – and a nicer bunch you’ll not meet, though you wouldn’t believe it from the way they lay into each other. If you are looking to join a household on the south coast you could do far worse – in fact nine out of ten fully armored maniacs recommend them.
The first round this year was at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire. The castle has amazing views and dominates the skyline in the surrounding area. The history of the castle is also of interest. A castle was first built by the Peverel family in the 12th century and became Crown property in 1155 when William Peverel the Younger died. The Ferrers family who were Earls of Derby laid claim to the Peveril property.
When a group of barons led by King Henry II’s sons – Henry the Young King, Geoffrey Duke of Brittany, and Prince Richard, later Richard the Lionheart – revolted against the king’s rule, Henry spent £116 on building at the castles of Bolsover and Peveril in Derbyshire. The garrison was increased to a force led by 20 knights and was shared with the castles of Peveril and Nottingham during the revolt. John ascended the throne in 1199 after his Brother Richard’s death. William de Ferrers maintained the claim of the Earls of Derby to the Peveril estates. He paid John 2000 marks for the lordship of the Peak, but the Crown retained possession of Bolsover and Peveril Castles. John finally gave them to Ferrers in 1216 to secure his support in the face of country-wide rebellion. However, the castellan Brian de Lisle refused to hand them over. Although Lisle and Ferrers were both John’s supporters, John gave Ferrers permission to use force to take the castles. The situation was still chaotic when Henry III became king after his father’s death in 1216. Bolsover fell to Ferrers’ forces in 1217 after a siege.
The castle was returned to crown control in 1223, at which point £33 was spent on repairing the damage the Earl of Derby had caused when capturing the castle six years earlier. Over the next 20 years, four towers were added, the keep was repaired, various parts of the curtain wall were repaired, and a kitchen and barn were built, all at a cost of £181. From 1290 onwards, the castle and its surrounding manor were granted to a series of local farmers. Under their custodianship, the castle gradually fell into a state of disrepair. The site was redeveloped after the medieval period, chiefly by William Cavendish, and now falls under the control of English Heritage.
Due to unforeseen circumstances involving Passport Control at the Watford Gap services, there were some places left in the tournament and the Hartley’s reached out to the Harrington’s and we were only too happy to support our MSS friends. Bolsover is a mere 80 minutes from Northampton and is actually closer to Harrington HQ than Hedingham Castle!
On arrival, we were greeted with traditional northern weather. Luckily, we had packed a snorkel, flippers and a wetsuit so had come prepared. The camp was set up on the green adjacent to the castle, with great views for the public.
The tournament itself is made up of three stages. Like the Harrington Companye, the Hartley’s have done research on medieval tournaments, particularly the work of Rene of Anjou and nods to the equipment and forms were present.
English Heritage has four teams, the North, the South, the East, and the West. The public are encouraged to join in and support their chosen team, and can purchase flags and other souvenirs for the standard four liveries.
Each team is made up of a Knight, and an Esquire. The spectacle also involves other participants such as marshals, scorers, and swooning ladies.
Knight of the North – Sir Christopher Hartley
Knight of the East – Sir Viktor Vasso
Knight of the South – Sir Leonard Turner
Knight of the West – Sir William Marshall
Being from Yorkshire, and representing the North – Sir Hartley was the local champion. Not that it was mentioned to the crowd. A lot.
The three rounds which are contested throughout the day are thus:
Round 1 – The Squires Tournament
In this round, the squires compete in a longbow tournament. Accuracy is tested against an ever decreasing size of target, till the point the target is a pair of garlic cloves – resembling le French unmentionables.
Round 2 – The Foot Tournament
In this round, the Knights compete in foot combat using different weapons each round – shortsword, longsword, and poleaxe. Unlike other tournaments where participants wrestle each other to the ground, or smash each other in a manner difficult for the spectators to follow, the Hartley tournaments are tests of skill and control. Hits to armour are ignored, and instead points are awarded for controlled strikes into non-plate armoured areas. For some reason the codlings are always a firm favourite with the crowd.
Round – 3 The Crest Melee
Inspired by Rene of Anjou’s mounted club tournament, this is however fought on foot, with each of the four knights displaying an impressive crest mounted upon their helmet. In the fifteenth century, these were highly complicated affairs and could be made of wood, leather, formed rawhide and very elaborate. Sir Leonard had obviously been inspired more closer to home..
Each knight and squire is armed with a leather club and shield, and must attempt to strike the crest from their opponents without the loss of their own.
At the end of all three rounds, the points are totalled and the winner of the day is announced.
The attending Harringtons were seeded into the North and South teams as esquires.
On the first day, Peter B excelled in the archery competition and led for the south. By the close of the foot tournament stage, it was the East and the West that were in the lead, before the club melee was held in the afternoon.
In the crest melee, both esquires performed well, striking crests from Knights of the west and east at various stages. When the scores and rounds were totalled, the day was won by the West with a leading total of Seven points.
On Monday, luckily we had managed to import some sunshine, the canvas started drying and we started over.
This time, in the archery round Peter B was robbed of a perfectly good strike to the cabbage target, and Ant F. tried to work out exactly how to use a longbow. Or that was what it seemed like, the swearing was thankfully not picked up by the PA system but a few choice words were used. Thankfully, he managed to redeem himself with a shot on the garlic and won that end.
Entering the Foot tournament the scores were neck and neck, with the West in a slight lead. The foot tournament was a marvellous affair, with excellent close contests between the Knights in front of a capacity crowd who need little encouragement to cheer the team from the North on.
Sadly, during one of the final bouts, Sir Leonard was forced to withdraw due to a slight injury. We have had some enquires from the ladies as to his health on twitter and can happily report he’s fine folks – he’s made of sterner stuff.
At the end of this tournament round the West maintained their slight lead, with the North now chasing hard on their tails.
Due to Sir Leonard’s withdrawal, Ant F stepped up, donned his full harness (which had been packed just on the off chance..) and took over the role of Knight of the South. “The chance to represent Essex was just too much to turn down” he explained. This meant we had a Harrington pairing in the final round.
The club melee was chaos. Blow after blow was struck by each team, all desperately trying to unseat their opponents head, oh and the crest upon it.
The Harrington team achieved a 50% success rate in the initial clashes – winning one of their bouts, but lost the other. Certainly it seemed we were at a disadvantage in this particular activity, as Ant was not allowed to bring a box to stand on.
It came down to the grand melee. At the end, the Knight of the West and North had accrued enough points to be tied in the overall rankings. The tie break was on.
Sir Christopher Hartley was on a mission however. Like a man possessed he bounded across the field and beat Sir William to the floor, smashing the crest from his helm on the way down.
Reaction from self-proclaimed ‘God’s own County’ was suitably triumphal…
“Best Yorkshire performance since Jessica Ennis” – Geoffrey Boycott
“Tha’s been practising Ecky Thump!” – The Goodies
“He leaps like a gazelle, I hope to be as fit as him one day” – Jessica Ennis
“That’s enough now!!” – Mrs Hartley & rolling pin
Speculation is rife that Chris is now in line for Sports Personality of Year.All in all, it had been a grand day out (I thought that was Lancashire? – Ed) and we were pleased to play a part in it.
If you want to see the next round of the English Heritage Knights Tournament then the next round is on the late May Bank Holiday at Kenilworth Castle. Don’t forget you can also see the Harrington Companye tournament of foot at Delapre Abbey in July as part of the 1460 Battle of Northampton commemorations.
The Harrington’s were also involved in the MSS event at Old Sarum. A review of that event will follow shortly when our guest reporter is not quite so waylaid (No fences were harmed in the making of that sentence).