katherine kerr of the Hermitage, her site

Activities

Official: [Peerage] [Baronial Activities] [Crown Activities]
Projects and Classes: [Bespoke Book Project] [AS50 Challenge] [Banners and Standards] [Astronomy]
Family Papers: [Introduction] [Patent of Arms] [Jousting Cheques] [Birthbrief] [Impresa] [Festival Book] [Family Tree from Heraldic Visitation] [Roll of Arms] [Armorial]
Event-based: [Banco di Don Julio] [A Foxy (A)Faire] [Banns of Wedlock] [Half-Circle Theatre] [Masques and Masks] [Bardic Auction] [St Thomas Market Day] [Pas d'Armes]
See further info on feasts, quests and other event-related activities here.
Games: [Baronial Shell Game] [Baronial Noughts and Crosses] [Quintain] [Tierce]
[Cards and Dice Games] [Marienbad] [Period Partners] [Gentle Hunt] [Page School] [Heraldic Twister]


I'm not usually keen on organising formal SCA events as life is busy enough without adding layers of bureaucracy to something that I want to be fun. So I tend to avoid all the formal stewarding requirements by undertaking activities within stewarded events where I can do what I like and don't generally have to worry about budgets, Council meetings and the like. It's lazy I know, but life is getting shorter….

Some of the activities linked above have their own pages because they ended up taking on a life of their own.


Quintain Game

These are really variations on a theme -- a series of possibilities canvassed for an ASXLI Kingdom Arts and Sciences challenge.

The quintain could be seen as a quintessential medieval icon -- the knight on horseback charges forth, lance held steady, to smartly strike the centre of the target and skilfully dodge the bag of sand poised to swing and smite the unskilled or unwary.

It's a lovely image, but one which presents some problems in reproducing in our modern context where few of us have access to horses, let alone the training required to try our hand at the quintain. This problem was not unknown to our medieval counterparts, and wooden horses or sometimes Shank's Pony itself provided a means for the unmounted to take part in running at the quintain (Strutt, pg 108). While failure to strike the target in suitably professional fashion was a cause for much derision, even simplified quintains of this nature could prove injurious to the health.

When I began my research into quintains, I was hoping to find a way of adapting the potentially brutal medieval version into something which could be used at our Barony's events as a safe and enjoyable activity by a broad range of people.

After all, quintains were not limited to just the knights and nobility. Joseph Strutt, writing in his Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (1903), cites an incident related by Matthew Paris in 1254, saying:

the rules of chivalry, at this time, would not admit of any person, under the rank of an esquire, to enter the lists as a combatant at the jousts and tournaments; for which reason the burgesses and yeomen had recourse to the exercise of the quintain, which was not prohibited to any class of the people
Strutt, pg 108

The main safety concern I had was the need for a swinging weight designed to clout people in the head or back. While I could have pursued this by requiring people to wear heavy armour when using the quintain, this would necessarily limit the broader participation and consequent enjoyment that I was seeking.

I considered adapting the swinging weight to use something like, for example, a water-filled balloon. That would be less dangerous than the traditional sand-filled bag and would provide a satisfactory but safe contact option. However, it would still require a solid rotational arm in order to function appropriately, and that still posed a safety concern.

The People's Quintain

I was about to shelve the project but then started coming across references to other forms of quintain, one of which met my requirements perfectly as it:

  • required minimal equipment, and what it did need was perfectly period in form
  • could be set up anywhere, even in small venues
  • could be undertaken by the great majority of people, children included
  • was unlikely to cause any significant injury
  • fitted in with other activities we have had at our events, such as wrestling and balance tests

It was even cited as a courting game, so was perfectly placed to be developed for Canterbury Faire 2007, which has a Courts of Love theme. This approach was variously termed the balance quintain or foot quintain or living quintain. It requires the following:

  • one stool, preferably three-legged and of period construction
  • two participants

The Cloisters Collection at New York's Metropolitan Museum has a painted glass from ca 1500 which depicts how this form of quintain was operated. In its caption to the image, the Met says:

Balance quintain was a variation to amuse those of a lower station: a seated man held up one leg, placing his foot against the foot of a standing man; one person then tried to upend the other. By the fifteenth century, balance quintain was often played as a courting game, as is depicted here.
Playing at Quintain, ca. 1500, French

While this example comes from the turn of the 16th century, this particular pastime has a longer history, as there is a similar illustration in the Luttrell Psalter of the mid-14th century. This manuscript was commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, and has proven a rich resource for scenes of medieval life, particularly that of the peasantry. In one rendition of the Psalter, the Society of Antiquaries of London, in 1839, published a set of engravings of medieval sports and past-times. In Volume VI, Plate XXIV, Vetusta Monumenta, held in the Cottonian Collection of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, can be seen two males engaged in a stool-based living quintain game.

Strutt describes the sort of scene shown in the Luttrell Psalter thus:

a man seated, holds up one of his feet, opposed to the foot of another man, who, standing upon one leg, endeavours to thrust him backwards
Strutt, pg 112

Or as this shows at a recent beach event:

Kotek of Southron Gaard and Cat of Ordo Cygni demonstrated the working of the foot or balance quintain. It is highly recommended that the stool for the balance quintain be placed on a more stable footing, as it were, than beach sand. The latter, however, did provide a soft landing, even as it significantly skewed the odds of victory for the person standing. In this case, a three-legged fold-up camping stool was used. This is not to be recommended as they tend to be insufficiently robust. A wooden stool is being sought.

Yet More Variations

Strutt goes on to mention another quintain variation, and then comments on the common practice of both:

and again where his opponent is seated in a swing and drawn back by a third person, so that the rope being left at liberty in the swing, the man, of course, descended with great force, and striking the foot of his antagonist with much violence, no doubt very frequently overthrew him. The two last sports were probably never exhibited by military men, but by rustics and others in imitation of the human quintain.
Strutt, pg 112

The human quintain Strutt refers to was a martial version involving arms and an armoured participant:

The living quintain…is seated upon a stool with three legs without any support behind; and the business, I presume, of the tilter, was to overthrow him; while, on his part, he was to turn the stroke of the pole or lance on one side with his shield, and by doing so with adroitness occasion the fall of his adversary.
Strutt, pg 112

Yet another variant is one which is still to be seen on many a modern playground. A 14th-century manuscript book of prayers depicts the following:

a representation of two men or boys with a pole or headless spear, who grasp it at either end, and are contending which shall dispossess the other of his hold.
Strutt, pg 109

That is similar to a balance competition long played in Southron Gaard where two people contest over a length of rope while standing on a small block of wood. The first to let go or step off their block is the loser.

References

Luttrell Psalter, cited in Vetusta Mionumenta, Vol Vi, Society of Antiquaries of London (1839), held by the Cottonian Collection of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
Metropolitan Museum, Cloisters Collection, Playing at Quintain glass painting
Strutt, Joseph; Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (1903)

We'll be trying out these variations at forthcoming Southron Gaard events, particularly Canterbury Faire, as both children's activities and as part of the traditional Faire send-off, the wrestling competition. Matthew Paris mentions that the good folk of London used to have a peacock as a prize for whoever was successful at the quintain, so that could provide inspiration for a suitable gift for the winner of our quintain competition.

It would be fun to have a go at the water quintain, as practised in the 14-16th centuries. This is where a boat propelled by rowers drives swiftly towards a stake in the river, which a person in the prow attempts to strike. Strutt's description sounds very appealing:

A pole or mast…is fixed in the midst of the Thames, with a shield strongly attached to it; and a boat being previously placed at some distance, is driven swiftly towards it by the force of oars and the violence of the tide, having a young man standing in the prow, who holds a lance in his hand with which he is to strike the shield; and if he be dexterous enough to break the lance against it and retain his place, his most sanguine wishes are satisfied; on the contrary, if the lance be not broken, he is sure to be thrown into the water, and the vessel goes away without him, but at the same time two other boats are stationed near to the shield, and furnished with many young persons who are in readiness to rescue the champion from danger.
Strutt, pg 108

So there's clearly more than one way to swing a quintain….

Update: I found a lovely illustration of a quintain game in progress in a 14th-century tapestry from Alsace. It's used to illustrate courtly games before a castle in The Medieval Art of Love (Michael Camille; Lawrence King 1998; pg 127) It's a mixed couple playing, but the lady is being supported, in a somewhat compromising position, by a gentleman behind her. Overhead a banderole reinforces this supposition with the statement "I love thrusting, rather a thrust than as it should be". It seems that it should be taken to mean the game, rather than any other more hiszontal activities. Clearly her quintain partner is a bit put out -- whether by the sentiments or the lady's use of another man -- as his banderole says "I like to thrust, but in this manner I don't want to thrust anymore"!

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Half-Circle Theatre

The Canterbury Faire camp site had a small over-grown amphitheatre which just begged to be used for some sort of performance. And so the Half-Circle Theatre was born in ASXXXIX.

(I'd always intended to do something about forming a theatrical comapny, Lord Lovel's Men, to act as a host for the more serious fare of the sort unlikely to be undertaken by the Baskin-Kerr Travelling Players. The latter also made an appearance at Canterbury Faire AS39, organising a Royal Command Performance of Shakespeare a la Brucie -- that is, we "commanded" the King, Queen and a former Queen to take the parts, and a right royal amusement was had by all!)

The amphitheatre, which is cut into a grassy bank, provided seating for around 20 people; they paid and got a bag of roasted nuts and mulled wine. The "groundlings" sat on the ground in front, so we had around 50-60 in the audience.

The tickets were typeset to match the playbill, with the perioid text and layout based on extant examples of playbills and theatrical broadsheets. The text read thusly:

The Half-Circle Playbill

Ye Dramatikal Compagnie of Lord Lovel’s Men doth welcome [name]
to ye HALF-CIRCLE THEATRE
To be performed before your very Eyes at ye Amphitheatre from 9.00 or thereabouts, Saturday e’en after the Ball
FIVE Gold pieces gains you
a reserved Seat of Honour away from the Hoi-Polloi (bring your own cushion)
Mulled Wine spiced with the flavours of the Far East (bring your own drinking vessel; the Compagnie reserves the right to fail to fill to the brim over-large tankards or horns)
Roast Nuts that ye may eat or cast at the Players or Groundlings at your will

We strung a backcloth to restrict sightlines and provide a place for exits and entrances, and opened just after dusk; by the time we finished we were using candlelight and torches. Lighting will be something to improve on.

The minute the first item went up, it was just sheer magic.

We opened with the arrival of Arlecchino in full motely complete with a slap stick, which was soundly used upon him, and a gloriously decorated marotte (the jester's head on a stick) to present to the Queen.

The more serious part of the proceedings opened with a pick-up instrumental group, with recorders and a viola da gamba. That was enough to transport people -- a magic moment to peer out from the wings and watch the faces of the audience.

There was some lovely singing of period pieces in French and German, courtesy of the Ladies Mine and Matilda, and a hastily put-together group attempted Crispin's catch for Stephen and Mathilde in honour of the presence of Their Majesties.

Bartholomew and I put on the Henry VI play I adapted from a short story. It's pretty much a one-man play with me lurking behind the scenes with off-stage voice-over. It was nice, for once, to do somoething designed to catch people's emotions, rather than just for the laughs.

And we closed with me reading the Crown Paen I wrote for the tourney that made Stephen King. As that had been the first Crown Tourney held in the Crescent Isles, we had a number of the fighters mentioned present and people knew many of the others, so it went down well.

The following year, there were plans for a full booth stage to match the revamped theatre location -- we'd cleared out an area for a Royal Box, planted lavender, reconcreted the seating area. Sadly the wind and the rain prevented its use, but the marquee provided shelter for the many folk who came to watch and listen. Lots of singing this time, courtesy of the singing group that had formed since last year, as well as a fine collection of voices from Rowany. And the discovery of a great impressario in the shape of Lord Emrys Tudor. Best line of the evening came from a certain Queen in the audience: "Don't worry, he has His Majesty's nuts."

AS41 saw us back in the amphitheatre with an excellent stage set-up by Mistress Roheisa and her crew, including Half-Circle carpet and banners; i sold off a bactch of half-Circle Cushions to groundlings. it was unfortunate that we had a car drive through the middle of the performances, which necessitated a quick dismantle and re-erection, but we coped with that.

And when two small children passed by backstage carrying a large mattress to the great amusement of the audience, the Southron Swans didn't bat an eyelid but added another extempore verse to the song they were singing at the time:

I saw a child carry a bed, Fie man fie
I saw a child carry a bed, Who's the fool now
I saw a child carry a bed
Lifting it above its head...

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Bardic Auction

Another one of my crazy ideas to play with the conventional. For many years we've run fighter auction tourneys whereby people bid for fighters and get prizes based on how well their fighters do. I got the impression after a while that it was becoming a bit of a burden on those ladies who felt obliged to buy their lords, and wondered how we could recast it.

So I mulled this one over a while and at Canterbury Faire (AS38), the Bardic Auction was born. The quick way of describing it was "remember Chaucer in A Knight's Tale? How'd you like someone to do that for you?". Somewhere along the way, the Bardic Auction morphed from a simple idea of fighters buying someone to sing their praises at a tourney, to open slather.

Canterbury Faire Bardic Cup

The Canterbury Faire Bardic Cup was presented by Lord Duncan Kerr to provide a means of recognising those who strive to entertain. Each holder is charged to pass the Cup on at the next faire to a worthy recipient.

AS30 katherine kerr
AS31 Master Del
AS32 katherine kerr
AS33 Mistesse Rowena le Sarjent and Alvaro de la Rosa Negra, for King & Queen of the Market
AS34 Theresa of Darchester
AS35 The Wellington Medieval Guild, for the ball and their demonstration dances
AS36 Mistresse Rowena le Serjant, Martuccio, Phoebe, Edward, Alexander, Genevive et al, for the Tale of the Rent Boy
AS37 katherine kerr and Bartholomew Baskin, for the Rose Challenge
AS38 Baron Callum McLeod for his Canterbury Tales
AS39 Lady Iuliana of Southron Gaard for excellent responses to the Bardic Auction
AS40 The Singers of Southron Gaard

Here's the notice that went out, describing how I thought it would go:

Buy your very own bard!

The Bardic Auction at Canterbury Faire's Friday Market will see some of the Kingdom's finest versifiers, songsters, tale tellers and ribalders on the block. Here is your chance to gain a slice of immortality for yourself or whomsoever you wish to honour - your lord or lady, a puissant fighter, a noble house, a fair Barony.

Purchase your bard and send them forth to forge their wordsmithery to present at one of the designated venues where they may declaim on your behalf. Win fame and a fabulous prize to boot!

Bards will be provided with a small reference sheet to collect suitable information regarding their subject. Each bard will gain a prize to present to their patron, and will themselves be rewarded for their toil. Where possible, all entries will be immortalised in a souvenir booklet, The Canterbury Faire Tales, for later distribution.

We decided that all funds raised would be donated to the Lochac Laurels' Travel Fund to send Laurels to outlying places to teach and foster the arts. And it was marvellous to have a number of far-flung Laurels provide promissory notes for wonderful patron prizes.

The reference sheet was designed to make it easy for bards to collect suitable info on what their patron wanted. Here's what it covered:

Bardic Reference Sheet

This is a quick reference to enable your bard to gain an understanding of your desires. What the bard does with this information is up to them…..

Patron's name (include phonetic spelling if useful):
Subject for item (if not the patron; e.g. your lord or lady, a puissant fighter, a noble house, a fair Barony):
General theme (eg love, honour, chivalry, prowess):

Information on Subject (where appropriate)
Rank/title:
Awards:
Place and period:
Arms/badge/symbol:
Favourite colour:
Favourite food:
Favourite drink:
Prime characteristic:
Would like prime characteristic to be:
Most memorable SCA moment:

Preferred venue of presentation:
Saturday Tourneys (best for combatant patrons/subjects)
Saturday Feast (limited numbers; need to reserve presentation slot by Saturday lunch)
Mangy Mongol Tavern (Saturday evening after feast, best for adult-themed pieces)
Encampment - which one:

Notes

We got 12 bards lined up for the auction in the end, and raised a respectable amount for the fund, which was pleasing for an inaugural event of a type no-one had seen before.

The bardic material ranged across song, story and poem, with some truly outstanding items. I have now published a collection of these and other performance pieces from that Canterbury Faire in book form (more on that here).

I made a set of leather book covers, designed to wrap around most sizes of standard paperback, and these were given to the bards to say thank you. And, to help make up the prizes for the patrons, I provided promissory notes for broadsheet versions of individual items. Later I recorded all the efforts in a 64-page book in soft-cover and hard-cover versions. You can see information on that here.

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Pas d'Armes

When Baroness Elonora van den Boegarde and Baron Sigurd Hardrada announced a formal pas d'armes, I decided that we were morally obliged to respond in suitable fashion and play this to the hilt.

Their stated aim was to encourage heraldic display, period behaviour and in general to dress things up in suitable pageantry and fashion. This was going to be a real challenge….

First came the response to the formal announcement:

Unto Their Excellencies Sigurd and Eleonora does Batholomew Baskin send greetings by means of his pursuivant

Prior to this day, Lord Duncan Kerr agreed to stand in Baskin's place at the opening ceremonies, as the absence of the Baskin estate workers on the designated day means Baskin will not be able to attend the opening ceremony nor send his pursuivant to take up his place at that time and for that occasion.

Be assured that Baskin, his pursuivant and pages will attend on the morning of Saturday, with the intention of feasting and later camping in the hall (should such be considered acceptable in the absence of pavilions). A promissory note for 77 gold pieces will be delivered to your demesne as instructed to pay the fee necessary.

In anticipation of meeting his peers and Peers and would-be peers, so ends this missive from Batholomew Baskin, by means of his pursuivant


Spot the lions dormant gules.

Next came lots and lots and lots of sewing, all straight seams fortunately, to ensure that I and the pages (Dickon and Peregrin) were suitably attired in heraldic surcoat and tabards respectively. I found some great period examples in Neubecker's Heraldry and based my surcoat on that.


Grace

(We didn't have to dress Grace, as we'd sold her to Baron Sigurd to be his junior Valkyrie; the helm looks gorgeous and her brothers are extremely envious.)

I did toy with the idea of heraldic barding on a hobby horse, and even went so far as to build a large horse-head (one of those ones where you have the fake legs dangling). However, realistic examination of our cart and its carrying capacity meant I had to abandon that fairly early on.

No matter, we had Bartholomew's lion dormant gules on everything by the time I finished: clothing, banners, spear pennant, cushions, chair, gambeson cover, water bottle cover. You name it, there was a sleeping red lion on it.

The next thing to think about was what was I going to say as my lord's field herald. A bit of judicious Web surfing and hunting through my books (Barber and Barker were great), gave me a suitable set of words for an introduction.

The Pompous Pursuivant

As Pursuivant to Lord Bartholomew Baskin, I pledge to dispose myself to be lowly and humble, and serviceable to all the estates of all gentleness, not lying in wait to lame, nor to hurt none of the said estate in anything that may touch their honour. And in addition I shall be discreet and sober, not too busy in language, ready to commend and loathe to blame, diligent in my service, eschewing from vices, drawing to virtues, and true in reports, and thus do I promise to my power.

In this cause, be it known to all herein assembled that Bartholomew Baskin, lord in the service of the Kingdom of Lochac and its most fair Barony of Southron Gaard, stands forth to answer the charge, that is the challenge, of this day. Therefore has he come into this place and into the court of the very high and lustrous Baron Callum Macleod of that Ilk and his Baroness, the arbiter of grace, comeliness and honour, Her Excellency Chrettienne de Haverington, to meet with the noble tenants called forth by the most mighty lord Baron Sigurd Hardrada in honour of his glorious lady, the unfledged angel, Baroness Eleonora van den Bogaerde.

Baskin does most humbly thank their Excellencies for the honor it has pleased them to do to him in inviting him to this challenge, and although they could easily have found others who could do this better, and who merit this honor more than he, nevertheless he obeys the directives of Their Excellencies freely and will do his duty, asking always that they forgive him his errors.

Know that the said Lord Bartholomew Baskin has leave to bear arms, whereby he has acquitted himself well in times past. For was he not the last left standing on the field of battle in that emprise known as the Pen Gwynne War; and on another occasion that he was of a mind to take prisoner a King from across the seas in puissant pitched battle, had he been but one wit quicker in his enterprise; and that grown men have been known to flinch from his well-aimed shafts whether of wood or wit.

And so does Baskin present himself with all those beneath his banner that you see gathered here, very eager and ready to begin the tourney assigned today; asking that it please you to prepare for him a place to do this so that the ladies who are present may see the entertainment.

He particularly entreats such noble knights or squires as may challenge him or accept his challenge to believe that he does not make it through presumption, pride or any ill will, but solely with a view of seeing them and having their honourable company, an making acquaintance with them, which is to be desired from the bottom of his heart.

And then I had to figure out how could I ensure Bartholomew survived a pas d'armes given his advanced age, weak joints, creeping senility, lack of prowess…ouch, argh, I didn't mean it….

Ahem. I thought it might be entertaining to develop a set of reasons as to why Bartholomew may not be able to fight, just in case the opportunity came up. Barber and Barker provided a lot of inspiration with their material on the variety of opposition to tournaments that occurred over the space of a couple of centuries, and so the excuse list was born.

We were ready for all eventualities.

The day arrived, we pitched our pavilion, and marched our contingent onto the field. I had meant to give the boys our lion and unicorn masks so they could be suitable supporters while holding the shield. Not that I was trying to imply anything about Baskin's antecendants….

Lay on! When my lord was challenged, I'd look to him to see whether he would accept the challenge or not. If not, I had an excuse for every occasion, and here they are.

Elegant Excuses

While he greatly desires the chance for combat, Bartholomew Baskin regrets that he cannot because he is concerned for his combatant's virtue, for has not Jacques de Vitry, Bishop of Acre said that tourneyers commit all the seven deadly sins:
pride because of their desire for praise
envy because they resent greater praise given to other tourneyers
anger because they strike out when tempers become frayed in the sport
avarice because they desire other knights' horses and equipment
gluttony because of the attendant feasting
sloth because of the reaction to defeat in combat
and lust because of the desire to please wanton women by wearing their favours in the lists
And thus Bartholomew Baskin must regretfully decline his most noble opponent in order that he may demonstrate his commitment to the virtue of godliness

While he greatly desires the chance for combat, Bartholomew Baskin regrets that he cannot because of the grave concern he feels regarding the heavy burden of taxes he must impart upon his tenants, leading to their impoverishment in order that he might pay the fees and high ransoms associated with combat
And thus Bartholomew Baskin must regretfully decline his most noble opponent in order that he may demonstrate his commitment to the virtue of charity

While he greatly desires the chance for combat, Bartholomew Baskin regrets that, in order to protect the good name and reputation of certain high eminences of his land, he is unable to publicly recite his lineage as is required by tournament rules to demonstrate that his great-grandfather had taken part in a tournament and that thus he himself is qualified to do so
And thus Bartholomew Baskin must regretfully decline his most noble opponent in order that he may demonstrate his commitment to the virtue of modesty

While he greatly desires the chance for combat, Bartholomew Baskin regrets that he cannot gainsay the will of his lady who, following the example of Isabella of Burgandy, has declined to present herself to watch his passage of arms, fearing the inevitability of the outcome
And thus Bartholomew Baskin must regretfully decline his most noble opponent in order that he may demonstrate his commitment to the virtue of courtly love

While he greatly desires the chance for combat, Bartholomew Baskin regrets that he cannot put his immortal soul in danger, for has not Bromyard seen in a vision that tourneyers suffer in hell being forced to wear armour which is nailed to their bodies and cannot be taken off, and that they are given evil-smelling sulphurous baths, and that instead of the warm embraces of wanton young women they are obliged to endure the amorous attentions of lascivious toads
And thus Bartholomew Baskin must regretfully decline his most noble opponent in order that he may demonstrate his commitment to the virtue of prudence

While he greatly desires the chance for combat, Bartholomew Baskin regrets that he cannot as he is called to Mass, for has not one of the troubadours sung of the knight who always heard masses before going to a tournament, and who arrived at the lists to find that an angel had tourneyed in his stead and captured as many earls in his name as the knight had heard masses that day
And thus Bartholomew Baskin must regretfully decline his most noble opponent in order that he may demonstrate his commitment to the virtue of piety

While he greatly desires the chance for combat, Bartholomew Baskin regrets that he cannot for has not his Holiness Celestine the Third and his liege lord Henry of England, second of that name, expressly forbid the taking up of arms against a fellow countryman
And thus Bartholomew Baskin must regretfully decline his most noble opponent in order that he may demonstrate his commitment to the virtue of obedience

While he greatly desires the chance for combat, Bartholomew Baskin regrets that he cannot for he is instructing his page in the preparation and polishing of his armour
And thus Bartholomew Baskin must regretfully decline his most noble opponent in order that he may demonstrate his commitment to the virtue of cleanliness

While he greatly desires the chance for combat, Bartholomew Baskin regrets that he cannot for a small mouse, one of God's creatures, has just given birth in his boot and he cannot take the field lest he disturb the mothering mite
And thus Bartholomew Baskin must regretfully decline his most noble opponent in order that he may demonstrate his commitment to the virtue of compassion

We didn't get to use all of the above (see if you can spot the two which are not period excuses), as Bartholomew did fight some challenges, but it made declining any bout a lot more fun, and I think helped add a little appropriate theatricality to the event.

Notes

References

Challenge of John Astley, Squire, to Philip Boyle, Knight of Aragon On the occasion of his knighting, 1442, translated from Middle English by Brian Price
Barber, Richard and Barker, Juliet; Tournaments; Boydell, 1989
Neubecker, Gottfried, Heraldry Sources, Symbols and Meanings; Activ 1977

Some of the interesting points I came across:

Extracts from the Oath of the Pursuivant, edited by Craig Levin from the oaths found in the Black Book of the Admiralty, itself edited by Sir Travers Twiss in 1871 (pp.295-299 Vol 1):
Item you shall dispose yourself (orig. "you") to be lowly, humble, and serviceable to all the estates of all gentleness universal that be Christian (orig. "that cristene beth"), not lying in wait to blame nor to hurt none of the said estate in anything that may touch their honor.
Also you shall dispose yourself to be discreet (orig. "secret") and sober in your appearance (orig. "port"), and be not too busy in language, ready to commend and loth to blame, and diligent in your service, eschewing from vices, and drawing to virtues, and true in reports, and so to exercise while you be in the office thereof, so that your merits may cause you more preferring in the office of arms in time coming, for while you be and stand pursuivant you stand as no one of the offices of arms, but as a servant to all kings and heralds of the office of arms, and this you shall promise to your power, so help you God and holidom.

Extract from Deeds of Arms, by Steven Muhlberger Chapter 3: The Conduct of Formal Deeds of Arms:
We particularly entreat such noble knights or squires as may accept our challenge to believe that we do not make it through presumption, pride, or any ill will, but solely with a view of seeing them and having their honorable company, and making acquaintance with them, which we desire from the bottom of our hearts.

Extracts from Rene of Anjou Rules of the Tournament:
I humbly thank my ladies and damsels for the honor it has pleased them to do to me: and although they could easily have found others who could do this better, and who merit this honor more than I, nevertheless I obey the ladies freely and will do my loyal duty, asking always that they forgive my mistakes.
My honored and redoubted lords, the very high and very powerful prince and my very redoubted lord the Duke of Brittany my master, who is present as the appellant, presents himself to you with all the noble baronage that you see, whom you have placed under his banner, very eager and ready to begin the tourney assigned today with my very redoubted lord the Duke of Bourbon and the noble baronage equally ready to fight under him; asking that it please you to prepare for him a place to do this, so that the ladies who are present can see the entertainment.

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Period Partners

I produced this game as a means of getting people to mix. Everyone had a name attached to their back and had to ask yes/no questions to find out who they were and then had to find their partner. Each person was given a set of 10 tokens (chocolate buttons) and every time they asked a question, they had to hand over a token to the person who answered. A prize was given to the person with the most tokens remaining.

Here's the list of partners, some more obscure than others, and some partnering not immediately obvious:

Eleanor of Acquitaine
Margaret of Anjou
Mary Queen of Scots
Lucrezia Borgia
Anne Boleyn
Boadicea
Joan of Arc
Isabella of Aragon
Lady Jane Grey
Lady MacBeth
Hildegard of Bingen
Richard I
Richard III
Robert the Bruce
Machiavelli
Henry VIII
Vercingetorix
Thomas a Beckett
Christopher Columbus
Perkin Warbeck
Hamlet
Peter Abelard

Best to use more obvious ones for newbies; tricky or more cryptic ones for old hands. I'll leave you to figure out why I've matched some of the more obscure ones.

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Gentle Hunt

This was adapted from an idea by Baron Cadell Random ap Hubert, with the questions modified to reflect the most likely folk to be encountered in our part of the Known Worlde. It's another way of getting people to mix, learn more about each other's persona and maybe think more about their own.

The idea was to hand everyone at the event a small sheet with the Gentle Hunt questions on it and send them off to complete the hunt, encouraging them to find out names new to them; I gave a prize to the person who had learned the most new names.

Here's what the Gentle Hunt sheets said:

Note the name and answer for a gentle who meets the specified qualifications. You may use a name once and only with permission.

Has your colour eyes:
Will sing a period song:
Has a 15-16th century persona:
Has been in the SCA under a year:
Bears a favour:
Has a Harp Argent:
Can dance a period dance:
Has their arms on display:
Has cooked for a feast:
Is a Peer:
Is wearing hose:
Colour:
Tune:
From where:
First event was:
From whom:
For what:
Favourite dance:
Primary charge:
Favourite dish:
What kind:
What colour:

Total number of new names encountered:

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Cards and Dice Games

These were gleaned from a whole host of different sites and sources, and developed at Mistress Rohesia le Sergjent's request for use in the Mangy Mongol Tavern at Canterbury Faire. If you want to use them in such settings, print them in 18 point font (or larger) to allow for candlelight and fuzzy vision.

One and Thirty 1550s

Needs: deck of cards, 2-10 players
Aim: to hit exactly 31; pip cards worth face value, court cards worth 10, Aces worth 1

All players agree on a stake. Deal three cards from the top of the deck, face down to each player. Players choose to either :
"stick" - keep with the cards they have
"have it" - take another card from the dealer (these cards are dealt from the bottom of the deck)

If a player hits 31 exactly, they win a double stake from the other players, otherwise a single stake from each.
If all players have gone over 31 before the play comes back to the dealer, the dealer has won.
If no-one reaches 31 exactly and more than one player is left, the nearest to 31 wins.
If there is a tie, the game goes to the nearest to the left of the dealer.

Bone-ace 1611

Needs: deck of cards, up to 8 players
Aim: to hit exactly 31; pip cards worth face value, court cards worth 10, Aces worth 1

All players agree on a stake, called the bone. Deal three cards to each player, first two face down, last one face up.

The player with the highest face-up card wins the bone. Aces high and the Ace of Hearts (the Bone-Ace) beats all.

Players choose to either :
(a) "stick" - keep with the cards they have
(b)"have it" - take another card from the dealer

If a player hits 31 exactly, they win a double stake from the other players, otherwise a single stake from each.
If all players have gone over 31 before the play comes back to the dealer, the dealer has won.
If no-one reaches 31 exactly and more than one player is left, the nearest to 31 wins.
If there is a tie, the game goes to the nearest to the left of the dealer.

Alouette

Needs: deck of cards minus the tens, four players
Aim: to win the most tricks; Kings high, Aces low

Deal nine cards to each player and set the rest aside. The player to the left of the dealer leads the first trick. There is no trump suit, and no obligation to follow suit.

If there is a tie, the trick is set aside and taken by the winner of the next trick. If the last trick is a tie, whoever won the first trick wins it.

All players agree on a stake which goes to:
(a) whoever gets the most trick in a hand
(b) whoever wins the three of diamonds

Maw Scotland 1576

Needs: standard deck of cards, 2-10 players
Aim: win either three or five tricks, or prevent another player from doing so

Ranking: five of trumps, Jack of trumps, Ace of Hearts, Ace of trumps, King of trumps, Queen of Trumps
Then if trumps red, 10 high to 2 low; if trumps black, 2 high to 10 low

All players agree on a stake. Deal five cards to each player and turn up remaining top card on deck to determine trump suit.

Player left of dealer leads and other players match suit.

If no matching suit is available, players must play a trump if they have one, but are not obliged to play the five of trumps, Jack of trumps or Ace of Hearts if they do not wish to. If no trump is available, any card may be played.

The winner of three tricks wins the pot. If a player wins the first three tricks they automatically win the pot., but if they win the fourth trick, they must win the fifth and final trick to win the pot. If they fail, they have to match the pot.

If there is no winner, another stake is required and another hand played.

Ruff 1522 Italy

Needs: standard deck of cards, four players
Aim: to score nine points

Players agree on a stake. Deal 12 cards to each player and turn up remaining top card on deck to determine trump suit. The player with the Ace of the trump suit declares "I have the honour", and scores a point for each of the four honour cards they hold (Ace, King, Queen, Jack).

The player to the left of the dealer leads and all players follow suit. Aces high or trumps takes the suit. If they cannot follow suit, they may play any card. The winner of the trick leads.

The players gain one point for every trick taken.

Beast 1600 Germany

Needs: standard deck of cards, up to 8 players
Aim: To win tricks; Kings high, Aces low, trumps available

All players agree on a stake and this is divided into three piles: the "king of trump" pile, the "play" pile, and the "triolet" pile.

Deal five cards to each player and turn up remaining top card on deck to determine trump suit. Play through the tricks, with each player retaining the tricks they win.

Deal another hand, with play led by the person who took the last trick in the previous hand. Play through the tricks, and retain them.

Continue with this until you cannot deal a full hand to all players. The person with the most tricks wins the "play" pile; the person with the king of trump wins the "king of trump" pile; and the person with the highest triolet (three of a kind) wins the "triolet" pile.

If a tie results or no-one has a triolet, the pile remains until it is won.

Dice and Others

Dreidel

Needs: a D4 (traditionally a four-sded top marked with Hebrew letters)
Aim: to win all the pot

Spinning the dreidel is a game that's traditionally played during the Hebrew festival of Hannukah. The dreidel is a four-sided top. The four sides are marked with the Hebrew letters "Nun", "Gimmel", "Heh", and "Shin".

All players put in a stake. Players take turn to throw the driedel.

1=nun=no payout
2=heh=player takes half the pot, rounding up
3=shin=put in twice the stake
4=gimmel=player takes all the pot

If the pot is reduced to less than two of the original stake, all the players must add another stake.

Glückhaus

Needs: two dice and 10 cards, three or more players

Arrange the cards as follows:

.....Ace (12)
9...10...Jack (11)
...6.....7.....8
.......5....3
..........2

Players agree on a base stake, and all players put a stake on 7.

The player rolls the dice. A four is a null throw and the dice pass on. If a 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11 is rolled, the player win any stake on that card. If there are none, then the player puts a stake on it. If a 7 is rolled, the player puts a stake on the card. If a 2 is rolled, the player takes the stakes on all numbers except 7. If the player rolls 12, the player takes all stakes.

After the player rolls, the dice are passed to the left.

Dublets 1550 England

Needs: half of a backgammon board, 15 men per player and two dice, two players per board half
Aim: to bear men off the board first

Each player has two men on each of the first three points and three men on the other three, stacked on top of each other.

Players roll the dice to unstack the men ("play down") along each point until they are all unstacked.

Once all the men are played down, players start to bear off by rolling the dice and taking the men off the corresponding points.

If a die roll equals a point where the men have been fully played down or borne off, that roll is forfeit. If a double is thrown, the player can play down or bear off as many men as there are pips showing.

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