The Huskarlr, the Axe, and the Calon Hus

Written by Syr Gaius, Aquilius Britannicus. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Vol 10, 2004

“For I am a warrior of the King’s Huscarls,
a deep biting axe in my hand,
and as long as God grants me breath in my body,
I fight to defend the King’s land.”

-Requiem of a Huscarl by Master Andrixos Seljukroctonis


In answer to Halvgrimr’s request, I would share with you my own thoughts and feelings about what it means to be a Huscarl of Calontir.  And whereas others may speak directly to what is ‘technically’ required to become a Huscarl by kingdom law, I would prefer to focus on the spiritus (spirit) of the Calon Hus, the symbolism of our axes, and the ghosts of the legendary Huskarlrs.  I ask only that you consider that no man may speak for an Order, nor the Order for one man.  For though I may see the Huscarl’s spirit, as I know it, mirrored in the eyes of my brothers and sisters, it would be presumptuous to say that my ideas and ideals are embodied by all who wear the crossed axes.  Some will agree, some will differ, but upon the field and off we are all Huscarls—the King’s men, His personal guard, and in times of war, the Axe by which He would cut down all who stand against him.


I am fiercely proud of the Order of the Iren Hirth, and I most humbly consider myself fortunate to be called Huskarlr after the great warriors of old.  Men who lived their lives to serve their King, in peace and in war, placing their duty to Him above all else, securing for Him victories, fame, and wealth, and if necessary, willing to die in defense of His person or His cause.  That is the Huskarlr, and their memory is ever present in our minds when we make ready for war or train in times of peace.  To be a Huscarl of Calontir goes beyond the skill at arms that is the hallmark of our Order, and it reaches deep into “the Dream” which drives our Society.  And we, who believe in this Dream, are able to suspend the “now,” for what once was.  We become the King’s men, His personal guard, and to us is given the responsibility of safeguarding His will and His well-being in battle.  I have stood at the side of strong and noble Calon kings who have wielded His Huscarls like a blade, carving by our prowess and our desire to serve, greater glory for Him, our Kingdom, and ourselves.  The sense of duty that we feel towards Him is tangible and unfailing, but like Harold, who spread his Huskarlr’s over the whole of the hilltop at Hastings, the Huscarls of Calontir rarely surround our King in battle, for to do so would compromise the tradition and structure of the Calontir army.  But lift the axe of a Huscarl, stride boldly into battle beside your King and your Axe brothers and sisters, and you will know forever the voice of our ancient namesakes, and you will do everything in your power to uphold the tradition which has been set down before you.


And consider well the weight of the Axe that is given you, when you are first named “Huscarl.”  Swing it before you in great arcs, feeling the purpose behind its motion.  The sword and the spear are weapons of great dexterity and flexibility, able to find openings and flaws in an enemy’s armor, which he never knew existed.  Not so the blade of the axe.  The axe seeks to crush the enemy beneath its weight, caring little for the shield or rings of mail that he offers up in feeble protection.  It is the strength and spirit of the wielder that carries the blow through the enemy’s defenses, and drives into flesh and bone the iron will of a King.  In ancient times when helmet and mail could turn aside pointed and edge weapons alike, the weight of the axe was something that could not easily be denied, nor wielded effectively by just any soldier.  The Huskarlr carried the axe into battle as a symbol of his own strength and fierce determination.  Let other men exploit the openings left by their enemies, the Huskarlr would create his own.  We wear the crossed axes proudly upon our chests as the symbol of our Order, and we let them remind us, and all who look upon them, that we carry the Axe not only into battle, but everywhere our King would have His will be done.


We are the Huscarl of Calontir, and to say what that means to each of us is no small thing.  To some, it may truly only be a medallion, and the recognition of a greater skill at arms than the majority of others within our kingdom.  But for myself, and I believe for others, it is and will always be, much more than that.   It is a part of the history of Calontir, and the embodiment of Her first great soldiers.  It is the weight of the Axe in our hands, the crush of battle around our King, and the joy of laying low the foeman at His feet.  It is the songs that we sing around the fires of war to remind us of who and what once was—and what is now again.  And it is the memory of a banner that once burned, and the Requiem which honored its final journey ….

What is a Huscarl of Calontir?

Written by Sir Halvgrim Aðálraðarson. Originally Published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 10, 2004

(Note: Though there are Archery Huscarls (The Boga-Hirth), I have not had much interaction with members of the Order and have also heard less of their opinions on what they think a Huscarl is. This article mainly refers to the fighting order as that is where my experience and point of reference comes from. In no way is the lack of information on Boga-Hirth meant as a slight, I just don’t have any basis to go on what their opinions might be. I was able to get the opinions of one their members and one of the members of the Boga Fyrd,but alas even though I do use some of their words in the below article both of their  words apply to both orders and not just the Boga orders. Any Boga-Hirth (or anyone else for that matter) that feels compelled to submit an addendum to this article is more that welcome to do so!  –Halvgrimr)

Wow, that may seem like and easy question to answer but so far in my limited experience as a Huscarl I haven’t been able to pin down a precise answer.

When I wrote What is a Fyrdman of Calontir? I had been a Fyrdman for some time and thought I had an idea of how to answer that question, so I tried but its worth mentioning that even since then some of my views have changed on that subject;)

Anyway, I have less experience as a Huscarl but I will try to answer the question to the best of my knowledge. This time around I will be using more points made by others than the last time thought. Over the months that I have been a Huscarl I have tried to listen very carefully to the message when this subject is brought up. From various emails and personal conversations I hope to convey the things that I gained from those interactions.

Lets get the easy stuff out of the way first. When asked this question most folks fall back to Kingdom Law. Kingdom law states:


There shall exist within the Kingdom of Calontir a system by which recognition is given to fighters and archers through titles that reflect their skill as fighters or archers, and as representatives of Calontir. The higher rank is that of Huscarl of the Hirth of Calontir. The Hirth shall be composed of two equal but separate branches:  the fighters, called the Iren-Hirth, and the archers, called the Boga-Hirth. An individual may qualify and be granted membership by the Crown in both branches of the Hirth.

Elevation to the Hirth rests with the Sovereign, after consultation with such members of the appropriate branch of the Hirth as the Sovereign shall  desire. Any such elevation shall be proclaimed by the Crown to the populace at an official Court of the Kingdom of Calontir or upon the field of honor.

Elevation to the Hirth shall confer upon the recipient a Grant of Arms and shall entitle such individual to all rights, privileges, and ensigns, attendant thereto. HUSCARLS may be styled and announced in the Calontir Order of Precedence as such. The Hirth shall be ranked equally in the Order of Precedence with the Orders of the Cross of Calontir, the Silver Hammer, and the Calon Lily.  Membership in the Hirth shall assure the recipient, according to seniority, of a position in the Calontir Order of Precedence before those Grants of Arms not given with any Order, but after the Kingdom Great Officers 

The Hirth may adopt, by approval of the Crown and by mutual consent, such rules for its internal governance as the Hirth may find useful, such bylaws not being in conflict with the Laws and Traditions of Calontir.

IREN-HIRTH:  Elevation to the Iren-Hirth may be conferred upon those individuals meeting certain minimum requirements; including authorization in all weapon systems with expertise in at least two.  The fighter must also have demonstrated support for the Calontir army during inter kingdom-level conflicts. Other qualifications considered shall include leadership, activity level and teaching.  Said individual must also always display unquestionable honor both on and off the field.

Huscarls of the Iren-Hirth may bear the badge of the Iren-Hirth, emblazoned: Per chevron embattled sable and argent, two battle-axes in saltire argent and a Cross of Calatrava purpure.

BOGA-HIRTH: Elevation to the Boga-Hirth may be conferred upon those individuals meeting certain minimum requirements; including authorization in all weapon systems with expertise in at least two.  The archer must also have demonstrated support for the Calontir army during inter kingdom-level conflicts.  Other qualifications considered shall include leadership, activity level and teaching.  Said individual must also always display unquestionable honor both on and off the field.

Huscarls of the Boga-Hirth may bear the badge of the Boga-Hirth, emblazoned:  Per chevron embattled sable and argent, two longbows in saltire argent and a Cross of Calatrava purpure.

Ok, that’s what Kingdom law says about what it takes to become a Huscarl but that doesn’t really answer the question at hand though, at least IMO.

A Huscarl is so much more that a set of prerequisites (as are members of any others order), what we are seeking is above a list of prereq’s I think.

Perhaps we could look to the origins of the Order to see if that helps. Since most of that was covered in Master Brummbar von Schwarzberg I won’t go into much of it but I highly recommend it to those that have never read it.

Unfortunately, as I stated in my previous article about the Fyrd, though Master Brummbar’s words are wise, many (including Brummbar himself) are quick to point out, the ideals set forth in the beginning of the orders are from a time long ago. Calontir has grown and changed since then, the Order has evolved since then too so looking to the Origins of the Order might not be a productive route.

Alrighty then, now that we got the law and our origins out of the way, lets look at some of the more common stereo types that Huscarls get labeled with:

  • Pipe Swinging Monkeys
  • Thugs
  • Machine’s/Implements of Mother F’ing destruction
  • The guys I’d want with me at a real bar fight
  • others that I am sure I am missing

(I have personally have always hated that damn bar fight thing but I understand the comparison. I’d like to think that we are more than a bunch of Thugs that swing a big stick but to some that is what we are.)
>I think Kaz summed all of these up when he sent me this:

“I believe that there should be a comradeship among Huscarls, that is bred of a common vision of being a ‘F’ing mo-sheen of dee-strukshun’ in loyal service to the Crown. I believe that there is a certain attitude that a Huscarl is not only permitted to cop, but should be expected to have. A Huscarl should stride the land in size 22 boots with the attitude of dangerous greatness – and it should not necessarily be expected to see high culture or civility in them (though they should be expected to possess chivalry, most definitely). These, after all, are not the graceful masters of the deadly dance, they are more like the Bradley armored vehicle of the medieval army – style to hell, but gets the job done every time without need for concern.”

While this belief is great an expresses how many of us feel, there surely has to be more and while I am more than willing to accept any of the above monikers I am also wanting to dig deeper for a connection to our Historical counterparts. Some may not need to do so but I have a desire to do so and I know others do too.

So can we look to the Huscarls historical counterparts (Housecarls or just Coerls in some cases) for some help in figuring out “What a Huscarl of Calontir” is?


Lets look at Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition of Huscarl (or the closest thing to it):


also spelled huscarl , Old Norse húskarl (“house man”) , Danish and Norwegian hird (“household,” or “household member”) member of the personal or household troops or bodyguard of Scandinavian kings and chieftains in the Viking and medieval periods.

Well we are often called the Kings Men but rarely (if ever) have I heard the Order called the Kings Bodyguard1so that doesn’t seem to help our efforts in a search for this answer much.

As with the Historical Fyrd, the historical Huscarls evolved as time passed, so I guess the biggest hurdle to overcome is to determine whether we are talking about the Old Norse meaning of the word or the meaning as applied to how it was used by the English Military thanks to Cnut, who introduced them to England.

My idea of what a Huscarl is embodies a little of both (with a dash of a few extra things throw in there;)

In Old Norse a housecarl was thought to have been both loyal servants/household members attached to a predominant house of the time or members of the local dróttins comitatus (warband.)

It is from its Old English meaning that we gets the vision of the grizzled seasoned veteran serving his liege lord. These were the Kings Men and with their weapons and skill they along with the ‘Gestir’ (the ‘Royal Police’) enforced his will/law during times of peace.  They were the ones who carried unpopular edicts or messages to (or collected taxes from) the population. I suppose somewhere between an FBI agent and an IRS inspector. They could over-rule the local Jarl in the King’s name, and woe betide anyone who went against them, as they would have to explain their actions to the King. They were supposed to be courteous and protective towards loyal subjects but ruthless towards his enemies.

In war their function was as bodyguards, but given the Norse tradition of leading from the front, they, and the King, would be first into action and last to leave it. At Maldon, Brytnoth’s Hearth-troop die rather than leave his body, an incident extolled in the great poem. At Hastings some of the fiercest fighting apparently took place after Harold’s death and again, centered on the remains of his Huscarls fighting to defend their Lords body. (BTW some have suggested that Harold’s decision to deploy his Huscarls along the whole front line was a serious tactical mistake that deprived his army of it’s most dangerous and aggressive body of troops.) These are the professional soldiers that we so easily identify with today and as said before it is Cnut that we owe thanks to this visage.

No matter what visage of Huscarl (either ON or OE) the common over-riding quality seems to have been loyalty. Without land to defend of their own (until retirement) or other landowners with whom to plot, their personal loyalty to their King seems to have been higher than that often expressed by knights during the ‘high’ medieval period (more on this later also). Anglo-Saxon and Norse literature also has many examples of the love expressed by a Lords household troops for their Lord, and though this sort of comradely love is difficult to express in today’s cynical, materialistic world I believe we in Calontir do well at recreating this atmosphere.

On a whimsical note, some people have even suggested that the Huscarls were organized in a similar manner as the Jomsvikings. Personally I hope not, and for several reasons the main one being that even thought in every random mention of them I hear they were the ‘bad asses’ of their time, a simple search thru the sagas reveals that in every battle they were part of the side they supported LOST! I assume that’s karmic retribution for their their reputation for changing sides half way thru a battle! Add these things to their treatment of women as non-equals and you see that nothing is gained by comparing the Order to them!

The acts of the Jomsvikings  were so far removed from the normal concept of the days they were written about that some have suggested that the whole Jomsviking story is one of fiction, written by later period authors to illustrate the unavoidable disgrace and failure that will attend those who go ‘pirate’ and do not swear allegiance to God’s anointed representative – the King.

OK, back on topic, we have determine that the Historical Huscarls were known for their loyalty, I think this aspect is also a key factor in the Huscarls of Calontir also so we do gain from comparing the two.

I personally see the Order as a combination of the two (ON and OE) (but with a few extras to boot, more on that later.)  Normally by the time that you have become a Huscarl of Calontir you have shown without a doubt that you are both loyal to Calontir (and her ideals), an member of “The Tribe” (our household) and are a seasoned veteran of war. So I guess we are getting closer to an answer but I think we are still needing more to round this picture out.

So in the interest of comparisons I have heard and been part of several conversation which compared Huscarls with Knights.

As both were in various ways Kings Men they inevitable carried out some of same duties and responsibilities.

When asked what he thought a Huscarl was,  Lord Eric St. Ledger replied:

“Not being a huscarl, I cannot say what it is, or should be, to be one. I can say what you appear to be to others (at least some others). The Hus, at least to some of us, are sort of like elder brothers. To fail in the eyes of your king or to be found wanting in any matter is a fate unwanted and largely dreaded by every true gentleman or noble. It is like failing your father. To some extent, the Huscarls carry with them the king’s physical presence. They are our comrades in arms, but more. The Huscarls are a projection of the king’s visage, closer to the crown than we are, like an elder brother is often seen to be somewhat closer to your father than yourself. He is trusted more, he has been at the father’s side longer, and therefore you feel that in his approval also rests the parent’s sanction to some extent. Like wise, his disappointment in you carries with it more unpleasant sensations.”

When posed the same question,  Lord Gwalchmai “Saeth” Saethydd replied:

“A huscarl IMHO is someone who puts their kings honour and glory before own, a person who will selflessly serve their king and kingdom. A teacher, someone who will take Joe Newbie to the side and say hey, your doing a great job, but, you might wanna try this or that. A leader, someone who will take control of the situation should his/her king fall and lead troops to victory for the glory of Calontir. A Huscarl should be cocky enough to know they are good, but humble enough not to say so. IMHO a Huscarl should act as though they are a member of the Chivalry, even though they are not…..yet.”

I have heard many others make similar statements but the best comparison I have yet to hear is that of His Grace Valens. The following was his input from a discussion on the Huscarl list:

“I view the difference between huscarls and the chivalry in light of the ages they represent.  The huscarls are a 10th century group who’s greatest virtues were loyalty, and skill at arms.  Chivalry, at least the SCA’s romantic construct for that group is much more aimed toward a 13th or 14th century ideal.  Different times focused on very different virtues.  No doubt a 10th century huscarl would have been laughed at by the knights of 300 years later.  I haven’t found anywhere that implies that noble birth was a requirement or even a general quality of the huscarls serving the Saxon kings.  Three centuries later your parentage was one of the overriding requirements for knighthood.

I think the two different orders represent the different qualities of the different ages.”

In that same thread Gaius posted what I found to be a profound statement, I will remember it always and so that others may also I would share part of that thread with you now:

“And this is why, when the Norman noble makes his claim on Harold’s throne, your fingers grasp tight the axe and kite, and your will bends iron chain and human souls around our good King’s feet.  You are a Huscarl.  Your spirit, axe and blood stand between your King and His foe.  Your thoughts are your own, but your actions are His.  Your virtues are your King’s virtues, and your vices His vices, for you are His arm, His will, and His men.  When the world looks upon you, it is His reflection that stares back at them through reputation and deed.  You defend and further that by the weight of your axe.

The Fyrd protect the Land, the Chivalry protect our Kingdom, the Huscarls, however, protect a  man…. who is our King.  As long as there are people to till the earth, there will be Fyrdman to defend it.  As long as there remains even the idea of a kingdom, their must be Chivalry to defend it.  But should our King ever fall in battle, his last breath given up to the wind, then at that moment, there can be no more Huscarls, for they must all have fallen around Him.

This, to me, is the essence of what it is to be a Huscarl.  To set your feet squarely in the historic idea of it.  Understanding the difference between a Huscarl and a member of the Chivalry, begins by understanding the difference between duty to a man, who is a king, and duty to an entire kingdom, which happens to be ruled by a man.  Within our structure, these lines often blur, but were this life and death, our job descriptions would be significantly different, I believe, than what we assume now.”

Another close non-Calontir friend with an interest in historical perspectives suggested that the word of an 11th century Huscarl could be worth more than that of a 14th century knight since the Huscarl has only his word to give or defend. Whereas the knight has more interests to protect and might do so anyway he could. (I can imagine some in the SCA would have a problem with that but this is not meant to offend anyone just to offer an opinion.)

While these are great observations and could be close to the truth, in our quest to determine “What is a Huscarl of Calontir”, it doesn’t help. We have two separate orders for a reason. For a Hus to proclaim that he is the same as a Knight would be at best …unwise;)

I think it is fair to say that both the Hus and the Order of the Chiv share alot of the same important attributes. It has been suggested that these attributes include honor, leadership, mentoring, skill, and knowledge.  In a perfect world, they would all be at equal levels, but this is by far a perfect world.  It should be noted that mentoring, although is important, is not necessary considered important to some people.

Although the attributes mentioned above are shared attributes between the orders, obviously there is a differing  level of skill in each of the attribute between the orders (ie, a knight has higher levels of each than say a Hus) but this isn’t always the case. I think that this is what makes the journey from Hus to Knight a natural progression. Note that I do firmly believe that it is a progression but not everyone completes the journey. This is natural IMO as not everyone wants or is able to do so.

We all know that the orders share similar traits but we also know that they are different. So we are still no closer to a good answer that we were.

What next?

Where do we go from here?

I can’t say, I can tell you what I believe but as sure as it will be hot in Hades tomorrow, someone will have a different opinion. I guess that’s one of the cool things about our quest for an answer, as far as I can tell there is not a right or wrong answer to this question!

Anyway, it is sometimes said that Calontir’s most devoted/loyal subjects bleed purple. I think that for a Huscarl nothing less is expectable.<. Aside from the prereq’s to be a Huscarl I firmly believe that the Huscarls are the Defenders (the last line of defense if you will) of Calontir and her ways.

I believe we are the ones that are responsible for the future of Calontir’s Army (if not Calontir herself). We are the ones that will determine what will become of our current customs and practices, we are the ones held accountable for what The Falcon Army will become in the future. Some may say “NO!, those things are the responsibility of the Chiv” and maybe they are right but if so it should at least begin in this Order, the more deep seeded the better IMO.

I believe to be made a Huscarl of Calontir is one of the most fulfilling things there can be for fighters in Calontir, I know it was for me. Sure its gotta be great to be Knighted but I have on more than one occasion heard it said “I don’t care if I ever get knighted, I am a Huscarl and thats enough for me, its all I have ever wanted.” Whether the Chiv approve of this is another question, but I know its said. Hearing your name called when the order is assembled is an uplifting experience, one that so far in my 30 years of existence has only topped by three things (those being getting marred, holding my daughter for the first time and hearing her tell me she loved me for the first time, but I digress;)

So, here we are at the end of our journey thru trying to figure out “What is a Huscarl of Calontir.” I would thank you for joining me on this journey but I must apologize for the fact that we are really no closer to an answer that when we started.

Maybe we weren’t meant to find one solid, exclusive answer.

Maybe as with alot of other things in life, there is no answer, just the journey……….OK that was corny, even for me!;)

But just consider that there really is no answer, alot of things with the SCA were written loosely so that many different people can interpret the writings to suit different situations. My ideas of a Huscarl may correspond with the guy to my right but be considered radical by the fellow on my left.

So to go back and rephrase my earlier corny statement, I guess that in truth, there is no answer to this question, only varying opinions.

1) Actually after consulting Master Craig’s The Chronicles of Calontir”, Volume I, Foundations, page 11, paragraph 2 I found a reference to this:

“The Hird would be the guard of the warlord (and later prince) and the Fyrd would be the militia.”

Drx’s “Get Em on the field” Latin Lessons

Written and Prepared by Master Andrixos Seljukroctonis. Previously Appearing in the Online Bird of Prey, Vol 9, 2003


Ever wanted to join in those famous Andrixos “Waiting for the lay on/during a hold” Latin Lessons but were just to intimidated by not knowing exactly what was being said?

Well fear no more Master Drx has put his words, complete with a pronunciation guide,  to paper for those that are better at learnin’ from paper!

So get the jump on your fellow fighters and learn the wisdom that flows forth from our most famous Byzantine (well sort of;) so that at the Next war you to can stand proudly and say things that will make most folks say, “Huh?”

You’ll be amazed at the things you will be able to say by the time you are done, things that range from, “Do you wanna go?” to “Hey sailor, new in town?”, other people will marvel at the things that come out of your mouth!

So by all means work diligently to increase your knowledge, for to be Calontiri means to exercise your Mind for War as well as your Fighting Skill!

Onto the lesson:

       Do ya wanna go?
Visne ire?
(Wissnay eeray?)

   You alone please me.
Tu sola mihi placet.
(Too sohlah meehee plahket.)

You’ve got a pretty mouth.
Os pulchrum habes.
(Ohs pulkroom hahbays)

     We are a flock of sheep.
Sumus grex agni.
(Soomoos grecks ahgnee.)

      Sheep with teeth.
Agni dentati.
(Ahgnee denTAHtee)

   We have a plan.
Consilium habemus.
ConnSILLeeoom hahBAYmoos

  It is a clever plan.
Consilium callidum est.
(ConnSILLeeoom CALeedoom est.)

      It is too clever to fail twice.
Non potest vinci bis.

     It is so clever, you could slap a tail on it and call it a weasel.
Si caudatum, mustela sit.
(See cowDAHtoom, moosTELLah sit.)

This is a weinie plan.
Hoc est consilium farcimen.
Hohk est ConnSILLeeoom FAHRkeemen.

   We are surrounded by madmen.
Insani adsunt.

    Perhaps you do not understand my desires.
Fortasse meas cupiditates non intellegis.
(ForTAHsay MAYas cooPidiTAHtes nohn intelLEGis)

Hey sailor, new in town?
Eheu, nauta, novusne in urbe?
(AYoo NOWtah, nohWOOSnay in ERBay?)

You have a beer.
Cervisiam habes.
(KehrWISee ahm HAHbays.)

    I have no beer.
Cervisiae careo.
(KehrWISee eye  CAHR ay oh.)

What kind of friend are you?
Qualis amicus es?
(KWAHlis AHMeekoos es?)


Your mother wears army boots.
Mater tua caligas gerit.
(MAHtehr TOOah CAHLeegahs GEHRit)


I have a polearm.
Securem habeo.
(SayKOORem HAHbayoh)


Your head broke my polearm.
Caput securem fregit.
(KAHpoot SayKOORem FRAYgit.)


 Damn Rhinohider.
O Atenveldtus

Queen Eislinn’s Pennsic

Written by Mistress (Col.) Jenna of Southwind. Originally Published in the online Bird of Prey, Vol 9, 2003

[Halv]Editors Note: Some time ago in a private discussion the subject of Eislinn’s Pennsic was brought up, at the time I had no idea what the reference was to, so I ask Jenna and she filled me in on that part of our History. With Jenna’s permission I have put her words here so that all may know who Queen Eislinn was and how she inspired an Army!

When I asked “What is the significance of Queen Eislinn’s Pennsic?”, Jenna replied:

Lord, man! Listen close, to hear a piece of the mightiest magic most of us will ever see in this life. Because this is a truly true story, I must begin it as the most true of all stories begin:

Once upon a time…

…there was one of the finest monarchs known, Talymar, and his wife Eislinn the Patient. Married, three kids. Nice people. He’d been king twice, she once, when he won Crown again for her. And right afterwards the doctors said, “Jeanne …. the cancer’s come back…..”

By the time Pennsic came, Eislinn was dying. She wore a wig to hide the effects of the cancer treatments, and I never did find out why her right arm puffed up and didn’t move properly. She would leave site to go to the doctor.

That year, by a fluke, Calontir had not made up their minds who to fight with at the war. The Crown of the East was a particularly nice guy who’d gone to some trouble to court us. We literally got to an Althing two hours before Opening War Court, all gathered under the Royal Pavilion, and we didn’t know who to fight with. Various suggestions were made.

Then, Charles Stewart O’Connor stood up, and stepped into history. He said (roughly), “I’ve lived in both the East, and the Middle. I’ve gotten awards from both.” (Peerage in one, Founding Baron in another.) “Let us fight for neither.” Then, his next words, burned in my mind to this day:

“Let us take the high road of Chivalry. Let us fight for Eislinn.”

And we did.

We did not declare for MidRealm, nor MidRealm’s Queen. William V’tavia Rex Calontir stood up in Opening War Court in front of a couple of thousand people and announced that Calontir was fighting for Eislinn. She could have told us to stay in camp and drink beer, or to go home and skip the war. Most of us would have done it immediately. She sent favors to the Falcon Army. An Army some of whom still had emotional scars from our difficult split from our mother kingdom the MidRealm.

Ask Ternon to tell you what it was like to lead men and women on the field, in the name of Eislinn. Look up your WWI history to know the terror of his statement,   “I could have led them into the Somme.”

Eislinn stepped down as Queen six weeks later, and the doctors gave her all the morphine she wanted and sent her home to die. That winter, she did.

There are a few old-timers who use the phrase, Once and Future Queen, to refer to Eislinn. Somewhere in the Calontir Royal Regalia is a pennon of her device, with the words “Vivat Eislinn!”, which was made for Calontir to bear when she gave us permission to carry her battle onto Estrella’s dusty fields.

And back in Ohio, an old family friend and Costume Laurel is now the second wife to Talymar who keeps his clothes on the floor, and there are now four children to the family.

Jenna of SouthWind
author of “Fair Eislinn’s Saga”
sometime called Eislinn’s Bard

Postscript: Her Grace Eislinn, and Calontir’s own Countess Erzebet the second Queen of Calontir, both died in the 1980’s of breast cancer. Detection and treatment are both far advanced, but aren’t worth squat if you don’t use what’s available. Especially fighters — of both sexes — who could have lumps such as inclusion cysts caused by odd shots, need to do self-exams. Women and people who find lumps should have regular mammograms. This has been a public service announcement from Jenna, whose maternal grandmother died from breast cancer.

Curators Note [Vels]: I served with a male soldier in the 1990’s who was diagnosed with breast cancer. It can be just as fatal for men as for women.

Thoughts from a prototype Fyrdman

Written by Viscount Ternon de Caerleon. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.

The Fyrd was a response to a couple of factors in early Calontir. First was our geographic isolation from the center of activity for the Middle Kingdom. The second factor was our initial experience fighting wars.


On the first point, one must remember that there were no chivalry in early Calontir, and not many Midrealm Knights that had the inclination to travel westward to the frontier of the Kingdom. Squires were rare in Calontir, and squirehood was the most common prerequisite for Knighting. We needed another structure for advancement in skill and recognition that fit our circumstances better than the standard paradigm. Thus, Brumbar set up a two tiered system based on Anglo Saxon culture. The Fyrd was modeled after the A-S freeman levy, where every village were expected to equip a specific number of warriors based on the size of its agricultural product. Fyrdmen were expected to report for a fixed period of time with spear and shield, thus standardizing the composition of the army.


In our situation, standardization was more about one body of consistent training in leadership of small units as it was a uniform weaponry. That was true until the introduction of the scutum shield. In an early paper preceding the war college, Pavel Iosevitch introduced the advantage of fixed position defensive fighting as a solution to the twin problems we were experiencing with being outnumbered and with reforming after attack. With this idea clearly in mind, several of us seemed to hit on the idea of combined weapons formations as the logical support for the grounded scutum shield. Initially Fyrd were often the primary shield commanders, but as the combined weapons methodologies continued to evolve, they assumed other weapons systems as well.


This system was tested in several wars over the following year and found to be highly effective, at the rained out Ansteorra War in Fayetteville, we outnumbered the far more experienced Ansteorran forces, but they formed an assault column to penetrate what they assumed was the least experienced part of our line under Shadan and Lars. But due to good training, and good command, the only Ansteorran to actually breach the line was the Sir Lloyd, the King, who fell in the process. One thing that helped here was the ability of adjacent units to envelope the column and subject it to fire. This, was particularly satisfying to those of us who were disheartened by our first experience fighting Ansteorra, who punished us by reforming faster than we could.


By the time of the Pennsic XII Bridge battle there were enough Fyrd to integrate more fully into the formation, putting a larger share of the command on the Huscarls. Things that we were doing as a matter of course, other armies found entirely radical, such as holding a formation muster drill to see our army in the formation we would use in the next days battle. The Fyrd as an order, and a part of the command structure was equally alien to other Kingdoms. It was a highly polarizing phenomenon, and was both praised and condemned by its victims.


Socially, the original Fyrd were a fairly close knit group with significantly different views of the SCA in general, but the unifying theme was a desire to improve and be recognized as fighters. We all wanted to improve the state of the art in melee combat. Because there was no default military leadership via Chivalry, there was a unique opportunity in Calontir. While a lot of the rituals and folkways of the Fyrd developed in the second or third wave of Fyrdmen, the original Fyrd celebrated their ability to challenge and defeat fighters of higher rank.


The Fyrd of today is not the Fyrd of yore, nor should it be. Today’s Fyrd can capture the best of the old when it remembers to challenge experience, inspire the novice, and defeat the wrong colored tape. That is the core of our heritage.

The origins of the Iren Fyrd and Hirth

Written by Master Brummbar von Schwarzberg. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.

*The missive below was a message Master Brummbar sent to the Fyrdlist about our heritage.*

I have taken some time before starting this, since I didn’t want to rely completely on my memory. I checked my files, which turned out to be a good idea, it was a long time ago and memories do tend to meld together sometimes.

When the Fyrd and Hirth were founded the requirements were a bit different than now, and just as Calontir has changed and grown so has it’s fighting orders. The Fyrd and Hirth were created shortly after the Midrealm Crown recognized Calontir as a “Region” within the Kingdom. Geoffrie of Wareine asked the regional officers to create awards within their respective areas; Geoffrie (Seneschal) created the Cross of Calontir, Robert Sartor (MOA) the Lily, William of Bellwood (MOS) the Silver Hammer and myself (Marshal) the Fyrd, Hirth and Sword. 

Calontir didn’t have a regional ceremonial leader, the position of warlord coming a bit later, so the first awards, including the first fyrdmen and huscarl, were appointed by a committee of the newly recognized regional officers. 

The first Fyrdmen were Stephen Ironhand, William of Bellwood, Ternon de Caer Liant, Guillaume le Chein Blanc, and Humpk D’Bohunk, and I was given the honor of being the first Huscarl.

As a man-at-arms in the Midrealm I had noted that it was often difficult for a fighter to gauge were they stood in relation to other fighters. There were Knights and everyone else, squires could be anyone from a raw novice to one on the verge of receiving the accolade. The following is from the first printed description of the Fyrd and Hirth:

“Within the Region of Calontir we have adopted a system of giving recognition to the fighters through titles that reflect their skills as fighters and representatives of the Region. The first title is that of Fyrdman of the Fyrd of Calontir, the militia of the Region. The higher ranking is that of Huscarl of the Hirth of Calontir, the elite guard of the Region. 

A Fyrdman of the region of Calontir must be proficient in at least two weapons systems, and always exhibit the best of conduct on the list and off. 

A Huscarl must exhibit mastery of at least two weapon systems, but must also be competent with the other weapons and must have fought in an SCA war or border raid. He will exhibit unquestionable honor, both on the list and off. 

Selection of members of the fyrd is initially that of the regional knights marshal, but can also be done by the combined members of the Hirth and Fyrd. The selection of members of the Hirth is also initially that of the regional knights marshal, but can also be done by the members of the Hirth.”

It was one of those situations, right place at the right time. Unlike long established population areas of other kingdoms our region was new with nothing but a few new groups and a small population. This made it easy to establish these titles without having to evaluate a multitude of long experienced fighters and play catch-up in awarding the titles. Calontir had only 40+ fighters at the time making it a fairly easy task. Following the creation of the positions of Champion and later Warlord, the responsibility of selection was passed on to them, yet still required impute from the members of the Fyrd and Hirth.

As stated one requirement for Huscarl was participation in a war or border raid, this was difficult since there was only one of each to go to each year, Pennsic and the Middle-Meredian Border Raid. 

As Calontir grew and passed from Region to Principality. The Fyrd and Hirth became Orders and not just titles. Prior to this if you left Calontir you lost the title of Fyrdman or Huscarl. 

One of the biggest and most controversial changes came in AS XVI, in an effort to encourage archery activities, I added archers to the Fyrd and Hirth. The Calon army didn’t exist at that time, it started organizing under the War College I established in AS XVIII, with Sr. Juan, Ld Pavel, and Ld. Lars as its staff. Requirements changed little until after AS XXI (1987) when it was added that Fyrdmen were required to support the army (I don’t know the exact reign in which this change was made since I haven’t been able to find all of my old copies of Calontir Law later than AS XXI).

I would like to make a brief comment on some of the past discussions on the Fyrd list concerning what constitutes support of the army. 

IMHO this is highly subjective and can vary from Crown to Crown, perhaps the Fyrd should request of each Crown at the beginning of their reign as to what they consider to be support of the army. After all, the members make recommendations to the Crown, but the final decision is the Crowns’.

As to the accuracy of the Fyrd and Hirth in relation to their historical counterparts, I admit that it isn’t very exact but it is close. Few SCA titles and orders accurately reflect history. I wanted to create a two level system of skill recognition and the Anglo-Saxon fyrd and hirth lent itself quite well to my design.

I hope that this brief history will help you better understand your heritage as a Fyrdman or Huscarl.

In service,


Nobility and Achievement and Dog-piles

Written by Colonel Jenna of Southwind. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.


The following is a large excerpt from a post Colonel Jenna made to the Calonet dated 2/9/02, 

Last night, as Mike Eruzzoni held aloft the Olympic Torch, he re-created a most precious moment when he gestured for his teammates to join him. They gathered around him as they had 22 years ago when he insisted that the entire team join him on a medal podium that was literally not designed to hold more than four people. They managed to all fit on there ***BY HOLDING TIGHT TO EACH OTHER***. (Last night, 22 years and some pounds later, that pile of hockey players took up significantly more space…..) I realized just a little while ago, that was the first time I ever saw the Ancient and Honorable Ritual of the Dog-Pile.

O Fyrdmen, who hold tight to each other with your hearts if not your hands, as this guess from a non-Fyrdman and non-Olympian right? I think, and I believe, that the vertical dog-pile on the medal platform at Lake Placid was like the horizontal dog-pile of a Fyrding. It seems to me, that it is a celebration of Us, of We few, we happy few, we Band of Brothers. A physical gesture of closeness, of insisting that the Team be together for the good times as they have been together for the bad.

I may be wrong. But I sense that I am not.

After all, as the man asked, I believe in miracles.

What is a Fyrdman of Calontir?

Written by Hersir (Now Sir) Halvgrim Adalradarson. Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 6, 4th Quarter, 2002.

To most, the answer to this question should seem rather easy but in truth it can be quite complex, it is the basis of an ages long debate both within and outside the Order. You’d probably be surprised at the resolve that is possessed by various “sides” of the issues within the Order. Luckily as of yet no one side within the Order has gained any grip stronger that the others. I believe this is the norm as the order will always be changing. Many firmly cling onto the ideas on which the order was founded, by this I mean this side values several fundamental parts of what Master Brummbar’s article covers in this edition of the BoP.

Now the Fyrd (and Hirth) were created at a time when there was almost no Chivalry in Calontir. They were created so that Calontir could acknowledge and reward/army martial accomplishments on the field, which for what ever reason, did not seem forthcoming from the Midrealm. That this was a large issue is expressed in the words of Brom Blackhand’s song “Calontir Stands Alone”:

” We haven’t got belted Chivalry, Waes Hael, Drink Hael.
We fight for love of battle, we, Waes Hael, Drink Hael.
But on battlefields many we’ve stood the test,
Proved our bravery, skill, and our honor’s the best,
We shall smite our foes ’til
Calontir stands alone.”


Though Master Brummbar’s above words are wise, many (including Brummbar himself) are quick to point out, these ideals are from a time long ago. Calontir and her army have grown and changed since then, the Fyrd (and Hirth) must as well……

Some believe that we must continually reevaluate what the orders standards must be. 

I myself have been on various sides of the fence in my time as a Fyrdman but I currently believe that the reevaluating theory is best (at the moment;) 


For the easiest answer to the eternal debate of “What is a Fyrdman of Calontir?”, lets consult Kingdom Law.

The following is copied from the online version of Kingdom Law, I believe it is the most up to date version: 

(click here to skip the legalese)


There shall exist within the Kingdom of Calontir a system by which recognition is given to fighters and archers through titles that reflect their skill as fighters or archers and as representatives of Calontir. The lower rank is that of Fyrdman of the Fyrd of Calontir. The Fyrd shall be composed of two equal but separate branches; the fighters, called the Iren-Fyrd, and the archers, called the Boga-Fyrd. An individual may qualify and be granted membership by the Crown in both branches of the Fyrd.

Elevation to the Fyrd rests with the Sovereign, after consultation with such members of the appropriate branch of the Fyrd as the Sovereign shall desire. Any such elevation shall be proclaimed by the Crown to the populace at an official Court of the Kingdom of Calontir or upon the field of honor.

Elevation to the Fyrd shall confer upon the recipient an Award of Arms and shall entitle such individual to all rights, privileges, and ensigns attendant thereto. FYRDMEN may be styled and announced in the Calontir Order of Precedence as such. The Fyrd shall be ranked equally in the Order of Precedence with the Orders of the Torse, the Golden Calon Swan and the Leather Mallet. Membership in the Fyrd shall assure the recipient, according to seniority, of a position in the Calontir Order of Precedence before those Awards of Arms not given with any Order, but after Court Baronages.

The Fyrd may adopt, by approval of the Crown and by mutual consent, such rules for its internal governance as the Fyrd may find useful, such bylaws not being in conflict with the Laws and Traditions of Calontir.

IREN-FYRD: Elevation to the Iren-Fyrd may be conferred upon those individuals meeting certain requirements; including authorization in at least two weapon systems and competence (proficiency) in at least one weapon system, demonstration of support of the Calon Army and potential for leadership, which should include the ability to carry out standard Calontir Army commands. Said individual must also display honorable behavior both on and off the field.

Fyrdmen of the Iren-Fyrd may wear the badge of the Iren-Fyrd, emblazoned: Sable, on a pile embattled between two spears in pile argent a Cross of Calatrava purpure.

BOGA-FYRD: Elevation to the Boga-Fyrd may be conferred upon those individuals who display proficiency in at least one archery system, demonstrate support for the Calontir army on the archery field, and whose conduct is consistently honorable both on and off the field.

Fyrdmen of the Boga-Fyrd may bear the badge of the Boga-Fyrd, emblazoned: Sable, on a pile embattled between two longbows in pile argent a Cross of Calatrava purpure.

For a more argumentative answer to “What is a Fyrdman of Calontir?” I would refer you to Rhianwen’s recent comments of the Calonlist:

“Like any polling order — hell, like any large group of people — what *exactly* it means to be Fyrd varies a little bit with whom you talk to.

Fyrdmen are expected to be reasonably good fighters, which includes not only skill but honor. They are expected to be able to handle leadership roles on the field. If a command is given, the Fyrd are able to carry it out — not just understand it, but actually execute it and help the people around them to do so as well. This, in combination with our largish population, is why the Fyrd are often referred to as “the backbone of the Army”.

Mix the above statements with the “what does and does not constitute support of the Army” and you have a whole heck of a night of debate;)

Origins and Purpose

OK, so know we know what law says a Fyrdman of Calontir is, why do we need them? what is their purpose?

The answer to that lies in our origins and for that we can consult Master Craig’s The Chronicles of Calontir”, Volume I, Foundations, page 11, paragraph 2 :

“On that same day, (29 July, AS XIII), The first Fyrdmen were appointed: Ternon, Bellwood, Ironhand, Humpk and Guillaume de la Chien Blanc. It should be said that Brummbar created the Hird and the Fyrd to let the fighters rank each other to better aid their growth. He saw in the Midrealm only knights and squires; the squire being a household position, without rank, that said naught of one’s ability as a fighter. The Hird would be the guard of the warlord (and later prince) and the Fyrd would be the militia. Neither the Hird nor the Fyrd were orders like the Cross and the Lily, but were more like military ranks. The members of these orders were chosen by the regional marshal after receiving reports from marshals across the region. If one left Calontir, the rank did not then follow. The orders of the Cross and Sword of Calontir were announced but not yet opened. Mark well those days, sons and daughters of Calontir, for then the Falcon was born.” .

So, what is the purpose of the Fyrd of Calontir?  I believe it is two fold (at least), one purpose lies in the Order and the other lies in the award itself.

  • Normally at any given foreign war, the Fyrd comprise the biggest part of the Army, they are the basic militia (the backbone) of the Calon Army. This is the purpose of the Order.

  • With the ranking system in place Calontiri fighters can get an idea of where we stand in the martial “pecking order” of the Kingdom. This is the purpose of the award itself.

Some would suggest that there is a third purpose also. I have become more and more convinced that this “other” purpose  isn’t a true third purpose but  just a combination of the two purposes mentioned above. This “third” purpose is also covered in Rhainwen’s post to the Calonnet when she says:

“We also function as an Order, and not just for polling purposes. If a member (or a man-at-arms) goes terribly awry (getting a little thick, for example), we can act as a mob to bring him back into alignment.”

This has been a very important role in Calontir’s history and its benefits (and their origins) can be seen in Master Craig’s article, Why Calontir has fewer “BLOWSHUCKAGUYS” than other Kingdoms” from Volume 4 of the BoP.

Comparison to the Historical Fyrd

This is brought up from time to time. Some would say we are a good representation of our Historical counterparts and some say we aren’t even close, myself, I say we are a middle ground of the two belief.

Some things we do are great representations of what the Historical Fyrd were, some aren’t.

Some of the good points are:

We do a pretty good job of paying tribute to the meaning of the actual word fyrd. In its oldest form the word fyrd  meant “a journey or expedition”, however, the exact meaning of the word, like the nature of the armies it is used to describe, changed a great deal over time. It is a well know fact that traveling is looked at highly among all the Orders, but it is my opinion that it is really looked at by the fighting orders. Another eternal debate is over this factor when it comes to candidates and although it isn’t 100% necessary to travel to be made a Fyrdman,  it is a fact that those that travel ascend the path at a slightly higher pace that those that can’t travel for what ever reason. By keeping true to this factor I think we pay tribute to the oldest (original?) meaning  of the word.

Another of the things that we do right is that we do a pretty good representation of the local militia standards held be the West Saxons. Their establishment consisted of three general types of army: 

  1. the national host

  2. shire forces led by individual ealdormen,

  3. and the war bands of individual thegn’s

the natural counterparts seem to be:

  1. The Calon Army in its entirety

  2. shire forces/local militia

  3. households (which have very little influence here in Calontir or in the Armies structure)

When it boils down to it, the Fyrd are the local militia and though we aren’t all local to each other, when it comes down to it, the local forces (local militia) gather to comprise the Kingdoms Army.  

Just as when Harold Godwinson called together the Fyrd  (and Housecarls) to defend his lands from Hardrada and “the Bastard”, the Fyrd of Calontir rally to their King when he beckons them to join Him in making war. 

Another likeness we (the Fyrd as well as the Army) share with the historical fyrd (at least the earlier versions) is something Tacitus wrote about when describing the 1st century  Germanics.

Tacitus tells us:

‘They choose their kings for their noble birth, their leaders for their valour. The power even of the kings is not absolute or arbitrary. As for the leaders, it is their example rather than their authority that wins them special admiration – for their energy, their distinction, or their presence in the van of fight…..
‘No business, public or private, is transacted except in arms. But it is the rule that no-one shall take up arms until the tribe has attested that he is likely to make good. When the time comes, one of the chiefs or the father or a kinsman equips the young warrior with shield and spear in the public council. This with the Germans is the equivalent of our toga – the first public distinction of youth. They cease to rank merely as members of the household and are now members of the tribe.

Now that whole statement is Calontir over and over again, but tell me is that last line us or what?

Though even our men at arms (and our support crews) are just as much a part of the Army as any other fighter, when I was made a Fyrdman it was at that moment that I really knew that I was accepted as a Calontiri, some might dispute this fact but time and time again I have heard my  younger Fyrd brothers say the same thing after they were initiated into the Order, so there has to be some truth to it!

And that first (underlined) line, that is clearly the same ritual that we use when TRM’s induct a new candidate into the Order, it is done publicly and the new member is even equipped with a spear, sometimes with the Orders badge and sometimes with an actual spear head.

I guess the thing we have done best over the years has to do with the statement:

Calontir and her army have grown and changed since then, the Fyrd (and Hirth) must as well……”

Very often in the discussions regarding comparing ourselves to the Historical Fyrd, people who have done research will state that they have documentation that the Fyrd, in X timeframe under Y King did Z. Usually shortly after, someone else will post documentation of Fyrd in A timeframe, under B King, doing something different. In evaluating this, we see that the Historical Fyrd did the same thing the Calon Fyrd have done, changed to meet the needs of the Kingdom as it is now, and I would bet this is a trend that will continue in the future.

Well, after the above pat on the back I could stop but I feel the need to be honest and state that thought we are doing some things right when it comes to a fair representation, there are a few small things that we do that set us apart from our historical counterparts.

The first issue I will mention is something we don’t do well when it comes to a historical comparison but this isn’t a bad thing;p

The Historical Fyrd were (at least in the beginning) basically a peasant levy, probably very poorly armored and armed with farming tools (a lucky Fyrdman might have a spear) and swords would be right out as swords were only owned by the well to do. As the levy consisted mostly of farmers it would be fair to say that they were also poorly trained when it came to combat also. I wont even go into armor as it wouldn’t be fair to compare the two situations but I don’t think it would be unfair to say that the average Calontiri fighter is alot better armed and has alot better training and grasp of simple tactics than the average historical Fyrdman had, again, this isn’t a bad thing (for our Army anyway;)

Now, on that same thread, later models of the Historical Fyrd suggest that members were the veterans of the army, VFW’s if you will (Veterans of Foreign Wars.) As mentioned above it is possible to become a Fyrdman and never have been to war with the Calon host, it is very rare but possible. I don’t necessarily think that these rare occasions are bad things but when comparing the two versions, this sticks out.

Well now, I’ve babbled on for quite a bit now and I think this is a suitable place to end this article. I know many of you already knew all the information contained above but I am hoping that you enjoyed the way it was put together. I also hope that some of our newer folks read this and have gained some insight on the Order (No!,  we are not just those guys (and gals) that Pee together, we are much more;).

Lastly, I’d like to take credit for this whole article but I can’t, a large part of this article was gleaned from a discussion between myself and HL Barbarossa, he gave me the fuel for thought and I took his thoughts, combined them with my own and this is what I was able to construct. I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my words if I have done so I apologize, to do so certainly wasn’t my intent, I would also ask that you find me (either in person or via email) and let me know how I did so, so I can rectify the situation;)

The Fighters of Calontir as a de facto SCA Period Fencing Guild, pt 2

A Study of the London Masters of Defense

[by Don Dylan, formated to WORD by Harald Isenross] Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 5, Third Quarter 2002

Who were the London Masters of Defense?


The Company of the Masters of Defense of London was an officially recognized guild of teachers of fencing in England (centered mostly around London). Henry VIII gave the guild a charter in 1540 granting it a monopoly to teach proficiency in all of the weapons of war that a gentleman should know. [1] The concept behind the guild was not unique: there are hints of similar schools to teach equestrian, painting, dancing and song. [2] The charter, like most Court documents, needed to be renewed by each new monarch. It was renewed by Edward VI, but there are no documents showing that Mary, Elizabeth or James I renewed it.


This guild divided its membership into 3 ranks: Free Scholar, Provost and Master. At the top of the structure were the Four Ancient Masters, who ran the business of the guild itself; below them were all of the other Masters. The Four Ancient Masters apparently changed as time progressed, but there is no mention in the manuscript of a ‘changing of the guard.’ Each Master had students from the lower ranks who swore an oath of loyalty to their master. To advance through the various ranks a student, or scholar, would study weapons for a minimum specified time, then, with permission of their superiors would ‘play the prize’ for advancement to the level of Free Scholar. The next level for the prize was Provost, which allowed Provosts to open up a school in their master’s name, where they would pay their master a small fee for each student. The last level was that of Master. The prizes for each level generally involved more and varied weapons than the previous. Incidentally, this is where the term ‘prize fight’ evolved.


The best source of information we have on the guild is a book entitled: ‘The Noble Science’ which is a study & transcription of the Sloane Manuscripts 2530, Papers of the Masters of Defence of London, from the 1540s to the 1590s. The author, Herbert Berry has published several works on Elizabethan England/London, including one on Shakespearean Playhouses. The book contains the Sloane MS, and Berry’s interpretations and commentaries on the MS. The Sloane MS 2530 was collected by Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) and donated to the British Museum in 1754. [3] It was written by 11 or 12 people; through hand-writing analysis Berry estimates that ~80% written by one person. The MS contains 3 primary forms of info: prizes, challenges, and formal documents (charters, rules, etc.) It mentions 78 men and 108 prizes: some dated, some without dates and others only partially dated. [4] The MS is far from complete; Berry states that there are omissions of prizes/agreements by which 20 men became Free Scholars and Provosts, and between 1558 and 1578 there is a gap in prizes for masters, but there are hints in other areas that at least 15 advanced in those years. [5]


There are conflicting opinions about the intent of the manuscript. Berry believes that it is an informal document and that the first hand was hired to copy older documents sometime in the 1580s and that others finished it. [6] Craig Turner states that it was commissioned by William Mucklowe in 1573 [7], calling it a Book of Minutes, which conflicts with Berry’s supposition that this is not a register of the Company’s affairs. I lean more toward Turner’s interpretation; there are enough official documents and rules to make it official, or at least Muckelowe’s official version. I call it this because it has Muckelowe’s school charter in it, and is therefore more representative of an individual than of the entire guild.





First and foremost, the guild was a business. This business made money in three areas: charging money for lessons in various forms of combat, through a fee structure (for both normal business as well as penalties) for the guild, and by charging for attendance to it’s public functions (prizes).


Master William Mucklowe’s school charter stated that a scholar must pay half of his tuition up front for learning, and half at some unspecified later time. His charter suggests 30 or 40 shillings for the fee, which was quite a bit of cash back then. In addition to paying out all of this money, the scholar must bring own weapons or make prior arrangements for their procurement. [8] Since the manuscript only mentions 78 people in the guild, beginning students, or ‘scholars’ were probably the main source of income for the company, which depended on high turnover, much like today’s health clubs do.


The second form of income for the guild was fees charged to members and schools. A scholar had to pay 12 pence upon taking an oath to a master, and 4 pence for entrance into the guild. When a candidate successfully played the prize, he also had to pay a fee in order to advance to the next rank.


The Company benefitted from the success of the individual members in a profit sharing system, almost like a multi-level marketing scheme, much like Amway today. The provosts gave 2 pence to their master for every student they had, and all masters put 2d. per scholar in a box and gather twice a year, presumably to divide it (the rest of this piece cuts off in the manuscript.) [9] Unfortunately, we are left to our own speculations as to how the money was divided.


In addition to the regular fees that the Company charged for it’s day to day affairs, it also charged penalty fees to members who failed to carry out guild business in a proper manner. A penalty fee of 5s. per Provost was charged to prize candidates who did not properly notify other members of the Company about the upcoming prize. A penalty of 6s. 8d. was charged to Provosts who did not show up to prizes without a valid excuse (such as illness, service to the crown or distances involved). [10]


Playing the prize was also quite lucrative. The Company charged the public for attendance of the prize, and the public was encouraged to throw money if they liked the bouts as well. The candidate had to pay for the posting notices about the prize, and in some cases had to pay half of the travel expenses of Company members, but the candidate also received some of the money generated by the prize. There is no direct evidence of how much money a prize generated, but in one prize, a tavern owner demanded a cut of the procedes and received 40 shillings, which was more than he earned for most plays. [11]


Prizes were more than just a direct revenue stream; they were also a form of advertising for the masters and provosts. The teachers had the opportunity to publically display both their skills, and the skills of their students for the benefit of the audience. This would then draw interest in their individual schools and hopefully attract more students. [12]



Playing of Prizes


Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the actual playing of prizes. Prizes were held in public places like markets, inns and theatres and that they were a popular form of entertainment, drawing a paying audience. In fact, prizes were banned in times of plague or infection for fear of spreading disease through the crowds.


Playwrite Ben Johnson included a posting of a Prize in his play, Cynthia’s Revels:


    BE IT KNOWN to all that profess arms that we, A.B., Master of


the Noble science of Defence, do give leave and licence to our


Provost, C.D. to play his Master’s Prize against all Masters in their


subtile mysterie at these weapons, viz: longsword, sword and


buckler, Morris pike, and rapier and dagger.  These are to give


notice that our said Provost will be present the …th day of the


present month to perform and do his utter most for the acheivement


and bearing away of the prize.






Prizes usually began with a procession, very often starting in BlackFriars, going through the Ludgate and into the City Proper. Company members marched in the procession by rank. It tended to swell as it went along, with people joining and following it to it’s destination. This caused problems for merchants who either had no business or too much business as a result. [14]


Many of the earlier prizes were played in market places, which had no rent, but as things evolved, the theatres and inns seemed much more popular, probably because the raised stage/scaffold gave access to larger audiences. The area that the fencing took place could be anywhere from 20-60 feet on a side.


After arriving at the prize site, there was an intentional delay in activity while speeches were made: words were spoken by the Prizor, the answerers to his challenge, and the ‘sticklers’ or seconds. This tended to be a long drawn out process that continued on until enough money was thrown on stage. Drummers then drummed until the crowd was relatively quiet. The Prizor’s master then read the bill of challenge, introducing the Prizor, the answerers and sticklers by name and accomplishment. The four ancient masters then announced “the first bout at such and such a weapon.” The prizor fought two bouts per weapon per answerer, fighting each weapon against all answerers before starting with the next weapon. Four challengers and 3 weapons at 2 passes per weapon would mean about 24 passes for the prize. Many prizes had more challengers and weapons, and could conceivably have 70 or more passes. The four ancient masters then announced the next form, and so on. It is possible that more money was collected during the breaks. At the end of the prize, the four ancient masters decided and announced the result during a flurry of drums. The Company then recessed back to Blackfriar’s where the Prizor would take the necessary oaths and pay appropriate fees.[15]


Although there is remarkably little information about the actual conduct of the prize, we do have some small glimpses. On conduct during the prize, the Sloane manuscript has the following:


                And at anny prize Whether it be maisters prize Provosts prize or


                fre schollers prize who soever dothe play agaynst ye prizor, and


                doth strike his blowe and close withall so that the prizor cannot


                strike his blowe after agayne, shall Wynn no game for anny Veneye


                so geven althoughe it shold breake the Prizors head




which can be paraphrased as:


        at any prize, at any level, if whoever is fencing against the prizor


        hits him while closing so the prizor can’t riposte, he doesn’t score


        the point no matter how hard the hit was


                        (my paraphrase, with help from Jay Rudin)


This would suggest that there was a definite code of conduct during the prize. In this particular case, it seems that while effective, infighting was frowned upon in the prize. It is hard to figure out why such a rule would be in effect. Possibly it was considered to be less skillful, or maybe it would make it difficult for the candidate to show his skills in such a situation, or maybe it was considered to be too dangerous. Keeping the audience in mind, it would certainly be difficult for the audience to follow.


There were other codes of conduct as well. Aylward says that there were no blows allowed below the waist; there was also the scholar’s prerogative which banned blows to the face.[17] Another code of conduct is mentioned by George Silver in his book. He writes about the ‘evil rules or customs’ of the London Masters. Specifically, he claims that the London Masters did not allow the thrust with a broadsword and did not allow the cut or blow with a rapier.[18]


There is one other hint at the prize in the period sources, this time more factual. In “Noble Science”, Berry quotes “The Summary of the Chronicles of Englande … abridged” by John Stow, 1573 in an incident concerning a judicial duel. In 1571, there was a land dispute in the civil courts. The defendant requested a trial by combat, which was legal in England (although rarely used) until 1819. An interesting side note is that this was a civil suit, not a criminal one, nor was it a manner of honor or insult. Both sides chose champions for their cause. Henry Naylor, a Master in the Company was chosen by the Plaintiffs, George Thorne was picked by the defense. At the Duel, the judge gave the land to the defense without combat. Naylor then challenged Thorne “to playe with him halfe a score blowes.” Thorne refused, saying that he had come to fight, not play. [19] Like the example in Hamlet, Naylor, a member of the Company has suggested the idea of swordplay to a counted number of blows or bouts without intent of injury, and for the benefit of an audience.


The scant information about the prize means that we have scant information about injuries during the prize (Hamlet not withstanding). The only concrete information we can find is in the Sloane MS where we find that Izake Kenard’s prize was postponed a few days due to injury [20], but there is no other information about what kind of injury it was. Turner mentions broken bones and cracked skulls as common outcomes. [21] Aylward claims that Thomas Overbury asserts that a lucky master had both eyes, and that Overbury harps on bruises in fencing (admitting though, that the bruises were only skin deep). [22]


Bated weapons were commonly used during the period but nothing mentions their use in prizes. Considering that the weapons used for the prize included pike, it is doubtful that all of the weapons were bated, although it is conceivable that they made a pike with no edge. It is also uncertain if participants wore armor during the prize, but it is reasonable to assume that they wore at least some armor, perhaps a buffcoat. Terminology here is also confusing. Foils were blunted and had no edge, but none of the manuscripts that I have looked at use the term foil. The only use of the word foil that I am aware of, comes from a reference stating that King Philip took 2nd place for ‘fairest and most gallant entry’ and first in the combat with foils.[23] Shakespeare used the term foil interchangeably with sword and rapier, making interpretation of their usage of the words difficult.


The weapons that were used in the prizes and challenges were quite varied. They include the long sword, bastard sword, dagger, back sword, two handed sword, staff, sword and buckler, rapier and dagger, sword and dagger. Some of the forms were reserved for the higher level members of the guild (like pike and bastard sword). It must be remembered that the Company was teaching the weapons of war, not just the Art of the Duel. The Elizabethan concept of ‘fencing’ is far different than our modern/SCA concept of the same term (more than just a foil/epee/rapier). Some interesting things to note: Rapier was not added as a prize until 1578 or so, and it was only added for the Master’s prize, however, they were using the rapier in challenges 25-30 years earlier.


Not all of the candidates played the prize to advance a level. Several candidates for the prize were advanced upon the agreement of the Masters. Why this occurred is uncertain; its hard to understand why they’d give up the potential cash that a prize would bring in. In any case, we don’t know exactly what the Masters looked for in a candidate, but from the manuscript we know that the candidate had to show the Masters that they had the skills necessary and that they would cooperate with the guild (see rules below). Since a Provost or Master could open up schools of their own, new members would bring in money for everyone under the profit sharing arrangements of the guild.


The guild had several rules governing the playing of prizes, including fees paid, weapons forms used and the process of getting permission for the prize.


Here are most of the rules for the playing of prizes:


The order for playinge of a schollers Prize


To play a scholars prize, the candidate had to do the following:


1) notify his master of his intentions


2) master will notify other masters & set up prize upon agreement of the other masters


3) Master will set up the time and place


4) the candidate must play with 6 scholars minimum at long sword and backsword as a trial or proof


5) if the masters concur, a prize will be set


6) at the prize, the candidate will play with as many schollars as possible at long sword and back sword


7) if the masters agree & he can pay all orders and duties, he is allowed to be a FS.


8) the candidate cannot play the provost prize for 7 years[24]


The order for playinge of a provosts Prize


To play a provosts prize, the candidate had to do the following:


1) ask master to play


2) master & FS/candidate go to the 4 ancient masters


3) if the 4 masters agree, they pick a day


4) must play at 2 handed sword, back sword and staff against all provosts who come


5) must notify at own cost all provosts within 60 miles of the site of the prize 4 weeks before the prize there is a penalty of 5 shillings PER unwarned provost paid to the ancient masters


6) if no provosts within 20 miles of the site can come to the prize and the candidate has not given the proper 4 weeks notice to those beyond the 20 miles, the candidate must pay 1/2 travel cost for those outer provosts nb: this contradicts [f.16 of Sloane] which states that any provost more than 20 miles gets 1/2 travel cost regardless


7) must pay the duties set before him


8) cannot keep a school within 7 miles of any master without permission


9) cannot teach any scholar who doesn’t swear to his master


10) must pay master 2d. for every scholar taught and 2d. to each of the 4 ancient masters


11) must show his books quarterly


12) must go to any prize within 60 miles with proper warning, or get permission not to go penalty for non-attendance: 6s, 8d. must be sick or on queen’s business to not attend


13) not play masters prize for 7 years (5 yrs mentioned elsewhere)[25]


The order for playinge of a maisters Prize


To play a maisters prize, the candidate had to do the following: more of the same, modified by the following:


1) weapons include: 2Hd Swd, Bastard Sword, pike, backsword, rapier and dagger


2) 60 mile radius, 8 week warning[26]


Rules are made to be broken, and the rules for playing the prize were broken on several occasions. The Sloane MS clearly shows many candidates advancing to the next level way before the proscribed period, in some cases only one year after their last advancement. Again, we are left to speculate why this is the case. The most obvious benefit to the guild would be money: it is quite possible that the candidate had potential students and could open up their own school.



Oaths for Advancement


After playing the prize, the candidate had to take an oath upon advancement: (below is a summary of most of the oaths)


Masters Oath:


Swear as a christian to the following:


  • be true to the church
  • be a true subject of the queen [because the Sovereign at the time was a Queen? Harold Kraus], and report all traitors within 24 hours if possible, even if its your father, and serve the queen with life and property
  • obey and work with the other masters
  • don’t teach suspect peoples (murderers, thieves, drunkards, quarrelers) and don’t associate with them
  • in any game, prize, or play at weapons, give true judgment without favor or hatred
  • any scholar must take oath to you and charge same amount as other masters
  • do not challenge any English Masters or your master & pay your master all of your debts and duties to him
  • be merciful when you have the upper hand (no weapon, on ground, back turned) exept in self defense or in service to the crown
  • give aid and strength & help all masters & provosts, widows and fatherless kids, and help any poor Masters at each prize (pass the hat or something)
  • do not teach another master’s scholar without permission and only if that master was paid in full
  • call all masters to set up a prize
  • do not set up any prize for a year and a day after becoming a master
  • cannot advance anyone without 2 other masters
  • do not allow others to keep school in your name and other masters/provosts that allow you to do so shall lose their license as well[27]


Provosts Oath


swear as a christian


  • uphold & be true to the church
  • uphold the queen & turn in all traitors
  • be a true provost, agree with masters and provosts; obey your master
  • don’t teach suspect peoples (murderers, thieves, drunkards, quarrelers) and don’t associate with them
  • don’t teach anyone without oath to your master
  • don’t challenge any master or compare yourself with any master especially your master
  • be merciful when you have the upper hand (no weapon, on ground, back turned) exept in self defense or in service to the crown
  • do not train others without masters permission & only if scholar has paid his master in full[28]





The manuscript also records several challenges, all of which were played before the crown. Challenges are recorded as taking place before Henry VIII, Edward VI, Philip & Mary, and Elizabeth I, with a wider variety of weapons than was used in the prizes. Weapons used include axe, pike, rapier, rapier and target, rapier and cloak, dagger, and two swords, a far greater mix of weapon styles than played in the prize. At least one prize was fought as part of a challenge: Richard White fought his scholars prize before Henry VIII. Given the middle-class status of the Company, one can imagine the Crown giving It’s time to It’s chartered guild as mostly a formal piece of business, much like our modern politicians at a ribbon cutting ceremony, or touring a factory. It is far more likely that these interactions were part of the job of the Crown than that the Crown was directly interested in what the Guild was doing.


Silver mentions challenges in two separate places in his books. In the first one, he makes a challenge to all strangers and ‘false teachers’ (his description for the Italians and their rapier play) to fight 9 bouts, broken into 3 groups of 3 bouts each. Three bouts were to be against English Masters, who knew their swordwork, three against unskilled men, although stout of heart and the last three against drunks. Silver noted that if challenger couldn’t win then they should be killed for their false teaching.


His second mention of a challenge is the one that he and his brother, Toby set up against Saviolo and Ieronimo. He proposed the use of the following weapons: Single rapier, rapier & dagger, single sword, sword and target, sword and buckler, two handed sword, staff, battle axe and morris pike – nine weapons in all.


I took a look at Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2, the duel between Hamlet and Laertes as an possible example of a challenge. This fit in with Turner’s notion that Shakespeare wrote for his audience. [29] The following is from Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2, where Osric, a servant of the King is arranging Hamlet’s duel with Laertes:


(Osric, a servant speaking to Hamlet)


Osric: The king, sir, hath laid, that in a dozen passes


       between yourself and him, he shall not exceed you


       three hits: he hath laid on twelve for nine; and it


       would come to immediate trial, if your lordship


       would vouchsafe the answer. [30]


This is not so much a duel as a challenge. Originally I took it to be a prize, but the number of passes (bouts) mentioned leads me to believe otherwise, especially in the light of Aylwards information on the prize (2 passes/person/weapon). It is not to the death (or at least Hamlet thought), but to touches, the king betting 6 horses vs. 6 french rapiers (an interesting equivalence) that Laertes not exceed Hamlet by 3 hits, and switching the challenge from 9 to 12 passes. A little later in the scene, the duel takes place:




    Set me the stoops of wine upon that table.


    If Hamlet give the first or second hit,


    Or quit in answer of the third exchange,


    Let all the battlements their ordnance fire:


    The king shall drink to Hamlet’s better breath;


    And in the cup an union shall he throw,


    Richer than that which four successive kings


    In Denmark’s crown have worn. Give me the cups;


    And let the kettle to the trumpet speak,


    The trumpet to the cannoneer without,


    The cannons to the heavens, the heavens to earth,


    ‘Now the king dunks to Hamlet.’ Come, begin:


    And you, the judges, bear a wary eye.




    Come on, sir.




    Come, my lord.


    (They play)
















    A hit, a very palpable hit.




    Well; again.




    Stay; give me drink. Hamlet, this pearl is thine;


    Here’s to thy health.


    (Trumpets sound, and cannon shot off within)


    Give him the cup.




    I’ll play this bout first; set it by awhile. Come.


    (They play)


    Another hit; what say you?




    A touch, a touch, I do confess.




Note that there are judges (Osric) for this duel, and that there are no actual blows struck that could result in injuries to either party (at least not yet). This sounds very much like it could be a challenge or a prize could being conducted.



The London Masters and the Italians


Elizabethan London was the scene of two conflicting movements: The renaissance, which moved into England later than the rest of Europe, bringing with it European influences; and a certain ultra-nationalism, manifesting itself in the intense competition with the other European powers (the Spanish Armada comes to mind), and possibly as a backlash toward the newer styles and attitudes that competed with English tradition. The Company definitely reflected this attitude in its manuscripts and history. The Sloane manuscript shows a challenge that was fought before Edward VI against all aliens and strangers, but does not record who, if anyone fought in the challenge on the part of the foreigners[32]. The oath that members were required to take for advancement also included loyalty to the crown. It appears that the guild took this quite seriously.


By most accounts, the English Masters were very stuffy, conservative and tied to their traditions. Anglin says that this lead to a lack of English Manuals on the defensive arts and virtually guaranteed that any new trends in the Art of Defense would occur on the continent[33]. Silver’s manual was a response to the Italian influence, and was the only English originated manual, for several reasons: 1) the guild members were middle class and most likely didn’t have the resources to write and publish books; 2) If they did so, teaching revenues would most likely go down; and 3) the guild had nothing new to say.


For a while, the Company had a monopoly on teaching weapons to the public, by virtue of its letters patent from the crown. This warrant had to be renewed by each monarch, and it was probably not signed by Mary or Elizabeth. This probably allowed teachers from Europe to move into a previously closed area, competing with the Company.


The Company was a middle class guild in an extremely class conscious society, teaching their craft to the middle class, but the Italians were drawing wealthier students, and behaved as if the members of the Company were below them in station. Saviolo’s stated goal was to teach the nobility and gentry, a far cry from the middle class. While the London Masters were charging 40 shillings for instruction [34], Silver indicates that Rocco Bonetti was charging 20-100 pounds. [35]To give an idea of how different these amounts of money were, a laborer’s wage was about 5d a day, a craftsman about 1s, a gentleman about 2s 6d. (12pence = 1 shilling; 20 shilling = 1 pound). As a reference, basic entry to a theatre was 1d. The fees charged by the London Masters were about a month’s wages for a craftsman, but the fees charged by the Italians were clearly out of reach of most of the populace, including the London Masters.


One of the Italians that we have decent records of was Rocco Bonetti. He set up a school in London in 1576, calling it a “colledge”. His students were typically “Noblemen & Gentlemen of the Court”, and his colledge reflected this. It was decorated with the devices of his students and there was a writing desk with stationary and even a clock, clearly reflecting a clientelle beyond the hopes of the London Masters. [36] Bonetti’s patrons included Sir Walter Raleigh, and one of the Queen’s best swordsmen, Lord Peregrin Willoughby, both men of high stature. [37]


The London Masters did not have the same kind of patronage. While there is evidence where the Earl of Warwick wrote on behalf of his servant, John Davis to arrange for his provost’s prize, this is far different from patronage. In fact, many of the Masters had other jobs. Richard Tarlton was a comic actor, who later became ‘groom to the ordinary of the Queen’s chamber,’ and another master was a master gunner at the Tower of London. While some may have been able to live off of their income as masters, clearly all were not able to do so (or will unwilling to try).[38] In our modern world, with our modern concepts of class, it is hard to comprehend what this means, but there was a near insurmountable wall between the multiple class levels and it must have been extremely frustrating to the London Masters to see the Italians parading around at the next level, and possibly even the level beyond that.


Bonetti was at one time a Captain in the service of Venice, which is probably where he learned his swordplay. He came to England in 1569. There is some evidence that he was involved in low level espionage, carrying messages at some point during his stay in England. Sometime after Bonnetti opened his colledge, the London Masters, unhappy with Bonetti’s success, offered to allow him to fight a master’s prize (generously offering to waive the requirements for scholar & provost). Bonetti declined on grounds of class. Shortly after, two provosts (identified by Aylward as Francis Calvert and Isaac Kennard – [39]) apparently tried to provoke Bonetti into a fight, which he managed to avoid. To add to Bonetti’s troubles, his landlord, the Earl of Oxford was upset to find out that his property had been leased to Bonetti without the Earl’s knowledge or approval, and sent men to cause Bonetti trouble. This harassment was so bad that Bonetti asked his patrons on Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council to intercede on his behalf. [40] Other sources say that Bonetti went to Scotland while things cooled off.[41] The Council eventually directed the Mayor to jail the offenders, which shows that Bonetti’s patrons had quite a bit of influence[42], but there is no evidence that anything was actually done to Bonetti’s harrassers.[43]


In 1587, Bonetti fought in a brief duel with Austen Bagger. The fight took place outside of Bonetti’s colledge, and Bagger managed to wound him in the legs. Bagger then “trode upon him” – a direct violation of the spirit of the rules of conduct for the Company. Bagger spared Bonetti’s life.[44] Anglin claims that the Italian died of his wounds sustained in the duel.[45] Aylward found some evidence of Bonetti’s death in Thospital, but no information tying it to his fight with Bagger.[46] Bagger is not mentioned in Sloane, but Anglin says that he is a member of the Company [47]; Anglin also claims that Silver was a member of the Company, which I find highly questionable since Silver was in a much higher social class than the London Masters.


Silver also mentioned a time when Bonetti drew his rapier upon a boatman and was soundly beaten upon by the other boatmen using their oars.[48]


Bonetti was succeeded by Ieronimo, who was either Bonetti’s son or close assistant. Vicentio Saviolo joined Ieronimo at the school in 1590, and the two taught fencing throughout England, much to the annoyance of the Masters. Saviolo was a professional teacher of the sword in Italy, and had more humble roots than Bonetti did, but still seemed to look down upon the English from a professional standpoint. In response to a comment attributed to Saviolo and Ieronimo about English running away, George Silver and his brother Toby issued a challenge to the two, to prove once and for all which was better. The Silvers didn’t get an answer from the Italians before they printed up the handbills and were quite embarrassed when the Italians didn’t show.[49] Silver later accused the Italians of cowardice.[50]


George Silver then talkas about Saviolo and his confrontation with a master of defense. Saviolo was in Somersetshire, outside of London, and was asked to play with Rapier and Dagger by Bartholomew Bramble, a local Master. Saviolo is reported to have said, “If I play withe thee, I will hit thee 1, 2, 3, 4 thrusts in the eie together” and later saying “by God me scorn to play with thee” when Bramble would not relent. Bramble was so incensed by Saviolo’s attitude that he boxed Saviolo in the ear and knocking him down. Fearing Saviolo’s response, Bramble reached for a blackjack, half full of beer. Saviolo fingered his dagger and claimed that he could have Bramble thrown into jail for his actions. The Englishman, in turn, called Saviolo a coward and poured the rest of the beer on him. Saviolo again refused to respond to the provocation, since Bramble had no weapon, other than the blackjack. When he met Bramble on the street the next day, the Italian bought him a present of a dozen silken points from a mercer’s shop, and promised to teach Bramble how to thrust further than his fellow Englishmen. Silver finishes the story by calling Saviolo a better Christian than a fighter [51]


Silver then tells of the time that Saviolo and Ieronimo were set upon by members of the London Masters. A wench (as Saviolo calls her) who was with the Italians ran screaming for help, and townsfolk showed up and broke up the fight, which the London Masters claimed was only a little brawl. Evidently this added to the Italians’ prestige in Court.[52]


The last story that Silver tells is of the demise of Ieronimo. Ieronimo was in a coach with a wench, when a man named Cheese rode on horseback after the coach and calling out Ieronimo to fight him. Ieronimo finally relented and was killed by a thrust with Cheese’s broadsword. Silver uses this opportunity to show why Ieronimo and his rapier teachings were false.[53]


The Italians believed that they were far ahead of the London Masters in class, and behaved that way. The fees they charged and the patronage of influential people certainly told the London Masters that this was the case. It is interesting to note that while Silver did not like the Italians, and called them false teachers, every single story that he tells has the members of the Company, or at least Englishmen provoking the fight.





The London Masters are far more complex than I ever expected to find. It is a fascinating, and unfortunately incomplete tale. We have somehow latched upon the Company of the Masters of Defense of London as a model of how to do things in SCA rapier combat (playing the prize, rankings of the EK Cord structure and the Atlantian Academy, etc), without truly understanding what they were about. Their definition of fencing included many many more weapons forms that we would define more as SCA heavy weapons. It was a business, and it seemed to do rather well as such. It wasn’t a school, rather it was a set of schools throughout London. It provided entertainment for the masses (which was also a form of self-promotion for more students). It was also very middle class, and due to its own mechanisms, very conservative, which lead to inevitable conflicts with rival teaching and weapon styles.


Understanding all of this gives us a better feel for how rapier combat fit into society at that time, and can hopefully give us a better sense of persona play, as well as appreciation of what came before us.


A table showing the LMOD’s Prizes
A table showing an analysis of weapon frequency in LMOD prizes.
A sample of text from Sloan MSS. 2530, courtesy of William Wilson.





1. Anglin, pg 395
2. Anglin, pg 394
3. Berry, pg 15
4. Berry, pg 27
5. Berry, pg 27
6. Berry, pg 23
7. Turner, pg 14
8. Sloane, f. 36, pg 113
9. Sloane, f. 21, pg 83
10. Sloane, f. 19, pg 79
11. Berry, pg 3
12. Anglin, pg 402
13. Aylward, pg 33 (add Scene and Act for play, if possible)
14. Aylward, pg 34
15. Aylward, pg 35
16. Sloan, f. 16, pg 73
17. Aylward, pg 36
18. Silver, pg 23
19. Berry, pg 11
20. Sloane, f. 3, pg 47
21. Turner, pg XX
22. Aylward quoting Overbury, pg 36
23. Young, Tudor & Jacobean Tournaments, pg 31
24. Sloane, f. 17, pg 75
25. Sloane, f. 18, pg 77
26. Sloane, f. 20, pg 81
27. Sloane, f. 22, pg 85
28. Sloane, f. 27, pg 95
29. Turner, pg XIV
30. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2
31. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2
32. Sloane, f. 37, pg 115
33. Anglin, pg 396
34. Sloane, f. 36, pg 113
35. Silver, pg 64
36. Silver, pg 64
37. Turner, pg 17
38. Anglin, pg 404
39. Aylward, pg 44
40. Turner, pg 16
41. Anglin, pg 409
42. Turner, pg 16
43. Aylward, pg 45
44. Silver, pg 65
45. Anglin, pg 410
46. Aylward, pg 49
47. Anglin, pg 403
48. Silver, pg 66
49. Berry, pg 4
50. Silver, pg 66
51. Silver, pg 68
52. Silver, pg 67
53. Silver, pg 72



Bibliography and Observations on my Sources


The Noble Science: Sloane Manuscripts 2530, Papers of the Masters of Defence of London, from the 1540s to the 1590s. author Herbert Berry, Univ. of Delaware Press, 1991. ISBN 0-87413-441-0.


I found this to be an excellent source, both the manuscript portion as well as Berry’s research and interpretation.


Methods and Practice of Elizabethan Swordplay, by Craig Turner and Tony Soper, Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. ISBN 0-8093-1562-9


This had some good information, but I found direct conflicts with Berry, who I tended to believe more since Berry quoted period sources directly (ie, claims that the first prize to use Rapier was in 1583, but I found it to be 1578 in Sloane; Turner and Soper also claim that the Judicial duel that involved Henry Naillor was cancelled when the opponent didn’t show up, which is not true.) The purpose of this book was not research into historical rapier combat, but rather to make the ‘Three Elizabethan Masters’ (DiGrassi, Saviolo and Silver) more accessable for stage combat.


The Schools of Defense in Elizabethan London, Jay P. Anglin, Renaissance Quarterly, Volume XXXVII, Number 3, Autumn 1984, ppg. 393-410


A good source with lots of interesting, juicy information. I believe that Anglin makes a couple of potentially wrong assertions (Austen Bagger being a member of LMOD is neither proven or denied, yet Anglin says that he is a member without giving proof. He states the same about Silver, but I have seen other more credible assertions to the contrary).


The English Master at Arms, J.D. Aylward, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956


A good source of information, but there are no footnotes/end notes per se. Instead, there is a chapter by chapter bibliography, so there is no way to determine what information came from which sources


The Paradoxes of Defence, George Silver, 1599


Silver has about 5 pages of stories about the Italians and their interactions with the London Masters. These stories are about the only period sources outside of Sloane I have seen regarding the LMOD and fencing at that time.


Tudor and Jacobean Tournaments, Alan Young, Sheridan House, 1987. ISBN 0-911378-75-8


An excellent text about Tournaments on the time, but only scant reference to fencing, with no references to rapier.


As of 9 May 1997, I have one other source that I cannot locate, which helped me better interpret Hamlet. I will add it to the bibliography as soon as I find it. That’ll teach me to put my toys away when I’m done with them



Jeffrey L. Singer
Dana Groff
Catherine Iannuzo
Bill Ernoehazy
Jay Rudin

Jerky Inspires Calon Shieldwall tactics at Gitmo

Originally published in the Online Bird of Prey, Volume 5, Third Quarter 2002

The following from a private e-mail has been forwarded with permission from Ld Damien MacGavin:


Little did I know that munching on the Calon army jerky only made me long to fight other wars.  Things here at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are not too different from what you see on CNN and the local news.  We work everyday in the prison camp in the sun and think of what’s going on back home.  Once in a while we do make it to the beach and relax but then it’s right back to the same grind over and over.  I read everyone’s notes from the book signed at Coronation, and I thank you all for the kind words.  I think of back home in Calontir and long for it and to be back there daily .

One of the better parts of this trip away from Calontir is my job here.  One part of which involves training in “Riot Control Formations” and makes me gleam with joy when it is mentioned.  This is the one place where both of the Armies that I support actually come to an agreement.  No kidding, I end up in Kevlar body armor, helmet with grill, elbow and knees, a 48″ plastic shield and my 36″ solid ash riot baton (just like home!).  Next thing I knew I was wrapping my riot baton in duct tape because “It just didn’t look right”.

Then, after flipping through the army’s “riot control procedures” I promptly took the manual and tossed it to the side, telling my guys “let me show you another way”.  Next thing I know, there are large groups with shields going after one another, and I’m feeling a little more at home with every minute.

Now after some basic Calontir shield wall instruction given by yours truly, and much to the dismay of our superiors, our line was just as strong as the war proven shield walls that I long to be behind.  Things were glorious and I was loving it and just then, I was reminded in the only way one should be, that all men can and will fall with enough tear gas.  After sitting down on the ground coughing and gagging for a good 20 minutes, I realized my lesson that day and thanked the stars that I wouldn’t be seeing that one at my next war.

Until then, I count the days to get back on the field and with the Calontir army, and I shall try to bring the other army of our land up to par with our standards, except for the tear gas thing of course!

Still in service to Country, justice, Kingdom and the shire of Deodar..

Damian MacGavin
Spc. Adam Hoge