There are two
more encounters between them. One is indecisive, with no lance contact made. In
the other Sir John gains two more points. The tourney proceeds as other pairs
of knights ride in combat. The sport is almost too decorous and precise, until
one learns how to watch the points of the lances, to appreciate the subtle
control of the charging horse that at the last moment must swing into or away
from an opponent. The crowd has caught the formalized mood also. There is
tennis-style clapping for points won. When a blond youth, carried away by
excitement and possibly by old-style mead (a drink made from fermented honey
being sold at the tournament), yells, "Up the Blues!", he gets cold
stares, and his friends pull him down into his seat.
But the tone
changes with the first of the hand-to-hand combats, a clanking melee with
broadswords. Suddenly the tournament becomes show biz. There is tripping, comic
thwacking across armored buttocks with broadswords, stagily lost tempers,
weapons thrown petulantly down. Sir Frederick of Aylwood, in black trappings,
naturally emerges as the baddie. In a mock-severe voice, the knight marshal
adjures him: "Watch thyself, Aylwood. Act courteous!" He responds by
walking to the front of the grandstand and angrily challenging all comers. What
the crowd is getting now is a contrived show, an entertainment, a spectacle,
not sport, even though real swords and maces are crashing together.
falls into line. "Sir William of Launceston," he announces.
"Six-foot-three and one of the finest swordsmen in the film industry,"
and gets his laugh. But Sir William goes too far and cuffs an opponent. The
penalty meted out by the marshal is horrific. William is to be put in a sack,
then dragged around the tilt tied to Sir John of Norwich's charger. The crowd
thinks this is a joke, but the sentence is carried out in no halfhearted style,
the sack with William inside bouncing and slamming to the ground again and
again as John of Norwich spurs on his horse as hard as he can. But at the end
William emerges unscathed, shaking his head. He is, one remembers, a stunt man.
It is bewildering. The pure jousting had every attribute of a fine sport,
involving courage and complex skills. Suddenly the tournament has degenerated
into a staged brawl. But then, just as one is about to write the whole thing
off, sadly, as a piece of theater, something happens to right the balance.
There is an
outside challenge. Three men, amateur jousters, have come from Nottingham. They
are fox hunters, hard riders with the Quorn Hunt. Their armor is not
professional-looking, their caparisons and heraldic devices not so boldly
inventive. But they are matched against three of the knights and ride up the
tilt, a little self-consciously maybe, before each in turn thunders down at an
opponent as if he were coming into a high thorn hedge in the hunting country.
Among them, they succeed in winning only a single point. One is unhorsed and is
helped limping back to the pavilion. But these men have restored the balance.
When Knight Marshal Diamond praises their bravery, he is sincere.
"You go down
the tilt for real," he says. "You go down for those points and there is
a lot of danger, mainly with the horses. You get a wild day like this one, the
caparisons flapping, the noise, the wind straining their nerves. Then, if your
shield is not in the right spot and 12 feet of bamboo hits you in the body
armor, it will go right through. It can kill you. You're meeting it at such
speed. And you fall hard. I've got this fractured knee now. This season I've
had four broken ribs, broken my nose twice and had two concussions. Everybody's
been injured. Thank God we haven't had a fatality.
"Look, I know
about the clowning. But the crowd wants it, and they pay to come. About 75% of
what we do is authentic. If it was all authentic, a lot of the people would get
bored after half an hour. The full tournament would last eight or nine hours.
At this stage, we've got to entertain.
"But the rest
is genuine. Think of what those men have to be able to do. They have to be
first-class riders. They train their own horses. They have to be proficient in
all the martial arts. And they have to have some sort of courage. So have the
horses. It takes a long time to find a horse that's courageous enough. You're
lucky if you find four good jousting horses out of 100 you look at.
"When we get
this sport really going, maybe we can drop the clowning. We're spreading fast
as it is. This winter, in Paris, we're forming the International Jousting
Association. There are three amateur teams in Italy, one in France and a group
in Germany that calls itself the Teutonic Knights. Next year we want to hold
the first international tournament in history." Before that, though,
possibly next May, Max Diamond, Nosher Powell and their knights plan to joust
in the U.S., going across the country on an extended visit.
Diamond has an
even higher ambition—to see jousting an Olympic sport. "It needs skill and
courage, doesn't it? I know it may take 10 years or more, but I think it will
be possible eventually."
with the aid of comic pratfalls and foolery with maces, nor, in the foreseeable
future, with a professional team like his. But on the evidence of the Battle of
Hastings, 1971 version, jousting at the tilt would be by no means an unworthy
component of the world's great sports meeting.