Ten years ago, my local library held a Medieval-themed summer reading event featuring a group of real knights. Of course, I was all over it and jazzed when I saw these knights go steel-on-steel in full armor. This is no reenactment – it’s the real deal. That day I met Buck Holmes. He and his current group, The Knightly Order of the Fiat Lux, use their talents to raise money for charity. In addition, they help me choreograph fight scenes for my stories and answer my questions about weapons and tactics. It is an honor to welcome him to Oath of Iron.com.

Sir Buck at Festival of Legends Renaissance Fair
Sir Buck at Festival of Legends Renaissance Fair

Karen: All hail Sir Buck! The obvious first question is when and how did you become interested in being a knight?

Sir Buck: I got into Dungeons and Dragons when I was 12 which got me interested in legends and lore, especially from the Middle Ages. Once I started reading stories about King Arthur, I was hooked.

Karen: I know you’re an avid reader – how much does your interest in Medieval times affect what you read? Favorite authors and books?

Sir Buck: The vast majority of things I read is Fantasy or Medieval (fiction and non-fiction), so quite a bit. I have a lot of favorites: Ray Bradbury, Tolkien, the history books of Barbara Tuchman. I highly recommend Chretien de Troyes as well.

Karen: Does the armor you wear reflect a specific time period? If so, why did you choose that time?

Sir Buck: Our primary concern in KOFL is safety – we try to avoid historically accurate injuries as much as possible. So we often have to suspend historical accuracy for safety and cost concerns. Keeping up your harness (suit of armor) is time consuming and expensive. As much as possible, my armor is based after 13th century English knights. In my opinion that was when knights were the coolest. And the period was when a lot of the Arthurian and Robin Hood myths were created (basically). I love the barrel helm and surcoat look.

Sir Buck suited up.
Sir Buck suited up.

Karen: It’s very impressive. How much weight are you carrying when you are fully suited up?

Sir Buck: Only 60 to 80 pounds.

Karen: Only? That sounds like alot!

Sir Buck: It’s well distributed across my body so it’s not too bad. I would rather walk around with 60 pounds of armor than carry a 30 pound backpack. Plus, when you are wearing full armor, it makes you feel really macho or something so the joy is bigger than the burden. Until the temperature gets over 85 degrees.

Karen: How much does your sword weigh?

Sir Buck: Only 2 to 3 pounds. Swords were not as heavy as a lot of people believe.

Karen: What are your favorite weapons to fight with?

Sir Buck: My two favorites are longsword and sword & shield. German Longsword has a a rich history as a martial art. But sword and shield feels the most “knightly”.

Sir Buck doing battle.
Sir Buck doing battle.

Karen: What pieces of your armor wear out or break the most from battle?

Sir Buck: Interesting question. The cloth, I think. You wear padding or heavy cloth under your maille so that padding and the surcoat often rips. It also gets funky smelling and stained due to sweat and rust (just to be honest). Pins and straps break a lot as well, making the piece of armor useless until fixed. Butted maille (as oppose to riveted) will break easily so you need to be careful how you use butted maille. We tend not use it.

Karen: What is the visibility like from inside your helm?

Sir Buck: Once you train yourself how to look out, it’s pretty good. It’s similar to wearing glasses or watching action on a stage. You lose peripheral vision and some low vision (along the ground), you have to learn to adjust your head movements to compensate. I think the helm interferes with hearing more than vision. Most of us are wearing two layers of padding under the helm and over our ears so the marshals have to shout and repeat themselves to make sure everybody hears what is being said.

Karen: What does it feel like to take a blow to the head? Do you feel the hits to your body?

Sir Buck: If your helmet is set up right, a blow to the head will feel like a punch to the head. Not comfortable but not bad. A really good hit will “ring” you, much like what you see in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. But those are rare. I guess I feel about half of the hits on the body. Mostly it depends upon the exact location and the angle of the attack. Gussets (spots where the armor isn’t as strong, like the inside of the elbows, back of the knees, and the armpits) are the worst spots to get hit in. A really good hit will leave a bruise, even where the armor is strongest.

Karen: Have you ever been injured to the point of needing medical attention?

Sir Buck: I broke my collar bone fighting a woman once. I have also probably broken my fingers and toes but I didn’t go to the doctor for that.

Karen: You’re tough. How long can you do battle before your arms give out?

Sir Buck: Going full out, only two or three minutes. Past that you need to stop, readjust, grab a breather, etc. After about 30 minutes of being in the field, I’m done. It’s about the same as a boxing match: you rush in, take a rest, wind down as the fight goes on and by the end of it, you just want to collapse.

Karen: We’ve all heard myths about knights and/or their armor – which is your favorite? What is the truth?

Sir Buck: My least favorite is the one that comes to mind first: that knights waddled out into battle and bashed each other until somebody fell down. Knights were mobile, could easily get up if they fell, and relied on speed and skill as much as brute force. In KOFL, we run around, fall, get up, and jump around in our armor. And if overweight, middle-aged guys from the 20th century can do all that, I know medieval knights could do more.

Karen: I’ve seen you guys dance in your armor so I know that to be true! You and your fellow Knights of the Fiat Lux fight for charity – which ones?

Sir Buck: Just about anything that helps the needy. We donate to Autism Society of NC a lot; they are a great organization that does a lot of good. We are also proud to donate to Wounded Warrior Project to try to repay a little of the debt we owe wounded veterans. Each year we set up charity goals called “Dragons.” So our charities change from year to year and chapter to chapter.

Karen: That’s awesome. Tell everyone about your fundraiser coming up this weekend, the Fantasy Gamers’ Conclave.

Sir Buck: We try to use all of our nerdly talents to help the community. So we also play games for charity. Our 7th annual Fantasy Gamer’s Conclave is on July 25 and 26 in Cary, NC. All proceeds from this event will be donated to the Autism Society of NC. We will have fight demonstrations, RPGs, board games, card games, miniature games, a Retro Video Game Museum, and an Anachronic Tea on Sunday.

Karen: Sounds fun! Anything else you might want to add?

Sir Buck: I am very proud of the Knightly Order. We are from many different backgrounds, lifestyles, and faiths. And yet we respect each other and work together to help the community (and bash each other in the head). My hope is that we can show others that it is possible to make things better.

Karen: Well met! Thank you, Sir Buck and my best to you and all the Knights.

Even more information can be found on the Fantasy Gamer’s Conclave facebook page and on the KOFL (Triangle Chapter) facebook page.  Huzzah!

 

 

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No doubt, being a knight was a serious business. In populated towns, knights were the only ones authorized by the king to carry weapons. Hence, they were the law enforcement officers of the Middle Ages.  Certainly it was an honor to serve their sovereign lord on earth, but their responsibility stretched beyond, to serving their heavenly Father as well.

13th C. Arming sword with double fuller.Photo credit: britishmuseum.org © The Trustees of the British Museum
13th C. Arming sword with double fuller. Photo credit: britishmuseum.org
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The knighting began with a cleansing bath, followed by all-night prayers, and the ceremony taking place in a church the next morning. Men who proved themselves in battle could be knighted on the field or on “the fly” due to war, but such occasions were rare. In any case, the knight-to-be swore fealty to his lord and to God before witnesses. A knight’s duties included defending the weak, orphaned, widowed, and oppressed, giving special care and good counsel to women, defending his fellow knights and never running from a fight. During knighting, his sword and shield as well as his person were prayed over, so that God would grant him the strength to hold to his oath, and wield his weapons appropriately. His sword was then girded to his waist.

Thus, knights were viewed as God’s judicial arm on earth.  If any of their vows were broken, it was an affront not only to a knight’s sovereign lord but more importantly to God; broken oaths held divine retribution and eternal consequences.

The hilt of the Christian knight’s sword, with its straight cross guard perpendicular to the blade, created a cross that he wielded and carried on his person at all times.  It was a constant reminder of the duties he had sworn to fulfill.

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Pommel decorated with the arms of Pierre de Dreux, Duke of Brittany, 13th C. Photo credit: metmuseum.org
Pommel decorated with the arms of Pierre de Dreux, Duke of Brittany, 13th C.
Photo credit: metmuseum.org
12th c. bronze pommel.Photo credit: britishmuseum.org  © The Trustees of the British Museum
12th c. bronze pommel. Photo credit: britishmuseum.org
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The hilt is comprised of the grip, the cross guard, and the pommel. The grip for the hand measured 6 to 8 inches (approx. 15 to 20 cm) long in proportion to the length of the blade; the longer the blade, the longer the grip (and hence more room for a second hand to wield the sword). Hidden beneath the grip was a pointed extension of the blade known as the tang. The cross guard, affixed perpendicular to the blade at the head of the tang, created a foil to protect the hand(s).

Swords made during the 10th to 13th centuries were designed for slashing and cutting and thus proved “blade heavy” compared to the length of the hilt. The trick was to counter balance the blade without diminishing its striking force. Hence, the pommel was added at the end of the grip as a counter weight. Pommels came in assorted shapes such as disk, wheel, triangular, fish-tail, and plummet, as well as those looking like a mushroom, tea-cozy, or brazil nut. Nobles sometimes added a jewel into the pommel or had it engraved with their coat of arms.

Any part of a sword could be used as a weapon, and many a knight found himself in a situation that forced him to get creative. The pommel, grip, or cross guard could be employed to great effect. It should also be noted that in medieval times there was no such thing as fighting “dirty”; any and all maneuvers were on the table. The idea was to defend oneself while spotting and exploiting vulnerability at a moment’s notice.

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Parts of a medieval sword
Parts of a medieval sword

Since much combat in the Middle Ages took place at close quarters, swords were the weapons of choice. In earlier times as well as through the age of Christianity in Europe, swords were expensive and valued by their owners, passed down through families, engraved, and often given names, as told in many a legendary tale.

Swords were made of the best iron or steel available. The blades had to be strong but flexible to withstand hitting solid objects such as armor, shields, and other swords. Early medieval swords had twisted iron rods at their core which gave the blades flexibility, but iron proved too soft to hold a sharp edge; steel strips were welded on for this reason. The blade shape of these early swords was long and straight for the purpose of cutting. Chain mail was invented to counter the slashing force, but blows from these weapons could still break bones beneath.

As steel became more available in the later Middle Ages, swords were made of it entirely. The blade shape changed to counteract chain mail, turning more pointed to both cut and thrust. Early swords up through the mid-14th century had another feature, the fuller, which is a shallow groove that ran almost the full length of the blade. People often call this the “blood groove” but that is a misnomer and a myth. The fuller’s purpose was to make the blade lighter and more flexible without compromising strength.  A cross-section of the blade resembles a holly leaf.  As blades became more tapered to a finer point to counteract plate armor, the fuller filled in; a cross-section of these blades from the later 14th through 15th centuries resembles a diamond.

Don’t believe the myth that swords weighed 20 to 30 pounds; that just makes me laugh out loud! Light and fast blades were the point, literally.

More on the pommel and hand guard next time.

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Sgian Dubh, a black or hidden dagger worn in the hose/sock with the Scottish National Dress
Sgian Dubh, a black or hidden dagger worn in the hose/sock with the Scottish National Dress

No good Scotsman would be caught without his sgian dubh  (/ˌskiːən ˈduː/skean-dhuScottish Gaelic pronunciation: [s̪kʲɪnˈt̪uh]) a small knife that was carried in the top of the boot or hose. In Gaelic, sgian means “knife or blade” and dubh means “black”.

History varies on this weapon. Some researchers believe the black refers to the wooden handle that was often made of bog wood, which is dark brown to black in color; others believe that it was carried as a concealed weapon, thus making the intent dark. This is interesting when it is well-known that baring a blade in someone’s house to which one was invited was seen as a threat.

The custom of revealing a concealed weapon and placing it in plain sight in the top of your boot was meant as a sign of peace to the household, that is, no secrets and no intent to harm.

In the Old West, this was like checking your guns at the door.

Modern day sgian dubhs can be very ornate with decorated hilts, pewter caps or stones, and engraved blades. But in medieval times, the people leaned toward the practical. Sgian dubhs were single-edged utility knives with three to four inch blades used for skinning animals, cutting bread, and the like, but could be used in defense as a last resort. You might think it makes sense that if it was carried in a boot or hose top, it would have a flat hilt so as to lay more securely against the leg, but since antler horn was also used, it is more likely it had a rounded grip.

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