Heritage & Culture

The Joust of St Peter 

The Joust of St Peter  1 2

This year, the Heritage Festival brings us its most ambitious event yet: a jousting tournament from the time of Richard III, re-created before the west front of the medieval Cathedral. Toby Venables talks to the man who is making it happen – international competitive jouster, Dominic Sewell 

It’s a competition,’ says Dominic. ‘We’re not re-enacting. We’re not pretending. There will be no one going “Have at ye!”’ Make no mistake; when each of the mounted knights takes up his lance to face his opponent for the Joust of St Peter on 20 and 21 June, he will be in it to win. Dominic Sewell is the head of Historic Equitation, a company which specialises in providing authentic historical equestrian shows, events and attractions as well as specialist equine services for film and TV. They cover many periods, but the core business – and Dominic’s main source of inspiration – is the medieval period, and in particular the Wars of the Roses. He also competes on the international jousting circuit, where the aim is to shatter your lance on your opponent’s body. It’s thrilling, it’s extreme, and, if you aren’t properly equipped and trained in the medieval martial arts, highly dangerous. ‘The Tournament of St Peter will recreate – not re-enact, but recreate – a joust from the time of Richard III.

We have been lucky enough to arrange with Vivacity and the Cathedral – with the generous support of Perkins Engines – to bring an international jousting competition into the city centre, and show what jousting was really like in the 15th century. People may only know about jousting from A Knight’s Tale or Mike the Knight, or some pretty poor documentary filmmaking…’ The chance to witness this, in all its authentic glory, is rare indeed. According to Dominic, even the otherwise painstakingly researched Wolf Hall got the jousting badly wrong. ‘But this is the real thing,’ he adds.

International competitive jouster Dominic Sewell

International competitive jouster Dominic Sewell

When I meet Dominic, he’s getting kitted out in full armour for a photo shoot before the Cathedral’s magnificent west front. It is doubtful whether anyone has more practical knowledge of medieval arms, armour and horsemanship than Dominic and his colleagues, and when a TV producer or event organiser wants to be sure to get it right – whether in terms of expertise with horses, or period detail – it’s Dominic they call. If you saw Richard III’s funeral cortege process through the streets of Leicester back in March, you may have noted the two armed and armoured knights riding before the coffin. Dominic was one of them. This joust, it turns out, is also an historic event. Stuart Orme, Vivacity’s Interpretation Manager explains: ‘It’s the first time something like this has been done in England for 500 years. Tournaments like this tended to take place at royal palaces and castles; the last time it was done in a town centre was at Smithfield, for Edward IV in 1467. And of course with the glorious backdrop of the cathedral west front, it’s going to be absolutely spectacular.’

Achieving that spectacle involves an awesome level of skill. ‘Everyone is a professional rider,’ says Dominic. ‘Everyone trains and owns their own horses. They have years of training, and with that comes the ability to break a lance properly, as it was correctly done and written down in manuals of the time. It’s about presenting authenticity, rather than theatre. But there is real theatre and real drama within that authenticity.’ Jousting is not about injuring your opponent. Nor is it about unhorsing them – even though we all probably have an image in our minds of knights flying backwards off their horses when struck by an opponent’s lance. One look at the deep medieval-style saddle on the back of Coralito, Dominic’s pure-bred Spanish gelding, shows you that this would not be easy. It’s a saddle that you sit in, not on, and which is specifically designed to keep you from unscheduled departure.

Forget the old myth about knights having to be winched onto horseback – that’s a Victorian invention

‘Occasionally it does happen,’ Dominic says, ‘but it’s not pretence. We’re not stuntmen. But each of us is wearing hand-crafted armour that has been made for us at great expense, by armourers. It’s made to measure, like a suit of clothes, and when made to measure and worn correctly, it works. It’s personal protection from the 15th century.’ Forget the old myth about knights having to be winched onto horseback – that’s a Victorian invention. Armour was close-fitting for ease of movement, its weight evenly spread over the body. The total weight was actually no more than a modern soldier is expected to carry, and a knight was perfectly capable of mounting the horse by the usual means. He would have stood little chance in battle otherwise. ‘When you look at medieval manuscripts and paintings, you see… [cont]

The Joust of St Peter  1 2

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