Knights in shining armour joust in Moscow for the fourth international Tournament of Saint George
Text by Helen Borodina. Photos of the participants provided by Ratobortsy Historical Events Agency.
“If you’re going to write time-travel stories, you have to sort of figure out how does time travel work in this Universe that I’m dealing with.”
Diana Gabaldon, an author.
In the 1400s, there were still many blank spots on the map. People in Europe imagined that those unknown lands were filled with magical creatures – beautiful and ugly, good and bad. One such creature was the evil fairy Alcina in the epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto ‘Orlando Furiouso’ (‘Raging Roland’). She lived on a small island, charming the knights who sailed by, and turning them into birds and beasts…
As the legend of Moscow’s annual XV century solid lance tournament of Saint George 2018 had it, the witch decided to take revenge on the knights for not inviting her to their event: she sent them to far-away lands to prove their strength by fighting dragons and giants…
Such was the legend, but in reality, knights came to Moscow from far and near of their own accord to break their lances in honest competition before the judges and the audience. “I came to take Saint George’s off my bucket list before I was too old to do it,” – Dominic Sewell from Great Britain says.Having taken part in the Tournament of Saint George, he entered the narrow circle of jousters who have ridden in all three solid lance tournaments held throughout the world, the other two being the Tournament of the Order of St Michael (France) and St Ives’ Medieval Fair (Australia).
“I didn’t know what to expect, going to Russia, – he continues. “But from the start, everything was fantastic.
My visa in London was ready in five minutes. When we landed in Moscow, we were driven to the countryside to train with the horses, and the people there were willing to talk to us and learn more about what we were doing…
Saint George’s is one of the world’s most challenging tournaments. I’m not getting any younger, but here I had to joust much younger, stronger men. Also, we had to get used to new horses – as much as I’d love to do it, I can’t afford – and the organizer can’t afford – to fly my horse from London to Moscow. I rode this horse (from Khrabrovo, the horseback riding base in the Moscow region that provided horses for the ‘St. George’s Tournament)four times, each time for under two hours, before the Tournament! Of course, we all do better on our own horses – but only one participant managed to bring his horse to this tournament.”
In re-enactment from his late 20s, Dominic Sewell started organizing tournaments in 1989. “It was difficult to find the right people for an international event before we had the Internet,” he says. In 2011, Sewell, an already experienced rider and historical event organizer, started his company, Historic Equitation Ltd. “We tailor events, train horses and select people, and sell those packages to people who are willing to have such events in their heritage organizations.
Among our main clients in Britain are the National Trust, and the English Heritage that looks after the ancient monuments we take so much inspiration from.” I ask if Sewell has been knighted, to which he laughs, shaking his head: “I really wish Her Majesty had bestowed me with the honour… We worked in Windsor Palace last year, but we’d have to be very lucky to be knighted…”Dominic Sewell
The ‘Tournament of St. George is one of the year’s highlights in the world of medieval re-enactment. What is it for the audience?
“A time machine,” says Dmitry Savchenko, its founder. “Of course, we don’t recreate the mentality of people who lived 600 years ago. That would be impossible. But we can put on a knight’s armour, mount on a horse, and gallop towards another such re-enactor,” – continues Dmitriy. “If the form of presentation is observed, we will recreate the appearance of medieval realities, while on the inside, we will remain the modern people that we are. I, for example, am an ordinary Russian man of 35, who has a wife, a daughter, a cat – and an extraordinary job: I’m a coordinator at Ratobortsy, a historical events agency.”
Dmitriy has been in re-enactment since high school, having tried himself in its different trends. “At this point, I’m focusing on XV century western Europe, the ‘Moscow Reitars’ (a type of cavalry), anda role of a Russian Red Army cavalry private. A great part of all these three trends is about horses.”
Held for the first time in 2015 at Kolomenskii Park in Moscow, the ‘Tournament of St. George’ traces its history back to 2013, when Arne Koets, one of the best-known jousters and tournament organizers in the world, who is also a martial arts and horseback riding instructor and an expert in historical dressage from the Netherlands, was invited to a big annual event in Moscow that Ratobortsy organize: ‘Time and Epochs.’ Today, Koets is one of the Tournament’s judges and advisors.
“I saw a blanket invitation on Facebook referencing my event video, and, as they were looking for international participants, I offered to take three riders over there and give it a go… We were taken very good care of, and I kept coming back to my very good friends in Russia ever since…”
“My experience and ideas were taken into consideration in the creation of the ‘St. George’s Tournament’”, he says, and adds: “It’s a very special tournament, especially when it comes to the depiction of the historical setting.
“I was interested in military history since a kid,” says Koets. “At that time, I did sword fighting in roleplaying games. I started doing Viking re-enactment in 1997 and then, in 1998, I got into the XV century. However, I started riding only back in 2001. My friends needed a fourth man in their jousting team, so they told me to go and learn how to ride! 5 and a half months after my first riding lesson I rode in my first tournament, and I also had to train some of the horses for it in those 5 months!”
Arne Koets holds the ‘Rossfechten Symposium’ and the ‘Harnischfechten Symposium’ at his place in Lauchröden, Thüringen (Germany). “I also advise museums and perform martial arts and riding demonstrations. I joust, and I’ve organized tournaments like ‘St. Wendel’s’, the ‘Tournament of Schaffhausen’ and the ‘Tournament of Veste Coburg’, which have served in some ways, as the inspiration for the ‘St. George’s Tournament’”.
Marc Hamel, the participant from Canada, says: “I met Dmitry last year in France, and he invited me to Saint George’s. It was my fourth time participating in solid lances tournament; I had jousted once in Australia and twice in France. And it was my first time visiting Russia. I spent ten days there. Dmitry was a wonderful host. He took me to military museums, the Kremlin – of course – and the space museum; places I specifically wanted to see!”
Hamel started getting involved with historical re-enactment after completing his service in the military in 1999, with ground fighting: “I didn’t have the means to keep my own horse then,” he explains. “In 2006, I started jousting, and by 2009, I was about to stop – but instead, I received an invitation to an international tournament in Belgium. I jousted with balsa lances until 2016, when I participated in my first solid lance tournament in France.
“Participating in the ‘St. George’s Tournament 2018’ was a great privilege and an honour. Besides Dmitry, I had never jousted any Russian knights before, and was very impressed by their horsemanship and skills. A jouster’s life is a great adventure; I’ve been living it for 10 years now. It’s a dangerous sport practiced by only a few. It brought me great friendships all over the world – now I also have brothers in Russia! In 2019-2020, I plan to organize the first international solid lance tournament in Canada.”
The riders were many, but only one was to win.
The Champion of the St. George’s Tournament 2018’, Andrey Kamin from St. Petersburg, started becoming involved with historical re-enactment after attending the famous tournament in Vyborg in the Leningrad region. “I was fascinated by what I saw and knew I had to do it.
“I found out that a family friend belonged to a re-enactment club called ‘Cavalry Brotherhood,’ that I also joined. Of course, the main thing is horseback riding, and everything that comes with it. I started in 2007, and first participated in a tournament in 2009. I’m proud to say that I won in three of the four ‘Saint George’s Tournaments’ that have happened so far.
I’ve participated in various tournaments in Russia, including Vyborg, Priozyorsk (the Karel Fortress), Izborsk, Koporye, Ivangorod, Kazan, St. Petersburg, and Moscow.”
The ‘St. George’s Tournament 2018’ also included a Ladies’ tournament.
“An opportunity of participating in the Ladies’ Tournament was an honour – and a joy,” – says Svetlana Sokolova – or Penthesilea, the Queen of the Amazons and a judge at the tournament. “All of its seven participants were very well prepared both in attire and skill. I think the Ladies’ Tournament was a successful debut. It has great potential for the future, and we will definitely develop it.”
Ursula Gunar, or Tomiris, agreed: “We did have some minor issues, but it was certainly good for a start, and we already have ideas for how we can improve.”
Elizaveta Rylova – ‘Myrina Queen of Libyan Amazons’ – won the Ladies’ Tournament, receiving the Gold Javelin.
Elizaveta seems very pleased by the debut: “It was certainly a success. We had forty people involved with the Ladies’ Tournament, horses, birds of prey.
We carried out a lot of research to create the historical background, had new costumes made, picked the music, and spent months training in Khrabrovo. What’s important is that based on our first experience, we will make the Ladies’ Tournament even more spectacular next year.”
So, ladies and gentlemen, time travel does work in this universe we’re dealing with.
Corridors of time exist all over the planet, and open in every season.
For more information, see:
Historical Equitation Ltd http://historicequitation.com/
Saint Ives’ Tournament, Australia https://www.stivesmedievalfaire.com.au/attraction/jousting/
The tournament of the Order of St Michael, France http://www.plessis-bourre.com/evenements/evenement/tournoi-de-lordre-de-saint-michel/
Tournament of Saint George 2018 Finale https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6cdW9cHqAI
Ladies’ Riding Competitions at TSG 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biiDx84tU24
This summer offers some time travel opportunities in Russia and other countries, among which are:
At Danehof in Nyborg, Denmark, July 6 and 7 http://en.nyborgslot.dk/plan-your-visit/calendar/2018/danehof-2018/
At Europe’s largest re-enactment and history festival ‘Times and Epochs’ in Moscow, Russia, organized by Ratobortsy, August 10-22 http://historyfest.ru/en/
The ‘Kaup Viking Festival’ in the Kaliningrad region, August 10-12, http://eventsinrussia.com/event/10416
‘Aarhus Viking Moot’ in Aarhus, Denmark, August 28, 29, https://www.visitaarhus.com/ln-int/moesgaard-viking-moot-gdk644190
The list is much longer – and it will be my pleasure to keep you posted!
If you find any of the above interesting and would like to find out about getting involved with historical re-enactment or discover horseback riding opportunities around Moscow, – or have any questions related to these topics – please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org