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Quintain-Gmes-art - 9/10/11


"Quintain Games" by Mistress katherine kerr.


NOTE: See also the files: games-SCA-msg, Dog-Ball-msg, Helga-Ball-msg, Stool-ball-art, wintr-sports-lnks, Hopscotch-art, Brothel-Games-art, Cambok-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



NOTE: See more of this author's work on her website at: http://webcentre.co.nz/kk


Quintain Games

by Mistress katherine kerr


These are really variations on a theme -- a series of possibilities canvassed for an ASXLI Kingdom Arts and Sciences challenge.


The quintain could be seen as a quintessential medieval icon -- the knight on horseback charges forth, lance held steady, to smartly strike the centre of the target and skillfully dodge the bag of sand poised to swing and smite the unskilled or unwary.


It's a lovely image, but one which presents some problems in reproduction in our modern context where few of us have access to horses, let alone the training required to try our hand at the quintain. This problem was not unknown to our medieval counterparts, and wooden horses or sometimes Shank's Pony itself provided a means for the unmounted to take part in running at the quintain (Strutt, pg 108). While failure to strike the target in suitably professional fashion was a cause for much derision, even simplified quintains of this nature could prove injurious to the health.


When I began my research into quintains, I was hoping to find a way of adapting the potentially brutal medieval version into something which could be used at our Barony's events as a safe and enjoyable activity by a broad range of people.


After all, quintains were not limited to just the knights and nobility. Joseph Strutt, writing in his Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (1903), cites an incident related by Matthew Paris in 1254, saying:


the rules of chivalry, at this time, would not admit of any person, under the rank of an esquire, to enter the lists as a combatant at the jousts and tournaments; for which reason the burgesses and yeomen had recourse to the exercise of the quintain, which was not prohibited to any class of the people

Strutt, http://webcentre.co.nz/kk/%3C%22http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/spe/spe11.htm%22">pg 108


The main safety concern I had was the need for a swinging weight designed to clout people in the head or back. While I could have pursued this by requiring people to wear heavy armour when using the quintain, this would necessarily limit the broader participation and consequent enjoyment that I was seeking.


I considered adapting the swinging weight to use something like, for example, a water-filled balloon. That would be less dangerous than the traditional sand-filled bag and would provide a satisfactory but safe contact option. However, it would still require a solid rotational arm in order to function appropriately, and that still posed a safety concern.


The People's Quintain


I was about to shelve the project but then started coming across references to other forms of quintain, one of which met my requirements perfectly as it:


      required minimal equipment, and what it did need was perfectly period in form

      could be set up anywhere, even in small venues

      could be undertaken by the great majority of people, children included

      was unlikely to cause any significant injury

      fitted in with other activities we have had at our events, such as wrestling and balance tests


It was even cited as a courting game, so was perfectly placed to be developed for Canterbury Faire 2007, which has a Courts of Love theme. This approach was variously termed the balance quintain or foot quintain or living quintain. It requires the following:


      one stool, preferably three-legged and of period construction

      two participants


The Cloisters Collection at New York's Metropolitan Museum has http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/glas/hod_1980.223.6.htm">a painted glass from ca 1500 which depicts how this form of quintain was operated. In its caption to the image, the Met says:


Balance quintain was a variation to amuse those of a lower station: a seated man held up one leg, placing his foot against the foot of a standing man; one person then tried to upend the other. By the fifteenth century, balance quintain was often played as a courting game, as is depicted here.


Playing at Quintain, ca. 1500, French


While this example comes from the turn of the 16th century, this particular pastime has a longer history, as there is a similar illustration in the Luttrell Psalter of the mid-14th century. This manuscript was commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell, and has proven a rich resource for scenes of medieval life, particularly that of the peasantry. In one rendition of the Psalter, the Society of Antiquaries of London, in 1839, published a set of engravings of medieval sports and past-times. In Volume VI, Plate XXIV, Vetusta Monumenta, held in the Cottonian Collection of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, can be seen two males engaged in a stool-based living quintain game.


Strutt describes the sort of scene shown in the Luttrell Psalter thus:

a man seated, holds up one of his feet, opposed to the foot of another man, who, standing upon one leg, endeavours to thrust him backwards

Strutt, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/spe/spe11.htm">pg 112


Or as this shows at a recent beach event:




Kotek of Southron Gaard and Cat of Ordo Cygni demonstrated the working of the foot or balance quintain. It is highly recommended that the stool for the balance quintain be placed on a more stable footing, as it were, than beach sand. The latter, however, did provide a soft landing, even as it significantly skewed the odds of victory for the person standing. In this case, a three-legged fold-up camping stool was used. This is not to be recommended as they tend to be insufficiently robust. A wooden stool is being sought.


Yet More Variations


Strutt goes on to mention another quintain variation, and then comments on the common practice of both:


and again where his opponent is seated in a swing and drawn back by a third person, so that the rope being left at liberty in the swing, the man, of course, descended with great force, and striking the foot of his antagonist with much violence, no doubt very frequently overthrew him. The two last sports were probably never exhibited by military men, but by rustics and others in imitation of the human quintain.

Strutt, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/spe/spe11.htm">pg 112


The human quintain Strutt refers to was a martial version involving arms and an armoured participant:


The living quintain…is seated upon a stool with three legs without any support behind; and the business, I presume, of the tilter, was to overthrow him; while, on his part, he was to turn the stroke of the pole or lance on one side with his shield, and by doing so with adroitness occasion the fall of his adversary.

Strutt, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/spe/spe11.htm">pg 112


Yet another variant is one which is still to be seen on many a modern playground. A 14th-century manuscript book of prayers depicts the following:


a representation of two men or boys with a pole or headless spear, who grasp it at either end, and are contending which shall dispossess the other of his hold.

Strutt, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/spe/spe11.htm">pg 109


That is similar to a balance competition long played in Southron Gaard where two people contest over a length of rope while standing on a small block of wood. The first to let go or step off their block is the loser.


We'll be trying out these variations at forthcoming Southron Gaard events, particularly Canterbury Faire, as both children's activities and as part of the traditional Faire send-off, the wrestling competition. Matthew Paris mentions that the good folk of London used to have a peacock as a prize for whoever was successful at the quintain, so that could provide inspiration for a suitable gift for the winner of our quintain competition.


It would be fun to have a go at the water quintain, as practiced in the 14-16th centuries. This is where a boat propelled by rowers drives swiftly towards a stake in the river, which a person in the prow attempts to strike. Strutt's description sounds very appealing:


A pole or mast…is fixed in the midst of the Thames, with a shield strongly attached to it; and a boat being previously placed at some distance, is driven swiftly towards it by the force of oars and the violence of the tide, having a young man standing in the prow, who holds a lance in his hand with which he is to strike the shield; and if he be dexterous enough to break the lance against it and retain his place, his most sanguine wishes are satisfied; on the contrary, if the lance be not broken, he is sure to be thrown into the water, and the vessel goes away without him, but at the same time two other boats are stationed near to the shield, and furnished with many young persons who are in readiness to rescue the champion from danger.

Strutt, http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/spe/spe11.htm">pg 108


So there's clearly more than one way to swing a quintain….


Update: I found a lovely illustration of a quintain game in progress in a 14th-century tapestry from Alsace. It's used to illustrate courtly games before a castle in The Medieval Art of Love (Michael Camille; Lawrence King 1998; pg 127) It's a mixed couple playing, but the lady is being supported, in a somewhat compromising position, by a gentleman behind her. Overhead a banderole reinforces this supposition with the statement "I love thrusting, rather a thrust than as it should be". It seems that it should be taken to mean the game, rather than any other more horizontal activities. Clearly her quintain partner is a bit put out -- whether by the sentiments or the lady's use of another man -- as his banderole says "I like to thrust, but in this manner I don't want to thrust anymore"!




Luttrell Psalter, cited in http://www.cottoniancollection.org.uk/main/collection/content/index.cfm?fsa=dspObject&;objectID=350&sectionID=10005&edu=1">Vetusta Mionumenta, Vol Vi, Society of Antiquaries of London (1839), held by the Cottonian Collection of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
Metropolitan Museum, Cloisters Collection, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/glas/hod_1980.223.6.htm">Playing at Quintain glass painting
Strutt, Joseph; http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/spe/spe11.htm">Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (1903)


Copyright 2010 by Vicki Hyde. vicki at webcentre.co.nz. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org