The Jousting Life

Monday, September 10, 2012

An Interview with Dr. Tobias Capwell: Jouster at "The Grand Tournament in Sankt Wendel"

One of the jousters involved in “The Grand Tournament of Sankt Wendel” was highly regarded academic writer and museum curator, Dr. Tobias Capwell, known as “Toby” to many in the jousting community.

Dr. Tobias Capwell(photo by Ulrike Otto)

According to “The Knights” page of the official GTSW website:
An internationally-acknowledged expert on medieval and renaissance arms and armour, Dr. Tobias Capwell has been competing in major international jousts and tournaments for nearly twenty years. Recently, he has participated in events in the UK, USA, Switzerland, Denmark and Australia. Originally from the United States, Toby has been resident in the UK since 1996, where he has relentlessly pursued his passion for chivalric culture, both in the library and on the back of a horse.

When not roaming the world as a 'knight errant', Toby is Curator of Arms and Armour at the “Wallace Collection” London, which includes one of the world's great collections of medieval and renaissance weapons and armour.

He is the author of numerous books and articles on the fascinating subjects of knights, armour, weapons and horsemanship. He also appears regularly on television as a documentary presenter and interviewee.

Many of Toby's numerous books can be found listed on his author page though for some reason, his book,"Masterpieces of European Arms and Armour in the Wallace Collection"(which is listed under "Recommended Books" on the TJL sidebar) is not currently included on the page. [Yes, I filled out the form to have it added.] Meanwhile, Toby was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions:

How did you become involved with “The Grand Tournament in Sankt Wendel”(GTSW)?

Toby: I was approached by my academic colleague Dr. Alfred Geibig, curator of the Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg and historical adviser on the project. I then recommended that he speak to Arne Koets and Wolfgang Krischke about making the dream of an authentic joust a reality.

Wolfgang Krischke on Olymp, his Knabstrupper stallion(photo by Oliver Dunsch)

Please describe one or two of your favorite moments during the competition of “The Grand tournament of Sankt Wendel”.

Toby: My joust against Joram van Essen on the second day was one of the best sets of my career. It included a strike to the helm (me), and several broken lances (mostly him), with at least one where the lance broke into three pieces.

Toby Capwell(left) jousts Joram van Essen(right)(photo from GTSW website)

This was particularly satisfying for me, as the three-piece break is what is often illustrated in historical depictions of jousts well fought. I have some impressive bruises on my hips and glutes from getting slammed hard into the cantle of my saddle.  I expect a bruise on the upper right arm. But not on the butt!

It was unfortunate that you were injured and unable to complete the competition. Could you please describe how you were injured, what was done for the injury and how you are doing now?

Toby: Yes, that was the only downer in an otherwise wonderful set. It’s a small thing – a coronel hit my hand in the first course.

A steel coronel on the end of a solid tapered lance(photo by Ulrike Otto)

Two of the tines missed me but the third struck me between the thumb and metacarpal plates of my gauntlet. I was injured on the first course of a four course set. I then completed the set, running the remaining three courses, and breaking a couple lances on Joram. So the last three of my four lances have blood on them, a little on the second, a little more on the third, a little more than that on the last, which is the one in the image. A nice German surgeon sewed me up, and I hope to be fine to compete in California in October.

Toby Capwell's injured hand with the lance from his fourth pass against Joram van Essen (photo by Oliver Dunsch)

The moral of this story is… use vamplates.

I suppose I should have known that, but we had a lot to think about getting this thing to happen. It's all the more galling from a scholarly point of view because the pictorial sources I used to reconstruct my jousting armour (the famous Inventario Iluminado of Charles V) illustrates vamplates as a key element of jousting armour of this type. This is what can happen when you overlook the little details I guess. It won’t happen again.

Even though he was injured and unable to complete the competition, Joram van Essen still won the overall tournament, in part due to other competitors contributing to his score. Arne Koets gave Joram enough of his own points to put Joram in first place ahead of Arne. Please explain how and why that happened and what part you played in this point exchange.

Toby: I don’t think that is what happened exactly. First of all, when Joram was injured, he was already so far ahead on points nobody could really have caught him. Furthermore, although the winner was one individual, part of this, by necessity, was a team event. Points were awarded to each member of the winning team in the tourney (or mêlée). Your team wins, you personally get points towards your total score.

After Joram and I were injured, we were still both technically on a specific team, so a call was made to continue awarding points to us in the team event, if our team won. We debated the rights and wrongs of it, and decided to go that way, although it would have been just as reasonable to eliminate the injured completely. The medieval and renaissance sources often talk about jousters being ‘counted as dead’, i.e., being eliminated because of injury or for some other reason. I didn’t really care either way.

Anyway, Joram deserved whatever extra points he got... (Arne may have given his points to Joram at this stage. I suspect this might have happened but I don’t know. It would be typical of Arne to give all his points away – to someone he thinks is better than he is, or to a beautiful woman, or a pretty flower, a cute puppy, etc etc)

Arne Koets(photo by Hanno van Harten)

...because of the way Joram rode in the final tourney.

It was really spectacular. Joram, no armour, no weapon, just acting as an offensive blocker for his teammates. The upshot of the matter is, Joram was the best man there, and he would have won regardless of nick-picking about points or token gestures from his brother jousters. Good jousters have little interest in points in my experience.

Joram van Essen riding in the final melee with an injured hand(photo by Oliver Dunsch)

What would you like to say about/to the squires, ground crew and/or others who helped you during your participation in the GTSW.

Toby: They were brave! There were a lot of very active horses on that field, ridden in some cases (like me) by guys who couldn’t see very well! And then there were the steel coronels flying through the air... They all worked their butts off, but then, they always do. It's part of what it takes to make these things happen.

Alix van Zijl and Onee Enerud carrying mounting blocks(photo by Oliver Dunsch)

They do a hell of a lot that nobody ever sees too. For example, the Team Capwell Crew Chief, Adam des Forges, was the one who took both me and Joram to the hospital, and sorted everything out with hospital staff who spoke no English, and kept our spirits up always. The infantry know that’s what goes with the territory when you get involved with cavalry, damn them.

Left to right: Wouter Nicolai, Toby Capwell, Arne Koets, Andreas Wenzel and Luke Binks(photo by Hanno van Harten)

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