"The Pas D' Arms:
SCA Tournaments With A Period Flair"
By Sir Guillaume de la Belgique

This was originally printed in the September 1996 (A.S. XXXI) issue of Calafia's newsletter, "The Serpent's Tongue"

The year is 1415. Henry V, the King of England, has been terrorizing northwestern France with an army of knights and archers as he seeks a crossing of the Seine river. King Charles VI of France, an ineffective and indecisive ruler, and his equally pathetic son are embroiled in a political struggle with the powerful Duke of Orleans and Bourbon. The town of Harfleur on the coast of Normandy has fallen to the English, and a swath of destruction lies in the path of Henry's army. How do the French knights react to the foreign invasion in this time of turbulence and chaos? "It's time to party, boys!..."

Let's go back in time just a bit. Last month, Lord Avenel presented an excellent essay on tournaments in the early Middle Ages, and devised an enjoyable system of combat to re-create this type of "ransom tourney" at the recent Leodamus of Thebes tournament.

Early tournaments were held in a style called the "grand melee", conducted in a large wooded area or broken field. Any knight entering the field was free game, and the victor of the combat would hold the loser's arms for ransom. These grand melee tournaments, apart from being spectacular events, were extremely expensive. By the end of the 14th century, only the wealthiest dukes and earls could afford to host these huge events, and only the wealthiest knights could afford to participate.

This did not, however, diminish other knights' enjoyment of combat. Not surprisingly, as the chivalric legends of the Knights of King Arthur spread throughout Europe, tournament companies began to form to enulate the romanticized style of combat which the troubadors were singing about - in a manner which was both grand and , more importantly, cheap.

In the Arthurian legends, a knight would take up residence in a glade or by a river and stand ready to joust with any knight who rode by. Often, these "defender" knights were fulfilling a quest or vow "to hold this glen until defeated in honorable combat," and the story unsually concluded with Sir Lancelot or Sir Tristram jousting with the defender, knocking him senseless, and then gallantly releasing him from his vow. Thus was born the concept of the "passage of arms" or "pas d' arms."

In a pas d' arms, a tournament company would issue a challange for a specific time and place and invite all knights to meet them in honorable combat. In one of the most famous, the Spanish knight Suero de Quinones held a passo honoroso, and vowed to hold a bridge at Orbigo until his company had broken 300 lances with their challangers.

Apart from being a lot of fun, these pas d' arms were also an excuse for knights and warriors to assemble to talk about (or institute) a rebellion. In order to keep large numbers of rebellious knights from gathering under the guise of a pas d' arms. many kings forbid tournaments and tournament companies. In times of war and chaos, however, such as during the Hundred Years War, knights would often hold pas d' arms in spite of the King's command - which makes the time of Henry V a perfect setting for a pas d' arms.

The Pas and The SCA

Recently, several groups within the Society have begun to host stylized events based on historical pas d' arms. Thses SCA pas have become popular amoung both fighters and spectators because they enhance many of the elements which drew us to the Society in the first place: color, pageantry, flowery language and gentle behavior.

An SCA pas d' arms begins with the "defenders", led by the knight of honor (who serves as the fighting coordinator) entering the field with their banners and pannants flying. Then, the "challangers" march onto the field and, after an invocation by the herald, each steps forward and issues a challange to the defenders as a group.

These initial challanges are broad and complimentary. The challangers entreat the defenders to teach them to fight with honor, to show them the ways of chivalry on the field, to share with them the glory of noble combat, or - in some other words - invite them to display chivalty and honor. When the challangers are finished, the defenders confer briefly, then bestow the right of "first challange" onto the three challangers who have most impressed them.

The three selected challangers then step forward to choose which of the defenders they wish to fight, and which style of fighting they desire. At the side of the eric are four shields, and striking one of them indicates a particular dtyle of combat, such as melee, SCA rules, counted blows or barrier. More than one shield can be struck, indicating a combination of styles - a melee of counted blows across a barrier, for example.

With the first three challanges made, all other fighters report to the lists table to register their challanges, and present the knight of honor with their spear and pennant. As the lists organize the combatants, these spears are placed in a rack at the side of the field to indicate the order of combat; as fighters are called to the fields, their spears are brought to a position of honor; in this way spectators can note who is currently fighting, and fighters can easily tell who is "on deck."

Many challangers in a pas d' arms choose "counted blow" combat, which can be conducted in one of two ways at the challanger's option. A battle of "blows received" means the combat will conclude when one of the fighters receives a designated number of good blows, usually chosen as three, five, seven or nine.

A battle of "blows thrown" means that each combatant has a limited number of blows to throw, again either three, five, seven or nine, and when both fighters have used all their blows, the combat is concluded.

Challangers may also choose the weapon to be used, such as spears, pole arms, broadsword and shield, axes or single swords, which can make the combat more challanging and more enjoyable for the spectators.

In a pas d' arms, fighters are encouraged to "play to the crowd", and the spectators in the gallery are encouraged to cheer of boo the fighters as they feel appropriate. (For example, at the most recent pas d' arms in Gyldenholt, the spectators in the Gyldenholt baronial pavillion did "the wave" every time their favorit fighter walked onto the field, and the spectators in the Calafian pavillion loudly voiced their good-natured displeasure when one of the fighters accidentaly struck the barrier.)

Minstrels and bards are also encouraged to come to the gallery and entertain the lords and lasies as they watch the combat. Just as in the Middle Ages, this is the perfect opportunity to inspire the spectators with songs and tales of the knights of old.

As part of a public demonstartion for the (San Diego) County Parks Department, the barony will be holding a passo honroso (a Spanish version of a pas d' arms) on November 17th (1996), the second day of our Anniversary tourney.

If this all sounds confusind or intimidating, son't worry - it's much simpler to participate than to explain. Please come and enjoy the day - we promise something new and exciting for everyone.

Second Article - The Passo Honroso De Calafia


Return to the Calafia Homepage - Return to the Calafian Library

Last updated on 5/02/00 (P) ...webmaster@calafia.org