Sex, Lies, Swords and Video Tape – A Reconstruction of the Judicial Duel

Earlier this month, the Guild had a chance to be part of a reconstruction of a judicial duel at the the  International Congress on Medieval Studies held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, which went from Thursday, May 9th through Sunday May 12th. This is the largest medieval academic gathering in the world, and amidst a bevvy of professors, priests and graduate students, a small invasion of well-armed, medieval warriors took the stage.

Guild Dean and c0-founder Gregory Mele presented a short paper on the history and customs of the judicial duel, before turning the floor over to a bit of interpretive history: a physical reconstruction and demonstration of a judicial duel at the turn of the 15th century.

The premise of the duel was a follows: c.1410, somewhere in northern Italy, a young, Italian squire, Giacomo Culla accuses an English knight of having been seen coming from the chambers of a well-known guildswoman “before morning mass”. The guildswoman, Natalia of Philadelphia was seen “with her hair loose and her bodice undone”, and the knight, had “marks of passion about his neck. Further complicating this claim is that both the squire and the knight are in the service of the lord, Sir Geoffrey Peel, an English adventurer (mercenary) in the Italian wars, and the knight’s wife, a native Italian woman, is currently pregnant, and so the squire claims outrage on the lady’s behalf.

It is not the charge of adultery, however, that precipitates the duel, however, but rather the knight’s claim that the squire Giacomo is a liar, and his demand that he recant his claims. This exchange of challenge and response, known as a Cartello, also outlines the form of the duel.

Cartello of Challege of Sir David Farrell to Giacomo Culla.
Cartello of Challege of Sir David Farrell to Giacomo Culla.


Reto or response of Giacomo Culla, Squire
Reto or response of Giacomo Culla, Squire

Sex, scandal and political scheming – what more could one ask for?

The redoubtable Will McLean took Greg’s initial idea for the duel’s storyline and wedded it to a document from the Lord Hastings’ Ms, to create the final script for the duel, which can be read in its entirety on his “A Common Place Book” website.  In addition, our friend David Hoornstra caught the entire presentation on video:

A huge thanks to Annamaria Kovacs for presiding over the session and for all who participated in the presentation of the duel:

CSG’s Jesse Kulla and Dave Farrell as Giacomo and Sir David, respectively;

Bob Charrette as Sir Geoffrey Peel, the presiding noble, attended by members of La Belle Compagnie ;

Will McLean took on the role of the Herald and Michael Cramer the Priest;

The accused Natalia of Philadelphia played by respected 14th century clothing scholar, Tasha Kelly of La Cotte Simple, fame, who had the misfortune of being left with “Schroedinger’s Virtue” due to the uncertain nature of the duel’s resolution. (Unsure of what we mean? Watch the video!)

Finally, during a DISTAFF session, our friends from La Belle Compagnie gave a tour-de-force presentation of how a knight was armed during the Hundred Years War, showing not just one such harness, but four from the 1330s, 1380s, 1415 and 1450! Best of all, the entire presentation was also caught on film!