Tomorrow is the 23rd of April, a day that holds two connections to our efforts over the years. First it is the day usually used to celebrate William Shakespeare’s birth and the anniversary of his death in 1616. The second is the Feast of St George or St. George’s Day which embodies a great deal of our many years of knightly endeavors.
Our interaction with the plays of Shakespeare have been from the earliest making of weapons and armor in our shop. Some of our first customers were performers. We have done several major shows over the years and created some memorable moments for audiences. One of our first big productions was creating multiple suits of armor and weapons for Richard III at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. The resulting battle on stage was epic.
One of our proudest accomplishments was creating the core of the armory for the new Globe Theatre when it was created in London. The company requested an excellent cross section of Elizabethan swords and weapons to create the plays as they would have been seen by the people of that day. This was a major undertaking and allowed us to create the great wheel of rapiers seen below.
Shakespeare also played a role in enhancing St. George with his epic line from Henry V - Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!
St. George is first mentioned in Great Briton by the Venerable Bede in the early 8th century. His connection to everything English has ebb and flowed over the years, but he was recognized in the crusades as a warrior saint. Richard I asked for Saint George to protect his efforts in the 3rd Crusade and the soldiers used the red cross on white field as their badge. In the 14th C Edward III declared Saint George to be the patron of England and connected his Order of the Garter with the Saint. This enhanced his use as a symbol of knight hood and England. Oh, he is also known for killing a dragon and rescuing a damsel.
The many depictions of him in art over this period has given inspiration for creating armor and weapons by makers today. He is often seen burying a lance in a dragon from horse back but many examples show him delivering a fatal blow to the beast with an ornate sword.
Using this figure to do a study of the development of high-end armor and weapons over time, similar to our review of St. Martin, can give you an idea of the high status items of each period and what great artists saw as the pinnacle of the armorers art. Take for example the elegant saintly sword pictured above about to cleave the worm or the broad bladed sword in our title image.
So to all our friends, let us raise a glass to honor the Bard on his day, keep toasts short please, and a Happy St. George's Day to all!
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985