Peasant gamesThe following article was written to explain games, races and martial activities at the upcoming Swabian event in Carolingia by the autocrat, Lady Kunegunde for Carolingia’s newsletter. It is being reprinted here with her permission.

Swabians were the often-mocked backwards peasants of the Middle Ages, but the Current Middle Ages has sadly neglected this legacy. On April 20th, Carolingia will remedy this with a Swabian Peasant’s Festspiele. Enjoy the games and pastimes of simple country peasants on a holiday! The event is not set in a specific historical time, and people from all cultures and nations are welcome to join in the fun, as we include gentles of all ages in a wide range of active and less-demanding documented pastimes.

The event will be at a new site for Carolingia, Veasey Memorial Hall, at 201 Washington Street, Groveland, MA 01834 (www.VeaseyPark.org). The site has a main building with multiple rooms, including a feast hall and wood-beamed parlor. A wide lawn surrounds the buildings, with plenty of space for heavy list fighting, archery, and active games. The event announcement at http://eastkingdom.org/EventDetails.html?eid=2396 contains full details and pre-registration info.

No celebration is complete without food. Gentles are encouraged to bring lunch items to share with friends, and picnic on the lawn watching the sport if the weather is fair. There will not be a dayboard. Rather than a noble feast, in the evening we will share a celebratory peasant dinner cooked by Lady Richenza an der Brücke. Dinner will be hearty fare, with multiple vegetarian dishes and meat for those who wish it.

The Middle Ages is rich with both familiar and strange games, races, and contests. The autocrat, Lady Kunegunde, is immersed in researching period peasant pastimes and welcomes help, pointers to sources, or other advice. She can be contacted at thjadewolf@yahoo.com.

For the Festspiele, heavy list fighters will be following in the illustrious tradition of Italian commoners, who from the twelfth through fifteenth century regularly held battles with wooden swords. Perugia, Pisa, and Siena all had their own particular variation of this battle, for possession of a town square or bridge. Sources document the equipment needed as helmets, quilted jackets, leg coverings, and a shield. They also tell us that the battles could go on for nine hours, result in numerous broken bones, and be followed by a children’s battle! (Endrei p. 93-4) We expect our recreation to fall a bit short of those marks. Scenarios are not yet finalized, but may well include town and bridge battles. There should be plenty of fighting to be had throughout the day!

The site also allows archery. Medieval Germany was particularly known for archery contests, in which prizes were given for knocking pieces larger than an ounce off the wooden target bird, in addition to prizes for high scores. Germans also gave a joke prize to any archer who got a score of zero: a piglet (Endrei p. 127-8). While details of scenarios are not yet finalized, we expect a day of shooting to delight all our archers.

Thrifty peasants don’t throw things away, they resell them. Lady Edith has volunteered to organize and run a market at the Festspiele for the sale of used goods. Please contact her for specifics at chronicler@carolingia.eastkingdom.org. Bring SCA related items worth $20 or less to sell, and cash to buy things you want.

Races are a familiar contest that will be represented in several forms, including chances for the balanced or clever to outpace the merely fast. Carolingians of long standing will remember the ladies’ footrace, traditional at Falling Leaves. The Festspiele will bring back the tradition, if possible with the medieval prizes of kerchiefs, aprons and caps serving as the finish line. Sources tell of laws forbidding ladies to strip off their outer garments to race, but certainly that would never happen at a Carolingian event!

Marbles are a surprisingly ancient pastime, and medieval people played a wide variety of games with them. Allegedly, round vegetables and fruits were the first marbles. There are some sources that reliably document marble games played with food. Breugel shows a South German game: players form pyramids with four walnuts each, then try to knock the pyramids over with another nut. The player who knocks over the pyramid gets to eat the nuts. Another game closer to our modern idea of marbles is “Spans,” in which players win their opponent’s marbles by landing a marble within a hand span of the opponent’s already-thrown marble. Those playing this game are advised to pre-negotiate whose hand will be used for measuring to avoid potential arguments. (Endrei p 114) These and other marble games will be taught and played at the event.

Yeder Vogel in sein Nest is, as you may have guessed, a German game. The name means “Every Bird in its Nest.” All players but one wait on their “nest,” such as a tree. The player without a nest, called the catcher, calls out “switch,” and each player runs to the nest of another player. Whoever is left without a nest is the new catcher, and the game repeats (Endrei p. 87).

Prisoner’s Bars was a medieval game played across Europe (Strutt p. 143, Endrei p. 86). In essence, each player is chasing one person and chased by a different person, at the same time. Two teams start out on their home bases, and form human chains. One end of the chain remains at the base while the other end stretches out. One player from team 1 decides to make a run for it and drops out of the human chain. A player from team 2 then leaves their chain to pursue the first player. Someone from team 1 leaves their chain to pursue the player from team 2. This continues until all the players have left their chains, each chasing one person and being chased by one person. To find out what happens when someone is captured, come to the Festspiele!

As you may have noticed, many of these games are playable by adults and children alike. There is documentation of Hugo von Trimberg censuring adults for playing marbles childishly in 1290. He reports they run after their marbles chanting rhymes to keep them rolling, or shielding them from unfavorable winds with their garments (Endrei p. 114). The Swabian Peasants’ Festspiele will follow the illustrious example of our medieval forbearers and include all ages in most games.

There will also be a few games especially for children. One is Wolf and Sheep, the older version of Duck Duck Goose. Don’t worry, we’ll remove the part where someone is beaten with a sack of dried peas (Endrei p. 23). Alternately, Meidungern is a German game with no beatings at all. A question is asked, and the players must answer it without using certain forbidden words, for example yes, no, black, or white (Endrei p. 83). This can be challenging if you ask the right questions and forbid the right words!

Of course, the Middle Ages had a disregard for risk of bodily harm that we will not be able to accurately re-create. The blindfolded wheelbarrow race from medieval festival days will not take place at this event, unless sufficient gentles bring their own wheelbarrows, blindfolds, and signed damage waivers. How many volunteers are there to race barefoot between swords buried with the point sticking up out of the ground?

If any of this sounds fun or funny, come join in the Festspiele!

Endrei, W. and L. Zolnay, Fun and Games in Old Europe. Budapest: Corvina Kiadó, 1986. Trans. Károly Ravasz.
Strutt, Joseph, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England. London: Chatto and Windus, 1876. Ed. William Hone.