As the sun shone over Rossman Park in Lake Oswego on Aug. 15, the crowd that gathered was treated to a history lesson unlike any other.
Medieval knighthood came alive as members of Knights of Veritas (a nonprofit organization specializing in interactive, educational demonstrations) displayed historical sword combat. As director Eric Slyter and Skyler Ross addressed the crowd - mainly comprised of children and their guardians - and spoke about medieval knights, they had a few special props on hand. Rather than merely talk about sword fighting, they used authentic swords to demonstrate historical combat techniques. Instead of simply describing the necessary wardrobe, they donned full suits of armor. As the hour sponsored by the Lake Oswego Library progressed, they took a variety of questions from the audience - questions about combat, armor and knighthood in medieval times.
Slyter and Ross were able to bust some common myths about knights while answering the questions. For example, when asked how much the swords weigh, Slyter turned the question back on the audience: What did they think? Most people guessed somewhere in the 20-pound range. As it turns out, the correct answer is three pounds.
Disproving misconceptions people have about medieval knights is one of Slyter's favorite things. Particularly, he likes to set the record straight about just what kind of people medieval knights really were.
'A lot of people tend to think that people of the Middle Ages were brutish, crude, caveman-intelligence thugs,' Slyter says. 'It was an intelligent civilization of extremely resourceful people that made the absolute most of everything at their disposal. They were a scientific people.'
They weren't out to maul each other, either. Slyter emphasized the Code of Chivalry all knights were expected to honor.
'They weren't just reckless rebels or outlaws. At least, they weren't supposed to be. They had a Code of Conduct which they were intended to uphold. That's still something people can learn from today.'
One question Slyter addressed to the crowd: What makes a knight a knight? Is it the sword? The armor?
Slyter and Ross showed the crowd long swords with three-inch-wide blades and one-inch grips, weighing in at three pounds apiece. They demonstrated the proper fighting technique using swords alone, then put on full armor and showed more techniques. They covered their legs with plate armor and torsos with padded coats and shirts of mail. They protected their hands with gauntlets, chests with breastplates, and topped off everything by wearing a helmet, or basinet, to guard their faces and heads.
Still, even with 60 pounds of armor and swords that glistened in the sunlight, the answer was clear: What makes a knight a knight is what's inside the armor.
Volunteers from the audience - a 13-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl - happily joined the demonstrators on the lawn to try their hand at combat (wooden swords were used for this part of the demonstration). Kids enthusiastically raised their hands, waiting to be called on so they could ask questions like 'Isn't the armor hot?,' 'Why is the suit metal?,' 'Did they carry more than one sword?'
Children weren't the only ones enjoying the action. One spectator described herself as a medieval history buff, noting how fascinating it is to see the similarities between medieval and modern cultures.
Though the event was educational, fun was emphasized. The demonstration wrapped up with free ice cream outside the Lake Oswego Library, courtesy of Umpqua Bank.
Members of Knights of Veritas, based in Moses Lake, Wash., travel throughout the Pacific Northwest for medieval demonstrations. Visit their website at www.knightsofveritas.org.
Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blog