Interview with Dr. Tobias Capwell

As you may recall, a few weeks ago we invited all readers to contribute to an upcoming conversation with Dr. Tobias Capwell. Quite surprisingly, despite our efforts, only a bunch of questions have been suggested and Toby's already answered them directly on the Blog. 

We've thus been thinking about further possible questions for publishing a "real" interview, so... here you are! In behalf of the Company of Saynt George, the HP Team wishes to express heartfelt thanks to Dr. Capwell for his kind cooperation.


Toby at "The Grand Tournament" in Sankt Wendel (2012), Germany [courtesy: S. Ballabio]

1) It is a well-known fact that you've been practicing jousting for a lot of years. Why do you still find it exciting?

I wanted to be a knight a long time before I wanted to be a curator! I've always wanted to investigate my interests by doing them. Reading about them is good too, but unless I know what it feels like, it's a bit meaningless to me. It never stops being exciting - dangerous activities are like that!

2) Which requirements do you personally consider essential in a jousting horse and which breeds do you favour? More generally, how do you train your mounts?

Standing straight and still at the start, jumping forward and accelerating quickly, running without shying away from the opponent, and stopping well at the far end of the lists. That's what you want. Breed is less important if the horse does the job well. Obviously you can't use anything too big or too nervous or too hard to control. Even a very good rider shouldn't have to deal with a lot of backing away, jumping around etc. Jousting is hard enough as it is!

3) Being sort of a "second self" to the knight wearing it, the armour must be a totally trustful, custom-made, high quality product. Which yardsticks do you usually base upon when choosing your replicas and which armour makers would you point out as the best in the field nowadays?

There are more and more great armourers out there now. The internet has helped a lot... getting new guys better images and better access to knowledge, contacts and experience online. I've gone with different makers over the years depending on who I met and what I became interested in. Different craftsmen are good at and interested in different things.

4) Apart from the lance, what's your favourite arm for fighting on horseback? And on foot?

In battle on horseback I think there was probably a lot to be said for the lancegay- a lighter stabbing spear, sometimes having a spearhead at both ends, popular with English knights when fighting on horseback during the 1400s. On foot I probably prefer the two-handed sword over the pollaxe, but the virtues of the ax are hard to ignore.

5) Among all tournaments you've chanced to take part in around the world, is there any in particular still keeping a special place in your mind?

The Tournament of the Phoenix in California this past October was really special. And not just because I won it. It was my last one, at least for a while.


Toby in action in his Italian field armour at the "Tournament of the Phoenix", near S. Diego, 17-19 October 2014 [courtesy: T. Capwell]

6) What kind of educational path would you recommend to a newbie to the jousting field? Besides, what would you suggest to those knights aiming at improving their skills, at fighting as well as at riding?

Riding is the most important thing. Then riding in armour. Everything else is easy.

7) How much influence did your passion for jousting have on your professional career and viceversa?

It has completely defined my academic career. What I've pursued, how I've approached my research... Thinking about a physical, practical subject from the point of view of practitioner changes everything.

8) What's your opinion about the 15th c. re-enactment world, apart from jousting? In which European countries do you think re-enactors have been making a good work and why?

I don't really know that much about re-enactment! I've been a member of the competitive historical jousting community for a long time, but actually I've done very little reenactment. I've been hugely impressed by what's going on in continental Europe though.

9) Maybe an expected question but...what do you think of the Company of Saint George?

Well, I was profoundly influenced by the Company early on, when I first starting hearing about what you guys were doing, back in the 1990s. Gerry's book blew my mind. I remember thinking how much I wanted to try to apply those standards of reconstruction to jousting as a historical sport. Very inspiring.

Toby dramatically unhorses an opponent at the 2014 "Tournament of the Phoenix" [courtesy: T. Capwell]

10) Please, tell us about your ambitions and plans for the next future, both as a scholar and as a jouster.

My main academic ambition is to get my big work on fifteenth-century armour finished! Book I (England 1400-50) will be out next year. Then I have to complete the trilogy....

11) Can you tell us about your experiences at the very beginning? When and how did this begin? Were there people who had already done some previous work, one could build on? What was the biggest setback from which you had to learn? What is the biggest challenge today?

A four-year old Toby walked into the armour hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That was it. I haven't really suffered any major set-backs... things have generally gone pretty well. It can be very hard work making things happen the way you want them to happen, but that's true everywhere, of everything worth doing. 

Of course academically we are dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants - a 12th-century statement usually wrongly credited to Isaac Newton!

In the jousting world we also benefited a lot in the early days from the jousting achievements of the Medieval Society in England- they were jousting in pretty good 15th-century armour back in the 1970s. 

The biggest challenge for jousting today is maintaining good standards. Everyone is getting better at it, which means it is getting a lot more authentic, which means it is also getting potentially much more dangerous. We should now be becoming a lot less tolerant of sub-standard armour and equipment. As number of people doing it increases, so does the risk of something bad happening. So we all need to pay a lot more attention to what we are doing and be ruthless about safety, skill and equipment standards.

That's it!!


By Andrea Carloni, Recruit Company member