Tocnik Castle relives 15th century battle

At Tocnik's medieval battle re-enactment

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At Tocnik's medieval battle re-enactment
Hello and welcome to Spotlight. Now, I'm not really a violent sort of chap, but several weeks ago I received an invitation to watch a medieval castle being stormed by a 15th century raiding party, armed with swords, crossbows and real cannons. Well, as you can imagine, the invitation was hard to turn down, and the next thing I know I was hiking the two kilometres from the little village of Zebrak to the nearby Tocnik Castle. When I got there I soon found myself surrounded by knights in chain mail and comely maidens bearing flagons of mead. Or was it ale? I'm not sure. Anyway, I was told by one of these friendly wenches that I should seek out a fearless knight called Ondrej Slacalek, who would escort me safely inside the castle gates.

So I'm standing here outside Tocnik Castle, and with me is Ondrej from...

Ondrej Slacalek: I'm from the group Impudici, which is basically the organising group of this event.

OK. What exactly are we standing on now?

OS: Well, this is a bridge that goes into the castle, built at the end of the 14th/beginning of the 15th century by King Wenceslas IV, who was one of the sons of Charles IV, who was quite famous.

Right, well we're walking through the main gate now, this is the second courtyard. What would this have been used for?

OS: Well this is one of the spaces enclosed by the main palace, as you can see there are two palaces.

OK. Which way now?

OS: Well, you see here parts of our event basically. We have some craftsmen working here, and as you come up here on this hill, this is where the battle we have arranged happens.

Aha, this is where the battle will take place. Well it's just starting to spit with rain now, so shall we just go into one of these buildings?

OS: Sure. We're coming into one of the last courtyards, which opens into the palace. So here we're going to perform our little combined performance of dance, fencing and theatre.

(Sounds of sword-fighting and dogs barking.)

Well I'm not totally sure what's going on here to be honest; I'm a bit distracted by the presence of two enormous pit-bill terriers in the audience about 5 metres away from me, who seem to be getting extremely excited by the performance. A bit too excited for my liking, and I think I'm going to take a few steps backwards. Well Ondrej is currently battling a pair of evil knights, who've stolen his fair maiden. Maybe afterwards I can ask him to show me a few medieval fighting techniques...

OS (illustrating sword moves with the help of a colleague): The first hit, straight on the head from the top, is something called 'The Roof'. It's a cut (sound of swords clashing) going down. The second type of cut is from the side, to cut the body in half. Basically coming from up here - from the root of his neck - and going down to the side (sound of swords clashing). Again you can see the parry for that. Another one is called 'The Dwarf' - basically going in at the height of the waist (sound of sword striking chain mail) going down this way: 'The Dwarf' means cutting someone in half. The last of the cuts is coming from down here, and it's called 'The Boar" - cutting the body up to the top.

How many years do you have to train to be able to fight like this?

OS: A lot. During our week here, when we had the seminars for the fencers, we had a fencing master from Slovakia, who is, you know, far beyond us. And he said that typically it takes about six years.

With what you do, how dangerous is a performance like the one we've just seen just now?

OS: It's not safe, that's for sure.

Some of those blows looked pretty hard...

OS: Yeah, but what we're showing here is something that was pre-set, we trained it for the show.

So it's very well choreographed and rehearsed.

OS: Exactly. It's like a dance basically.

Well I left Ondrej to his fencing and went in search of the brave and hardy soldiers who would be storming the castle a bit later in the afternoon. In a wooded clearing at the foot of the castle I found two rather scary looking warriors, speaking in a tongue which was most familiar to my ears...

Scott Carson: My name's Scott Carson and I'm from Dalbeatie in Scotland.

John Devenne: And my name's John Devenne and I'm from Herefordshire, in the U.K.

OK, well you're all taking part in the battle today. Which side are you on?

SC: I'm on the attacking side. Hopefully we'll win!

And is it decided beforehand who's going to win and who's going to lose? Or do you just sort of see how it goes?

SC: Well, I could tell you. But I would have to kill you.

Perhaps don't tell me then. Is there any historical basis to this battle you're going to fight today, or is it something that was just made up?

JD: Yes there is a little bit. It's supposed to be a period when the Czech Republic was in dispute, and there were quite a lot of mercenary armies going around, and a lot of the castles were being destroyed at the time. And I think it's just basically a bit of a fantastical take.

And what's your weapon of choice?

JD: Well, quite a few. Bow, two-handed sword, hand-and-a-half, single-handed sword, all sorts.

You use an English Bell?

SC: Bill.

An English Bill?

SC: It's a pole arm. This is the weapon which we use in the battle up there. This was used for hitting people over the head with (illustrates by waving weapon downwards).

Very nice.

SC: Lovely. Stabbing with (jabs weapon forward). And then if you take a stab at somebody and miss, you can turn it round like that, and pull it back like that, and this piece of metal that sticks out here would cut your hamstrings off. It was a pretty nasty horrible weapon so it was. (picks up second pole arm) This one here, we don't use in the battle because it's sharp. This is called a Jeddard's Staff, which is unique to the English Borders. There's nowhere else in the world has a weapon like this.

This is well over 6 feet, isn't it? It's a big weapon.

SC: Oh, that'll be 8-9 foot that, yes. It's a heavy piece of equipment.

Let's just pick it up, see how heavy it is....My God!

SC: And this would give you a very sore head, if you were ever hit with it. Wouldn't it Keith? (bangs helmeted colleague on head to illustrate heaviness of Jeddard's Staff).

Do you ever get hurt in these re-enactments?

SC: Yes!

JD: Yeah, we do now and again. Safety is of paramount importance of course, but when you are wielding several pounds of blunt metal, obviously people are going to get hurt now and again. But we do our best to avoid that.

How does this event compare to, say, events in Scotland?

SC: It's...different. It's a lot more risky than I think we would get away with back home. For instance I don't think we'd be able to fire cannons over the top of people's heads. They're throwing about bales of burning hay, throwing rocks at one another. I haven't actually seen too many first aid people about!

I guess you do this sort of thing at the weekends. What's it like going back to work on Monday morning?

SC: Well actually I'm a butcher! So it's much the same really. Lots of blood and guts.

Dead meat and not live meat.

SC: That's right!

OK, well best of luck in the battle. You're not telling me who's going to win, but I think you have quite a good chance!

JD: Thank you very much.

Well I'm back inside the castle now, just waiting for the battle to begin. I can see John and Scott in front of me with the rest of the marauders, who appear to be wheeling what looks suspiciously like a real cannon up to the main gate of the second courtyard.

(Sound of very loud cannon firing on castle)

Well that was a real cannon. I suppose what that means is - let the battle begin!

(Sounds of battle)

Well it's twenty minutes later, and I think it's all over. Palls of smoke are hanging over the battlefield, and there are heaps of corpses on the ground in front of me. I can just see Ondrej brushing himself off and cleaning his sword, so I'll just go and see if I can get a few words with him.

Ondrej Slacalek: Very happy. Everyone did great. Went really well.

That cannon was fairly loud!

OS: Yeah, it was.

It surprised a few people in the crowd I think.

OS: I know. That's what it's supposed to do!

RP: Is it safe?

OS: Sure. Yes. We hope! No, it is.

You're both still alive. How was it?

Scott Carson: I've just been resurrected actually. I was shot.


SC: It was a pepper shot. (laughs)

How about you John?

John Devenne: It's a little bit passé once you've been beheaded for the eighth time in one weekend. But you know, you get used to it.

Did you win the battle?

SC: Nobody wins the battle, it's a tragedy! It's worse than Shakespeare - everybody dies!

What is the moral then?

JD: The futility of war, possibly. Give peace a chance!

JD + SC start singing John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance".