“The Companions of Saint Eustachius” is an attempt to recreate the sort of temporary tournament company that could arise from shared experience and friendship among aristocrats in the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance. In this case, we represent soldiers in Italy, 1375 to 1445. From the standpoint of material culture, we’ll use the “Company” as a platform to explore ancient and medieval hunting techniques, wilderness living, and even mounted combat. In the world of intellectual culture, it will be a vehicle to examine the impact of Greek and Byzantine culture on the Italian Renaissance. In martial culture, it gives a name to our dedication to Italian Longsword techniques of the early 15th century and the teachings of Fiore dei Liberi, perhaps the most complete manual of martial arts ever written in the west, and including techniques for unarmed, dagger, sword one and two handed, mounted combat, and more.
Tournament companies could be very formal, inaugurated with enormous pageantry by great nobles or royalty, often to celebrate important national festivals or achievements. In addition, Orders of chivalry, like the Order of the Star and the Order of the Garter, also functioned as tournament companies, both hosting feats of arms and tournaments, a very costly business, and serving together as a “team” against all comers. However, tournament companies were not always so formal, and groups of aristocratic warriors might form based solely on pooling skills (and money) to hold a tournament or a feat of arms—or to fight in one for honour and gain. These impromptu companies have been the subject of much study in the last twenty years, and offer tremendous scope for the reenactor.
Italy in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries is a place as historically magical as late Archaic Greece—Petrarch, Dante, Chaucer, John Hawkwood, Cosimo de’Medici, Giotto di Bondone, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Gian Galeazzo Visconti all pass across the stage as if greatness were as common as wool in England. And it has other fascinations in keeping with the Hoplologia mandate—for example, English companies in Italy were renowned for having women serving in harness as “men at arms.” The period offers the earliest really well–documented full plate harnesses and some of the safest armour to wear and in which to fight. The clothing of the period in England and Italy is well documented and supported both through current archaeology and brilliant arts—painting and sculpture both. From this platform, we can engage the Medieval reenacting hobby at a number of levels—not least of which is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Azincourt in 2015!