by Laura Rodley
Chivalry is not dead. Knights in armor jousting on Belgians and Percherons and a myriad of other performers, bellydancers, musicians and vendors enduring 95 degree weather drew in crowds of 5,000 during the 3rd annual Mutton and Mead Festival on June 22 and 23, raising funds and food for the non-profits Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the historic 178 year old Montague Common Hall maintenance. Attendees bringing canned goods received a portion off their ticket price, amassing a total of 3,000 pounds for the Food Pantry serving those in need in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties in Western Massachusetts.
The event was held at the improvised Shire of Nottingham, with actors performing as Robin Hood, his Merry Men and townspeople on the Rod and Gun Club grounds in Montague, MA. The knights performed through Pennsylvania-based Round Table Productions.
“It’s not something you see every day. I always enjoy their show,” said Vermont-based event organiser David Todd Agro. “One of the things about jousting, it’s an art and a sport. What I find most beautiful about this amazing spectacle, it connects us to a time that only exits in our imagination.”
The realm of the knighthood has been very real and alive, and existing in the imagination of the youngest knight performing that weekend, Cristian Lett, since he was four years old. Now 19, he has brought his dreams into reality, performing on his Belgian, Legato, raised on his family’s farm, Cornerstone Drafts, in New Salem, MA, one of the four knights performing, ranging in ages 19 to 40, in his second year performing at Mutton and Mead.
A member of the International Jousting Association (IJA) and Society of Creative Anachronism (S.C.A) he competes for points and prizes. Points are averaged at the year’s end to determine overall placement. He is schooled in, “Side arms, whole arms, dagger, you name it,” he said. “I love the ancient arts. I love the fighting. I’m a natural born scrapper.”
During combat the knights, dressed in heavy metal armor, including helmets took pre-rehearsed falls during their jousting that looked real to onlookers. “We’re confident riders, confident in our swords; I’ve been studying swordsmanship since I was 15,” he said.
In 2011, after seeing him ride, Kate Hopkins, owner of Round Table Productions which reenacts jousts of the 1480s to 1500s, invited him to joust with them in the following season when he turned 18, and knighted him Sir Cristian. “He is literally a knight,” said his mother, Cristen Lett, and it’s not just about having a desire to joust. “Knights have a code, know how to treat a lady — Cristian does — be very educated, sensitive to animals they’re working with, and musically inclined,” she said.
“Our motto is to think big, if you don’t think big, life’s boring,” said Cristen. “Don’t get inside of the box, learn to fly. Fly right here, and you’ll do it well,” providing a launch-pad full of horses. Embracing their motto, she and husband Jeff Lett escaped the city in 2001 for the country in Texas and starting buying and selling draft horses, 26 at highest point, learning by experience. In 2004, they relocated to New Salem, MA.
They purchased Legato as a six month old, when Cristian was eight. At age 9, they gave him Legato. At age 14, he joined Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, learning Martial Arts, and German Longsword. He built a quintain, a shield mounted on a spinning wooden arm for accuracy training in hitting shields during jousts and schooled 18.2 hand Legato to become used to him riding while swinging a sword, preparing for his future, yet unseen.
“So many people come up to us, asking, ‘why do you use pulling horses?’ They’re not just for pulling, one of the reasons why we’re doing this,” said Cristen. “They’re multi-talented, one of the few horses you put a chuckwagon behind, have pull the chuckwagon, detach it and then go for a ride. Other horses can’t do both.” Sport horses — thoroughbreds — and painted horses are being crossed with draft horses, she said. They raise draft horses for the love of it.
Out of armor, jousters rode without helmets. The rule in Massachusetts is if you are 18 or older, you don’t have to wear helmets, Cristen notes. On Cornerstone Farm, everyone wears helmets.
Certified in teaching games and jousting, Cristian has been teaching Cristen how to fall off her horse, and at the end of June, begins teaching a brand new women team, “Rage of the Valkyries,” jousting, archery and live-steel. “He’s basically training us, has a broad knowledge of all of them. It’s really cool,” said Cristen. He’s aiming for Ultimate Jousting Contact (UJC) with Charlie Andrews. “That’s one of his callings. Talk about thinking pretty big,” she said.
by Laura Rodley