Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Small Treatise on the Helm Show

Laird Colyne Stewart, AS XLI (2006)

Sometimes at tournaments in the SCA the organizers will hold a helm show before the actual fighting begins. The helm show (or helmschau) was a fixture in tournaments beginning in the 15th century, and were designed to both allow the participants to display their heraldry, and to allow the ladies of the gallery an opportunity to participate more fully in the tournament.

René of Anjou, Count of Provence, Duke of Anjou, Bar and Lorraine, and King of Jerusalem and Sicily, wrote a treatise on the holding of tournaments in 1460 called Forme et Devis d’un Tournoy, in which he lays out exactly how a helm show should progress.

First, he says that the helms (along with banners, pennons and crests) should be brought into a hall in a specific order, and carried by specific people:

…they should bring the banners, pennons, and crests of the captains to the cloister, to present them to the judges: and afterwards all the other banners, and helms with crests, as described before, in the order that follows:

First, the banners of all princes should be brought by one of their knight chamberlains, and the pennons of the captains should be brought by their senior valets or carvers.

And the banners of the other knights banneret, by gentlemen, as they wish.

The princes' helms should be brought by their squires.

And the helms of the other knights banneret, knights and squires, by gentlemen or honest valets. (René)

The tournaments judges, accompanied by a herald, would then lead the ladies and any knights, esquires or others who would attend about the room a number of times. The herald would identify each helm’s owner. At any time, if any lady feels one of the participants has ever treated her in an ill manner, she can touch his crest. The following day the judges would consider each accusation, and if found guilty the offender would be beaten about the shoulders soundly, to make sure he thought twice before ill-treating a lady again in the future.

At the same time, if the judges should find a man who is a known liar with no honour, or an usurer who lends at interest, his helm would be cast to the ground by the herald. Those found guilty of such crimes are arrested by the lords, knights and squires present, and beaten until he yields hi horse. The offender is then strapped to the list barrier upon his saddle and left there until the tournament was concluded. His horse was given to the trumpeters or minstrels.

If the judges should find someone who had married a woman who was not of noble birth he would also be beaten until he yielded. His weapons would be thrown to the ground, and he and his horse would be led to a corner of the list and placed in the care of a herald or Pursuivant, and there he would remain for the duration of the tournament. If he tried to flee, he would be strapped to the barrier upon his saddle.

Should the judges find a combatant who is not of noble birth, but is considered to be a virtuous warrior and worthy of participating in the lists

he should not be beaten the first time, except by princes and great lords, who, without hurting him, should beat him with their swords and maces, and this should always be considered to be an honor. And this will be a sign that because of his great goodness and virtue, he deserves to be at the tourney, and from then on no one may reprove him for his lineage in any place of honor where he is found, at the tourney or elsewhere. There too he may bear a new crest, or change his arms if he wishes, and keep them thereafter for himself and his heirs. (René)

Once the helm show is over, the banners, crests and helms are carried out of the hall in the same manner in which they were carried in.

In the SCA we off course assume that we are all chivalrous fighters and would never speak ill of anyone or act in any way improper. At the annual tournament hosted by Ardchreag at Snowed Inn each winter, there is usually a helm show held. Each participant in the tournament would place their helm upon a table, with banner and crest if they possess them.

The queen would then lead the consorts of those taking part in the tournament along the table. (To date we have never had any grievances laid.) The consorts and Her Majesty would then confer and grant a prize upon the owner of the helm they thought most striking.

A helm show is a small thing that does not take up much space or time, but adds greatly to the atmosphere of a tournament.

Barber, Richard and Barker, Juliet. Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages, Winfield & Nicolson, NY: 1989.

Bennet, Elizabeth, trans. King René's Tournament Book (Forme et Devis d'un Tournoy, 1460)'un%20tournoi%20du%20roi%20Rene/index.html

Knighthood, Chivalry & Tournaments Resource Library: The Gallery,

The Imperial College of Heraldry of the Holy Roman Empire,

Permission is given to print this article in any SCA publication as long as the author is contacted by email in advance, proper credit is given and the author receives a copy of the newsletter. Please credit the author as Colyne Stewart (mka Todd Fischer), who can be reached at

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