Join us on Saturday at 1pm for medieval combat on Waterbeach Recreation Ground (CB25 9NJ). There is no charge for attending. If you wish to try either armoured or rapier combat, please wear trainers/boots and long sleeves/trousers. You may wish to bring your own cup/box/groin protection if you do not wish to use the one in the group kit. We have loaner kit that will cover the rest of your needs.

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The Knight of the Swan is a story which was told and re-told in various forms throughout the middle ages in which a mysterious knight arrives in a boat drawn by a swan to defend a damsel, his only condition being that he must never be asked his name. He marries the damsel and they have children, but eventually she does ask his name and he has to leave her.

Helias - Brabant - 1500s

Helias – Brabant – 1500s

There are many versions of the story from all over Europe, the earliest of which is a passing mention attaching the Swan Knight legend to a common fairy tale: the Swan Children, about a man who marries a woman who can shapeshift into a swan. She gives birth to septuplets: six boys and a girl, but they are secretly taken away and abandoned due to the evil machinations of the man’s mother. Different versions of the Swan Children story reunite the children with their parents in different ways, but all of them involve the children being able to shapeshift into swans and the boys being trapped in swan form when magical necklaces they wear are stolen. All but one are then rescued by their sister, who can still take on human form, but the remaining brother remains trapped as a swan and goes on to be the swan that drew the knight’s boat. In one version, the knight is one of the human brothers, who was unwilling to abandon his brother the swan.

As often happened with legends in the middle ages, this story was then adopted into the ancestry of a king: Godfrey of Bouillon, who was the first ruler of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. There are four independent versions that place either the father of the Swan-Children or the Swan Knight himself in Godfrey’s ancestry.

Tapestry showing Episodes from the Knight of the Swan

Tapestry showing Episodes from the Knight of the Swan – Austrian Museum of Applied Art inv T 8211/1918 – 1482 – Photographed by David Monniaux CC BY-SA 3.0

I the 1200s there was a particularly notable German adaptation of the Swan Knight motif by Wolfram von Eschenbach into his epic poem Parzival, in which the knight is the titular Parzival’s son Lohengrin, who then became the central figure of his own epic, Lohengrin, which tied the Swan Knight into the history of the Holy Roman Empire, modern Germany, and that version in turn was adapted by an anonymous poet into the romance Lorengel, in which the knight and the damsel finally get a happy ending.

Finally, Wagner adapted The Knight of the Swan into his opera Lohengrin, the version that is probably the most famous today.

– Tapestry showing Episodes from the Knight of the Swan – Austrian Museum of Applied Art inv T 8211/1918 – 1482 – Photographed by David Monniaux CC BY-SA 3.0
[Image description: A damaged medieval tapestry featuring two images framed with architecture decorated with text explaining the scenes. In the top frame, a priest joins the hands of a man and a crowned woman while a crowd watches. In the bottom frame, a plainly-dressed woman presents a basket of puppies to an elaborately-dressed woman, who appears shocked.]

– Helias – Brabant – 1500s
[Image description: A black and white woodcut showing a sailing ship sailing along a river. There is a castle in the background and two figures wearing crowns are visible on the battlements. The ship is drawn by a swan using a chain attached to a collar on the swan’s neck. A man in medieval armour stands in the ship holding a horn in one hand and a halberd in the other]