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12th Century Shields: More than Defense

On Saturday Blackwolf joined several of our 12th century and Varangian friends to put on a medieval demonstration at the Caltex Family Fun Day at Fort Lytton. It was a great, relaxing day that afforded us time to interact with the public and get in some good visits with our friends. It was excellent to finally be able to get caught up on each other’s medieval projects, personas, and backgrounds, sharing interesting tidbits from our historical research and great tips on where to find the necessary tools and materials needed to make our garb and encampments as historically accurate as possible.

As the Blackwolf scribe and chronicler, I also got the chance to interview several combatants from the Templars and Companie of Knights Bachelor about their 12th century shields.

In the 12th century in Europe and the Middle East four shields were in use: heater, kite, round, and buckler.

Each had its own attributes and was chosen based on the armor being worn and whether the combatant was on horseback or on foot.

For most combatants, their shield was like a business card, the heraldry (ie – colors and devices) revealing who they were and where they were from.

The heater shield below is owned by an Englishman from the Knights Bachelor, John Topping (aka Renouf), and is a scarlet dolphin rampant on a gold field.

This heater shield is also from the Knights Bachelor, used as a practice shield by Gavin Chandler. It only bears the colors of its owner, not the devices. Shields in medieval times were expected to only last through one battle, so the beautifully made ones would be saved for battle and not wasted in practice combat.

This heater shield is different from the others. It is a Templar shield and bears no devices at all, just the black and white colors of the Templar brotherhood.

“There is standard heraldry for the Knights Templar,” explained Templar Lawrence Mason. “We are all brothers, all equal, and there is no hierarchy. All the kit is set up so any of the brothers can pick it up and use it.”

The only exception to the rule was on the shield of the Templar Master. It bore a white cross set on the black field.

As mentioned above, each style of shield had its own attributes and was chosen based on the armor being worn and whether the combatant was on horseback or on foot.

For example, if the combatant had a full face mask to protect his face, he could use a shield with a flat top. However, if he wore an open helm without a mask, he would want a shield with a rounded top to provide greater protection to his face.

If he wore leg armor, he could wield a shorter shield, but without leg armor, he’d want the length of a kite shield to protect his legs.

The kite shield below is one used by Gavin Chandler from the Knights Bachelor, displayed by his squire, Philip Hanson, and provides excellent coverage from shin to shoulder.

The round shield, pictured below, although much smaller than the kite shield, would also provide excellent protection. The farther away from the body it is held, the greater area of protection is provided. And the steel center proved an excellent weapon when thrust into the face or against the arm of an opponent.

The buckler is the smallest of the shields, but it is no less effective. Used almost in a parrying role, it can effectively deflect sword thrusts and slashes and prove quite destructive when slammed against the fingers, wrist, or forearm of an opponent. “It traumatizes the arm and sends the muscles into spasms,” explained Gavin Chandler.

In medieval times, shields had a strap that went around the neck and shoulder of the combatant. This allowed the warrior to comfortably carry the shield on his back when not fighting, then easily sling it into position when danger arose. The strap also acted as a pivot and weight-bearing point, enabling the fighter to swivel and swing the shield as needed without the full weight of it on his arm. Even the lightest shields become heavy after a few minutes of fighting. Carrying the shield on their backs also provided back support for the combatants, forcing them to walk upright instead of slouching under the heavy weight of their armor.

Combat in the 12th century was dangerous and could be lethal, but its purpose had changed from slaughter to ransom.

“We want to disable and capture, not kill,” explained Philip Hanson. “Prisoners make money.”

While the flat of a sword could be used to disable an opponent, a shield was also effective. A swift blow could quickly render an opponent senseless allowing him to be taken prisoner and ransomed for a tidy sum to line the coffers of the victor.

“Cash is power,” Chandler said.

For more information on 12th century shields, contact any of the groups via the following links:


Companie of Knights Bachelor


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A Little Blackwolf History

Blackwolf are a 12th/13th century Crusader group traversing caravan routes. In Crusader times, supplies from overseas often failed to arrive when needed or if at all. It was too little, too late.  Blackwolf are Crusaders of different nationalities, using the guise of a Bedouin caravan to make up the shortfall of weapons, supplies and horses needed to continue the Crusader presence in Outremer.

We chose the 12th/13th centuries because this was a fascinating time of great upheaval, progress and change in weaponry, food, medicine, and textiles, and we explore and present that to the public. The Crusades brought many food products to the West: rice, coffee, sherbet, dates, apricots, lemons, sugar, spices such as ginger, melons, rhubarb and dates. Other products were mirrors, carpets, cotton cloth for clothing, ships compasses, writing paper, wheelbarrows, mattresses and shawls. Other new concepts were chess, Arabic figures 0 to 9, pain killing drugs, algebra, irrigation, chemistry, the colour scarlet, water wheels and water clocks

Not all Blackwolf are combatants, we enhance our camp each year with new crafts, trades, and skills.

Blackwolf is based south of Toowoomba, Queensland, although some members live in Brisbane and Ipswich.

Blackwolf are committed to:

  1. Entertain and educate the public via practical medieval life basics, their food, traditions, way of life, beliefs and necessary guild skills of working in wood and metal.
  2. Discuss, evoke interest, inform, dissuade from erroneous beliefs and myths, thus educating the public via the mindset of mediaeval times.
  3. Blackwolf don’t talk to visitors, they engage with them.

As always, we endeavour to provide an authentic, historically accurate campsite, within the constraints of the 21st century.

Our Authentication Process:

At least two or more verification samples, with visuals if possible.

Authentication is set out under the following headings.

LOCATION: This is the location where the authentication is located (title of book, website, etc).
AUTHORITY: Author or group responsible for location.
BRIEF: Brief outline, description or extract from location.

Since archaeology, forensics, and other areas of research are constantly revealing more about medieval life, we try to consistently study and review our authentications to make sure that what was true five years ago is still born out by current finds.

In the weeks ahead we’ll be sharing aspects of our research to explain why we wear what we wear, eat what we eat, and do what we do.

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Uses for Peppermint in Medieval Medicine

Fragrant and invigorating peppermint was brought to Europe by the Romans, who grew it in their gardens for medicinal purposes.

Its high menthol content made peppermint ideal for treating cold symptoms. You can add a handful of fresh leaves to a bowl of hot water and breathe in the vapors to clear nasal passages and help you breathe easier. You can also add peppermint essential oil to a chest rub to help treat congestion.

Peppermint was used as a digestive aid, drunk as a tea to calm upset stomachs. Only drink one or two glasses at a time though, or it can cause nausea.

Headaches plagued the ancients as well as us, and peppermint is effective at reducing symptoms. Dilute pure peppermint essential oil and rub into the temples and neck to ease headache pain. Be careful not to apply near the eyes or they will be irritated and begin to water.

Peppermint was also used to soothe skin irritations since it has lovely cooling qualities. Add it to bath water and soak irritated skin.

Nowadays we use toothpaste infused with peppermint. In the Middle Ages, peppermint leaves were dried and powdered and used to white teeth and keep breath fresh. They work just as effectively now.

In the Middle East, medicinal cordials called Sekanjibin were used to treat a variety of ailments. Made of water, sugar, vinegar, and herbs, such as peppermint, the cordial was diluted in hot or cold water creating a delicious drink that also eased symptoms.

As with all herbs, peppermint is powerful and affects each body differently. Experiment with small amounts to make sure your body doesn’t react negatively before progressing to full doses.

What is your favorite way to use peppermint?

For more medieval remedies, click here to order a copy of our medicine woman’s book: “herb & spice: a little book of medieval remedies.”

DISCLAIMER: This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. The author does not take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider. Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Again, before undertaking any course of treatment or therapeutic technique, the reader should seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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Making Heater Shields With The Templars

For a long time, medieval groups in Queensland have kept to themselves, only getting together at events when responsibilities and commitments kept them from interacting on anything more than a cursory level.

But this year groups are making a concerted effort to get together in “real life” too, meeting up for socialization, medieval projects, and planning sessions.

Over the weekend a few Blackwolf members and a couple of blokes from Companie of Knights Bachelor were invited to join the Templars in making “heater shields” in preparation for their joint medieval tournament at Abbey Medieval Festival in July.

The Duke and Sir Richard are both participating in the spectacle, so they were invited to make shields so they could fit in visually with their Templar comrades. At the last minute the Templars also included Yliana, our medicine woman, making a smaller shield blank just for her. She was thrilled!

The day began by everyone rubbing leather conditioner into the black straps that would later be affixed to the backs of their shields.

The Templars had kindly prepared the shield blanks ahead of time, cutting the shapes, steaming and molding them into the required curved design. Fabric was glued to the back to provide an extra layer of strength, and they were dried and ready for us when we arrived.

With all that hard stuff done, our job was pretty simple: trimming off the excess fabric. It didn’t take Sir Richard long to finish his once he exchanged the dull leather trimming knife for Yliana’s Christmas pressie – a super sharp Italian folding knife.

Next up was painting the fabric backs a solid black. Shields get mighty dirty in combat, and black keeps them looking good fight after fight.

Once the first layer of paint was applied, we set the shield blanks in the sun to dry.

Then we eased the kinks out of our rusty hand-sewing skills and used waxed thread to secure buckles to straps.

Measuring and drilling followed as the straps were fitted to the shields at the exact places we needed them for our left arm measurements. 

We used solid copper rivets to attach the straps, hammering them into place so the straps won’t budge even under the fiercest attacks.

Then it was a team effort as Templars Terry and James showed us how to nail thick 4 mm leather onto our shields.

First the leather was wet, then spread over the front, pulled tight to the back, and nailed securely in place. Terry uses long black tacks, pounding them through the shield and against a steel block so a natural hook is formed, holding the leather in place even more securely. Each of us took turns holding the shields in place, keeping them flat against the steel block so the hammer blows would fall straight and true.

Once the leather work was finished, the shields were placed in the sun to dry. This process causes the leather to shrink, forming a tight cover with a smoother finish than even gluing can provide.

While the shields dried, we gathered on the back veranda to feast on grilled sausages on fresh bread, crispy chips, chocolate chip cookies, and cold drinks. It was so great to sit out there in the Winter sunshine with views of bush and river as we talked about medieval adventures past and present.

Then it was time to clean up and head for home, new shields in tow.

Later this week we will paint our shields in our personal colors with personal devices. The Duke’s shield will be in his colors of red, black, and white with the Blackwolf device. Sir Richard’s shield is in brilliant blue with a white lion device. Yliana’s shield will bear the Blackwolf background and her own dragonfly device.

It was a great day out with good mates, and we look forward to our next encounter.


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Medieval Breakfast at Blackwolf Camp

There’s nothing quite so marvelous as waking up on a cold morning to find the fire roaring and the kettle boiling for a cuppa.

In our Blackwolf encampments, a hearty medieval breakfast is an essential part of each day.

Each member has their own wooden bowl, cutlery, and pottery mug that are washed and left to dry on our handmade shelves every night. That makes them easy to find when we stumble out of our Bedouin tent still half asleep.

While Ann fries up massive amounts of smoky bacon and fresh eggs, Sue whips up a platter of crispy fried flat breads and brings out her special stash of dark roasted coffee.

Before long everyone is clustered in the Gathering Tent, cold hands clasped around warm mugs as we shovel in welcome spoonfuls of hot breakfast.

Once our bowls are scraped clean the day officially begins.

Fighters don their armor, the medicine woman sets up her potions and brews, the flax lady arranges her display of seeds, fibers, and linen, and the others bustle about making sure the camp is tidy and ready for visitors. In no time at all the camp is filled with guests learning how to make rope, cheese, candles, medieval remedies, fabric, weapons, clothing, furniture, and food.

How we love it all.

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