In Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor. In Montague’s forest, he invited others to do his work and allowed them to feel rich by giving donations of food — part of their entrance fee at the fourth annual Mutton and Mead Medieval Festival — to be collected by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to feed the poor and hungry. Proceeds will also benefit Montague Common Hall repairs, Leverett-based Wingmasters Raptor Center, 4-H’ers manning the archery booth and local Girl Scouts.
Organizers aimed to beat last year’s tally of more than 3,000 pounds of food, with final figures not in yet. However, more than 6,000 people attended the festival held at Montague Rod and Gun Club in Montague, MA June 21 and 22, far exceeding organizers’ expectations and last year’s attendance, to see jousting, archery, whip-masters, swordsmen, jesters, fairies, belly dancers and musicians. Attendees embraced stepping back in time, when fair maids and long-haired men strode slowly wearing period clothing. Even Robin Hood himself was spotted in the glade, one of 50 actors bringing history to life.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do is make the history and stories born out of history accessible. People see jousting on TV, but we’re helping stimulate the imagination. There’s something about jousting, seeing it up this close,” said David Agro, event spokesperson, organizer and Brattleboro, VT resident, who was dressed as character Jonathan Goodale in long purple robes and hat. For 10 years he’s known the jousters of the Lititz, PA-based Round Table Productions, which reenacts jousts held during the 1480s.
Hordes of people sat on hay bales set around a ring as co-owner of Roundtable’s co-owner Lady Kate — aka Kate Hopkins — called her knights to action. She was dressed in a shimmering green dress that covered the flanks of her horse, Baron. Roundtable’s other co-owner, Robert Earhart, performed as Sir Ulrich, a clown-like knight adorned in green.
Eyes widened as woman jouster, Cristen Lett, galloped in. Women jousters did not exist in Robin Hood’s time, unless possibly disguised, wearing heavy armor and, later, a metal helmet.
“They talked me into it,” she laughed after her performance, sitting astride her 17.3 hand white Percheron, Diamond, adorned in flowing robes decorated with white harts. She is one of two female jousters in Massachusetts — the other is fourth level jouster IJAUSA rep Nicole Fourtzialas of Haverhill — and one of a handful in the Northeast.
“We need more women jousters in this area — jousters period. It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Cristen Lett, and finds providing such a positive female role model, “Empowering. Even if it’s encouraging little girls that they can do this. It’s pivotal for me because I’m a Mom.”
Her son, Cristian Lett, one of the other three knights performing on the field, has performed with Round Table Productions at the festival the past two years, since he turned 18. A certified member of the International Jousting Association (IJA-USA) in teaching games and working on getting a certificate in jousting, he taught his mother how to fall off her horse and gave her tips in jousting at the family’s 18-acre farm JC Cornerstone Drafts, in New Salem, MA where he teaches a women team, “Rage of the Valkyries.”
On the heels of performing in Albany, Hopkins and Earhart visited JC Cornerstone Drafts for a week to fine-tune Lett’s training prior to Mutton and Mead. Performing once is a test she had to pass to allow her to be knighted through Roundtable in a private ceremony on Saturday evening. “A more modern knighting,” said Hopkins.
Lett is one of three females in the company that joust, in addition to Hopkins. As co-owner of one of the few companies that perform theatrical jousts, for Hopkins, the show’s the thing. Unbeknownst to fans, Hopkins performed with a fractured vertebra, relying on the corset of her costume for bracing and her rapport with Baron, one of seven horses that she owns.
Knights bring their own horses in the different places where they travel. “We are very close to the people,” visiting up to 20 different squires with different knights who bring horses, and enjoying every moment. Though they perform competitions to put on a fantastic show, “We’re not a deeply competitive group.”
Hopkins raises everyone’s spirits by asking the crowd to cheer loudly. “One thing about horse events, people are all taught to be fairly quiet. Some of our horses are such ‘performance divas’. They get upset if there’s no cheering, no loving audience. They’re totally committed to what’s going on,” said Hopkins. Horses cannot vary much in height, to avoid knights hitting each other in the head.
The shire’s charity does not only extend to people. Some of the troupe’s horse are rescue horses. If a horse doesn’t like jousting, they train them for show riding. “Ultimately the horse has to love the job,” said Hopkins.
Lett’s horse, Diamond, was formerly a cart horse and couldn’t stand to be touched. Now she can’t wait to put her nose over the fence for people to pet her. Baron was another rescue. “This horse used to be vicious. Look at him now,” Hopkins laughed after the performance, as viewers stroked her horse’s long nose and held up cell phones to snap his picture.