What’s a medieval festival without knights? In fact this year’s festival at Les Arcs described itself as “four days of adventure in the time of the knights”. To be precise, it was the 12th century and the location was supposed to be the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Why? Well the idea seemed to be that this allowed the maximum range of different armour, weapons and so on, since that 12th-century Kingdom comprised people from all over Europe and was of course the rather uneasy meeting of East and West.
No surprise then that part of the events were displays of sword fighting and other types of combat. The knights were authentically dressed, including real chain-mail and metal helmets (although one suspects given the summer temperatures there was the judicious use of aluminium and polystyrene rather than steel and wrought iron). Staged contests took place under the eye of the king and queen, at the open-air theatre on the edge of the festival area and was a precisely regulated amount of fake brutality. No Game of Thrones buckets of blood, severed limbs and rolling heads here. Torture, boiling in oil, burning alive and ritual decapitation also seem to be off-limits. This was a very well-behaved Middle Ages.
In the evening this was the site of a big son et lumière performance, so the fights took place against a background of a medieval village, complete with tavern and tower. Incidentally probably one reason why there is so much effort expended on these things compared to Britain is that the chances of it being rained off are statistically astonishingly improbable.
There was also the demonstration of various medieval siege weapons which might have been terrifying in the Middle Ages but which seemed rather feeble in modern terms. But they did throw footballs a satisfying distance.
And finally echoing a note of irony sounded in the first blog on this subject last month, there were various official police posters all the way around the outside which pointed out that it was an offence to bring into the site weapons including swords, knives and pretty much anything that was sharp and pointy. No one seemed to have told the knights.