Friday, July 25, 2014

Live Action Role Playing in the Czech Republic With: Tomáš Lazar Doležal

Tomáš Lazar Doležal. Photo by  Tereza Sára Doležalová
with the group "Ogary Pogoni"

One aspect of European History I have always found fascinating was a people's movement which originated in Bohemia Called the Hussites, or followers of Jan Hus. Wikipedia defines them thus-The Hussites (Czech: Husité or Kališníci; "Chalice People") were a Christian movement following the teachings of Czech reformer Jan Hus (c. 1369–1415), who became one of the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation. This predominantly religious movement was propelled by social issues and strengthened Czech national awareness.

After the Council of Constance lured Jan Hus in with a letter of indemnity, then tried him for heresy and put him to death at the stake on 6 July 1415, his followers the Hussites fought the Hussite Wars (1420–1434) for their religious and political cause. Among present-day Christians, Hussite traditions are represented in the Moravian Church, Unity of the Brethren, and the re-founded Czechoslovak Hussite churches. 
The Prague Neighbors from 2007, participating in the Battle of the River Crossing, in the Heraldic Colors of Matthias Corvinus.

I have always found this movement fascinating. I have family members who although three generations or longer have lived in Texas, are still Bohemian in their attitudes and thought. Several have claimed that they were or consider themselves Hussite. I see direct parallels of the Converso population of secret Jews of Spain. The Hussites went underground and kept their beliefs to themselves and when the time was right reemerged. Now with the advent of time, in Bohemia today you can find Live Action Role Playing groups that have chosen the time period of the Hussite Wars to reenact. Incidentally trying to find out information about these groups is hard to find.

Special note: Live Action Role Play, in America is usually associated with fantasy games or worlds. Vampire and Werewolves fighting each other. Magic users and Goblins or Orcs fighting humans. Think anything you could find in a game of Dungeon and Dragons campaign. In Europe they have fantasy LARP groups. Then they have historical LARP and it is much more akin to what we would call Living History. They strive for authentic clothing, arms, and armour. They try to replicate what life would be like in or during the religious wars of mid XV Century. So there are women and children, cooks, tent, and cordage makers, bakers and candlestick makers.
Preparation of wagon defense in 2013 Battle of Sion.
(c)  Petr Zip Hájek.
It is important to note that the Battle of Sion is organized by Civitas Pragensis

"Czech Hussites fighting from a wagon platform at the Battle of the Ford"

It has been one of my greatest surprises and honor to meet Tomáš Doležal Lazar of Prague, who found me on-line, and as luck would have it, has been at the heart of Hussite reenactment in the Czech Republic;  We began a remarkable conversation.

Q: Who is Tomáš Doležal Lazar, and when did all this start?

A: Right, the easy answer, born in Prague decade before the fall of Iron Curtain. Actually Lived all my life close to the historic city center. That is probably why I was lead towards history, along with my good elementary school teacher Mrs. Myslínová, and my grandmother who was a tourist guide, and very knowledgeable about history. I actually consider the affinity to history and reenactment something that was always part of me, naturally. Though in the beginning, it was pretty much playing with wooden swords in my friends backyard. Of course fantasy literature played its hand in it too. I was nearly 15 when I got my first sword, and signed up for one of the few fencing schools in my area.

Q: What about reenacting satisfies or fulfills your love of history?

A:  That changed over time many times. For me initially it was the friendships I developed. When I was younger, I simply had my knightly dream and the actual intense action and partly theater involved in it were my drives. Cannot say I ever thought much about this really. The older I am, the more I am interested in LARPing aspect of bringing the history to life and finding curiosities about history, simply learning. Cannot say I would be reenactor all along, I'd say that the last six years can be considered attempts at that? Before then, I was one of the countless people who were making more things up rather than even trying to get historically accurate.
Drill Picture of a close group of friends, "Prague Neighbors"
Photo by  Tereza Sára Doležalová

Q: What group or groups have you had a hand in developing?
A: I suppose the most standout would be my first, "The Prague Neighbors", which started with seven friends at the Battle of Libušín some seven or so years ago. We simply decided that we wanted to go into the battle and closely cooperate. Few months later, I was sitting at home and complaining to my now wife, about how sad it is that only there were only a few doing this in the country, and she told me "Well, grab the reigns and do something about it.", and I did. Eventually the few of us formed a core of what would later become a 50 member Hussite unit, actually more focusing on researching the correct use of historic armament of the era, tactics, strategies, working of command with the tools medieval commanders had at their disposal. Eventually, as it happens with groups of so many people, there were differences in opinions and the more progressive group became Civitas Pragensis, while myself and many of the original group became Ogary Pogoni, the Polish-Lithuanian hussites of Zikmund Korybutovič. Together and with several more groups from around the country we formed the Prague Union, following the historic city union from the Hussite era. Currently we can field around a hundred men at our best. Somewhere along the way, not sure where, the research and reconstruction of things of daily life, customs and such just joined in. The time period we are specializing in is from 1422 to 1437 to be exact.

Q: How many XIV and XV Century Groups are there in the Czech Republic? Do they operate mostly alone or do they come to together for events?

A: I am a very local person, so most of my interaction is with the groups here in the Czech Republic. It is actually not uncommon to find the same people participating in projects concerning all the way from 10th century to the first world war. For me, it is these: Naturally the Prague Union groups for early 15th century, then next comes the "Dvůr hradecké královny Alžběty Richenzy" (The royal court at Of Queen Elizabeth Richeza at Hradec) for early 14th century, and of which I am part of as well. Then it would be Rattenschwanz 1476, as we cooperate on several events due to likeness of equipment, and a little more distantly I am networked through actual Battle of Libušín with Midgard group (viking era reenactment), and people of Curie Vítkov (12th century reenactment). Of course there are other projects that sometimes overlap like Doba Karlova (late 14th century) and several groups focusing on knightly orders.

The Knight is Jerzy Branicki herbu Gryfa, from the group, "Ogary Pogoni" Battle of Sion 2013
(c) Petr Zip Hajek

Q: Several specific questions here: Do you have a war wagon that can be turned into a mobile fortress like the original Hussites? What type of equipment do you field? Is there hand cannons? What about crossbowmen and flails?
Battle of Sion 2013 again by (c) Petr Zip Hájek.
It is important to note that the Battle of Sion is organized by Civitas Pragensis

A: I do believe Civitas Pragensis hold three of such wagons. And as well there are several wagons parked under the Castle of Sion (one of the last Hussite battlefields) which can be loaned for an event. The war wagons are actually a heavy investment that only now seems plausible when everything else was settled. The first of Hussite specific armament that needed to be made was the pavises. We do have a few folk with flails, but since we focus on the city Hussites, the equipment is far from the Hussite field communities. The hand guns (píšťaly and hákovnice) are often utilized, same as the crossbows. However having a plausible number of war wagons, horses or bulls/cows to pull them around, that's something of a lasting dream - one that is not exactly easy to achieve financially.

Q: You hold an event each year. Could you tell us about it?

A: The Battle of Libušín, or History festival at Libušín. I shall start with a little history. The event ran now for long years. So it actually started long before I even considered any reenactment as an idea of Mr. Václav Janda and a fencing group Kyrius. The event started out small and local and eventually evolved to be traditional unlocking of the season (it is held on the weekend nearest the Saint George's day every year). Originally it was more about hitting each other with pieces of metal, then it evolved into something of a meeting with fantasy motives. It was I believe 7 years ago when when Tomáš Lapáček, one of the original group, contacted me and several other stand out people that he would like to evolve the event into a new direction and asked us for help. I should note that among all those names, I was the one least important in my humble opinion. Each of these people represented one of the groups I mentioned earlier. And it was then when we started shifting the focus of the event, away from the battle itself, but more into a concept for people to meet and learn from each other, to have a huge market where they can get new contacts with craftsmen or gear up.
Battle of Libušín 2013, by (c) Karel Křemel

Q: So how did you and the others envision the event?

A: The concept was simple - to invite everyone - the folk who do the history more in a theatrical way, the reenactors, the sports people, and open this all to general public, so they can learn as well. As the event stands now, it is a carnival. Each major era group has own camp where they present themselves. We organize guided tours for visitors among them, each of the groups has a chance to present themselves, give new insights on history. For those who are not into history the HMB tournament takes place in other part of the camp, there are falconers, musicians and alike. The event holds around 2000 - 2500 reenactors and we get between 4000 and 8000 visitors a year depending on the weather. As the highlight of the day, we organize a battle that is in concept a fantasy - so we can field around 1000 soldiers in the field, something that we have no chance to experience anywhere else in the region.
Battle of Libušín 2014 by (c) Michal Doležal

Q: Do you match up groups to have period correct fights?

A: The big event is following a scenario where we try to pit groups with matching equipment against each other. The scenario is however only rough outline of moves of units, nothing else is scripted. We do not do battle for each period, because that is what the people keep doing here all year long. Because that way, they would only stand against 100 enemies at best. So this way, we give them the missing feeling of standing in a line against 500 instead. It also works as a field lab for exercising command tools of medieval times. After the scripted battle, we give people two or three more battles lacking any script at all, where they can simply test their skill.
Battle of Libušín 2014 by (c) Michal Doležal

Q: How many merchants do you have attending this event?

A: I'll only estimate as the market part is not the part of the show I run, but I'd say we have around 40-50 parcels, a parcel being place for the merchant to sell from. Not all are historic items however, the event is also for the viewers who need their children fed and happy. There is about 10-20 historic craftsmen in the market area, however many craftsmen stay in their period camp and sell from there, mainly for reenactors themselves. Our policy is that "the more historic, the less rent for a parcel up to a free place if the craft is also being exhibited for the duration of the festival.

Q: Do you have participants from outside the Czech Republic at this event?

A: We did. I know that last year we had visitors from the United States, we often have folk from Poland, Germany, Austria, and Slovakia. This year Ukrainians visited us, and I am certain there was several more groups. They sometimes sign up under the Czech group they are friends with, so we are unable to keep a complete list of foreign participants. In closing I certainly want to extend an invitation to anyone and everyone who is in any way involved in reenactment X through the XV Centuries. I know I have been told by my friends from the West, at times that the battle looks unnecessarily dangerous, but the battle alone is not the only point of the event. It is all about inspiration and expanding horizons, about talking and sharing knowledge and ideas. I for one am quite curious about reenactment in other countries and I believe that our Czech community has something to offer as well.
For those who like HMB or Battle of Nations style fighting, it
can also be found at Libusin.(c) Karel Kremel

I would like to thank Tomas Lazar Dolezal for his patience and understanding. This article has taken twice as long to produce due to some changes in my life. Děkuji moc Tomas!

Tomas wanted to provide links to various pages, that will give a better view of the Hussite reenactment world:

This last link is a first person video of life in a medieval camp with scenes of tournament and combat.

This next link, is what it is like to be in a medieval combat zone.

The next link here is further color photography by Karel Kremel.