Medieval Tournament Party - Castle of Knights
Laura in Burlington, Ontario, Canada
January 2008 Winner
Medieval Tournament After much deliberation, my sons decided they wanted one large party, and that they would invite kids from their community centre sports program. I arranged with the leader to take a few minutes out near the end of one session, and my husband dressed up as the town crier, complete with a red fauz-fur trimmed cape, tights, feathered hat and medieval styled pants, mostly scrounged from old costumes we already had, with the pants made from old dress pants I cut off and added agathered buckled closure just below the knee. He also brandished a trumpet prop (long style) and made the standard fanfare noises as he entered. He rolled out a very long scroll we made (which tumbled out onto the floor) and announced the party as follows: Hear ye, hear ye. All who are gathered here together. King ____ and prince ___ request the presence of you ladyships and lordships at his castle on ______ at ______ to join his majesty's knights in his annual tournament. Jousting and feasting and acts of bravery and chivalry will abound.
He then handed out rolled up scrolls, sealed in wax with the king's stamp which were the invitations, to each child, bowed with a flourish and left. For the sealing wax, I just used old crayons melted in a paper cup in the microwave (just do short increments at a time!), and pressed a crown stamp into the wax before it was fully hardened. The invitations were printed in fake parchment purchased from Staples in single sheets (from their copy centre) so I only had to buy what I needed. I printed them in a large medieval-style font, making the first letter extra large and in outline, then colouring it in with thin markers to give it an illuminated look. The wording was: Hear ye! Hear ye! King ___ and Prince _____ request your lady/lordship's presence at the royal castle (our last name), at (address) from one o'clock until half past four o'clock in the afternoon to join us for a birthday celebration and tournament. Please send word of your intentions via royal courier (our email address and phone #'s). Centered att he bottom, I stamped the royal seal (with the same stamp I used later to seal it with the wax). It made a huge impression!
For the party, we decorated our house by raising the garage door and making a homemade portcullis along the top. We did this using plastic garden fencing (the short ornate spiky kind sold at dollar stores), spray painted black and strung up along the top of the door opening. I also made two cutout castle guards to stand on either side of the garage. I looked through images in library books and on the internet to find something simple enough yet effective to copy, then cut it out from a refrigerator box and painted them with poster paint. The kids helped out. I emptied out our living room and set up a large round patio table borrowed from our neighbour. I left the walls bare except for one large royal banner I had the kids decorate. It hung at the front of the room. I also had a table along the side set out on which the banquet items were to be served. The large round table had a candelabra (fake that lights up from our Christmas decorations), and we had a real candelabra on the banquet table as well. One other thing I added were my son's two torch lights that normally decorate his room. I put them up on either side of the banne. Both the tables had rented white tablecloths (from a local party rental store), which we didn't even have to wash before returning. We debated how to dress up for the party.
Since my sons were playing the king and the prince, my husband played the court jester, and I dressed as the royal mother. Beneath the banner was a double royal throne I made by covering two dining chairs in purple felt with gold brocade and tasseled trim glue-gunned on for a more royal effect. On each throne chair sat a gold crown made from gold Bristol board, metallic puffy paint (fabric paint) and plastic jewels. I had planned to put up a canopy of tulle (netting) over the thrones, but it looked better to me without it, so I passed on that idea. Most of the party actually happened outside though.
From the garage tables, the kids were led out into our backyard and were sorted into teams: the red knights and the blue knights (which they later named for themselves). And were given precut Bristol board helmets and shields in their appropriate colour, as well as a silver tunic made from a dollar store car window sun shade (the metallic silver ones) with the edges sealed with black duct tape (you could also use silver, but we liked the look of the black). While they were building and decorating, we talked about various medieval stories and history etc., providing them with some of the answers they would need later on for one of the challenges, such as, where did the expression red handed come from? And what did knights use to eat with? The teams each had their own cardboard castle in the yard made with three refrigerator boxes (see www.greensim.com/lemonade/wizard.html#castle). These were made with a drawbridge in the centre, two towers to the sides and two openings to the back from the towers, such that they formed a sort of tunnel inside. We called the areas in behind the courtyards.
Shortly after arriving, they were asked to invent their own banner and given some large sheets of Bristol board and construction paper, scissors and glue to make it. Once these were completed placed over their castle drawbridge on a piece of dowelling that we had already set into place for this purpose. Then we told them that knights, when not in battle, would often challenge one another to various competitions. We had several challenges in mind for them. Each challenge was optional, but would win their team points as well as earn them individual points towards knighthood. The first challenge was to run the gauntlet. One at a time, the kids went through, with the opposite team members helping out with some of the obstacles.
The first obstacle was the hall of swords. We'd collected cardboard wrapping paper tubes, pool noodles and extra pipe insulation (for swords) and made a cardboard tunnel for the kids to pass through. There were holes through which each of the swords could be poked and wiggled (with the help of the opposing team). The knight had to navigate through the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel we had a large swining cardboard axe they had to sneak past to finish the tunnel section. The next part had a 2/4 which the knights had to cross with having wet sponges and water balloons hefted at them. Then they needed to cross our set of monkey bars, and jump through a snake pit (area with skipping ropes the other team wiggled and kept low to the ground). Then they crawled through a play tunnel which we rolled around a bit for the older kids, and lastly they had to cross the alligator infested swamp which was a kiddie pool we filled with plastic balls (we considered filling it with jello, but came to our senses in time!) and added four stepping stones which were small boards with half-tennis balls screwed into the bottom to make them wobbly. Once they reached the other side, they had to ring the bell (a traditional teacher's bell), to declare their success.
Challenge #2: Jousting Beneath our maple tree, we chalked out lines where the knights would ride. We also hung up a shallow bucket filled with water and small wet sponges in the centre so that it hung about two feet above their heads. The kids went two at a time, one from each team, and armed with a jousting pole made from a cardboard wrapping tube. The idea was to knock the bucket in a way as to get your opponent wet but stay dry yourself. We had to play around with the bucket height a bit, and refill it many times, but once it worked, this was a big hit. As often as not, the first hit got both kids wet.
Challenge #3: Quest for the Holy Grail Once the kids were toweled off a bit, we brought them inside and into our family room. I didn't spend much time decorating this room, but did try to keep the toys etc. that matched the theme in prominent spots, and hid away non-theme items, including the television. I added a few purple and gold helium balloons in the corners of the room, but didn't do much beyond that. One thing I did do was play medieval-styled music throughout the party (both indoors and outdoors) from several CDs I found at the library. The library also had court dancing videos which featured dance from the period, and instruction in these as well. This didn't fit into our timing, but might be nice to consider for a future party (maybe one with a Cinderella or fairytale castle theme). I briefly explained that some medieval Christians sought out the Holy Grail, which they believed was the wine glass used by Jesus during the last supper, and was rumoured to have all sorts of special holy powers. We were going to search they way they might have done and see what we find. Rather than having them run around the house searching for individual clues, we gave each team a large map of the medieval world (well, from a European point of view anyhow) that I'd drawn on white bristol board based on maps from various history books, and with a bit of Arthurian flavour. We also provided clues. Once they found the right spot, they could trade in their clue for the next one.
We had place clues about the different areas, but also some general medieval trivia about both King Arthur and also about European history, many of which we'd made a point of mentioning earlier during the party. We added a few logic puzzle-type codes etc. so it wouldn't be so academic throughout this part. It was kind of a weird combination of where in time is Carmen Sandiego and The DaVinci Code! The last clue sent them on a race to find the grail. We made it challenging by having three grails there, only one of which was the supposed real one. They had to assemble their clues to learn that it was the wooden one. The kids were then given acrylic goblets to decorate using plastic peel-and-stick jewels and metallic fabric puffy paint. Then we ate. The round table meal: we set the table with pita bread trenchers instead of plates, and only very dull butter knives for cutlery (to keep it authentic to the period). On the buffet table we served: corn on the cob, three kinds of home-sliced breads, cheeses, butter, whole peeled carrots, asparagus spears, and medieval stew (stew made with barley and root vegetables more for the adults than the kids though, and those who had some were allowed to use spoons!)) fruit kebabs spiked into a cheese ball stone (not exactly authentic, but visually effective!) Ale, wine, beer (ginger ale, grape juice, rootbeer) Since we are vegetarian, we found the food challenging, but if you are not vegetarian, you can add chicken or turkey legs to the menu, as well as ribs or other messy meats.
Castle cake: I made a two-layer square cake with four towers: two shorter in front with flat-bottom styled cones with wide tops and two taller ones at the back with inverted pointy cones; front towers made from ding dong shaped cakes, the back towers were made from pound cakes cut to shape. All were iced first with apricot jam then with a fondant icing. I added a cookie drawbridge on the front, banners and flags from paper and toothpicks, light grey cream icing with brick texture drawn on with toothpicks; and cube shaped candy to form bumpy wall tops. I also made two front windows with a portcullis trim made from black licorice strings Using string black licorice, I made smaller windows on each tower. I iced the cake platter blue for the moat, and sprinkled green cake sprinkles on the corners for grass, which I topped with a cleaned toy dragon (playmobil) off to one side, and some green-iced ice-cream cone trees off to the other side.
Next challenge: The Sword in the Stone We told the kids about the legend that says that whoever should pull the sword from the stone shall reign as king of Camelot. I couldn't find any versions of games I liked of this theme, so I invented my own. I went to our local second-hand hardware store and found a dozen cabinet handles that could look like sword handles. I fastened each to a 6 piece of old wood salvaged from broken hockey sticks, which I spray painted silver. To the bottom, I screwed or glued on a variety of things I found cheap at second hand stores and from our scrap pickup: an umbrella skeleton, a sawed-off hockey stick, two toy brooms, a toy shovel, a bunch of artificial flowers, etc. and added a toy sword to only one of them, which I discretely marked at the top, but then decided to number the handles instead.
I made a stone from an old bed sheet spray painted grey draped over an umbrella stand we have that has a rounded top and various round openings (you could make this yourself by cutting a kids large vinyl play ball to fit the top of a bucket or wastepaper bin). I then cut holes in the sheet big enough to hide the bottoms of each object and leaving only the handles that look the same showing. To make the bottoms less visible, I cut off scraps of fabric from the edges of the sheet and weaved them over the top. I had discussed this ahead with my older son (who played the king for the first half of the party) so he was on board for what happened next. Each person picked a number from Merlin's hat (you could have Merlin himself present if you have enough adults), and pulled the corresponding handle from the stone. We rigged it so that my youngest would get the one with the bottom that was the sword. Each child tried to pull the sword from the stone, but there were some very confused and surprised looks when they pulled out other things instead (like a golf club!). We crowned my youngest as king when he successfully pulled the sword from the stone.
Next challenge: Rescue the princess The task for each team was to first tame the dragon, then rescue the princess and bring her to your castle. We had two adults help with this. For the first team, my brother played the dragon, who refused to do any tricks and kept creating mischief and havoc. He has long arms and is very good at tickling. The princess was a doll under an inverted laundry basket, so once they got past the dragon the rest was easy. The other team had a toy dragon (made from twisted balloons) that they had to get past, then they had to rescue my sister in law who played their princess. Except the princess had better things to do than be rescued! She didn't want to miss her soap opera, and had to finish doing her nails, etc They eventually convinced her by promising her chocolate if she'd follow them inside their castle.
The final challenge was to storm the castle. We found some simple catapults the kids could build online. One used wooden clothes pegs and a plastic spoon, the other uses a wire clothes hanger, elastic bands and a plastic spoon. The kids could build what they preferred and try them out. We gave them pieces of sponges for ammunition. Once they were finished their building, we lined them up and gave them each a bucket of water to wet their ammunition. We put a silk scarf behind each castle and explained the rules of the game. Each team could use their catapults to attack the other team. The goal was to steal the other team's flag without losing your own first. Anyone tagged by the other side had to go to the tower and have a ball and chain attached to their leg (a black water balloon tied to their leg). They were freed when one of their own team members stomped on the balloon for them. We played this game twice, and they would have gone on forever if we'd let them. One tip: if you use glue on your catapult, make sure it dries waterproof if you intend to use wet ammunition.
After this, we ended with the knighting ceremony. For demonstrating the true qualities of the knights of the round table: honesty, bravery, loyalty, kindness, patience, and honour (etc.), the birthday royals knighted them one at a time, and by their names and a quality they especially possessed during the party We had them kneel before the king at the thrones, then we used their first name followed by either their street name or last name ie. Sir Jarod of Connorland, you have shown outstanding patience and loyalty, persevering where many would have failed. I dub thee Sir Jarod, good Knight of Camelot. Rise and go forth my good man! Etc. as they were dubbed in the traditional way with a (toy) sword tapping them on one shoulder then the other. They could then collect their catapult and king's tribute (small canvass bags of chocolate coins), and they kept their armour and goblets as well. The winning team received extra coins and a balloon from the decorations in the family room.
After the ceremony, they all wanted to storm the castles again, and did so until their parents came. It was a bit wild, but loads of fun, and some of the parents joined in too. We took pictures of each child during the knighting ceremony, and sent those in the thank you emails after the party.