Building Crests for Mounted Combat

by Robert Odekirk (aka Sir Rapheal the Rogue) and Crystal Smithwick (aka Mistress Kerij-e)

The medieval crest (from the word "crist" meaning "cock's comb") was part of the arms that identified a knight. It was displayed on his person by a figure on the top of his helmet.  It not only aided in the majesty of a knight's display, but also identified him in the mass of battle.



Figure 1 Wrath and Couer clash in King Rene's Book of Love.


In the 15th century a form of the tournament was practiced called a "Kolbenturnier" or "Baston Course."  Groups of mounted knights would attempt to bash each other's crests off while keeping their own intact. 


In the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a version of this tournament has been developed. It is usually known as "Mounted Combat" or "Crest Combat."  Unlike the original Kolbenturnier, in which wooden clubs called "Kolbens" or "bastons" were employed to destroy the opponents crest, we use padded "boffer" weapons and the crests are attached with velcro.  A nice solid hit dislodges the crest.


NOTE:  Please check your Kingdom's current Equestrian Rules to determine if this type of combat is legal in  your Kingdom and that this style and size of crest adheres to those rules. We make no guarantees, please use common sense.


Figure 1 - A German kolben aka a mace/baton/wand/cudgel
from King Rene's Tournament book



In trying to determine the appropriate size of a crest, we examine a number of manuscript illustrations and came to the conclusion that crests were at least as large again as the helmet.




Figure 2: How crests were attached to the helm.
from King Rene's Tournament Book


So we were determined to create a crest that a) was of the appropriate 3-D size of a period crest, b) would be legal for SCA mounted combat and b) be lightweight, yet sturdy enough to last the one tournament not to be a detriment to the rider.


According to Terence Wise, in Medieval Heraldry, helmet crests were made of molded leather, parchment, whalebone, beaten copper sheets, plumes and feathers, or canvas stretched over a wicker frame, thin wood, or paper mache.   He does not distinguish which methods were medieval and which were modern.





In Tournaments, Richard Barber suggests that crests were " constructed of light materials -- cloth over a wooden frame, perhaps, and would have been totally impractical for real warfare."   Later he quotes Traites du Duel Judiciarie.  "The crest, made of cuir bouilli and attached to the top of the helm is given a place of pride at the head of the list of armor to be worn."



Figure 3: A German Jousting Helm of the 15th century.

In his Web article, “A casual discussion on making Medieval crests for tournament helmets”, Randy Asplund describes his attempts at making a leather fan crest and mentioned a booklet by Cennini’s The Craftsman’s Handbook  which describes the process of molding the leather and applying the layers of gesso to sculpt the crest.  Mistress Anne-Marie Rousseau tried this approach, but found the plaster made the crest too heavy to be held on by velcro.

This is when we hit upon the idea of solid foam as the core of our crests, covered with a cloth mache. So a trip to the craft store was declared.  In the aisle with the silk flowers and things is an amazing array of foam shapes, including 3" to 6" spheres, cones,


For Rapheal's crest, we started with the hollow Christmas stags from your local craft store.  We cut it off at the waist (being a demi-stag) and then filled it with expanding foam (intended to fill gaps in plumbing).


Figure 4: the hollow deer filled with foam


Raph decided that the antlers were too small, so he hacked them off and made a new set using solid craft foam that he carved, shaped and reinforced with wire.  He then further reinforced the antlers with decoupage and fabric.

Tip: To shape foam, use a scrap piece of foam as a sanding block.


Figure 5: The antlers take shape


Then, being a viscount, he decided he needed a circlet, so he made on of leather. He filled it with a disk of foam, which he attached the demi-stag.


Figure 6: The circle and base


He mounted the antlers on a separate stick which sat behind the stag, adding extra support. The antlers were also attached to the stag with strips of cloth soaked in decoupage goup. More goup and strips attached the stag to the base.


Figure 7: The crest assembled before the final layer of decoupage and then re-gilding.


Once that was dry, he added a thin layer of flour and water paste as a gesso layer to create a smooth finish.


In a less complicated design, Kerij-e chose a sun emerging from the basket (she is playing a conceit of a mysterious women rider.).   She took a small basket ($1) and cut off the handle, with wire attached a foam sphere ($3.50.) and then cut 5 rays from a sheet of foam ($5.95 - We only used about 1/4 for the sun and another 1/4 for antlers and base. The rest was used for the horse. .)  The rays were attached  with wooden chopsticks dipped in glue and then inserted into the foam.  I used wire u-pins to fasten the foam to the basket.



Figure 8: The basket, the foam ball, and the rays attached with sticks.


Then I use paper-mache and decoupage goop to cover everything.   After it dried overnight, I was able to paint it.

Tip: Mod Podge(r) brand goop is REALLY good at sticking. I hand intended on repositioning the sun in the basket, but the next morning it was completly stuck!



Figure 9: The painted crest


I sewed the velcro patch to the bottom of the basket, but as a retrofit, I am going to modpodge a bit of thin particle board to the bottom and use a fresh piece of tape on velcro.


This crest was used as the loaner crest and took quite a beating.  The only damage it took was that the tips got a bit mashed and the stiching holding on the velcro stretched.


Cornelia's horse head crest

This is a crest Kerij-e is making for Lady Cornelia. Kerij-e used four layers of foam. Two that were horse head shaped and two for the shoulders. She added triangles of foam for the eye ridges.  The ears are felt, the mane and forelock are fabric soaked with decoupage stuff and arranged into a mane. This crest is exactly 10" x  5" x 3" and weighs about 9 oz.  As a final step a long U shaped pin was stuck throught the base of the foam crest. About 1/2 inch gap was left on the u-end and the prongs on the other end were bend up and fastened to the crest with more goup and strips.  This is the attachment for the lanyards.



Figures 10 and 11 - Lady Cornelia's crest ready for painting



To attach these wonders to our helmets, we used velcro patches about 2" x 2"  to the crest and then about 4" x 4" on the help (our aim isn't that good).  Lanyards were tied to the u hook with the other end on the helmet.


The Loaner Crests

Kerij-e really loved the foam sculpting and made several loaner crests.  Having purchased a cool little tool for cutting foam. Kerij-e tried her hand at creating a set of wings.  The tool made it easy to create smooth curves and little notches.   The two halfs were cut at a 45-ish degree angle at the base and glued together. The lanyard u hook was added and then the whole thing was covered in electrical tape. She didn't end up marking any details like feathers on it for the event, but it was used and held up very well. 


A second loaner was never actually used. (It didn't fit the helmet.) but was based on a period German crest of three sausages on a stick.  The sausages were made from a 12" foam wreath base, cut into three sections. The ends were rounded off. Each sausage was impaled on the stick (a pilot hole helped things along). and then tape was used to hold them into place. The stick was impaled into a half-sphere. The sausages were covered in red tape and the stick and base in silver tape.


A third loaner crest, which is not shown, was a simple tower shape with battlements. It was covered in duct tape with had bricks, arches and windows drawn on it. It inspired no one to use it ;-)


The results

We were rather pleased with the results.  More care would have resulted in finer finishes on the sun and the horse. Raph's crest with the full mantling was very impressive. All of the crests were light and durable.  (Raph's deer did lose a leg from one shot, but was otherwise unharmed.) 

There was a presentation of the crests to the ladies of the berfois and the crests looked wonderful lined up on a wall. It was a very impressive display and evoked the scene from King Renee's of the judging of the crests.

Even if you don't plan on using them for a kolbenturnier, crests were a lot of fun to make and added a definite sense of style to the processionals.



Figure 12 and 13: Raph's completed crest  Figure 14: Kerij-e's completed crest Figure 14: Cornelia's completed crest  

Figure 15: a  loaner crest of red wings Figure 16: a loaner crest of sausages on a stick.    




SCA Rules for Mounted Crest Combat

Making Medieval Crests for Tournament Helmets by Randy Asplund (web:

Wise, Terence. Medieval Heraldry. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 1980.

Cennini, Cennino d'Andrea, Jr. Daniel V. Thompson The Craftsman's Handbook: "Il Libro dell' Arte"  Dover Publications; (June 1, 1978)

Crests of the British College of Heralds (web:

Roman crests, could easily be adapted: (web:
Clephan, The Medieval Tournament Dover Publications; Dover ed edition (August 1, 1995)

Barber, Richard. Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pagents in the Middle Ages  Boydell Press; New Ed edition (July 6, 2000)

Rene D'Anjou, King Rene's Book of Love

Rene D'Anjou, King Renee's Book of Tournament



Modge Podge - All in one glue, sealer, and finish(

Micheal's Crafts Store article on working with foam (

The Wonder (r) Cutter tool (web: