Monday 4 June 2007

The Ride of the Kings

The Ride of the Kings is a traditional horseback procession that was once widely performed across Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia. It now survives in just five or six Moravian villages and on the last weekend of May each year the biggest and brightest parade takes place at Vlčnov, near Uherské Hradiště.

The ride has its roots in the old Christian festival of Whitsuntide, but has evolved to tell the story of Hungarian King Matthias Corvin, who fled via Vlčnov, Kunovice and Hluk to his stronghold at Trenčin after being defeated in battle at Bilovec in 1469 by his father-in-law (and Bohemian King) Jíři of Poděbrady.

The central role in the event is played by the brightest 10-12 year old boy of the village who is chosen by his peers to represent the king. Mounted on a white horse, he’s disguised in the traditional ceremonial dress of the region’s ladyfolk and holds a rose between his teeth to symbolize the silence of the Hungarian King’s escape. His two sabre-wielding bodyguards are similarly attired and they are accompanied by an entourage of 15-20 callers or criers, also on horseback and wearing traditional male regional costume, or “Kroje”. The horses are draped with embroidered saddlecloths and hundreds of brightly-coloured flowers and ribbons and the whole thing is an amazingly colourful spectacle.

The festivities begin on Friday night with traditional music in the wine cellars (boudy) and continue on the Saturday with dance and more wine. but the culmination of the weekend is the Sunday. The day begins with presentations of this years participants to the mayor and the general public The ride itself begins in the late morning when all the riders have made their way through the crowd assembled outside the king’s house and the improbably costumed lad has been lifted onto his steed. Led by a flagbearer (an experienced horseman older than the criers, who are usually aged 18) the king and his party then set out for the centre of the village, and the spectators follow or are swept along.

The procession winds through the streets and lanes and the criers collect money from the crowd for their king who has fallen into difficult circumstances. They call traditional or improvised rhymes to encourage donations, and the wittier the verse, the higher should be the donation. The standard beginning is “Máme krale chudobného ale poctivého” (we have a king poor but chaste) and you’ll hear things like; “Za fotečku, do botečkou” “For a photo-shoot, into the boot” (where the donations are carried) or “Tento pan pěkně směje, jistě mě něco do boty přispěje”, “Smiling widely is that man; contribute something, sure he can!” It’s pretty poor form not to donate if you’re singled out, so it’s good to have some 20Kč coins along with you for the purpose.

Having taken loads of photographs at the same event last year and shown them at length to anyone who was interested or could be nailed down for a few minutes, there were about ten people keen to come along to see this year’s Ride. Marshalling them all to the train station for the 7am Sunday morning start proved easier than expected and the weather was surprisingly clear after the fierce storms of the night before. The day started to turn when our train developed a ten-minute delay due to the safety signals being damaged by lightning the night before, making it increasingly unlikely that we would make our eight minute connection to the bus at Staré Město u Uherské Hradiště.

Friends with a car called past and picked a couple of us up, but the rest of us had to get the local train into Uherské Hradiště and call a taxi from there. The 14km taxi ride cost us more than the 80km return train ride, but we couldn’t get this close and then give up for the sake of 100Kč each, could we?

And it was good that we didn’t. The ride was a bigger spectacle than most were expecting and despite the heat and humidity everyone had a great day. We had a crowded bus ride back to Hradiště, but the train delays worked in our favour this time, giving us a little extra time to make our connections. We were home in Olomouc by 6.30pm, tired and a bit sunburnt, but happy to have been part of a unique and vibrant centuries-old tradition, all the more remarkable for being kept up enthusiastically by teenage boys and young men despite all the distractions of life in the age of playstation and the internet.


morskyjezek said...

Hi, nice pictures and account of the Ride of the Kings! I was there in 2004 and almost got run over by a horse. It was quite a lot of fun. I overnighted in Uhersky Brod beforehand, which made it easier to get there bright and early.

Will you be going on more folklore outings over the summer?

Captain Oddsocks said...

Haha, Some of those horses get a bit tetchy don't they? The Doloplazy Ride of the Kings is coming up on the 1st of July and the one at Kojetin on August 19. I'd like to go to both, but will have to see how it works out...