by Ivo Blackheart
To hear those who knew Sir Riccardo Di Pissa speak of him is to hear a string of absolutes glued together by places and names.
Described as “the largest personality,” “the loudest,” “the most fun” and “the archetypal Lion,” people said when Riccardo set foot on site, he embraced the game with both arms and was determined to live his SCA life to the fullest, having as much fun as humanly possible while doing it.
Knighted in summer of 1981, Riccardo was one of the informal group of knights considered a first generation of native chivalry by today’s standards. The Kingdom, not even five years old at the time, was still in its infancy with new members learning what it was to be Ansteorra, and longer-standing members learning the same following the kingdom’s separation from Atenveldt.
Riccardo came into his element as an energetic prankster, fighter, bombast, royalist, flirt, and ad hoc thespian. Those who knew him said he never turned down a chance to have fun, or to encourage others to do the same with him. The energy and enthusiasm he put into both the the society and the people around him was recognized for its full worth in 1982 when he was made a Lion by King Lloyd II & Queen Joselyn II.
Count Jan, Riccardo’s knight and third king of Ansteorra, spoke of the man’s antics and accomplishments during a recent interview.
One such adventure saw Ricardo travel to Atenveldt as royal entourage with the specific intent of winning the prize for best death that day, a dramatic flare that the Atenveldt crown was actively encouraging. Towards that end, Ricardo fell to the ground in several dramatic ways that day. But, Jan recalled, the theatrics did not stop with the tournament.
That night at feast, Riccado took on the role of poison tester, tasting every piece of food and sipping every glass that was presented before the Ansteorra crown. When not taking on the role of poison tester, he stood at the King’s side throughout the meal, rather than sit down and join in the meal.
The example set by Riccardo had a dramatic effect on the presence of the feasters that night. As the meal went on, Knights rose to stand next to their king or nobles in like fashion, some even tasting the food as well. What had started as a friendly meal had taken on a distinct level of formality, fun, and a distinct medieval flair by the last remove.
In the tournament of Lyons in Bejornsburg, Jan was unable to attend due to health considerations, but Riccardo didn’t pass up an opportunity. Riccardo impersonated his knight so that Jan’s presence would not be missed. Those present later agreed that the man’s gestures, swagger, attitude, and speech were a worthy invocation of the kingdom’s third monarch.
During a later crown tournament, he entered court with his squires flanking him and a group of hired drummers in tow, adding musical accompaniment to his entrance. And at another Crown, he sent his letter of intent in calligraphied Italian. No one in the court could actually read it, but it was still considered both impressive and typical of Riccardo.
The man’s larger-than-life presence was not limited to the list field or the event,.
“He played his persona to the hilt,” said Jan, saying he was also a fun-loving “dirty old man” who never hesitated to compliment a woman, but always knew when to end the joke before someone was truly offended.
At a fighter practice, he ambushed the local heavy fighters by armoring some of the local rapier community and giving them spears, leading them in a surprise attack on the unsuspecting chivalric fighters.
“The marshals today would have a conniption fit if we did something like that,” Jan said.
One contemporary recalled his frequently greeting acquaintances with “Hello, my name is Sir Riccardo di Pisa. Oh, I see you’ve heard of me? Good, that is how it should be!”
Even within artistic fields, humor did not escape him. When Riccardo’s arms were passed, he commissioned a pair of leggings to be made with heraldic flame down the sides. During the process, the seamstress used red and black markers to outline where the stitching had to go. The side effect of this was the permanent marker bled through and stained his skin, leaving the bombastic knight with red and black flames to explain any time anyone saw his bare legs.
Jan also pointed out that Riccardo’s enthusiasm was strongly credited with helping to make Gulf Wars the success it had become today. He was seen and remembered for his loud, encouraging proclamations of a pending war and a call to rally the troops.
Riccardo’s love of courts played well to this endeavor. He was boisterous, and he would take on a “fundamentalist preacher” persona to try and rally the troops. People asked for “brother Riccardo to come speak with us” to help recruit the troops. The efforts, though best remembered for Gulf Wars, were also put forward for many other, smaller, wars or events over the years.
The campaign helped Ansteorra muster large forces during the early years of the war, creating the building blocks that we see today where attendance at the great event is part of the kingdom culture.
But perhaps the single longest lasting aspect of Riccardo is an artefact that is now all but enshrined in the kingdom culture.
Cynric of Bedwyn, one of Riccardo’s Squires recently recounted how in the early 1990s, Riccardo forged his own sword with the aid of Master Peter of the Golden Isle in Bryn Gwlad. In 1995, Riccardo’s health declined, and he received a liver transplant, curtailing his time in armour. After his discharge, he passed the sword to his Cynric, who held it for two years.
In the fall of 1997, the Ansteorran Sword of State was stolen from the king’s vehicle following his return home from an event. This would set the backdrop for events to follow later that reign.
In spring of 1998, Riccardo had minor surgery, but complications from the procedure would ultimately prove to be more than he could overcome. He passed away less than two weeks from the start of Gulf Wars 7.
Jan recounted that Riccardo’s death was among the first of its type for the kingdom, the loss of a figure that well known and that largely respected was a new chapter for a then young kingdom still working to fully form its own identity. The word of his death was the undercurrent for nearly every battle and court held in Ansteorra that war.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Cynric recounted, he reach out to the kingdom and offered Riccardo’s sword to the Ansteorra as a long term loan so long as it was in use as the Sword of State. The process started at Gulf War that year.
When a new member asked about Sir Riccardo at the war, one of the crown’s attendants, a man who’s name is lost to antiquity, would summarize the knight’s story with, “he was a hero, from a kingdom of heroes!”
In the intervening two decades, the sword would be used for oaths of fealty and service by the crown, and to this day, the sword of Riccardo Di Pissa is still held by the court and is part of the tools of state used for official business. Later still, a road at the Gulf War’s site, in the Ansteorran encampment, was named Sir Riccardo Di Pissa Way in his honor.
“Even Riccardo’s detractors considered him a quintessential Lion,” said Jan. “Riccardo knew how to play the game. It came to him naturally, and when he played it, other people felt better. Come to a campfire and talk about Riccardo with people who knew him. Riccardo was a flawed man, but was a great spirit.”
And thus, from a Kingdom of heroes came Sir Riccardo Di Pissa.