Carlo Tuzzio was 5 years old when he saw the knights in armor at the Museum of Art in New York. He decided then to be a knight.
“I knew that in some way, somehow, I was going to find out what it was like to ride a horse and be a knight in shining armor,” Tuzzio said.
Now in his own middle ages, Tuzzio is a knight in shining armor who often sits astride his warhorse Caesar. Tuzzio’s armor is a custom-fitted reproduction of a suit from the mid-1500s that was made in Austria. Caesar also wears armor to protect his head and neck.
Tuzzio is a medieval historian who presents programs to students, youth groups and adults on the true life of a knight through his business. A Knight to Remember.
From April through the first week in June, he is booked almost every morning for programs in schools from Illinois to Green Bay. He doesn’t bring Caesar to schools, but passes around a model of a warhorse in full armor.
During the summer, Tuzzio and Caesar go to small Renaissance fairs, company picnics, equestrian events, Scottish Highland games and other events that have a medieval focus.
“Caesar’s really the star of the show. I’m just the shiny thing on his back,” said Tuzzio, who trained the Tennessee walker trail horse to be a warhorse and respond to his commands.
Tuzzio is not a re-enactor, but an educator. He walks among the people or tends to his horse, keeping in character as he answers questions in a precise, English nobleman’s dialect and arrogant demeanor.
His alter ego is a dream come true, which is another message Tuzzio wants to impart to children.
“I ask the kids if anyone has told them their ideas are foolish and a waste of time and money. I tell them, ‘If you apply yourself, work hard and obtain the proper education, you can be anything you want to be, even a knight in shining armor in the modern-day world,’” Tuzzio said.
When he’s not a knight, Tuzzio is a second-shift production supervisor at Production Plastics in Saukville. He recently moved from Saukville to the Town of Trenton in Washington County.
Since developing the school education program 13 years ago, he has worked second and third-shift jobs to accommodate his other career.
His aim is to debunk myths about knights and bring history lessons to life. He encourages children and adults to pick up the medieval artifacts he collects, including pieces of real armor. People are often surprised at how thin and lightweight the armor is.
“A common misconception is that it’s very thick and heavy. My suit weighs 75 pounds,” Tuzzio said. “That’s no heavier than what today’s combat soldiers are required to carry on their backs.
“It’s meant to deflect weapons and blows, which is why it’s pointed. The armor’s strength is not only from the tempering of the metal but also its shape.”
The armor is lightweight and flexible, with many joints that allow the arms and legs to move while being protected and the knight to mount and dismount his steed, Tuzzio said.
“It’s amazing how the knight could be encased in armor and still have mobility and comfort,” Tuzzio said.
Since he is a horseback soldier, Tuzzio does not wear armor on the back of his legs, thighs and buttocks so he can maneuver the horse.
The suit of armor not only protected the knight but also reflected the fashion of the era, Tuzzio said. His newest armor has a sharp point at the chest, a design popular in France during that period. His first suit of armor also comes to a more rounded point at the chest, reflecting German fashion.
Even when not in battle, knights often wore a decorative armored neck piece, called a gorget, that showed their rank in society and the military.
Knights provided their own armor and horses, something only wealthy noblemen could afford, Tuzzio said.
A knight was rarely killed, he said, because he was more valuable as a prisoner held for ransom.
“If he was killed, it was by accident while trying to capture him,” Tuzzio said.
Warhorses were slender, strong, athletic animals that were 15-1/2 to 16 hands high. Caesar, who is 20, weighs 1,100 pounds. The horse was 9 when Tuzzio bought him.
When demonstrating Caesar’s prowess, Tuzzio, who has ridden horses since he was a child, has the horse rear as he leans into the animal. He also rides the horse bareback.
A knight’s horse was his main weapon. The sword was secondary, Tuzzio said.
Most battles were to protect their own or their king’s property and were against poorly armed peasants, Tuzzio said.
The foot soldiers would be sent first to break the line, then the knights went in on horses to disperse or trample the enemy.
“There was no code of honor in battle. The knights were highly successful. A rearing horse against an opponent on foot is a formidable weapon,” Tuzzio said.
When there were no battles in his country, a knight would sell his services to the highest bidder.
“They were called the Company of Free Lances, which is where the word freelance comes from,” Tuzzio said.
When knights met each other, they lifted their face protection with their right hand as a gesture of recognition and respect.
“That’s the origin of the military salute,” Tuzzio said.
When he was in the Air Force, Tuzzio took a military history class, furthering his knowledge of medieval times.
Tuzzio worked for a company that made medieval weapons and gear and sold their wares at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha and other events.
When he got his first suit of armor, he walked around the fair, talking to people as a knight.
“An educator asked if I would give a program in his school, and that’s how it started,” Tuzzio said. “It spread by word of mouth.”
When he got Caesar, he added warhorse demonstrations. Caesar wears the minimum protection a warhorse would have. Some had full body armor, Tuzzio said.
When he’s riding Caesar and looking down at the masses, Tuzzio said he feels like a knight.
“The armor is encumbering, but it’s also empowering,” he said. “When you wear armor like that, it gives you a sense of infallibility. You feel that you’re impervious and nothing can harm you. That must have been how the knights felt.”
Tuzzio and his historian friends plan to see the new film version of “Robin Hood” starring Russell Crowe that opens Friday.
“We love films like that and love finding the inaccuracies,” Tuzzio said. “The movies are enjoyable, get people excited about the era and keep me employed. It gives me lots of new material.”
More information is on the Web site www.knighttoremember.com.