Medieval myths: the story behind Walsall’s wonderous wooden wands

The Charlemagne head on one of the Bayard’s Colts

The Charlemagne head on one of the Bayard’s Colts Walsall Leather Museum

The mysterious origins of the Bayard’s Colts - a collection of 17 ceremonial wooden clubs dating back to the 1400s - will be explored at the Walsall Leather Museum on Wednesday 3 April (7.30pm-9pm).

The free event has been organised by academics from the University of Bristol. The colts are normally held in store and two will be brought out in a special display case for this occasion, enabling visitors to get closer to the colts than ever before.

Named after the mythical horse, Bayard, which features in several legends surrounding the French emperor Charlemagne, the colts were carried at processions and civic events in the Walsall area for centuries.

Many of the colts have a carved wooden character at its head and one, which will be on display at the event, is thought to depict Charlemagne himself.

During the mid-19 th century, the clubs were hung on the walls of the Magistrates’ Court in the Walsall Guildhall but in 1969 two of the clubs fell from their hanging place while the court was in session and were found to be infested with wood worm.

They were then transferred to the care of Walsall Museum, which arranged for their restoration.

Dr Marianne Ailes , Senior Lecturer in French from the School of Modern Languages at the University of Bristol, is one of the academics organising the event and will be giving a talk about the history of these remarkable artefacts.

She heads-up an international project , funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which is investigating the legend of Charlemagne in various linguistic cultures of medieval Europe.

The project will culminate in a series of books that will cover the history and mythology around Charlemagne in more detail than ever before.

Dr Ailes said: “Bayard first appeared in an early 13 th - century French epic poem and was a wonder horse capable of carrying four men at a time and of understanding human speech.

“Belonging to the knight Renaud, one of Charlemagne’s rebellious barons, the horse is eventually captured by the emperor who ties a large stone to Bayard’s neck and has the horse pushed into the river. Bayard however smashes the stone with his hooves and escapes to live forever more in the woods.”

The event also features a storyteller who will recite the tale of Bayard.