Webpage Supplement to:

Chapter 29: Medieval Re-Enactments

Thomas M. Stallone

Re-Posted, September 30, 2006.

Three Parts:
1. More about events:
2. On Creating a Persona
3. Further References and Resources

Events: Outdoor and Indoor

Outdoor Events

The tournament is usually the focus of an outdoor event.  At a tournament you will usually find lists in which heavy fighters battle each other. At the same event, you will also find fencers, and if there is enough space, archers. At the even there may be a contest for all three martial skills or they may only be one or two. Here is what it might feel like attending a tournament for each:

The Heavy Tournament

Tournaments will generally be held around a theme. For example, one week you may attend "The Baronial Champion's Tournament" and the next week, the "The Tournament of the Rose" – a heavy fighter tournament where the fighters will contest for the love and honor of their ladies (or gentlemen) in combat. Entering the event site you are greeted at the troll booth by a member who asks you to sign in, fill out the requisite legal waivers, and pay the site fee. You stroll down the lane and come upon a series of medieval pavilions filled with merchants hawking their wares. You can buy tunics, dresses, footwear, medieval jewelry, books, and just about anything else a modern medievalist could want. You might even see bumper stickers saying "Woad Warrior" on them for sale. Everyone greets you with a "good day, milord," or "good day, milady" with a genteel nod and wave of their hand or modest curtsey.

Further down the road you find more pavilions surrounding a roped-off area where the men and women ar getting ready to engage in armored combat. You may see a knight giving last minute instructions to his or her squires on the fine points of a particular attack. You find the men and women who will fight in today's tournament preparing their armor for inspection by the marshals who will referee the bouts. The heralds and the marshals gather in the center of the eric (i.e., the roped-off area where the combat is to take place) and declare the tournament open.

The herald calls out the names of the first two combatants as they stand facing each other in the eric. He leads them through a ritual of bowing and saluting with their weapons saying, "My Lords! Give honor to the Crown"…to which the combatants turn and salute in the direction of where the King or the King's representative is sitting. The herald then cries, "Give honor to the assembled crowd"…to which they turn and bow the their audience. The herald goes on to say, "Give honor to the person to whom you fight for"…and they turn, kneel, and salute their Ladies. The herald concludes with, "And give honor to your most worthy opponent"…to which the fighters bow and salute each other.

The herald moves outside the eric and the marshals cry, "Lay On!" The combat begins. You see them circle each other testing for weaknesses in each other's defenses. Then they charge and a furious exchange of blows is dealt. One warrior aims a strike to the other's neck, but is deftly parried by the other's shield who returns a blow to his opponent's thigh. A marshal cries, "Hold!" as the fighter retreats trying to evade the strike and get too close to the rope boundary or the eric. The fighting stops and the combatants reposition themselves in the center. The marshal gives to all clear saying, "Lay On!" and the combatants trade blows until one blow strikes cleanly to the top of the other's helm. That fighter falls down and the other is declared the victor.

The day concludes with a court is held in front of the main pavilion by the Baron and Baroness. The heralds call forth the winners and they (and the Ladies or Lords for whom they fought) are publicly honored for their accomplishments. The Baron presents each of the winners with a lovely long-stemmed rose who, in turn, kneel and present their roses to their consort. Afterwards, some of the members decide to have some fun and go into town still dressed in their medieval garb and have dinner at a restaurant and see what effect they will have on the other patrons (sometimes called by the members "freaking the mundies" (i.e., mundanes – nonSCA people). 

The Rapier Tournament:

The next event you might attend a Rapier tournament – a "Tournament of the Blade" where the winner is presented with an ornate hilt attached to a premium schläger blade. You may witness the fighters engaged in classical fencing (i.e., in the round instead of in the straight line combat seen in college/sport fencing) and using styles researched from such renaissance masters as De Grassi, Agrippa, Fabris, Didier, and Carança. The people here are dressed in late renaissance period garb (i.e., clothing). As you enter the grounds, you hear the sound of live steel ringing. You walk over in the direction of the noise to discover combatants dressed, not in heavy armor, but in padded doublets and fencing masks dueling in the classical style with rapiers in the eric. One fencer is fighting with a rapier and main gauche (i.e., a parrying dagger used in the left hand) while the other fencer is using a cloak along with his rapier. You see a blur of steel as the rapiers clash in a flurry of lunges and ripostes as they verbally banter back and forth. Wait a second; didn't you hear something like that during the duel in The Princess Bride? All of a sudden one of the combatants receives a killing blow and "dies" a spectacular death before an appreciative audience. Part of the role-playing fun of combat at tournaments is the art of dying dramatically. The audience looks like extras in the cast of the movie, Elizabeth R with many men wearing jerkins or doublets and the women wearing late Tudor or Elizabethan costumes. Both are wearing hats with peacock or ostrich plumes in them. The bouts are fast and furious and the moves of the fencers are elegant as they are deadly. The duels you witness would have made such famous stage and screen fight directors as Bob Anderson, Fred Cravens, and William Hobbs proud.

The Archery Tournament

You might travel into the countryside to attend an archery tournament. This event could be held at a municipal park, a farm, or Boy Scout camp. You park your car and follow a family carrying their equipment down to the butts (i.e., the archery range and the targets) where you find men, women, and children aiming bows and firing arrows at distant targets in a contest of skill and accuracy as they try to hit a popinjay on a pole from about 40 yards away. Off in the corner under a tree, you find a balding man dressed in Lincoln green adjusting the feathers on some newly made arrows. He smiles at you as he gets ready to string his 100-pound Welsh longbow and courteously offers to let you try to draw it. You see a couple of men winding crossbows they made and are about to test fire them to see how accurate they are. You see the bolts hit and penetrate two plywood boards stopping at last imbedded in the third. No wonder armored knights hated the crossbowmen. Now where is Nottingham from here? 

Indoor Events:

Indoor events are often revels that usually end in a feast. Attending a revel, you might find, after you enter and sign in, a couple dressed in their best Tudor garb who turn, bow, and greet you most courteously. The lord who entered before you, spots a lady of his acquaintance. He stops, and removing his plumed hat and with a great sweeping flourish, bows very low. The lady, in turn, curtsies and offers him her outstretched hand. He takes the hand in his, lifts it, and bends to gently place a kiss on the back of it.

You notice several people in Norse finery sitting around a table watching two others playing Byzantine chess on a round chessboard. At a table off to the corner in the room, a scribe is teaching some young people calligraphy and how to hold the pen to produce the effect he was demonstrating. You also find some people dressed in Arabic garb who call on Allah to bless you as you pass them. You pass another group of people dressed in Italian renaissance garb debating the merits of Andreas Cappellanus (1941) and his treatise on courtly love.

You leave the room drawn by strains of medieval music being played in a large room down the hall. There you find a group of men and women surrounding a dance master as she explains the steps of the dance everyone will perform later on. She teaches not only the basic steps, but also dance etiquette and how to perform a proper révérence (i.e., a bow/curtsey) for this dance. You notice that it is a flirting dance and the unattached people are having a great time with it by playing the flirtations for all they are worth. Suddenly, the music and dancing begin in earnest. You see the lords and ladies pair up and dance a processional – a French pavane. The pairs of dancers course slowly up the center of the long room, stopping, slowly weaving an intricate pattern. They turn and repeat the procession back down the room in an elegant display of movement and rhythm. The music then switches to a line dance where the men step up the hall while the ladies step down the hall each flirting as they change partners. A nearby lady tells you that the dance is called the Horse's Bransle.

Evening approaches and you notice the smell of food cooking. Hungry, you make your way back towards the kitchen. There you find several people busily cooking the courses that will be served later. They rush you out of the kitchen saying to come back when they need the servers for the tables. The event culminates in a candle-lit feast in the feast hall with banners with the Coats of Arms of the Kingdom and all the various notables adorning the walls of the hall. You take your seat as the cooks announce that the feast is about to begin and servers from each table bring the first of the five courses that will be presented.

The King and Queen sit at the High Table at the head of the hall along with the local Baron and Baroness. Minstrels and jugglers entertain the crowd as they eat. You think, "Didn't I see something like this in the movie, ‘Robin Hood'?" The feast concludes with ceremonial courts held by the local baron as well as the King. During court the herald introduces their Majesties and their Excellencies and instructs the assembled multitude as to the business of the court. The herald proclaims the winners of the contests held during this revel and the herald calls each of them up before the Baron to receive their prizes.

The King's court is more elaborate. At the King's command, the herald calls the autocrat (i.e., the person who organized and ran the event) and reads a richly illuminated scroll declaring to all that the autocrat has received an Award of Arms making her officially a Lady of the Kingdom for her service to her local group. The Lady autocrat kneels in front of the King who presents her with the scroll. The herald cries out to the assembled people, "Three cheers for the Lady Autocrat!" The crowd responds enthusiastically with cheers and applause. The rituals are repeated when the herald calls the name of the local seneschal, (i.e., the administrative manager of the group) who is given a Grant of Arms and entry into the Kingdom Order of High Merit for his four years of service to the local group and for service to the Kingdom. You are full, and everybody is having a good time in a place that carries that special something that says this is a magical moment. For a split second, even you thought you were at a thirteenth century feast at the lord's manor.

More on Creating a Persona

What is the allure of the medieval world to those in the modern world? Madeleine Pelner Cosman, Ph.D., a former director of The Medieval Festival Guild of New York, suggests that medieval life has such a strong appeal because of order. She states, "We, who have so few concepts of order and hierarchy, predictably find the ceremony of medieval life appealing. One knew what was expected. It was a simpler life, yet one rich in beauty and pageantry." Fraught with the complex, and often frightening, problems of the modern world, such medieval groups provide a wonderful retreat that can offer a sense of peace and camaraderie. The modern medieval world is very appealing to people who are idealistic and have a romantic outlook on life (Page, 1985).

The SCA also provides many fine articles to help the person create their new medieval persona. Many members research the persona by delving into history books to create a personal and cultural history for their character.
Chosen nationalities of personae in the SCA are drawn from not only all over western medieval Europe, but also from the Middle East, as well as some of the other cultures that may have come in contact with them! Thus, you might encounter people who have taken on English, French, German, Irish, Islamic, Italians, Norman, Norse, and Scottish personas, and occasionally meet a Numidian, Japanese Samurai, or Native American (i.e., Skraeling or Aztec) at events. Choosing a nationality for yourself will often determine the form your name takes, the clothes you wear, and how you behave around certain nationalities. For instance, a Spaniard may jokingly make snide comments about an Englishman's clothes or a Frenchman's taste in wines and visa versa.

The time period you choose will also be a factor in the development of your medieval persona. The time period encompassed by the SCA's version of the modern medieval world starts with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and ends at 1600 C.E. This allows you great latitude for the time period in which to place yourself. Are you going to be an early post-Roman Gaul or a French courtier during the Renaissance, a Saxon thane, or an Elizabethan swashbuckler? The time period chosen will affect the costumes you wear and your personal history and culture.

Developing a personal history and culture is one of the most complex, yet satisfying parts of the process for a person. Creating your own personal history can be fun. Many people put a lot of effort into it while others do not. This process allows you to creatively explore the real medieval world and place yourself in it. Mentally consider what an average day would look like for your persona and the role you want him or her to portray. For example, imagine what it would be like to be a minor noble's son or daughter in thirteenth century England. In what part of the country were you born? Are you Norman, Saxon, or Welsh? Who were your parents? Who raised you? Who were your siblings? Who are your relatives? Where do you live currently in the medieval world? How did you get from where you were born to where you live now? Some members create elaborate stories of how they got where they are now from where they were born. Often the tale will create their raison d'être for how they will interact with others within the medieval group. This element helps polish the role their medieval persona will enact. For example, how did you get to Verona, and why are you resolutely searching for any members of the Borgia family?

Once your personal history is established, you can then consider how people of your rank and status would dress? How would you interact with others? What trades or abilities would you have (or would like to develop)? How would the talents you already have translate to the medieval world? Would you speak with an Elizabethan flair, an Irish brogue, or with a French accent when talking to others at an event? With these questions in mind, you eagerly start searching the library for books and the internet for articles that might give clues on how such a person might live. If you were a complete novice on medieval history, you might begin to read passages on feudalism, manors, barons, and their vassals to learn more about the social structure of the formal relationships that formed the basis of western medieval society. You might have your curiosity peaked by snippets on herbalism, falconry, or heraldry. What would you be wearing? You read a book on costuming and find something that you like. It even has a pattern to follow with instructions. Then it occurs to you that you do not sew. Well, who can you get to sew this? "Oh yeah, Mom can sew this for me!" Do not worry if you cannot find someone to make your costume in time for your first event, because the SCA has an office called "Gold Key" or the "Chatelaine" that can provide a loaner costume to you while at the event. Once there, you might find someone who can sell you a costume or make the one you found in the book. With medieval groups being so popular there are many resources available where you can purchase a medieval costume and accessories to go with it.

Choosing a Name

Typically, a medieval person had a given name and a place name or descriptive name. Family names (i.e., surnames), as we use them today, were reserved for dynastic families. Surnames did not come into use before the sixteenth century for the rest of the people. Generally, the formula is as follows: "X" (name) "of Y" (place) – or "the Z" (a descriptive word or job title), though there are cultures that have exceptions to that rule – e.g., Celtic or Norse, etc. The plagiarized names of historical figures or characters made popular in fiction or fantasy are not used in the SCA. While you may run across a Perygrynne of Falcon Woods, a Gwyllyme the Fletcher, a Bonya Far-Rider, or an Angelique of Burgundy, you will not find a Philippe D'Oleans, or an Elrond of Rivendell. Choosing a name is one thing you don't want to rush into. You can always use your own first name when attending your first few events. While at the event, consult with a herald who will usually have many of the resources for names with him or her.

To help you choose a name for your new persona, the SCA provides many articles on the subject. One such article by Cynara Branden (1985) designed for newcomers discusses how to create a name using such reference materials as the Oxford Dictionary of Christian Names, by E.G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, by David Hugh Farmer, and A Dictionary of British Surnames, by P.H. Reaney which also gives the "period" forms of the entries. She advises not to use modern baby name books. Another article available through the SCA includes The Construction of Irish Names, by Kevin W. Bold (1981). For those who have access to the internet, Josh Mittleman, (2003) has produced a website entitled The Medieval Names Archive as a resource for looking up medieval names. 

References & Resources

Bold, Kevin W. (1981). The Construction of Irish Names. Tournaments Illuminated. No. 60, Fall 1981 pp. 12-13. Milpitas, CA: The SCA, Inc.

Branden, Cynara (1985). Documenting Your Name. In H. Powers (Vol. Ed.). The Known World Handbook, pp. 101-102. Milpitas, CA: The SCA, Inc.

Cappellanus, Andreas. (1941). The Art of Love. (Trans. Parry, J.J.) NY: Columbia Records of Civilization, XXXIII (Original work written1185). The author of the treatise, Andreas Cappellanus (Andre the Chaplain), was chaplain to the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Countess Marie of Champagne. He accompanied Marie to Poitiers during the 1170s as she went to join the her mother at court. Andreas aided Eleanor and Marie set up and run 'courts of love.' In Poitiers, he wrote De Arte Honeste Amandi (The Art of the True Lover), now commonly called The Art of Courtly Love. The treatise describes what courtly love is and how this game was played.

 Mittleman, Josh. (2003). Archive of Medieval Names. Retrieved January 10, 2004 from http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/  The author of this archive goes by the name Arval Benicoeur in the SCA. He is a well-respected amateur herald both in the SCA and in other groups.

More Medieval Societies:

The Adrian Empire: This is a non-profit, educational organization that re-creates history from the time frame of 1066 through 1603 AD covering what was known as the Middle Ages through the Renaissance period to the end the reign of Queen Elisabeth I of England. It is the only group that uses unchoreographed steel weapons fighting in heavy armor. http://www.adrianempire.org/

Amtgard, Inc. is a non-profit, non-sectarian group devoted to recreating elements of the medieval, ancient, and fantasy genres. It is much less strict about conforming to “period” standards.

In the United States:

Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia (MMMM) is a non-profit educational organization whose focus is on the general medieval period of Saxon England circa 1066 C.E. One of Markland's most popular and visible activities is fighting, which takes one of two forms: Re-creation or "rec" ("Fake fighting with real weapons"), and Fratricidal or "frat" ("Real fighting with fake weapons"). http://www.markland.org/ 

Medieval Scenarios & Recreations, Ltd. (MSR) is a non-profit educational organization whose focus is the time period of the High Middle Ages 1000 – 1500 C.E. while recreating the life and times of the Crusader Kingdom of Acre. http://www.kingdomofacre.org/

In Europe:

 Consorzio Europeo Rievocazioni Storiche (CERS) is the "Union of European Historical Companies" a meeting place or many of the diverse medieval re-enactment groups in Europe.
In England:

Regia Anglorum Their focus is medieval England from the time of Alfred the Great to that of Richard the Lionheart recreating images of the past that Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans England would be comfortable with. http://www.regia.org/  

The White Company (1450-1485), founded in 1983, focuses on the period of English history known as 'The Wars of the Roses.' They are a research driven group that strives for authenticity and detail as they realistically portray the lives experienced by ordinary men and women in that period.   http://white-co1450-1485.8k.com/

Gaddgedlar Historical Re-enactment Society portray the soldiers of the Scottish Wars of Independence, the men led by William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and who fought in the Bruce-Balliol civil war. http://www.gaddgedlar.com/

In Australia:
 The Grey Company is a pageantry group that focuses primarily on the so called "Dark Ages" period of history (600-1100 AD) that research and try to recreate the Dark Ages both for themselves and for public display. They are primarily a "fighting" group and concentrate on period weapons and simulated combat. http://members.iinet.net.au/~bill/greyco.html