Travel Back to the Middle Ages at a Medieval Festival
by David Smith
If your visit to England happens to coincide with one of the many
Medieval Festivals that are staged at various places, you could
enjoy a day out that is guaranteed to be particularly memorable
-- so don't forget to take the camera! There are quite a few of
these Medieval events, and an excellent guide to all UK
re-enactment events can be found at the Tudor Times website.
Of course, they vary in scale and in quality, with the biggest
not always the best. Some make much more effort to be
historically accurate and to try and help the visitor suspend
disbelief than others. I have to declare an interest here, as I
stage five Medieval Festivals, and we try extremely hard to make
them as authentic as is possible -- bearing in mind that we'd
prefer not to have people dying of dysentry or folk really maimed
or killed in tourney or battle!
I stage the Loseley Medieval Festival, the Befordshire Medieval
Fayre, the East Anglian Medieval Fayre, the Sussex Medieval
Festival, and the Christchurch Medieval Festival. The
Bedfordshire and East Anglian Medieval Fayres are staged at old
WW2 airfields with associations to the USAAF: Glen Miller flew
off from Twinwood Airfield near Bedford, bound for Paris, and was
never seen again.
As just one example, the annual Loseley Medieval Festival will be
staged over the weekend of June 3rd and 4th 2006 at Loseley Park,
close to Guildford in Surrey, within easy reach of London.
Loseley Park surrounds the exquisite Tudor Loseley House, which
was specifically built to entice Queen Elizabeth 1st to visit the
More-Molyneux family, who still live there to this very day. It
is one of the few large Country House Estates still owned and
lived in by the family who built it for more than 400 years.
Loseley Park is open to visitors, and well worth seeing.
The Loseley Medieval Festival features re-enactors portraying the
late Medieval Period (roughly the 14th and 15th Centuries), when
blackpowder artillery was beginning to play an important role in
warfare but the longbow was still the main long range weapon. At
the Loseley Festival, events will be enacted by the Medieval
Siege Society, Europe's largest 15th Century Medieval
re-enactment group, who portray various households involved in
the long and bloody struggle between two branches of the same
family for influence and control of the throne of England that
became known as The War of the Roses. Another group is The
Compagnie of Saynte Barbara, a mercenary outfit of artillery with
various weapons including the amazing Bombard, a siege piece
weighing nearly 2 tonnes that makes the ground shake. Other
groups who will be at the Loseley Medieval Festival include the
Paladins of Chivalry, The Herbert Household, and Destrier.
Destrier is the best Jousting Group in the UK, if not in Europe,
and will be performing Mounted Hunting Games each morning and a
Knight's Challenge Jousting Tournament each afternoon. This is
real competitive full-on jousting, with real knights in real
armour on real horses galloping towards each other at 30 or so
miles per hour (thus closing at nearly 60 miles per hour, rather
above the speed limit in most states!) with real wooden lances
and the intention of shattering those lances on the opponent's
shield or armour and possibly unhorsing them as well.
Other displays and demonstrations include Sword Fighting,
Falconry, Dance, Skill At Arms, Archery, Artillery, and Arming
the Knight -- a fully armoured knight needed help to fit all the
different pieces of his armour onto the padded undergarment
called an Arming Jack, and it was not a quick or easy process.
Each piece has to be carefully and safely secured by straps
called points, so that they afford the necessary protection but
enable the knight to move easily. It is a common misconception
that a knight in full plate armour had to be winched onto a
horse. In fact, a fully armoured knight is highly mobile and can
sprint in his armour, as well as stand and fight. You'll be able
to see just how quickly they can move and how mobile they have to
be when watching the Sword Fighting: we have timed Lord
Despencer, one of the country's finest medieval swordsmen, and he
can strike properly aimed blows at 120 per minute with his right
hand, and only slightly less than that with his left. Hard to
believe? Watch the video clips available at http://www.lancasters-armourie.info/vids/final2004/the_finale.htm
Throughout the day you can also explore the Living History
Encampments of the various re-enactment groups, where they depict
the every day life of retinues on campaign during the period of
the Hundred Years War with France and the Wars of the Roses. You
can see demonstrations of various crafts, including weaving,
sewing, spinning, fletching, bow-making, blacksmithing,
woodcarving and of course cooking (but no potatoes, as they had
not yet reached Europe!).
For anyone requiring a little retail therapy, there will be a
sizeable Medieval Market featuring specialist historic traders
and craftsmen and women from all over the UK and Europe. You can
find a remarkable range of things for sale, including Swords,
Shields, Long Bows, Cross Bows, Arrows, Jewellery, Frankincense,
Soap, Wooden Bowls and Platters, Leather and Pewter Tankards,
Cutlery, Tents, Furniture, Icons, Candles, Plate Armour and Chain
Maille, Clothing, Leather Hides, Sheep Skins, Toys and Games,
Bolts of Woolen and Linen Cloth, Silks, Boxes, and of course,
there will be Caterers and a Beer Tent, and the famous Loseley
Park Ice Cream made from their own herd of Jersey Cows.
Each day culminates in a recreation of the Battle of
Northampton from 1460, staged by the Medieval Siege Society. This
battle, from the War of the Roses, was remarkable in many ways.
The Lancastrian faction, led by the Duke of Buckingham, had
control of the mentally ill King Henry VI, and were camped at
Northampton. The Yorkists, who were feeling hard done by because
they were excluded from the king's council, arrived under the
leadership of the Earl of Warwick, and demanded to see the king.
Permission was not forthcoming, and the Yorkist army took to the
field to try and decide things through force of arms. They had
the larger army, but the Lancastrians were in prepared defensive
positions and had the advantage of the Royal Artillery Train.
After a lot of fierce fighting, things were at pretty much
stalemate, until a sudden downpour soaked the black powder and
silenced the artillery.
At that point Earl Grey, in charge of a large part of the
Lancastrian Army, decided that the Yorkists were the more likely
victors, and treacherously changed sides, thereby ensuring a
Yorkist victory. Unusually, the Yorkists chose to execute most of
the Lancastrian noblemen, whereas the normal practice was for
ransoming the rich. It was a bloody end to a bloody day with
heads on poles! The poor deranged Henry VI now came under the
control the Earl of Warwick, the Yorkist power broker who became
known as The Kingmaker because of his influence over who was on
Of course, neither the re-enactors nor I can guarantee a sudden
downpour, let alone just over the Lancastrian Artillery, so
another solution was required for the enactment. This was to have
a party of brave Yorkists advance towards the Lancastrian
positions, and from this party a torch-carrying volunteer sprints
towards the enemy, launching his flaming brand at the Black
Powder Magazine. The results are spectacular -- when we did this
battle last year at the Bedfordshire Medieval Fayre it was
described by one very experienced re-enactor as "simply the most
awesome pyrotechnic I've ever see on a field of battle." And you
can imagine the noise!!
- More information on David Smith's Medieval Fayres
- Tudor Times Events Guide
- Loseley Park
- Medieval Seige Society
David Smith has been organizing various events for the past fifteen years, and has recently been persuaded to get involved in running historic re-enactment events. He is a whisker away from being 50, and is proud to be the servant of two Norwegian Forest Cats, called Darcy and Pashabelle. Previously he has been a Chartered Accountant, and has a degree in English. He used to take a lot of photographs of his events, but recognizes that RikkΥs pictures are much better than his own!
Article © 2006 David Smith
Photos © Rikk Cahill; see more images at http://www.rcphotographic.co.uk