We have been doing medieval re-enactment for the last 13 years. We belong to a small group called the Swords of Mercia, there are about 15 of us and sometimes we do shows with just our group at various castles and historic sites in the UK.This picture shows me (I’m the nun) and the kitchen peasant (my friend Bev from my previous group Order of Fighting Knights) at Ashby de la Zouche Castle.
The insides of some of the tents had beds, hangings, chests and ornaments. As you can imagine people are always really surprised to see inside the tent and can’t believe we really slept there.
Other times we meet up at bigger events (known as multibashes!) where there can be anything from 100 to 1000 knights on the battlefield. We portray the period from 1300 to 1470 depending on the event so our costumes, weapons and armour change each weekend depending on the date of that event. We make the majority of our costume which gives me a chance to practise my not very accurate dressmaking skills (I am far better at headgear and embroidery!).
The whole family really enjoy doing this and we have made some fantastic friends through it. As well as the battles we also have banquets – the second picture here shows me at one a couple of years ago in Wales, I am very proud to say that I make most of our costumes including the hats though not the black velvet bag which my fantastically talented friend Kat made for me. Do go and see her wonderful creations on her web site.The woman is a genius!
I have three roles in re-enactment – the one I do depends on the event usually. If it is a show with just our group I portray Sister Margaret, a Carmelite nun and widow. This is a wonderful role as I get to stitch all day, I have displays of the costumes and headresses that I have made people are always really interested in this. All the little girls (and some of the boys!) who visit get a chance to try on the headresses which they love. I have also started weaving and we demonstrate how to weave what are known as ‘narrow wares’ which is braid using a lucet and a trollen wheel.
When we go to bigger events the other role I portray is that of a water carrier, an archer’s widow who is on the battlefield dispensing water to the troops ( and fixing helmet straps, sorting out gauntlets and occaisionally mopping up blood!). I came across this role by accident as we were at an event a few years ago when they were very short of water carriers so asked for volunteers. I did not have any suitable costume with me so borrowed some clothes and a helmet from a friend and went on – lots of cannon and arrows which was a bit scary but generally it is great fun. For this role I wear a linen shift (which is a bit like an old fashioned nightie) and a linen dress. I am quite posh as I have two linen dresses but that is mainly as I often spill something down one when back at the tent sorting out lunch!
The troops are usually in full armour at most events and in the summer the temperature can reach 38 degrees. They fight for about an hour depending on the event with time spent assembling ( called muster) before they march on to the battlefield so we are usually busy giving people water throughout. I really enjoy it and I have met lots of new people through being on the battlefield. It is really nice when you go to the beer tent in the evening and they say hello and thanks for the water and it is nice to have a useful role at the bigger events.
My other role is as a medieval lady, which is probably my least favourite one. Although I like making costume and headresses I do not relish wearing them as this involves getting into a tight corset, totally impractical dress and headress and parading around. All very well but since then I usually have to go back to the tent and get lunch and wash up and then change to water carry I do it very rarely though am getting more used to being a lady!. There are other people in the group who do the lady role so much better than me and do not get ratty when in a corset! You can see why women of status did not do much in those days – you can’t breathe or bend and any sudden movements make your headress or veil fall off! Give me a peasant costume any time!
The picture below shows me at one of our shows talking about embroidery and costume. As you can see I have lots of examples to show the public – some done by me but I also have some fabulous goldwork bags which were made for me by Kat.