The Companye have returned from our annual April event at the splendid Kenilworth Castle. Staged by Historic England (previously English Heritage) we celebrated the festival of St George – patron Saint of England.
Kenilworth Castle is located in the town of the same name in Warwickshire, England. Constructed from Norman through to Tudor times, the castle has been described by architectural historian Anthony Emery as “the finest surviving example of a semi-royal palace of the later middle ages, significant for its scale, form and quality of workmanship”. It is certainly an impressive place to spend the weekend!
The castle was built over several centuries. Founded in the 1120s around a powerful Norman great tower, the castle was significantly enlarged by King John at the beginning of the 13th century. Huge water defences were created by damming the local streams, and the resulting fortifications proved able to withstand assaults by land and water in 1266. John of Gaunt spent lavishly in the late 14th century, turning the medieval castle into a palace fortress designed in the latest perpendicular style.
Many castles, especially royal castles were left to decay in the 15th century; Kenilworth, however, continued to be used as a centre of choice, forming a late medieval “palace fortress”.
Henry IV, John of Gaunt’s son, returned Kenilworth to royal ownership when he took the throne in 1399 and made extensive use of the castle. In 1403, after the Battle of Shrewsbury, Sir James Harrington was knighted and it is highly probable that it was at this very castle.
Henry V also used Kenilworth extensively, but preferred to stay in the Pleasance, the mock castle he had built on the other side of the Great Mere. According to the contemporary chronicler John Strecche, who lived at the neighbouring Kenilworth Priory, the French openly mocked Henry in 1414 by sending him a gift of tennis balls at Kenilworth. The French aim was to imply a lack of martial prowess; according to Strecche, the gift spurred Henry’s decision to fight the Agincourt campaign. The account was used by Shakespeare as the basis for a scene in his play Henry V.
English castles, including Kenilworth, did not play a decisive role during the Wars of the Roses (1455–85), which were fought primarily in the form of pitched battles between the rival factions of the Lancastrians and the Yorkists.
With the mental collapse of King Henry VI, Queen Margaret used the Duchy of Lancaster lands in the Midlands, including Kenilworth, as one of her key bases of military support.Margaret removed Henry from London in 1456 for his own safety and until 1461, Henry’s court divided almost all its time among Kenilworth, Leicester and Tutbury Castle (where we were the previous month) for the purposes of protection. Kenilworth remained an important Lancastrian stronghold for the rest of the war, often acting as a military balance to the nearby castle of Warwick. With the victory of Henry VII at Bosworth, Kenilworth again received royal attention; Henry visited frequently and had a tennis court constructed at the castle for his use.His son, Henry VIII, decided that Kenilworth should be maintained as a royal castle.
The Festival of St George is a firm favourite with English Heritage members and members flock from all over the country, and well as a large local turnout. As well as the Harrington Companye, the event featured performances by Mark Vance as St George, a rather humorous (and pungent) Dragon, as well as music by Myal Piper, and activities from Griffin Historical.
As well as our award winning living history encampment, we undertook two arena displays each day.
In the morning, we staged a display of archery from the fifteenth century. The public were entertained with speed shoots, a display of accuracy and really got into cheering our archers on. This culminated with a Companye specialty – the Reduced Harrington Companye portrayal of the Battle of Agincourt.
Thousands of French knights met their deaths at the hands of our skilled archers, the stench of garlic was truly horrendous.
In the afternoon, we staged a display of fifteenth century combat. Starting with a close up view of how a man shall be armed in harnesse, we then showcased the various weapon types from the period. Dagger, Sword, Longsword, Spear, Poleaxe were all showcased to the cheering crowds – who soon caught on and cheered.
Finally, it was time for a group melee – the Circles of Honour, and Treachery.
Last year, Master Stan has used this to great effect – hiding in an castle alcove until the end and ambushing the winner – this year he wasn’t allowed to run off an hide but he gave an excellent account of himself in the first round.
Back at camp, there were two undisputed stars of the show. The new forge, which had been debuted at Tutbury had a keen following and Alec the smith didn’t get a rest from the public all day. This meant that neither did Sam, who did pretty much the full days shift on bellows duty. Well done Sam, proof that Child Labour is alive and well 😉
Meanwhile, Adrian our ever popular Hospitaller and his medical instruments were of great interest to the public. Little did he know it, but it was going to be a special weekend for him – but more on that later!
In other news, we were delighted to meet Evie, the newest member of our Companye. She was really popular with our members as this next photo shows. Evie was especially popular with Sarah, and Rosie was lucky she handed her back..
For the Companye though, the highlight of the weekend actually came after the public had left on the Saturday evening. Little did Adrian realise when he woke that day, what we had in store for him.
The Companye operates a recognition system for our members. The Order of The White Lion was created for those members who truly go above and beyond in terms of the accuracy of their portrayal, their knowledge of the period, and their conduct on and off the battlefield. On April 23rd, we awarded this to Adrian.
Why Kenilworth? Because as mentioned, according to historians it is highly probable that Sir James Harrington received his knighthood in the Great Hall there in 1403. Hence, we would recreate this ceremony for our first inductee…
A number of trusted members of the Companye were in on the act, but it was a great surprise to most. As evening fell, Adrian was taken to a place of Solitude to reflect on what the Companye meant to him. Traditionally we needed a full 24 hour vigil, but with the public arriving the following day this was tricky!
He was then collected by his Aide de camp carrying his sword and his esquire carrying his tournament helm, and brought to the Great Hall of Henry IV, which was now lit up by candlelight and torchlight.
As Adrian entered the chamber, our musicians played and sang The Agincourt Carol, fitting given the Great Halls’s connection to the Agincourt Campaign – for it was here that Henry V received the gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin.
Adrian was then paraded to Sir William, where he received the Colee stroke – the last blow he would receive unanswered. There is some disagreement among historians on the actual ceremony and in what time period certain methods could have been used. It could have been an embrace or a slight blow on the neck or cheek. It had been decided to use the accolade of a sword, after studying this Early 15th Century image.
Words such as Advances Chevalier au nom de Dieu were possibly spoken at this point. Given the move to English in English Court by this point it was decided to accolade him in the name of Saint Michael and St George, the patrons of Soldiers and England respectively.
Following this, Sir Adrian was now awarded the White Lion Livery of Wolfage Manor, and recognised by all.
The award ceremony was not yet complete for we also took the opportunity to recognise Sam C., and the Martindale clan and award them their livery Knot after their probation period.
Lastly, Sir William supplied some mead for all, and we toasted those ancient walls – for they must have witnessed many such scenes.
For those interested, the full video is here below:
The ceremony was complete and the Companye took advantage of the Spring evening to enjoy ourselves – part of the wow factor of this wonderful hobby is the privilege of staying at such wonderful historic sites. We think Adrian was quite happy with his accolade as he was full of the joys of Spring the following morning..
Sunday saw a repeat of our displays and even more public. A little over 2500 public visited the site over the weekend, and many were repeat visitors who love what we do – and we love entertaining them. Kenilworth always draws an appreciative crowd and Sunday was no exception.
Finally just as the event drew to a close, a bout of inclement weather meant the public hurriedly left – leaving Myal Piper playing to an empty field.
Now, the Companye is many things, but one thing we are most certainly not is unappreciative. So, quick as a flash we ran up the hill and proceeded to show our appreciation through the ahem, medium of Interpretive Dance.
Not to be outdone, we treated the Pipers to a full rendition of “Father Harrington” – complete with actions. We believe as fully trained musicians they appreciated our efforts, though running off screaming was admittedly a strange way of showing it.
And so the event came to an end. A special one for us all, and one to cherish for a lifetime. We will return there again this year, in June – but for now it was time to take the Companye on Campaign once more to Hedingham Castle…