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By newcomer Kate
To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to join the fifteenth-century. The dresses (not a flattering century for women whose shape is anything other than Nicole Kidmanesque), camping at weekends, portaloos. And yet… and yet …
Re-enactment wasn’t a new hobby for me. I’d participated in one century or another when younger, both fighting on the battlefield and taking part in living history. I’d always preferred living history and learning new crafts, although I’ve done my time running a cannon crew in the C17th and being in a shield wall even further back in time. After a number of years it had seemed time to ‘grow up’ and do sensible grown up things as a hobby. Which I did. And it bored me witless. Which is why I found myself talking to Harrington’s Company about possibly, maybe, joining them …
After meeting a number of them at a pub one lunchtime and apparently passing the sniff test – on first impression would we fit in with the company – my husband and I joined a training session one evening.
Training is taken seriously by the Company. If people are going on the field they have to know what they are doing with the different weapons, with swords, with poleaxes, with daggers. All the weaponry is blunt, but even so they can inflict damage if mishandled (so can anything – think about a well-aimed blow with a lavatory brush …) so training is a must. Women can fight alongside the men with the Harrington’s, although you don’t have to, and all are encouraged to try their hand at different skills. Sword fighting – enthusiastic but untalented would be a kind way of putting my ability and my skills with a poleaxe aren’t much better, but I’ve been encouraged to keep practicing with these weapons if I want to. It’s great exercise – and way more fun than working out in a gym. Some of our best ‘knights’ are women, and they go on the field in armour exactly the same as the chaps. If you come to one of our events and you hear of a Sir Bob on the field – that will be one of our lady knights. Don’t be surprised if they win their competition – they are extremely good!
Our first year’s events have gone by in a flurry of memories. Cold Delapre Abbey where the men-at -arms (our people-in-armour) battled outside in the snow; Hedingham Castle where the skies were littered with stars;
another event, I forget where, and a hot air balloon race passed over our fifteenth-century world.
Because it was such a bakingly hot year, and I hadn’t yet decided on a role in this century, I spent a lot of events acting as water carrier for our people on the field. It has been a good chance to get a sense of how a fifteenth-century battlefield works, as well making sure nobody overheats. The past year (2018) was blisteringly hot throughout the summer. Our knights’ armour can weigh 60lb; wearing it in that heat, let alone fighting in it means they need water frequently. Water carrying isn’t a secondary ‘girlie’ role in the fifteenth-century but core to enabling the company to put on a performance for our sponsors, while ensuring our people are safe.
Helping with last minute kit adjustments (try doing up buckles if you are wearing armoured gloves); collecting arrows, keeping an eye out for smouldering wadding fired from cannons to make sure it goes out and doesn’t set light to already dry grass; helping exhausted knights out of armour pdq; making sure nobody who is ‘dead’ on the field is actually injured – all part of the water carrier’s role.
The first year with Harrington’s is spent on probation, allowing you to work out if you feel comfortable with the Company, as well as the other way round. When you are spending weekend after weekend with people, camping in all sorts of conditions, you get to know each other very well and it’s important you all ‘click’ otherwise the hobby stops being fun. So while I wait to find out if the other half and I have been accepted into that fine body of folks who make up the Harrington Company (a tenner alright Anthony?) here are the things I’m taking away from my first year:
The things I really like:
- The Harrington’s ethos is everyone mucks in together. Role, rank, car type doesn’t matter – we all put up the big company tents, and each others’, together, so no-one has to do everything, or is left behind after others have packed up or gone.
- We eat together. The midday meal is often provided, put together by our people on the living history site. It can be hot, can be cold, or you have the option. Having one point in the day when we all stop and come together really helps the ‘family’ feeling of the company.
- Everyone is encouraged to try their hand at different skills. Some of our people are very good martial artists but even if you are a complete novice, you’re not made to feel like a waste of space if you are genuinely trying to learn how to use something.
- There is a strong company identity. I don’t mean a waving flags/ we are the Harringtons (ok, there is some of that on the field) but there is a sense of we are all in the same crew and we’ll help each other out. At Goodrich Castle we had to move three or four big tents, a display arena and grandstand, five or six sets of armour into and out of a moat. After a long weekend people were shattered – but using a human chain we got everything up onto the hill – and there wasn’t a grumble. Laughter, singing – no moaning or wingeing. So we could all leave together and no-one was left behind.
- Everyone’s ideas are welcome, even the newbies. In another fifteenth-century society I’d seen everyone stop while the Angelus, the midday prayer, was said, as would have happened in the fifteenth century. I mentioned this – and in the chapel at Goodrich Castle, a group of us said the midday prayer. Thinking this might have been the first time the chapel had heard this since the sixteenth-century made me shiver; there is something profoundly satisfying in bringing old rooms back to life again.
- And I love, love, love stopping overnight in different locations, after the public has gone, and you have a castle, a hillfort, a manor house to yourselves. If your imagination has the slightest life to it, it is impossible to not feel the presence of people from earlier times around you as you sit by a camp fire or walk around castle walls.
There are plenty of opportunities to develop living history with the Harrington’s and I will be looking in this direction in my second year. Becoming an arquebusier – a fifteenth-century musketeer – is something for another year, but there are opportunities to look into making the slow match used to fire cannons and guns, or making the lead balls that would have been fired. Because it is always interesting to understand what women were doing in other times, I’ve also been looking at fifteenth century make up and hope to put something together around the way we looked. Looking at fifteenth-century sources there are picture of women traders on military encampments – there are plenty of things to investigate that aren’t about the fighting.
So was it a good choice to stop being ‘grown up’?
By Guest Reporter Peroni.
For the second time in the history of the Harringtons, the Companye have returned from Goodrich Castle, only a week following the esteemed Ashby De La Zouche. Suffice to say it was a busy August for some!
The Companye performed a fighting knights tournament for English Heritage and the lively public.
Given how enjoyable this event was for us a couple of years ago, it was only a matter of time before we accepted a second invitation. But onto the first hurdle! The moat, aka, our home for the weekend; amazing in theory, a bit of a struggle in practice given the amount of kit we had to lug down there (reduced this year, due to our experience previously). But we are Harringtons, and no job is too big!
We began each day with an archery tournament, where our skilled men (and ladies!) competed for their teams by trying the simple task of putting an arrow into a target. This, on the first day however, was no easy feat for some, with Sir ‘Poncy’ Pilkington competing for himself in the team of the white, and only managing to bag a single point. Esquire Mark, representing the blue team got a few more points, gaining him the honourable title of 3rdplace, and in a jaw dropping standoff between the beautiful archer of the gold (myself) and the dastardly archer of the black, the archer of the black team *grumbles* gained a two point lead.
On Sundays tournament of archery, Sir Poncy Pilkington switched things up by bringing another lady into the mix (talk about female empowerment!). With this archery contest came a despicable display of cheating during the speed shoot, in which our newest addition threw one of her arrows, giving her equal points to the fabulous gold archer, who absolutely genuinely loosed 23 arrows, no word of a lie. Later came the test of accuracy, in which, after a heinous display of hair by the archer of Sir William Harrington and the lady archer of Sir Pilkington, the white team came in fourth place (again), the blue came in third, the gold in second and the black (don’t make me say this again) got first place.
Later each day came the tournament of foot, in which there were five rounds; the sword and buckler round, mainly for squires who couldn’t afford much armour; the longsword round; the axe and shield round (lots of violence and shouting; definitely a crowd pleaser); the poleaxe round; and the grand melee. On both days, with Sir Poncy Pilkington coming in last in the archery, he was at a disadvantage throughout. This however did give him the choice of opponent, and knowing that the blue team was unable to provide a contestant for the pole axe round, he chose the easy points, progressing to the next round with less exercise by nominating blue on both days. On the first day, after an awesome clash of the grand melee, it was, once again, a standoff between the team of gold and the team of black. The gold team’s fighter was victorious, not only winning the round, but winning the entire tournament for the gold team, a phenomenon which had never before been seen by the Harrington Companye. The second day brought a win to the black team, after some awe inspiring fighting on the part of all teams (again, apart from the white team in the poleaxe round).
Goodrich also saw a new addition to our event routine, where we took part in the Angelus ceremony in the Goodrich chapel. This was a first for the companye, and although our latin was a little rusty, it was a lovely ceremony and it certainly added a new dimension on how our ancestors would have lived.
As a whole, this was a spectacular event, and the crowd, despite the rainy weather, were simply incredible. Thanks to everyone who made this event, and here’s to many more like it in the future.
by Guest Reporter Dan Dan the Gardening Man
July 14th – 15th saw a few members of the Companye attend Tewkesbury Medieval festival in Gloucestershire, touted as the largest free Medieval festival in Europe, drawing in fighters and public from far and wide. If unfamiliar with Tewkesbury, the festival site is vast, featuring an array of stalls selling Medieval weaponry, furniture, pottery, a huge beer tent and yet more weaponry amongst other things. It’s fairly difficult to avoid the temptation to shop immediately upon arrival . Tewkesbury itself has streets lined with banners of the households who fought in 1471 and several events centred around the beautiful abbey (a visit is thoroughly recommended). As seems tradition for this event, it was another blisteringly hot weekend. For those fighting, it comes as small relief that there is only one battle a day.
Despite the shock of it actually raining on the journey over, Friday night gradually became increasingly sultry, the beer tent rapidly resembling a sauna. Outside was fresher, until Dozer let rip although it was great to see him again. True to form, Dozer had us in stitches for most of the weekend.
Saturday dawned very warm, the aroma of cooking bacon wafting on the breeze and so too the smell of the sewage treatment works. Tasty. Whatever one’s reasons for attending, there is no denying that it is a pretty relaxed event. After a leisurely breakfast, it’s usually shopping time. Unfortunately this year, it seemed most traders had working card machines… and the beer tent does “cash back”. There are only so many times one can recite the mantra “I’ll live off baked beans for a month”. Wandering around the market, the intensity of the heat increasing all the while, it became a battle in itself to take on enough fluid in preparation for the main event. A slight compromise had been reached that meant muster was a little later this year, but veterans of Tewkesbury know well that standing around in armour in the blazing sun (in splendour) is de rigueur for this event.
As usual, the MSS were fighting on the left side of the field with the Lancastrian force. Much like the previous weekend’s event at Northampton, the re-enactment takes place on the edge of the actual battle field itself. Looking across the meadows towards the abbey, upon a sight which has likely changed little in the intervening centuries, is a fairly humbling experience. The MSS have worked hard to improve the historical standards of it’s combatants but unfortunately the same could not be said for others attending. Some appeared to have arrived 500 years too late. Being the first on the field meant quite a long wait for all lines to form up which only added to the air of expectation for the battle ahead. Finally, the call went up to march towards the enemy. March we did. Past the half way point, still going. And then a bit more, ending up almost in the Yorkist archery block. This didn’t seem quite right but it was time for a quick clash and then pull back, back past the half way marker. Then pull back a bit a bit more! This sadly seemed to be the measure of the first days fight. There is a strong chance that May 1471 was less chaotic and probably had some decent fighting too. The unwillingness of certain factions to engage was baffling.
Playing dead after the final push almost felt an achievement – it was good to actually be doing something. Sorry, not one to get misty eyed about this time. Maybe tomorrow would be better but in the meantime, cold beers awaited and so a hasty retreat was made to the camp site.
After freshening up and the public having left, the site takes on more of a party atmosphere particularly centred around the beer tent, with live music on offer. An open mind and eclectic taste are useful prerequisites although the first act on were distinctly odd, putting such attributes to the test. A fine selection of beverages at the bar though and plenty of space outside if the music fails to impress.
Sunday was more or less an exact repeat of the day before although there was some debate about which day was actually the hottest. To be honest, precise temperature measurement is irrelevant in such conditions but at least the battle flowed more smoothly today. Whilst not a Tewkesbury to remember with great fondness, it was still a fun, enjoyable weekend away with friends and that, after all, is what this hobby is about.
See you next year!
18th- 19th August 2018 – Event Review
By Guest Reporter Mike P.
The battle of Bosworth took place on 22nd August 1485 near the village of Dadlington in Leicestershire. Here King Richard III’s army was overcome by the forces of Henry Tudor, assisted by the treachery of the Stanleys. Richard was killed and Tudor claimed the crown by right of law and conquest as Henry VII. The respective entitlement of either man to call themselves king has kept academics and their publishers in beer money for a long, long time and won’t be raked over here. Suffice it to say that the Plantagenet dynasty which had ruled England from the time of Henry II came to an end. Richard became a car park and the rule of the Tudors began, and we know how that turned out.
New archaeological discoveries have caused the site of the battlefield to hitch up its skirts and move west a bit, much to the chagrin of the visitor centre on nearby Ambion Hill where Sir William Harrington’s Companye joined other re-enactment groups at the invitation of the Wars of the Roses Federation to stage their annual re-creation of the fracas that now took place further down the road. We stayed put in our traditional location on the basis that there was a field set aside for the purpose and that we wouldn’t be interrupted by farmers waving pitchforks and shouting “get thee orf moi laaand!”
The Bosworth medieval festival is a celebration of the events of 1485, where visitors can watch a recreation of the battle and buy a t-shirt with Richard III’s mug on it, or an actual mug. For us living historians it provides one of the few opportunities in a season to take part in a big battle with all the excitement, confusion, chaos and “that wasn’t in the script” moments that entails. There are, in fact, two battles each day. The one in the morning gives the Yorkists a chance to win something before getting their butts kicked in the afternoon (Editor – Oi!!). This year the early format was “the alternative battle of Bosworth” where Richard III carries the day and not a word about the princes. After lunch it’s business as usual where the white roses are only ever goin’ DOWN.
FOOLS ON THE HILL
Twice shy about the possibility of the Harrington camp getting swamped by other households as space got tight, harbinger Corin elected to set up at the top end of the camp site (which fortunately had been mowed in full this time) in the full expectation that the space between us and the rest would rapidly fill up. It stayed stubbornly empty all weekend, leaving us in splendid isolation and lords of all we surveyed. This was in part because a long season had taken its toll. Many had been forced to return home to tend the harvest and it was down to a reduced Harrington Companye to take on the might of the pretender Tudor and his paid continental cronies.
LET SLIP THE CROCODILE OF WAR!
Numbers we had few, but we had a secret weapon, namely Warren aka “Crocodile Dundee”. Currently on loan to us from the British Army, a man so fierce and deadly that we had to feed him gin to keep him calm and tie him in a canvas bag overnight to stop him conquering Nuneaton. Imagine a young, fit, combat-trained Father Jack and you’re getting close to the kind of fear Warren inspires in the hearts of the enemy. Light the blue touch paper, retire to a safe distance and watch him shred their lines. There are Lancastrians still wandering around in a daze wondering what hit them.
But despite his martial prowess Warren has a soft side as demonstrated by long phone conversations with his girlfriend prefixed with a “konichi-wa” worthy of a 1970s movie for grown-ups!!!
GETTING DOWN TO IT
For the battles Sir William Harrington’s Companye were given the honour of holding the right wing as part of the Duke of Norfolk’s contingent. Finding aristocrats on the right wing should be no surprise to anyone, it certainly wasn’t for the enemy who treated us to first contact every time. Was it something we said? But we stood our ground and gave a good account of ourselves despite being significantly outnumbered. The Harringtons always punch above their weight.
An exact account of all four battles is elusive. Out of the mayhem emerge disjointed images of pushes and retreats, blows given and received, whirling Warren and Tank Arthur punching through the enemy ranks, Dan “Bites Yer Groin” bringing an unorthodox fighting style to bear on surprised opponents.
By the second day we finally mastered the art of turning up on time, thereby avoiding a demerit for a no-show. That couldn’t be said for everybody despite all attendance at battles being mandatory. On Sunday morning the three-line whip was no match for some hangovers.
And as each battle passed, the field became ever more ‘rural’. With the royal retinue mounted and caparisoned you had to watch where you died to avoid being trampled or end up face down in the brown stuff. Some of us had the privilege of dying twice as we had to move to get out of the way of the horses.
And whether the day was won or lost our reward was the same: to drag our weary carcasses back up the hill to our camp which was as far away as possible from the battlefield without actually being in Nottinghamshire.
THAT AGINCOURT SPIRIT
If proof were needed that the Harringtons don’t go the extra mile for authenticity, Mark S. contracted dysentery just for the occasion, but since Bosworth involves cavalry he thought it better to stay off the battlefield and not add his contribution to that of the horses. Fortunately, having been rehydrated in the beer tent Saturday night he felt well enough to join us for the final push on Sunday afternoon. Any pushing before that would have been a no-no.
In pursuit of ever more gleeful ways of hitting one another, Lord Harrington obtained a pair of poleaxe wasters ostensibly for the purpose of testing them on behalf of the stallholder. The clankies then proceeded to beat the living tar out of one another to see how they performed. The result: a bruised Lord Harrington and the poleaxes thoroughly “tested”. QED. In the end we opted to buy a pair of war hammers to alternate with the axe and shield round in our tourneys.
Presumably it isn’t possible to hit someone one-handed as hard as you can with a poleaxe although you know they will try (put them down as consumables).
Two days of battles is the price you pay for Saturday night in the Stagger Inn. This year’s fancy dress theme was 80s cult TV and movies. We were treated to several Doctor Who’s, a Jessica Rabbit, Flash Gordon’s hawk men and a Bagpuss. The best costume by far was, however, the robot from Short Circuit complete with LED eyes and tracks. Genius.
The Harringtons stuck resolutely to mufti (I put my Miami Vice jacket in the charity ages ago). So instead of swanning in costume we resorted to the time-honoured ways of the Bosworth beer tent, viz: singing tunelessly along to covers of songs by popular beat combos, revisiting the theme from that 70s children’s classic the “Flashing Blade” and building a tower of beer glasses on Kof’s chest. Just another normal Saturday night.
And then finally, when time was called, we returned to a camp fire on the hill courtesy of the Oxfordshire contingent. It’s a good job some of us have been campaigning long enough to know what’s really important. We passed the drink around. Warren passed out. All was right with the world.
Is there any lesson to be drawn from the Bosworth experience?
I suppose it must be what happens at Bosworth stays at Bosworth to minimise the risk of:
c) not getting invited back next time.
Today we are going to take a look at one of the roles mentioned in the Burgundian Ordinances, namely – The Arbelest, otherwise known as the crossbowman.
We covered the Ordinances in a different article, but to recollect the equipment specification for an Arbalest was as follows:
Sallet, bevor or maille standard, brigandine over padded jack, leg harness. Crossbow and quiver, bastard sword, dagger.
It is obvious when looking at contemporary manuscripts that a martial context needs to be split out from a civilian context. Although there are a number of fantastic images of crossbows from the time, many are in use during hunting for example.
Below are a selection of images where we believe show the arbalest in a martial context:
Looking at the images it is immediately apparent that they do not 100% match the equipment level in the Ordinances in each case. Some are more heavily armoured, some less so. Leg armour particularly is variable. Hence some variety might perhaps be permitted. All are wearing some form of body protection above a padded garment – though not so padded as to alter the shape of the higher layers.
Pavaises are also used to protect the arbalest whist he is loading.
Below are images of our reference interpretation for a arbalest in the Companye.
Photos by Matthew D Crosby Photographics
His shoes are leather, and he wears hose tight to the leg. His primary protection is a 5 ft pavaise which covers him whilst he loads his powerful crossbow, it is so strong it requires a goats foot mechanical aid to do so. His quiver of bolts hangs from his belt ready for use.
Over his shirt he wears a padded doublet, above which he wears a maille shirt and brigandine. He has forgone his maille standard in this instance – only time will tell if that was the right choice for this battle. His helmet will protect him when shooting above the top of the pavaise.
His pouch hangs from his belt and perhaps contains his firelighting kit, the money he has in the world, and some dry rations. He has a general purpose bullock dagger, and his sword is his secondary weapon after the crossbow.
Notes on References & Sources:
The Helmet choice is from the mounted crossbowman in the Wolfegg Hausbuch.
The arrow in the mouth during loading is a nod to an earlier manuscript illustration.
Though pouches are rare in a military context, there is some supporting evidence.
Shoes, Belt, Pouch – Phil Fraser
Hose, Shirt – Historic Enterprises
Brigandine – Armour Services Historical
Helmet – Arma Bohemia
Pavaise – Sir William Harrington’s Companye
Crossbow & bolts – Chris Swidwa
Maille – Cap a Pied
Dagger – Tod’s Stuff
It is the conventional wisdom amongst 15th C Living historians that hose (tight trousers..) do not stay up on their own. Modern interpretations of hose often have the waistline higher than perhaps they should, and some living historians regard hose worn with no upper garment to support them as a common ‘re-enactorism’.
We have previously blogged about the importance of joined hose in the period, and indeed our kit standard currently dictates that a doublet (or sleeveless doublet (should be worn in conjunction with them.
But history is a funny thing. New research is undertaken all the time, and of late we have found a number of cases where joined hose are worn on their own with no upper garments supporting them.
To be clear – we believe these are edge cases, and by far the majority of illustrations show hose worn with an upper garment. There is certainly NO evidence for the belted untucked shirt that seems to be common in some groups portrayals and worn like an earlier saxon/viking tunic. Indeed, some source show a shaped belt worn over the shirt:
Our research will continue, but for now – the jury is very much out! Until then, its still probably best to roll down your doublet if hot..