Published on 30 Nov 2016
Rick joins the Society for Creative Anachronism in recreating life in the middle ages at the Feast of the Hare in Ottawa in the Kingdom of Ealdormere (Ontario).
December 1, 2016
February 28, 2014
The SCA or Western Martial Arts not macho enough for you? You might be interested in medieval combat with steel weapons:
Steel kisses steel. Actual sparks fly. An axe snaps in half as it dents a helmet. A municipal garbage bin, carelessly left at the fringes of the fight, implodes in a sorry mess of dented plastic as four armored men collapse onto it.
I’m witnessing, from the far side of a flimsy rope, something much more violent than your average historical battle reenactment. These men are engaging in full-contact medieval combat in an open training session for the U.K. iteration of a growing global society. More GBH than LARP, it substitutes foam weaponry for real steel and scripted acting for unpredictable scuffling, and despite the mayhem, operates under tightly controlled rules and regulations.
The team’s press officer, Nick Birkin, agrees. “Reenactors are used to dink, dink,” he says, mimicking the prissy swordplay anyone who’s sat through a retelling of Agincourt will no doubt cringe to recall. Another weekend warrior sums up the distinction more succinctly: “Reenactment’s for pussies.”
I first heard about the Russian origins of this new organization from a co-worker who was still upset he’d had to leave his chainmail and weapons behind when he came to Canada from St. Petersburg. It sounded like great fun … but was significantly more injury-prone than the SCA combat of my youth.
The Russian connection also brings with it some aspects that make Western practitioners uncomfortable:
The West’s notions of fair play and how an international tournament should be run are, it would seem, at odds with that of the East’s. Dissent has been stirring among the camps and honor was called into question on several sides, and complaints started to be raised about the Russian organizers. The first to percolate were stories about rule-changing and underhand tournament organization.
“They said that under no circumstances can you have a metal handle on your shield, and that you can’t wear titanium armor,” U.S. team captain Andre Sinou tells me later over the phone from his native New Jersey. Sinou is also the owner of an armory manufacturer called Icefalcon. “So I told my guys that. Then when we went out there, all the Eastern teams had metal handles. We complained, and they said, ‘Oh, we sent out a memo’, which none of the Western countries got.”
Many of the Eastern fighters were wearing Kevlar armor under their suits and came with lethal equipment — such as two-handled halberd axes — that was banned for anyone else. “The weapons that some of the Eastern teams were using were just dangerous,” Sinou says. “They were pointy, they didn’t follow the rules for sharpness. After 2013, we had puncture wounds — we had a meaty guy who got punctured all the way down to the bone on the shoulder. It hit his spine. He could have been paralyzed.”
Nick Birkin from Team U.K. echoes many of these complaints and adds his own stories of match fixing, detailing devious techniques that would put a Sochi figure-skating judge to shame and which apparently allowed Russian teams to progress further and enjoy longer rest breaks between contests. But the growing concerns of an increasing number of countries was met by a response almost laughably Kafkaesque.
H/T to Steve Muhlberger for the link.
January 14, 2013
Dick Delingpole tells us more about the less-welcome members of the re-enacting hobby:
Re-enactors have a term of abuse, “Farb”, thought to have originated in the States, which is used to describe someone whose authenticity standards leave much to be desired. There is also a term of abuse directed at re-enactors from outside the hobby, notably from the Armed Forces: “Walt”. It means “fantasist” or “wannabe”, and derives from James Thurber’s fictional literary fantasist, Walter Mitty. It is not used affectionately, and implies ineptitude with delusions of grandeur. Just google “walt” and “re-enactor” and you’ll get the idea.
Despite my deep and abiding affection for our Armed Forces, I think there’s a bit of misunderstanding here.
In 12 years, the only re-enactors I’ve met who think that they’re soldiers are the ones who actually are. And there are many of them: regulars and TA, retired, current and soon-to-be-joining. While ex-soldiers are attracted to the cameraderie associated with re-enactment, many are pursuing an interest in the history of their own regiments which doesn’t confine them to an armchair.
[. . .]
Early period re-enactors (anything pre WWII, but the earlier the better) attract relatively light amounts of abuse from the Armed Forces. One fellow Napoleonic re-enactor who is a serving Major in the Rifles, describes the kind of Walt most likely to get a soldier’s back up. They are overweight middle-aged blokes who can’t march or hold a gun correctly, but who have the kit, uniform and insignia of the current SAS or other specialist elite unit. Here I feel the insult is possibly justified. Why, asks the squaddy, don’t these people just join the army? And why must they represent elite forces whose serving members have sweated blood to be part of?
H/T to Elizabeth for the link.
November 1, 2012
I’ve dug trenches, in my long-past militia days, but I’ve never really thought about doing it as a hobby:
Surrounded by barbed wire, sandbags and mud, this 60ft trench is barely distinguishable from those occupied by British soldiers fighting in the First World War almost a century ago.
The enormous dugout has been painstakingly recreated by an ex-history teacher in his back garden in Surrey, and the dedicated 55-year-old even spent 24 hours living in its confines with a team of volunteers as part of his efforts to experience life as a WWI soldier.
Andrew Robertshaw and 30 helpers spent a month shifting around 200 tonnes of earth to build the enormous three-room trench, which he hopes will teach people more about the horrific living conditions endured by British troops during the Great War.
The only thing that struck me about this and other photos in the article is that the re-enactors look too clean. Digging a trench, then spending more than a short stretch of time therein leaves dirt everywhere:
June 17, 2012
For some obscure reason (hint: because they didn’t win) American re-enactors are much less fond of War of 1812 re-enactments than Canadians:
When the first big battle of the War of 1812 is re-enacted this fall, the U.S. 1st Artillery regiment will mount an ear-splitting barrage. The Yanks will point their cannons at British redcoats across the Niagara River in Canada. They will wear blue. They will curse King George.
Unlike 200 years ago, they will all be Canadians.
Many Americans aren’t that into the War of 1812 — not like Canadians, anyway — so the latter often play the former in re-enactments along the international border here.
“For the weekend, I’ll have to be a turncoat,” says John Sek, 60, an English-born Canadian who will play a U.S. Army gunnery captain in the Battle of Queenston Heights. “There isn’t the same interest in the war on your side.”
To grossly generalize: Canadians, whose forebears helped repulse several U.S. invasions in 1812, regard the war that began 200 years ago Monday as a crucible of national identity. For them, its bicentennial is a big deal.
December 23, 2011
Robert Fripp talks about the historical Richard III and the vicious caricatures that Shakespeare drew upon to produce his famous play:
In 1983, I was working a high-stress job pulling together CBC TV’s weekly investigative program The Fifth Estate. I still ask myself: Why, on top of that, did I spend my nights and weekends imitating a long-dead playwright? My labour of love was a play called Dark Sovereign, which I wrote in the four-century-old English of William Shakespeare and his 17th-century contemporaries.
The same year, 1983, also happened to be the 500th anniversary of King Richard III’s accession to the English throne. Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, is widely believed to have murdered his two nephews in the Tower of London, usurping the elder boy’s crown and reigning just 25 months before the upstart Henry Tudor (Henry VII) killed Richard in battle in 1485 and displayed his body for three days.
King Henry went on to inflict judicial murder on many whose claim to the throne was better than his. Nearly 20 existing portraits of Richard III were disfigured after his death to show humps painted onto the subject’s back. Writers, principally Sir Thomas More and Raphael Holinshed, gave the dead king a hostile press.
Then Shakespeare borrowed from Holinshed to write The Tragedy of Richard III. (It may be significant that the first edition’s title omits the word “King.”) Shakespeare wrote his character assassination around 1591. It was probably performed first for the Court of Queen Elizabeth I shortly thereafter. Tudor monarchs had been ruling for more than a century by then, but their tenuous claim to the throne still seemed to trouble them. Having denied Richard a decent burial a century earlier, they still had need to heap dirt on his reputation.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I portrayed the Earl of Northumberland in the 1983 re-enactment of the coronation of Richard III (at the Cathedral Church of St. James in Toronto) on local TV, and I portrayed the Earl of Lincoln in the (non-televised) version on the actual anniversary date. You could say I’m biased in favour of the revisionist view of the character of good King Richard.
August 7, 2011
Poland’s answer to the Society for Creative Anachronism, Knights’ Brotherhoods stage their own form of medieval recreation:
Compering and judging the hand-to-hand combat is Krzysztof Ptasinski, the son of a Polish diplomat who learnt English from an American teacher in Addis Ababa and insists I call him “Redneck Chris”.
His hooded robe and summer gear make him look like a monk in flip-flops.
“Whoa dude! Ouch! In your face!” he hollers as two knights wearing full body-plate armour weighing 35kg (77lb) lay into each other with double-handed swords.
To progress, a knight has to reach five points, each earned by laying a clean blow on an opponent above the knee.
The swords are blunt, of course, but that does not mean it is completely harmless.
“When I used to do this I broke my hand 14 times, and I’m a banjo player,” he says.
“I’ve got two screws in this finger. I had a cracked skull.
“When we were fighting the Belarusian guys, I had my kidney displaced.”
I ask him what the appeal is.
“Whenever you get hit in the helmet you almost lose consciousness because it’s so loud. It’s a thrill,” he says.
I used to work with a guy from St. Petersburg who told me all about the replica medieval armour and weapons he had to leave behind when he came to Canada. It sounds like this is a similar group.
From this description, the group doesn’t have quite the same concerns about participant safety that the SCA and other North American re-creationist/re-enactor groups have generally adopted.
September 12, 2009
Desmond Morton points out that one of the most interesting parts of the battle — after both Wolfe and Montcalm had become casualties — is almost unknown today:
What happened next? Suddenly French soldiers knew: they would die. The chill of terror that dissolved British regulars in earlier battles now struck Montcalm’s men. A British cannon shell smashed their general’s side. As soldiers lugged Montcalm back to Quebec, they were jostled by terrified whitecoats fleeing for their lives.
Bayonets glinting, the British followed at their heels. On the left, Fraser’s Highlanders dropped their muskets, drew their heavy claymores, and raced forward with blood-curdling screams to cut off a French escape to Beauport.
This is as much of the battle as most historians report. What more do you need?
Montcalm died before dawn on the 14th. Hit again, probably by a Canadien militiaman, Wolfe died as the French ranks dissolved. Fighting on the Plains continued until dusk, sustained by Canadien militia and their native allies. When Quebec sovereignists killed plans to re-enact the battle they helped keep that heroic story secret. Perhaps they had no idea that it happened. When French regulars fled, the militia fought on.
Five times they stopped Fraser’s terrifying Highlanders from slaughtering the terrified regulars. Thanks to their despised militia and aboriginal allies, Montcalm’s French regulars could safely stop at Beauport, catch their breath, and begin a long, dreary march back to Montreal to prepare for another year of war. Did the separatists not want anyone to know?