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Medieval Revivalist

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Do you feel at home in black tights and puffy shorts? Can you recite Hamlet accurately from beginning to end? Perhaps you'd rather eat dinner with a dagger than a fork?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be a medieval revivalist in the making.

Some people might not want to relive medieval times. But to a growing number of enthusiasts, knights in armor bring to mind a simpler time. It was a time when chivalry reigned, maidens were fair and knights battled for honor.

The Middle Ages span 1,000 years of history, from the fifth to the 15th century. Every weekend, thousands of people in North America try to recreate that magical time by dressing up as knights, minstrels and dancing jesters.

Some recreate battles, donning armor and wielding swords. Others focus on the magical aspect of the era. They take part in role-playing games that involve mystical fairies and sorcery. Most immerse themselves in their hobby, making up their own medieval names and creating imaginary places to roam.

Revivalists pick a medieval character that they want to become during the events. It is called their persona. Most participants research their persona carefully so they can act the part as accurately as possible.

Beth Morris is a director with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Her persona is named Keilyn FitzWarin. " either a minor noblewoman or the widow of a nobleman. [She's] busy taking care of the castle and doing the sorts of things we would think of as home economics," says Morris.

Many revivalists participate in dances, court gatherings and feasts.

But all medieval revivalists seem to gain the same enjoyment out of trying to tap into the energy of those simpler times.

Morris remembers a particular moment when those simpler times felt almost real.

"An older gentleman, probably 60 or so, was telling a story....If you closed your eyes, could just imagine that it's 1,000 years ago and you're sitting around a fire, wrapped in a wet wool cloak, listening to the old wise man tell a story.

"Everybody was quiet...and not talking about computers or who's going to win the Super Bowl," says Morris.

Almost all medieval revivalists have an interest in history. They attempt to recreate everything from costumes to dance, calligraphy to martial arts, cooking to stained glass, and metalwork to literature.

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, are adored by many Middle Ages buffs. That's because they feature a host of colorful characters and give readers a glimpse of daily life in the 15th century.

Of course, the Middle Ages were a time of war. The Hundred Years War began in the 1330s. Invasions, crusades and minor battles were routine in England and on the continent.

For that reason, many medieval groups focus on recreating ancient battles. People involved in recreating medieval warfare often spend years honing their skills.

Some learn to fight on horseback, using long sticks in an art called jousting. Others work on hand-to-hand combat with swords. It's in these battles that the armor comes in most handy.

No one can say exactly how many people are actively involved in recreating the Middle Ages. The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), founded in 1966, now has 24,000 members worldwide. Each year, more than 200 medieval fairs are held in North America alone.

According to Morris, the SCA holds a major annual event, the Pennsic War. It's modeled on 14th-century fairs in France. Complete with tournaments, parties, sales, marriages, and mock legal cases, the Pennsic War hosts about 10,000 participants.

Revivalist activities are open to anyone, including people with disabilities.

While some revivalists are paid for performing at fairs or educational events, most are hobbyists. Many have careers in high-tech fields -- some speculate that they immerse themselves in the Middle Ages as an antidote -- and some work as history teachers, experts and professors.

Some people become pro revivalists by learning an ancient craft and selling their wares at weekend festivals. Some of the things that people sell are: armor, pottery, jewelry, costumes and bone carvings.

Getting Started

The SCA prides itself on being one of the most accepting and welcoming groups around. People of all genders, abilities and ages are welcome to join the fun.

"We work really hard to make sure that [disabled] people can get around the sites," says Morris. "Families are very welcome. We have a lot of...high school and college students...who can find an adult in the group to help them along and give them rides."

Getting started in this hobby can be as simple as joining an existing group. Most welcome new members and have minimal or no dues. Check out the clubs at your university -- chances are, there's a medieval revivalist group just dying to see some new faces at the next feast or battle.

Michael Cohen, chairman of the SCA, got involved in medieval combat through a clubs day at university. "They had a booth set up and they had some of the artifacts on the table and a slideshow showing a tournament. I said 'Hey! This is cool.' So, I went to a couple of fight practices and the next thing I knew I was very involved," he remembers.

Suiting up can cost a bit. Acquiring a full coat of armor, for instance, will run you a couple hundred dollars.

But by making most costumes and picking up accessories from second-hand stores, the hobby can be done without a big investment.

Those involved with medieval revivalism suggest learning all you can about the Middle Ages. The goal of most revivalists is to create the times as realistically as possible.

That means knowing not only what kind of food they ate, but also what kind of plates they ate off of. Not only what kind of music they listened to, but what dances they did. Not only what battles they fought, but also what weapons they used.

And now, let the games begin!


Society for Creative Anachronism


The Modern Practice of Medieval Martial Arts


Center for Medieval Studies
Includes photographs and an extensive history of the Middle Ages

Chivalry Sports Renaissance Store
An online store specializing in merchandise for fantasy games

Pennsic War
An information site full of news, stories and events surrounding this famous revivalist event

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