Three years ago, I made one of the best decisions of my life and joined Historia Normannis, a re-enactment group specialising in 12th to 13th Century British life covering all aspects from warfare to religious life. Back when I was a fresher looking around the society fair my University held, I came across Normannis and thought it sounded something ‘cool’ so I signed up in an instant and never looked back. Some of my best experiences have been thanks to re-enactment and it has become an integral part of who I am.
Love it or loathe it, re-enactment has grown in popularity in recent years. For example, last year, Historia Normannis had 600 members in total. This is the biggest the group has grown in membership and it’s still growing to this day! I thought it would be interesting to write series of four posts on re-enactment, covering the positives and negatives of re-enactment, the impact of re-enactment and why should we bother, and tips for anyone wanting to start. Knowing me, there will be undoubtedly more posts about re-enactment in the future, so watch this space! Let’s get on with what we aimed to start off with
BETH’S LIST OF 5 POSITIVES OF RE-ENACTMENT
- You feel like a badass
Learning to fight with (blunt) weapons and eventually fighting in chainmail is unbelievably badass. It feels like being an extra in the Lord of the Rings films. You get to brag your epic battle stories, even the ones where you ‘died horrifically’ to everyone and people will view you forever more with awe. My friend has many. She is known as the Destroyer, and one time she managed to create a large dent on the top of a knight’s flat-top helmet with her mace in full contact fighting. (I, unfortunately, do not have this honour. The most ‘epic’ tale I have achieved that I got in a hug of death with one of the most outstanding members of the group. Sounds impressive until the rest is told. I forgot that I was fighting with a nine-foot spear and no knife and so basically hugged this guy who was charging towards me sword in hand. He killed me in one foul swoop and then proceeded to take out the rest of my team. Least to say it was not my finest moment).
Another reason is that it gives you a totally legitimate excuse to own a lot of weapons and armour. My boyfriend has a pretty big collection, a majority of which he uses for re-enactment purposes. He honestly owns two nine foot spears, one long knife, one hilted knife, one balled mace, one 15th century longsword, one bow with six arrows, one nasal helmet, and one full gambeson. He is still waiting for one bearded axe, one winged spear, one lance, one round shield, and one light gambeson. Having a lot of weapons means having an armoury which is another badass feeling. The Destroyer currently has an excellent display of her weapons and chainmail casually chilling in her room. The display looks like a soldier ready to fight immediately and often gets decorated for Christmas and Halloween.
For those who don’t fight and participate in the general everyday re-enactment, otherwise known as living history, you can still feel badass and still means re-enactment is a legitimate excuse for weapons. Another friend of mine who doesn’t fight owns four knives and a long bow with 24 arrows (all sharp). Or if you don’t want to own any weapons there is a huge spoon which is commonly known in Normannis as a battle spoon. During show season there is a well known Abbess who will threaten any wrong doers with her big old battle spoon. It’s surprisingly scary, especially if you have been caught playing football on Easter Sunday!
2. Unexpected Exercise
Once I had left school, I vowed that I would steer clear from any forms of sports and exercise due to bad experiences of PE and a self-defence teacher who was more of a hindrance than a help. I decided at university I wasn’t going to do any exercise whatsoever because there was nobody to tell me otherwise. (This was a terrible idea looking back and this blog no longer promotes that idea, exercise is important, even in small amounts!) And then I took up re-enactment and I did not realise that I was exercising because it was fun.
The re-enactment which I participate in is both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. I’m not quite sure for other types of re-enactment, undoubtedly there will be crossovers. It is aerobic exercise because you are running around fighting and charging into line battles thus increasing cardiovascular endurance. It is also anaerobic exercise as it involves weight lifting which is great for building muscles. A lot of the kit used is heavy and so you are exercising when carrying kit to and from sessions. Running around in chainmail also counts towards this as chainmail can be about 8 to 10kg in weight (and this does not include any leg armour or helmet).
3. It’s like time travel without all the hassle
A weird point, I know but please bear with. Personally, I don’t think I would be able to cope if I had the chance to be able to time travel even though I would give anything to do so. I lack any useful skill for day to day life in the past, for example, building fires, ploughing, and understanding old money. I also constantly have a cold and there would be the possibility of me destroying past civilisations or bringing the bubonic plague back to the 21st century. Things would also be difficult for me because I identify as female. For a majority of the time in western civilisations for sure, women have not been allowed as many (if any opportunities) which men are granted so I prefer living in the present day for that reason alone.
Time travel is not possible but re-enactment shows create an illusion of a time in the past. You experience key aspects of day to day life from ages past. You eat period foods, wear period clothes, experience the impact of warfare for those on the front line and those defending the encampment, and experience the impact of the church on day to day life. It’s an amazing feeling as it brings the past closer to home. The best bit about it though is the fact an average day when participating in a show is from about 8 am until about 6 pm. After six you can return to the modern world, to central heating and modern technology, to modern clothes you feel comfortable wearing and shoes you can actually wear, and finally piping hot meals which end hunger for a short while. It’s sheer bliss.
4. Re-enactment attracts fellow nerds
As re-enactment is usually not considered as a ‘hip and cool’hobby, you don’t see Kim Kardashian running around in peasant’s clothes wielding an axe chasing Benedict Cumberbatch who had lost his sword in the fight. (Although it would be something I would love to see!) Re-enactment, therefore, has a tendency to attract a lot of nerds ranging from a broad scope of different backgrounds and fandoms and it’s beautiful! Unsurprisingly to anyone, I am a massive nerd and I find it so exciting when you have a collection of fellow nerds. Discussions on a variety of topics are full of passion and there is usually someone who has some knowledge about the fandom you are part of. It also makes you feel part of a family. I remember my first ever session, during one of the games, a couple of people started quoting Monty Python references and I instantly felt more comfortable because I knew from that moment on I was not going to be judged for being a nerd but accepted.
Finally 5. Friends!
Following from my previous point and to end on a sappy note, the friends made through re-enactment are some of the greatest you’ll ever meet. Although, I am particularly biased on this point because I have been incredibly fortunate to have met my best friends through joining Normannis. Through fighting, re-enacting and all nighter craft sessions I have found that friendships have grown stronger and the people I re-enact with, I now cannot imagine not being in my life with them. They are my second family, a home from home, and people I want to know even when my hair has turned grey and I have a face full of wrinkles.