Learning about history from medieval reenactment
Today we share some ideas about how medieval reenactment events can inform and contribute to our understanding of historical martial practice, and about the tools, weapons, and armor used by medieval people.
Nathan with the encampment in the background after the first night
Last weekend Arms and Armor V.P. Nathan Clough Ph.D. attended the Deed of the Red Knight (run by author Christian Cameron's Hoplogia
group), a 14th century military reenactment event attempting to reproduce the experiences of an English mercenary company in Italy in the late 1300s. Dozens of folks camped out in medieval tents, wearing period attire, cooking over open fires, and fighting in an armored tournament and melee events.
Nathan (left) with other armored members of his team prior to a battle with spears, swords, and arrows.
There was a market event where we sold some swords, spears, and axes, and where some delicious pies, gorgeous hoods, and elegant belts made by event cohost and historical jeweler Aurora Simmon (check out her Etsy store here).
One of the most interesting parts of the reenactment experience was running mass combat scenarios in farm fields. Most of us who participate in Historical European Martial Arts, whether armored or unarmored, usually fight on perfectly smooth surfaces, or at best on a nicely groomed lawn of grass. The fields where we fought were knee to thigh-high alfalfa fields with treed borders and adjacent corn fields. Walking through this terrain in full armor and with visors down due to the threat of archers was an eye-opener. Many parts of a full leg and foot armor tangle readily with vegetation, threatening to trip armored folks, and the already heavy effort of hiking in 14th century armor is significantly increased by pushing through this kind of landcover.
Nathan directing his lance in a simulated combat
Knights and men at arms engaged as mercenaries in the late 14th century would have been armed with a polearm like a spear or possibly a war hammer, a sword worn on the left hip, and a dagger on the right (assuming he was right handed). Especially when fully armored, carrying all of these weapons in a way that keeps them close to hand is a challenge. Most folks who do HEMA (historical European martial arts) today simply keep their various weapons in a bag and put little thought into how such weapons would have been carried and worn before, during, and after combat either martial or civil. Nathan lost his dagger in the first mass combat, though it was later found, and his sword continually got tangled up in the tall vegetation and the fin on his knee armor. Adjusting these relatively minor malfunctions was much harder while also trying to carry a spear and keep a lookout for enemies.
Arms and Armor Norseman Spear is very similar to many spears spanning 9th-15th centuries and is very suited to use as a medieval infantry weapon, or as an early lance for mounted combat
In a similar vein, wearing a sword and dagger at your belt both adds weight and increases tripping and entanglement hazards for the man at arms, especially if his equipment is ad hoc, but reasonably functional hanging systems for sword and dagger are necessary for the type of shifting from weapon to weapon that is highlighted in many of the historical fighting texts (check out wiktenauer t
o learn more about medieval fighting manuals).
Many lessons were learned, and a lot of fun was had. It was great to hangout with many friends, including Greg Mele, Christian Cameron, Aurora Simmons, Kurt Holtfretter, Patrick Naleway and dozens of other wonderful people.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons