England's Medieval Festival Herstmonceux Castle
August Bank Holiday Weekend 2022
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Herstmonceux Medieval Festival Welcomes German Re-Enactors

Herstmonceux Medieval Festival Welcomes German Re-Enactors

It was by pure chance that we came across the Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle, close to Eastbourne in the south of England, during our vacation. Spontaneously we decided to change our trip's route and go see the festival. It was well worth it. On the vast grounds of the castle 'which is owned by Queen's University, Canada, battles from the Wars of the Roses are re-enacted on the last weekend of August. The battles' stories are made to fit the castle, which never has been a scene of the Wars of the Roses but could have been since it was built in the 13th century. The festival was created in 1993 when the castle was opened as International Study Centre of Queen's University.

We liked the easy atmosphere in the previous so much that we returned in again. Clive Geisler, the organiser of the festival had invited us to come with our group and bring other German groups as well after we had inquired about the festival via its Internet Website www.EnglandsMedievalFestival.com Although we spread the news we weren't successful in recruiting others. A reason for this may be the fact that the relatively young festival does not have large financial pools for showmen's wages and is still looking for sponsors. The Festival is however, so well run and so much fun for the participants that it still attracts over 500 re-enactors and traders from all over Europe.

On the three days of the Festival there were two sieges daily. In the mornings the Earl of Eltham defends his castle and captures Joan de la Pole, the wife of his adversary, the Earl of Oldcastle. In the afternoons Oldcastle counter-attacked, defeated Eltham and rescued his wife. A commentator who was right in the middle of it described the battles. The only concession to modern times here was a microphone without which it would not have been possible to explain the sometimes complicated manoeuvres to the audience.

Before each battle there was a muster for all participants where the safety rules were explained and points of critique discussed. Afterwards all participants went on a grand parade around the grounds and then the battle began. At the first muster we asked the largest contingent of combatants, the Medieval Siege Society, if they had any use for our small group of two noble ladies and an archer. They included us in their ranks immediately.

The noble ladies became ladies-in-waiting to Joan de la Pole and as such were captured with her in the mornings and released in the afternoons. The archer joined the defenders and had lots of opportunities to talk shop with the experienced English longbowmen. The battles went off rather orderly but not as if choreographed. Ten fighters answer to one commanding officer who directs their action in the fights. There were only a few minor injuries and every day at the muster we chanted the rule "no hits to the head." Most of the MSS members we talked to were rather astonished that we had come all the way from Germany just for Herstmonceux and some readily offered to provide us with dates of British re-enactment events. We even found someone who is interested in a return visit to Germany next year.

Besides the two sieges in front of the setting of a medieval camp with a total of about 300 participants, Herstmonceux offers a knights' tournament of an hours' length, archery and falconry displays, a children's tournament, and groups of musicians and dancers. Of course there are also medieval market stalls in a living history village and a two taverns.

Last year there were lots of archery targets distributed all over the castle's beautiful park where the archers could meat and practice. This year there was an archery contest instead, open to all re-enactors. The placement of the targets allowed the visitors to watch and have fun too.

In the evenings after the festival had closed, the re-enactors met at the Buxom Wench tavern, kept open specially for them, to meat friends and celebrate with the obligatory pint until the early mornings.

After that weekend which seemed to us more than a week, it was hard to readjust to the real world and present time. One thing we already know for sure: we'll be there again this year and will be working hard to encourage more groups to come from Europe.

Written By:

Tina Steiner