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21st Century Chivalry
Renaissance Faires and Historical Reenactments
A Renaissance Faire wedding
So, we like the idea of living a life of Chivalry in the 21st Century...
We want to develop physical prowess, speak with truthfulness, behave with proper decorum,
act with courage to defend what is good and right in our community, interact with courtesy,
exercise self-control, display generosity and create a positve example for our children.
But how do we do all this when we are surrounded by forces that discourage all these things?
Forces in our culture that seem to glorify the "me-first" attitude.
How does one get a feel for Chivalry in a world where popular culture
is steeped in the likes of gangsta rap and the Simpsons?
What if you could step back in time for an hour or a day or a weekend?
Step back to a time when courtesy and gentility were practised, personal honor was paramount,
people took pride in their appearance, reveled in their cleverness of speech and when there
was a certain formality and politeness of address, a proper way to behave?
This very desire to experience social civility is one reason so many people are involved
historical reenactment as a hobby. And for history lovers, there is no better way to learn than to
actually "live" the time period. For teaching history to young people, there is simply no
better way than to bring them to a reenactment, let them try on the clothing, don the armour,
sample the food, listen to the music, dance the dances, talk to the characters, watch the battle
and breathe the very air of any time period. Most kids will say, "If history were taught this
way in school, I'd be getting straight A's!"
Most Americans today have heard of Renaissance Faires,
even if they have never been to one. In fact, Ren Faires are probably the most common
historical reenactments, with the possible exception of Civil War events.
The first Renaissance Faire (The Renaissance Pleasure Faire, TM) was created by
Phyllis Patterson and her husband Ron in the early 1960's in California.
It had as its genesis a children's drama program with a medieval theme and is still going
strong today (after several changes of management)as an accurate and authentic replica
of an Elizabethan-era rural faire, peopled with farmers, mongers, craftsmen, minstrals,
mummers, merchantmen and nobles.
Even Good Queen Bess comes for a visit!
Decades ago, performers from the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire formed into groups known as
guilds, each with its own focus, and these guilds over time developed independently
of the Faire proper. Eventually, smaller copy-cat faires began cropping up in cities and towns
all over America and these guilds began performing at these smaller faires. Now the Ren World
(or the Re-Ren, as it is sometimes known) has taken on a life of its own, complete with its
own full-page glossy magazine, commercial ventures selling costumes, pavilions, props, armour
and swords to Ren Faire hobbyists, professional jousting companies that tour the faires performing
live steel and full-armour tournaments and horseback jousts, and thousands of participants
(known as Rennies or Faire Folk) whose yearly calenders revolve around these weekend events.
Besides the Rennies, faires annually attract hundreds of thousands of visitors (known as mundanes)
who come to catch a glimpse into another time, get a feeling for a different way of life, spend a little
money on foods, entertainments and products not readily available elsewhere, and maybe,
just maybe, get inspired to join in on the fun.
Faire guildmembers reenact all the aspects of life during the Renaissance period: handweaving;
wool-dying; leathercraft; woodworking; armour-making: blacksmithing: singing, dancing and theatre.
Many guilds portray martial activities: Highland clans, English footsoldiers, armoured knights, or
companies of longbowmen. A few guilds focus on the nobility, with authentically-costumed performers
playing actual historical characters such as King Henry the Eighth or Mary Queen of Scots and the
high-born men and women of their elaborate courts.
Faire guilds are always recruiting from among the mundane visitors, seeking new people
with enthusiasm, energy, and skills. Guilds become tight-knit groups, almost like families,
travelling to weekend events all their state or region, setting up camp and performing together.
Joining a guild can change one's life in many positive ways. When you visit a Ren Faire, feel
free to talk to Faire Folk, find out about their guild and ask about other guilds that are
present. Rennies are friendly people who are happy to guide you to a guild that best
serves your particular interests and skills.
CIVIL WAR REENACTMENT
Maybe you like the idea of historical reenacting but the Renaissance period is just not your thing.
Well, you are in luck because in America you have quite a choice. Some of the other periods
that reenactors are recreating are: the Old West (Cowboy Action Shooting), the fur-trapping period
(mountain man rendevous), and the War Between The States (American Civil War). In fact, people
are reenacting the Custer battle at the Little Bighorn, World Wars 1 and 2, even the Roman Empire.
You name it, an internet search will turn up all kinds of history buffs dressing up and reliving
their favorite historical period.
One of the most common is the Civil War. These reenactments take place all over the
United States, although the best ones are in the Eastern States where they are often staged
on the actual battlegrounds. Out west, they take place in city and regional parks. Reenactors
travell all over the country to take part in these events, sometimes assembling armies of several
thousand strong. As well as playing the roles of soldiers in both the Confederate (Southern) and
Union (Northern) armies, people play characters of civilians as well. Wives and sweethearts of
the soldiers, scouts, nurses, doctors, sutlers, photographers and journalists are examples of the civilian
roles available. Each participant can choose the type of role they most wish to portray, and make or
buy the clothing and acoutrements needed for that character.
Reenactors of the 54th Massachusetts
As in Ren Faire reenactment, participants join groups which focus on their area of interest.
For soldiers, groups based on actual Civil War regiments, such as the 54th Massachusetts (made
up of black freemen and escaped slaves), the 69th New York (made up of Irish immigrants), or the
2nd Alabama (backwoods southern country boys). Soldier reenactors can choose between North and
South, of course, but also between infantry, cavalry, and artillery. If you are a horse owner, you
can train your horse for the sound of musket and cannon fire and sign up with a cavalry unit.
If you have always been fascinated by the big guns, an artillery unit might be for you. If you love
the march and drill, load and fire of small arms, join an infantry unit.
Historical reenactment is fun, educational, inspiring, and can greatly enhance
one's life. The comaraderie and family-oriented nature of these groups give one a real
sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves.
Teaching history through this unique and tangible method allows children and adults alike
to relate to history not through dates and names but through experiencing the lives of the people
who lived during those time periods.
The people who engage in historical reenactment are friendly, knowledgeable
and passionate about history. Learning and "living" in historical time periods
helps people to develop and exercise the chivalrous behavior of the period.
In the 21st Century we have the perspective and the luxury, for indeed it is such, to
pick and choose the positive aspects from the negative, as we examine
and reenact previous time periods.
Copyright 2007, Amy Farrell