Making a (Adult) Playhouse – Part 1

I’ve been watching videos for some time on people camping in non-traditional tents and building everything from simple overnight survival shelters to semi-permanent shelters (or even entire compounds) for weekend camping.

Having done medieval reenacting for 16 years now, I am well acquainted with living in a tent without electricity, running water, etc. (although never as completely off-the-grid as the people in the videos). Provided the weather’s not too God-awful, it’s even fun.

But I keep looking at people building survival shelters and I think to myself, “That looks like fun.” I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I was constantly building houses for myself from grass clippings (more of a floor plan than a house, really) or making them under trees or bushes.

I have also hit a crossroads in that I want to continue to do reenacting (at least I think I do), but not in the SCA. Watching shows like Tudor Monastery Farm make me Jones for a place to do really immersive reenacting, but there aren’t any medieval living history museums like that anywhere near me.

So I’ve been thinking about combining those two things and making myself some sort of medievalish shelter that I could camp in on the weekends–maybe even invite some friends over to also camp and/or build their own house.

Building even one semi-permanent structure, however, is no small task. And I admit I haven’t decided how I want to make it yet. I’ve thought about everything from a lazy man’s log cabin (simple and relatively fast to build, but not terribly medieval unless you’re in early-period Scandinavia) . . .

to a wattle and daub structure (very period) . . .

to a pallet shed that I could cover in daub (would look the same as a proper one, but much less time-consuming to make; probably would last longer, too).

But, before I can build anything, I have to have a place to build. I have woods surrounding my house. On one side, they are either quite open (which means you can see the house and garage easily when you are in them), or they’re a tangled mess of undergrowth, meaning a lot of work to prep them. On the other side, however, once you get through the undergrowth that grows on the transition line between the yard and the woods, the woods are generally cleaner and easier to get through–i.e. less to have to clean up to make usable spots.

I had one spot picked out as a likely place to put a small shelter; it was near the house, but the woods were thick enough that you could barely see the house in the wintertime and not at all in the summer. Then, the other day, I took a walk down the property line almost all the way to the creek at the other end and I found a different location that had interesting trees and a bit more space (also, the ground was a bit more level). A deer trail from there popped me out just above the lower pond. You can partially see the neighbor’s house from the new location, but won’t be able to see it once the trees leaf out.

Soon mosquito season will be here, and if it continues to be wet like it has been all winter (and like it was the last two summers), I will not be able to do anything outside during the summer. I have flood zones in the yard that I affectionately call the “upper pond” and the “lower pond.” I am hoping to get them dug out and turned into proper ponds this summer so that I can control the mosquitoes, but right now, both areas are just a mosquito-breeding swamp. And those feckers are numerous and aggressive. You can coat yourself with Deep Woods Off! and you will still get accosted by two types of mosquitoes: the ones who say “You didn’t spray your eyeballs or inside your ears!” and the ones who land where you just sprayed and say, “Ooh, I like ’em spicy!” So, unless we have a dry summer that keeps my yard from becoming a mosquito-breeding haven, I can’t really work on this project until fall comes around and kills off the mosquitoes. At that point, I will have the fall and winter (weather permitting) to work on building my shelter-house.

In the meantime, though, I’ve decided that I can at least make a good trail to the camp site. Personally, I don’t like getting eat-up by briars all the time, and I need a clear path for bringing in building materials, too (which I will have to do regardless of what style I choose; not everything I need is right there in reach).

The weather here has been fairly pleasantly cool (highs in the 60’s) and sunny all week. We have had so much rain this winter that I feel starved for sunlight. (I know now why Seattle has such a high suicide rate; the constant rain and gloom is beyond miserable.) So yesterday evening, after I got home from work, I walked down to the spot where I had come out of the woods on my previous trip and I started to clear a path in.

This is where I started.

I feel like I made good progress in the 45-60 minutes I worked on it before I started to lose the light (and get hungry).

If you are wondering what that white thing is, it’s a water spigot. There are random water spigots all over the property, probably from back when it was a day lily farm. This one is in an advanced state of deterioration; I think I could just break it off with my bare hands. I am unsure where the water main to these is located, but all of them seem to be cut off at the source. Still, I’m leery of messing with them.

I had three main things I had to contend with: briars (both blackberry and cat/saw briars), honeysuckle vines, and privet. When I was cutting out the edge, where the undergrowth meets the yard, I had a lot of material, but no good place to put it because everything around me was just a tangled mess. So I took advantage of some privet trees that I was leaving in place and I made myself a little living hedge fence.

I feel like that gives it a bit of a medieval feel. Come right this way; a medieval experience awaits you down this wooded lane.

Black Girl in a Big Dress

The Struggle is Real

Reenactor types (and people who just think the concept of reenacting is interesting or weird in a fascinating way), you need to make sure you watch the original series Black Girl in a Big Dress, an independent production on YouTube.

And even if you don’t have any interest in history or reenacting, you should still watch it because it’s funny. If you don’t relate to Adrienne because you are some type of nerd who doesn’t fit in with “normal” (aka “mundane”) people, then you are probably someone who knows someone like this.

Show the series some love. It deserves way more view and subscribers than it currently has; it should be viral by now.

Also, Season Two is imminent!


Medieval Fruit Chutney

The Tale of the Apples

Stuart bought a bag of small apples sometime before he went into the hospital (so over 2 months ago), and they stayed in the fridge until the compressor went out. (That’s a saga for another day.) They were dutifully moved into the cooler on the porch, where they lived, sometimes partially submerged in water, for 2 weeks until some coworkers came over and got my new fridge pushed through the sunroom window. (I told you it was quite a saga.)

While putting things into the new fridge, I gave them a look over and decided that either they needed to be used immediately, or the whole bag thrown out.

I hated the idea of wasting an entire bag (3 lbs, I think) of apples, but the reason why I hadn’t touched them in the past two months is, although I like apples, apples in their raw form don’t like me back. And with my stomach in a fairly perpetual state of upset over the last month or so from stress, I didn’t need to add to the problem.

My mother–who stayed with me lat week–suggested cooking and freezing them to use as topping for pancakes, waffles, toast, etc. But she went back home before we had a chance to process them and I didn’t know what she did to them as far as flavoring went.

So I started going through our historical cookbooks, looking for something to do with 3 pounds of apples.

Improve at the Kitchen

Most people want to turn apples into pies or fritters or something else that involves making pastry dough (which I had no interest in doing). Or they call for an apple to be used in a meat dish or something similar. (I had way too many apples for that.) Finally, though, I found a recipe for a medieval fruit chutney that called for apples.

Or, rather, an apple. But it also called for a pear, 2 cups of cherries, and 1/2 cup of currants.

That’s totally the same as 3 pounds of apples.

When I first met Stuart, I was very much a cooking novice. “Cooking” involved following the instructions on the back of a box or bagged frozen meal. The first time I was in his kitchen, helping with food prep, I had to ask him how to dice an onion.

That was nearly 16 years ago. Since then, I’ve not only helped process 30 pounds of onions–including 5 pounds finely minced–by hand in a single morning, but I’ve learned how to venture off script when it comes to cooking.

Mind you, I’m not at Stuart’s level (yet). He had quite a talent for going to the pantry, picking out a handful of seemingly-random ingredients, and turning them into a meal. Unless it’s something I’ve cooked enough times to remember it off the top of my head, I have to start with a recipe. I need that to point me in the right direction when it comes to spices and what ratio those spices should be in.

But the rest of the recipe is more like a guideline. Occasionally I follow them exactly, but most of the time I don’t. First off, if there’s anything I don’t like, it gets tossed. So we can just skip any lines calling for things like mushrooms or capers. (Although, to be honest, I don’t know if I do or don’t like capers; Stuart never liked them, so we never used them.)

Secondly, it’s usually inevitable that I don’t have a necessary ingredient. Depending on what it is, it either gets skipped or substituted. Some substitutions I make on intuition (I have watered down sour cream to substitute for milk before and it worked fine), but others I look up online.

Ad Libbing the Chutney

First up was dicing all the apples. The cores and any bad spots were cut out and went into my worm bin. (More on the worms another day.)

Sour Grapes Over a Lack of Vinegar

The recipe called for using a white wine or champagne vinegar. I don’t drink and Stuart drank very rarely, so booze is usually not available at our house. (Or, if it is, it’s scotch, which isn’t exactly a cooking alcohol.) When I was the one staying home and doing the cooking while Stuart worked, I built up a collection of booze alternatives. I had a variety of vinegars, plus fruit juice in single-serving containers. (A large jug of fruit juice would go bad long before I used it all; the single-serve drinks kept for much, much longer.) So, if something called for red wine, I could use a red wine vinegar or grape juice, depending on whether I thought the dish would be better tarter or sweeter. White wine vinegar or white grape juice substituted for white wine. And apple juice substituted for liquors, like brandy.

But when I went to the cabinet to get some white wine vinegar, I found we didn’t have any. In fact, we were practically out of all vinegars and were definitely out of all fruit juices.

This is why I keep a shopping list on the fridge door, and as things get low or run out, I write it down on the list immediately. Because otherwise, you never remember to replace weird stuff like wine vinegars the next time you go to the grocery store. (I have since put them on my shopping list and have restocked the collection.)

My options for this dish were rice vinegar (what I use if an Asian recipe calls for sake), malt vinegar (what I would probably use to substitute for beer), and apple cider vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar seemed like the most logical choice to pair with apples.

What Happened to My Stash???

I put the apple cider vinegar in a bowl and, as I cut up apples, I tossed them in the vinegar. Apples brown when exposed to air, and I knew that lemon juice (specifically the acid in it) is used to keep them from turning, so I figured vinegar would work the same. It did; my apples didn’t brown.

. . . At least right up to the point that I cooked them in honey and spices.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The actual name of the recipe I was loosely using is “Last of the Harvest Chutney.” Its intent is to use up whatever odd and end pieces of fruit you have. This works either in the spring, when you have a small selection of last year’s fruits still available in storage–not enough of any one thing to be useful, but enough in the aggregate–or you can use it in the fall when you have some leftover pieces that are too bruised to go into storage or weren’t quite enough to make one more batch of jelly.

That being said, I didn’t want this to be nothing but an apple chutney. So I decided to use up whatever dried fruits we have in the cabinet.

. . . We were out of dried fruit. No figs. No raisins. No cherries. No apple rings. (Not that I needed any more apples, but I still expected to find some.)

This is something else I usually kept stocked because you never know when you want to make some medieval meat, and medieval meat almost always calls for fruit.

Finally, in the top of the cabinet, I found a bag of prunes. I have no need to eat prunes out of hand, so this seemed like a good place to use some.

Then I remembered the fruit tray someone had brought over a few days previously. That definitely needed to be used before it went bad (I don’t usually eat fruit medleys, mainly for the same reason I don’t eat raw apples). So I pulled it out of the fridge and started sorting it. All the melons and pineapple stayed in the tray (they’re not complimentary tastes to a medieval fruit chutney, in my opinion), but the strawberries and blueberries went in with the apples. (The few remaining grapes, however, went into me; they were good and sweet.)

Lastly, I tossed in a bag of cashew pieces. The recipe didn’t call for nuts, but chutneys can have nuts in them, I like the crunch, and I’m not going to eat a bag of nothing but cashews, so why not use them?

The thing that really makes this chutney a medieval recipe isn’t the flavor profile (although that’s certainly a part of it), but rather the fact that it’s cobbled together from a bunch of semi-random leftover things salvaged before they go bad. Be they pies, pottages, or frumenties, medieval dishes were all about using what you had on hand and wasting nothing.

The Shortages Continue

Once my fruits were assembled, I started in on the spices. I had ginger, cloves, and cinnamon–no problem.

I can’t tell you how many years I waited for this setup, which allows me to store all the spices alphabetically.

But when I went to the cupboard for brown sugar . . . no brown sugar. Stuart must have used up the last of it making brine when he smoked meat last.

You can “make” brown sugar by combining regular sugar with molasses. Which I had. . . . Two days previously. But when I was migrating things from the cooler into the new fridge, I got rid of the jar, thinking I had no use for a small amount of super-hard molasses.

Yeah, that one was all on me.

But, I soldiered on with regular sugar.

Old Honey Renewed

The recipe actually starts on the stove with 1/2 cup of honey. (Which I doubled, since I guesstimated that I had twice the amount of fruit the original called for.)

Honey was one of the few things I had. But it was not as easy as just dumping some in. No, we couldn’t have that.

We had a honey bear that was old and the honey in it had gone hard. But hard honey can be liquefied again if you just heat it up. So, while I was still cutting up fruit, I put the container in a pot of water and let it warm up.

Even if you don’t have hard honey, you should strongly consider heating up honey first if you need more than a spoonful or two of it; warm honey pours like olive oil, which makes it a lot easier (and faster) to fill a cup.

Now We’re Cooking With (Electric) Gas

Once my myriad of substitutions were completed, the actual cooking went really fast. I added all the fruit to the simmering honey and let it cook on medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring it occasionally.

As you can see, my careful vinegaring of the apples was all for nought; the combination of honey and spices and cooking turned them brown anyway. (After the mixture cooled, it became even darker, turning rather purple.)

Despite all of the sugar and honey and fruit, it came out surprisingly tart. But it’s tart like a dried cherry; there’s an underlying sweetness that you taste after the initial tartness.

A friend of mine who is an excellent medieval cook tried a bite and declared it to be very good. So I have that as a bragging right.


Now that I have a large pot of medieval fruit chutney, you might well ask, “What are you going to do with it?”

To me, medieval fruit begs to be put on meat.

Normally, I would pair apples with pork, but 1) I don’t eat pork any more and 2) this is much tarter than apples normally are. Like I said, it tastes more like a cherry than apples. Cherries pair well with beef (sweet and sour also goes well with venison and, I assume, any other red meat), but chicken was to hand, so it’s what I used.

The one thing you don’t want to do is put too many things together that are just alike. So, to contrast with the sweetish flavor of the fruit, I decided to make the meat savory.

I thawed a package of chicken breasts and butterflied them and then flattened them with a mallet because it was 8:00 PM by that point and I didn’t have all night to wait for them to cook.

I put some vegetable oil in the bottom of a baking pan (I meant to use olive oil, but forgot and just used the first thing I got out of the cabinet) and dredged the chicken in it as I tetrised all the pieces in. Then I sprinkled them with thyme, basil, and savory until they looked sufficiently coated and popped them into the oven for 30 minutes. I had no recipe for the chicken at all, so I was totally guessing about the time. But after 30 minutes, I cut into the chicken and found it done.

I heated up a can of potatoes, added butter and sour cream to them, and cut a chunk of cheddar cheese. I put everything on the plate, added the chutney on top of the chicken and devoured it so quickly, I didn’t get a picture of it. Suffice to say, it was really, really good.

Stuart would be proud of me cooking so far off script.

Now, to learn to cook over an open fire.


When I ate leftovers the following day, I found that the chutney had mellowed somewhat and was not as tart. It still, however, tastes more like cherries than apples.

Next up: Using it on steaks.

Medieval Monday: SCA 50 Year

Back in June, my husband and I went to a week-long event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the SCA. I’ve been meaning to get the pictures off the camera for months, and I’ve finally done it. So enjoy!


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Our tent is a 14′ x 14′ center-pole canvas marquee with a 7′ x 14′ porch from Panther Primitives. Normally we put the walls up pretty early in the set up process, but it was pretty hot, so we left the walls off while we worked to get some air.

The first thing that goes down is our tarps. We have one dedicated floor tarp that’s pretty heavy, but when we’re camping out for a week, I’ll take the cheap tarp that we use to cover the back of the truck and put that under the heavier tarp. We have twice had water run under our (cheap) tarp and seep up through the middle of the floor and it was pretty miserable because there was no way to dry out the inside of the tent and few places where you could stand to get dressed without getting your feet wet. That was what prompted us to quit being cheap and buy a heavier-duty tarp. But I’m still paranoid, so if I have a spare tarp, I’ll double-up. (Especially as they were calling for heavy weather in the middle of the week.)

On top of the tarp go our rugs. Because of course you have to have wall-to-wall carpeting. Those are thrift store, flea market, and yard sale fines. If we see a good deal on a rug, we’ll buy it because if we don’t need it now, we will in the future. The rugs can take being wet if we hang them up when we get home, but we have had problems in the past with mice in our barn and a few of the rugs are rough around the edges where they have built nests in them.

My husband made our bed. It’s full size. The headboard and footboard are exactly alike, so it doesn’t matter which you use. There are two identical side rails that fit through slots on the headboard and footboard and pin into place. There are narrow rails on the inside of the side rails and we put wooden slats on top of these. Then the mattress (a real mattress, not an air mattress!) goes on top of the slats.

The bed is tall enough that a standard-sized plastic tote can fit under it and be hidden by the bedskirt. We pack most of our clothes, housewares, and foot in plastic totes and some of those things live in the totes under the bed. The nice thing about the plastic totes is that they are relatively waterproof. This is an important consideration when they’re in the back of a truck, but it’s can be just as important inside the tent. This past Gulf Wars, we had what is now known “affectionately” as “Gulfnado.” Some people claim to have seen rotation above part of the campground. But others say that there were only two supercells that combined and hit us. Regardless of whether it was a tornado trying to form on top of us or only straight-line winds, everyone is in agreement that winds were coming in gusts of up to 60 mph and hit in opposite directions. Tents and sunshades went down all over the site and many people’s things got wet. After we lost our big communal tent (where everyone in camp was just sitting down to dinner), I rode out the rest of the storm in this marquee. (It and our wall tent were the only ones in our camp to survive unscathed and dry.) While I was in there, I hurriedly packed as much of our stuff as possible into the plastic totes to keep it dry in case we lost the tent.

A lot of times I will cover our cooler with a spare blanket just so it’s not so obvious (and we’ll know where the blanket is if it suddenly turns cold; the weather is vary variable in Mississippi in March). I could probably make some sort of curtain to cover up the shelves of food, but I haven’t bothered yet. We’re the only ones in our tent, so we look for a balance between a medieval feel and convenience. (We also have to balance how much crap we (read: I) have to pack and set-up).

I bought the shelves from my Laurel; she and her sister designed them. They’re cotton strapping that’s been sewed into loops and they have grommets at the top that allow them to slip over the pin on our interior poles. There are a couple of small straps on both of them that you use to tie them to the poles. Then you slip the boards into the straps and level them. They self-level pretty well and they move with the poles. Despite those 60 mph winds, I don’t think anything fell off our shelves.

My husband blacksmithed the clothes rack. The metal brackets screw into the poles (although we’ve talked about him redesigning them so that they have holes in the top that allow them to slip over the pins like our shelves do) and we put a pole across it. There’s also a board that sits on top, but isn’t self-leveling and it’s so close to the top that the wind can snap the top and knock stuff off of it. So we only put hats on top; they won’t be hurt if they fall off.

We also have some blacksmithed hooks that hang off our pole pins; they’re scattered around the tent. We use them for hanging up wet towels, a mirror, umbrellas–whatever we need.

Normally the table (which is under the porch in this set up) is in one corner of the tent and I used it as a dressing table. I keep a mirror and my hairbox on it. When we go to Gulf Wars, we have a huge communal tent that we use as a kitchen and dining room for all the people in our camp. But at this event, we were on our own, which meant we had to do our own cooking. So the dressing table became a washing up and prep table and my husband’s bedside table became a propane stove table.

We also normally don’t use our porch (it’s so much nicer to sit in the big tent and be social). In fact, this was only the second time we’ve set it up. It needs some modification because it’s just too low to stand under. We need to add a center pole to lift it up and give ourselves some more headroom. But it was so hot at that event, it was nice to have it to sit under while we ate dinner; it was cooler than trying to sit inside or having to sit in the sun.

Around Site

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I didn’t get any pictures of the rest of the camping area, but my husband snapped a few pictures of the main thoroughfare on his camera. (This being Indiana, everything was very flat, so it’s not like there was a place to go to take a picture that would give you some sense of the scale of the event.)

The Great Machine

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The greatest display at the event was the Great Machine. It is meant to be a scaled-down model of a medieval blacksmith shop that runs on water power. (There’s a great episode in Connections 1 that covers medieval water-powered machines.) Of course a moving exhibit can’t run on water power, so the owner has modified the design to run on dog power. (In a medieval shop, the wheel would have been on the outside of the building, just like a mill. But the principal and mechanics are all the same.)

The dogs turn the big wheel and it spins a wheel in a gear assembly. But it’s not until a foot pedal or hand lever is used that the gear assembly fully engages and the power of the wheel is transferred to either the hammer or the bellows. (This means the big wheel can spin continuously–as it would if it was water powered–but the equipment isn’t constantly in motion.)

The hammer is on a somewhat egg-shaped gear that has a notch cut in it. As the gear turns, it causes the hammer to rise until it hits the notch and it drops. There are some bowed pieces of wood above the hammer–like a car’s leaf springs turned upside down–that work like a spring. The hammer is pulled up against them, then when the notch drops it, they force it down even harder.

Sutton Hoo Burial

Another great display was the Sutton Hoo burial.

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Duke Talymar has spent years (and God only knows how much money) replicating the grave goods from the Sutton Hoo burial. He has made some of the items himself, some (like the pots and buckets) he was able to pick up at flea markets, antique stores, and online auctions. A lot of the stuff he has commissioned artists in the SCA to make for him.

The attention to detail is fabulous. He really has a museum-quality display. Everything that he’s had made is either exactly the same scale of the surviving pieces or it’s within millimeters of being the same size. He just happens to be about the same size as the king for whom all this stuff was made, so he is able to wear all of it.

I studied the Sutton Hoo burial in 8th grade, but either I’ve forgotten most of what I learned, or it wasn’t this detailed. The original red and blue rug hanging up on the wall was imported from very far away, and many of the other grave goods came from far away, both attesting to the wealth of the man who owned them and the trade routes that existed at the time. Trade obviously didn’t stop just because the Roman Empire had ceased to exist.

In a few cases, Duke Talymar had to cut corners. The jeweled pieces in his display are red enamel whereas the original pieces contained rubies. But where he could, he used gold or silver that was electroplated with gold.

He had a mannequin in his display, but it’s not known if there was ever an actual body in the burial. It may be that the body was cremated near the grave.

Block Printing and Stenciling Class

There were two classes at the event that I didn’t get to take (they were full), but I was able to get pictures from them. One was how to use stencils to paint designs on clothing and the other was how to do block printing. (Block printing is period; stencils do a perfectly fine job of replicating block printing, but are a bit easier to do.) The instructor had a lot of her own examples on display.

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Many people in the class were using stencils they bought (I noticed just the other day that Hobby Lobby had some medieval-looking ones), but the instructor also showed people how to make their own stencils using plastic sheets, like you use on an overhead projector. (I believe you can also get stencil plastic, which would be a bit sturdier and last longer.)

For the wood block printing, a few people brought their own (I got one at the Nashville flea market, but you can find them online at places like eBay; they still do a lot of block printing of textiles in India), but most people made their own. They just cut their desired shapes from thin craft foam and glued it onto a scrap of 2×4. Boom, instant “rubber” stamp.

In both cases they painted with undiluted latex house paint. The teacher absolutely swore by it; she said it never came out. Some of her dresses on display were more than a decade old, had been worn and machine-washed many times, and had not been retouched. Of course, the drawback to that is if you make a mistake, you probably aren’t going to be able to get it out, so make sure you have some paint on hand that matches the color of your fabric; you may have to paint over a mistake.

50 Year Display

There was a display in one of the big halls that showed the evolution of the SCA. Each kingdom had a booth in which they displayed the history and best artistic achievements of their kingdom. If you proceeded around the hall counter-clockwise, you moved through the kingdoms as they formed, with the oldest first and the newest last. There was also a large embroidery done Bayeux Tapestry style that documented some of the more notable events in the history of the SCA. And there was a display showing the evolution of armor. Several booths had recorded music from their best musicians, video interviews with residents or people recounting the formation of their kingdom, or archival footage of old events and fighter practices.

There was no way to get a picture of everything, but I managed to get pictures of the most impressive displays.

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Cooking Demo

My husband got to hang out with some of the folks doing open-fire cooking and they swapped info and compared equipment.

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I am going to try to make it a point to take more pictures when we go to events to document what we do. The SCA is not public, like a Renaissance Faire; we do not perform for other people or for money. Even other non-profit historical reenactment organizations tend to be a bit more public than us–after all, it’s kind of hard to hide a few thousand Civil War reenactors shooting at one another. We’re a bit more in the shadows, despite being a very large organization. And a lot of people are dismissive of what we do as “playing dress up.” But a lot of good research on the middle ages has either been done by reenactors or has been driven by reenactors.

For example, what we know about armor has grown by leaps and bounds because reenactors put on replica armor and started to use it as it was intended. That was when it was discovered that museums had put straps in the wrong place or pieces were upside down. (Surviving medieval armor tends to be found sans the leather and canvas that held it together–it’s just a pile of metal pieces–so it can be hard to figure out what went where.) Also, reenactors snap up any sort of research on the middle ages; there are people who have gotten their PhD’s published simply because there’s an actual market for their research on 14th century clothing in English or wooden boxes of the Norsemen or whatever other obscure thing you can think of. You wouldn’t believe the ecstasy everyone was in over the finding of 15th century underwear a few years ago. People were on it with high power cameras and rulers like ducks on June bugs. Then everyone ran off and started to experiment with fit and then started to publish material.

So I will try to share more pictures in the future to raise awareness (if you will) about what reenactors do. I can talk from personal experience about the SCA and, to a much lesser extent, Rev War/18th century reenacting, but there historical reenactors from all different eras. You can reenact the WWII Invasion of Europe, or attend a Jane Austin-themed Regency ball. The two things everyone has in common is 1) we love history and 2) we want to be a part of it.

Medieval Monday: Heretics, Protestants, and Inquisitions. Oh My!

Michaelangelo The Renaissance

The Renaissance begins in Italy in the 14th century. Technically, “the Renaissance” only concerns art. Classical works were rediscovered and studied and a new era of realism in art began. Social and political changes come later and more slowly than the art revolution.

Useless Trivia: In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invents the printing press. The first book printed on it: the “Gutenberg” Bible. The printing press has the biggest impact on European society since the Plague because it allows the common person to become literate and allows ideas to flow freely. No longer will the Church alone be the guardian of knowledge in Europe.

Age of Discovery

In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella financed explorer Christopher Columbus who wanted to sail due west over the Atlantic Ocean to get to the spices and exotic goods of the Far East. Columbus would ultimately make four trips, discovering Cuba, Haiti, and other Caribbean Islands. A master sailor, one of his voyages was the fastest to ever cross the Atlantic until the advent of steam power. His navigation skills left a little to be desired, however, because he never realized he wasn’t in Asia. It would be Amerigo Vespucci who would finally figure out that everyone was exploring a New World.


Useless Trivia: No medieval person thought that the world was flat; like the Greeks and Romans and Egyptians before them, they were quite aware that the world was round. The myth that medieval people thought the world was flat appears to come from an 18th century biography of Columbus.


One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Spain

Spain quickly planted its flag in North, Central, and South America, sucking out prodigious amounts of gold that would make Spain fantastically wealthy and a major power in Europe. At home, Isabella and Ferdinand were waging war on the remaining Moors, finally driving the last of them out of Spain, and Spain was united for a time under their joint rule. In 1478, they asked the Pope to begin an Inquisition in Spain to root out lapsed Jewish converts. In 1492, they expelled all the Jews. Many Jews would flee to Portugal, only to be expelled from there a few years later. In 1502, all remaining Muslims were expelled. The Inquisition would later turn on heretics—specifically Protestant heretics—and would keep an iron grip on the Catholic country for centuries to come.

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

In 1517, Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses (which he sent to a superior by letter; his nailing them to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral is apocryphal). The letter condemned the Church and the Pope for excessive wealth, the selling of indulgences (“get out of hell free” cards), and general corruption. This was actually not the first time that someone made similar condemnations of the Church, and it was certainly not the first time that someone demanded reformation. However, a combination of the press and a favorable political situation in the German states allows Martin Luther’s demands to evolve into a movement. The protesters become known as “Protestants.”

Useless Trivia: Prior to the Reformation, the largest supporter of the sciences was . . . the Church. The study of genetic traits and even an early attempt at flight (hang-gliding, really) were done by clergymen. Science was seen as proof that the Universe had been made by a rational and orderly Creator. It was only when the Church came under attack and felt its power slipping that it circled the wagons and clamped down on anything that it perceived to be a threat to its authority—including any new sciences.

Medieval Monday: A Thorny War

History Repeats Itself, Folks

There is a pause in the Hundred Years’ War when England experiences a succession crisis. Edward III’s heir, the Black Prince, predeceases his father. When Edward III dies, his grandson, Richard II, is crowned. Edward II had been a king in the mold of Longshanks: strong, an able commander, successful, and fair to his subjects. Richard II, unfortunately, was in the mold of King John: weak, tyrannical, and sometimes mentally unstable.

In 1381, the peasants of England revolt against the boy-king and his counselors, who, among other things, have instituted a poll tax. Richard rides out to meet them and diffuses the situation by agreeing to their demands, but their leaders are later captured and killed instead and the remainder are forced to disband.

Peasant's Revolt

Eventually, Richard becomes more tyrannical and his nobles rise up against him. He had no children of his own, but he had no shortage of uncles and cousins, and it was one of his cousins, Henry Bolingbroke, who deposes him in 1399 when Richard takes away his inheritance. Richard dies in prison of starvation.

England’s Holding Manhoods Cheap!

Henry V succeeds his father and restarts the war in France, giving the French their worst beating yet at Agincourt in 1415. The French King, Charles VI, is forced to agree to peace terms: Henry will marry his daughter, Catherine, and he will delegitimize his own son and make Henry his heir.

Charles VIUnfortunately, Henry dies two months before his father-in-law. His infant son, Henry VI, inherits the thrones of both England and France.

Useless Trivia: King Charles VI was undoubtedly the source of Henry VI’s later madness. King Charles sometimes refused to allow anyone to touch him because he was convinced he was made of glass and might break.

The Maid

In 1429, Joan d’Arc appears with a divine message for the disinherited French prince: he is to reconquer France. Together, they begin to wrest control of France from England—to the point that the Dauphin is able to have himself crowned Charles VII.

But shortly after seeing her king crowned, Joan is captured by the English and turned over to the English church courts to be tried as a heretic. The French king did nothing to try and ransom her back, and the English burned her at the stake. She would not be canonized as a saint until 1920.

Weekend at Henry’s

Meanwhile, in England, the gentle and pious Henry VI was suffering from fits of madness where he would become catatonic for months at a time. His queen, Margret of Anjou, attempted to rule in his name, but his nobles disliked her immensely. Soon his royal cousins are fighting to have wardship over him—and control of the kingdom. This leads to civil war—known as the War of the Roses—and eventually, after being passed between the factions numerous times, Henry is murdered in the Tower while at prayer. His only son predeceased him, leaving his Lancastrian and York cousins to squabble over who was the rightful heir.

Henry Vi

Useless Trivia: The Lancaster badge was a white rose; the Yorks had a red rose. When Henry Tudor (a Lancastrian on his mother’s side) finally ended the war (namely because no one was left to make a rival claim) and married Elizabeth of York, he put the two roses together, making the Tudor rose, as a symbol of unity.

Medieval Monday: The One True Century

It’s So Cold, You Can See My Rivets Through My Surcoat!

Depending on who you ask, global cooling began to happen sometime between the late 1200’s and 1300. And, also depending on who you ask, this either begins the period known as the Little Ice Age or it ends the period known as the Medieval Warm Period. But either way, the weather in Europe becomes cooler and wetter and this is disastrous for their grain crops—especially wheat, which accounted for about 2/3rds of the medieval peasant’s calorie intake.

The population was also at its maximum and, even when the weather was good, it was everything the land and crops and technology of the time could do to adequately feed everyone. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, reoccurring famines throughout Europe become the norm.

The Poker Goes WHERE?

Edward II was almost as bad a king as John. His penchant for setting men of no standing over his nobles and swirling rumors that he was homosexual caused his nobles to rebel against him (twice) and throw down his favorites. His wife, Isabella, was likewise incensed when he ignored her (and gave her jewels to his male favorites!). She eventually took a lover, Roger Mortimer, and together—and in conjunction with many of the other nobles of England—they deposed Edward. Edward died later in captivity—murdered, so it was said, by a red hot poker up the bum.

Edward II


The Trinitarian Papacy

In 1305, a Frenchman was elected Pope Clement V after a contentious conclave. He decided that he didn’t need to live in Rome, so he set up his court in Avignon. The Papacy stayed there for a total of seven papal reigns (67 years) and became infamous for its corruption and the undue influence of the French kings.Popes

Pope Gregory XI finally moved the Papacy back to Rome in 1376, but his successor proved unpopular with the cardinals, some of whom elected another pope, who set up a rival papacy in—you guessed it—Avignon. Before the Great Schism was over in 1414, there would be multiple popes and anti-popes—sometimes as many as three at one time.

The Hundred Years (More or Less) War

Edward’s son, Edward III, is crowned king at 14, but his mother rules as Regent with Roger Mortimer as a close advisor. Roger is soon as unpopular as Edward II’s favorites had been and after Edward III turns 17, he throws off his mother’s regency—putting her under house arrest—and has Roger executed.

In 1337, Edward makes a claim to the French throne through his mother, beginning an on-again, off-again war between the two countries that will last for a little more than a century. And, for most of that time, France’s wealth pours into England, making it very rich.


In 1346-47, a new disease came from the East and entered Western Europe through a port in Italy. Thanks to weakness of the population due to the famines and a series of animal plagues (murrains), Plague spread over the entirety of Europe and into the westernmost parts of Russia. It ravaged the population severely for three consecutive summers, then continued to make localized and somewhat less severe appearances for the better part of a decade. After 1360, Plague would be a reoccurring feature in Europe, but more akin to other disease outbreaks, such as smallpox. It is estimated that in the initial outbreak, Europe lost between 1/3rd and 2/3rds of her population. Europe would not regain her population numbers until the 17th century—and, in some places—not until the 18th or even 19th centuries.Plague

Useless Trivia: “The Black Death” is actually a post-medieval term. In period it was known as “The Great Pestilence” or “The Plague”. Incidentally, the medical term is also just “Plague.” Bubonic Plague is actually just one of three manifestations of Plague.

Additional Reading:

A sample of medieval accounts of Plague and its social effects: Eyewitness to History

The DNA of Y. pestis: Nature

14th Century Reenactor Porn: Pinterest

Previous Posts:

All Roads Lead to Rome

The Dark Ages

Charles in Charge

Make Haste to Hastings

Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 1)

Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 2)

Medieval Monday: The Middle Middle Ages