We Wenches all write historical novels so we’re at least history buffs, and several of us are Certified History Nerds. <g> In our way, we’re doing our best to counter the general historical illiteracy common among Americans. (If you’re a regular visitor here, you’re probably a history buff, too,) Many of our posts contain insights about the past or illuminate interesting information about things like grand dairies, or holiday customs. or the lives of servants.
But there is another class of folks who love to use history as play. I was reminded of this a few days ago when I received a catalog from an outfit called Museum Replicas Limited. ( http://museumreplicas.com/webstore/Home.aspx )
It’s full of cool costumes and weapons and other bits and pieces of the past, reproduced at affordable prices. There are musketeer tabards and cup hilt rapiers, Viking tunics and Roman centurion armor. Highwayman coats and wizard’s cloaks and reindeer hides (from reindeer killed to feed Lapps rather than hunted for sport or raised by factory farm methods.) And pirates and their accoutrements are popular now, not surprisingly.
My weakness is the gorgeous sweeping cloaks. There’s a snow queen hooded cape made of faux fur that would have suited Tilda Swinton in The Chronicles of Narnia. I lust after a burgundy velvet cloak that is supposed to be Regency, though I have my doubts about the detailing. But what fun to sweep it around one’s shoulders and go grandly to a ball! I have a friend who has a real Victorian velvet cape that’s similar, and so gorgeous that she risked getting mugged for it.
For some people, costumes are just the beginning—they actually live their history. We’ve all heard of Civil War and Revolutionary reenactors who stage mock versions of famous battles. The Battle of Bunker Hill is refought every year in Massachusetts. A serious re-enactor won’t even take along an apple for a snack if it’s a variety that’s no available in his time period. Nor it is always a “him.” For some women, re-enactments are an opportunity to release their inner warrior. (Nor is the idea of women dressing as men to go to war historically inaccurate.)
There are societies that go even further back. Perhaps the oldest and best known is the Society for Creative Anachronism, which focuses on 17th century and earlier. The group I had some personal contact with is the Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia, http://www.markland.org/descriptions.php , which is focused in the Mid-Atlantic area. I think the Battle of Hastings, between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans, is their totemic event. They regularly re-enact the battle, and they will do it twice so the Saxons can win the second time. <g> (I might add that my information is not particularly up-to-date, and we were never members, but we hung out with members, and it was great fun. If any Marklanders read this, I hope they’ll forgive me any errors.)
We once attended one of the winter solstice feasts. A feature of the feast was to be able to go up and grasp a spear (or was it the pole of a banner?) and swear an oath for the coming year. This is a lot more dramatic than just writing new year’s resolutions!
The high point was when a determined young lady came up to the spear and swore she’d see the next year in as a bride. This appeared to be news to her long-term boyfriend (a doctor), but indeed they were married in a Markland themed ceremony later that year. My companion had rented a Viking horned helmet and looked so cool that he was promptly incorporated into the wedding procession.
What I particularly liked was how much fun everyone was having. In this kind of group, it’s usual to create a persona for oneself, with appropriate garb and back story. A computer programmer by day can become the wizard Gandalf by night. (There was a strong overlap between Marklanders and the local science fiction and fantasy community.) A mild-mannered lawyer might become the warrior queen Boadicea. One can buy costumes as places like Museum Replicas, but the talented can make their own garb.
In a busy mundane world, it’s easy for fantasy and imagination to be and play to be squeezed out. This is why I admire people who put time and energy into visiting worlds not our own. Whether your preference is to be a Union soldier at Gettysburg, a staunch Saxon foot soldier, or a member of the Klingon Battle Fleet, playing with history (and fantasy worlds) can enrich your life. Do you have some form of historical play you love? Tell me about it!