As a member of the Beaufort Companye there is a certain unstated expectation that I should at all times appear magnificent, which for me is always an aspirational goal. I’ve been involved in living history in one way or another since the 1990’s, in Australia and them more recently in the UK.
I began with Knights Order Lion Rampant, doing late 14th Century high-status tournament play, before branching off with one of Australia’s first late 15th Century groups, The Sable Rose, which had an emphasis on portraying the retinue of a minor (and mostly absent) Burgundian noble.
My main interest for re-enactment purposes is the late 15th Century, which is why in the UK I’ve become involved in the War Of The Roses Federation via membership of the Beauforts, but I’ve also had some experience with late Tudor / early Jacobean living history, late 19th Century Queensland Colonial, and even a little bit of World War 2 through my association with Firepower. In addition to re-enactment, I’m a keen student of HEMA through the London Longsword Academy, with a particular interest in rapier and pole arms.
Sadly my time has become quite limited, so I’ve been focussing on the late 15th C for re-enactment purposes. My goal is to build a solid portrayal of a veteran, not too wealthy, man-at-arms. In this guise I hope to be able to continue bringing a presentation of known historical European martial arts into the re-enactment arena.
Fifteenth Century Living History Presentation
This page explains in some detail what we are trying to build up for presentation within the Beauforts during public events, and will form the record for the underlying historical documentation around the presentation.
There are several introductory notes that are needed before going into detail. To begin with, and most importantly, the core ideas are based around materials that I had found in the early 2000’s, but then lost forever during a hard-disk crash. A strong part of the goal we have is to re-discover those materials, and collate the documentation around our presentation for public consumption. Please bear that in mind when you read sweeping generalisations and assertions – we are working to shore up this castle built on the sand of shifting memory, and this page should be updated as we amass the references.
The other important thing to note is that we are distinctly amateurs, with no claim to a privileged position of academic or martial authority. We just like playing with swords, and want other people to share that fun in a convincingly historic fashion.
Finally, we want to provide ways for the Beauforts, men and women, to have active fun during the downtime between scheduled events. We’re all used to seeing many group encampments with very little going on, and less frequently seeing encampment with elaborate presentations that nobody seems to be enjoying doing very much. This is silly, we should be having fun!
One of the key features of military development through the 15th Century in Western Europe was a trend toward professionalism. This had begun during the 14th Century, and around the turn of the century was characterised particularly in the large mercenary gangs that roamed around in the aftermath of the Hundred Years war. By the beginning of the 16th century, the core of all regional and national armies were permanent, professional soldiers. England, as always, lagged a little behind the continent in this trend, but there unambiguous records that indicate that it was recognised the key to military success was having armies formed from disciplined, well-trained, experienced troops.
There are similarly records on the continent of professional travelling martial trainers in the late 15th century. Some of these were ex-military or part-time military, some were tending to be attached to courts, noble houses, and towns. For our purposes the most interesting were those employed as part of armies. These martial trainers appear to have been paid at a similar rate to the masters of archers, master gunners, and master engineers (or at the very least at the same sort of rate as the proto-NCOs). It appears that they generally did not have a role in the command of the troops during conflict, but had the responsibility for ensuring that the troops were trained and fit.
It is this that we are aiming to present: the professional fight master (and his apprentice) with the responsibility for keeping the Beauforts the big mean fighting machine that it is. We are planning to be present documented historical fighting techniques in a variety of ways, but also to be presenting documented historical strength and fitness training, and historical games and sports. This is the point at which we call out to the Beauforts for assistance. We aim to be able to drag you all into historical games and sports, and to get you involved in training.
We envision that this will take on a few different forms. To begin with we want to get people doing the well-documented historical sports – running, wrestling, various tug-of-war and similar games, and throwing rocks. All of it with the intent to run around getting sweaty and having fun. The presentation of martial training will be a little more serious – we are building up various historical martial plays that we would want to take small groups through, presenting the teaching and practice of these. We must emphasise that this is not (purely) about teaching interested people the documented historical techniques, but presenting professional troops being trained. This is not about changing the way that anyone fights during battles, or ad-hoc sparring in the camp, but giving the public the impression of professionals training soldiers in a structured way.
We are beginning to collate a set of techniques with dagger, wrestling, sword and buckler, longsword, and pole weapons. What we would hope to do is do presentations of 20-30 minutes drilling with just a handful of techniques with interested parties, at most once or twice a day (although other sports and games we would do more frequently). We would probably do this in an enclosed space, even if it’s just a rope circle on the ground, as it makes it easier to keep the public out from under foot. Any drilling and training will be done without protective clothing – even a cursory examination of period iconography shows that was the habit, other than for “harness fighting” in full armour. Because we all need to go to work on Monday morning, and we all want to end the day with the same number of eyes and teeth, we will be unapologetically rigorous around safety habits and practices during martial training. The key thought is: we want to be collaborating, not competing, and the aim of the presentation is to present training, not combat, and to have fun while we do it.
I would like to expand a little on this last point. It is important that we own and communicate any compromises we make for safety. A lot of the documented historical techniques are intended to hurt someone very badly, and we will necessarily adjust techniques, or exclude them, for safety reasons. An example of this are some of the grappling techniques, where one variation is some sort of throw, and the other variation is an arm-break. Pretty obviously we would not be practicing the latter version, it’s just too risky. We will not be running a martial school, we will be presenting a sub-set of the domain of techniques for fun, and to continue to convey to the public that there was an elaborate and sophisticated historical European martial tradition.
To be completed – will contain information about training tools and equipment, and the historical evidence for any we are using
To be completed – notes on what we intend to wear, and why
To be completed – historical evidence for the impression
To be completed – a catalog of historical combat treatises we are using.