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Medieval Merriment at Rochester

September 11, 2010

Rochester is well known for its Dickens festival and Victorian celebrations which have grown year on year. However, a new period is sneaking up on these established events. During the first weekend in September the public have been welcomed to the castle grounds in order to travel back to the Middle Ages.

This year the event was the biggest and best so far. The Paladins of Chivalry entertained a large crowd each day with their Arthurian Pageant. In a twist on the usual arena battle, a parade of gorgeously dressed noble ladies and armoured knights entered  the ring to present  a demonstration combat which embodied elements and characters from the Arthurian legends. By the end there were more deaths than the average  episode of Midsomer Murders.

Gary the Falconer excelled once again in showing the power and training of his birds. Kestrel, Gyrfalcon and Eagle all demonstrated their speed and accuracy, and for light relief a medieval punishment was reconstructed. The ‘victim’ (who believe it or not was a re enactor volunteer), having been found guilty of attempting to steal a valuable bird, was  held down whilst one of the hawks swooped down to feed on the bait placed on his body. Members of the public  volunteered to stay very still while the eagle swooped over their heads to the lure.

More peaceably there were minstrels, medieval songs, a story teller whose audience listened from the comfort of the sheepskins he provided for them to sit on and various activities to try. Both crossbow and longbow were available for the hardy, and for a different challenge, apprentices were welcome to experience medieval calligraphy. A talk on fine dining helped to dispel the Hollywood image of bones being thrown around as this was an important and stately occasion full of formality.

A range of traders helped to recreate the medieval marketplace. More than last year, in 2010 it was possible to buy many luxuries from the Middle Ages: fragrant gums and resins, fine silver and gold jewellery, glassware, pottery, weaponry, trinkets, fabric by the yard or bolt and rare exotic uncut stones.

It wasn’t all about the late Middle Ages though. The stone castle was first built around 1090 when the Normans were a feared new ruling race, and so earlier periods were also there. It was possible to consult a learned Saxon doctor who had a range of interesting herbs and theories, to discover from a Norman lady how to use a drop spindle ( a skill every woman would have mastered during childhood) or to ask Vikings about their weaponry. Their demonstrations in the arena showed how warfare changed during the centuries we know as medieval.

This well organised and varied event was organised by the City council and Black Knight Historical, and was complemented by the backdrop of the castle’s ruins. What was most surprising about an event of this quality was that it was free to attend, and many visitors who have attended in the two previous years mark this September weekend as something to look forward to at the start of a new school year.

Update 2013: Black Knight Historical are returning to Rochester this year with some of their friends. Gary, the falconer will bring his mews, there will be music and story telling, a period theatre piece, and a traders’ alley.

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