Renaissance Festival shows chivalry is not dead

June 10, 2007|By TAMELA BAKER

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HAGERSTOWN - One by one, would-be combatants lined up to register for the privilege of thrashing each other.

"Heavy field or rapier?" Hunter Fowler asked each.

He got a pretty good measure of both Saturday during the Highland River Melees conducted on the grounds of the Hager House at City Park.

Fowler, of Ellicott City, Md., serves as a "minister of the list" for the Society for Creative Anachronism's Barony of Bright Hills, which, for inhabitants of the 21st century, is in the Baltimore area.

But on Saturday, he was helping the Barony of Highland Foorde (contemporary translation: Western Maryland) with its yearly Renaissance fair. Both baronies belong to the society's "Kingdom of Atlantia," which stretches all the way to Georgia.


This year, the group earmarked proceeds from many of the activities for the Susan G. Komen Foundation in memory of member Rise Sheridan-Peters, who recently lost a battle with cancer.

Hundreds of society members donned tunics and surcoats to spend the Melees weekend evoking the era of the Crusades. "Merchants" peddled medieval garb and trinkets, and crafters demonstrated weaving, papermaking and other arts. Visitors could purchase everything from toys (the stuffed "plague rats" were cute - really) to bumper stickers ("Here, dragon, dragon" or "Remember, pillage first, then burn") to period outfits.

"This is an SCA yard sale," said Rose Carroll of Martinsburg, W.Va., who was selling clothing and accessories. "Some friends and I have accumulated way too much."

Or visitors could be entertained by dancers and musicians demonstrating how the Middle East influenced crusaders.

And of course, they could watch the battles.

The difference between "heavy field" and "rapier," Fowler explained, is that rapier weapons and fighting fall more into the more artistic "Three Musketeers" style of battle, while "heavy" fighting, as the name implies, involves full arms and armor.

"These people clang a lot more," he observed.

Jessica and Chris Benner of Hagerstown, ages 10 and 12, respectively, enjoyed watching the archery and the battles.

"They were having a melee," Chris said. And what did he learn? "What a melee is - it's when every man was for himself."

On one end of the battlefield, a minstrel (Kathy Sobansky of Bowie, Md.) sang plaintive ballads, accompanying herself on a Celtic harp.

Sobansky, known in society circles as "Fevronia," performs both authentic medieval music and original music composed in medieval style.

And then there's the filking.

"Filking" is putting one's own lyrics to classic tunes. A society favorite, for example, goes like this:

A grazing mace,

how sweet the sound

that slays a wretch like me.

"These are songs you hear around the camp fire at about 1 a.m., and it goes downhill from there," Sobansky said.

Members of the Society for Creative Anachronism - and there are thousands worldwide - research and re-create the arts and skills of medieval Europe. Members adopt a "persona," or medieval alter ego, choose a historical name and develop the character. And the garb.

"Some people will re-create their outfit down to the underwear," said event coordinator Vera Messina of Thurmont, Md. Otherwise known as "Lady Adriana di Salaparuta," she's been a society member since 1984.

Many join because of a love of history, or they like the socializing or the crafts, said Sherri Fabic of Frederick, Md. Fabic, known as "Livia," got involved while in college.

"I always liked history," she said.

For Denise McMahon, aka "Rowan Berran McDowell, princess of Atlantia," the introduction to creative anachronism was a bit less formal.

"It was a birthday present," she said. "I had never been to camp, so a friend dragged me to an event. She said, 'we're going to camp with a bunch of medievalists and you're going to like it. Get in the car.' I thought I was going to be eaten by bears, but nothing like that happened."

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