Leeds Armoury Trip

I’m sorry I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve had some university deadlines and I’ve been busy organising Batsoc stuff. I literally had no time to write this in one go, especially with all the photos I took and needed some explanation as well…

A couple of Saturdays ago, the re-enactment group went on a pretty epic trip to Leeds Armoury in Yorkshire, England. Since it’s an armoury, this will mainly be a weapons post (sorry to the crafters). There are also a lot of photos, and I want to apologise for the appalling quality of the photos – my camera is just plain rubbish, and I can’t afford a new one.

First, the ancient stuff (my academic specialty). There was only one room for this, largely because England is a rather long way away from Italy, Greece, Libya, Iraq and Iran – so items were mainly from Roman Britain and Viking Britain.

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Above shows their small (but well-preserved) collection of gladii – the short-sword of choice for the Roman infantry mainly built for stabbing the enemy when they have crunched into their front-line at close quarters. They typically had a ton of metal going into the grip (seen on the right) and the grip was then built up over the top, and could be made out of anything from wood to ivory, and could be incredibly ornate.

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As could the vagina (yes, I had to include the hilarious Latin name for the sheath). These were made of wood covered in leather, and then had metal plates to decorate it in openwork. The example here has a plate of a warrior, and is actually relatively simple in comparison with what the Romans were capable of.

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Next was something I found very interesting. The Vikings and Anglo-Saxons developed a way of strengthening the steel in their blades. They would twist pieces of iron together and then hammer them into the shape of the blade. In real terms, this gave their blades a “shimmer” or a “ripple”, and helped strengthen them. Image

We spent a lot of time in the 15th and 16th century tournament section, and listened to a talk about the tournament between Henry VIII and the king of France. There were some mental items – one of which was the helmet given to Henry VIII by Maximillian, Holy Roman Emperor. Clearly not all of these were practical, as they would be for show, but for certain parts of the tournaments (like the melee combats) they could be very practical.

ImageOne of these ridiculously practical pieces was the tournament armour for Henry VIII. All of the sections of the armour fit so well together that NASA themselves looked at it when they were developing space suits to try and keep the astronauts inside them as sealed away from space as possible. Then the French changed the rules, saying that he needed to wear a skirted suit in order to compete. Personally, I like the pollaxe he’s holding *manic grin*.

ImageThe extreme end of the practical suits came with Emperor Maximillian’s armour for titled jousting – because in jousts you aim for the face, there’s only a slit so knows where to aim. His entire left side was covered in one piece of (what I think was) wood and leather. What I found interesting was that certain parts of this armour was designed to explode to allow the wearer out of the armour easier.

I then found all the sections to do with Eastern weapons in all shapes and forms. Basically – ALL OF THE PRETTIES!!!

*ahem*

To put it bluntly: they had some mental weapons and armour.

ImageThe Abyssinian sword in the yellow scabbard (sorry for the poor quality picture) was for hacking. Only one side of the blade was sharp, but contrasting with what we would normally think, the blade was on the inside of the curve. Like I said: mental weapons.

ImageThis wasn’t limited just to swords. Daggers were just as crazy. They didn’t have a “normal” handle, but one that ran transverse to the blade. I like to think that you end up stabbing people like Wolverine, but in waaaaaaay prettier clothes.ImageAgain, sorry for the poor quality, but I had to show this mace. It’s the thin one in the middle. Take another look – I promise I’m telling the truth. And it’s made of metal. Considering how maces were made not to slash, but to obliterate your insides – a metal mace like that will definitely do some damage!

ImageNow for some epic things I found. This is basically a machete from Indonesia (I think – apologies if this is wrong), but have you SEEN the blade on that thing?!? Needless to say, I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that…

ImageLast thing from the Eastern section: elephant armour!! What I find most weird about this is what the rider was wearing. I’ll let you take another look. The guy has loose maille over his face. With no holes for his face or his eyes. A couple of the other pieces of maille like this did have eye-holes, but they looked even weirder. It makes sense – no need for a heavy helmet to cover your entire face that you can’t breathe through, but still. Chainmail on face. That’s not a fun thought.

ImageNext is the shiniest thing I have ever seen. It’s genuinely from the nineteenth century – but wouldn’t look out of place with my steampunk outfit…

ImageI thought this was a brilliant way of remembering that people in wars (mainly World War 1) were just that – people. It’s actually a biscuit preserved from World War 1.

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Finally, one of my favourite items from the collection. The Vampire Hunter’s kit. There was a huge surge in people buying boxes like this after Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It was one of those things that reminds you that fans are not a new phenomenon, and even the Victorians had their own version of Forbidden Planet.

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I’ll leave you with the image at the bottom of the Hall of Steel. This was where they displayed armour from all time periods in the most epic way possible.


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Return to Crafting

I haven’t done any crafting for re-enacting in a while. I’ve been caught up with other longer-term projects (mainly a cushion that I’ve been tapestry embroidering for over a year), university work, and I pretty much have a full set of men-at-arms kit anyway. At the moment I just need to make padded hoes and attach the maille, buy a proper full-face, and adjust my maille shirt so that I have full knight’s kit. Basically, I’m pretty set for a character, I just need to get a higher status character so that I can fully participate in the knight’s tourney’s that we have all Summer.

However, I have found an excuse to fit in more crafting! I have a module on Roman Luxury Arts & Crafts, and I had to do a presentation on clothing. What better excuse to make a Roman Early Imperial tunic?

In terms of making it, it was ridiculously simple. You basically take two rectangular pieces of cloth measuring roughly 1m x 1.5m, put them together, sew them up the shorter sides whilst leaving holes for the arms, and then across the top whilst leaving a hole for the head. Ta-da! You now have a Roman tunic – all you need now is a belt to cinch it in at the waist!

the more high-status ones had two thin purple stripes as well, one on either side of the head-hole, but to make that authentic you have to actually weave that into the fabric, and I have neither the time nor the money for that….

Hopefully this will re-ignite my crafting bug and I’ll finally get on with my padded maille legs…. Wish me luck!

Too Much Re-enacting?

The answer to the title is of course “no!”, but there are points in life when you think “maybe I’ve done this a little too much”…

Mine was whilst watching Les Mis at the cinema.

It was a brilliant film, well worth the nominations at the Oscars. But what I loved was the historical detail – right down to Gavroche’s buttons.

This detail is what I’m talking about.

The first film night I organised was to watch Kingdom of Heaven, but we had to keep some people figuratively chained in case they went on a rant about the (relatively minor) historical innacuracies. This tends to go through to ANY film or book that we watch, read or even games. I had to have an argument about the “authenticity” of galleons being used as trade ships in bloody Skyrim (the conclusions was that it is fantasy, so it doesn’t really matter).

In my experience, this is because the people who I re-enact with genuinely love history – any history. My fiancee loves things to do with the English Civil War, and what I like to call the “Age of Empires” in Europe in the 18th century. I am somewhat obsessed with ancient history. Several friends of ours love both World Wars (as do most people in England, I have found). This makes watching films based in a historical period kind of difficult to watch. My fiancee hates watching 300 with me, because I go into full geek mode, and it’s the same with him and Waterloo and Dambusters.

Of course, this probably isn’t the case with most other re-enacting groups, but because our group is based on students who have access to a rather lovely library, if we really get the bug and don’t want to rely on wikipedia, we do have somewhere else to go and get the information we need. The ease of access means we can get a little over the top in terms of enthusiasm.

To say “over the top”, I don’t mean loving history and reading all the books. I mean getting married in historically accurate attire. Yes, this happens. There is nothing wrong with it, but personally I don’t want to get married in my smelly authentic stuff. That and the dress is TOTALLY unflattering.

I don’t know if this is just a natural progression from geeking out about something that everyone loves, or if it’s genuinely something unhealthy, but I don’t think I would change it for anything in the world. Given a choice, i would rather be overly enthusiastic over things that people actually did generations before half my DNA sequence was combined (technically incorrect, yes, but you get the gist), than live life just glued to a computer screen.

Embarrassing Fat Bodies

I have a weak spot for programmes like Channel 4’s “Embarrassing Fat Bodies”. Generally, I view them as relatively good informational programmes. And then I take a reality check.

Quite aside from the fear-mongering about being overweight (which is a rant for a different time), the first episode really concerned me because of the misinformation about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

PCOS is caused by cysts on the ovaries, which can cause many hormone imbalances, like extra hair, weight changes, very few or very heavy periods and infertility. I know this because my Mum has it.

The show was of course focussing on being “fat”. Being overweight is often a symptom of PCOS, but the show only said that they were “linked” – implying that if you are fat, you will become infertile.

The is completely false.

With PCOS, you are more likely to experience large changes in weight than being fact. You can fluctuate hugely between sizes, which can of course wreak havoc on your body. THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN BECAUSE YOU ARE FAT. “Embarrassing Fat Bodies” imply that it’s the reverse, and made me irate.

My Mum is certainly overweight, but even this isn’t because of the PCOS. In fact, it’s due to the Pill. which has been a life-saver to my Mum (almost literally – she lost so much blood from one period that she fainted mid-exam in school). The Pill regulates the imbalanced hormone levels, which means that you maintain the weight that you are at when you start the Pill.

This doesn’t regulate fertility, so imagine how frustrated I was with the programme when they said that if this woman lost weight, she could have children. Dr. Dawn was selling a lie to this poor woman. Weight in non-PCOS women may change rates of fertility, but in women who have it, weight is a result of (possible) decreased levels of infertility. Many women who are having treatment (i.e. the Pill) for PCOS may never lose weight – I know my Mum finds it very difficult to lose weight, and she wants to lose it so badly. Even IF women with PCOS lose weight, it would have little to no effect on fertility levels.

I should probably point out that I’m a fertility-drug-baby, and my sisters are test-tube-babies.   Because of this, I believe that the best advice Dr. Dawn could have given in relation to her fertility is to look at fertility treatment.

The rest of the advice given I cannot possibly comment on, but I have certainly been left disillusioned with the capabilities of these TV doctors.

The Trials and Tribulations of Room Bookings

The way Battle Re-enactment Society works is that we basically book rooms for free at the University Student Union building for the external group to come in and train us safely. This does not always go to plan, though.

This is more of a rant than an general post, because recently things have not been going to plan.

At my university, the student union sends out a form to book what rooms your society would like for the next term. This used to be on a first-come, first-served basis. This system worked, despite there being over 100 societies here. The system then changed to one of preference, meaning that the bigger societies that bring in money to the student union have managed to get the best rooms. These happened to be the rooms that have the most amount of space. Space that we need for pole arms.

This has led to our group only getting our craft sessions and really weird times on Sundays. Now, I understand that we’re quite lucky as a re-enactment group for having training sessions more than once a month, but we NEED two training sessions a week so that we can be safe with our weapons. This is not Civil War re-enactment.

Added to this problem, we have monthly film nights to show some films that are kind of relevant (tonight will be a screening of The Princess Bride). For this, you need to fill in a form for throw film to be approved, a room booking form, and an activity form to notify the student union of what you’re doing.

I filled all of these in, and I’m still waiting for approval of the room booking. The film night is tonight.

Amidst all of this, we of the committee have to keep a smile on our faces, pretend everything is going swimmingly, and try to stay calm.

Hopefully I won’t kill the student union, but from what I hear from other societies, they have been just as bad with everyone who doesn’t bring in reams of money.

The moral of this story? To make your societies or groups happy, think less about profit or efficiency, and think more about all of the groups involved.

Why even start re-enacting?

When I started university (because yes, I am horribly privileged), during Fresher’s Week my now-fiancée told me about a session he went to with “Batsoc”. “Huh?” was my response. He then went on to tell me that it was the university’s Battle Re-Enactment Society, and they do the Middle Ages (a phrase woefully inept as I would find out). This meant he had spent a few hours walking around a patch of grass in helmet, shield and waving a sword about whilst simultaneously trying not to have an asthma attack.

My first response to this was pretty typical of most people when they hear about it – “why on Earth would you ever want to do that?”. A year later I finally gave it a go. Well, I say I gave it a go. I went to their craft session first, and made a rather fetching red hood and started making a leather pouch (which I still haven’t finished).

Whilst doing any craft in a large group, you inevitably start talking to people – whether it’s asking how they do a certain thing (like “how do you do chain mail?”) to just chatting, you start to talk. Thankfully, these were people who were all like-minded, including someone who let me try on a lovely authentic dress they had made, and let me geek out about fabric and crafty things in all their glory.

So naturally when I next met up with them I tried to kill them.

I will stress that I mean PRETEND kill them, with blunted steel swords, but it still involved a lot of shouting and wonderfully over-the-top pretends deaths. I don’t remember much of the training session, but I do remember trying and failing to keep my shield up at a respectable height towards the end of the session, and trying very hard to yell “OOOT!” and “NORMANDYYYYYYY!” with a very hoarse throat.

Since then, I was hooked.

If truth be told, it wasn’t the prospect of being an amazing swordsman and being able to kill anyone I came across that kept me there. It was the prospect of putting on a good show. I enjoyed the dying more than winning – I still don’t quite know what to do with myself if I win a fight. It bought into my attention-seeking side, and had never quite let itself go.

And then Hastings arrived. What a culture shock. I always hated camping, but a weekend at Hastings fighting Normans, passing my Basic Training test (which meant that I was safe to go onto the field), marching through Hastings, chucking a torch onto a gigantic bonfire, and then fighting more Normans the next day whilst sleeping on the cold ground in a tent was brilliant.

I can safely say that I’m hooked.

I didn’t even LIKE the Crusade period (I study Ancient History for a reason), but being able to re-create it has FORCED me to be interested in it, so I can put on a more interesting show.

Oh, that and the shiny lamella, maille, swords, axes, helmets, and the Eastern kit.

Introductions first

Looking at the title of this blog, obviously the first reaction is “oh, another femi-nazi”. No, it’s infinitely more complicated than that. 

I am a re-enactor of the Crusades, specifically the 11th to early 14th centuries.

I thought in this blog I would marry my two loves, feminism and re-enactment. Under one collection of ramblings about current affairs, discovering history, crafting, where to get supplies, and maybe a few rants along the way, hopefully I can marry the two in an understandable format.