I don’t know why, but all young children seem to adore dressing up in medieval costumes and running amok with swords.  Maybe it’s something deep in our genes, which as soon as our kids are in a castle setting, they seek about defending it.

When my children were small, we went to watch a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings at Battle Abbey in Sussex.  The re-enactment took place on the same day, on the very field where Harold was defeated by William the Conqueror, over 900 years ago.  The re-enactors take the authenticity very seriously, so every detail, down to the buckles on their footware and the paint on their shields is as near a perfect match as possible.  The event is attended by other non-fighting country folk, who camp nearby in their their costumes.  (They park their cars at a discreet distance from the camp).  They sew animal skins together with bone needles, sit around camp fires, spin wool and get into character for the whole weekend, hobnobbing with other peasants.  Even the babies sleep in sheepskin lined cribs inside handmade, historically correct tents.English Heritage, the organisers of this magnificent event, arranged for free sword fights for kids, using foam swords.  This proved extremely popular with children from as young as three, right up to gangly pre-teens – both boys and girls.  Many children, including my own, brought wooden swords. 
What English Heritage hadn’t appreciated, was how popular this event would be.  The children just couldn’t be stopped, and it turned from organised, timed sword skirmishes, into a free-for-all, in which the children fought each other, irrespective of age, all day, until they dropped from exhaustion.
I don’t know if this still happens (if Health and Safety haven’t put the kibosh on this unregulated kiddy violence), but the whole sword thing hasn’t lost any of its appeal to youngsters.   It did amuse me as we left in the early evening, driving through the pretty town of Battle.  A huge crowd of Norman and English soldiers and a motley collection of peasants and farmers were congregating outside the pub, their little drawstring purses filled with £1 coins, ready to watch the big game inside the pub on the plasma screen TV.  It was a surreal picture of living history.
Leeds Castle  arranges a whole season of events for young squires and fair maidens, including junior jousting, designing your own royal shield, courtly dancing and the whole family can join in a fun re-enactment of the Battle of Agincourt.Children can take on the role of the victorious English archers letting their imaginary arrows loose on the ranks of grown-ups playing the French army.  A real medieval Princess welcomes children to a Royal procession, where they will be knighted and receive a certificate for taking part in the challenges.Kid’s love to feel how heavy a real knight’s armour would have been, with the chance to dress up and try on chain mail, gauntlets, breastplates and helmets.  If they’re lucky, they may even have the chance to fire a massive trebuchet, launching a missile into the peaceful lake and startling the swans.
There’s medieval jousting in the spectacular setting of Arundle Castle 21-26 July.

© Annie Harrison, GoMunkee 2015

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