Several months ago I made a fairly important resolution for 2017. This was not one of those half-hearted pledges to give up some enjoyably bad habit most people make on New Year’s Day only to succumb to temptation a few hours later. To be fair, like more than a few other resolutions I have previously made, there was not exactly a considerable amount of critical thinking involved. Nevertheless, it would require a major personal commitment to accomplish: I was going to the Days of Knights this year.
For those who are unfamiliar with the event, the Days of Knights is billed as “a public educational event that strives to bring you a historically accurate re-creation of several time periods from the era known as the Middle Ages.” It is also one of the largest medieval living history events in the States, uniting re-enactors from the Viking Era to the early Renaissance. The thing that sets it apart from practically every medieval festival or faire is that all participants are required to meet very specific standards of historical accuracy.
I had first heard about the Days of Knights a couple of years ago through the social media pages of a couple of its organizers, Ian LaSpina of Knyght Errant and Tom Biliter of Historically Patterned Mail. Unfortunately, the event had always been held within a week or two and on the opposite side of the country of another must-see annual event: the Tournament of the Phoenix. With the Phoenix currently on an indefinite hiatus, I decided 2017 was the year. There was only one small obstacle standing in my way. I did not actually own any medieval camping equipment.
Shortly after unilaterally making my big decision, I knew it was time to request approval.
“I think I know what I want for my birthday this year,” I said to the wife as nonchalantly as possibly over a cup of coffee after the kids were in bed. She took a sip from her mug as she looked up from her news app.
“Oh? Please tell me, good husband,” she wordlessly conveyed with a sigh and roll of the eyes. Actually, that is not exactly the message she expressed, but this is a family-friendly story.
“I want to buy a tent,” I replied with a smile, willing her to agree.
“Don’t you have a tent?” An astute reader will infer that she already knew that we owned a tent. In fact, it is a relatively nice family-sized one purchased several years ago from Dick’s Sporting Goods. An experienced husband will additionally know this is all part of the deliberation process.
“I mean a medieval tent. I want to go to an event this year where everyone camps out.” I calmly took a sip of coffee.
“Where and when is it?” She sat her phone down. Now I had her undivided attention.
“The first weekend in October. Somewhere in Kentucky.” I started looking up the details on my phone.
“Kentucky? You’re going to drive all the way to Kentucky and leave me here with the kids?”
Expletive! I had not anticipated that line of attack so soon. “I could take [our son].”
“How much does the tent cost?”
Most wives are accustomed to buying their husbands practical gifts such as ties and socks, and most husbands are well-rehearsed in pretending to like them. My wife is fortunately not “most wives.” In fact, I buy all all my favorite birthday and Christmas presents on her behalf. Sometimes they are so nice that I tell her it should count for both holidays combined.
I immediately started looking for a tent that would be appropriate for an English man-at-arms of the mid-15th century. I eventually settled on a 15-foot round pavilion from Tentsmiths in New Hampshire. It was that purchase that opened Pandora’s box. I had no choice but to begin researching period furniture. As a member of the gentry, I couldn’t be expected to sleep on the ground like a common soldier. I would need at a minimum a camp bed and a table and chairs. The good news was that I still had five or six months to get ready.
Bad News and Early Christmas
As summer heated up, word came from my armourer that his new workshop was taking much longer to complete than anticipated, which meant that my new tournament harness would not be ready in time to participate in the armoured combat demonstrations. It would be much harder to fight effectively the new armet and its perforated visor. I was also concerned that I would be unable to don my armour with only my son’s assistance.On a whim, I reached out to Ashley at Armour Services Historical. He is widely known as one of the best makers of brigandines, but his delivery time is normally about 8 to 12 months. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he had a very nice “sovereign” brigandine in stock that would only require a few minor alterations to achieve a bespoke fit. And just like that, Christmas had come in July. The wife later confessed it was her favorite present that I had ever bought myself.
As a die-hard procrastinator with far too many of the proverbial irons in the fire, I did not complete the bed until the very last minute. With time running out, I ordered a trestle table and a few folding chairs all the way from Medieval Market in Poland. I built a set of shelves, a cup chest and a portable stand for my cuirass and helm. Some of the last-minute accessories arrived while I was loading the truck.
It was a long drive from Texas to Oak Grove, Kentucky. The Oak Grove War Memorial Walking Trail was chosen as the site for the event this year. The mile-long walking trail weaves in and around a wooded frisbee golf course. The encampment was laid out chronologically to allow visitors an opportunity to walk along a visual timeline of the Middle Ages. As I was portraying an English man-at-arms circa 1455, I set up the pavilion next to La Belle Compagnie, a sizable retinue from the Hundred Years War.
My first experience in a period encampment was invigorating. Although technically it was considered primitive camping, I slept in a bed surrounded by curtains. I dined freshly-cooked meals served on pewter plates atop a table with linens. Rather than using plastic cups or enamelware mugs like most modern campers, I drank from hand-blown glasses. All the while, visitors walked around and asked thoughtful questions about every nuance of medieval life.
The armoured combat demonstrations were a lot of fun—not to mention a big hit with the crowds. The deed of arms was overseen by Bob Charrette, a well-known author of several historical fencing books. Participants fought with pollaxe, spear, sword, and dagger. The competition was friendly and informal. It was a pleasure getting to know many of the event personalities that I had only interacted with through social media. I even had an opportunity to trade a few blows with a few of them.
All good things must come to an end—sometimes much sooner than one would hope. A tropical storm pushed in from the gulf and threatened the area with possibly severe flooding. Like many others, we made the decision to pack up our campsite on Saturday morning. It was a difficult choice as there were still new visitors arriving, but, if the intermittent sprinkles turned into heavy rain, the park could become a quagmire. By early afternoon, the park was almost empty.
Disclaimer: some facts have been changed to enhance reader enjoyment.