Many people have experienced the fun of watching a sword fight or men in tights at a renaissance faire. However, even those who are die-hard visitors to the faire may not be aware that there are other reenactment groups trying to capture that atmosphere all year long. The Society for Creative Anachronism is one of those groups, and is large enough to have local chapters in almost every part of the USA.
Reenacting the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
As explained on their website, the SCA is an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. This usually runs from the dark ages, around 1200-1300 A.D., to the end of the 1600s. Some groups vary from this, but most fit within those guidelines. Local groups hold events, often spanning over a weekend, that offer sword fighting, feasts, dancing, historical craft competitions, classes and workshops, and a royal court.
There are 19 kingdoms in the SCA, organized geographically. Most of them fall within the US, but some are located in New Zealand, Australia, and Europe. Each kingdom encompasses a few states, and within each kingdom are smaller groups such as baronies, duchies, and shires. Events are organized by one or more of these local groups, and each kingdom has it’s own King and Queen. Baronies also have royalty, known as the Baron and the Baroness.
Kings and barons are decided by combat – each rules for 6 months, and at the end of their term a Crown Royal tournament is held to decide the next king. The queens and baronesses are their wives, or other female SCA members they chose to accompany them. Women are welcome to fight alongside men in SCA combat, but not many have won a Crown Royal tournament.
Combat, Feasting, and Other Fun Activities
SCA combat is a balance of safety and historical accuracy. All participants in heavy fighting, which are reenactments of sword and shield fighting, must wear metal or hardened leather armor with padding, including a helmet. They also must know all of the safety rules. The weapons aren’t real metal swords – instead foam wrapped rattan swords are used.
Archery, axe throwing, and rapier combat are also martial activities one can find at an SCA event. For the non-combative, various workshops and classes are offered. For those interested in arts and crafts, many events have contests for the most historically accurate handmade item. Dancing, shopping at the merchants who are offering reenactment wares, and socializing are also big activities for those not on the battlefield.
Many events, especially the larger ones put on by a barony or by the teamwork of smaller groups, offer a medieval feast at the end of the day, complete with volunteer servers and candlelight. A royal court is often held before feast, as long as a King or Baron made it to the event. After dinner, a dance is often held late into the night.
Costuming and Camping
Not all events are overnight, but those run over a weekend are often held at a state park and allow camping or cabin rental. This makes the experience much more in-depth and real. Accurate costuming is also a key in the atmosphere of the SCA event. Some attempt at pre-16th century clothing is required, but exceptions are made for visitors and first timers.
Some groups are more demanding of historical accuracy than others. A zipper or store bought leather boots is acceptable for most costumes, but some groups frown on them as being too modern. It depends on the standards set by each local group. Conventions on accurate camping supplies and speech patterns also vary.
Most groups aim for a mix of fun and historical accuracy. The website uses the term “the modern middle ages”, which is a good way of differentiating the reenactment of the SCA from those more strict on accuracy, such as many civil war reenactment groups. While historical battles may be reenacted, the side with the better fighters wins, regardless of who won in the past.
Most SCA Groups are Family Friendly and Very Welcoming
For those with a strong interest in the medieval and renaissance periods, or those looking for the fun of a renaissance faire throughout the year, the Society for Creative Anachronism may be a perfect fit. It offers many forms of combat, royal court and feasting, and even classes and workshops. Costuming, dancing, and socializing are also a reason to join for many members.