The Revolt Has Begun: Represent the Medieval 99%

The peasants of the Sarasota Medieval Fair demonstrated recently on Fruitville Road in front of the Sarasota fairgrounds with signs preparing onlookers for this month’s festival and its scenario — The Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. With picket signs, farming implements and angry fists flying 
history repeats itself this year at the 8th Annual Sarasota Medieval Fair as peasants cry out their concerns, waving at passers-by and anyone that will listen to them.

Photo of peasants protesting by Doug Driscoll of WMNF Community Radio.

Doug Driscoll of WMNF Community Radio was on hand to listen to them and recorded this interview: WMNF Interview with Peasants.

The Sarasota re-enactment of the Peasant Revolt of 1381 began Saturday, Nov. 12 and will continue one weekend more — from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19 and Sunday, Nov. 20.

New this year will be the performing act Acrobellum.

Peasants, beggars, jousting and human combat chess matches are just a few of the things you will encounter at the fair — check out the image gallery from the opening weekend compiled by Ticket Sarasota.

Come live the majesty, chivalry and madness at 3000 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota.

Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Medieval Clothing: Kings, Noblemen and Peasants.

During the Middle Ages clothing was dictated by the Feudal System and highly influenced by the Kings and Queens of the era. Medieval clothes provided information about the class status of a person. Due to Sumptuary Laws, only the wealthy could dress in fashionable clothing.

The style of clothing worn by medieval kings and noblemen changed throughout different eras of the Middle Ages. Clothing was so short and tight-skinned that it required the help of two people to dress and undress them. The typical attire of high-class men during the peasant revolt featured:

A dress pattern from Bonnie's Pattern Shop shows men's clothing between the 1300-1400s.

• Hats made of different kinds of felt; wool or cotton; or otter or goatskin.

• Points were attached to garments.

• Some sleeves reached to the ground.

• Men’s girdles were studded with gilded ornaments and precious stones.

• Furs were worn profusely in a display of extravagance.

Peasant men, like their female counterparts, wore clothing that was more practical. Even men in lowest ranks of society, however, wore clothing that was short and tight consisting of tight drawers made of leather, a tight tunic and a cape of cloak made of brown wool. Peasant tunics were worn with a belt that held a knife, purse and sometimes work tools. Medieval serfs wore a cloth blouse and leather belt, a wool overcoat, short wool trousers and large boots.

While noblemen wore hats of various shapes, serfs generally went without a hat. Sometimes in poor weather a serf might wear a wool hat or cap. During the 12th century even headdress began to mark a person’s social position.

Published in: on November 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Medieval Clothing: Women’s Fashions

Clothing in the Middle Ages was another marker of a person’s status thanks to Sumptuary Laws imposed by rulers.

Women's figured silk gowns from 1380. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

Sumptuary Laws curbed the expenditure of people and in effect controlled behavior to ensure a specific class structure was maintained. Penalties for violating sumptuary laws could amount to the loss of property or  even the loss of life.

In 1363 a Sumptuary Law was passed through parliament that decreed the quality and color of cloth that lay people at different levels of society could use in their attire. Women had to dress according to the position of their father or husband. Some of the restrictions in place included:

• Gold and purple silk cloth could only be used for women of the royal family.

• Wives and daughters of laborers could not wear a girdle garnished with silver.

• Wives and daughters of an esquire were not to wear velvet or satin.

• Wives and daughters of knights were unable to wear gold colored cloth or sable fur.

The lady wears a loose surcoat which has been cut away to show her under-dress. ©Dion Clayton Calthrop's book "English Costume."

Women’s clothing in early medieval times was influenced by the classic styles of the Greek and Roman women. Clothing was drawn tight to enhance the female form. Clothing at the time consisted of two tunics, a long over cloak and pointed closed toed shoes.

During the 1300-1400s women’s coats trailed on the ground and hats were either embroidered or trimmed with lace. The surcoat was kept back on the shoulders by narrow bands and draped the lower part of the body. The outer corset, a new invention during this time period, was kept in place with a steel busk encased in rich lace-work. It was generally made of fur in the winter and silk in the summer.

Peasant women wore dresses that were basic, practical and shapeless. The dress was fastened at the waist by a simple girdle or belt, and a woman’s shoulders covered by a shawl. Peasant dresses were constructed from cheap woolen cloth and often grey, brown, red or off-white in color because dyes were expensive. Peasant shawls would also be woolen or fur and only reached halfway down her legs. Peasant women wore simple shoes of leather that plainly wrapped their feet or, depending on the season, went barefoot.

Each country in Europe would imitate the fashions of another, while still retaining its own identity. England uniformly kept to an instinctive elegance and propriety in its clothing. During the reign of King Richard II France and Spain influenced fashion. Fashion in France was fickle and capricious while Spaniards gravitated a bit toward a heavier, gothic look.

Which appeals more to you — fashion or comfort?

Published in: on November 2, 2011 at 8:50 pm  Comments (1)  

The Great Rising of 1381

Actor, author and historian Tony Robinson filmed the documentary “The Great Rising of 1381” in 2004 for Channel 4, British Public Service Television. Available today on YouTube as an 11 part series, the film winds viewers through the geographic landmarks allowing the stories of the revolt and its key players to unfold while also considering its impact on global history.

Robinson’s journey for historical truth recaptures the spirit of the peasant revolt. Watch as he puts to the test whether 60,000 peasants could have feasibly marched from Canterbury to the capital in 36 hours using the Medieval times fastest mode of transportation. Among the revelations in the clips is information on how the rebels decoded messages, kept well-organized, and forged weapons.  But most intriguing, perhaps, is the discovery of whose severed head serves as a mummified relic of the great peasant uprising in the summer of 1381.

Is it the head of a hero or villain that survived? To find out, start watching the peasant revolt here.

Published in: on October 27, 2011 at 9:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Medieval Castles Part 2

Last week we talked about motte and bailey castles, the first kind of castle in medieval times. However, like all technologies, castles changed over time. A more familiar kind of castle to you would probably be a concentric castle.


A concentric castle is most easily described as “a castle within a castle”, as they were built with a relatively thin outer wall, and then a thick inner wall consisting of the actual castle. The first one was built under King Edward I (an ancestor of Richard II, our king this year) in 1278, and he employed the best architect of the times, Master James of St. George, to build it.


Of course, in order to get through the walls, one must first be able to get to them. However, the enemy would first have to get past the moat, which surrounded the entire castle. The concentric castle featured other strong defenses as well, including the drawbridge, the portcullis (a latticed, iron or wood door that could be raised or lowered to provide entry into the castle), gatehouses, and even traps.


The inside of the castle was rather sophisticated. The use of chisels instead of axes to build castles led to more intricate designs in the castle, and there was even evidence of plumbing and piped water in concentric castles. Concentric castles were also the first castles to have glass in their windows, which were often painted. Fireplaces and chimneys were also introduced into castles, those who funded the building of these castles even employed artists to decorate the walls.


As you can see, concentric castles are much different than their motte and bailey predecessors. If you want to compare and contrast the two kinds of castles and you missed our blog post discussing motte and bailey castles, you can find it here.

Published in: on October 19, 2011 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Medieval Castles Part 1

Did you know that the Tower of London, the building in which the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Treasurer, and other nobles were hiding, is actually a castle? Yes, despite having the word “tower” in its name, the Tower of London is a veritable fortress. Castles in medieval times were an important part of any community, but it wasn’t always so.


Until the year 1066, there were no castles. So what was so special about 1066? Well, those of you well versed in history (and those of you who have gone to past fairs) probably already know that 1066 was the year William the Conqueror took control of England from King Harold. He built castles as bases from which he could subjugate the English population. However, these original castles were built in a motte and bailey style.


The motte and bailey castles had a few interesting features one doesn’t think about when you think of a castle. The foundations of a motte and bailey castle were two mounds of earth built extremely high (50-120 feet), and rather wide (from 50-300 feet in diameter). This is called the motte. An interesting side effect of creating these mottes were that it created a convenient defensive ditch. After all, all of that dirt had to come from somewhere.

Motte and bailey castle

A motte and bailey castle


This ditch enclosed the bailey, a defended yard which contained many of the staple buildings of castle life, such as stables, barracks, food storage buildings, and also contained weapons and equipment. A large wooden gate with guardhouses on either side served as the entrance to the bailey.


The crowning piece of the castle of course, is the tower (or keep). This wooden (and later, stone) tower served as a watch tower, an elevated fighting station, and as the living quarters for the resident lord or knight. These towers were generally two to three stories tall, with the first floor serving as the kitchen and storeroom, the second floor housing a “great hall”, and the top floor serving as the actual living quarters for the lord or knight.


Obviously, the motte and bailey construction of castles didn’t stay with us forever. People soon realized that wooden castles were not exactly the most sturdy, but in order to find out how we got to the castles we know and love today, you’ll have to wait until next week.

Published in: on October 12, 2011 at 10:23 am  Comments (2)  

Medieval Life

Before the peasants revolted, they did lead relatively normal lives in their villages. But what is life like in a medieval village? After all, even though peasants generally wander about and talk with each other at medieval fairs, they can’t do that all the time.  After reading this, you’ll have a good idea of both the ups and the downs of village life.

Each village was situated about a manor, where the lord who ruled over the village lived. Villages were generally not larger than 100 people, and each one of them worked the lord’s fields. Peasants labored from sunrise until sunset; ate substandard food; lived in small, thatch-roofed, one room huts; and suffered frequently from disease. This was because under feudalism, the lord of the manor had control over the villagers, and of course, he was generally concerned simply with his own welfare. For example, if the lord of the manor fought his neighbors frequently, it was the peasants who suffered: their land ravaged, their cattle driven away, their houses burned, and even the peasants themselves might be killed.

However, it wasn’t all bad. If peasants had a kind and generous lord, they most likely led a decently comfortable existence. Except when crops failed, villagers had plenty of food, and maybe even a cider type of drink. Villagers were also rather close to each other, since they shared a common life working the fields, playing sports in the village green, and going to services of the village church. Peasants, believe it or not, also had many holidays. Besides Sundays, roughly eight weeks out of each were were free from work, and festivities at Easter, Christmas, and May Day (the end of ploughing and the completion of harvest) relieved the monotony of every day labor.

Basically,  if you had a good lord, you had a good life. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for most of the peasants under Richard II’s rule.  Come to the Sarasota Medieval Fair and see just what the peasants think about King Richard II and the nobles!

Published in: on October 6, 2011 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Medieval Entertainment

The purpose of our medieval fair is to educate people about a specific point in history while entertaining them, but have you ever wondered what entertainment was like in medieval times? Medieval entertainers were a wide and varied group, including jesters, mummers (masked entertainers at festivals), minstrels, troubadours, and others.

Something worth noting is that the word “minstrel” is not interchangeable with “troubadour”. First of all, troubadours had a higher social station than minstrels. Did you know that Richard the Lionheart of England was also a troubadour? To the contrary, minstrels were servants merely commissioned to play music in their castle. Minstrel even means “little servant” in an old medieval language. Additionally, troubadours concerned themselves primarily with songs of chivalry and courtly love, as well as writing poetry. However, masters required minstrels to have other skills besides music playing, including juggling, acrobatics, dancing, fire eating, and even animal training (for including animals such as dogs and monkeys in their shows).

Some minstrels even go on to become jesters and specialize in buffoonery, which simply means making a fool out of one’s self for the entertainment of others. Did you visit our fair last year? King Arthur actually knighted his jester, Sir Dagonet. It was in part a joke, but also in part a cautionary measure, since some of Dagonet’s jokes were so offensive that other knights were ready to attack him. Nevertheless, he was a full member of the Round Table.

Who knew that minstrels and troubadours led such colorful lives? Next time you see a band performing at our fair, think about what their job could be like if we really lived in medieval times!

Published in: on September 28, 2011 at 8:28 pm  Comments (1)  

Medieval Weaponry

Today’s post is about the weapons each side used in the Peasants’ Revolt. What makes this battle particularly interesting is that it was not between two armies, but between the upper class (nobility and royalty) who had control of militias, and the lower class (the peasants) who mainly had to organize themselves and use whatever they could find.

The militia controlled by the upper class used many typical medieval weapons. Their infantry equipped themselves with swords, axes, maces, bows, etc… One interesting example of medieval weaponry is the halberd, which is basically the offspring of a pike and an axe. It’s a 6 foot spear shaft fitted with a short, broad axe blade and a spear point. This was obviously a very difficult weapon to wield, but it was very intimidating on the battlefield.

As for the peasants, they were not as lucky. Since peasants didn’t have access to swords, they had to make do with what they could find. This included staffs and other small knives, but interestingly enough, it included farm implements as well. Some peasants fought with sickles, others with shovels, and still others with pitchforks.

Oh, and those last three weapons? Those will be on the chess board this year at the Sarasota Medieval Fair! Make sure you don’t miss it, those will certainly be interesting fights.

Published in: on September 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Simon Sudbury: The Archbishop

We’ve already talked about the main royal player in the Peasants’ Revolt, Richard II. Don’t forget though, there were others in positions of power, and some of them met a much more grisly end. One such person was Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Sudbury worked hard to make it to the spot of archbishop. He started out as the Bishop of London in 1362, and soon after, he served King Edward III (Richard II’s grandfather) as an ambassador. After 13 years of being a bishop, he was finally appointed archbishop of Canterbury. However, his rise to fame was not yet complete.

In 1377, just after Sudbury became a bishop, King Edward III died. Sudbury then crowned Richard II as the new king of England (if you’ve been keeping up, remember that Richard’s father, Edward I, died in 1376, so Edward III’s grandson Richard II would then have been closest to the throne), and then became Lord Chancellor of England in 1380.

Unfortunately for him, Sudbury was a supporter of John of Gaunt, the regent of England and one of the most reviled men by the peasants. Additionally, his position as Lord Chancellor caused the peasants to regard him as the main source for their woes. Sudbury’s life ended in blood shed when Kentish rebels attacked his property in Canterbury and Lambeth, rushed into the Tower of London, and seized Sudbury himself. He was dragged to Tower Hill, and on June 14th, 1381; was brutally beheaded by the peasants.

We all know life isn’t a popularity contest, but in some cases, it pays to be popular! If the peasants had liked Sudbury a little bit more, he might have survived the revolt. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on the type of person you are), there will be no real beheading at the Sarasota Medieval Fair.

Published in: on September 14, 2011 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment