Jack Cullen

A GT preview to England’s Medieval Festival

Mounted squires joust the night away

Judging by the press release from Herstmonceux Castle’s Medieval Festival, a strong sense of good old English manliness is still an indulgence enjoyed by many…

The Middle Ages weren’t a great time for gay people. Men rarely washed, bedrooms were inhabited by sprawling families, sodomy was punishable by death and Sophie Ellis-Bextor was unborn by a several centuries. The notion of gayness as a lifestyle choice didn’t exist.

Although of course same-sex relations occurred everywhere, as we can tell from monastic documents that list homosexual acts in (startling) detail. We also find a flavour of seemingly innocent man-on-man action from various poetry and tapestries of the period. After all, many men lived in environments of male communalism, not just monks, but hunters, knights and groups of adolescent farmhands.

So what about the England Medieval Festival…?

Well first of all it’s the biggest of its kind and features a 1,000 man strong siege of the castle walls complete with full cannon support. That’s right, one thousand blokes in antiquated dress storming the sides of a castle in Sussex.

Suddenly the lad-esque ways of a RudeBoiz DVD sound a pit pathetic when you could spend a day in the presence of this millipede of armoured men, firing their canons up the castle walls.

For those who want more intimate close-up swash buckling and medievalism (S&M), there will be a longbow competition for all to watch, as well as some fancy archery displays, not to mention the roaming jesters and minstrels (the medieval equivalent of Lily Savage?).

The line that particularly grabbed me by the balls though was “mounted squires in soft kit will demonstrate their skills in a contest for supremacy”. Clearly Baden-Powell wasn’t the first gent to encourage boys to physically conquer each other with his Boy Scouts movement. No, it was a popular medieval activity to stage duals between strong young men, no doubt to win the affection of an aloof maiden.

The action in East Sussex gets hotter though, as “knights on fiery steeds cross swords and lances as they join in combat in the noblest of old English sports, “the joust”. Is it just me, or is the PR guy at England’s Medieval Festival having a cryptic laugh with himself, inserting words like “nob” into what is already the most phallic line of a press release since Daniel Radcliffe’s wand fired its first sparks.

What we love about England’s Medieval Festival, now in its 17th magnificent year, is that the whole event is apparently oblivious to its blazing levels of frat-packed testosterone. We don’t want to paint the event in too strong a GT shade, but with topless fire shows and face painting galore – it’s practically medieval Pride.
We must stress though, the day is officially and ultimately a family-orientated adventure with a historical focus.

However, in paying homage to a world where there were no rainbow flags, it is good to see that medieval Britain was certainly a hot-hob of contradicting masculine ideals. Whether you’re a mounted warrior spilling with muscles, a scholastic monk spilling with candle wax or an effeminate courtly lover spilling notes from his trumpet … Medieval history is something for everybody to celebrate and be proud of.

So why not take a walk around the lovely walled gardens and enjoy a hog roast while watching a few men-at-arms. I’m pretty sure Prowler sell plenty of leather and chain mail if you’re stuck for costume ideas.

England’s Medieval Festival is August 29-31 at Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex

England’s Medieval Festival Official Website

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