Monday, September 30, 2013

"Mongols in America"

     I have often heard my friends lament that America did not have a medieval heritage like that of Western Europe. Although we were founded by western European powers, we might have had men with titles of Lord this or that, we did not have the history of knights or men-at-arms fighting great battles or sieges, with Catapults and Trebuchets flinging dramatic boulders at garrisons bravely defending their keep. But that is not to say we did not have an incredibly effective form of medieval combat that stymied Western European Colonial attempts.

    Anthropologists often will talk about a concept called parallel evolution. This is where disparate groups of humans often divided by large geographic distances or even epochs of time, develop similar technologies. The fate of the people who have tied their future to the development and nurturing of horses, allows for a certain set of variables that generally only differ in the actual time of the cultures development and their environment with which the people find themselves in.

    The Scythians were chronicled by Herodotus as one of the all time masters of what would later become the Southern Ukrainian and Russian steppes. Their descendants became the Sarmatians to the Romans and later in the early part of the Medieval world, the Alan people. The Parthians were another horse culture. We have the Magyar of Hungary. And later the bad boys of the XIII Century, the Mongols. Not to mention the Persians who were the bitterest of foes to the Mongols.

     All of whom developed a strong horse bow, mounted archer form of combat. Along with lancers and horsemen who would throw lariats at their foes so they could capture their enemies horse. It was a constantly changing fluid form of combat. It could be effective in the extreme. Mounted horse combat involves a large degree of deception coupled with the ability to cover large amounts of distance in a short time frame with the ability to communicate, while using the local terrain to your advantage. Until the advent of the Walker Colt Pistol, it was also one of the most effective forms of combat man has ever developed. It also goes a long way to explaining why Cavalry or mounted armoured vehicular combat has stayed with us in one form or another to this day.

Mongol Horse Archers, circa 1430
Wikipedia Public Domain

     Recently I was given a new book to read by my father. It is called Empire of the Summer Moon. By S.C. Gwynne. It is a vibrant read about the Comanche dominance of the Western American plains and what is euphemistically called the Comanche Empire. Gwynne tells how first the Spanish colonial efforts, later the French and even later still Texas authorities and settlers are defeated in combat by the Comanche bands.

    One of the things we need to clear up is the use of the word nation. The Comanche were a people, most of whom prior to 1680 were a part of the greater Shoshone ethno-group, Until they were able to get horses from the Pueblo Indians in their revolt against Spanish authorities. Shortly thereafter they quickly became a group with a separate identity on their own. But as a rule, they were not a nation. They were broken into several large groups or bands. They had leaders of the various groups, but the concept of a Chief was again something the white man placed upon them.

      Gwynne's retelling of the conflict with the Comanches is paralleled by his account of the Texas family named Parker. The Parker's built what could be called a palisade fort on the Texas frontier border not too far from what is the present day Dallas/Ft Worth Metropolis. In 1836 The Comanches along with several groups of Kiowas, Caddos and Wichita Indians attacked the fort. They killed several members of the Parker family and made off with Cynthia Ann Parker and her brother John Richard Parker. Cynthia Ann Parker was made a member of the Comanche band that had attacked her family. She eventually married a Comanche leader by the name of Nacona and had three children by him. One of who was  Quanah Parker, the last war leader of the Comanche.  

     Gwynne's telling of the four decade long struggle to conquer the Comanche details just how hard and brutal the war was. As much as we have seen movies like "Dances with Wolves" it was the defeat of the Comanche and not the Sioux which led to the development of the American West.

     The Comanches like the Mongols had been on a steep learning curve since 1680 when they received their first horse herds. The soon realized that mounted horseback archery and lance work were the most effective tools they had in their tool box. I won't give too many details about some of the battles chronicled in this book, but time and time again I am reminded of the tactics used by the Mongols in their invasion of Western Europe.

     If met with a large force, the Comanche would ride away, drawing out their enemies in long lines of running horses. they would fire Parthian Shots over the backs of their horses, to antagonize their opponents. When their enemies horses would begin to tire, they would suddenly wheel and begin liberally peppering their foes with arrow.-Several accounts in the book talk about white men firing off one shot to the Comanches five arrows.

     The Comanche were ultimately defeated by having their primary food source slaughtered almost into extinction. It should be noted the killing of the American Bison will go down as one of, if not the largest voluntary mass killings of a mammal in human history. The second force that caused their downfall was the emergence of XIX Century technology in the form of multiple shot firearms, coupled with a Government's iron will to see them either reduced entirely, or beaten to the point they would no longer have any influence or validity.

     I would give this book three out of five stars if I rated on that basis. It is my opinion that this is a good introductory offering into American History of the era. Although there is in my opinion too large of a reliance upon sensationalist newspaper accounts from the day and not enough of hard research. It is however a gripping read and one that I believe will keep you entertained.

-DS Baker

Here is the official website of author S.C Gwynne: 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

"To Search, To Strive, and Never Surrender!"

(c) Trevor Clemons

     Most of my friends from the past couple of years are friends I have made on the internet. We have usually met on one forum or another and as it were, serendipitously keep bumping into each other... Facebook has only added to the number of times I find myself stumbling across various acquaintances. One of these characters is my friend, a gentleman named Josh. 

     Through Josh I have met several new people, one of whom is a young man named Reece M Nelson. I messaged Reece Tuesday and asked him if he had wished Josh a Happy Birthday. He replied with a "Well so it is! And a be right back!" I have a friend with whom I served with in the Army, who reminded me a great deal of Reece. It is hard to explain but there is something that makes you instinctually like and trust my friend Bill. Reece Nelson has that same undefinable something my friend Bill does.

     Reece and I like armour. We like sword fighting. We both love history and are big fans of the XIV Century of nastiness that made up Western Europe and specifically the 100 years war. So it has been a great deal of fun for me to "get to know" Reece. During our message session on Facebook, on the spur of the moment I asked Reece if he would like to do a brief interview with me here on Modern Medievalist. I received a yes, and what follows is basically an edited transcript of our conversation. I think at the end of this interview you will find my young friend Reece M Nelson as remarkable of a person as I do.-Thanks buddy for the wonderful conversation.

Q: Reece M Nelson who are you and what part of the world do you live in?

A: I am 26 years old and I live in Overland Park, Kansas in the USA.

Q: You seem to be fairly tall and athletic with an angular build, what are some of your hobbies?

A: Mostly HEMA. I study both Blossfechten (unarmoured) and Harnessfechten (armoured) combat. Which can be a real workout. I also play bass guitar in a progressive metal band.

(c) Clarence James Wolfe

*For those of you who do not know HEMA or Historical European Martial Arts, is an exacting and physically demanding study of sword fighting techniques, to include grappling, dagger, long knife, quarter staff, Dussak, Polarms and Longsword.. The most popular forms are those created by Hans Talhoffer, Paulus Kal, and Johannes Liechtenauer. I will include a Wikipedia Link for those wishing to know more.

Q: Harnessfechten is armoured combat. Who made your harness? (Suit of Armour.) And what type of blades do you fight and train with?

A: Actually, the armour was made by myself with the help from the founder of my group. He had spent many years learning how to make armour and instructed me on my harness. There are a few pieces that I had bought, due to them being some of the more difficult pieces to make (hourglass gauntlets). I'll be getting a custom Bascinet helm later this year by Jeff Wasson. I'm very picky when it comes to form, so I try to have all of my pieces look just like the surviving examples. I currently use a CAS Hanwei Practical Bastard sword, as that it's a stiff blade, better suited for Harnessfechten. It being heavier, also allows me to develop better technique when doing Blossfechten. It helps develop a better "Push/Pull" motion with the hands.

Q: How long have you been training with swords?

A: Oh man...LONG time. I started off doing stage combat when I was 17, then started studying HEMA on my own at 19. Something like 9 years now. It wasn't until I had picked up a book called "Medieval Combat" by Hans Talhoffer that sparked my interest with understanding the realism in European fighting. That book allowed me to ask all of those important questions about arms, armour and the fighting techniques.

Q: Let's get down to the important question. What do people say or think when they realize their opponent is missing a limb, and would you be so kind as to tell how you lost it?

A: Having one leg is actually very beneficial for me, while bouting or fighting people let their guard down and think that I can't spring forward as much. Most people tend to think " I better take it easy on him" but I soon prove them wrong. I had lost my leg at birth, due to the umbilical cord, cutting the circulation to my left leg.
So I've never known any different. I'm the only person I know of doing HEMA with an amputation.
I hope to inspire others that may have the same disability to do something or let them know the world didn't end with a missing limb.

(c) Clarence James Wolfe

Q: What have been some of the more memorable instances where people were surprised by your prosthetic leg?

A: Well I seem to be a big hit with the kids at the local Ren Faire. Their parents come up to me and say "Thank you" when I take the time to speak or show my leg to their children. The most memorable one was a group of United States Marines who came up to me and told me of a friend of theirs who had lost his limbs and was really depressed. They made a video of me fighting and sent it to him. I later heard from them that he had been inspired by the video and had taken up sports.

Q: Do you belong to a Schola or Group like so many of your European brothers and sisters do?

A: We primarily train at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kansas City, Kansas. I belong to The Medieval Swordsman Guild of Kansas City and I am a co-instructor for my group.
What is unique with our group is that we also do living history with HEMA.

Q: Have you developed a Medieval Persona to go with everything. As I seem to recall a certain German Knight who was missing an arm said some rather unpleasant things to an Archbishop once...

A: I haven't done my persona yet, but my group and I will be each having our own background that will fit with our attire for when we do history presentations. 
so far I've said I'm an esquire that had lost his leg in a battle, then continued service.

(c) Reece M. Nelson.

Q: So what does the future hold for Reece? 

A: Well I would like to continue teaching HEMA and possibly work out a way to do demonstrations or outreaches to wounded soldiers and even children who are now missing limbs. But things are going to be on the back burner for a while, I have a hernia operation in my future, but I don't have health care so... As it is I haven't practiced my HEMA training for over a month now. My other dream is to one day participate in the Tournament of the Phoenix, as a jouster.

I would like to thank my young friend for his time. This has been one of the more interesting conversations and interviews I have had in a while. Training, Teaching, Working out to HEMA drills with a prosthetic limb just has to be yet another definition of a true Modern Medievalist. -Thanks Reece.

Photo courtesy of Klehma. Reece M Nelson.

Here are the links to Reece's efforts, his group and his band. There is also e-mail addresses to get in contact with him and his friends.

To contact Reece and or his group: <>

Website for The Medieval Swordsman Guild of Kansas City:

Reece has a YouTube Channel where he shows his various HEMA forms, for his students and to receive tips from other practitioners of the art:

If you would also like to see Reece rocking it out, here is a link to his band!

The Wikipedia Link to their HEMA article:

Once again, thank you Reece M Nelson for your time and for the opportunity to tell your story.

-DS Baker

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Things" concerning the men who once sailed in Longships.

The Law Rock or Speaker of the Law
At the "Althing" of Iceland.
Painted by W.G. Collingwood
Circa 1826-Public Domain
     In the name of this blog are two elements.-Modern and Medievalist or Medieval if you will. Because I look for them, I see medieval links to our everyday existence. Most of Europe for instance is nothing more than a framework of modern governance overlaid upon centuries of tradition, most of whom are medieval in nature. I believe it is part of the human condition to keep our history and our heritage or the heritage of those from whom we come from alive, and relevant in our daily lives.

    As an example of people keeping their culture alive, year and years ago I was sitting in a pub with a good friend of mine from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. We were watching Ireland battle Denmark to a tie in a World Cup qualifying match. At the end, when Ireland has scored the tie goal, an Irishman at the back of the pub yelled out in a really loud voice, "That! For Clontarf!" My mate and I just about fell off of our bar stools laughing. Incidentally it took almost a thousand years for that little statement to be uttered...

     For those who might not know the Battle of Clontarf happened on  the 23 of April 1014. It was a battle between Dubliner Danes, Orkney Adventurers and a large collection of Vikings from all over the Scandinavian world. Vs. Brian Boru the then High King of Ireland. In the end the Danes and their allies were beaten but Brian Boru was killed by a group from Orkney fleeing the battle. The blood loss on the side of the Irish was so great, that very few Noble Irish Families did not have at least one family member die. -So it evolved into  a badge of honor amongst the Irish, to say they had someone die at Clontarf.-End the end, it resulted in a draw for Ireland with a dead king and a goodly amount of their nobles perished and the Danes loosing much of their assembled forces.

Battle of Clontarf
By Hugh Frazer. 1826
Public Domain.

    The oldest Parliamentary Government in the world exists in Iceland, called the Althing. Which incidentally makes it the oldest semi-continually governing Democracy on the planet. It was found in 930 on the open plains just outside of Reykjavik. It operated on an annual basis for almost 1083 years.It was disbanded by the Absolute Monarchy of Denmark in 1800 and later reestablished in 1845. It had the one tiny break in its roughly 1083 year history. The Althing like any institution evolved. It went from a gathering of all the free men in Iceland and the (Godars)-a combination of powerful person and lord could decided legal cases and dispense justice, to the modern institution it is today. I will include a Wikipedia Links at the end of the article.

     There is another odd term which is slowly dropping out of usages in the English language. Although to be fair it does still crop up in the odd newspaper article and novel. I just so happens to be one of my all time favorite words: Bailiwick. It is a an Old English, combination of (Bali) and (Wick) and as a result because it is Old English it has a very close analogue in German. Both mean roughly the same thing:

Noun: Bailiwick or plural (Bailiwicks)
1. The district of which a Bailie or Bailiff has jurisdiction.
2. A persons's concern or sphere of operation, and or expertise.
3. A termed used as an area of governance by the Teutonic Knights*

     Which brings us to one of the more medieval aspects of the British Monarchy. The Crown Dependencies of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man-which are held as personal possessions of the Crown. Although there is a qualifier, as their governance or ownership is described as "The Crown in right of..."-Just add the appropriate name.

     All three are independently governed by representatives of the Crown, most notably Bailiffs in the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey, and the Lieutenant-Governor for the Isle of Man-(2005 The Isle of Man created a new position that of Chief Minister, as their head of government) Ultimately though, no matter what the civil authorities do, their laws and regulations must travel through the Privy Council of Her Majesty the Queen. She is the ruler of these lands.-Yes before the rocks start flying my way, I realize this is very much a simplification of a complex style of governance. However it remains that these islands are held in possession by Her Majesty the Queen and they are extremely medieval in nature Guernsey and Jersey have been in the possession of the Crown since the time of William the Conqueror. If you just go by his ascension to the English throne in 1066, that is roughly 948 years this coming Christmas...

All of which is contrasted with the Isle of Man declaring it has the oldest continuous operating parliament in the world called the Tynwald. Note: you have to read the description carefully. The key words are "Continuously Operating." Remembering the Althing of Iceland. The Althing had a break in service of 45 years. The Tynwald on the other hand did not. The Isle of Man officially came under feudal lordship of the English crown in 1339. Although as part of the Lordship of the Isles it reinvested itself into the British Monarchy in 1765. The Tynwald is reputed to have been founded in 979 AD. The people of the Isle of Man celebrated its existence in 1979 with a millennial birthday celebration. Although from what I have read, there does not appear to be any records of the Tynwald appearing until the XII Century. Incidentally "Tynwald" means roughly the same as the Icelandic "Althing" -The place of the "Thing", or the assembly.

     In closing I would like to state, my descriptions used in this posting are very much of a generalized nature. I have include links to various sites to give you the reader a place to do your own research, and come to your own conclusions. It is also interesting to me when I sat down to write this post, I had no idea how the history of Ireland, England, and the British Crown Dependencies would all be related. But if you read the Wikipedia articles I have included in this post, you will see in one form or another they are all linked because of Vikings, Normans (Semi-Civilized Vikings), and the Danes. In fact all of these institutions, countries and even the British Crown owe some part of their existence to men who once sailed in Longships and a desire to have their voices be heard.

All my absolute best!
-DS Baker


The Battle of Clontarf:

The Althing and the official webpage of:

The official link to the Icelandic Parliment

The link to the British Crown Dependencies

The Bailiwick of Guernsey:

The Official Portal for the States of Guernsey:

The Bailiwick of Jersey:

The Isle of Man:

The Wikipedia Isle of Man Portal:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Modern Medievalist-(tm): The Significance of a Battle Lost and Won...

Modern Medievalist-(tm): The Significance of a Battle Lost and Won...:  Scotland is fast approaching a major turning point in its future. The 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and a Vote for Independence.

The Significance of a Battle Lost and Won...

Sir Henry de Bohun slain by King Robert the the Battle of Bannockburn.
The king wore light or very basic armour and was armed only with an axe.
Sir  Henry de Bohun saw the King riding slightly ahead of his troops and
charged him with his lance. The king maneuvered his Palfrey or riding horse nimbly out of the way.
As Sir Henry de Bohun's missed in his pass, the King struck him with his axe. cleaving the knight's head in two
and breaking the handle of his axe.  

     On 24 June 1314 at a place called Bannockburn in Scotland a battle was fought. One side lost and one side won. Next summer it will mark the 700th anniversary of that battle. How is this in any way relevant to this Modern World we find ourselves in?  In a moment I will explain. The players involved in this historic drama are, King Robert the Bruce of Scotland, and King Edward II of England, and the outcome of the battle would determine one countries continued dominance over another, or freedom.-I will provide a Wikipedia link at the end of this article for those who wish to read about the specific particulars of the battle.

     The English had roughly 16,000 foot (infantry) and an estimate of 2,000 to 3,000 horse (cavalrymen). Although the records of the time are vague it is estimated the Scots were outnumbered by at least 45 to 50%.

     What is significant about the Scottish Army was that it was was made up of everyone who could or did have arms and armour-regardless of station. Most were equipped as infantry and a few were equipped as archers. The one thing they had was the one thing the English did not, and that was motivation. The Scots were fighting for their homes, their families and their way of life.

     The difference in the battle was not numbers, it was leadership. The Scots used cover and concealment and the natural terrain features to their advantage. Edward II was overconfident in the size of his force and the martial ability of his troops. -Most of whom were actually miserable about being drafted into the conflict in the first place.

     After a day and half of hard fighting, the English lost the battle resoundingly. Edward II barely escaped with his life and it is estimated only 6,000 troops managed to make it back to England. This did not mean Robert the Bruce was instantly recognized as being the true and legitimate King of Scotland by the English. It took another ten years of fighting. It did however mark a turning point in Scottish history. It was on that particular day when Scotland and its monarchs could and did make their will known to a people they thought of as their oppressors.

    Which brings us to the 21st Century and the 700th Anniversary of the battle. While this battle is both culturally and historically significant, what is being made much about, is its timing in current events. Scotland is due on September 18th 2014 to vote on a national referendum about Scottish independence from England. There are parties who see the possibility of the Scottish Nationalist Party or SNP, who are in favor of separation,  potentially hijacking the planned proceedings at the Battlefield and use it as a platform for their assertion that Scotland should be independent.

     I personally have as they say in Texas, "No dog in this fight."  But what I do want to know are the answers to several questions that are dependent on the outcome of the vote.

    If Scotland votes for independence, what then will happen to the funding of institutions like Scottish Health? Will there be a continuity of service? How long will it take for this transition to happen? Will England retain control over the monies generated from the North Sea Oil Reserves or will they be inherited by Scotland? In matters of Defense will Scotland inherit what is left of the Highland Regiments or military bases like Scapa Flow? Or will things look like India did in 1947? With long caravans of people streaming across the border into England?-I know this might sound facetious, but there are a great deal of considerations which will have to happen if Scotland is to chart her own course. I am also reasonably assured there would be numerous committees, parties, and organizational administration to make a smooth transition from one form of governance to another.

     Since this is a Medievalist page, what about lands and titles granted by monarchs that may or may not be part of a future Scotland? If the Crown is dissolved would then Balmoral and all the other crown property be returned to the people of Scotland? As I am not British, I don't know if the Queen or the Royal Family posses Crown property held specifically for Her Majesty, in any other location outside of the United Kingdom. Would Prince Philip retain his title as the Duke of Edinburgh? What of Scottish Life Peers serving in the House of Lords. Would their titles and political positions within government be dissolved?

     Will Scotland join the European Union? What of its money? Will it use the British Pound Stirling or will it form a new currency, and if so, what will they back it with? I wonder how many living in Scotland today think of themselves as British first and then Scottish second. Or how many in Wales think the same way.

     If Scotland goes, how long will it be before Wales thinks of leaving or Ireland once again makes overtures to absorb Northern Ireland? I hope to follow up on several of the questions I have asked here in the blog. I will also continue to post interesting and diverse topics as I am not leaving the medieval world behind. However I think this will be one of the more interesting life changing events, in the history of the United Kingdom and one which will have a deep and lasting impact on British and Scottish Medieval Traditions and Institutions. I do know next year will be a wild bumpy ride the closer the historic battle's anniversary approaches, followed shortly by an even more important historic vote.

     This subject as I am told, is growing day by day, and it is becoming increasingly bi-partisan and divisive.-Which in my mind is the very nature of the question being asked: Are there more who want to leave than there is who want to stay? I have no opinion in either decision. These are just my observations.

Here is the Wikipedia Link to the Battle of Bannockburn:

Thank you.

-DS Baker.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Editorial Comment and Update!


     If you have been paying attention to this page recently, you will have noticed the very small addition of a few strategically placed ads. Google has decided this blog is now popular enough, I might begin making a few coins from my writing. It has been an uphill slog and I am actually very happy this has come about.

     My writing and, my posting frequency should be increasing relatively soon. The Modern Medievalist Community Page on Facebook has really taken off. For those of you who found me via the community page, thank you very much.  The page now has over 4,318 "Likes" and is seen by tens of thousands each day. Several of my personal friends have joined the editorial side of the page and are posting on a regular basis-which incidentally now frees me up to write here.

     I am now working on several interviews, which should hopefully demonstrate, the medieval world, or at least the vestiges of the medieval world still exist and even have a relevance in today's modern world...

    There are big things afoot, as Sherlock Holmes would say, in Scotland. Not the least is the upcoming 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. -(It should be noted that the police authorities in Scotland are warning the future attendee's that blades of any sort will not be allowed at the planned event.) The proscription against having any sort of blades, is more than a constabulary being cautious in my opinion. I believe it is one of the last vestiges of a peeved English sense of pride being reminded of a significant battle they actually lost.

     I hope to bring several profiles and interview with various Scottish Lords and Clan Chieftains. Not only to show the medieval origins of various Clans and how they exist today, but also to get their informed opinion on the up and coming Scottish Referendum regarding Scotland's Independence.

    I am also in the process of scheduling interviews with writers who have opened up the whole Medieval Genre. It is one of the genres that is growing, beyond science fiction and fantasy. Although talking to my friends who write historical based fiction, it is one of the hardest to make a living in.

   Please be patient with me. The horizons of the blog will soon be expanding. But this takes a little bit of time and effort. I will also endeavor to keep posting all of the wonderful pictures and profiles of friends who like to wear shiny bits of armour.

All my very best!

-DS Baker.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Profile in Excellence Vicky Binns

Vicky Binns of Aquerna Fabricae
Special thanks to the National Trust.-VB

One of the greatest pleasures I receive from Modern Medievalist Community page on Facebook, has been the number of people I have met and become friends with. People who, in any other time frame other than now, I would not have had the pleasure of talking to. My series "Profiles in Excellence" is my way of paying back those wonderfully talented and generous people. Vicky Binns  is one such person. I find in this new millennium, it is becoming harder, and harder to find  someone who is genuinely nice, and honest. Vicky Binns is both. On top of that, she has been very generous with her time, explaining clothing designs to a man who knows little of fashion from the XIV and XV Centuries.

Some of you who follow this blog have seen her handiwork, in a previous post about her Fiancee' Matthew Bayley. I thought then as I do now, Vicky Binns deserved her own profile. I approached her with the idea and the resulting conversation is the basis of this posting.
XV Century Houppelande as made by Vicky Binns of  Aquerna Fabricae
Inspired by the 1430's Ghent Altar Piece.
Special thanks to Cardiff Castle Staff for the opportunity
to take photos on the grounds.-VB

Q: Vicky Binns where are you from?

A:  I’m a 23 year old Historical Costumier from a town called Chesham in the county of Buckinghamshire, England, UK. Chesham has a very multi-cultural population, particularly Pakistani, Indian, Polish and Chinese, which has had a significant influence on my lifestyle, tastes and inspiration.

Secondary view of XV Century Houppelande made by Vicky Binns
of Aquerna Fabricae. Inspired by the 1430's Ghent Altar Piece.
Special thanks to the Greyfriar's House and Staff.-VB

Q: What are your qualifications? Did you go to design/art school?

A: I have a 2:1 BA in Historical Archaeology from the University of York, UK, with the ambition to take an MA in Conservation and specialize in Textiles eventually. The ultimate dream would be to preserve and conserve textiles somewhere like the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Snowshill Collection or the Pitt Rivers Museum! I come from a matriarchal bloodline of seamstresses, knitters, crocheters and bobbin lace makers. Textile craft has been a foundation for my career, both taught and self-taught.

Q: Explain the name of your business please.

A: The name of my business is Aquerna Fabricae, which in Latin literally means “Squirrel Makings”. I have a love for Squirrels – especially the native British red squirrel! It seems apt that just as red squirrels are a species being conserved to save it, the ethic behind my textile skills is the aim to pass on and conserve something for future generations.

Photo by Stewart E. of the Guardian.

Q: What was it that attracted you to medieval reenactment, and how did you translate those experiences into clothing manufacturing?

My immersion into medieval re-enactment started with a silver smithing and enamelling after-school club. The club leaders were members of a medieval display group and spoke of weekends camping at Castles and sword fighting... how could I resist?

Every year we’d join in the Battle of Tewkesbury as Lancastrian troops. Here I encountered my fiancĂ© Matthew for the first time as a Yorkist and we hit it off exactly three years ago! As it happens he’s an armourer, bronze caster and jeweller.

Late XV Century Paletot. White on White Damask, Red Silk Velvet, with Yellow/Gold
Applique Letters, with Gold Fringe Trim.
Motto: Crom Mabo! Crom Forever.

Post-university jobs were scarce for UK graduates. With the encouragement of an already self employed Matt, family and the Princes Trust Enterprise Scheme I moved to live with him in Worcester, Midlands, launching Aquerna Fabricae.

Handmade White Chaperon of fine Hainsworth Wool, with
Leafy dagging.

I wanted historical costume being produced to a high standard. I’d already seen Kats Hats trade and flourish making renowned medieval headdresses, and that gave me courage.

Ghent Altarpiece Inspired Burgundian Houppelande Gown. Every object in the photo
has been manufactured by Aquerna Fabricae in conjunction with Bayley Heritage Castings.
The dress, the belt/girdle/the purse.

I am constantly inspired by and aspiring to reenactors like Caroline Blake and her Mum Anne. They research and reproduce their clothing to the point that they grow plants for dyeing in the garden, hand spin, naturally dye embroidery threads, research, making the costumes and hand embroider them. It’s a lifetime’s devotion!

1430's Ghent Altarpiece. This is a detail shot
of the Erythraean Sibyl.

Q: How long does it take for you to take a commission from design to finished product?

A: Anywhere from two weeks to a year; every commission is different which I love! I take plenty of time to research and let ideas evolve. The design and patterning stage is key. I don’t always have the opportunity to do fittings on the actual customers though, some of my clients are in the US who found me through Etsy. Their responses have been positive so far, so I must be doing something right. All of this can take just as long as the actual final production of the garment.
Hand embroidered wide girdle; black silk covering, couched gold work embroidery with red and green silk thread, quality freshwater pearls and red silk applique.

Q: How close to historical tailoring models do you use? Meaning do you hand stitch everything or do you machine stitch those portions of a garment that will not be seen?

A: Most of the time my clients have a budget limit, so I tend to machine the unseen and hand stitch the seen. However I can completely hand stitch. There’s something about taking techniques back to their roots that is infinitely personal. No two people hand stitch exactly the same way and it feels like a little fingerprint of my soul every time.

Once upon a time... 

Q: What type of material do you use in your clothing? Do you try to keep as period as possible. (You and I know that Cotton or Fustian was available in the XV Century. However it was expensive.) So... Do you use Linens or Flax Cloth, Wool? Please tell of your efforts to use period material...

A: I use 100% wool's, linens and silks from traders – for reliability, accuracy and sustainability. They ‘hang’ in a very particular manner (just take a look at effigies) and are more comfortable than synthetics for large gowns and cotes. The linens come from Ireland and Germany and I get British wool. British sheep farmers have suffered from our recent harsh winter snows. To me it’s about supporting the present local economy, just as much as being true to the past.

Of course it’s not always possible to get all-natural damasks and brocades, Sometimes the pattern of a fabric takes priority, so I do occasionally use synthetics and linen-cotton mixes. Been looking for true silk velvet too – usually at least 100% silk pile, adding that sumptuous authenticity to an outfit!

Girdle made by Aquerna Fabricae and Bayley Heritage Castings.
Worn by Lady Kyle at the 2013 Arundel Historical Tournament
at Arundel Castle.
(c) Stephen Moss.

Q: Simply because I know you and Matthew, I know you have combined forces somewhat and he makes belt fittings, closures and purse frames for you and your clients. Briefly describe the business relationship and the research both of you put in to creating a product.

A: Sometimes a client’s request is simply a variant on an already existing product. However if more is involved we work like Sherlock and Watson. Matt is Sherlock; mentally sharp and efficient at research, so although we both do a lot of research individually he usually spots the gems. He does most of the artistic drawing. I’m Watson, handling the domestic side, sorting the presentation for faires, keeping us on the straight and narrow and on target for time.

Custom Girdle made by Aquerna Fabricae with eyelet and belt fittings by
Bayley Heritage Castings.

There’s no real boss (although I can be bossy) and we have learnt that there’s rarely a right or wrong way, simply some methods are more efficient than others! If things don’t go to plan we make a cup of tea (or coffee), eat some cake and go back to the drawing board.

Research-wise we collect and share from a variety of sources, even if they don’t seem initially relevant. Sometimes it’s a chat with a fellow crafts person or experimental reenactor. If there is a trader with better suited skills, we point in their direction. Most importantly we’re honest about it – if we genuinely don’t know, we freely admit it. After all, there is so much that remains a mystery about medieval history to us and that for many is part of its appeal.

Vicky Binns and Fiancee' Mathew Bayley
of Aquerna Fabricae and Bayley Heritage Castings respectively
(c) Zoey Smith.

For a more detailed explanation of the above photo: Late fourteenth to early fifteenth century, working middle class dress: Vicky (left) is wearing a cote in madder red wool lined with linen from English effigies (linen kirtle and chemise underneath), a narrow girdle, white linen apron, head coif, neckerchief and silver necklace; Matthew (right) is wearing a parti-colour wool coat with a wide belt, fairly fitted hose, felted wool cap with a leather men's purse in hand.

I would once more like to thank Vicky Binns for her patience and most of her time. This has been a lovely romp through another person's hard earned knowledge and expertise. I wish all the best for Vicky and Matthew with their upcoming nuptials.

Aquerna Fabricae can be found at:

Bayley Heritage Castings can be found at: