The Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle, which is taking place this weekend in the English county of East Sussex, is expected to draw its biggest-ever attendance this year. Last year over 30,000 visitors flocked through the gates at the three-day Festival, already the largest of its kind in Northern Europe.
This year, the Festival has been enlarged and expanded and includes more performers, artists and attractions than ever before. The unique mix of entertainment and hospitality is set for a record number of visitors joining in the medieval fun.
A complete medieval village has been reconstructed, offering visitors a rare glimpse into the everyday life and times of the fifteenth century. Meanwhile, a full-size jousting arena on the Castle grounds gives visitors a taste of the tournament experience.
Some of Europe’s finest bowmen will also be on hand to demonstrate their precision with the longbow, and to pass on their expertise to any members of the public who care to try their hand.
But the centrepiece of the festivities are the two massive and colourful set battles staged each day during the Festival. These battles, which recreate the bloody struggles of the Houses of York and Lancaster, are fought out by over 2,000 members of Medieval groups based throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. Complete with showers of arrows from squads of supporting bowmen and cannon fire from ancient artillery pieces, these (usually bloodless!) clashes put the spectator right at the heart of the action.
Bringing history to life and allowing people to experience it first hand is the secret of the attraction, Festival Director Clive Geisler believes. Jenan Dollie, commented on her blog Ramblings of a Newbie Pagan that in this year’s festival, “there are always things for the children to learn, activities to play. Quite a few for the adults too. From weaving, brass rubbings, chicken catching (they got out again), how to fire guns, shoot arrows, skin rabbits the list is endless.”
England’s Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle began as a half-day fund-raising event for Queen’s University, Kingston, who own and run Herstmonceux Castle as an International Study Centre. Over the years it has grown into a three-day event that is the biggest event of its kind in Northern Europe. The moated castle itself dates from the fifteenth century, and funds from the Festival still provide welcome support for its upkeep. The Festival now covers most of the 500-acre site, and is held annually over the August Bank Holiday weekend.