NEW MEMBER'S DIARY 2011-2012
First Jórvík Viking Festival: 18th February 2012
I did debate whether it was worth doing an entry about the Jórvík Viking Festival — arguably Regia Anglorum’s flagship event.
It wasn’t my first event after all. But York was very different from Cranborne Chase, and probably very different from any other event.
The main battle is after dark, the hustlers and traders are in the city of York itself, in mediaeval buildings and in marquees in the city centre.
The warriors and soldiers of Regia Anglorum, along with two other groups who tagged along — Crusade and Draum Broedr — stayed in a school
just south of the city centre. Alan drove Garath and myself there and we arrived at about five o’clock, about 1½ hours ahead of the key to the
school. Alan abandoned us there and fought through rush-hour York to his B&B.
“This looks suspiciously like a queue for the key” was one comment as more people arrived, adding to the clumps of Regia members standing outside
this otherwise peaceful primary school. It could have been worse — some people were desperate for the loo!
Eventually the key arrived, and the doors were flung open. We started to transport our belongings up to the school’s first floor hall.
We were allowed to park in the hall or the library, and although I had already plonked my stuff next to some scary papier-mâché heads,
the idea of the library appealed and I moved in with Gareth. This proved to be a good idea, the library was quieter, more secluded and probably much
more comfortable than the open expanse of the hall. We even had psudo-walls dividing it up into distinct cubicles
that gave some illusion of privacy.
With beds inflated and new friends made, we headed towards the designated public house, which was a nice mile walk. Knowing my priorities, this was
the only place I had a map to. We wiled away the afternoon drinking with two members of Oskorei (an unaffiliated group from Bristol) who were taking
part as guests of Regia Anglorum — and who had occupied the neighbouring cubicle in the library. Occasionally, I would concentrate on someone coming
through the door to see if I could match them with any Facebook profile picture on the Regia page.
Together with Cerdic and Dalla, the two aforementioned members of Oskorei, we ventured into York early on Saturday to meet Alan and to shop. We
started by going to the Merchant Adventures Hall, where we browsed some stalls and met some familiar faces, including Alan. We then ventured to
the St Sampson’s Square Marquee, where a more cramped collection of traders were selling their wares. I was minding my own business, browsing
wares, trying not to knock anything off tables with my new cloak, buying the odd nail for my shield, contemplating investing in a sharp knife for
authentic eating, when a trader spotted me and said “nice cloak”, I looked up and it was Anwar Ali — the gentleman who had sold me the material
for the cloak after an extremely complex logistical operation where I skilfully avoided postage charges by sending numerous e-mails and recruiting
the help of a useful sibling. It is good to know he recognises his products.
After purchasing a brooch for the cloak and a belt, I left the hall and waited for Cerdic and Dalla. Whilst waiting, I was asked by an innocent
bystander where the battles were, but I did not know. It was a flaw in the planning that those Vikings that the public might encounter can’t
tell the public when and where the show is going to be. I regretfully had to advise him to ask someone else.
We walked back to the school (about a mile) collected shields, spears and dropped off purchases, marched back into York and joined the rest of the
re-enactors outside Yorkminster. We missed a chance to feature as some tiny background specs in a new BBC documentary series, whose producers
were no doubt hoping to get some cheap shots of Saxons and Vikings.
Somehow we ended up on the Saxon side, and before long we were marching through the city of York, occasionally yelling out the traditional Regia
Anglorum cry which I had first heard at Cranborne Chase:
“Vivat Rex Anglorum”
which for the non-Latin speaking amongst you means
“Long Live the King”
“Long Live the King”
“Long Live the King of the English”
and is a cry still used in our coronation ceremonies to-day (Her Majesty The Queen was hailed with the words “Vivat Regina” in 1953).
Then we were in the shadow of York Castle, where the Saxon line formed to face the Vikings of Eric Bloodaxe. The sun was shining directly in my
eyes, and I was forced to pull my hood up to have any chance of seeing the Viking army when they lined up to face us. The line commanders told us
that there would be two show clashes before competitive fighting began.
We did a little more yelling:
“Vivat Eadred, Rex Anglorum”
“Long Live Eadræd, King of the English”
We marched towards the enemy and made as much noise and movement as possible. I decided I’m not good at these fake
clashes, they tire me
out and I just find myself standing there with spear harmlessly and silently tapping the enemy’s shield. It is something I need to work on —
re-enactment is a performance and the audience don’t want a line of silent motionless people poke sticks at another equally vegetative line. Luckily the
Vikings facing us were better at it, and one of the Crusaders repeatedly hit my spearhead with his sword, thus making the kind of battle sound which is
We backed off, only to have the Viking line descend upon us. I performed in a likewise pathetic manner until the Viking line retreated. There
might have been some more yelling now, I can’t really remember, but soon we found ourselves advancing against the army of Eric Bloodaxe again, this time
in competitive combat.
I fully expected to die again, and I soon found myself facing someone who fully expected to kill me. His spear constantly aimed for my slightly
exposed shoulder, either missing or bouncing off the rim of my shield. The line seemed pretty quiet, I bided my time and waited for an opening
for a quick spear jab. A few did occur, but I had neither the speed nor the confidence to capitalise, but then someone rotated his shield just
slightly for just too long and I pounced. Thrusting in front of the Viking who was aiming for my shoulder, I managed to get my spear between
the shields and square in his ribs. He fell to the ground — my first kill in a public show. His friends were soon falling at the
hands of my comrades.
Their shieldwall started to fold as both flanks collapsed, we pressed on. Weight of numbers began to shew and soon I found myself flanking an
individual whose shield was facing her attackers in front of her. Bringing my spear into a suitable location proved to take longer than I had planned,
but I still managed to bring the tip into her stomach and felled her too.
Soon there was a field of dead, one of whom was looking around the field in the way I might if I wanted to see what was going on after being killed.
I yelled “he’s moving, kill ‘im” and thrust my spear between his guts and the ground — he reacted appropriately with screams of pain and subsequent
I didn’t realise it at the time, but the battle which had just resulted in a glorious Saxon victory over the Viking host was a last-minute affair. The
original plan was for a normal Regia training session, but so many bystanders had been attracted to the castle by the parade through the city of York that
some five-hundred were now accumilating around expecting a clash. Somehow the powers that be arranged this in good time and our lines clashed in the
way described above. The training sessions followed the battle.
Still in view of the public, these training sessions were not really designed for their pleasurable viewing. The first of these sessions was
single combat, where I ended up facing someone with a sword each time. I didn’t stand a chance and was easily dispatched by the
first. The second had the better of me too, he got me in the leg (usually a legal hit but this practice was torso hits only), and then sliced me in
the jaw. I expected a final decisive blow but he stepped back and opened his shield. I didn’t know what to make of this, so I thrust at his
guts and he fell in suitable fashion. After he fell, he looked up and said “I got you in the back didn’t I?” I hadn’t felt a thing! Was that
defenceless pose his way of asking why hadn’t I died? Perhaps a sort of insult — “No point fighting you if you’re not going to take your hits!”.
I hate people to think I’m not taking my hits — it ruins their enjoyment of the event and makes me look like a git, so this troubled me. It
actually transpired that the defenceless pose was the result of his completely painless slice around the jaw, their society (the Crusaders) has a tradition
of offering a free shot if they hit you in the head, as he had done by slicing my jaw.
Following this was the traditional Islip-style training session, where we are divided into two teams and I get killed. These proved exhausting, and we
finished by three o’clock. Alan, Gareth and me all went to York for a cup of coffee and a rest. I procured some food before the big evening
battle at the notorious York Racecourse.
Busses ferried us to the racecourse, where we were welcomed by officials who told us to wait out in the wind and cold of the field. Eventually
they found some communal showers for us to wait in (someone described it as an Auschwitz moment — entering a room with shower heads with a horde
of other people), but there weren’t any seats here either so it was little better.
Eventually we went out and prepared for battle. Both sides were given a team talk which outlined the chronology of the battle.
The Vikings would march on and line up at the top of the hill
The Saxons would then march on and prepare to charge up the hill
The negotiations would be fruitless
The Saxons will charge up the hill
The Vikings would beat them back
The Vikings would charge down the hill
The Saxons would beat them back
Eric Bloodaxe will fight four champions and defeat them all
The Saxons would look depressed
The Vikings left flank would charge the Saxon right flank
The ensuing mêlée would rotate the line of battle
The competitive combat would begin
The Saxons will win the battle
Eric Bloodaxe is betrayed and killed by his bodyguard
It was dark and windy. I marched on with the rest of the Saxon army and faced the Vikings at the top of the hill. We were yelling out “Death
to the Vikinga”, which I make sound quite pirate-like “Death to the Viking arrrr” and other slogans already described “Vivat Eadred, Rex Anglorum”.
The Viking army looked formidable on the top of the hill with their huge banner fluttering in the wind. To face it, at the top of the hill, with a
line of Vikings either side silhouetted against the dark floodlit sky was an exhilarating feeling. Even the comment from someone that they could
smell the petrol from the longship ready to go up in flames post-battle failed to ruin the atmosphere — because the atmosphere wasn’t being immersed
in history, it was being on a cold field facing your enemy across an expanse of grass, the smell of petrol, the bright floodlights, the crowds of onlookers
couldn’t take that away; the comments about petrol and similar friendly banter between me and my comrade-in-arms only added to it.
We charged up the hill.
The battle proceeded exactly as outlined, nothing eventful happened. I was mournful at the defeat of the four Saxon champions, but how clear that
was to the public is hard to know. Once again I enjoyed it more once competitive combat started, the instruction that the Saxons will win gave me
confidence, but didn’t affect my fighting much.
The line split and I was left with a choice as to whether I should join the mêlée in the centre, or deal with a lone Viking flanking us. He was
fighting two Saxons and defending himself admirably, I advanced and stabbed him in the chest. The two Saxons already fighting him disappeared,
whether they thought the Viking was dead, were themselves killed, or ran off I can’t remember. But the Viking wasn’t dead and he lashed out with his
sword against my shield. I had already stabbed him twice and this time my spear remained stuck in his chest, he continued to lash out in a futile
gesture. The fact that my spear was quite securely entering his heart was of little reassurance, I have not got a good track record of fighting
one-on-one with swordsmen. But he eventually collapsed, and I wasn’t risking anything. I stabbed him in the chest again, and again, twisting
the spear this time before leaving his twitching corpse and advancing towards the now all-but defeated Viking army.
Around me were dead bodies, there was nothing else to do. Unbeknown to me, Alan had been mortally wounded and Gareth was looking after him, but as
he died, the Saxons were victorious. At some point Eric Bloodaxe was killed by his mate, and we were told to loot the dead. During the looting,
a wounded Viking lashed out at a startled Saxon, who stumbled back with the knife wound. I used the advanced reach of my spear to dispatch him.
My first thrust was parried away, but the second struck him in the chest and I pressed it home, more forceful than with the resilient Viking earlier,
twisting it to make sure no life remained within him. He yelled in pain before remaining motionless.
The dead rose, I returned my looted sword to its owner and we ended with the traditional Regia charge towards the crowd. Somehow, I was miles from
the crowd line, so instead of the normal stepping forward, I charged direct towards one woman with a camera, stopping at the line where the rest of the
army was. I didn’t expect the round of applause which now erupted from the whole crowd, muffled slightly by winter gloves and muted by others’ cold
hands, but I got the impression that they thoroughly enjoyed the show. As we exited the field, the crowd witnessed the finale — the impressive
consumption by fire of the Viking longship and subsequent fireworks display.
We returned our weapons to the school and went to the pub again for a meal and a drink. I was absolutely knackered, I hardly had the energy to eat my
meal. Despite the cold wind, no-where to sit before the battle and poor organisation, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Dispite aching feet, pulled
muscles and barely having the energy to eat a home-made steak pie, I’d do it again.