The Rhuddlan festival, part 2

Standard

As promised, here is part two of my story from the Rhuddlan festival- and this time, I will be talking about the fighting that took place over the two days of the event.

We have had immense fun, the battles were fierce and closely fought, each side’s warriors displaying great skill and showmanship, as well as wonderful team spirit! The castle would open to public at 10 a.m., then at 11.30 first fight of the day would commence. It was a skirmish between the Welsh and the Saxon troops, under the walls of the castle itself. The Saxon vanguard would first cross the bridge, that spanned the moat around the castle walls:

Image

The Saxons would fight over the bridge, and push the Welsh defenders back, as more and more men would cross.

Image

After the initial push, there was a brief parley, during which Saxons explained, that they are raiding the place in retaliation for the local Welsh king’s breaking the peace and burning of an English town. They demanded the king’s head, but were refused by his commander, and battle followed.

Image

Image

Image

Notice, how tight is the Welsh shieldwall. Our counterparts worked wonderfully as a unit, and it was very difficult to break through, or push them back. The whole fight however was scripted, with a pre-determined outcome, and so, for now we concentrated on fighting for a good show, rather than competition. In the course of the skirmish, the Welsh were pushed further and further back, and it looked is if they might be overcome, until timely reinforcements arrived, and the day was won. First victory of the day for the defenders of Rhuddlan!

Image

Image

Image

And, after the scripted battle, we had a competitive re-fight, where the best side won. This time, our forces stayed on the offensive all the time, and kept pushing the Welsh shieldwall back. It was a short but brutal fight, and our side has emerged victorious, inviting some rightly earned Boo!! and Hiss!! form the onlooking local audience, for beating their Welsh kinsmen:

Image

Image

Image

Then, there was a weapons display, warband competition, and a chance for the children in the audience to face the ferocious Vikings in battle, and show them they way back to their boats. Finally, at 3 p.m., there was time for the main battle of the day- the recreation of the historical battle from the year 1062. It was a scripted battle also, followed by a free-fight. In the scripted battle, it would be the Saxon invaders who would emerge victorious, as per actual events. And in the re-fight, as always, the victory would go to the better side.

The scripted battle started with a brief skirmish, when light Saxon troops would clear the field and chase the Welsh defenders behind their defensive palisade:

Image

Image

This would be followed by another parley, during which treats, insults and urgings to leave the field would be exchanged. From the Saxon side earl Harold Godwinson and his trusted Huscarls, and form the Welsh side, the castle garrison commander and his bodyguard took part. After the parley broke off, it was time to storm the palisade, which the Saxon force did two times, and were repulsed:

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

After the third storm on the palisade, there was yet another brief parley, and another opportunity to hurl insults at one another, in true Viking fashion. Then, the gates opened, and the Welsh went forth from their position, confident in their abilities. They pushed our men back at the start, but once the initial momentum was lost, they were put on the defensive, and the Saxons pushed back, with all the ferocity they could muster. The Welsh defenders, as per the scenario were defeated and cut down, after a long and brave fight:

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

And then, of course, there was the re-fight, where the outcome would be determined by skill, discipline and quality of warriors as well as some decent luck!

This time, both sides faced each other off on the field straight away, and marched onwards without parley. Both groups had decided to split into two separate flanks, mostly due to the fact that the trees interfered with our shieldwalls. The Welsh side was strong on the offensive again, and pushed hard, killing some of our men instantly and forcing us on desperate defensive. Our line held however, as they did not push their advantage to the full and hung back, losing some men in the process. Things looked pretty bleak for our side at the time, but we did not give up hope and fought hard to stay alive.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Our opponents pushed us hard, but our line held, and we did not break. After the initial losses we have managed to avoid further deaths, and slowly  brought the result back. It did not seem like it from our perspective, but we were almost even by that time. We were however, very close to loosing, and if only few more warriors would fall, all would be lost. Battle descended slowly into chaos, as men fell and gaps in the line became bigger. It was only when we killed some most senior warriors of the opposing side, we have been able to go on to the offensive, and started gaining an advantage.

Image

Image

Image

Our side has defended itself ferociously and fought fiercely. Thanks to great discipline and some skill, as well as few lucky strokes, we have now gained the upper hand over our opponents. We now pushed on, killing more warriors, until only a couple remained. By then, even though there was only very few of us left, we could secure a victory.

Image

Image

Image

And so, we have managed a win in the free-fight, but it was very close to a loss, and we have only averted disaster by the skin of out teeth. The Welsh reenactors fought well, they were skilled and disciplined. They did not manage to break our line, and lost a few too many men by holding back, instead of rolling over us while they had the clear advantage, which enabled us to turn the battle around. It was an amazing fight, and great show for the public too. Well done to everyone involved, and congratulations to my fellow members of Y Ddraig, for being on the winning side each time over two days.

This festival was a great and fun event, I have learned lots, discovered how much more there is left to learn, and I have seen some truly inspiring battles. All in all it was a show to remember, and I am so very looking forward to the rest of the season!

Image

The Rhuddlan festival, part 1

Standard

So, this weekend I have (finally!) been able to attend a reenactment show- a two-day medium event in a beautiful castle in Rhuddlan, Wales.

As the place is not far from where our reenactment group is based, we always turn up in big numbers, and bring along all of our camp equipment, something we are not able to do as often as we would like. Rhuddlan is an amazing place, the castle and the grounds are just fantastic. The event in the castle is commemorating the battle that took place in the same spot, in the eyar 1062. In this battle, earl Harold Godwinson (future king of England) has defeated the forces of a Welsh king Gruffydd ap Llewellyn, in a retaliation for burning of a Saxon town by the Welsh.

I myself arrived at the castle in a van our group hired to transport our “viking village”, a sizeable collection of four tents, one huge sail tent, intended to look like we arrived here by boat and used it to create an encampment, as well as all the assorted camping, cooking and history display equipment.

Image

Getting closer and closer to the castle, we felt the anticipation of the coming event. And looked forward SO MUCH to pitching our camp in the pouring rain…

Image

Image

Image

We started by bringing all of our equipment up into the castle, where the entire Living History would be placed. As there were several other groups attending the event, timing was crucial. Knowing rain and storms were forecasted, we were quick to grab the most sheltered and raised up part of the castle grounds, spreading our camp as far as we could, claiming the “dry patch” in the name of Y Ddraig.

ImageAs soon, as all our Living History was unloaded, we set about raising our tents and setting up camp. Rain was starting to pour, so no time to loose! First to put up, was of course our great sail tent, the very center of our Living History display and a surprisingly comfy place to sleep in. As you can see, two pairs of oars support what would have been a mast from a longboat. Over this mast, the sail will be thrown over, creating a tent.

Image

Image

Image

At the front of the tent, additional poles were added, to create an open tent. Just a little more time, and some shelter will be available!

Image

Once the first tent was up, it was time to unpack the equipment and put up the four smaller tents. For this task, we were divided into two teams, myself assigned to the tent-raising group. And so, the Geteld tents were raised up in short order:

Image

As soon as we were done, we laid out our fire boxes, and started a nice and warm, of somewhat smokey fire (damn you, moist wood, we felt like hams hung for smoking, but hell, at least we were dry-ish and sort of warm!)

Image

Image

Image

As it is evident, unpacking is not finished yet, and modern stuff still lies around- we were much more concerned with fire by that point to be honest, plus, the show itself did not start until the next morning, so we had plenty of time left to get authentic and sorted, which (eventually) we did.

ImageImage

These are the photos from the next morning. A bit of sun for a change, and the show has opened officially. First, a few photos from around the camp and Living History display, before we go onto the main events of the day:

Image

ImageThe Y Ddraig quarters, seen from the castle walls.

ImageThe view at 6.45am, three hours before the show starts. why was I up this early again?

Image

Image

Image

ImageThe Y Ddraig banner raised proudly over our sail tent.

Image

ImageMy humble self, in the “civilian” set of clothes, before getting kitted out for battle. Believe it or not, but I travelled all the way to the festival and back wearing these as well. Who needs to burden themselves with modern clothing?

Image

Image

There were sadly no traders at the festival, so no wares to buy or photograph- hope for better luck next time! Living History was a great success nonetheless, and there is not much I can say to describe it besides: I was a Viking for two days. We spend our day, ate and drank as they would. We played their games, we had fire and authentic food and the best company you can ask for. We stayed up late into the night too, but since there is no photographic evidence, that means there was no excessive drinking, late night chatting/discussions/singing and merryment of any kind.. No, really, there wasn’t…

And then, the game of Knattleikr, or “The viking Ball Game”, which we have managed to play in the rain. Four players a side- each with a stick, two goals and a ball (there is no actual limit on players, but eight is what we could muster). sadly, no pictures there, but do have a look at an online article, to tell you more of the fantastic game that is Knattleikr: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/knattleikr.htm

But! A reenactment festival is more than just the living history! In my next post, I will write about all the fighting that took place, and how well my comrades of Y Ddraig ( as well as all the other participants) have done. Look forward to see some Viking ( well, Saxon-Welsh for this particular show) combat!

Image

Image

The Axeman Cometh!

Standard

In today’s post I shall talk about the most iconic Viking weapon of all- the battle axe. It is always associated with the Vikings, as their weapon of choice. And yet, in reenactment, it is seldom used. Just look at any image of a shield-wall clash, and look what weapons are they using:

Image

Swords, swords, swords, some spears, one or two axes here and there.

Why is that the case? Why does everyone use a sword? Mostly because the swords are “fancier” and because the axe gets a bad press, due to its alleged “clumsiness” and difficulty in use.

Image

The axe often seems like the poor warrior’s choice, something one will use, before he gets the money to buy a “proper” weapon- the sword. In my humble opinion, this is a completely wrong idea!

Contrary to popular belief, axes are not clumsy, slow, or difficult to control. A well made, quality axe is fast, well balanced and a pleasure to use. It will go exactly where you want it to, stop when you wish, and it is capable of a whole range of nasty tricks to use on your opponents. Actual battle axes, like these below, were designed for speed, agility and cutting power:

Image

Image

Image

Each axe would have slightly different properties, and the choice was much up to the individual warrior.

ImageAn axe is a wonderful weapon to use, if you know how- it is not in any way inferior to the sword, it just requires a different technique to use. It requires a direct approach and a certain aggressiveness, willingness to attack first and keep the pressure up. Let me outline to you some techniques you can use with the axe, to convince you how useful can it be:

Image

Feinting- yes, it is possible, and I encourage it strongly! Because an axe is a chopping weapon, with all the weight and force on the top of it, it is easier to “sell” your attacks to the opponent. A wide swing for his body will provoke a reaction, as axe blows are harder and more difficult to stop than sword or spear blows, as well as generally more intimidating. Once your opponent has committed to a defence, you can swiftly change the direction of your attack (a light, well balanced axe can do it in a blink of an eye) and strike at the exposed parts of his body.

ImageHooking of shields- this is a powerful and widely used technique, using the axe shape and the leverage it gives you, you just hook it behind your opponents shield and pull it away from their body. Then, you can push your axe into their exposed body or slash across it, in one swift move.

Image

Changing the range- oh yes, an axe can be used to fight a distance, as well as in extreme proximity, something a sword cannot do very well. When you are far from your opponent, use the whole length of the axe haft to strike from afar, or get face-to-face and simply slide your hand up the haft, making for a shorter weapon, ideal for close-quarters or tight spaces. Even better- start from afar, and as you deliver blows, get closer and closer, until you are almost stepping on your opponent. Then shorter your weapon and finish them, while they try to get away.

Image

Disarming/taking control of weapons- yet another trick that uses the shape of the axe and the leverage it gives you. When you parry a blow from your opponent, you can use the axe to hook it round the weapon and using a simple circular parry, direct the weapon away from you, or even disarm your opponent completely. Than step in and hack them down at will. Note- do not use this against two handed spears or Dane axes. Their size and the fact they are held two handedly gives your opponent much more leverage then you have and you will loose in this situation.

Image

Intimidation- psychological effect of an axe is not to be underestimated. When you rain blow after blow on your opponent, and always present the danger of disarming them or taking their shield away, it makes them intimidated. Also, when you constantly step on, and keep the pressure up, the enemy is more likely to make a mistake.

Unlike the sword, the axe is not good as a defensive weapon, and should be used for offensive. An axeman must be aggressive and ready to get close and personal and to deliver the first strike, but also must have solid defence to protect his advance. This is where many reenactors choose swords instead, as they allow a defensive style of combat, when you just wait for your enemy to over-commit on an attack, or use parry-riposte to defeat them. The axe is a very direct weapon and should be used as such.

Image

The “axe-head effect”- this is a trick for a clever warrior, who knows the range and size of his weapon. You use the shape of the axe head to get to opponents body through his defence- even if the shield, or the weapon stops the blow, the axe head may still connect with the body if you place it smartly. You can target the shoulders with a straight blow, or step to the side and the the axe head around enemy’s shield. You may even get through a sword or spear parry, if you deliver the blow the right way. This obviously works better with longer axe-heads.

Image

The Shield-Wall- the axe is a fantastic weapon to use in the tight spaces of a shield-wall. You can use it at full-length to attack and parry from a distance, or if the lines clash, shorten it and fight without any difficulty, while the swordsmen can barely get a good swing going! Also, the axe is great at knocking down opponent’s weapons, due to its extra weight at the top- this is especially true for spears.Also, with the axe you can hook opponents shields and open them up for a strike from your comrades. This works best at a distance, when you hook a shield and force it open, while your mate (preferably a spearman) gets the killing blow at the same time.

Last, but not least- the axes just look cool, and are such an iconic weapon. They also make for a great show combat and, since they force a more aggressive stance provide better entertainment value for the public.

Hopefully I have convinced you of the virtues of the axe- let us see more on the battlefield!

What are your thoughts on axes? Write down in the comments below!