Spotlight on Historical Weapons Re-enactments

Just as we immerse ourselves in writing of an historical time period, our characters emerging onto the pages to give the reader some sense of reality, there are people who, rather than writing about history, aim to actually live it. 

These people are known as historical re-enactors and as of 2016, the Australia Living History Federation recorded as many as one hundred such societies across Australia, covering a timespan from Ancient Greece/Rome to World War II. During our conference, we shall be entertained by two of these re-enactors: Richard Halcomb, covering medieval arms and armour, (including the famous longbow), and Richard Cullinan, who perfects the art of Italian fencing or what we perhaps romantically term, swashbuckling!

Let’s begin with the earliest time period – medieval circa 1365, during the time of the Hundred Years War when the use of the longbow allowed the outnumbered English to outmanoeuvre the often, abundant French armies. 

Our guest is Richard Halcomb, and he is a member of the ‘Medieval Archery Society’ (MAS), a group of like-minded individuals who portray a mercenary ‘Free company’ (a fighting corps currently not employed by King or country). The main focus of the group is archery, but Richard will also display and explain a collection of arms and armour reproductions spanning the entire Medieval Period, from the Viking Age through to the height of Chivalry. Along the way you will gain skills in medieval cooking, black-smithing, fletching, and foot combat. (Run away! Run away!)

Richard’s weapon of choice, though, will no doubt be the longbow.

Members of Medieval Archery Society

In the 13thC with the conquest of Wales under Edward I of England, Welsh bowmen were conscripted into the English army and the advantage of the longbow did not go unnoticed. A few years later, under the rule of Edward’s grandson, Edward III, all sports except archery would be banned on Sundays, such was the importance placed on this weapon. 

Made from a single piece of yew or boxwood, the longbow was crafted to approximately 6’ and so named because it allowed the archer a long draw (the action of pulling back on the bow string). A small fact worth mentioning is that skeletons of longbow archers are easily identified by the enlarged left arms and bony projections on left wrists, left shoulders and right fingers. So, just how did this amazingly simple weapon—that being one piece of wood and a hemp string—gain such an advantage in warfare over the favoured crossbow?

Medieval re-enactors

Come along and find out. And, if we are lucky, maybe Richard H might also treat us to a display of his talents as a Joust Herald. 

‘Here Ye! Here Ye! Come all and sundry – Saturday or Sunday!

Richard’s Halcomb’s sessions will be held on Saturday at 12.20pm to 1.10pm and again on Sunday at 9.50 – 10.40am. The sessions are free, included in your day or weekend ticket but seating is limited to 30 in each time slot, so bookings are essential. 

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Sunday will also introduce us to the sword skills of Richard Cullinan Chief Instructor at the ‘Stoccata School of Defence’ where attendees will enjoy a demonstration as to the historical use of sword, rapier, two handed sword, and polearms, as described in the Italian fencing manuals published from the 16th to 18th Century.

Italian fencing masters were in high demand throughout Europe for their skills. Although sword fighting schools existed as far back as the 12thC, they were forbidden in medieval times, especially in England and France. The weapons of choice would have differed from the finer, more elegant tools that were to emerge from the renaissance period onward and, with the growing popularity of the printing press, more ‘treaties’ (books explaining devised fighting systems) became readily available. The ‘everyday’ man of the fast-growing middle class could now afford a sword and learn to fight like a gentleman. It was no longer just for the nobles.

Fencing techniques

A great number of swordsmanship schools sprang up over Europe, the most popular those teaching the Italian Fencing systems, for they brought the concepts of science to the form which appealed to this new and changing world. With these schools, came the rise to fame of the rapier, a long, slender, sharply pointed sword designed for quick and nimble thrusting attacks.

As well as the rapier, the two-handed sword was still a weapon of choice but now schools could teach various techniques for both weapons such as the four main guard positions, basic cuts and footwork. Counterattacks, thrusts and feints became serious business with drills designed for practising, either solo or with a partner. (Remember Arya and her ‘water dance’ in Game of Thrones?)

Fighting with rapiers

These styles have all lived on into the present with the aid of the treaties, complete with lots of diagrams. It is because of the survival of these manuals that Richard Cullinan can teach his craft at the Stoccata School and we shall be offered a glimpse of that skill during the weekend.

Richard Cullinan’s demonstration ‘Introduction to Historical Fencing’ will take place only on the Sunday from 12.50 – 13.50pm. This display is also included with your day/weekend ticket, but numbers are limited, so please be sure to book your seat.

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Catherine T Wilson co-writes the Lions and Lilies series with Catherine A Wilson (not related). All four books in the series have won 1st place prizes in the Chatelaine/Chaucer Awards in the US and last year The Traitor’s Noose won the Grand Prize Chaucer Award. Find out more at www.lionsandlilies.com

Once again, historical fiction writers and readers can gather for a three stream program on the weekend of 26-27 October including our extended Academic stream on Sunday 27 October. This time there’s also a Craft & Publishing program on Friday 25 October with craft workshops, masterclasses and manuscript assessments with top class tutors. Our Guest of Honour is Jackie French. Keynote speaker Paula Morris will address our theme: History Repeats.

Among the 60 acclaimed speakers are patrons Kate Forsyth and Sophie Masson, Catherine Jinks, Ali Alizadeh, Marie Munkara, Lucy Treloar, Robert Gott, Pamela Hart, Nicole Alexander, Jane Caro, Alison Goodman, Kelly Gardiner, Michelle Aung Thin, Meg Keneally, Majella Cullinane and so many more.

Enjoy a delicious meal at our conference dinner on Saturday 26 October where Anna Campbell will entertain us. You’ll also hear who’s won this year’s ARA HNSA Short Story Contest with a $500 prize.

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