|at The 24th Annual Renaissance Festival
by Pat Taylor
The year is 1527, and King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon are making an autumn visit to Crownsville.
As the gates open to cries of "Make Way For the King! Make Way for the King!" we follow his majesty and his court inside. That's King Henry VIII, portrayed by Bill Huttel, who must have been born to play this role.
As I slip back in time at the 24th Annual Maryland Renaissance Festival in Crownsville, banners wave and trumpets blare the way to Revel Grove in the County of Oxfordshire in 16th century Tudor England. The Renaissance, sweeping Europe from the 14th to 17th centuries, bridged the gap between medieval and modern worlds by reviving ancient learning and stimulating great advances in art and literature. Those Renaissance men and women must also have revived good times, for "Make Merry!" is his majesty's command. As his subject, I am duty bound to obey.
The year is 1527, and King Henry the VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon are making an autumn visit. Anne Boleyn, lady-in-waiting to the queen, is also traveling with the royals. She is the king's current love interest. The queen views this as a passing fancy, but others have never seen him so smitten. Is this just a summer dalliance - or much more?
I am Lady Chameleon, posing as a 21st century Annapolitan until I enter the gates of Revel Grove, whereupon I resume my true form as a Renaissance wench. The changes begin in my dress, for my first purchase will be a flower garland headband at Rosie's Posies. But, no not flowers. Feathers perhaps. Yes, feathers will be awesome. Feathers it is, and maybe a little face painting later, perhaps a hummingbird or a flower.
Many of the festivalgoers, among them entire families, are dressed in period-styled clothing so it's difficult to distinguish them from the performers. The gentlemen - wearing tights, tunics, plumed hats and long cloaks - appear gallant, and the ladies - donning beautiful velvet dresses cinched tightly at the waist and dipped low at the neckline - appear very feminine.
Surely my mouth is agape and eyes wide as a handsome young man strolls by in tights and tunic, leather boots, jaunty hat with willowing plumes gently waving overhead. It gets better. As he walks away, I see a horse's tail protruding from his rear, sweeping the ground behind him.
The gentlemen look equally awestruck at a lovely wench in peasant attire with her laced-up corset pushing her milky white bosom upward until her blouse is overflowing - apparently the 20th century's "Miracle" bra is nothing new.
There's a lot to be said for exchanging my century for the 16th. But there's always the other side of the coin. I spot a peasant woman in soiled, disheveled clothing and a bird's nest solidly planted in her matted graying hair. Good heavens, there's a rat in the nest - though a small rat - I notice, scurrying away.
My intention is to rush through the main thoroughfare into the village of Revel Grove, the main unpaved pathway, but my attention is irresistibly drawn by the welcoming dancers. They choose their partners admidst much chatter and laughter. I watch enthralled as their long dresses and skirts skim over the dusty ground as they sing a lively tune that seems strangely familiar. Roaming the streets are mimes and performers on stilts. Strains of bawdy songs drift from the taverns, and Celtic music is being played on instruments few citizens of the 21st century would recognize.
It's like being in the fairy tale about the crooked man who had a crooked house. All the buildings are wooden, and some have grown old and crooked. Many have dirt floors, and most have low ceilings. Alice in Wonderland would have fit just fine into some of the very smallest buildings. There are quaint cottages and many shops so small they are literally overflowing with wares and can hold only a few people at a time. Some have dainty little fences and one has a charming little pond.
There doesn't appear to be rhyme or reason for the pathways or walkways, which have names like Stub Toe Way and Tiltyard Path, giving a clue as to what to expect. Still, each direction leads to new and exciting adventures along the way to unknown destinations. The dirt streets and ways literally meander up the hills, sometimes quite steep, and back down again into the valleys, so that you may end up at the jousting arena or, perhaps, one of the many low-ground stages with hillside benches (or stadium seating, as we know it today) for audience perches. All together, it's a five-acre fantasyland.
and Enticing Sounds
I am drawn to the soulful sounds of simple melodies of roving minstrel Gregory of Carrolton. Gregory is portrayed by Greg Freyman, a classical guitarist and composer who wears a sleeveless tunic, tights and a winning smile. His ballads dissolve me in nostalgia for times past.
"In the real world I am an estimator for a masonry contractor - though I wish I could do this for a living," says Freyman, who returns for his 14th year to the Renaissance Festival. Like all performers, Freyman prepared by attending classes for two years. He's now paid - "very well" he says - for doing what he loves.
"I never thought I would be wearing tights, but I look forward to it each year," he says. Indeed, he's hooked. "If I could, I would sell my house and join the circuit." So says Gregory of Carrolton.
Into the Fray
My next turn takes me to the shops on Queen's Path.
The chairs at the Wood Furniture shop look fit for a Queen. They would certainly be strong enough to hold the King's hefty self. Surprisingly, even though uncushioned, they are made to fit the contours of the body and sit quite well.
At the Echo & Wild Jewelry shop, Lady Chameleon adds another change: a pair of lock-and-key earrings; the lock for one ear, the key for the other. They are right for me as I often am surprised to find that I am wearing a different sort of earring on each ear. (On occasion I have even been known to wear a different shoe on each foot.)
For my excitable nature, I meander next to Herbalist Delight on Kenwood Lane, where I purchase a calming bag and rain potpourri. Then a rose quartz candle holder from the candle shop joins my booty.
At the Arcane Art shop, I chat with owner Patrick Parker, whose wares consist of inlaid jewelry and other art. Parker, also of Chesapeake Country, makes his 21st-century living in the building and restoration trade.
"I've just completed a new building in time for the festivities this year," says Parker, who's been head carpenter at the Festival for the past 13 years.
He also competes in the caber toss during each year's Scottish games. The caber toss is a combination of strength, skill and concentration. A caber is a pole, usually of poplar and 19 to 20 feet long, weighing 110 to 120 pounds. The object is to lift the pole and flip it end over end, having it land in a straight line in front of the contestant. "The first time I saw the caber toss, I knew I had to try this. When I did, I was hooked," says Parker.
He placed second in the East Coast in the nationally-ranked Highland Games. When he gives me a demonstration in the currently deserted jousting arena, I am impressed.
Look for Parker in the black watch-plaid kilt.
The caber toss must be addictive, for seven-year tosser Tim Ross of Federalsburg will, he says, compete in "any Scottish event within four hours of Baltimore." The Renaissance Festival in Crownsville is his favorite game of the year because, he says, "the crowd really gets into the spirit of the performance." Ross, of Scottish descent, is one of the most formidable competitors, albeit one of the smallest, and a crowd favorite.
Look for Ross in the red plaid kilt.
Such kilted gentlemen, by the way, are sometimes called the Ladies from Hell.
Losing Heads and Selves
Freyman, Parker and Ross look as if they belong in the 16th century, but Lady Chameleon still needs some help. How I long to leave my structured life and lose myself in the life of a virtual vagabond, a free spirit. So I make one more stop to embellish my headdress with horns. Not just any horns: pink horns. Feathers and pink horns. One enhances the other, right? Now I am surely the picture of 16th century feminine absurdity. I am returning to where I belong.
A village lad approaches to ask, "Are you enjoying yourself, m'lady?"
"I am. And who might you be?"
"Nat Taylor" he replies, as King Henry strolls by deep in conversation with a companion.
Surprised by his royalness, Taylor spins, bows deeply and exclaims to me "Grief, m'lady, I could have lost my head if I didn't bow to the king!"
Fried Pickles and a Knight in Shining Armor
Lady Chameleon is hungry, and so am I. I consider having a smoked turkey leg, but those things are enormous. Besides, I have always pictured King Henry the VIII sitting at his royal table, eating his turkey legs and throwing the bones over his shoulder to impatient dogs salivating in anticipation. That's an image I don't need to emulate.
Today's persona calls for something more in keeping with the times than pizza, pasta or even beef Stroganoff. I wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen eating Crusaders Bull, Steak on a Stake or a Knave Sandwich at the jousting event. But I'm leaning toward chicken, maybe Chicken on a Lance. Then again, perhaps Sausage on a Stick or Barbecued Ribs.
Come to think of it, stake, stick, lance? I'm almost afraid of getting splinters in my tongue. And, for heaven's sake, King's Dog. Well, you know what I picture when I think of the King's dogs. By elimination, my choices are Pork Pockets, Jalapeno Poppers and Stuffed Spuds. With fried ice cream for dessert.
Sated, I go to seek my knight in shining armor. The jousting event is presided over by King Henry and his court. Subjects fill the seats and spill over onto the hillside. As the jousters are announced, they parade around the arena two at a time on their prancing steeds. Both man and beast are dressed in full armor.
Lances forward, the knights gallop toward each other. The object of the sport is, of course, to disable your opponent. We cheer for our favorite rider to knock the other fully armored rider off his steed. Because of the tremendous weight of the armor that covers the entire body and the helmet with face mask that encases the head, once a rider lands flat on his back, that is where he remains until someone uprights him.
Had I But World Enough and Time
It's late afternoon and there's so much yet to see. I catch a wee bit of Johnny Fox, Swordswallower Extraordinaire, at the Royal Stage. A large audience projects peals of laughter from the The Jury Rig, where Master Lee is performing his PG-rated show. Audience participation is welcome, with only occasional threats to their well being.
Farther on, Shakespeare's Skum parodies the Bard's Othello and Romeo and Juliet. Or perhaps you would prefer to see A Midsummer Night's Dream: The Lovers, which is a special Festival version of the famous "lost in the woods" scene.
For tastes geared more to action, The Dueling Sheriffs duke it out at the Market Stage. And at the Lyric Stage, The Magic of Tom Crowl & the Wench makes it difficult to say who is putting what over on whom. Easy for many of us to identify with is Zoltan the Adequate: Brilliant? Amazing? No, just adequate.
Lady Chameleon has just enough time left for one more purchase. Blue leather flowers from the Leather Shop to fit over her pink horns. Perfection at last!
My day ends with a stop at the tarot card reader where I learn that my life will be long, if not prosperous. One question remains. Will there ever be enough time to do all the things I want to do?
Dusk is approaching. Here I am at the end of an enchanting day. I have gone back in time without a time machine. A gentle breeze floats by, and I smell incense and roses. Strains of Celtic songs follow me as I reluctantly shift from a time when life seemed not so rushed to the 21st century. To ease the transition, I remind myself that penicillin had yet to be in the grand and glorious Renaissance.
Time Travel Tips
Travel back in time off Crownsville Road from 10:30am to 7pm Saturdays and Sundays through October 22.
For special events, visit the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17 for Scottish Weekend, October 7 and 8 for Octoberfest and October 21 and 22 for the Jousting Tournament.
Little ones can be knighted by the King at his Royal Pavilion each Festival day. Check at the Customer Service Pavilion (near the front gate) for age-appropriate shows and look for your little lads and lassies there if you should misplace them. There are many free activities to entertain them, including free pony rides.
There are acres of free parking.
See you there: I'm the wench with the feathers and pink horns.
Pat Taylor, of Annapolis, breaks into Bay Weekly with this story. She is also writing a book teaching children about astrology.