When you have a best friend who was basically raised at the renaissance festival, you’re eventually going to learn all about it. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll even someday get an in person glimpse into the world in a way you never got when you just attended the festival.
The performers on court do weeks of training. They need to learn about life in that time, about how someone with their rank fits into society, the dances, the songs, the protocol and much more. It’s more than just learning the language, it’s how to bow/curtsey and when. How to address the others on court. Who the others on court are. Because not only do you need to know your back story, you need to know everyone else’s as well.
And then there’s the clothing. oof. That’s a whole other beast in and of itself!
After getting special permission to bring me on court for a day, T-Rex had to bootcamp me in a few days. She let me borrow her binder that helped a lot with understanding the ranking system and the language. She taught me three of the four dances (one was far more complex and we basically covered dancing within a fifteen minute timespan. Thankfully I have a background that allows me to pick up on movement things very quickly!). She explained the proper way to depart from Her Majesty. She covered the basics of attending, not that I would actively be doing so but she covered it anyway. She went over what the day would be like. And most importantly, she was able to find a dress for me. I ordered a corset that arrived a few days prior (and of course was too large despite her having taken my measurements and if anyone is going to get them right it’s her, AND I ordered a size down from what it said I needed!) but we were able to make it work by putting it on me upside down since the hoop for the skirt would make it flare out anyway. Hopefully soon I can get it taken in to fit me better. If I ever wear the damn thing again! 🙂
I arrived on site hours before the festival gates opened. T-Rex laced me into my corset, then hoop, then blouse, then underskirt, then overskirt, then bodice, then everything else. Seriously, it’s not just putting on a dress. It took her about 20 minutes to do it and she’s experienced in dressing people. I can easily see it taking closer to an hour for the more elaborate gowns or for someone who isn’t as experienced as she is. Then she helped dress the Queen and got her some breakfast as her hair was being done. Unlike the cast who attends the Queen while on the grounds, there are people who have to attend her out-of-character. It’s an exhausting process and an exhausting job!
Once everyone was ready, we headed onto the grounds and met up with the rest of court, then onto the grounds to assemble for morning meeting. One of my good friends who is on cast (who once played my ‘space husband’ in a short film) looked over and saw me and was floored. He had no idea I was going to be there, let alone on court for the day! It was awesome to see the expression on his face when he saw me, especially done up in my garb.
After morning meeting, it was time to parade (pronounced pah-rad) to the front gates to open the festival for the day. And what a delight! William Shakespeare was there to announce he was casting for a role in his new play, Hamlet 2: The Dane of our Existence. He begged the Queen to put an end to it, as everyone came out to audition. And she did. By announcing that she was there to audition as well and that ‘We are Elizabeth. Do we have the part?’ And of course she did. Then the gates were opened and the royal guard passed through, followed by the Queen and then her attendants.
Now one thing you might never have noticed is that her courtiers are all lined up behind her in two rows. The first two are her active attendants, then it follows by rank with the highest ranking up front. I ranked further back as I chose a lower rank. I was Lady Moira Rosemary, married to Sir William Rosemary who is the eldest brother of T-Rex’s character, Lady Saffron. Moira’s father is one of the richest men in the region and pretty much William married her for her money. Neither of them wanted to get married, let alone to each other, but you gotta do what you gotta do. So she’s not the highest of rank but she’s rich AF and is from a small town originally where she spent all her time reading because she was educated and hating sewing because she sucks at it. But she does like music and poetry and dance so she’s not a tomboy like some of the women on court. I think perhaps next time I go, I will carry a book around with me and pretend to be absorbed in my reading. (I mean it’s not much different than me in real life, right?!)
Anyway, you’re in two rows and when someone steps out, the people behind them move up to fill in the gap. The only person who should be walking alone (aside from the Queen) is the last person if there is an odd number. I pretty easily slipped into this and enjoyed always being next to someone new. So we go inside and line up to greet everyone as they enter. I’d never been there early enough to see the opening ceremony so it was exciting for me to see it the first time from that side of things.
We welcomed people and then started morning dance. It’s so when people walk in, it automatically engages them. There are a couple of dances for the couriers, which I did not have a partner for one of them and the other I was holding some things for someone so couldn’t join in, and then there’s one where we grab people to come join us. We’re in a large circle and go through the very easy steps slowly, then start the dance. As we dance, the music gets slightly faster and it’s quite hilarious and fun really engages people. Then we walked around. Every few steps someone would stop to talk to the Queen or to take pictures. It was awesome. There were a few scheduled events during the day, like archery and the joust and the children’s knighting ceremony and the feast, but we spent much of the day just walking around and interacting with people.
Maybe the highlight was being able to watch the joust in the box with the Queen. Only a few people are allowed in there at a time but I was one of them! It’s a very different perspective and every year I’d go I’d be stuck behind tall people and not be able to really see the action so I finally did and it was cool. At one point I also found myself temporarily filling in for one of the attendants which was also exciting even if it was only for maybe three minutes. But the most special thing all day was when the Queen held court and Lady Saffron and Lady Rosemary presented Her Majesty with a gift. It was a bottle of whiskey with a special label that I designed for her. The present was really from T-Rex and had special meaning to the Queen and when we presented her with it, her eyes welled up with tears for a moment and when she kissed me on each cheek, she whispered thank you to me and the sound of sincerity in her voice made me almost break down crying. Then I took a place on the benches behind her with the rest of court and watched as she had other gifts presented to her. The best part of her holding court was when the brother of one of the courtiers was there (her whole family came for the day) and when he presented himself to the Queen, he corrected himself and said his name was ‘Matt. Matthew.’ and all day long whenever we would see him, we would yell greetings to Matt Matthew! We saw him again at the Dancing With The Royals competition where I think he came in third place, then at the knighting ceremony where he became Sir Matt Matthew. And because he was young and good looking and now knighted, all the ladies of court would giggle and flirt with him hilariously and he played along and was just awesome.
I’m surprised I lasted all day in the full garb. Everyone seemed surprised it was my first day in a corset and full Elizabethan clothing, so that was cool. I guess I powered through pretty well. I did learn that you absolutely cannot bend at the waist when you are wearing a corset that is laced so tightly that you can’t breathe. Let’s just say it made visits to the privy rather interesting. I’m going to have corset marks for days, though. And I think I might have some bruising where the corset pressed into my hips and lower back. I had better posture than I’ve ever had in my life, though! Maybe I should wear a corset (a LOOSER corset) every day. I’d have amazing posture!
We ended the day with the pub sing where we would gather at the pub and each of the musical groups would come up for a song. The space is very limited so the Queen only takes a few of her ladies in waiting with her and I was picked to go! It was awesome. It’s definitely an experience I won’t forget and when I mentioned ‘Maybe I can come back and do it again one day next year,’ the Queen said she would love it and the court director (who was on court and I spent most of the day with and didn’t even realize that was her job!) actually clapped and bounced in her seat and said she’d love love love it if I did. So I apparently didn’t do a terrible job and embarrass everyone! It was a bit slow at first, I admit, where I was mostly watching everyone and taking cues from them, but by the end of the day I would stop and talk to people and gave out the rest of my Queen’s Rings (little rings we give to the children as gifts from Her Majesty) and they’d light up and be excited. I can’t wait to go back again next year! And it’s one more thing off my bucket list!