Mrs B.L. Thurston
Tel: 01325 378696
Thank you for your enquiry about Rosa Mundi Historical Interpretation Society. Below are details regarding membership and our activities. I hope you find them useful.
As you may be aware, the society specialises in the period 1475-1500 and our demonstrations are set within this time-scale. As a society we aim to provide a vision of history which is both informative and entertaining, pleasing to the senses and which brings the past to life. We perform a wide range of "living history" displays including domestic, military and commercial.
The society has a constantly increasing membership which ranges from small children to those of retirement age and above, recreating the close knit community to be found in any mediaeval household. All levels of society are represented here from the beggar and the humble billman to the lord of the castle and his lady. At any event various crafts and skills may be demonstrated and new members are encouraged to "apprentice" themselves, as it were, to experienced members in order to "learn the ropes" and develop confidence in responding to enquires from the public. We recommend that new members try their hand at the "lower station" roles initially; not from any sense of snobbery but simply because these roles are actually easier when one is starting re-enactment for the first time. The great hall roles require considerable wide-ranging, yet in-depth knowledge of the period and our experience shows that visitors ask their most complex questions here. However, any member who has the necessary knowledge and skills is more than welcome to join the great hall staff
To aid us in our re-creation of everyday life in the late fifteenth century, Rosa Mundi has amassed an extensive range of paraphernalia including utensils, trunks, carpets and artwork, many items of which are specially commissioned replicas of original pieces. This equipment is available for the use of all members. However, we suggest that after a short time individuals purchase such personal items as clothing, pottery, bowls, spoons, combs etc..
Rosa Mundiís presentations depict all levels of mediaeval society. Within the great hall, gentle pastimes such as backgammon, chess, tarrocco (a card game) and merrils may be played. As mediaeval man became more literate, writing became more common and examples of some of the scripts used may be demonstrated by the members of the society. The ability to dance was considered an essential part of courtly manners and the dances we are able to perform vary from the simplicity of the "branles" (circle dances) to the complexity of the Burgundian "bass dances". These dances, games and skills may be learned by members at events or by attending some of the societyís regular meetings or out-of-season workshops.
The turbulence of the period means that no display of fifteenth century life would be complete without a display of military skill and prowess. Every household of a reasonable size would have maintained a trained, armed guard who would wear the livery of that household (in Rosa Mundiís case we have adopted the livery of Lord Scrope [pronounced Scroop] of Bolton Castle in Wensleydale). This is under the command of the Captain and his subordinate, the vintner, who actually has direct charge of the military contingent at most events, other than battle re-enactment. Once again, the society has equipment available for the new recruit to borrow while he finds his feet. The society has an ambivalent position regarding those women who wish to take part in military roles: at "living history" events no cross-dressing is possible. However, the male generic used above is simply a matter of grammatical correctness. For large scale battle re-enactments we are more than happy for women to take part in combat in whatever role they choose; billman, archer, gunner, hand-gunner or skirmisher. There is, as one might expect, a proviso here that all women should be convincingly disguised i.e.. in male attire (at some large-scale battle re-enactments the host society may request that women wear their normal mediaeval costume and not male attire) and no nail varnish or make up etc..
The kitchen area at an event is full of noise and bustle with all the work involved in feeding a mediaeval household. This includes the preparation of meat and vegetables for the pottage and the bolting of flour to make the fine white breads (pandemain) for the lord's table. The mediaeval cook had to cope with the effect of seasonal variation in foods available, using imported herbs and spices to compensate for the repetitive supply of dried and salted meats over winter. A variety of foodstuffs and luxury goods were imported from all areas of the known world, in particular from the Orient through Venice, from North Africa through Portugal and the Low Countries. Another consideration for the mediaeval kitchen staff was the importance of adhering to the religious conventions of the period which require abstinence from meat on at least one day a week and during all of Lent. In order to ensure the accuracy of the food consumed during "performance time" the society provides the main meal of the day (usually three removes unless thereís a catastrophe). Individual members are expected, however, to provide their own breakfast and supper (unless otherwise informed) and the society has cooking facilities which are available to all.
In all the displays that Rosa Mundi present we place great stress upon accuracy of information and authenticity of costume and equipment. In order to reconstruct the mediaeval period effectively , accuracy of clothing is essential. Garments were viewed as a means of emphasising social position and affluence and as the merchant classes increased in wealth their finery began to rival that of the nobles. The knightly classes passed many sumptuary laws (apparently largely ignored) limiting the type and quantity of fabric and fur that could be used by each social group. The society has done much research to ensure costumes worn by members are as authentic as possible. As there are few surviving examples of mediaeval clothing, we have used manuscript and documentary evidence to construct patterns which we believe follow techniques which would have used in this period. All the costumes are produced in fabrics which would have been available to the mediaeval mercer and we feel that the use of such materials as wool, silk, linen, and velvet (both cotton and silk types) ensures that the garments both look and feel correct. We are aware that the construction of oneís first mediaeval garment is both worrying and time-consuming (it still takes experienced members time to pluck up the courage to start a new costume!) and to allow new members time to "try out" the hobby, the society has a stock of clothing available for their use.
There is also a handbook available to new members, this is included as part of your membership and is paid for in your first year's fee. It contains patterns to size up and hints on construction and help is always available for those who get into difficulties (on a personal note-I have made all [and I mean all] of the available mistakes!). There is of course, for those with more money than time, a list of costumiers who will produce clothing to the standard required.
The society possesses several mediaeval tents which are used as "props" during performances but which are also available for use by members when camping, although one needs to be aware of the communal nature of this accommodation. It is possible to use contemporary "plastic" tenting although this usually needs to be taken down during the day and erected anew each night: for those not familiar with camping modern tents may be available for loan. There are also properties, for example Aydon Castle, where we are permitted to sleep in the building we are occupying, which is very convenient (and certainly adds to the "atmosphere" of the site!).
Rosa Mundi is a society which is renowned for its friendly and hospitable atmosphere: a feature which carries over from the events themselves into the evenings entertainment. Here we get our main chance to socialise; exchange stories, songs and information, making it possible for friendships to grow and develop between members.
I hope that this letter answers most of your queries but if there is any more information you require please do not hesitate to contact me at the address above or give me a ring.
B.L. Thurston (Secretary)