Re-enactment is more than just replaying history

Re-enactment is a hobby which mixes both tussling and fun. It is that combination which brings about a rather special atmoshphere. Still historical accuracy is a must and the practicioners do take medieval life serious. “Originally it was quite a flashy display, but nowadays we do want to be as correct as possible.”

Medieval re-enactment group, the Hagelanders, group at the Elzenhof of Aarschot. The bad weather does not stop the club from training. After they got all their equipment out of the shed they start the warm-up. After running a couple of laps they start playing a game called of bulldog, followed by the real training: archery and swordfighting. The members try to dodge every swing by dipping and diving away. Bruises and wounds are just part of the hobby. And the Hagelanders do love to take their time in order to talk about it.

A passion for medieval era

Swordfighting, an interest in the medieval times, or just a way to pass the time. Every single member has their own reason to start re-enacting. For Jonas Van Wyngaerden, freefighting and showfights are among the top reasons to start. He started with HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts), but broadened his interests and started re-enacting. “Swordfighting is as imposing as ever,” says Jonas. “You can compare it to dance, which is equally as beautiful to see and do.”

Andreas Rabaey on the other hand, joined because of a friend at the Hogeschool PXL. “Wow, swords,” was his first reaction when he started out. “The most fun thing is to just beat someone on the battlefield and reign victorious.”

On the contrary to Rabaey and van Wyngaerden, Ivo Pauwels has a different reason altogether for joining with the Hagelanders. “My former husband passsed away,” says Pauwels. “I then started re-enacting to keep myself busy instead of falling into a vacuum.” Ivo is one of the archers in the group, but it is not just firing arrows that appeals to him. “Re-enacting is also being part of a group that supports you. And that is exactly what these people have done for me.”

So, re-enacting is not just bashing in skulls or walking around in a costume. Especially for the Hagelanders it is a passion, a hobby and a tightly knit group. Although the community is the most important aspect.

It is not just fighting

There is obviously a bit of history attached to the Hagelanders. They formed twenty years ago under Yvonne Janssens and are one of Flanders’ oldest re-enactment groups. They are focused on the medieval age, finding their roots in the similarly named band of mercenaries from 1489. Together with her husband, Janssens thought medieval re-enactment could use a change back in the eighties.

Instead of knitted mail, wooden swords and big, cheap wooden shields, it became time to bring historical accuracy in the game. With that thought in the back of Yvonne’s head the Hagelanders became the trendsetters in Belgium of what has become modern re-enactment. “Back in the day it was all about flashy displays. Nowadays that is still the basis, though we do strive for a 100% accurate display,” says Janssens.

Enemies are actually friends

That everything has to take place as historical as possible is quite obvious. When the Hagelanders go ‘campaigning’, they head to France, England, the Netherlands and obviously Belgium. “Encampments abroad are obviously the biggest ones, especially the ones in France and England,” says member Jef Denruyter. “These are fights of a thousand against a thousand, which seems to be the real deal.” In Belgium and the Netherlands it is all a bit smaller. Most of the time you are battling with about two hundered men and women.”

Encampments then are more social happenings. “You set up all the equipment necessary, but afterwards we simply talk and drink with the other groups,” says Denruyter. During the first day you might take a stroll on the medieval market, or just watch all the craftsmen while enjoying a pint. On the second day it gets a lot rougher, because that is when the re-enactors have their skirmish for a big audience.

This is not regular combat though, but something these hobbyists call freefighting. This essentially means that you can do whatever you want as long as it is not dangerous. If it is, you will be sent off the field. “Of course accidents happen,” says Jef. “We have all had our fair share of broken bones and bruises.” This is why you lie down on the ground and pretend you are dead. Then, once one of the assigned commanders blows the horn you are free to get up and stumble back to your side. “At that moment we are each others’ worst enemy, but after the battle we’ll return to being the bestest of friends,” says Denruytrer.

Entertainment does sell

Then again, for the Hagelanders re-enacting is not just pretending live in the feudal era. The club also does shows at primary schools and companies. This is where the so-called showfighting comes in, a choreographic way of fighting. “We always talk about what is going to happen,” Denruyter explains. “Every now and then we just toss each other on the ground or clash.” It is like a small play for the viewers, which is always entertaining for the little kids.

“These kinds of fights always happen outside the season,” says Jef. “With the money we get from these events, we can buy new equipment and food for the encampments and training.” Hence why this source of income forms the basis of the club’s existence.

“I myself tend to look at the fashion from those days,” Jef announces. Then again it is not a surprise to see people running around in medieval clothing during one of the camps. During these camps it is also commonplace to see craftsmen showing and selling their trade during these events. It is during the shows, but most of all during the camps that re-enacting becomes a lifestyle itself.

In that sense people might even completely change themselves, both from the in and the outside. Most people do tend to stay themselves though. “Everyone has their own passion, their own reason to be re-enacting,” explains Denruyter. “In my opinion it is that reason and the freedom of re-enacting that makes it so interesting.”

Original Dutch version

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