Arundel Castle: A Call to Arms, Knights and Crusaders

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Winter is coming! Okay, that’s a lie, it’s spring in England and the weather was perfect this Easter. So perfect that I ventured out to explore one of the most famous castle grounds in the country – Arundel Castle. Situated on a hill in West Sussex, Arundel Castle goes back all the way to 1067 and commands your attention when entering the historic village.

Arundel castle

From April 20 – 22 the castle’s grounds were turned into a 12th-century encampment that reenacted preparations ahead of the Third Crusade by Richard the Lionheart, King of England. The setting boasted demonstrations of archery, falconry and combat and allowed visitors to get a real feel of the world back then. Okay, that’s probably not completely true. I can imagine 12th century England smelt a whole lot worse than what I experienced. No, what I was breathing in were the wafts of fresh tulips and the smells of cooking foods, not horse shit and death.

Medieval food prepared for the participants included bread and stew. I noted no stray dogs or cats around.

Falconry with a… You guessed it, a falcon. They also had hunting owls. Apparently, last year during the demonstration two doves got a little too close and ended up as fast food, much to the dismay of the little kiddies. I laughed hard when we were told this and got some discouraging looks from parents.

Hunting owl. You do not want those talons anywhere near you…

By far the biggest attractions were the knights and Crusaders, formed by the Raven Tor Living History Group. They demonstrated the art of bows and the sword in temperatures that can’t have been comfortable, but all with humour! We had one knight mocking archers who failed to land an arrow anywhere near him until a young boy managed to silence him with an arrow to his knee shield.

Back in the 12th century, archers went for frequency and not accuracy, with most bowmen able to fire off between 6-10 shots a minute. The reason for the low tally is because longbows take so much effort to fire. In the above picture, the archers were given a minute to fire as many arrows as possible, with the chap on the far left managing 13. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider armies might have had 6000 archers they were able to fire off up to 42,000 arrows per minute. Imagine that hail of hell coming at you!

I chatted to one of the knights afterwards and he said getting hit by a flattened/blunt arrow was like being hit by a paintball fired at about 10 cms, so pretty painful. Interestingly, one of the armourers told me that ‘chainmaille’ (old spelling) wasn’t that useful against a pointed arrow, which is of course why they also had shields. This is what I found most interesting about the day, having a skilled smith actually making armour in front of us.

You can just about see a few different types of chainmaille here. On the left is the most common, found during the middle ages. It’s made by intertwining circular links with 3 others to create a defensive ‘web’. Now as an experienced armourer he should be able to just pump these our, right? Wrong. He said he is able to create about 100 links an hour. Not bad, but when you consider a large vest is made from up to 10,000 links that is a huge undertaking! Interestingly he said that the majority of chainmaille is made in India and then shipped around the world. I held one vest and it was between 25-30 kgs, so very heavy.

Visitors at the festival were also able to try out some of the weapons and armour so I jumped at the chance to fire off some arrows; it’s not as easy as you might think. Longbows are bloody difficult to fire and require the right stance and form so as to not hurt yourself. I was quite happy that I was able to hit the second most inner circle on my second show. We won’t talk about the first and last as they are still probably embedded in the castle wall.

One of the great things about living in England is the number of these events that take place annually. For example, today is St George’s Day and many similar events will be taking place across the country. In a few weeks, Arundel will be hosting a jousting and battle reenactment which I will be sure to also attend.

Last Updated: April 23, 2019

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