Q: Why do you do it?
A: There are probably as many answers to
that as there are re-enactors. But their answer always includes the social
aspect. Re-enactors are a group of people who do something ‘odd’ together,
and anyone can fit in. There is no particular social class involved:
manual labourers perform alongside people in ‘professional’ occupations.
Any group usually includes quiet geeks who are fascinated by the
technical aspects, and hearty warriors in it for the fighting and
drinking. There are shy, supportive characters who like to feel they are
part of a team, and outgoing poseurs who love to stand up and be the
centre of attention. In a good society, the need for all these types is
appreciated, and they all fit together and share the fun.
Q:Do you need to know the history?
A:Hardly anyone comes with a full-blown
knowledge of the historical period before they start re-enacting. They
decide that what they see looks like fun, and they come along to try
fighting, or medieval cookery, or whatever sparks their interest. They
stay at the back at first, listening as others talk to the public,
learning as they go along. Most gradually become more interactive as they
learn, at first just talking to one or two people about what they are
doing, and then to small groups, sometimes progressing to full-fledged
narrators at the centre of attention for some part of the display.
Q: How much does it cost to be a re-enactor?
A: The best armour costs about £7,500 a suit, and you could easily use another £2,500
worth of weapons, costumes, camping kit etc. But very few people spend
that much. Most societies have some kit for beginners to borrow till they
see if they enjoy the hobby. Once they decide to invest, people usually
start small: basic costume (apart from boots) can be bought for around
£100, or made for £25 by anyone competent at sewing. Boots are the most
difficult part of costumes to borrow, but you can buy them for £75 or make
your own with £15 worth of leather and some instruction from other members
of your society. You’ll need £30 worth of dining equipment (bowl, knife,
spoon & mug). Of course, you don’t need any of these until you start
going to shows. This outlay is a one-off: your kit should last for several
years if you take care of it.
Medieval or earlier combatants also need
a helmet (£150), gauntlets (£50), gambeson (£100+) and weapons – KIB
members can use the Society’s weapons. Higher-tech (Napoleonic, etc.)
re-enactors don’t need the armour, but will need shotgun licences before
they can buy their weapons or ammunition.
Your annual membership fee
usually covers the use of practice facilities, and all instruction
provided by the society, although some groups charge a fee for each
practice you attend to keep their membership subs low. KIB membership fees
are discounted for shows attended in the previous year. We even pay travel
expenses to shows, and provide food to those taking part in most of our
events. Not all groups do this, or even have regular practices.
Q: Is it dangerous?
A: No. Obviously, there are some dangers involved
in any pastime, but any reputable society will train you to make sure that
although the fighting looks dangerous, it is as safe as possible. Because
most medieval groups are members of at least one ‘umbrella’ organisation
(Knights In Battle are in the Early Medieval Alliance and the Wars of the
Roses Federation), combat techniques are agreed so that fighters can meet
other groups on the battlefield and fight to the same safety standards.
Combatants will take the occasional bruise or small cut, but the
average combatant is damaged much less often than players of sports like
football or hockey, and big injuries (like broken bones) are extremely
Q: So it’s a sport, then?
A: We usually describe our
combat as an English martial art. Think of it like judo or karate - except
that it’s not a contact sport, so you’re less likely to be hurt. It’s good
for upper-body strength and mobility, balance, and hand-eye coordination.
Once you’ve developed enough technique and arm-strength to fight at full
speed for a reasonable length of time, it becomes good for cardiovascular
development too. It also develops both physical and mental
self-confidence: standing up in character in front of a crowd helps you in
the real world!
Q: Standing up in character? Do I have to learn lines and follow a script?
A: Most societies’ re-enactment shows
don’t use set lines, except for narrators, who can read from a script. You
play in character, to an outline script. We may tell you to argue with
Master Black, but you only have to remember what you are supposed to be
arguing about. What words you use are up to you.
Q: What part will I play?
A: Whatever you want, as long as you
can play it well, and it fits in with our insurance requirements (see the
next two questions). Your character must be historically correct for the
medieval era - no witches or gladiators. Some years ago, some of our
members decided to bring their interest in medieval cookery to the fore,
and now much of the show rotates around them. We are even building shows
entirely on a medieval cookery basis.
The rule is that as long as
you have suitable kit and can play the character convincingly, you can be
whoever you like, as long as they would be found with a small group of
household troops. Unlike some societies, there’s no requirement to serve a
set amount of time in supporting roles before you move up to a named
position, or wait till one of the designated ‘knights’ retires.
Q: Can I joust?
A: No. KIB is a foot-combat group. We don’t have any
horses, and have no intention of becoming a jousting group because of the
Q: Do you use guns?
A: No. Although there
were guns (both cannon and handguns) around in the 15th Century, KIB has
no members with firearms, and our insurance excludes them.
Q: Do you do archery?
A: Yes. As an archer, you will be target-shooting
in our own shows, but you can shoot at live moving targets in battle
re-enactments! As long as you use ‘blunts’, of course: arrows fitted with
rubber blunt tips and oversized flights to slow them down.
Bows are restricted in draw-weight to 55lb if you want to use them in battle
re-enactments. Most of our archers prefer draw weights of about 40lb.
There is no limit to the draw weight for target shooting, but if you can
draw them, authentic 120lb+ longbows may push the arrows into the targets
further than you can pull them out! You can shoot short-, long-, or
cross-bows, as long as they are authentically made.
Q: Can my kids come?
A: We welcome all ages of participants, and have a good
family atmosphere. There are children at most of our events. We have one
family where three generations attend regularly. Following the medieval
system of training nobility, KIB grades people by their age:
Under 8: Camp-followers. They will stick with their ‘mother’: arrangements must
be made for young children to be supervised at all times.
8-11: Page. Can start learning to fight under close supervision, but at combat events
they will stay clear of the action and must be supervised by an adult.
12-15: Squire. Learning to fight, and may fight in public under
supervision, but not on a battlefield or tournament. (This is due to
insurance requirements as well as historical accuracy.)
16+: Knight. Once they have passed their fighting test, they may fight at any event
(unless the organising society’s insurance states otherwise).
Any member under 16 must be accompanied by an adult, both at practice evenings
and at events.
Q: How much time do I need to commit myself for?
A: Combatants will be expected to attend weekly training sessions
more often than not, and will not be allowed to fight in public if they
have been neglecting their practice. Unlike many groups, we have training
sessions every week at an indoor facility: two and a half hours on
Wednesday nights. Non-combatants need only keep in touch and attend
practices as they feel the need, but we do recommend you come as often as
possible to get to know people and what’s going on.
There are also between ten and twenty shows and battles in the average year, almost all
of them at weekends in the ‘season’. Our season generally stretches from
the late May bank holiday to mid-September. You will be asked to attend as
many of them as you can, but attendance at shows is not compulsory. Some
people do come along just for the fun and exercise of training.
Q: How do I learn to fight?
A: Fight training is the main function of
our weekly practices. You will be instructed by the Swordmaster and other
experienced fighters. We start with the broadsword: it’s a good
general-purpose weapon which builds up your arm and reflexes, and the
training teaches you to ‘read’ your opponent’s intentions from their body
language. The fight safety test is taken with the broadsword: if you pass
KIB’s test, you’ll be safe against any opponent, even those from other
groups. The test proves not only that you can defend yourself, but that
you can control your weapon well enough not to hurt anyone else.
Once you’ve learned to use the broadsword to a satisfactory
standard, weapons like the axe and mace follow easily as the style we use
is broadly similar to the broadsword. The bill is an easy weapon to learn
to use at a basic level, but more difficult to master. Shield and buckler
are essential additions to broadsword skill. Other weapons are also used:
the quarterstaff is much more complex than you might expect. All these are
taught as a regular part of our practices.
Q: Can women fight?
A: Yes. However, if they want to fight in public, we require that
they be as convincingly disguised as possible: we don’t allow anyone
dressed as a woman to fight because it is not historically accurate. But
our battle-line regularly includes a couple of ‘Bobs’.
Q: What about the people with disabilities
A: That depends on the disability. Our
practice hall is fully accessible to the disabled, but you must be aware
that most of the events we attend take place on open fields or in historic
sites where no consideration was made for disabled access. The limitations
of authentic equipment must also be taken into account: there were no
medieval wheelchairs or guide dogs! However, if your disability does not
stop you portraying a medieval character convincingly, you will be
Q: How important is authenticity?
A: Very important.
The Society’s general approach is that if it looks
wrong to an intelligent member of the public, it is wrong for the show,
even if you can produce historical precedents. You can’t tell everyone who
sees you the full story of your authenticity. Hundreds of people will see
something which looks wrong, say nothing, and go away to tell their
friends “their show isn’t realistic because…”
To some extent, this
conflicts with our aim to educate the public. But simply knowing that
something is right and then re-enacting it without explanation doesn’t
educate anyone. The Society looks bad because the public don’t have the
knowledge to appreciate what they are seeing. The only way in which
something which looks wrong can be justified is if it is part of a planned
event which gives the full story – like a School Day, when our members
literally have the chance to explain to every single person who sees them
why what they are seeing isn’t as wrong as they think it is.
An example is women fighters. There are examples of women who took part in
combat in medieval times: mostly on the receiving end of sieges. The
desperate need for fighting strength overcame the expectation that women
would stay in their traditional roles. Some groups say that since it did
happen, women should be allowed to fight dressed as women. But since the
public don’t know about those few examples, people believe that they are
historically inaccurate, so women fighters would make the Society look
Because of this, the Society’s policy is that all women who
want to fight in our shows or under our banner in battles must dress as
men. All we ask is that they disguise themselves as convincingly as they
can. This, of course, is historically accurate. It is best-documented
during the Napoleonic era, but it also happened earlier. If Anne Bonney
could get away with it aboard a pirate ship, it should be no trouble in
the field with a medieval army.
As far as costume and equipment
goes, we are pretty strict. It doesn’t take an expert to recognise
galvanised armour or polyester fabric and know it’s not right. Bad costume
always stands out, and it isn’t that difficult to get it right. It’s just
as easy to make or buy stuff to the right pattern in the right materials
as it is in the wrong material or pattern. Advice is always available from
more experienced members of KIB.
Q: Where do you sleep?
A: When we stay overnight at a show, most people sleep in the medieval tents.
Those who have their own tents use them, the others share the communal
tents. (There’s usually plenty of room.) Others choose to bring modern
tents, but they have to be cleared away before the audience arrives.
Camper vans, caravans and B&B are other options, but may not be close
to the camp. For those who like an early and quiet night, this could be an
advantage: the campfire is the core of KIB’s social life in the summer,
and may go on late into the night.
Q: Do I need my own transport?
A: Obviously, your own vehicle would be an advantage. But it’s
easy to get to our practices by public transport, and we can arrange lifts
to events, so not having it wouldn’t be a serious problem.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: You won’t get an answer to that
question from any reputable re-enactment group without giving more details
of your requirements. What do you want us to do? (This will affect the
amount of equipment we need to bring, which may change the number of vans
we need to hire to transport it.) Where is the show? (Affects the fuel
cost to get there.) What time do you need us to start and finish
performing? (We may have to budget for an extra day’s van hire and plan
for an overnight stay.) Do you need us on a weekday? (This costs more as
we have to compensate people for missing work.)
However much we
answer, be assured that we are very good value for money. KIB are not
professional entertainers, in the sense that the re-enactors aren’t paid
for most events. (We do have a very professional attitude.) All you are
paying is our expenses. If you hire jugglers, clowns, fire-eaters, etc.
they rely on that work for their income: you will have to pay their wages
as well as expenses. The whole show therefore costs as little as two or
three individual entertainers.
Q: What will you do?
A: KIB are very flexible. As you can see elsewhere on this website, we will
perform a short and very entertaining 13th-century tournament, or an
extensive 15th-century Living History camp. We’ll do comic plays for
weddings or street theatre, whodunnits for an intensely involving
experience, or lectures for schools or social groups (Local History
societies, Women’s Institute, Rotary groups…).
We can, if the site
is appropriate, tailor the show to the history of the venue. This most
often happens when we are performing Murder Mysteries at castles and
similar historic sites: the plot involves the actual history of the site.
If you hire us for TV or film projects, we will not only save you
money on your wardrobe budget by bringing our own costumes and equipment,
but we will save you time because we are used to working to direction. We
are organised and have a very professional attitude. We know how to direct
ourselves, and any other extras assigned to work with us, to fulfil the
needs of the production. There is good guidance on hiring re-enactors for
film and TV work here.
Q: Will you work on weekdays?
A: As noted in the answer to “how much does it cost?”, KIB will work on
weekdays, but will charge per head rather than a flat fee for the whole
society. This is because we need to compensate people for time off work.
We regularly do school history days, for example, which obviously need to
be done in the week, and have performed at product launches and business
conferences on weekdays.
Q: What will we need to supply?
A: We turn up with as much equipment as we need to do the show,
including our own PA and boundary ropes. The only things we generally need
from organisers are access to toilets and a supply of drinking water. If
there is to be cooking as part of the show, we would also appreciate a
good supply of firewood.
Q: Do you have insurance?
A: Yes. We have £5 million Public Liability Insurance.
Q: Can you supply references?
A: We will be glad to supply you with the contact
details of event organisers who have used us recently. You can contact
them yourself to be sure that you are getting an unedited report.