England’s Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle

Review by Andy, Claire, Amelia (10) and Charlie (7) Paye


Having spent a fun-filled and eye-opening day at England’s Medieval Festival, it comes as no surprise to me to discover that the words ‘bawdy’ and ‘revelry’ originated in medieval times.  Thankfully the bawdiness did involve some innuendo so Charlie and Amelia’s education in medieval matters did not progress past the incredible weight of armour and the difficulty of shooting arrows in archery tag.  


England’s Medieval Festival was a riot of colour from the surprisingly, but apparently authentically, bright colours of the soldiers in the battle re-enactments – the better to be identified by your side and not therefore to be attacked by a fellow-soldier who can hardly see out of the slit in his visor– to the many costumes being worn by the living history participants, hoping to win a prize for their authentic depictions of everyday life in medieval times, and the punters who entered whole-heartedly into the spirit of the day.  


There was a full programme of events to keep all the family interested.  Our favourite was the battles, which were fascinating, if somewhat confusing, to watch.  Another top event was the skill at arms and knights jousting.  The mud pit performances demonstrated that even the weakest script can be enhanced if it is clear that the performers, who start the show ankle deep in mud, will end the show enjoying a full body mud spa treatment.  


What set England’s Medieval Festival apart for us from other days out was the whole-hearted involvement of many enthusiastic amateurs who had foregone 21st century living to wear medieval clothes, open their tents with their surprisingly comfortable-looking beds and beautiful rugs in them for all to view, cook over open fires and be prepared to answer the many questions we had about how people lived in medieval times.  We learnt that ‘handbags’ were literally bags in which women placed the hands they had cut off after battles to show the nobleman who had been killed, giving fresh vigour to the term ‘handbags at dawn’.  We staggered under the weight of the heavy armour which soldiers wore.  We played medieval games provided by The Hovel Household, whose hovel days seemed to be behind them given the number of children wanting to draw on their wax tablets (the original sort of tablet) and hack at wood with their axes.  


In fact, this is one event which seems to entertain parents even more than children.  There was an archery course for proper archers, the Buxom Wench beer tent was just warming up (see ‘revelry’, above) for the après-day programme activities – you can camp or glamp at the Festival, and the Do it Thyself workshops in basket-weaving, chain mailing and other activities were largely occupied by adults.  There is a Kids Kingdom featuring a magician, puppet show, have a go archery and medieval pony rides (very similar to 21st century pony rides), not to mention ‘the UK’s only rolling jousting horse’.  Some activities are chargeable but there is plenty to do without paying extra for anything.  


We have come away with the sense that the Middle Ages were a lot more fun than we realised and that people could achieve a good level of comfort, although it has to be said there weren’t many people prepared to dress up as dispossessed beggars, most of the enthusiastic re-enactors pitching themselves higher up the social scale.  The impressive setting for the Festival, in Herstmonceux Castle, leant the day an air of authenticity, whilst providing a fantastic backdrop for the battle scenes.  It is definitely worth buying the programme to learn more about everything that is on offer.  


Practically speaking, it wasn’t too crowded, there were no queues to drive in and there were buggies available for those who would struggle to walk up and down the hill to the castle and the events.  



England’s Medieval Festival is a fun day out which immerses you in the sights, although thankfully not the smells, of medieval England.  We’re now on the hunt for England’s Tudor Festival to continue our awareness of life in Merrie England.   


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