The Magic of the Ohio Renaissance Festival
I parked my car on a rolling hill and then descended into the year 1572. A journey that far back into the village of Willy-Nilly-on-the-Wash was neither as long nor as tiresome as I had expected. The hoots and hollers of youngsters banging about with wooden swords echoed and withdrew into the expectant day. The village was awakening and kitchen wenches scuttled and rushed, unintentionally dusting the ground with their long, gathered skirts as they readied for the day. A chandler called out for me to inspect his fine selection of candles and sundries. Another merchant hailed me to his perfumery, extolling the virtues of his soaps and scents, cataloging the ingredients and their attributes.
I roamed the village from gate to gallows. The festive atmosphere of this crossroads fair was an almost equalizing element for patrons and peasants alike. This was an especially eventful day as Queen Elizabeth was making a tour through the area, called a Progress. The Progress served three important functions. The Queen could walk among her constituents, exerting her authority among the nobles and peasants. It also saved the royal house an enormous amount because the villages and nobility paid all of the costs for the Queen’s extended visits. The third, less talked about reason was that it took the Queen away from the odorous conditions present in London during high summer.
The sound of lutes, flutes, gitterns and guitars resonated and vied for attention. Vendors called out, cajoling and extolling the passers by with the singular quality of their wares. An exotic, tattooed woman worked her muscles into a sinuous sweat turning the round-a-bout for some wide-eyed waifs. All around, there was movement, colour, and curiosity, but I was scheduled to meet up with some acquaintances from the past.
Sir Walter Raleigh was the first to respond to my invitation for an impromptu interview. He strode through the trail of dust created by the grooms leading a string of horses out to graze. As he parted the sunlit haze, I was struck by the shimmering similarities of his entrance to that of a man crossing through the mists of time. His embroidered doublet and brilliant breeches revealed a man of great social stature as the gold buttons of his vest caught the sun, throwing rich reflections onto the dirty faces of the coarsely dressed urchins as they ran past. We took a seat on the rough-hewn bench in front of the Rose and Crown and a bit of irony became evident; the man that brought tobacco back to England was a non-smoker.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Sir Francis Drake made their arrival a short time later, with bluster and a torrent of familiar, good-natured sniping. They went on for a time, reflecting on past conquests and jibing the others about their shortcomings. Sir Francis reminded Sir Walter that on one of his expeditions, he had to dump his ballast overboard and replace it with silver. Raleigh shot back that at least he hadn’t died of dysentery. The Earl of Leicester cheerfully chimed in that dysentery was such an awful way to go, but not nearly so much as having your head and body part ways under the executioner’s axe, such as Raleigh had. Drake came to Raleigh’s aid pointing out that at least they didn’t utilize the forces of gravity and a sturdy stairwell as a means to divorce their wife. The Earl became somewhat indignant and twirled the waxed ends of his curled mustache, stating that nothing had ever been proven in that particular case.
I had hoped to include Lettice Knolleys in on the conversation, but as she approached our group, the Queen’s retinue, replete with guards, the Privy Chamber, and a number of unofficial court patrons, suddenly appeared. I found it quite odd that Sir Walter Raleigh chanced a shy smile and a hidden wave to Bess Throckmorton, one of Elizabeth’s colloquial court attendants. The mild flirtations were bizarre because, in 15 and 72, Raleigh and Bess were barely in their early adulthood. It was not until far later that they would secretly marry, infuriating the Queen. In 1618, political intrigues between Spain and England conspired to lead Raleigh to the executioner. Bess, being the devoted wife, stored Raleigh’s head in a leather satchel for twenty-nine years until death finally claimed her.
My musings were quickly interrupted by the Queen’s shrill upbraiding of Lettice due to one of Lettice’s entourage imprudently clothing herself in the Queen’s colours. You could see Elizabeth’s thinly masked hatred for Lettice beaming through, entwined with the puerile satisfaction of being able to publicly humiliate her. Lettice bore the abuse, humbly bowing her acquiescence to Elizabeth. After Elizabeth’s guards parted a path for the Queen, Lettice and her maiden’s swept themselves away in a blush of indignation.
The Queen’s tirade put somewhat of a damper on the conversation and everyone soon parted ways; they to the past they chose to repeat, and I to the present that I am compelled to create. The one thing that I am left with, over and above the sights, sounds and experiences, are the people who comprise the crossroads festival. The amount of skill and research and devotion that they have endured to be able to take us all on this ubiquitous journey into the past is almost unfathomable and a debt not easily repaid. To them, huzzah!
Sir Francis Drake is played by Charley Brough, Sir Walter Raleigh is played by Dave Smith, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester is played by Micheal Dean Conley, Lettice Knolley is played by Ame Ahner.