Peasant's Revel

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The History of Peasant’s Revel, a traditional Barony of Madrone Event

By Rowenna de Manning, Baroness of the Court, OL, OP, Lion

Written in January AS LIV (2020)

As a founding member of the Madrone Culinary Guild, I remember the establishment of the Guild at a meeting at St. Edwin’s Day Tourney in May, AS X (1977). As the historian of the Culinary Guild and keeper of the Guild Minutes,I remember many things and I have forgotten things. This document is taken from the Guild Minutes, my recollections, and Peasant’s Revel event copy in my files.

The idea of a casual revel event was first pitched at a Guild meeting on February 8, 1979, conceived because there were not every many activities in Madrone in the spring. “A simple revel or peasant’s banquet,” recorded in the minutes. “Seamus (now known as Duke Thorin) thought our event should have lot of entertainment and a large tasty stew, fruits, and bread.” Guild members applied for the date of Saturday, April 7. At the following meeting on February 22, we became more definite, “A peasant’s revel featuring a sumptuous stew, bread, fruit, cheese, and ‘bring your own ale’. The entertainment would be games….To add a subtle touch, the central idea of the affair is that the nobility will have an opportunity to ape their inferiors and go slumming.”

The first Peasant’s Revel was held at Gasworks Park in Seattle on the big lawn, on April 7, AS XII (1979) and at a nearby indoor hall (the location is forgotten) for the evening. About 100 people came to the event. Games included tug-of-war, clench-a-wench, a boffer melee, a game called Beat the Kettle, a “wenching race” (men carrying women while running to a finish line), and bardic performances. There followed an orange-rolling race, and a “Visitation by the Baron and Baroness” with the opportunity for the peasants to obsequiously and humorously pay their taxes. A substantial oxtail stew, which Guild members made the previous day, was heated up on camp stoves. A food line was made of the stew, pickled vegetables, cheese, and bread, for a price of $2.00. Then the outdoor event was rapidly packed up and the attendees all went to the indoor site, where there were more music performances and a storytelling contest.

The event was a success, and the Guild began to plan to hold another Peasant’s Revel to be held on August 9, 1980. We shifted the location to Cowen Park at the north end of the University District because a Guild member lived nearby, and we used her kitchen to make the stew and other food preparation. There were more than 100 attendees. The list of games as noted in the Guild Minutes: Tug-o-war; clench-a-wench; beat the kettle; twilsy-whopping; wenching race; three-legged race; tug-o-war (again); peasant dances; a Haute Baujois contest (that is, a vigorous French jig-like dance which participants continue until they drop, last one still standing wins); clench-a-wench again; and a beggar's contest after dinner. There was, again, a visitation by the Baron and Baroness. This event ended when the sun went down, although there was likely an “after-revel” for the hard-working Guild members at someone’s home.

As planning began for a third Peasant’s Revel, we realized we had started a very popular event but we could make it better. A comment in the minutes summed it up: The Guild talked about how well the second Peasants Revel went, but it was kind of disorganized. A comment written by the note-taker: "Rowenna thought there should be more and different games."

Structure and Village Names

At a Guild meeting in April 1982, planning for the next Peasant's Revel was on the agenda. There was discussion of making the event less like a high school games day and work on ways to make it feel more medieval: divide the attendees into two groups with group identities, have a town crier, have a theme. Two people who were present at that particular Guild meetings were expatriate Englishwoman Linda of London (who explained British culture to Seattleites through a local radio program and a column in the Queen Anne News) and her husband Hal. Here is what the minutes say, with notes in brackets of things I remember about the discussion: "We now begin a search for names for the two competing peasant villages. [People began to call out ideas, and the notetaker was writing rapidly.] Lechlaid, Little Piddle, Maidenhead, Greencommon, Borton on the Water, and Byebury are suggested. Morton in the Mud, Lower Slaughter, Slad, Skagness, Leighness, Whitsun (sic), Sodbury. [It is my recollection that both Borton on the Water and Sodbury were names that Linda of London offered. They are villages in the Cotwolds district of England.] The decision is made: Sodbury and Bourton-on-the-Water are our village names."

Over the next few years of presenting the event, we firmed up the scenario that is still in use at the Peasant’s Revel: two neighboring villages celebrating a day off from their work, playing village vs. village games, the winning village to gain a privilege that medieval English villagers would have valued. A character who is not sorted to a village (sometimes the Lay Sister from the Convent Down the Road, played by Rowenna) proclaims that the winning village will get extra days to pasture their sheep on the meadows. Later we used the scenario of Beating the Bounds -- a custom that we read about which took place in some parts of England, where village folk annually toured the boundaries of the common fields and the folks with long memories affirmed that the boundary markers of fields remained where they had customarily been. We instituted a brief ceremony at the start of the day to find the rock that marks the line that divides the common land of our two villages. The prize is that the winning village gets to move the rock so they have access to more pasture for a year.

Games played over the years

In the early 1980s, we tried to research what games medieval or Tudor English peasants might have actually played. We added games we found described in a few sources we located, and they remain favorites. One real medieval game we found was “Wet Rag on a Stick,” which is actually a dance. Another game we found in sources is the “Fritter Carry Race,” described as a race between two housewives running “through hedge and over stile” from one village to the other, each carrying a fritter balanced on a spatula. Lacking extensive countryside between our villages to make the race interesting, we turned it into a relay race. The other favorite race that was created out of some wicked inspiration by Randell Raye of Crianlarich, another Culinary Guild founding member, is “Spit in the Bucket,” a relay race in which members of the relay team for each village strives to fill a small bucket in the manner described in the name of the game, after filling their mouths with water.

We stopped playing Tug-of-War and boffer games because people seemed to be getting minor injuries too frequently. We dropped the wenching race and clench-a-wench, games that we realized were lacking respect.

Sheep and Cheese

Somewhere in the about the eighth or ninth year, we came up with the idea of a “Pass the Sheep” relay. Only….we needed two large, realistically heavy, sturdy and well-proportioned fake sheep. Randell Raye of Crianlarich made the two sheep needed, with sandbags inside them to give them weight. The game of Sheep Carry Relay entered the list of games, and is played by teams of about eight people who seek to advance the sheep from the start line to the turnaround line and back again without dropping the sheep, and everyone on the team has to participate in passing the sheep in the direction needed. This is a frantically brief and hilarous sight as team members pass the sheep on their forearms to the people ahead, then run around to the front of the line to pass the sheep forward again.

This led to a significant growth in the theme of Sheep, which made sense since we had placed our two villages in the sheep-raising country of west central England. Each spring after Easter, Guild members proactively acquired toy sheep on sale, until a recent inventory showed that we had accumulated more than 200 sheep. At Peasant’s Revel it became very entertaining: there was impromptu sheep silliness of various kinds, including sheep rustling, hide and hunt for the sheep, and children played with small herds of sheep. At the 40th anniversary Peasant’s Revel in AS LIV (2019), we gave a stuffed sheep to each attendee to keep as a memento.

In about 2009, the sport of cheese rolling was introduced at the event. Spike Zoetart originated the idea and procured a large wheel of cheese, taped it up sturdily, and we rolled the cheese down a hill at the park and chased it. This was both entertaining and terrifying, since we also proved that a wheel of cheese not caught when it is rolling will keep going – sometimes into the blackberry bushes, or will make it to the city street. We promptly chose a hill in the park with a backstop at the bottom, and the chasers both increased in skill and were given a better start on the chase. At the past few years’ Peasant Revels, two or three cheese wheels are paraded to the hill on a hurdle, with flags and a canopy, where repeated rollings of the cheeses are cheered, and cheeses are heroically caught. The rolled cheeses are later cut into portions for the event’s picnic dinner, and the rest distributed to the cheese sponsors. We think we do the only cheese rolling being done in North America.