The town of Dinthwaite is a small, fictional fief used by the group as its manorial seat. This gives every member a common location from which to draw their impression and gives the group impression unity and cohesiveness. Regardless of the status or nature of an individual’s impression, in feudal fashion, every member can identify their role in the social fabric of Dinthwaite. Even representing the smallest of fiefs still allows individual members versatility in what they can portray as the environs naturally include the manor house itself, the commons, peasant’s homes, mills, workshops, forests, waterways, etc. Every member has the lord’s retinue, upper and lower household staff, laborers, craftsmen, farmers, landholders, woodsmen, and more to choose from as inspiration from which to draw individual living history impressions. Our timeframe is 1400 – 1420
The name “Dinthwaite” is a conjugation of the common name prefix “din” of welsh origin referring to a fort and the Old Norse suffix “thwaite” meaning woods or forest popular in northwestern England, the name Dinthwaite is as a nod to the location of the town in the forests of Cheshire county. Rumored to have been founded for King Henry II in the 11th century during the conflicts with the Welsh, Dinthwaite began as a small fort in a clearing of the woods between Chester and Nantwich near the River Gowy. In the centuries since Dinthwaite has grown and settled, with the manor house and surrounding village expanding some, and has remained a small but proud knightly holding. Since Sir Leo Aylin, also known as The Turnip of Terror, took over the holdings the manor house has developed the affectionate nickname “Neep Manor.”
A medieval household consists of the lord and those in his service. Maintaining the portrayal of an exemplar of the “default” medieval country household, Neep Manor is divided into an upper and lower household.
The upper house worked directly for the manor’s lord. These types of roles included the Chamberlain, chamber staff, household knights and squires and sergeant men-at-arms, etc. They tended to be from equal to slightly lower social class as the lord himself. Service of this type was a stage in the training and development of rising or aspiring nobility and gentry. These types of positions require higher status impressions, be they yeoman level common impressions or lower-level gentry impressions. Male members of the upper house would accompany the lord in military service and as such are required to bear arms and have an appropriate martial impression as well (see equipment standards.)
The lower house was the gears and lifeblood which made the operation of the actual manor house as a functioning entity possible. This also makes up the bulk of manor’s population as they were the cooks, the grooms, the stable hands, the laundresses, the scullery maids, the pantlers, the bakers, and the servants performing all the other menial and domestic household tasks. Certain offices are held by members of the lower house acting as, or officially appointed as, stewards, seneschals, treasurers, comptrollers, marshals, etc. Impressions of the lower house would be of un-landed members of the serf and free tenant level (see equipment standards.)
“We are members of a Cheshire, England household circa 1400 – 1420…” but what is an Impression?
There are a variety of terms used in living history and reenactment circles and they all tend to reference the same general concept: who and what are you purporting to be and how do we bring history to life? The terms we tend to use are impression or portrayal, as we are portraying historical concepts and communicating (using technical skills, clothing, equipment, etc.) what our impression of a person in a certain time and from a certain social class may have been like based on our knowledge and research.
The fascination with medieval history, and thus the living history and reenactment of the medieval period, can tend to skew towards the manor’s lord and those in direct relation to him as well as those involved in the operation of the household. However, a medieval fief is far more than the household itself, and while the manor may have a dozen or two people who live and work in it, the community over which the lord rules comprises hundreds or thousands of peasants who farm the land and process any made goods. As such, members of the group can choose to portray impressions from the myriad of duties required outside the manor.
Most peasants in a medieval fief were predominantly farmers, and so most country impressions would be agricultural impressions. However, many peasants had professions they enterprise in above and beyond their required feudal farming obligations or instead of them, by paying others to do their labor for them. Country impressions can be of builders, those who work and run the mill, woodsmen and huntsmen, those involved in animal husbandry, artisans of various stripes from industry to artistry, cooks and bakers and brewers, ferrymen, fishermen, etc. These impressions range from landed cotters and virtagers to un-landed serfs and free tenants and impressions can range in level from bound serf to yeoman depending on the success and status of the individual impression (see equipment standards.)
The Military Company
Both noble and common impressions alike participate in war. While a gentry’s impression must have a martial impression as well, a commoner is not always expected or required to have military equipment and can have just a civilian impression. The arrangement of troops in English armies during the Hundred Year’s War is a subject of debate, exacerbated by a lack of standardization and variation in their form even between major conflicts. However, a distinction existed between the ways troops organized for battle and how they organized for campaign. Individual lords raised campaigning troops as lances, the exact size, number, and ratio variable based on a prearranged contract between each knight or esquire and whomever they were in service to. The English did not fight large engagements as these lances, though they would sometimes raid and pillage in this configuration in a tactic known as chevauchée. Before a pitched battle, the troops from each lance would be turned over to enlistment and arranged up into groups of like or specifically mixed troops and organized into blocks of the 20s, 100s, 1000s, etc. with appointed captains, vintenars, centenars, etc.
Portraying an actual battle of soldiers is outside both the scope and interest of this group. The group portrayal for military situations is of soldiers assembled under their knight as a lance. English armies were typically made up of archers and men at arms (be they common or gentry.) While the ratio of archers to fully armed soldier was not set in stone the group strives to represent the iconic ratio of two or three archers for every man-at-arms typical of the early 15th century. The core of the lance is the knight himself and a few other men-at-arms, with the rest of the company consisting of archers. Unlike later professional armies or mercenary groups, the members of this retinue would be retainers, servants, tenants, and peasants from Dinthwaite fulfilling their feudal obligations and would thus wear the lord’s livery (a white turnip on a black field.)