Summertime in France brings with it the joy and colour of medieval markets, fairs, festivals and banquets.
Some of the larger events are complex affairs, with everyone in costumes, jousting, fencing, dancing, playing period instruments, dipping candles, making wickerwork cradles, herding geese, selling handcrafted leather, and eating suckling pig.
We are fascinated by the fantasy
But increasing numbers of tiny villages are holding their own medieval markets, even if the castle is bouncy, the candles ready-made and the chicken roasted in a food truck.
No matter, these days, la belle saison is not complete without a day trip back to the 12th century.
Part of the appeal is, of course, that the period is mysterious.
No-one knows for sure exactly what people were wearing or eating between the collapse of the Roman Empire around 450 and the beginning of the Renaissance – hundreds of years in which almost anything might have happened!
It means that the term medieval is often very loosely interpreted to include fantasy and role-play elements.
Other events, however, strive for historic accuracy, and even include re-enactments of local events from the medieval period.
Paris - wear a costume for half price tickets
Arguably the biggest in France is the Médiévales de Provins near Paris from 25th - 26th June 2022.
This year, up to 100,000 visitors are expected to enjoy the dance and acrobatics displays, the petting farm, the workshops, the dancing, concerts and meals.
There will also be archery, calligraphy, hand-to-hand combat.
Much of it is free, and tickets for the paying attractions are half-price if you come in costume.
The theme is Bâtisseurs so expect demonstrations of carpentry, joinery and masonry.
Dinan - Armour, archery and banner display
The bi-annual Fêtes des Remparts in Dinan often attracts around 100,000 visitors.
On 16th and 17th July, will be their Les Fêtes Médiévales du Grand Fauconnier with the theme La Défense de La Vallée de Mordagne (meaning lots of armour and archery). There will be a camp of archers, an archery competition, teaching workshops, a medieval market, crafts, and a concert.
You can even hire costumes for between 10 and 50 euros.
Then on 28th October to 6th November there will be exhibitions of the banners used in the medieval festival, with an artist in residence from 4th to 6th November demonstrating how to make them. There will also be a calligraphy workshop.
Rouen’s famous daughter, Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc’s life and gruesome death are commemorated annually in Orléans with a week-long festival in early May, and in Rouen with a weekend at the end of May. Both offer exhibitions, parades and re-enactments.
Read more: Are the English really guilty of Joan of Arc’s death?
Beauvais celebrates heroine Jeanne Hachette
Another lesser-known heroine is celebrated in Beauvais (Oise) with the election of a local girl to represent Jeanne Hachette.
Her real name was Jeanne Laisné, and she made a name for herself in 1472 during an attempted invasion by the Duke of Burgundy.
In the heat of the battle, one of the attackers had scaled the battlements and planted a flag there, signalling a breach in the defences.
In a fury, Jeanne threw herself upon him with her axe in hand and hurled both the man and his flag off the wall, thus rallying the flagging courage of the 300 defending men-at-arms, who then successfully defended the city.
As a reward, Louis XI held a procession in her honour and paid for the heroine to marry Colin Pilon, her beloved.
A statue of her was erected in 1851 and there is an annual medieval fête to celebrate this courageous female warrior.
In April each year, a young local woman is elected to be Jeanne Hachette, and the last weekend of June sees the centre of the town transformed into a medieval village complete with tavern, military camp, and market.
Around 1000 volunteers in costume, 50 of them on horseback, take part in multiple parades, accompanied by (not medieval, but exceptionally cheerful) brass bands from all over Europe.
The cobbled streets are packed with visitors enjoying demonstrations, shows, music, dancing and workshops.
The town also holds winter medieval guild parades connected to the Christmas Market.
Camargue - tournaments in walled town
The Rassemblement Médiéval d’Aigues-Mortes on 27th and 28th August is a particularly atmospheric festival, held in the walled town of Aigues-Mortes on the salt flats of the Camargue.
There will be combat demonstrations and medieval sporting competitions, organised by the Fédération Française Médievale & Renaissance, with a military camp, tournaments, archery and quarterstaff combat, games, workshops and medieval crafts.
‘Resister’ - a message from the past
While you’re there, don’t miss the Tour de Constance, constructed between 1242 and 1254 as a fortified lookout post.
By the end of the 14th century it had imprisoned 45 Templars, and later, a number of Protestants.
After the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685, Protestants were effectively outlawed and forced to convert to Catholicism. The Tour was then used as a prison for women.
Marie Durand, a devout Protestant and the sister of a clandestine pastor, was arrested in 1730 and incarcerated in the Tour for 38 years.
Conditions in the prison were appalling, and when she and the other women were finally liberated, a single word was found scratched into the stone: resister.
It is said that Marie Durand spent the decades of her incarceration scratching the word into the stone with her fingernails. You can still see it there today.
Find a medieval costume
One of the joys of dressing in medieval costume is that most garments are very simple and can easily be made at home.
If you’re not handy with a needle you can often rent costumes from the organisers of medieval events, but if you want to buy new clothes and accessories, you can visit shops that stock everything a medieval heart could desire.
Elf ears and iron swords in Lyon
The glorious Mandragore in Lyon is one such place. Tucked away down a side alley off Rue Jean in Vieux Lyon it’s easy to miss.
Once you find it, however, you enter another world, a dazzling mix of Medieval, Gothic, Celtic, Romantic and Fantasy.
Claymores, elf ears, magic wands, iron swords, tricorns and drinking horns all jostle for space alongside writing materials, props and costumes.
You’ll also find an amazing selection of 18th-century clothes and accessories at Mandragore, and for those who really are living the timewarp, there is even a special collection of medieval-style silk wedding clothes and wedding rings.
If you’ve ever wanted a blown-glass drinking horn for 60 euros, this is the place to go.
Their website, www.boutique-mandragore.com, also has medieval screensavers to download.
Life doesn’t get better than that.
Costume supplies near Nantes
Le Comptoir du Château in Bouguenais near Nantes is another treasure trove.
They stock costumes, shoes, boots, hats and accessories from the Medieval, Renaissance and Victorian eras, including a variety of leather holsters for your precious sword, axe or gun.
Their website, www.comptoir-du-chateau.fr, even has a promo section.
Chauvigny boutique will kit you out
Meanwhile, in Chauvigny (Poitou-Charentes), L’Atanyère boutique sells medieval apéros, pâtés, beers, spices, teas, games for children, clothing, decorations, jewellery and also offers a range of services for people planning events including medieval battles, weddings, birthdays, and banquets.
For more details see facebook.com/latanyere.chauvigny.
If you do go to Chauvigny, and it’s well worth a detour, don’t miss the medieval centre on the hilltop with its multiple castles and palaces.
The views are great and even the so-called ‘modern’ part of the town is unspoiled and packed with independent boutiques, cafés and bars.
This year will be their 16th Medieval Fair on 20 - 21 August. Entry is free and for all the activities check here.
If there isn’t a bricks-and-mortar shop nearby, medieval aficionados even have their very own quarterly magazine, called Moyen Age, which can be ordered from newsagents or requested from your local médiathèque.
The internet is also bulging with possibilities.
Just Google the search term boutique medieval France and take your pick.
Choosing those with an address and a phone number in France is wise, as there are all too many sites selling shoddy clothing from China which bears little or no resemblance to the photos on the site.
Never too late to learn sword fighting
Having sorted the dates and made some costumes, you might want to acquire some medieval skills, and there is a wide choice of classes available although you may have to do a little research.
Skills like sword fighting are probably best learned in person, but skills including medieval cookery can be learned from YouTube videos, and there are lots of books available on medieval crafts like candle making.
To find classes and associations in your area, start at the mairie.
If they don’t know, ask if they know the organisers of any annual medieval events in the area, and contact them.
If you specifically want to learn to pluck a chicken or use a longbow, searching online might work.
Going to nearby medieval events and talking to people at them is also a good way of finding out what’s happening in your area.
An inspiring example is the website www.la-belle-assemblee.com, which has tutorials and videos of medieval, Renaissance and 18th-century dances.
The association also offers costume workshops and classes in medieval music and singing.
A surprising number of sword fighting, falconry and archery clubs exist, and there’s even an association which lists dates of competitions (www.longbow-archers-association.org).
A Google search for tir à l’arc médiéval brings up a nice selection of clubs and associations if you want to liberate your inner Robin Hood or Maid Marion.
To find a medieval event near you, check www.adagionline.com/calendrier
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