Ren Faires, Robin Hood, and the Merry Month of May

[image description: a photo my sister took of me standing on the stone walk by our front porch on a sunny afternoon in spring, with our unkempt lawn and woods as the backdrop, and a wheelbarrow turned on its side just behind me. i have a full grey beard that’s grown fairly long and could probably use some combing, but i’ve a long way to go before i look like gandalf the grey. i’m wearing a dark green medieval overtunic and bowman’s hood over a black undertunic, and i’m holding a large horn mug in one hand with the triple horn of odin symbol surrounded by knotwork designs painted on it. a brown leather coinpurse hangs from my darker brown leather medieval belt. a replica of the elven brooch from the lord of the rings movies is clasped to the bottom of the hood, where the cape of the hood parts in front, between which a replica of the icelandic wolf cross is suspended from a silver chain worn around my neck. image copyright 2022 by “strider” lee.]

Throughout our adult lives, the New York Renaissance Faire has been something for my sister and I to look forward to every year. When we could afford to, we would often go every weekend during its run. But even when we were broke, we managed to make it at least once a year, usually because a friend who worked there got us complimentary tickets. The last time we went was the summer before the pandemic, but since then we’ve made a point of having “Ren Faire at home” every now and then during the summer months. We’ll order bottles of mead beforehand, as well as a few cases of beer, and sometimes even plan to cook a meal typical of the kinds of food you’d find at the Faire. And then we’ll get into our garb (costumes), play medieval and Renaissance music on Pandora or YouTube (Blackmore’s Night is a longtime favourite), and reminisce about all the good times we’ve had, not only at the Faire in Tuxedo, but also the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park back when we still lived in New York City.

The picture I chose to head up this blog entry was taken on April 30th of this year. The medieval bowman’s outfit is one I purchased online years ago, along with a longbow and quiver of arrows, which are pictured below (from a photo I took at the Faire in 2016). It consists of a black undertunic and a forest green overtunic with a separable hood (the black pants I’m wearing in the photo are just my pyjamas). I was pleasantly surprised that it still fit. I bought the belt separately, and the “coinpurse” dangling from it is just the bag of polyhedral dice from my rewards for backing the Kickstarter for The Legend of Vox Machina. I also hung my St. Christopher medal on that because its chain had recently broken. The elven brooch was my sister’s idea, because she chose to dress up as a Hobbit this time around. She asked me if I wanted one to match and I said, “Hell yes!” so she ordered two.

[image description: a photo taken on a bright summer’s day of a dark brown leather quiver of arrows with wooden shafts and white fletching propped up against a wooden fence separating a gravel road or walkway from lush green brush. next to it, draped over the top railing of the fence, is the separable hood from my bowman garb, and next to that, propped up against the end of the fence, is an english longbow of dark brown wood. image copyright 2016 by “strider” lee.]

I recall fondly the first time I wore my brand spanking new bowman’s outfit to the Faire, effectively making my debut as a “playtron“. It certainly got a lot of attention, and parents would sometimes come up to me and ask if they could take a picture of their children with me. “They think you’re Robin Hood,” one mother of two whispered conspiratorially as she ushered them over. I smiled and was happy to act the part for the little ones. But there was in fact already a Robin Hood at the New York Ren Faire–had been for as long as I could remember, along with Maid Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, and the rest of his Merry Men. They were an official part of the shows at the NYRF, and so were Nottingham‘s men, who were constantly on the lookout for the infamous outlaw. This led to a funny, if sometimes mildly annoying gag whenever I walked by one of these soldiers of the villainous Sheriff, in which they pretended to think I was Robin Hood. One of them winked and swore he wouldn’t tell on me–which made him a traitor to his lord, but hey, it could happen. Later, another eyed me suspiciously and then proceeded to interrogate me. All in good fun, and quite harmless, though I sometimes didn’t know what to say to them.

Anyway, this time around we chose May Eve for our first “Ren Faire at home” of the year because, even though we normally associate the Faire with the months of August, September, and October, which is when the NYRF has its run, the Faire actually has a few associations with the rites of May, and the characters of Robin Hood and Maid Marian are among them. I remember thinking it odd when I was younger that the NYRF had a maypole, for example, given that it was held in late summer and early autumn. It wasn’t until I did some research that I understood that the Ren Faire is a circuit–many of the performers and vendors actually travel across the country with it, as with a circus or carnival. The first North American Ren Faire begins in Southern California in April and lasts through much of May. So that explains the maypole–but what do Robin Hood and Maid Marian have to do with the merry month of May?

Everything! The tradition seems to have started in Tudor England, in Nottinghamshire, the birthplace of the Robin Hood legends, which “has been described as the ‘May Day county’ by local historian Frank Earp. May Day festivities have long been associated with Robin Hood folklore and the characters of Robin Hood and Maid Marion were crowned, in Tudor celebrations, as the May King and May Queen” [source]. So not only was May Eve an excellent time to have a Ren Faire at home, it was also the perfect occasion to dress up like Robin Hood! In this case, a much older version of course–or maybe just one of his Merry Men.

Blackmore’s Night – Renaissance Faire – Live in Paris 2006

Published by striderlee

Dungeon Master, homebrewer, foodie, bibliophile, and fantasy author. He/Him

13 thoughts on “Ren Faires, Robin Hood, and the Merry Month of May

    1. Huzzah! I ‘d love to be able go to mine again as well. In fact I’d love to go to every one of them, all around the world… ’tis on me bucket list. 😉

  1. I’ve never been to the Renaissance Fair – was thinking of going when I saw an ad on the side of a NJ transit bus – maybe one day. Good that you made it and had a good time. BTW – check out the album First Utterance by COMUS – I think you will dig.

    1. Cool, I’ll give it a listen. Ah yes, the NJ transit bus… taking it back and forth to my job in the city every weekday is one thing I *don’t* miss about the pre-pandemic days.

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