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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Tudor Life at The Tulare County Renaissance Fair

Mar 23, 2017 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

History Come to Life

April 2017
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos by Suzanne Demink

The Tulare County Renaissance Fair is coming to town, and the first thing we need to do is throw out the stereotypes. If you thought this two-day fair was just for people dressing up in medieval armor and renaissance garb, well, you’d be wrong: It’s for people dressing up in late Tudor era armor and garb, to be exact.

Randy Smith, vice president of the Guild of St. Mortimer, the nonprofit that organizes the fair, clarifies: “The timeframe of our fair is at the end of the House of Tudors, with Elizabeth I, which basically runs from 1558 to 1603.”

In other words, this Renaissance Fair isn’t the place to brush up on your Middle English, which went out of style around of the turn of the 15th century, and ladies should leave their barbettes at home, because that fashion statement was so 13th century. 

Actually, says Smith, “nobody has to dress up to enjoy the fair, and anybody coming from the outside can dress up as they want.” So if you want to arrive in Samurai armor from the Edo period, then more power to you. But expect stares, because that would be weird.

As for the guilds that help transform Plaza Park into a living, breathing market of late Tudor life, its members must take the period standard of dress and decorum very seriously.

“Every year we take a different theme within the years of the late Tudor era, and we try and provide some reenactment according to that particular year. Everybody tries to stick to that era, and to provide educational opportunities to talk to people who come through the fair,” explains Smith. “The guilds are there to participate and provide as much information to the public as they desire, so we encourage everybody who attends to stop in and talk to them.” 

Essentially, the Tulare County Renaissance Fair is history come to life, but a lot more fun than reading a textbook. Guild members run booths where fairgoers can learn to shoot a bow or play medieval games. Food vendors sell turkey legs larger than a child’s forearm, while other craftsmen sell their wares such as jewelry, soap, clothing and other handmade goods. Think of the fair as the original DIY makers market, a way to network before social media.  

Guild members mostly keep in character, which can create for some unusual crowd interaction. 

“Usually we have a guild that runs around and issues arrest warrants,” explains Smith. “You can purchase an arrest warrant for somebody, and they’ll put them in the stock or they’ll give them a drubbing, which is putting them on a rack, then pouring water over them.

“We also provide battle reenactments and a joust every year, twice a day. It’s prolonged jousting, and the jousters we hire are part of the international jousting association,” says Smith. “These are real live hits they’re taking, and there’s banter between the queen and jousters,” he adds, referring to the fair’s official queen, who has reigned since it began 28 years ago. “We try to keep it as fun and period as possible.”

As for the local organizers, the Guild of St. Mortimer, “we’re kind of a misfit band of people,” says Smith. “So we’re peasants generally, and we dress as peasants: baggy pants and shirts, nothing too fancy. We enjoy playing kids’ games, and that’s what our guild promotes at other venues, because we also support other fairs throughout the state.” At the Tulare County Renaissance Fair, however, members of the Guild of St. Mortimer will be running staff and security, so they’ll be dressed in civilian clothes to identify them as such.

The only potential risk at this renaissance fair, he says, should be having too much fun, or maybe being sucked into buying a suit of armor. Smith admits he was a convert to these kinds of fairs, and he gets why people might think it’s just for nerds. He chuckles, “We get them all the time, even the hardest-core people that I’ve seen dragged along by their wife or somebody else, and who didn’t really want to be a part of it. But once they get inside and actually start going around and experience everything, they get into it. I’ve yet to find somebody who hasn’t enjoyed themselves once they’ve been in.”

Tulare County Renaissance Fair

Saturday, April 22, 10 am to 6 pm; Sunday, April 23, 10 am to 5 pm

Plaza Park, 700 S. Plaza St., Visalia•