History Matters: Palm Sunday, our best non-event ever

So the Palm Sunday event was cancelled – and considering that it’s the first time Towton Battlefield Society has ever pulled it at such short notice, our ‘exit plan’ worked a treat. Everyone who’d been responsible for booking personnel or services simply reversed the process – for me, that meant contacting all the re-enactors and places I’d sent out publicity to – plus a collective blitz on websites and Facebook.

Nonetheless, those TBS committee and Frei Compagnie members able to travel on Sunday morning set out with some trepidation – but luckily we found no knot of hypothermic re-enactors on the snow-covered field, huddled round a camp-fire stamping frozen feet and saying plaintively, ‘Where is everyone?’; no Society volunteers, no traders or exhibitors; and – thank goodness! – no visitors who’d struggled through the weather to our great non-event.

Paradoxically, the cancellation has done TBS some favours: thousands of hits and a 5% increase in ‘likes’ on our Facebook page, scores of posts and emails expressing sympathy, shared disappointment, gratitude for the (relatively) early announcement, undimmed enthusiasm for attending next year, and mercifully few complaints. Although we did get some funny reactions, the commonest being, ‘I’ve seen/heard the event’s cancelled – is this true?’ To be fair, the internet is rife with pranks and malicious hoaxes, but jeez… look out of the window, or listen to the weather forecast, and make an educated guess – is it likely we’d try and go ahead? Then there was, ‘Can’t you hold it on Monday instead?’ – a splendid suggestion from someone who’s clearly never organized anything bigger than the weekly shop. Oh, sure – the snow’s bound to clear in a day… so we simply un-cancel everything we’ve just cancelled, tell all our site volunteers and participants with jobs (not to mention the visiting public) to book a day off work and take the kids out of school to attend, and hire a fleet of giant hot-air blowers to dry the field out…

Or how about, ‘Can you get all the re-enactors to still come in costume so we can film them in the snow?’ Um – actually, some of them are snowed in. And I doubt the rest will be keen to drive for hours through hazardous conditions to freeze their butts off while you faff about with camera angles, then risk life, limb and expensive kit skidding about trying to recreate Towton in slippery medieval shoes – all unpaid, too, just like Margaret of Anjou’s troops. Of course, we could tell them to leave their cars at home, shoulder their gear and hoof it like the original armies – no danger of road traffic accidents en route then, or ruining the site with wheel-ruts. (Which thought prompted me to wonder: what percentage of the troops never even made it into battle at Towton because they’d succumbed to illness, exposure or incapacitating injury along the way? Sadly, I’ve never found a contemporary source to answer this; but combined with the difficulties of feeding and moving large numbers of men and horses on bad roads in the lean season, it’s probably why medieval armies didn’t normally fight at this time of year). In the 15th century, the whole campaign from Wakefield in December 1460 through Mortimer’s Cross and 2nd St Albans to Towton was forced by political crisis; but while the men of the time had no choice in the matter, we 21st century hobbyist soldiers do – and I’m sorry, film-makers, but it ain’t gonna happen.

Honestly – some folk don’t have the sense they were born with – or the capacity to think outside their own little bubble and understand the implications of what they’re asking of a group of volunteers. Meanwhile, the twenty of us who did get to Towton on this authentically snowy Palm Sunday had a very special time – as you’ll see if you check out the News page of my website.


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