I will be in costume and in character as Aefgifu, a Saxon lady, and begin by introducing myself with a few words of old Anglo Saxon, it’s not much, just “Hello, my name is…” I tell the class where to find my longship if they want to do some business later on and ask if they’d like me to teach them how to be a Saxon.
I explain how much my clothing says about me as a Saxon– knife for freedom, wealth, status, religious beliefs etc – before teaching them how to dress properly by getting a girl and boy to come and dress up. This also shows the contrast between rich and poor.
Because the production of clothing was such an important part of the lives of women throughout history, we then go on to look at how clothing was made. The preparation of wool for spinning allows for a brief discussion of the importance of slave labour, then I do a little spinning (audience participation required), before asking for a couple of volunteers to demonstrate how my warp-weighted loom works. Food and cooking may also be discussed during this session.
As I am speaking I ask the children questions, firstly because this allows me to guage their level of knowledge and adjust my performance accordingly, and secondly because it gets them to make direct comparisons between their everyday lives and the equivalent aspect of Saxon life. My performance is also interspersed with little anecdotes from history and mythology.
The second half is about wider aspects of Saxon life.
In order to focus on the importance of religion in Saxon England, I get one of the boys to come up and do some role play as a monk. As well as teaching the class some of the monastic sign language used by the Saxons, we get to treat the class for various medical ailments common in Saxon England, using cures from Bald’s Leechbook.
Once our new “Brother” has gone back to the monastery to pray we need a strong boy to come and be a soldier, demonstrating weapons, armour, and shield wall, in order to defend the monastery from Viking attack.
I usually pause for a while to allow an artefact handling session using the pieces we have been looking at so far – loom weights, wax tablet, armour etc. I prefer not to talk at this point because it’s nice to let the class discuss the objects for themselves.
I usually tell the story of Beowulf and Grendel as my grand finale.
Questions and answers to finish as time allows – I normally ask the teacher to choose who asks because that way you are in charge of when the session ends.
Time for each session is approximately two hours – however this is flexible to fit around your timetable for breaks, assemblies etc. Obviously for a half day some of the above might have to be omitted, so if there is a particular subject you want to focus on please let me know. Because the Saxons and the Vikings had so much culture in common these two subjects can be combined in one session if you so wish.