Medieval Fun


The busy season has come slowly to a halt, and we’ve had three amazing school groups at Cardiff University from Mountain Ash, Blaengwawr and Cathays High Schools. The Year 7s, Year 9s and Year 12s were a real pleasure to take around the University, and they engaged really well with all the activities we laid on for them.


I’ve facilitated the development of the brand new Medieval Society workshop aimed at Key Stage 3, which simplifies the topic into an hour session using the “ideal” of the Three Orders – laboratores, oratores and bellatores, those who work, those who pray and those who fight – as a means of introducing this vast and complex period of history to school children with little or no prior knowledge of the period other than something violent happened in 1066 and the fact that Castles Are For Fighting. I recruited undergraduate volunteers who met to discuss and design the new workshop, and who volunteered their time and resources, creating worksheets, donating their own reenactment armour and weaponry,  and searching for images.


For the Return Visits this year, I mixed a few activities I do with my own seminar groups with elements of my own research and activities I’ve done in the past for 30 minute Return Visit sessions, before the Medieval Society workshop was fully developed.


This time, we had to adapt to several factors – mainly, we needed to adjust to varying group sizes, which meant that some of the activities weren’t viable for some groups, and I had to adapt on the day for whatever size group we ended up with! I had lots of back-up plans, and it all went really well.


The groups played a medieval parlour game which I play with my seminar students as an icebreaker (but an age-appropriate version). Rageman’s Roll, a game written out in MS Digby 86 for use by a thirteenth century gentry family, involves receiving random “fortunes” – sage advice, rude insults, good predictions, or naughty statements about the individual, written in Old French verse – and reading them out loud to the hilarity of everyone else.


One of the original verses in Old French [check out the O-F dictionaries available here]:

Deu vous dorra grant honour

Et grant tote et grant vigour

A de ceo me fauderez

Taunt comme vous inuerez


One of mine, loosely inspired by that one [I put in a condition/outcome that would make some sort of sense in a modern context, while being a bit weird and off the wall]:

You are going to be very strong and very fast; you’ll need to be, because you will have a job working outside with animals that will be very hard and make you very tired!

(I don’t really know where the animals came from. I was trying to think outside the box…) I got the to play by folding up the “fortunes” and putting them in a tub, so they could select them by a lucky-dip process.

We ended up with some interesting ideas for the game, especially as we let the pupils make up their own fortunes for one another to randomly pick. Some gave out dire warnings of calamity:


"Be kind to your brother or you will fall off a cliff"
“Be kind to your brother or you will fall off a cliff”


Some issued practical advice:


“There will be a rugby player in your life. To avoid the tackle, get fitter, join a gym”


And one budding politician went full-on medieval in his attempt to make a rhyming couplet for his fortune:

“Pay your taxes otherwise you will get killed by axes”


Some condemned their victim to a life of servility:

“You will be a filthy peasant who will work on a farm for the rest of your life earning no money at all”


Some took hold of the moral aspect of the fortunes, while others added their responses…


(1) Some people need to be treated with respect. Otherwise you will be the one who gets treated badly. (2) You’d better start buying cats, it’s going to be a lonely life.


… And the less said about the Year 9 boys’ fortunes inspired by Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents in Thailand, the better. Thank you, BBC3.


I introduced the pupils to the idea of seals and sealing, rather than signing your name. I showed them some examples of seals that I’ve been working on throughout my PhD, and got them thinking about the kinds of images they might want on their own seal.

Snakes, apparently, were popular with one table of boys:



While monsters and dragons were another favourite:




We had some animals, too:




And some decorative flowers and foliage:




And some representatives of the pupils themselves, with one impressive attempt at the Latin:




And a couple of more abstract things…




Great to see the pupils really engaged and making some pretty good stuff!


The first group, Mountain Ash, got to fire a small kit-made trebuchet and mangonel at a castle target projected onto the wall, and made their own paper ammunition to see which of the two siege engines was the most accurate, and what kind of ammunition worked better to hit different parts of the castle from different directions, heights and distances. The paper storm was pretty intense, but they learned quite a bit and everyone had a lot of fun!


We couldn’t do that activity with Blaengwawr and Cathays because of the room space and group numbers, so I got them all doing a heraldry quiz instead. I simplified the heraldic code and gave them a Codebreaker Sheet, and got them to work out which shield matched which description. We weren’t going for accuracy of definition at this stage, but just introducing the ideas of Old French being the language of heraldry (and why that might be), and the ideas behind the shields and who might have had them.


While the Medieval Society workshop teaches the pupils some basic Latin words for the ideal basic sections of society, so the pupils came away knowing laboratoresbellatores and oratores and what they mean, this short 5-10minute activity taught them some Old French blazons, like chevronsfessgules, and what a lion rampant looks like. It’s quite helpful to get them thinking about how language has developed and how Old French relates to Modern French, and how the modern languages they learn relate to Latin (and how English words relate to Latin!). It’s also fun to get them thinking about concepts of identity and means of identification in different visual and hands-on ways, and exercising their problem-solving skills by working out how these things worked in practice with the absence of technology and low literacy levels.


Best of all, the feedback was really positive, and the pupils were all interested, engaged and having fun.


They got to do a Life in the Nineteenth Century workshop too, exploring domestic and mining artefacts on loan to us from the Cynon Valley Museum (very hands-on!) and a Romans in Wales workshop, which also involved object handling real and replica items from our own collections. They got tours of the Archaeology and Conservation labs, a trip to SCOLAR to see the library’s own collections of rare books and manuscripts. The Cathays Year 12s were treated to an interactive and practical session by Mr Graham Getheridge, our Workplace Partnerships Officer at Cardiff University, and we partnered up with the Higher Education Roadshow for that visit as well.


Each school got a fun interactive 30 minute talk, too, which was well received on all three days – Mountain Ash had Dr Kate Gilliver, talking about “Decimation in the Roman Army”; Blaengwawr had Dr Jenny Benham, talking about “Outlaws and Outlawry in the Middle Ages”, and Cathays had Dr Mohammad Mansur Ali talking about “Reading the Qu’ran”. Previous talks have been from other members of SHARE such as Dr James Hegarty, who talked to one group on “Translating Sanskrit”, where the pupils in that particular session got to write their names in Sanskrit, and we would like to get representatives from Archaeology and Conservation to give some mini-lectures as well!


That’s all from SHARE With Schools this year – – roll on the summer, and Digging Caerau [2], when the CAER team will be back in action at the hillfort, as if we’ve never been away…!