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Some of us think we’ve been doing this ‘landsknecht thing’ since we were knee high to a grasshopper. But then, some of us HAVE been doing this landsknecht thing for that long…and even longer. Elizabeth Frye Jeffress can’t remember her first event, understandable given the circumstances. Elizabeth says, “My dad likes to joke that I've been going to faire since I was in the womb, and that's basically true. My parents first wore landsknecht gear to a faire in Fall of 1980[i], and I was born December of 1980.”

Elizabeth’s dad? Gordon Frye[ii], who along with his wife Charlotte help form the first fahnlein at Northern Renaissance faire.

Gordon and Alexandra Frye
Gordon with Elizabeth's Sister - Alex(andra) in 1983

So what was it like to be in a fahnlein from the very beginning? For a girl whose parents regularly dressed up and portrayed people from other centuries, it was not as odd as you would think. Childhood, with some distinctly historical moments thrown in for sparkle, as Elizabeth notes, “Some of my earliest memories are of playing around the St. Michael's guild yard….Lucinda [Nickel-Fors] had a goat. For the life of me I can't remember the goat or Lucinda that clearly, but the fact that she had a goat was always firmly in my mind…”

Elizabeth and the Goat
Elizabeth with Lucinda's goat

…and yes, there have always been questions about Landsknecht fashions…

“One of my clearest memories was when my dad was wearing his waffenrock, and I asked him why he was wearing a dress. He got so mad!  ‘It's not a dress!’  I remember thinking, ‘Okay, Daddy, whatever you say. It still looks an awful lot like a dress.’”

And what about her own clothing?

“I always wondered why I couldn't dress in shiny sparkly pink dresses and instead had to wear a simple, rough and tumble dress….I still remember the little pewter goblet my dad tied to my little belt. Water and juice tasted better out of that cup because it was mine. I had little leather cowmouth shoes that my dad made for me.”

Even at a young age, the folks who helped form the roots of American Landsknecht reenactment made an impression:

“I thought the world of my dad's reenacting friends. I called Carl Ontis ‘Uncle Kafter’ -- apparently he wanted me to call him Uncle Catdirt, but Kafter was the best I could do….”

But as we all know, things change as we grow up. The fun and games of the guild yard began to wane as Elizabeth reached her early teens, when “…the idea of running around in costume was mortifying. I didn't mind dressing up so long as the crowd was mostly reenactors, but having to face the public in a costume was far too embarrassing.”

There was a period where she avoided faires, but it seems that some things are part of nature as well as nurture. Elizabeth’s sister decided to try out faire as a hobby again around 1998. Elizabeth recalls, “….[Alex] came back every Monday talking about how much fun she was having, and it made me think I might give it a try. But I wasn't really that into it yet….Then the next summer, 1999, Alex desperately needed a ride out to workshops and she bullied and cajoled me in to driving her out, and while I was there I should take a few classes. Everyone was so fun and cool in St. Michael's that I ended up staying.”

As part of her return to reenactment, Elizabeth met many of the ‘new generation landsknecht folks’ including members of the multiple fahnleins that had begun to spread through the state. She spent a lot of time that winter getting to know folks and researching/sewing her costume. What she discovered a group of reenactment friends of her own[iii], which that included at least one person who would become a permanent fixture; Jeremiah Jeffress, her future husband.

Jeremiah SRS 2012 - SN Jacobson
Jeremiah Jeffress - School of the Renaissance Soldier, 2012 - S.N. Jacobson Photography

When I asked her about what highlighted her time growing up at faire, Elizabeth pointed out that much of her experience was similar to that of other young college student, including positive and negative run-in’s with both boys and alcohol.  But the environment made all the difference. “I am so glad to have been surrounded by grown-ups who'd already made the same mistakes and allowed me to do so as well -- in a safe place. Having ‘big brothers’ armed with katzbalgers and zwiehanders wasn't something I thought about then, but it was probably a really good thing.”

Zeke at SRS 2012 with the Boys - S N Jacobson
Zeke and his 'big brothers' - School of the Renaissance Solder, 2010 & 2012 - S.N. Jacobson Photography

Just like her parents, Elizabeth found herself drawn to research and history. As someone who had participated in numerous styles of reenactment events, she recalls that she was attending Sutter’s Fort at the same time she was studying the Donner Party in school. She believes that the total emersion of her experience lead her to see history as ‘more real’ for her than it was for her other classmates. It is likely that this lead to her choice of major in college, where she received her BA in History.

Together Elizabeth and Jeremiah attended faire for a number of years with various groups. Eventually the time to participate in events faded as Northern Faire moved further away, and school and career began to take more time in their schedules. However, they never left completely. Both Elizabeth and Jeremiah regularly attend the School of the Renaissance Soldier[iv] events developed and hosted by a group comprised of original St. Michael’s members. They also bring their young son, Zeke along to experience the life of camp and field (sometimes with his grandfather in attendance as well –three generations of reenactors together is something to see!).

Elizabeth and Zeke SRS 2010 - S. Jacobson v2 Elizabeth and Zeke SRS 2012 - S. Jacobson v2
Elizabeth and Zeke - School of the Renaissance Solder, 2010 & 2012 - S.N. Jacobson Photography


Zeke and Gordon SRS 2012 - SN Jacobson v2 Zeke in Gordons Lap SRS 2012 - SN Jacobson
Zeke and Gordon, on the horses and in the camp - School of the Renaissance Solder, 2010 & 2012 - S.N. Jacobson Photography

When I asked Elizabeth about what she thought about having a child out at events with her, she offered this observation: “Reenactment events are great for kids, just for the chance to unplug and eliminate all the screens and toys from their lives. I was amazed at how creative Zeke's play was at SRS. I only brought a few wooden blocks and otherwise no toys at all, and yet somehow he managed to be entertained constantly... I remember similar creative play with my sisters when we were kids at various reenactment events. Reenacting is the ultimate ‘unplugging’ experience!”

With Elizabeth’s permission, I want to share one of my favorite memories of the Frye-Jeffress family at a recent School of the Renaissance Soldier event. A few of us had organized competitive challenges for the ladies of the camp to participate in. The goal was to demonstrate ones skill and wits while having fun with both other camp followers and soldiers who were fresh back from the drill field. One of the games was jokingly called ‘The Venetian Courtesan’ and the ladies who played had the task of making one of the young soldiers blush. Whoever managed to get the biggest reaction of embarrassment would be the winner. Other participants whispered dirty stories, engaged their ‘lady lumps’ as smothering weapons, and largely played the expected roll of saucy wench in their attempts to get a reaction.

But not Elizabeth.

When her turn came, her husband and father brought forward a small bench and placed it directly in front of our soldier’s own seat. Then Elizabeth walked over and sat down with Zeke in her lap.

And then she breast fed her son.

To those of us in camp, this was a totally normal and non-embarrassing experience.

Apparently it is a little different when the nursing is happening right in front of you; while the mother stares directly into your eyes; grinning as her husband and father shout encouragements from the sidelines.

Our poor soldier was completely undone. If he could have sunk into the dirt, I think he would have. He had to last 30 seconds and I believe he did so only through an effort of tremendous will.

Hil. Lar. E. Ous. :D

Elizabeth Frye-Jeffress is one of the original campfrau – although I am not sure she thinks of herself as such. In a very real way, she is the bridge between those that started this tradition of reenactment and those that came to their fahnlein’s later. For my part, I can say unequivocally that events are always better with her there; she is women I both respect and enjoy, and one that I am happy to consider a friend as well as a fellow history geek.





[i] This date has been confirmed by other contributors to this series.
[ii] While it has been a bit since there was an update to this series, Gordon Frey was one of my first contributors. His interview can be found here: http://hsifeng.livejournal.com/149708.html
[iii] Elizabeth specifically singled out St. Maximilian’s Guild as a group that she found a special kinship with. Having also spent time with this landsknecht unit, I can only agree that they are a very special and inspiring group of people. http://www.st-max.org/
[iv] The School of the Renaissance Soldier is a non-public reenactment event held every Spring in the Northern California area. If you are interested in attending, check out their website here. http://actionspast.com/Groups/RenaissanceSoldier.aspx This event has also inspired others like it in both Southern California and Bristol, Illinois. The event itself can be seen as a spin-off of older Renaissance Military Society (RMS) traditions such as Schutzenfest and the Camp Tamarancho militaria events from days of yore.
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