Those Who Live by the Sword…
The History of St. Michael’s Guild
Compiled by Michael Foster
The Guild of St. Michael – South was formed in 1988, the year after the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire’s Silver Anniversary held at the original faire site in Agoura. A similar guild, St. Michael’s North, was formed in the early 1980s by Gordon Frye and Carl Ontis, members of the Renaissance Military Society (RMS), itself created in November 1982 which comprised German Landsknechts (mercenaries) from the Black Point/Novato faire dating back to 1980 (and once members of the Guild of St. Helens, peasants), English company of foot soldiers (including gunners), and a later-dissolved company of mariners.
During the ‘80s, several guilds were started, grouping volunteer performers into class or trade categories so that they could be centrally coordinated and that a more common look could be maintained to easily identify who belonged to what part of their Renaissance society.
Up until 1988, there were numerous military and fighting groups “roaming” around the Agoura site of Southern Faire – except for the Scottish Highlanders. These were gathered, lumped, crunched, pushed and folded into a single package. Inside this “box”, the larger components – or companies – were allowed a measure of independent identity. two separate groups of German Landsknechts or mercenaries, the Queen’s Chair Bearers and various English soldiers (squads of pikemen, gunners and fighting sailors) were fitted into this new guild.
Now considered an “umbrella” organization for the military companies, this was unique among the rest of the faire’s guilds and it set the standard for St. Michael’s Guild structure to this day.
The original leaders of the German companies were Conn MacLir and Tim Finkas. The new Guildmaster was Kevin Brown (formerly Lord Burleigh from the Queen’s Royal Court). Brown portrayed the Captain-General, “Sir John Norris (or Norrys)”. The Chair Bearers, also known as the “Yeoman of the Guard” or “Queen’s Guard” mostly carried the Queen in her platform chair and was one of the oldest groups, started in 1980 by Gereg Jones Muller who departed faire after 1988, when it left Agoura.
The Living History Centre (LHC), parent of the Renaissance Pleasure Faires (RPF), moved Southern Faire (RPFS) to Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino in 1989 and the Guild of St. Michael went with them. They established a military encampment along the side of the lake where each of the groups/companies set up a main tent and some peripheral, personal tents to give the look-and-feel of a battle camp. Each faire day, the combined military units marched to the peninsula in the middle of the lake to “take English land back from the enemy” which Scottish highlanders and Irish cohorts of St. Andrew’s Guild had overrun earlier. There, the huge, “live-steel” Battle Pageant took place about noon.
Also that year, Tim Finkas, Assistant Guildmaster and former German leader, started a new group called the “Company of Mariners” who, while on land, set up and ran the “Drunken Soldier Inn”. The Inn served both English sailors with nautical costume and props, and as a somewhat open forum for all military men (and women) to do some improvisation (similar to the Faire’s “Green Man Inne”). The gunners in the Guild became a small company known as “Shotte”. The English Company of Foote was known as “Cromwell’s Company” for its captain, Thomas Cromwell. The Queen’s Guard grew and Morgan was its Captain. The Company of Shotte was run by Walter Nelson who also acted as the Guild’s Sergeant-Major. St. Michael’s now had five companies.
“This is the story of Peter Rabbit and Dominatrix Potter.” – as told by Kevin Brown (after hours), Guildmaster
The second year at Glen Helen, Kevin Brown, as Guildmaster, sanctioned a new group of Lowland Scottish mercenaries called “Blair’s Company”. These folk represented the families living along the border between England and Scotland. The Guard was now commanded by “Captain Bryce”, Bruce Henry. The Company of Foote became dominated by an outside-faire group called “Blackshire’s Company of the Sword” and changed to be “Stoddard’s Company” for its London-trained band Captain, “Nicholas Stoddard”. (David Wine was the first Captain Stoddard which character, as will be seen, became much like the famed “Dread Pirate Robert” of “Princess Bride” fame.) This was the year that many in the Guild participated in a pseudo-plot to take over the Queen’s Glade to demand better pay and conditions for the soldiers and mercenaries. Dropped maps, notes and hints of battle plans along with possible kidnappings and a heavy presence of military folk in and around the Court, led to some interesting byplay throughout the whole run-of-faire, but no more gold. A tradition was begun where the Guildmaster would sit with all of the members around him at end-of-the-day “Notes” and succumb to their demand, “Tell us a story!”
“We’re going back to London
We’re going back tonight.
We’re going back to London,
Get Norris from our sight!” – Stoddard’s Company of Foote, 1591 (1991)
Year Three at Glen Helen, 1991, saw the introduction of a few Gentleman Adventurers joining the Guild staff, un-attached to any of the separate companies. These semi-noble characters included Tim Finkas portraying “Sir Walter Raliegh”, David Springhorn as “Capt. Courage”, Bryan Norton playing “Maximillian Norris”, the Captain-Generals trouble-making, younger brother, and “Lt. Loveless”, played by Jeff Bissiri (later Guildmaster of St. George, the Queen’s Court). The Barber-Surgeon from the Company of Foote also became a “Guild” character instead of being solely attached to an individual company (“Magnus Maxwell”, a fictional character, played by Michael Foster.). The camp layout was changed and the Germans set up a “Military Museum” of weaponry and other displays in a large tent. The Company of Mariners actually had a boat to use on the lake. Some of the Queen’s Guard rode on the Queen’s Royal Barge across the lake while most of the able-bodied men in the Guild pulled on the ropes to tow Her Majesty and entourage over the water. Allan Treas became the Innkeeper of the Drunken Soldier Inn and Margaret Miller was the Mariner’s group leader (or “captain”). The Company of Foote staged a “walkout” and marched, singing, back to London where they could return to their civilian occupations as mercers, grocers, tailors, etc.
“Cows know what fences are for, why don’t you?” – Danny McGee, Assistant Guildmaster
By 1992, Kevin Brown had moved on, out of faire on a regular basis, and Chris Cook, former head of the Germans, became the new Guildmaster. His Assistant, Danny McGee, now a German called “Erasmus”, had started in the Company of Shotte as a master gunner. The Gentleman Adventurers was all but gone, and only the Barber-Surgeon remained as the one, non-aligned character in the Guild. Danny, as Assistant had a personal “pet peeve” of guests and other participants climbing over the ropes to walk through the military encampment.
“Put your nose on that nail sticking out of the tower.” – Danny McGee, Guildmaster
Chris Cook left the Guild before 1993, after serving just one year as Guildmaster and his Assistant, Danny McGee, took over. This year, his “pet peeve” was one errant English pikeman, Rick Sullivan, who had to take some time outs. The assembled Captains of the Companies (now six strong) began to exercise some say in Guild administration and they suggested (selected) Michael Foster, the Guild Barber-Surgeon, to be his Assistant Guildmaster, being someone recognized as “independent of individual companies and their politics” (according to notes from the 1993 Captains’ Meetings.) Bill Pearson was then the Captain of the Queen’s Guard. Jerry Wood, “Elwin Brookshire”, was the administrator of Foote, although David Wine continued to portray “Nicholas Stoddard”, the Foote’s theatrical Captain. Margaret Miller was still in charge of the Mariners and their Inn became known as the “Serpent’s Nest”, named for their “ship”, the “HMS Serpent” and their small boat, the “Serpent’s Tongue”.
“It was the best party that I never went to!” – Anonymous English Pikeman
The next year, 1994, saw Michael Foster as Guildmaster – Danny moved to Northern Faire and joined the Schwartz Fahnlein there. Michael chose two Assistant Guildmasters, approved by the Captains: Gary Kephart (the Lieutenant of the Company of Foote) and Kim Meyer (the Head Woman from the Queen’s Guard). This began a trend or tradition of having one Assistant for each 60 Guild members, reaching a peak of 185 in 1999, the first “year of three Assistant Guildmasters”.
This year also saw two other major changes in administering the Guild. First, the entire camp, still by the lakeside, turned inward or side-by-side instead of outward. There was still stage frontage for each group, but the idea was to get the separate Companies working together and getting along with each other, during and after hours. The second change was for the Guildmaster to delegate several duties to the “best and most experienced” as agreed on by the Assistants and the Captains. Such positions in the Guild staff now included Battle Pageant Coordinator (Lloyd Winter, “Ulrich van Baden”, German group leader), Black Powder Safety Officer (Alan Hughes, “Wat Utley”, Shotte group leader), Site Manager (Michael Cravens, “Heinrich Schultz the Engineer”, former Queen’s Guard Knight, now a German), etc. John Hawakaya took over as Captain of the Queen’s Guard.
And, speaking of “after hours”, 1994 became the first “official” year of both the St. Michael’s “USO Party” (aka “Choir Practice”) held on the Sunday night of Memorial, three-day, weekend, and the Memorial Service involving all of the military, members of the Queen’s Court, Friends of Faire, St. Andrew’s Clan MacColin and other faire participants. The latter was a Memorial Day presentation and remembrance for fallen military and for faire friends who had passed on. These two events continued until the Faire once again moved to a new location and no longer encompassed Memorial Weekend.
For 1995, there was more progression towards a friendly and cohesive working environment along with a change in title from the Lowland Scots to the “Border Horse”. This company was still made of English and Scottish border families and “reivers” working as mercenaries (either for pay or punishment) as part of the Queen’s armies. The Border Horse began building their famous “Scots’ Tower”, a two-story structure with a rock façade that allowed both for theatrical presentations – outside and on top – and storage – inside. Their Captain was “Stewart”, played by Jeff Cupernell.
In 1996, the Barber-Surgeon dug a grave, outfitted it with bones and the famous German Lutheran Minister, Father Anders Gambolputy, played by Andy Bradshaw, would conduct daily services over it. While weeping friends and family members knelt around the grave, a shroud-covered soldier would climb out and walk away whenever the Danse Macabre (“Dance of Death”) paraded by the site. Only audience members saw this as the mourners continued “unaware” of the departure. The Company of Foote had its only leader who wasn’t named Stoddard. Gary Kephart portrayed “William Bond” as captain. Gary also remained Assistant Guildmaster, but Kim Meyer left and was replaced by Angela Phillips from the Germans.
“Oh, yay. We did escort the goodly Magnus Maxwell, the barber-surgeon, to… er… uh… Carlisle!” – Kinmont Willie, Border Horse Captain
The next “dread” Captain Stoddard, John Tiffany, took over Stoddard’s Company of Foote and the parent organization for the Foote, Blackshires, brought its “Living Chess Match” to faire and it was set up in the middle of a “U” shaped military camp and staff by mostly St. Michael’s Guild members. Also, in 1997, the Guild USO party was held in and around the Living Chess Match playing board/stage which made a HUGE dance floor. Justin Kocher takes over the group leadership of the Queen’s Guard (until that company leaves after 2000).
A new Barber-Surgeon was assigned to the companies, :”William Clowes”, portrayed by Michael Foster, after his predecessor mysteriously disappeared while being escorted to the North Country. His escorts, the Company of Border Horse returned with much of his equipment apparently given to them as “… thank you gifts for the ‘safe’ journey”. The new Border Horse leader was John Holmes, known as “Kinmont Willie”, a famous border reiver.
In 1998, the Faire was shifted within Glen Helen Park and St. Michael’s was given the entire peninsula, formerly site of the Battle Pageant. The BP was moved to the Horse Tourney arena, now at the “back” of the Faire and it became more of a pageant, in truth, with members of St. Michael’s acting as narrators and Col. Sir Charles Blount, Gary Kephart, giving a rousing opening speech taken from Shakespeare’s “Henry the V” introduction. The camp was visible 360 degrees, so care had to be taken to hide “backstage” areas in between or in the middle of tents and structures. Jill Wood took Angie Phillip’s place as the second Assistant Guildmaster. The next Captain Stoddard, Jerry Wood, was in charge of the Company of Foote. The Guild’s Memorial Weekend USO Party took place on the “Island” which was a great venue for an after-hours dance and mixer.
Still on the peninsula, in 1999, the Guildmaster allowed Andy Bradshaw to put his long-time, dream proposal into reality: an Academy of Military Science which grew from two people to several and became one of the most visible, and well-liked spots in the St. Michael’s encampment. The Academy eventually showcased representatives of a “College of War”, and “Department of Engineering” and “School of Medicine” with participants giving internal and public presentations about their chosen, historical specialties. A third Assistant Guildmaster, Frank Licata, the Lieutenant from the Company of Foote, was added as the Guild population surpassed 180 (keeping the 60-to-1 ratio first decided in 1994).
The year 2000 found the County once more moving the faire to the far side of the lake and St. Michael’s lost its most visual encampment. However, there were several advantages to now being at the back of the faire, next to the new Horse Tournament arena. First and foremost, the amount of space given to the Guild increased greatly and continued to increase until the last year at Glen Helen found the military encamped on both sides of the Tourney and wrapped around the corner onto the main roadway. Another great advantage, especially to a guild that has a lot of group- and personally-owned props and equipment, the new site was right next to the main participant entrance gate. This also gave quick and easy access to backstage, faire administration, security, restrooms, showers, the parking lot, and the participant campground. So, although the Guild site was no longer visible from front-to-back, side-to-side as on the peninsula, it had an extremely long stage front with performance, demonstration, eating, working and sleeping room for each of the companies.
During the second year of the faire’s newest configuration, Patricia Foster, German Fraulein "Genoviva Fuger", was brought in to replace Jill Wood as an Assistant Guildmaster along with Frank Licata and Gary Kephart. In 2001, a small group of Gentlemen Adventurers was again attempted with Bill Watters, “Giovanni”, Patricia Foster, “Breanna”, and a few others acting independently of the other companies. This only lasted one year. Also that year, on Memorial Weekend, a winged apparition of “St. Michael, the Archangel” (Michael Foster) appeared during the Battle Pageant and wandered the faire in honor of “St. Michael’s Apparition Day”. This year, the Queen’s Guard became an independent “troupe” at Southern Faire, the “Yeomen of the Guard” while an outside-faire Irish mercenary group, “Clan O’Neil” or “The O’Neils”, joined St. Michael’s.
In 2003, the next incarnation of St. Michael’s Gentlemen Adventurers was brought into the Guild headed by Steve Leon. With the Academy, this made eight separate groups within the Guild. Gary Kephart took over as the Guild Database manager and Aaron Johnson was appointed Assistant Guildmaster. During the off-season, Guild members did cleanup and gardening almost monthly.
The year 2004 saw several more semi-permanent additions to the Guild site: trees were planted, grass over-seeded, small walls and structures erected or left from the run-of-faire. The Gentlemen Adventurers convinced the Faire to let them be their own troupe, so St. Michael’s was back to seven groups or companies.
At the beginning of 2005, the newer Faire owners, Renaissance Entertainment Corporation (REC), moved the entire operation to the Sante Fe Dam Park in Irwindale.
In 2006, Michael Foster announced his retirement ending 12 years as Guildmaster and the faire’s “director of military operations”. His Assistant Guildmaster, Aaron Johnson was to take the reins at the end of the year.
In 2007, Aaron Johnson as the new Guildmaster, had Patricia Foster and Frank Licata as his Assistant Guildmasters. The Irish were dissolved so the Guild was back to six companies (counting the Academy).
In 2008, Aaron Johnson appointed all new Guild staff including Lynn Dekker, from Border Horse, and Alden Pelayo, from the Mariners, as his new Assistant Guildmasters. Scott Gayman, German, was replaced as the Site Manager with Joe Hawkins.