I shall tell thee a story of the man they call Fionn, cousin of the Mackenzies and payer of homage to the Queen.
We met at his clan’s encampment at a town known to some as Port Deptford, and to others as the 49th Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Irwindale. Here, on Saturday and for six weekends prior, Fionn and his talented band of singers, dancers and fighters made their 16th-century home under tents near the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area. During the week, I’m tolde Fionn goes by Chris Lebedeff of Burbanque.
“I’m able to have someone take care of my lands and am able to come here,” he smiled.
We talked under boughs near the tents of Clan MacColin, a group of historical reenactors who set up a working forge and offered fascinatingly detailed history lessons for anyone wanting to strike a conversation. The “clan” portrays Scottish and Irish foreigners and is not an actual historical family name, but rather a theatrical name for a fictional group from Glendarry on Loch Ewe in the highlands of Scotland.
When not at the Faire, “Fionn” and his crew take their show on the road, entering competitions for their attention to the historical details of their 1572-era personae. During these events the clan builds its encampment and represents the Elizabethan Age, earning marks for its authenticity to the period and ability to educate while in character.
Fionn shares with me his relationship to the Queen, whom we’re all there to see. He’s been fostered by the MacAndrews clan, and is joining his cousin on their relatively short pilgrimage from Scotland to see Her Majesty in Port Deptford. Other Faire clans represent much farther regions — Spain, France, Italy and beyond.
Being fostered, Fionn explained, is different from what you might expect. In 16th-century England, parents often offered their children to be fostered by families of better status so their children might learn how to run a house of their own, or form relationships with families of higher classes.
He introduces me to his chief, a man known as Himself, who “owns” the camp and the Greenman Inn next to it. The elder gent, a distant cousin to the queen on the Boleyn side, assures me that I would do well to stay at his inn, as all his servants have been vetted, and I would have no worries of strangers going through my luggage. A good thing to note for another day, I tell him, as today I’ve only brought a notebook and a handful of coins for the ale wenches.
In a Faire where the costumes of attendees are as ornate — if not more so — as the recreationists, it’s sometimes hard to discern the “regular folk” from the clans. But a brief conversation with Fionn, Himself, or any other Faire history buffs unveils a deeper understanding of the time period — a rare lens into the Elizabethan Age you don’t get from school or movies.
Eventually, Fionn and I part so I might join the band of pirates I arrived with. He has business of his own — at 3:30 p.m., he’s the emcee of the highland dance show. And on Monday, it was back to work for the both of us — me at my writing, and him at designing financial IT systems.
“It’s something so opposite of everything else I do,” “Fionn” said.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant to Burbank. When he’s not stuffing his mouth with a turkey leg, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.