Asking “Where would your historical persona wake up? What would they see?” can be an interesting and insightful exercise to develop your SCA persona and uncover areas that would benefit from more research.
I was recently posed an interesting persona development question by His Lordship, Nikolai Gornostai Spiach’ev. He asked, “Persona question for you. So Jonkheer Hugo arises from his night’s rest. Dresses, or is dressed. Breaks his fast, if that is his custom and generally begins a typical day. He opens the front door of his home and looks out. What does he see? Where IS he?”
What a fascinating question! As I thought more about it, it became clear there could be four different answers in the case of my SCA historical persona, Jonkheer Hugo van Harlo, the lesser nobleman from Overijseel (in the northeastern Low Countries).
At His Manor Home on His Property in Rural Salland
Hugo’s havezate (manor home) is located in rural Salland, a district of the eastern Dutch province of Overijssel. For the sake of the persona’s narrative, the family, their home, and specific location of their lands are fictional. Still, I will attempt to get fairly granular in the context of the typical location and physical environs.
His manor home would likely be fortified in some manner, either with towers, moderate walls, a moat, or even all three. But by the late 16th century, canons would make quick work of any walls, so the defences at this point would be historical cues.
The house itself would be fairly close to the village attached to his heerlijkheid (manorial domain). The houses in the village would largely be variations of the Saxon Low House, and if the van Harlos are lucky, they’d have a mill to derive income from, as well. The Salland Ridge is close by to the northeast; its heathlands provide a place for grazing cattle as well as game.
Questions to Ask:
- Can I identify other nobles or families in the region?
- What would a rural Dutch village look like and be composed of in this time and place?
- What would be the closest towns to this part of Salland?
At His City Home in Deventer
In his herenhuis (city home) in Deventer, one of the three major cities of Overijssel. Depending on the state of the war, its population fluctated between 15-30 thousand, and was about a day’s ride southwest of his havezate. I admittedly haven’t done much research into the physical geography of the city, so I couldn’t tell you which quarter a member of the lesser nobility would have kept his city home in.
Questions to Ask:
- In what neighborhood or on which street would have Hugo’s city home been located?
- What business interests would he have had in the city, in addition to his patronage of a printer and press (a personal decision due to my own interests in print and cartography)?
- Can I name historical personages in Deventer he would have known?
On Campaign with the Dutch Army Leading His Infantry Company
But because I planted Hugo in the middle of the Dutch Revolt as the entrepreneurial hopman (captain) of a company of infantry—and especially in a period when it was going very poorly for the Dutch courtesy of the resources of the Habsburgs and the genius of the Duke of Parma—Hugo could very well wake up in the field, with the army on campaign.
This is another point of research I need to do – I can’t tell you if he would have woken up in a tent in camp or in a house. Given the density of settlement in the Low Countries and his status as a nobleman, I suspect he may have been able to stay indoors, but that’s purely supposition.
Most of my research thus far has been from either side of the military-political spectrum: I can tell you a fair amount of the political developments occurring during the Dutch Revolt, and I can tell you about pike & shot warfare in general, but I can speak very little about the battles and warfare of the Revolt itself. This is something to remedy.
Like the van Harlo’s lands in Salland, Hugo’s infantry company is entirely fictional. I’m not trying to emulate a specific captain or a specific company, but will use the historical record to define what would have been an average Dutch infantry company of the era (being composed of roughly half Dutch patriots and half sympathetic, mercenary Protestant Germans).
Questions to Ask:
- What years is it likely Hopman Hugo and his company would have been in the field at war against the Spanish? Any specific battles?
- Where would have he slept when on campaign? In a tent? In a house?
- Where and how would he have paid his men?
- How did Hopman Hugo acquire his captain’s commission?
In a Rented or Other Nobleman’s Home in Protestant Germany in Political Exile
Again, as the war was going so poorly for the Dutch between 1576-1590 (in spite of all the political progress), Hugo could also be waking up in another noble’s home (or rented property). This would be either in the safe heart of the Dutch rebellion in the provinces of Holland or Zeeland, or in political asylum in the friendly court of a Protestant German prince. Given the cultural and economic ties between Overijssel and Rhinish hinterlands, it is likely Hugo could have found safety at the court of William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg.
Questions to Ask:
- During what time periods, or what specific events, would Hugo have likely been forced into exile?
- What is the nature of his exile? Voluntary or judicially forced on account of banishment or threat of arrest and execution?
- What specific cities or noble courts would he have found refuge in?
- What would be the nature of his day-to-day life while in exile?
Asking the Morning Questions of Your Own Persona
As you can see, I’ve been able to define some interesting pieces of Hugo’s fictional life simply by asking where he is when he wakes up. I’ve also uncovered some big gaps in my own persona narrative that I now can look to fill.
So what about you? What does your persona see when he or she wakes up?