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Living history
Meadow Hill School seventh-graders dig in to their food as they re-enact a medieval feast Friday. The banquet was the culmination of a month of studying the history of the Middle Ages for the students.
Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

Students catapult themselves into time of knights, jesters and 'really weird' class system

Meadow Hill Middle School's multipurpose room was transformed into a medieval banquet hall Friday, complete with court jesters, a king and queen, a pope, bishops, monks and nuns, knights, squires and dozens of villains and serfs.

Musicians played trumpets, flutes and tambourines. Poets read poetry. Acrobats performed gymnastics, all to please King Kyle Kostelecky and Queen Shelby Clark.

About 150 seventh-graders, garbed in costumes they either rented or made, participated in the reenactment of the big feast to culminate a month of studying the history of the Middle Ages for social studies and language arts classes.

The event began with a procession of subjects through the school halls, the sound of a trio of horns blaring and an announcement of the arrival of royalty.

A large banquet table displayed the celebratory meal: roast chicken, a variety of cheeses, dried fruit, fresh bread and sparkling cider. Teachers instructed students on how to properly eat with their hands: Use forefingers and thumbs for chicken and cheese; ring fingers and thumbs for fruit; all fingers and thumbs for bread; and pinkies to apply spices and stir drinks.

Before diving into their meals, the crowd waited for the squires and serfs to serve the royalty and all others seated. A subject made a formal toast and a jester called "first foot" launched into somersaults and flips to bring all good luck and joy.

Once everyone had their food in front of them, a salt presenter delivered the rare commodity to the king; a patler sliced the top of a loaf of bread to give to the monarch (the origin of the expression "upper crust"), and two lauverers climbed the stage with a pitcher and bowl to wash the king's and queen's hands.

Seventh-grader Sam Janssen tested the king's drink for poison, and a small group of troubadours toasted to everyone's health.

Paige Griffith, 12, dressed in a baroness costume she got from the Missoula Children's Theatre, and Courtney Clement, 13, wearing a nun's habit, said they've learned a lot about medieval times.

"I didn't realize they (the royalty) had a lot of luxury and were really strict … they would kill people for no reason sometimes," Griffith said. "The class system was really weird."

Clement found the castles of those days highly interesting, she said.

Earlier Friday, Kate Davis, of Raptors of the Rockies, talked to students about falconry in the Middle Ages.

"We flew a peregrine in the gym," Davis said, noting the peregrine falcon was the raptor kept by royalty.

Different classes were allowed to keep different types of birds during the medieval period, and Davis brought examples of each for students to view Friday. Peasants or serfs had kestrels. Servants of royalty were allowed to keep sparrow's hawks (similar to the Cooper's hawk). Ladies of the court had merlins.

During the morning, students also competed in a catapult-launching contest, after engineering their own device which hurled tennis balls or ping pong balls across the gymnasium.

Teachers Charlie Struna, Sherry Marsillo and Karin Flint explained how seven teachers divided up sections of study and the students spent time with each to complete the full unit. They learned about knights and heraldry, a science that deals with coats of arms; illumination and how copying books was one of the most important tasks for monks to complete; stained-glass making; castles; medieval games; gargoyles and other imaginary beasts; and problem-solving related to weaponry of that period.

As part of the English curriculum, students wrote a commentary on all the sections they studied, describing what they learned and what they liked or didn't like. They also made suggestions on how teachers might improve upon the lesson next year.

Flint, dressed as a monk who spread the Black Plague to some in the crowd, said the banquet culminated the weeks of research and study. Attendance has been up throughout the unit, and she is convinced students will retain much of what they learned.

"It's something they'll always remember," she said.

Reporter Jane Rider can be reached at 523-5298 or at

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