THE KING’S QUARTERS — For the last 14 years, Phillipston resident Xan Fandreyer and her daughter have been regulars at King Richard’s Faire, Carver’s long-running Renaissance festival.
When fall arrives, you can find them cheering on the thrice-daily jousting matches, dressed in their finest medieval garb and partying like it’s 1499.
“It’s like a fairy tale, you know? It’s enchanting. It’s a whole different world,” said Fandreyer, who on a recent Saturday sported a flowing golden gown she had sewn by hand. “I love the atmosphere. I love the people. I’m a fanatic.”
So when it came time to pick a wedding venue this year, her then-fiancé, Gerhard Fandreyer, knew the perfect spot: the enchanted forest where romance mingles in the air with the aroma of turkey legs and the clang of battle axes.
“As soon as I suggested, ‘What about the King Richard’s Faire?’, that was that,” Gerhard said.
For more than four decades, scores of couples like the Fandreyers have donned fanciful gowns and renaissance garments and declared their love for one another during theatric wedding ceremonies held at the venue’s wooded village. Countless more have met future partners while hobnobbing over horns of mead, popped the big question at the nightly “Evening Revels,” or renewed their vows during an annual ceremony on the main stage, as dragon-loving strangers shouted hearty “Huzzahs!”
For devotees like Xan Fandreyer, no other venue would do.
“This has literally been her dream for 14 years,” said her daughter, Tia Kinsman, 28. “She’s had a few boyfriends and has always said ‘I want to get married at the faire!’ They didn’t work out. But this one did. And it was his idea, so I thought that was the coolest thing.”
As Kinsman spoke, a jester ambled past her mother’s wedding reception on a unicycle shaped like a unicorn. Later, cast members who work at the faire stopped by, one after another, to wish the bride and groom good tidings, perform magic tricks, and sing jaunty tunes backed by a lute and autoharp.
So what inspires couples to spend their wedding day surrounded by fire-eating performers and people scarfing down Jester’s Chicken Fingers ‘n Fryes?
Many find it’s a place they can express themselves in all their cosplaying glory, or defy tradition and custom without fear of judgment, said Aimée Shapiro Sedley, the faire’s general manager.
The venue, she said, has long been a haven for LGBTQ communities, so-called theater kids, Wiccans, and everyone in between.
“Last year, we had a Viking-themed wedding because that’s what the couple wanted,” Shapiro Sedley said. “They took a lot of traditions from the old Viking ages.”
There are perks for planning your wedding ahead. Organizers can make arrangements to include couples in the daily “Royal Parade,” or let them join the faire’s namesake on the royal dais during a jousting tournament.
Faire weddings are extremely public affairs. Everyone at the festival is invited to watch the ceremony, which is held on the King’s Stage. Because a majority of attendees show up in full costume, the scene looks like a gigantic royal wedding plucked from a period drama.
Despite the show’s popularity among faire-goers, no one has ever requested a “Game of Thrones”-themed wedding, Shapiro Sedley said. That may be for the best: the nuptials in George R. R. Martin’s fictional universe have a reputation for going horribly wrong.
Still, she won’t rule it out. This is, after all, a place where people are encouraged to follow their heart, wherever it leads them.
“King Richard’s Faire, much like marriage, is a fantasy,” said Richard Weber, who’s been part of the faire’s cast since it was founded in the ‘80s and has officiated roughly 60 weddings. “This place has nothing to do with reality, and very little to do with history.”
Faire superfans Adam and Cynthia Smith, of Keene, N.H., came to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, as they’ve done in years past. Dressed in matching black-and-red medieval outfits, they were front and center when 25 couples lined up to renew their vows.
“We love being able to step out of the normal and do something that the entire family can cherish and enjoy,” said Cynthia, whose kids were in the audience to help celebrate.
For the non-betrothed, the festival is an excellent place to meet likeminded lords, ladies, or warlocks.
“There’s definitely a lot of common interests here,” said Whitman resident Michael Dudley, who was dressed as Gandalf, the wizard from “The Lord of the Rings” series. “It’s an escape. Any problems — anything in your life — is gone. You’re going back in time. You’re living your own fantasy.”
“Drinks are everywhere,” said Josh W., 25, who was wearing a purple cape made from a graduation gown. “Which definitely helps with the love. Lots of mead.”
But fermented, honey-based beverages aside, it’s the good vibes and no-judgment environment that helps brew romance.
“It’s about unity,” said Megan Callaway, who was with her husband, James, to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. “Everyone here gets along, so I guess that means it’s about love.”
Spencer Buell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerBuell.