In Memoriam Chris Robinson

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Chris Robinson, 2017

Reafan/Hrafn the Red
Chris Robinson.jpg

Chris founded the Danelaw group in Nottingham as a development of the original live roleplaying experience at Treasure Trap, based at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, in around 1983. From his experiences with gaming and at Treasure Trap, Chris realised that better training would produce safer and more effective warriors, and implemented a structured training scheme to produce the best combatants he could. This established Danelaw as an effective force in our battles, and at the end of the 1988 season Chris was asked by Geoff Carter to become the society's Training Officer. He set about changing the standards of the society, raising the level expected both to take the field and to be promoted to Freeman (the forerunner of Drengr).

Alongside this, the Danelaw presence at events was usually decisive, with a well-organised unit of 10-15 carrying the "blood and custard" shields able to either outfight their opponents, or simply manoeuvre around them to sweep the flank. Chris also led the way in weapon use, demonstrating proficiency with the dane axe and long spear as well as sword and shield. However, as a believer that helmets should be optional, the society ruling that made them compulsory didn't sit well with him, and there was more than one occasion when as he led his unit into the battlefield his sword arm swept upward dramatically and his helmet 'accidentally' became dislodged as he exclaimed 'Oh no, my helmet seems to have fallen off' just at the point where it was too late to do anything about it. The rules were of course that all warriors must wear a helmet to be allowed to enter the battlefield...

Geoff was not amused, and Chris reluctantly agreed that the Society Training Officer had to set an example to the other members.

Chris also had a slightly irreverent attitude to some of the ceremonial parts of the society, and in particular to the swearing of allegiance to the society Chieftain. In earlier years this had been a deadly serious undertaking for the 6-7 Jarls of groups within the society, but with membership numbers and groups growing and the ceremonies taking longer and longer, Chris found his own way of being both different and of puncturing the seemingly pompous oaths in standing up when called and declaring "I, the Jarl with the incredibly large motorcycle, pledge my allegiance and take my stand". Chris was quick to deflate the largest egos, including his own, and frequently reminded everyone that re-enactment was supposed to be fun and we shouldn't take it too seriously.

Chris Robinson1990.jpg

With the decision of Geoff Carter to stand down in 1990, Chris was the obvious choice as replacement. Danelaw was one of the largest groups in the society, Chris was a natural leader who had become known to many members through his training and battlefield leadership efforts, and Chris had also developed ideas and had strong opinions on where the society needed to go as it developed, and on how this should be achieved. In taking on the role of Chieftain, Chris was very open with the membership in stating that he had a list of things that he wanted to change, and that he would be running the society only for as long as it took to achieve those. In that year of change he also found time to marry Shaz, who served as membership officer during his time in charge, and who had been by his side on the field for several years.

What followed built the foundations for the society for many years to come. Firstly, the society gained its first written constitution and rules, thrashed out across two Jarls' Meetings and eighteen months. Secondly, the combat rules were formally written down for the first time and enforced, leading to improved safety and significantly better combat standards, alongside a detailed training scheme introduced by the new Society Training Officer, Roger Barry. Third, the original names used for many ranks, offices and groups in the society were changed to more authentic terms - this gave us the thrall, frihal, drengr, thegn, sturaesman, lethang, and herred that we use today, and more obviously, changed the name of the society from the "'Norse Film and Pageant Society'" (NFPS) to "The Vikings" and his own title from Chieftain to Konungr.

Chris also completed the transformation of the society into a body seeking authenticity, and while he had no interest in the living history side of the society personally, he actively encouraged it as being essential to the future of the society. Through his efforts, we gained English Heritage events at castles and other properties across England, in what is now seen as a golden age of events where we staged 5-6 major events each year in places like Old Sarum, Kenilworth, Tynemouth, Battle Abbey, Portchester, Pevensey and others.

Denbigh, 1989

While leadership came naturally to Chris, dealing with an apparently endless queue of people wanting to talk to him didn't, and his answer to this was to project a wall around himself to discourage people from joining the queue unless they really did have something urgent, and were brave enough to speak up. He saw his job as being to run the society, organise the events, co-ordinate and participate in the battle, and then to relax and enjoy himself and the people demands of running the society were not an important part of that equation. High council members occasionally diverted enquirers, or interrupted conversations with some urgent (imaginary) problem which allowed Chris to excuse himself, but those who had something of value to say were listened to and encouraged to speak up, and Chris was recognised as someone who led by example and who was worth following.

Towards the end of his leadership period, Chris also welcomed the proposal from Mike Haywood that a Drengr should be in possession of nine skills, based on the achievements of Earl Rognvaldr of Orkney as recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga. While this was only implemented fully after Chris stood down, the move towards it happened under his direction. The points-based system of Drengr promotion now in place is directly derived from this.

Chris stepped down as Konungr at the end of 1993, having served for almost four years. He achieved many of his aims, leaving behind a society which was united and growing. His move back from leadership was driven by several factors, including a weariness of dealing with internal politics and bickering which he eventually managed to subdue, and a serious knee injury sustained in after hours sports which left him unable to return to the combat he loved. He appointed Tony Sayer as the new Konungr, and had every intention of continuing as the Jarl of Danelaw and being an active member, but once the impact of his injury became clear he withdrew and became only an infrequent guest in the public at events to see what had become of the society, and to catch up with old friends.

As a games player, Chris had worked in the games industry for a while (though he took great delight in spreading a rumour that actually he was a sales assistant in the baby toys section of Mothercare), but having stepped away from re-enactment, he began a second career as an archaeologist after a degree at Nottingham University, and followed this up with a PhD in Industrial Archaeology. During this time, Chris was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, and the ongoing fight against this remained a significant challenge for over 20 years. Chris died in April 2017.