Brian Romine was born in Kirksville in 1978, but his second identity — Aylwin Ruthwell — hails from 11th-century Northumbria, England.
Surrounded by men and women preparing for fighting practice, Romine unpacked a blue wooden box full of armor, looking over his wares with a perspective colored by modern America and the Middle Ages.
“What I have now is very much a 1390 style, but I’m considering replacing my breastplate with a more 1400s look,” he said with a hint of an English accent but the authority of a fashion designer.
For more than four years now, Romine has been active in the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating pre-17th-century European history.
Romine is luckier than most members of the society because his passion for armor is also his profession. Two years ago, Romine left his telecommunications job and started his own business, Saint Eligius Armoury. He now earns his living using a shear and hammer to turn plates of steel into helmets and gauntlets for fellow society members, as well as other people who want their own armor.
Romine fell into his profession because of his interest in owning the expensive equipment.
“I first made armor because I wanted some, but it was too expensive to buy,” he said. “And then I wanted armor that was better, so I began researching and making better armor.”
In the beginning
Romine remembers being fascinated by a fighting demonstration in a Memphis park when he was 12, but it wasn’t until he was a psychology major at Truman State University that he got involved in the world of medieval re-enactment.
For Romine and his wife, Anne — also known as Alienor — the Society for Creative Anachronism is a lifestyle. On Mondays, there are weekly meetings where members, often in full medieval garb, listen to lectures about time-period topics, such as the Dorsic people. On Tuesdays, there’s fighter practice, doing battle with Romine’s favorite weapons, the spear and the pole axe. On the weekends, there are events such as the coming Kris Kinder Market in Kansas City.
“It’s a big social thing; the fighting is a big competitive sport,” said John Rucker, an MU graduate student who is Romine’s friend and fellow armor enthusiast and creator.
Rucker and Romine often share their libraries, knowledge and even their shops and tools. They even go to national and regional shows together.
“We would be in more competition, if I were less lazy,” Rucker said of their relationship. Rucker’s production of armor is only a part-time job, he said.
The two often share tools of the trade as well as motivation. Rucker said that he wanted armor himself and, like Romine, ended up getting hooked on making it.
“His shop is a little better for grinding and welding, and mine is better for hammering and shaping,” Rucker said.
An expensive hobby
One might not think a business making medieval armor would be all that lucrative. Yet the Society of Creative Anachronism, with a total of 50,000 members nationwide, is a large market for armor creators. Both Romine and Rucker get most of their work through orders they receive from people throughout the United States.
Making armor is a specialty, and the price reflects both the time and effort needed to make it. For one late-14th-century breastplate, Romine charges about $225. For an average-sized breastplate, Romine can spend up to 12 hours working the metal to a form-fitting piece.
It is difficult to estimate the time and value of a suit of armor because the quality varies so much based on the detail and style of the suit. Some suits can be ornate, while others are plaindepending on which historical figure a customer aims to portray. Rucker estimated that an average suit of armor would cost $2,000 to $3,000. He also said it could take up to two weeks to create the entire suit.
Creating armor and being a part of the society involves being an expert on the armor and history behind it.
Romine’s bookshelves are stocked with titles such as “The Catalogue for Armory of the Castle of Churberg” that inspire and instruct Romine in his craft. Because trends in armor changed just about every decade between the 13th and 17th centuries, Romine said re-creating the forgotten art form is an exciting exercise in creativity. Even when he’s not at work in his shop, his passion for the metal craft informs his research interests.
“For a while, I was interested in 11th-century Anglo-Saxons,” he said. “But now I’m particularly interested in the 100 Years War, mainly because the armor is so cool.”