Crown & Dagger Ball: A night for the history books

When Simone Waters attended the Crown & Dagger Ball, she was on a mission to see if fantasies could transcend into reality.

AS I step out of my taxi and onto the uneven stones of Edinburgh’s Castlehill, the late evening has not only brought a moody darkness over this famous location but equally a sense of calm that is usually not found here as tourists flock to gawk at this majestic structure or visit the specialty shops of the capital’s Old Town. Still, it is not the solitary castle standing calmly in all its ancient glory that takes my breath away. It is instead the group that has formed in the flickering torches lining the bridge to the fortress.

The Crown & Dagger Ball at Edinburgh Castle

Like a gathering of time travellers all transported away from the finest of European courts, this proud clique makes me question everything about what era I actually belong to. I immediately spot a Tudor-style French Hood that looks realistic enough to make me wonder if it has been snatched from one of Henry VIII’s beheaded wives. But, as I scan the hoard of attendees waiting for the Crown & Dagger Ball to commence, I repeatedly see time flash before my eyes. With as much swiftness and forte as an 18th century revolution, women dressed in massive baroque gowns and donning towering wigs manoeuvre through the crowd. Yet with taxis continuing to arrive, each costume gets more intriguing. If I see the likes of Marie Antoinette and Anne Boleyn grabbing a selfie in one corner, I only need to turn my head slightly and suddenly I am locking eyes with a fairy.

To get my bearings before embarking on this immersive journey, I spoke with the ball’s organiser, Mystic Fate Events. Quickly, I understand how passionate this small three-person team is about its work. “We want to invite people into the world of fantasy and make it easy to enter,” said co-founder Nicol Herta. “It shouldn’t be complicated or scary to feel immersed into a different time or world for a night.”

As the company’s managing team had noticed during previous projects as well as with live action role playing events in general, there is usually a high degree of complexity involved when registering for an happening like this online. “You might have to go through a long process of choosing your magical powers or decide on a specific clan, when all you actually want to do is go there and be a part of an experience,” added logistics and marketing manager Maya Eva.

The Crown & Dagger Ball at Edinburgh Castle

So, while for my untrained eye this historical variety is incredibly exciting, perhaps it is this creative freedom and the team’s relaxed outlook that makes this event unique. “There are a lot of other historical balls in the UK already but with these you often have to have an understanding of one era or have an interest in a specific part of history,” said Herta. “It’s not just about having a general interest in books or fantasy as well as history. So, as we are all really in love with the idea of this and balls, we thought we would give it a shot and have some entrepreneurship too.”

As seen in the itinerary that was sent out to attendees before the ball, there was lots to be expected by guests and plenty to plan for the hosts. “We want to give people as much immersion as possible and while you might not be slaying a dragon or fighting with swords, we do want to offer a break from reality,” Eva said. This might sound easier said than done, but as soon as I cross the bridge and enter Edinburgh Castle that night, I see the wish come true. Instead of medieval mead and pheasant, all fellow guests and I are greeted by elegant canapés, and Prosecco or mocktails. But even though the fluted glass is happily held in one of my hands and a smoked salmon blini in the other, I keep having “pinch me moments” that almost force me to keep one hand free.

I notice, even before reaching the ball in the Queen Anne Building, that I am overtaken by a sense of realisation of how this is an unusual moment to live in. To be walking through this, for once, almost empty castle and hear a magical symphony created by my heels clicking on the stony alleyways, the nightly wind whistling and of course the distant sound of a skilled bagpiper whose notes bounce off the historic walls, it feels like a privilege not many can boast. It is easy to get lost in the melancholy so when the dancing begins my reflection is quickly exchanged for laughter.

The Crown & Dagger Ball at Edinburgh Castle

As we find our collective steps, we are led by the Edinburgh Quadrille Society in historic dances. The announcer is a regency-era dressed woman who has her work cut out for her as we all navigate the foursome focused choreography that have us feeling like extras from Bridgerton, in between the fits of giggles that ensue after someone’s missteps. To some attendees, the dancing might have previously been a daunting aspect to the ball, as quite a few guests came solo. But as the Mystic Fate Events’ team told me early on, this will never be an issue. While modern ballroom dancing is often arranged in couples, if we go back to the time of Jane Austen and even further past, it was more common to dance with many. “It is always a group activity”, Herta said. “So, there is never a feeling of having to have a partner or bring someone along.”

As promised, there is a sense of community in the ballroom and friendships are formed throughout the night between we guests. Some have travelled far and wide to join this court, while others are domestic. Wherever we call home, the event brings special moments to many, with a winner being crowned for the ball’s best costume and as a breath of fresh air is taken by myself and a few other guests in the courtyard, we also become witnesses to the joyous aftermath of a proposal. If this doesn’t tell a success story of the Crown & Dagger Ball, we all soon bask in glamourous glory and create a flurry of pastel-coloured silks, rich crimson velvets and classic tartans, all to a soundtrack of string quartet tunes infused with house music.

The Crown & Dagger Ball at Edinburgh Castle

Leaving Edinburgh Castle that night, I realise I felt just as intrigued as when I arrived. We all bring home memories as unique as the people and experience we all just encountered, but there also seems to be a sense of pride among us guests. While senses do return to the contemporary reality very quickly, no amount of everyday stress or worries of modern life can take away the fact that for one night, history was truly ours to shape.

Mystic Fate Events is hosting the Spring Court Ball in Essex on the 21 April. Tickets are still available here.

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