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Every Year, This Johns Hopkins Professor Turns Into the Mayor of the Maryland Renaissance Fest. Here’s How He Does It.

Allow us to introduce Francis Yaxley, mayor of Revel Grove and host of the village’s harvest fair in this, the year of 1526.

Okay, so not really. In fact, this is John Sadowsky, a mathematician who teaches at Johns Hopkins and has been portraying Mayor Yaxley at the Maryland Renaissance Festival for four years. The event, which attracts about 300,000 people, always has a story line playing out onstage and in the streets of this fictional English town. This year, Revel Grove gets a visit from King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and a rival mayor trying to one-up Yaxley in front of all this royalty.

Below, Sadowsky walks us through his intricate costume, with behind-the-scenes glimpses into how the reenactors prepare to travel back in time.

Meet the Mayor

Yaxley, from a family of wool merchants who struck it big, bought up land and eventually became mayor. Sadowsky calls him “new rich,” part of an emerging middle class from the period. The costume’s garish colors—made with dyes that would have been quite expensive at the time—show off that wealth.

Photograph by Jeff Elkins.
Sadowsky says he has seen the festival become popular among Game of Thrones fans, with patrons even dressing up as their favorite characters, especially Daenerys: “I’m expecting this year to see several more Hodors, though.” Photograph by Jeff Elkins

1. Hat

Everyone from peasants to royalty wore hats in religious deference. The rich decorated them with feathers, and not to be outdone, Yaxley is known to adorn his in peacock plumage: “You can never have too many feathers.”

2. Cockade

This ribbony ornament is the mayor’s badge of office. A potential story line this year has a rival mayor showing up with a larger and more ostentatious one than Yaxley’s, starting “a battle of the cockades.”

3. Undershirt

He wears an Under Armour shirt beneath his costume, which gets sweaty: “There’s a lot of Febreeze in the dressing room—we don’t want to be gamey-smelling. Although that would be period-appropriate.”

4. Pouch

Pockets didn’t exist in 1526, so you’d keep everything you needed in a pouch like this one—coins, sundries, maybe a handkerchief. “In the real world, it’s for credit cards so I can eat during the day,” he says.

5. Robe

Normally this outer layer, called a shaube, would be made of wool, but this one is made from lighter, modern fabrics. Says Sadowsky: “I tell people it’s made from my two good sheep, Polly and Esther.”

6. Leggings

Sadowsky originally wore leggings of the same color but decided that the real Yaxley would mix and match in a gaudy display of his family colors.

7. Shoes

The shoes are “sort of” period-appropriate, according to Sadowsky. While they’re store-bought, these loafers aren’t far off from what some-one would find back then. Just don’t look at the label.

Maryland Renaissance Festival. Crownsville, Maryland. August 27-October 25. Tickets ($19-$24) sold at the festival and online.

This article appears in our August 2016 issue of Washingtonian.

Staff Writer

Michael J. Gaynor has written about fake Navy SEALs, a town without cell phones, his Russian spy landlord, and many more weird and fascinating stories for the Washingtonian. He lives in DC, where his landlord is no longer a Russian spy.