Jousting at Royal Armouries – Behind-the-scenes

I was invited by Royal Armouries in Leeds to go behind-the-scenes to get a look at what goes in to putting on a Joust. So firstly – Thanks Royal Armouries!

Secondly – I dedicate this article to Fred. The Knights asked me to do this especially.

As I’ve said before on this blog, I write for fun and I write about things I like. So to get invited behind the scenes for a Joust at the Royal Armouries was great.  I received the invite via my Twitter account (it’s to the right of this article, please feel free to press ‘Follow’). We then arranged everything via e-mail.

The general plan – follow Andy Deane around for a while, see behind the scenes & get a different view of the Joust, I was up in the balcony.

I arrived at the Armouries around 10:20 and was met by Andy Deane. Now I didn’t attempt to embarrass Andy or indeed myself but my children used to always cheer for Andy when I took them to see the Jousting when they were little. Here they are on the right, me in the middle obviously. My son is no longer as blonde and is now 19 & at least 4 inches taller than me. That is outside the Tiltyard about 10 years ago… I am holding a list of ‘Interpretations’, I used to ensure we had one as soon as we arrived so I could plan our trip properly.

Andy has been at the Armouries since it opened in 1996 and has been Jousting for 20 years. He is now 48 and though he ‘retired’ 8 years ago he is still competing. Andy is a trained actor and joined the Armouries as an Interpreter, For the uninitiated that means an actor who interprets the stories behind the objects in the museum to best educate and entertain the public. Yes, my children often asked if Andy was interpreting anything… I really should have told Andy all this in retrospect… I mean, look at that quizzical face on the little cherub on my right. Honestly my daughter did enjoy her visits… she’s just a teen there & it is the law that she most look disinterested.

Andy took me to the stables to meet the horse he was going to ride, Ted. Now Ted is quite an impressive fellow, he’s an Irish Cob and stands around 15 hands. Ted was getting ready for the day, as you can see.

He used to perform dressage in his younger days but now specializes in the Joust. He works for three or four weeks a year normally. And he loves it, gentle and calm at home Ted gets competitive on Joust days and gets so impatient to get out of his stall he uses his shoes on his front legs to kick the bottom of the stable door while watching the courtyard.

It was easy to see though while he was getting groomed that he knew today was a performing day. He looked eager, you can’t see his face in this shot, but believe me he looked excited.

We left Ted to his beauty regime and went to look at the tiltyard. Two of the horses were just coming back from their morning exercise. As this is towards the end of the season the horses are in good performance fitness. So though they don’t require a full work out they still need to stretch those muscles to prevent injury. The welfare of these animals is very important.

We had a look at the old tack room where much of the gear that was used by the Interpretation Department is stored. The room has bitter-sweet memories for Andy as there used to be so many more horse displays. There are saddles for WWI and Western re-enactment among the collection. Out of shot to the right is a Japanese saddle.

Andy discussed how some Jousters train by running at the quintain but that he doesn’t benefit from doing this. What he prefers to do is look at the empty tiltyard and envisage the run, consider who he is facing and think about one aspect. This brought me to think of what he’d said earlier about acting. ‘Kind of like method acting compared to character acting?’ I asked. Andy agreed, he was taught method acting, rejected it. He described how Laurence Olivier used to always start with the shoes of a character, once happy with the shoes he knew who his character was. So Andy is a Character Jouster.

As we went round I met the other Jousters one by one.

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Alix van Zijl from Netherlands, her first visit to the Royal Armouries.

Steve Morris, victor at Berkeley Castle.

Stacy Evans – Queen’s Jubilee Trophy, The Sword of Honour, the Tournois du Lys d’argent in Quebec and Royal Armouries Summer Jousting Championship 2013.

I saw the Knights don their armour but sadly none of those photos were any good. I also took quite a few photos of the Knights receiving favours, again these were poor quality. These were all taken after the Jousts when the audience were allowed.

It was slightly odd being behind-the-scenes of the audience getting to see behind-the-scenes. It was mostly young children asking for autographs or looking at the horses. I must say, at their ages I think I’d have been too scared to talk to the Knights. However it was the adults that looked shy for the most part.

I’ve fallen a little out of order there, due to the lack of good quality photos showing the Knight’s faces. None of Andy Deane are good enough to put up, I dare say Stacy would say that was Andy’s fault for being unphotogenic. Pre-Joust the respect the Jousters have for one another was obvious. So to the competitiveness. Andy had admitted to me earlier that he had gone gentle on Alix as it was her first time at the Armouries… or rather as she is a lady. Alix however insists that she is only a lady out of armour, in armour she wants to be struck the same way he’d strike a man.

Of course it is important to remember that while the Knights take jousting seriously, this isn’t choreographed after all, they all have day jobs. Alix runs a Veterinary Practice, looking after pets and farm animals. I understand Stacy is an electrical engineer. Andy works at the Royal Armouries in the Education Department. Sad to report I don’t recall what Steve does, if indeed I discovered. With the skills they display you’d think they were professional.

Atkinson Action Horses, the stunt team that perform the part of the Mounted Squires, as well as providing all the horses, are professional or semi-professional. They appear in shows at other venues, performing WWI re-enactments as well as appearing at the Horse of The Year show. They’ve been in a number of films, including War Horse and recently two of them were in Merlin. To the right is Mark Atkinson, I think with  Albert.

I missed most of the stunt riding by the Atkinson riders due to watching the Knights prepare. They really are very highly skilled riders.

I scooted round to the tiltyard to see the Joust itself, not from the usual seating area. I was up on the balcony this time, a good vantage point for action shots such as these.



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Then came the joust itself, I’m watching the Final on Bank Holiday Monday and I’ll cover the Joust properly there, this is after all about my visit behind-the-scenes.

Now that is breakage…

The host for today was Charlie, a member of Atkinson’s Action Horses, he also acted as the host in Easter.

He has a great presence and oratory skills. His task isn’t just to inform the audience of who is doing what but to fill the gaps where delays occur. He has enough jousting knowledge that he can throw in details regarding the joust we are watching or historical facts. Such as Stacy Evans suffering an accident with a shard of a lance pinning his tongue to the top of his mouth, or Henry II of France dying from a similar wound. He can of course fill gaps with details of the horses, whom he knows so well.

Steve Morris, with the Welsh Dragon on his shield and armour of Edmund Tudor, was riding Dylan.

Alix van Zijl, with the 3 trees and 6 golden flowers on her shield and Milanese armour, was riding Aramis.

Stacy Evans, with an almost unrecognisable shield and Italian armour, was riding Alfie.

Andy Deane, with the gold shield and Gothic armour, was riding Ted.

A fine band of Knights if ever you saw one. Riding four excellent mounts.

And one last look at Ted. Here just before he came out for the second Joust of the day.

I was very close to all the horses back in the stable area and though Ted was clearly the most excited at the time he was still approachable. The others were amazingly calm, even when the public were filling the area in front of them.

Outstanding horses, the true stars of the show. After all as Charlie says – they don’t know it isn’t real…

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2 comments on “Jousting at Royal Armouries – Behind-the-scenes

  1. Debra says:

    How great to be behind the scenes. I bet your children used to love going to the jousting with you.

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