In an appearance which organisers fear may have horrified King Henry VIII, a Dutch female jouster, posing as a member of a 15th century Bruges team and wearing the androgynous armour of a Milanese wearer from 1470, will compete in a joust at the Royal Armouries in Leeds this weekend.
A veterinary surgeon during the week, Alix van Zijl will make her British debut at the Armouries’ famous Bank Holiday face-off, pitting her shielded wits against male combatants.
© Royal Armouries
“I have been riding since childhood but I didn’t get involved with jousting until 2010,” says van Zijl, who now takes to adversarial horseback whenever the chance arises.
“I only really started because a friend asked me to have a go, so it was by mistake, really, as others had dropped out.
“But once I’d tried it, I was thrilled – and wanted to do it again, again and again.
“You have to be strong and very fit to joust against men, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There are very few women jousting in the world – I think maybe one other in Holland, and a few across the world in America, Canada and Australia.”
Van Zijl portrays Joris Bave, a former member of the White Bear group which rode across Belgium during Medieval times.
A member of the board of Stichting HEI, a display team famed for medieval mounted soldiery in the Netherlands, she will carry a red and white shield for the battle royal showpiece, decorated with three trees and five gold flowers.
“Historically, it is difficult to think of women who wore armour. Joan of Arc is probably the only famous example,” muses Peter Armstrong, the museum director, ahead of the climax to the on-site tournament season fearsomely known as the Grand Final of the Tournament of Champions.
“An authentic joust never fails to thrill the crowds, and jousting is a central part of Royal Armouries’ long and illustrious history.
“We know it would never have happened in medieval times, but we are delighted to be welcoming Alix into the arena.
“It will be interesting to see who is crowned the eventual champion and whether it will be a knight or a lady in shining armour.”
- Runs August 24-26 2013. Visit www.royalarmouries.org for details and tickets.