NEVER IN KING HENRY’S DAY... - Wednesday, 21 August 2013

King Henry VIII might have thrown down his lance in horror at the mere thought but a female jouster will ride into battle during Royal Armouries’ famous Bank Holiday joust this weekend – thrilling crowds in a pioneering clash of steel.

For the very first time, a woman jouster will don a suit of armour at the Leeds museum, in a 21st century twist to jousting traditions that date back to medieval times.

The joust represents a first for Dutchwoman Alix van Zijl, who makes her debut in front of a UK audience on Saturday (August 24) – and, unusually for a combat sport, she won’t be pitched against her own gender but against male jousters.

During the week, Alix is a Dutch veterinary surgeon but she then dons full 15th century armour to take part in weekend jousts, whenever she can.

Alix, aged 34, said, “I have been riding since childhood but I didn’t get involved with jousting until 2010. 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.”

Alix is a member of the board of Stichting HEI, the premier Dutch display team for medieval mounted soldiery, which makes it possible for her to joust with and against the best in the Netherlands.

In re-enactment, she traditionally portrays Joris Bave – a member of the jousting group ‘The White Bear’ from late 15th century Bruges, and she sports his colours

Her armour is a Milanese 1470 export armour – and once fully kitted up, it can be hard to gauge whether Alix is a woman or man.

Alix said, “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.”

Alix will brandish a red and white shield, decorated with three trees and five gold flowers, as the Leeds museum’s Tiltyard comes alive during a series of battles royal.

The competition represents a thrilling climax in the Grand Final of the Tournament of Champions, officially closing the tournament season at Royal Armouries – Britain’s oldest public museum.

Museum director Peter Armstrong said, “An authentic joust never fails to thrill the crowds, and jousting is a central part of Royal Armouries’ long and illustrious history. Our Leeds museum is home to many of the world’s most famous and spectacular armours, including those of King Henry VIII – probably the most famous jouster in our history.

“Historically, it is difficult to think of women who wore armour and Joan of Arc is probably the only famous example.

“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.”

For more information about the joust which runs from August 24 to 26 – plus times and ticket prices – please visit www.royalarmouries.org

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