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How to slay a dragon

When faced with teeth, talons, thrashing tails, fiery breath and often poisonous fumes, there’s a lot to contend with when it comes to slaying a dragon. Any knights concerned about the dangers of close combat with one this St George’s Day, fear no more, our expert dragon slayer (and Head of Education) Tristan is on hand to give you a few handy battle tips.

Know yourself and your equipment

The first thing you have to consider when slaying a dragon is whether you are endowed with superhuman strength. If so, then almost any weapon will do. There are stories of dragonslayers using an axe or even a club to dispatch the fiery beasts, but a knight will typically use a sword. Sir John Conyers slew the Sockburn Worm using a falchion, a kind of heavy, single-edged sword. Beowulf, the Norse hero, slew a dragon with a dagger, but only because his sword had been broken in the fight.

In the earliest account of his exploit, St George used a spear to wound the Libyan dragon before finally killing it with a sword. Sir Willam de Somerville killed the Linton dragon using a spear tipped with burning, pitch-soaked peat. This last example illustrates a more typical approach to dragonslaying.

Any dragonslayer will also need to consider protection of some kind – even Beowulf had a fireproof iron shield made for his battle. But armour can be enhanced to exploit a dragon’s weakness of temperament. A dragon’s instinct is to seize and squeeze its victim. More of More Hall, Lord Lambton, and Sir Peter Loschy all had armour covered in spikes or blades so that the tighter the dragon squeezed, the more harm it did to itself. The ingenious blacksmith of Dalry constructed armour with retractable spikes, which he deployed after he had been swallowed by the Dalry dragon, to impressive and messy effect.

Know your dragon, and its weaknesses

Since even superhuman strength is sometimes unreliable – Beowulf killed his dragon, but died from his own wounds – it is wise to know your dragon, and exploit its weakness. All dragons have a weakness. It will differ from dragon to dragon, but it will be there, and if you know it you can take advantage of it. The weakness may be physical. Knowledge of physical weaknesses is vital as a dragon’s scaly hide is typically proof against blades or even bullets. Sir William, for example, drove his flaming spear into the dragon’s mouth. Near Manchester, Thomas Unsworth fired a dagger from a gun to strike the Unsworth dragon in the soft spot on its throat. In Essex, Sir James Tyrell used highly reflective armour to dazzle the Horndon dragon’s eyes. And More of More Hall overcame the dragon of Wantley using a well-placed spiked boot to the creature’s backside.

One temperamental weakness that all dragons seem to share is greed. Some dragons cannot resist milk, which makes them sleepy, and therefore vulnerable. Near Lyminster, Jim Puttock immobilised a dragon with an indigestible pudding, while at Filey locals exploited a dragon’s fondness for ginger parkin, a very sticky cake, to destroy the beast as it was trying to unglue its jaws by washing its mouth out in the sea.

Sometimes there are further challenges to overcome. The Lambton Worm and the Nunnington dragon both had powers of healing and regeneration, so Lord Lambton fought his beast on an island in the River Wear to wash the dismembered dragon parts away, while Sir Peter Loschy trained his dog to carry them off. Sir James Tyrell’s dragon of Saffron Walden was a cockatrice, a kind of dragon whose look alone can kill. In this case Sir James’ reflective armour caused the dragon to kill itself with its own reflection.

Dragon slaying checklist

As a dragonslayer then, besides courage, strength and ingenuity, your equipment must include:

With the exception of the dog, all these items are on display, or available from the café, at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. Prospective dragonslayers are urged to visit before committing themselves to a rewarding but challenging career.

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