Andrew Deane certainly loves the ‘very silly sport’ of jousting

By  Pamela  H.  Sacks


WORCESTER — Andrew Deane considers jousting the high impact sport of the Middle Ages.

He compares it to Formula One racing, and he should know. As the senior interpreter at the Royal Armouries in England, Mr. Deane spends a good deal of his time in heavy armor atop a snorting steed going at an opponent with a lance.

“It’s a very silly sport,” Mr. Deane said yesterday, after presenting a talk in the Great Hall of the Higgins Armory Museum. “The armor protects you, but I have welts on both arms and a big bruise on my thigh.”

Mr. Deane, 37, had just spent the previous four days competing in a series of tournaments in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. The Royal Armouries are in the city of Leeds in northern England, so the queen was not present, but she did sanction the trophy given in her name and ordain that the tournaments should take place annually.

This was Mr. Deane’s second visit to Higgins, the only institution in the Western Hemisphere devoted solely to arms, armor and related artifacts. He taught a class on two-handed sword fighting and gave a couple of hour-long talks on the myth and reality of medieval knights in shining armor.

Knights were equivalent to the great sports heroes of today, he said. The skills required were highly demanding and were as difficult to learn as the martial arts. A knight started training at an early age and kept himself in top physical condition. His upper-body strength was so great, Mr. Deane said, that he could climb a ladder using only his arms.

In order to demonstrate jousting, Mr. Deane, too, must keep himself physically fit. Recently, while dressed in 75 pounds of armor, he won a 75-yard sprint against several much younger colleagues wearing no metal garb.

Armor may look like a bunch of heavy metal plates, but it is in fact, a technological marvel, Mr. Deane said.

It was designed to disperse the impact of a blow with incredible efficiency. A jouster’s first goal was to hit the head and, failing that, to hit the heart. The helmet and chest plating were constructed at just the right angles so that the lance would glance off the metal. Makers of armor were always working to improve the design so that the wearer would gain even a tiny fraction of an advantage against his opponent.

A self-respecting knight rarely, if ever, fell off his horse, unlike what is typically depicted in Hollywood movies, Mr. Deane said. He compared a knight’s horse to a race car. Hugely expensive, the high-strung animal was compact and had great speed.

“The only one who could ride him was the owner,” Mr. Deane said.

A medieval saddle had a deep seat with posts in front and in back, tightly holding in the rider. Something like today’s Western saddle, the stirrups were long and the rider directed the horse with his legs.

Horse and rider clad in armor were a powerful combination.

Consider this: Each horse weighed three-quarters of a ton and carried about 300 pounds. The horses traveled toward each other at 25 mph, making the impact equivalent to being hit by an object at 50 mph.

“What does it feel like to joust? It can hurt.” Mr. Deane said with a wry laugh.

Mr. Deane came to his current occupation by way of the acting bug. He was at drama school in London when he met John Waller, who taught sword fighting for the stage, a required course. It happened that Mr. Waller was the founder of the Medieval Society, a British group that re-enacted medieval tournaments.

Mr. Deane concluded he would never be James Bond — he just wasn’t that dedicated, he said — as his interest in medieval fighting techniques grew.

He became a squire, or apprentice, to experts, helping with horses, shining the armor. He gradually rose through the ranks and participated in tournaments and demonstrations all over Great Britain and across Europe.

He got his present position through Mr. Waller, who became head of the Royal Armouries interpretation department when it moved from the Tower of London to the museum in Leeds 10 years ago.

Mr. Deane, clad in costume, spends five days a week in his medieval persona, demonstrating sword fights, jousting and Tudor-style riding, among other things. He said that when he is 40 he will probably have to give up jousting because it will be too physically demanding.

But, if yesterday was any indication, his enthusiasm for arms and armor is not likely to dim. As Mr. Deane gave his talk, he dashed from one suit of armor to the next, pointing out the particular attributes of each.

“I’m like a kid in a candy shop,” he said with glee.