Meet the 21st century knight who plays Game of Thrones for real

26 July 2017

There's a real life version of Game of Thrones being played out up and down the country and it's called full contact medieval combat. We talk to a 21st century knight who'll be donning armour and going sword to sword in the latest tournament, at Scone Palace this weekend.

It was the adrenalin rush that did it for Euan Campbell, a real-life knight who has found his passion behind a suit of armour.

Euan, 23, who hails from Glasgow, got a taste for full-contact medieval battles while he was a student at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. He joins a growing throng of people in the U.K., Europe and beyond to wield a sword and get into real battles on weekends.

Called FCMC (full contact medieval combat), it’s a sport that, in the last decade, has grown rapidly. Today, 40 countries and 2,500 to 3,000 participants are involved worldwide. Some attribute it to the Game of Thrones effect, saying its popularity is riding on the coattails of the popular HBO television series.

For civil engineer Euan, it was a combination of loving medieval history and wanting to find a sport that thrilled. There will be thrills, spills and real blood this weekend when Euan and fellow Scottish knights take part in the Tournament of Destiny at Scone Palace on Saturday July 29th.

The sport evolved in Eastern Europe about 15 years ago, from reenactors who wanted to feel the realities of medieval combat as closely as possible.  And that’s how it was for Euan; he first became involved in medieval battle re-enactment, but wanted something more. A former rugby player, he was used to being knocked about, and also used to being a team player. “I thought at first it sounded a bit silly because you’re just getting hurt. But after just one go at it, I was hooked,” he says.

On the subject of injury, Euan says: “In fact there is more risk of an injury playing rugby than there is with FCMC. The worst I’ve had is bad bruises, and the worst I’ve seen is a broken foot or arm. Everyone is wearing armour and it’s designed so that it’s historically accurate. Mine weighs between 20 and 30 kilos. There are marshalls at our events looking out for people’s safety all the time. If there is an injury it’s usually down to either a problem with the armour or an illegal battle move on the part of the player.”

Today Euan, a member of the Rampant Unicorn team in Edinburgh and part of the Scottish Knight League, spends £200 to £300 on the sport. “It’s not the cheapest of hobbies,” he says. “You’re talking between £1000 and £1500 for a suit of armour. As a student I had to save up for the kit with earnings from a job.”

The rules of FCMC battles dictate that armour and weapons should be historically accurate to within 50 years of the time period, and swords and axes are blunted to avoid serious injury. As well as being a fun sport for participants, it makes for a great public spectacle. At the Scone Palace event this weekend, there will be duelling, team fights, archery and a medieval military encampment.

The battle event coincides with the broadcast of the seventh season of the popular TV series Game of Thrones  - apt since Scone Palace is known for being the crowning place of medieval kings, among them Robert the Bruce and Macbeth. The Battle of Destiny is a precursor to an even bigger event happening next summer, when Scone Palace hosts the International Medieval Combat Federation World Championships from May 10th to 13th 2018.

Scone Palace’s 21st century foray into medieval battle is thanks to William Murray, Viscount Stormont, son of the Earl and Countess of Mansfield. While working in New York, William, 28, learned about the growing popularity of the sport and met several American and Canadian fighters. After meeting the Vice-President of the International Medieval Combat Federation, William offered to host the 2018 World Championships at Scone Palace.

William said of his first brush with full-contact medieval combat:

“It was quite the spectacle, like watching boxing in armour. It was hugely entertaining to watch, and not for the faint-hearted. I was brought up watching the film A Knight’s Tale, so I found myself completely taken by the sport. It’s a real coup for us to be hosting the World Championships.”

The U.K.’s rise through the ranks in the FCMC world has happened quicker than you could say ‘pull up the drawbridge’. Says Nick Birkin, spokesman for Battle Heritage, the governing body for full contact medieval combat: “Britain went to its first world championships in 2013 after 14 guys met on the Internet, got together and entered an event that had teams with seven years’ head start on them. They came in a credible eighth out of 44 teams. They had the bug.”

Today, Battle Heritage has more than 100 members and both male and female teams. The Scottish Knight League has 35.

“I think it’s popular for many reasons,” says Nick. “They range from wanting to fight like a knight, experience the reality of this form of combat, to a rejection of what some see as a society increasingly obsessed by health and safety rules.”

The U.K. and Battle Heritage picked up several prizes at the IMCF 2016 World Championships. Adds Nick: “One of the primary reasons that we’ve achieved so much in such a short time is the fact of our Eastern European element. This is a hugely popular sport in Eastern Europe. And in much the same way as we may send David Beckham to the USA in order to help their game develop, so the same is true with our sport. The U.K. has benefitted greatly from the experience of Poles, Belarusians, Lithuanians and more, who have settled in Britain and shared their knowledge with us.”

·         To find out more about Battle Heritage - The Tournament of Destiny this weekendclick here. Please note that entry to the Palace is not included with Battle Heritage tickets, and nor are season ticket upgrades available for this event.