The real-life Brienne of Tarth can pack as good a punch as the guys

26 July 2017

Kirsty Langley is a teacher by day and a 21st century knight in her spare time. She'll be packing the punches at the Tournament of Destiny this weekend at Scone Palace, as part of the fast-growing new sport of full contact medieval combat. 

Kirsty (pictured second from left) is a self-confessed Game of Thrones addict. So any comparison to Brienne of Tarth, the skilled swordswoman from the HBO hit series, is music to her ears.

Kirsty, 28 and an athletic 5 feet 8, joins a growing throng of people in the U.K., Europe and beyond to don armour, wield swords and get into real battles as full contact medieval combat (FCMC) grows in popularity.

The latest FCMC event, taking place this Saturday at Scone Palace, will feature participants from all walks of life. For primary school teacher Kirsty, it was a combination of a fascination with medieval history, that love for Game of Thrones, and finding a sport that provided camaraderie and a great workout.

“A lot of it for me is the camaraderie between the fighters. Even if you’re going against someone and giving them a battering, there’s a social aspect to it where you get together with them afterwards and all is good. It’s very much like rugby in that sense,” says Kirsty, who has been playing rugby since University.

But she also loves the transformation that takes place for her when she dons real armour and goes hell for leather on a battlefield. And if people are scared of this modern-day Brienne, all the better, she says.

“Most people’s kits are from Western Europe and are lighter. Mine is from Russia and is much heavier than your average, especially the helmet. I like that my helmet is slightly scary. I put on my armour and get into a different zone,” says Londoner Kirsty, who was brought up in Hammersmith and now lives in Feltham.

Just six months into FCMC, Kirsty, part of the South East Invicta team, is making her mark. She has won a silver medal in sword fighting and tackled gold and bronze medallists at a world championship event this year in Denmark. And she enjoys that she and her fellow female participants, although still numbering far fewer than the men, are turning the tide.

“South East Invicta has three members, whereas other regional teams only have one. Just last weekend we had three more women come along to the training to see what it was all about. I think the Game of Thrones effect is very real.

She adds: “In medieval times women weren’t allowed to wear armour and fight, but we’re proving that we can do as good a job on the battlefield as the men. It’s brilliant to be doing things that men in the Crusades did. And it’s a great feeling when one of the blokes come up to me and tell me ‘You packed a proper punch’.”

There will be plenty of punches and the possibility of blood spill this weekend when Kirsty and fellow 21st century knights take part in the Tournament of Destiny at Scone Palace on Saturday July 29th.  But injuries are usually minimal, says Kirsty.

“The worst I’ve had is bruises. I got far more injuries playing rugby,” she says. The rules of FCMC battles dictate that armour and swords 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, 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 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 Tournament 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, which is also involved in Saturday’s event, 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.