In a break with tradition, women will for the first time be able to join jousts at English Heritage properties this summer.
Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, where Robert Dudley wooed Tudor England’s most powerful woman, Elizabeth I, will be the first of four castles to see women take on men in the tilting yard, the charity said.
Two leading female jousters on the European circuit, Nicky Willis and Alix van Zijl, will each compete against men in the medieval sport, where “knights” on horseback ride against each other, dressed in full armour and armed with a lance.
Willis, a professional rider who regularly jousts on the continent, will ride in contests at Kenilworth Castle this weekend against three leading male jousters – including Russian champion Dimitry Sabachenko in his UK debut. She said: “I have heard how much fun it is to joust at Kenilworth, and can’t wait to be part of the action this year.
“Kenilworth is famed for some of the most elaborate tournaments in medieval England – as well as playing host to one of England’s strongest women, Queen Elizabeth I – so it’s the perfect place to sort the women from the boys.”
Emily Sewell, head of events at English Heritage, said: “Historically, the knights who took part in jousting tournaments were an elite band, the best of the best. No women were among that group.
“Now they are, and in order to bring our visitors the opportunity to witness some of the most accomplished knights on the circuit, it made complete sense to invite the leading female jousters to join us this summer.”
Asked why it had taken English Heritage so long to include women, a spokesperson said: “In everything we do we strive to be historically accurate and of course women wouldn’t have participated in jousts in the past. However, the jousts were for the best of the best, and now the best includes women.”