On Monday 27th May, I visited Leeds’ Royal Armouries Museum (LRA). It was the Bank Holiday weekend so there was lots on. In fact the theme of the weekend was the court of Elizabeth I (reigned 1558 – 1603). This article will explain why Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) readers/writers/fans should visit the Museum.
The Royal Armouries is an organisation that collects and cares for arms and armour. It has three museums across the United Kingdom and in my opinion the Leeds museum is the best. The building is huge, with five floors holding arms and armour from all around the world and from all time periods in history. It is also extremely accessible, being located in Leeds’ city centre, free to enter, and open every day except 24, 25 & 26 December. There is a multi-storey car park right next to it.
There is a programme of live events every single day at the Leeds museum and this is what makes the museum special and interesting. These include talks, live combat demonstrations and performances. They are usually given by Armouries staff wearing period costumes. The staff are highly knowledgeable about the museum and its collection, and about history and arms and armour in general.
There are 6 galleries:
- Hall of Steel – a huge staircase of swords and other armaments going up the side of the building
- War – weapons and warfare from the ancient world to twenty first century
- Tournament – the world of the Tudor knight at tournaments and jousting etc.
- Oriental – arms and armour from Asia and Africa, and the history and civilisations
- Hunting – from pre-history to modern sports
- Self-defence – civilian weapons and objects from film and popular culture
Why the Leeds Royal Armouries is great for science fiction and fantasy buffs
For fans and readers of SFF, the museum is fun and informative, especially if you like military SFF and reading/watching battles and fight scenes. There is a huge collection of medieval arms and armour and you can immerse yourself in swords and swordfighting. Or you can go to the modern weaponry and look at and read about all the firearms and modern weapons of every type. Or see how martial arts were done in Asia and Africa in the Oriental section. There is even a section on futuristic weapons.
I came across some great exhibits of interest to SFF fans. For example, below you can see a pulse rifle used in the 1986 film ‘Aliens’, and a cabinet of swords from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films:
If you’re having a hard time saying goodbye to Game of Thrones, the LRA contains GoT material and the gift shop is full of it! See my last post for GoT-based writing advice.
There is a crossbow range where you can shoot real crossbows:
On some Bank Holiday weekends and other significant dates, the museum goes even further with its live events. There is a tilt-yard at the side of the main building where they hold horse shows, jousting and displays of falconry and other activities. I watched a horse show based on the time of Elizabeth I during my visit and it was great fun, entertaining and informative.
There were three horses and riders competing for the favour of the Queen! They took part in challenges including spearing a boar (a life-sized model of a boar), hitting the quintain, slicing cabbages mid-gallop and many other feats of horsemanship. It was all great fun and the children loved it. If you like fantasy I guarantee you’ll enjoy it, and you learn about handling a horse and other things from watching and listening to the commentator. Here are some photos:
If you are interested in period costume, or just in making/designing/wearing costumes for cosplay or for any reason, then the LRA is a wonderful resource for you. They are used to making costumes of all types, from all periods of history, and they also make armour too. You can contact them to pick their brains or just visit the museum to see their work. For example, on the day of my visit I saw Queen Elizabeth I and one of her courtiers:
LRA is knowledgeable about swordfighting by virtue of it being a collector and specialist on arms and armour. However, the museum is also home to two European historical martial arts groups:
- European Historical Combat Guild (EHCG)
- Kunst des Fechtens (KDF)
Anybody can join KDF and learn how to swordfight and take part in training and practice. On the Leeds KDF website it says their
‘aim is to promote the study, development and practice of the martial arts tradition of medieval and renaissance Germany, in particular those of the Master, Johannes Liechtenauer.
The Leeds Chapter trains principally in longsword, sword and buckler, messer and pollaxe, although we also cover other weapon systems including sword and shield, dagger and wrestling.’
Practice sessions are on Mondays and Thursday evenings, and newcomers must take part in the beginner’s course. Even if you don’t want to take part in the swordfighting, the instructors are happy to talk to people. If you visit the museum you can ask to speak to someone about it. The LRA website states that Stuart Ivinson can be approached to discuss it. During my visit I was told he is the museum’s librarian.
For SFF writers
All the above is awesome for fans and readers of Science Fiction and Fantasy, but if you also write it then the LRA is even more awesome. It is also an amazing resource for your work where you can learn about fighting, costume, and arms/armour. It is also a huge resource on how people lived in different periods of history, which is useful for SFF writers because we often set our stories in societies similar to historical periods.
Even if you’re writing future-based Science Fiction I believe there is much the LRA can offer. Certainly, they know a lot about warfare and how it affects people – there are exhibits on this, and there are displays on futuristic warfare.
So please pay the museum a visit! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!