Life in the Saddle: Bossley’s journey from blacksmith to knight

Darrell Bossley on his Friesian horse S'Calibur. Bossley is wearing a full set of 15th-century steel armour.
Darrell Bossley on his Friesian horse S'Calibur. Bossley is wearing a full set of 15th-century steel armour.

Darrell Bossley may be the most interesting man in the Eurobodalla Shire.

Bossley is one of just a handful of jousters in Australia, and has the distinction of being the oldest jouster in the country.

Jousting is a martial game where two people on horseback ride towards each other and try and knock their opponent off their horse with a lance.

The sport has its origins in the 10th and 11th centuries, and has recently seen a revival in interest.

Theatrical jousting started in the 1970s, and was a popular event at both Renaissance fairs and medieval themed tourist attractions.

It wasn’t long before the sport became competitive, as the World Championship Jousting Association was formed in the late 1990s.

I got really enthusiastic while looking at the horses, and I bought one on the spot, which shocked him a little because we originally had no intention of buying.

Darrell Bossley

Jousting came into the public eye in 2001 with the release of A Knight’s Tale, a film about jousting starring late Australian actor Heath Ledger. There was also a reality TV series called Full Metal Jousting in 2012.

Bossley didn’t start jousting until after retiring from his job as a blacksmith, but was an ideal fit for the sport

“I loved the chivalry of the medieval period,” he said. “I started my house in 1988, and it’s medieval; That was long before I got into the jousting.

“I’ve taught martial arts since 1974, and that’s taken me all over the world doing tournaments and demonstrations. I’ve also been a professional horseman for all my life. I did rodeo riding for 32 years, so I’m no stranger to falling off horses and bulls.”

His first big step towards jousting happened just after his wedding to wife Lisa.

“I married my wife at 67, and we went for our honeymoon down in Tasmania,” Bossley said. “We were going to the prison in  Eaglehawk, and we passed a sign on the side of the road that said ‘Friesian stud’.

“The Friesian is a medieval horse, and is a horse I’ve always admired, so I decided to have a look.

People ask me why I started jousting at 67, and I say ‘because it’s easier than starting at 68’.

Darrell Bossley

“The stud was owned by a fellow by the name of Phil Leech, and he was an ex-special services soldier who is now training to be a knight. For me to be a Knight is something like a school kid who wants to be a jet fighter pilot or firefighter. You always wanted to do it, but you probably never will. Now all of a sudden I’m talking to a guy who actually did it.”

Darrell and Lisa ended up buying a horse that day, and Bossley quickly started training.

“I got really enthusiastic while looking at the horses, and I bought one on the spot, which shocked him a little because we originally had no intention of buying,” Bossley said.

“I started getting enthusiastic about trying jousting. I thought ‘I’ve got weaponry, I’ve got horsemanship, let’s give it a go’.

“People ask me why I started jousting at 67, and I say ‘because it’s easier than starting at 68’. I’ve got the horrible reputation of being the oldest jouster in Australia, but I recently found out about a guy in America who still jousts at 78.

“I’ll never be a world-beater in jousting. These guys are better than me, I understand that, but I’m here to enjoy myself. If I win something, that’s great, if I don’t, I had fun so it doesn’t matter.”

A 13th century set of armour.

A 13th century set of armour.

The history of knights

As part of becoming a modern-day knight, Bossley has extensively studied the history of the knighthood, and the impact they had on medieval society.

“Knight is basically an old English word for household retainer,” he said. “You had samurai in the east, and knights in the west.

“The knights were trained soldiers to start with who got lifted up in the ranks in the ninth and tenth century. As they came up, they got more and more rules.

“A lot of their rules worked around religion, because most of the knights were run by the Catholic church and the Pope, and they were there to protect the church. It eventually became a contradiction, because the knights were saving people’s souls and killing people in the same day.”

The knighthood eventually became the profession of the noble class of society, as kings, barons, lords, and princes were commonly knights. This is part of the reason why knights had it fairly easy in medieval society.

The knights were trained soldiers to start with who got lifted up in the ranks in the ninth and tenth century. As they came up, they got more and more rules.

Darrell Bossley

“If you were a knight in the medieval times, times were good,” Bossley said. “Not good by today’s standards, but good for back then.

“Knights were governed by a very strict code of chivalry, so their lives were very controlled and restrictive. In that way, they had it rough. 

“It wasn’t uncommon for a knight to go into a campaign and wear their armour for two-or-three months straight. They couldn’t take it off to sleep in case they got attacked in the night.

“Wearing armour isn't so bad for a few hours, but if you had to wear it for two-to-three months, you'd be rubbed raw in patches, you'd have skin off everywhere.”

The armour worn by knights changed over the years with the advancement of technology.

“it started off as mail (small links of metal) and leather, which was good against a cutting implement, but not so good against a bludgeon instrument like a mace or a hammer,” Bossley said. “They couldn’t be cut, but they could get broken bones.

“They started putting leather over that, and then they sewed small pieces of metal into the leather like fish scales to work as armour. It was done that way because they’d have people belting that ore out, but they didn’t have the technology to make large sheets of steel, so the small plates were sewn into the armour.

You can see photos of armour with gold inlaid, pearls, diamonds; that was never used for battle, it was only used for play.

Darrell Bossley

"It wasn’t until the 13th century that full sets of armour were being made.  Around the 15th century, the armour became a full metal as most people would know a Knight.

“That armour was very plain and smooth because it was designed to deflect any weapon coming at it. If the armour had a fluting or an etching in it, that could catch a weapon and hence pierce the armour.”

Bossley said any armour that wasn’t plain steel was not used for battle, but as a symbol of status at jousting tournaments.

“The tournaments were an offshoot of the training to be a knight for battle,” he said. “As many people died in the early tournaments as they would in battle because they weren’t strictly governed, they were basically like a battle between knights. They didn’t have to kill them, but they usually did, so the tournaments were quite bloodthirsty.

“As the tournaments got a little more sophisticated and a little less bloodthirsty, the kings and barons wanted to show how high they were by using armour with gold etching and gold plating.

“The kings stopped entering the tournaments and oversaw them, so the armour became very fancy and intricate. You can see photos of armour with gold inlaid, pearls, diamonds; that was never used for battle, it was only used for play.”

14th century steel armour.

14th century steel armour.

Bossley is a millionaire … sort of

Bossley’s motto is Esse quam videri, which is Latin for ‘be rather than seem to be. The motto came from an ancestor from the 1400s.

“I used part of the heraldry of a fellow from 1420 who was a ship’s captain and a very high druid,” Bossley said. “His heraldry was the druid’s heraldry of a sword, a serpent, and three gauntlets.

“I wasn't allowed to use this exact heraldry because one it wasn't me, and two I'm not a druid. The Australian Re-enactment Association were happy for me to use his motto, but I can’t use his heraldry.”

Bossley said the story of his ancestor was fascinating.

“He was a friend of the monarch at the time, because he had plenty of money,” Bossley said. “He decided to build a fast ship, find good men, and go and chase pirates. He was basically a bounty hunter, and he did it for fun. He was a privateer.

“He would capture the ships and bring them back to the crown. The men would all be hung, and the gold went to the crown. He wouldn't accept a cut because he said it was blood money, and it was beneath his honour.

I can claim I'm a millionaire, but I can't touch it. I don't think I'd want it anyway, because I enjoy my life as it is.

Darrell Bossley

“When he retired, the king granted him land and gold bullion. He accepted the land, but wouldn't accept the gold bullion, because it was blood money to him. The king essentially gave him the choice of accepting the gold or being put to death.

“He eventually accepted it, and put it in the Bank of England, where he forbade any of his heirs from touching it. As silly as it sounds, that money is still there, and is now worth more than $32 million. I'm a direct heir to that money.”

When Bossley’s stepmother found out about the gold, she told him straight away. It soon became apparent, however, that the chore of getting the money would be too great.

“She checked with solicitors, who all confirmed I could claim it, but only if I made reasonable efforts to contact every other living heir,” Bossley said.

“There could literally be a million heirs after 700 years, and it would cost you millions of dollars to try and find them all, and then millions in lawyers and barristers fees to sort through it all, so it's just better to leave it there.

“I can claim I'm a millionaire, but I can't touch it. I don't think I'd want it anyway, because I enjoy my life as it is.”

Horses must wear armour too during a joust.

Horses must wear armour too during a joust.

The challenge of jousting

Bossley said jousting is a multi-faceted challenge, and requires a lot of work both from the human and the horse.

“Your armour has to be made specifically for you,” he said. “It’s like a good tailored suit: if it doesn’t fit you properly, it doesn’t work. You have to be able to move in it, ride in it, fairly much do anything in it, and it’s all steel.

“Your horse has to go through a couple of years of training before they're ready to joust as well. You have to be able to sit on that horse wearing 50-kilogram armour. If you get slightly off balance or lean forward, you're off the horse.

“I had a joust in Bathurst on a stinking hot day, so I asked my wife if she could take my helmet off. She couldn't reach it, so I reached up to take my helm off, and the weight took my right off my horse. It was very humiliating, but I hit the deck just because I leaned over and the weight of the armour pulled me off.”

Wearing 50-kilogram armour on a horse is challenging, but Bossley believes holding the lance is the biggest challenge.

Armour is like a good tailored suit: if it doesn’t fit you properly, it doesn’t work.

Darrell Bossley

“The lance is 12-foot timber, so it’s not light,” he said. You have to control that at a gallop, and if you can't prove you can control both the lance and the horse, you can't do it.

“If you hold a 3.6-metre stick out the front of you and feel how heavy it feels, and then start jumping up and down while holding it, that's what it's like trying to control it on a horse.

“The horse also has to know what he's doing, because when you've got full armour on, you can't see, you can't hear, and you can hardly feel the horse, so the horse has to guide itself.

“That takes a lot of training. If that horse gets scared and takes off, you're lethal. Everyone knows you don't stand in front of a knight, because when you've got your gear on, you can't do anything to stop a horse.

“Your horse has to run square down the list, and pull up at the end even if you don't pull him up. Most of the time they do, but sometimes they get excited.

“Then you've got to train your horse to have another horse galloping straight towards it without faltering or balking. The person on the other horse is like the tin-man from The Wizard of Oz; he's clanking and rattling, he's got a 12-foot long pokey stick out the front, and it takes a lot to train a horse to run straight towards that.”

The person on the other horse is like the tin-man from The Wizard of Oz; he's clanking and rattling, he's got a 12-foot long pokey stick out the front, and it takes a lot to train a horse to run straight towards that.

Darrell Bossley

Once a jouster has the basics down, they need to learn how to aim their lance at a gallop.

“There’s a lot of training against a quintain, which is a pole on top of another pole that rotates,” Bossley said. “It’s got a shield attached that you have to ride down and hit. That’s not ideal because it's stationary; it's not coming towards you.

“There are two main targets in jousting: the shield and the head. If you drop your lance just half a centimetre in your hand, that will drop by more than a foot at the other end, so it’s quite difficult to aim.

“You also have to make sure you hit them hard. If you don't break the lance, you haven't hit hard enough. Sometimes in the heavy joust you'll see both knights hit and be pushed out of the back of their saddles simultaneously because the lances haven't broken.”

Darrell Bossley and S'Calibur.

Darrell Bossley and S'Calibur.

Regular royalty

As there are less than 20 jousting knights in Australia, they are regularly treated like royalty at Renaissance fairs and medieval themed attractions.

“As a knight, I've had people drop to their knees in front of me to say 'm'lord' as I walk past,” Bossley said. “I'll say to them: ‘My name is Darrell you fool, not m'lord’, but they are that enthusiastic.

“The first time I went down to Kryal Castle in Ballarat to joust, I pulled up out the front with my horse, and I was dying for a cup of coffee.

“I was sitting there with my cup of coffee in the cafeteria, and a fella walked in through the door, saw me, and dropped straight to his knees. I thought he'd had a heart attack.

“He said: ‘m'lord, the castle is abuzz with your presence’. That was my first experience with being a knight in recreation societies.

It's great though, you go there and you feel like you've gone back in time, but I don't like people dropping to their knees in front of me.

Darrell Bossley

“It's great though, you go there and you feel like you've gone back in time, but I don't like people dropping to their knees in front of me.”

Bossley said the attitude towards knights had changed drastically from medieval times.

“The knights weren't looked upon nicely by soldiers, because these guys had to fight in the mud and blood so to speak, while the knights were sat on their horse,” he said.

“I won't say they were hated, but they weren't looked on favourably, even though they led these people into battle. They were revered among their peers, but not so much with the lower class.

“Now we can go to a medieval camp, and we're welcome anywhere, so I'm glad that's a trend that died with the times.”

Darrell Bossley and S'Calibur.

Darrell Bossley and S'Calibur.

Other opportunities

Bossley hopes jousting can gain a higher profile, not just around the country, but in the Eurobodalla Shire.

“Hopefully we can get someone enthusiastic in this area, because I need someone to train with,” Bossley said. “I tried to talk my wife into it, but she does skill at arms which is the other side of medieval warfare. She has no interest in jousting.”

Jousting isn’t the only pastime for Bossley, who has used his impressive suits of armour in other ventures.

“Quite often you'll see TV shows or ads with knights, and that's usually one of us, so there's a few dollars in that,” Bossley said. “I've done The Bachelor and My Kitchen Rules myself, but there are some guys who can supplement their armour by doing things like that. Weddings are another really popular one, people love having a knight in shining armour at the ceremony.

To grow old is not an option, but to grow up is, and I haven't.

Darrell Bossley

“People still love it. You walk in among a crowd, and people are amazed, even today. It's a good life, and it's a good fantasy. I mean, what kid doesn’t want to be a knight in shining armour when they grow up?

“To grow old is not an option, but to grow up is, and I haven't.”

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