The Royal Championships of East Mercia, also known as the East Mercia Championships and most commonly shortened to just the Championships, are a series of sporting events forming a week-long tournament held in the Queendom of East Mercia on the Anglia Isle in the second week of May every year. Based in and around the Champion’s Arena in Nottingham, the capital of the Queendom, the tournament pits athletes from all six Duchies, both professional and amateur, against each other as they compete for points across five distinct sporting disciplines with the aim of winning a title, up to and including the tournament-wide crowning title of Champion.
The Championships are an integral part of East Mercian history stretching back to the foundation of the Anglia Isle as it is today, and continue to benefit from royal patronage under King John II. They have produced many celebrities and cultural figures, as well as inspiring countless others. As such, they remain an important fixture of the East Mercian calendar, symbolising values of sporting excellence and healthy living, and receiving widespread media coverage, as well as providing the impetus for citizens across the Queendom to get in on the act with their own amateur events.
Selection process and eligibility
The five sporting disciplines in the Championships are Marksman, Fleetfoot, Swordsman, Gunner and Warrior. For each of these, every Duchy will select eight competitors, seven professional and one amateur; therefore, in the whole tournament, each Duchy fields 40 competitors in total and, in each discipline, there are 48 competitors in total. The maximum possible number of competitors across the whole tournament is 240.
All entrants must be chipped citizens, and professionals must have an established track record. Amateur candidates are often eligible because they have won an amateur competition held in advance, although this does not account for all amateurs in the tournament. Hycathae are permitted to compete on the condition that they do not use their magic to advance themselves unfairly; since this magic is not always visible to the naked eye, this rule is enforced via monitoring of the Hycatha’s chip, which tracks their heart rate. The Hycath Salvation Program in each Duchy offers the chance to apply for the Championships as a benefit of registration.
It is permitted, and common, for one athlete to participate in multiple disciplines, meaning that the total number of competitors rarely in fact reaches 240, although this has happened occasionally over the years.
Observation of the Championships traditionally begins eight weeks before Champion’s Week when the Arena is officially blessed by the Octal of East Mercia. The week itself begins with a ceremony in Champion’s Square, where competitors will visit the statues of past Champions in order to pay their respects.
Competition in the five disciplines takes place from the Monday to the Friday. Each of these is made up of five bouts showcasing one or more different key skills of the discipline; most of these are held in the Arena, although some take place elsewhere in Nottingham on account of technical specificities, logistics and public safety considerations. One out of these five bouts is given the evening slot on one day, often because it has a certain theatrical quality.
By the end of the Friday, the athlete who has accumulated the most points in each event will have won that title, and will thereafter be referred to as a Marksman, Fleetfoot, et al. The Saturday is a day of widespread celebration, playing host both to the medal ceremony for individual disciplines and to a programme of exhibition sports put on for public entertainment. Spectators and supporters participate in a potluck, and fairground attractions are also in attendance.
On the Sunday, the winners of the individual disciplines compete against each other for the Champion title. In the case that a multi-disciplinary athlete has won more than one title, they must choose one of their disciplines to represent, receiving double points in that discipline; the second-place finalist in the other discipline/s will then automatically advance to compete in the Champion event, ensuring that there are always five competitors. The eventual Champion, however, will not relinquish their individual discipline title, instead of keeping both.
The Marksman event showcases skill in archery. Its five bouts are:
- Long-distance fixed target with a longbow,
- Fixed target on horseback with a compound bow, held outside the Arena,
- Clay pigeon shooting with a crossbow, held outside the Arena,
- Speed shooting with a compound bow, where the most arrows fired with precision wins, and
- Trick shooting, where a flaming arrow is fired at a target to set it alight, followed by firing a second unlit arrow at a thin rope suspending a measure of water which, if hit correctly, will extinguish the target. This is traditionally the evening bout.
Notable Marksman through history include Robyn Loxley (Huntingdon).
The Fleetfoot is the runners’ event. Its five bouts are:
- Speed hurdles,
- Parkour around the Arena, where a number of potential paths are available and points are awarded for style and creativity over simply completing the course,
- A paired obstacle race in the Arena, traditionally the evening bout,
- An individual obstacle race around the Outer Circle, vaulting ‘found’ obstacles such as cars, fences and indiscriminate rubble, and
- An individual obstacle course challenge held over water in the bay.
The Swordsman event showcases skill in armed combat. Its five bouts are:
- Broadsword, fought two-handed, hand below hand,
- Fencing, fought one-handed,
- Quarterstaff, fought two-handed, hand next to hand,
- Sai, fought with one in each hand, and
- A team melee trial, traditionally the evening bout, where competitors from one Duchy aim to eliminate another Duchy’s competitors one by one. Competitors wear electronic pressure pads, and the points vary depending on where they hit their adversary. The first to go out receives only one point, going up to the last left standing, who receives the full sixteen.
The Gunner event showcases skill with ballistic weapons. Its five bouts are:
- Fixed target sharpshooting with long-distance rifles,
- A rifle clay pigeon shoot,
- Precision shooting with handguns, where competitors must hit ‘threat’ targets and lose points for hitting a ‘safe’ target,
- Fixed target/moving shooter bout, where competitors are driven around the city by lorry and required to fire at targets, with colour-coded blanks used to identify shooters, and
- A team trial much like that in the Swordsman bout, with the same scoring system but with tagging lasers used instead of swords.
Notable Gunners through history include Janice Quinn (Nottingham) and a protégé of hers, Helen Carey (Guthlaxton).
The Warrior event is a test of strategy. Its five bouts are:
- A martial arts bout where competitors face off one against the other,
- Another martial arts bout where two competitors are cuffed together and go up against eight externally sourced professionals, often former medallists,
- A gauntlet bout where competitors are given a special item to smuggle through four zones, with an externally sourced professional opponent in each who will try and stop them and no limit on their use of technique, but a point deducted for every time they drop the gauntlet,
- A team trial, going eight against eight to capture a flag, either through stealth or fighting, and
- Trick riding, where competitors are sent into the Arena on horseback and must collect objects placed at varying levels without coming off the horse. Traditionally the evening bout.
Notable Warriors through history include Killian Greaves (Lindsey).
The inaugural Championships were held in 1378 in honour of the coronation of Queen Mary-Anne, on land now occupied by the University of Clifton. Abigail Loxley, 2nd Duchess of Huntingdon and close ally to Queen Mary-Anne, was an enthusiastic proponent of the tournament during her tenure, and took Killian Greaves as her life partner.
In 1656, Queen Alviva II moved the Championships to their current location, which originally consisted of no more than a basic sandpit and surrounding stands. After her murder in the 1671 and the ensuing Acorn Uprising, her brother, now King John I, commissioned the first Champion’s Arena to be built on the site in her honour. The neoclassical building was completed in 1723, during the reign of John’s son, King Richard I, and has housed the main Championship tournament ever since.
Whilst keeping to the same basic structure and disciplines throughout its history, some Championship events have had to make minor modifications to accommodate the effects of the Change, most often to avoid or reduce the use of valuable resources and commodities as part of a bout. One notable example is the trick shooting bout in the Marksman event, where competitors used to have to set fire to a measure of grain with their flaming arrow; this has since changed to the simple target used in the present-day event.
The modern Championships present an important opportunity for citizens to combine celebration of the Queendom’s athletic prowess – as played out by the official competitors – with partaking in and raising awareness of health, charity and sustainability.
Schools, colleges and universities in all six Duchies traditionally pause or reduce teaching for the week to focus on a special timetable of amateur sporting events, copying or closely mirroring the five official Championship disciplines. These educational institutions are some of the most regular and reliable organisations to run such events and, in so doing, have a marked effect upon charitable fundraising at this time of year. The professionalism of many of the events, particularly those run by Nottingham’s two major universities, has brought them a reputation as training grounds for potential athletes.
Nottingham News reports regularly on Championship developments in the lead-up to, and in the wake of, Champion’s Week, and anchor Lenka DeVor has spoken publicly of her enthusiasm for the tournament on several occasions. During the week itself, they will generally run an extended ‘Championship special’ episode, often including live punditry and post-match analysis alongside appropriately themed news items.
Newspapers will give over the majority of their pages to the tournament, and various forms of tie-in media are popular during the month of May.
Criticism and controversy
For all their positive contributions to East Mercian life and society, the Championships have historically divided public opinion, with some concerned for the violence of some of the sporting bouts and others holding the view that the tournament represents privilege, excess and distraction. In the present day, those who make such arguments tend to constitute a small but vocal minority, mainly concentrated in the Outer Circle and Greenwood districts of Nottingham. The terrorist Will Scarlett is a notorious opponent of the Championships, and has used his illegal broadcasts to put this across.
The tournament itself has also encountered controversy on select occasions. For example, Nottingham News recently reported that the Championship Organising Committee of 2022 have moved to eject Swordsman competitor Zack McKay from the heat, on account of his illicit relationship with juror Eliza Renton.
Fandom is also an important part of engagement with the Championships, and particularly famous and illustrious competitors past and present will often have their own fan club. The Robyn Loxley Fan Club is well-established, with headquarters both in Nottingham and in her home city of Loxton; since her official death announcement in 2017, the club have organised several vigils in Champion’s Square, sometimes disturbing the peace.