The jousting tournament at the Carolina Renaissance Festival got me interested in learning more about the history of the joust. So along with the photos of Sir Mauldron, Sir Maxmillian and Sir Edgeron of Aquataine, I’ve included a little background on jousting.
Jousting is the best known of the medieval tournament games or “hastilude”. Its origins come from heavy cavalry tactics used in High Middle Ages In earlier times, as in the Battle of Hastings (1066), Norman cavalry would ride up to the shield line of Saxon infantry and hurl a large spear. This proved to be quite ineffective. It was not until the undisciplined Saxons broke rank, that the Norman Cavalry would easily pick apart the vulnerable infantry.
Soon after, cavalry tactics adopted the longer speared lance. Instead of being thrown by hand, the horseman held the lance fixed under their arm extending several feet in front of the horse. Galloping at full speed, the horseman could deliver a devastating impact to shielded ground infantry. This was very effective in softening enemy lines.
From the 11th to 14th centuries, jousters mostly competed as part of group; usually under the services of the king or local nobility. Initially, these and other martial competitions were intended to train and prepare combatants in horsemanship and weapons handling – for their next military engagement. But eventually they also became a popular form of business and entertainment. The first “extreme sport”!
Wearing only chain-mail and a heavy metal helmet or “great helm”, jousters would ride directly at one another in an open field, many times colliding head-on, usually with devastating consequences. Jousting continued until one of or both of the opponents were unhorsed. Losing combatants would forfeit their horse, armor and weapons.
Later in the Late Middle Ages courtly ideals of chivalry prevailed. The “pas d’armes” became a regulated chivalric hastilude, where it was considered dishonorable to take advantage of your opponent’s misfortune. Tournaments, like other high court activities, became quite formal. Challenges went out to noble landholders, who prepared their best knights for competition. A few knights were not aligned to a king or nobleman and put themselves up for sale to the highest bidder. They became known as “free-lancers”. Ha! How cool, I’m a freelancer!
During this period the “list” field or arena was improved. A wooden “tilt” or wooden rail was introduced to separate the horses into lanes and allow the jouster to focus on lance placement. Rules varied, but usually allowed points for a direct strike to the opposing knight’s shield or shoulder shield which in turn caused the lance to break. Dislodging the opposing knight’s shield and even unhorsing him rendered additional points. The last image below captures dislodged shields of Sir Edgeron and Sir Mauldron just after both made successful strikes with their lances.
Knights were not the only jousters, many nobility and even kings competed to showcase their bravery, skill and talents. In 1559, King Henry II of France took a splintered lance in the eye and later died. The introduction of firearms in the 16th century diminished the role of heavy cavalry and importance of jousting as a means of combat training. Both of these events heralded the rapid decline of competitive jousting.
Thanks for the visit, I hope you enjoyed this post!