We have arrived in the heart of Bruges.
Just in time for the joust tournament.
Our knights await their turn in the contestant tents.
But first a word on this matter...
by Imogen Reed
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To Run Through or Not to Run Through…
The origins and history of jousting can be traced back to the Middle Ages. A joust was set up as a public event in which one or more knights would do battle in order to show off their ability to fight in military combat. Very often, these colourful events were only one step away from the reality of war – albeit slightly more sanitised. Put simply, a joust is just a form of combat which takes place between knights in armour. These knights can be either on horseback or in some cases on foot.
Jousting is mentioned for the very first time in written literature by the Frenchman Geoffroi de Purelli, in 1066. He is credited with being the first person to have set down the rules and regulations of a tournament. He was unlucky though, as he was killed during the joust for the tournament he had written the rules for!
During mediaeval times, in which the notion of jousting and tournaments really became popular, it was generally expected that Knights of the realm had to provide their King or Liege with military service. As you can imagine this was going to be an incredibly horrible experience; dangerous, deathly – and if you were lucky enough to survive in the first place you may come back wounded, very ill or malnourished. But the more you fought for your King and country, the more kudos you gained from leasing your skills out in this way.
What was the main point of a joust?
The lance? Joking apart, the idea of a joust was simply to unhorse your opponent. This was, in the early years of tournaments and trials (they came to real prominence during the 12th and 13th centuries) a very bloody and harmful experience. It was very often just one long charge with weapons such as axes, maces and broadswords used to maim or kill the opponent. First hand accounts of such experiences are related in the Chronicles of Froissart written just before the heyday in Renaissance Jousts.
Renaissance Jousting – The Heyday
It wasn’t until the 15th and 16th centuries that jousting became a perfected sport and more of a public spectacle. Indeed, this is the time when the pageant aspect of the tournament came more to the forefront, with as much emphasis on chivalry and pomp as there was on the actual tourney itself. There was very often an element of romance in it too. Women would sit in the assembled throng with, for example, the handkerchief of the man they loved who was fighting. During the reign of Elizabeth I, when jousting was declining but not yet defunct, the Earl of Cumberland went into a tournament with the Queen’s glove pinned atop the flap of his hat. Little gestures like this could sometimes be scandalous but more often than not were harmless expressions of love.
Renaissance Jousts and Pageantry
During the renaissance period of jousting they were very often included as part of state occasions rather than just as an entertainment on their own. As an example of this, one was arranged to celebrate the marriage of King Henry VIII to his first Queen, Catherine of Aragon as part of the marriage ceremony, feasting and general revelry that took place.
King Henry VIII was himself actually one of the most renowned jousters of the period, and was almost killed during one particular tournament which took place during his ill-fated second marriage to Anne Boleyn. She blamed the shock of his near death on her subsequent miscarriage. It ultimately wasn’t enough to save her.
It was said that on more than one occasion the King was “allowed” to win rather than actually winning outright, though there is substantial evidence to back up the fact he was indeed a skilled jouster. During this period, special armour was created for combatants – though strictly speaking this was more than just a suit of armour designed for going into war with. It was specially strengthened and heavier than traditional suits (sometimes they could weigh as much as 100 pounds). As a matter of course the left hand sides of these suits were especially strengthened as this was the side of the body most susceptible to attack and injury.
How did they do it?
Jousting Knights had to make sure that as well as wearing suitable armour, they had a horse which could manage the sheer weight of both the man and the substantial amount of metal they were wearing. Once this was done, the animal would be fitted with a saddle and bridle. The Knight would then spend a little time practising, by mounting up and riding round, carrying a lance in their right hand and a breastplate in their left.
It is now time to joust properly
Two stakes would be tied, usually at a distance of 180 feet apart. A lane is made for each jouster (this is called the tilt). Both Knights mount their horses at opposite ends of the stakes (one on the left hand side, one on the right). A signal is given. At this signal, both Knights drop the reins of their horses and charge forward. Once you are within reaching distance of your opponent, you must swing your lance to the left and try to thrust the tip of it towards your opponent’s shield. Points are awarded for how much damage you can do to your opponent and their shields/lances. You must stay in your saddle until the end of the tilt, otherwise you lose. Once you reach the opposite end of the tilt, points are recorded and the process begins again. If your accoutrements are broken during your foray, now is the time to replace them before a second charge.
It’s worth noting that jousting was more or less brought to an end in the year of 1559, when the French King Henry II was killed after the shattered pieces of his opponents lance were lodged into his skull during a particularly fierce bout. Amazingly, he was the first and only monarch to ever have been killed during combat. Though it hastened the end of this particular sport once and for all…
Claire Jenkins aka Imogen is a freelance writer from England who specialises in writing for finance and insurance sites and is a particular expert in leasing. However, history and castles are her true love and she often visits the beautiful Warwick Castle to watch some medieval themed shows.
by Imogen Reed
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* image source joust