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Medieval Knights - Jousting

As the sport of the Medieval Knights, jousting had no rival throughout the Middle Ages, and even down to the end of the 16th Century, he who "justed beste of all" was the finest sportsman. The rules and ceremonies of tournaments were defined by the same rigor as the chivalry itself.  They were arranged by heralds according to the strictest ritual, and differed little if at all in different countries.

Medieval Knights-Jousting Scene-15th Century.  The Barrier Which Parted The Lists Is Clearly Shown
Jousting Scene-15th Century. The Barrier Which Parted The Lists Is Clearly Shown

The challengers rode forward to the barriers, and touched the shields of the knights with whom they wished to joust. Some knights offered themselves to meet "all comers", others reserved themselves to particular opponents.

Beside their armorial bearings, the combatants used many devices in honor of their ladies, or for disguise. To honor a lady, a combatant might wear for example "a red sleeve broidered with pearls", or he might choose to remain unknown and wear arms all of one color as the Black Knight in Ivanhoe.

The arms and armor were those used in battle: swords, lances, battle-axes. The earliest tourneys were fought with blunted weapons, but soon, however, the knights found this insufficient, thirsting for a more stringent test of courage, more worthy of the honor of the Medieval Knights. Jousting, and especially the tournaments became very real imitations of war, in which sharp swords and lances were used.

When the jousting began, the squires saw to their master’s arms and horses, and stood in readiness to render help in everyway short of joining the contest. The knights mounted and set their spears in the "rest" (a half ring attached to the saddle-bow), and waited for the herald to give the signal for charging to the barrier which parted the lists.  Each combatant tried to strike his opponent either in the head, the more effective, but more difficult to aim, or in the body. The shock of the heavy-armed man and horse often dismounted both combatants. If both sat firm, the lances were generally shivered. But it often happened that man and horse fell together. And whether the arms were sharp or blunt, ribs or necks might be broken.

If the horse did not swerve, and the lances did not break, and either knight aimed true and held his lance firm, mortal wounds were often given. If both knights were unhurt and kept their seats, they wheeled their horses and charged again with fresh lances, till one or both were unhorsed. Then the victor also dismounted, and the combat was continued on foot with swords.

The tilting with lances is properly styled the joust, essentially one knight against another in single contest. In the beginning, it was held to be of less dignity then the tourney proper, where the knights met each other with swords in the "mêlée", the combat between a number of champions fighting on each side. The mêlée was closer to the image of war, a combat for life and death, closed only by the defeat of one party, or by the heralds or the king giving the word to cease.

We read of forty-two knights and squires being killed at a tournament. When Edward I was on his way from the Holy Land (1274), he spent some time in France, and was present at a grand tournament at Chalons. He was assailed by a knight, who tried to drag him from his horse. Edward was the stronger, but the other knight party tried to rescue the fellow, and the fight became so fierce, that many were killed on both sides.

Knights Jousting-15th Century
Knights Jousting-15th Century

Love being one of the main rules of service for the Medieval Knights, jousting became the most  romanticized kind of combat, because the knight could better show his individual skills, and triumph as an individual before the ladies of the Court who were his judge. When all was over, the victorious knights received their reward from the lady of the tournament: usually a garland of flowers, or more substantial prizes like war horses, or as in the romances, the love and hand of the Emperor’s daughter. A feast was then held, at which the ladies, as well as their champions were present, animated by the music of minstrels, and the songs and tricks of "jongleurs".

Jousts were sometimes held separately from tournaments. However, towards the end of the 14th Century, the term "joust" is more often used in describing the chief events of the tournaments.

Among the Medieval Knights, jousting became increasingly popular.  The old sport was kept alive and developed under royal patronage, increasing in magnificence and luxury. All through the 15th Century, the joust continued to be one of the great sports of the court and nobility. And, as its pageantry increases, its dangers lessen.

As we proceeded in the century, the object of the jouster is to splinter a lance and not to unhorse his adversary, and hence the decreasing weight of the lances used. The 15th Century is also the period when the joust armor is losing its symmetry: the side of the armor toward the opponent started to have a heavier protection than the other side. It was necessary to protect the tilter, for tilting was his daily exercise. And the whole idea of jousting on horseback was now that of sport. It grew gradually to be purely a pastime or a manly exercise. If a noble was sufficiently influential, he had his tilt in the street outside his house.

The final stage of the tournament is reached in the Tudor period. In England or on the continent, a national festival without the inclusion of jousts and tourney was still unthought-of. The birth of a prince, a royal marriage, the reception of an embassy, the conclusion of a peace or a treaty, all these events were heralded by the gorgeous display of one of these pageants.

It was the century of Maximilian I, the German Emperor, Henry VIII, King of England, and François Ier, King of France, themselves perfect Medieval Knights. Jousting in their superb armors, and bringing extravagance, color and display, they threw an illustrious lustre on the tournaments of the period in which they broke "many a lance" with the doughtiest of Answerers.

The sport of the tournament never claimed a keener supporter than Henry VIII. When he came to the throne of England in 1509, at age 19, few could splinter a lance better then he. The Medieval Knights, jousting and tournaments were still very much alive, and he continued to make jousting one of the chief amusements of his court. At Westminster, Greeenwich, and Hampton Court, he had his permanent tilts.

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