Tuesday, 10 April 2012

J is for...

Jousting. That most medieval and knightly of activities, if we’re inclined to believe renaissance faires and the like. Yet what was jousting really like for knights in the middle ages? Did they do it? Where on earth did they get all those curtains to go around their horses?

One point to bear in mind is that for quite a lot of what we think of as the middle ages, the Tournament did not consist of knights jousting neatly at the lists. It consisted of what amounted to general battles, sprawling over often miles between set villages. It didn’t just involve knights, although they were the main participants, because sometimes people would bring in footmen too. The main objective was to capture opposing knights for ransom, thus earning a great deal if it went well.

It was not originally considered a noble, or even particularly desirable, pursuit. Popes repeatedly banned it, and so did more than one king of England, mostly to little effect. Because it was popular. Knights travelled all over Europe on a kind of ‘pro tour’ of tournaments, with knights like William Marshall earning a good living from it.

Gradually, nobles came to be involved, putting together ‘teams’ of knights to fight alongside them. Henry the Younger was fond of the tournament, as was the Duke of Flanders. It wasn’t just about having fun though. It was a serious business, and sharp practices like waiting until everyone was worn out before joining in, sneaking away from the defined pens that signified capture or even deploying units of infantry all occurred.

As for the jousting in the lists, that’s more of a late medieval thing, or even a Renaissance thing masquerading as a recreation of the past. It’s a controlled and at least partly sanitised version of a much more dangerous pastime.

7 comments:

L.G.Smith said...

It just seems like the most insane thing to do. I can understand it from a battle tactic POV, but to do it as sport? That's just crazy.

Eric W. Trant said...

Sort of like MMA, yes?

- Eric

Susan Kane said...

Jousts must have been bloody events, but good for business and the local economy.

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Like all things historical I think we have come to rely on the glamourized versions. They fit more neatly into our preferred way of thinking! Great post.

Julie Daines said...

I love this! I've always wondered how the whole jousting thing came about and what it was really like. Thanks for this.

Stephanie said...

Interesting. I love learning more about this sort of thing. What really went on back then, and why did things change.

I think of Ren Faires as a fantasy alternative universe of Medieval Europe. I saw someone walking around in a steam punk outfit at the one I went to three years ago. And there's the occasional group of trekies pretending to be an away team. Always fun.

DL Hammons said...

A Knights Tale is one of our families favorite movies, which is pretty much about jousting. We also watch Full Metal Jousting on the History channel as well! :)