Jousting: New Trend Sport with a Rich Tradition

Contemporary illustration of a jousting tournament at the court of Richard II in 1390The past – from the Stone Age to World War II – is a favorite subject of historians and researchers. It seems to be an unlimited source for a wide variety of subjects that are all worthy of closer examination.

But the Middle Ages is a theme that has also interested many non-scientists for a while. Instead of going to very interesting but sometimes dry exhibitions, modern “Homo sapiens” increasingly prefers to actively participate in events and experiences. Medieval markets and Renaissance fairs attract curious bystanders, many of whom end up in new professions as jugglers, fire breathers or even jousters, while others become absorbed in reenactment (acting out historic battles as  authentically as possible) or living history (actually living an everyday life in a particular historical epoch or period). And of course there are the people who thirst after risk and are spearheading the movement to take re-creations of medieval tests of strength beyond mere swordplay with special stage combat swords. These pioneers will stop at nothing to make their point. Well, maybe the tip of a lance would halt them in their tracks.

A medieval spectacle experiences a renaissance as a trend sport

Modern jousting / Source: Wikipedia | © PretzelpawsYes, medieval jousting – also known as as tilting – is really becoming more and more popular. Currently, an estimated 200 people around the globe participate in jousting as a full contact sport. Most of them live in North America, England, Australia, and New Zealand. In addition, several hundred people demonstrate jousting in the form of choreographed stunts. Organized stunt teams with hollow lances that break easily stage tournaments to present jousting to very impressed audiences. Stunt riders like these often perform at medieval spectacles and castle fairs in European countries such as France and Italy. Unlike full contact jousting, when stunt jousters are injured it is the exception rather than the rule.

Death is a pale rider

Modern jousting / Source: flickr | © Jeff KubinaBut how dangerous really was and is this test of strength, which could also include wheeling and charging for the favor of a faire lady? Dr. Tobias Capwell, curator for weapons and armor at the Wallace Collection in London and his colleague, archaeometallurgist Alan Williams, were very interested in the answer to this question. In their opinion, jousting must have been very dangerous. After all, as early as 1292 the authorities issued the “Statutum Armorum” that prohibited pointed lance tips and stipulated that opponents who had been thrown from their horses could no longer be attacked. Obviously, medieval rulers were losing too many noble knights at jousting tournaments – originally, two knights would joust until one was killed (“joust a l’outrance”). Now and then dukes and regents prohibited jousting, and sometimes even the pope spoke out against it! But these prohibition eras did not last long. As a result of various laws, special armor was even developed for different forms of mounted tournament competition: heavy, rigid jousting armor and lighter tilting armor that included a large shield.

Raw strength proceeds with caution

Walther von Klingen, Codex Manesse (circa 1300)Their tests produced astounding results. Trials in which a moving pendulum was hit with a lance at full gallop to measure impact energy demonstrated that even modern stab-proof vests would not have withstood the force. Integrating a lance hook into jousting armor even increased the lance’s impact energy. Lances were often up to 4.5 meters long and weighing up to 15 kg. The hook device that was used to hold a lance firmly to the armor without expending a lot of strength allowed Capwell to achieve an impressive maximum impact energy of 208 J (a Walther P99 pistol tests at 490 J) and an average value of 140 J. Without a lance hook, the average was “only” 103 J. In view of the fact that a modern stab-proof vest tests at a maximum of 100 J, the lance’s comparatively high value indicates that they could cause serious injuries, if not mortal ones.

Henry VIII of the House of Tudor almost became one of the more prominent victims of jousting. Because he forgot to close his visor, his opponent’s lance was able to pierce his head just above his eye in 1524. H almost paid for his forgetfulness with his life. On January 24, 1536, he was thrown from his armored horse, which then landed on top of him. After that, Henry VIII was unconscious for two hours and was thought to be dead. King Henry II of France was not as lucky. He met his maker on June 30, 1559, during the festivities surrounding the peace treaty with the Hapsburg empire. A splinter from the lance shaft of Gabriel, Count Montgomery pierced the king’s visor and his eye behind it, driving into his brain.

And contemporary chronicler Raphael Holinshed reported that Sir Robert Morley, feared and respected for his superb martial skills, died after participating in a tournament. The results of the study by Capwell and Williams show that he probably died of severe internal injuries – and not of shame, as the historian indicated.

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