Jousting: The Sport of Kings

                                 I found when researching about Warwick Castle that jousts happened there and Antony Woodville, someone who i am fascinated by. also jousted so i wanted to know more.   I thought who best to approach but fellow antony Woodville historian, who has written a post on the real Ulrich von Lichtenstein from a Knights Tale – Danielle Burtion from https://voyagerofhistory.wordpress.com/. Over to Danielle –

Jousting was an incredibly important, and often dangerous, sport for knights, noblemen and royalty of all ranks to participate in during the Medieval period. It is still practised today by highly skilled reenactment groups and I have had the privilege of seeing quite a few of these. However, these newer versions can lack the pomp, pageantry and spectacle that were at the core of the original tournaments held in the Middle Ages.

Jousting tournaments grew out of the much older tournaments, which were held over several days and consisted of different armed combat events. The most infamous off these was the melee. This was basically a brawl like battle where combatants sought to ‘capture’ as many of their opponents as possible. These tournaments were hugely popular and drew many spectators as well as combatants from all over the country they were held in or from abroad. This meant that there were well advertised in advance, not just to let the town know they were to be completely taken over for many days, but to encourage as many spectators as possible. The sheer amounts of people attending created a fair like atmosphere, but also attracted many opportunist criminals, especially pickpockets.[1]





The Romance of Jean de Saintré – ‘[Miniature] Jean de Saintré jousts with the Spanish knight, Enguerrant, at a tournament.’, circa 1470, British Library

For the participants it was the best chance they had outside of an actual battlefield environment to practise and train in knightly activities and to show off this martial ideal of manliness.[2] It also mixed ideas of chivalric honour and courtly love, which were important parts of a knight’s education. The idea of chivalry comes from the idea of mixing the role of protection with Christian values.[3] From the 13th century, courtly love in the style of fighting for a woman’s honour became part of this and was evident in how jousting was fought.[4] Many combatants fought as the champion of a certain lady they had found favour with, and so they fought for their honour. However, it was also their own honour that they fought for. Honour was something to be defended, created, or ruined during these tournaments and it was this aspect of the fighting that was a good educator to the next generation of knights.[5]

Jousts finally replaced the melee as the main type of tournament from the late 14th and early 15th century because of the disruption the melee could cause for the towns and organisers involved.[6] Following this transition, it became a symbol of unity and diplomacy by combining politics and pleasure, especially through displaying a theatrical style of pageantry, being especially popular during marriage and coronation celebrations.[7] It was because of the need to replicate Arthurian style chivalry that made this a popular choice of events at such celebrations. They often contained allegorical and theatrical themes that reflected society’s shifting towards the Renaissance age.[8]



Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi, Battle Scene, 1450-1475, J. Paul Getty Museum

Despite this shift towards a more pageant style of physical violence, there were still dangers and the need to replicate martial prowess was essential to court rituals. As Huizinga suggests, these types of tournament still had the original aim to give a sense of battle but were really used to mix the “harmony of warfare and the chivalric ideal”.[9] During the reign of Edward IV, there was a renewed interest in chivalric culture in general, mostly generated by the parallel increase in tournaments and literary interest in chivalric topics.[10] This did continue through to Henry VIII’s reign but in general, the advent of the Tudor age saw the end of the tournament life as it had existed in the Medieval period.


[1] Uden, G., A Dictionary of Chivalry (London: Longmans, 1968), p. 327.

[2] G. Duby, The Chivalrous Society cited in Whitbread, R. E., Tournaments, Jousts and Duels: Formal Combats in England and France, circa 1380 – 1440, PhD University of York Department of History (2013), p. 21.

[3] Broekhoff, ‘Chivalric Education in the Middle Ages’, Quest, 11.1 (1968), p. 25

[4] Broekhoff, ‘Chivalric Education in the Middle Ages’, p. 26.

[5] Whitbread, R. E., Tournaments, Jousts and Duels: Formal Combats in England and France, circa 1380 – 1440, p. 24; Broekhoff, ‘Chivalric Education in the Middle Ages’, p. 29.

[6] Crouch, D., Tournament (London: Hambledon and London, 2005), p. 116.

[7] Whitbread, R. E., Tournaments, Jousts and Duels: Formal Combats in England and France, circa 1380 – 1440, p. 25; Donohue, C. A., Public Display and the Construction of Monarchy in Yorkist England 1461-85, PhD University of York Department of History (2013), pp. 34-35.

[8] Cline, R. H., ‘The Influence of Romances on Tournaments of the Middle Ages’, Speculum, 20.2 (1945), p. 210.

[9] J. Huizinger, Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen, cited in Broekhoff, ‘Chivalric Education in the Middle Ages’, p. 29.

[10] Donohue, C. A., Public Display and the Construction of Monarchy in Yorkist England 1461-85, p. 34.

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