The Making of The Eldridge Conspiracy: Jousting

04-kaye-nov2016-newsletterI can’t imagine a series of books about knights in the Middle Ages that didn’t include something about jousting. In The Eldridge Conspiracy (K4), the fourth and final book in my Sir Kaye, the Boy Knight series there is an important aspect of the plot that includes jousting. So for my second K4 research blog, here are some interesting facts about jousting in the middle ages.

What is jousting and how did it get its start?

Jousting is derived from Old French joster, ultimately from Latin iuxtare, meaning “to approach, to meet.” And “to meet” is exactly what happens in jousting. Jousting is the sport in which two knights fight on horseback while holding heavy lances, with each opponent endeavoring to strike his opponent while riding towards him at high speed, and if possible, breaking the lance on the opponent’s shield or jousting armor, or unhorsing him.

Medieval style jousting tournament.

The lance was made of wood with a metal tip made of steel or iron and measured between 9 and 14 feet in length. The participants experienced over three times their body weight in G-forces when the lances collided with their armor.

The beginnings of jousting did not look like what we imagine today. Originally, there was no divider between the two competitors, and the jousters would run straight at each other with their lances. As one could imagine, this head-to-head combat on horseback led to many injuries and fatalities. However, the introduction of the divider created a more controlled battleground.

A list was the field or arena where a jousting event was held and a divider, which was initially just cloth stretching along the center of the field, eventually became a wooden barrier known as the tilt.

More medieval style jousting.

Jousting started as a form of weapons training that became popular in the Middle Ages as a result of heavy cavalry (armored men on war horses) becoming the primary weapon of the time. First, jousting was simply a way of training knights for battle in a controlled environment. The sport taught new knights horsemanship, accuracy, and how to react in combat. However, what was created as a military training exercise quickly became a popular form of entertainment.

The first recorded jousting tournament was said to be arranged by a Frenchman named Godfrey de Preuilly in 1066 and it soon became so popular, the King had to put a limit on how many tournaments could be held, so that not all of the knights would be busy jousting when a real conflict arose.

An ancient bas-relief sculpture of jousting knights.

Jousting tournaments were considered highly formal events, and they were planned and arranged months in advance. After gaining the proper royal permits, nobles would challenge their neighboring landowners, and each would choose their best knights to fight. Sometimes, a noble would hire a man to joust who was not a committed knight to their land. These men were called “freelancers,” which is where we get the term today.

By the 14th century, jousting became very popular with many members of the nobility, including kings. Jousting was a way to showcase their own skill, courage, and talents, and the sport was just as dangerous for a king as a knight. England’s King Henry VIII suffered a severe injury to his leg when a horse fell on him during a tournament, ending the 44-year-old king’s jousting career and ultimately leaving him with wounds from which he never fully recovered.

Depiction of King Henry VIII jousting.

King Henry II of France was the most famous royal jousting fatality. During a jousting exhibition to celebrate the marriage of his daughter to the king of Spain in 1559, the king received a fatal wound when a sliver of his opponent’s lance broke off and pierced him in the eye.

Many aspects of jousting tournaments mirror the sports customs we still have today. For instance, medieval heralds would work similarly to sports journalists of the day, promoting the events and jousters. Many of the best jousters became very famous, like today’s sports heroes. It became such a popular form of entertainment that jousters would travel around on jousting circuits, fighting each other over and over.

Illustration from The Eldridge Conspiracy of a jousting knight.

Knights did not just compete for fame and bragging rights. They often competed for gifts, money, and possibly even land from a grateful noble.

My next K4 research blog will be about the cog ship, a type of ship used in the Middle Ages.

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