The History Of Jousting

Darth BeaverDarth Beaver Meine Ehre heißt Treue
edited February 2012 in Spurious Generalities
So there is a new show premiering on the History Channel on 12FEB12 at 10PM GMT-5 called Full Metal Jousting. Having fought with the S.C.A. in my younger days this show is of obvious interest to me. After watching the trailer I thought to myself, "I wonder how jousting began"? Yes. I know it was a method of war training and a way for knights to demonstrate their martial prowess and gain favor with the court. But I mean who thought of it? How did it gain popularity? What were the original rules of engagement?

Jousting originated between the 10th and 13th centuries. The rules for jousting are believed to have been written by a Frog named Geoffori de Pruelli. Unfortunately for him, he died at the very first jousting tournament in which occurred in the year 1066. From France, jousting slowly spread to Germany, England, and southern Europe. Jousting tournaments began as organized battles between knights who had grievances with one another which could not be resolved via peacful means. Two or more knights on horseback would fight, usually with lances as their weapons. Other weapons used may have included battle axes, daggers, and swords.

Although the first recorded tournament occurred in the year 1066, jousting did not gain much popularity until after the 12th century. Jousting then became very popular in Europe and remained so up until the 16th century. Jousting tournaments became a method for knights not only to demonstrate their martial skills, but was aslo a way to greatly increase ones wealth due to the large prize monies offered to the victors. However, jousting could prove fatal as evideced by the death of not only the death of Geoffori de Pruelli at the first tournament but also when Henry II of France was one of the first men who lost his life to a jousting tournament. These are only two of the documented deaths and one can well imagine that there were countless other deaths of lesser know "rank and file" knights. This brutal way of settling conflicts slowly evolved into a more civilized sport with a complex set of rules. Along with these new rules, the idea of chivalry evolved and became an essential part of jousting.

A knight would select a beautiful lady, most commonly a married lady, whose husband was ideally of higher rank than the knight. The knight would then fight in her "honor". In exchange for this "service" the knight expected the lady to spend the night with him. It was considered unacceptable, even down right disgraceful for a lady to refuse a knight who had fought for her "honor", even though she had no say in the matter to begin with.

As you can see, "Chivalry" wasn't quiet as romantic during the medieval period as it has been portrayed in modern times. This practice was considered an acceptable alternative to adultery by many. However, the church was outraged by this ridiculous practice. The French were far more involved with "chivalry" than the English, who mainly saw tournaments as a means of military training for their knights. For this reason, tournaments in England were terribly brutal, very often resulting in death. The violence, however, also outraged the church. It was for this reason that in 1292 The Statute of Arms for Tournaments was established. These tournaments dubbed all Knights as gentlemen and required them to abide by the rules of fair play (National Jousting Association).

As the thirteenth Century came to a close, jousting took a new turn. Tournaments became less like brutal death matches and more like civilized entertainment. Tournaments were now fought with blunted weapons. Death was rare and considered very unfortunate, where as previously it was something to be expected. Killing a horse, however, had always been considered an absolutely inexcusable and horrific act.
The knight's objective was no longer to kill the other knight, but to knock him off his horse. The knights also tried to destroy their lances as this won them more respect and prestige. The amount of lances a knight broke was an indication of the force of his charge, and therefore, of his horsemanship skills.

There were three types of tournaments up until the 17th century. They were: Melee' or Tourney Proper, Individual Joust, and Practice Tournament. Melee' was popular during the 12th and 13th century when tournaments were still extremely brutal and violent. It was this type of tournament in which the most lives were lost. This method involved more than two competitors. The goal was to be the last one standing by unhorsing as many of the others as possible. Individual jousting was a battle between only two knights. This form of jousting was a lot more civilized than the previous. If a knight were to hit either his opponent or his opponents horse he would be disqualified. The goal then was to hit the other knight's shield knocking him off his horse or shattering the lance. In 1420 a wall was introduced to help prevent injury to the horses.

The Practice tournament was just exactly what its name implies. Rings, or a quintain (wooden target mounted on a pole) were set up as practice targets. If hit off center the quintain would swing in such a way that it would unseat the knight. The rings however, were a slightly less dangerous form of the practice tournament. A ring would be suspended from a cord, and the Knights goal was to pick it up on the tip of his lance. The ring tournament is the tournament that has lasted the longest. "The riding of the rings" as the ring tournament came to be known, was the longest lasting of the tournaments. The riding of the rings was also still closely associated with chivalry, but not in the same adulterous sense of the past. In addition to customary golden rings, the winning knights were awarded kisses from the ladies.

The next phase in the evolution of Jousting took place in the 17th century. The culture of the time had become more civilized. The medieval tournaments had been far too brutal and needed to be replaced by something more refined and proper. The result was the "carousel". The name was a combination of the Italian word garosello and the Spanish word carossela, both meaning "little war". One of the games played in this new form of jousting was based on a training exercise for tournaments called "catching the ring". This game however, was transformed into a more elegant sport in which nobles dressed in elegant costumes took instructions from only the finest horse-masters of Europe. Louis XIV of France was considered one of the best at this new sport.

It was this sort of Jousting that was first introduced to America. It is not known exactly when or exactly where jousting originated in America but Maryland is generally considered responsible for increasing its popularity. William Gilmore of Baltimore Maryland hosted one of the first and one of the biggest Jousting tournaments in America. Gilmore went abroad and witnessed the Eglinton tournament in Scotland on august 29 1839. When he returned home in 1840 he put on one of the most fantastic quintain tournaments ever held in America. In 1962 , ring jousting became the official sport of Maryland, making Maryland the first American state to have an official sport. Today, the International Jousting Association, is responsible for the existence of modern jousting, also known as tilting. Modern Jousting has new rules regarding the safety of armor and has introduced breakable lance tips as well. IJA jousting gives points to the knight who is able to break his lance tip on the other knight's shield. Unhorsing the opponent however, is not rewarded.

Jousting, in a more theatrical form is a popular event at Renaissance fairs and similar American events. Jousting is also a modern sport in Italy. The town of Foligno has an annual jousting tournament known as the Giostra della Quintana. This tournament dates al the way back to 1613 but is still being practiced today. The town of Arezzo also has an annual tournament that dates back to the Crusades. It is fascinating to see how jousting has adapted over the years to fit in with the culture of its time. Even though it no longer has any practical applications today, Jousting is still enjoyed and admired by modern society. (National Jousting Association)


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