Friday, December 7, 2012

Brief History of Jousting


Knights of the Myst joust.  Melinda Leach and Stephanie Printy, on their draft horses Mikie and Bob, thunder down the list.  Photo by Ellie Reutlinger
“So the duke departed, and Sir Gareth stood there alone; and there he saw an armed knight coming toward him. Then Sir Gareth took the duke’s shield, and mounted upon horseback, and so without biding they ran together as it had been the thunder. And there that knight hurt Sir Gareth under the side with his spear. And then they alighted and drew their swords, and gave great strokes that the blood trailed to the ground. And so they fought two hours.” Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur, Book 7, Chapter XXXIII

The first rules of jousting were written by the Frenchman Geoffori de Pruelli in 1066.  Ironically, de Pruelli died in his first tournament.  During the Middle Ages in Europe, jousting became a way to practice the skills required in heavy cavalry attacks and to settle disputes between individuals. 

Armor owned by Northwest Jousting Association
From the 11th to 14th centuries, jousting was a duel between two heavily armored, mounted riders.  They started the competition by charging at each other with lances, usually smashing the lances, and then continuing the fight on foot with sword or mace until one rider yielded or was so hurt (or dead) that the fight could not continue.   Horses were frequently maimed or killed.  Influenced by the tales of chivalry from the 12th century, jousting became more of a knightly tournament sport with rules, tilts to guide the horses, and specialized heavy armor to protect both horse and rider.

In 1559, King Henry II of France died of wounds incurred during a tournament.  His death essentially brought an end to jousting as a noble sport.  In the early 1600s, equine activities at royal courts centered around horse ballets or carousels, which were displays of a large number of elaborately accoutered knights riding in patterns and showing off their equestrian skills.  Ring tilts or ring jousting continued as a sport until the 1700s. (Wikipedia, Jousting)

Surprisingly the horses used in medieval jousting were not draft horses.  Current historical research indicates that the destrier, or war horse of the Middle Ages, used for jousting would have commonly been a 16-hand stallion with short back and powerful hindquarters suitable for springing forward and making quick turns. (Wikipedia, Destrier) 

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