Jump to: navigation, search


File:Jousting renfair.jpg
Tilting with a lance at a Renaissance Fair.

Jousting in its basic form is a martial contest between two knights mounted on horses and using lances. It can also consist of a series of competitions using a variety of weapons, usually in sets of three per weapon (such as tilting with a lance, blows with the battle axe, strokes with the dagger, or strokes with a sword), often as part of a tournament.[1]

Jousting was one of many types of martial games in the Middle Ages. These games, requiring great skill, were referred to generically as hastiludes.

Though the first recorded tournament was staged in 1066, jousting itself did not gain in widespread popularity until the 12th century.[citation needed] It maintained its status as a popular European sport until the early 17th century.[2]

Jousting was added to tournaments several centuries after their inauguration. The joust permitted a better display of individual skill and, although dangerous, offered large sums of prize money. Many knights made their fortune in these events, whilst many lost their fortune or even life. For example, Henry II of France died when his opponent's lance went through his visor and shattered into fragments, blinding his right eye and penetrating his right orbit and temple.[3]

File:Codex Manesse 081 Walther von Klingen.jpg
Depiction of a late 13th century joust in the Codex Manesse


Medieval jousting

The skills used in tournaments were a reflection of the martial skills applied to battle where the primary purpose was to try to kill or disable an opponent. The primary purpose of the jousting lance is to unhorse the other by striking them with the end of the lance while riding towards them at high speed. This is known as "tilting". Other weapons were also used for jousting.[1]


File:Dürer Stechhelm.jpg
Jousting helmet (), late fifteenth century. Illustration by Albrecht Dürer.


The lists, or list field, is the arena in which a jousting event or similar tournament is held. More precisely, it is the roped-off enclosure where tournament fighting takes place.[4][5] It is mentioned frequently in the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.[6] In the late medieval period, castles and palaces were augmented by purpose-built tiltyards as a venue for "jousting tournaments".


The two most common kinds of horse used for jousting were warmblood chargers and coldblood destriers. Chargers were medium-weight horses bred and trained for agility and stamina, while destriers were heavy war horses. These were larger and slower, but helpful to give devastating force to the rider's lance through its weight being about twice as great as that of a traditional riding horse. The horses were trained for ambling, a kind of pace that provided the rider with stability in order to be able to focus and aim better with the lance.

During a jousting tournament, the horses were cared for by their grooms in their respective tents. They wore caparisons, a type of ornamental cloth featuring the owner's heraldic signs. Competing horses had their heads protected by a chanfron, an iron shield for protection from otherwise lethal lance hits.

Other forms of equipment on the horse included long-necked spurs which enabled the rider to control the horse with extended legs, a saddle with a high back to provide leverage during the charge or when hit, as well as stirrups for the necessary leverage to deliver blows with the lance.


Jousting was popular from the high Middle Ages until the early 1600s, when it was replaced as the equine highlight of court festivities by large "horse-ballet" displays called carousels, although non-combat competitions such as the ring-tilt lasted until the 18th century. During the period jousting was popular, armour evolved from being chain mail (called simply mail at the time), with a solid, heavy helmet, called a "great helm", and shield. By 1400 knights wore full suits of plate armour, called a "harness". A full harness frequently included extra pieces specifically for use in jousting, so that a light military combat suit could be reinforced with heavier, "bolt-on" protective plates on the cuirass (breastplate) and helmet, and also with jousting-specific arm and shoulder pieces, which traded mobility for extra protection. These extra pieces were usually much stronger on the side expected to take the impact of the lance. Special jousting helmets were sometimes used, made so that the wearer could only see out by leaning forwards. If the wearer straightened up just before the impact of the lance, the eyes would be completely protected. Some later suits had a small shield built-in the left side of the armour. In some cases this was spring loaded to fly into pieces if struck properly by the opponent's lance.


In modern times, jousting is often done for show or demonstration purposes, and the lances used are usually made of light wood and prepared so that they break easily. Lances are often decorated with stripes or the colors of a knight's coat of arms. In a real joust, the lances were of solid oak and a significant strike was needed to shatter them. However, the (blunt) lances would not usually penetrate the steel. The harnesses worn by the knights were lined on the inside with plenty of cloth to soften the blow from the lance.

Modern jousting

File:Broken lances.jpg
Broken lances are common in full contact jousts. In this picture, airborne fragments of both lances are visible.
International Jousting Association knights in historically correct reproduction armour jousting at a tournament in Taupo New Zealand, 2006
Renaissance Fair jousting in Livermore, California, 2006.
Jousting at the Tournament of the Phoenix 2009, located at the Poway Rodeo Grounds in San Diego, California

In the UK jousting became a professional sport in the spring of 1972. At the Principality of Gwyrch, an abandoned castle converted into a theme park in North Wales near Abergele, a small troupe of horsemen in costume entertained the crowds with two, and sometimes three daily shows. The purposeful five hundred seat jousting theatre was the first of its kind in Great Britain. From the successes of in this castle a professional group was created a year or so later. The Company of Knights Limited, founded in early 1974 undertook jousting shows ranging from as few as five or six participants to as many as fifty actors. Led by former stuntmen Peter Brace, Roy Street and Mike Horsburgh, and designer-director Chris Miles, the company went on to perform a major tournament for the London Festival in the Tower of London Moat in early July, and later to take part in one of the largest mediaeval pageants ever staged in the modern era within the city of Bruges, Belgium. In this twohour long performance twelve riders and caparisoned horses took the roles of mediaeval European knights from 1492. The Tournament of the Silver Parrot at Bruges featured the battle between the Houses of Ghistele and Gruuthuuse with over one hundred people in costume, one hundred horses, and actors and show people from Great Britain.

Between 1980 and 1982 a major effort was made in the design of the Little England theme Park in Orlando, Florida to construct a major and unique jousting stadium. Although the first phase of the project was constructed high interest rates cancelled the project. However the sport was taken up by a dinner dining company called Mediaeval Times, and flourishes today (2010).

Modern day jousting or tilting has been kept alive by the International Jousting Association, [1], which has strict guidelines for the quality and authenticity of jousters' armour & equipment, and has developed the use of breakable lance tips for safety.

Jousting under the International Jousting Association rules follows a points system where points are given for breaking the lance tip on the opposing knight's shield; note that there are no points given for unhorsing an opponent[citation needed]. International Jousting Association sanctioned tournaments also include skill at arms where the riders display their horsemanship and weapons handling skills with swords on the Moors Head, they use spears for the rings and spear throw, and use the lance against a spinning quintain. Many International Jousting Association tournaments also include a mounted melee with fully armoured riders using padded batons in place of swords for safety. None of the International Jousting Association events are theatrically based and they offer the public a chance to observe living history as opposed to entertainment oriented jousting.

Today, tent pegging is the only form of jousting officially recognized by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports. The sport involves using a lance or sword to strike and carry away a small wooden ground target. The name "tent pegging" is derived from the cavalry tactic of causing confusion in enemy camps by galloping though the camps and collapsing the tents by pulling up the tent peg anchors with well-placed lance tip strikes. The actual sport of tent pegging, however, originated in medieval India, when horse cavalrymen would try to incapacitate elephant cavalry by striking the elephants with lances on their extremely sensitive toenails[7].

Ring jousting is the official state sport of Maryland, and was the first official sport of any American state.[8]

The Italian town of Foligno also holds an annual jousting tournament, the Giostra della Quintana, that dates back to the 1613. The Knights have to spear rings from the statue of the Quintana.[citation needed]

The Italian town of Arezzo continues to hold an annual jousting tournament, which dates to the Crusades. Jousters aim for a square target attached to a wooden effigy of a Saracen king, whose opposite arm holds a cat-o-three-tails—three leather laces with a heavy wooden ball at the end of each lace. The riders strike the target with chalk-tipped lances and score points for accuracy, but must also dodge the cat-o-three-tails after they have struck the target.[9]

Modern theatrical jousting competitions are popular at American Renaissance fairs and similar festivals, and feature riders on horseback attempting various feats of skill with the lance, which may not always have a basis in history.

Several international organisations, such as the Society for Creative Anachronism and the International Jousting Association.[10], promote rules to govern their jousting events.[11]

In Port Republic, Maryland the annual Calvert County Jousting Tournament is held every August on the grounds of historic Christ Episcopal Church. In 2005, the tournament was featured in an edition of ESPN's SportsCenter.

See also

  • A Knight's Tale
  • Accession Day tilt
  • The Chronicles of Froissart
  • Kipper (medieval tournament)
  • Renaissance Fair
  • Sea jousting


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Chronicles of Froissart
  2. In England, jousting was the highlight of the Accession Day tilts of Elizabeth I and James I, and also was part of the festivities at the marriage of Charles I; Young p. 201-208
  3. Barber, Richard; Juliet Barker (1989-01-01). Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pageants in the Middle Ages. Boydell & Brewer/Boydell Press. pp. 134, 139. ISBN 978-0851154701. 
  4. Glossary, Society for Creative Anachronism
  5. Glossary, Cleveland Museum of Art
  6. Ivanhoe
  7. "Tent pegging with Unicef Team Canada", retrieved 2007
  8. "Maryland Jousting Tournament Association", retrieved 2007
  9. Giostra Del Saracino, retrieved February 2008
  10. "International Jousting Association"
  11. "Society Equestrian Marshal", retrieved 2007


  • Strong, Roy: The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry, Thames and Hudson, 1977, ISBN 0500232636
  • Young, Alan: Tudor and Jacobean Tournaments, Sheridan House, 1987, ISBN 0911378758

Further reading


Premier Equine Classifieds


Subscribe to our newsletter and keep abreast of the latest news, articles and information delivered directly to your inbox.

Did You Know?

Modern horse breeds developed in response to a need for "form to function", the necessity to develop certain physical characteristics in order to perform a certain type of work... More...

The Gypsy Cob was originally bred to be a wagon horse and pulled wagons or caravans known as Vardos; a type of covered wagon that people lived in... More...

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Arabian horse bloodline dates back 4,500 years. Throughout history, Arabian horses spread around the world by both war and trade.... More...

That the term "Sporthorse" is a term used to describe a type of horse rather than any particular breed... More...