It’s football season…everyone is freaking out over their favorite teams, celebrating their victories and mourning their losses. In the spirit of athletics, I chose to write this week’s Medieval Monday about another type of athletic competition: Jousting.
Jousts are synonymous with The Medieval Period. Most people, if they know nothing else about knights, chivalry, or the Middle Ages, have heard of jousting. Held as a test of both athletic prowess and personal honor, jousts were where two knights would charge at each other and use lances or other weaponry to try and unhorse their opponent.
Most people have a kind of a romantic image of jousting. We think of noble, handsome knights dedicating their jousts to beautiful ladies and acting with honor towards all. However, it was not always this way, and history tells quite a different story than the one presented to us in films or books…
In the early Medieval period, knights would indeed select a lady to joust in honor of. However, these ladies were, more often than not, already married to a nobleman who was a little higher on the social ladder. If the knight won, the lady could not refuse his advances, and according to “custom,” the victorious knight was entitled to certain rewards for his efforts. Not so honorable or noble, huh?? Well, the church didn’t think so either. They were appalled by this “polite aristocratic adultery.” In fact, the church vehemently opposed jousting tournaments. So much so, that in England, if a knight died during a tournament, they were not allowed to have a Christian burial.
Many a knight did die in these early jousts because they were more like miniature battles than actual competitions. There were no real rules. However, in the later Medieval Period, the competitions became less bloody and violent. The reason for this: an edict, called The Statute of Arms for Tournaments, declared that all knights were now gentlemen. This meant that they had to behave in accordance with the tenants of chivalry. From this point on, jousting lances were blunted, the number of deaths decreased dramatically, and knights received gold and kisses during a prize ceremony as opposed to the previous reward system.