Jousting in The Kingdom of Acre
The European mounted knight of the middle ages was the most devastating
military weapon to date, the epitome of the individual combatant. When
there was no war to be found, his skills were practiced at the tournament,
in the beginning just a few score knights gathered at a particular field
to beat each other senseless in an enormous melee. As the demands of spectators
increased, combined with the natural desire to show off prowess and prestige,
it evolved into the penultimate spectacle of the time. Wealthy kings and
Dukes would bankrupt themselves trying to throw the most lavish tournament.
Announced a year or more in advance and attracting the best nobles from
all over europe, these unbridled displays of opulence and military prowess
often lasted several days. It was the sport of the wealthy and powerful
and it kept them ready for the real thing. Sometimes tournaments were so
bitterly fought by men who might have been at war anyway that it turned
into deadly contests. Almost always condemned by the church and frequently
by rulers as well (when they could not control and tax it or they feared
the loss of their top knights in time of war), it nevertheless prospered
for almost five hundred years.
The height of
the tournament was probably the fourteenth century, as it had become very
much organized for the non-combatants but was still training for warfare.
The armor was transitional plate and did not differ significantly from that
used in war. The field was a fenced off area referred to as a list, and
there was a fence between the two riders to prevent collisions. There were
strictly enforced rules and a jouster would lose points for serious violations.
Injuring or killing your opponent's horse would get you ejected from the
tourney. Although unhorsing your opponent was worth the most points, injuring
or killing him usually lost you points. There was enough control over the
contests that it was not as dangerous as in the past (but accidents did
occur) and many landless knights made their living as professional jousters
when they were not at war. Losing in a joust meant loss of your horse and/or
armor, to be ransomed back if you had the money.
As time progressed
and the role of the knight in warfare gradually decreased, the tournament
became less and less training for war and more of a spectacle. The armor
became specialized, the rules more defined, the activities became more theatrical
and less violent. Romantic scenarios involving courtly love and displays
of knightly virtue came to dominate the tournament until eventually it was
more of a circus by the 1500's. By then the role of the mounted knight as
the preeminent military unit had passed, gunpowder and new infantry tactics
having made them ineffectual. Professional soldiers were commonplace and
the nobility no longer needed to be involved in actual combat. Since missile
weapons and organized footmen could defeat anyone regardless of armor, rank,
or wealth, the knight was no longer a viable weapon and the tournament finally
lost all connection with military training and was merely for show.
In MSR we recreate the jousting of the fourteenth century. This period
had more pomp and ceremony than the earlier jousts, but had not gotten too
far away from real combat. They had not yet developed extensive specialized
steel plate defenses and still wore heraldic surcoats, which gives us more
flexibility in the armor we choose to wear. Full steel plate armor suitable
for the joust is very expensive and actually more dangerous to joust, the
extra weight and clumsiness making it easier to fall off and harder to control
the fall and more strain on joints when you impact.
In addition to the full tilt at each other with lance, there were other
contests to demonstrate your skills, including spearing rings suspended
from poles, throwing spears at a target, fake heads on the ground would
be speared and carried a certain distance, and objects hanging from poles
would be struck with swords as the rider negotiated a course. After several
passes at each other with lances (usually three), if there was no clear
victor they might do passes with maces. If that was uneventful they might
dismount and do foot combat with swords until one yielded. The more peaceful
jousts would forego this last dangerous contest and declare a draw, or continue
the next day.
Unlike a cavalry charge, where you simply aimed your hundreds of warhorses
and trampled your path, the jouster had to control his horse and try to
hit a target with all his equipment encumbering him. As such, it was frequently
necessary to have a squire help control the horse from the ground until
he was aimed down the fence. Due to all these difficulties, there might
only be a few tilts per day, much to the disappointment of the spectators.
Working with the jousting team is not easy, somewhat dangerous, and requires
a lot of dedication, but can be very rewarding. If you are interested, you
can contact Joseph Cesarelli.