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.