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Jousting is a sport played by two armored combatants mounted on horses. It consists of martial competition between two mounted knights 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.
Jousting was just one of a number of popular martial games in the Middle Ages referred to generically as hastiludes and took great skill to do.
Though the first recorded tournament was staged in 1066, jousting did not gain in widespread popularity until the 12th century. It maintained its status as a popular European sport until the early 17th century.
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.
The skills and techniques used in jousting were also used in combat. In combat, mounted knights would charge at their enemies with weapons to try to kill or disable them. The primary use of the jousting lance was 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.
The 1300s document (translated from French) called The Chronicles of Froissart contains many details concerning jousting in medieval times. For example, much can be gleaned from its account of a war put on hold for a joust as it illustrates and documents:
The Chronicles of Froissart records that, during a campaign in the Gatinois and the Beauce in France during the Hundred Years’ War between the English and French, a squire from Beauce named Gauvain Micaille yelled out to the English, “Is there among you any gentleman who for the love of his lady is willing to try with me some feat of arms? If there should be any such, here I am, quite ready to sally forth completely armed and mounted, to tilt three courses with the lance, to give three blows with the battle axe, and three strokes with the dagger. Now look, you English, if there be none among you in love.” This is what Froissart says happened next:
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. It is mentioned frequently in the novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. 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.