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What is jousting?

Jousting was a sport played by knights and lords. Each joust was a fight between two men on horseback. It wasn't a real fight, like on a battlefield. It was a sport with a set of rules.

Jousts were organised by men called heralds. Challenges were sent out to the knights. The champions were ranked in order of how good they were (like tennis players today). Large amounts of money were bet on the contests.

There were teams of challengers and defenders. Riders fought in pairs, one man from each team. They fought an agreed number of times. The men in charge, the marshal and constable, made sure they followed the rules.

The knights used a lance (a long weapon like a spear) or sometimes a sword or axe. They charged towards each other on horseback. The aim was to earn points by breaking the lance of the other knight. More points were earned for breaking a lance on the other man's armour.

The knights did not try to hurt each other, but it could be dangerous. In 1520, King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France met to make peace between their countries. They had a joust. One of Henry's men broke Francis's nose.

Henry was a keen jouster. Twice he nearly died. He fought his friend, Charles Brandon, without covering his face. Brandon's lance landed just one centimetre away from making a hole in the king's head. Then when Henry was 44 years old, he was injured again. He was crushed by his horse and lay unconscious for two hours. This fall is thought to have damaged his health and made him grumpy.

Jousts were big events. They were often held on special occasions. Many thousands of people watched, not just nobles. Anyone could get in for about 12 pence.

There might also be plays and other entertainment put on at the same time. Many knights dressed up as heroes from history. When Henry married Catherine of Aragon in 1509, she played the role of a Greek goddess and the knights fought a joust for her.

Portrait of Henry VIII Letter from Henry Killigrew

What is jousting?

Find out more about jousting.
What is jousting?

What is heraldry?

Who were the jousting champions?

What armour did they wear?

See the full Joust menu

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The Tudors – joust

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