I suppose I’m mostly fascinated by jousting because of Norman Mailer.

Not in an “oh, that wacky Norman Mailer, he was always verbally jousting with Gore Vidal!” sort of way. No. Norman Mailer, when he was running for mayor, once appeared on a TV talk show saying that his solution for crime among inner city children would be to hold a series of jousts. The children would be in full armor and on horseback. He said this the day after he stabbed his wife. In the chest. With a knife. After she told him he was “no Dostoevsky”. Remarkably, he was not later institutionalized, despite the jousting suggestion, so it must have had some merit; someone must have thought that it was an excellent idea from a man with a well ordered mind.

I am mystified as to how children tilting their way around New York on horseback would work, but then, I didn’t know much about jousting so I figured, well, maybe that was . . . a part of some Sidney Poitier film? It was not.

to sir with love

Fetch your armor, kids!

Jousting was very popular in Europe during the Middle Ages, particularly the 16th century. The idea arose earlier when gladiatorial combat was outlawed in 399. That ban occurred after a Christian monk named Tetramachus, who was opposed to gladiatorial combat, leaped into the arena to protest the games. He was promptly stabbed to death by a gladiator. That was probably not how Tetramachus thought his plan would end. And Christians were not pleased. The Emperor Honorius stopped all games afterwards, which people say is because he was so deeply moved by the monk’s sacrifice, but which I think  was because the Visigoths were moving into Italy, and Honorius was a teenager who probably figured that he already had enough to worry about. Either way, they were banned.

So – jousting arose as a result of people frowning upon randomly stabbing people. Maybe it does tie back to Norman Mailer after all!


Thinks he’s on par with Dostoevsky

The idea with jousting was that, while it would still allow sparring between two participants like gladiator combat, it would be 1) less deadly and 2) a way for knights to polish their skills. It would require riding on horseback at full speed holding a lance, and attempting to knock another knight, riding toward him, off his horse. There would also be pageanty. And music. And other games. And pretty women dressed in long flowing gowns.

According to The Middle Ages Org, customs during a tournament could include:

  • Sending of challenges from one noble to another

  • A tournament held on the day before the larger event, where the younger knights and squires had an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess before the experienced knights and assembled gallery.

  • Opening day ceremonies where judges and contestants rode in formal procession. This start to a tournament was called the Invocation.

  • A “Tree of Shields” where colored shields indicating different knights willing to joust were hung. Challengers indicated who they wished to fight by hitting that shield.

  • The Second Day Ceremony included the display of the helmets of knights who had fought in tournaments. Ladies inspected the helmets and denounced acts of un-chivalrous behavior.

  • In the Third Day Ceremony the ‘Chevalier d’Honneur’ – the umpire -was chosen.

  • On the last day of the tournament, tournament prizes were awarded. Then the combatants embraced each other in the true companionship of chivalry.

  • Every day ended with feasting, music and dancing.

I very much like the part about feasting and dancing. It actually sounds . .  not horrible. I feel I would very much prefer going to a joust than going to a football game. Also I would enjoy football games more if there was a time set aside for me to discuss who was acting honorably.

I guess describing honor is what football announcers are doing, maybe? I want my own time, though. I want an hour to be with my lady friends and just shame people. It seems theoretically fun. I bet I’d just end up saying, “All the jousters tried hard” though, so it might not actually be that cathartic.

In any event, why did people sign up to joust at all? I have always believed that everyone in the Middle Ages spent most of their time trying to avoid being killed by plague, or playing chess with death. That is true!

seventh seal

Because it is a good way to get to know someone!

But jousting had prizes! When jousts first began, the winner would be given the loser’s horse and armor. Later jousts awarded money. Successful knights became famous, and there really weren’t a lot of ways to be celebrated in the Middle Ages. You couldn’t say, have a quirky sense of humor and a really large Twitter following. Jousting was your best bet at fame and glory and money if you didn’t have a wealthy father. Sports. Sports were where it was at. The Middle Ages were a lot like high school in that way.

Looking at you, again, Norman.

And, if you are thinking “jousting was indeed a quaint sport of the Middle Ages that sounds fun, but it is not a sport now”, YOU ARE WRONG. Jousting became the official sport of Maryland in 1962. Jousts were first held in Maryland during colonial times, but gained popularity after the Civil War. The next one will be held in October 2013 at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds. I think we should all go, like a field trip.

Apparently, people of all ages compete.

It is a little known fact, but all children are perfectly behaved and extremely law abiding in Maryland.

Additional Reading:

Middle Ages Org

Maryland Jousting Tournament Association

Medieval Life and Times