Knights, a fixture of the medieval period, were at their best when they were heading into battle or fighting on the field of honor. The knight trained for many years but as much as they longed for battle, there was a great deal of peace during medieval times. Times of peace created a quandary for the knight – how did he remain in shape and keep his fighting skills sharp with no battles to fight? This dilemma led to the popularity of the jousting tournaments.
The traditional joust took place on an open field though the knights were sometimes separated by a fence. Two knights on horse back would face off at a distance, generally armed with a lance, a one handed sword and a small dagger called a rondel. The lance, a long wooden spear like weapon with either a blunt or sharpened tip, depending on the type of joust, would be lowered then the knights, dressed in armor, would then ride toward each other and attempt to either break the other’s lance or knock the other from their horse. Initially knights wore chain mail for protection, but later full armor was used.
There were several types of jousting. The all out form of joust had knights riding onto a field, attacking all they encountered with much death and bloodshed. There was the individual joust where two knights squared off which sometimes, but not always, involved a fight to the death. Here the knights would ride toward each other and attempt to score points. One point would be awarded for a body hit, two for breaking a lance and three for knocking a knight from his horse. There was also the practice joust where a knight would ride and spear suspended rings with his lance.
The jousts were chivalrous affairs. Knights would arrive and select a lady, usually the wife of a nobleman, and fight in her honor. The winner of the joust would reap many rewards. There was fame and fortune, but after the tournament, the victorious knight would bathe, eat a good meal and retire to bed, accompanied by the wife of the nobleman in whose honor he had fought. This was a paradox in that the knight’s foundation was Christian monogamy and prize of the tournament was polite aristocratic adultery, which caused the Church to condemn the practice.
As the sport’s popularity grew, the rulers and the Church many questioned the joust as it cost the lives of many knights and distracted from the Crusades. However, the sport was so popular, it was reluctantly accepted, but fortunately the practice became less deadly over time. This was reinforced by the establishment of the Statue of Arms for Tournaments in 1292 that helped temper the tournament violence. Though there were still accidents and deaths were not unheard of.
The tournaments where the jousts were held were large sometimes huge spectator events that saw people from all walks of life come to enjoy the event and cheer on their favorite knight.