history of jousting

Lances and Honor: The Thrilling History of Medieval Jousting

Welcome to a journey through time to discover the exciting history of medieval jousting. In the medieval period, jousting was more than just a sport; it was an opportunity for knights to showcase their bravery and skill, while also competing for honor and recognition. This exciting and noble pastime captivated the hearts and minds of people for centuries, and in this article, we will explore everything there is to know about medieval jousting, from its origins to its decline and revival in modern times.

Key Takeaways:

  • Medieval jousting was more than just a sport; it was an opportunity for knights to showcase their bravery and skill, while also competing for honor and recognition.
  • Through this article, you will learn about the origins of jousting, the evolution of jousting equipment, the rules and etiquette of jousting, the knights who participated in jousting tournaments, the role of jousting in medieval society, famous jousting tournaments in history, the decline of jousting, jousting in popular culture, and modern revivals of jousting.
  • By understanding the thrilling history of medieval jousting, you will gain insight into the culture and values of medieval society and appreciate the enduring legacy of this exciting and noble pastime.

The Origins of Jousting

Medieval jousting, with its iconic image of knights charging at each other on horseback, has captivated people’s imaginations for centuries. But how did this thrilling sport come to be?

Jousting has its origins in medieval tournaments, events that were held to showcase a knight’s skill in various contests of strength and skill. These tournaments were often held as part of a celebration or festival, and the jousting competition quickly became a fan favorite.

The jousting tournaments were primarily held in France and were exclusively for knights, who competed against each other for prestige and honor. As the popularity of jousting grew, so did the complexity of the competition. Tournaments became more elaborate, with knights competing in teams or with different types of weapons.

The Role of Medieval Tournaments

Medieval tournaments had a significant impact on the development of jousting. Knights would test their prowess in mock battles, which were intended to prepare them for the real thing. These battles were often intense, with knights fighting with swords, axes, and other weapons.

As these tournaments evolved, jousting became the main event. The competition involved two knights charging at each other on horseback, aiming their lances at a specific target on their opponent’s armor. The goal was to unhorse the other knight or knock them to the ground.

Knights and Jousting

Knights played a central role in jousting tournaments. They underwent intense training to prepare themselves physically and mentally for the rigors of jousting. This training included exercises to improve their balance and coordination, as well as practice sessions with lances and other equipment.

The jousting competition was closely connected with the concept of chivalry, which emphasized the importance of honor, bravery, and noble conduct. A knight’s performance in a jousting tournament was seen as a reflection of their character and worth.


The origins of jousting can be traced back to medieval tournaments, events that showcased a knight’s skill in various contests of strength and skill. As the popularity of jousting grew, so did the complexity of the competition, with knights competing in teams or with different types of weapons. Knights played a central role in these tournaments, undergoing intense training to prepare themselves physically and mentally for the rigors of jousting. The jousting competition was closely connected with the concept of chivalry, emphasizing the importance of honor, bravery, and noble conduct.

The Evolution of Jousting Equipment

In medieval times, jousting was a dangerous sport that required specially designed equipment to ensure the safety of the jousters. The evolution of jousting equipment saw significant changes in the design and construction of lances and armor used during jousting competitions.

The Lance

The lance was the primary weapon used in jousting, and its design underwent significant changes over time. The early lances were made of solid wood and were heavy, making it difficult for the jouster to maneuver. Later, the lances were made hollow and had blunted ends to prevent serious injury.

The introduction of the Couched Lance technique, which involved placing the lance under the arm and charging at the opponent, led to a further evolution in lance design. The Couched Lance technique required longer lances, resulting in the introduction of the tilt, a barrier that separated the two jousters and ensured a straight and steady charge.

Lance Design Features
Early Lances Solid wood, heavy
Hollow Lances Blunted end for safety
Couched Lances Longer lances for charging under the arm
The Tilt Barrier separating the two jousters

The Armor

Armor was another critical component of jousting equipment. It had to provide adequate protection while still allowing the jouster to maneuver effectively. Early armor consisted of chain mail and plate armor, which was heavy and cumbersome.

As jousting evolved, so did the armor. The introduction of the tilt saw a shift towards full plate armor, which provided better protection for the jouster. The helmet also underwent significant changes to improve vision and ventilation, making it easier for the jouster to see and breathe.

Armor Design Features
Early Armor Chain mail and plate armor
Full Plate Armor Better protection, improved mobility
Helmets Better vision and ventilation

The evolution of jousting equipment was critical in ensuring the safety and success of the jousters. It also played a significant role in the development of the sport and its enduring legacy in the world of medieval chivalry.

The Rules and Etiquette of Jousting

Jousting tournaments were governed by a strict set of rules and regulations that emphasized chivalry and honor. Knights were expected to conduct themselves with noble behavior both on and off the field. Failure to do so could result in disqualification and dishonor.

The rules of jousting varied depending on the time and place, but some basic principles remained the same. Competing knights were expected to ride towards each other at full speed, aiming their lances at the opponent’s shield or body. The goal of the joust was to knock the opponent from their horse or break their lance. Points were awarded for successful hits, and the knight with the most points at the end of the tournament was declared the winner.

While the jousting itself was a display of power and strength, chivalry and noble conduct were equally important. Knights were expected to show respect and honor to both their opponents and the spectators, with courteous behavior both on and off the field. Disrespectful behavior, taunting, or cheating were not tolerated.

“The essence of the joust was combat, but it was combat conducted under the auspices of chivalry. The code of chivalry set standards for knightly conduct both on and off the field of battle, and these standards were especially emphasized during jousting tournaments.”

In addition to the rules of the joust itself, there were also guidelines for the attire and equipment of the knights. All competitors were required to wear full suits of armor, with specially designed helmets and shields. The lances used in the joust had to meet strict criteria for length and weight, and were often made of ash or oak wood. The horses used in jousting tournaments were also carefully chosen and trained for the event.

Participating in jousting tournaments was a prestigious honor, and knights who competed were expected to uphold the standards of chivalry and nobility that the event represented. By adhering to these rules and regulations, knights were able to demonstrate not only their skill and strength, but also their honor and integrity.

The Knights and Their Training

Participating in jousting tournaments was an honor reserved only for the most skilled and well-trained knights. These knights spent years undergoing rigorous training to prepare for these chivalric games.

Training for jousting typically began at a young age, with boys as young as seven or eight years old starting their education in horsemanship and combat. As they grew older, their training intensified, with a focus on developing their strength, balance, and coordination.

The knights’ training also included practice with various weapons, including the lance, the sword, and the mace. But jousting was considered the most prestigious of all chivalric games, and so the knights dedicated themselves to perfecting their skills with the lance.

Training Techniques Equipment Used
Practicing on the Pell, a wooden target shaped like a human torso Lance, Sword, Mace, Armor
Participating in mock jousting competitions with other knights Horses, Shields
Performing exercises to improve balance and coordination Training Saddle, Stirrups

Despite the dangers of jousting, the knights were not allowed to wear any protective gear on their face or head, as this was seen as a challenge to their courage and bravery. However, they did wear a suit of armor, which could weigh up to 100 pounds, and a shield to protect their body.

Overall, the training that knights underwent in preparation for jousting tournaments was grueling and demanding. But it was all worth it for the glory and honor that came with competing in these prestigious events.

The Role of Jousting in Medieval Society

The sport of jousting played a significant role in medieval society. It was more than just a physical competition; it was a representation of chivalry and nobility, and was viewed as a way for knights to earn recognition and respect.

Jousting tournaments were often held in conjunction with other events, such as fairs and markets, and drew large crowds from all levels of society. The tournaments provided an opportunity for people to socialize, showcase their wealth and status, and witness the spectacle of knights competing for honor.

Class Access to Jousting
Nobles Participated as competitors and sponsors. Had the means to train and obtain high-quality equipment.
Knights Participated in jousting as competitors and could use it as a way to advance their social status and reputation.
Peasants Could attend and watch jousting tournaments, but did not have the means or social standing to participate.

Participation in jousting tournaments was not limited to nobles and knights. Some wealthy merchants also took part in the competitions, using it as a way to elevate their social status and gain acceptance among the upper echelons of society.

Overall, jousting played an important role in medieval society, providing entertainment, socialization, and a means of displaying one’s wealth and status. It was a symbol of chivalry and nobility, and remains a fascinating part of history to this day.

Famous Jousting Tournaments in History

Jousting tournaments were a significant part of medieval society and featured some of the most skilled and honorable knights of their time. Here are just a few of the most famous jousting tournaments in history:

Tournament Date Location Notable Participants
Field of the Cloth of Gold 1520 Between Calais and Ardres, France King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France
Eglinton Tournament 1839 Eglinton Castle, Scotland Archibald, Earl of Eglinton, and his guests
Joust of the Tiltyard 1559 Whitehall Palace, London, England Queen Elizabeth I of England and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
Joust of Peace 1390 St. Inglevert, France King Charles VI of France and Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt

These jousting tournaments were not just exhibitions of military prowess but also served as a platform for showcasing courtly chivalry and honor. Knights who distinguished themselves in these tournaments would earn the respect of their peers and the adoration of crowds.

“The tilt-yard rang with the shouts of thousands, and the clattering of the hoofs and armor of gallant steeds; with the clanging of steel axes and maces . . . There was a glitter of plumes and helmets, a waving of banners, a fluttering of ribbons, a clashing of arms . . .” – Sir Walter Scott

These famous jousting tournaments in history continue to capture our imagination and inspire us with their tales of bravery and honor.

The Decline of Jousting

Although jousting was widely popular during medieval times, it eventually lost its prevalence. The decline of jousting can be attributed to several factors, including changing warfare tactics and the introduction of gunpowder weapons.

As warfare evolved, knights and soldiers began to rely more on firearms and artillery. These new weapons, which were often cheaper and more efficient than traditional jousting equipment, made jousting less prevalent on the battlefield. As a result, jousting tournaments became less frequent and gradually faded from medieval society.

Another factor contributing to the decline of jousting was the increasing cost of armor and lances. As jousting became more specialized and competitive, knights began to require increasingly advanced equipment to ensure their safety. This made jousting a more expensive and exclusive activity, further reducing its popularity among the masses.

Despite these factors, jousting remained an important part of medieval culture, and its legacy lives on today in various forms of entertainment and historical reenactments.

Jousting in Popular Culture

Jousting has long captured the imaginations of people around the world, inspiring countless works of art and literature. From movies to books, jousting has been featured in various forms of entertainment, offering viewers a glimpse into the thrilling world of medieval tournaments.

Jousting in Movies

Jousting has played a prominent role in many blockbuster movies, from the classic film “Ivanhoe” to the more recent hit “A Knight’s Tale.” These movies showcase the excitement and honor of jousting, often featuring elaborate tournament scenes with stunning costumes and sets.

Movie Year Director
First Knight 1995 Jerry Zucker
A Knight’s Tale 2001 Brian Helgeland
Ivanhoe 1952 Richard Thorpe

These movies often showcase the chivalric virtues of honor, courage, and loyalty, and highlight the skill and strength required to become a successful jouster.

Jousting in Literature

Jousting has also been a popular subject in literature, featuring prominently in classic works such as “Le Morte d’Arthur” and “The Canterbury Tales.” These books offer readers a glimpse into the world of medieval tournaments and the complex social structures that governed them.

“The sun shines bright on Carlisle wall;
And joyfully we meet.
Outlawed I was, that unhappy night,
From the pleasant summer seat.”

Sir Walter Scott, “The Bridal of Triermain”

More recent works, such as George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, have also featured jousting prominently, showcasing the political power and prestige that came with being a successful jouster.

  • “Le Morte d’Arthur” by Sir Thomas Malory
  • “The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin

Overall, jousting has been a popular subject in popular culture, offering viewers and readers a glimpse into the thrilling world of medieval tournaments and the chivalric ideals they represented.

Modern Revivals of Jousting

Although jousting tournaments are no longer held as they were in medieval times, the sport has experienced a modern-day revival.

Today, jousting competitions take place all around the world, drawing crowds and participants alike. From traditional recreations of historical jousting events to modern adaptations of the sport, there’s something for every fan of this iconic sport.

Modern Jousting Events

One of the most popular modern jousting events is the annual Tournament of the Phoenix, held in Poway, California. This three-day event brings together jousters from around the world to compete in full armor with lances in front of a live audience.

Other modern jousting events include:

  • The World Jousting Championships in Australia
  • The European Jousting Championship
  • The International Tournament of Chivalry

Jousting Competitions Today

Besides these large-scale events, jousting competitions can also be found at medieval fairs and festivals, allowing visitors to experience the thrill of the sport first-hand. While some events focus on historical accuracy, others have adapted jousting to modern times, allowing for new interpretations and styles.

Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a unique and exciting experience, modern jousting events and competitions are a testament to the enduring legacy of this iconic sport.


In conclusion, jousting played a significant role in medieval times, serving as a symbol of honor and chivalry for knights. The history of jousting can be traced back to medieval tournaments, where knights competed to display their skills and earn recognition. The evolution of jousting equipment, including lances and armor, was a key aspect of the sport.

The rules and etiquette of jousting were also crucial, emphasizing the importance of noble conduct and chivalry. Knights trained rigorously to prepare for these chivalric games, and participation in jousting tournaments was a way to earn honor and recognition in medieval society.

Although the decline of jousting was ultimately brought about by changing warfare tactics and the emergence of gunpowder weapons, this sport has left an enduring legacy. Today, jousting is celebrated in literature, movies, and other forms of popular culture, and modern revivals of jousting events and competitions serve as a testament to its lasting appeal.

Thus, the history of jousting and its significance in medieval society continue to captivate the imagination of people all around the world.


What is the history of jousting?

Jousting dates back to medieval times and was a popular sport among knights. It was a display of honor and chivalry, where knights would engage in combat on horseback.

Where did jousting originate?

Jousting originated from medieval tournaments and knightly competitions. These events were held throughout Europe and played a significant role in the medieval society.

What kind of equipment was used in jousting?

Jousting equipment included lances, armor, and specially designed horses. The lances were used during the joust to strike the opponent, while the armor provided protection to the knights.

What were the rules and etiquette of jousting?

Jousting had specific rules and etiquette that the knights had to follow. It emphasized chivalry and noble conduct, and any violation could result in disqualification.

How did knights train for jousting?

Knights underwent rigorous training for jousting, which included practicing with lances, perfecting their riding skills, and strengthening their physical endurance.

What was the significance of jousting in medieval society?

Jousting played a significant role in medieval society as it was seen as a way to display social status and earn honor and recognition. It was also a source of entertainment for the nobility.

Can you name some famous jousting tournaments in history?

Some famous jousting tournaments in history include the Tournament of Champions in France, the Field of Cloth of Gold in England, and the Pas d’Armes of St. Inglevert in France.

Why did jousting decline?

Jousting declined due to the changing warfare tactics and the emergence of gunpowder weapons. As warfare evolved, jousting became less practical and gradually lost its popularity.

Is jousting still practiced today?

Yes, jousting is still practiced today in modern revivals and reenactments. There are various jousting competitions and events that take place, keeping the tradition alive.

How is jousting portrayed in popular culture?

Jousting has been portrayed in movies, literature, and other forms of entertainment. It often represents medieval times and serves as a symbol of chivalry and heroic acts.

What is the significance of jousting in the history of knights and medieval tournaments?

Jousting holds great significance in the history of knights and medieval tournaments. It encapsulates the ideals of honor, chivalry, and noble conduct that were central to the medieval society.