What is the best sport in the world? Is it football? No. Rugby? Wrong again. Tennis? Nope, it’s jousting.
Alright, so maybe it’s not the best sport in the world, but there is something fundamentally cool about seeing two armoured people on horseback charging across a field with long, sharp lances. Jousting was obviously hugely popular in the medieval period, but the huge number of deaths and severe injuries, coupled with the rise of more accessible sports such as an early version of football, led to the sport of jousting fading into the past. Yet since the 1970s, jousting has seen something of a revival.
The basic concept, two fighters on horseback charge at each other with the aim being to smash your lance on your opponent and hopefully unhorse them (Expertly demonstrated in Heath Ledger’s ‘A Knight’s Tale”), has remained unchanged since the medieval period. Although unlike the medieval version of jousting, the match ends once a lance has been broken. The original form of jousting often involved the knights drawing swords and continuing the match with an actual honest to goodness sword fight, often leading to the serious injuries we already mentioned. For some reason modern competitors don’t seem interested in engaging in the fighting part after the joust, go figure.
Modern jousters also have the benefit of modern science on their team. While the medieval jousters were just knights of various sizes, modern competitors use dieticians and supplements alongside extensive exercise and training regimes to ensure they are as fit as they can possibly be, reducing the damage if they do take a fall, but also ensuring the playing field is much more level and jousts are more about skill then pure strength. This was certainly a problem in the medieval period with jousters varying hugely in size. Emperor Fredrick I of Austria, a renowned jouster, came in at a whopping 6 feet and 4 inches with a 57 inch chest, about the same as a modern NFL player.
Modern athletes also have the full advantage of modern medicine, so in the unlikely case that they do suffer an injury, they’re much more likely to survive. Medieval jousters were not quite as lucky, with several notable figures dying from wounds sustained while jousting, including: Henri II, King of France (1519-1559) and Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany (1158-1186) and son of Norman King Henry II.
Modern jousting has become so serious that VRA (Virtual Assistant Referees) are currently being trialled in England throughout this summer. This will allow judges to more clearly tell if a lance has hit an opponent, bringing more accuracy to the sport. If that doesn’t prove how popular jousting is becoming then I don’t know what does.
If you want to check out modern jousting for yourself, and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to see two people hit each other with big sticks while on very fast horses, then check out the videos below.
Enjoyed this article? Want to read more interesting historical facts? Follow us on Twitter at @UntoldHistoryB