Medieval Jousting Knights the Gladiators of the Chivalric Period

Nothing draws the crowds at a Renaissance festival quite like the medieval jousting knights tournaments.

Using wooden lances and fair play these wannabe knights trot into fans hearts as they race at each other on grand mounts decked out for the occasion. At the root of this colorful and fascinating display, however, is a much darker sport where actual medieval knights jousting literally risked life and limb for favor, fame and fortune.

The tradition of medieval jousting knights is believed to have begun in France and moved to Germany and the rest of Europe from there in the 10th to 12th centuries. Tournaments involving medieval knights jousting began as military exercises between different noble factions – much like the mock tournaments of today. These were serious events, however, where prowess was meant to be displayed and the loser’s honor was at stake.

These tournaments generally started pretty peacefully, but were known to degrade into blood baths – similar to the gladiator matches of ancient Rome. As it is depicted in the movie “A Knight’s Tale” these tournaments of medieval jousting knights were seen as social spring boards for the winning participants. For a rider to become a renowned medieval jousting knight meant fame, glory, money and a higher station in life. Winners were favored by their lords as they added glory to his name as well.

The practice of using medieval knights jousting in tournaments that involved actual weapons of war was popular until the death of several nobles and also King Henry II of France in the mid 1500s. Then the battles, which were meant to display military mastery, became more peaceful with the inclusion of ring competitions rather than man to man battles.

Although the blood sport involved for medieval jousting began to disappear from the scene, the practice of holding tournaments did not. There are well documented reports of tournaments involving knights jousting well into the next few centuries and even the introduction of the sport to the American colonies by Lord Baltimore.

The allure of medieval jousting knights continues today at festivals and other re-enactment events. Crowds that gather to watch re-enactors portray what medieval knights at jousting tournaments must have looked like are impressive as are the displays themselves. In modern times, those playing the roles of medieval knights jousting still ride horses, wear armor and prance to a pageantry that’s truly noble. They, however, use blunted, wooden lances, rather than the sharp, metallic and deadly piercing instruments of days gone by. These mock battles are carefully choreographed to avoid injury of the medieval jousting knights involved, too, something that wouldn’t have happened hundreds of years ago.

For those interested in getting a taste of what medieval jousting knights in tournament must have looked like, a trip to a festival or even a medieval-themed dinner theater will give a good indication of the elaborate dance the knights of yesterday must have played as they rode toward each other risking life for fame.