The dangers of jousting

fe0c4227c924d625e24dbef41a6bb7c3That Henry VIII was an athlete and a both skilled and dedicated jouster is no secret. But jousting was no joke, even if it during the renaissance was very much a show. It could very well end the lives of its participants, and Henry himself suffered at least two jousting accidents, one on this day, March 10th in 1524, and one in January 1536, the latter of which left him unconscious for two hours.

Both these accidents are by some historians (Suzannah Lipscombe, Lucy Worsley)  suspected to be at least partly the reason for Henry´s increasing bad temper and maybe even one of several factors for the godly prince´s transform into the tyrant he became during the last part of his reign.

What happened on this particular day was that Henry had forgotten to close his visor, and was hit by a spear just above his eye. One can think the outcome lucky, he could just as well have lost his eyesight or even his life, which he obviously didn´t. What did happen however was that Henry began to suffer chronic headaches from this day which presumably got worse over the years that followed. Anyone who has ever suffered a migraine knows the pain hardly brings out the best in anyone.

Below is an account written by George Cavendish, gentleman-usher of Thomas Wolsey, and borrowed by me from Primary Sources, ( March 10th 2015):

“On 10 March the king, having a new armor made to his own design and fashion, such as no armorer before that Tournament_bavarian_engravingtime had seen, though to test the same at the tilt, and ordered a joust for the purpose.  The lord marquis of Dorset and the earl of Dorset and the earl of Surrey were appointed to be on foot: the king came to one end of the tilt and the duke of Suffolk to the other.  Then a gentleman said to the duke: ‘Sir the king is come to the end of the tilt.’  ‘I see him not,’ said the duke, ‘by my faith, for my headpiece blocks my sight.’  With these words, God knows by what chance, the king had his spear delivered to him by the lord Marquis, the visor of his headpiece being up and not down or fastened, so that his face as quite naked.  The gentleman said to the duke: ‘Sir the king is coming.’

Then the duke set forward and charged with his spear, and the king likewise unadvisedly set off towards the duke.  The people, seeing the king’s face bare, cried hold, hold; the duke neither saw nor heard, and whether the king remembered his visor was up or not few could tell.  Alas, what sorrow was it to the people when they saw the splinters of duke’s spear strike the king’s headpiece.  For most certainly the duke struck the king on the brow right under the guard of the headpiece on the very skull cap or basinet piece to which the barbette is hinged for strength and safety, which skull cap or basinet no armorer takes heed of, for it is always covered by the visor, barbette and volant piece, and thus that piece is so protected that it takes no weight.  But when the spear landed on that place there was great danger of death since the face was bare, for the duke’s spear broke into splinters and pushed the king’s visor or barbette so far back with the counter blow that all the King’s head piece was full of splinters.  The armorers were much blamed for this, and so was the lord marquise for delivering the spear blow when his face was open, but the king said that no one was to blame but himself, for he intended to have saved himself and his sight.

576px-Henry_VIII's_expensive_armourThe duke immediately disarmed and came to the king, showing him the closeness of his sight, and he swore that he would never run against the king again.  But if the king had been even a little hurt, his servants would have put the duke in jeopardy.  Then the king called his armorers and put all his pieces of armor together and then took a spear and ran six courses very well, by which all men could see that he had taken no hurt, which was a great joy and comfort to all his subjects present.”



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