Dragons Lair 2003 International Jousting Tournament -- A Report
Last week I worked as a page (untrained, low paid squire) at what was billed as the biggest tournament [properly, joust] in 500 years. I don't know if that claim was justified or not, but it was a remarkable experience. I thought people on this forum might be interested in hearing about it.
The joust was run by the World Championship Jousting Association, an organization that does have members in various countries, but which seems to have its core in Southern Ontario. I have attended two previous jousting competitions run by them, and I know people who train and play with them on a regular basis. My interest in jousting led me to apply for a job on the ground crew for this July s event, which took place in an arena, the John Labatt Centre, in London, Ontario. The competition took place over 3 days, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with an afternoon and evening show the first two days and an afternoon show on Sunday.
In each show, there were three competitions: Games, Light Armor Jousting, and Heavy Armor Jousting. The games were similar to some ridden in the SCA: tilting at rings, throwing spears, placing spears (riding close to the hay bale target and thrusting it in from close up), and the quintain. Doing the games well was something of a horsemanship challenge, especially when done in front of the crowd in a combined course called the gauntlet, where riders placed and threw spears, picked up a lance and with it took rings off four different standards, then finally used the same lance to hit the quintain. There were points for all these activities, but it was also timed. If you did not finish the course in a minute or less you got nothing. The spectators could tell this was a difficult competition and liked it quite a bit.
Light Armor Jousting is jousting with armor that costs less than $5000. More precisely, it was meant to emulate jousting in earlier eras when jousters used shields. Since the only legitimate target is the shield, the other armor can be less elaborate than Heavy Armor Jousting, though it is not particularly light. Both lances and shields are quite heavy; the shields weigh in the neighborhood of 30 lbs. (to prevent broken arms and too easily broken shields, I presume) and the lances 20+. These lances, which are shaped to look like 16th century lances but are not hollow, are somewhat controversial no other group in the world, AFAIK, uses them.
Light Armor Jousting is judged on strength of blow and placement of blow on the shield. If I recall correctly, no one was unhorsed in any of our five competitions last week. Only two lances were broken.
Heavy Armor Jousting is quite different. The heavy armor is based on early 16th century, full plate armor. The lances are much lighter than the light armor lances, being made of pine dowels 10 long with 1 dowels of balsa at the business end. There is a padded vamplate to protect the hand and a copper tip on the end of the balsa section. With such armor there is no shield, but rather the big left-shoulder plate used in the 16th century, which serves as target. There is fairly elaborate judging including points based on targeting, breaking of lances (commonplace, scoring based on where they were broken), and unhorsing.
Although the armor is more protective and the lances lighter, this is a much rougher competition than the Light Armor jousting. There were numerous unhorsings, including double unhorsings, and many other injuries: dislocated shoulders, broken hands, broken wrists, and probable concussions. This may be the roughest jousting in the world: on other continents (Europe and Australia) they use lighter materials in the lances (3 balsa tips, even cardboard tubes). It was notable that the overseas jousters were broken early on: the Australian dislocated his shoulder (but continued to compete), a Belgian withdrew after some injury on Friday, and the Norwegian broke two fingers the same day. The Frenchman seemed to escape serious injury all weekend, but I didn t ask him if he was hurting. An American jouster supposedly broke his hand in five places yet continued to ride, propping the lance on his wrist instead of gripping it. In this sport, you will not only spend lots of money, you will get broken.
I noticed no injuries to horses.
I had a very good view of the action. The main job I did was to hand lances to the competitors. This included calling for them. In their close helms, the jousters had a hard time seeing their opponents on the other end of the lists. In calling, I told my knight if his opponent had received his lance yet (which he did while facing away from us), when he began to come around the end of the list barrier, when he had come around, and when he appeared to be set). The knight could not tell these things reliably without my help. The help I could give was limited by the fact that I was new to the game and the fact that it was very hard to hear from inside the helmets, especially when the announcer and the crowd were making noise (yes, people were excited). My feeling was that if they actually heard and understood me that it had nothing to do with physics or physiology or my reasonably loud voice but was due to divine intervention.
How much calling would have been necessary or possible at medieval jousts is an issue I still have not finished weighing in my mind.
It was an intense experience. Seeing the heavy jousters riding in as a group (to We Will Rock You, what did you expect?) on their heavy horses and in their full armor was one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen, and it was as impressive time number five as it was the first. I was struck by the fact that, punishing as the activity was, it was much less tough than what happened, say, at St. Inglevert, where they used sharp lances made out of hardwood. Yet I have a less dismissive attitude to the later jousts that people have dismissed as less real than earlier ones. Less real, maybe, but quite real enough. I particularly have a keener understanding of why most people who took part in formal deeds of arms were quite content to limit themselves to a very specific emprise of say three lances.
And the horses were beautiful.
Some of the information about the joust is still up at this site (which can be reached by clicking on the header).