Jousting istockOn this day in 1524, the thirty-two year-old King Henry VIII suffered a jousting accident after he forgot to lower his visor in a joust against Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall, gives the following account of the accident:

“The 10th day of March, the king having a new harness [armour] made of his own design and fashion, such as no armourer before that time had seen, thought to test the same at the tilt and appointed a joust to serve this purpose.

On foot were appointed the Lord Marquis of Dorset and the Earl of Surrey; 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 tilt’s end.” “I see him not,” said the Duke, “on my faith, for my headpiece takes from me my sight.” With these words, God knoweth 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 nor fastened, so that his face was clean naked. Then the gentleman said to the Duke, “Sir, the King cometh”.

Then the Duke set forward and charged his spear, and the King likewise inadvisedly set off towards the Duke. The people, perceiving the King’s face bare, cried “Hold! Hold!”, but the Duke neither saw nor heard, and whether the King remembered that his visor was up or not few could tell. Alas, what sorrow was it to the people when they saw the splinters of the Duke’s spear strike on the King’s headpiece. For most certainly, the Duke struck the King on the brow, right under the defence of the headpiece, on the very skull cap or basinet piece where unto the barbette is hinged for power and defence, to which skull cap or basinet no armourer takes heed of, for it is evermore covered with the visor, barbet and volant piece, and so that piece is so defended that it forceth of no charge. But when the spear landed on that place, it was great jeopardy of death, in so much that the face was bare, for the Duke’s spear broke all to splinters and pushed the King’s visor or barbet so far back by the counter blow that all the King’s headpiece was full of splinters. The armourers for this matter were much blamed and so was the Lord Marquis for delivering the spear 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.

The Duke immediately disarmed himself and came to the King, showing him the closeness of his sight, and swore that he would never run against the King again. But if the King had been even a little hurt, the King’s servants would have put the Duke in jeopardy. Then the King called his armourers and put all his pieces together and then took a spear and ran six courses very well, by which all men might perceive that he had no hurt, which was a great joy and comfort to all his subjects there present.”

Henry VIII suffered another jousting accident in January 1536 – click here to read more about it.

Extract from “On This Day in History” by Claire Ridgway

Notes and Sources

  • Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall, p674

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9 thoughts on “10 March 1524 – Henry VIII has a Jousting Accident”
  1. Ouch!!!!!! That must have really hurt and what a close encounter as well! The Duke was lucky he did not strike the King in the eye or right through to his brain. The splinters inside the helmet show just how close he was to killing or blinding the King and putting both the King’s life at risk and his own as the person who almost killed the King and was blamed for it. Luckily, Henry was relatively unharmed and was sensible enough to realise that it was his own fault that he almost had a serious accident and did not accuse the Duke of anything. Henry to the relief of the spectators was able to show all that he was not hurt, save may-be some scratches and bruises around his forehead, and to publically forgive and assure the Duke as well. The pair went on to break six more lances together, but both must have been shaken at such a close brush with death. Charles Brandon must have been terrified that he had almost killed his King, brother in law and best friend, the mob seemed almost ready to tear him apart according to the Hall report, and Henry must have been shaken,realizing the lance was just inches away from a fatal blow, even though he chose not to show it. And both the Queen and his sister where watching this as well. What must it have been like to them to think that they had almost lost their beloved Henry? And this was still a King that was popular and well loved! A King wthout a male heir, but the King that the people still related to and would relate for for a number of years to come, before the bitterness of the divorce and the consequences of his break from Rome and marriage to Anne took hold. A later accident that knocked the King unconcious for two hours in 1536 would change his personality and have fatal consequences for Anne and others who loved him, and for England as well.

    The accident shows how dangerous the sport was, in fact it was meant to be as a training exercise to train young men in skills needed for war; but the tournament itself was at fast pace and the viser that a knight looked through had a very narrow and close sight that you cannot really see very much at all through the eye slots. They set one up at an exhibit once and it gave you the sight that they have in a charging horse and a knight and it is very hard to see. The armour was meant to give you the upmost in protection and in battle experts reckon you could hardly see or hear anything so the excuse of the Duke of Suffolk that he could not see and realise that the King had not lowered his vizer, thus leaving his face unprotected, is a very plausible and accurate one and Henry was calm enough to realise this and blame himself.

    Poor Katherine must also have been very frightened and shaken as must those watching for the dynasty was not safe and Katherine clearly even after this time still loved the King and would have been devastated at his death. As it was, some medical experts trace the severe migraine headaches that Henry suffered from after this time to this accident, and that could not have made his temper very sweet to live with. Migraines are dreadful things and can leave you out and in pain even for days, let alone hours. The only known remedy at that time was feverfew, a plant still used today, and rest and quiet, but it would still have been terrible for the sufferer to endure and annoying for a King like Henry who hated to be hindered by anything, let alone a painful medical problem of this nature. It is also possible that not only his temper but his personality may have been dangerous at these times.

    1. I remember his first jousting accident and when i watched The Tudors they claimed his other friend had hurt him and now that i see it was Brandon who caused his injury do i see where they went wrong in the show. It must have really been scary he knocked out for a couple of second and if he had died all of england would have gotten back into civil war, and yes at the time he was still married to Queen Katherine. She at the time was still hoping for another child. If Henry had only just remembered to put his visor down he wouldn’t have suffered..but i believe it was an omen for his next accident was in 1536 and his wound on his leg and his ever changing moods never once recovered in my opinion.

  2. As Bandit Queen says Ouch it would of been quite a knock to the head. Looking at this now in our modern and enlightened times together with Henry’s later incident again to the heads begs the question of his change in personality and mood swings. What a shame we will never know. It all adds to the intrigue.

    1. Yeah, definitely, and how many ‘bangs’ to the head don’t we know about.
      No matter how great a horseperson you are, you do fall off, ( I’ve had a ‘nag’ so I know) its the nature of the beast!! As horses were the main transport of the time, put aside for sport, with no protective head gear most of the time either I have no doubt he fell many, many times…

      1. Can anyone imagine if this accident had actually killed Henry, and Anne had been in charge? How the world would be different.

        1. Anne would not have been in charge in 1524. Anne Boleyn was nothing then, just another lady of the court, daughter to a courtier and not even on the radar. Katherine of Aragon would have been regent for Queen Mary and we would be far better off. Henry would have been deeply mourned as he was still a popular and gracious Prince then and history boring.

  3. A dangerous sport indeed. When I was in the SCA, we never even considered doing jousting! I’m surprised that kings at this time were even allowed to do something that might kill them and leave the kingdom without a ruler. It’s why Malory’s King Arthur doesn’t ever fight after his early days, just hands out adventures to his knights(apart from one nasty encounter with his sister’s lover, which he wins). That was the attitude in the Middle Ages, but the book was written in the time of Henry’s grandfather, Edward IV. He *was* a warrior king, but only until the Lancasters were out.

    I though it interesting to read that the bit where Henry was hit was a piece the armourers never thought about because they assumed the wearer would be covered!

  4. One has to wonder if this was the wake up call for Henry. A close call like that, the Queen at or very near to the end of her childbearing years, and only one legitimate child, a daughter, and one acknowledged illegitimate son as heirs. Perhaps this was the catalyst for having Henry Fitzroy elevated to the peerage. I cannot remember where or when I read this, but I do remember reading that the French questioned Mary’s legitimacy during marriage negotiations.
    So it may be that this is the real turning point in Henry’s thinking. His first thought may have been to ask the Pope to legitimise Fitzroy, although he did not act on this at that time.

    Perhaps he was more receptive to the idea of annulment and remarriage at this time, so when Anne Boleyn happened along he was more willing to consider the idea.

    Both the legitimisation of a son, and annulment of a royal marriage were not to be seen in the mid-1520’s as so very impossible. The Portuguese King had arranged it when lacking an heir, and Louis XII had rid himself of an unwanted Queen. The tough nut would have been to persuade his people and the nobility to accept the arrangements.

    Until the sack of Rome, Henry had good reason to expect acquiescence on the part of the Pope. He could not have forseen the epic struggle he would face, but by then, there was no changing course. I think the frustration of those years marked his character, perhaps as much or more than any injury on the jousting field. He was never a man to deal well with frustration, and this tendency turned into something approaching a mania.

    Whatever worries he had about having a daughter as his heir in the 1520’s, by the end of his reign he had so bent the nation to his will, that neither the accession of Mary or Elizabeth was difficult. It was the heir selected by Edward who failed in the face of his will, which had named his daughters as heirs after his son.

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