A re-enactment
A re-enactment of a joust

It is easy to forget when looking at later portraits of Henry VIII and hearing about him being so overweight and ill that he had to be carried around on a special chair, that Henry VIII was once a keen sportsman. He was not just an enthusiastic sportsman, he was actually good as well.

One sport which Henry excelled at was jousting. There were originally two types of jousting:

  1. Jousts of War: Here knights used sharp, solid lances and aimed to unhorse their opponent.
  2. Jousts of Peace: Here knights used rebated, hollow lances and aimed was to strike their opponent and shatter their lance.1

Jousts of war became less popular after 1480, so Henry VIII and his fellow knights would have been taking part in jousts of peace. Royal armouries explain what these jousts were like:

“From the 13th century these started to be fought between two combatants on horseback using blunted lances. The new lance-heads had several prongs to spread the force of a blow. Each competitor tried to break his own lance against his opponent’s armour. Plate armour was developed so that the left side of the body was reinforced to withstand the shock of impact. The ‘frogmouthed’ helm was also developed, with its projecting lip to protect the face from flying wooden splinters. In time a barrier was introduced, separating the two contestants to prevent collisions. This barrier was called a ‘tilt’, which is why a Joust of Peace using a barrier was also called a ‘tilt’ or ‘tilting’.”2

Henry VIII had taken part in his first joust as king on 12 January 1510 at Richmond Park at a private joust – click here to read more about that.

The King’s skill at jousting was mentioned by Luis Caroz de Villaragut, writing to Ferdinand of Aragon in May 1510, who also recorded that the King ran at the ring and practised jousting and combat “almost every day of the week”:

“There are many young men who excel in this kind of warfare, but the most conspicuous amongst them all, the most assiduous, and the most interested in the combats is the King himself, who never omits being present at them.”3

In April 1515, Sebastian Giustinian, the Venetian ambassador at Henry VIII’s court, wrote:

“After dinner, a stately joust took place, at which His Majesty jousted with many others, strenuously and valorously; and assuredly […] this most serene King is not only very expert in arms, and of great valour, and most excellent in his personal endowments […]”4

But jousting was a very dangerous sport. Courtier William Compton was injured jousting in January 1510 and was described as “likely to dye”. He made a full recovery, going on to serve the King as groom of the stool until 1526, when he was removed in Cardinal Wolsey’s purge of the privy chamber. There is no mention of him suffering any permanent injury and he died of sweating sickness in 1528.

Others weren’t so lucky. At the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 a Frenchman was killed in a joust against his brother. Sir Francis Bryan lost an eye at the Shrovetide joust of 1526, and Henry II of France died in 1559 a few days after his opponent’s lance struck his helmet and a long splinter pierced his eye and penetrated his brain. People have also been killed re-enacting jousting – in 2007 a professional jousting re-enactor was killed after a splinter sheared off a 7ft wooden lance and went through his eye and brain while filming an episode of Time Team.

Henry VIII was injured at least twice while jousting. On this day in history, 10th March 1524, he was injured after he forgot to lower his visor in a joust against Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. According to the records, “the duke struck the king on the brow right under the guard of the headpiece on the very skull cap or basinet piece”, splintering and sending splinters into the King’s helmet.5

Fortunately the King survived the blow but a mortified Suffolk vowed that he would never joust against the King again. The King laughed it off, saying that it was no-one’s fault and that he and his sight were saved. He went on to run six courses to show that he had not been seriously hurt. The joust had been organised to test out the King’s new armour, which was made to “his own design and fashion”. You can read Edward Hall’s full account of the accident in my article from 2014 – click here.

Of course, Henry VIII was to suffer a more serious jousting accident in January 1536 – click here to read about that.

Notes and Sources

Image: Jousting at the Golden Gate Renaissance fair, San Francisco, California, Wikipedia.
Henry VIII the Jouster, talk by Claire Ridgway, March 2015, Tudor Society.

  1. Tournament Events, Royal Armour, https://www.royalarmouries.org/leeds/leeds-galleries/tournament-gallery/tournament-events
  2. Ibid.
  3. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 2, 1509-1525, 45.
  4. Giustiniani, Sebastiano, 1460-1543, Four years at the court of Henry VIII : selection of despatches, p. 75-76.
  5. Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall, p674

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11 thoughts on “10 March 1524 – Henry VIII laughs off a jousting accident”
  1. Keen sportman, hey ? Courtiers had to fall from horse when jousting against their king.
    To please your king, you just had to be keen yourself, at a point you could lose the fight without being ridiculous
    The seigneur de Montgomerie who won against french king Henri II, did not know the rules ?
    I know he was of enfglish (or scottish?) descent.
    Definitely, don’t tell me about KH .
    As french, I know nothing else that king François I.
    At the “Camp du Drap d’Or” anyone could see who was the real champ!
    That, KH never forgave, I know … 😉

  2. Henry had been keen to joust since 1507 but his father prevented him doing so. The council also tried to prevent him from taking part in 1510 but the young king disguised himself, took part anyway and had to reveal who he was when someone else got hurt to prove it was not him. The one thing that Henry did not like about jousting was people not trying hard enough against him. The scores of his opponents were so poor in one joust that he chose better jousters on his own team and Suffolk, who was his match, if not better to lead the other team of equally good jousters. Henry loved a challenge, it is nonsense that he never accepted that he could lose, he was more disappointed with courtiers who did not try against him. The joust was meant to keep knights and gentlemen and princes fit and to excel in arms, there was no point to the joust if you did not try your best, the exercise was to train as if for war. The joust was too fast, demanded too much skill and was too fast for opponents not to perform at their best.

    The incident of 1524 gave everyone else a scare, the Queen, his sister, Suffolk, the crowd, not Henry, the fact that he was almost killed only made him run six more courses. Henry suffered from severe headaches afterwards, it is also believed that he thought about the succession and marriage after this shock. Had Henry Viii died in 1524, his heir apparent was an eight years old daughter. Mary would have been Queen with Katherine possibly the Regent, but would they have been secure? Henry must have given the matter some attention at least.

    1. Thank you for correcting me (I, just being provocative of course) with precise information.
      Like it always is …
      I still guess courtiers felt very embarrased to take the risk of hurting such a dictatorial king .
      your speculation about K H’s early death – a dream to me . England getting rid of her worst Tudor sovereign (even if in a way that sounds ridiculous by now)

      1. Hello Bruno, King Henry was quite a different person in 1524, the Henry of popular myth being just that for many years. Even now he was still friendly, pleasent, cordial, gallant, he could be overwhelming, but he did not suffer from the mood swings and he was far from the dictator of his last ten years. If courtiers where worried about hurting the King, it was simply because of his station, you did not harm your monarch, if you could avoid it, he or she was sacred, literally. Henry was a King who was popular and well loved, his courtiers and country would have been lost without him. He was the centre of their world. Like Elizabeth I and Louis Xiv the Sun King, he dazzled the court so much that being in his presence was described as being in the sun. He was like a breath of fresh air. Henry Viii impressed everyone and he was very personable. He was likable. He could be stubborn and make his mind up, not to be changed, but he also listened to advice at this time. Henry had not even began his affair with Anne Boleyn, or decided to end his marriage to Katherine. Some evidence exists that Henry may have ceased to sleep with her, but this is not certain, as she had entered the menopause. However, he was still playing court to Katherine, he was still trying to show off for her, he still shared her household and Mary was his heir. He was gracious and in this case he admitted that the blame for his accident lay with himself, he brushed it off, but it must have dawned on him later just how close to death he had come. The death of Henry Viii in 1524 world have been a disaster for England. His death in 1537, however, would be totally different as it was by then that the very different Henry had begun to emerge thanks to the trauma of his divorce, the marriage to Anne Boleyn, the failure of their marriage, his traumatic brain injury in January 1536, the loss of their son, Anne’s execution, and rebellions in 1536 and 1537. Henry was not able to exercise, to joust, put on weight, was in a great deal of pain and suffered from mood swings and was a different person. The Henry of myth emerged, but in 1524, the myth did not exist.

        1. Hello Bandit Queen.
          Even though my poor sense of humor is far from deserving your patient – and always accurate – explanations, I thank you for them.
          And you will think that it is me who is stubborn rather.
          I clearly understand KH’s mind was being bittered worsened through years.
          But mean feelings are part of “grandeur” and when they fall from so high have awful results.
          Pride (pride and not only the duty that lead sovereigns to show how powerful) is an horrible thing sometimes
          Elizabeth I’s love for compliments – sincere or not – was well known among courtiers.
          Like was her jealousy about her cousin Mary Stuart’s real good looks.
          Henry VIII was noticed terribly vexed when he provoked french king in the “Camp du Drap d’Or” and lost the fight – not that amiable, if we consider he seemed to have flown into a temper.
          It was in 1520, that is 4 years before this joust.
          For Louis XIV, he was known as a real coward (well times had changed and kings being personally involved in battles was over), jealous of his gay brother – for what he banned him from his army, depriving France of a real good general.
          I can – being serious now 😉 – understand that K H’s death would have made his widow’s and daughter’s rights rather weak.
          Even if his wife had already shown how capable she could be as head of the realm
          But, as long as I know, his reign was not a great one, he ruined a lot of his subjects ( what about priests?) .
          Exactly the contrary of his father and two queen-daughters
          Your point of view very precise and subtle (I guess) is about his privacy, his temper rather.
          Yes it seems to be true – even unfaithful, now and then, he was much loved by his queen (love and not only a partnership based of sense of duty like it so often was queens’ common lot by then).
          Excuse me to appear rude, but, considering the harm he did, I still think England would have been blessed by his sudden death.
          Better to die in an heroic way (hmm) and much regretted.
          With my best wishes

        2. While I think you have some good points, Bruno, we can only say that Henry may have not been great for England with hindsight and given his later actions this is a fair judgement some writers make. Others have disagreed because he also achieved a lot for England. However that judgement could not be made in 1524, especially based on the odd loss of temper. How dare you be human, Henry! Lol. Personally if the cheating French King, Francis I, had have tripped me up with his foot during a boxing match, I would have smacked him in the gob and called it even. Henry may not have been pleased and was embarrassed but he soon calmed down and the good mood was restored, especially when his jousters beat Francis and his hired large German the next day. Henry could lose his temper, but it was fairly rare and he did not show the clear signs that something was radically different for another ten years.

  3. It’s really interesting to consider what would England’s history have been like had Henry died, Mary would have been a very young Queen and no doubt Katherine would have ruled as regnant for her daughter, being the resourceful woman she was and she would have done that splendidly, being just and fair but England never got to benefit from her excellent virtues as Henry didn’t die and years later fell for Anne Boleyn, Katherine was capable of great leadership having Isabella Of Castiles blood in her veins and in fact when Henry was in France and Scotland invaded she showed just how capable she was when she sent the troops to Flodden and when James V was killed she wanted to send his body to Henry, that shows that she could be shake of emotional feelings when she had to. Henry could well have gone down in history as a golden Prince cut down in his prime and known as having just the one wife, Mary could have married and been lucky to have had children, no lonely death for Katherine and no Reformation and Elizabeth 1st, somehow it’s difficult to contemplate as Elizabeth and her father seem to embody the whole Tudor age.

    1. Yes U are right quoting only she-leaders.
      I happen to see both women’s qualities – not Henry’s …
      For anglicanism, I guess now it is settled it is an odd question to fancy about other turns.
      When it comes about Elizabeth I, it would have been a pity – when it is about KH’s 2d queen, my heart would have been torn apart – I am a great fan of Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon as well (even if for different reasons)…
      Choosing could drive me neurotic.
      Lucky Bandit queen that I can’t answer her unfair notices about “my” (lol) king Francis I .
      Just a thing about “cheating french king” .
      In the “Camp du Drap d’Or”, KH made a lot of promises to this french sovereign.
      And, just on his return (in Gravelines, a little northern to Guines, or Calais if u had rather), he very unfairly met Charles V, promising to him his (by then) only daughter and heiress (he agreed marrying to FrancisI’s son few days before) and having sturdy words on “common interests”.
      I suppose Bandit Queen is just kidding (mmm…?).
      My revenge w’d be terrible if not .

    2. Not being unfair to YOU Christine, I will agree with you about Reformation.
      A lot of sovereigns by then (but the Emperor, of course) were interested in reformators.
      Lefèvre d’Etaples (a city near Boulogne – in my previous comment I was mistaken, confusing Boulogne and Calais) began in France to show that a form of humanism could lead to make in question the roman church and he was not only protected by king Francis I, but favoured as well.
      I’d be prone to draw another parallel between french and english (my obsession!) in this case, because, the success of these humanists was obviously due to what this new ideals could bring to the kings – a very cynical point of view, I admit but History does not show other examples.
      In England’s case, I think that the very fact that led to such a “revolution” is- as we know – the fear spread on Rome by the german troops at the very time KH needed being a due divorce from his ageing queen .
      That made the pope’s postion more stiff in favour of pro-emperor vision of faith and had these followings.
      France instead finished with banishing Calvin to Geneva – but after many turns indeed.
      As we know, german princelets took advantage of the reform to gain some independence from the Holy Empire founded by the Habsburgs

      1. No this time I was not mistaken.
        The “Camp du Drap d’Or” took place in the neighbourhood of Calais (between Guïnes and Adres).
        While Lefèvre (ancestor if u like of Budé or even Calvin) was from a little town near Boulogne (Etaples famousfor its fishermen).

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