JoustOn 12th January 1510, at a private joust at Richmond Park, Henry VIII jousted for the first time as king.

He and his good friend William Compton attended the joust in disguise so that nobody knew the king was taking part. However, this led to panic when one of the disguised men was injured and a man who did know that the king was taking part cried out “God save the king”:

The king was forced to reveal his identity to settle people’s fears that he had been injured. It was Compton who had been seriously hurt. Chronicler Edward Hall records the event:

“The kyng ranne never openly before, and there were broken many staves, and greate praise geven to the two straungers, but Specially to one, whiche was the kyng: howebeit, at a course by misfortune, sir Edward Nevell Esquire, brother to the Lorde of Burganie,- did runne against Master Cumpton, and hurte hym sore, and was likely to dye. One persone there was, that knew the kyng, and cried, God save the king, with that, all the people wer astonied, and then the kyng discovered hymself, to the greate comforte of all the people.”

William Compton survived the accident and served the King as his Groom of the Stool until Wolsey’s Eltham Ordinances forced his resignation. He died in June 1528 after contracting sweating sickness.

Henry VIII suffered two nasty jousting accidents and you can read more about them in the following articles:

Notes and Sources

  • Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall, p513

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8 thoughts on “12 January 1510 – Panic at the Joust”
  1. I’m curious as to why he did it. I suppose jousting could convey a sense of masculine virility, but since he was doing it anonymously, he would have had all the danger and none of the validation.

  2. Henry liked to surprise people by play acting, jousting was extremely dangerous but it was what princes of the time did it was part of their culture.

      1. One reason to joust disguised would have been to keep the contest supposedly honest, so that no one would “take a dive” rather than beat the King. I doubt any of the contestants were unaware of which mystery knight was Henry however. But with the reveal Henry would get his praise in the end and be reassured that his victory was the result of his own strengh and prowess and owed nothing to his royal status.

        Henry’s disguises, whether in the field or in the chamber, always ended with revealing himself. The conceit was that no one could possibly pick out the disguised Henry (never mind his well known height and build), and would display amazement and astonishment when he made himself known. Courtiers might even put on a display of nervous consternation, pretending to be worried about giving some accidental insult when speaking to the supposed stranger. Or the game might be played so that wise and insightful courtiers would intuit something noble and majestic beneath the disguise, that Henry’s majesty was so great that it would show through any charade.

        Katherine of Aragon was often a participant in these games, even when disguised “strangers” burst into her chambers without warning and demanded dances with the queen and her ladies even if the queen was not fully dressed. One wonders if she ever got tired of expressing delighted amazement when the tall redheaded stranger was revealed to be her own dear husband for the umpteenth time.

        If I remember correctly, a similar game was played out during a meeting with King Francis, where Anne Boleyn was the maiden with the wit and intuition to pick the disguised King of France as her dancing partner.

        Henry often showed that at heart he was still the boy who grew up on tales of noble knights, fair ladies, and a world where chivalry and honor trumped adversity – on the jousting field and on the dance floor if nowhere else.

  3. Edward Neville apparently was about Henry’s height and resembled him enough to be mistaken for him in marques and disguisings. Is the piece suggesting that Neville was hurt or Compton? I know that Compton did sustain a nasty injury on one occasion but the passage above is ambiguous.

    1. I’ve always read it that Neville hurt Compton: “did runne against Master Cumpton, and hurte hym sore”, but I’ve just re-checked Hall – see (top of p513) and before the part I quote above Hall writes of how Compton and the King disguised themself, so it was definitely Compton who got hurt:

      “And the. xii. daie of lanurie. diuerse gentlemen freshely appareled, prepared them self to luste, vnknowen to the kynges grace, whereof, he
      beyng secretly informed, caused hymself and one of his priuie chambre, called Willya Compton to bee secretly armed, in the litle Parke of Richemond […]”

  4. It was only a matter of time before the young, energetic Henry Viii chose to take part in the tourney, especially the joust which he would have trained in, if not been allowed to take part in. In a tournament at the Tower of London a few years earlier, Henry had watched in envy as his friends took part and showed their skill and prowess of while as the heir to the throne was restrained, quite rightly. Edward the Black Prince had taken part in tournaments in France in disguise as his father had expressed concern. This seemed ridiculous as Edward iii had no problem allowing his eldest son to lead the army into battle. The other problem was opponents retired rather than risk harm to the heir to the English throne. In a similar vein Henry was restrained by his father and his council, he was not going to allow anyone to hold him back anymore.

    So he confided in a few people, and in order to impress the new queen Katherine of Aragorn, Henry took to the tournament in disguise. His adventure almost backfired as one of the knights fell, William Compton and a friend in the know gasped that the king may be hurt, forcing Henry to reveal himself. It was a foolish thing but nobody stopped him again. The joust was dangerous, deadly, but to say that Henry had no right to put himself in danger is to misunderstand the training and demands of young men from kingly and knightly families, this was a method of preparation for battle and skills they were expected to excel in. It is also to misunderstand Henry, athletic, energetic, sporty, a show off, nothing was going to prevent him excelling in all areas of his skills. That was the main problem, the sporting life would take the toll on this sport mad King’s life, as his later accidents showed.

    In March 1524 Henry rode against his friend Charles Brandon, and in his enthusiasm made a near fatal error by not lowering his visor. Brandon lance splintered under his helmet and just missed the kings forehead. In 1536 he fell and was unconscious for two hours. Henry was injured, his frontal lobes were damaged, but nobody could know that. An old ulcer was opened up, and his leg damaged as time went on, causing difficulties in walking.. A less active Henry put on weight, leading to diabetes and other illnesses which killed him.

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