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Jousting: A Dangerous Sport

Posted By on June 30, 2015

Henry II of France by François Clouet

Henry II of France by François Clouet

If you follow The Anne Boleyn Files Facebook page or you have my On This Day in Tudor History book you will know that today is the anniversary of a horrible jousting accident in 1559.

On 30th June 1559, Henry II of France suffered a mortal head wound while jousting at the Place Royale at the Hôtel des Tournelles against Gabriel Montgomery, Captain of the King’s Scottish Guard. The joust was held to celebrate the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, a peace treaty which had been signed in April 1559 between Henry and Philip II of Spain and which ended the Italian Wars and, in fact, a 60+ year struggle between France and Spain for control of Italy.

Wearing his mistress Diane de Poitier’s colours, Henry II entered the lists even though he had been suffering from dizziness after exercise. He appeared to be doing well until he was nearly unhorsed by the Count of Montgomery. Henry insisted on jousting against Montgomery again and this is when Montgomery’s lance struck Henry on his helmet, splintering the lance and causing a splinter to pierce his eye and enter his brain. The King died 10th July and was succeeded by Francis II.

Jousting was a very dangerous sport. In England, Henry VIII’s friend William Compton was injured jousting in January 1510 and was described as “likely to dye”, although he appears to have made a full recovery, and in 1526 Sir Francis Bryan lost an eye at the Shrovetide joust. At the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 a Frenchman was killed in a joust against his brother. Henry VIII was injured at least twice while jousting. On 10th March 1524, he was injured after he forgot to lower his visor in a joust against Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and on 24th January 1536 he was hurt at a joust at Greenwich Palace, falling heavily. People have also been killed re-enacting jousting – in 2007 a professional jousting re-enactor was killed after a splinter sheared off a seven foot wooden lance and went through his eye and brain while filming an episode of Time Team.

You can read more about Henry VIII’s jousting accidents in the following articles:

You can read more about Henry II of France’s accident in History Today‘s article Henry II of France dies of tournament wounds.

2 thoughts on “Jousting: A Dangerous Sport”

  1. Shudder! Jousts were SCARY! It’s weird to think people are still doing it, even as re-enacters. I used to be a member of the SCA and jousting was definitely not a part of it. We fought on foot, with rattan swords and with strong armour. The worst you could expect, as I recall, was a bit of bruising. Once a couple of us chatted with some Morris dancers, who cheerfully told us about the injuries you can get with those innocuous sticks, and we decided that fighting SCA style was safer. 😉

  2. Banditqueen says:

    Yes jousting was dangerous but Henry, in spite of his two life threatening injuries was not only skilled at it, but enjoyed the sport. His closest friends were people like Charles Brandon and Nicholas Cares who excelled at the joust. The tourney and tournaments in which jousting was part of Henry’s world, a noble house with sons and royal sons were expected to have military skills and take part in service, training as knights. The tourney allowed for training in those skills and to hone and show them off. Knights became restless for combat, the joust was a release, to impress and receive fame and fortune. In the Middle Ages when tournaments were at there height, many younger sons took part in tournaments all over the place, gaining the armour, swords and horses from the loser and ransom from his family. They also gained a following, prize money and battle skills. In other words it was also a way to get rich. For others it was the danger itself that was the challenge. You could compare the rush young skilled sons of the gentry got from the joust to people who are addicted to the most dangerous thrill rides or to survival sports, with A type personalities, who never sit still and have outstanding levels of energy, they needed to joust for fulfilment. Henry was the sort of person who loved the joust as he did other sports, he was also good at them and he loved to entertain. By his day of course, the joust was merely for entertainment, celebration and competitive advantage, although combative skills were recreated. It was still in part expected that males of a certain class to train, show prowess and to be skilled in the joust, tennis and other combative sports. Others simply loved the joust and no amount of danger would stop them until they were no longer capable of taking part, stopped by age or injury. Henry only stopped in 1536, after his near fatal accident, leaving his leg in a bad state and himself incapacitated. Today people take part for many of the same reasons, the thrill, historical recreation and research and because of the thrill and challenge. Other sports were also dangerous, royal tennis particularly so, claiming the lives of four kings.

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