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Jousting refers to mock combat between two armored, mounted knights or squires performed during the 12th-16th centuries. Jousting became a public display of the knight's skill and a popular public entertainment. Starting at opposite ends of the tourney field (known as the lists), the competing knights would ride at each other and try unhorse their opponent with a blunt-tipped lance. By the 14th century, knights would joust in full plate amour over a mail haubergeon and padded gambeson to absorb the impact of the blows.

Jousting in history

In its early days, when the weapons were unblunted and impromptu contests were frequently set up on country roads, the practice was frowned upon by kings and the church as a needless loss of life. Henry II banned it. Richard I, however, as a money-making device, licensed tournaments on chosen steads, or fields, and contestants paid an entry fee. Jousting tournaments were often lavish affairs and offered prizes of money or land to victorious knights. The winner often claimed the horse and armour of the vanquished. Fortunes, and indeed reputations, could be won and lost, and it was a way for younger - therefore landless - knights to get up in the world. The practice is described in stirring detail in Scott's Ivanhoe.

A joust could also settle a score between two knights or noblemen, in the role that a duel with pistols or rapiers came to fulfill in later centuries. Froissart describes such a duel in 1386 in his Chronicles.

Jousting in the present day

Although the practice of jousting died out in the 16th century, some groups continue to put on displays of jousting to entertain the public. An example of this are the Royal Armouries Museums in Leeds in the United Kingdom where staged jousting (along with other displays of falconry and musket firing) is one of the most popular attractions during the spring and summer months. Similar jousts are carried out at annual medieval tournaments at Burg Satzvey in Germany.

Popular Culture

A jousting tournament can be seen in the comic film "A Knight's Tale". The novels of George R.R. Martin feature jousting tourneys.