The Wallace Collection

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Jousting armour
  • Jousting armour
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Augsburg or Nuremberg, Germany
  • c. 1500 - 1520
  • Low- to medium-carbon steel, leather, copper alloy; gesso, oil paint and wood, engraved, embossed, incised, pierced and painted
  • Weight: 40.91 kg, total weight
  • Marks: Augsburg guild mark
    Marks: Imperial Bindenschild
    Mark: 'S' fermeé, possibly
  • A23
  • European Armoury I
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • We often think of armour as equipment for war, and indeed, it very often was. However it also had a number of other practical uses. Foremost among these, in Renaissance Europe, were the diverse forms of sporting combat fought in the form of jousts and tournaments. Although in the most of the medieval period these knightly games and courtly spectacles employed the same armour worn in battle, by the fourteenth century joust and tournament armour was starting to look very different. This was because it was increasingly being designed specially for friendly, and hopefully non-lethal, engagements. With a different functional environment came different armour forms.

    This is why this imposing armour might, at first, look somewhat strange or even alien. By the late 15th century, the heavy German joust of peace or Gestech had become an end in itself. This was not war armour repurposed for a friendly mock-combat, as had been the case in previous centuries. This is highly specialised sports equipment designed for one very strictly defined and regulated version of the joust.

    The Gestech in the German style was run in the open field, with no tilt to separate the two charging horsemen. It was fought with very heavy 10-12 foot lances, essentially just young pine trees with the branches removed. Each lance was tipped with a large coronel, a three- or four- pronged steel spearhead. The emphasis of this type of jousting was impact. Rather than fine horsemanship or martial finesse, the Gestech was about maximising the power of the blows struck, so much so that sometimes horse and rider could be thrown to the ground together.

    The apparent violence of the game did not however bring with it an equally high level of risk to the participants. Here injury or death was to be avoided at all costs. The design of the armour therefore strongly prioritised protection over mobility. The protection was also directed entirely against one threat only- the single oncoming lance of the individual opponent, whereas a war armour had to take into account a multiplicity of possible dangers and balance that against the need for good mobility. In the joust, the lance almost always struck the left side of the head or body, so these areas have been very heavily reinforced. Even though it does not protect the legs (in this form of the joust the rider’s legs were protected by the saddle and the thickly padded horse armour, which extended around the side’s of the horse’s chest), this armour is still twice the weight of a complete armour for war. The face plate of the helm is an impressive 6mm thick, with most of the the other elements being between 2 and 5mm thick, all contributing to a massive total weight of nearly 41 kg. Inside, the jouster would have found his mobility, and his senses of sight, hearing and touch, to be significantly limited. But he was safe. In an armour like this, accidental injury was almost impossible.

    This particular armour for the Gestech belongs to a large series of armours from the old civic armoury (Zeughaus) of the city of Nuremberg. This group of Gestech armours were maintained in the 15th and 16th centuries for the annual Gesellenstechen, or ‘bachelors jousts’, in which the older sons of the rich merchant families of the city competed against each other in the manner of knights, even though they were not nobles themselves. As a free city ruled by the middle classes, Nuremberg was often in conflict with the aristocratic rulers of neighboring regions. The bachelors jousts were one way in which the affluent, upwardly mobile middle classes in Germany appropriated the trappings of nobility, much to the annoyance of the real knightly class.