A researcher at the University of Huddersfield has been awarded a £1,000 bursary – to investigate the ancient art of jousting.
PHD student Emma Levitt studied little known jousting records dating back to the Tudor times of King Henry VIII.
From these surviving ‘score cheques’ Emma was able to uncover the fascinating story of Charles Brandon, dubbed medieval England’s biggest social climber.
Brandon came from humble beginnings but rose to become Duke of Suffolk, marrying Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII.
Now Emma’s research into the sport of jousting has revealed Brandon’s secret – always letting the king win.
According to the scorecards Brandon was England’s best jouster, yet he was always beaten by the King.
Emma became curious at how Brandon rose to such prominence when the usual ways of social advancement – warfare, theology or politics – were alien to him.
Emma said: “The only thing Brandon was good at was jousting and this has been overlooked.
“He is the best jouster at court and when he jousts anybody else he wins yet when he jousts against the King he loses.”
Emma started her research to look at the culture of masculinity and it quickly developed.
Her work caused a stir at a conference and resulted in an approach from a publisher and a £1,000 bursary.
The Richard III Society gave her the cash award on the grounds that her work cast new light on 15th century culture.
Emma examined score cheques at the College of Arms in London. The largest numbers to have survived date from the Elizabethan period but there are some for tournaments that took place during the reign of Henry VIII.
The rules included a scoring system, such as two points for a hit on the helm (helmet) of your opponent, one point for a body hit – and disqualification if you dip your lance and kill your opponent’s horse.
The score cheques record information such as the names of competitors, how many courses they ran, their scoring hits to the head or body and their faults.
“They are effectively a way of quantifying chivalry and manhood,” said Emma.
Somewhat surprisingly, Henry VIII was genuinely skilled with a lance.
“People imagine he just won because he was king but he was very good,” added Emma.
“The score cheques show us the kind of marks that he was able to hit and he had to have a very skilled technique to be able to do that.”
After a jousting accident in 1536, Henry was unable to compete again, leading to a decline into obesity.
“What do you do when you can no longer jump on a horse and be masculine? How do you retain your manhood?” asked Emma.
In Henry’s case, he raised an army and invaded France!