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Game of Rings

 

Jousting in Harford County. M.E. Warren, 1968. PP5 Box 3, folder 11. MdHS. REFERENCE PHOTO.

Jousting in Harford County. M.E. Warren, 1968. PP5 Box 3, folder 11. MdHS. REFERENCE PHOTO.

A common refrain is that “chivalry is dead.” For a small contingent of Marylanders though, chivalry and other medieval traditions reign supreme from spring to fall in the form of jousting tournaments. Before you start picturing every jousting scene depicted in popular culture as two knights galloping at each other while carrying giant lances, I should clarify that these Marylanders do not participate in full contact jousting. The form of jousting they compete in is called “ring jousting”—the art of spearing small metal rings hanging from arches. It’s based on a training exercise that knights from the Middle Ages performed in order to improve their aim with a lance as well as their horsemanship. A ring joust consists of a competitor riding down an eighty-yard track in which they must pass through three arches—each with a dangling metal ring—with the goal to spear all three rings in a limited amount of time. Not only does this esoteric pursuit continue to flourish in Maryland, it’s actually the official State Sport: in 1962 Maryland became the first state to officially designate such a symbol.

“Maryland Tournament at Horn Point, October 14.” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. October 30, 1986, page 168. Medium Prints - Sports Jousting, MdHS.

“Maryland Tournament at Horn Point, October 14.” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. October 30, 1986, page 168. Medium Prints – Sports Jousting, MdHS. REFERENCE PHOTO.

While ring jousting tournaments are also held in a few other states such as Virginia and West Virginia, it’s in Maryland that the sport has had the longest history and seen the most popularity. Although an exact year cannot be determined for the first tournament conducted in America, most historians agree that the tradition of jousting made its way from England to Maryland in the 1600s under the influence of the second Lord Baltimore, and the colony’s first governor, Cecil Calvert. (1) However, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that tournaments started to take place regularly in the state. They became increasingly popular after the Civil War as a way to raise money to aid those affected by the combat and for building memorial monuments. By the early twentieth century, tournaments were also organized in Maryland as fundraisers for civic and church associations. Eventually, the sport evolved from consisting entirely of upper-class competitors to allowing farmers and their stock horses to participate as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Jousting in twenty-first century Maryland continues to showcase its unique heritage of medieval traditions and pageantry in over twenty tournaments a year organized by four clubs: The Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, the Eastern Shore Jousting Association,

“Valiant Knights and Ladies Fair: The Story of the Jousting Tournament in Maryland,” page 25. Eleanora Kane. Self published. (Detail) MGV 1191.J6K1, MdHS.

“Valiant Knights and Ladies Fair: The Story of the Jousting Tournament in Maryland,” page 25. Eleanora Kane. Unpublished manuscript, not dated. (Detail) MGV 1191.J6K1, MdHS. REFERENCE PHOTO.

the Western Maryland Jousting Club, and the Amateur Jousting Club of Maryland. The Maryland Jousting Tournament Riding Rules recognize five levels of skill proficiency, none of which are separated by age or gender. It is the ring size and the time allowed to complete the course that determines these levels, which range from the Leadline and Novice classes where rings have an inside diameter of an inch and three-quarters and riders are not timed, to the Professional class where riders only have nine seconds to collect rings with an inside diameter of just an inch. (2) All jousting equipment—the arches, hanging rings, and lances—is homemade. Lances average between five and seven feet in length and weigh anywhere from one to fifteen pounds, depending on the materials used. (3)

 

In keeping with the medieval spirit, male contestants are referred to as “Knights” and female contestants as “Maids.” Additionally, all contestants must register and ride under a title of their own choosing, such as “Maid of Dragon’s Lair” or “Knight of Darkness.” The call to “Charge Sir Knight!” or “Charge Fair Maid!” is what commences the ride down the track. Other medieval trappings seen at jousting tournaments include a field decorated with vibrant trimmings and flags; jousters wearing brightly colored sashes to symbolize the custom of knights carrying tokens for good luck; and a crowning ceremony held after the competition where the winner receives a trophy and crowns their King or Queen of Love and Beauty with a floral wreath.

If pageantry, horsemanship, and a chivalrous environment appeal to you, I leave you with this ditty from the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association:

“Welcome Lords and Ladies all!

Heed our mock medieval call.

Return with us to days of old—

When it was said—the knights were bold.

Enjoy with us the modern trend, where rings are

Speared instead of friends. Witness too the charm and grace as well

As friendship in this place.

Welcome Lords and Ladies all.

Come joust with us and have a ball!” (4)

 

Photomontage of jousting scenes," c. 1955, MC4572, MdHS. REFERENCE PHOTO.

Photomontage of jousting scenes,” c. 1955, MC4572, MdHS. REFERENCE PHOTO.

(Sandra Glascock, Special Collections Archivist)

 

Sources and further reading:

(1)    Kane, Eleanora Bowling. Valiant Knights and Ladies Fair: The Story of the Jousting Tournament in Maryland. Unpublished manuscript, not dated. MGV 1191.J6K1, MdHS.

 

(2)    “Maryland Jousting Tournament Association, Inc. Riding Rules.” Maryland Jousting Association. Accessed

2 April 2019.

 

(3)    “MJTA Handbook.” Maryland Jousting Association. Accessed 2 April 2019.

 

(4)    ibid.

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One Response to “Game of Rings”

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